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CNN NEWSROOM

Yemeni Mom Blocked from Visiting Her Dying Son; Comey Wraps Up Second Interview with GOP-Led House Panels; Comey Says Trump "Has Lied...Constantly" About FBI; Comey Says GOP's Silence on Trump is "Everlasting Shame"; New Reports Says Russia Used Every Major Social Network to Aid Trump. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 15:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:30:00] DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He has a rare brain condition and may only have days left to live. Now his father is a U.S. citizen. He's living in Stockton, California, but his wife is from Yemen. And he just wants to get her over here so she can say, essentially, good-bye to her son. But the administration's travel ban is preventing her from coming to the United States. This is what the father told me a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI HASSAN, FATHER OF TERMINALLY ILL 2-YEAR-OLD BOY: Just breaking my heart, looking at my son like facing death. That he is about to die soon. Mother just is unable to touch him, to see him, to give even give him a kiss before he goes.

SIMON: How is your wife holding up?

HASSAN: Crying. Crying every single day. She never thought this would happen to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Well, for over a year, the family says they've been trying to get the State Department to issue a waiver so the wife can come into this country and they say they keep getting the same bureaucratic response, that the application is being looked at. Meantime this boy's condition continues to worsen. So, that's why we are in Sacramento today. The Council on American Islamic Relations, they held a news conference, essentially saying that they're going to file some paperwork in court to expedite this visa request. We reach out to the State Department, Brooke, they say they don't comment on any individual cases but they said they look at every case on an individual basis. And we just don't know what the fate ultimately is of this case, if the wife will be able to come into the country -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: There you go. You said it. The State Department can't comment. Let me just read for everyone watching, though, the first little bit of this statement. The department of state makes every effort to facilitate legitimate travel by international visitors. We are also fully committed to administering U.S. immigration law, ensuring the integrity and security of our country's borders.

But Dan said it, they're not going to comment on the details of an individual case, including this one. Dan, stay on it and please let us know about that child and his parents.

Coming up next, we have to reports that are out today, showing Russia efforts to influence American politics have not stopped and in some cases the manipulation is happening in real life not just online.

Plus, the President says he may intervene in the case of a green beret, who's been charged with the murder of a suspected Taliban bombmaker. We'll explain this case and hear from his wife, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: He's out.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: We all set? Great.

So, another day of Hillary Clinton's emails in the Steele dossier. This while the president of the United States is lying about the FBI, attacking the FBI and attacking the rule of law in this country. How does that make any sense at all? Republicans used to understand that the actions of a President matter. That words of a President matter, the rule of law matters in the truth matters. Where are those Republicans today? At some point, someone has to stand up and in the face of fear of Fox News, fear of their base, fear of mean tweets, stand up for the values of this country and not slink away into retirement, but stand up and speak the truth. I find it frustrating to be here, answering questions about things that are far less important than the values that this country is built upon. I'll take your questions.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What impact does it have that the President calls Michael Cohen a rat.

[15:35:00] Someone cooperating with the investigation and questioned how his office was raided by the FBI?

COMEY: It undermines the rule of law. This is the President of the United States calling a witness, who has cooperated with his own Justice Department a rat. Say that again to yourself at home and remind yourself where we have ended up. This is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is about what does it mean to be an American? What are the things that we care about above our policy disputes, which are important? This is a set of values that represent the glue of this country and they are under attack by things just like that. We have to stop being numb to it, whether you're Republican or Democrat, you need to stand on your feet, overcome your shame and say something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you feel like there's any legitimate investigative value what happened here today or do you feel like it's a political exercise?

COMEY: I can't answer that because I don't know exactly what they are investigating. The questions about the Hillary Clinton and Steele dossier strike me as more of the same. I didn't learn anything new in there. Maybe they did. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a question from Fox News in fact. Your handling of the Flynn interview, how is it consistent with the investigation's roadmap for agents the domestic investigation operations guide?

COMEY: Entirely consistent in my view. Give me a question the next level down, what do you mean?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I mean the domestic investigations operations guide is the roadmap for investigations for all agents, and there's a special section for sensitive matters in individuals and I'm wondering if you feel comfortable that your handling (INAUDIBLE) was completely consistent with that.

COMEY: I do. I do, very much so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One follow-up, please. Those who criticized you for failing to remember key events for maybe hurting the FBI's reputation (INAUDIBLE), what would you say to some of that criticism?

COMEY: They got truthful testimony from me. When you're a director of an organization for 38,000 sometimes you don't know what form, people filled out. That's silliness. And as far as hurting the FBI's replication, I hope not. We had to make very hard decisions in 2016. I knew we would get hurt by it. The question is, how do we reduce the damage? What I'm doing now is not what I love to do. I'd rather not be talking to you all. But somebody has to stand up and speak for the FBI and the rule of law. And I hope there's a whole lot more somebodies out there than just me.

RAJU: Court documents said you didn't tell Sally Yates about this interview with Michael Flynn that the FBI was conducting until the day of. Why did you wait till the day of to sell Sally Yates about that investigation the FBI was going to have?

COMEY: Because I knew that if anything came of the interview, if it advanced our investigation, the attack from the Trump administration would be that an Obama holdover had engineered it. And so, I had to make the decision separate from her to leave them with their only opportunity. To challenge it would be to burn down the entire FBI. To my shock and horror, they've tried to do just that in the face of silence from people in this building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Comey, what was your reaction to the indictment of his two former associates of Michael Flynn, and Turkish lobbying. How much of that was on your radar when you are still director?

COMEY: I mean I can't say. I can't say

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To either on. Can you say your reaction?

COMEY: No, no reaction and I can't tell you when I knew. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Director Comey, the FBI's reputation has taken a

big hit over the last year. Do you share any of the responsibility for that?

COMEY: No. The FBI's reputation has taken a big hit because the President of the United States has accolades has lied about it constantly. And in the face of those lies a whole lot of good people who watch your network believe that nonsense. That's a tragedy. That will be undone eventually but that damage has nothing to do with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you first learn about the Steele dossier?

COMEY: Sometime in September, I think, could have been October. I think it was September of 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Director Comey, what can be done to fix it? About the way that the public sees the FBI, what the President is saying.

COMEY: People who know better, including Republican members of this body, have to have the courage to stand up and speak the truth, not be cowed by mean tweets or fear of their base. There is a truth and they're not telling it. Their silence is shameful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of the Republicans who are remaining in the House next session, do you see any taking that that mantle, coming up and defending the FBI, taking on the President?

COMEY: Not yet. To my view, to their ever-lasting shame I hope they'll overcome that and realize someday they've got to explain to their grandchildren what they did today.

MANU: In recent days, the weight of the Flynn investigation has been -- interview has been carried out has come under a lot of criticism. In your view should that have been handled any differently? How do you defend it from the criticism that this interview didn't happen?

COMEY: Come on. Look at what's happening in the Republican party. They're up here, attacking the FBI's investigation of a guy who pled guilty to lying to the FBI. He should have been warned, you shouldn't lie. He should have been told, you could have a lawyer. Think of the state of affairs we've ended up in.

[15:40:02] That's nonsense. I'm very proud of the way the FBI conducted itself, agile, flexible, thoughtful, pursued the leads where you want us to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, so maybe for you or your attorney, my understanding is that when you shared your memos with your legal team there was a follow-up for a classified containment operation by the bureau. Was there a spill of classified information when you shared those memos?

COMEY: I'm not going to talk about something like that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's important to talk whether classified information was mishandled.

COMEY: Whether you think it is or not I'm not going to talk about it one way or another. Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are seeing more increase tweets from President Trump on the investigation, we are seeing more movement out of Mr. Mueller's investigation. Is this a sign it's wrapping up soon and a sign of the White House feeling the pressure?

COMEY: I don't know nor do you, I suspect, because it's been done professionally. Incredibly quickly but I don't know whether it's done. Only the investigators know that and we'll see. Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you remember that new report related to the Senate intelligence investigation, did that come as a surprise, any of the findings and how serious was the Russian threat during the 2016 election?

COMEY: I haven't had a chance to see so I can't comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Comey, you said you wanted these hearings to be public. Do you anticipate when Democrats take control coming back to The Hill again potentially answering some of the questions in public again?

COMEY: Well, I don't love the idea coming back, is great you are. But I respect this institution. It's why I'm here, cooperating with the Republicans. I wanted it in public. They wouldn't do it. I'm not going to thumb my nose at them or the Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there substantive changes from your testimony when you were here -- I guess a year ago in the summer, that you would want to have another public testimony at all? Do you feel like there's anything that's changed in the investigation or has changed in your view of it that needs to be clarified?

COMEY: If you read the transcript, you'll see I'm boringly consistent.

RAJU: Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, do you have confidence in him?

COMEY: No comment. All right, see you all.

BALDWIN: No comment. The last two words there from the former FBI chief James Comey as he walks down the hall. He's been answering questions. He's clearly annoyed about having to answer these questions from both the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees and you heard his ire. Yes, directed at the President, saying that the President has been lying consistently about the FBI. But he's really irked at Republicans. I've got Dana Bash and Josh Campbell with me. And Dana Bash, I wanted to go to you first. Just talking about -- hearing James Comey talking about the shame, you know, speaking to Republicans, saying where are they today? And calling out this President and calling out these lies. What will you tell your grandchildren? What did you make of that? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's an

evolution that we've seen when he first started coming out in public testimony. You know, after he was fired and then, of course when he wrote and was selling his book, more and more critical -- not just of the President but of people who he believes are enabling the President. And he just spent many hours with those people behind closed doors. And the reason he said he was not happy about it was the reason that Elijah Cummings, a top Democrat on the oversight committee -- the soon-to-be chairman of the oversight committee -- said it was a waste of time because there were a lot of questions for him about Michael Flynn and interviewing Michael Flynn.

Well, this is something that is -- has been hashed out in a court of law over the past -- well, months and months but in a public way over the past week, whether or not the FBI, James Comey, in particular, did the right thing in interviewing Michael Flynn when he was in the White House. He was the National Security Adviser, where he lied. Lied to the FBI, which got him in just some of the legal trouble that he is in, that will lead to his sentencing this week.

So that is why, you know, you see Comey getting upset. It's the last gasp of these House Republicans as they hold the gavel. It's slipping out of their hands. It's going to the Democrats. That's what you see with these closed-door meetings, hauling James Comey up there.

BALDWIN: You heard him saying how could these Republicans attack the investigation of a guy who is pleading guilty to lying to the FBI? Josh Campbell, what do you think?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, so I look at this hearing -- or this press conference, there are two key takeaways here. First of all, there's the existence of this hearing to begin with, right. Summoning the former FBI director to come in and ask all these questions over and over and over. I think that's a good thing. I think that someone doesn't sit in his position as the FBI director -- he's my former boss. But someone doesn't sit in that position without the knowledge that you may be brought back to answer important questions about actions that you took. It may be a colossal waste of time. That's up to the members of Congress to fight amongst themselves. But I don't think that he could come and say, well, I'm just not going to do it. Obviously, he was in a position of trust. There was intense public interest. He had to go and he had to speak. And if he gets called back, so be it. But the second thing is I couldn't help, it's so striking -- he is standing in the halls of Congress.

[15:45:00] He just walked out of committee hearing and he is the voice standing up for the rule of law. Coming to the microphones and saying these corrosive attacks by the President of the United States, the commander-in-chief, will have a long-term, corrosive damage. And why am I here alone? Why aren't there other Republicans that are coming here? Democrats, we've heard a lot from them but the Republicans, the party of law enforcement, why is he the one defending the FBI from all of these attacks? It's just amazing.

I think we know the answer, that there are a lot of Republicans that are really scared of the President's base and they may face retribution if they come and part ways with the President on a large issue like this. But, man, is it striking when you look at this. That here we have the commander-in-chief, talking like a mob boss, going after witnesses, going after the bureau, going after the Department of Justice and the former FBI director, who was fired because he was investigating the President is a lone voice standing there, saying this needs to stop.

BALDWIN: Yes. Exactly.

CAMPBELL: Amazing.

BALDWIN: Exactly. Manu Raju, I know we've got you I think in front of the camera now. I heard a couple of great questions from you. You were in the thick of that. Tell me what you thought.

RAJU: Yes, it was remarkable for him to come out, wanting to make very strong comments, criticizing the President. Criticizing his remarks, going after the institution of the FBI. Probably the strongest defense he has made of the FBI in going after both the President and the Republicans' refusal to defend the FBI.

I tried to ask him about the tweet from over the weekend when the President called Michael Cohen a rat. He said this was alarming to him, someone going after a person who was cooperating with the Department of Justice.

And also, there have been developments of late in court proceedings that raise some questions about the FBI's handling of the Michael Flynn investigation. Of course, the Flynn attorneys have said that perhaps he was not treated properly when the FBI interviewed Michael Flynn and then he lied to the FBI about his interactions with Russian ambassador. I said is there anything improper with the way that you handled that? And he defended that very aggressively, saying this is ridiculous to even question how that was carried out.

There was also questions about why he didn't inform Sally Yates the then acting Attorney General about the Flynn interview when it happened until the day it happened. He said the reason he didn't do that, is because he didn't want the President to accuse an Obama holdover for green lighting an investigation -- interview of the national security adviser for this President.

And at the very end I asked if he had confidence in the acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker, the former Jeff Sessions Chief of Staff, and he said no comment. Striking considering what he said about the nominee to take over the Attorney General position, Bill Barr, who he has had a lot of confidence in, has expressed his support for but did not comment about Matt Whitaker. Pretty remarkable turn of events, strong comments from James Comey as he left this closed- door session that lasted about five plus hours today -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Way to jump in there. You asked such great questions, Manu. Excellent job. Thank you so much, Dana and Josh. Thank you, guys, both so much on James Comey there on The Hill. Coming up next, new details about how widespread and brazen the

Russian efforts were to influence the 2016 election and what's still happening today. Stay here.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: We are getting our first in-depth look at exactly how far the Russians went in their efforts to help elect Donald Trump as President. The Senate Intelligence Committee just releasing these two major reports. They found Russians used every major social media platform to sway people to vote for Trump, reaching millions and millions of people on these popular sites. And the attempts to interfere didn't stop at the election. With me now, "Washington Post" national technology correspondent, Craig Timberg. He co-wrote this piece in the "Washington Post" today that first reported all these new details. So, Craig, welcome to you. My first question is, not only was this about the election, but, you know, according to your reporting, it shows that the Russians were involved after the election. Tell me more about that and what was the motivation?

CRAIG TIMBERG, NATIONAL TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Not merely involved, but it actually grew more intense after the election.

BALDWIN: Yes.

TIMBERG: The posting became more intense, the sharing became more intense and they were doing things like, you know, supporting Trump's positions but also going after Jim Comey. Attacking Mark Zuckerberg when Facebook began to crack down on this stuff and attacking Robert Mueller. They were all about undermining the people who posed a threat to Donald Trump.

BALDWIN: And when you look at the groups, you rattled off a few, but the reporting shows that this troll group really targeted African- Americans specifically. And tell me why that's so significant.

TIMBERG: Well, there was a clear effort to make African-Americans vote less often. There was a lot of talk about boycotts, there was some misinformation about how to vote. And so, they were playing both sides of the coin. They were trying to, you know, amp up support and activation around conservatives and tamp down support and activation from African-Americans who would have probably voted for Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: Who else were they targeting?

TIMBERG: You name it, Christians, Latinos, Texans, Southerners, generally, people who didn't want immigrants, people who wanted gun rights. They sliced up our country into dozens of different categories and delivered targeted messages to each of them.

BALDWIN: The Senate Intelligence Committee says Silicon Valley is just doing the bare minimum to help with this investigation. Is that the case? And what should they be doing? TIMBERG: The researchers who worked on both reports make very pointed

comments. They were totally dependent on the data that the Twitter and Facebook and Google turned over. But they all complained that that data was really incomplete.

[15:55:00] They didn't get as much as they need to give an even more comprehensive explanation of what happened. They're frustrating, and so are the lawmakers.

BALDWIN: You said it seems like the Russians weren't trying very hard to cover their tracks when it comes to some of this, like those Facebook ads. And that they are probably more advanced, even now. How concerning is this?

TIMBERG: Well, if you're concerned about the way in which our democracy functions and the way in which we all get news and information, I think very concerned. You know, the Russians in 2016 made a bunch of mistakes. They left IP addresses in St. Petersburg. They paid in rubles. Once the social media companies turned their attention on this, they fairly quickly figured out what happened and collected a lot of data and shut down a bunch of accounts.

What we don't know is what happened after that. We know that the Russians were getting more and more aggressive. Basically, month by month, into 2017 until the companies began to crack down. What happened after that, we just don't know. Because the Russians presumably got better at what they were doing.

BALDWIN: You can read Craig's whole piece it's in the "Washington Post" today. Craig Timberg, a pleasure. Thank you.

TIMBERG: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: Stay on it.

Happening right now, another volatile day on Wall Street. The Dow falling more than 500 points just minutes before the closing bell. Stay with me. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: And keeping an eye on the markets again, it has been a roller coaster the past couple of weeks as we have been covering, and with 30 seconds to go, the closing bell down just about 500 points to start this workweek. Obviously, investors are worried about the economy. That the Fed is expected to raise interest rates again when it meets Wednesday. And as I mentioned, all of this coming after the market has had a couple of turbulent past few weeks. So, we'll watch this closely for you this week.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.