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Former Trump Fixer Michael Cohen Set to Testify Before Congress; Trump Visits Border on Day 20 of Shutdown Over Wall. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired January 10, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live in Washington.

And, tomorrow, 800,000 federal workers won't get paid. Many are protesting today. And many have warned that, because they live paycheck to paycheck, they will not be able to pay rent, they will not be able to pay their bills, they will not be able to buy groceries.

There are others in public housing facing evictions. And countless contractors and business owners whose livelihoods depend on federal work and on workers, well, they're not going to get back any of the money that they have lost in this shutdown.

On top of this, airport security at risk. Food inspections at risk. America's credit rating at risk. FBI agents warning that this puts the U.S. at risk.

Farmers, already hurt by tariffs that have come apart of that trade war the president has with China, not getting government support. Federal courts closed. National parks filled with trash, shut down, some of them.

Everything that American take for granted, expect hanging in the balance, and yet, as politicians are playing with fire, they're arguing over who did or did not throw a temper tantrum.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our meeting did not last long.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president walked into the room and passed out candy.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: We saw a temper tantrum.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't have temper tantrums. I really don't.

SCHUMER: He sort of slammed the table.

TRUMP: I didn't smash the table. I should have. SCHUMER: He just got up and said, "Then we have nothing to discuss,"

and he just walked out.

TRUMP: I very calmly said, "If you're not going to give us strong borders, bye-bye," and I left.

PELOSI: Not only was the president unpresidential, surprise, surprise. I think the meeting was a setup so he could walk out.


KEILAR: The sticking point in this shutdown, the president insisting on a barrier at the southern border.

And that is where the president is now, where he wants his wall, and on a visit to the border that even he admits won't change -- quote -- "a damn thing."

Let me bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. He is in the border town of McAllen, Texas.

And, Jim, why did the president decide to go on this trip, if he does not think this will make a difference?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it's part of this P.R. campaign on the part of the White House to try to drum up support for the wall.

Obviously, it's not changing the minds of a lot of Democrats right now. They don't want to give in and give the president his way on this wall in order to shut this -- or end this shutdown, I should say.

And so it seems as though the shutdown going to drag on. But just to tell you what's happening right now, the president is having a roundtable discussion with Border Patrol agents, also with some members of Congress, two Republican senators from Texas who are down here, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

And they're going over what they feel to be the current threat posed by people coming across the border. The president during this presentation at that roundtable is talking about some of the crime and drugs coming across the border and how he wants to have a barrier, a steel barrier, along the border, what he's essentially calling a wall.

But, Brianna, just to let you know, where we are in McAllen, Texas, local officials have pointed to national statistics that show this is one of the safest places to live in America from a crime standpoint. It is one of the safest cities in the country.

And just to give you a sense as to what the border is like here, take a look behind me. There are some of the steel slats that you hear the president talking about, but it's sort of a piecemeal approach here on the border. You see this from time to time and then it'll end, and then you will see what we have right here, which is just some chain- link fencing that you might have in your backyard. And then behind us here is just some trees and some brush before you hit the Rio Grande River. We talked to a couple of law enforcement officials here who said from time to time people would come and set ladders up here and they would come across and come into the McAllen, Texas, area.

But, again, we have encountered resident after resident, Brianna, who has told -- they have told us all day long that they feel very safe living in this community, they don't -- they don't see what the president is talking about in terms of there being a crisis down on the border. At least they don't feel it in their community and they don't understand why the president is considering declaring a national emergency.

They feel, living in one of the safest places in America, that there really isn't an emergency in their backyard. And so it is kind of a curious spot the president has chosen to -- to do this sort of photo- op, being one of the safest places in the country.

At the same time, he is getting -- he's getting some real-time intelligence, some real-time information from Border Patrol agents, law enforcement officials who are on the ground here right now. They're talking to him about all this.

But it's interesting to see people sort of latch on to the steel slat fencing idea, where, when you have a situation like we have here in McAllen, Texas, where there is some of that here, but it's certainly not running the stretch of the entire border in McAllen, Texas. That's sort of a piecemeal approach.


And yet residents who have been living here for a very long time -- I talked to a gentleman who has been here his whole life, and he's in his 70s. And he said he just doesn't see the kind of crime that the president talks about on a regular basis when he talks about -- when the president talks about what he considers to be a crisis down on the border -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jim Acosta in McAllen, thank you.

Now, President Trump is trying to make the case, right? That's why he's there, trying to make the case that a southern border wall would protect the country also from possible terrorist attacks.

But an administration official tells CNN more non-U.S. citizens on the terror watch list are encountered at the northern border with Canada.

Senior national correspondent Alex Marquardt live for us from Derby Line, Vermont.

This is -- Alex, tell us about it. It's a northern border town, and really crossing the border is as easy as, what, crossing the street?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, technically, yes, Brianna, though, as one resident told us, you're not going to get very far.

We discovered ourselves pretty quickly when we took a wrong turn and didn't know that we'd actually ended up in Canada. We were stopped by Border Patrol and asked for our passports to get back into the U.S.

But, Brianna, this right here is the U.S.-Canada border. You can see the United States right here. Canada's on the other side. Those cars, that house, those are in Canada. This library here, if you go inside, there's a line in tape right down the middle that shows you that one side is in Canada, the other side is in the U.S.

But, Brianna, insofar as there is a potential terror threat on the borders, the reason that experts say that this border would potentially be more problematic in large part is because of the length of it. That border where Jim is down in the south in Mexico, near Mexico, is around 1,900 miles' long. This border with Canada is double that length, 4,000 miles.

And then, when you look at the number of apprehensions that have taken place, in the fiscal year 2018, down in the south, around 12, around a dozen people on the terror watch list were apprehended, while in the first half of that period along this border, more than triple that amount, around 41.

Now, we have also seen cells, ISIS-affiliated cells who have pledged allegiance to ISIS in Canada. We have seen ISIS-related attacks up in Canada. Just last month, in December, there was a young Canadian who was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison in the U.S. for plotting attacks in the United States.

So there is more of a threat from the Canadian side of the border than from the Mexican side. But when you speak with residents here, people in Vermont who live right up against this border, there is very little concern. They do tell us that they feel very secure.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we got a lot of people trying to cross, but they don't make it very far.

MARQUARDT: There's no fence, though. There's no wall.


MARQUARDT: Do you feel like that's needed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. I don't think it's needed down there either. But that's just my opinion.

MARQUARDT: My first impression was when you drive around is that, oftentimes, you can't even see the border, and it seems like it's actually quite easy to cross. Is that how it is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, because there's sensors, I think, everywhere.

And, like, if you -- if they're tripped, then Border Patrol will come. And there's actually Border Patrol everywhere. There's undercover Border Patrol. They're all over the place.


MARQUARDT: They are indeed all over the place, Brianna.

You can see that this car just pulled up. Every time you get near the border, you can see the cameras, you can see those cars. So the residents here do indeed feel secure. You ask them if they feel like they need a border wall, as you heard in that sound, they say absolutely not.

And one gentleman I spoke to said that the concept of even needing that, as he said, is silly -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Alex Marquardt, very interesting report there from Vermont. Thank you.

And I want to turn now to CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash and CNN political commentator Van Jones. He wrote "Beyond The Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together."

And, Dana, let's talk about what the president is still considering here, because he's still thinking about declaring a national emergency. Political speaking -- politically speaking, how does this affect both sides? Is this beneficial to both sides?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Potentially, politically. And let's just underscore that, because you said and I want to say it again, politically.

The people who are going to not get paychecks starting tomorrow, of course not, and the myriad of other reasons why the shutdown is bad for regular people. But, politically, what would it do? It would allow the president to say, I didn't give in, I stood up, and I did whatever I could for the wall. The Democrats wouldn't come to the table. They wouldn't go share it on the wall. I used my executive power.

Whether it works when it makes its way through the courts or not, he can save face by saying, I did what I could.

Same with the Democrats. They can stand up and say, we didn't give into the president, and look at what happened. He breached protocol. He trampled all over the Constitution, because it is the Congress, as you all know, Bri -- we covered Congress together -- it is the Congress' power to appropriate funds, the power of the purse.


So, yes, it is a political win. And I just got off the phone with a Republican senator who said just that, that the frustration that we're hearing about from the halls of Congress and particularly the Senate right now is that everybody thinks that they're winning right now politically, which gives them no incentive or very little incentive to actually do what Van did, which is a bipartisan piece of legislation.

KEILAR: Well, there is this odd kind of -- criminal justice reform, Van, credit to you on that.

There is this odd sort of bipartisan moment that we keep seeing, and that's President Trump continuing to quote President Obama saying that he said there was a crisis at the border. Let's listen.


TRUMP: Ask President Obama. Obama used to call it a crisis at the border too. I think he said it in 2014. Look, look, you can all play cute.


KEILAR: I mean, those are not two men who I think are of one mind when it comes to the border and immigration, Van.


And opportunistically cherry-picking things that Obama said in very different circumstances, I think, is interesting. Look, here's the reality. If he does this, at best, it's short-term gain for long-term pain for the country. He's painted himself into this corner.

There was a better deal on the table back in the summer for $25 billion, which he turned down. It would have helped the dreamers and everybody else. We could have resolved this long time ago. He refused to do a better deal then.

Now he's painted himself into a corner. And the only way to get out of that corner is to tear down the wall behind him, the wall behind him. It's called the U.S. Constitution, which gives the power to Congress to make these kind of decisions.

And so this is -- listen, it might be -- this may all get worked out in the short-term, and I sure hope that 800,000 people who are working for America's government, sometimes for free, get some relief. They deserve it.

But I'm very concerned that we set a precedent where the president manufactures a crisis and then gives himself more power, and everybody thinks that that's the normal way to do things. That's not the normal way to do things, it's not the right way to do things, and it's dangerous for us to set that precedent.

BASH: But one of the things, Brianna, that I'm hearing from Democrats -- and you probably are too -- I'm sure you are -- is it's not just precedent-setting when it comes to a potential declaration of an emergency and getting the funds without Congress doing it.

What Democrats are arguing is that, if you give in on the wall, that that sets a precedent for the president holding -- shutting down the government until he gets what he wants.

JONES: Right.

BASH: So that's why there's this very difficult -- maybe you -- looking at it right now, impossible dance, making it hard to get out of it.

JONES: The thing is, it didn't have to be this way.

The thing about it is, we start adapting to the absurd, OK? Literally, there is a deal that could be done. The Democrats have been saying over and over again that they believe that there's an issue that they want to address. They want to dress it comprehensively. They want to do it intelligently. They want to do it with DACA and dreamers included.

Great. Let American workers go back to work. Put America's government back on track. And then let's go and do that. The idea that the only way to get this done is to have hostage-taking on one side and then threats to run over 200 years of precedent on the other side, this is just not the way to deal with this issue.

And I think the reason he's doing it has nothing to do with a so- called crisis on the border. There's a crisis in the White House. And he is in a situation, were he not doing this, what would be happening?


KEILAR: Van, I am sorry to interrupt you. I'm going to have you and Dana stand.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: I need to head up to Capitol Hill.

Manu Raju, you are there. What is going on?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very significant breaking news.

Michael Cohen, the president's former lawyer, longtime fixer, has agreed to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on February 7. This is according to Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the committee, releasing a statement saying that Cohen will testify before this committee.

And, of course, Cohen has been a central player, very close to this president. And, of course, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison for multiple charges, including two campaign finance-related charges, in which he allegedly -- he admitted to making -- being involved with payments to silence women who alleged affairs with this president in the heat, in the days running up to the 2016 campaign.

Federal prosecutors, of course, said that Trump directed Cohen to make those payments. The president has denied that, but those will be key questions that will be asked at this oversight hearing.

Also, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress in previous classified testimony about a Trump Tower Moscow project that the Trump Organization was pursuing back in the early part of 2016 and in late 2015.


He had said at the time to the committees that he -- that occurred in January 2016, it ended that point, but it turns out was actually June of 2016 that the court papers revealed that he was involved with that. So questions undoubtedly will come about that involvement about what happened to the Trump Tower Moscow project and the president's knowledge and involvement, then candidate Trump, while the -- what was happening with that project while the Russian interference campaign was ongoing.

And on top of that, court filings also revealed about Michael Cohen that he spoke to several Russians in 2015 who had offered -- quote -- "political synergy" with the Trump campaign while discussing the Trump Tower Moscow project.

What does that mean? And those will be questions that members will ask at a hearing that we believe is going to be public, because Michael Cohen himself said so in a statement to CNN.

He said: "I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired." He said he agreed to testify "in furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers."

Now, this testimony on February 7, in front of the House Oversight Committee, will be the first time that Cohen has come before Congress in a public setting. There's been those private testimonies before, first time since he cooperated with the Mueller investigation as well.

And also, Brianna, a real sign of the Democratic efforts to oversee and investigate this president, really the first aggressive effort to investigate this president, the controversies, the scandals that have occurred that Republicans when they were in charge have decided not to look into.

Elijah Cummings actually asked the chairman of this same committee, Trey Gowdy, when the Republicans ran this in the last Congress, to look into the Michael Cohen situation, these payments. Gowdy did not do that.

Now, Cummings in his first days in power plans to do just that, announcing this testimony which Michael Cohen say will be public. And that's going to happen on February 7, a very, very significant development that we will all be watching -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Oh, indeed.

Manu Raju, stand by for us. Shimon Prokupecz, I want to bring you in on this.

Michael Cohen has testified before Congress before, but we have not seen it. So we are expecting now, with Democrats doing oversight in the House, they control the House now, that this is going to be a public hearing.

And since we know from court documents that Michael Cohen lied to Congress, we're expecting that he will, what, set the record straight here? How damning might this be?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This perhaps could be the most damning day for the president and this White House come February 7.

You have someone that's going before members of Congress in public who has already implicated the president in a crime. The Department of Justice has implicated the president in a crime in court filings. Michael Cohen stood before a court, swore to tell the truth and said that the president directed him to make these payments, that the president was part of these payments.

This is what's going to go on in this hearing. For all we know right now, from everything we know, that the hush payments, the payments to the women who have accused the president of having an -- who say they had an affair with the president, these women perhaps -- these payments is what's going to cause the president the most problem -- could be the most problematic parts of this hearing for the president.

We don't know much about the Moscow project. We don't know much more about the synergy in terms of the political stuff, but we do know a lot about the hush payments, because that's already been out there in court. It's been documented by the Department of Justice. They certainly believe what Michael Cohen has said. He's pleaded guilty to it.

And this hearing also is going to come a month before Michael Cohen is set to report to prison. So he's probably going to look to curry favor with the court. He could go to the court and say, hey, I have been before this -- before members of Congress. I have told the truth. I hope, by doing this, you can give me a lighter sentence.

This is going to be a monumental day. It's almost like Nixon era, Watergate era, in that you're going to have a lawyer, the president's lawyer, his personal attorney, come in and essentially tell us that the president directed him to make these payments, how the president directed him to make this payments, perhaps others that may have been involved in this.

And really, when you think about what is the goal here for Michael Cohen, and it's going to be to take down the president, right? He's going to come in and he's going to list in every which way the president was part of these payments.

The other thing this may indicate to us is that the Department of Justice has signed off on this. Certainly, we have seen members of Congress not wanting to interfere in any parts of this investigation.


We don't get know how much detail is going to go into about the Moscow project. But it would seem that the Department of Justice certainly has told members of Congress, if you want him to appear before you, go ahead, we are pretty much done with him.

And we will see. But this is going to be a big, big day in terms of for this White House. And the other thing that is going to be interesting to see is much of what we saw around when Comey -- the last time someone really important in this investigation testified before members of Congress publicly was Comey.

And remember everything, the attention surrounding that. We're certainly going to see that here. And what is the White House going to do to try and discredit in this next month? What are they going to do to try and discredit Michael Cohen even further? It's going to be a really interesting time, something we haven't seen in quite some time.

KEILAR: And they will question his credibility.

All right, Shimon, stay with me, if you can.

I want to bring in Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst.

And when you look at Michael Cohen, his team, Gloria, has often referred to him as the John Dean in this story. They're comparing him to Nixon's White House counsel who testified before Congress, essentially turned on President Nixon.

And a lot of people looked at what John Dean was saying, they actually didn't believe it, but then there would be corroborating evidence. He came out, and he said the most, what seemed like outlandish things publicly to Congress, and then they ended up being true.

Is that the expectation of what's going to happen here, certainly, the outlandish aspect of it, I would say?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what you're going to hear from Michael Cohen -- and I have no idea what questions the members of Congress are going to ask -- is him trying to set the record straight here, because don't forget he did lie to Congress previously.

And I think this is somebody who is supposed to go to jail in March and wants to set the record straight publicly against Donald Trump. As Shimon was saying -- and I agree with him 100 percent -- this is something the White House is going to be watching very, very carefully, because it's going to turn into a he said/he said.

And don't forget that these two men have a very long relationship. I mean, this is Shakespearian, that somebody who worshipped Donald Trump, basically, was his most loyal soldier since 2006, is now going to appear before Congress to publicly testify against the president and tell his story, which no doubt will differ from the president's story in many ways.

And, yes, you can make the case that he's trying to save himself to a great degree. And that's probably true, but, on the other hand, I think he also has this sense that he wants to tell the American people what he knows.

And he has released a statement, which says: "In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers, I have accepted this invitation. And I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired."

KEILAR: All right, Gloria, I want to bring in Manu Raju.

As we are all -- we are here. We have all hands on deck for this breaking news, that the former attorney of President Trump, former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is going to testify publicly.

So you have some new reaction from lawmakers, Manu. What are they saying?

RAJU: Yes.

Well, first, Elijah Cummings, who is the chairman of the committee, explaining this decision. He says that he -- this is part of their efforts to oversee the Trump administration. He said they're trying to restore accountability and transparency when it comes to looking into the executive branch. They're also announcing other hearings involving prescription drugs.

But he said that -- about the Cohen hearing, he says: "I thank Michael Cohen for agreeing to testify before the Oversight Committee voluntarily. I want to make clear that we have no interest in inappropriately interfering with any ongoing criminal investigations. And to that end, we are in the process of consulting with special counsel Mueller's office."

So he said the committee will announce additional information in the coming weeks. So they clearly have some issues they want to try to resolve to try to step on the Mueller investigation any which way.

Now, there have been several committees, Brianna, that have wanted to interview Michael Cohen, the Senate Intelligence Committee. The chairman of that committee, Richard Burr, actually told me just yesterday they have been waiting to hear back from Cohen for months, waiting for him to come back to the committee. Cohen has not responded.

But also the House Intelligence Committee and the new chairman, Adam Schiff, the Democrat from California, wants to talk to Michael Cohen as well. And he just put out this statement.

He said: "Mr. Cohen is expressing interest in telling his personal story in open session. And we welcome his testimony before the Committee on Oversight and Reform. It will be necessary, however, for Mr. Cohen to answer questions pertaining to the Russia investigation. And we hope to schedule a closed session before our committee in the near future."


So that says two things, one, that there is going to be this open session that Michael Cohen wants to testify publicly before the Oversight Committee, and he wants to be -- and the separate committee, the House Intelligence Committee, wants to bring him in for a classified private briefing, private hearing to hear everything that happened regarding Russia and regarding his past testimony, in which he misled that same committee about when that pursuit of that Trump Tower Moscow project actually ended in 2016.

So this may not be his only appearance on Capitol Hill. But it seems to be it's going to be a public appearance before the Oversight Committee, but privately there may be additional appearances before at least one other committee, before he ultimately goes to prison -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Manu.

I want to bring Dana Bash and Van Jones back in.

Dana, this -- I mean, I think of when Jim Comey testified on the Hill and just what a spectacle that was. This is probably going to make that pale in comparison.

BASH: I agree, Brianna.

Look, of course, this is the Democrats doing what they promised, what they campaigned on, and what they now have the power to do, basic oversight. But there's more to it than that. I mean, they're going to be fact-finding. They're going to be asking questions.

But they also know that this is going to make the president completely lose his mind. Am I right?


JONES: Exactly. Yes. Yes.

BASH: I mean, can you imagine? Because as Gloria and Manu and you have been talking about, it is Shakespearian.

I mean, this is the guy who did the president's dirty work for him. And he's going up to Congress to talk publicly about that dirty work as a character witness against the president of the United States. And that is going to be the biggest takeaway.

And then you're going to see the specifics of what he's talking about.

KEILAR: And, on one hand, Van, he has to report to jail, or to prison, right? So they need to do this before that point in time, one would assume.

But, at the same time, when you talk -- whenever I am talking to Democrats, and I'm asking them -- and, Dana, I'm sure it's the same with you -- what is your priority when it comes to oversight, they will say something about oversight, but then they try to pivot back to what they want their agenda to be.

And it's not President Trump. They're trying to put out their own message. How does this not detract from that, Van?

JONES: Well, it will. And there's always been this kind of split personality in the Democrats since Trump came in.

On the one hand, hey, we want to stick up for the little folks who are getting screwed over. But also we want to get Donald Trump.

There's always that point in the movie where the protagonist looks up and there's like a million arrows coming over the wall, OK? This is one of the first of those arrows. And there's going to be a lot coming from the Democrats into the Trump White House.

The reality is, for the conservatives, the hard-core base, they're going to set all this aside. They're going to say, he's already a proven liar. They're going to say, we don't care. This is all part of the scheme.

But for ordinary people to be watching television and seeing the former attorney of the president of the United States spilling his guts, most people are going to take it very seriously.

And, honestly, I did a lot of my work in Oakland, California. When your homeboy starts snitching, you are in trouble.


JONES: And this is where we are right now. The homeboys are starting to snitch on live television. I would not want to be in the Trump White House that day.

BASH: But you brought up something, Brianna, that is really interesting, real quick, and important to underscore, which is the first and main reason Michael Cohen got himself into legal jeopardy is because, the first time he was on Capitol Hill, behind closed doors, he lied.

JONES: That's right.

KEILAR: That's right.

BASH: So you can bet, if we're not already getting in our inbox, that we're going to get statement after statement, and we're going to see it in here at when it happens live: Why should we believe anything you're saying now? You already came up here and lied to us before.

KEILAR: Yes. And the president said that. You're a liar. Right? He's a liar. He said that.

BASH: Yes. Exactly.

KEILAR: So we know -- we sort of know what the tactic is going to be. Gloria Borger back in on this conversation here.

You have something new?


No, I think when I have spoken with allies of Michael Cohen, I think the argument would be about the lying is that the lying was done to further Donald Trump's messaging and his agenda and as a loyal soldier.

And Michael Cohen has been saying, I lied to protect him, and I am no longer protecting him. And I guarantee you that's what he's going to tell the committee, because he was convicted of that. And he did lie.

And now he wants to make it right, because he's not -- he's not protecting the president anymore, which is why, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, this is going to be a very, very uncomfortable piece of testimony, and maybe more uncomfortable than Comey's was, and maybe better watched than Comey's was.