Return to Transcripts main page
Erin Burnett Outfront
Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Flynn; Aired 7-8p ET
Aired May 10, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT HOST: And more breaking news this hour, we are just learning moments ago, the Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to Former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn. And the Education Secretary repeatedly booed, interrupted. Why were students at a historically black college, so angry? Let's go out to find.
And good evening, I'm Erin Burnett. OutFront tonight, breaking news, "His own man" that's the conclusion President Trump reached about the former FBI Director, James Comey. Several people familiar with Trump's decision to fire the FBI Director, says the President decided, Comey could not be trusted to lead the FBI at a time when it was expanding the Russia investigation.
Sources tell CNN, in fact, that just one week before Comey was fired, he had asked, appealed for more resources for his Russia investigation but the justice department denies that but according to two sources familiar with the discussion, Comey actually made that request specifically to the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. That of course is the man who made the case to let Comey go. Also today the White House offering a new timeline for Trump's decision, now saying, Trump had been thinking about firing Comey for months.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that Director Comey has shown over the last several months and frankly, the last year a lot of missteps and mistakes. The president had lost again -- like I said, he'd lost confidence in Director Comey and frankly, he'd been considering letting Director Comey go since the day he was elected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Since the day he was elected. There is, of course, a problem with that time line. Sean Spicer, the Press Secretary has repeatedly, since Election Day, said that the president has confidence in Comey. And here's the president himself, again, since Election Day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I respect him a lot. I respect the FBI a lot. Oh, and there's -- he become more famous than me. I have confidence in him. We'll see what happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, more breaking news at this moment. The Senate Intelligence Committee issuing a subpoena just now, moments ago to former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn. It's a big development and we're going to - much more on that breaking news in just a moment. First, though, I want to go to Jeff Zeleny, OutFront at the White House and Jeff, you are learning new details about what led to Trump's decision and it's pretty shocking that this involves him deciding that Comey was "His own man."
JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT FOR CNN: That's right, Erin, we're talking to several people here close to the White House and involved in this administration. His decision of the Justice Department as well as those informed on Capitol Hill. And it's a compilation of a reporting suggest that the president was growing increasingly agitated at his FBI director starting with that congressional hearing last Wednesday. You remember the FBI Director has said that decision back in the election last year over the Clinton e-mails made him mildly nauseous. Well, that did not sit well with this president.
So, he increasingly, was doing over this -- over the weekend I'm told, while he was in New Jersey, he told his advisors, he sees Comey as his own man and does not trust him to lead this FBI investigation. Now, there was some dissenting views inside the west wing, I'm told, including White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus who argued at least quietly against this. The president disagreed and now he's looking for a new FBI director.
TRUMP: Thank you very much for being here. Appreciate it.
ZELENY: There's still one question tonight above all others for President Trump.
TRUMP: Because he wasn't doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job.
ZELENY: Those sparse words is all the president had to say about why he fired FBI Director, James Comey. For a second day the bombshell rocked Washington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK SCHUMER, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATE: The dismissal of Director Comey establishes a very troubling pattern.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Vice President Pence praised the President's decision but shed no more light on the abrupt dismissal of the man leading the investigation in the Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: President Trump provided the kind of, strong and decisive leadership the American people have come to be accustomed from him and he took the action necessary to remove Director Comey.
ZELENY: As protesters gathered outside the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Inside the west wing, the administration struggled to not only explain why Comey was fired but why now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: The president had lost confidence in Comey from the day he was elected.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: The timeline and its contradictions matter in determining whether it was the president or Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein who triggered Comey's firing as the White House initially explained.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had you regret not doing it earlier like in January 20th or January 21st?
SANDERS: No, I believe the president wanted to give Director Comey a chance but he feels that he made the right decisions.
ZELENY: Whether tone-deaf or intentionally ironic, Russia front and center today in the White House. The president appearing alongside Henry Kissinger.
TRUMP: Everybody knows Dr. Kissinger. And we're right now, talking about Russia and various other matters.
ZELENY: Also meeting with the Russian foreign ministers and even smiling in the oval office with Russian Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, considered a top spy and recruiter of spies by U.S. intelligent. All these as Deputy White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders blamed Comey's abrupt dismissal on the investigation in the Hillary Clinton's emails.
SANDERS: I think also having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic just atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice.
ZELENY: Now, one more question, all of us tonight is about the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Erin, you'll remember, a couple of months ago the Attorney General recused himself into any bit of this Russia investigation because of his meeting with the Russian Ambassador but he was not forthcoming about. Well, in fact, the President met with the Attorney General on Monday in the oval office to talk about the removal of the FBI Director and the Attorney General is also involved in the selection of a potential new FBI director. That, of course, puts him squarely in the middle of this investigation. He said he would recuse himself from. BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jeff Zeleny and I want to get our other breaking story in now right away. The Senate Intelligence Committee, moments ago issuing a subpoena to the former National Security Advisor, General Michael Flynn. Pamela Brown is OutFront in Washington. Pamela, obviously a significant development tonight.
PAMELA BROWN, CORRESPONDENT FOR CNN: It certainly is with the Senate Intelligence Committee now ordering President Trump's former (INAUDIBLE) National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn who turnover documents related to its Russia probe. Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Now, this follows a response from Michael Flynn's attorney to a letter back in late April asking for these documents where the attorney said that he would not comply with handing over these documents and answering question.
And as you'll recall he also said he wanted immunity before testifying -- before congress. Now, this subpoena that was issued today is specific to documents related to the Russia probe. We've learned through sources that Paul Manafort and others who were subpoenaed have responded to the letter from late April by turning over those documents. Michael Flynn declined to do so and this also comes at a time, Erin, that the U.S. Attorney's office in the eastern district of Virginia has issued subpoena to associates of Michael Flynn as part of its probe. So this is a significant development and a sign that the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation is moving forward in the wake of the firing of James Comey.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Pamela Brown. I'm going to much more on this. OutFront now, the Democratic Senator, Cory Booker, member of the Foreign Relations Committee and senator, I want to ask you about that subpoena in just a moment. First of all, I want to start with the breaking news here. We're hearing that the president fired Jim Comey when he felt that he was his own man, as Russia investigations broaden. The White House said today, the President lost confidence in Comey. Comey several months ago but obviously the tape of what the President had to say does not show that to be the case. Why do you think he was fired now?
CORY BOOKER, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think we're hearing conflicting reasons, they haven't gotten their stories the straight yet. In one hand it's a reaction to Rosenstein's letter and in another hand something maybe considering for months now. So, I don't want to let that distract from the urgency, in fact, the crisis of this moment where we have Russia who has attacked our country in a cyber-way, trying to undermine our elections and there's a whole urgency to get to the bottom of what happened, were there people colluding.
We have an FBI Director that has stated that there is an open investigation going on, really investigating associates of the President. And so we really have a crisis right now and the urgencies to get to the bottom of that. Public trust has been eroded. This president cannot oversee an investigation into his own associates. We need to have a special prosecutor, someone who's independent and that's not a part of this issue with this ultimately issue patriotism. This nation needs to get to the bottom of the attacks by the Russians into our elections.
BURNETT: Now, you're going for a special prosecutor, of course, the house speaker, the senate majority leaders are saying, they don't think that one is necessary and the President is saying, there's a lot of hypocrisy here from democrats. Right, a lot of democrats are blasting the president for firing Comey. The president, though, went to twitter this afternoon as I'm sure you saw, senator, he said, "Democrats have been complaining for months and months about Director Comey. Now that he's been fired they pretend to be aggrieved. Phony hypostyles." What do you say?
BOOKER: Well, look, I've been one of those people and have serious problems with Comey when it came to the way handled incidents leading into the election but I was even on your show. I would not call for his being fired. And I think it's very problem when you have a President and an Attorney General involving themselves at a time in the firing of an individual that was investigating, asking for more resources, in fact, to investigate, not only to Russia's attacks -- Cyberattacks but also people that were part of the campaign as Jeff Sessions was and obviously it's (INAUDIBLE) Trump was.
And so this really have to get -- we have to get back to the focus of what's going on right now which is really a moment in American history where we've had an unprecedented attack on our elections. And how are we as a nation going to respond. Donald Trump clearly has not taken this seriously in what should be a (INAUDIBLE) moment for our country, where people are talking about the Russians are coming, they're intending not only to attack this past election but intending to continue this behavior, what will our response be? And right now it's been wholly unsatisfactory from this administration.
BURNETT: Now, you know, you were on the show a week ago today and, you know, you did - I did pressed you several times to say whether you thought Comey should be fired. You didn't say that he should be fired but the reason I pressed you was that, you were - you were using very strong words with your frustration with him. In fact, you called his actions egregious in announcing new Clinton emails days before the election. And I wanted to play the bottom line of what you said, Senator.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: What he did was unacceptable. It should be unacceptable to all of us to allow an FBI, a director to interfere in an American election in the way he did. It was just dead wrong. He should be held account. There should be accountability for this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So, what were you exactly calling for? You're going to hold him to account but weren't calling for him to be fired?
BOOKER: Well, look, I've talked to my colleagues who were former prosecutors and they said, look, when you decide not to carry out legal action against somebody you should not be talking about what happened. There should be literally, should be some kind of accountability sanction, some comeuppance for that. But again, the fact that we have a President of the United States who is firing someone who's engaged in an active investigation on them, erodes the public trust.
So let's just put Comey aside right now, let's look forward he has been fired, he's no longer the head of the FBI. What I'm focusing on whole day and we'll continue to talk about is what I think should be a nonpartisan issue, the urgency now for us to make sure that we have an investigation that's independent. That is out of the political chain of command. We have an Attorney General who said he was going to recuse himself. We have a president whose own individuals, own his campaign team being investigated and we have the severity of the Russians attacking our election process.
So, right now let's -- leave Comey aside, the decision has been made. What I'm calling for is a special prosecutor which I think that we - the public need urgently right now.
BURNETT: So, want to actually play for you what Vladimir Putin has said because he actually was at a hockey game, about Comey's firing and here's how he answered the question.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): We have nothing to do with it. President Trump is acting in accordance with its competence and law and constitution. And what about us? Why we? I'm going to play hockey (with a hockey pants).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And you saw him not taking that seriously there, Senator. You know, what do we have to do with it, sort of laughing it off? Do you believe that Russia and Vladimir Putin did not influence Trump's decision to fire Jim Comey?
BOOKER: Look, I mean, the severity of that question that we're asking in America today whether a foreign power who does not have our interests, who's undermining our foreign policy when it comes to places like Syria, is somehow influencing the presidency. The mere fact that that question is being asked on CNN demands for us as a country. If that shadow and that question is legitimately out there, we need to get to the bottom of what's going on.
This is the kind of stuff that should've been for spy novels of the past. Not the reality that we're asking these questions today. And so, the mere fact that you ask that question highlights what I'm calling for what we need to have trust restored not only to the presidency and the FBI but to our very democratic process of our elevations. And to get there the only avenue -- the only pathway there I see right now is to have somebody independent from the political process, independent from this administration to be able to give a thorough investigation into what happened and what is actually going on because the Russians - do we see this from the French elections, do we see this from what happening both -- they intend to continue to (comet) this country. So, this is a (INAUDIBLE) moment, the Russians are coming. What are we going to do about it? Is president -- everyone who believes in the sanctity of democracy as patriots we all should be calling for independent thorough investigation by a special prosecutor.
BURNETT: All right, Senator. Thank you very much for your time tonight.
BOOKER: Thank you very much for having me on.
BURNETT: And OutFront next, Will Jim Comey testify before the senate intelligence committee? Yes. Testifying now. And the man who made the case to fire Comey. Who is Rod Rosenstein and did he really make the decision or not? Plus with all the comparison to Nixon. Why did President Trump choose today to meet with former - Nixon, Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger?
BURNETT: Breaking news, the Senate Intelligence Committee issuing subpoenas to President Trump's former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn tonight. They want document about his interaction with Russian officials, the committee has refused to provide, they asked, he said no. And the committee is not also inviting the former FBI Director, Jim Comey to testify. Jim Sciutto is OutFront.
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT FOR CNN: Tonight, growing charges of White House interference in the FBI's ongoing investigation into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with the Russian government. The day after the president fired the FBI director, the White House downplaying the importance of the probe.
SANDERS: That's probably one of the smallest things that they've got going on their plate.
SCIUTTO: Some lawmakers, however, are now demanding that the justice department appoint a special prosecutor, independent of the administration and Capitol Hill to lead the probe.
CHUMER: Were those investigations getting too close to home for the president? If there was ever a time when circumstances warranted a special prosecutor, it is right now.
SCIUTTO: Those circumstances, sources tell CNN that just days before being fired, FBI Director James Comey asked Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein for more resources to devote to the Bureau's Russia Investigation. An account the justice department denies. One indication the FBI's investigation was ramping up, federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisory, Michael Flynn seeking business records.
Another sign senate, Russia investigators have also sent a request to the treasury department for any financial information related to President Trump, his top officials and campaign aids.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, SENATOR OF THE UNITED STATES: The decision to fire Comey raises questions about the appropriateness and timing of firing the person in charge of an investigation that could -- I won't say would but could, implicate the administration. To have this happen and happen now is beyond surprising.
SCIUTTO: In his confirmation hearing, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein said that he was open to the possibility of appointing an independent prosecutor if warranted.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm willing to appoint a special council, Senator, whenever I determine that it's appropriate based upon the policies and procedures of the justice department.
SCIUTTO: Today Senate Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell said an independent prosecutor isn't necessary.
MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADER: Today, we'll, no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work.
SCIUTTO: And the White House agreed.
SANDERS: We don't think it's necessary. You've got a house committee, a senate committee, and the Department of Justice all working on this.
SCIUTTO: We're seeing tonight the first pictures of Director Comey, I should say, former Director Comey since his firing. This is him here returning to his home outside of Washington, D.C. On the key question of collusion, I spoke in the last 24 hours to a number of republican and democratic house and Senate Intelligence Committee members, all of them say that the issue of collusion is not closed, they are still investigating the possibility that Trump associates coordinated with Russians officials or other Russian known to U.S. Intelligence during the campaign. That case, Erin, is not closed.
BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Jim Sciutto. And I want to go our Senior Legal Analyst, former Prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin and the former communication advisor for the Trump campaign and transaction, Jason Miller. Jeff, let me start with you, the breaking news. The Senate intelligence Committee issuing that subpoena to General Flynn, they want documents that he has refused to hand over even though others like Paul Manafort did hand over requested documents without subpoena. How significant is this first move?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, It's a start, remember, Michael Flynn has said that he will not testify or provide documents without immunity. So, now the committee is going to decide whether to give him immunity. All of which suggest that this is going to be a slow moving process.
BURNETT: Yes. Because they indicate they don't want to do it.
TOOBIN: Right, they don't want to give him immunity.
BURNETT: Right. TOOBIN: So, you know, they are not going to get the documents, I mean, these investigations take a lot of time. Especially, when the Senate, Mitch McConnell has given the Senate Intelligence Committee extremely limited resources in terms of staff to conducts this investigation.
BURNETT: And what about those resources, Jason? That's a big question, right? We're learning tonight that Trump was frustrated that Comey was "His own man." Comey had requested we understand a resources in the week before from Rod Rosenstein for this investigation and now of course he's fired. The optics of that does not look good.
JASON MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATION ADVISOR FOR THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN AND TRANSACTION: Erin, let me go and unpack a little bit of what you said there, I mean, first and for most with regards to the resources question, the DOJ has flatly denied that. And none of us were inside the DOJ. And so, we don't know that to be the case. Secondly, with regard to the allegation that the president - the way he was feeling, the way he was thinking, again, these are coming from anonymous sources.
I think the bigger take away here is that the broader democratic hypocrisy that they wanted Comey gone. And now they're trying to make political hay out of it just because it's not Secretary Clinton who have the opportunity to go and fire him. I mean, I don't think anyone can disagree that Secretary Clinton would've fired him right away and there's no one who on the airwaves saying that Director Comey was doing a good job - good job.
BURNETT: I don't know what she would've done.
TOOBIN: Can you even believe that we are having a discussion about what President Hillary Clinton would have done as supposed to what Donald Trump did do? I mean, that's just ridiculous.
MILLER: Oh, Jeffrey, of course - of course, Secretary Clinton would've fired Director Comey.
TOOBIN: How do you know? For the way that he carried on that investigation, absolutely. aHer husband, Bill Clinton, despised Louis Freeh who was FBI Director when he was president. He never fired Louis Freeh because Donald Trump has a different view of the norms of American political behavior. There's a reason why there are ten year terms in the - in the FBI Directorship to avoid precisely this kind of situation.
BURNETT: All right. So, when it comes to - yesterday, you know, the ranking democrats, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner told me, "Boy, oh boy, there's so much smoke here, we'll still have to determine how big the fire is." Now, one way they could do that would be a Jim Comey came out and tell them absolutely everything. And now they're asking him to do just that job to come in, classify (INAUDIBLE) and talk to them. Is he going to do it? Should he do it?
TOOBIN: Never happen in a million -- never happen in a million years. He is not - he's probably not going to testify at all. He's going to say look, I'm not the FBI Director anymore, I don't speak for the FBI and even if he did, he would say as he has said before, he is not going to disclose the details of ongoing investigations. So people getting their hopes up for Jim Comey to spill all even in a classified setting. He's probably not going to say anything and if he does testify he'll say very little.
BURNETT: So, Jason, I got to ask you about what happened today. And I want to show this to our viewers. So, Trump fires Jim Comey then he meets with Henry Kissinger and he meets with - let's just show everyone, the Foreign Ministers of Russia, Sergey Lavrov, that's the picture today in the White House and with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak who of course U.S. Intelligence officials believes is a top spy and spy recruiter. Why the President do this today, Jason? There's no way it was random or he didn't know that this would cause any kind of a blowback. Why did he do it?
MILLER: Well, these things take a long time to set up and well, I don't have any inside knowledge as far as why it was scheduled for this particular day.
BURNETT: And it was yesterday, they say, he was considering a meeting with Lavrov and they didn't confirm it until last night after this news of Comey broke. So, it's almost as if they're like, "Ok, bring it."
MILLER: I think it's probably more coincidence than anything else. But look, the President is going to meet with foreign leaders or emissaries from foreign countries. And I would say were - that's a big deal.
TOOBIN: What an embarrassment that the United States.
MILLER: Jeff, what do you mean an embarrassment?
TOOBIN: The United State, the home of the greatest first amendment freedom of press anywhere. The American press is excluded but the Russian press where they kill reporters, they're the ones who are allowed to take pictures. And also, what did they talk about? Did they talk about the fact that the Russians tried to overturn our elections? Did they talk about Russian domination of Ukraine?
BURNETT: All we know is that they said the meeting was very, very good.
TOOBIN: No. They said they talked about Syria. That was the only thing they talked about. I mean, how embarrassing for our country. God.
MILLER: Why is it embarrassing, Jeffrey? I don't understand, it's seems like you're so angry on this when the President's meeting with a foreign emissary, I mean, that's part of his job.
TOOBIN: Do you think - don't you think you should mention, you know, you shouldn't interfere with our election? Should we just take it for granted that the Russians should get involved in our elections and try to help one party or another? That's not something worthy of discussion?
MILLER: Jeffrey, you know there are a lot of conversations that go on in these meetings don't necessarily come out. And there's probably a reason why the full conversation hasn't been put forward or something they want to say in private and something he want to say in public. But, I mean, but throughout this rhetoric of embarrassing and the attack in the president like this, I mean, I almost feel like, you want there to be something negative going on as supposed to giving an analytical perspective and that's your rights if that's where you're coming from.
TOOBIN: Well, thank you.
MILLER: But I just -- I don't understand where the anger is - I don't understand where the anger is coming from here.
BURNETT: All right. Let me pause and I thank you both. And next, the White House insisting a career justice, department attorney told Trump to fire Comey. Was the decision really all the work of Rod Rosenstein and is it fair to compare Trump to this man?
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: People have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.
[19:30:49] ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news: less than 24 hours after firing FBI Director James Comey, President Trump met with two Russian officials and Henry Kissinger, who, of course, was former President Nixon's secretary of state. That picture is this afternoon. And this comes as critics are comparing Trump to Nixon himself.
Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A president under pressure, an investigation in play, and a sudden firing of the man leading the probe. For critics of Donald Trump, the parallels to Richard Nixon are startling. This is Nixonian, a Nixon-esque cover-up.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: It certainly is Nixonian in its air and quality and tone to fire someone of this stature, even though I've had disagreements with him as General Hayden did, in the midst of an investigation. FOREMAN: The cornerstone of the investigation lies in Watergate, of
course. The investigation into whether White House operatives engaged in, quote, a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon's re-election.
Nixon steadily denied it.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: People have got to know whether or not their president's a crook. Well, I'm not a crook.
FOREMAN: But when special prosecutor Archibald Cox demanded recordings of Oval Office conversations which contained damning evidence of plans to derail the investigation --
NIXON: The investigation on the Democratic break-in thing, we're back in the problem area because the FBI is not under control.
FOREMAN: Nixon stone walled. He offered compromises and finally, he ordered the firing of Cox, prompting the attorney general and his deputy to resign, too. It was called the Saturday night massacre.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I'm old enough to remember the Nixonian move, so to speak, and it didn't come out so well for President Nixon.
FOREMAN: It did not. The push for impeachment heated up and by the next summer boiled over.
NIXON: Therefore, I shall refine the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.
FOREMAN: But there are key differences between the situations. The probe into possible Russian meddling in U.S. politics has been under way about 10 months. The Watergate investigation lasted years, although President Trump has pushed out the FBI boss as the Nixon Library tweeted: fun fact -- President Nixon never fired the director of the FBI.
FOREMAN: And the biggest difference is this: we now know the Watergate investigation uncovered illegal acts directly linked to President Nixon. And so far, we have no proof of anything like that about President Trump -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Tom, thank you.
And now, the former Republican Jack Kingston of Georgia, also a former senior adviser to Donald Trump's campaign. Jason Candor, the former Missouri secretary of state, and Tim Naftali, our presidential historian, and, crucially tonight, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library.
OK, you know a lot about Nixon, more than probably anybody else out there. OK? So let me start with you. Do you think these comparisons are -- they're coming from Democrats -- are they fair? TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, I
thought the comparison between the two men at the beginning of the administration was fair because they -- well, President Nixon had a lot of knowledge about the world. He and President Trump share a certain rage, a certain sense of being victims and a slight paranoia about enemies. So, I saw a similarity in their characters.
What happened yesterday could very well be a parallel. I say could be, because what Richard Nixon tried to do was obstruct justice. And Tom Foreman pointed out in a piece. Nixon knew exactly what he was doing. He did not want these tapes which would incriminate him to get to the special prosecutor.
So, when he couldn't find a cockamamie, and, boy, was it ever a cockamamie, compromise which is to get this man, Senator Stennis, hard of hearing, a southern conservative Democrat, to listen to the tapes and sign off on White House-produced transcripts.
When that didn't happen and the special prosecutor said I won't take that, he had him fired. What we don't know right now is the extent to which the criminal division and the counterintelligence division of the FBI somewhere had their investigation affected at all by the White House.
[19:35:11] Has the White House --
BURNETT: Do you know if there's been any obstruction --
NAFTALI: And that's the key. If there is obstruction of justice, this is completely Nixonian. This is just -- the theater is Nixonian. The question is, whether the players are.
BURNETT: What do you see, Congressman Kingston?
JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think this is silly. I really do. I think this is the Democrat rhetorical equivalent to click bait.
The only thing that Nixon and Trump have in common is that the media hates both of them. And there's no parallel at all. In Watergate, a crime was committed. We knew it from the start. A break-in.
There has been no crime that we know of except for the felony of leaking information in which according to Sally Yates, Mr. Comey wasn't even investigating. So, for all this Democrat yearning and pining for protests in the streets and the good old days of the '60s and --
KINGSTON: -- hearings and high rhetoric, I think it's silly. I really --
BURNETT: Jason, are you yearning and pining? Because I will say, the congressman has a fair point and Tom Foreman made this point. As of tonight, we have not seen any proof that he did anything illegal, right? We don't know if it was classified. We don't know about it. It's not been out there in public.
Are Democrats getting ahead of themselves?
JASON KANDER (D), FORMER MISSOURI SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, President Trump is going to do absolutely everything he can to make sure that doesn't happen, including firing the person in charge of that investigation. I mean, he's already done that. That's what's happening.
I mean, this is -- there's not two sides to this story. There's been an enormous abuse of power and now we're watching a cover-up. That's what's going on. It's pretty clear. And it is not defensible.
That is why did president's press secretary was hiding in the bushes last night.
BURNETT: He did come out of the bushes.
KINGSTON: You know what's interesting about this, a special prosecutor is in charge of an investigation. Comey is involved in the investigation. He's not directing the whole thing the way a special prosecutor was. It's as if the investigation loses ground now without Comey. That's absolutely not the case.
KANDER: So, Jack Kington's in favor of special prosecutor?
KINGSTON: Special prosecutor, there would be. Would I support one? Was that the question?
BURNETT: Yes, do you support one?
KINGSTON: Absolutely not. I agree with Sally Yates, who just this Monday, the hero of the Democrat Party, said a special prosecutor was not necessary because people -- career people in the Department of Justice are fair and even and nonpartisan in their reviews. And that's according to the --
BURNETT: So --
KINGSTON: -- Democrat hero, Sally Yates. So, no --
KANDER: This is such an enormous smoke screen y'all are putting up, Jack. I mean, it's impressive, I guess, except for the fact that it's run by people in this Trump White House unlike in the Nixon White House who are totally incompetent. This is an enormous abuse of power and this is a cover-up. This is not complicated.
KINGSTON: Where is this crime besides -- besides leaking --
KANDER: Well, there's an investigation into the possible crime that the president is trying to --
(CROSSTALK) BURNETT: Let me ask you about -- one thing that -- hold on. One thing that happened. The president seems to love this. He is playing up comparisons to Nixon.
I mean, I know Jason Miller tried to say these things are planned a long time in advance. I'm sorry, it doesn't add up.
Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretaries of state, sat beside President Trump today. Trump wanting his Russia connections, deciding last night, according to their announcement, to meet with the Russian foreign ministers. He also met today with the Russian ambassador. These are pictures put out by the Russian press because our press wasn't able to take pictures.
What is -- what is the game here, do you think, Tim?
NAFTALI: Well, I -- couple of things. First of all --
BURNETT: Is he saying -- is he really showing hi has nothing to hide? He's happy to say look here I am with the Russians.
NAFTALI: Can we just put party to the side one moment, please? I would say to the congressman -- when a foreign government intervenes in our election and when our intelligence committee is united in believing this happened, shouldn't we investigate whether there's any collusion by Americans? I would ask that question.
KINGSTON: Well, there's no -- it's been investigated and Clapper said this week as well, and there's -- it's been investigated for months now, almost a year. And there's no evidence of collusion. This is the only thing the Democrats have.
NAFTALI: I don't believe you said that.
NAFTALI: I don't believe you said that.
JACKSON: He absolutely said repeatedly.
NAFTALI: This is an American issue. This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue.
JACKSON: I know that sounds lofty, but the people who are pushing it are Democrats.
KANDER: Actually, Congressman, there are people who put their country ahead of their party.
NAFTALI: I would say the professionals in the FBI --
JACKSON: Can you tell me who in the political circles are coming out with the outrage we're hearing from did Democrat Party? We're not hearing any. And if it was such an American issue, why aren't you guys concerned about the leaks? That is a felony. And according to "The Washington Post," there were undisclosed sources that confirmed one of the stories. They were non-felons. Where is the outrage? Would you share me with that?
BURNETT: Here's the thing about that. I thank you all.
The only thing I'll say about that and this is complicated issue on leaks. But is it possible that if those the leaks didn't happen, General Michael Flynn would be the national security advisor even though he could be compromised by Russians? We have to think about that, too?
Leaks are used by both parties, depending on who's in power. Thank you all.
And next, who is the deputy attorney general who made the case to fire Comey. Was he Trump's pawn or not?
[19:40:01] And these are live pictures of a Republican town hall. The congressman under fire being pummeled with questions about Jim Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't the first FBI director that was fired. Bill Clinton fired his, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Breaking news about the man at the center of Jim Comey's firing. Sources telling CNN tonight that it was just last week that the now former FBI director went to Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein to push for more resources for the Russia investigation.
Days later, according to the White House, Rosenstein went to the president and talked to him and then was asked to write this letter, as you can see, I have it here. About three pages. It's a damning memo about why Comey had to go.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He asked them for their recommendation based on the conversation that they had on Monday. He asked them to put that recommendation in writing, but they came to him on his own --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: They came to the president is what the White House is saying. That Rod Rosenstein is the person who started this, initiated this, put it in paper and asked the president to fire Jim Comey.
[19:45:05] OUTFRONT now, Robert Bonsib, a defense lawyer, former state and federal prosecutor. He has known Rod Rosenstein 15 years. And I know you just saw him two weeks ago.
Look, Robert, Rod Rosenstein is now at the center of this, by all accounts, right? He is the one whose name is on this memo. And in it, he writes, as his first reason to recommend the firing of Jim Comey, he says: I cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's e-mails and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.
Now, one of the former deputy attorneys general Rosenstein quotes in this justification says that that is a sham in terms of a reason.
Do you believe that the Clinton e-mails are why Rosenstein wrote this letter?
ROBERT BONSIB, HAS KNOWN DEPUTY AG ROSENSTEIN FOR 15 YEARS: I think that Rod wrote that letter because that is consistent with the way he's conducted himself over the years I've known him. He knows -- when he ran his office, he didn't let anybody and he did not disclose or discuss pending investigations to him. I think that's just an absolute abdication of his responsibility to conduct an investigation in a proper and professional way.
So, I think he would be very upset at somebody who he now would have responsibility to supervise or as a supervisor for the director of the FBI to have somebody in that position that he did not respect.
BURNETT: So, let me ask you. In his -- they had worked together for years, obviously, Comey and Rosenstein. At the Senate confirmation hearing for Rosenstein in March, he mentioned Comey twice, said they've worked together on sensitive political issues. So, there was no indication of an issue at that time.
And just last month, he was asked specifically in a rare interview about how he would handle highly political cases and here's what Rod said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think it's important to separate the role of politics and setting priorities and the decision about how to prosecute cases. The Justice Department, that's what we do on a daily basis. That's how we were trained. And so, it's not difficult for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: You know him. You've known him for a long time. Could he have been swayed or intimidated by this president into coming up with this rational to essentially do the president's bidding?
BONSIB: It would not be the Rod that I know and that I've observed and that I had dealings with over the course of many years. His memo is drafted, as you would expect, a professional independent individual prosecutor to draft one when you're talking about what you expect in a law enforcement or prosecutor in terms of how they conduct privately, confidentially, in a criminal investigation. And if you took that memo and you took it out of today's context and you said, OK, this is a rational that anybody can understand about why you wouldn't want somebody who you're responsible for overseeing being in a position and acting in the way that Director Comey did.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Robert, I appreciate your time very much. Thank you, sir.
BONSIB: Thank you.
BURNETT: OUTFRONT next, angry town halls. These are live pictures right now. A Republican congressman having tough questions about Comey. We're going to go live there next.
And the secretary of education today booed while trying to give a graduation speech at an historically black university.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: While we will undoubtedly disagree at times --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The head of the NCAA is my guest, next.
[19:52:11] BURNETT: Breaking news: backlash over President Trump's firing his FBI director Jim Comey right now impacting town halls. This is a live picture of Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur's town hall. The crowd here furious over Comey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM MACARTHUR (R), NEW JERSEY: My view right now is the FBI is still got some work to do in their investigation and both the Senate and the House Intelligence Committee are still investigating. I am not -- this isn't the first FBI director that was fired. Bill Clinton fired his too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no?
MACARTHUR: The answer is, no, not yet. Not yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Jason Carroll is OUTFRONT live at that town hall in New Jersey.
And, Jason, pretty strong views we can hear now, too.
JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very angry people in this room tonight, Erin. Look, this congressman came here tonight expecting to talk about health care. You remember this is the same person who helped to craft that amendment to the bill, which would allow states to apply for the waiver to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
So, he was ready to come here tonight to deal with that. But after the president fired the FBI director, he immediately or very soon found out he was going to have to come here tonight and answer for this president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And now we have Comey fired. If that isn't enough to convince you that the legislature cannot do this on its own, what specifically do you need to see before you're back --
MACARTHUR: You're right. The chairman of the house intelligence committee did recuse himself, but that investigation is now continuing in a bipartisan manner. It is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is it ever going to get finished if you keep firing the people?
MACARTUR: Well, you asked and I answered it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARROLL: Erin, if I had to gauge, I would say so far, half of the questions have been about health care. The other half have been about the FBI director. People very, very upset about that. I should point out that this part of the district is there are a number of people here who are registered as Democrats, and the congressman told me earlier, he said he wanted to come to this part of the district because he wanted to hear from some of his toughest critics. But having said that, at one point he said, quote, I didn't come here tonight to defend a president -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Jason.
[19:55:00] Let's just listen into that town hall for just this moment here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My other son who is three years old now, he has speech that almost on the cusp of autism, and because I had to fight hard with the access to health care, thank God my children are healthy and can speak.
My concern is what's going to happen to them when they are 17, 18, 20, 30, 40, 50, and they are denied health care because our state of New Jersey is losing jobs at an alarming rate, and our Medicaid is on skyrocket. I understand you have to delegate and you have to cater to everyone, but I'm asking you to please understand where we are all coming from and to consider us because what's going to happen? We're going to be lost in everything.
I've heard Trump and I've heard many senators and I've heard many congressmen talking about everybody, the middle class, the rich, but not talking about the working poor. Not talked about the impoverished, not talking about the elderly, not talking about the children and the disabled.
We're losing from what I understand the news, which Trump is saying fake news, which I get my news from ABC, but the point is this. I'm hearing we're losing -- we're getting cuts for kids with special needs. I'm hearing mental health is getting cut. Where is the future in this? I mean --
BURNETT: You can hear the passion at this town hall. You can hear the passion there at that town hall as we keep checking back in there. But obviously, a lot of passion and give the congressman credit for going there, where there are a lot of Democrats to hear their concerns.
And now, listen to this reaction, at a graduation ceremony today for college seniors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEVOS: Thank you so very, very much for this great honor and privilege. I am honored to become a Wildcat.
And it's a real honor and privilege to be with you as we celebrate the Bethune-Cookman University class of 2017. While we will undoubtedly disagree at times, I hope we can do so respectfully. Let's choose to hear one another out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: The boos obviously drowning out the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She spoke at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black university in Florida.
Now, part of the reason students were booing, turning their backs was to protest her recent statement that founders of historically black colleges were, quote, real pioneers of school choice. Of course, those schools were founded during segregation, when black students did not have a choice, and were barred from attending many colleges.
OUTFRONT now, the president of the NAACP, Cornell Brooks.
Cornell, I appreciate your time tonight.
CORNELL BROOKS, NAACP PRESIDENT: Good to be here.
BURNETT: The NAACP in Florida called on the Bethune-Cookman University president to resign because of this invitation to DeVos to speak. Do you support what students did to Secretary DeVos today?
BROOKS: The students booing and some cheering is a reflection of their concern about the policies of the Department of Education. So, let's be clear about this. The issue here is not civility of the students but rather the policy of the secretary. When it comes to that policy -- that is to say supporting privatization, not necessarily supporting the kinds of policies that will ensure that more students are able to attend historically black colleges and universities. That's the issue. And so, the students were protesting the secretary's policies, not
merely her personality or presence.
BURNETT: OK. But I have to ask because I do think it's important. I mean, do you think what they -- they can have those feelings, right, and they can express that. But is it right to boo her and turn their back to her? Is that the way to express it?
BROOKS: Well, the issue here again is not the booing. Students have about booing commencement speakers for decades on end. These are not the first students and they probably won't be the last. They exercise their First Amendment right to boo. The secretary exercised her First Amendment right to speak.
The issue here is what happens after the speech, and with respect to that, this secretary and this Department of Education does not have a set of policies to ensure that HBCUs continue to survive and serve generations of students going into the future. And so, that's what the students were protesting.
A note here: this is the same secretary who out of her lack of awareness or perhaps understanding referred to HBCUs as pioneers of choice --
BROOKS: -- when in fact as you well know, they were instruments -- I should say tools against school segregation and not instruments of choice.
BURNETT: All right. Cornell, I have to leave it there. I very much appreciate your taking the time and giving your side of this. Thanks again.
CORNELL: Thank you.
BURNETT: And thanks to all of you for joining us. Anderson's next.