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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  May 10, 2017 3:00pm-4:00pm PDT

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captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc >> woodruff: good evening, i'm judy woodruff. on the newshour tonight... >> he wasn't doing a good job. very simply, he was not doing a good job. >> woodruff: ...president trump's firing of f.b.i. director james comey raises serious questions among republicans and has democrats calling for a special counsel to investigate russia. then, with that backdrop, mr. trump, in the oval office, welcomes russia's foreign minister and their ambassador to the u.s., someone at the center of collusion allegations with the trump campaign. we devote the bulk of the program to this story, as we unpack what we do and don't know this day after the firing. that's tonight's pbs newshour.
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william brangham begins with where we are now and how we got here. very simply. >> he wasn't doing a good job. very simply. he was not doing a good job. >> brangham: that was it. president trump's verdict, this morning in the oval office over his firing of f.b.i. director james comey the president's termination letter to comey yesterday said the move was necessary to restore "public trust" in the agency. an attachment from the deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein, faulted comey's handling of the hillary clinton email investigation. white house spokeswoman sarah huckabee sanders gave more detail today: >> and frankly he had been considering letting director comey go since the day he was elected. i think that director comey has shown over the last several months and frankly the last year a lot of missteps and mistakes. >> brangham: in a tweet this morning, the president said: "comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in washington, republican and democrat alike. when things calm down, they will be thanking me!" but little was calm on the other end of pennsylvania avenue
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today. vice president mike pence was on capitol hill, and offered a longer defense of the president's decision: >> president trump provided the kind of strong and decisive leadership the american people come to be accustomed from him. and he took the action necessary to remove director comey. this was the right decision at the right time. >> brangham: meanwhile, senators faced non-stop questions about what comey's firing means for the ongoing probes into russia's meddling in the election, and whether the trump campaign colluded in that meddling. democrats said the firing would lead americans to suspect a cover-up and they repeated calls for a special prosecutor. but majority leader mitch mcconnell said that would be counterproductive. >> today, we'll no doubt hear calls for a new investigation, which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the russians may have done. also to let this body and the national security community
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develop countermeasures and >> brangham: minority leader chuck schumer questioned mr. trump's timing >> why did it happen last night? we know director comey was leading an investigation in whether the trump campaign colluded with the russians, a serious offense. were those investigations getting too close to home for the president? >> brangham: schumer later laid out democratic demands that rosenstein not be the one to appoint a special counsel. the day was filled with a drumbeat of opinions on what should, and should not, happen next. >> the timing and the reasons for the decision made little sense to me. >> brangham: republican richard burr of north carolina heads the senate intelligence committee, which has asked comey to testify next week. >> i'm not in favor in favor of a special prosecutor because i think that the committee can carry out its responsibility, >> brangham: but democrat richard blumenthal of connecticut said a special counsel was crucial: >> i will vote against any
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confirmation of an f.b.i. director unless there is support for a special prosecutor >> brangham: this of course isn't the first time that partisan furor over james comey and his running of the f.b.i. has flared up. over the last year, both democrats and republicans have, a one time or another, demanded his dismissal or come to his defense. the first major controversy came last year, at the height of the presidential campaign. on july 5th, comey took the unusual step of speaking publicly about the results of the f.b.i.'s clinton email investigation. while scolding clinton for being "extremely careless," with her use of a private server, comey said the f.b.i. was not recommending criminal charges. >> our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. >> brangham: republicans on the hill were outraged. then-candidate trump accused comey of going easy on his democratic rival. happened today where eventually i thought, everybody thought,
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based on what was being said, she was guilty! she was guilty! and it turned out that we're not going to press charges. it's really amazing. > >> brangham: but comey was soon again in the spotlight. on october 28, just 11 days before the election, comey announced he'd re-opened the clinton investigation after the discovery of possibly new emails. in a letter to congress, he wrote: "although the f.b.i. cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant... i believe it is important to update your committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony." on the campaign trail, candidate trump seized on the letter, and cheered comey's move. >> it took a lot of guts. i really disagreed with him. i was not his fan. but i'll tell you what he did, he brought back his reputation. >> brangham: but days later, when comey said the f.b.i.'s conclusions had not changed, mr. trump lashed out, accusing comey of protecting clinton once
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again. for her part, clinton, just days after losing the election, said comey's letter was one of the reasons she was not president. meanwhile, now-president-elect trump seemed to embrace comey, saying he had no intention of replacing him at the f.b.i., and then welcoming comey at the white house soon after the inauguration. >> he's become more famous than me. >> brangham: but comey was soon once again in the hot seat over the bureau's separate investigation into russian meddling in the election, and what role trump officals may have played in that process. a central target of the investigation, was then-national security adviser michael flynn. he was fired in mid-february for misleading the vice president about his contacts with the russian ambassador during the transition. attorney general jeff sessions, was at the time heading the nvestigation into russian ties- until it surfaced that he had not revealed his own meetings with russian officials during the campaign, forcing him to recuse himself from the probes. taking charge: the new deputy
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attorney general, rod rosenstein, who wrote the memo recommending comey's dismissal. pressed by democrats at his confirmation hearing to commit to appointing a special counsel in the investigation, rosenstein refused, calling it a matter of "principle." >> i would evaluate the facts and law and then exercise my best judgment. >> brangham: then, on march 20, comey confirmed an f.b.i. counterintelligence investigation of the trump white house, and former campaign staffers' ties to russia. >> that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the trump campaign and the russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and russia's efforts. >> brangham: when comey appeared before the senate judiciary committee last week, the questioning inevitably returned to his fateful decision to reopen the clinton email investigation days before the election.
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>> look this was terrible. it makes me mildly nauseous to think that we have had some impact on the election. but honestly, it wouldn't change the decision. >> brangham: the president who lauded comey when he was investigating clinton has also attacked the f.b.i. for its russia investigation. on monday, the day before he fired comey, president trump tweeted, "the russia-trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?" the president met today with russian foreign minister sergei lavrov at the white house, joined by the same russian ambassador whose friendliness with the trump team led to flynn's firing and sessions' recusal. afterward, lavrov brushed off questions of russian active measures in last year's election. >> ( translated ): well there is not a single fact, there is no compelling evidence given to anyone regarding russia's intervention and that's it. >> brangham: how the probe unfolds, in part, will be up to comey's successor: attorney general sessions and his deputy began interviewing candidates
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for interim f.b.i. chief today. >> woodruff: we turn now for the latest at the white house and on capitol hill with our own john yang and lisa desjardins. john, let me start with you. it's been about 24 hours exactly since this decision came down. what have you learned in the interim about where this all started, what was the genesis of it? >> well, white house officials describe it increasingly angry and frustrated president newscast couple of weeks, angry and frustrated that comey was appearing before congress, talking about the f.b.i. investigation into possible russian collusion with the trump campaign during the election last year, but not offering any new details. the president felt that there was nothing there, there, and it was time for it to be over. but according to deputy principal assistant secretary-- sorry, principal deputy press secretary sarah sanders, the
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president did not ask for the rationale to fire comey on monday when he met with attorney general jeff sessions and deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. she says that the two justice department officials are the ones who brought up their exwrnz comey's performance. and as a result of that, the president asked rosenstein to put it in writing, to get a memo, and when he got that memo on tuesday, he acted quickly, and decided to fire comey. but he held that decision so closely, that there was no plan to roll out the announcement. there was no plan to explain the announcement afterward. it was, in the words of one official i talked to today "total and utter chaos." and i should say he added, "even by our standards." the result was this firestorm last night, which they say they did not expect. they thought democrats would welcome the firing of comey after the criticism of what he
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did with the clinton e-mails. but, of course, that was a miscalculation on their part. today, sanders said that the president intended to meet with the acting f.b.i. director, andrew mccabe. this would be the second meeting in 24 hours. and offer to go to the f.b.i. to talk to f.b.i. agents at headquarters to try to boost moral. >> woodruff: so, fascinating. and, lisa, meantime, on capitol hill, some of the reaction has been explosive from democrats, republicans have had a mix of reaction. but let's start with the democrats. what are they saying? >> that's right, glowft saying things but doing things today. democrats, first of all, are continuing their call for a special counsel in this case. they're raising that call, and in fact, today, judy, they froze committee hearings in order to try to make their point. they can only do that today. but democrats are trying to get across the idea that they are willing to use every procedural means they have to try and force
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a special counsel. now, they rawls saying that they think not only is attorney general jeff sessions someone who should not be involved in the special counsel decision, but also the deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein, the man we're talking about so much. they say he now seems to be biased because of the letter that he wrote. they want him to not be involved in this. they want a civil servant, someone who is not politically appointed, to be in charge of that special counsel decision. a lot of developments. dianne feinstein told me she felt that rosenstein's letter was just a series of quotes about james comey, that it did not give legal arguments. she also raised a concern co conconfirmed to me other and reporters she knows james comey was hoping to expand this investigation and that he had made that known in the past week or so. >> woodruff, lisa, very quickly, what are republicans saying? >> republicans are a mix bag, as you say, judy. many of them are supportive in general of the idea that james comey was a good public servant.
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they've known him for years but their biggest talking point was they think they have faith in the f.b.i. there are some who say the timing was a problem, like ron johnson. there are others lik who say the considering what to do, and there are others like john mccain who say they are very concerned about every aspect of this. >> woodruff: all right lisa desjardins at the capitol, john yang at the white house. both of you continuing tow follow this story. thank you, both. inside the f.b.i., morale among agents had taken a beating months before last night's firing of director james comey. we take a look at how agent's have been responding and what it means for the bureau's work going forward with matt apuzzo, he has been covering all this closely for "the new york times." matt, so what is your reporting telling you what about preceded this blockbuster announcement yesterday? >> well, as you heard from lisa, the big news in terms of the investigation was that in the
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days before his firing, jim comey was talking to the justice department about expanding the investigation by get something more prosecutors involved, more resources, and the person he was speaking with was rod rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. that is coming from dick durbin from democratic leadership who said that is calling into question the motives of the question for firing jim comey at a time when it appeared that comey was really trying to step up the investigation. >> woodruff: well, i want to ask you about that, because there is reporting today that director comey had gone to his superiors, i guess to the attorney general in recent days, asking to expand the russia investigation, asking for more resources. what you have learned about that? >> well, you know, the justice department is flatley denying that, even though members of congress are saying comey actually briefed them on this as part of his routine briefings on the status of the
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counter-intelligence investigations earlier this week. the justice department is saying, no, they didn't get a request for more resources. members of congress are saying they were-- they were specifically briefed by comey that he wanted to expand the investigation and was asking for more prosecutors. so, i mean, look, we don't know at this point. is that-- is that what led to jim comey's firing? was it-- was it the russian investigation? was it a general sense that comey was never going to be a trump guy, frankly, like he really wasn't an obama guy. for a president who puts a real premium on loyalty, was jim comey just too much of a, you know, an independent wild card for this administration? this was a lot of things we're still trying to get a handle on, because as your reporters said earlier, a lot of this just doesn't line up. a lot of the stated reasoning for why they wanted to fire jim comey just doesn't totally line up. >> woodruff: what is your reporting telling you, matt apuzzo, about the sense inside the justice department, inside the f.b.i., about whether this
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russia investigation can go forward in an independent way, in a way that people will find credible? >> well, i think that the sense that the f.b.i. is "we move forward." the acting director, andrew mccabe, is a career f.b.i. agent. you know, there would be no reason for him to put the brakes on the russia investigation, you know, just because jim comey was fired. i think the concern among the agents is not where things are today-- and, frankly, the concern isn't that the-- a new director is going-- or that the justice department is going to put the brakes on and just shut down the russia investigation. but what the justice department can do, if it wants to, is it can just throw up a lot of hurdles and roadblocks and make it difficult for f.b.i. agents to investigate russia. and that's really the concern. but in general, i think there's there's-- the mood is down at the f.b.i. right now. comey was a well-liked manager. even agents who disagreed with
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some of the decisions he made in the clinton case, regarded him as professional and well intentioned, and a strong leader. this is probably most public and strong f.b.i. director the bureau has had since j. edgar hoover. so there's clearly a sense of loss at the f.b.i. today. >> woodruff: and i quickly want to press you on that, because at the white house today they were saying, no, that jim comey had lost the confidence of much of the employees at the f.b.i., at the bureau. >> yeah, they didn't really elaborate on that. look, i know there are people at the f.b.i. who disagreed with the decisions that jim comey made. there are 17,000 f.b.i. agents. are there some who had lost confidence in the f.b.i. director? i'm sure that's the case. but all the reporting that i've done and the reporting that my colleague adam goldman does, who covers the f.b.i. for "the new york times," is that this was a real-- this was a real jolt, and a real down moment for the f.b.i. and as one agent i've known for
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a long time said, you know, donald trump lost the f.b.i. today." now, can we get it back? you know, we'll see who he nominates. but it's not good for the president to have an f.b.i. feeling like they're a little bit under siege or that the president doesn't trust their independence. >> woodruff: matt apuzzo with "the new york times." some excellent reporting. thank you, matt. >> thank you so much for having me. >> woodruff: on capitol hill, we've heard serious concerns raised by republicans and calls from democrats for a special counsel to investigate russia. we get reaction now to mr. trump's firing of james comey from hillary clinton's running mate, democratic senator tim kaine of virginia. senator kaine, thank you very much for joining us. >> glad to, judy. >> woodruff: you called the firing of director comey
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outrageous. why? >> i think this is a clear attempt by president trump to thwart and block and undermine the investigation into collusion and ties between russia and the trump campaign transition and administration. and there is now a pattern of very extraordinary personnel action-- the firing of sally yates. the firing of general flynn. attorney general sessions having to recuse himself from the russia investigation. and now the firing of jim comey, and the thread that connects all these highly unusual actions is the investigation into russia. president trump is afraid of this. he's trying to undermine it. and that should make us all redouble our efforts to both on the criminal side have a special prosecutor to get to the bottom of it, and in congress, the senate intele committee needs to accelerate the pace and get the answers we need. >> woodruff: senator, i'm sure you know, the white house is saying that's just not the case.
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they are saying they had a specific set of reasons for firing director comey. it had to do with the way he handled secretary clinton's email controversy. they had a different set of reasons for asking the national security adviser, general flynn, to leave, and so on and so on. so why are you so convinced that the russia investigation is at the core of all this? >> judy, again, let's dig into the pattern. sally yates is the deputy a.g., a career prosecutor. she goes to the white house and she says, "we are worried that your sitting national security adviser is compromised byitize russia," and president trump immediately fires not general flynn. he fires sally yates. he isn't going to fire general flynn until a few weeks later. the facts of flynn's ties to russia and his lies to the vice president and the f.b.i. come out. and at that point, the trump team is forced to fire general flynn. attorney general session is caught misleading the senate
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judiciary committee about, of all things, his ties with russia. and then is forced to recuse himself from the investigation into russia, which is probably the most moment out ous investigation the justice department is doing right now. and today, jim comey, yesterday, gets fired as he's in the midst of this investigation. add to that, president trump's letter. the letter, one-pager, signed by president trump, has a very unusual sentence in it that sticks out like a sore thumb, like in such an obvious way, firing the director of the f.b.i., but saying, "but i do appreciate that you've told me three times that i'm not under investigation." that's like a poker player who's got a bad face showing you whatw their face that they don't like their hand. him putting that phrase into the letter shows exactly what he is worried about and demonstrates that we've got to get to the bottom of this. i'm on the armed services and foreign relations committees. general dunford, the had the of the joint chiefs of staff has
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said that the principal state adversary of the united states is russia. my son and his entire battalion were deployed on the border with russia in 2016, because we're trying to help our aauthorize protect themselves from russian invasions of their sovereignty. this is a dangerous nation we're dealing with, and the investigation into the russian ties drives this president nuts and he's very afraid of it. and we have strong reason to believe that that that's why jim comey was fired. >> woodruff: well, once again, the white house is saying that's not the case. in fact, the white house said yesterday that they were prepared to send a certified letter-- i believe it was to senator lindsey graham-- certifying that the president doesn't have any connections to russia, hasn't had any connections to russia. so they're knocking this down. but i want to come back to-- >> judy, a certified letter from a president who loant woent let us see his tax returns to see what the financial connection is with russia? nobody would accept that. and up here, as i've talked to my democratic and republican
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colleagues, there's not a single person i talked to who believes that president trump took this action today because, well, he doesn't like the way that jim comey dealt with hillary clinton's emails. this is somebody who is nervous because he sees the net tightening this this russia investigation. but we're not going to be dissuaded from getting to the bottom of it. >> woodruff: well, what is the democratic strategy? because you are, clearly, in the minority in the senate, in the house. the-- right now, the-- the chairman of the of the senate intelligence commit is saying he doesn't see a need for a special counsel. what's going to move-- what's going to move this? >> very good question, judy, and i guess there are probably three elements of strategy right now, but it's not really democratic strategy. it's just what do we think that needs to be done to get to the bottom of the story. there's got to be a special prosecutor. when you have the attorney general already having to recuse himself from this investigation, that tells you that the justice department, i do not think, can be trusted to credibly lead this
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investigation into russian collusion that needs to be independent. so there needs to be a special prosecutor. you're right, the democratic minority can't force it on our own. but we do believe, as these facts come out, we will find republican colleagues who will join us in the request. second, we need to get the key witnesses up to testify before us. senators burr and warner have invited jim comb tow come back next week. he was scheduled to be here tomorrow to testify. we need to hear from him. we also need to hear from rod rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. and especially attorney general sessions. he recused himself from this matter, but then joined in the recommendation to fire jim comey. we view that as a violation of his recusal, and we want to know why. and then the third thing is every senator needs to make sure that we give the next f.b.i. director no nominee the most searching evaluation that we can, to make sure that he's not going to be cowed or pushed around by the white house or anyone and that he will get to
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the bottom of this story. >> woodruff: but, again, senator, what persuades you that republicans are going to come around and agree with democrats on this? i know some republicans are expressing concerns about the timing. >> they are. >> woodruff: in particular. some raising questions about the substance of the decision. but right now, it's the democrats who are arguing for a special counsel. >> that is true, but there are republicans who are raising concerns. and, look, i have to-- i have to at some point count on the patriotism of some of my republican colleagues. this is a moment that tests them in a way more than it tests the democrats. we are dealing with a republican president. but if the situation was reversed, judy fit was reversed, i have absolutely no doubt that every republican in the senate coulwould becalling for a specir to go after a hillary clinton, if there were an investigation about her collusions with russia and she fired the f.b.i. director that was leading the criminal investigation. it's not even a close question.
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they would be calling for a special prosecutor. >> and hope there are some who are willing to be consistent and willing to be patriotic, and take russian influence, attempts to influence american politics seriously. >> woodruff: finally, very quickly, senator kaine, i want to ask you if there's not an inconsistency in your position because it was just a few days ago that you said that director comey had broken the rules, at the f.b.i. and the justice department, in the way he handled the closing of the clinton email investigation. now you're saying-- you're defending him. >> judy, i did believe that, and i do believe that. but i've never called for him to be fired bah we have a law, as you know. the law is you give the f.b.i. director a 10-year term so that he is independent and free. congress can criticize him. the president can crfd criticiz. and that's all fair game. but give this individual a 10-year term so they can be independent and pursue the truth. he was pursuing this investigation and that's why he got fired and that's wrong.
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and as you know, that's not happened in the history of this country. there's only been one f.b.i. director who was terminated and it was after an investigation revealed that he was using public money for his own private benefit. there wasn't an investigation. there was no attempt to cover anything up. but firing an f.b.i. director in the middle of an investigation, the only precedent in our history was president nixon sacking the special prosecutor, archibald cox, during the watergate investigation. that's what this one look likes. and this is no time to be putting on the brakes on the investigation. we have to step on the gas. >> woodruff: senator tim kaine, thank you very much. >> absolutely for the record, we asked every republican senator who voiced support for president trump's move, but they declined our invitation. we will continue to invite them to join us for an interview. but for now, two different perspectives on mr. trump's controversial decision and what this means for the president's relationship with the f.b.i. we are joined by benjamin
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wittes. he's the editor in chief of the brookings institution's lawfare blog. and george terwilliger. he served as deputy attorney general under president george h.w. bush. and we thank both of you for joining us tonight. i'm going to start with you, benjamin wittes. you know director comey very well. what do you make of the rationale that the white house is giving the president fired him because of the way he mishandled, they say, the hillary clinton email investigation? >> well, the sudden white house concern for hillary clinton's c- fairness to hillary clinton is a remarkable turn of events. i mean, in the time in which jim comey did the things for which he has now been removed, the only complaint on the part of donald trump was that he had not indicted or recommended that hillary clinton be indicted. the white house actually-- trump actually praised some of the very decision that now form the basis for comey's removal. so it's actually a completely
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implausible set of rationales, even if some people in the justice department may believe it sincerely. it's very hard to believe that's what's actually motivating donald trump. >> woodruff: george terwilliger, an implausible set of rationales? >> no, not at all, judy. clearly, what's happened here, if we take mr. rosenstein at his word -- >> woodruff: deputy attorney general. >> deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein. is the justice department leadership, he and the attorney general, lost confidence in jim comey's ability to landlord the bureau in a manner that suited that important role and was needed in order to be an integral part of the justice leadership team. the reference back to what happened last july and progressed from there to the surprise in october about the new emails i think is just the
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history that inevitably led to where this ended up. and in essence-- i mean, jim's a fine man and a dedicated public servant, and a very patriotic american. but i think the judgment was made at the end of the day that he used some extremely poor judgment beginning in that july instance and continuing through the rest of this saga. and that did cause a loss of confidence. >> woodruff: how do you respond to that, benjamin wittes? >> so, i think, you know, if all of that were the basis for his removal, it would have happened weeks or months ago. every single thing that forms the basis for the removal was as true three months ago as it is today. what's different is, as "the new york times" and politico have reported over the last 24 hours, that the president is very upset about the russia investigation. and, you know, there is-- i
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mean, it's worth backing up and saying that there is nothing normal about removing the f.b.i. director as a general matter. it's an extraordinary measure. this is an office that is typically served for a term of years, 10 years to be precise. there's nothing normal about doing that while the president is-- and his campaign, are the subject of an ongoing counter-intelligence investigation about their relationship with an adversary foreign power. and there's really nothing normal about doing it in a fashion in which the director himself finds out that he's been removed while addressing f.b.i. agents in-- you know because it shows up on television. >> woodruff: he was in los angeles and learned about it from news accounts. it is the case, george terwilliger, that the accounts, reporters who have been working this story for the last 24 hours, are coming back with all sorts of white house officials
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contingent them, sources telling them the president was angry over the russia investigation, that that's what led to this. >> i can't-- i don't have any insight to that, judy. >> and can't really say anything about it. but i think what we can say with complete confidence is that there's nothing about removing mr. comey from this job that's going to affect that investigation. in fact, with all due respect to ben, i think it's an insult to the career men and women in the f.b.i. and the justice department who are conducting that investigation to suggest that it would be so. that investigation's going to proceed. it will proceed in a-- in a appropriate and deliberate fashion. it will be led by those career folks. and at the end of the day, it will go wherever it goes. >> woodruff: and, in fact, benjamin wittes, last night on the program, senator susan collins said the president didn't fire the entire f.b.i. he just fired the head of the f.b.i. she expressed the same
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expression that-- the same opinion that the investigation would go forward. >> i actually agree with that. i think, you know, if the goal was to stop the investigation, i suspect it will fail, for all the reasons that george just said. you know, there's a big bureaucracy that underalize any investigation like this, and the line men and women who conduct these investigations are-- they are actually the investigation, and decapitating the snake doesn't change the fact that there's a body there. that said, the role of the political leadership and the professional leadership of an organization matters, and when you remove the f.b.i. director because, as want press is reporting, you have a temper tantrum about a particular investigation, you send a message up and down that line, and the message is that the leadership cannot protect you politically. and that's its job, the job of
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the f.b.i. director is to absorb the ebbs and flows of the political plil system so that the people underneath can do their jobs. and that is more in doubt today than it was yesterday by a lot. >> judy, the job of the f.b.i. director is to do what ben suggests, and the new f.b.i. director whoever he or she is will, i'm sure, do just that over time. but the other important part of the role of the f.b.i. director is to do much more than this investigation. and i think one of the perceptions that became of concern at the justice department, if you read mr. rosenstein's letter, is that in fact jim had become kind of a distraction in this whole process. the f.b.i.'s got to be worried about cyber-security, terrorism, violent gangs-- >> woodruff: you mean because he spoke out so much? >> and because he-- he-- he put himself, and thus the bureau, in the middle of political
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controversy where they really should not be. >> woodruff: very quick final question to the two of you and just a few seconds left. some are saying this is a constitutional crisis that has been created. how do you answer? >> not at all. the constitutional process here worked. mr. comey say subordinate official of the president. the president elected to remove him from his office. and there will be a constitutional process to replace him. >> i don't think it is inherently a constitutional cries, but let me tell you what would be. if the president removed jim comey because he was investigating russia matters that the president didn't want investigated, and the political system is not capable of responding to it, that is a constitutional crisis. >> woodruff: and we are going to have to leave it there. benjamin wittes, george terwilliger, we thank you both. >> thank you, judy. >> thank you.
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>> woodruff: late today the senate select committee on intelligence announced they have issued a subpoena for former national security advisor, general michael flynn. it requests documents related to russian interference with the 2016 election. the senate's is just one of many sprawling investigations into russia's meddling. william brangham is back with that. >> brangham: it's not just the f.b.i. that's looking into russia's role in the election. as we heard, there are investigations underway in the intelligence committees in both the house and the senate. so where do these various investigations stand? and what will james comey's firing mean going forward? to explore these questions, i'm joined now by "washington post" national security reporter adam entous. adam, welcome to the newshour. i really want to talk to you about what this means from this point into the future. and as we mentioned, there's house and senate committees looking into this same russia
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investigation. where do those stand in light of comey's firing? >> right. well i think at this point we don't really know. those investigations have been sort of mixed in the sense that, you know, it's unclear how far they've gotten. they've received some cooperation from the intelligence agencies in terms of providing them with documents. but they have been waiting for other documents, very sensitive documents, which they were negotiating to get access to with comey at the time that he was fired. so the question is, you know, depending on the-- you know, is the acting f.b.i. director, is the future f.b.i. director rthey going to be as cooperative as, apparently, comey had been with these committees in terms of sharing documents that they would need in order to try to reach a judgments too what occurred. >> brangham: i mean, broadly speak, what are these two different committees trying to uncover? >> well, i mean, basically, the top line is that they're looking at what did russia do in 2016 in terms of interfering in the
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election. you know, they're also looking into whether or not, much like the f.b.i., there was any associates of donald trump during the campaign who were in contact with and may be potentially collaborating or cooperating working together with the russians. that's something that they're also going to be looking into. particularly on the house side, but also on the senate side, on the republican side of the aisle, the focus is on exploring the leaks. they really want to get to the bottom of, you know, where is this information that's come out in the press that led to the firing of flynn, that led to, you know, different things happening to, you know, different people who have come out. and that's something the republicans seem to be most focused on. >> brangham: let's say we do get a new f.b.i. director some time soon. how much does that person's role and their actions dictate how these house and senate committees do their work? >> well, certainly, if the new director is somebody who wants to help the senators and the
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congressmen pursue their investigations, they can lean forward in terms of cooperating with them, in terms of sharing some of the intelligence that they've collected. that would, obviously, be a huge benefit to these investigations. on the other hand, if this next f.b.i. director is somebody that is, you know, maybe under pressure from the white house not to be as cooperative, then you might have a situation where they're withholding these documents. and then the question is how hard are these republican-controlled committees going to push to get the documents? are they going to threaten to hold up, you know, support for things that the intelligence agencies want to do until they get the documents? that's something that i-- i don't know what the answers are at this point and i don't think anybody does. and it depends, largely, on who is chosen to take over this role at the f.b.i. >> brangham: i mean, obviously, that person on day one that they're in the new job, day one means now we start investigating the boss.
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i mean, how on earth does an f.b.i. director insulate themselveses from that kind of obvious conflict? >> yeah, that's a great question. i don't have an answer to it. it's, obviously, a very difficult position that that person will be in. you know, what kind of pressure will be on that person from day one to try to downplay this investigation? you know, i do want to say, you know, that-- you know, the person in charge of the f.b.i. is going to have a tremendous amount of say over how aggressively this case is pursued. even though we are dealing here with career professionals in terms of resource allocation, personnel devote to the investigation, these are the kinds of things where the f.b.i. director would have tremendou ts power. and so this really is a critical moment, i think, where, you know, contrary to, i think, some of the earlier guests on the show, i do think the investigation is potentially in jeopardy, depending on how the new foeb director decides-- fbi
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director decides to pursue this investigation. >> brangham: adam entous of the "washington post," thank you so much. >> thank you. >> woodruff: in the day's other news, south korea's new liberal president moon jae-in took the oath of office today in seoul. the country's election commission officially certified moon's victory, after he received more than 40% of the vote. his predecessor, park geun-hye, was ousted in a corruption scandal. after moon was sworn into office, he vowed to unite the country and negotiate peace with foreign nations. >> ( translated ): i will urgently try to solve the security crisis. i'll be always on the move for peace in the korean peninsula. if necessary, i will fly straight to washington. i will go to beijing and tokyo, and if the conditions allow, to
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pyongyang as well. >> woodruff: president moon's nominee to head the national intelligence service said the new leader will only visit pyongyang when "the north korean nuclear problem begins to settle." in syria, kurdish fighters welcomed the trump administration's decision to arm them with heavier weapons. they said it will legitimize their fight to recapture raqqa from the islamic state. but the move drew swift condemnation from turkish president recep tayyip erdogan. he insists the kurdish forces are aligned with rebels battling the turkish government, and warned the arms decision could end up backfiring. >> ( translated ): the fight against the terrorist organization islamic state should not be carried out with another terrorist organization. this kind of step would endanger the future of syria and the region. we want to believe that our allies will prefer to side with us. not with a terrorist organization. >> woodruff: a spokesman for the
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u.s. led coalition fighting isis said the u.s. could start distributing arms and equipment to kurdish fighters "very quickly," under close monitoring. president trump suffered a surprise blow in the senate today, to his effort to repeal an obama-era rule restricting methane emissions. in a 51 to 49 vote, three republican senators joined democrats to support preserving the regulation: john mccain of arizona, susan collins of maine, and lindsey graham of south carolina. the rule limits methane leaks from oil and gas drilling on federal lands. a journalist in west virginia has been arrested for repeatedly asking health and human services secretary tom price about congress' obamacare replacement bill. daniel heyman, a reporter for public news service, was taken into custody last night. he was accused of causing a disturbance at the state's capitol by yelling questions at price and white house adviser
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kellyanne conway. >> what i did was i was holding the phone out like this. i was trying to get as close to secretary price as possible for obvious reasons and that was all there was to it. and i was yelling out questions and that was it. >> woodruff: the criminal complaint alleges heyman "aggressively" breached secret service agents. he was later released on $5,000 bond. education secretary betsy devos was booed today as she gave a commencement speech at bethune- cookman university in florida. students and alumni of the historically black college objected to her being the keynote speaker, after she said such institutions are pioneers of school choice. the graduates jeered and turned their backs in protest, while devos sought to assure them the trump administration supports historically black colleges and universities, also known as "h.b.c.u.'s."
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>> while we will undoubtedly disagree at times i hope we can do so respectfully. let's choose to hear one another out. i want to reaffirm this administration's commitment to and support for h.b.c.u.'s and the students they serve. >> woodruff: petitions bearing some 60,000 signatures were delivered to school officials tuesday, demanding devos' invitation be rescinded. and on wall street today, stocks managed to shrug off news of comey's abrupt firing. the dow jones industrial average lost 32 points to close at 20,943. the nasdaq rose eight points, and the s&p 500 added nearly three.
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>> woodruff: and finally, a little change of pace. opera lovers let out a collective gasp recently, when a "new york times" profile of renowned soprano renee fleming suggested her current engagement at the metropolitan opera would mark the end of her storied career. but, hold on! as she recently told jeffrey brown at the met, there's plenty of singing and much more to be done. ♪ ♪ >> brown: it is perhaps renee fleming's most renowned role-- the ¡marschallin', a beautiful but aging noblewoman who loves and loses a much younger man, in richard strauss' opera, "der rosenkavalier." >> this has been my home house since 1992, and... >> brown: it's a pretty good place to be. >> people ask me, well, when people said where do you like to sing the most i always said the met, because it was my home.
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>> brown: this may be the last time renee fleming sings this opera, after some 70 performances over more than two decades. but let's make one thing clear: this diva is not departing. >> no, no, no. that's a very exciting headline, and certainly i'm saying goodbye to the marschallin and to the bulk of the repertoire that i've sung at the met. so that's already a sad farewell, and a timely one. but it doesn't change my schedule very much. i'm in great voice. i'm a lifelong gregarious experiencer of new things. >> brown: now 58 and the mother of two adult daughters, fleming will continue to perform in concerts on stages around the world. and she's eager to work with composers writing new works, including one by kevin puts with words drawn from letters of artists georgia o'keefe. ♪ ♪ she's even stepping onto a new stage this fall, making her
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broadway musical debut in" carousel", which she sang for president obama's first inauguration. but she's also taken on new off- stage roles, including as creative consultant to the lyric opera of chicago, and to¡ polyphony', a group bringing together jewish and arab children in israel through music. and she's participating in a project with the national institutes of health and the kennedy center to study the influence of music on the brain. >> when you start out, the ambition is powerful, and it's a driving force, and you have a lot to accomplish to get there, just to get to the top. and at this point i think it's a really wonderful place to begin to think about, okay what do i want to do now? how do i want to spend my time? >> brown: the daughter of two music teachers in rochester, new york, fleming first gained attention in the late '80's, and then widespread fame in the '90s, performing a variety of roles in leading opera houses around the world.
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she also became the rare classical singer to crossover into popular culture. singing david letterman's ¡top ten' list, performing the national anthem at super bowl 48, and, of course, serving as host for pbs's ¡great performances.' >> welcome too our premiere performance. >> brown: age, she told me, does bring changes. one is the dearth of roles for her voice in the opera repertoire. >> i'm a lyric soprano. they're young women. they're sort of between the ages of 17 and 25. and so even if my voice can still sing these roles really well, which some of them i can still sing, it's sort of, does it really make sense in the day of hd broadcasts, in the day of people really expecting a visual experience as well. >> brown: what happens to your voice as you get older?
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>> what happens, first, and i can speak for myself, i'm sure it's different for everyone is, you don't have the resilience, the physical resilience. so if i sing a big performance i don't want to do it again the next day. 's like we are the weight lifters of singers, and so... >> brown: the ¡weight lifters' means? >> we are, because it's power singing, because as i said, imagine 4,000 seats, an orchestra, and a chorus, and we have to be heard over that. no amplification. you're young you can keep doing it, and doing it and doing it... >> brown: so part of it is just the sheer physicality of... >> absolutely, the power, exactly. >> brown: she's experimented with different kinds of music, making a rock album, "dark hope". and she's curated festivals celebrating the diversity of american voices. >> i am a fanatical singer. i love anything about singing. so american voices at the was to bring together all these different genre and show what we have in common and how we're
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different. and also, kind of also to share amongst each other what the issues were in our own, for the business, you know. what do we need, how are we being supported. they gave this costume to me actually. >> brown: so many projects, so much presence. so it was striking to hear, as she showed me costumes from "der rosenkavalier," how several bouts with stage fright almost derailed her career. >> that same voice that drives you to achieve, and to get better, is also sometimes telling you you're not good enough. >> brown: doubts. >> if you don't feel that you can do it, or you feel that people are judging you too harshly, it can quickly spiral into a situation where you don't want to be on stage at all. >> brown: and now when i watch you, you don't feel that anymore, do you? >> i love it. i love it, because getting through that the last time i just said, no, i am grateful to
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be here. >> brown: now, renee fleming says, she wants to use her celebrity to impart lessons she's learned, including the value of the arts for all americans. as we looked at portraits of some of the met's greatest stars, including fleming herself, she showed me a photo a fan had given her, of the would- be diva in a 7th grade theater production. >> this was my first musical, i was eliza doolittle in "my fair lady." >> brown: do you remember that girl? >> yeah, yes, and partly because she looks so much like one of my daughters. that's sort of a shock. but it's interesting, because i see the shyness is there, and that need to sort of somehow get out of myself, and i think performance was a way of doing that. ♪ ♪ >> brown: one last performance in this role, with many more to come. for the pbs newshour, i'm jeffrey brown at the metropolitan opera.
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>> woodruff: coming soon for renee fleming-- she'll be the singing voice of actress julianne moore in a film version of the novel "bel canto." and that's the newshour for tonight. on thursday, we continue our look at the fallout from president trump's firing of james comey and will see the new acting director of the f.b.i. testify on capitol hill. i'm judy woodruff. join us online and again here tomorrow evening. for all of us at the pbs newshour, thank you and see you soon. >> major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> supported by the rockefeller foundation. promoting the well-being of humanity around the world by building resilience and inclusive economies. more at
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>> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and individuals. >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by newshour productions, llc captioned by media access group at wgbh
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