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tv   The 11th Hour With Brian Williams  MSNBC  May 10, 2017 1:00am-2:01am PDT

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an independent commission like the 9/11 commission. whether that's sufficient is another question because as some have pointed out, even a special prosecutor is dependent on fbi agents who report to whoever the president reports. >> right you it's andrew mccabe, the acting director. >> the house and senate investigations just by the fact they haven't staffed up, are not real investigations. >> we also know the white house has appeared to take extraordinary measures, particularly in the house and devin nunes and all that back and forth to throw in a monkey wrench. >> this white house has attacked the press, attacked the judiciary. they seem to be systematically attacking all the institutions that put checks on the power of the president. and that's very dangerous. >> thank you all for joining us. that is "all in" for this evening.
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director james comey found out he was fired while in the command center a at the fbi firing, the president exonerated and in a letter from the justice you will recall trump the candidate praised the fbi director back then and embraced him after taking office. the white house was caught offguard by the political backlash from this. but with some democrats in congress saying we are now in a constitutional crisis, tonight the democratic leader in the senate as you heard mentioned, chuck schumer of new york, is now demanding an independent prosecutor be named.
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>> if deputy attorney general rosen stein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every american will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director comey was part of a cover-up. >> as we mentioned, this news tonight came accompanied by a chain of letters. first from deputy attorney general rod rosen stein saying i cannot defend the director's handling of the conclusion of the invegistation secretary clinton's e-mail next came a letter from attorney general jeff sessions quote based on my evaluation i have concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the fbi. then the president's letter to comey, including an team at his own exoneration. quote, while i greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that i am not under investigation, i
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nevertheless concur with the judgment of the department of justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau. again, the letters say comey has been fired because of how he handled the clinton e-mail investigation. here now, however, a reminder of what candidate trump said about james comey in october after comey sent a letter to lawmakers in effect reopening the clinton e-mail investigation. >> as you know, i have had plenty of words about the fbi lately. but i give them great credit for having the courage to right this horrible wrong. justice will prevail. and it took guts for director comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they are trying to protect her from criminal prosecution.
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you know that. he's got to hang tough because there is a lot of -- lots of people want him to do the wrong thing. what he did was the right thing. >> well, that was then. this is now. just before we came on the air, the president said this on twitter, quote, cryin 'chuck schumer stated recently, i do not have confidence in him, meaning james comey, any longer. then acts so indignant. hashtag, drain the swamp. what tonight's news means is this. the next person to oversee the investigation of the trump administration's possible ties to russia will have been appointed by the trump administration. we are presenting tonight's broadcast with limited commercial interruption because of the amount of news we are covering here. and we have some of the very best in the business to help us cover it. our own veteran justice correspondent pete williams. "washington post" white house
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reporter ashley parker, "washington post" national political reporter robert costa. and michael schmidt reporter for the "new york times" who covered national security. michael i'll going to begin with you. let's go to the scene of where this took place. tell us the circumstances that comey learned he was fired and what they assumed at first when word filtered through the room where he was speaking. >> so, comey actually started his day in florida, where he addressed some police officers. he then flew to california and was speaking around 2:30 to a group of employees at the l.a. field office. he is talking to them in the background, the television screens as you were saying, start flashing that comey is fired. now comey tells the group, oh, what a prank. he says oh, this is a frank. and he laughs. but then his staff starts scurrying off to the side. they come up to him, and they say something to him. he stops speaking. he then shakes the hands the employees in the room, and then goes into a side room. and i'm not sure what happens then. but at that point, the letter
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from the white house had still not arrived at the fbi. >> robert costa, you were at the white house tonight. inside the west wing. there are reports the communication shocked all the employees there, the employees were there late. as you have heard, the "washington post" is reporting this as well, this seems to have take ten west wing staff by surprise in that they did not expect this big of a dust up. >> it was quite a scene tonight brian outside of the west wing, a cool night. sean spicer the press secretary came out and he gave briefing but there was no looet lights on, it was just reporters with their recorders purring forward asking spicer questions. during the course of his briefing outside on the driveway of the white house he was asked about this grab jury investigation that may be going on, about general flynn and russia.
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he didn't have any comment on that and the lights were on throughout the west wing. i saw chief of staff priebus, kellyanne conway, the counsellor, and others having meetings and having intense discussions as this issue continues to unfold. >> our own peter alexander took sean spicer aside. i believe it was in the roosevelt room tonight, request of the control room if we can turn that around and get it ready. sean spicily briefly addressed this on camera. pete williams, who was with us in our initial coverage when the story broke, you have known and covered comey for many years, pete. and before adding to the reporting of what you know tonight, to the audience, tell us who is james comey? >> james comey is always somebody who has prided himself on in essence being a boy scout, being someone who thought he always made the right decisions. i think one of the reasons that the fbi is so shocked about this tonight, number one, they didn't know it was coming. but number two, that they had a sense that comey had finally got ten hillary clinton e-mail thing behind him.
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he had been wanting to give this public accounting of why he made these decisions, why he said what he said in july at the news conference, why he handled the letter in october. the very things that rod rosen stein cited in this bill of particulars as reasons why he thought he could no longer have confidence in the fbi director. there was a feeling that comey finally got it behind him when he testified last week for the senate and went through in great and i must say from his part enthusiastic detail finally getting an audience to explain his thinking here. apparently what we are told on the by a senior justice department officials is that this was one of the things that counted against him, in a the justice department felt rosen stein felt that there was no sense that comey was admitting that he made any mistakes and that only confirmed according to these officials, rosen stein's view that he had to go. >> ashley, a lot of focus already on tomorrow's briefing. do they brief this with the
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straight face that the letters hold, that that is going to be their claim? how do they approach this when day breaks tomorrow? >> i mean, that was certainly the spin you saw them put out tonight. a couple things. one thing that was interesting, they originally came into the briefing room and said, you know, the letter stand for themselves. there will be no further comment. then as sort of this unexpected backlash began to swell they then put out on kellyanne conway onning television, sarah huckabee, sean spicer doing the off camera briefing. those are the talking points tonight. i imagine those will be the talking points tomorrow. the other interesting thing is the briefing tomorrow is not sean spicer it's sarah huckabee sanders who is going to be out there doing that. she has a different demeanor, she has governor huckabee's folksy charm. she can be less combati.
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that may be what they are hoping for to defuse the situation. >> last time she was briefing it's because sean spicer was doing his mull terry time over at the pentagon. is that the reason. >> i don't know if he is going to be doing his navy reserve time or not. >> robert costa, given the insertion of the sentence in the letter to comey that is the president clearing the president of being under any investigation, given tweet tonight going after chuck schumer and calling him a name, do you doubt that this was driven by the president, owned by the president, especially given the surprise among fellow republicans and even west wing staffers? >> i have no doubt in the course of my reporting that this was entirely driven by the president.
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of course he conferred with rosen steen and attorney general sessions. but when you see keith schiller his long time confidante and bodyguard now head of oval office operationing be the bern who hand delivers the envelope, the letter to the fbi building earlier today that tells you how deeply personal and involved the president was. it was a contrasting scene though tonight brian at the white house as ashley was saying so well. you had the white house talking about the democrats and how they really shouldn't be surprised here and how they are really against comey, too. among my sources on the capitol hill, among republicans they are nervous tonight, brian. they are privately telling me and other reporters that this puts them in a tough spot. of course in a partisan way many of them are rallying to the president. but this is an ongoing investigation by the fbi. the congressional committees are still looking into russian interference. now to have the president making the stark decision without much consultation with congress, if
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any. >> michael your newspaper is reporting tonight quote senior white house and justice department officials have been working on building a case against mr. comy since at least last week. according to administration officials, attorney general jeff sessions has been charged with coming up with reasons to fire him, the officials said. they have to know that this after the fact reporting, good reporting from any number of sources willing to leak is coming, that leaves their three page deputy attorney general letter dangling out there and exposed. >> that's the thing. now they are going to be forced to defend this not only in the press but on capitol hill. they are going to be questioned how and why they did it and what was the true motivator behind it. that could send them down a difficult road because they are going to have to prove that they really believe the things comey had done were awful when you had statements from the president that he made when he was running that approved of what comey had done. they are going to have to rectify the president's public statements with the stuff that was going on behind the scenes.
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>> pete williams a lot of people have asked about the term of an fbi director. they are appointed for ten years, as you well know, not supposed to be concurrent with presidential terms intentionally. comey had about six years left on an appointment four years ago. so there's a vacancy at the top of the fbi. tell the folks watching who is watching the shop tonight and what happens to the investigation believed to be at the center of all of this? and that's into russia ties with trump officials. >> three points here, brian. one is bob muller was the first person to actually do all ten years and then some. up until then, the ten-year period was always sort of aspirational. and muller as you may recall was actually held over while they tried to find somebody. they asked jim comey the first time and he said no. then they asked him again and he said okay so yes. secondly the man in charge now
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is a 21 year veteran of the fbi, andrew mccabe. he had comey's confidence because comey made him the deputy director. now he becomes the acting fbi director as the white house now begins the search for a successor to james comey. and thirdly, the russia investigation continues. the day to day people who were in charge of that investigation right out of the counter-terrorism division will all be coming to work tomorrow. they will all be a bit in shock for a while but they will still report to the same people they were reporting to. it just won't ultimately go up to james comey anymore. and that's got to be something of a delay for it at the very least. >> ashley a friend of the president was on cable tonight talking about his regret that this wasn't done perhaps on day one. big question all afternoon into this evening, perhaps you can take a whack at answering it, why now, why tonight? >> well i actually have to say that that was the key question tonight that the white house really could not answer.
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it is the question. and one that they seemed very ill-prepared to answer. and i think that is the question you will see in the briefing room tomorrow and for the rest of the week going forward. it's one they are going to have to explain and answer for because it is a little unclear what exactly changed, you know, 100-odd days into his presidency. and he sort of made conflicting remarks about how he felt about director comey and there does seem to be no question us the beyond potentially until the white house provides a better explanation, sort of shared politics in this russia investigation that they claim has nothing to do with it of course. >> michael all along in the russia investigation democrats have said that this talk about illegal leaks and this talk about unmasking people who are caught up in surveillance has just been another shiny object after shiny object meant to distract. so most reports tonight are
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citing sources deep within this administration saying the fbi, comey, was being pressured to root out and root down the leaks and take pressure off and take attention away from the investigation in chief into russia. >> something that i know from my reporting is that comey was very concerned about the white house interferes at all. or any perception of that. and back a few months ago the white house really wanted to push back on a story we had report of the at the "new york times" and the chief of staff reached out to the white house and they asked the fbi to put out a statement. and comey said no to that. and the fbi really pushed back on that. it was sort of an early warning to him and the bureau that this relationship with this white house was going to be different than it was under president obama. this is something they tried to involve the justice department in, to make sure shufs there was distance teen him and the white house. you could see with president trump he wouldn't like that, wouldn't like the idea of such an independent person underneath him leading such an
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investigation. it's clear that he prides loyalty and folks that he is familiar with. i don't think comey was comfort being one of those people to this president. >> a lot of this has to do with atmospherics. a lot of talk today that it had been five days that we hadn't seen the president. there was no public events. it was getting very odd. then of course this dropped late today. do you think there is any association? >> i'm not sure of any direct association yet between the president's quiet period and this of course loud decision today on director comey. but when i was at the white house tonight, brian, i kept coming across the white house official after white house texting, sometimes seeing them in person and they kept saying this has been lingering on the president's mind a long time. he has the letters from the justice deputy but he has been
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thinking about comey and getting rid of him quite some time. >> pete williams, another day in cable news. what would a day be without a slow speed chase out of los angeles. we had this odd live coverage of the former fbi director's four-car motorcade down the interstate in california in l.a. culminating with scene saying good-byes to the local cops. then comey got on a gulfstream private jet to fly back to washington, an overnight flight, landing in the early hours of tomorrow morning. are we expecting to see him or hear anything from the now former fbi director? >> not as of tonight, brian. there is no plan for anybody to say anything tomorrow that we know of. nobody at the justice department is going to be speaking publicly as far as we know. we don't expect to hear from him or anybody at the fbi. i mean, he -- he got fired while he was out of town. he's got to go into his office and clear out. so it's -- i think that's another thing that chafes at the
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fbi tonight is they were shocked by in and the sort of -- well to put it milledly, unceremonious way in which he got the word. it's it's all together awkward at the least. >> pete we have a senate intel hearing thursday. what can we expect there now? >> well, lots of questions about how the fbi's investigation is going. of course there won'ting a lot of answers to it. you know, one of the things here is that the senate committee that was doing the investigation has been complaining that they don't have the staff for it. they don't have the cooperation. but a lot of them are saying at least we are going to get the fbi director james comey to help us out. well that's not going to happen now. they will now be asking andrew mccabe whether he will be giving that same support. >> pete, we will be watching you tomorrow. and the rest of you we will be reading you tomorrow. thank you for sharing your reporting tonight. thanks to all.
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our next segment, joining us now, jeremy bash, former cia chief of staff, former pentagon chief of staff. and raj day, former national skim of a national security agency and former deputy assistant attorney general. jeremy, it seams like 24 hours ago, yes, it was, you were signature here in this studio. we'll begin with you. what is the state of the american system of justice tonight and the justice department and fbi specifically? >> well, it is under severe strain tonight brian because of the three federal investigations that are underway. the republican-leeds senate investigation. the republican-led house investigation, and the non-partisan professional career investigation led by the federal bureau of investigation. it was really that third one, by the fbi, that the white house feared the most. because of course the fbi has like the senate and house investigations subpoena power,
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the ability to compel documents, testimony, offer immunity. but the fbi has something the other two investigations don't have. their resources to conduct a very thorough investigation. and they have the ability to bring criminal charges. and so not only was this a counter-intelligence investigation that comey was leading but it was one that put trump and his inner circle in criminal jeopardy. that is what i think ultimately caused the president to decide that he wanted to impede this investigation first by firing sally yates just a day or two after the president learned that the fbi had interviewed michael flynn and basically flynn had lied to the fbi. and then now firing the leader of that investigation in hopes to clean house and probably install somebody who he thinks will be more favorable to him and his team. >> raj, just of all, welcome to the broadcast. secondly, i know you have -- you have viewed this as just the latest firing. take us back into how at the
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intersection of investigations and firings at the hands the trump white house. >> thank you, brian. what's really remarkable here is this really is part of a pattern first we've seen three -- at least three suspicious firings giving the timing, the first of michael flynn of course. and the big question after yesterday's testimony about the 18 days since the white house was warned before they fired michael flynn. of course the firing of sally yates as jeremy just mentioned just a couple of days after she provided that warning. and then today's activities, have defy any common sense both in the terms of the underlying activity being jim comey's comments from last summer but also the apparently rushed nature in which this was rolled out today with memos being dated today from the deputy attorney general and the fbi director not each being told in person and finding out on tv about his firing. >> jeremy, the united states as you and i discussed last night
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has been attacked by russia. because it was not at sea, it wasn't bombers, it wasn't infantry, it hasn't had the same public impact. do you fear for the importance of this being lost? do you fear for the investigation losing momentum at all? and which republicans especially will you be looking at now? >> i will be looking at john mccain to susan collins, to ben sass, to lindsey graham, to several others, and richard burr who is leading the senate intelligence committee to stan up and unanimously say with their democratic colleagues at that when our nation is attacked we are not democrats or republicans. we are americans. we all have to stand resolutely against those who would do harm to our way of life and our system of government. and i just think in the long sweep here, brian, we have had now the president attack separation of powers by trying to impede a congressional investigation.
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he has attacked the first amendment, and a free media and a free press which is a pillar of our democracy. now he is attacking the rule of law. >> raj what do you think of when you think of comey? now of course it's in the rearview mirror. as you know, he had his friends and he had his detractors. the latter saw a guy especially at these most recent hearings kinds of burdened or crippled or tortured by his own integrity, all drawn up over the problems that came with his office, the tough decisions, tough calls he had to make. what will you remember him for in office? >> well, i think whether you are a critic of jim comey or a fan of jim comey, there's almost unanimous sentiment that he is a man of integrity who tried to do what he thought was the right thing. i think what we've seen in the last 24 hours, as jeremy
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mentioned is a moment when we need patriotism over partisanship. we have seen a former attorney general speak about how she warned the white house. we have seen the white house call that former attorney general a political opponent. and now we've seen that white house, the president, fire the fbi director personally. all in the span of 24 hours. >> gentlemen, thank you both. raj day, jeremy bash. appreciate it, again, after a long day. matthew miller joins our conversation from washington. he was here with us last night. former chief spokesman for the justice department, also an msnbc justice and security analyst. matthew, same question i just asked raj. when you think of james comey what are your first thoughts? >> more than anything else, you think of independence. and sometimes with somebody who is independent you don't agree with what they are doing. i disagree very much with the way he handled the clinton investigation, with how he ended it and with the letter that he sent in the fall.
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but more than anything else, you knew that he was making the decisions and was willing to stand up for what he believed was right. and i think you know, if you go back and look at the reason the white house said they fired him i don't think believes that. let's grant he did violate department of justice rules last year. what the white house said today though was that they were casting aside the most important rule that goorchs the deputy of justice. if you are worked there as i have, as raj has, you know the thing that people treasure most is their independence from the white house, that they pursue criminal investigations without worrying about white house interference, especially if that investigation touches on the white house it self as this investigation into possible collusion with the russian government does. and so tonight you have seen that fundamental principle really trampled upon by the white house. and i think it's extremely concerning. i think what we are going to have to watch over the coming
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weeks is how does the justice department respond? how does the fbi respond? i'm not talking about jeff sessions. i'm not talking about rod rosen stein. how do the career prosecutors and line agents respond to what has happened tonight? that's going to be a really telling thing to watch. >> yeah, along with our conversations yesterday during our coverage, there's really two ways of looking at all these departments. there are had appointees at the top. top slot, the next two or three down. and then as you mentioned the friends you left behind at the justice department, the people who are there from administration to administration, professional staff, non-partisan. what do you think the impact is going to be? this calls for your opinion. inside the department where you worked? >> i can tell you they are shocked. i talked to former colleagues both inside and outside the justice dent tonight. they are shocked by what happened. there is no one at justice department who lived through something like this before. last time this happened was in the '70s. there was nobody there today that was there for that. what i think what you will see is the career staff will be
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encouraged to double down their work and pursue this investigation. i think you will see more leaks about this investigation both to congress and to the press. and i think what we're going to have to really watch is when there are new supervise to this investigation, whether it's the new fbi director or whether it's rod rosen stein, you know, no one can squash this investigation, but there are big calls and little calls you make. do we want to pursue leads into this area or stop here? do we want to keep going aggressively or decide we are wrapping things up. i think if you see supervise, leadership, especially political leadership try to quash those leads in any way you will see massive leaks and massive defecations. >> thank you for being part of our coverage. with tonight's news will will inevitably be renewed focus and attention given to the russia investigations on capitol
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hill. democrat california congresswoman jackie spear sits on house intelligence. she is with us tonight from san francisco. congresswoman, what does this do to your investigation, to the investigations going on on the senate side? >> well, both investigation also move forward, brian. but the real question is to what extent will the fbi now cooperate with us in providing us with some of their raw intelligence that they have gathered? the one thing you can say about director comey is that he was very comprehensive in his investigation. we had a closed hearing just last week with director comey. and i must say even though i thought he handled the e-mail incident with hillary clinton very poorly and probably cost her the election, i had great confidence that he was going to not let any stone be unturned in terms of this investigation into
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the russian influence. i think he feels that our democracy is threatened. >> congresswoman, we have had a president call this whole matter what is it -- a hoax, a charade, and fake news, to name three terms. do you really think these reports coming out of the west wing tonight, that they were surprised by the hubbub and the attention in the press? do you really think they thought this would be something they could dispose of and move on? >> well he always i think has a high opinion of how he's going to be able to move forward and he is always somewhat surprised when he gets, you know, backlash. i really believe that this effort undermining director comey started on march 209:when he testified in open hearing before the intelligence committee that not only was he investigated the influence the russians had on our election. but he was also looking into whether or not trump campaign
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workers were coordinated with russia in terms of the interference. that was a huge bombshell. everyone in the room thought oh, my goodness, this was brand-new information to us. and i think from that point, you then saw the whole effort by the white house bringing in devin nunes, with that little caper. and i think every effort has been to undermine this investigation and to undermine the investigation by the fbi. >> congresswoman, a couple of your democratic colleagues, senate and house, have called what we are in right now, what happened today, a constitutional crisis.
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that's a heavy term. do you agree with it? >> i don't think that is -- i think it is the appropriate term. this is very similar to the saturday night massacre during the nixon administration. when you had the actual special counsel that was fired by president nixon and then you had the attorney general and the deputy attorney general resign because of that firing. this is indeed -- and you hear it from both republicans and democrats, that the president has gone one step way too far. >> congresswoman jackie spear, thank you very much for being part of our coverage tonight from san francisco. >> thank you. >> as our audience knows, the house has been out on recess. the senate is in session in washington. with us tonight as well is josh earnest, msnbc political analyst and notably former white house press secretary under president obama. josh good evening, good to have you on. i would like to begin first off before we talk about comey himself with your reaction to today's news. >> good evening brian it's nice to be with you as well. i have to admit i think like the rest of official washington here i was surprised by the announce member today. obviously director comey is somebody who has been in the firing line for more than a year now. he has been at the center of some of the very basic political debates in this town and across
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this country. i think what is so curious and i think what has piqued the interest of not just reporters in this town but people across the country is the timing. why now, why after president trump defended director comey's handling and advocated for his handling of the clinton investigation during the campaign, during the transition and even after he took office. why now has he abankruptcily changed his position and now why is he not using that investigation as justification for taking the extraordinary step of removing comey from cause of. >> given who you are, where you have been and the journey you traveled with your former boss, president obama, when you say jim comey, what does that conjure up in your experience? >> jim comey got the job as fbi director because of his well established reputation for being independent, for being independent of political forces. there is a famous incident in the bush administration. you recall director comey was a senior ranking justice department official in the
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republican bush administration. and he stood up to forces in the white house who wanted to try to roll over him and do something he did not approve of he didn't believe was consistent with the law. he is somebody who takes pride in his independence, who takes pride in his ability to weather a political storm, and there were a variety of situations in which he came into direct conflict with the obama white house. and it wasn't just his handling of the clinton investigation. people will recall director comey made some claims about a so-called ferguson effect suggesting there were some local police officers across the country who were slirking their official duties because of fear they could be photographed or filmed and their image would be misconstrued in a way that had a iguodala negative impact on fighting crime. there was no evidence for that claim, president obama directly contradicted director comey's claim about this.
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but in every instance, brian, and there were many of them when i was in the white house briefing room where i was called to ask to respond to something director comey had did or said. i took pains at the beginning of any one of those answers to note the independence of the fbi and to note how important president obama believed it was for even people particularly people in the white house to protect the independence of the fbi. it's obvious now that the trump white house doesn't share that view. in fact, you have seen president trump take aggressive action to fire his acting attorney general, to now fire the fbi director, to criticize judges. the thing that all those people have in common is that they have taken an oath to act independently to protect the rule of law. that's something that apparently president trump doesn't take too kindly to. >> josh earnest appearing from
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our studios tonight on capitol hill. good to have you on the broadcast. thank you very much for coming up. >> thank you, brian. let's bring on jennifer palmieri, former hillary clinton campaign communications director, decidedly not on capitol hill. also a former white house communications director under president obama. >> true. >> jennifer, thank you for coming on. and your emotions i'm imagining are more complicated. so your boss of lock her up fame is cited in a three-page letter by the deputy attorney general. comey was so mean to hillary clinton, it's the underpinning for comey's dismissal. what do you make of all of it? >> it is -- i found it stunning when i first -- when i first heard the news. but my -- my mind immediately went to that trump's motivation must be about his own skpregs the investigation of his connections to russia. i noticed about a month ago when sean spicer got asked about paul
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manafort and russia and he said manafort was somebody who had been the compare of the campaign but i believe he referred to him as somebody who worked for trump for a few weeks. i thought then i bet they are getting rumors down from justice that people are going to get indicted in the russia investigation. and so my first thought was, a small bit of shoiden fraud. but then it went immediately to thinking that this has to be about trump trying to step on the fbi's investigation of him. >> what are your emotions when you think of this guy, the role he played in your campaign and you know, your years being in and around politics? >> you can ever come about yourself. that is what i -- i know i have heard a lot of people say that he is a person of integrity. i think that he put his own reputation and his concern about his reputation ahead of how the fbi is supposed to fairly and consistently administer its investigation. he let the concern about his own
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reputation and whether or not republicans in congress might be upset with what his actions were get the best of him. once you open that pandora's box i think you saw it was very hard to manage. i think that's what he let get in his -- let his own ego about his reputation get in the way. >> we heard from and i think it's remember not to raise that and not give him that opportunity. so i would not expect that you would hear from her on this particular piece. >> jennifer palmer who again is decidedly not on capitol hill and seems too relaxed to be on capitol hill. thank you very much for being on our broadcast tonight. we sure appreciate it 123450 my pleasure, thanks brian. with us now is richard painter. richard was chief white house ethics lawyer under president george w. bush. he is an msnbc analyst and our chief legal correspondent is here with us. and that's ari melber. good evening to you both. >> good evening, brian. >> good evening. >> richard, as a follower of yours on social media i wanted to have you on for so long. you basically pick one perceived ethics violation per day to highlight. often, they are about business entanglements by members of the trump family. this will now be the story we are covering tonight its own huge distraction from what you are usually talking about. and that's the business side. >> well there have been a lot of problems. and some days we've had more than one. this is a tragedy, what's happening right now. the russia investigation is the most important priority at this point.
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richard was chief white house ethics lawyer under president george w. bush. he is an msnbc analyst and our chief legal correspondent is here with us. and that's ari melber. good evening to you both. >> good evening, brian. >> good evening. >> richard, as a follower of yours on social media i wanted to have you on for so long. you basically pick one perceived ethics violation per day to highlight. often, they are about business entanglements by members of the trump family. this will now be the story we are covering tonight its own huge distraction from what you are usually talking about. and that's the business side. >> well there have been a lot of problems.
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and some days we've had more than one. this is a tragedy, what's happening right now. the russia investigation is the most important priority at this point. we have had espionage conducted inside the united states by russia which has been trying to destabilize our government since the 10920s. and now -- the 1920s now we hear that we had a russian at as the top national security adviser for 18 days. that general flynn, michael flynn had been doing work for russia that he did not disclose. the white house knew about this, yet they kept him in there for 18 days. now we have the russia investigation by the fbi and the president of the united states has fired the director of the fbi in the middle of an investigation by the fbi of the president's own campaign and the attorney general has participated in this firing even
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though he also worked for the trump campaign and he lied to the senate in his own confirmation hearing about his contacts with the russians. this russia thing is going on and on. it is a very serious problem. and this is a lot worse than watergate. watergate was a third-rate burglary by a bunch of burglars that didn't know what they were doing. it didn't involve the russians. didn't involve a threat to our country except for the way the president nixon handled it. but president trump's wave hamging this situation with russia and the russian espionage and the collaboration, whatever collaborated with the russians it is a very, very bad situation at this point. i have urged that the house judiciary committee needs to have a hearing and start the process of thinking about whether or not the pre has abused his power and whether he is fit for office. >> ari melber i'm tempted to say well, if you put it that way, it sounds like what happened today was very serious during very
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serious teams on top of some already serious matters. how do we follow the law from here on out? you were part of our coverage this afternoon deciphering this as it was happening. >> the law here is that the president does have the lawful authority to remove the fbi director. the precedent here is that it is not usually done in the middle of the ten-year term and the only time it was done previously was for cause after an internal justice department review found improper use of funds by william sessions. for those looking for historical precedents, this is unprecedented it does not follow policy or any process which for the d.o.j. is unusual. it is lawful rather than illegal for the president to exercise this authority although there are conditions, and mr. painter a former bush white house ethics lawyer as you mentioned outlined the kinds of conditions that
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could make this unlawful. two points about this letter as you mentioned we are deciphering it. it's dated today. the story of the white house is that number one this originated allegedly from the d.o.j. that the deputy attorney general who was confirmed about two weeks ago shows up in his office, puts the books on you will with a, meets his secretary there, and then says you know what i want to do? i want to recommend that we remove the fbi director mid course. i just explained why that's unusual. then he rather than doing the normal thing of research, case law, precedents, guidance, writes up that thing or checks in with the internal investigation -- we are told, we are meant to believe that he then starts working on this letter, talks to squlef sessions about it gets his opinion, sends to it the white house. when the white house gets it today they say oh, great let's do this now, immediately. i describe it that way because it's not very believable of the it's technically possible it happened but it's not belief. we have spoken with officials in
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and out of government who say it's unlikely. the letter reads like a collection of publicly available citations rather than things lawyers would typically look at or the law library. there is a lot that doesn't add up. doesn't mean the president was exceeding lawful authority but it leaves a lot of questions. the biggest question is whether the congress or the american public can ever trust the outcome of this russia inquiry unless it is handled independently by a special prosecutor. rod rosen steen's letter although he was a respected career prosecutor up to today does not leave one with the impression he is coming at this neutrally and independently. >> richard, there are reports
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that democrats in the senate are going to say we will block all attempts at your next nominee for fbi director until and unless we get a special prosecutor. do you fear for an ongoing healthy investigation as of today? >> well, we are going to have to have a special prosecutor. that's obvious. the republicans in the senate you had at be to calling for. i have been involved in the republican party 30 years. and this is a potential disaster for the republicans if they cannot establish independence from this administration and protect our country from russian espionage. there obviously has to be a special prosecutor. and the only parallel for what happened today, the only press department that i know of is the nixon firing of special prosecutor archie cox. and he had to go through three attorney general in order to do it. the first two refused to do it and got fired themselves. here president trump was apparently able to do this right off the bat with attorney general sessions getting together with him, with the deputy, and going and firing the director comey in the illegal in
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of an investigation of the president's campaign for collusion with a foreign power conducting espionage in the united states. this is a very bad situation. of course we need a special prosecutor. that's not a partisan issue, though. everybody ought to be on board with that at this point. >> and ari melber we are learning in subsequent reporting tonight that there was pressure on the fbi to instead pursue these leaks. how is this information getting leaked out, which has been accused of being a shiny object to distract from the issue in chief which has been the russia organization. >> you raise a great point. >> investigation. >> investigation. you raise a great point, brian. custom is since donald trump was directed jim comey has been involved in three big trump related things in public. the leaks that you mentioned custom the white house is upset
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about. the fact checking of donald trump's statements that have been baseless accusing his barac of wire tapping trump tower. the fbi is involved in hundreds of inquiries. they have a policy for confirming them and jim comey says he followed that which involves the approval of prosecutor in charge of the investigation. when he confirmed the russia inquiry he did it through that process but it upset the white house. donald trump is looking at those three things and having this reaction although we are told by the government this only came from doj. the larger question is was this decision in response to those three things? if it was this letter is incomplete. if it was and touched on russia that could potentially be attorney general sessions violating public recusal from russia. so what's not in the letter is as problematic as what is in it if -- this is why we speak carefully as journalists, if any of those things are out. there are enough people in the fbi and enough paperwork that in the coming days we could see evidence of that.
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if we do that raises problems for other officials and potentially that goes back to whether there are republicans in the senate as you and lawrence o'donnell were discussing, republicans who might end up wanting to be profiles in courage rather than omission who say there needs to be a special prosecutor because we need an independent process so everyone can understand where it is going. >> that is richard's point. terrific to have you here. thank you for your careful and thorough reporting today. what a pleasure to get you on the broadcast tonight. we hope to have you on again many times in the future. up next our presidential historian weighs in. we are taking our first break at 51 minutes past the hour. our coverage continues after this.
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the shlike a bald penguin. how do i look? [ laughing ] show me the billboard music awards. show me top artist. show me the top hot 100 artist. they give awards for being hot and 100 years old? we'll take 2! [ laughing ] xfinity x1 gives you exclusive access to the best of the billboard music awards just by using your voice. the billboard music awards. sunday, may 21st eight seven central only on abc. we are back at 55 minutes after the hour. a couple of things to show you coming out of this extraordinary story having to do with tomorrow morning's newspaper front pages.
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notable here in the newspaper business is the amount of white space the "new york times" is devoting, the importance they attach to that letter from donald trump because he clears himself in the body of the letter. you see there big headline "washington post" goes bigger where this is an enormous local story having to do with the machinery of government as it is a national story. you look back to the historical parallel, more on this in a moment that a lot of people are mentioning today though they are not really analogous. the famous saturday night massacre. because so many people have called today's move nixon yn. look at what folks at the nixon presidential library put out on twitter. president nixon never fired director of the fbi. at least they have a sense of humor.
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we want to bring in our friend and presidential historian and author. you are the guy who gets to tell us. i have heard some office holders, some responsible people today say we are in a constitutional crisis. i have heard some people call this a dark day for our democracy. where do you place this in the history of modern times? >> i think it is a possible dark day for our democracy because you think of our system, no one is supposed to be above the law. here you have a situation where you have a president of the united states donald trump apparently worried about an investigation that involves his entourage and maybe him and firing the fbi director very possibly in order to stop that investigation. not a great thing for our democracy and i think it should make everyone take pause. >> half a world away this is the
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there is no bombs and missiles. we're not covering the windows or cutting wattage in the head lights of our cars. it is different and on a rolling basis. >> it is different and it is why we should be more vigilant because it's no longer as you say a matter of the cold war being worried about the russian bombers coming over to the north pole or icbms. now it is an invasion of the kind of our democracy and choosing presidents last year. that is why this investigation is so important. yes it does involve donald trump and his entourage but involves something much larger.
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>> when you hear people invoke saturday night massacre as nearest parallel in modern history is that the lazy person's way out? >> i guess i am a lazy person, too. no historical parallel is ever direct. what richard nixon was trying to do was stop archbled cox, the special prosecutor from asking for his tapes when he knew had a tape of him talking to his aid telling him to block, obstruct an fbi investigation of water gate. it does have some parallels. >> of course, the difference is that it was in the midst of a full blown crisis. >> that's exactly right. by october of 1973 that scandal had gone on for a while and the result was that when nixon fired cox intending to shut down the entire investigation prosecution
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people in congress, people all over the united states protested and essentially forced nixon to choose someone who was equally tough who kept up the battle and the result was that finally nixon had to give up the tapes including that one i mentioned, had to resign. >> what a treat to be able to talk to you after a long day. thank you for staying up with us. >> reminded we didn't get a chance to say it. this is day 110 of the trump administration. extraordinary events we have been covering today and tonight. that is our broadcast for this evening. thank you for being with us through all of it and good night from new york.
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breaking news. jim comey is out at the fbi. >> wow. trump fired the fbi director. like you can't justifier the fbi director. if he's gone, who's going to investigate russia's ties to -- oh. >> fallout after james comey is fired as head of the fbi. this morning, concerns about constitutional crisis in the future of the investigation of russia and the trump campaign. >> president trump is set to meet with sergei lavrov

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