Questions mount over Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey

ABC News reports on the Trump administration's thinking and what's next for the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
3:00 | 05/10/17

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Transcript for Questions mount over Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey
Eight as on in the odds here live in New York are coming on the heels. At today's white house press briefing he saw Sarah BC Anderson deputy Press Secretary they're taking a string of questions listen 24 hours. After the president unprecedented. And unexpected firing. FBI director James coney Rick Klein our deputy our Cyrus her political director town in our Washington bureau. Keeping an eye on all this rate I got to ask you there was a lot of information in there and a lot of it didn't line up let's try to sort through it. Also how are you forgot to say hi thank you. For asking despite your attempt to promote me I'm fine I'll. A couple of the a couple of wrinkles a set out for me first off on this is the first admission from the White House that president trump. Had the idea of firing teams call me independent of any recommendation came from the attorney general in fact. Despite months of the White House saying that he at full confidence in director called me we now learn from from the a spokesman at the White House Sar Huckabee Sanders that in fact he had lost confidence at the very beginning. And was considering replacing him at the very start of the administration. He had this idea. All through last week and another big admission here is at last week's testimony that high profile hearing where drifter whom we talked about. His decisions it's it to go public with information about the investigation in the middle of the election season that played a role. That's the first time we learn and actually played a role in this decision. And not our colleague here Thomas covers justices joining us now is well you're thanks so much for being here. But look it what it mustn't wait for hours after at this unexpected turn of events what are they know about what's happening. Inside the FBI right now. Where they have a acting. FBI director. And he is informed him according to our sources to that this is business as usual it's time to keep working to go forward but I can tell you. Throughout the bureau shock surprise. Everyone caught off guard ever went flat footed at this. Decision to fire call me in effect we're being told to call me himself was completely taken aback learning about it through press accounts on television. Yesterday when news began to break. Pier one that thinks repeated by deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders there again and again with that Kobe had lost the confidence. Of the many thousands of people who worked under him and if that true. Well again that's going to be a point of major contention because there are a lot of people who will say. That the FBI director had. Great support and respect within. The FBI now any organization that large between thousand strong. We'll have people that don't like certain things being done a certain ways. But that had not been a story line that we have covered. In any meaningful way of great dissension with the FBI within the FBI about calling. Let's hop over to Capitol Hill are calling Mary Bruce joins us thing Mary thanks for being with us in a rare and I'm rather her arrest show bipartisanship. It sounds like there are a lot of people both Republicans. And Democrats who have a lot of questions after police firing if there's some sense an agreement of how this moves forward now. That's the big question and you make a very good when you're this is not just Democrats who are outraged and confused a lot of Republicans that I've talked with today are also scratching their heads this comes down. To that timing of this even the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee senator Richard Burr told us. When it comes to the timing and the White House is reasoning for this fire and I quote it makes. No sense the question is what comes next whether Republicans were now. Expressing some concern about the timing of this will they join their democratic colleagues who now renewing. Their calls for a special prosecutor to take over. The Helm of the Russia investigation I'll look Republicans including some top Republicans like. Senator John McCain of already said they backed calls for special select committee to look into the Russia issue. But the question whether they'll go further and call for a special prosecutor and party talk with at least one Republican West Virginia senator Shelly Moore capital says the special prosecutor is something he's seriously looking into but it remains to be seen those next steps what will happen here. We do know of course they have a lot of questions especially. Third former director Tony he will be up here we have learned he's been invited. To be up here tomorrow to testify behind closed doors to speak with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were waiting to hear on whether or not accept that invitation. We're gonna wait to hear and see if he'd do hear from director homey highly anticipated potential testimony there recliner want to ask you about. The fact that we've now heard from the president himself. There was a bit of a press opportunity to get some sound from him earlier today he's meeting with Henry Kissinger he was asked about the Komi firing. This is what he had to say at that moment of the soon. Everybody knows doctor Kissinger. And we're right now talking about Russia. And various other matters. Talking about Syria. And I think that we're going to do very well with respect to Syria and things are happening that are really really really positive. That is stop the killing and that that we had a very very good meeting. We'll have brought and Hitler's. I thought it was very. We will do we want to see. The killing the horrible killing and serious deficit as possible and everybody's working toward that end. But it's an honor to have and it's Angeles he's their friend of mine for a long time. And thank you very much for being here. He wasn't doing a good job there simply was not doing. Good job. Did it affect your meeting with the Russians today. This did it affect your meeting with the Russians today for the when they need to gather every card that hasn't happened. Thank you. So Rick here's what the big questions on the heels of a brief answer there from the president himself this morning. The question is why now the question is what made this happen now because. If the White House is to be believed and the president are losing conference in his FBI director for many months. He could have fired him at any time over the last 110 days so what happens now that made him take the action on Tuesday. While we're asking why now why now meet with Henry Kissinger that's among the many bizarre things about this I mean the president's action has been described as nixonian. And he goes and beats him with Henry Kissinger the next day such a strange sequence of events but even if it's pure coincidence the question of what now I think is an urgent one. And I think that the additional contacts that we've learned in reporting today that in fact. According to our colleague Cecilia Vega has been reporting on this. It did director home he was asking the deputy attorney general for additional resources and that we know last week's testimony attitude as well these are big development. Karen let's ask you about this investigation because I see a lot of people are linking the two here the big question a lot of people are going to be asking though is that ongoing investigation. That cold meat was leading into possible collusion between the count campaign and Russian officials. Where does that stand now it does that just continue to move forward. Well the investigation will continue to move forward and one of the things we can save it is that the FBI is a very professional organization. The agents who work in that case will continue to work it. But that the question now will become one of the route. And also. They read the leadership like anyone else. Will they believe that the Department of Justice is still behind their investigation to get to about bottom of this and to go ask only set wherever it leads them. That maybe the question going forward there is a fair amount of suspicion about why combing was fired in a manner that he was. Here Thomas thinks some management in time for an album that's pop. Rick I want to ask you one other thing about is that you mentioned the meeting are here today with Henry Kissinger and and how it looks just optics why there were another public meetings that the president took today. But a couple of Russian officials of course the Russian foreign minister Lavrov was here and went to the White House. Along with the Russian ambassador Keyes we act we've heard so much about over these last few months the white house press corps it's worth noting was not invited to cover at that meeting but the Russian press. Did send out some photos and I think we have those of us and handshakes. There as well but here's the question just when it comes to optics any previous administration would go to incredible links to avoid. Even a hint of impropriety. This White House seems not to care at all how things look. This is jarring on the everyone in the in the the press corps born in the country perhaps he was curious about how the president has spent his day today that day after. He announces that the firing of his FBI director for that public schedule to come out. Last night and only have one name on it and that BB and back at the visit of Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. That is really something and at what level when the when the when the Russian foreign minister comes to town. Typically meets a the president. In fact you can go and rewind the tape and the secretary of state Tillerson was in Moscow he got to meet with with President Putin over there. So that Mitt maybe not surprising we are right the timing of this is just so jarring. Given that though the Russian Clough this thing hanging over all of this the new details of the investigation have come out the idea that the director called we want it more resources for an investigation involving Russia I think you're right in this sense that president trump. If he's not trolling everyone he just doesn't care he's going golf going to go ahead with these events going go ahead with that schedule despite what the optics. Are there a lot of these of the puzzle putting together here for everyone out there in case you missed it. Foreign minister from Russia Lavrov also met with secretary of state Tillerson and he was asked about the firing of FBI director James coney here's what he had. Now you had in grief her reply they are not a ton of information. In reply to a question about the firing. Mr. Komi there but look at the break we got a campaign a bigger picture here when you look at the story of people who have been fired. By this president got pre Ferrara. He got the acting attorney general Sally Yates you've got now FBI director James Coley the common thread there is they were all investigating. This administration. In some way and this precedent. It paints a terrible picture and it leads to the question is this president abusing his power. It's undeniable wheels a three individuals that were actively investigating or orders standing up to in some way. The president of the United States should also be noted from the other perspective those are three people that we're not appointed. By president drop they were holdovers from president Obama's time office and the idea that is that you cure for many people in the twelve circle inside and outside government. Their concern about that the state your concern about people inside the government or not. Committed to the trump agenda that's another piece of this and you can support or oppose the idea that these three people that served at the wheel of the president. Who were not a 100% on board they all lost their jobs for various reasons so I feel like there's there's two sized affable side's lead to the fact that those people don't have jobs anymore. That is quite a legal dream team you're talking about in those three individuals all of them were serving under president conference appear at a time all of them now don't have those jobs. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the press briefing today was asked about to the need for a special prosecutor she's at the White House does not feel it's necessary but McConnell the senate majority leader also said on the floor area earlier today. That it is un necessary senator Schumer. Took to the floor right after him though and had this response about a special prosecutor let's listen to act. We know director called me was leading an investigation. And whether the trump campaign colluded with the Russians. Serious offense. Where those investigations getting too close to home for the president. The dismissal of director called me establishes a very troubling pattern. This administration has now removed several law enforcement officials in a position to conduct independent investigations of the president. And his administration. From acting attorney general Sally Yates. To pre Ferraro. Now. Jim call me. What should happen now what must happen now. Is that mr. Rosen starting appoints a special prosecutor to oversee this investigation. If there was ever a time. When circumstances. Warranted a special prosecutor. It is right now. Mr. Rosen Stein already expressed concern that director combing damage the integrity of the FBI. The attorney general has already had to recuse himself from the investigation. For being too close to the president. If mr. Rosen Stein is true to his word. That he believes this investigation must be quote. Fair free thorough and politically independent. If he believes as I do that the American people. Must be able to have faith in the impartiality of this investigation. He must appoint a special prosecutor. And get his investigation. Out of the hands. Of the FBI and far away. From the heavy hand of this administration. Reagan the tangled web of people who have all weighed in on director Komi over the last several months have all weighed in. On the potential for collusion between the term campaign and the Russian officials are very few clean hands. In any of this but what are the chances that an independent. Special prosecutor. Actually gets tapped to do this investigation. The drumbeat is getting louder on and it's undeniable right now to be clear there is no special prosecutor statute on the books right now we have one remembers back to the days of of the special prosecutor on Whitewater. The special prosecutor that has been appointed. Under the Bush Administration was under and under a decision by. The Justice Department's would have that was wanted to do things it and the Justice Department says no evidence Bob Rose in sign in this case because the attorney general has stepped away from it. Or congress votes authorizes. In that case of the congressional side of things you can have a presidential veto so it does seem unlikely on the face but. As people come out on this and as the circumstances lineup and as more details emerge of why Jim Cawley was fired and the idea that that the Russian investigation a you do with it will only increase those calls. You're having a good number of Republicans are to break ranks with Democrats and say this is something we need to look at so we don't have we haven't seen a flood yet we haven't seen a critical mass move in that direction. But that might be where we land because. All of the stench of the story has added up to something where. There's not a lot of trust in anyone to continue this and you can imagine what those confirmation hearings are going to be like for the new FBI director what he or she is going to be asked to account for. It syllables and winnable political situation so it could be. That the deputy attorney general decides the only way to set this decides to take it outside in a command. Take it outside of that the direct purview of the attorney general and the tribe administration someone who cannot be fired by the president. Give that person he authorities look at this that could be we're meego. So one big question being asked again and again. Sarah Sanders today in the press briefing and by a lot of reporters I think is that if the wind how part of this equation. And there's also the what sent this in motion how did this even begin in the first place because partly her from the White House. That the president was losing confidence in the director only really since his inauguration. I'll get them are also hearing that things happened very quickly in the last couple of days for the meeting the White House is being initiated by the attorney general and the deputy attorney general. Upon which the president based his decision. But we're hearing also from the White House this line again and again that this was the president's decision he lewis' decision. And endless line about the right decision at the right time by its president patents. Is among those who's been repeating this we've heard this before us with regard to the firing of lieutenant general plated but let's listen in. To what vice president has had to say. About why the president acted in this way take less. I'm personally very that we have been present. It's nice. Strong leadership think they were. Move an FBI director who has lost a home. That being sent. Eater. Kids great men and make enormous. I'm very common. The president. Not only back to credibility. The lead the FBI be even greater. Forcing. Certainly the rhetoric and. It's unparalleled. Company. This was the right decision. Why. Rick there's a little bit of crossed arms pointing in different directions coming from various administration officials right now. Who owns this decision is it the attorney general deputy attorney general rob rose as signer is that the president. Or is it the attorney general Jeff Sessions was the most or cues from the Russian investigation altogether and this is a big piece of conflicting message and I think the whole story is yet. Come close to coming out I'm not the though the initial White House take on this was that this was a decision driven by. The deputy attorney general. I and ratified by the attorney general formalized by the president and that they were driving the train and he was a passenger who agree with them. Now we know for the official White House line that wasn't quite the case that the president came into office skeptical. All of the of the FBI director and he had this meeting we're to believe in something to travel in a separate track that rob rose and signed its first two weeks in office. Had done today Ian decided that that you had to get rid the attorney general and that's Jeff Sessions agreement that the president both backs has put that in writing. And any acts on Tuesday as if they all came simultaneously to the same decision. Then you have quite what we play from senator Feinstein said she talked to the president the president said. That he was the one that was driving this the only reason this really matters is because of the Russian investigation the president has the right to fire. James calling for just about anything he wants you to say your fired and that's exactly what happened yesterday but in terms of the reasoning for it. He's got out of his way to say this is about your conduct during the campaign. This is not about the Russian investigation in fact. A very strange line on the that we talked about last night in that letter saying that dot thank you director homey for telling me the price as president that. Three different times I'm not under investigation I don't know why you include that. A lesser sensitive to the fact that people are interpreted that way so you can't divorce this from that investigation. And you can't yet. Find a clean line of authority for anyone saying I'm the one who said that we're that that he asked ago I am the one who stands up and says director only has the lead. The Federal Bureau of Investigation it seems like this thing has so many parents that no one wants. It was a profoundly different remarkably specific line in that latter noting three separate occasions. On which director homey confirmed to him he was an investigation there's and it was asked about this again and again and again in the briefing and basically refused. To take any more questions on it answer at all that I I'm not gonna go there even that was in the presidents. Own public letter the break here's the big picture question for you now when he was candidate try. He joked a lot talked a lot about taking what could be described as pretty authoritarian measures at various times. It is one thing to talk about it as a candidate and it's another thing to take actions that could be described in that vein once you are president. So what happens now what is this message that's being sent out to anyone who works in the government who may be worried that if that things that they do or if they do not line up with the president's own interests. That they could be facing the firing. And you can almost hear the chance of locker up select going from the campaign that ended six months ago you're exactly right on this White House has been more explicit than any that I've ever covered. In saying that you either get with the program where you get out. They had that message to as you call State Department employees who sent that dissent cable early on it so they disagreed with the tone the president is taking. They've done the same thing it the agencies including the department of energy of the Department of Justice part of education. They've gone across the board environmental EPA they've gone across the board and said the people you don't believe in the presidency and he might as well let's leave. Line it has squash dissenting views already and that's the message I think that's undeniable on this and that's to me what makes this bigger than politics because the president. Likes to put these things in political boxes and say. He's against Dotson and their four he was for Hillary and in their four you can explain motivations. This is bigger than that this is about of the functioning of democracy this is about the balance of powers the separation of powers checks and balances. This is about the basics of how the government does its job. That's what's at stake in the firing an FBI director was in the midst of an investigation that involves the president's own associates. Violence ago were you know we're learning so many details about how exactly this happened yesterday did not take long for the leaks his set in motion. But it's there Anders today it revealed a whole list of people that the president called. To inform them his decision to fire director Komi before he did so on number of senate leader is house leader is and and others. He did not call director call me to fire him he had a hand we are not write a printed letter in the Manila envelope hand delivered. Via his security guard his bodyguard. To load the agency and all of that strikes me as odd and my wrong on this. This struck me as something out of maybe nineteenth century America right when you you have a courier come over into and hand deliver from you from a close associate. That's not how it's normally done despite how the White House. Portrait and I've never heard of this before first of all the fact that you have is essentially as body are longtime bodyguard is director of Oval Office operations. Deliver this that's not a constitutionally delineated. Power. It seems to me that that that the timing of this was dictated by a bunch of urgency including the fact that. The director probably was out of the office they had to know about that when they dispatched into the FBI when he delivered this news. In him in us the strangest settings possible we're told by people close to the it to director called me. That he learned of this first by watching television he sought cover on cable TV. I thought it was a joke potentially at first and then took the phone call. And in find out that he's actually fired while he's out in Los Angeles for an official event he had to than fly home no longer is director of the FBI. Very very strange and again asking the question what was so urgent. About the middle of of a random Tuesday afternoon. When the when the FBI director is out of town. That said this has to be that moment that you pull off that and hated me it happened even if that report was coming even if everything else aligns with according to the White House timeline. What is it about yesterday afternoon it needed urgent. Just an unbelievable sequence of events there we're still unpacking Albert Klein at the Helm for us here at ABC thanks so much trick always good to talk to you thanks on the and of course there is a view from Russia on all of this as well we've mentioned some of those press reports on Russian officials visits. To the White House so how is all this news. Playing out. In Moscow let's go live now to my colleague Patrick rebel who joins us live from Moscow. Patrick just give me the headlines they are what are people saying how is this news. Being received there in Moscow. I mean I think it's interesting. Most people. Still think that it's behind him. Like I kind of manufactured story and you know what we've seen already today was that the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. And then laid about admitted himself. But it's basically called the story. Silly and that they don't see it as anything to it and that's why the strange things about this story the one hand you have Russia right behind. This scandal on the other hand you know that they can't refuse to engage because they just simply say that it's not true and that in the kind of keep implying that it's basically be made up by the media and the regional and today it actually a couple of times and suggest that we should see them grow up. With interesting Patrick for people here is what we know what the Russian official line is. We saw the foreign minister Lavrov there basically kind of blow off a question about the director at the FBI being fired. As well. Is there any dissenting view anywhere in Russian civil society or you know the small opposition that exists if there's some concern there. That rush is actually Natalie in other people's elections or democracy. Was interesting was that say in the French and actions not. The candidate that they and it didn't want to win. One that was a little bay in among some most independent. This Natalie saying that perhaps Russia has miscalculated its fearing unit bronze. And also mean in the states and it does this season gulf very much out of don't Thompson thought. And that you know misty now let's go to French president he's not executing flying tonight. Not -- we know the Kremlin that the same time you know very few people here. Saint I think today we so we've we've done. Sag elaborate on this quite striking pictures of him in the Russian ambassador inside the White House. Will laughing McDonald's and I recognize again it kind of amazing vessel as you know two weeks ago. Basically. There was sort of saying all the goodwill the trump seemed to have was Russian had come to nothing and now suddenly he's yours and the strange situation where you have. The Russians and trump. Both back on the same sort of position both criticizing the media has basically creating a story out of nothing. Traffic periods through notes that a big picture on because we so rarely get the chance to check in review like that. How is president trump view and portrayed and and talked about. In Russian society at large because we all obviously an at American networks in here in in. In the states we're talking about Russia quite a bit and names like if they act. And Laver on. Have now become the thing of everyday discourse here. Do people care that much about what's happening here in the states who they watch the actions of president trump is closely there. As we you have Russian officials here. In. Shall enjoy it no nozzle and you know ravaged Russian. I would say it prevents us around his days as you might find someone necessarily news. What even happened. We James turning NN weather son unit name they don't call it partly because they don't believe it. Does that unit. Over all when the main difference is that Russian state television. You know ignores all of the idea Russian meddling in the US and dismisses it occasionally as just to something made up my don't trust and its. And say you know your average Russian know there's no immunity he has anything that the contrast between the states today. Witnesses huge story. And here in Los. He so much for ABC yet. It's quite stunning. Before and I got ask you something on the foreign policy front because there was this meeting between foreign minister last prop. And the US secretary of state Tillerson there was an official read out a statement. Offer it to the press corps afterwards and they did make note specifically. On this sanctions which a bodies even of great interest to a lot of people noting that the sanctions will remain in place. With Moscow until Moscow reverses the actions. That triggered them extensively AS talking about Russia's annexation of Crimea and the actions in eastern Ukraine. Where is the talk on sanctions. In Moscow right now how is that discussed there. I mean thing. That was some expectation is it really. The wind was finally time ago monstrous waves and says the sanctions to even make those that perhaps in Europe there was some elections. We're going to what's Russia friendly candidates and that was in a speech that you say they thought they that the sanctions might seem. Could be lifted maybe unit two was the end of this year since. That some administrations. Stunts and Russia has seemed to Harden a little. A lot of doubts and isn't it optimism did disappear. And now this those planning this mile so long that time thing. At the same time when we saw as the Russians about it they'll say. Yeah we would like the sanctions be lifted out be nice but united we can get on we can get by without them being lifted. I think right now. He's the same time you know today was dating my a warm welcome. Well the Russian prime minister say get a room. Say I think they may be perhaps things with which this administration perhaps things could change quite rapidly the other direction again because so much of the sanctions depend on Europe and semi Sosa ultimately. On Ukraine one happens that. It's it's very easy his. I kind of pretty intractable problem in the mining towns of getting him lifted the Russians as makes. It's fascinating stuff in the view from Moscow there Patrick rebel thanks so much for joining us. And thanks to you for watching as well remember you can always go to abcnews.com. For more on all of those stories. This story the firing of FBI director James Konami is moving fast developing quickly so check back in office. For updates abcnews.com. Thanks so much for being with us I'm on the the accuracy it.

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