'This Week' Transcript 5-14-17: The Firing of Director Comey

A rush transcript for a special edition of "This Week" on May 14, 2017.

ByABC News
May 14, 2017, 10:14 AM

— -- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on May 14, 2017 and it will be updated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Starting right now on a special edition of THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI director fired.


TRUMP: He's a showboat. He's a grandstander.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump sparks a firestorm by sacking the lead investigator of his campaign's ties to Russia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation. That is truly unacceptable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The timing of it and the reasoning of it makes no sense to me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The surprise decision throws his White House into chaos.


JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: But why were so many people giving answers that just weren't clear?

Were you guys in the dark?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then, Trump threatens Comey with claims of secretly recorded tapes.


TRUMP: All I want is for Comey to be honest.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The big question this week, did those actions obstruct justice?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It borders on a constitutional crisis now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president defiant.


TRUMP: The more that a broken system tells you that you're wrong, the more certain you should be that you must keep pushing ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From ABC News, it's a special edition of THIS WEEK -- The Firing of Director Comey.

Here now, chief anchor, George Stephanopoulos.


And to all the moms out there, Happy Mother's Day.

When this week began, the Trump White House was on something of a roll. ObamaCare repeal had passed the House. Preparations for the president's first foreign trip, including a meeting with the pope, were proceeding apace.

That was the calm. Then came the storm.

President Trump's stunning decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has plunged his White House into chaos, shaken his supporters in Congress, galvanized his opponents and raised the most serious questions yet about the president's competence, credibility and judgment.

It is true that before last week, Comey's toughest critics were Democrats and presidents do have the right to fire FBI directors. But it's only been done once before, for good reason -- preserving the idea that law enforcement is separate from politics is critical to our democracy.

Never before has a president fired an FBI director conducting an investigation into that president's campaign.

Never before has a president confessed that he was thinking about that investigation when he fired the person running it.


TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That admission shattered the early White House spin that the president's decision had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, that he was acting solely on the deputy attorney general's recommendation that Comey had to be fired for how he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation.

It also brought back three words from the days of we thought -- obstruction of justice.

To be fair, the president, in that same interview, said he wanted the investigation to absolutely be done properly. But his actions have raised questions about those words. And after reports that James Comey denied clearing the president from the investigation and that he refused to pledge loyalty to Trump at a dinner meeting in January, the echoes of Watergate embedded in this Tweet from the president. "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

Comey will likely tell his side of the story to Congress.

Here's what the president said about a loyalty pledge on Fox News.


TRUMP: Well, what it isn't...

JEANINE PIRRO, HOST: Did you ask that question?

TRUMP: No. No, I didn't. But I don't think it would be a bad question to ask. I think loyalty to the country, loyalty to the United States is important.

You know, I mean it depends on how you define loyalty, number one.

Number two, I don't know how that got there because I didn't ask that question.

PIRRO: What about the idea that, in a Tweet, you said that there might be tape recordings, because...

TRUMP: Well, that I can't talk about. I won't talk about that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So at the end of a tumultuous week, we are left with a series of questions.

Is President Trump the first president since Nixon with a secret taping system in the White House?

If tapes exist, will they now become evidence?

Will the FBI and Congressional investigations proceed without interference?

What will they conclude?

How can President Trump and his White House recover their credibility?

Is a massive staff shakeup coming?

And will that matter if the president himself does not change?

And let's start with our reporters and analysts on the front lines.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jon Karl, senior justice correspondent, Pierre Thomas, our chief global affairs anchor, Martha Raddatz, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, also an analyst for ABC News.

Jon Karl, I have to give you credit. Most of the White House didn't know this was coming. You got the first inkling on Tuesday morning.

KARL: This may have been the closest held presidential decision that we have seen of the Trump presidency. Only a handful of aides knew this. I asked Sean Spicer about it during the press briefing that day. It was clear, the White House Press Office had no idea what was coming.

And, George, this – of all the craziness, of all the tension we have seen over the course of this presidency so far, this was tensest week week that I have seen at the White House, because even before this, you had rumors of a big staff shakeup coming, senior folks in the White House not sure their jobs were secure. But the real frustration for especially Republicans on Capitol Hill is there was a sense going into this week that the president may have turned the ship. Health care reform was passed, at least in the House. And they were preparing for a very ambitious and I believe well organized, well thought, well conceived foreign trip, the first foreign trip for the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then you get to these question of credibility as well. We had that 36 to 48 hours where you had Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Kellyanne Conway, the vice president, all going out and saying this is all about attorney – Deputy attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The president said those same things to members of congress.

KARL: He did. And clearly there was major shift here that I believe was driven by the fact that there was fear that Rod Rosenstein could resign, because he was clearly upset with the idea that it was being pinned on him.

But, George, I am told that there were talking points prepared in this very small group, there were talking points prepared even before Rosenstein was asked to write that memo, talking points about why Comey should be fired in the White House prepared by White House staff with a very different set of reasons...

STEPHANOPOULOS: The small group is Don McGahn, the White House counsel, Reince Priebus, Jared Kushner. Anyone else?

KARL: And the vice president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And the vice president.

Pierre Thomas, you cover justice day after day. And you know, we have heard a lot of reports from those close the Comey denying so much of what the president has said about those meetings.

THOMAS: Exactly. And I can say that this was a week unlike any I have seen in years at the FBI. They're usually in a position of knowing secrets and knowing things that will shock other people. They got shocked this week. Comey found out about this in Los Angeles.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He thought it was a joke.

THOMAS: He thought it was a joke. It was on television behind him. And literally, the people in the room were saying, do you see what's going on? He turned around. and went to another room to find out from someone in Washington that he had been fired.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also have the president in that initial letter, he said that Comey had told him on three separate occasions that he was not a target of the investigation. And then you – this idea that he had dinner with Comey on January 27th, which is the same week that deputy attorney general – that acting Attorney General Sally Yates is telling the White House about Michael Flynn, General Flynn's problems. The same week that General Flynn is investigated by the FBI.

THOMAS: Look, the people that are close to Comey do not believe that he would ever tell the president that he was not the subject of an investigation, that he's too careful. He knows that these investigations have twists and turns. And you never know what is going to happen until they're over. They also think that he would not pledge loyalty. He would tell the president, look, I'll be honest with you that there will be no – ever a situation where he would pledge loyally.

I think I'm hearing from people inside the bureau more than anything is that they were stunned at the White House has been talking about the need to shut this investigation down so openly. They also are stunned at the notion of how Comey was treated. They think he was treated shabbily, and that's the word I'm hearing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what's so strange about this, this is the kind of thing you would expect to see on tape from a White House years after the fact. But the president's doing this all very transparently, saying listen, I was thinking about Russia.

KARL: In real time.

THOMAS: Right.

And the person who is in the most interesting position is the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. I'm told he made a very principled argument in terms of when he was asked by the president. The impetus came from President Trump to fire Comey. When he was asked, his legitimate answer was that Comey is too much of maverick, that he is too much of a person that likes the spotlight. And he was taken aback by Comey's quote, in this person's words, performance last week when he talked about how difficult the decision was in regards to the Clinton investigation. And that Comey was way too -- aggressive in making the case publicly about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In the president's word, a showboat.

KARL: By the way, very quickly, George, on what he said in the interview about Russia. I don't think that President Trump was saying I fired him because of the Russian investigation. I think what he was really saying is that on the idea that there would be massive blowback because he was firing the guy in charge of the investigation. He wasn't worried about the blowback, because he thinks the Russian investigation is nothing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it's going to come to nothing.

And, Martha, one of the other strange twists here, and this is a strange twist in timing, the day after this is all announced, the president in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

RADDATZ: Extraordinary pictures fro mthat encounter not released by the White House, of course, but released by the Russians. There they are, smiling and laughing. I was at a press conference later that day with Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister. And he basically was answering all the questions that we wanted to ask Donald Trump and that we wanted to ask the White House that day.

But Sergey Lavrov said, look, I had nothing to do with this.

But we have to remember that at the center of all of this is the hacking, is what the Russians did during our election process, their absolute targeting our democracy. And there's President Trump laughing with them.

Lavrov said they did not talk about the charges against Russia. And you still hear President Trump talking as if this may not be true, others may have hacked, as well.

He makes a divide, as he should, that there's no evidence the Russians actually hacked into any voting, but they certainly hacked into the DNC...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tried to raise questions about...

RADDATZ: -- they certainly hacked -- yes, they certainly...

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- our democracy. Yes.

RADDATZ: -- (INAUDIBLE) do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we have some new polling, Alex Castellanos, out this morning from NBC and "The Wall Street Journal" showing that 29 percent approve of the president's decision, of those who know a lot about it, 53 percent disapprove. The president's overall approval rating still at 39 percent.

You've supported the president. how do his voters view all this from outside of Washington?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think they see this is the Washington that they hate, the phony outrage industry in full force. Democrats, perhaps, shouldn't have been making as effective a case for firing James Comey as they have for the past few months or admitted that Hillary Clinton would have fired James Comey if she had been elected, if they're going to be outraged that he's fired now.

And I think a lot of Trump voters look at Washington and say this -- these people are all over the map. They serve themselves, not us. And this is the Washington they hate.

And who's their anti-Washington hero?

Donald Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But at what point do they say...

CASTELLANOS: This strengthens him in some ways.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- this is the gang that can't shoot straight, even if it is justified, even if the president has the right to fire an FBI director, the way they did it...

CASTELLANOS: Yes, the way they did it is erratic. We were on the train yesterday with voters...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had -- yes, we had a great moment yesterday.

CASTELLANOS: -- with a Trump voter yesterday. We were talking -- and he was scared to death. He voted...

RADDATZ: But we didn't know.


RADDATZ: -- we didn't know he was a Trump voter.

CASTELLANOS: We didn't know. He came up to us -- (CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: -- and, you know, when is the president going to settle down?

He's a wild...

RADDATZ: He's a wild man.

CASTELLANOS: He's a wild man.

RADDATZ: -- man.

Is he off the grid?

CASTELLANOS: (INAUDIBLE) and I said, well, good luck waiting for that.

But we -- I asked him...


CASTELLANOS: -- would you vote for Hillary or Donald Trump today again?

Oh, no, we'd vote for Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our poll still shows that, as well.



STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. But Jonathan Karl, on that point about what -- about the White House right now, there are -- there is all this talk about a shakeup.

The question now is, can it happen right now?

Does the president actually what it to happen right now?

A lot of White House aides are in the dark about this. They don't know what their last day will be.

KARL: Absolutely. But -- and a lot of time are worried that their last day could be soon.

The -- it -- this predates the Comey firing. There has been, you know, that they're -- the president has been hearing from some of his closest advisers outside the White House that the staff just -- that the system is not working well in the West Wing, that he needs major changes.

So it's unclear when these changes will come. I doubt you'll see anything before he goes on his foreign trip. It may not be until...

STEPHANOPOULOS: They want that trip to come out well.

KARL: Absolutely. And, you know, and this is a really ambitious trip. He's starting it, George, in Saudi Arabia. He's going to be meeting with the leaders of virtually every Muslim majority country in the world, except for Iran and Syria. It's a very bold, very ambitious trip.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Pierre Thomas, we will hear from James Comey in public. He said he didn't want to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in private next week, but likely at some point, he'll testify before Congress openly?

THOMAS: At some point, we're told, he will speak his piece.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And Martha Raddatz, on another subject before we go, in the midst of all this, another North Korean missile test last night. This one successful.

RADDATZ: This one successful. There have been seven missile tests since Donald Trump took office. I think the administration was feeling very good about the fact there hadn't been a nuclear test and we still -- that could happen at any time.

But this shows the North Koreans are going to keep at it, there's a new president in South Korea, a real test for that new president in South Korea...


RADDATZ: -- as well.


And Alex Castellanos, before we go, what's your one big piece of advice for the Trump White House?

CASTELLANOS: When are they going to start taking advice?

I don't know that I have any to offer.

I think it's important to keep this in context, George.

I think a lot of Americans and Trump supporters see Washington as one of these airlines that drags passengers down the aisle and bloodies them. And the only person who stands up for them is Donald Trump.

He's the only thing between them and a Washington establishment that would devour them and maul them.



CASTELLANOS: So they need him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, actually, before we go, there are other people who are going to (INAUDIBLE). I apologize. I wanted to get to this first. A lot of interviews at the FBI -- for the future FBI director yesterday. We saw Senator John Cornyn, one of the people on the list, former Congressman Mike Rogers.

Talk about the interviews.

THOMAS: Well, two judges on the list. Two current FBI agents on the list, as well. One -- a couple of judges, as well.

I think that the Bureau wants someone who is above reproach. And they -- The Agents Association put out that they are in favor of Mike Rogers. Of course, he's a former FBI agent.

KARL: And I'll tell you, George, the president knows he needs to have somebody that is politically bulletproof. I would not be surprised to see it's somebody who is not on that list, somebody like -- even like a Robert Mueller, the former FBI director, who served under Democratic and Republican presidents, universally respected, would pass with flying colors.

Mike Rogers has some big fans in the West Wing.

You could even see -- don't rule out Merrick Garland, who was floated by Senator Mike Lee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And remember...

KARL: -- Merrick Garland, who could be confirmed 100-0 in the Senate.

CASTELLANOS: Donald Trump...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Merrick Garland, of course, President Obama's nominee...

KARL: -- for the Supreme Court.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- for the Supreme Court denied that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That would be amazing. We've seen a lot...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't rule it out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much.

Up next, we'll hear from U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley on that North Korea missile test.

Plus, her response to how the tumult at home is affecting America's standing in the world.

We'll be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Successful missile test last night.

We're going to talk about that now and a lot more with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Miss -- Madam Ambassador, thank you for coming in this morning.

Happy Mother's Day.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Thank you very much.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Serious stuff to begin with. The seventh missile test this year from the North Koreans.

It appears to have been a success. And your administration said that this era of strategic patience is over.

So is there anything you can do right now to stop these tests?

HALEY: Well, I think you first have to get into Kim Jong-un's head, you know, which is he's in a state of paranoia. He's incredibly concerned about anything and everything around him. I think this was a message to South Korea after the election.

And so what we're going to do is continue to tighten the screws. He feels it. He absolutely feels it. And we're going to continue, whether it's sanctions, whether it's press statements, anything that we have to do...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It doesn't appear...

HALEY: -- we're going to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: -- to be affecting his actions.

HALEY: Well, I can tell you, we're working better with China than we ever have. We are determined to take care of South Korea, which is why we have our mission there, working and that, as well.

And then we're going to continue to take care of Japan.

What we do know is the international community is concern. It's not just us against them anymore. Now you're going to see the entire international community isolate North Korea and let them know that this is not acceptable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Just before the missile test, a senior official in the North Korean Foreign Ministry said that they're prepared for direct talks with the Trump administration if the conditions are right.

And President Trump has said, he would be honored to meet Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances.

What are those circumstances?

HALEY: It's not this. Having a missile test is not the way to sit down with the president, because he's absolutely not going to do it. And I can tell you, he can sit there and say all the conditions he wants, until he meets our conditions, we're not sitting down with him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The White House statement also said the president can't imagine that Russia is pleased with this test.

Is there any indication yet from your Russian counterparts that they are prepared to take tougher action now?

HALEY: They're concerned. I mean there's -- this is getting kind of close to home for them. And so they're concerned. And I think certainly what we're going to start doing is rallying the troops again and say, OK, what do we need to do next?

And listen, I mean there's a lot of sanctions left that we can start to do, whether it's with oil, whether it's with energy, whether it's with their maritime ships, exports, we can do a lot of different things that we haven't done yet.

So our options are there.

But what we have to do is send a strong, unified message that this is unacceptable. And I think you'll see the international community do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaking of the Russians, the day after the president's meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, he put out this Tweet. He said, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democratic excuse for losing the elections."

Is that what you think the Russians are doing, laughing up their sleeves?

HALEY: I think the Russians are trying to figure out what to do. I don't think they know what to do with our president. I don't think they know what to do with the situation. They've been isolated when it comes to Syria and they're trying to figure out what their place in the world is going to be.

And we've shaken that. But I think that now, we have to move forward and figure out what can we work with them on and what are we absolutely not going to work with them on?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've said in the past -- you actually said it to Martha Raddatz on this program -- the president hasn't told you to stop beating up on Russia.

It doesn't appear that that's what the president was doing in his meeting with the foreign minister.

HALEY: Look, his job is to sit there and try and find common ground. That's what his job is. And I can tell you, there's no one better to sit down with a foreign leader than the president, because whenever he gets in front of them, things change. Things move. It's very positive, and he makes a difference in it.

And I think what we're seeing is that they're testing each other. Russia is testing us, we're testing them, it's part of just, you know, the new president coming in and President Putin having to figure out his place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The foreign minister appeared so full of himself at that meeting.

Are you worried at all about the message you've sent by that -- having that meeting right on the heels of the firing of James Comey?

HALEY: No. I mean I think that, you know, Russia is full of themselves. They've always been full of themselves. But that's -- it's more of a facade that they try and show as opposed to anything else.

What we are is serious. And you see us in action, so it's not in personas. It's in actions and it's what we do. And that's why Russia was left on an island when it came to Syria. Everyone else isolated them with their connection with Assad and Iran.

And I think you'll continue to see us do that.

Now, there are directions. However, it's very important we work with Russia on our fight against ISIS.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Many foreign policy experts have expressed concern, including the former CIA director, Michael Hayden.

Here's what he said this week.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: In 110 days, the president has fired a national security adviser, an acting attorney general and the director of the FBI. This kind of behavior is not normally associated with a mature Western democracy. It's associated with autocratic populist states.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Also, Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of State, said she's worried that Comey's firing and the way the White House dealt with it, is starting to erode people's confidence in our institution.

And here's what one of your colleagues, the U.S. ambassador to Qatar, Tweeted this week, "Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions."

Has this made your job more difficult?

HALEY: Actually, no one has talked to me about this.


HALEY: And I love the fact that I'm in New York, because I'm away from all of that. It's very unusual for any of my counterparts here in New York to talk about domestic issues.

What I can tell you -- and I enjoy not having to be close to those things in DC. But what I can tell you is the president is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire whoever he wants. That's his right. Whether you agree with it or not, it's the truth.

And what he's trying to do is find his own team, figure out how he's going to do it.

Were there better ways he could have done that?

That's for everybody else to decide.

But we have to remember, he can hire and fire anybody else that he wants to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is indisputably true. But I guess the question is the timing, the reasons the president gave and also the whole question of credibility, whether you can take the president at his word.

HALEY: Well, I think what you can see is this is a president of action. I mean he is not one that's going to sit there and talk for too long. If he thinks someone is wrong, he's going to deal with it. And I think that, you know, the reason people are uncomfortable is because he acts. He doesn't talk with a bunch of people about it before, he just acts.

And so, you know, there's never a good time to fire someone. That's not something that anybody is -- that's never going to play out well. But at the end of the day, the president has to surround himself with a team that he can trust. He's going to surround himself with a team that he thinks is going to represent and secure the United States properly.

I think that's what he's trying to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are the Russians succeeding at their goal, the one expressed by our intelligence community, their goal to disrupt our democracy, raise doubts about our democracy?

HALEY: I think that's what they're doing around the world. I think they're trying to do that. I think they're trying to cause everything to be in question. We see them playing in a lot of different elections and trying to do that, because that's all they've got.

At the end of the day, that's a temporary fix for a bigger problem. And so what they'll find out is yes, they can cause some disruptions here or there, but at the end of the day, it's not going to have any sort of permanent lasting (INAUDIBLE).

STEPHANOPOULOS: There are all these questions about the White House taping system and this question of whether or not the president asked James Comey to pledge loyalty.

Did he ask you to pledge loyalty to him personally?

HALEY: No, but I think when you take the job, you automatically assume that you work for the president. And you are part of a team. And loyalty is a big thing. It's, you know, as a former governor, I can tell you, loyalty and trust is everything when you're a CEO. And so I can totally understand why he's looking for loyalty and trust, because (INAUDIBLE)...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But loyalty to "The Constitution" first, correct?

HALEY: Of course. I mean loyalty -- you know, look, first we serve the people. I've always looked at that. You serve the people first.

But having said that, you never forget who's in charge. You never forget who the CEO of a country is when you decide to serve. And so everyone works at the pleasure of the president. And that's what, you know, we have to remember is if he doesn't feel comfortable, he can do something about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you ever assume that you were being taped in the White House?

HALEY: I did not. But, you know, I assume I'm being taped everywhere, so I never worry about that.


A final question on the president's trip coming up.


STEPHANOPOULOS: First stop is Saudi Arabia. And the president says he wants to go there first for a reason. He wants to help the fight against ISIS and other extremists.

And during the campaign, President Trump said that he might halt purchasing oil from Saudi Arabia unless they commit ground troops or money to the fight against ISIS.

Is that idea still on the table?

HALEY: I think what you are seeing is he is making an amazing first trip. He's going to Saudi Arabia, he's going to Israel and he's going to Rome.

Think about that -- three of the strongest religions. He's going to go together, talk to all of them. And his message is going to be about unity. He is going to show what American leadership looks like, because those are areas of the world that have questioned it.

I think he's going to go and talk to them about where we can work together. And right now, the president understands, we have to get unity across the world. We really have to make sure that we're doing everything we can to unify everyone against ISIS.

And we've already started to do -- be very strong in our attacks against them, you know, around the world, and I think that this is his way of solidifying our relationships with Saudi Arabia, with Israel and then also with the pope.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But no threats to cut off oil purchases?

HALEY: I think, you know, anything is on the table. You know, I would never say that there's anything off the table. But that's not the intention of why he's going.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Haley, thanks for coming in this morning.

HALEY: Thank you very much.

I appreciate it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, what does this all mean for the investigations into Russia and the Trump campaign?

We're going to talk to the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, and the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.


STEPHANOPOULOS: There's James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, speaking on Capitol Hill. A critical series of hearings this week. You see Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director, as well.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is going to continue its investigations now.

And we're joined by the top Democrat on that Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.

Senator, thank you for coming and joining us this morning.

SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VIRGINIA: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: First big question, is this firing of Director Comey going to affect your investigation?

WARNER: It's not going affect it.

But let's step back for a minute and look at what happened this past week. I thought this administration could no longer surprise me, but boy it surprised me this week. You had Sally Yates testify, the former acting attorney general, that the administration had not taken her information about General Flynn in an appropriate manner. You had the firing of the FBI director two days before he was supposed to testify before my committee. And while yes, the president can fire an FVI director, an FBI director gets a ten-year term, so they're not subject to political interference. And unfortunately, I think you have seen that political interference, because the White House, itself, switched stories midweek and said, yes, the president said he was going to fire him regardless of what the deputy attorney had said, because of the Russia investigation.

And then at the end of the week, you have this very bizarre statement by the president that there may exist private tapes. And we want to make sure those tapes are preserved, because we're going to take a look at them in congress.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think there are tapes?

WARNER: A wild week.

Listen, I don't have the foggiest idea whether there are tapes or not. But the fact that the president made allusions to that and then the White House would not confirm or deny, it is -- not anything that we have seen in recent days.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If there are tapes, will you try to subpoena them?

WARNER: Absolutely. You know, it may be appropriate for a different committee rather than the intelligence committee. But first of all, we have got to make sure that these tapes, if they exist, don't mysteriously disappear. So, I have asked, other have asked, to make sure the tapes are preserved if they exist.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think the president – he also had that statement about having Russia in mind when he thought of firing Comey, do you think he is trying to throw road blocks in the face of these investigations?

WARNER: George, i'm not going the try to infer what's in the president's mind, but it was very strange that they said at first they fired Comey because of a memo from the deputy attorney general, a memo that frankly didn't pass the smell test because it said they were going the fire Comey because of how he treated Hillary Clinton. That's a little bit laughable.

Then he acknowledged it was because Comey was investigating russia. Then we had the president, in effect, kind of criticized Comey, as he's criticized other intelligence community leaders which is frankly – and I think General Clapper will probably address this as well – is not good for morale in our intel community.

So, what was the president's mind, I don't know. But I do know that we're going to get to the bottom of this regardless. We're going to follow the facts. Chairman Burr and I have determined that. And the good news I saw this week was that acting Director McCcabe o the FBI has said he's going to put all the resources needed behind this investigation. It is a top priority for them. And they are not going to be dissuaded as well.

STEPHNOPOULOS: James Comey declined your invitation to appear in closed session this Tuesday. Some reports that he wants to appear in public sessions. Have you invited him to an open hearing?

WARNER: We would love to have Director Comey appears in an open hearing. I think Jim Comey deserves his chance to lay out to the American public his side of the facts, because how he was treated was pretty awful by this president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say he was treated pretty awfully. It is true, however, that a lot of Democrats thought before this week that James Comey should go. Senator Schumer said he had lost confidence in James Comey. You heard Hillary Clinton blame her loss, in part, on what James Comey did.

Does the president, have a right to feel that Democrats have turned around on this?

WARNER: Listen, George, I can't speak for other Democrats. I have always had confidence in Jim Comey. I think he made some mistakes last fall, but I have never lost that confidence. I know him. I think he's a straight shooter. And I think it's pretty remarkable. Virtually unprecedented, one that an FBI director is fired this way, two an FBI director is being fired when he was leading the investigation into ties between Trump officials and the Russians.

To fire him mid-investigation boy oh boy that raises a whole lot of questions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your predecessor on the intelligence committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein and the number two Democrat in the Senate, Senator Durbin from Illinois, have both said that the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein should resign if he doesn't appoint a special counsel for the Russian investigation. Do you agree?

WARNER: I saw Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein this week. I said how disappointed I was with his actions. The fact that he had this memo that frankly was laughable. And I think the best thing that Rosenstein can do to protect his – preserve his reputation and actually do the right thing for the country is appoint a special prosecutor.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is the status of your investigation right now. You have put out subpoenas now to General Flynn. You're looking for documents – from financial documents from the Treasury Department on President Trump's income, investments, business dealings. What do you make of the fact that we had this letter this week from President Trump's lawyers saying that he had no income, debt or equity investments from Russians. Is the committee investigating whether that's true. Do you accept it at facevalue?

WARNER: George, that letter was about as carefully crafted legalese as I have ever seen. The remarkable thing was the letter was drafted and dated in March. He releases it now. To my mind, it raises more questions than it answers. And the truth is I haven't thought that Trump has that many investments in Russia, I think it's the converse. How much russian money has flooded into Trump organizations, propped up Mr. Trump's organizations after the crisis, because that – we don't have the answer to. And that's why we've asked the Treasury Department the so-called (inaudible) to provide all that information to the committee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And finally have you seen any evidence so ar that President Trrump or his associates were colluding with Russia during the campaign?

WARNER: George, I'm not going to talk about where we are specifically at this moment. But boy, oh, boy, there's an awful lot of smoke. I'm not saying there's fire at this point, but we're going to follow the facts wherever they lead.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Warner, thanks for joining us this morning.

We're joined now by the former Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Mr. Clapper, thank you for joining us this morning. I want to pick up on that question right there because, as you know, the president and his associates and the vice president have, on several occasions, said -- cited you in their talking point that there is no collusion with the Russians. I want to show first the vice president, then the president.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The facts that are in public today are very clear. The former Director of National Intelligence has said there is no evidence of collusion.

JUDGE JEANINE: You were convinced you did nothing and --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’m not convinced. Clapper is convinced.



TRUMP: -- people are convinced. Everybody's convinced.

JUDGE JEANINE: Everybody said the same thing --

TRUMP: They say there's no collusion -- you know the expression --

JUDGE JEANINE: -- get it out of the White House.

TRUMP: They're all saying there is no collusion.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Now you did say back in your original testimony that you hadn't seen evidence of collusion. Tell us exactly what you think right now and your response to the president and the vice president.

GEN. JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: First, George, thanks for having me. I need to make clear, I think, to start with, what the relationship that I had with the FBI with respect to counterintelligence investigations.

The FBI is unique in that it straddles both law enforcement and counterintelligence. And at the time we did our intelligence community assessment, which we published publicly on the 6th of January, and there was no evidence of any collusion included in that report, that's not to say there wasn't evidence.

There could have been -- might be, I don’t know -- in the investigation. I did not know there was a formal investigation or they were addressing potential political collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not the kind of thing the FBI would tell the Director of National Intelligence?

CLAPPER: Not necessarily. Counterintelligence investigations, particularly if they're going to potentially implicate criminal activity, I -- and I left it to the judgment of both Director Comey and, before him, Director Mueller, to decide whether, when and what to tell me about counterintelligence investigations.

And that was a practice followed for the 6.5 years that I was DNI. And, again, out of deference to the sensitivity of these reports and because they invariably involve U.S. persons.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what is the clearest statement you can make about what you know about any possible collusion between President Trump, his associates and the Russians during the campaign?

Well, my -- my access insight here is aging off since officially, you know, that ended on January 20th. And at the time I left office, I had no -- I had no evidence available to me that there was collusion.

But that's not necessarily exculpatory, since I did not know the state of the investigation nor the content, what had been turned up in it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You worked very closely with former FBI director James Comey for many years. You have seen a lot of different reports coming out. We have heard -- saw the statement from the president. He says that Director Comey cleared him on three different occasions, saying he wasn't under investigation.

We have these reports that perhaps that the president asked him to make a loyalty pledge during their dinner in January.

Was it appropriate for the FBI director to go to dinner with the president like that?

CLAPPER: Well, I know -- I happened to have been at the Hoover Building for another event on January 27th. And I spoke briefly with Director Comey about the dinner. He conveyed to me that he had been invited.

And he was -- and this is my characterization -- uneasy with it simply because of the optics or the appearance of potentially compromising his independence and that of the bureau.

But, I think, as a professional courtesy, when the president asks you to dinner, you go. I do not know; I have no direct insight into actually what was discussed during that dinner.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you have no idea.

Do you believe that James Comey would make a pledge of loyalty to the president?

CLAPPER: I would find that profoundly out of character for what I know of Jim Comey and his integrity. I would find that very surprising.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We heard this week from CIA director Mike Pompeo and the new Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates, that Russia and their cyber activities are the foremost national security threat to the United States today.

Do you agree with that?

CLAPPER: I do. The two most capable nation state adversaries in the cyber domain are clearly Russia and, of course, China. And I do think Russia poses a huge threat in the way they have used the cyber domain.

And that, to me, by the way, is the big issue here, is Russian interference in our political process, in our election process. And that is an egregious act by them. And they will continue to do that and I think more aggressively than they have in the past. And I think it's something Americans, all American citizens need to be aware of.

And if there's ever been a clarion call for vigilance and action here to thwart this, this is it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Have they succeeded in their basic goal of undermining public faith in the U.S. democratic process?

And how have the president's actions this week impacted that?

CLAPPER: Well, they have -- certainly, their first objective before -- without respect to their stance on either candidate -- but their first objective was to sow doubt, discord and dissension in this country. And the Russians have to be celebrating with a minimal expenditure of resources and what they have accomplished.

And of course, what's unfolded now, here, the leader of the -- the lead of the investigation about potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign has been removed. So the Russians have to consider this as a, you know, another victory on the scoreboard for them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, we have all been reading about this massive cyber attack over the weekend, this ransomware cyber attack, 150 countries, 200,000 people.

Is this just the beginning?

CLAPPER: Well, that's the concern that Monday, when everyone returns to the office, that the -- this ransomware attack will be even larger. We -- Senator McCain held a hearing last Thursday on this very issue.

And, I meant -- I think in -- during the course of that, mentioned ransomware as something that we're going to see more and more of. So this is a -- this is a very serious, serious problem. And it -- I think it’s going to grow.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Clapper, thanks for joining us this morning.

CLAPPER: Thanks for having me, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, did President Trump obstruct justice with his firing of FBI Director Comey?

Former Whitewater Independent Counsel Ken Starr and Harvard constitutional law Professor Laurence Tribe debate that question next.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, two of America's top lawyers debate the president's firing of James Comey.

Was it legal and proper or an impeachable offense?

Ken Starr versus Laurence Tribe, next.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Official Washington consumed by the -- President Trump's firing of James Comey this week.

You see Vice President Pence right there.

The big question now, what is going to happen next?

And we're joined now by two of America's top lawyers, Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard, and Ken Starr. Of course, he was the independent prosecutor of Bill Clinton back in the 1990s.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us right us right now.

And Mr. Tribe, Professor Tribe, let me begin with you. You have a piece in the Washington Post this morning. President Trump must be impeached, here's why. Why?

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW: Because he has shown no respect for the rule of law. He regards himself as above the law. He thinks it's appropriate to essentially have a job interview with the FBI director. As we now know, the FBI director wanted to be reappointed and the president essentially told him, well, we'll see. It depends. Will you plead loyalty to me? Well, kings and monarchs and dictators seek that kind of loyalty.

He essentially said, if you assure me that this meddlesome Russia investigation will go away, maybe I'll keep you on. That's obstruction of justice, even within the technical terms of the criminal code, but they're not relevant.

The most relevant thing, because impeachment is our system's last resort for someone who treats himself or herself as above the law, the most relevant thing is whether this president, by his recent course of action, on top of his violations of the foreign corruption or emoluments clause, this president has shone that he cannot be trusted to remain within the law and our constitution's last resort for situations of that kind is to get the person out of office.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me interrupt you right there, because the president also said in that same interview that he wanted the investigation to be done properly. And he does have the right to fire an FBI director, doesn't he?

TRIBE: Sure. The right to fire does not include the right to fire in the context of what amounts to a bribe. That is to say, I can fire you, you know, but I won't if you do what I have no right to ask you to do and that's to lay off.

And of course the president said he wants to get to the truth. He always says that. But I think we all know that those words do not speak as loudly as his actions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Procefessor Starr, your response?

KENNETH STARR, PROSECUTOR: I have the greatest respect for Professor Tribe, very fond of him. But I emphatically disagree.

I certainly agree that what he just said in terms of the last resort, my goodness, that is correct. We don't want to go through this.

I think the key point is what is the reality as opposed to what is the theory? And the reality is, and we just heard it from Senator Warner, the investigations are going forward. In fact, Senator Warner just said, we're going to get to the truth.

And I have the greatest respect for the FBI. There are other 10,000 special agents. There's now a very able, acting director of the FBI. In fact, if anything, the issues with respect to his spouse have been raised.

I think we need to allow the FBI to do its work.

My two tours of duty at the Justice Department, my role as independent counsel, I worked with almost countless FBI agents, the directors, are always people of great integrity. So, I have complete confidence, it's a terrific guard rail. There are checks and balances in our system. And so let's allow the system to work.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As you pointed out, you were an independent counsel. Of course, the law has expired, but the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein could appoint a special counsel. In this case, you've heard the Democrats saying that is necessary at this point.

And does the fact that the deputy attorney general was involved in this firing, was asked by the president to come up with these recommendations, or at least this explanation, for his decision. Does that call into question his independence? And should he be pointing a special counsel?

STARR: No, I don't think it causes any reason whatsoever, and I was surprised to hear Senator Warner say very uncomplimentary things about the memo.

I think Americans should read the memorandum. It's a three-page memorandum and let the American people decide for themselves.

Rod Rosenstein is a great patriot. He is overwhelmingly respected. He was confirmed almost unanimously by the United States Senate and he just took office. So, let's give him the opportunity to come to his own judgments instead of putting all his pressure on him.

And I'll just say this, there's some huge costs. And I think the nation knows this. With the appointment of a special prosecutor. The first is delay. A special prosecutor, a special counsel, is a startup operation. He or she has nothing, absolutely nothing. Got to go get office space, amongother things.

But here's the key, the FBI is going the continue to serve whoever that special counsel is, heaven forbid if we have one. And moreover, that special counsel is likewise going to come underpolitical scrutiny. I can speak for that. Lawrence Walsh in Iran Contra can speak to that. There is no way to insulate an investigation at this level from criticism and the like.

So, let's trust our guardrails, let's trust the checks and balances that we have, especially with the Senate intelligence committee. And, again, I think we should be reassured when you have got Chairman Burr and Senator Warper, both very of whom very respected members of the senate, both saying, Democrat and Republican, we're going to get to the truth of the matter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Professor Tribe, you heard that, trust the guardrails.

TRIBE: Well, trust is not what the framers of the United States constitution and of this country relied on. It's true that the president hasn't yet succeed in ripping the guardrail apart, but I don't think we need to wait. Yes, there should be a special counsel. And that special counsel, as Ken Starr himself, a friend, whom I admire, showed can do his work effectively. But that's not enough.

The whole country needs to get to the bottom of what really happened with the Russian collusion allegations. But in the meantime, we have a president who himself says trust me. He does not accept the boundaries of law. He basically says that if anybody gets too close for comfort, I'm going to get rid of them. And as long as that's in place, we cannot afford as a country to put our fate in the hands of someone so whimsical and so unpredictable. The idea that it might take some time to get office space, my goodness, when we are at the very verge of having the fundamentals of our system collapse, we can afford some office space.

This is a serious matter. And the only way the avoid a constitution cris, and I'm not saying we're there yet, is to reassure the public that the person leading the government is someone who has loyalties other than to himself, not loyalties to the foreign governments that helped him financially.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Professor Starr, we're just about out of time. I'd just ask you, put your old hat on, if you were looking into this case, would you be demanding tapes from the White House, if they do, indeed, exist?

STARR: Oh, absolutely. The investigation has to be thorough. And that means you go where you think the truth is. You take the steps.

I would say this, and I know you have got to go, we need to allow our system to work. Our system is not one person. It is the office of the presidency, but it's also this entire structure that our famers put in place. But it's also right now the men and women of the FBI who we can trust in terms oftheir integrity and professionalism.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all we have time for today. Thank you both very much for your time.

TRIBE: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your sunday with us.Check out World News Tonight. And I'll see you tomorrow on GMA.