Transcript

Trump’s Showdown

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NEWS REPORT:

Now to today’s showdown at Trump Tower between the president-elect and top intelligence.

January 6, 2017

NEWS REPORT:

President-elect Trump is about to get all of the details from U.S. intelligence communities.

NEWS REPORT:

The intelligence officials are expected to meet face to face with President-elect Trump at Trump Tower.

NARRATOR:

Two weeks before the inauguration…

NEWS REPORT:

…for what could be a day of fireworks at Trump Tower.

NARRATOR:

…the battle lines between the new president and Washington’s establishment were about to be drawn.

JOHN BRENNAN, Former CIA Director:

I was very concerned that Mr. Trump was ill-prepared for the job; that he didn’t have a good grasp of international affairs, the legislative process, U.S. law, intelligence capabilities.

NEWS REPORT:

…highly classified report into Russia’s hacking of U.S. political institutions…

NARRATOR:

On the street far below, four of the most powerful men in the United States government arrived.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

I think there was a great deal of apprehension. You have the intelligence chiefs going in, knowing that their audience is skeptical of what they’re about to say.

NARRATOR:

They were senior leaders of a group known as the I.C. – the intelligence community. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. Admiral Mike Rogers was in charge of the NSA. Jim Comey was the Director of the FBI. And John Brennan ran the CIA. They had come to tell Donald Trump that his election may have been compromised by Russian interference.

JAMES CLAPPER, Former Director of National Intelligence:

This was the most aggressive and most direct and most assertive campaign that the Russians ever mounted in the history of our elections to interfere and, and to somehow influence the outcome.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We are going to make this so that it’s like it’s…

NARRATOR:

Behind closed doors, the I.C. briefing began.

JOHN BRENNAN:

It was several hours long. There was no equivocation in our language. And we were very direct and very, very clear in terms of what it is that we knew and assessed.

JAMES CLAPPER:

There was no pushback because… And, and I think the reason was that the, the evidence that we laid out at the high, highly-classified level was pretty, pretty compelling. It had been very hard to, to have pushback.

NARRATOR:

Trump didn’t argue, but he later said he saw the talk of Russian interference as an assault on the legitimacy of his victory.

SARAH ELLISON, The Washington Post:

It’s a challenge, not just his legitimacy as president, but as his overall power, his overall sort of sense of his worth in terms of being there.

NARRATOR:

The I.C. chiefs had one more piece of news for the president-elect. Brennan, Clapper and Rogers left the room. James Comey stayed behind to deliver it.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

Comey pulls the president aside and he tells him, “Hey, listen, I need you to know that there’s this, what we now call the dossier.”

NARRATOR:

The dossier – a set of memos prepared by a former British spy, partially paid for by the Democrats. It was political dynamite.

MALE VOICE:

Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

It’s full of things that may be able to allow the Russians to blackmail him. It has information about him involved in perverted sexual acts.

MALE VOICE:

…to exploit Trump’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable “kompromat” (compromising material) on him.

NARRATOR:

The salacious and unverified allegations involved Trump and a number of Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel suite.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

Whoa, not great! Not a great start to this relationship. And Comey worries about that.

NARRATOR:

In fact, Comey had been warned to be careful not to appear to threaten Trump.

JEH JOHNSON, Former Secretary of Homeland Security:

I called Jim. I got him on the phone. I said, “Jim, have you ever met Donald Trump before?” And a little to my surprise, he said, “No, I have not.” And I said, “Jim, you’re in a very awkward spot here.” I said, “Jim, there’s a fine distinction between 'just telling you this so you know,' versus 'just telling you this so you know and don’t f--- with me.'”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We’re going to run the country…

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

Just think about it in human terms. You'd be cautious if you were the new president about that, wouldn't you? You know, somebody comes to you with information that, you know, “I need to tell you this.” On, on the one hand, you might receive that as a, “Oh, that’s a nice head’s up.” On, on the other hand, you might also receive it implicitly, I’m sure as it was intended, as a threat.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Things have changed over the last two hours… I think that will have a huge effect…

NARRATOR:

As the two men sized each other up, the stakes could not have been higher.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

It was a critical moment. It was the most important moment that would shape Trump’s presidency.

ROBERT RAY:

And I don't know that Jim Comey necessarily went to that meeting thinking, “Oh, my job is on the line.” If he didn't, he should have.

NARRATOR:

Comey handed Trump a summary of the dossier.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

And Trump denies it immediately and vociferously says, “Do I look like the kind of guy who needs to hire prostitutes?”

NARRATOR:

Comey said he was giving Trump information he needed to know.

JAMES CLAPPER:

And the point was, in, in briefing him about it, was, was to inform him of its existence. We felt a duty to warn, if you will, just so that he knew that it was out there.

NARRATOR:

But Trump was already distrustful of an FBI director who served under President Obama. Immediately after the meeting, Comey typed this memo from the back seat of his SUV.

MALE VOICE:

He then started talking about all the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing or touching them (with particular mention of a “stripper" who said he grabbed her) and gave me the sense that he was defending himself to me.

MATTHEW MILLER, Department of Justice, 2009-2011:

It didn't surprise me at all that after having this meeting with the president-elect, that he immediately memorialized it so he had it as a record if he ever needed it.

NARRATOR:

In the aftermath of the meeting, back up in Trump Tower, the president-elect was furious.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

Trump is talking to his top aides And he views this as blackmail. It’s a shakedown, he tells them. His assumption is that Comey is giving this to him to show him that he’s got something on him.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, Trump adviser, 2017:

We’re talking about politically appointed individuals using intelligence potentially as a weapon against people who they politically disagree with.

J.D. GORDON, Director of National Security, Trump campaign:

Whenever an FBI director approaches a president-elect with something that was “salacious and unverified,” in Comey’s words, and tells him about it, I think Mr. Trump realized it was a shakedown. He’s been in a tough business in New York and he, he knows a shakedown when he sees it.

NEWS REPORT:

This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER:

CNN has learned that the nation’s top intelligence officials provided information to President-elect Donald Trump…

NARRATOR:

Trump feared the story would leak. And soon it did, on cable news.

NEWS REPORT:

Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.

NEWS REPORT:

There’s a controversial move by BuzzFeed last night, publishing a dossier…

NARRATOR:

Before long, the entire dossier was on the web.

NEWS REPORT:

But they have been detailed by numerous media outlets including BuzzFeed, The New York Times and CNN.

NARRATOR:

The next day, Trump went before the cameras to fight back.

JOHN CASSIDY, The New Yorker:

I’d seen Trump a lot on the campaign trail. But I have to say, I was surprised that he came out so vituperatively and so angrily.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake, out.

J.D. GORDON, Trump campaign adviser:

He expressed his frustration. He knows it’s a setup. He knows it’s a plot to destroy him and people around him.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

Something the Gestapo would have done, Trump says.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed…

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

I mean, he now viewed the entire intelligence community and the FBI as, as, as enemies.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you give us a question?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Go ahead. Go ahead.

NARRATOR:

It was also a declaration of war on the press.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

No, not you. Not you.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you give us a chance?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Your organization’s terrible.

JIM ACOSTA:

You are, you are attacking our news organization.

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Your organization is terrible. Let’s go.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Go ahead. Quiet. Quiet.

JIM ACOSTA:

Sir! Can you state… Mr. President-elect…

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Go ahead.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you state categorically…

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

She’s, she’s asking a question. Don’t be rude. Don’t be rude!

JIM ACOSTA:

Mr. President-elect, can you give us a question? You are attacking us. Can you give us a question?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

Don’t be rude! No, I’m not going to give you a question.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you give us a question?

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP:

I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news. Go ahead.

JIM ACOSTA:

Can you state, can you state categorically… Sir, can you state categorically that nobody… No… Mr. President-elect, that’s not appropriate.

NARRATOR:

Trump’s combative strategy would come to define his first years in office.

JIM ACOSTA:

Sir, you did not answer… Sir, you did not answer whether any of your associates were in contact with the Russians. Sir, you did not answer, you did not answer whether any of your associates were in contact…

NARRATOR:

It would lead to a showdown with a special counsel that now threatens his presidency.

JIM ACOSTA:

…with the Russians. Can you categorically deny that did not happen?

NARRATOR:

Trump’s combative nature had developed decades earlier when he learned his method for attack and confrontation from this man – notorious lawyer and fixer Roy Cohn.

MARIE BRENNER, Vanity Fair:

Trump was created by the politics of intimidation, taught to him by his mentor Roy Cohn, who really was his alter ego. He was his confidant. He was a, he was an ersatz father. He was the person who Trump went to with any kind of a problem.

NARRATOR:

Cohn had become a national figure in the 1950s…

NEWSREEL:

The Red-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy attends a subcommittee investigation in Washington.

NARRATOR:

…during a different showdown in Washington.

NEWSREEL:

The scene is Washington and the Senate investigating subcommittee. Mr. Cohn, his friend and aide, was present with Senator McCarthy.

NARRATOR:

The McCarthy hearings – an investigation to expose American Communists. It was called a “witch hunt.”

NEWSREEL:

Recklessly, McCarthy ripped into the reputations of both friend and foe alike…

NARRATOR:

Helping to run the show – Roy Cohn.

MARIE BRENNER:

Roy Cohn was known by anyone who understood anything about American history as being one of the architects of the most sinister period in American history.

ROY COHN:

There is detailed testimony in that, in the record, Mr. Chairman, of Levitsky’s association, close personal association with Julius Rosenberg over a period of years.

NARRATOR:

Cohn’s tactics were to use any means possible to root out what he said were Communists deep inside the government.

MARIE BRENNER:

They smeared people as Communists. They made up charges. They ruined lives. In some cases, drove people to suicide. Many people lost their jobs. Cohn never felt guilty for any of it for a moment. It was sheer political and career expediency.

NARRATOR:

After it all collapsed in shame and disgrace, Cohn returned to New York City, where his reputation as a ruthless attack dog and political fixer made him notorious.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, “The Trumps”:

Roy Cohn had 20 years of being a really aggressive, no holds barred, go for the jugular, fight back, anybody says something to you, throw it back at them, guy. He was famous for that behavior.

NARRATOR:

He was just what ambitious young Donald Trump was looking for. Trump hired him.

MARIE BRENNER:

The family and the Trump Organization and his father, Fred Trump, had been accused of racism in their housing practices.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

Trump’s regular lawyers, the ordinary kinds of lawyers, tell him, “Settle it. Just move on. Do the right thing.” And he asks Roy Cohn about it. And Roy Cohn says, “Don’t settle it. Fight. Fight. Fight. You got to fight.” And that becomes kind of his early credo and his approach, which is: Even if you’re in the wrong, fight.

DONALD TRUMP:

We expect to be successful in court. We’re not doing this for any other reason.

NARRATOR:

They countersued the U.S. government for $100 million. In court filings, Cohn compared the Department of Justice to the Nazis, alleging “Gestapo-like” tactics.

FRANK RICH, New York Magazine:

In a pattern we can recognize from Trump’s behavior to this day, attacking the accusers, attacking, indeed, the Justice Department, as a way to sort of throw a smoke screen around the original crime.

NARRATOR:

Cohn’s suit against the Justice Department was thrown out, Trump forced to settle. They had lost. But in the press, Trump and Cohn declared victory.

ELYSE GOLDWEBER, Former Justice Department lawyer:

It was just like it didn't matter what the facts were. You know, this was a victory. We beat the government. It had nothing to do with reality.

TONY SCHWARTZ, Co-author, “The Art of the Deal”:

He’s a counterpuncher. You know, boom, boom, boom! And admits nothing. Never admit anything. Never say you made a mistake. Just keep coming. And if you lose, declare victory. And that’s exactly what happened there. He lost as clearly as you can lose, but he loudly proclaimed his victory.

NARRATOR:

Cohn had given Trump a formula for survival and success. In lawsuits and life, Trump adopted Cohn’s method: Always be on the offensive.

DONALD TRUMP:

You can’t say that I give up very easily.

NARRATOR:

Through more than 4,000 lawsuits, win or lose…

DONALD TRUMP:

It was a unanimous vote. We’re very happy.

NARRATOR:

…Trump would rely on what Roy Cohn taught him.

DONALD TRUMP:

Not at all. We had a great victory. I’m happy as hell. Thank you very much.

ADAM LEITMAN BAILEY, New York attorney:

In the old days, the sports of kings and queens was horse racing. Now it’s litigation. And Donald Trump definitely plays that sport. And he plays it very well.

NEWS REPORT:

There’s a brand new team in charge of the White House, a brand new staff to keep the wheels turning.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump wakes up with a busy day ahead…

NEWS REPORT:

This is just the beginning of what is going to be a very busy day for Donald Trump.

NARRATOR:

As president, Donald Trump came to Washington determined to confront the established order. He’d use Roy Cohn’s attack strategy: Take on the powers that be.

NEWS REPORT:

This administration is fighting with the media over…

NARRATOR:

Brawl with critics and the media.

NEWS REPORT:

…now falsely accusing the press of treating him…

NARRATOR:

Sort out friend from foe.

BEN SHAPIRO, The Daily Wire:

He’s going to come in and he’s just going to start action right away. He’s not going to wait. He’s not going to take his time. He knows what to do and he’s going to fix everything. He’s going to set the world right immediately.

NEWS REPORT:

A wild day at the Trump White House…

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump’s travel ban has been blocked in the court.

NARRATOR:

Executive actions, tweets, firings.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, Former Trump campaign manager:

He's a man always in motion. He always wants things. But you know what? People aren’t used to that. People aren’t used to a president who’s going directly to the American people with his Twitter feed.

NEWS REPORT:

And a lot of chaos and controversy here in Washington D.C.

NEWS REPORT:

So many leaks with impunity. You pick up the paper…

NARRATOR:

In Washington, it was seen as chaos, but this was Trump’s comfort zone.

NEWS REPORT:

…administration’s credibility…

DAVID URBAN, Trump campaign:

He was going to shake things up. He was going to move at a much more rapid pace. It’s very tough for the bureaucracy to kind of keep up. It’s a little bit of a whiplash.

NEWS REPORT:

It’s a meeting with law enforcement officials there…

NARRATOR:

And there was a looming showdown with the FBI and James Comey. The two would face off again at a photo op.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, Author, “The Gatekeepers”:

Trump’s dislike for James Comey was visceral. Comey was investigating the Russian collusion and that made Trump extremely nervous. Partly it was the infamous briefing about the dossier that drove Trump crazy.

BENJAMIN WITTES, Friend of James Comey:

Comey is standing in a blue blazer against blue drapes. That was not an accident. He is standing literally as far away from Trump as it is possible to be in that room.

NARRATOR:

This time Trump made it clear who was in charge.

MATT APUZZO:

And the president calls him out and says, “No, no, no, come here, come here.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

So let’s… Oh, and there’s James. He’s become more famous than me.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

“This guy’s more famous than me,” which Comey knows, even then, is going to be a problem.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

Wanting to be sure that his arm was outstretched in just such a way as to create just a nice, distant handshake. But instead, the president pulls him in and goes for the hug. Why is it? It’s unclear exactly why. But goes in for the hug.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Trump pulls him in and whispers something in his ear. But to the camera, it looks as if Trump is giving him a kiss on the cheek.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, “The Trumps”:

When somebody’s president, the least, tiny gesture is magnified by 12 billion times. So you call somebody over, you whisper in their ear, you kind of hug them. That’s a big deal.

PETER BAKER, Co-author, “Kremlin Rising”:

Comey sees danger. Comey sees politics. Comey doesn’t want any part of this. By pushing Jim Comey to come across the room and shake his hand, he was setting the tone of their relationship. “You know, you, you work for me. You’re loyal to me, right?” That’s what he wants to know. He wants to know: You’re loyal to me.

NARRATOR:

For James Comey, Donald Trump was a threat to the FBI’s independence, and on a personal level a threat to the reputation he had built over a lifelong career in law enforcement. He had begun as an assistant United States attorney.

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, Former Assistant U.S. Attorney:

I first met Jim Comey 30 years ago, when he and I both started as assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York. Rudy Giuliani swore us in a few weeks apart. Jim Comey, certainly as a young prosecutor, was straight down the middle, always turning square corners.

NARRATOR:

Under George W. Bush, he was named deputy attorney general. But he clashed with the president when he led a revolt of Justice Department officials.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

His real claim to fame is this moment during the Bush administration where he won’t support a provision of President Bush’s wireless wiretapping program and the White House is incensed by this.

JACK GOLDSMITH, Former Assistant Attorney General:

He did feel strongly that it was the Justice Department’s job to uphold the law. And in that situation he thought that it was clear. He takes the law really seriously as an autonomous force in public life.

NARRATOR:

The White House backed down after Comey and other Justice Department officials threatened to resign.

MATT APUZZO:

But then what happened next tells you a lot about Comey. It was Jim Comey who ultimately testified in a major way for Congress about what had happened.

JAMES COMEY:

I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis. I simply couldn’t stay.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER:

Mr. Comey, I am commending you for what you did here.

NARRATOR:

It was one of many times Comey would go before the cameras.

BOB ANDERSON, Former FBI Executive Assistant Director:

He was in the spotlight more than any FBI director that I ever worked for. And I think he felt that he could use that spotlight in ways that other directors hadn’t used.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER:

…having the courage to speak the truth.

[applause]

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Republicans who don’t like Comey because of his dust-ups in the George W. Bush administration tend to call him “Saint Jim,” a guy in love with his own rectitude.

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

Jim Comey is, by his own acknowledgment, has a very black and white view of the world with very little room for gray. Jim Comey’s view of the world is that if he decides that it’s the right thing to do, everybody else should agree with him.

NEWS REPORT:

More breaking news now. Fox News can confirm that FBI Director James Comey will be speaking…

NARRATOR:

President Barack Obama named Comey FBI director. And during the 2016 presidential campaign, Comey made himself the face of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server.

JAMES COMEY:

They were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

PETER BAKER:

Comey has been at the middle of this election and arguably is the person who most significantly influenced it other than the candidates themselves.

MATTHEW MILLER, Department of Justice, 2009-2011:

There’s a through line in Jim Comey’s career and that is this intense conviction that he is sometimes the only righteous person in any organization. If there is one characteristic of Comey’s that is both his strongest characteristic and his weakness, it’s this self-regard that can cross into self-righteousness.

NEWS REPORT:

Russia has come up again and again in…

NARRATOR:

And now, as Comey led the investigation into Russian interference, he would find himself on a collision course with the president.

MATT APUZZO:

The very inauguration of President Trump, you know, poses challenges to the FBI because they have investigations on Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman; Carter Page, foreign policy adviser to the president’s campaign; George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign; and Michael Flynn, the national security adviser. So I mean these are four people in the national security space who are all under FBI investigation.

NEWS REPORT:

And now let’s start talking about players like Russia.

NARRATOR:

Now Comey dispatched two FBI agents to the White House on a sensitive mission.

PETER BAKER:

They go to the White House to interview the national security adviser just days after the, the opening of a new administration. There’s no, no precedent you can think about that, at least in modern times.

NARRATOR:

The agents arrived to confront the National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

ROBERT RAY:

What’s the FBI doing at the White House? What business do they have in the White House? How is it that Michael Flynn’s meeting with, with, with FBI agents without a, without a lawyer present? What, is he out of his mind? I mean that’s just, that’s to me incompre-… That, that should never happen.

NARRATOR:

The FBI wanted to know the details of a phone call Flynn had during the transition with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post:

Kislyak places a call to Flynn, says, “I want to talk to you.” Flynn gets word of this, and eventually, later that day they talk. The question is what was said.

NARRATOR:

The FBI already knew from electronic surveillance that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions on Russia. Now on the record, they asked Flynn about it.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

He dissembles. He suggests that he did not have such conversations with the Russian ambassador.

NARRATOR:

Court documents detail what happened.

MALE VOICE:

Flynn falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s ambassador to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions.

NARRATOR:

Comey’s agents had caught Flynn lying to the FBI – a federal crime.

NEWS REPORT:

New questions about coincidental timing of a call made by Flynn and…

NARRATOR:

At FBI headquarters what Comey had was explosive. The evidence against Flynn was shared across the street with the Justice Department. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was read in to Flynn’s FBI interview.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

Sally Yates is a career Justice Department prosecutor, 27 years in the department. A tough cookie, but a genteel Southern woman.

MATT APUZZO:

She's saying, “We need to tell the White House. Flynn has lied. And the Russians know that those are lies. We need to mitigate the risk.”

NARRATOR:

Yates would head to the office of the new White House counsel, Don McGahn.

EMILY BAZELON, Lecturer, Yale Law School:

Don McGahn is a kind of stalwart conservative lawyer, not someone who has a record of service within the Department of Justice, not someone who’s been schooled in exactly these kinds of questions.

NARRATOR:

Yates and her deputy, Mary McCord, told McGahn that Michael Flynn had been lying.

MARY MCCORD, Former Acting Assistant Attorney General:

I think that, you know, for a person who’d been in the office for six days, it was surprising information to learn and just took a little bit of time to process.

JEH JOHNSON, Former Secretary of Homeland Security:

What the acting attorney general was saying to the White House counsel, “You have someone working in this building, in this West Wing, who is compromised.”

NARRATOR:

They believed the information they gave McGahn would force the president to act.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

It’s clear that Yates and McCord believe this is a very vulnerable situation for the White House as well as for Mr. Flynn. And they presume that the White House would fire him.

NARRATOR:

That same day, McGahn went to see the president. He told him that the highest levels of the Justice Department believed that Flynn had been lying. It was a warning that one of his most trusted advisers was in the crosshairs.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

Michael Flynn is the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency who effectively became Donald Trump’s top national security adviser.

Republican convention, 2016

ANNOUNCER:

Please welcome retired United States Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn.

J.D. GORDON:

He became a very trusted and close confidant of not just of President Trump, but President Trump’s family.

MICHAEL FLYNN:

We do not need a reckless president who believes she is above the law.

NARRATOR:

Flynn’s harsh rhetoric had endeared him to Trump and his supporters.

MICHAEL FLYNN:

Lock her up! That’s right.

DELEGATES CHANTING:

Lock her up! Lock her up!

MICHAEL FLYNN:

Yeah, that’s right. Lock her up!

NARRATOR:

Trump and Flynn bonded and he was one of the president-elect’s first appointments.

SEBASTIAN GORKA, Former Trump adviser:

They had a very good chemistry, but what people underestimate, I think, is the need for personal chemistry inside the White House, and, and General Flynn and the president had personal chemistry.

NARRATOR:

And now Trump had been told Flynn was in trouble with the FBI.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

Mike Flynn knows a lot of things. Mike Flynn could be a dangerous person to have under pursuit of investigators. Clearly, he sees that this investigation has a potential of getting out of his control and leading places that it might not be helpful to him to have it lead.

NARRATOR:

One day after he had talked to McGahn about Flynn, Trump took a fateful step. He called Comey.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Surprise call from the president. “Want to come over for dinner, Jim?” And Comey says, “Eh, yeah, sure, Mr. President.”

MATTHEW MILLER:

It’s clearly not a coincidence that the president suddenly invited Comey over for dinner that night right after McGahn was briefed about Mike Flynn’s criminal jeopardy.

NARRATOR:

Already on edge about the meeting, when Comey arrived he discovered the table had been set for two.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Two. Nobody else is going to be there. He and the president, the bromance, attempted bromance continues.

NARRATOR:

Suspicious of the president’s motives for the meeting, Comey again memorialized the conversation.

FBI documents

MALE VOICE:

We sat facing each other at a small oval table set for two and placed in the center of the room.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

Comey says the president had very nice words for him. And so it’s this pleasant conversation. And then the president says, “Can I expect loyalty from you?”

MALE VOICE:

He needed loyalty and expected loyalty. I did not reply, or even nod, or change my facial expression.

NARRATOR:

The president would ask for Comey’s loyalty several times during the dinner.

PETER BAKER:

It’s a remarkable moment – a president demanding loyalty of an FBI director. I, I can’t think of any other president in the modern era who would do that. They understood, as people who had been in government before, that that’s not the role of an FBI director.

MALE VOICE:

He then returned to loyalty, saying, “I need loyalty.” I replied that he would always get honesty from me.

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post:

In the eyes of the White House, President Trump was feeling out Comey about where the investigation stood, how he was going to handle it. Comey saw it as intimidation, possible obstruction of justice. This is the moment where things really start to split.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

This is the Roy Cohn view of the world. This has been the Donald Trump view of the world. This is the way he’s done business. “Either you’re with me or you’re against me. Are you on my team or are you on the other guy’s team?”

NARRATOR:

Trump had failed to win Comey over. Then two weeks later, there was another leak, this one to The Washington Post.

NEWS REPORT:

The Washington Post broke this news. They say that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn did discuss sanctions…

NARRATOR:

The Post scoop publicly revealed the details of that electronic surveillance of Flynn’s call with Russian ambassador Kislyak.

NEWS REPORT:

Security adviser Michael Flynn… As new details emerge about what the…

KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post:

We had found out that, in fact, there were intercepts, and had a variety of sources saying that, yes, they had discussed sanctions.

NEWS REPORT:

And this morning multiple news outlets report that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia.

NARRATOR:

As the story dominated the news coverage in Washington, the president headed to Florida accompanied by the prime minister of Japan and Mike Flynn.

NEWS REPORT:

That goes against the denials of Flynn himself, Mike Pence, the White House spokesperson Sean Spicer.

NARRATOR:

On board, the press, armed with the Post story, were waiting for the new president.

REPORTER:

[subtitles] Mr. President, what do you make of reports that General Flynn had conversations with the Russians about sanctions before you were sworn in?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

[subtitles] I don’t know about it. I haven’t seen it. What report is that?

NARRATOR:

Though he had known about the intercepts for weeks, Trump claimed ignorance.

REPORTER:

About sanctions being…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

[subtitles] I haven’t seen that. I’ll look at that.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

NARRATOR:

But the scandal would only grow.

NEWS REPORT:

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, quote, “informed the Trump White House late last month that she believes…”

NARRATOR:

That meeting between Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and White House counsel Don McGahn had also leaked.

NEWS REPORT:

She apparently told the White House that the national security adviser might be personally compromised and again vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

MATTHEW MILLER, Department of Justice, 2009-2011:

When it comes out that they were warned that he was compromised and that he might have lied to the FBI and they did nothing about it, that suddenly becomes a scandal that implicates not just Mike Flynn but the White House chief of staff, the president, and anyone who knew about this warning and failed to take action.

NARRATOR:

The full force of the Washington establishment was turned on Trump.

JOHN CASSIDY, The New Yorker:

He’s up against a sort of Bermuda Triangle in Washington. You know, you’ve got the FBI. You’ve got the media. And you’ve got the sort of White House lawyers and the Justice Department all telling him that, “Look, this is just, has to happen. Flynn has to go.”

NARRATOR:

For Trump, Washington was turning out to be a very different place than New York.

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

The battlefield is littered with numerous people who have come out of New York and gone down to Washington to think that things are going to work down there just like they do in New York. And then they find out, much to their dismay, that's not how it is.

NARRATOR:

Under pressure, Trump gave in. He could keep Flynn no longer.

NEWS REPORT:

…on the job, embattled National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has stepped down.

NARRATOR:

Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation.

NEWS REPORT:

Shake-up for the Trump administration…

NEWS REPORT:

…caps off a tumultuous first month in office…

NEWS REPORT:

This marks the first major departure of President Trump’s senior team.

NARRATOR:

Flynn was gone, but still in jeopardy from an active FBI investigation. Now the president took an extraordinary step.

GWENDA BLAIR, Author, “The Trumps”:

On Valentine’s Day 2017, there was a meeting in the Oval Office between the attorney general and the director of the FBI, Jim Comey.

NARRATOR:

As the meeting ended, the president tried to empty the room. He wanted to speak to the FBI director alone.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

And Attorney General Jeff Sessions kind of lingers. And Comey thinks that’s because Sessions knows the president should not be meeting alone with the FBI director.

NARRATOR:

Comey was wary. As he had before, he would write notes of what happened.

MALE VOICE:

The AG lingered momentarily by my chair, but the president thanked him and said he wanted to meet with Jim. He repeated this at least one more time to usher people out.

MATTHEW MILLER:

If you’re Comey, you’re sitting there and thinking, “What is it the president needs to say to me that he can’t say in front of the attorney general?” Jim Comey’s a longtime prosecutor and right away, I suspect his antennae were going up and saying, “You know, this is evidence of a guilty mind right here, what he’s about to ask me to do.”

GWENDA BLAIR:

So he finally gets the two of them, just the two of them in the room. And then proceeds to get to work on the Michael Flynn issue…

MALE VOICE:

He began by saying he wanted to “talk about Mike Flynn.”

GWENDA BLAIR:

…saying, “Can you just kind of ease up on him? He’s a really good guy.”

MALE VOICE:

“I hope you can let this go.” I replied by saying, “I agree he is a good guy,” but said no more.

CAROL LEONNIG:

Is the president asking the FBI director to stop looking at Russian interactions with the campaign? Is he trying to shut down a counterintelligence probe that began in July of 2016?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

Trump’s talking to the director of the FBI about an ongoing investigation by the FBI. And at that point, he’s really, from Comey’s perspective, crossed the line.

MARY MCCORD, Former Acting Assistant Attorney General:

It’s really in direct contravention of policies that have been in place ever since Watergate to not have that type of interference by the White House in investigations undertaken by the department or the bureau.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

Comey leaves that meeting fairly sweaty-palmed, goes to his car and begins opening his laptop and typing down the words, the phrases that he can remember the president said because he’s that scared of, of what this is that has just happened.

FRANK MONTOYA JR., Former FBI Special Agent in Charge:

There’s an old adage in the organization that if it happened and you didn’t write it down, it didn’t happen. And so I think he was thinking, at that time, that, you know, the president is at least walking himself down this trail to an investigation where he could become subject to the investigation and I need to be able to, to document what has happened.

NARRATOR:

Once again, Comey and Trump were at odds. Comey headed to the Justice Department to confront Jeff Sessions about what had just happened.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

Comey pulls the attorney general aside and says, “You can’t leave me alone with the president like that. You’re supposed to say, ‘Mr. President, I need to stick around for this.’ Or, ‘No, Mr. President, I have to advise that, you know, you know, somebody else should be here.’ You gotta back me up.”

JEFFREY H. SMITH, Former CIA general counsel:

The job of the attorney general is to insulate the FBI from inappropriate political interference. At that moment Sessions realized that he did not do what was expected of him. And the question is: Does he have the spine to do it?

NARRATOR:

Sessions knew how things worked at the Justice Department. He had once been a United States attorney in Alabama where he built a reputation as a rock-ribbed conservative. It formed the foundation of a run for the Senate.

1996 campaign ad

SESSIONS CAMPAIGN ADVERTISEMENT:

But if we undermine honesty, hard work and discipline, then we’ll undermine the strength of this nation. For Senate, Jeff Sessions.

NARRATOR:

He served in the Senate for 20 years as a law and order conservative.

JEH JOHNSON, Former Secretary of Homeland Security:

I've been beat up by Jeff Sessions in Senate judiciary hearings and very pro-law enforcement. And you know, what you see with Jeff Sessions is what you get – a very predictable, hard-line conservative.

NARRATOR:

In 2016, Sessions decided to play a long shot. He would support Donald Trump and if he won, many believed he’d become a prime candidate for attorney general.

DONALD TRUMP:

And I want to just introduce you to him for a sec. Senator Jeff Sessions.

J.D. GORDON:

He was invaluable to the campaign in helping to get President Trump elected.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS:

Wow! What a crowd this is!

J.D. GORDON, Trump campaign adviser:

He was the first senator to endorse President Trump. He held a rally with him down in Alabama, and at the time people didn’t know if he’d be the president or not.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS:

At this time in Americans’ history, we need to make America great again.

CAMERON SMITH, Former Jeff Sessions aide:

Because Sessions endorsed Trump, Trump didn’t have to prove that he was a conservative because Jeff Sessions is sort of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for a lot of conservatives, particularly in the South where Trump was very successful.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS:

I’m proud to have you with us. God bless.

NARRATOR:

Trump appointed Sessions as attorney general. But from almost the beginning there was a problem.

NEWS REPORT:

As two more Trump campaign officials face scrutiny over their contacts with Russia…

NARRATOR:

Interactions between Russians and the Trump campaign were becoming public. And at his confirmation hearing Sessions was asked about them.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN:

CNN has just published a story saying, quote, “There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS:

Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a “surrogate” at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have, not have communications with the Russians and I’m unable to comment on it.

NARRATOR:

But before long The Washington Post reported Sessions had in fact met on at least two occasions with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

MALE VOICE:

Senator Jeff Sessions spoke twice last year with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose.

NARRATOR:

Nevertheless, Sessions continued to insist he did nothing wrong.

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS:

Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false and I don’t have anything else to say about that.

NEWS REPORT:

Today Republicans urged the Trump White House to quickly resolve the controversy.

NEWS REPORT:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has repeatedly resisted calls…

NEWS REPORT:

…the White House to preserve records the attorney general…

NARRATOR:

In the face of an onslaught of reporting, the story became impossible for Sessions to ignore.

NEWS REPORT:

Jeff Sessions too tied to the campaign, too tied to the president…

PHIL RUCKER, The Washington Post:

He was compromised. Jeff Sessions misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing about that. He had lied about whether he had that meeting.

Justice Department ethics guide

NARRATOR:

Now Department of Justice staff advised Sessions to recuse himself from the investigation.

MARY MCCORD:

It was appropriate for him to recuse. And I think the appearance of impropriety, if not the reality, is something that’s, that was really important to avoid.

NARRATOR:

But the president had disagreed. He wanted Sessions to be his first line of defense against Comey.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”:

The president expects of Jeff Sessions, and a really a lot of people around him, complete loyalty. They… He wants people to protect him. He wants people to, if possible, bend the rules a bit so that they can make sure that they have his back.

NEWS REPORT:

The Democrats, as you can imagine, having a field day with this, saying…

NEWS REPORT:

Lawmakers on both sides have been calling on Jeff Sessions to recuse himself.

PHIL RUCKER:

Trump was visiting a huge new aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia, at the harbor there and it was a big event.

NARRATOR:

Trump would use the photo op to send a message to Jeff Sessions.

REPORTER:

[subtitles] Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the attorney general, sir?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

[subtitle] Total.

NARRATOR:

The president had already insisted his counsel, Don McGahn, tell Sessions not to recuse himself and now Trump said it publicly.

REPORTER:

[subtitles] Can Sessions recuse himself from investigations into your campaign and Russia?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

[subtitle] I don’t think so at all.

REPORTER:

When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador? Did you know during the campaign?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

[subtitle] I don’t think he should do that at all.

NARRATOR:

But without consulting Trump, that same day Sessions called a press conference.

ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS:

I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. Thank you all, thank you.

NARRATOR:

In his battle against Comey, Trump had just lost his best chance to shut down the investigation.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Professor, Harvard Law School:

And I think there's frustration there, frustration that he appointed somebody to be loyal, and that person abdicated responsibility.

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

He, he’s feeling the same thing that all presidents feel, just that they don’t typically feel it within the first few weeks of an administration. And that is, I don’t have as much power as I thought I had.

NEWS REPORT:

For the first time, the FBI Director James Comey will reveal what his…

NARRATOR:

And now, Comey would go public in testimony before Congress.

NEWS REPORT:

Another public drama set to unfold.

NEWS REPORT:

James Comey will publicly answer questions about…

NARRATOR:

With Sessions on the sidelines, Comey was again in the spotlight.

NEWS REPORT:

…raise his right hand and tell you what he knows. Going public on live television, no filters.

NARRATOR:

He appeared in front of the House Intelligence Committee and on national television.

NEWS REPORT:

…with the White House on the line.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump is heading into a high-stakes week among the…

JEH JOHNSON:

Love him or hate him, Jim Comey is a remarkable communicator. And I’m sure that Mr. Trump watched a lot of that testimony, if not all of it.

JAMES COMEY:

Mr. Chairman, ranking member Schiff, members of the committee, thank you for including me in today’s hearing. I’m honored to be here representing the people of the FBI. I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm…

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

And he says, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice,” you know, “to confirm” and, and kind of all heads turn to the television in every newsroom in America and, and we’re saying, “Is, is Comey going to confirm on the record that they’re investigating the Trump campaign?”

JAMES COMEY:

…that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

He confirms this in front of these lawmakers. And that’s kind of a big moment. Suddenly, we’re off to the races. This is now to Trump’s mind a direct and public threat to his presidency.

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES, Chair, House Intelligence Committee:

Here, I just want to make sure we get this on the record. Do you have any evidence that any current Trump White House or administration official coordinated with the Russian intelligence services?

JAMES COMEY:

Not a question I can answer.

ROBERT RAY:

That was the death knell, at least as we understand the, the president’s thinking. Once he heard and saw that, because apparently he was watching, that was, at least in his mind, that was the end of Jim Comey.

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES:

You know, there is a big gray cloud that you’ve now put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country.

J.D. GORDON, Director of National Security, Trump campaign:

It was surreal. It was a, a waking nightmare to hear director Comey say that on live national television. He put everyone close to President Trump under a cloud.

NEWS REPORT:

The head of the FBI dropped two bombshells landing at the White House doorstep.

NEWS REPORT:

Comey publicly confirming for the first time that he has had independent…

NARRATOR:

With Flynn caught lying and Sessions having recused himself, another showdown was becoming inevitable.

NEWS REPORT:

A notorious Moscow bank is now part of the investigation.

NARRATOR:

And the press had also ratcheted up the pressure as they uncovered more meetings between Russians and Trump campaign officials.

NEWS REPORT:

…with possible ties between Russian officials and Trump associates…

MATT APUZZO:

This is just not normal. It just seems like there’s more and more meetings. Just keep, they just keep coming out.

NEWS REPORT:

This time it is the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner…

NARRATOR:

Many of the stories focused on Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law.

PETER BAKER:

Kushner had met with a top Russian banker who is known to be close to President Putin during the transition. He had also had a conversation with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, and there had been even the discussion about setting up a back channel of communication to Moscow.

NARRATOR:

Now Kushner was increasingly under scrutiny.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

Jared is learning that his actions, especially with Michael Flynn, his interactions with various Russians, is under investigation as well and whether he’s been honest about them and what was going on in those conversations.

NEWS REPORT:

Kushner headline today and tonight is that he will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

NARRATOR:

The scandal had now reached the president’s family.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

The notion that there’s this investigation at the Justice Department and the FBI that could encompass his children, his son-in- law, and possibly his business interests, is getting him very, very nervous.

NEWS REPORT:

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, had a previously undisclosed meeting…

NARRATOR:

Trump, inundated by the headlines and under pressure from Comey, left Washington. He headed for his country club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

SARAH ELLISON, The Washington Post:

It’s a sort of rainy weekend in Bedminster. So Donald Trump is supposed to be out golfing. He’s stuck inside. He’s in a sort of foul mood anyway.

ROBERT COSTA, Moderator, “Washington Week”:

The president was frustrated. His family was frustrated. They felt like they were being swept into this riptide of an investigation. And they thought if they could just pluck Comey out, that maybe the investigation could end.

NEWS REPORT:

Also, new whirlwind developments are reported in the ever-growing Russian scandal…

NARRATOR:

In Bedminster on that rainy weekend, without any of his most senior staff members present, Donald Trump would make the most consequential decision of his first year in office.

SARAH ELLISON:

There is essentially no adult in the room, certainly no legal adult in the room, who really has an understanding of what this is going to mean, not just politically, but legally.

NARRATOR:

Trump decided he would get rid of Comey.

PETER BAKER:

Trump comes to the conclusion that, “I can’t put up with this anymore. I’m going to fire Jim Comey.” There’s no consultation. There’s just gut instinct and raw anger.

NARRATOR:

Trump dictated a letter to Comey.

CAROL LEONNIG:

It is a rant, the original draft. Nobody’s original draft is that great, but this draft is Donald Trump unloading all of the reasons that Comey has failed him.

NARRATOR:

On Sunday, Donald Trump returned to Washington with the letter, determined to carry out his plan to stop Jim Comey once and for all.

NEWS REPORT:

Comey has been indicating that he knows so much more than he’s letting on and he’s not…

NEWS REPORT:

Comey opens up another investigation into the Trump…

NEWS REPORT:

And Comey isn’t backing down. He said, said he wouldn’t do anything…

NEWS REPORT:

…still an active part of an FBI investigation. Was there collusion between Trump associates?

NEWS REPORT:

Lawmakers say Comey has a tough road ahead in the FBI’s investigation.

NARRATOR:

The next morning in the West Wing the word was out. Trump was preparing to take the fateful step of sending the letter.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Word gets back to Don McGahn, the White House counsel, that this document has been prepared. And he freaks out.

MATT APUZZO:

Our understanding is that Don McGahn reads that and says, “Yeah, you, you don’t want to send that.”

NARRATOR:

Even Trump’s abrasive adviser Steve Bannon was stunned.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Of all people, Steve Bannon is the one in the room who’s saying, “You can’t get rid of this guy Jim Comey. This would be a terrible, terrible mistake. It’s going to cause a firestorm.”

NARRATOR:

Although Trump had the executive power to fire Comey, Bannon foresaw dire political consequences.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

Bannon has more of a sense of history than a lot of the people who were in that White House. And so he knows the history of Watergate and he also knows about obstruction of justice and what it could look like if Trump fires Comey.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

There’s no way, McGahn says, that this document can be used as the basis for firing Jim Comey. “No way, no how. Give me the document.”

NARRATOR:

The White House counsel had an alternative.

MATT APUZZO:

McGahn had separately learned that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, also had concerns with Jim Comey. And he brokers this deal. So he’s, basically says to the president, “You know, Mr. President, you don’t need to send that. You should really talk to Rod Rosenstein.”

NARRATOR:

They set up a meeting between Rosenstein, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president.

PHILIP RUCKER, The Washington Post:

The president lets them know he wants to fire James Comey. That’s clear. And the directive for Sessions and Rosenstein is to draw up the rationale, to write memos explaining why they believe Comey had made mistakes on the job and deserved to be fired.

NARRATOR:

They had their orders. Rosenstein would do his part, a task that would place him at the epicenter of a historic decision. He had spent his life learning the law, first at the University of Pennsylvania and then Harvard Law School.

MATTHEW MILLER:

He’s a lifelong Republican. He was a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal movement.

NARRATOR:

With Ken Starr, Rosenstein was part of the independent counsel’s investigation of Bill Clinton. Eventually, George W. Bush and Barack Obama made him United States attorney.

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

He has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations as the U.S. attorney in the district of Maryland, and so enjoys, you know, a bipartisan reputation that is and was well earned. So he’s a professional.

NARRATOR:

Now Rosenstein would build a case against Jim Comey’s handling of the FBI.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Rod Rosenstein, this guy who served 27 years in the Justice Department, a Boy Scout, he looks like a Boy Scout. And he thinks that Comey has violated the Justice Department norms by talking too much about Hillary Clinton during the election.

NARRATOR:

The president wanted the memo as soon as possible. It was a rush job. He delivered it the next day.

PETER BAKER:

Rod Rosenstein’s memo echoed what a lot of the Hillary Clinton campaign people had been saying for months: that Comey had inserted himself into the election; he’d made himself too public; he had taken on a role that did not really belong to him.

MALE VOICE:

The director ignored another long-standing principle: We do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

Trump doesn’t care about what Comey did to hurt Hillary Clinton, but it becomes the excuse, or at least the initial excuse the White House uses to explain why they were firing the FBI director.

NARRATOR:

Donald Trump had fired hundreds of people face to face on “The Apprentice.” This time, as president, it would be different.

TIMOTHY O’BRIEN, Author, “TrumpNation”:

He just decides to do it. Trump isn’t going to deliver the message himself. He sends his longtime bodyguard in a White House car with the pink slip over to the FBI to deliver the bad news.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

Keith Schiller, the president’s body man, can’t get into the FBI. The FBI is not a place you can just walk and be like, “I have a note for Comey. I’m from the White House.” “Great, you’re from the White House. Super, you can’t come in here.”

NARRATOR:

He dropped off the letter and left.

NEWS REPORT:

Breaking news – James Comey has been removed from heading the FBI. This is…

NARRATOR:

Comey was out of town.

NEWS REPORT:

…interesting news right now. FBI Director James Comey is…

BOB ANDERSON, Former FBI Executive Assistant Director:

And he was at our Los Angeles field office giving a talk to the office and, you know, behind them on the news it said that Jim Comey was just fired by the president of the United States.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump has fired James Comey as director of the FBI. It comes without warning.

BOB ANDERSON:

He actually makes a comment to the audience like, “Oh, look at that. I just got fired,” thinking that, you know, it was a mistake. And then I think one of his staff came over to him and said, “Look, we need to leave. This, this is, this is real.”

NEWS REPORT:

Well, this is a big shock. They did not see this coming at the FBI.

NEWS REPORT:

A stunning announcement from the White House today. President Trump fired FBI director…

NARRATOR:

News helicopters were waiting as Comey left the FBI field office.

NEWS REPORT:

…fired FBI Director James Comey.

FRANK MONTOYA JR., Former FBI Special Agent in Charge:

It was a major sucker punch in the gut. He was widely regarded throughout the organization. There were a few people that were, were, were not fans, so to speak. But even they were upset…

NEWS REPORT:

The firing of Comey, though, has drawn comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre.

FRANK MONTOYA JR.:

…in terms of how he learned that he had been dismissed or fired.

NEWS REPORT:

Moments ago breaking news that no one saw coming today. We learned that President Trump has fired FBI director…

NEWS REPORT:

This was a very closely-kept secret here at the White House. I am told only a handful of top advisers…

NEWS REPORT:

…people calling it stunning, unprecedented. Comey apparently also caught…

NARRATOR:

Shock, anger and chaos engulfed Washington.

NEWS REPORT:

Amid mounting outrage on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers are questioning the country’s very foundation.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump now facing outrage after firing…

NARRATOR:

At the White House, they struggled to offer an explanation.

NEWS REPORT:

I feel like the White House is not interested in, in getting to the bottom of this though.

PETER BAKER:

The press office is suddenly thrust out there to explain a decision they had no part in, that they didn’t know much about. Reporters who were trying to figure out what was going on. It, it was, it was chaos.

NEWS REPORT:

The Comey firing came without warning and stunned lawmakers on both sides…

NARRATOR:

By the time the White House hit the airwaves, the story the press office told was that Rosenstein’s memo was the primary reason for the firing.

SEAN SPICER, White House Press Secretary:

Deputy attorney general is a gentleman by the name of Rod Rosenstein, Rosenstein. He made a determination that the FBI director had lost his confidence.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

The message from the White House is, “We fired Comey because he botched the Hillary Clinton investigation. Period.”

ANDERSON COOPER:

You know, to those who say why now? Why fire James Comey now, what do you say?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump counselor:

Well, I would point them to the three letters that we received today, Anderson. The letter by President Donald Trump, the letter by Attorney General Sessions, and really the underlying report by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who the FBI director reports to. The FBI director…

HOWARD KURTZ, Author, “Media Madness”:

All the people spinning on behalf of the White House told the press that the Comey firing was based on a memo from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, which had to do with Comey’s performance in the Hillary Clinton investigation. Well, the press wasn’t buying that.

ANDERSON COOPER:

Well, but a lot of this, most of this letter focuses on, on Hillary Clinton’s emails. This is stuff that as a candidate, Donald Trump praised James Comey for.

MATT APUZZO:

This was sort of like a, a mind-bending situation, right, because the president, who campaigned on like “lock her up” is firing the FBI director and then pointing to these memos that say, “Well, you were unfair to Hillary Clinton.” And so we were just trying to figure out like well, what, what actually, what is going on here.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general who oversees the FBI directory [sic].

ANDERSON COOPER:

That makes no sense.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

It does make sense, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER:

He said one thing as a candidate and now he’s concerned as president.

KELLYANNE CONWAY:

I know that’s a new talking point. It makes, it makes complete sense because he has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein…

NEWS REPORT:

The White House said it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation to fire Comey.

NARRATOR:

At the Justice Department, Rosenstein was surprised he was receiving all the blame.

NEWS REPORT:

The White House says President Trump fired Comey because of Rosenstein’s recommendation.

ROBERT RAY:

Rod Rosenstein sees what’s happening and that his reasons are being used as the, the pretext to justify the president’s action. He was none too pleased once he saw that that was happening.

NEWS REPORT:

Rod Rosenstein is not particularly happy that the White House is pinning the blame on him.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

Rosenstein is blown away, and he actually calls Sessions and says, “I am going to resign if this, if you keep saying this, if the president keeps saying this.”

NEWS REPORT:

This memo, by Rod Rosenstein, it’s dated yesterday. So really…

NEWS REPORT:

Many questioning if Comey was fired because the White House feared he could possibly get to the bottom of any potential…

NARRATOR:

The next morning on the president’s go-to network, Fox News…

FOX NEWS REPORTER:

You’re fired! President Trump ousting the FBI Director James Comey.

NARRATOR:

The news was all Comey all the time.

BRIAN KILMEADE, Fox News

Kevin Corke is live at our nation’s Capitol with the details.

NARRATOR:

The president would celebrate Comey’s firing behind closed doors with two unlikely White House guests – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

NEWS REPORT:

Just ahead of today’s meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov…

CAROL LEONNIG:

Oy. That meeting.

NEWS REPORT:

The president will meet with Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office. He is the highest-ranking Russian official that the president has met so far.

CAROL LEONNIG:

In a way it, it, it, it’s, it’s like a play. You can’t believe it really happened. But the president is essentially celebrating with the Russian diplomats.

NEWS REPORT:

One day after firing the man heading that probe into the Trump campaign ties to Russia, the president…

CARRIE JOHNSON:

No U.S.-based reporters, no American White House reporters are in the room.

PHIL RUCKER:

The Russians came in with their photographer from their state media agency, TASS, who took photos of this event, photos that were used, to some effect, in Russia, as propaganda.

MATT APUZZO:

Terrible optics. I mean terri-, terrible optics that just you couldn’t have scripted it worse.

KAREN DEYOUNG, The Washington Post:

Trump says, “We’re going to have a great relationship. There’s this investigation. It’s just become a total irritant for me.” And he says, “Jim Comey’s firing lifted a great weight from me. The guy was a nut job.”

NEWS REPORT:

First the firing. Now the fallout. Democrats and some…

NARRATOR:

Around Washington and the nation, the negative reaction to the Comey firing was gaining momentum.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump now facing outrage after firing Comey.

NEWS REPORT:

It is hard to overstate the sheer magnitude…

NARRATOR:

To address the crisis, the president went on his old network for a one-on-one interview.

ANNOUNCER:

This is NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.

LESTER HOLT:

Tonight, stunning revelations from President Trump in our NBC News exclusive interview. Tonight our wide-ranging…

Monday, you met with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosen-, Rosenstein.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Right.

LESTER HOLT:

Did you ask for a recommendation?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not…

LESTER HOLT:

You had made the decision before they came into your office?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I, I was going to fire Comey.

MATTHEW MILLER, Department of Justice, 2009-2011:

It is a dramatic moment to see the president come out and not only completely undermine the case that his White House had been making. But as spurious a case and as transparent as a case it was, it still had been the official line. The president comes out and demolishes that case immediately.

LESTER HOLT:

So you had already made the decision.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.

LESTER HOLT:

So there was…

HOWARD KURTZ:

I think there’s a level on which President Trump doesn’t want to be portrayed as just doing the bidding of some aides who write a memo. He’s the decider, to coin a phrase.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

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. And the reason…

PHILIP RUCKER, The Washington Post:

You know, the thing with Donald Trump is, he often says what he believes. And if you just wait long enough he’ll, he’ll tell you the truth. I mean he’ll say it.

NEWS REPORT:

It is the interview that will likely dominate social media and…

NARRATOR:

The interview backfired.

NEWS REPORT:

The president’s comments contradict the White House’s previous statements explaining…

NARRATOR:

It triggered questions about whether Comey’s firing was an attempt to obstruct justice by the president.

NEWS REPORT:

Contradictions and confusion from the White House…

NEWS REPORT:

The president admitting Russia was on his mind.

NARRATOR:

For his part, even out of a job, Jim Comey was not going to be sidelined.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Jim Comey, who’s not known for staying silent in, in the face of controversy and unrest, begins to defend himself.

NEWS REPORT:

This morning there is mounting criticism of that decision on both sides.

NARRATOR:

Comey decided to try to force the Justice Department to name a special counsel.

NEWS REPORT:

Overwhelming reaction on Capitol Hill.

NARRATOR:

He had those memos about his meetings with the president as evidence. Now, he engineered a leak to The New York Times.

NEWS REPORT:

Breaking news at first reported by The New York Times – James Comey memo saying that Trump asked him to end the Flynn investigation.

NEWS REPORT:

It was written after an Oval Office meeting that he had with the president back in February.

FRANK MONTOYA JR., Former FBI Special Agent in Charge:

And I referred to it as, as Jim’s leak. Jim doesn’t like to call it that. But it’s neither here nor there. It was information that he had that he passed onto the, to The New York Times. And yeah, it, I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

NEWS REPORT:

Another cloud of controversy hangs over the Trump White House.

NEWS REPORT:

…are demanding a special prosecutor.

NEWS REPORT:

Calls are growing louder from Democrats.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Jim Comey, who says that he’s above politics, actually knows way more about political dynamics and the way Washington works than most people in this story.

NEWS REPORT:

And the White House says the reports in the media are not an accurate portrayal…

NARRATOR:

As Comey hoped, the call for a special counsel grew louder.

NEWS REPORT:

Tonight, the White House denying that the president…

NARRATOR:

The decision would fall to Rod Rosenstein.

MATTHEW MILLER:

Rod Rosenstein watched his reputation get dragged through the mud for, for an entire week by people who he really respected. And he found there was only one way to undo the damage and that was to appoint a special counsel.

NARRATOR:

A special counsel, the most powerful investigative weapon the Justice Department wields.

ROBERT COSTA, Moderator, “Washington Week”:

Rosenstein said, “I need someone to not only stabilize the investigation, I need to stabilize the Department of Justice.” It had been under siege from President Trump, from public scrutiny.

NARRATOR:

He named one of the nation’s legendary prosecutors, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to be the special counsel.

ROBERT COSTA:

And in Mueller, you have the ultimate presence who’s discreet, but also experienced, to come in and be that person.

NEWS REPORT:

We begin with breaking news. The White House in crisis. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate whether Russia…

FRANK MONTOYA JR.:

This is a guy who has no problem with holding people accountable, being direct and driven to get the answer. He’s going to do it right, you know, in accordance with the rule of law. That’s all that matters.

MICHAEL KIRK, Director and producer:

If you’re in the West Wing and Bob Mueller’s on your trail, should you be worried?

FRANK MONTOYA JR.:

He should be afraid. He should be very afraid.

NEWS REPORT:

The Justice Department tonight naming special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016…

NEWS REPORT:

Mueller’s Russia collusion probe is more conflicted.

NEWS REPORT:

Mueller could expand the probe…

NARRATOR:

At the White House, the president happened to be meeting with Attorney General Sessions when Rosenstein called to announce Mueller’s appointment.

J.D. GORDON, Trump campaign adviser:

President Trump doesn't like to get bad news and this was bad news. It was more than bad news. It was terrible news.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”:

And now you see him really unleash all his anger on Jeff Sessions and plainly tells Jeff Sessions that, “You are the reason why all of this is happening.”

CHRIS WHIPPLE, Author, “The Gatekeepers”:

Trump was furious and took it out on Sessions and humiliated him. Trump obviously felt himself endangered by a special counsel and lost his temper.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

Trump’s law is loyalty to him and what he wants to do. As he’s famously said, “Where is my Roy Cohn?” And there are things that Jeff Sessions apparently won’t do for Donald Trump and Donald Trump won’t forgive him for that.

NARRATOR:

Sessions had had enough of the president’s anger.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

Sessions just ends up bolting out of the White House, rushing out to his car. He said, “If you want me to quit, I’m going to quit.”

CHRIS WHIPPLE:

He’s resigning as, as attorney general. He’s distraught and he’s had it. He’s at the end of his rope. He’s been insulted by Trump. He’s, he’s decided that that’s it.

NARRATOR:

In the West Wing all hell broke loose.

CHRIS WHIPPLE:

Don McGahn, the legal counsel, bursts into Reince Priebus’ office and says, “We’ve got trouble. Not only do we have a special counsel appointed, but Jeff Sessions has just resigned.” Priebus says, “You’re kidding me.” Priebus goes running down the staircase into the West Wing parking lot.

PETER BAKER:

…finds Sessions in his car preparing to leave and he bangs on the door. “You got to come out. You got to come back in. You can’t leave this way. You can’t just blow up like this.”

CHRIS WHIPPLE:

And Priebus essentially almost has to drag him back up into the West Wing where Vice President Pence and Steve Bannon then come in and join Priebus and, and talk Sessions off the ledge.

NEWS REPORT:

It’s clear that the Mueller investigation is just getting started. We’re going to head to Washington where the White House…

NARRATOR:

Across town in an undisclosed secure location, the new special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was just getting started.

ROBERT RAY, Former independent counsel:

When you become a special prosecutor, they give you a piece of paper with a mandate. At that moment, you don’t have anything else. You don’t have a staff. You don’t have agents. You don’t have prosecutors. You don’t even have a legal pad and a paper clip and a pen.

NARRATOR:

What Robert Mueller did have was a lifetime of preparation for this moment.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

He volunteered to serve in Vietnam as a United States Marine, highly decorated, wounded in action.

NARRATOR:

In the nineties, Mueller had tried his hand in the private sector at a prestigious law firm. He hated it.

MARC FISHER, The Washington Post:

Four hundred thousand dollars a year, he felt like he wasn’t doing the Lord’s work. He quit.

NARRATOR:

He took a substantial pay cut to become a line prosecutor. He worked homicide in Washington, D.C.

MARC FISHER:

His great joy was putting away bad guys and answering his phone: “Mueller, homicide.”

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

Bob Mueller cares about one thing and one thing only: indicting bad guys and putting them in prison.

NARRATOR:

A Republican, he’d run the FBI for both George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Pulled out of private practice, Robert Mueller was back at the center of the action.

NEWS REPORT:

Mueller has quietly gathered a team of more than three dozen attorneys, investigators and other staff in a nondescript office.

NARRATOR:

From a secure location, he built a formidable team.

NEWS REPORT:

I believe his term was “ninja assassins.”

MATTHEW MILLER:

This is like this moment at the beginning of “The Avengers” movies, where all the superheroes are, are kind of spread across the globe and Bob Mueller calls them all and they all reassemble together in Washington to take on this new mission.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

And the team Mueller has assembled may be the A-team of prosecutors for an entire generation.

MATTHEW MILLER:

Aaron Zebley, who is a, an FBI agent before becoming a prosecutor.

MARY MCCORD:

Michael Dreeben, who is one of the smartest people I know, who’s argued over a hundred Supreme Court cases.

MATTHEW MILLER:

Jeannie Rhee, who was a highly-respected prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office.

MATT APUZZO:

Andrew Weissmann – he has a reputation for being a scorched-earth prosecutor.

MATTHEW MILLER:

Mueller put Greg Andres on his team, who was an experienced mob prosecutor in New York.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

I mean that was the first sort of warning sign for the Trump White House because they’re “killers,” Steve Bannon calls them.

NARRATOR:

Mueller’s team had broad authority to investigate: Russian interference, the Trump campaign, and in the wake of the Comey firing, possible obstruction of justice by the president himself.

PETER BAKER:

Then there's this question of whether that act by itself constitutes obstruction of justice. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But that issue didn’t even exist before he fired James Comey. Now it does. Now it’s a subject of a federal investigation by a special prosecutor.

NARRATOR:

Mueller also had the evidence from Comey’s memos: the president asking Comey for loyalty; to go easy on Mike Flynn; the berating of Sessions for his recusal; the use of the Rosenstein memo.

ROBERT BENNETT, Former President Clinton’s lawyer:

So you know, you start stringing all these together and that’s how a prosecutor would present the case. These improper acts, even if they are not in and of themselves criminal, amount to an intent to obstruct justice.

NARRATOR:

The White House was under siege. The president in anger and desperation returned to Roy Cohn’s strategy – a forceful counterattack.

MALE VOICE:

This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!

MALE VOICE:

There is no collusion and no obstruction. I should be given apology!

MALE VOICE:

You are witnessing the single greatest witch hunt in American political history, led by some very bad and conflicted people!

LISA DESJARDINS, “PBS NewsHour”:

The president definitely seized on that term “witch hunt.” He used it again and again. He used it in tweets. He used it when he was at a microphone. It’s something that he felt was working to undermine the Mueller investigation.

MALE VOICE:

After seven months of investigations and collusion with the Russians, nobody has been able to show any proof. Sad!

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

President Trump calling the, the Mueller investigation a witch hunt has an impact in Washington in that the people who want to be loyal to President Trump can use that same language.

ANNOUNCER:

“Fox & Friends” starts right now.

NARRATOR:

And at Fox News, that’s just what happened.

AINSLEY EARHARDT, Fox News:

The president is really mad.

STEVE DOOCY, Fox News:

He tweeted this out: “As the phony Russian witch hunt continues…”

NEWT GINGRICH:

This is a very dangerous witch hunt.

TRISH REGAN, Fox News:

…only because I think this is a witch hunt.

SEAN HANNITY, Fox News:

…and put an end to the political witch hunt against President Trump.

NARRATOR:

Trump was avidly watching.

HOWARD KURTZ, Fox News:

He likes what he sees on these Fox opinion shows and they often get the benefit of having access to the president.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

Get rid of Mueller.

GREGG JARRETT:

Mueller should be dismissed.

JEANINE PIRRO, Fox News:

Robert Mueller must be fired immediately.

LOU DOBBS, Fox News:

The call for the firing of Robert Mueller…

NED RYUN:

So he either pulls the plug now or this will be going on years from now.

GABRIEL SHERMAN, Author, “The Loudest Voice in the Room”:

He has daily conversations with the, the hosts there. He’s able to get his talking points out there.

GREGG JARRETT:

The FBI is a shadow government now.

SEAN HANNITY, Fox News:

And what they did in leaking this information was illegal, correct?

JAY SEKULOW:

Absolutely illegal and almost becomes a soft coup in a sense.

JEANINE PIRRO, Fox News:

There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice.

NARRATOR:

At The New York Times that summer, they had a lead on what would become the biggest story yet. They had discovered another meeting between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

My colleagues and I had been doing some reporting on this – the idea that there was another Russian meeting that we didn’t totally understand, that had been undisclosed during the campaign.

NARRATOR:

They learned Donald Trump Jr. had hosted the meeting with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Also in the room: Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

NEWS REPORT:

The president gears up for what could be his most important foreign leader meeting to date.

NARRATOR:

The newspaper wanted a comment from the White House. But that week the president was in Hamburg, Germany, for the G20 summit and his first meeting with Vladimir Putin.

PHIL RUCKER, The Washington Post:

This is a big distraction on the sidelines of the summit as White House officials try to figure out how to respond to this inquiry from The New York Times.

MATT APUZZO:

The White House says, “We want to be helpful. We want to engage on this. Just give us some time.”

NARRATOR:

After the summit, the president himself took control of handling The New York Times.

MATT APUZZO:

My phone rings and it’s the Air Force One operator. You know, “Can you please hold?” And it’s, “I know we were supposed to have a call. I, I know we’re, we’re late. Can you just give us a little more time? We’re working on this.” And of course, we now know that at the front of Air Force One, Hope Hicks and President Trump are kind of working on this statement.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”:

He’s at the center of it and driving it. And you have the president physically dictating a message that he’s going to put in the name of his son, Donald Trump Jr.

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

The lawyers for the president are losing their minds. They are not on Air Force One. They are not in Germany. But they are hearing secondhand that a statement is about to be issued to The New York Times.

ROBERT BENNETT, Former President Clinton’s lawyer:

To write a statement, just, I mean that’s just amateur hour. But in fairness to these lawyers, I mean, I… They couldn’t control their client. They still can’t control their client.

NEWS REPORT:

The White House responds to a report in The New York Times that claims Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer.

NARRATOR:

Trump’s statement, written for his son, said the meeting was about adoption of Russian orphans.

MALE VOICE:

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.

NARRATOR:

But there was a reason for the meeting that the president’s statement did not mention.

NEWS REPORT:

Last night The New York Times published details about a meeting during the campaign involving a Kremlin-linked lawyer and Donald Trump Jr. along with Jared…

NARRATOR:

As the president returned to Washington, it didn’t take long for the truth to come out.

NEWS REPORT:

…the explosive news about President Trump and Russia. It involves Donald Trump Jr. breaking in the last…

MATTHEW MILLER:

It only takes about 24 hours for that statement to completely blow up.

NEWS REPORT:

…a potential bombshell from the president’s own son, Donald Trump Jr.

NARRATOR:

In the days that followed, The New York Times discovered a series of emails setting up the meeting.

NEWS REPORT:

Another day, another installment in the Russian elections…

MATT APUZZO:

The next day we reported that what had actually happened is that Don Jr. had been promised dirt on Hillary Clinton by this Russian lawyer.

Donald Trump Jr. email

MALE VOICE:

The crown prosecutor of Russia offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

MATT APUZZO:

In the email setting up the meeting, Don Jr. was told that this meeting was part of the Russian government’s efforts to support now-President Trump.

MALE VOICE:

This is obviously very high-level and sensitive information, but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

MATT APUZZO:

I mean, I remember, saying, “Oh, my god. It says it, it says it in an email? This is part of the Russian government’s efforts to support Donald Trump?”

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

We’re talking about top aides in the middle of the campaign. We’re talking about Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., sitting down with a Russian woman who has told them that she’s going to give them some sort of information on Hillary Clinton. It’s a crystal clear reason why they’re there.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, Co-author, “Russian Roulette”:

What does Don Jr. write back in an email? “If it’s what you say, I love it.”

MALE VOICE:

…I love it, especially later in the summer…

MICHAEL ISIKOFF:

Coming on top of everything else that had come out about all these Russian contacts with the campaign, the Trump Tower email trail was incredibly damning.

PETER BAKER:

There’s no ambiguity about this. This is there in black and white. And whatever they actually talked about in the meeting, the advertised intent of the meeting was collusion.

NARRATOR:

For his part, the president would downplay the importance of a meeting.

DONALD TRUMP:

Nothing happened from the meeting. Zero happened from the meeting. And honestly, I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.

NEWS REPORT:

Now we’ve got another email, an email that could potentially prove at the best a willingness…

NARRATOR:

But special counsel Robert Mueller was paying close attention.

NEWS REPORT:

There had been at least eight people in the room.

NARRATOR:

The question: Was there anything illegal about the meeting or the misleading statement?

CAROL LEONNIG:

The president’s lawyers… They’re intensely concerned that the president has essentially now added to an obstruction case.

NARRATOR:

Mueller would look into to the writing of that statement on Air Force One.

FRANK MONTOYA JR., Former FBI Special Agent in Charge:

If the president’s up there and he’s deliberately crafting a lie to cover the purpose of the meeting, is that another step in, in the obstruction investigation? Is it also another step in terms of the conspiracy/collusion investigation?

NEWS REPORT:

It shows that the Trump team was willing to engage with the Russians and that is a very…

NEWS REPORT:

What is it that special counsel Robert Mueller knows that hasn’t yet been made public?

NARRATOR:

Trump and his family were increasingly in jeopardy. He blamed his attorney general.

EMILY BAZELON, The New York Times Magazine:

Over the summer, the role Jeff Sessions has played or refused to play by recusing himself from overseeing this investigation increasingly grates on Donald Trump. It’s like the pebble in his shoe, the original sin of the Russia investigation from his point of view.

NARRATOR:

The president decided to provoke a confrontation with Sessions. He invited three reporters into the Oval Office to send Sessions a message on the front page of The New York Times.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

Maggie Haberman, Mike Schmidt and I go in to interview President Trump. And suddenly, without any notice, really, he starts really trashing Jeff Sessions.

New York Times recording

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Sessions should never have recused himself. And if he, if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.

PETER BAKER:

We reported in the past that he was unhappy with Sessions, but we hadn’t heard him say that out loud in a public way like that. He was absorbed by it. He was dwelling on it and he wanted to get this message out.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.

LISA DESJARDINS, “PBS NewsHour”:

He was telling the world that he didn’t have confidence in his own attorney general, and it was remarkable.

NARRATOR:

And in case Sessions didn’t get the message it was time for him to leave, on Twitter the president ramped up the attack.

MALE VOICE:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes.

MALE VOICE:

Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend?

MALE VOICE:

So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G. looking into “Crooked Hillary’s” crimes and Russia relations?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

In attacking Jeff Sessions, he’s attacking the very nature of the attorney general’s role and he’s attacking the very nature of the Department of Justice.

NARRATOR:

But on Capitol Hill where Sessions served in the Senate for 20 years, he had powerful allies prepared to fight back against the president.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

So when Donald Trump signaled that he wanted to get rid of Jeff Sessions, his allies, Jeff Sessions’ allies in the Senate, stood up for him, actually very strongly, in a way that they had not stood up to the president on other issues.

PETER BAKER:

Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman made very clear they stand by Sessions.

CHRIS WHIPPLE, Author, “The Gatekeepers”:

Whatever you may think of Sessions, he had a lot of support in Congress. And Trump ultimately realized that he probably would not be able to have a replacement confirmed if, if he actually went ahead and got rid of Sessions.

NARRATOR:

The president was stuck. Sessions wasn’t going anywhere.

JEH JOHNSON, Former Secretary of Homeland Security:

In the private world in which citizen Trump and I come from, if you hire a lawyer and the lawyer says, “I’m sorry, I can’t do the job that you hired me to do, or I can’t do 50 percent of the job you hired me to do,” you say, “Fine, I’m, you’re fired. I’ll go find somebody else.” And apparently, he feels like he’s stuck with his current attorney general because the Senate has a say in this too.

NARRATOR:

So far Trump’s strategy of confrontation hadn’t worked. Now Trump reluctantly changed tactics. He would turn to lawyers steeped in the ways of Washington.

SARAH ELLISON, The Washington Post:

We’re going to bring in the professionals now. And they bring in some, some people who have real Washington pedigrees, who know certainly who Robert Mueller is, and who are going to cooperate, and are going to kind of play by the rules.

NARRATOR:

John Dowd, a longtime Washington criminal defense specialist, and Ty Cobb, an expert trial lawyer, joined the team.

MATT APUZZO, The New York Times:

Ty Cobb is openly saying, “I have great respect for Bob Mueller. I think he’s a patriot.” And so he says to Mueller, “I, I’m here and, and we’re, we want to be cooperative.”

NARRATOR:

Their “get along” strategy: providing more than a million documents, agreeing to interviews with White House staff, and keeping the president from tweeting.

FRANK MONTOYA JR.:

You’re trying to keep him in the box. You’re trying to make sure that he doesn’t do something really stupid, whether it’s a tweet or it’s a, you know, ill-timed statement, a public statement.

NARRATOR:

Since the president relied on cable TV for information…

STEVE DOOCY, Fox News:

The White House, they hope the investigation will be done within a month or so.

NARRATOR:

His lawyers wanted him to hear a positive message.

NIALL STANAGE:

They expect the probe to be over soon.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

His lawyers are telling him that, in the words in the story, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

JOE SCARBOROUGH:

That this investigation’s coming to an end soon.

NATASHA BERTRAND:

They’re trying to keep him calm. They’re trying to keep him not only from tweeting…

NARRATOR:

In Washington they said Cobb was speaking to an audience of one.

TY COBB:

There is no reason for it not to conclude soon.

MAJOR GARRETT:

What is soon?

TY COBB:

Well… and, and soon to me would be within in the next, you know, four to six weeks.

CHRIS CILLIZZA:

Ty Cobb said it was Thanksgiving. His, his timeline has moved a little bit. But that there’s no evidence that they see coming forward that he’s in real legal jeopardy and that this will end sooner rather than later.

PHIL RUCKER, The Washington Post:

The problem is, we would reach Thanksgiving. We would reach Christmas. We would reach January and February. And the investigation was still going on. So there was no end point. And Trump was getting in-, increasingly frustrated and impatient.

REPORTER:

People with knowledge of the investigation said it could last at least another year.

SARA MURRAY:

…are much more skeptical, saying there’s little indication that Mueller is wrapping up his work and…

JONATHAN TURLEY:

Using the word “expeditious” and “special counsel” or “independent counsel” in the same sentence is usually a mistake.

NARRATOR:

In fact, Robert Mueller’s office was running at full speed.

ROBERT COSTA, Moderator, “Washington Week”:

This is an investigation that is humming. It is moving. Everyday before 6 a.m. Bob Mueller comes into the garage, slips in. Witnesses will come in through the garage. They’re bringing in every single White House official they can. Meanwhile, they’re talking through all the different Russian interference on social media. It, this is a sprawling, active investigation.

NEWS REPORT:

Now there’s this new reporting from The Wall Street Journal, reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation…

NARRATOR:

Some of Mueller’s investigation was finally going public.

NEWS REPORT:

Special counsel Robert Mueller has issued subpoenas.

NARRATOR:

Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying about Russian contacts.

NEWS REPORT:

We learned that former Trump aide George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to making false statements.

NARRATOR:

Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted on numerous charges ranging from conspiracy to money laundering.

NEWS REPORT:

…is reporting that Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates were told to surrender to federal authorities this morning.

NARRATOR:

Mike Flynn pled guilty to that charge of lying to the FBI.

NEWS REPORT:

White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying.

NARRATOR:

The “get along” strategy had failed.

NEWS REPORT:

Robert Mueller is now issuing his first…

JOHN CASSIDY, The New Yorker:

He eventually just came to the conclusion that, “I made a mistake. I should have come out fighting, given into my own instincts from the very beginning.” And I think once the end of the year came and the inquiry hadn’t gone away, so what he’d been told by his lawyers turned out to be completely incorrect.

NEWS REPORT:

…that Mueller’s team is no longer just asking the Trump Organization for information. They’re legally demanding it.

NARRATOR:

The final straw – news that Robert Mueller issued a subpoena directed at Trump’s private company, the Trump Organization.

NEWS REPORT:

Breaking news this hour – special counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed the Trump Organization.

ROBERT COSTA:

The president, week in, week out, is festering. He’s unhappy with this special counsel. He keeps thinking, “When is this going to end?” He gets into screaming matches with Dowd and Cobb about the slow pace of everything. But Dowd and Cobb keep saying, “Look, we’re trying to protect you but on every other front provide them with information.”

NEWS REPORT:

Lead lawyer John Dowd is now out.

NARRATOR:

Dowd resigned the next week.

NEWS REPORT:

Another legal team shake-up signaling perhaps…

NEWS REPORT:

…that Ty Cobb may be on his way out.

NARRATOR:

Ty Cobb’s days were also numbered.

NEWS REPORT:

He’s unhappy with everyone ’cause it’s not over.

NARRATOR:

Trump’s willingness to cooperate with the investigation was over.

NEWS REPORT:

The president of the United States is currently under a criminal investigation.

NARRATOR:

And then the FBI dramatically escalated the showdown.

LESTER HOLT:

Breaking news tonight and it’s a bombshell. The FBI raids the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

NARRATOR:

The president, as he watched the raid on television, was furious.

PHIL RUCKER:

Trump erupted. He was very upset. He was consumed by this news all day. It was very troubling for him and scary for him.

NEWS REPORT:

…FBI raiding his office, his home and a hotel room.

ROBERT COSTA:

White House advisers are saying, “Can we turn off the televisions? All the president is doing,” they say, “is getting himself agitated.” Click over to Fox.

JESSE WATTERS:

This is a Fox News alert. There is some breaking news today on…

ROBERT COSTA:

…he watches CNN.

WOLF BLITZER:

…as the FBI raids the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer…

ROBERT COSTA:

He’ll go to MSNBC.

REPORTER:

The New York Times breaking the news in the last few minutes that the FBI has raided…

ROBERT COSTA:

He’ll go back to CNN…

REPORTER:

…has seized emails, tax documents and business records.

ROBERT COSTA:

…and he’ll just keep seeing those two words on the Chyron: Michael Cohen. And it sends him into a rage.

REPORTER:

The no-knock raids by FBI agents were the result of a referral by special counsel Robert Mueller.

NARRATOR:

To the president, it was a personal assault. From the FBI, the Department of Justice and Robert Mueller.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Professor, Harvard Law School:

A lawyer is just like a priest, a doctor and a wife in terms of privilege. So I don't blame President Trump for being a little upset that somebody’s looking into what he may have told his lawyers.

NARRATOR:

The Cohen raid was a sign Trump’s personal life in New York was colliding with his presidency in Washington.

ROBERT COSTA:

Cohen brings it right back to Trump Tower to how Trump really operated for decades, having someone like Michael Cohen, not just a lawyer but a fixer, at his side.

NARRATOR:

For years, Trump had used Cohen to protect his image just as he used Roy Cohn decades before.

SAM NUNBERG, Former Trump political adviser:

I think that he looked at Michael as somebody who would be his day-to-day Roy Cohn. Michael in a lot of ways was very good. Michael also in, was able to close a lot of problems down.

NARRATOR:

Cohen liked to brag that he was willing to take a bullet for his boss.

JONATHAN MAHLER, The New York Times Magazine:

He portrayed himself as a tough guy. He was willing to sort of intimidate people on Trump’s behalf, threaten people. He was a bully.

NARRATOR:

Cohen shielded Trump from bad press. One method: blunt threats to journalists.

MICHAEL COHEN:

Mark my words, sport. I will make sure that you and I meet one day over in the courthouse, and I will take you for every penny you still don't have.

NARRATOR:

The call was to reporter Tim Mak at The Daily Beast.

MICHAEL COHEN:

[subtitles] I'm warning you, tread very f------ lightly because what I'm going to do to you is going to be f------ disgusting. Do you understand me? Don't think you can hide behind your pen because it's not going to happen.

JANE MAYER, The New Yorker:

Michael Cohen, just this basically, just, just threatens this guy like, like some kind of lowlife thug.

MICHAEL COHEN:

[subtitles] I'm more than happy to discuss it with your attorney and with your legal counsel because, mother------, you're going to need it.

NARRATOR:

Cohen was infamous for his role in the Stormy Daniels story, orchestrating a hush money payment to the adult film star who threatened to reveal a sexual encounter with Trump.

EMILY BAZELON, The New York Times Magazine:

He cleans up messes. And an accusation about an affair, a demand for some kind of compensation to keep quiet, that’s exactly the kind of problem that Cohen would like to try to solve for Donald Trump.

SAM NUNBERG:

Michael is very good at killing stories. He’s gotten Trump out of a lot of issues, I would, I would say. And that was his job, and he’s done a good job out of it.

NARRATOR:

Now Cohen was the target of a federal investigation, one which could expose the work he did for the president.

NEWS REPORT:

There is a ton that he could tell prosecutors.

NEWS REPORT:

There is a real possibility that he is going to cooperate.

NEWS REPORT:

…totally is connected to the Stormy Daniels story.

NARRATOR:

The day of the Cohen raid, the White House insisted it was business as usual. They invited the press into a national security meeting, but Trump wanted to go on the attack.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Come on in folks, come, come in. So I just heard that they broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, good man. And it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt…

CAROL LEONNIG, The Washington Post:

The president is so enraged and obsessed with what’s just happened that he can’t keep himself from talking about it. At a public briefing, he repeatedly uses the words, “disgrace, a disgrace.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And it’s a disgrace. It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s a, an attack on our country in a true sense.

MATTHEW MILLER, Department of Justice, 2009-2011:

Something clearly happens with the president after Michael Cohen comes under scrutiny from the Department of Justice. The president views that very much as a threat to him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I’ve ever seen and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now and actually, much more than that.

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, President Clinton legal adviser:

The investigation of Michael Cohen has to feel to the president like an arrow pointed directly at his chest. It has to feel that this is aimed precisely at uncovering the president’s own history, both before he took office and since he took office, in ways that perhaps might be the most deeply sensitive to him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

This is a pure and simple witch hunt. Thank you very much, thank you.

JACK GOLDSMITH, Office of Legal Counsel, 2003-2004:

It’s a whole other avenue of potential exposure, criminal exposure, to the president. This was clearly someone who was a very close adviser and attorney to the president. And he was especially involved in what might be seen as the president’s shady business.

NARRATOR:

The raid on Cohen… Mueller’s continuing investigation… There was even talk of impeachment. The president was determined to escalate, bring in a very different kind of lawyer.

RUDY GIULIANI:

The president has done nothing wrong. Read my lips: Nothing wrong!

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”:

He hires Rudy Giuliani and he really hires a pit bull. He hires someone who is really going to be launching an offensive strategy.

RUDY GIULIANI:

There’s been too much government misconduct. The crimes now have all been committed by the government and their agents.

ROBERT COSTA:

Trump wants to be in warrior mode. Giuliani agrees. It goes from a private negotiation to a public war. And that’s a turning point.

NARRATOR:

Trump and Giuliani initiated an unfettered attack against Mueller’s investigation and any move toward impeachment.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, Author, “The Case Against Impeaching Trump”:

Rudy Giuliani was going to change the strategy. He said, “Let’s really make this into a political confrontation. Let’s make it into a blue-red debate and, and, and conflict.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

So our jury, as it should be, is the American people. And the American people, yes, are Republicans, largely, independents, pretty substantially, and even some Democrats now question the legitimacy of it.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

What Giuliani is saying is, impeachment will never get off the ground unless the public is behind it.

NEWS REPORT:

This is a Fox News alert. President Trump is getting set to leave the White House…

NEWS REPORT:

…strategy to take his message to the voters…

NARRATOR:

In order to protect himself, the president worked to undermine public confidence in the Justice Department and the FBI.

NEWS REPORT:

In a long rambling campaign rally-style speech…

JACK GOLDSMITH:

One thing we know about this president, he doesn’t care about collateral damage. And he doesn’t care about collateral damage on his associates. And he doesn’t care about collateral damage on American institutions. And so the stakes could not be higher.

NEWS REPORT:

In a campaign-style rally, a defiant…

NEWS REPORT:

…Trump back in his happy place tonight in front of…

NARRATOR:

It was full-on Roy Cohn… personal attacks.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I did you a great favor when I fired this guy. I tell ya, I did you a great favor…

NARRATOR:

At campaign-style rallies…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

…because when you look at what was going on at the top of the FBI, it is a disgrace and everybody in this room understands it.

NARRATOR:

Incendiary language about the press…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

These are very dishonest people, many of them. They are very, very dishonest people. Fake news. Very dishonest.

NARRATOR:

A barrage of tweets.

MALE VOICE:

FBI texts have revealed anti-Trump bias. @FoxNews, big news, but the fake news doesn’t want to cover.

PETER BAKER, The New York Times:

He has become his own Roy Cohn. He is the attack machine. He’s the one who will cut your knees out from under you if you get in the way.

MALE VOICE:

Was there a conspiracy in the Obama Department of Justice and the FBI to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the president of the U.S.?

PETER BAKER:

He doesn't need a Roy Cohn because he is Roy Cohn.

MALE VOICE:

It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch hunt!

MALE VOICE:

I have the absolute right to pardon myself.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Look at what’s happened. Look at how these politicians have fallen for this junk. Russian collusion. Give me a break.

JONATHAN MAHLER, The New York Times Magazine:

So long as the country is sort of divided and he has his defenders, he can undermine those who are attacking him.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Take a look at the intelligence agencies. Honestly, folks, let me tell you, let me tell you, it's a disgrace. We got to get back down to business. It’s a disgrace.

JONATHAN MAHLER:

It’s basically a kind of divide-and-conquer kind of strategy. If we can stay in this kind of divided state, there will never be enough consensus behind the idea of impeachment to actually drive it forward.

NEWS REPORT:

Top story we’re watching this morning – FBI agent Peter Strzok set to testify about…

NEWS REPORT:

…will defend himself against allegations of bias in a public hearing…

NARRATOR:

On Capitol Hill, House Republicans rallied behind the president and joined in his attack strategy.

NEWS REPORT:

…the House Oversight and Judiciary hearings are about to…

ROBERT COSTA, Moderator, “Washington Week”:

Republicans are in protect mode. Ahead of the midterm elections, they want to protect their president, a president they think is under siege from his own government.

NEWS REPORT:

The hearing is going to be explosive. We will have full analysis and reaction.

ALAN DERSHOWITZ:

They saw that the Giuliani strategy was really quite effective. And if you go after Mueller and you go after the Justice Department, maybe it’ll work.

NEWS REPORT:

The FBI agent who was removed from the Russia probe…

NARRATOR:

The Republicans’ target: top FBI agent Peter Strzok.

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT GOODLATTE:

The testimony that you are about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

NARRATOR:

Months before, Mueller had removed Strzok from his team.

CARRIE JOHNSON, NPR:

Pete Strzok is the embodiment of the president’s defenders’ case that the FBI and the Justice Department are biased against Donald Trump and the people surrounding him. And this whole investigation is tainted.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

…is one sheet of paper that was presented…

NARRATOR:

The hearing focused on text messages critical of the future president, between Strzok and an FBI attorney, with whom he was having an affair.

PETER STRZOK:

You want me to read this?

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

Yes, please.

PETER STRZOK:

Yes, sir. “OMG, he’s an idiot.”

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

July 19, 2016.

PETER STRZOK:

“Hi. How was Trump other than a douche? Melania?”

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

July 21, 2016.

PETER STRZOK:

“Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be.”

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

Ms. Page said, “Not ever going to become president. Right, right?”

PETER STRZOK:

“No, no, he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA:

Repeat that again.

PETER STRZOK:

“No, no, he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

PETER BAKER:

Peter Strzok did and said things that gave them ammunition to say, “Well, you must be biased. Therefore, the whole investigation is biased. Therefore, the whole thing is discredited.”

NARRATOR:

Strzok said his personal opinions didn’t affect his work and a DOJ inspector general’s report found no evidence that it had.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

You have come in here and said, “I have no bias.” And you do it with a straight face. And I watched you in the, in the private testimony you gave. And I told some of the other guys, “He is really good. He’s lying. He knows we know he’s lying. And he could probably pass a polygraph.” It’s amazing…

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

Mr. Chairman.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

No, this is my time.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

Mr. Chairman, I’m sorry, I… Point of order, point of order.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

And he needs to be paused.

ROBERT COSTA:

It was an outcry of the Republican base, fed up with the establishment. A government was at war with itself in that moment. And Louie Gohmert was the congressman who personified that battle.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

It’s my time.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

That’s a disgrace.

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT GOODLATTE:

The gentleman from Rhode Island will suspend.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

No, the disgrace… What this man has done.

REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT GOODLATTE:

The gentleman from Texas will suspend for a moment.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

There is the disgrace. And it won’t be recaptured anytime soon because of the damage you’ve done to the justice system. And I can’t help but wonder when I see you looking there with a little smirk, how many times did you look so innocent into your wife’s eye and lied to her about Lisa Page?

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

Mr. Chairman, this is outrageous.

REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERT:

Credibility of a witness.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

Shame on you, Mr. Gohmert.

REPRESENTATIVE BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN:

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, please.

REPRESENTATIVE DAVID CICILLINE:

Have you no decency? This is intolerable harassment of the witness.

REPRESENTATIVE BONNIE WATSON COLEMAN:

What is wrong with that? You need your medication.

PETER BAKER:

Peter Strzok becomes a perfect exemplar for them. You know, the symbol of all that they can attach to this, you know, cabal at the top of the FBI.

NEWS REPORT:

Chaos on Capitol Hill. The circus landed in D.C.

NEWS REPORT:

The fireworks on Capitol Hill unfolding on live TV, at times…

NEWS REPORT:

Even Democrats clashing on Capitol Hill today in the nth degree.

NARRATOR:

Republicans were now joining Trump’s war against Mueller, the Justice Department, the FBI and the threat of impeachment.

JACK GOLDSMITH:

Trump has stronger support among Republicans than just about any president of the last eight. He’s caused a lot of politicians to cower before him, politicians who otherwise are people of integrity, and otherwise don’t agree with any of this. And they’ve gone along because he controls the politics of his party, including their ability to get re-elected. It’s really an amazing thing.

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump is kicking off his weeklong trip to Europe.

NEWS REPORT:

It’s Mr. Trump’s first visit as president. He has the…

NARRATOR:

The day after the Strzok hearing, Donald Trump made his first presidential visit to the United Kingdom.

NEWS REPORT:

Trump also meeting with the queen of England.

NEWS REPORT:

…the highlight of any president’s visit to the United Kingdom.

NARRATOR:

Just then, reporters at the Justice Department were told a surprise announcement was coming.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

We were sitting in the seventh floor of the Justice Department, waiting for this news conference to begin. The mood in that room was very tense. There was a lot of excitement, people were wondering what would happen. And on the screen was CNN footage.

BECKY ANDERSON:

Let me just stop you there. The deputy attorney general is speaking in Washington. Fascinating. Let’s listen in.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, Deputy Attorney General:

Eleven of the defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents, and release those documents with the intent to interfere in the election.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

Rod Rosenstein came out and said, “We have identified Russian GRU officers, down to the offices where they sat, and their exact names.” It was a remarkable moment.

ROD ROSENSTEIN:

According to the allegations, the defendants work for two units of the main intelligence directorate of the Russian General Staff known as the GRU.

PETER BAKER:

I can’t remember a split-screen moment quite like this. You have on one side the president of the United States visiting the queen of England. And on the other side of the screen is Rod Rosenstein. A moviemaker couldn’t have scripted this to be more extraordinary.

NARRATOR:

A nearly 30-page indictment laid out the details of the Russian hacking of the 2016 election in granular detail.

MALE VOICE:

Unit 74455 was located at 22 Kirova Street, Khimki, Moscow, a building…

MALE VOICE:

The conspirators activated X-agent’s keylog and screenshot functions…

MALE VOICE:

…and between 4:19 p.m. and 4:56 p.m., searched for certain words and phrases.

GREG MILLER, Author, “The Apprentice”:

It is, by far, the most extensive evidence laid out publicly that almost makes it irrefutable that Russia did do this.

NARRATOR:

The indictments were the work of special counsel Robert Mueller.

GREG MILLER:

After a year of listening to Trump say, “This is all a witch hunt, this is all fake news, nothing is real, there was no collusion,” here’s Mueller’s answer. “Oh, really? Look at this. Look what we have.”

ROD ROSENSTEIN:

When we confront foreign interference in American elections, it’s important for us to avoid thinking politically as Republicans or Democrats; instead to think patriotically as Americans.

JACK GOLDSMITH:

Rosenstein, I’m quite sure, enjoyed going out there with an affirmation of Justice Department independence, to be able to announce these indictments about something that Trump says is a witch hunt. He’s been trashing this investigation for over a year. What a statement of DOJ independence.

BECKY ANDERSON:

Well, well, you’ve been listening to the deputy attorney general with a news conference timed literally as the U.S. president and his wife were walking into Windsor Castle for tea. The deputy attorney general…

ROBERT COSTA:

It was a dramatic scene. And for President Trump, yet again, the cloud, as he calls it, hangs over his entire presidency; that he doesn’t really understand where it’s going, or what’s coming next, and if it’s coming for him.

Helsinki, Finland

NEWS REPORT:

With the tensions between the U.S. and Russia at the highest level since the Cold War…

NEWS REPORT:

President Trump’s Helsinki summit with President Vladimir Putin set to get underway…

NARRATOR:

Three days later, in his first one-on-one summit with Vladimir Putin, President Trump showed little concern about the indictment of the Russian officers.

NEWS REPORT:

We’ve been waiting for, now for quite some time. It is very testy in here.

GREG MILLER:

I think everybody in the room knew that there was the potential that we were going to be witnessing something extraordinary.

NARRATOR:

Then they came forward. On television around the world, they would answer a few questions.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, “PBS NewsHour”:

President Trump is standing next to the person who intelligence agencies say ordered the hacking and the meddling of our elections.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have just concluded a meeting with President Putin on a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries.

PETER BAKER:

The staff has no idea what’s going to happen, obviously. This is a president who doesn’t stick to the script, so you never know for sure what he’s going to say.

JEFF MASON:

Mr. President, you tweeted this morning that it’s U.S. foolishness, stupidity and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in U.S. relations with Russia.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, well, I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.

GREG MILLER:

He launches into a monologue, a rampage about, “we’re, we’re to blame. The Russians might be to blame. But we’re also to blame.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think that the, the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.

JONATHAN LEMIRE:

President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is: Who do you believe?

GREG MILLER:

“Who do you believe?” That’s the starkest possible way to put that question, question to the president.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

My people came to me. Dan Coates came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.

CARRIE JOHNSON:

This was somebody who, only days after an indictment against Russian military officials, appeared to be siding with a foreign country as opposed to the conclusions of U.S. intelligence and U.S. law enforcement.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

GREG MILLER:

But if you listen to his words, he’s saying, “Well, my intelligence chief Dan Coates comes to me and says this. But Putin has told me very strongly that he didn’t do it.” When Trump uses the words, “very strongly,” he’s using an adjective to him, that means almost more than anything.

NARRATOR:

Just before the president left the stage, he had one final statement to make.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And, and I have to say if anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days, and I was in Brussels watching it, it was a disgrace to the FBI. It was a disgrace to our country. And you would say, “That was a total witch hunt.” Thank you very much everybody. Thank you.

NEWS REPORT:

The president of the United States cannot let go that someone is challenging his legitimacy.

NEWS REPORT:

Disgraceful play by the president of the United States…

NEWS REPORT:

Extraordinary moment in American history. Something I thought I would never see.

GREG MILLER:

There was an immediate sense that that had gone about as bad as it possibly could; that all of their efforts to corral him, prepare him for this moment, had failed to protect the administration, to protect the president from his own worst impulses.

NEWS REPORT:

The ripples of the event that just took place behind me…

NARRATOR:

As the president boarded Air Force One to return to Washington, the fallout was growing.

NEWS REPORT:

…delivering a stunning rebuke to his own U.S. intelligence community…

ROBERT COSTA:

Republican strategists texted me immediately, calling it a disaster. They worried that the Russia issue could now come roaring back just months ahead of the midterm elections.

NARRATOR:

The negative tweets were immediate and overwhelming. Former CIA Director John Brennan called it treasonous. Republican Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Bob Corker and dozens of other congressional Republicans were strongly critical.

NEWS REPORT:

It appears Mueller has convinced yet another witness to cooperate.

NEWS REPORT:

The Russia investigation heating up on several fronts…

NARRATOR:

Trump tried to walk back some of his remarks. But as the summer came to a close, the ultimate showdown was looming.

NEWS REPORT:

…conspiracy theory, deep-state, some of the things that you’ve heard…

NARRATOR:

Mueller was closing in on the president’s inner circle.

NEWS REPORT:

Former Trump campaign chief faces 18 counts of various financial crimes.

NARRATOR:

Paul Manafort, guilty, and agreed to cooperate with Mueller.

NEWS REPORT:

Paul Manafort convicted in federal court on financial crimes…

NEWS REPORT:

We got the guilty verdict in the Paul Manafort case…

NARRATOR:

Michael Cohen, guilty and in open court implicated the president.

NEWS REPORT:

His former lawyer implicating him in campaign finance violations… Michael Cohen…

NARRATOR:

And reports that White House counsel Don McGahn…

NEWS REPORT:

There are 35 indictments…

NARRATOR:

…an eyewitness to the events in the West Wing, voluntarily talked to Mueller’s team for 30 hours.

NEWS REPORT:

We just learned White House counsel Don McGahn had been talking to the Mueller team.

ROBERT COSTA:

Mueller is deliberately taking a low profile, talking to different people, building different parts of the investigation, because he knows he will have a narrow window to make his case to the American people. And it better be ironclad.

NEWS REPORT:

This is a White House that’s under siege.

NARRATOR:

Even inside the White House, the president is increasingly isolated.

NEWS REPORT:

An explosive new book paints an ugly picture of the president.

NARRATOR:

Senior officials have been quoted questioning his grip on reality.

Bob Woodward, “Fear”

MALE VOICE:

He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in crazytown.

NARRATOR:

In The New York Times, an anonymous op-ed…

NEWS REPORT:

…a stunning op-ed headlined “I Am a Part of the Resistance”…

NARRATOR:

…claims his staff worry about his judgment and work to thwart his whims.

MALE VOICE:

His impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

NARRATOR:

And reports that Rod Rosenstein in the days after Comey’s firing…

NEWS REPORT:

Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein talked about possibly invoking the 25th…

NARRATOR:

…raised the question of having the president removed from office.

NEWS REPORT:

…invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution…

NEWS REPORT:

Rosenstein has disputed and denied that report, calling it…

NARRATOR:

Rosenstein’s future is in jeopardy.

NEWS REPORT:

…Rod Rosenstein’s future up in the air and now there are these reports today that he might be about to be fired.

NARRATOR:

Now Trump is rallying his base ahead of the midterm elections.

NEWS REPORT:

You know he’s very effective on the campaign trail.

NARRATOR:

Once again on the attack…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

The obstruction is the Democrats are obstructionist.

We must elect more Republicans so we can get the votes that we need.

You’re voting for which party controls Congress – very important thing.

NARRATOR:

His presidency at stake…

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

…Maxine Waters, “We will impeach him. We will impeach him!” But I say, how do you impeach somebody that hasn’t done anything wrong?

CARRIE JOHNSON:

If Democrats take control of the House, they are going to be a subpoena-generating machine aimed at every federal agency and specific Trump appointees and the White House itself. And this White House is going to find itself playing permanent defense for the rest of the Trump presidency.

MATTHEW MILLER:

The stakes could be as large as whether Mueller can continue. This president may feel empowered to move finally, as we know he wants to do, to either fire Bob Mueller or fire Jeff Sessions or fire Rod Rosenstein or find some way to shut this investigation down.

JACK GOLDSMITH:

Mueller is not going to remove the president of the United States from office. He doesn't have that power and I'm sure he doesn't have that ambition. The way that the president can be removed, if that's the goal, is through an impeachment and conviction by the Senate or through elections. And both of those involve heavy doses of the involvement of the American people, either through their representatives in Congress or through elections. And that's why, at the end of the day, it’s the American people who are going to decide Trump's fate. And that's why so much is at stake in the 2018 and especially the 2020 elections.

32m
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