In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Kellyanne Conway discusses President Donald Trump firing of FBI Director James Comey. Conway said the president's decision "is not a coverup" and "had nothing to do with Russia."
Conway suggests that people read Justice Department Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein's memo outlining the reasons to ask for Comey's departure, and said Trump was following his recommendation. Rosenstein was confirmed by the Senate about two weeks ago 94-6.
Transcript, via CNN:
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Actually, joining us right now is White House counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway.
Kellyanne, you know, to those who say why now, why fire James Comey now, what do you say?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would point them to the three letters that were 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 traditionally reports to the deputy attorney general.
Rod Rosenstein was confirmed just 14 days ago by a vote of 94-6 by our United States senators. He’s well-respected across both sides of the aisle. He served as U.S. attorney in Maryland under President Obama. And he sent out a memo today to the attorney general and the main (ph) line, Anderson, says, quote, restoring public confidence in the FBI.
COOPER: Right. But a lot of the -- most of this letter focuses on Hillary Clinton's e-mails. This is stuff that as a candidate Donald Trump praised James Comey for. James Comey -- Donald Trump talked about this on the campaign all the time.
All of a sudden, the White House is concerned about James Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mail?
CONWAY: No. It's not all of a sudden. But there are many things covered in this letter. It goes to the fact that there's a lack of morale. People are --
COOPER: Well, I mean, the first thing is about the -- I mean, that main big paragraph is --
CONWAY: The first thing is all about the quote FBI's reputation and credibility is right in the first paragraph, if you’re reading the same letter.
COOPER: The director was wrong to usurp the attorney -- third paragraph --
CONWAY: That is true.
COOPER: To usurp the attorney general’s authority on July 5th. I mean, why now are you concerned about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation when as a candidate Donald Trump was praising it from the campaign trail?
CONWAY: I think you're looking at the wrong set of facts here. In other words, you're going back to the campaign. This man is the president of the United States. He acted decisively today. He took the recommendation of his deputy attorney general who oversees the FBI director.
COOPER: That makes no sense.
CONWAY: It does make sense, Anderson.
COOPER: He said one thing as a candidate and now he’s now concerned as president?
KELLYANNE CONWAY: That's a new talking point it makes complete sense because he has lost confidence in the FBI director and he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to whom the FBI director reports to. The deputy attorney general has been on the job two short weeks. He went in there.
He assessed the situation -- and I would quote for you. He says it almost everyone agrees that the director, meaning Mr. Comey, made serious mistakes. It’s one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspective.
This is a man trying to, quote, restore public confidence in the FBI. And I would -- I would really ask everyone tonight instead of conjecture -- all the conjecture to read Mr. Rosenstein's memo. This is what he presented to the attorney general and presented to the president --
ANDERSON COOPER, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Right. It's actually his memo that people had been pointing to as saying that this is just bogus and ridiculous. I mean, Chairman Burr has said it raises serious concerns, a Republican head of the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, is concerned about the timing of all of this.
CONWAY: So the same senators that just voted to confirm this man whose integrity is not in doubt, 92-6, two short weeks ago, we’re supposed to believe I think the derogatory descriptions you just made of him? That's not fair. It was Senator Schumer who said about Mr. Rosenstein on the Senate floor on April 24th, and I quote --
COOPER: Senator Schumer has said this raises concerns. He’s saying essentially this is a cover-up today.
CONWAY: Well, he's wrong. It’s not a cover-up. In fact, the president makes clear in the letter the fact Mr. Comey assured the president that he is not under investigation.
COOPER: When did he say that? On what occasions did he do that?
CONWEY: In the letter, the president says -- the president says -- that's between the president of the United States and Director Comey and telling him on three occasions, he assured him he is not under investigation, Anderson. But at the same time, he is taking the recommendation of his deputy attorney general and the attorney general of the United States that it is time for fresh leadership and to restore integrity at the FBI.
This is what leaders do. They take decisive action based on the information they’re provided. That's what President Trump did today.
COOPER: You don't think it looks odd at all that the president of the United States is firing the guy who's leading the investigation into the president's White House and the people around the president?
CONWAY: Well, let me repeat that the president has been told by the FBI director that he is not under investigation.
COOPER: But there is an --
CONWAY: It's right in the president's letter.
COOPER: Well, the president's letter is -- I mean, yes. The president gratuitously in his letter says, while I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I’m not under investigation, he then goes on to say that he agrees with the decision to fire, to let go Comey.
But -- I mean, clearly, this White House is under investigation. The people around the president, the people around the president are under investigation. You would agree with that, yes?
CONWAY: No, I don't. I know that you -- that some are obsessed with --
COOPER: You don't believe -- James Comey said there's an ongoing investigation.
CONWAY: The president is not under investigation. I’m around the president. I’m not under investigation. I can name many people in that same situation. But I know everybody wants to say --
COOPER: You're saying there is no investigation by the FBI that’s ongoing right now into the people around the president of the United States?
CONWAY: I’m saying that -- well, I don't know that. But I’m saying that to the extent that any of that is true, the president himself is -- excuse me, is not the subject of an investigation and most importantly, are you talking about the folks who were involved in the campaign?
CONWAY: OK. Well, you said the people around the president. Are you talking about people who were on --
COOPER: Some of them may still be around the president. Some of them -- I don’t know exactly who is being investigated. There's an ongoing investigation by the FBI.
CONWAY: -- not investigation of Donald Trump. But again, you want it to be about Russia and this is about, quote, restoring confidence and integrity at the FBI.
COOPER: You want it to allegedly be about restoring confidence in the FBI. But I’m not sure --
CONWAY: No. I’m just reading the deputy attorney general --
COOPER: As many people, this doesn’t restore confidence in the FBI. In fact, a lot of people are raising questions about saying it destroys people's confidence in the FBI about whoever the president may appoint is now going to be in charge of an investigation into people who have been close to the president during the campaign, any potential collusion with Russia.
CONWAY: And today's actions had zero to do with that. And today’s actions have everything to do with what Mr. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who oversees the FBI director and he’s been on the job for two weeks, but he’s been in government for decades and most recently served for President Obama as the U.S. attorney in Maryland.
Anderson, if everybody would read his letter rather than just trying to squeeze it into a sound bite or wonder what he meant --
COOPER: We’re not trying to squeeze it into sound bite. We got two hours. I can read the whole letter over the course of the air tonight.
CONWAY: Well, let’s do that. I would love to read the letter.
COOPER: But --
CONWAY: I’m sure the president would for us to read the letter out loud. Would like me to start?
COOPER: But what I don’t understand --
CONWAY: Do you want to take a passage each?
COOPER: -- in this kind of a letter , why not ask for a special prosecutor at this point? Is that --
CONWAY: This letter is about restoring public confidence at the FBI.
COOPER: Right. But in order to restore public confidence, there's a lot of -- I just talked to Adam Schiff, who’s, you know, the leading Democrat on the House Committee.
CONWAY: Yes, right.
COOPER: Who said we have to have a special prosecutor. John McCain ahs talked about the need for a special prosecutor.
CONWAY: What does it have to do with the letter? You are asking me the core question of why --
COOPER: You're talking about restoring confidence, there’s a lot of people on Capitol Hill who say in order to restore confidence, we need a special prosecutor.
CONWAY: OK. The FBI -- the FBI director reports to the deputy attorney general. The deputy attorney general reports to the attorney general and the attorney general reports to the president of the United States.
This had nothing to do with Russia as much as somebody must be getting $50 every time the word is said I’m convinced on TV. This has nothing to with Russia. It’s everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the president's confidence and can faithfully and capably execute his duties.
The deputy attorney general decided that was not the case. He wrote a very long memorandum about it. He presented it to the attorney general.
The attorney general presented it to the president. The president took the recommendations as he says in his brief, a very powerful letter today. He took their recommendations and he agreed that the only way to restore confidence and trust -- public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission, that of the FBI, was to have a new director.
COOPER: Kellyanne Conway, appreciate your time tonight as always.