Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski and panelists John Heilemann, Willie Geist, and David Ignatius to discuss former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony at yesterday’s Intelligence Committee hearing.
A transcript of the interview follows:
June 9, 2017
SCARBOROUGH: With us now, a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
BRZEZINSKI: Great State of Maine. I love Mainers.
COLLINS: You have good taste.
BRZEZINSKI: I know. They don't hold back.
COLLINS: That’s true.
SCARBOROUGH: Every question now is an easy question. Let’s start with John Heilemann. John?
HEILEMANN: We've been talking a little bit this morning about the attorney general and what unfolded in the hearing yesterday related to him. Former Director Comey said that they had reason to think that he had to recuse himself way back when. In closed session it's been reported by NBC News that senators learned that there was an undisclosed third meeting between Sessions and the Russians and then yesterday, after that meeting, Senator Manchin, who was just on the show, came out and said, quote, “There's one meeting we don't know about and people would like to know about it." What can you tell us about that?
COLLINS: Well, it’s in closed session, of course, I can't tell you much about it, but let me say this: the committee is going to be requesting documents and an interview with the attorney general, and there are some unanswered questions. The attorney general clearly made the right decision in recusing himself from the Russian investigation in light of the report of these meetings, and he made the right call.
HEILEMANN: Is it right, though, that there's a third meeting, that that's what you want to get more information about?
COLLINS: I truly can't answer that question because of the closed--
BRZEZINSKI: Good try, John Heilemann.
SCARBOROUGH: How fascinating, David Ignatius, that yesterday, Comey basically said: because of information I know that I can’t tell you hear, the attorney general had no choice but to recuse himself.
IGNATIUS: That was fascinating. He knew something ahead, and I think we’re learning more about what that was. I want to ask Senator Collins, one of the interesting issues that was discussed at yesterday's hearing was the question of taping in the White House. When Comey realized that there might have been tapes, suddenly his view of this and his leverage changed. I want to ask you what is your committee doing or what can be done in the government to establish whether those tapes exist and get ahold of them?
COLLINS: We need access to those tapes and the special counsel needs access to those tapes. I have doubts about whether the tapes really exist or whether that was just an attempt by the president to put some pressure on Mr. Comey or to raise some doubts about his testimony.
SCARBOROUGH: Shouldn’t the White House tell you whether they have tapes or not instead of playing games with us all and every day.
BRZEZINSKI: And pushing Republicans to shill for the White House?
COLLINS: We absolutely have a right to know whether there are tapes. This reminds me of the taping system, of course, it reminds all of us that Richard Nixon had and remember that issue went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the president was ordered to turn over the tapes. That precedent has already been established, and we do need to know whether the tapes exists and we do need access to them. But I also can’t imagine that Special Counsel Mueller is not going to want to have access to those tapes if they exist.
GEIST: Senator, the president tweeted this morning that James Comey is a leaker. He said, “Wow, James Comey is a leaker.” And he’s talking about the testimony that Director Comey gave under your questioning where he said, “I gave this document to a Columbia professor who gave it the New York Times.” At the time he passed that document on, former Director Comey was a private citizen and it was an unclassified document. Is that, as you understand it, a leak per se?
COLLINS: I consider that document to be a government work product. After all, it was produced on an FBI computer. It was immediately after his various meetings with the president; he memorialized each of them in a memo, which tells you something about their interactions and how uncomfortable Mr. Comey was. So, I do view it as a government document. When I asked him that question, I did so out of curiosity because there had been so many reports in the press about these memos, and I thought, how did they get there? So I asked him, frankly never dreaming that he would say that I gave it to a Columbia professor with expressed direction for him to get it out in the press in the hopes that it would prompt the appointment of a special counsel, which it did.
GEIST: Does it concern you that he passed that document on?
COLLINS: I must say that it does. James Comey I believe to be an honorable individual and a person of integrity. He has always railed against leaks—he did yesterday—and so for him to turn out to have leaked a document --
BRZEZINSKI: Was it a leak?
COLLINS: I view it that way regardless of his motivation. I think his motivation may have been a good one.
BRZEZINSKI: How could you call it a leak?
SCARBOROUGH: It was not a classified document, right?
COLLINS: It was not a classified document to the best of my knowledge. But if it is a government work product, it belongs to the FBI and not to him as a private citizen. I think a better way would have been to give it to our committee, or to the special counsel, once a special counsel was appointed. But give it to our committee.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you find him to be a honest and trustworthy man? Did you believe his testimony yesterday?
COLLINS: I do. I found him to be credible, candid, and thorough. Doesn’t mean that every memory he had was exactly right or there aren’t different interpretations, but he testified under oath.
BRZEZINSKI: So, I hate to ask you this, but the follow up then would be do you find the president to be an honest and trustworthy man?
COLLINS: Well, I put more credence in testimonies that is given under oath, and that is what we got yesterday form Mr. Comey. Now, I think Mr. Comey has made some mistakes. I think he made some mistakes in the handling of the Hillary Clinton case. And I think that he should have told the president when the president made the truly outrageous and unacceptable request that he drop the—or let go the—Michael Flynn investigation. He should have said, “Mr. President, I can’t do that, and you shouldn’t be asking me to do that.”
BRZEZINSKI: All right. I will take that as an answer.
SCARBOROUGH: Susan Collins, Senator Susan Collins, thank you very much for being with us. We really appreciate it. Isn’t it remarkable when you ask a question and you got an answer from James Comey?