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Arming the Military; Sessions Undisclosed Conversations with Russian Official. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] JOHN MCCAIN, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I would argue if we have conclusive evidence that the North Koreans are about to or have achieved the ability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that would hit the -- with the nuclear weapon on it -- that would hit the United States of America, given the ruler of North Korea and that regime, you would have to seriously consider preventive strike.

But before that, I believe that we should have THUD, these are air missile defense systems in South Korea and I think we should move through that expeditiously.

Look, we could spend half an hour on it. But right now there's a lot of political turmoil now in South Korea as you also know and that also contributes to the challenge.

But this, my friends, is of immediate danger and we're going to have to use our best capabilities and senses in order to prevent what could be a catastrophic event because they do not think like us.

Finally, China is the only country in the world that has a significant influence on North Korea. We should expect the Chinese to break the activities of the real-time ruler in Pyongyang.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Senator Graham?

LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I would tell the Chinese to tell the North Koreans, if you go toward developing a missile that can hit America, you're going to regret it and we're going to stop you. And let me tell you why.

Do you know anything about North Korea? This guy is nuts. He just killed half-brother. Shot uncle with an antiaircraft gun. He's got of plenty of family issues. His grandfather claims to have beaten the Japanese singlehandedly born inside of a volcano. His father claimed that shot 38 under in his first round a gap with 11 holes in 1, that's where they lost me as a regime.

So here's what I think. I think we would be nuts to allow a crazy man the ability to develop a missile to deliver a bomb he already has to our homeland. I don't want conflict any more than you do, but the best way to avoid conflict is intervene before it's too late. If you're so afraid of conflict, you're going have it. So, the

ayatollah is a religious Nazi, what should we do about the Iranian missile nuclear program. I got a -- here's a bet. Here's a promise.

Anybody that has a missile that writes on the side of it death to Israel, I don't want them to have it. We live in crazy times. President Trump has got North Korea right. What I would do if I were him I would tell the Chinese if you tell this guy to stop this missile program, that's provocative act against our country and he will regret it and mean it when you say it.

MCCAIN: And then there will be repercussions with China because of failure to act to break.


BASH: Senators, I have another question from Noah, he's student at G.W., he asked to not use his last name because he has a family member in the military. He has a question about ISIS.

NOAH: Thank you. Senator Graham, are the attempts to defeat ISIS, obviously not succeed thus far. And some have suggested that we will never defeat ISIS unless we commit troops to the war-torn regions.

As a military kid this idea brings back memories and -- that were less than pleasant and just fears for the safety of members who are in the military. So my question is are boots on the ground necessary to defeat ISIS? And if so, how do we complete our objectives while keeping our troops safe?

GRAHAM: Great question. Absolutely. They're necessary. We have 5200 in Iraq today. John McCain and Lindsey Graham said three years ago on CNN, apparently nobody was listening, that you need 10,000 U.S. forces to help the Iraqis to destroy ISIL. Not 100,000. You need about the same amount, maybe less now to take Raqqah back from ISIL inside Syria.

Has anyone ever told you what winning looks like in the war on terror? We knew what winning look like in World War II, we took Berlin and we took Tokyo.

So, what I want to tell you. If you're in the military, I cannot promise you that will not be redeployed. We need more troops in Afghanistan, not less. Because if lose there, we're all going to pay a heavy price because that's where started.

About the enemy, you may be tired of fighting them they're not of fighting you. In September 10, 2001, we didn't have one soldier in Afghanistan, we didn't have an embassy, not one dime of aid and we got attacked anyway. Why? Because radical Islam is compelled by God in their own work way to kill everybody in this room.

[22:04:58] So, if I can think of a way to not send soldiers over there, I would. But I'd choose to fight the war in their backyard and not ours. I'd choose to have partners so that's why it's so important when we speak of the war there's not a war against Islam, there's a war against nut jobs.

So, the bottom line is, sir, your family members may have to go back. Because I can tell you the only reason 3,000 of us died on 9/11 and not three million, they couldn't get the weapons to kill three millions of them and the best way to be safe here is to have an insurance policy over there.

BASH: Senator McCain, I just want to ask you briefly about the CNN reporting today. We're learning that the pentagon is considering changes in how counterterrorism missions are approved. That military commanders could green light the missions without President Trump's approval. You're the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, briefly, are you OK with this?

MCCAIN: I'm not only OK with it, I think if we trust these individuals with command then we should trust their judgment, particularly in quickly evolving situations.

I had a lot of criticisms of the Obama conduct for the last eight years, particularly the micromanagement of military and its operations. And you have to -- if you give these people positions of responsibility, then you hold them responsibility -- responsible.

But I really believe, Dana, that we have to have more latitude in the field if we're going to succeed. And honestly, when Afghanistan after all these years is a quote, "stalemate" according to our military commander there and when we still don't have a really good strategy in Raqqah, we got to give our military leadership latitude to act what's in their best judgment.

BASH: Senator, thank you. I want to bring in retired Colonel Gregory Gadson over here. He served in the army for 25 years and his service included every major conflict including Kuwait, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. And it was in Iraq where he lost both of his legs above the knee and normal use of his right arm during in IED attack. Colonel.

GREGORY GADSON, RETIRED U.S. ARMY: Good evening. And thank you, Senators, for the opportunity to ask these questions. I want to thank you also for your service.

Given the past 15-plus years of war, how do we assure the military has the resources to institutionalize the lessons that we've learned? Particularly with wounded service members and their families?

MCCAIN: Well, sir, thank you for your service, you are what America is all about, and I cannot tell you the admiration and appreciation that your fellow citizens have for you. You've made us and kept us safe, and we thank you.


It was micromanagement from the National Security Council staff, most of whom had never heard a shot fired in anger. And that was one of the reasons why we have a stalemate today in Afghanistan. We have to give the military what they need. Also, the military has been cut by some 21 percent in the last six years. My, friends, there's planes that aren't flying, there are ships that

aren't sailing and there's guns not that aren't shooting because we have shorted the military and we've got to give them what they need.

And second of all, I think you would share my views. Of this leadership we have now the military and our national security apparatus are those who were tested as you have been and as you were. And they really have the experience and the knowledge and the background that we can have great confidence in their leadership.

And thank you again.

GRAHAM: And to the veterans, every veteran out there who's seeking health care should have two sources. The V.A. system and if they don't like it, go to local doctor and hospital and the rest us will pay for it.

Competition is the best thing that could happen to you. If a veteran is not well served by the V.A. and there are lot of great people in the V.A. you should have a card to go anywhere you want to go and get the services available in your local community. And the rest of us who have been sitting on the sidelines we're going to pay for it and we shouldn't complain about it because they deserve it.

Now about the military, we're headed to the smallest army since 1940, does that make a lot of sense to you? We're going to have 278 ships in the navy, the smallest since 1915. How do you pivot to Asia with the navy that small? The bottom line is I applaud President Trump for understanding the needs to rebuild the military.

Here's what I would suggest. Six hundred and three billion is not going to cut it. John McCain has a plan for 640 billion. You need to talk to John. But I want to end with this thought, as hawkish as I'm and not hawkish, and I'm just realistic. We're dealing with crazy people and better get it right.

[22:09:55] You'll never going to win the war through military force. If you take Mosul tomorrow and Raqqah tomorrow from ISIL, if you don't have a plan for the day after, it's going to fall apart again. If you don't have a governance plan a way to deliver services to people, the terrorists are offering a glorious death. You know, what we got to offer a hopeful life.

And this is the hardest part about being a politician in war. People get tired. The bottom line is we got to stick with it on the military side but the foreign assistance, the State Department, the soft power is the key to winning the war. President Trump, do not destroy soft power because we cannot win through military force again.

BASH: Senators, you began to do this, but we also want to formally recognize Colonel Gadson. And also there is another member of our audience here, a Medal of Honor recipient, Kyle Carpenter.


(APPLAUSE) BASH: Kyle Carpenter is right here.


BASH: We thank him for their service. Kyle is awarded the Medal of Honor for rushing toward a hand grenade launched at him and his fellow marines in 2010. He spent two and a half years in the hospital in rehabilitation. And President Obama honored him with the medal in 2014.

MCCAIN: Well, I would like to say thank you. And you are a role model and our inspiration. I would also would point out and I'm one of the few aviators you will know that whose number of landings don't match the number of takeoffs. So, I'm very happy to see you.

BASH: Senator...


GRAHAM: Can I just say one there?

BASH: Sure.

GRAHAM: I was military lawyer prior to my service. The only people who wanted to kill me were my clients. I'm just so honored to be in room with three people like this. Thanks.


BASH: Before we go, I have to ask you. Harry Truman famously said "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." But you two found each other.

GRAHAM: His dog ran away.

BASH: His dog. So many people leading up to this town hall asked me how did they become so close and more importantly, what is it about this friendship between the two of you.

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's common interests, common ideals, common goals for our country. We mentioned my war experience. This guy for 23 years spent every time on active duty in Afghanistan or Iraq.

BASH: And is that how you got to know each other?


MCCAIN: And we really got to know each other when he -- when there was impeachment and Lindsey was one of the stars of the impeachment. He was presenting the case for the House of Representatives that the Senate should do the -- should decide whether they're guilty or not guilty.

And he was reciting a passage where there were numerous phone calls made from the White House at 2 a.m. to try to get a hold of Monica Lewinski because the word was out that maybe she was going to go public the next day.

And Congressman Graham with the most solemn occasions said, you know where I come from, any man calling a woman at 2 a.m. was up to no good. I knew right that Lindsey Graham was the guy I want to spend time with.

Because -- because he's entertaining, he's dedicated. And by the way, his beginnings were rather humble as many of you may not know. Including the fact that he raised his sister after his parents died. It's quite a -- it's quite a great American success story. So it's common interest, common values.

BASH: And sense of humor?

MCCAIN: Sense of humor. And I just wish our beloved friend Joe Liebermann were here, they would called us the -- Petraues called us the three amigos. Another wonderful person that we've enjoyed the pleasure of his company for 20 some years.

GRAHAM: Awesome.

BASH: Senator Graham, what do we not know about John McCain?

GRAHAM: That you can say on TV?

BASH: Yes. We're cable. Say anything.

GRAHAM: You know, I think what you see is what you get. There's not the private side of John McCain that is much different. He's cantankerous and can be a complete jerk to his closest friends and hug you dearly next.

Here's what started all this. John asked me to support him for president. You know why I did? Because he asked. No one ever asked me before. So over that, between then and now I've been all over the world with him and the worst -- let me tell you, if he reads in the paper of 5,000 people slaughtered, he said we got to go there.

I said why don't we have to go there? But John to me, has one quality that is really special. He will fight for his friends.

In 2014, I had six primary opponent from mildly disturbed to completely crazy. John came down and stood by me because I dare worked with people on the other side to solve an immigration problem.

[22:14:58] I'm a good conservative I think but I don't mind working with the other side. John was going to be up for election and I wasn't the most popular person on talk radio. He stood with me and followed me around everywhere I went.

When I ran for president, most of you missed it, John was with me. The bottom line is folks, that the people he served within jail will tell you the same thing -- in prison -- that I will tell you. He is loyal to his friends. He loves his country and if he has to stand up to his party for this country, so be it. He will die for this country. I love him to death. (APPLAUSE)

BASH: That's a very nice note to end on.

MCCAIN: Can I just...


BASH: Do you want to say one more thing?

MCCAIN: Yes. I just wanted to say that we've talked about some very tough issues tonight. And I still believe in America. I still believe we're the greatest nation on earth. I still believe that we have the best military and by far we're still a shining city on a hill as Ronald Reagan called us.

And if there's one thing I would urge all of our friends on both sides of the aisle, to look at Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, look at a time when republicans and democrats sat down together for the good of the nation.

It's not an accident that we have low approval ratings, the American people want us to get things done for them and we need to do it in a bipartisan fashion. And that's what we're dedicated to trying to do.

BASH: That's a very nice place to end.


Senators, thank you so much. We wanted to thank Senators McCain and Graham for being here, our partners, my alma mater, the George Washington University and our audience, those asking questions and sharing the stories and also those watching around the world.

Don Lemon picks up right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Wow, Dana. Thank you very much. What a moment to end on. A very poignant moment between those two gentlemen.

We're going to begin, though, this broadcast with some breaking news. The news broke during our town hall with two of the most powerful republicans in the Senate. It involves new reporting tonight about contacts between a top Trump administration official and the Russians.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for watching.

And that's where we are going to begin. The Washington Post now reporting tonight that Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was still a senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with the Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings.

On the phone with me now is Greg Miller. Greg is a national security correspondent for the Washington Post. Greg, thank you for joining us. Again, I just want to tell our viewers, a reporting tonight, you're reporting tonight that Senator Jeff Sessions spoke with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential campaign, contacts he did not disclose during his confirmation hearings. What are officials telling you?

GREG MILLER, WASHINGTON POST CORRESPONDENT: don, it wasn't just during the campaign but as recent as September which is really at the height of the alarm in Washington about the Russian hack of the U.S. election.

So it's in the middle of all that that Sessions has a private meeting with the Russian ambassador in his Senate office. And just two or three months later is asked, you know, during his confirmation hearing, did you have any contacts or any communications with Russians during the campaign and he can't remember that meeting just several months earlier.

LEMON: Yes, I have the sound bite of it. Let's listen to it, Greg.


AL FRANKEN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: If there is any evidence that any one affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities, I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have and I have communications with the Russians and I'm unable to comment on it.


LEMON: So Greg, that was, he was asked about that during his confirmation hearings. And that was the exchange with Senator Al Franken. He flat-out says he did not have communications with the Russians. You're saying that's not true?

MILLER: That's not true. And he also there was even aside from his spoken words during that hearing, he had to answer questions in writing, including one from Senator Leahy where he was asked sort of categorically, did you have contacts with Russians during the campaign, he answers just a single word, no.

I mean, whether -- you know, how to characterize what he's saying and the extent to which it is at odds with our understanding of his meeting, his spokesperson is arguing that he was -- he was meeting with this Russian ambassador in capacity as a senator.

[22:20:05] And therefore, in his answer during the confirmation hearing was not being misleading. I think that's going to be a difficult point of view to sell.

LEMON: Yes. But I think he was asked generally if he had any contact with Russians, you know, during the entire event. But let's put this up. This is what the spokesperson is saying.

He said, "There is absolutely nothing misleading about his answer last year. The senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services committee, he was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign not about meetings he took as a senior -- as a senator -- excuse me, as a member of the Armed Services Committee.

So, is that a distinction to you without a difference or is this a valid explanation for not disclosing that during his confirmation?

MILLER: I mean, I think he's trying to imply there that this is routine. I would just point out that in our story that we tried to assess that by contacting every member of the Senate Armed Services Committee that we could.

And it's true that senators do routinely meet with ambassadors. We reached out to all 26 members and heard back from 19 of them, and as last count, Sessions is the only one to have met with the Russian ambassador.

I mean, you're talking about a meeting that happened in the middle of an unprecedented attack by the Russian government, an alleged attack but its intelligence services on the United States election, on the 2016 presidential race. The decision to meet with the ambassador in that moment and then failed to remember that several months later is really problematic.

LEMON: OK. But let's go through this a little bit more. Because officials tell you, Greg, that Sessions did not consider those conversations relevant to the lawmakers' questions. What else did they say about it?

MILLER: Well, initially they said he didn't recall that meeting when he was asked about it at the confirmation hearing, which is hard to imagine given how Russia was on the top of the headlines every day in the fall that he didn't anticipate a question about Russia and its ties to the Trump campaign.

I think that -- I mean to his credit, his own spokespeople are acknowledging these meetings, not arguing they didn't happen or making or refusing to answer questions about them. But they're just trying to navigate a pretty narrow line here by saying, look, he met with them as senator, not as a Trump campaign person, when Sessions had been one of the first Senators to sign up with the Trump campaign. Had been adviser to the Trump campaign for months and months and months by that point.

And for that very reason, I mean, that was probably one of the key reasons that the Russian ambassador was seeking to meet with him.

LEMON: Greg, I want to ask you this, because I just read a line because I ask you this question. This is from your report. It says, "In the case of the September meeting, it says, one department official who came to the defense of the attorney general said there's just not strong recollection of what was said."

That sounds almost to me, and correct me if I'm wrong, like the Flynn, what Flynn said about I just don't recall the conversations. Or if we, you know, talked about sanctions or not, I just don't recall. Does that sound similar to you to his defense?

MILLER: There is a bit of an echo there. And you're right to note this is just the same individual, Sergy Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador who had been in communication with trump's national security adviser who was fired just last month.

So, this is a, again, a senior official in the Trump administration having contact with this Russian ambassador and having a terrible time recalling what took place in that conversation.

LEMON: OK. And so again, I'm going to read a little bit more. So, "The Washington Post contacted all 26 members of the 2016 Senate Armed Services Committee to see if any lawmakers besides Sessions met with Kislyak in 2016. Of the 19 lawmakers who responded every senator, including Chairman John McCain said they did not meet with the Russian ambassador last year. The other lawmakers in the panel did not respond as of Wednesday evening."

So, as far as you know no one else had any conversation with anyone from Russia at this point besides Jeff Sessions.

MILLER: That's correct. And from several of these members we were told that the reason was exactly what I was pointing to a few minutes ago, that just the optics of it would have been terrible. Because of what was happening, the Russian hacking, the information operations campaign to upend the election, I think these senators were deeply reluctant to engage with anybody from the Russian embassy.

LEMON: Greg Miller, from the Washington Post. Greg, thank you for coming on. I appreciate it.

CNN's Evan Perez has more details on the meetings between Jeff Sessions and the Russia's ambassador to the U.S. And he joins us now by phone?

[22:25:02] I understand you have some information on this, Evan. What exactly can you tell us -- about these two meetings between Senator Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, in addition to the September meeting, there was also one on the sidelines of the Russian -- of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. There was an event held by the Heritage Foundation, and apparently, according to the Justice Department, there are about 50 or so ambassadors who were there and one of the people on the sidelines of it and who met with the now attorney general Jeff Sessions was Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador.

Now the context of all of this, and obviously The Washington Post, my friends Adam Entous and Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima did a great job on the story. But the context here is that Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador is considered by U.S. intelligence to be essentially their top spy in Washington.

And not only their top spy but their top spy recruiter. This is the reason why when Mike Flynn was in routine, and it seemingly routine contact with him and then lied about it and misled the vice president about meeting with Kislyak, that's one reason why the intelligence agencies and the FBI were very concerned.

Because they felt that, you know, if you're going to meet with the guy and not recall or mislead when you are asked about it, then that raises some questions. Again, this is, he is considered to be the top spy recruiter for the Russians in Washington. And that's one reason why that is raising concerns.

LEMON: OK. Here's -- Evan, why was Kislyak, why was the top Russian spy at the convention to begin with?

PEREZ: Well, you know, Don, I was at the convention and I ran into a lot of ambassador. And they'd be both close the democrats and the republicans invite as a courtesy, ambassadors from all these countries.

Obviously you know, you've have friendly countries like Britain and the Czech Republic and France who show up, and they're there, it sort of celebration of American democracy and so on. So they do invite ambassadors. It's not -- it's not considered to be unusual but the Russians they're there for a different reason.

They're there because they're trying to gather information, they're there because they're trying to spy on the American electoral process. And as Greg just aptly pointed out, in middle of all of this, they're also carrying out a very frankly, audacious operation to try to disrupt and influence the U.S. election, which succeeded beyond their wildest dreams obviously. So they had a lot more impact than they ever realized.

LEMON: OK. So, let me, so the spokesperson is saying here. And we have the quote up early. And the spokesperson is saying that he met in this as a member of the -- as a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

That was the context in what they say met. And that is the -- but the question is how can you say that was in that capacity if he's meeting with him on the sidelines at the convention?

PEREZ: Right. And here is the problem for the attorney general, is that, you know, he was senator as you know. And as you know, Don, from talking to senators, a lot of times they answer questions a lot more -- a lot more openly than lawyers and attorney generals tend to answer.

And it looks, when Al Franken, the senator asked that question, you would think that he would just simply, you know, I can't comment on anything that's coming up. But he decided to kid of freelance and answer a question, saying, you know, I was a surrogate and don't know of any contact between the people who are surrogates and the Russian ambassador.


LEMON: Because he wasn't directly asked that by Senator Franken. He -- that last part was of his own accord. He said I didn't do it, right.

MILLER: Exactly. He's freelance -- yes, exactly. He offered up this more additional information that Al Franken didn't even ask him. So that's going to be the issue. And obviously as you -- as you have pointed out, there's a lot of push from the democrats and even from a couple of republicans at least one republican, Darrell Issa, for perhaps, the consideration of a special prosecutor.

There's going to be an increase, I think already in my inbox, my e- mail inbox I'm seeing statements from members of Congress saying that Jeff Sessions needs to recuse himself from any matters...


LEMON: There's one from Adam Schiff.

PEREZ: ... with this ongoing investigation.

LEMON: There's one from the ranking democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, it's from Adam Schiff tonight. He said, "The Attorney General Jeff Sessions should recuse himself if he didn't reveal two conversations with the Russian ambassador last year during his confirmation hearings." So, again, and I'm going to ask you...


[22:29:55] PEREZ: I suspect -- I suspect by the end of your show we're going to get a ton more of those. And by tomorrow morning we're going to see, you know, a lot of the -- a lot more of that because what this does presents for the attorney general is a problem that he probably had not anticipated there was going to be a problem.

This is an ongoing investigation by the FBI, it was a serious investigation, and now there is going to be some questions as to whether or not he can reasonably oversee that as attorney general. And I think -- I think you're going to see more and more including republicans are going to have some trouble explaining why that shouldn't -- why that shouldn't take place.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: OK. Evan, stand by, Evan. I'm sure we'll have to get back to you.

But I want to bring in now my panel. Let's bring in political commentator, Margaret Hoover, a republican consultant, senior political analyst Mark Preston, chief political correspondent Dana Bash who hosted tonight's town hall.

Thank you all for joining us. And by the way, Dana, dell done, first of all. But...


DANA BASH, CNN'S CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, my friend. Happy birthday.

LEMON: Thank you very much. I really appreciate that. So, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham tonight they both talked

to you. Frequent critics, by the way, of President Trump particularly on Russia. You asked about him about this Washington Post reporting about Senator Jeff Sessions that he spoke twice, and I just to tell our viewers, spoke twice with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. and did not disclose that during the confirmation hearing. I want to play part of Graham's response and then we'll talk, Dana. Here it is.


LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: If there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me, that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend cannot make this decision about Trump.

So they may be not -- they may be nothing there but if there is something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature then for sure you need a special prosecutor. If that day comes, I'll be the first one to say it needs to be somebody other than Jeff.


LEMON: So, Dana, what happened? How does this play out.

BASH: Well, as you just heard him talk about, there's still a big if. As far as we know, the Justice Department have -- they haven't gotten far enough to know that they can -- that they have the there-there that to take it to the level that Senator Graham was talking about.

But that's one issue. The other issue is why didn't Jeff Sessions talk about this, disclose this during his confirmation hearing. You heard Senator Graham who is on the judiciary committee that oversees, and with the first sort of line to approve Jeff Sessions at the confirmation hearings.

He didn't want go there. Understandably because the story was just breaking as we were on the air. I didn't know enough about it.


BASH: But there's no question that it is -- it is open. I mean, if you kind of think about if the roles were reversed, if Jeff Sessions were still either the chairman of the judiciary committee which he was or the ranking republican...


LEMON: What would he say?

BASH: ... on the judiciary committee, which he was, what would he say about it.

LEMON: Yes, exactly. And that's fair because they didn't -- the information was just coming out. So you can't expect them to know about it as you were.

BASH: Exactly.

LEMON: But Dana, my question is, is this going to be, because you know, republicans on the Hill have been saying, well, I've heard that there's no there-there. And so it should not be investigated. But is this now increase those calls those cries for an independent, a special prosecutor?

BASH: Sure. And Senator Graham said that he -- effectively he didn't use his name but effectively agrees with Darrell Issa about the need for special prosecutor if they come to the point inside the Justice Department, the FBI, that there is a there-there.

But I think separate from that, Don, there is no question that Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain made abundantly clear today, that the investigation they are going to make sure that the investigations on Capitol Hill, particularly within the intelligence committee, are robust.

The House, you know, is sort of its own beast but in the Senate, the intelligence committee is stacked in such a way that you have republicans -- Senator McCain is what's called an ex-officio member. So he can go on with the committee and be a part of the investigation, maybe even voted if he's like to.

But there are other sitting members, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Marco Rubio and others, these are republicans in the majority, you know, party making sure they say that this is going to be robust and be real.

And when I say this, it is looking into not just what Russia did to try to meddle in U.S. elections, but also whether or not there were any contacts or more importantly, collusion between anybody in the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

LEMON: OK. Dana, stand by. I want to bring in Margaret and Mark. But first before I bring you guys in, I want to play, this is what Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Senator Al Franken during his confirmation hearings, this was back in January. Listen to this.


AL FRANKEN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities.

[22:34:59] I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it.

FRANKEN: Very well. Without divulging sensitive information, do you know about this or know what compromising personal and financial information the Russians claim to have? SESSIONS: Senator Franken, allegations get made about candidates all

the time. And they've been made about President-elect Trump a lot sometimes, most of them, and virtually all of them have been proven to be exaggerated or untrue.

I would just say to you that I have no information about this matter. I have not been in on the classified briefings, and I'm not a member of the intelligence committee, so I'm not able to give you any comment at this time.


LEMON: So Margaret, you've heard that. As republican consultant -- first of all, what are your thoughts on this, is this bad?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Optically it's terrible. I mean, this is, what is so interesting, the story is just breaking so if we're going to be really generous and as republican I like Jeff Sessions and, you know, I'm glad we have a republican administration office.

It is -- it is really so strange and troubling that two senior administration officials have had now proven contacts with senior Russian officials and lied about it and hid it, right. So what's concerning to me as republican supportive of this administration is not necessarily the crime but the cover-up. Right?

Why is Jeff Sessions in his confirmation hearings not being truthful with Al Franken, especially at a time when all of the background discussion, the backdrop and the discourse against these hearings was Russian intervention in U.S. elections. So, it's not like it wouldn't just have occurred to him or he would have completely forgotten that he met with the senior -- the Russian ambassador in the United States.

And by the way, you know, to say this is because of capacity as a senator of the Armed Services Committee, surely you can say that but then why did no other member of the Armed Services Committee meet with the Russian ambassador.

LEMON: But if you're meeting with the Russian ambassador, I mean, come on, you know, we meet people all the time and I'm sure...


LEMON: But if you meet an ambassador and someone who is a spy, whether you know they're spy or not, as sensitive (Ph) of that, wouldn't you remember?

HOOVER: Well, that's not the -- I mean, it's not, look, whether he's a spy or not, Jeff Sessions...


LEMON: If you met with Russian ambassador, wouldn't you remember?

HOOVER: The senior member of this, I believe it is very typical for him to meet with many, many ambassadors and many people all the time.

LEMON: Right.

HOOVER: But certainly, you know, it's not like you're meeting with, you know, the U.K. ambassador, right?


HOOVER: We have sanctions against Russia right now, we are in escalating sort of 2.0 Cold War scenario with Russia right now, so meeting with Russia is, yes, Don, I think one would remember it.

LEMON: Mark Preston, so, Dana says, and I think the common wisdom is that the calls are going to increase for an independent investigation here, an investigative committee. So, Jeff Sessions is going to be in on all of the information. He oversees the Justice Department and the FBI. Is it going to be incumbent upon him now to recuse himself from an investigation?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: I think republicans would be smart to try to get him to recuse himself only to protect themselves. Because at some point they're going to have to step away from this and no longer be defending Jeff Sessions.

Now we don't know what was said and the meetings could have been fine and you know, it was just -- they could have been talking about anything, right. We don't know. And that's where the investigation has to go. However, as a context...

LEMON: But it could be innocent. But I mean, to Margaret's point is like if you know, if you don't, you know, why not just say that you met with him. Listen, they could have not...


LEMON: ... they could have talked about nothing. Who knows? But still to Margaret's point and to other folks, they did have those meetings. And to say you didn't meet with someone is just factually not true. But go on, Mark.

PRESTON: No, no, and in fact, I was getting to that because I actually agree with you. Contextually, the timing and the fact that it was on multiple occasions, meeting with Russian ambassador at a time when there was concern about Russia having influenced our election.

In fact, John McCain just said tonight, Don, have no doubt what the Russians tried to do to our election could have destroyed democracy. And that's a pretty heavy statement from somebody like John McCain regarding a nation that we think may have tried to influence our elections here.

So, having our attorney general right now having met with them during the campaign, optically it looks bad. But I do think that republicans at some point will have to push this off their plate and let the investigation go where it needs to go. LEMON: So what is the impact here, Dana, on what Evan's reporting

with the Washington Post just reporting of these meetings taking place in the sidelines at the republican convention? What's the impact?

[22:39:58] BASH: It's honestly at this point it looks like it has the potential to be a game changer in that it's going to be pretty hard to see how Jeff Sessions doesn't recuse himself at very least.

Special prosecutor is, you know, potentially down the road. But in the short-term, the question as we're hearing more about this is should he recuse himself? And the calls are likely to come. And it's one thing to come from democrats, but it's quite possible, even probable we're going to hear from more republicans to do it.

For the reason that Mark just said. To protect themselves, to protect the integrity of whatever investigation is going on so that at the end of the day they don't have people saying oh, no, no, it wasn't real because you have the chief law enforcement officer, the head of the Justice Department who was potentially compromised.

LEMON: Margaret, I know you want to get in but I need to report this. Representative Elijah Cummings calling on Jeff Sessions to resign at this moment. What's your response?

HOOVER: Look, it's a bit early. You would expect of Elijah Cummings. I mean, he's a partisan democrat. And I think, you know, partisan republicans often reacts very strongly when democrats do things.

Look, the problem I think, Dana is right. The issue here is about recusal first and foremost. Because you can't have the head of the Department of Justice that oversees the department that's in charge of investigating domestic espionage somehow have met with the top Russian spy twice during the campaign when we know that that government was trying to intervene in U.S. elections.

So, simply for optical reasons but then also for political and pragmatic reasons the recusal is sort of the bare minimum is necessity.

LEMON: We have to remember. Mark, that Loretta Lynch recused herself from any decisions regarding Hillary Clinton because of the meeting of Hillary Clinton and Loretta Lynch, who was attorney general at the time, on the tarmac.

PRESTON: Absolutely. But you know, Don, there's a possibility that Donald Trump may go to Jeff Sessions, President Trump may go to Jeff Sessions and say, I want you to stay where you're at, you're not going to get pushed out.

Let's not forget that one of Donald Trump's top aides was a top aide to Jeff Sessions. You know, somebody close by his side, somebody who is influencing his policies. So we may see that. So, I'm not sure we're going to see something happen in the next 24 or 48 hours, but we'll see if at some point the pressure gets so high that in fact Jeff Sessions has to.

BASH: And can I just add?


LEMON: Yes, quickly, Dana, because we're going to -- we'll come back. But do you...


BASH: Ok. Just really fast. Loretta Lynch, she did say that she wouldn't be involved in these decisions but she didn't completely remove herself from the investigation, which could be -- which could be an example of why they potentially need to do it differently this time.

LEMON: Yes. I may have misspoke, and I meant Bill Clinton on the tarmac. I'm not exactly...


BASH: No, you're right. Now, you're absolutely right.

LEMON: So, listen, thank you very much. Stand by, everyone. Again, our breaking news tonight is that there were reporting tonight that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when he was still a senator and adviser to the Trump campaign, had meetings with the Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings.

We've been hearing one of the reporters who broke. Our very own reporter now confirming it as well. We're going to continue to talk about it.

One democratic member, a high ranking democratic Congressman calling for Jeff Sessions to resign. We'll be right back.


LEMON: We're back with our breaking news. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when he was still a senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. but did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings.

Back with me now is Margaret Hoover, Mark Preston, and we're joined by national political reporter Maeve Reston who was at the Reagan Library in California where former President George W. Bush is holding an event this evening.

Thanks to all of you. And hopefully we'll have Jeffrey Toobin and maybe David Gergen join us in this segment as well.

But Mark, I have to ask you, you were in last night and we spoke to, you know, republican strategist, Ana Navarro and she said I'm going to give him credit for at least being presidential for an hour during the speech. But tomorrow I'm going to be right back with Russia, Russia, Russia. And it seems that that's where the news is going now. It is been a

good 24 hours where the Trump administration coming off last night's speech but there are new questions about Russia right now. And there is no rest anytime soon.

PRESTON: There is no rest any time soon. And what's interesting tonight to hear from Lindsey Graham and John McCain really tried their best to talk about their support for Donald Trump and how they want him to succeed but Lindsey Graham I think said it very succinctly and very simply. He said that Russia seems to be President Trump's blind spot and they want to try and help him with that.

And really what we heard from Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and I think that this thought is also, you know, tightly held by certainly democrats and probably a lot of republicans on Capitol Hill, is that Russia is very much the United States enemy at this point. That Vladimir Putin is a thug, he's a killer and that the United States has got to be very careful how to deal with him.

And it seems that it has become a blind spot for President Trump. We've only seen him in the last couple of weeks really come out and have some rough words or tough talk for Russia and Vladimir Putin, but by and large he really has kind of ignored it and has certainly ignored calls from the likes of McCain and Graham to take a tougher stance against Vladimir Putin in Russia.

LEMON: Last month, Maeve Reston, there were several news organizations reporting about the meeting with Michael Flynn, the National Security Adviser and the Russian ambassador, the White House denied it, even the vice president denied it, many others denied it, and then it turns out to be true. He had to resign.

There are people who are now calling on -- maybe a little bit early -- for Jeff Sessions to do the same thing. What's your take on this Russian news?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN'S NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's so reminiscent in a way of the issues that Hillary Clinton was dealing with her e-mails, I mean, it just needs to be this drip, drip, drip, where you have a new development resurfacing and raising questions about the credibility of the Trump administration.

[22:50:10] You know, with the Flynn situation, a lot of the attention of the media was focused on, you know, whether Flynn misled Vice President Pence, et cetera. But this is such an unusual case, where you have the American people looking at the tape of Jeff Sessions in that hearing and just not understanding the connection, and why he didn't make a connection between those two things.

LEMON: Yes. This is what a spokesperson for the attorney general put out the statement in just a short time ago, and I'll read it. "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer. Last year the senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors. As a senior member of the Armed Services Committee he asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign not about meetings he took as a senator and as a member of the Armed Services Committee."

So, Margaret Hoover, that for the first meeting, you know, that may make some sense. But the one he had or for one of the meetings, but for the one he had on the sidelines of the convention, does that -- does that hold water for that one?

HOOVER: Look, the part that's troubling about is again, this all of this was going on at a time when, you know, there are heightened concerns and reports about Russian intervention in U.S. elections.

So a, you would think that he would -- he would recognize that he ask he was there at the convention and the capacity not just as U.S. senator but as the most senior election official supporting the republican nominee for the presidency of the United States.

LEMON: As you said, it's not -- it's not -- we don't know what they talked about. They could have talked about grand kids, flowers, you know, gardening.


HOOVER: They could have been talking about their grandchildren, of course, so the issue isn't that they had the conversation, right?

LEMON: The cover up.

HOOVER: But the issue is why did he -- why did he really see it not fit to disclose those communications.

LEMON: Yes. Here's what he said during his confirmation hearings back in January.


FRANKEN: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

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 did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.


LEMON: Yes, what did you say?

HOOVER: Well, that's -- I mean, it appears to be a mistruth now based on what we know.

LEMON: Let me read it. This is from the reporting tonight. And part of an article that's in the Washington Post, again, CNN has confirmed this as well, our own reporters. But then part of their report in Washington Post is when asked to comment on Sessions contacts with Kislyak, Franken said in the statement to the Washington Post on Wednesday, "If it is true that Attorney General sessions met with the Russian ambassador in the midst of the campaign then I'm trouble that -- troubled that his response to my questioning during the confirmation hearing was at best misleading," he says.

And then Franken added, "It is now clearer than ever that the attorney general cannot in good faith oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump/Russia connection and he must recuse himself immediately." What do you think of that, Mark Preston?

PRESTON: Again, I go back to what we talked about earlier. You know, I mean, I think Senator Franken is absolutely right. And if I was a republican senator, I would say the same thing. Perhaps I would make the phone call privately so as not to try to amp up any more, you know, noise around the subject.

But again, we're talking about President Donald Trump, somebody who does not necessarily follow the normal pattern of how things happen. And he may be saying to Senator or now Attorney General Sessions, you're staying where you are.

You know, Don, just for context, the irony that Maeve is out at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library right now, we're talking about somebody -- this is hallowed ground for republicans and for conservatives. Somebody who fought against communism, somebody who was heralded as fighting against the Soviet Union and Donald Trump at this time right now is having to answer questions as the republican President in the White House. It's a very bizarre situation.

LEMON: I want to ask you, Mark before we get to Maeve. And Maeve, we're going to talk about where you are. But we've been making the comparison against the former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. And I think, you know, someone a very astute person notice who said, that Loretta Lynch did not deny meeting with Bill Clinton and wasn't under oath for confirmation at the time. How is this comparison even valid?

PRESTON: Well, it's just valid because at time when there's an investigation ongoing or, you know, we're in the middle of an investigation, to have an attorney general actually have a private conversation, it's just not very smart. And I think the word optical, you know, which was used by Margaret earlier is absolutely correct. It's not good optics.

LEMON: Yes. Maeve, this all has come out, you know, tonight due to a diligent reporting from us and from the Washington Post. But former President George W. Bush is back on the political scene now. You're at one of the events tonight at the Reagan Library. He talked about the press and President Trump tonight. Listen to this and then we'll discuss.


[22:55:04] GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press holds people to account. Power is very addictive. And it's corrosive if it becomes central to your life. And therefore there needs to be an independent group of people who hold you to account. And so I answered that question. Of course the headlines were Bush

criticized Trump. And so therefore I needed to say, there should be a free and independent press but it ought to be accurate.


I made the decision after my presidency not to criticize President Obama, and I feel the same way about President Trump. And people say why. First of all, the Office of the president is more important than the occupant. And I believe it undermines...


I believe that undermines the office of the presidency.


LEMON: It's interesting. And very straightforward. Didn't mince words there, right, Maeve. Do you think he's more poised now to be heard now that President Trump is in office, not necessarily criticizing him directly?

RESTON: Yes. I mean, this was a really event. It was a long Q&A session with the former president where Trump was really only one small piece of the conversation. But it did seem as though, President Bush was trying to walk back what was really interpreted as heavy criticism of Donald Trump earlier this week by making those points about the importance of the press and being held to account.

And tonight, he said, you know, obviously that it would have been easier had he -- had he made that other statement. But it's interesting to hear from a former president about not wanting to second guess the man who follows in his shoes, talking about how difficult that job is.

At the same time, President Bush has said a lot of things about Trump this week that really have taken issue with his policies both on immigration, you know, on the targeted travel ban, and it's -- so it's very reflective former president here tonight.

LEMON: I've got to take a break. But more on our breaking news when we come right back.