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Attorney general Jeff Sessions, when still senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but he did not disclose him during his confirmation hearings; Aired 11-12p ET

Aired March 1, 2017 - 23:00   ET



[23:00:51] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: And the breaking news is attorney general Jeff Sessions, when still senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but he did not disclose him during his confirmation hearings.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining me.

Let's go right away to CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez. And he joins us now by phone.

Evan, I have a whole lot of question for your learning tonight. What are you learning tonight about these two meetings between Senator Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Well Don, at issue are two meetings that then senator Jeff Sessions, now attorney general Jeff Sessions had with the top Russian ambassador here in Washington. Sergey Kislyak, one of them was on the sidelines of the Republican national convention in July. This is an event that was sponsored by the Heritage Foundation. And there are about 50 or so ambassadors at the event and he met with.

Second of meeting was in September in Jeff Sessions' office at the time Sessions was a member of Senate of armed services committee. And two of them had a private meeting in his office in the Senate. And the reason why this is disconcerting is because or the reason why this is an issue is because Sessions said at his confirmation hearings last month or rather in January that when he was asked whether or not -- what he would do if there were any meetings or any contacts between people who were surrogates of the Trump campaign and Russians, he said he knew of no such meetings.

Obviously, Sessions was one of the early backers of Donald Trump's candidacy. He was a surrogate often on television speaking on behalf of the then candidate Donald Trump. And he did not simply just did not remember. We talked to people at the justice department and say, he simply didn't remember having these two meetings and didn't consider it part of something that he should disclose when he was asked about it by Senator Al Franken.

Now additionally to this, Don, is the fact that the person we are talking about, the meetings he had is with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who U.S. intelligence considered to be Russia's top spy in Washington. He is not only Russian top spy but Russian top spy recruiter in Washington. And so, we are going to see a lot more questions asked about these meetings and why the senator apparently didn't remember them and did not disclose them when he was asked about it during his confirmation hearings in January.

LEMON: OK. So he is saying the meetings were in capacity in his position on the armed services committee, Evan. But they were -- one of them at least at Republican convention. Why was the ambassador even there and can he claim that this was in his capacity as senator when he is meeting at nominating convention for his party?

PEREZ: Well, that's a good question. And I think one of the things that I think people might be interested to know is that, you know, at both conventions, this Democratic and Republican conventions, you have invitations that are made to ambassadors. It's not uncommon for them. And being at these conventions is as sort of a celebration of American democracy.

Obviously, the additional context here is that we are talking about the Russian ambassador and this is at the time that - it is well known at this point, by July it is known, that the Russians are behind an operation that is not only hacking into Democratic Party organization, but is releasing damaging emails, trying to undermine U.S. democracy, trying to undermine the U.S. election and trying to meddle in those elections.

So all of that is the context that is happening. And everybody knows this publicly. We were all reporting this back in July. So it's very curious that not only at the time that he decides to have this meeting in July and doesn't think about it, but also has a subsequent meeting in September in his private office on Capitol Hill, where they have a meeting which frankly, a lot of senators, a lot of members of Congress would not have this type of meeting with Sergey Kislyak, because they know, they have been warned, they have been told by U.S. intelligence that this is a guy who is not only a spy but frankly a spy recruiter here in Washington

[23:05:19] LEMON: I want to put this up, Evan. And I'm just kidding, it is only reading it with you, just getting it. I didn't have hard copy of it. But this is what Al Franken is saying now. He said when then-senator Jeff Session testified under oath during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general, he explicitly told me that he had not been in contact with Russian officials in the course of the Presidential campaign. But according to report from the "Washington Post" he actually met with the Russian ambassador during that time period. If that's true, then I'm very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was at best misleading. It is clear that ever now that the attorney general cannot in good faith overseen investigation at the department of justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection and he must recuse himself immediately -- Evan.

PEREZ: Don, I mean, what is happening tonight, is this, I mean, I have been here in Washington for many years and I have seen the opposing party immediately go to attorney general is in trouble. He should recuse himself.

What we haven't seen before is within a month of taking office. Now, Jeff Sessions has been in office now just a couple of weeks. And now, you have not only people asking for him to recuse himself from investigation that is ongoing, but now you have people who are saying that he should resign because he misled members of the Congress. I think that is something that we haven't seen before.

Look. We talked to members - we talked to officials in the justice department. They say that Mr. Sessions simply just not -- did not remember those meetings and did not consider them to be relevant to his answer. What is strange about it is that during the interaction with Senator Franken, he wasn't really asked whether he had any interactions.

LEMON: He volunteered it.

PEREZ: What would you do? Right. He simply volunteered additional information and --

LEMON: Evan, can I ask you something? Because you were pivotal in the reporting of Flynn and his explanation -- Sessions' explanation seems very similar at least to me to the Flynn -- what Flynn said, his explanation as well. I don't recall. I don't remember what we spoke about, you know. At first initially, I think initially correct me if I'm wrong, I could be wrong here. But there was no contact. And then once there was -- it was found out that there was contact, he didn't remember exactly who he spoke to or what they spoke about. Am I correct in that?

PEREZ: That's correct. I mean, that's what Flynn first --

LEMON: Do you see the similarities of them? And then Flynn ended up having to resign.

PEREZ: Right, exactly. And again, that's one of the things that has happened here. Things advanced so quickly, that people are now asking for the resignation of attorney general that just frankly has barely taken office. He probably has not even walked all the floors in the justice department building. I mean, he doesn't even know the whole building yet. That's how new he is in office.

And I think perhaps it's a little quick to get to that. But that's obviously a lot many more questions that have been generated by this revelation. The fact that the senator -- then senator had these meetings and that the attorney general did not disclose them is a big problem. Because this is, obviously one of the biggest, one of the most important investigations that is ongoing at the FBI, which is an agency that he oversees. He is going to have to sign off on warrants and things that the FBI might seek as part of this investigation.

So it's going to be a tough thing for him to navigate, whether or not he recuses himself, which one of the things the people are asking him to do, or whether he has to do more than that, we don't know.

LEMON: All right, Evan. Thank you Evan. Don't go far because I'm sure we will be getting back to you. If get new reporting, get back to us as soon as possible.

I want to bring in now CNN's senior legal analyst Mr. Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, thank you for joining us. So I want -- before we speak, Jeffrey, I want to play the exchange at the Sessions' confirmation between - this exchange between Senator Al Franken and Senator Jeff Sessions. Listen to this.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: 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, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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: Jeffrey, did he tell the truth?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST (on the phone): No. He didn't tell the truth. I mean, that's quite clear. Now, I think as legal matter, what we need to determine or what the authorities need to determine is whether he didn't tell the truth because he made a mistake, or because he lied. And legally there's a world of difference between the two.

But you know, based on what the "Washington Post" said, and based on Evan's reporting, I mean, we know there were at least two meetings, one a group meeting with the Russian ambassador and other a meeting in Sessions' office which is unusual for a senator to meet with an ambassador in those circumstances. I mean, it's not unprecedented but it an unusual thing. And for him then to say I did not have communications with the Russians is simply false.

Now, the explanation that's being put out by the justice department is that he met with the ambassador as a member of the foreign relation relations committee, not as the leading senatorial surrogate for the Trump campaign. That's a kind of met a physical distinction that I'm not sure exists in the real world but certainly it is something that merits investigation.

I'm not here to convict or accuse Jeff Sessions of anything but any reasonable prosecutor would say these are statements that need to be investigated by an independent prosecutor.

[23:11:27] LEMON: OK. What you said there is a difference between I don't recall, I don't remember, or just flat-out lying. And one would wonder why, you know, if you are going to meet with Russian ambassador, that, I mean, you would think that he would remember it.

So here is my question. If he was under oath Jeffrey --

TOOBIN: Which he was.

LEMON: Yes. OK. So if he is under oath, what is consequence if he is found to have lied or e even misremembered to the Senate committee?

TOOBIN: Well, those two possibilities are very different. Misremembering, making a mistake, saying a -- saying something false because you honestly did not remember the truth, that is embarrassing. It is something that could subject you to being fired or -- you know, great political embarrassment that might lead you to resign.

But if you make a good faith mistake and make a false statement, that is not a crime. If you lie under oath in Congress, it is a violation of title XVIII, United States code 1621, and you are eligible to go to prison for five years. It's called perjury.

And another thing. I just slight correction on your statement - on your question. You said if you say I don't remember. He didn't I didn't remember. He said I didn't meet. I had no communications with the Russians. We know that's not true. So the question is did he misremember or did he just simply not remember these two meetings with the Russians in which case it's embarrassing but not criminal. Or did he lie in which case it is a criminal offense. That's a question and I certainly don't know the answer to. But that is what any reasonable investigator would be looking at right now.

LEMON: OK. So we know now there are, you know, there are cries in Washington, and probably going to happen that some sort of investigation into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia. They're calling for that. What happens now? Can Jeff Sessions as attorney general in good faith say that he can oversee these investigations?

TOOBIN: Well it's simply inconceivable to me that he could oversee these investigations. Since his own statement would be something that is the subject of this investigation. I mean, I think the realistic question is whether he can continue being attorney general. But I mean, it is simply out of the question that he could supervise on investigation where his own behavior is at issue. So the question of whether he recuses himself, turns it over to subordinates in the justice department or --

LEMON: Jeffrey, I hate to cut you off. I want to get this in. We have a statement from the White House, OK.

The White House is saying - an official says this is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. General Sessions met with the ambassador in official capacity as member of the Senate armed services committee which is entirely consistent with his testimony. It's no surprise senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump's successful address to the nation. What do you make of that?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, law enforcement is never separate from politics in Washington. And it is true that Democrats, you know, will celebrate and enjoy and revel in this problem, and Democrats are certainly doing that. Nancy Pelosi is calling for him to resign. [23:15:08] LEMON: Yes. She says he is not fit to serve as nation's

top law enforcement officer. That's a quote.

TOOBIN: Right. But it's a problem. I mean, you know, the metaphysical distinction between Jeff Sessions as member of the Foreign Relations Committee and Jeff Sessions as Trump campaign surrogate, that is not necessarily a distinction that exists in the real world. And remember when Sessions was asked this question by senator Franken, he didn't say, well, I did meet with the ambassador in my capacity as senator on the armed services committee. He said I didn't meet with them which certainly was misleading at best if not outright false.

And again, I'm not saying that Jeff Sessions lied. But I'm saying that any reasonable investigation would examine that question and look at all the surrounding circumstances and look at all the evidence. And I don't see how Jeff Sessions himself can supervise an investigation of Jeff Sessions.

LEMON: All right Jeffrey Toobin, I want you to stand by. I want everyone to stand by.

Our breaking news tonight, attorney general Jeff Sessions when he was still as senator apparently had two meetings with the Russian ambassador. And again, this is our breaking news tonight that we are reporting here on CNN. There are calls from the top lawmakers, mostly Democrats, for him to step down. Nancy Pelosi is saying he is not fit to serve as nation's top law enforcement officer. The White House is putting out a statement saying that this is an attack by Democrats, especially after President's successful address to the nation last night.

We will be back with more of our breaking news. Don't go anywhere.


[23:20:29] LEMON: All right. Here we are now 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 hearing.

I want to bring in now CNN's senior political analyst Mark Preston, senior political analyst David Gergen, political commentator Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist and political commentator Bakari Sellers.

I want to read this White House statement to you before I get a response. The White House official is telling us that this is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. General Sessions met with ambassador in official capacity as member of the Senate armed services committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony. It's no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump's successful address to the nation.

David Gergen.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is a decoy to serving an embarrassing story for the attorney general. We are not sure where it is going to go. I think Jeffrey Toobin was right that at minimum the attorney general will have to recuse himself from any investigation into the Russian ties with Trump surrogates. I'm not sure it's going to go beyond that.

Of course the Republicans have every reason to be angry at whoever leaked this. It does seem the, you know, it is striking it was leaked the day after the president's first successful address to the Congress last night. But you know, when these things happen, I will tell you this, Don, when you testify at confirmation hearing, you spend a lot of time preparing that with other lawyers and others who grill you. And you have to think through your answers in advance.

These are not casual conversations when you testify in confirmation hearings, to indeed, any time he testify under oath before the Congress. So he had to look at this calendar. His team had to look to his calendar, gone through this with him. And to plead that I can't remember, you know, that - I mean, it does that seem credible given the kind of preparation that he would have to go through? I think those are the kind of questions people are going to have to answer.

LEMON: Alice Stewart?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, Don, surrogates are a critical part of every campaign. And they are integral part of getting message out. But they are not part of the campaign. And I know a lot of people would view that as distinction without a difference.

But there is a difference. They are not part of the campaign. And when he had these meetings, he was senator, a member of the armed services committee. And he had many of these meetings last year. He had 25 such meetings last year as a member of the Senate armed services committee.

I just spoke with his spokesperson. And she says that he has these meetings quite regularly on the day that he met with the Russian ambassador. And he also met with the Ukrainian ambassador. So this is not unusual. With all due respect to Jeffrey Toobin, it's not out of the ordinary for a senator to meet in their office with ambassadors. That's not unusual.

LEMON: OK, Alice, let me ask you this. He remembered meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador but not the meeting with the Russian ambassador?

STEWART: Look. In terms of which person he had meetings and when he had meetings with, that's up to him to determine his recollection of those meetings. What I'm saying is that he is answering questions not as member of the campaign because he wasn't. He was surrogate. He was a senator, he was member of the Senate armed services committee and he had many meetings with ambassadors. And that's the important distinction that needs to be made in this conversation.

LEMON: I think the quote is it, correct me, I did not have meetings or I did not have communications with the Russians. That's - I think that's a pretty broad statement there. He is saying there was no communications.

Stand by panel please, because I have someone I need to get on real quick. I want to bring on the phone with me now is Congressman Elijah Cummings. He is a senior member of the House committee on the oversight and government reform.

Thank you for joining us, Congressman. You are saying he should step down.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MEMBER, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM (on the phone): Yes. At the least, Don. He must recuse himself.

Let me tell you, first of all, let's be clear. Donald Trump, over and over again, President Trump has said that attorney general Sessions was one of his earliest and most faithful advisers and leaders in his campaign. Another thing that Toobin did not mention was that this man has been the U.S. attorney for a state. I mean, and he knows the law. He is probably prosecuted people for telling untrue statements to the FBI and others. And so, he is held to a standard and as far as forgetting, keep in mind there were all kinds of things going on, all kinds of word going out that the Russians were trying to be involved in our elections and he waited and saw all of this going on and we still would not have known if it were not for the media.

And so, you know, and I want to be clear. I don't get any joy out of seeing this. As matter of fact, it's sickening because I think we are reaching a point where our very institutions that underpin our democracy are being threatened in so many ways. And this is not a good day for America, I mean.

And as far as President Trump is concerned and the statement that they just issued, at some point people have to ask the question, where is the integrity? Where is the rule of law? Where is the obedience of law? All these excuses over and over again. And last but not least, when these issues came before our committee, in the oversight and government reform committee, if Hillary Clinton -- they thought she lied. They were referring it to the justice department. If they imagined it, and they did it over and over.

So, I'm just saying I think all of us need to take a deep breath. I think that attorney general Sessions ought to at least recuse himself. And then I think we need to look in to figure out, well, if he doesn't remember a meeting with the Russians, then that's a problem too.

[23:26:45] LEMON: Congressman, Nancy Pelosi is saying that she believes this is apparent, according to her, perjury. Do you think that senator Jeff Sessions perjured himself during those hearings?

CUMMINGS: I don't know. But I want to find out more information. But I can tell you one thing, I know, just based upon all the information I have read and heard this evening, it sounds like he did not tell the truth.

Now, he can say that he misunderstood or he mis-forgot, all those other terms. At some point people, we got to go back to something called integrity. As I said on a show yesterday, I grew up in a home where my mother and father Pentecostal ministers. And a lie is a lie is a lie, period.

And so, some kind of way got to come to grips with that. I can't imagine as lawyer -- and I've practiced over 30-some years. I can't imagine attorney general sessions being involved in this investigation at all. Keep in mind, he is over the FBI. He is the number one law enforcement officer in the country.

And so, I hold him to - I'm not trying to hold him to higher standard. All I'm saying is that he should know that every syllable that he said to senator Franken and to those who were making inquiries at him, every syllable was significant. And then he had the opportunity to all along come back and say, hey, maybe I forgot, let me give you this additional information.

LEMON: Yes. But as a leading law enforcement, you know, official in the country, he should be held to the highest standard.

CUMMINGS: To the highest standard. That's right.

LEMON: Can I asked you this? Do you think there's a distinction between him -- Alice Stewart, who is a Republican strategist and is also a CNN contributor, just said before you came on, that there's a distinction between being surrogate and him being part of a Senate committee. There are -- he was meeting as part of the Senate, not as part of the, you know, as an adviser or surrogate to the Trump campaign. Is there a distinction to you?

CUMMINGS: That's what they're saying, but let me tell you something, these kinds of allegations, if brought before the oversight committee with the folks, Republicans in charge, believe me, there would be a major investigation and they would be asking for his resignation today if he were a Democrat. I can tell you that.

But it gives me no joy, because every time these kinds of things happen, it erodes the confidence of the American people in the very systems that underpin our democracy. And at some point people need to stop making excuses, and say wait a minute, let's get to the truth, let's have some integrity here and let's hold this administration and all elected government to the highest standard.

LEMON: Congressman Elijah Cummings, thanks for your time, sir.

CUMMINGS: Thank you.

LEMON: This is our breaking news tonight. 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. We will be right back.


[23:33:03] LEMON: We have some more breaking news right now to tell you about.

White House staff members were instructed by Trump administration lawyers on Tuesday to save records and material related to potential Russian interference in the presidential election. The instruction came after senate Democrats asked the White House and other agencies to preserve those records.

Let's discuss that now. Back with me Mark Preston, David Gergen, Alice Stewart and Bakari Sellers.

So much to get to here. Let's discuss that now. They are being told to preserve records, Alice you were in the middle of your statement. I had to cut you off to go to Representative Cummings. What do you make of the new development about records?

STEWART: Unfortunately we have to get to that point and we have to tell people to do what the law requires of them. People are supposed to retain records when working in those positions, but unfortunately, as we saw with previous administration and the Clinton administration, we have to tell people to do what the laws require of them. But that being said, that is certainly another situation.

Look. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered here. And I think it is important to protect the integrity of any kind of investigation moving forward. It's proper to ask people to make sure they maintain their records.

But with regard to senator Sessions, it's critical. As I said before, it is difference when you are a surrogate - being a surrogate for a campaign and a member of a campaign. That's two completely different things. And what he did with his meetings with this Russian official was as a senator, as a member of the senate armed services committee. And those meetings are perfectly normal. It is not out of the ordinary for him to have those meetings --

LEMON: Alice, why not disclose that?

STEWART: As member of the Trump campaign and not --

LEMON: Why not disclose that at the confirmation hearings?

STEWART: The questions were asked were about members of the Trump campaign.

LEMON: He volunteered that information at the end of his statement.

STEWART: That being said in terms of the distinction without a difference. The question asked about members of the Trump campaign having conversations and meetings with Russian officials. He had meetings and contacts with Russian officials as senator and member of the senate armed services committee. Two completely different things.

[23:35:16] LEMON: Mark, could he have not said I didn't do it in capacity as Trump surrogate or adviser, I did talk or speak with them in capacity as senator?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes. I mean, there's no doubt he could. And let me just - let's be very pragmatic about the situation. It would be smart for Jeff Sessions to come out very forcefully and explain whatever happened in public setting and say, you know, I'm going to step aside. I'm going to recuse myself because I don't want there to be any question about where the investigation is going.

The bottom line is, even if he does leave the investigation and if he were to try to cover something up, we are not saying he would or is, but if we were to cover it up, we would find out about it anyway. So from a very strategic political point of view, why not just recuse yourself in the very least. Really, I think Congressman Cummings really hit the nail on the head with that.

LEMON: Yes. Bakari Sellers, again, the two statements coming from the White House tonight. At least one official statement and the other one not sure if it's on background or not. But the one regarding Senator Sessions has says it's no surprise that Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following the President's successful address to the nation, blaming Democrats. Again, that's - this is a conspiracy on attack by Democrats. Then in regards to preserving the Russian records. The last statement is the White House is simply taking proactive steps to push back against this false and politically motivated attack (INAUDIBLE). What do you think?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the reason why my good friend, Alice Stewart's statement doesn't fly Jeff Sessions' spokesperson's statement doesn't fly and the White House statement doesn't fly is because we all know that Jeff Sessions was a top foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. With that being said, you can't jump on the campaign and jump off when it is convenient.

But even more importantly, this was not a normal activity. We also know that the 25 or 25 other members of the armed services committee, none of them met with the Russian ambassador. The only one, the only member of the armed services committee to meet with the Russian ambassador has been senator Jeff Sessions.

And so, for Jeff Sessions not to remember this or misremember this, the fact is he literally met with someone who was deemed by our national intelligence community to be a Russian spy and the number one recruiter of spies. And so, my legal background this tells me, and I don't claim to be the Jeffrey Toobin of lawyers, but I do know that when someone deliberately misleads or tells a falsehood under oath, they committed perjury.

And so, the fact is, whether or not he was on the campaign or not, that is irrelevant. Although, we do know he was on the campaign. And we also know that he was the only member of the arms services committee who met with the Russian ambassador.

All of those things tell you that he either knew or should have known the statement that he was giving to the committee to the judiciary committee was false. Martha Stewart went to jail for less. Now, I think we have to flesh

it out a little bit more. But to preserve the integrity of the investigation as Alice said, the least he needs to do is recuse himself. Because the FBI is investigating him, he can't oversee investigation into himself.

LEMON: David, big picture this for us, OK. So I think it would be accurate to say that this only raises even more questions about what exactly is the connection and the affiliation between Donald Trump, his top officials and advisers, and the Russians.

GERGEN: Absolutely. I mean, we have to go back to basics here. The Russians we now know were setting out to attack the integrity of our election process in this country. Ultimately wanted to throw the election to Donald Trump. That is a very serious matter. And those questions were already circulating in the fall. And when Jeffrey Sessions met with the Russian ambassador, there were questions already out there about this and certainly since then there had been mushrooming questions about who talked to the Russians and when.

I want to go back to Bakari's point. The reason the Russian ambassador set sat down with Jeffrey Sessions was not because he was a member of the intelligence committee. He was wearing two hats at the time, intelligence committee. But the other half was far more important to the Russian and that was he had become a close adviser to Donald Trump. And that's the reason that Russian ambassador didn't meet with (INAUDIBLE) of 19 out of 25, the latest from "Washington Post" of the senators who responded to the question did you ever have communications to Russian. On that committee, 19 have responded. And all 19 said no, I never have any communications.

The Russians plainly were seeking our Jeffrey Sessions to form relationships, to forge a stronger relationship that might serve them. Who knows what else? But under those circumstances, when the American people have a right to know exactly what happened when a foreign government - the Russians, you know, tried to compromise our election. We have a right know. And we have the right to have the investigations that are conducted, you know, with great care in a process that has integrity. And once you have a critical figure, such as the attorney general in the United States, one of most important half dozen posts in the government, that person either has to be clean -- old phrases to go about what standard, well you have to be cleaner than a hound's tooth. That's was the old Lyndon Johnson phrase. And you know, in that situation you have to -- or you have to step aside from that. You have to recuse yourself at minimum.

[23:40:44] LEMON: Hold your thoughts, everyone. I know everyone has a lot to say. We are going to be back with our breaking news. Don't go anywhere.


[23:244:45] LEMON: We are back now with breaking news, attorney general Jeff Sessions, when he was still a senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign, had meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. But didn't disclose them in his confirmation hearings. So I want to bring in Chris Swecker. He is a former assistant

director for the FBI, CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem is here as well. She is joins us by phone.

Chris, you have been listening to this breaking news, what is your take on it?

[23:45:10] CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: Sure. Well, I mean, he wasn't careful with his language obviously. As I mentioned, I don't --

LEMON: Hey, Chris. Can you hold on one second? Because I just got, this is a statement from attorney general Jeff Sessions. And I will read it to you and you can respond.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions has write the following statement to news organizations. I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.

Go ahead Chris.

SWECKER: Yes. I mean, bottom line is I don't see any hope or any prayer of a perjury charge here. You have to get inside his head to know what he was thinking and what he remembered. And then - this has come up time and again in congressional testimony, it will not happen. But I mean, it is a strange set of circumstances. We know there's been sort of an odd courtship going on with Russia. I don't get it. It's a mafia state. Putin is a thug. We all know that.

LEMON: Yes. OK. So listen. I'm going to read his statement now and then I'm going to play what he said in January. His statement again, this is new. This is from attorney general Jeff Sessions. I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false. I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. This is false. This is him in January for his confirmation hearing.


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: So he mentioned that he had been called a surrogate a time or two in this. Again, this is "Washington Post" reporting. To be clear about this, when Sessions from "the Washington Post." Session spoke with Kislyak in July and September. The senator was senior member of the influential armed services committee as well as one of Trump's top foreign policy advisors. Session played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February of 2016.

He wasn't just part surrogate here, he was part of the campaign. He was an adviser and a key member of the Trump campaign, Juliette Kayyem?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (on the phone): Yes. I mean, we have a tendency in these cases to think there is going to be an aha moment. You know, with Perry Mason, I found the knife moment. And what happens in this investigations is get more evidence comes out that suggest that on the range of possibilities, right, we know the Russians, you know, were involved with our election. They either acted alone or there was direct collusion with the Trump campaign and there is a whole bunch of options in between that range. It's becoming harder day after day, disclosure after disclosure to say nothing was going on.

Now, to bridge the Democrat and Republican divide you have with your political people on, I think it's safe to say that all Americans so deserve to know and have confidence in a fair investigation. That investigation may say look, there was no collusion. And I think that is why it seems untenable to me that Sessions wouldn't recuse himself at the stage. I think it is just - it is, as a legal matter, as the national security matter and currently outside of my lane as a political matter.

LEMON: I understand, Chris, you are agreeing with her assessment of no aha moment. But it is just a number of things that add up and just don't seem right.


LEMON: Chris.

SWECKER: Yes. If there were in fact an investigation, whether it is a preliminary inquiry or full investigation, which I highly doubt at this point, he would have to recuse himself. But we don't know and we may not know for quite a while but has to be predication to open up an investigation. You can parse that statement a lot of different ways and as I said, you would have to get inside his head to know what he was thinking.

LEMON: All right. Thank you Chris. Thank you, Juliette.

We will be back with our breaking news.


[23:53:10] LEMON: This is our breaking news. Attorney general Jeff Sessions when he was still a senator and an adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. but did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings.

In a statement just a short time ago. Sessions said I have never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what the allegation is about. It is false.

Back with me now David Gergen, Alice Stewart, and Bakari Sellers.

Alice, considering this drip, drip, drip of some sort of communication whether however you want to qualify, or how they want to qualify it at this point, should there not be some sort of independent investigation into this just to clear the air?

STEWART: Look, I truly believe senator Sessions or general Sessions was confirmed because he is a man of integrity and adheres to the law and a man of truth and honesty. And in this situation, I believe he was in the right, he was acting as a senator, member of the armed services committee and speaking with the Russian ambassador. Not a member of the Trump campaign.

That being said, so many questions with regards to the Trump campaign and Russian tie starting with general Flynn and now with sessions, just the simple sake of having a fair and balance area hearing of the facts in this case, I do think that a special prosecutor would be the best way to move forward on this just to remove any question of any kind of impropriety in the investigation moving forward.

LEMON: Do you agree with that, Bakari?

SELLERS: Well, I just - I think this were getting bogged down in whether or not he was a member of the senate or whether or not he was on the Trump campaign. I mean, to be charged with perjury, one only has to lie about a material fact, the material fact was not his tile. Instead, it was conversations with the Russians which we know he had. And then he either misled, forgot or just lied to the members of that committee.

I will say this. I do think that asking him to resign may be a step too far right now. But he does need to recuse himself. And there does need to be an independent investigation. There is no way that I'm sure that the Russian ambassador is actually a witness in the Russian hacking that we are investigating now. There is no way that he can meet with that witness by himself independently twice which has now been verified and be non-partial. I mean, there is no way that he can investigate himself. So, yes, I agree with Alice that there needs to be an independent investigation bipartisan. I mean, if it rises to the level of criminality special prosecution.

[23:55:35] LEMON: Yes. My last panel, one of the former FBI officials said, David Gergen, and also Juliette Kayyem, national security analyst were here for CNN said, there is often just said there is no aha moment. There is often just a drip, drip, drip. That's how it starts.

GERGEN: That's true, Don. And I was surprise by Alice's conclusion that a special prosecutor was in order. Because I will tell you this. If there is a special prosecutor, he is going to have a hard time staying with the justice department, you know. It is just -- you can't manage that kind of thing and run he department and be the first thing he wants to be. I just think it would be hard for him. But these things also have a way of mushrooming, Don. It's worth

remembering tonight, you know, I objected violently years ago but it happened. The House of Representatives impeached Bill Clinton.

LEMON: OK, 15 seconds David.

GERGEN: Impeached him when he said I never had sexual relations with that woman.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you all.

Again, breaking news and lots of it coming this evening here on CNN. We are going to continue to follow it.

I appreciate my panel. Thank you so much for watching. Make sure you stay with CNN for the breaking news.

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching us. We will see you back here tomorrow.