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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trump Advisers Met With Russian Ambassador During GOP Convention; A.G. Sessions Recuses Himself From Trump Campaign Probes; Officials: Deadly Mission Yielded Hundreds Of Names. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 2, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:27] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Topping this hour of "360", new revelations about previously undisclosed contact between Russia and Trump associates, both during and after the campaign. They made for a parade of headlines today involving, first, the Attorney General and this evening, other advisors during the Republican convention.
CNN's Jim Acosta has that. He joins us tonight from the White House. Jim, what are you learning tonight about Trump campaign advisors meeting with the Russian ambassador at the Republican convention?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. In addition to this previously undisclosed meeting with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russian ambassador, we are learning that Trump campaign advisors met with the Russian ambassador over this summer at the Republican convention in Cleveland.
This meeting occurred over at Case Western Reserve University. It involved a national security advisor, J.D. Gordon who we've known he's been involved in Washington circle for years, advised various campaigns. He was advising the Trump campaign on national security issues and he says that he, another advisor named Carter Page, and a foreign policy advisor names Walid Phares, all met with the Russian ambassador during this meeting during the convention that was taking place in Cleveland over the summer last summer.
Now, that is important because it was at the convention where J.D. Gordon tells me, and we spoke on the phone earlier this evening that he sought on behalf of the campaign a change in the GOP platform that advocated against arming the Ukrainians and their fight against these pro Russian rebels. That was obviously a hot topic at that time.
Now, I'm told by J.D. Gordon that at no point during their conversations with the Russian ambassador was there any offer of a quick pro quo, "We'll do this for you if you help the Trump campaign in the battle against Hillary Clinton."
But what J.D. Gordon does tell me is that, he was trying to pursue the views of the candidate himself, Donald Trump, that were expressed at another meeting back in March that was presided over by Jeff Sessions, the then senator from Alabama, now the Attorney General and it was during this meeting at the under construction Trump hotel here in Washington where Trump said at the time that he did not want to go to World War 3 with Russians over Ukraine. And so J.D. Gordon felt when he was pursuing this change in the GOP platform that he was honoring the candidate's wishes.
Now, that is important, John, because on "Meet the Press" over this summer, Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump said that, "No, the Trump campaign did not seek that change." But J.D. Gordon says, "Yes, in fact, he was doing that on behalf of the Trump campaign."
Now, we should point out, the White House is very interested in what all of these associates are saying about their previous contacts with the Russian ambassador. As a matter of fact, J.D. Gordon tells me he was on the phone with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Spokeswoman here about this meeting with the Russian ambassador earlier today. They were on the phone earlier today talking about this.
It just goes to show you, John, that the White House is very, very interested in finding out in getting to the bottom of all of these associates, advisors and so forth that have had contacts with this Russian ambassador.
Keep in mind, we just learned today, "The New York Times" reported this and we confirmed it that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in- law and the resigned national security advisor, Michael Flynn, met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in New York. That was not disclosed to reporters during the campaign. And just tonight, the president has released a statement saying that he defends Jeff Sessions.
He's backing his Attorney General, but he does say in this statement that when Jeff Sessions told Al Franken up on Capitol Hill at that confirmation hearing that he did not have any communications with the Russians. The president saying tonight in a statement he could have stated his response more accurately. So, it's a drip, drip, drip situation for this White House, once again, on the subject of Russia, John.
BERMAN: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you.
And as we said, it's far from the only Russia headline tonight. This next one, it dominated the day, first with the revelation that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign previously undisclosed meetings. Those are the bad words tonight. He failed to say so during his confirmation hearings.
Then, this afternoon, this next headline, the nation's top law enforcement official recused himself from any existing toward future investigation related to President Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That announcement came as the growing number of Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in calling on the Attorney General to recuse himself. Some Democrats are calling from the flat out resign. All of this is unfolding just two weeks after the Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned also over Russian related meetings.
[21:05:04] Pamela Brown joins us with the latest. Pamela, the Attorney General who recused himself, why now?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, John, because the only new data point between the time he became the nation's top cop three weeks ago and today is the fact that the "Washington Post" reported last night broke the story that he had two meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the campaign that he did not disclose during his confirmation hearing before the judiciary committee.
But today, he said that, look, this is something that he's been having meetings about for weeks. He's tried to distance himself from any sort of controversy having to deal with the Russians basically saying that this decision came about because he was connected to the Trump campaign as a surrogate and after talking to his staff.
He felt like he had to recuse himself from any investigation involving the Trump campaign, but he did not mention this undisclosed meetings with Russian ambassador to the U.S. Kislyak as a factor into this decision, despite weeks now, John, of politicians on Capitol Hill, as we've heard, calling on him to recuse himself from this FBI investigation looking at Trump's associates during the campaign, President Trump's associates during the campaign and Russians. John?
BERMAN: And, Pamela, Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor, but the Attorney General certainly made no mention of that, did he?
BROWN: Right, no. And it would be unusual for a special prosecutor to come in and oversee this investigation. Typically, what happens is the deputy Attorney General would be the one to oversee the investigation or the Attorney General could appoint a U.S. attorney. So typically, that's what happens now.
Right now, it's a little bit unusual because you have an acting deputy Attorney General, because the one that the president would like has not been confirmed yet. So, we'll have to wait and see how this proceeds.
But, of course, you have heard politicians as you pointed out on the Capitol Hill calling for a special prosecutor. It could happen, but it wouldn't be as common or as usual as the deputy Attorney General or U.S. attorney to oversee this investigation. John?
BERMAN: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you so much. I want to get our panel's reaction. Joining us, CNN Political Analyst Kirsten Powers, "New York One Political" Anchor Errol Louis, CNN Political Analyst David Gregory, host of the "David Gregory" podcast, also CNN Political Analyst and Legendary Investigative Reporter Carl Bernstein, along with CNN Inside Politics Anchor John King and CNN Political Commentator David Axelrod who also hosts the podcast "The Axe Files."
All right, I'm through that. John King, let me start with you. The words of the night are previously undisclosed. Previously undisclosed meetings between Trump campaign advisors and the Russian ambassador. The previously undisclosed meetings between Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador during the transition. The previously undisclosed meetings with the Attorney General. How big of a problem is being previously undisclosed for the Trump administration?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest question here is what was discussed and we don't know that and we need to be clear about that. We don't know the substance of this meetings, but the fact that we continue to drip, drip, drip, find out about these meetings at a time when this has been the news for a long time, when the new administration knows this as a huge issue, knows there are -- there's an FBI investigation underway, both the intelligence committees on Capitol Hill looking into this.
And let's not forget, 42 days into office, the president is trying to pass an agenda. He went on the road today to try to sell that agenda. That story has been blown out of the water by this. And so there's a lot of questions, a lot of questions.
Republicans are very happy the Attorney General made the decision to recuse himself. They think that turns the volume down a little bit and they are now able to publicly stand for and support the administration saying the Democrats should calm down, let the facts be gathered and see where this goes.
But behind the scenes, trust me, senior Republicans that I've dealt with today are very nervous about this. They say that the administration either -- is having a case of armature hour. They should have gathered all this information. They should get it out proactively on their own in a more favorable setting as opposed to daily or hourly negative news stories. And they have a credibility crisis that Trump White House does with members of its own party, because these leaders have said, "Help us."
We get asked these questions, "What do we need to know? Make sure we don't get embarrassed. We're trying to get your agenda passed, sir. Don't pull the rug (ph) off from under us." And they're now wondering if they can trust what they are told by this White House because they have been told repeatedly there's nothing there and you have that long list of previously undisclosed tonight.
BERMAN: All right. So, David Axelrod, how big of a crisis and did the recusal of the Attorney General today take some of the air out of that balloon? DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think it took some of the air out of balloon for now, for today, and the reason that it happened even though the president said he didn't think he had to recuse himself is because so many Republicans on Capitol Hill joined with others to call for it.
I think one of the reasons they did was they knew where this was going and they thought they could sort of lance the boil by coming out and urging the White House to do what they did.
It is remarkable just on John King's point that two nights ago the president was standing there in the House chambers giving a speech that was well reviewed and the story was well.
[21:10:06] This is a page turning and now he's got some forward momentum and he can go out and build on what he did and look where we are 48 hours later. And this is a self-inflicted wound.
I'm sure many people are wondering now what is it about this guy, Kislyak, that causes everyone to forget meeting with him in the Trump administration? And, I don't think this thing is going to die. I think this thing is building momentum.
BERMAN: All right. I want to play you guys what the president said about this. He was in Virginia. He was looking at a new aircraft carrier being (inaudible). Our Jim Acosta caught up with him. He was the poor (ph) reporter there fired a bunch of questions at him. Listen to how he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the Attorney General total?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Sessions recuse himself from investigations into your campaign and Russia?
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think so at all. I don't think so.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador? Did you know during the campaign?
TRUMP: I don't think you should do that at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?
TRUMP: I wasn't aware at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think he should have spoken truthfully about whether he spoke to the Russian ambassador?
TRUMP: He probably did.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So, there's a lot there, David Gregory. The one line that I keep seeing again and again is, "I wasn't aware at all." The President of the United States saying he wasn't aware at all that for awhile that the only senator that support his campaign and one of his chief campaign advisor, Jeff Sessions, had met with the Russian ambassador.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, Jim Acosta reported earlier that White House seems really engaged now in figuring out who met with any of the Russian counter parts or any Russian officials in the course of the campaign or subsequent to that.
But they've been spending the first 40 days of this administration and transition saying that there was no story here. And not just that, that it was the Democrats who are making it up, it was the intelligence community acting like Nazi Germany, the president's word, in leaking all of this information about these contacts.
Now all of a sudden, they are so worried about what are all these meetings about. I'm also surprised that the Attorney General didn't see fit when Mike Flynn was going through all of this to say, "Over here, just to let you know. In my capacity as senator, I met with the Russian ambassador, too, and I was 'surrogate'".
Its two coupes (ph) I have. The notion that he's asked these questions in the confirmation hearing about contacts and he doesn't say -- he says, "Well, I just answered that in terms of continuing conducts as a surrogate, and so I wouldn't have thought about that." When he had contacts as a senator, which may have been completely appropriate, there's just a cascading effect of why this wasn't kind of call together and put together.
This is an ugly backdrop of the campaign and of this new administration. These questions are not going to go away. And it seems unforeseen to this administration that the Russians might be trying to manipulate them or might have tried to manipulate them in the past. This is not new behavior by the Russians and that part seems to be completely shunned to the side by that.
BERMAN: Democrats, Errol, calling for resignation. Chuck Schumer today held a news conference before the recusal. He had a somber face and said it was a sad moment for America, but you could almost see him jumping out of his skin trying to sees this opportunity.
ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, NY1: Yeah, yeah, reluctantly calling for him to step down. Keep in mind, this is somebody who got no -- I think you got one mention was the only Democratic senator to even vote for his approval as Attorney General.
So, we've got a Democratic Party that's going to try and follow the lead of their base, which is out in the streets calling for massive resistance. Crowds went to Chuck Schumer's home calling for the very same thing. This is a golden opportunity served up on a platter.
The larger question, if they ever want to get to it is what is this doctrine toward Russia going to be from this administration? We get mixed signals. We see Nikki Haley saying one thing at the United Nations. We have the president going back to some campaign rhetoric about wouldn't be nice if we could work with Russia to sort of deal with Syria and to battle ISIS? That seems like less of a priority now. So, why this attachment? What's it going to look like?
We have the factual questions about what went on during the campaign, but we have a forward looking question that this administration is also not answering, which would actually take them a couple of steps possibly in the direction of putting some of this questions through that.
BERMAN: And, Carl Bernstein, there's a question of what exactly is the status of the various investigations going on right now, because the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff today said he was briefed by the FBI Director James Comey and he wasn't satisfied with how much he was being told. That he felt that the FBI director was holding out on him.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's use the dreaded word coverup, because what we have now seen are the two closest national security advisors in the campaign to Donald Trump have both lied and tried to cover up their own activities. That's what we have seen with Sessions. That's what we've seen with Mike Flynn.
Let's remember that Sessions was head of Donald Trump's national security advisory team in the campaign, appointed to that by Trump on March 3rd, 2016. It is a hugely important fact. Both he and Flynn were running supervising the national security operation for candidate Trump.
[21:15:08] So we know that. And we know that they have covered up what they did. Now the question becomes, why haven't others been more forthcoming around Trump, around his business organization in his family, himself, also in the campaign about whatever contacts they have had with ethno Russians, Russian businessmen, with oligarchs?
It's very easy for the President of the United States to go to his counsel in the White House and say, "Mr. Counsel, I want you to have all of those involved in my campaign, in my White House who have been named in this, who have had anything to do with activities with the Russians, with ethno Russians, calling all in, get statements from and get their records of e-mails. Let's take a real look. I want to know absolutely everything that happened here."
John, nothing like that has happened. Instead, the President of the United States this evening issued a statement blaming all this on Democrats and leakers. That's not going to wash. This is not going away as David Axelrod said.
BERNSTEIN: And there is the appearance here of a coverup certainly among a couple people very close to Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Let me ask, Kirsten Powers, you know, because Carl Bernstein used the word coverup repeatedly at the beginning and the end of his comments, right? Are there any questions that coverup of what exactly, because when we're dealing with Jeff Sessions here, it's a coverup of a meeting that there could be perfectly benign every senator, every lawmaker I talk to today told me they have met with ambassadors before.
KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Right. But, you have to consider meeting with ambassadors in the context of what was happening in this election. And so that's true under normal circumstances, but under the circumstances of where, you know, where were having interference by Russians in our election and then there's an FBI investigation into it, it does seem like something that would rise to the level of disclosure.
That it would sort of - I would think if you were prepping him, even you would say, "Look, Russia is issue number one. Let's talk about any meetings you may have had." And with other people in the Trump administration, you could say they're rookies, right? They don't really -- it's possible they don't understand the process.
He's not a rookie. He's, you know, he's not only a senator, he's a lawyer. He understands how to disclose information, what's important. He clearly does remember the meeting. He's given us quite a lot of detail about it.
So, it does raise all these questions of how he could have said that at a bare minimum, not after the fact that if it's true that he heard the question differently, which is what he's saying. Later afterwards say, wait a minute or one of the staffer say, "Wait a minute, you made a very declarative statement there. We need to disclose that you have this meeting."
BERMAN: It's a great point. He said there were three people in the room, but (inaudible), why didn't say anything? Much more to talk about with everyone. Stay with us.
How is all this Russian news being seen in Moscow? We're going to there live. And later, our legal team weighs in on Attorney General Jeff Sessions on whether his decision to recuse himself is enough, whether the Attorney General could face perjury charges.
[21:21:13] BERMAN: Given all the Russian related news surrounding President Trump today and for weeks now you would think we're all living in the movie "Moscow on the Potomac," maybe. Well, we pretty much covered all the Potomac angles tonight.
Now, let's go to Moscow. CNN's Matthew Chance is there for us. Matt, you ask Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman about the Russian ambassador today. What did she have to say?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, I mean, she was absolutely furious and outraged I think at the suggestion that surrogate Kislyak, who's the long-standing ambassador from Russia to the United States has been reported to be linked with espionage activities. That information, of course, came to us from both senior present and former U.S. officials.
But, yeah, you're right. I spoke to Maria Zakharova, the foreign ministry spokesperson here in Moscow. And, again, she was angry if nothing else about that suggestion. Take a listen to what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Mr. Kislyak is a well-known -- I mean, world class diplomat who was a deputy minister foreign affairs in Russia who was communicated with his American colleagues for decades on different fields. And CNN accused him on being Russian spy, recruiting --
CHANCE: But, it wait, was U.S. officials --
ZAKHAROVA: Come on, stop spreading lie and false news.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHANCE: Lies and false news. It's a refrain that almost we've heard elsewhere. But we're hearing it much more often now in Moscow, as well from Russian officials. John?
BERMAN: All right, Matthew Chance, unpopular apparently tonight in Moscow. Thank you so very much.
Back now with our panel. David Axelrod, I want to go to you back on the Washington angle and the White House response so far, and you've all used this phrase to the drip, drip, drip of information coming out. How would you grade their response? Are they equipped, do you think, to handle this?
AXELROD: Well, look, you had the president go out hours before the Attorney General stepped out to recuse himself to say he didn't think he should recuse himself, so obviously, they're not very much a tuned here to what's going on from moment to moment. And I think the story got away with them -- got away from them.
And I do think that they better canvass out else is out there and try and get ahead of where this story is going or they're going to continue to be flat footed and look disjointed and disingenuous.
BERMAN: David Gregory?
GREGORY: I think the other thing that's important here if you follow the train of what the president has said today, in his statement tonight, yes he backs Sessions, yes he criticizes Democrats, but he also says that he thinks the Attorney General should have answer the question in his words more accurately.
And I think in this regard, Trump is channeling a lot of Republicans on the Hill or people who aren't lawyers, but who are just kind of members of the general public saying, "Yeah, why wouldn't you disclose that in the context of that question, rather than looking at it in a narrow sense as if you were in a deposition.?" Saying, "Well, he didn't specifically ask me in that context as a surrogate, and so it wasn't on my mind." It's just - it's strange credulity.
And so I think the president later on in the day is finally saying, "Yeah, he's my guy, but he could have handled that better," which I think, you know, adds a little bit more fuel to the fire.
BERMAN: Kirsten Powers, what's the pressure on Republicans right now, on Capitol Hill? Paul Ryan before the recusal came out and, you know, he still hands off, he still like saying, you know, "I don't think you necessarily needs to do it. You know, it's up to him. He's not really putting any pressure on." Do you sense any cracks emerging.
POWERS: Well, I think the problems for Republicans, particularly somebody like Paul Ryan is that they need Donald Trump to get their agenda done. And so, they are finally at the point where they're going to get this long list of things done that they have wanted to do for a very long time and they don't want to alienate Donald Trump.
[21:25:07] And so I think he's sort of trying to have it both ways. At the same time, you had, you know, people like Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy coming out and being pretty critical then walking it back a little bit.
BERMAN: Then walking back and that was interesting in it on of itself.
POWERS: Right. So, yeah. And I think -- again, I think it's the walking back because they don't want Donald Trump -- President Trump retaliating against them and, you know, making it so they can't get their agenda done.
I think if they were to handle it the way it should be handled, it's not enough to have the intelligence committees doing investigations, because that's going to be in the private. We're not going to be able to see exactly what they find.
What we need is just sort of 9/11 style investigation into Russian's interference into the election. It needs to be broad. It needs to look at all of these different things, including what happened with Senator Sessions in this meeting.
BERMAN: Well - but, John King, you know, we are hearing for Democrats calling from anything, you know, for a 9/11 commission or special prosecutor. You are well sourced inside Washington. Do you have any reason to believe we are anywhere near either of those eventualities?
KING: The word near is key. You know, the answer is no, we anywhere near that. When you have the Senate majority leader and you have the speaker of the House of Representatives, the two Republicans who control Capitol Hill saying no, there's no indication the administration wants to go anywhere near the question of an outside independent special prosecutor. So we have to see that.
And the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said today and said it's an interesting point if you think about, if you accept the credibility of those investigation, it's an interesting point where he says we've been at this for months, why would you start over again? Why would you bring somebody else in?
Now, the question is, do you accept the integrity, the impartiality of those investigations Democrats are starting to ask questions? But for now, it's the two intelligence committees that are going to carry the main load here. That's the key point going forward.
So the political conversation you just having, look, let's be honest. Let's go back in time before we knew anything about these Russia allegations, a lot of the Republicans are not in love with President Trump, but they miss underestimate him, to a borrow a phrase in the campaign, so they're not just worried about him, they're worried about his voters.
So, some of them are loyal to President Trump, because they're worried about their own base back home. But, we're heading into 2018 cycle, I know it's only March 2017, but they're always looking toward the next election and Republicans feel lucky when they look at the map.
They finally, John, have a chance with the Republican president on the policy front to pass tax reform, to repeal and replace Obamacare, to do some things Republicans have had on the shelf for years from a policy perspective that they believe in they think is possible.
They also see a 2018 political environment by the luck of the map that allows them to build on their House and Senate majorities, even though it's a presidential midterm year and you usually lose in that cycle.
So, there are a lot of Republicans watching this stuff just nervous because its quicksand, it's unpredictable. Every day they're finding out something new and they worry there's a trapped door. That's what they worry about.
BERMAN: You said we're headed to the 2018 election cycle, every one at the table said, you know essentially. "I just got a full (inaudible) for the first time. You can't be serious."
Errol Louis, you know, people have made the point. It was, you know, (inaudible) I think I seem to have forgotten at this that President Trump gave the speech before Congress that was well received. Today, it was supposed to be a day where he was talking about jobs and manufacturing and the defense budget, you know.
He's -- obviously, that story did not get the coverage it would have otherwise, because of Russia and now we're waiting for the travel ban, the reconstituted travel ban that we think might come out tomorrow, maybe not. Does this environment do you think affect that release?
LOUIS: Well, we already know that they delayed it once, even though this was supposed to be some big national security emergency. We know that they put it off, and they were pretty up front actually out of the White House saying that they wanted to Baskin (ph) the glow of the good reviews that they were getting from the president's speech at Congress.
(CROSSTALK) LOUIS: Glow is long forgotten. So they got something right. They recognized they got it right. They wanted to try and continue it, but there are so many things that have sort of going wrong.
You know, this travel ban is going to have a lot of legal questions that are shadowing it. The ACLU lawyers are waiting to run to court the minute they take a look at it. They're going to be right back in the middle of one of the most controversial and, frankly, unpleasant and unpopular things that they've tried to do in the first few days.
I mean, there's a lot in that speech the other day that even Democrats could sort of sign off on or at least not go crazy about. The travel ban takes you right back to fierce political combat.
BERMAN: All right.
GREGORY: It is important to remember, keep you eyes. John King said, keep your eye on Republicans. They are the (inaudible) in the coal mine here. The White House is paying attention to them even as they may come after the media and other people. They're paying attention to how Republicans are reacting.
BERMAN: All eyes are on them, when you give at the White House, too. All right, guys, thank you so much.
Coming up for us, some Democrats on the Hill say it's not enough that the Attorney General has just recused himself from campaign investigations. I spoke with Senator Tim Kaine who's really more than just a senator in this whole equation when you're talking about the election. We'll get his take, that's next.
[21:33:33] BERMAN: Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, state that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from any investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election. Recusing himself, they say, is not enough.
Nancy Pelosi says the Attorney General lied under oath by failing to disclose two meetings he had with Russian ambassador to the United States. She said he have to resign.
Even some Republican lawmakers were saying he should clarify his testimony and recuse himself, which he did do late this afternoon. Shortly afterward, I spoke with the Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia.
BERMAN: Senator Kaine, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any investigations into the campaign. Do you think that was the right decision?
SEN. TIM KAINE (D), VIRGINIA: John, it was partially the right decision, but it doesn't go far enough. What the Attorney General needs to do is recuse himself for many investigations into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, the Trump transition and the Trump administration. He just recused himself with respect to the campaign. He needs to recuse himself with respect to all of it.
Second, the judiciary committee should bring him back before the committee, put him under oath and in public, have him explain the answers. I've read the transcripts. They're clearly misleading and he needs to explain to the committee whether or not he was trying to mislead them.
BERMAN: Do you think he was lying?
KAINE: You -- I want to see him ask that question and I think that's fair to him. But he should be brought back and have to answer that question under oath to the committee.
[21:35:00] BERMAN: He said -- in a statement today he said, "My reply to the question of Senator Franken was honest and correct as I understood it at the time. I appreciate that some have taken the view that this was a false comment. That was not my intent." Before you were a lawmaker, you were a pretty good lawyer. The issue of intent is central to perjury, yes?
KAINE: Well, the issue of intent is critical. And remember, here is our context. The chief national security official for the Trump administration has already had to resign because of lying to federal officials about contacts with the Russian government.
And now, we have the chief law enforcement official who, in testimony to the judiciary committee, gave statements that at a minimum were misleading about contacts with the Russian government. This is very serious and its part of a pattern that is deeply troubling.
And so, their intent issues are key, but the way you get out of that as you bring somebody back and look them in the eye and you go over those questions. And then, you go over since he said he didn't have contact with the Russians. They're entitled to ask him, "OK, now you admit you did, what were those contacts about?"
The meeting in the Senator Sessions Senate office happened three days after President Obama announced in September that the United States was not going to rollback sanctions against Russia. So, I'm sure there must have been discussion about sanctions against Russia in that meeting three days later. This is really important for us to get to the bottom of it.
BERMAN: You do acknowledge these meetings between senators and ambassadors do happen? I just spoke to Padley (ph) today.
KAINE: They do. They do.
BERMAN: And he was on the meeting with club and the ambassadors. They do happen. That in it of itself should not be controversial, should it?
KAINE: Especially members of armed services or the foreign relations committees, those meetings happen. But the question is, when there's an investigation of this kind going on and Senator Sessions knew that the investigation or at least there were serious questions when he was giving his testimony to the judiciary committee, for him to then deny that he had communications when -- with the Russians, when he in fact did on at least two occasions in the last six months, that's what is causing this concern.
BERMAN: Let's talk about what happens next that you want more from Senator Sessions. What about a special prosecutor? Do you think that's essential right now?
KAINE: I believe that is the only way we're going to get to the bottom of this, because anybody who's put into the sort of justice department family at this point is going to be a Trump administration appointee.
BERMAN: Well, just right now, as acting -- an acting Deputy Attorney Dana Boente from Virginia, someone who I believe you support. So he is the person (ph) right now.
KAINE: I supported him to the U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia. That's true. I recommended him to President Obama, who put him into that role. But, I think the key is the American public has to believe that this investigation is completely independent and objective. This could not be more serious.
It's about an allegation of whether the nation that General Dunford, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says is America's principle adversary. What they did to try to impact the outcome of the American presidential election and try to impact policy in the Trump administration.
BERMAN: Senator Schumer, your leader in the Senate has called for his resignation, the Attorney General's resignation. At this point, do you think that's necessary?
KAINE: I don't want to do that until the judiciary committee brings him back. I think it's fair to bring him back and put him under oath and ask him about his testimony and then ask him to explain these interactions with the Russian ambassador. I think they should do that first. But if he refuses to do that, or if his answers are not satisfactory, I think Congress should call him in to resign.
BERMAN: Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, thanks for being with us.
KAINE: You bet, thank you.
BERMAN: Joining me now, Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
General Mukasey, let me start with you. The recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions today, was it necessary and is it sufficient?
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It may have been necessary if there is, in fact, the criminal investigation pending, which we still don't know. There is very clear regulation that says that if you work on a political campaign and that political campaign comes under investigation, you can't participate in the investigation. It's cut and dried.
So to the -- if there is a criminal investigation, either now or in the future, he can't participate in it. That means he has to recuse himself and he did.
BERMAN: Do you think he lied under oath?
BERMAN: Why not?
MUKASEY: Look at the question. Look at the question. Did you play the segment --
BERMAN: We played -- I played it earlier.
MUKASEY: The full question from Al Franken.
BERMAN: The full question was -- what the question mark there was, if there were Russian contacts during the campaign --
BERMAN: Well, let's watch it. Actually, let's watch right now. Hang on, let's watch it.
MUKASEY: The full question.
BERMAN: We're going to watch it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D) MINNESOTA: CNN just published a story alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president- elect last week that included information that, "Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump."
These documents also allegedly said, "There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government."
[21:40:11] Now, again, I'm telling you, this is as coming out, so, you know -- but, if it's true, it's obviously extremely serious. And 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, 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 didn't have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: If any Trump campaign officials communicated with the Russians, what would you do? That was the question. And as an answer, he volunteered though he was not asked if had any contacts. In his answer he volunteered that he did not have any contacts with the Russians.
MUKASEY: That question was a discussion of what -- of information that was released. It included that there had been on going contact. That was the key -- I think the key phrase in terms of contact with the Russians. There have been on going contact between the campaign and the Russians with surrogates. And so what he said was, "OK, I was a surrogate, but I didn't have that kind of contact".
For him to have remembered and had recalled that point of the fact that one of the -- something like 20 or 25 ambassadors that he met with was the Russian ambassador. I think he is expecting something that in response to that kind of question, when he's trying to follow what the chain is of the senator's point, I think is completely unrealistic.
BERMAN: Richard Painter, I'm not sure you see it that way.
RICHARD PAINTER, LAW PROFESSOR UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, no. He said that he had not had contact with the Russians. That's what he said. And he met twice with the Russian ambassador. If one can't remember a meeting with the Russian ambassador with in the past six month, I don't think one is fit to be Attorney General of the United States.
I mean, this is a very serious situation. But it's not a Sessions problem or even a Trump problem. I'm a Republican. I'm concerned about it. Democrats are concerned about it. The problem is Russian interference in our elections and Russian interference in the elections of other western countries and they're doing it right now in France.
This is a serious threat to western democracies. They've been doing it since the 1920s when they are supporting communist parties. And if we can't take Russians subversion seriously and confront it as a bipartisan issue in the United States and confront it with our allies, western democracy is in very, very serious trouble. So we've got to stop bickering about this, stop making it Republican versus Democrat issue. And we also have to be truthful.
And the Attorney General -- that Senator Sessions when he answering those questions, when he makes a statement that he did not have contact with the Russians, he should know better. That statement was not true and that does not help us combat Russian submersion if we can't be truthful with each other, because of partisan politics, amnesia or whatever else it is. We have a lot of work to do and thus far, it's Vladimir Putin who is winning. He is the only winner in this game.
BERMAN: All right. When we come back, this question to Jeffrey Toobin, why did you have Sessions go out of his way to say, "As I understood and at the time I was telling the truth." That question at Jeffrey Toobin, next.
[21:47:36] BERMAN: The breaking news tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescues himself from investigation into the dimensions of the Trump campaign relationship with Russia, whatever that may be as more reports of meetings continue to come in.
Back now with Richard Painter, former White House Ethics Lawyer for President George W. Bush, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
Jeff Toobin, to you, when we listen to the statement from Senator Jeff Sessions, a good lawyer with vast experience as a lawyer, he seemed very careful to point out that he feels he told the truth as he believed it at the time to the Senate Judiciary Committee and it was not his intent to mislead them. Why do those words matter?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Because it is not a crime to misunderstand a question and give an incorrect answer. It is not a crime to have a bad memory, and simply not remember something. It is only a crime if you intentionally make a false statement. And that's what's important to determine right now.
And if I can just make one point about that is, you know, Judge Mukasey wants to be his successor's defense attorney and Mr. Painter wants to save western civilization. I'm only interested in what happened here. There needs to be an investigation. Was anyone else present during this conversation? Who -- how long did it take place? Are there any notes? Did -- are there e-mails that set it up? What were the surrounding circumstances?
You know, this is what the justice department and the FBI does. They do investigations. I don't know if Jeff Sessions committed a crime, but neither does anyone else at this point, that's why there needs to be an actual investigation.
BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, with sharp elbows on both sides right now, Judge Mukasey to you, because Jeffrey Toobin says there needs to be an investigation. The question is and I heard you discussing this is, into what?
MUKASEY: Precisely. There has been no showing that anybody committed a crime. There's been no showing that -- it certainly no showing that the Attorney General committed a crime or no suggestion that there is in fact an investigation of him. There's been no suggestion of a criminal investigation, because nobody has identified the crime.
There has been some indication that this is an intelligence inquiry as supposed to a criminal investigation. Now, the FBI used to just investigate crimes. Starting in 2008, we put in guidelines that allowed them to gather intelligence.
[21:50:03] The other night on your air, Adam Schiff of California blurted out that he was -- he as a member of the House Intelligence Committee was interested in hearing from the counterintelligence officers at the -- the counterintelligence agents of the FBI about this meeting. I think what that discloses is that there may very well be simply a matter of FBI intelligence gathering. In that case, there's nothing -- there's no criminal investigation.
BERMAN: I want to get this answer for both of you, Jeffrey Toobin, and Richard Painter. Is Judge Mukasey right? You know, is there a possible crime to investigate here? Jeffrey, you first.
TOOBIN: Of course, there is. I mean, this was at minimum, a false statement under oath. The question is, was it an intentional false statement under oath? I don't know. That's why you need an investigation.
But, I mean, when you have the Attorney General of the United States on the single most controversial issue in all of American politics at this moment saying something that is demonstrably false, that's why we have criminal investigations in this country.
BERMAN: And, Richard Painter, beyond just that hearing, are there possible crimes to investigate and what would they be?
PAINTER: Well, the standard for an Attorney General of the United States is not whether they've committed a crime. We should never have to even question, whether the Attorney General of the United States has committed a crime. If that is a serious question, then the occupant of the office is unfit for office.
The crime that is clearly been committed has been committed by Russian operatives inside the United States. I'm not trying to save western civilization, I'm trying to protect my own country from Russian subversion that been going on for decades. It's now going on in France. We need to work together to solve this problem.
We cannot have an Attorney General who is saying false things under oath and then arguing about whether it's a crime. That's irrelevant to the problem we confront and that it's a serious threat to our democracy. And that's what we need to focusing on.
BERMAN: All right, (inaudible) Richard Painter, Jeffrey Toobin, Michael Mukasey, I feel well represented tonight. Thank you so much for being with us.
New details about the intelligent that Navy Seals retrieved in the deadly raid in Yemen, and how they've just been put into action.
[21:55:04] BERMAN: New details tonight about what intelligence was retrieved in the raid in Yemen that killed U.S. Navy Seal Ryan Owens and how it's now being used. Barbara Starr has the latest.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, (voice-over): Tonight, the U.S. military and intelligence community are working in the overdrive trying to locate and monitor hundreds of people contacts found in the trove of intelligence retrieve during the raid last month's targeting Al-Qaeda in Yemen where Navy Seal William "Ryan" Owens and civilians died. The raid was part of an extending U.S. military effort in Yemen.
GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: The timing of this was linked to the broader offensive that we're pursuing in Yemen.
STARR (voice-over): Many of the contacts being monitored appear to be located in the west, but not in the U.S., officials say. As CNN has reported, laptops and cell phones were grabbed during the raid, yielding terabytes of data. Multiple senior U.S. officials tell CNN the intelligence recovered is vital and is in fact being acted on.
SETH JONES, RAND CORP: You can get a lot of different types of use from this kind of information. Some are cell phone numbers or very specific locations that you can take immediate actions on to strike specific targets, to get intelligence from individuals using certain phone numbers, for example.
STARR (voice-over): All this intelligence is classified and won't be made public because future operations could be put at risk. There's no independent verification, but senior U.S. officials say they've learned new information about Al-Qaeda's strongholds that will lead to more raids. Al-Qaeda's recruiting, training, and targeting intelligence and how Al-Qaeda in Yemen manufactures non-detectible bombs. All of which could intensify an already escalating U.S. campaign inside Yemen.
Overnight based on different intelligence, more than 20 U.S. air strikes targeted Al-Qaeda's strongholds attacking operatives, weapon sites, and safe havens. They still worry Al-Qaeda in Yemen will launch new attacks.
JONES: The problem is if you're to leave it alone right now, it's going to get bigger. Its capabilities are going to get larger. And, again, it's -- this has been about the most competent organization in terms of its bomb plotting and among the most innovative in trying to take down airplanes coming into the United States.
STARR: And it's the increasing threat from Al-Qaeda in Yemen and the possibility of attacks by that group that is leading to this step up U.S. military effort. John?
BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon thanks you so much. We'll be right back.