Return to Transcripts main page
AT THIS HOUR
Pelosi: Sessions "Lied Under Oath" And Must Resign Now; Sessions Under Siege Over Campaign Meetings With Russia; Top Republicans Call On Sessions To Recuse Himself; NYT: Obama Officials Left "Trail Of Evidence" About Russia. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 2, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: -- in the Hillary Clinton campaign. This is a completely different thing. The reason we have been saying that the Attorney General Sessions should step aside and maybe should never have been confirmed is because he was a surrogate who was a very important part, one of the first people in the Congress to endorse President Trump.
And now we see that, although, he has not told the truth about it, had conversations with Russian officials. If they were innocuous, why didn't he admit it instead of lying about it? It couldn't be more stark in terms of relationship to the campaign and who the attorney general was speaking to. No, they're completely different, day and night. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of your members, Congressman Keith Ellison, has released a statement that mentions that perjury is a felony punishable by jail time. Do you think that's an appropriate piece of this conversation?
PELOSI: Well, an investigation would show that, but the law has been broken. What he was stating is a fact that perjury is a crime, and there are consequences to it. It remains to be seen what else the investigation will lead to, but perjury by an ordinary citizen is punishable in the courts.
How much enhanced is that accountability for the top law enforcement person in our country? So let's see an investigation. I don't know what problem the Republicans have with the truth. They don't want to know the truth about the Russian connection.
They don't want to tell the truth about their Affordable Care Act bill that they have hidden in a basement someplace. They reject the idea that removing this from Congress, we'll have an independent commission outside the Congress look into the Russian connections, which are about hacking and undermining our Democratic system.
We should have that even if Hillary Clinton had won the White House. So from what you have said, I didn't see the statement, he was stating fact and an investigation will take us to the next place.
But an investigation of those charges, of those actions, is definitely warranted, definitely warranted. I remind you that this Congress impeached a president for something so far less, having nothing to do with his duties as president of the United States. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is it important that you see the CBO scores? And have you gotten any understanding why they're not ready?
PELOSI: I don't know if they're not ready or if they're just keeping them secret, we just don't know. But we've never been able to proceed with legislation of this magnitude without seeing the Congressional Budget Office score. And the Republicans have been very much a part -- we both have notice insisted on that, what is the impact on the budget especially if they plan to do this under reconciliation. The impact on the budget is essential to go forward. In terms of they did outside reconciliation, it's still essential that we know what we're doing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) and what do you expect?
PELOSI: Well, I want to see -- well, I don't even want to see what they're doing, because what they're doing is reducing benefits, reducing access, and costing more, from what we have seen. Again, what it is in a basement someplace, a Houdini act, maybe it will free itself somehow, I don't know.
But you know that they have conflict within their caucus about it. So what you're asking is the regular order. We have to know what it will cost. So we have always said, our goals, as I said earlier, our goals have been to increase -- improve and lower cost, improve benefits, and expand access.
If they have a bill that does that, we're happy to talk to them about it. I doubt it, from what we have seen so far, but they have tremendous unease in their own caucus about it. Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What can the American public expect of the House Intelligence Committee looking into the connections with Russia during the campaign?
PELOSI: Well, yesterday -- I don't know, has it been released to the press? It was released to the press that there were a proposal of scope for what the look into the Russian involvement in our election. That's a step forward. That's not a giant step forward.
But it's a step forward that in a bipartisan way, the chairman and the ranking member have signed -- is that whole thing in the public domain now?
[11:05:05]That is an agreement. The agreement goes into different categories, who they would call. That's something. I would hope, though, that in the scope document that they have, that that means that they would follow any trail, that they don't shut it down because it wasn't listed in that primary document.
I'm not impressed, quite frankly. I think this is progress. It shouldn't have taken this long. Both the House and Senate committees should -- about it takes time. You want to see documents. I respect that. I'm an intelligence person myself. You want to see the documents. You want to take the time. But we want to know that there's a path, not just an avoidance of it by killing time instead of using time. So we'll see.
But as I have said, I think while it's important for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to investigate this, what we also have to do have an outside independent bipartisan commission to look into, broader than what I just said, the impact of the Russians on our election, the personal, financial, and political connection between the Trump organization and the Russians. Yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) many Republicans, some are calling for Senator Sessions to recuse himself, but (inaudible) of calling for (inaudible).
PELOSI: All roads leads to Republicans in the Congress. What are they afraid of? They have been afraid of the truth every step of the way. They don't want to see the president's tax returns, when every president since Gerald Ford, every president in modern times has released his tax returns, and candidates release their tax returns. So what is it?
That would be a key indicator of their interest in the truth. So the question is to them, what are they afraid of in the tax returns? What are they afraid of in the investigation of the Russian involvement to undermine our democracy, to repeat that in other countries, to come back here and do that again?
What does it say about them that their chief law enforcement officer, the top cop in the country, lied to his colleagues in the Senate and to the American people, a person who himself knows about prosecution and knows about the law and knows about perjury and its penalties.
So what is it about the Republicans that they want to hide the truth from the American people? I call it stonewalling. I call it stonewalling. You'll have to ask them why they're stonewalling and what they're afraid of. Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Trump administration has called for some pretty big budget cuts (inaudible). What if anything can Democrats, particularly in the House, do to push back against those cuts?
PELOSI: Everything is about the public. How many times have you all heard me say public sentiment is everything? Abraham Lincoln. The public has to know what they are doing to our future. We all agree that we want to have the military that we need to protect the American people.
We take an oath to protect and defend our Constitution and the American people, but our strength is not only measured in our military might. It is measured in health, education, and wellbeing of the American people.
Because the people are not only our inventors and our family, people who grow family and community and build our country. They are also our soldiers. So we see, again, a budget is supposed to be a statement of values.
What the president is doing is quite outrageous. He is throwing out the window years of compromise in terms of parity, similar amount for defense as for domestic.
At the same time, it's important to note that defense is defense, but domestic is also veterans, Homeland Security, the State Department, and all that is involved in our security and soft power as well as weapons sales and the rest of that are in the domestic side of the budget.
So honoring our Camp David commitments and the rest of that, all in the domestic side of the budget. So in saying he's going to make these cuts, if he in fact increases defense this way, what is his mission? What is the mission?
Tell us your security mission that would justify this. What is this, is this more contracts for contractors? What is it? What is this money for, A? B, how can you possibly take that much money out of the domestic side?
[11:10:04]And so then they say, well, we're going to hold veterans and Homeland Security, we're not going to cut that. Well, if you hold them harmless, then you even have less to invest in education, research, and development.
A 100,000 kids kicked off of head start. Probably $3.5 billion cut from the National Institutes of Health. That's probably a thousand grants to scientific research that we won't -- wouldn't be able to do, for example if they did a 10 percent cut across the board. The list goes on.
It's tragic, really. Again, the budget is supposed to be a statement of our values. We honor our responsibilities to the people to protect them, to be number one in the world in terms of our economic growth.
The president also said, when he was saying that, that he was promising clean air and clean water. He's going to cut the EPA. Does he not know the connection between protections that are in it, Environmental Protection Agency, and air our children breathe, the water they drink, the safety of the food that they eat?
And the protection of their neighborhoods. What is he going to do to the justice function and the law enforcement function in the budget? Because all of it will be subjected to cuts, according to what he is putting forth. We haven't seen a budget.
We've seen -- what do they call it, an outline, blueprint, Minnie Mouse budget, mini me budget. Whatever, there's no "there" there yet. What we've seen so far is scary, very scary.
In every respect, whether it's protecting our security and not pandering to Vladimir Putin, not flirting with lifting our sanctions on Russia for their aggression in Eastern Europe, not undermining our treaties on nonproliferation and the rest. What do the Russians have on him? And then to turn around and say our strategic opponent here is Russia, and I'm going to undermine our intelligence collection on Russia because of what? We just don't know. We don't know a vision.
We don't know a judgment about what works or any knowledge associated with it. We don't know a strategic plan. All we know is a sales job, and so we have to make sure we make those distinctions. But we will have that time, during the appropriations season.
I'm an appropriator and an intelligence person, as you know. Appropriators always trying to come together in a bipartisan way to get the job done for the American people, but it remains to be seen what the Republicans will do to those decisions.
And if the allocations and resources to certain subcommittees that deal with health, education, jobs, our justice system, our transportation, housing, research and development, energy, science.
It remains to be seen where we'll be making those fights, and we'll be taking them to the public, inspired by Abraham Lincoln, public sentiment is everything. The public has to be vigilant, very, very vigilant, and more vigilant than ever. Thank you all very much.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. You have been listening and watching right there to the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who right off the top said very clearly she is accusing Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying under oath, going further than many on this one, and also joining a chorus of Democratic lawmakers at this point calling on Jeff Sessions to resign his post.
Republicans not going there, but there is a growing list right now of Republicans calling for the attorney general to recuse himself from the Justice Department's Russia probe. Justice Department officials, just to bring you up to speed here, Justice Department officials are now revealing that Jeff Sessions met twice with Russia's ambassador to the United States last year.
But Sessions did not mention either of those meetings while testifying under oath during his confirmation hearings. Listen to this.
(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, quote, "Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump."
These documents also allegedly say, quote, "There was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government."
[11:15:08]Again, I'm telling you this as it's 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?
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: So there is that. At the time of the meetings -- at the time of the meetings over the summer, Sessions was not only a Trump surrogate, of course, he was also the chairman of Donald Trump's National Security Advisory Committee on his campaign.
The first meeting came on the sidelines of the Republican convention in July. The second meeting was in September at Sessions' Senate Office. The attorney general this morning is defending himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Well, I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don't have anything else to say about that. So thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the calls to recuse yourself from your agency's probe of the --
SESSIONS: Well, I've said whenever it's appropriate I will recuse myself, there is no doubt about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Whenever it's appropriate. That seems to be a big question right now. Let's get straight to CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez for more on this. So Evan, what is the very latest that you're hearing here?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, the calls from the Democrats for him to resign seemed perhaps a little premature. First of all, I think one of the things you might expect, you know, you'll see more calls from Republicans asking for the attorney general to recuse himself.
That's not terribly unusual. You had, during previous times with attorneys general who have recused themselves because they were involved perhaps representing a client that now was being investigated, we've had that under Attorney General Eric Holder and other attorneys general. So that would not be unusual.
If that does happen, you would expect that the deputy attorney general, right now it's an acting attorney general, Dana Boente is the acting attorney general, but soon the Senate is going to have hearings for Rod Wilsenstein (ph) from Baltimore, who we expect will be deputy attorney general and then he could oversee this investigation.
He had no role in the Trump campaign, did not play any role at all during the election. So he could be the person that could oversee this investigation. Obviously, this is a very serious issue because the fact that the then-senator answered the question like he did, he actually volunteered that information.
That wasn't really what Al Franken was asking him. It was kind of remarkable that he volunteered that information. And what we're told, Kate, is that he simply did not remember those two meetings that you mentioned just now.
KEILAR: He did not remember that they took place or remember the contents of the conversation?
PEREZ: Did not remember that he had had those meetings. Right now what he's saying is that he doesn't -- there was no discussion about the election, that it was a routine meeting talking about other issues.
KEILAR: So now he remembers it. All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much, Evan, a lot more to come.
Back over to Capitol Hill, you have two top Republicans in the House. You've got now top Republicans in the Senate. You got in the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz.
They have called for the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself. You've got Republicans on the Senate calling for the very same to recuse himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. But listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: For any investigation going forward, you want to make sure everybody trusts the investigation, that there's no doubt within the investigation, it's --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does that require his recusal, Congressman?
MCCARTHY: I think it would be easier from that standpoint, yes.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I think the attorney general should further clarify his testimony and I do think he should recuse himself. I'm going to leave it at that. Let's let him clarify his statements and I do think he should recuse himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: All right, so a quick note on Congressman McCarthy, an aide later came out and talked to reporters and kind of tried to walk those comments back, saying that Sessions should only recuse himself if there is a conflict.
So let's continue the discussion right now, though, with another Republican, Republican Congressman from North Carolina, Mark Walker. He sits on the House Oversight Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for coming in.
REP. MARK WALKER (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Thanks. Our privilege to be with you, Kate.
KEILAR: Thank you. Do you agree with Kevin McCarthy, do you agree with the chairman of your committee, from Lindsey Graham to Darrell Issa to Rob Portman, at this point, that Jeff Sessions should recuse himself?
WALKER: I'm just shy of that because here's what I'm thinking. I want to make sure there's a little bit of a pause in the tension that we're seeing right in Washington, D.C.
[11:20:05]that before we ask somebody to recuse themselves or go after somebody with resignations, recusal, whatever it might be, we want to make sure there's evidentiary support to back that up.
KEILAR: So you think that Lindsey Graham, Rob Portman, Darrell Isa, Jason Chaffetz, Kevin McCarthy, and Raul Labrador, do you think they are jumping the gun?
WALKER: Well, I would refer to the latter part of McCarthy's comments, he should recuse himself if there has been some wrongdoing. Obviously from an investigation standpoint, many of us here in the halls of Congress on the Republican side are ready to move on, even though this dark cloud is mostly fabricated in many cases, there are still some things that have to be answered for us to move forward in building the trust of the American people.
KEILAR: Congressman, do you think this is fabricated, what's happening right now today?
WALKER: No, I'm not saying -- obviously there is evidence that there were two meetings. I'm a little disappointed there hasn't been more clarity or just the fact that we're now remembering those meetings. I don't get a chance to talk with too many international leaders. When I do, it certainly is impactful. That's not to say that you can leap to the place where there's specifically been any kind of wrongdoing.
KEILAR: The fact that he misled Congress, at the very least, he misspoke, misled, Nancy Pelosi said he lied under oath. Do you think that requires him to recuse himself?
WALKER: If there's a difference between misleading and misspoke, some of that is intentional, some of it is accidental. But in fairness, if there has been some kind of intentional lying under oath, that was the big discussion if you go back to Secretary Clinton, with our FBI director, was it intentional or unintentional. We want to be consistent here as we compare the two.
KEILAR: Congressman, if he recuses himself, should he be investigated for perjury?
WALKER: I'm not willing to say yes at this point until we see some more concrete evidence to there was something intentional about this and that's why I'm a little hesitant to say I'm jumping to where Darrell Issa is.
KEILAR: I don't need to list it out for dramatic effect once again, but when you have a growing list of Republicans calling for his recusal, at what point do you look at the political reality, Congressman, does it not become from an "if he recuses" and it becomes a "when"?
WALKER: It certainly can get to that point and I'm not saying that it won't, but as RNC chairman, I represent close to 160 members of the Republican conference, when I speak sometimes it's put on the rest of those members. So before we make sure that we sign on the dotted line at the bottom, we have to have strong evidence to make sure that is the direction that we need to go.
KEILAR: Does this whole thing make you uncomfortable, though, Congressman? Did you find it unusual? As you said, you don't meet with a lot of foreign leaders, when you do, they have an impact. Do you find it unusual that Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice since July and said he didn't remember that that happened?
WALKER: I can give you a talking point, but the truth is, absolutely it does. We've got to make sure that we get out from underneath this cloud. We have an opportunity to lead. In fact, we must lead having both houses of the administration, we need to get out of the gate. This has been stalling us at different points.
KEILAR: Congressman, I appreciate your candor. Thank you so much. Please come back on. We've got a lot more to discuss and a lot of moving parts here. Thank you very much.
WALKER: Looking forward to it. God bless, bye-bye.
KEILAR: Thank you. All right, in just minutes we'll hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He will inevitably, if he doesn't offer it up, he will be asked about the latest with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We'll bring that to you live once he takes to the microphone. We'll be right back.
KEILAR: All right, this morning "The New York Times" reports that in the final days of the Obama administration, White House officials moved quickly to preserve and pass along information about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about possible contacts, the investigation had possible contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russia.
The report says the officials wanted to, and this is according to the report, "to leave a clear trail of intelligence" before the Trump administration took over.
Let's go over to the White House now. Sara Murray is at there for much more on this. Sara, what are you picking up on this?
[11:25:04]SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, it's been interesting to see the reaction from President Obama, now that he's no longer in office. We got a statement from his spokesman that was essentially saying, of course, we documented this.
I want to read you part of that statement saying, "This situation was serious as is evident by President Obama's call for a review, and as is evident by the United States' response, when the IC, intelligence community, does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented."
But Kate, it's worth noting some of the places they spread this information, for instance, Senator Ben Cardin, who is the top Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations, was also given a batch of documents related to Russia's meddling in the U.S. election.
And there have been ongoing efforts to continue to preserve documentation surrounding this inquiry. Senate intelligence asked the White House to preserve documents on that. And the White House has now gone to its staffers, lawyers have, and said, look, if it's anything pertaining to Russia, you need to make sure you're keeping those records -- Kate.
KEILAR: Sara Murray, thanks so much. Watch out, Sara, they're coming to get you, we heard the ambulance behind you. Just kidding.
All right, so let's get back to our -- let's talk about this and also our big story, a growing list of Democrats are calling on the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.
One of those Democrats, who is calling for the attorney general to resign, is Congressman Ted Lieu. He serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees. He's joining me now.
Congressman, first I want to ask you what Sara Murray is reporting. "The New York Times" laid it out this morning, that the Obama administration rushed to preserve and pass along intel, as much intel as they could, about Russia contacts with Trump aides before they headed out of office.
In one case, passing it to the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You're on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Do you or any other member, did you or any other member receive any similar documents?
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you for that question, Kate. Let me first say that America, we have a problem. In less than two months of the Trump administration, we now have two high ranking officials that lied about communications with the Russians. First it was Michael Flynn. Now it's Jeff Sessions, but what he did was worse. He lied to Congress.
KEILAR: Congressman, we'll get to that, but did you get any documents from the Obama administration?
LIEU: I personally did not, but we will be inquiring and investigating based on the new "New York Times" article.
KEILAR: You're going to be investigating? Does the Republican head of that committee agree with you on that?
LIEU: We're certainly going to ask and my hope is all Republican chairs start investigations now, because where there is smoke, there is fire. When the smoke is so thick you can't see, you need to have investigations. You need to have special prosecutors.
KEILAR: Let's get to Jeff Sessions. You are calling on Jeff Sessions to resign his post. You also say that he's playing dumb here. I saw that in a tweet from you this morning. Why do you say that?
LIEU: Jeff Sessions keeps changing his story. First, it was that he didn't have any communications with Russians. Then it was, he had communications but didn't know what he said. And then last night he said, well, he had the meetings, but he definitely didn't talk about communications with the Trump campaign.
But in the congressional hearing, the question asked of Jeff Sessions was, did you have communications with Russians, and Sessions said he did not have communications. That's a lie. That's perjury. He needs to resign. An investigation needs to be opened up to see if he should be prosecuted.
KEILAR: Congressman, senators talk to ambassadors all the time, I checked in with senators this morning just to make sure. They do all the time. If Jeff Sessions clarifies that he understood -- he misunderstood the question to mean that it was talking to Russians about the campaign specifically, would that be enough for you?
LIEU: No. Because consider the context, first of all, no other member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee or Armed Services Committee had this meeting with the Russian ambassador. This was sort of the issues that were happening.
You don't really forget about a meeting with the Russian ambassador and then not only has he not clarified, he's changed his story. So it tells me that he is not telling the truth.
I sit on the House Judiciary Committee. We have oversight over the Department of Justice. We can't conduct it if executive branch officials lie to Congress under oath.
KEILAR: So what are you going to do about it?
LIEU: We're going to call for a special prosecutor. In fact, we need two special prosecutors now, one to investigate Jeff Sessions, one to investigate the connections between Trump and Russia.
And keep in mind, what Sessions did was so serious that Congress passed an entire law on it. There is a law that says executive branch officials cannot lie to Congress at congressional hearings. It's 18 USC Section 1001.
KEILAR: Congressman Lieu, thanks so much for that. I appreciate your time. A lot going on. We'll get back to you on that.
LIEU: Thank you. KEILAR: All right, let's talk about -- the congressman was quoting the law. Let's talk to a lawyer. Joining me now is CNN contributor and former general counsel at the Federal Elections Commission, Larry Novel is joining me now.
So Larry, I've not got members of Congress quoting statutes to me. I would really like some help --