Return to Transcripts main page
U.S. A.G Recuse Himself; Another Turmoil in Trump's White House; Hacked E-mail Account. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 2, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Thanks for watching 360, our coverage continues. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon starts now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking out moments ago on the political firestorm over his pre- election conversations with the Russian ambassador.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
Listen to what Sessions tells Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: I never had conversations about, you know, with the Russians about this campaign, and putting them assisting in the campaign, or anything like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So that is in the wake of the attorney general's announcement he will recuse himself from any investigation related to the Trump campaign. President Trump, though, defending Attorney General and charging democrats are quote, "overplaying their hand."
We're also learning tonight that Vice President Mike Pence routinely used private e-mail account to conduct public business as Governor of Indiana. I'm going to talk to the reporter who broke that story.
But first, I want to get right to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, and our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski.
Good evening to both of you. Jeff, you first. Earlier today, the Attorney General Sessions recused himself in a press conference he said, from any investigations related to the president Trump's 2016 campaign, possible contacts with Russia. What do you know, what's the latest?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Don, really a stunning turn of events in the last 24 hours or so. It was just the late last evening when this was first breaking first in the Washington Post when a senior administration official said this is s all partisan, there's nothing to see here.
But boy, by the end of today, you have the attorney general holding an extraordinary news conference at the Justice Department recusing himself from any investigations at all into campaign activities here at the White House from someone that he campaigned for aggressively.
Now this is not any cabinet member. Senator Sessions initially before he became attorney general was the first senator to endorse this president. He is as close as anyone on the in the inner circle is to this president.
And by the end of the day he was of course recusing himself not simply because democrats were complaining about this, because republicans were calling for him to step aside, saying he is not, you know, objective enough potentially to address any type of investigation. But this is what the Attorney General said tonight in an interview on Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I have not had any such meetings. It was not meeting with the Russian officials to on a continuing basis to advance any campaign agenda. Sometime before that I had met in my office in an official way with the Russian ambassador. And so, that was the answer I gave.
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: Right.
SESSIONS: And I think it was an honest answer, Tucker, I thought I was responding exactly to that question. And really became a big brouhaha.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Well, he's right about that. It did become a big brouhaha, if you want to use the attorney general's words there. But republicans again, also concerned about this. And it goes back to how he answered that question in his confirmation hearing. If he ever had any connections or meetings with any Russian officials and turns out he did.
So that is the reason that he had to recuse himself from that. Don, it was not anything anticipated, again, just 24 hours ago, and of course, it has overtaken the entire message this president tried to deliver this week, to carry on his speech he gave earlier in the week, he was trying to make his case for his agenda. There was not much room for that today, Don, with all this attorney general conversations.
LEMON: And Jeff and Michelle, I want to play; this is another part of that interview where he talks about not recalling what happened during the meeting. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I don't recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way. It was in no way some sort of coordinating of an effort by doing anything improper. And I don't believe anybody that was in that meeting would have seen or believed I said one thing that was improper or unwise.
SESSIONS: And it was really a sad thing to being attacked like that. But I had, I think we've explained it and we intend to move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But Jeff, during his confirmation, he said he had no contact. Now he's saying he doesn't recall what happened in the meeting. What are -- what are Americans to believe here?
ZELENY: And Don, that is the issue here. We do not know what happened in the meeting. We do not know that there was anything unethical or improper that happened in that meeting.
But remember, during these confirmation hearings, he said there was no meeting. So just the sense of this what we're learning day by day, in some case, hour by hour here that is what is alarming many republicans in this town.
Leave democrats aside for one second. This is what's alarming republicans here. Because, you know, things are coming out in real time here.
[22:05:01] So, we do not know yet the full answer to this. But Don, this emboldened congressional investigators to try to get to the bottom of this.
LEMON: Another part of the interview is about why he believes he should recuse himself. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: And the reason I believed I should recuse myself is because I was involved in the campaign. To a degree I think it would have been perceived is that I wouldn't be objective in participating in an investigation that might involve the campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Michelle Kosinski, he seems to understand that now but that was part of the question that was presented by Senator Al Franken at the time. He said he is saying he did not understand it when, during the questioning.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Saying that because the question referred to people associated with the campaign, campaign surrogates, did they have contacts with Russians, that he wasn't thinking of himself in his capacity as a committee member meeting with ambassador, which should be a normal thing to do, he said he was thinking in terms of campaign surrogates meeting about the campaign with Russians. So, he maintains that he did not still talk about the campaign in
these meetings, but his mind was sort of framing it differently. And of course now in retrospect he says, you know, he wished that he had been able to clarify it then.
LEMON: So many questions here. Jeff, I understand we're hearing now from the White House. What's the White House saying?
ZELENY: We are, indeed, Don. We have a new statement from the president just this evening again trying to stop this conversation and stop to talk about this. Let's take a look at the statement here. We'll read it to you.
It said, "Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately. But it was clearly not intentional. This whole narrative," the president says, "is a way of saving face for democrats, losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win."
"The democrats," he says, "are overplaying their hand. They lost the election and now they have lost their grip on reality." The real story that president goes on to say is that "All of that illegal leaks of classified and other information. It is a total witch-hunt."
So, witch-hunt perhaps, Don, but it is not simply a democratic one. If that was the case the attorney general would not have made that move today. This White House is very accustomed to fighting democrats going after the things. The thing that pushed them to action today was the criticism and worry from republicans.
LEMON: Michelle Kosinski, it's very similar to what happened with General Flynn. Because moments before he resigned or there was some movement in the story, the White House was contemplating what to do, yet standing behind him and issuing similar statements at the same time.
KOSINSKI: And also remember in that case he said he didn't recall but we know that those conversations between Flynn and Russian ambassador were captured and recorded by routine U.S. surveillance.
So, whatever was said in those conversations, Flynn knew that because it was recorded, there was absolutely no way to -- you know, even if there was a chance, even if he couldn't remember what he had talked about, if there was a chance that he did say that, it's there on a wiretap and a transcript for people to read.
In the case of Sessions, I mean, this whole meeting and way he thought of it in his mind under questioning could have been exactly as he said. I mean, this all could be, you know, precisely as he described it.
He gave some detail today when he was talking about it in his press conference. But given that this issue was so sensitive, even though the Flynn issue was fresh while Sessions was being questioned during the confirmation hearing, just with the Russian hacking. I mean, such a sensitive subject, you would think that the future Attorney General would in his mind think what contacts at all have I had with Russian officials and that he would have been extremely careful to mention that he had this meeting that was benign completely with a Russian ambassador.
Just to get that point across under that kind of questioning under those circumstances. Of course that's not the way it happened. I think what's interesting tonight I read someone in the Washington Post calling Kislyak the least memorable man in the world.
LEMON: It's interesting that you said what you said. Because during the interview and also questions today, wondering why he didn't amend his statement, especially considering what happened to Flynn. Flynn having to resign about something that the White House and Trump spokespeople said that they didn't believe was such a big deal and he had the full confidence of the president.
Jeff, I want to move on and ask you this because I need to get to some information here. CNN also has new reporting tonight about more contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian ambassador at the time of the convention. Fill us in on that.
ZELENY: We did, indeed, Don. At the time of that republican convention last summer in Ohio, in Cleveland, there were other campaign officials, foreign policy advisers and others who were meeting with the Russian ambassador. And that is not all.
[22:09:57] Also after the election at Trump Tower in December, Jared Kushner, of course, the president's son-in-law, and Michael Flynn also met with the Russian ambassador. So these were never meetings that were part of the time line at any other time before until right now.
So at this point, the White House is trying to put everything out there or at least more things out there about meetings and other things. So we know about multiple meetings.
The question hanging over this, what did the Russians hope to gain from these meetings? We do not have an answer to that, Don.
LEMON: Thank you, Jeff, and thank you, Michelle. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now a reporter, the reporter who broke that story that Mike Pence used a private e-mail account to conduct business as governor of Indiana and was hacked.
Joining me now is Tony Cook of the Indi Star. Tony, thank you for joining us this evening. Your reporting tonight that Vice President Mike Pence as the Governor of Indiana used his personal e-mail for state business. So what can you tell us?
TONY COOK, INDIANA STAR REPORTER: that's right. So, we filed public information request and we got e-mails that showed that Pence routinely corresponded with his top advisers on matters of state business including issues related to security, he discussed an -- some FBI arrests in a terror related case with his top homeland security adviser, state homeland security adviser. And there were also additional e-mails that were not provided to us in
response to our record's request, those e-mails were deemed too sensitive, there are exemptions in the open records law for deliberative and confidential materials. And so, there were also additional e-mails, we're not sure how many that were withheld for that reason. So, he was using this AOL account to deal with some pretty sensitive issues.
LEMON: OK. So, was this illegal for him to do this?
COOK: So, state law is silent on whether you can use a private e-mail address, but I do think -- I don't think it's uncommon. What he needs to do to comply with the law is make sure that any e-mails related to state business are retained and available to the new administration, in this case, for example, so that people can request those e-mails through the public records.
LEMON: Did that happen?
COOK: So, well, what Pence's team has told us, is that he has hired a private law firm to go through his AOL e-mails and provide those to the State of Indiana. And they say that process started sometime around when his term was finishing up. But there's some -- we're not totally clear on whether the new administration necessarily agrees with that assessment. We're still waiting on more information from them...
LEMON: It sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?
COOK: Whether they have in fact received these e-mails.
LEMON: Yes. It sounds awfully familiar.
COOK: Right. I mean -- I mean, Pence criticized Hillary Clinton pretty harshly for her use of a private e-mail server, a private server and private e-mail account on issues of accountability and, you know, having sensitive materials that could be hacked.
LEMON: And preserving the record as well.
COOK: That's right. Now there are some differences. Pence didn't have a security clearance for, you know, federal issues the way that Clinton did. Obviously, he's not going to be dealing with quite as sensitive information.
LEMON: As sensitive information. Also he did not have a private e- mail server in his basement. He used a private e-mail account. There is a difference there. COOK: That's right.
LEMON: So, but this e-mail account was hacked, right, Tony?
COOK: Yes, that's right. A scammer appears to have been able to penetrate Pence's e-mail account and was able to send an e-mail to his contacts saying that Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and needed some money wired to them. So we know that, you know, at least one hacker was able to break into his e-mail.
LEMON: What you obtained some of these e-mails. What was in them?
COOK: Well, there were a variety of issues. The ones we requested were security related. And there's discussions about everything from the security gate at the governor's residence to how the state is responding after shooting at the Canadian parliament.
And there's also probably the most sensitive thing we did see was some requests and updates about investigations. In one case, a terror investigation.
Now his homeland security official responded with information about an FBI -- or some FBI arrests but it does appear a lot of that information if not all was already public. But he says in that e-mail that he just got an update from the FBI and was relaying that information to Pence.
[22:15:00] LEMON: But no response from the White House or from the vice president tonight?
COOK: Well, the vice president's office sent us a statement saying that Pence didn't break any laws and he's complied with all Indiana laws regarding these records, and you know, they've also said that any comparison to Clinton is absurd.
LEMON: All right. Tony Cook, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
COOK: Thanks for having me.
LEMON: When we come back, the White House in turmoil tonight over new revelations of campaign advisers' communications with Russia. Can the Trump administration get past all this?
LEMON: Our breaking news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking out tonight in the wake of his announcement he'll recuse himself from any investigation related to the Trump campaign.
I want to bring in Robert Ray, he's a former federal prosecutor and independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, also Ron Nehring, he's a former national spokesman for Ted Cruz's campaign, Brian Fallon, who was Hillary Clinton's campaign press secretary, and Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
Gentlemen, so glad to have you on. Robert, I'm going to start with you. First on the attorney general, he maintains that he didn't lie to Congress. What did you think, did he perjure himself as some democrats are saying or is this going a bit too far?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: That's overstated. I mean, I don't want to say that. It's an irresponsible comment. But I think in context I agree with the former Attorney General Mike Mukasey. And I think the president got it right, too. I don't think there's any intention to mislead, you know.
And anyone who think that what he, you know, the little that he did say would warrant that perjury prosecution doesn't anything about perjury prosecutions or prosecuting false statement cases, it's very difficult to do.
[22:20:01] And that, you know, really the issue here is not that. The issue really are the underlying facts and what the context were and so on and so forth. And I imagine now that the attorney general has recused himself, the ordinary processes of the Department of Justice will get at, you know, whether there is an issue here or there isn't an issue here.
LEMON: Well, shouldn't there be some sort of recordings, or if he was acting, you know, as a senator, right, in his capacity as senator, wouldn't there be someone in the office with him at the time during the meeting or someone with him during the meeting? And shouldn't there be some sort of transcript of the meeting?
RAY: I don't know if they'll be a transcript. I think he already acknowledged today at the press conference that he did recalled at least two or three people that were, you know, that were there when the ambassador was there. And so, I imagine if there's an issue here, you know, investigators will get to the bottom of that.
But that will happen through the ordinary processes of the Department of Justice. And anybody that suggests that the attorney general should resign or that the Justice Department is incapable of conducting a full and independent inquiry, you know, it seems to me, rather overstated. We're three weeks into the attorney general's tenure, it seems kind of overblown.
LEMON: Richard, I want to ask you the same thing. He maintains he didn't lie to Congress. Do you think he perjured himself, do you that some democrats are overplaying their hands as the president have said?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, what he said wasn't true. He said that he had no contacts with the Russians. And he didn't qualify that by saying I have no contacts with the Russians about the campaign or anything. He said he didn't have contacts with the Russians.
LEMON: Are you saying it's convenient excuse now he was found out? PAINTER: Well, he had two contacts with the Russians. I mean, he just
-- he did not tell the truth. Now whether that was inadvertent or whether he had amnesia or whether intended to lie, I don't know. Obviously to prove a perjury case, you have to prove intent to lie but his answer was not true, the statement was not true.
That's very worrisome. Because the standard for an Attorney General isn't whether they have committed perjury. You want to have an Attorney General who was able to discuss critical issues, such as contacts with the Russians truthfully and to remember meetings that he had with the Russian ambassador only months earlier.
The Russian spying on U.S. citizens is a very serious problem. The Russians are doing this in other countries as well. We just heard about Vice President Pence's e-mail when he was Governor of Indiana. I mean, my concern there is that the Russians get into this AOL accounts and can hack them.
We have a very serious problem with Russian espionage inside the United States. And if we can't remember with the ambassador and be able to tell the truth in hearings, you know, that is -- that is not a conduct befitting of an Attorney General of the United States and I'm very worried about that.
LEMON: So, Brian, I want to ask you this. Stick with us, do you think because there are lot of, you know, democrats who have been either, you know, releasing statements, stepping up to the microphone, saying you know, that Jeff Sessions needs to resign, do you think that they're overplaying their hand?
BRIAN FALLON, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think they're justified in at least suggesting that there needs to be a perjury investigation here. I mean, the facts are quite simply that Attorney General Jeff Sessions raised his right hand, swore an oath and made a statement that is factually, demonstrably false, as Richard just noted.
Now, again, we don't know whether the willfulness standard that applies with the perjury statute is at issue here, maybe he did have an amnesia, let's give him the benefit of the doubt but there should at least be an investigation here.
And if this was such a benign meeting that he had with the Russian ambassador and it was in his official capacity as a senator, why not volunteer it and set the record straight when he had the follow-up occasion to do so under written questions from Senator Leahy.
I think actually in the interview that he gave tonight with Tucker Carlson; I think he might have hinted that why he had reason to cover this meeting up. He said in one answer to Tucker Carlson that he could not recall discussing the election in any significant way. That's two caveats in one single sentence.
I work at the Justice Department. That strikes me as lawyer speaks for yes, he did discussed the election with the Russian ambassador. So I think we need an investigation here. And senators, democrat and republicans are justified in calling for that.
LEMON: Yes, and he did respond to that and I'll try to get the sound bite for you. Because which I thought was a very good question from Tucker, he said, why didn't -- considering what happened with Michael Flynn why didn't you go back and amend your statements.
He said it's a very same ambassador that anyone in your staff say to you holy smokes perhaps we should clarify? And he said no, I never gave that a thought. I never considered it. He never thought that he should clarify considering Michael Flynn had to resign over something that was not exactly the same but similar. Ron, what do you think?
RON NEHRING, FORMER TED CRUZ'S NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I think these are two very, very different circumstances and I think that General Sessions deserves benefit of the doubt on this. If you watch the complete segment with the questions coming from Senator Franken concluded, that was campaign context.
[22:24:59] And then-Senator Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in his -- in his Senate capacity which is not an unusual thing. It's also not unusual for people ambassadors and other representatives of foreign governments to take a look at our campaign.
I met with an ambassador in South Carolina. And it was simply a conversation where they were just coming down to South Carolina to witness the primary process and so on.
So, it's not unusual for people in a campaign to have conversations with ambassadors at all. And in this case it was in his official capacity. So I think that when you look at the context, you know, it's clear that he did not -- he was not referring - he was not thinking of himself...
LEMON: I've got to ask you, Ron.
NEHRING: ... in a campaign capacity whatsoever.
LEMON: I think we should -- I think of course we should people the benefit of the doubt. But if you are the attorney general of the United States and you are, you know, the highest person when it comes to that -- in that capacity of United States and you're getting -- and you're at a confirmation hearing, you have been serving not only as a surrogate but as an adviser to campaign, you're a senator as well, they ask you about contacts with Russians, why -- how could that slip your mind if you are vying for such an important office?
NEHRING: Well, you'd have to ask him.
LEMON: Where truth and context matter.
NEHRING: I mean, you are asking question about the, you know, the inside of -- you know, the inside of his brain. But the entire lead up to that -- to that line of questioning was in the context of representatives of the campaign. And I don't think Senator Sessions was in any capacity a decision maker, or anything with respect to the campaign.
There were other people who clearly, you know, were having interactions with the Russians, it appears, I mean, that's been, you know, documented pretty well so far. Even though those individuals are probably not happy about it, but not Senator Sessions.
This is, you know, this is way, way, way overblown. Senator Cruz is right when he calls it's a nothing burger because that's what it is. And there are plenty of things that have taken -- that have taken place so far that have been wrong and so on, but this is not one of them.
LEMON: All right. The question is, if it's big nothing burger, why would he recuse himself? We'll continue our discussion right after the break.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We're back now with our breaking news here on CNN, reports said that Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private e-mail account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana and it got hacked. That comes from the Indiana Star. We just had the reporter on just a short time ago.
So back with me now is Robert Ray, Ron Nehring, Brian Fallon, and Richard Painter. Brian, what's your reaction to this Indiana Star reporting?
BRIAN FALLON, FORMER Hillary Clinton CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, it's credit to the Indiana reporter out there who broke the story. It's a good gumshoe reporting by him.
Look, Hillary Clinton's use of personal e-mail server was inappropriate, I think that if she had to do it all over again, she would do it differently and greatly regrets it to this day. But look, during the campaign the issue was overblown, it was taken to great extremes and all perspective was lost.
And the reason why that was true is because this practiced is very widespread and very common, including now we know with Vice President Pence. But I won't be holding my breath for any of the republicans on Capitol Hill that crying foul about Hillary Clinton's practices to do the same about the vice president.
LEMON: Yes. And of course it has been said that he did not have private e-mail server. Hillary Clinton had a private e-mail server, it's the difference. But then, Ron, I want this -- I want to read this. This is from the Indiana Star's report.
It says, "Corey Nachreiner, chief technology officer at computer security company, WatchGuard Technologies, said the e-mail accounts of Pence and Clinton were probably about equally vulnerable to attacks. In this case, you know the e-mail address has been hacked, he said, it would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private e-mail server."
Ron, what's your reaction to that?
RON NEHRING, FORMER TED CRUZ'S NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, first, you know, as soon as somebody find a private server in Mike Pence's bathroom that the parallels will be a lot more meaningful. But I think the one thing clearly has been established from the 2016 campaign is that everyone in the U.S. government needs to really step it up when it comes to cyber security.
That people have to be aware that, you know, your AOL account or especially your Yahoo account, et cetera, are very vulnerable to hacking. People have to know and be trained on what phishing is and what's sphere phishing is and these other techniques that bad guys.
In the case of Vice President Pence it appears that this was just some, you know, scammer looking to make a couple of bucks who penetrated his account. But in the case of Hillary Clinton, John Podesta -- I'm sorry, and the DNC, you know, then it was far more nefarious characters at play.
Regardless people have to really step it up that they're in the U.S. government in any capacity at all need to step up and make sure that their accounts are secure and that not they're conducting, you know, state business on private accounts because they're then subject to, they're subject to all types of bad things that can happen when those accounts gets compromised.
LEMON: Brian, you're not buying that.
FALON: No. Ron said a bunch of things that aren't true. There is no server in a bathroom. And look, personal e-mail is personal e-mail. And neither Hillary Clinton nor Mike Pence should have been using personal e-mail for government work. But let's stop pretending that it's excusable in Mike Pence's case because he didn't have a personal server. It's the same thing.
NEHRING: It is not the same thing at all.
FALLON: What's the difference, Ron? Ron, tell me the difference?
NEHRING: It is not the same thing. I'm sorry.
FALLON: Ron, tell me the difference.
NEHRING: Because Hillary Clinton's e-mail system was designed to avoid scrutiny and to keep her private e-mails out of the hands of a republican Congress and you lost the election because of it. Because it was done deliberately. That system was designed by a lawyer not a technology company and whatsoever, and you guys paid the price.
Because nobody would trust that someone who went to the extent that Hillary Clinton did to keep her private e-mails that were government business out of the hands of the hands of the appropriate oversight agencies of the U.S. government was believable. And that's why you're not in the White House right now and Donald Trump is.
FALLON: Ron, I do think, I actually do think that her, the way in which this was blown out of proportion did exact the heavy toll on our campaign and it's among the major reasons why...
NEHRING: It's not the way it was over blown out of proportion.
LEMON: Ron, let him finish.
FALLON: But the fact...
LEMON: Ron, let him finish.
FALLON: Ron, with all due respect, you're not answering the difference and the facts that hand here with Mike Pence. Mike Pence used a personal e-mail for work purposes. He didn't hand over any of those personal e-mails that he used for work purposes until after he left the governor's office according to the report today.
He used his own personal attorneys to review and decide which was government related and which wasn't. Those are the exact same circumstances as Hillary Clinton. Now I'm not saying he didn't do that he did anything wrong.
[22:35:01] NEHRING: but they are not the exact same circumstances as your former boss whatsoever.
FALLON: How are they different, Ron? Ron, how are they different?
LEMON: Ron, according to this technology expert he said that they both just as vulnerable even though one was a private e-mail server and it would be hypocritical to consider this issue any different than a private e-mail.
NEHRING: It's very different.
LEMON: All right. You believe it's different. He doesn't believe it's different.
NEHRING: Nobody sets up a private server for that purpose.
LEMON: During the campaign Mike Pence talked about Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail during the campaign. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After concluding last summer that Hillary Clinton was only extremely careless with handling classified information, on Friday, Director Comey and the FBI announced they'd learned of the existence of e-mails that appear pertinent to their investigation and the FBI has reopened the investigation.
We want to commend the FBI. We want to commend the FBI for reopening this case. For one simple principle. And that is no one is above the law.
Why doesn't she go ahead and release all the 33,000 e-mails that she did not turn over to the FBI and to the Congress initially. I mean, I think the American people have a right to know.
The FBI has reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton's classified -- handling of classified documents on her server.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Ron, my point is that you and Brian aren't going to solve it now. Wasn't solved for two years in this campaign and even before that, before the campaign even started. But listen, I want to bring Robert in here. Does this put President Trump and republicans in a sticky spot here?
ROBERT RAY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No. I mean, look there's one simple distinction, one involves national security information and the other doesn't. Everybody, I agree with the general premise that every public official needs to be careful about, you know, separating the personal from the public's business.
And you get into trouble particularly in a world now where we need to be more and more concerned from a cyber-security perspective about the ability to be hacked. So, you know, only in that sense are the two situations comparable. But the major distinction between the two is one, involved national security information and the other doesn't. So, you know, the rest of it just getting lost in the weeds.
LEMON: Which was the argument between the two gentlemen there. Richard, I have to ask you this. Because we're learning days before Donald Trump took office that the Trump transition team turned down an ethics training the same training that was used by both the Obama administration and the Bush transition -- Bush transition team and the Obama transition team.
Are you -- I'm wondering if all this could have been avoided had they had that training.
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, I think it's not get going on the ethics training. Absolutely, they should have been doing that a long time ago and brought us all somebody's problems.
I gave the ethics more lectures and I told them not to not use the personal e-mail for official government business and people of course went ahead and use the personal e-mail for their personal government business and a big scandal back then.
Nobody thought you'd had classified information on those personal accounts. I mean, that's crazy but. Of course it made a big wham. I think it's a brilliant move. It helps win the election for the republicans. Of course that investigation is about politics. We all know that.
But now we are what we are. The bottom line is let's stop using the personal accounts for official government business and also don't write anything embarrassing in your personal account because it's probably copied to Vladimir Putin, he's got it. I mean, that's the world we live in.
LEMON: Can you see a big difference here between the two or between Pence and Clinton?
PAINTER: I think using personal e-mail server for any official government business is a dumb move. And that's what I told people in the White House. But it's not illegal. And you know, I think we should make it illegal because one, it is a security risk, that's the biggest risk, but it's in the hand of some foreign power.
And also there's the presidential records act and the state level they have obligation to retain state records. So we all just have flat-out rule that's illegal. But that hasn't been the rule. And so people had been doing it despite the advice of counsel's offices. It's not good idea, it's been going on for 10, 15 years.
PAIINETR: And it was written in the Clinton staff manual, don't use a personal e-mail for your official business.
LEMON: And they didn't.
PAINTER: They're probably doing it, too. But we got to have a rule and say, no more of that.
LEMON: I've got to go.
PAINTER: And get into political food fight over it.
LEMON: Thank you, Richard. Thank you, Ron. And thank you, Brian. I appreciate it. All of you, and Robert, thank you so much.
When we come right back, the White House says there's nothing to see here when it comes to repeated contacts between top Trump officials and the Russians, but what do both sides want to get out of these contacts? That's next.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: We've learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador prior to the election and he is not the only one. President Trump's senior aide Jared Kushner and ousted adviser Michael Flynn also met with the ambassador.
Let's discuss now with Max Boot is here, he is a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and the author of "Invisible Armies," Liz Wahl is here as well. She is a Russian media expert and former RT anchor, and Jonathan Sanders joins us, he's a associate professor at the Stony Brook School of Journalism. And he is the author of "The Russians Emerge."
Good evening to all of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Almost from the very beginning, Max, the Trump campaign has been, you know, had this compelling, puzzling questions about why he is friends with Russia and won't criticize Vladimir Putin and so on. What do you think?
MAX BOOT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS SENIOR FELLOW: I think this is a monumental scandal, Don. I mean, I want to stress how unprecedented this is to have credible accusations at the President of the United States and his inner circle are in complicity with a hostile foreign power.
I mean, this is the kind of stuff that in the past this only happen in the pages of bad spy novels. But this is reality. We've already seen numerous senior White House campaign officials or senior campaign officials lying about their connections with Russia.
We saw Paul Manafort fired over the summer because he has connections with Russia. You see Mike Flynn fired as National Security Adviser because of his connections with Russia. Now you're seeing Attorney General Sessions having to recuse himself from further investigations because of his connections with Russia.
I have a very simple question for you, if they don't have anything to hide, why are so many of them lying about their connections to Russia.
LEMON: It's a very good question. Jonathan, what do you think?
JONATHAN SANDERS, PROFESSOR, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Well, I think first of all lying is the key thing. Not talking -- talking to Russians, we need more people talking to Russians, not fewer talking to Russians.
[22:45:05] One of the cardinal features of the Cold War was we blamed everything on the other side and we thought the world was a zero-sum game. Now we do not know to this day what motivates Donald Trump to be so contrarian to like Vladimir Putin so very much, not to criticize him.
That's a great puzzle. And we've talked about this before, Don, we don't know whether somebody gave him a lot of money, whether he had a Russian girlfriend and saw the wonders of the Russian soul, whether he just discovered there were a bunch of crass new rich guys like him and that they made life better, or that he saw Putin as the guy who is hated by everyone in the American establishment.
The Council in Foreign Relations and everyone in Washington and therefore, in his very contrarian way, he wanted to cheer for him. We don't know. But it's not because they're dealing with the Russians, it's because they're lying about dealing with the Russians because in this cold war atmosphere to be seen with the Russian is a bad thing.
SANDERS: And that's pretty stupid.
LEMON: As they say, it's always the cover-up. And so, Liz, I have to ask you it seems daily or weekly that we find out about another Trump campaign or an administration adviser or surrogate or an official with a tie to Russia, has this -- what do you think of this targeted campaign? Is this a targeted campaign by the Russians?
LIZ WAHL, FORMER RT ANCHOR: Well, according to U.S. intelligence agencies it is, that was the conclusion, that Russia had hacked U.S. elections with the intent both to undermine our democracy and to get President Trump elected.
And after the -- after the election, the Russian officials were clanking champagne glasses in celebration. And you got to think why - why are -- why is the Kremlin, Russian propaganda, the hacking, the targeted hacking, clearly they were campaigning for Trump to get elected.
And so, there's this web of connections and a lot of shadiness, a lot of questions. This is just kind of adds on to all the existing questions. One thing that's striking for me is beyond just these questionable characters with these connections to Russians is the rhetoric that we're hearing from camp -- from surrogates from Trump himself.
Mr. Sanders there had mentioned we don't know what Trump wants, we don't know what his motivations are. We haven't seen his tax returns. But we know what Putin wants. There are some key things that he wants. He wants the sanctions lifted on Ukraine because it hurts their economy. He wants to see a weaken NATO. He wants to see a weaken European Union.
And Trump has spoken to all those things and he's also supported Brexit, also called into question the relevance of NATO. He once made a statement saying he might recognize the annexation of Crimea.
And just a couple of weeks ago there was -- I was in Ukraine recently, there was an uptick in violence on the front line there, and it was after a phone call between Trump and Putin and Trump was asked, you know, does that bother you, and he said he didn't know if Russian forces were even -- if Russia was even backing the separatists.
And this is something that Ukrainians, like this is just a known thing among the foreign policy community and people watching what's going on. So, it's just really, really puzzling.
And another thing I want to add is being in Ukraine, these sanctions are a huge, huge deal for them. They're seen as one of the only things deterring Russian aggression, it's an existential thing, they're really counting on their allies, in the west, on the U.S. and NATO. So, it's unfortunately to see these sanctions being seen as just kind of, you know, maybe possibly this back door deals being made as if, so it's quite remarkable.
LEMON: And what are the Attorney General Jeff Sessions connection to Russia? We'll discuss that next.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: I'm back now with Max Boot, Liz Wahl, and Jonathan Sanders. So, Max, let's go through this. This is the time line that I want to read. In April of 2016, then-candidate Trump met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador before a foreign policy speech in Washington.
In July of 2016, Senator Jeff Sessions met the ambassador of the republican -- at the republican convention in Cleveland. And CNN is reporting that three other trump campaign national security official, Carter Paige, J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares, also met with the ambassador there.
And in September, Senator Jeff Sessions held a one-on-one meeting with Kislyak in Sessions office and the White House disclose just today that in December, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn met with Kislyak in trump Tower.
So, Kislyak is known to the U.S. and U.S. intelligence to be a top spy recruiter. Why are they meeting with him? What's going on here?
BOOT: That's a great question, Don. You know, I worked as foreign policy adviser on three republican presidential campaigns, and I don't remember us having any of these kinds of contacts with hostile foreign powers and it goes beyond this.
Because the New York Times has reported that U.S. intelligence and British and Dutch intelligence have all intercepted communications that occurred between the Trump campaign and senior Russian intelligence officials. This is not normal.
If there's a benign explanation for this I'd love to hear it. But you're not hearing it from the Trump folks. All you're hearing is claims that all the real problem is the leaks or this is McCarthyism. They're just basically engaging in name calling so they actually have to explain what was going on.
But clearly, this is pretty serious. And if you think about it, we need to get to the bottom of this, we need to know what happened. Because this was an attack on the very foundations of our democracy that was going on by the Russians at the same time that all these Trump people were meeting with the Russians.
LEMON: But sometimes officials do meet with foreign ambassadors with foreign agencies.
BOOT: Of course.
LEMON: So what bothers you about this one so much?
BOOT: Well, one thing that -- well, two things, one is at the same time as they are conducting these meetings, the Russians were undermining our democracy, or intervening in our election to support Donald Trump.
And number two is if this -- if everything they were doing was above board and innocent, why lying about it? It doesn't make any sense. And the only way we're going to get to bottom of this, Don, is we have an independent council or a special council appointed by the Justice Department.
[22:55:07] I mean, it's great that today, that Attorney General Sessions said he would recuse himself. But that's not enough. Because the republicans on the Hill are basically shielding Trump. They are being patsies for President Trump here. They are not going to get to the bottom of this.
LEMON: Because that's where the subpoena powers and that's where the truth will come out.
BOOT: You need somebody -- I mean, there's been great digging that's been done by the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and other news organizations but you need somebody with subpoena power, and that basically has to be a special council because you can't trust either justice or the Capitol Hill republicans to do a thorough job.
LEMON: I've less than a minute left and I want to get Jonathan and Liz. And Jonathan, quickly, what's you response to that?
SANDERS: I think first of all, I don't know how you know that Kislyak is a spy recruiter. It's hard to be a spy recruiter when you're the ambassador and everyone is watching you and they're listening to you all the time. This is as far as I know he's a professional diplomat...
LEMON: That's reporting here from CNN and also from the intelligence agencies.
SANDERS: Yes. I don't -- I just think it's easy to say it and not -- it may not be accurate. Second of all, the Russians were trying to do something, they were trying to weaken Hillary Clinton. They were worried that Hillary Clinton would come in, create a no fly zone. They happen to hate her, they think that she's complicit in trying to surround Russia in the revolution that went on in Ukraine and a bunch of other things.
LEMON: I've got to go Jonathan.
SANDERS: They got the Cracker Jack prize when Trump won. They weren't expecting that. And they were trying to get a measure of the pulse. I talked to lots of Russians all the time. (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: I've got to go.
SANDERS: And my journalism students.
LEMON: And I want to get Liz a word in. Liz, go ahead, final word.
WAHL: Yes. I mean, he's the Russian ambassador, whether or not it's right to characterize him as top spy, he is a mouthpiece and he works within the interest of the Russian government.
WAHL: And he had met and I could go on about this.
WAHL: We'll talk more about it I'm sure.
LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)