Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Dems Keep Pressure on Sessions to Resign. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:00]

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Time for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Berman doesn't know who Beyonce's husband is either.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: No, I didn't know who her sister was. There was the whole --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: -- about Solange.

And I asked Michaela Pereira at the time, what is a Solange?

(LAUGHTER)

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM CORRESPONDENT: This is my every morning.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: -- two hours.

Guys, have a great weekend.

BERMAN: All right. Let's get started.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

HARLOW: Good Friday morning to you all. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for being here.

We have a flurry of new information this morning about previously undisclosed contact between associates of then-candidate Donald Trump and the Russians. We'll get to that in just a moment.

First, just in, President Trump's still unreleased revised travel ban may face a new obstacle even before it is released, whenever that might actually happen.

HARLOW: Yes, we haven't gotten any indication. It was supposed to be last week, then this week. So this challenge for the travel ban is not one from the courts or even from the man that the president once referred to as the so-called judge, who blocked the ban initially.

This potential hurdle takes root in the administration's own Department of Homeland Security. Let's go straight to our Justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, she is here with more.

What are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: This new report from Homeland Security is yet another piece of evidence that potentially undercuts the Trump administration's argument that a travel ban is needed to keep violent extremists out of our country.

The report tracks the immigration history and radicalization of 88 foreign-born terrorists and it found that most are not radicalized when they come to the U.S. but rather they become radicalized after living in the U.S. for a number of years -- Poppy.

Now according to Homeland Security, the work on this assessment started back under the Obama administration in August of 2016 but the final product is dated March 2017. So it's very recent.

And a spokesperson for Homeland Security confirmed to us that authenticity this morning. But she points out that it's based on unclassified materials.

Still, the timing here is so noteworthy as we wait for the unveiling of that new travel ban and this report follows another from Homeland Security that leaked last week, which concluded that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of whether someone actually poses a terrorist threat -- John, Poppy.

HARLOW: All right. And that's the basis of the administration's argument on this. So Laura Jarrett, stay on it for us. Thank you very much.

New this morning, the president back on the offense, attacking Democrats, calling the controversy engulfing Attorney General Jeff Sessions a "total witch hunt." This comes hours after Sessions recuses himself from any investigations into possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

BERMAN: And a growing number of Democrats say this does not go far enough, that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should flat-out resign. Overnight he downplayed his meetings with the Russian ambassador and his failure to disclose them under oath at his Senate hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALA.: I had not had any such meetings, was not meeting with Russian officials on a continuing basis to advance any campaign agenda.

Some time before that, I had met in my office in an official way with the Russian ambassador. And so that was the answer I gave. And I think it was an honest answer, Tucker. I thought I was

responding exactly to that question. And it really became a big brouhaha.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: It was not, in fact, the question at all. We'll get to that a little bit later.

First, let's go to CNN's Sara Murray at the White House with the very latest on what's happening there -- Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Both Attorney General Sessions and the White House are acknowledging he could have been a little bit clearer in his answer at the confirmation hearing. Now Jeff Sessions said he will actually submit a supplemental record to go along with the testimony. Let's hear what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I'm going to submit, yes, a supplement to the record. My response went to the question as I indicated, about the continuing surrogate relationship that I firmly denied and correctly denied.

And I did not mention in that time that I had met with the ambassador. And so I will definitely make that a part of the record, as I think is appropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Now in President Trump's eyes, this appears to be settled. In a statement last night, the president called Jeff Sessions "an honest man."

But this certainly isn't the end of questions about ties between President Trump, his advisers and suspected Russian operatives and even actual Russian officials.

We are learning that there was yet another meeting with the Russian ambassador. This one took place in December at Trump Tower. It included Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, who was ousted because he was not forthcoming about his contacts between the Russian ambassador, as well as --

[09:05:00]

MURRAY: -- Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, who is now a senior adviser in this White House.

Now a senior administration official I spoke to downplayed the meeting, called it sort of "an inconsequential hello, an introductory meeting."

But one of the things that I think is telling is that when Sean Spicer, back during the transition process, he's now the White House press secretary, he was going to be at that point, he was laying out the timeline of Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador.

This meeting was nowhere in this timeline. The senior administration official I spoke to said that was because they didn't know about that meeting at that time -- back to you --

BERMAN: And that's crucial, a previously undisclosed meeting on top of the previously undisclosed meetings by Jeff Sessions on top of the previously undisclosed meetings at the Republican convention with Trump advisers.

MURRAY: A pattern.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: Exactly. Sara Murray at the White House, great to have you with us this morning.

So the calls for the attorney general to resign are getting louder, among some Democrats, among those pressuring the attorney general to step down, Senators Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand.

HARLOW: Many Republicans, though, appear to be standing by his side after his recusal. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the recusal was the right move. It doesn't say that he's necessarily admitting guilt. He's saying, look, we need a process to go forward that people can trust. And you have some over here saying the Russians basically ran the Trump campaign. And Jeff Sessions needs to resign.

We need to be calm and move this back to the middle in a bipartisan way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that, for the good of the country, he should resign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm glad he came out yesterday forcefully and removed himself. As the story unwinds even more and more, I think other questions will probably be asked. But at this time, I'm satisfied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he needs to make a clear statement under oath about what took place in these meetings with the ambassador and whether there were related conversations with anyone associated with the Trump campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Joining us now is Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Nice to have you with us. And let's just get right to it and your assessment.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: Good morning to you.

The attorney general has recused himself. He says, even last night on FOX, look, my answers, I felt, were honest at the time.

Are you satisfied?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIF.: No, I'm not satisfied. And with this administration, it seems with each passing day we learn about more Russian ties that are followed with more Russian lies.

And here, I don't know what country would want to have its top law enforcement official having lied under oath twice about another country that had just attacked its democracy.

He knew why those questions were being asked. And two times he had an opportunity to be forthcoming and truthful. And it looks like he just boldly lied.

BERMAN: He said he was not lying, it was not his intent to mislead the committee against any intent which, of course, you know, as a lawyer, is a legal term and that'll be something that is argued over time.

I want to move to something else you got to, which is the idea that there are these other previously undisclosed meetings between Trump associates and the Russians. There's the meeting at the convention with Carter Page, J.D. Gordon and others with the Russian ambassador.

There's this meeting we just learned about with Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador that happened during the transition.

You sit on the Intelligence Committee. You have information we do not have.

Do you have reason to believe there are still more meetings out there that we don't know about?

SWALWELL: I don't think you have to sit on the Intelligence Committee to follow the pattern of deceit that you see here, with Michael Flynn not disclosing prior Russian ties, with Jeff Sessions not disclosing prior Russian ties and now learning about Trump family members and prior Russian ties.

And so to me it's a consciousness of guilt. And so we should continue to pursue this. And I've called for an independent bipartisan commission. Every Democrat supports that.

Walter Jones, a Republican, just recently came on board. And the only way to get to the truth now, because it seems that there's not much independence in the Trump administration, would be to take this outside Congress and fully look at what were the political, personal and financial ties that Donald Trump and his associates had with Russia.

HARLOW: So you want something akin to a 9/11-style commission that would be much more done in the public?

SWALWELL: That's right.

HARLOW: Because I should just be clear for our viewer, what you do is largely in private.

SWALWELL: That's right. The Intelligence Committee, we are undertaking our own investigation but that will largely be classified. So I think we should depoliticize this, take it out of Congress.

We should declassify as much as we can so that the public findings that have come forward, the public understands the facts that the intelligence community has put out and also debunk the continued effort that the president has made to try and undermine the findings that the intelligence community has made with respect to what Russia's involvement was in our past election.

BERMAN: So Donald Trump, the president, calls this a witch hunt.

And the former attorney general, Mike Mukasey, said something interesting right now.

He says what's the alleged crime that you're investigating here?

He thinks there needs to be something allegedly criminal or the suspicion of something criminal going on in order to justify the investigation.

[09:10:00]

BERMAN: Again, what are the possible things you are looking for that happened that you think are criminal?

The fact of a meeting in and of itself isn't criminal. Talking about aside from the fact that whether Jeff Sessions perjured himself or not in the hearing.

But dating back to the meetings in the summer, where is the crime?

SWALWELL: Sure. The question is whether Donald Trump or anyone in his orbit, anyone on his team, had knowledge or worked with Russia as they were seeking to undermine our election.

So were they working with them as they were hacking Democratic documents?

Were they working with Russia as they were putting out fake news through their social media trolls?

Were they working with Russia as Russia's broadcasting company, Russia Today, was also disseminating unfavorable news about Hillary Clinton and trying to help Donald Trump? That would be collusion, that would be conspiracy, that also could be racketeering. So looking at the personal, political and financial ties between Donald Trump and his team and Russia.

HARLOW: So the ranking member of your committee, House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, said just yesterday that you guys are not getting everything you think you should be getting from the FBI and James Comey. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIF.: The director spent about three to three and a half hours with us and on the areas he was willing to discuss, we had a very in-depth set of questions and answers.

But there were very large areas that were walled off. And those walls are going to have to come down if we're going to do our job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Can you explain what he's talking about, what you're not getting?

Can you give us more detail?

SWALWELL: Yes, Poppy, I don't want to go into what was discussed in a classified briefing. I appreciate Director Comey coming and speaking with us. What Ranking Member Schiff and I and others on the committee are asking is just follow the evidence.

It's in the president's interest; if there is nothing there, that that also comes out.

But right now all of the arrows continue to point in one direction, that there was a personal, political or financial tie between at least his associates and Russia or all the way up to the president himself.

None of these are coincidences. This is not an ambassador from a friendly country that continues to meet with Trump's associates. This is an ambassador from a country that attacked us during the election.

BERMAN: I'm confused though, because Paul Ryan, as you know, is in the Gang of Eight, the chairman of the committee; David Nunes, a Republican; they say there is no evidence of collusion. They say they've seen nothing --

SWALWELL: They shouldn't be talking about that. John, they should not be talking about anything they learn in a classified setting.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: But they are.

BERMAN: But they are. I agree. Perhaps they shouldn't be talking.

But they are -- SWALWELL: And it's wrong.

BERMAN: -- said that out loud. You say there is evidence -- or you say that everything we see indicates that there could have been. So you're sort of talking about it too, right now. I sort of want to get to the truth. You say you want to look into this collusion or possible collusion.

Again, have you seen any evidence that suggests that there was such collusion?

SWALWELL: Right and so when you look at the public findings that the intelligence community put out, that 17 agencies who came forward and said that Russia attacked our democracy. It was ordered by Vladimir Putin, it intended to help Donald Trump. So that's one bucket of evidence.

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: It stops short of collusion, as you know, because we've read the report. It stopped short of collusion. It says they tried to meddle but it made no reference to any collusion.

SWALWELL: Right. And so the question about collusion, that's being raised because of the prior Russia contacts that Donald Trump's team, people in his orbit had.

So Michael Flynn, who had traveled to Russia, had been paid by Russia. You have Carter Page and Roger Stone and others, who were advising the president, who had prior business relationships with Russia. So those questions have to be chased down.

And right now, I'm not going to comment on what we learn in a classified setting other than to say that all of the arrows continue to point to a country that attacked us, had a very unusual relationship with Donald Trump and his team and had unusual amount of access which, for an adversary, I think requires us, demands us to protect our democracy and chase down these questions.

BERMAN: So do you think Paul Ryan and David Nunes are lying when they're saying they've seen no evidence of collusion yet?

SWALWELL: I'm not going to accuse them of lying. I'm saying they should not be commenting on what is said in a classified setting. That is wrong and it betrays our oath to protect national security secrets.

HARLOW: We could argue that makes the case for a 9/11-style commission, where a lot of this is in the public or comes to the public.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: All right, still to come for us, what a difference a few days makes. The White House under a new cloud of Russia controversy just days after the president got all those positive reviews for his speech to Congress.

And then this, forget where's the beef, how about where's the bill?

Just days before lawmakers are supposed to vote on some kind of ObamaCare replacement legislation, some say they can't find a copy of that bill.

HARLOW: The hunt on Capitol Hill.

Also Donald Trump made, as you know, very big promises on the campaign trail across the Rust Belt.

Can he deliver?

We take you there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump taking off for Mar-a-Lago next hour. And he will fly through new clouds, metaphorically, hanging over the White House this morning, as the questions mount over Trump campaign associates' ties to Russia.

HARLOW: Joining us, David Gergen, CNN senior political analyst and former adviser to four presidents. Laura Coates is here, our legal analyst, and a former federal prosecutor, as well as David Drucker, senior congressional correspondent of "The Washington examiner" and host of "Examining Politics".

Nice to have you all here.

David Gergen, let me begin with you.

So, in Sessions' recusal as attorney general on this matter, he went farther actually than -- farther than the president thought he needed to. President Trump tweeting this, calling this all a witch hunt, et cetera, et cetera.

[09:20:05] I can't help but find the irony in the man who said that the world should see President Obama's birth certificate just because, calling this a witch hunt. How do you see it?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the president would have been well advised to stop short of calling it a witch hunt, accept and embrace Jeff Sessions for calling for recusal. That's the appropriate step. I think the attorney general did a wise thing.

But I do think the White House has to go further than this. Smart White Houses in the past when faced with a cloud of uncertainty and unpredictable facts coming out that they don't know about in a situation like this, what they've done is launched their own internal probe. Find where the bottom is.

You can't do damage control until you know what the absolute worst charge is that can be made against you, and then you can prepare and go transparent. I would think that -- I don't think there's any reason -- sometimes the legal counsel of the White House says we shouldn't do our own probe because it's a criminal investigation.

I don't think that's where they are now. I think they still could. They could call everybody in. We've had such a string of denials. The White House needs to be aggressively in front of this story, not behind the story and they need to be completely -- make sure there's complete transparency. That's the only way they'll gain their credibility back. It would be for the country and frankly good for their politics if they want to move on.

BERMAN: There isn't much transparency at all. We keep learning about previously undisclosed meetings that happened. They may be benign meetings, but the fact is, we didn't know they went on.

Laura Coates, as for Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, he says he's going to provide a written statement, a revision of his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Some in the committee want more, they want him to come back and testify again before that committee. Can they compel him to do that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they could. And the fact, the reason they could do so is because he has essentially misled, either by a misstatement that was intentional or otherwise. But, of course, it's very convenient now that you're the sitting attorney general to come and try to explain in kind of retrospective way, doesn't really hold a lot of credibility for people.

And credibility is the key here. There is an issue of proving intent when it comes to perjury. It's very difficult. But there is a bigger issue here about the credibility of the Justice Department. People have to understand it works best, obviously, when you believe objectivity is controlling the game.

Here we have the tip of the iceberg. We don't really know whether or not there was a wrongful discussion between the ambassador and Sessions. Even if it wasn't a wrongful discussion, we don't know if this is just the tip of the iceberg of an investigation that talks about a larger issue about campaign-related issues. And if that's the case, Sessions has to recuse himself down the line.

And at that point, does he become a lame duck attorney general who is a figurehead, or can he actually control the Justice Department. That's the credibility at issue and the one that makes me the most uncomfortable.

HARLOW: So, David Drucker, overnight, what has also come out is a number of also previously undisclosed to the public or to anyone meetings between the Trump team and the Russian ambassador, to name them, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, and General Flynn meeting with the Russian ambassador in December. Three national security advisers to the Trump campaign, Carter Page, J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares all meeting with the Russian ambassador at the RNC in July, just like Sessions did.

But here is what the president said just two weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: No person that I deal with does. Now we know about all these previously undisclosed meetings. This is a White House that constantly complains about what they call fake news. Is this fake news?

DAVID DRUCKER, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, they can keep complaining, but it doesn't mean it's fake news.

Look, I don't think it's necessarily out of bounds that a candidate for president, a Republican nominee, especially somebody who is not a part of the political process for very long, that major players in the world would want to meet with him and people connected with him to figure out what he's about and what his administration might look like.

The issue here gets back to the president's soft treatment, apologetic treatment of Russia and Vladimir Putin from the beginning of the campaign and the fact that we know that Vladimir Putin sees Donald Trump, the president, as a fellow nationalist, and Putin in his spy apparatus has always worked to boost nationalists in races and other countries, whether we're talking about France or Scotland or anywhere else. And that's why I think that the problem ultimately is not necessarily about the meetings, although, if you're not disclosing a meeting and then it comes out, it looks funny.

It's about the president's treatment of Russia and Russia policy when he doesn't afford any other U.S. adversary and even a lot our allies, the same deferential treatment.

[09:25:07] BERMAN: And look, there's a Russia problem clearly. And that's a big issue I think a lot of people want further investigated. But now, there's this honesty problem because the president said that none of his associates, to the best of my knowledge, no person I deal with deals with Russia.

Well, we know they did. You know, Carter Page had said that he had no meetings with the Russians. Well, now, we know he did, David Gergen.

There are problems with honesty and they all may be benign meetings, but why not just own up to them then?

GERGEN: Yes, they've given the appearance they're hiding things, intentionally hiding things. Rather than trying to get to the bottom of it themselves, they're allowing this process to go on and compromising one individual after another within the administration.

But it just isn't very smart. That's why they need to get in front of this. I do agree with David Drucker that a piece of this is about why, and it goes back to why is Donald Trump being so solicitous sometimes of Vladimir Putin when Putin not only -- but the bigger issue is, the Russian government intentionally invaded and tried to throw this election. They meddled in this election and the question becomes, were these meetings, which are so unusual -- meetings with the Russian ambassador during the middle of the campaign in the middle of transition, they just don't happen like this. This is an extraordinarily abnormal situation.

And so, there's a serious question, if you're hiding things, what have you got to hide, why don't you put it all out there, let us see what it is and let's move on the there's nothing there.

HARLOW: Right. Instead the White House is saying there's nothing to see here folks, you know? Why you've been talking about this.

BERMAN: They're also saying that Jared Kushner and Flynn, there's a lot of ambassadors during the transition.

HARLOW: Yes, I get that. That wasn't the only meeting.

BERMAN: No, it wasn't the only meeting and we didn't know about those meeting. You now, that's the issue.

HARLOW: Yes.

All right, guys. Thank you. Have a great weekend. David Gergen, Laura Coates, David Drucker, we appreciate it.

Still to come, we take you to the Rust Belt, a place the president probably can't think enough for his election victory. Now, his supporters in Michigan say they're holding him to account.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not wearing a banner say, hey, I voted for Trump. I'm really in a holding mode. I'm in a wait-and-see mode. I don't know if he would have any inkling of what it takes to be a little person like us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)