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CNN NEWSROOM

Attorney General Recuses Himself from Campaign Probes; More Trump Advisers Disclose Russia Meetings; Report: Gov. Pence Used Private E-mail Got Hacked; Media's Role in Trump Administration So Far; U.S. Officials: Russian Envoy to U.S. a Top Spy; Alec Baldwin Dishes on Playing Trump. Aired Midnight-1a ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:00:29] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles.

Breaking news: U.S. President Donald Trump says Jeff Sessions did nothing wrong by meeting with Russia's U.S. Ambassador during the 2016 presidential race.

VAUSE: Even so, Attorney General Sessions recused himself on Thursday from any investigations into last year's election after he met with the Russian envoy twice. Sessions failed to disclose those meetings during his Senate confirmation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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, 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.

It was really a sad thing to be attacked like that. But I think we've explained it and we intend to move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Meanwhile, a senior Trump administration official says the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner and former national security adviser Michael Flynn also met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in December.

VAUSE: Joining us here in Los Angeles, California talk radio host Ethan Bearman, California Republican National Committee Shawn Steel, also attorney Sara Azari, and from Seattle, Washington former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty.

Thank you all for being with us.

Ok. Let's start with the President who, for now, is standing by the Attorney General.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the Attorney General?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Totally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, should Sessions recuse himself from investigation into your campaign and Russia?

TRUMP: I don't think so at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I don't think he should do that at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did you find out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldn't he have spoken truthfully?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you think he should have spoken truthfully about whether he had spoken to the ambassador.

TRUMP: I think he probably did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ok. I'll say a less than enthusiastic defense from the President. The White House did issue a longer statement a short time ago. "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. The whole narrative is a way of saving face for Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. It's a total witch hunt."

Shawn, first to you, Donald Trump is known for his loyalty. He's very close to Jeff Sessions. Is that how Sessions will survive this because of his relationship with the President?

SHAWN STEEL, CALIFORNIA REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: He's already survived it. It's not about Jeff Sessions. It's about attacking Donald Trump. It's finding anything in the grass, the Democrats which is now a regional party, which has no power in Washington, D.C., believe me -- this is their ongoing narrative to try to find something -- some fault, some narrow area that they can exploit.

Does anybody believe the Russians got Trump elected? If they do they need a psychiatrist. Does anyone believe that the Russians actually control the votes in America? Actually hacked in the machines? No. Does anybody believe that the Russians tried to influence -- well Obama, definitely tried to influence the Israeli elections. All governments do that.

But Sessions met with 30 ambassadors, most Democrats and Republicans meet with ambassadors all the time. He made a mistake. He owned up to it and then went the extreme level without any delay whatsoever -- he's recusing himself for possible investigation.

SESAY: Ethan -- let me ask you this -- you heard what Shawn said saying that he has survived this -- Jeff Sessions has survived this. But we did see GOP lawmakers come out and say that Jeff Sessions should recuse himself -- forgive me. So let me ask you this, how much of a wedge is this going to drive between the White House and the GOP? Do you see that down the road.

ETHAN BEARMAN, RADIO HOST: Well, I think it has a tremendous potential to because this is scandal after scandal after scandal. Russia -- we need a full investigation, an independent investigation as to what degree Russia was involved in influencing or attempting to influence our elections here in the United States.

They are doing it France. They're doing it around the world. They are doing it here and they've been doing it here for a long time. And it is shocking that Republicans of all people would be refusing to investigate that.

I don't care if it's Democrat or Republican -- we need to know when a foreign power is attempting to influence our elections.

VAUSE: Ok. Sara -- to you, I want you to follow up on Shawn's point. He basically said that, you know, Jeff Sessions made a mistake. He's owning up to it -- nothing to see here. There is no there, there.

SARA AZARI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, it is not a mistake. This is a man who has been living and breathing and speaking the language of law since he graduated law school in 1979.

[00:05:02] When he was before this hearing and Senator Franken asked him this question he knew how important this topic was to all of us, the American people. He knew that his answer had to be complete and full and accurate.

There is different kinds of lies, John. There's lies where I know the truth and I utter a false statement and try to pass it along as the truth. There is also a lie where I fail to fully state the facts, where I omit very important facts -- and that's what he did.

He knew that he needs to tell the Senate confirmation committee that he did have certain communications with Russians. But then that would have opened up a whole line of questioning as to what were those? When were those, with whom and what was communicated, and what was it about.

And I disagree with the Republican panel member here that, you know, that this is some kind of a mistake and he had no willful intent here. That's the difficulty of prosecuting somebody for perjury. But let's use the same standard that Jeff Sessions used on Bill Clinton back in 1999 which was prosecute him, not just remove him from office but prosecute him, throw him in jail, give him up to five years of maximum prison time, give him the $250,000 fine that applies. Let's apply the same standard to this man because that it his standard.

VAUSE: Shawn.

STEEL: I love the bed wetting. I love the people on the left there so desperate they still haven't figured out that Hillary actually lost the election and the Russians had nothing to do with it.

AZARI: It's not about Hillary.

STEEL: They are showing such great anger. And I tell you, I get a visceral enjoyment out of this.

Here's the bottom line. Nobody cares except a few liberals and a few media. Nobody cares.

BEARMAN: So Bill Clinton lost his law license for lying under oath. Why shouldn't Attorney General Sessions? He lied under oath to Congress.

STEEL: I think the equivalency of Bill Clinton taking advantage of a woman and lying about it --

BEARMAN: But that's how he lost his law license -- lying under oath.

(CROSSTALK)

STEEL: There the no moral equivalency but it's ok. As long as it makes liberals upset, it makes me happy.

SESAY: Well let me ask you this -- Shawn. You say there is no there, there -- right. You say there's nothing here and one's just looking for --

STEEL: No, no, no. Let me tell you there was a cost. The Attorney General has recused himself from an important area of potential investigation and he did it immediately.

SESAY: But to the big issue.

AZARI: No.

STEEL: There is no big issue. It's about attacking Trump. That's the issue.

SESAY: Ok. You say that there's no big issue here. But (inaudible) there is this drip, drip, drip that keeps coming out.

STEEL: It comes from the Obama deep state -- let's talk about that -- the Obama deep state.

(CROSSTALK)

SESAY: But you are clearly seeing that the people in the Trump campaign did meet with members of the Russian administration.

STEEL: Not much. It had nothing -- not much to do with it.

SESAY: Why doesn't the White House just come out and say this is who met with whom and this is what was discussed?

STEEL: Well, that question -- you know what -- I don't object to that. I think that is perfectly a good question. But really, it's not very important.

VAUSE: Ok. (inaudible) I want to bring Jill Dougherty in. She has been waiting patiently throughout. So Jill -- we're now learning from a senior official from the White House saying that the national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, also a Trump adviser met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak in December.

"USA Today" reporting that two other Trump campaign senior staff actually met with this Russian ambassador also on the sidelines of the Republican convention last year.

So, you know, who is this Russian diplomat that, you know has such incredible access to some very senior Republicans?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Sergey Kislyak is a very experienced diplomat. He's been in the diplomatic core for a very long time since the 1970s. He's the former deputy foreign minister of Russia, ambassador to NATO, and has been in the United States for a very long time.

I am not surprised that he wanted to go out and meet as many people as he could to get information on what will happen when Donald Trump's people come into the White House. What are the policies? What are they up to? Who are these people who will be involved in the Trump administration?

Now, the problem here I think is that we don't know exactly what they talked about. There may be a totally benign interpretation or there might be something else.

And that is why I think it's important to get this information out. It's not only for the American people, as a lot of people say. And I do think a lot of people are interested in this.

But I think also, the Trump administration is now having to face every single day more and more little tiny drips and drabs of information, which is keeping him from what he wants to do.

[00:10:00] So we already have investigations going on by the FBI, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies in the United States about hacking, et cetera. And the more information that comes out about this, we may find that it was just kind of part of doing business, that part of it may be exactly that. But right now it looks suspicious and there are no firm answers.

SESAY: And speaking of no firm answers what do you make of the way Russia is keeping mum, keeping statements to the minimum in terms of what is playing out here in the United States? Are you surprised by how the Kremlin is handling this?

DOUGHERTY: I'm actually thinking that probably in the Kremlin they are thinking why did we ever get involved in anything to deal with this campaign because right now it's a mess.

I mean the only way -- I think for Russia there is a good side which is you can say look at all those Americans and the chaos that they have in their political system and don't even think about trying to imitate their form of democracy. Russians could have that as a positive side.

But basically, right now, the relationship, I think, you can almost say is worse than ever because it's -- you have the investigations going on into alleged Russian hacking. You have the representative for Donald Trump who is talking about having better relations, his ambassador to the United States is -- to the United Nations is very critical of Russia. You have senior administration officials on the NSC critical of Russia.

This is not looking very good. It's not the scenario that I think Moscow was hoping for. So at this point it probably is smart for them to sit back and say let's stay out of this until they figure it out, those Americans.

VAUSE: Sara I want to go back to you because initially Sessions denied the election campaign was discussed with the Russian ambassador. And then during his news conference on Thursday he walked that back. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: Most of these ambassadors are pretty gossipy. And they like -- this was in the campaign season. But I don't recall any specific political discussions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: So Sara, it does seem that he is leaving open the possibility -- this is for Sara actually -- that maybe the campaign was in fact discussed. Is there enough here for the FBI to begin some kind of criminal investigation which is what many Democrats are now demanding.

AZARI: Well, it's interesting because he uses -- his choice of words are very interesting. I don't recall, I don't believe I did this. He's leaving room to -- you know, if it's proven that he did in fact have these conversations along these lines that nobody can come back and say you actually, blatantly lied.

The difficulty, John, in prosecuting these cases and you know, back to your question about the FBI, is that there has to be willfulness that's proven and often, much like Mr. Sessions is doing right now, the person can give a different explanation for what they meant. Maybe they misunderstood the question. Maybe they didn't fully explain themselves and that if they put it in a full context it would have made better sense.

So the problem with perjury is that there has to be a willful false statement made. That it's not enough that it's just false.

And so that's the issue I have is I'm saying that this is somebody who is very knowledgeable. He knows why they're asking him this question. He not only lied about it under oath but he lied about it in the questionnaire for the Senate confirmation committee as well.

And now, you know, back to the gentleman who was talking about he immediately recused himself. I disagree. I don't know how much longer he wanted to stay on board. I mean it was tremendous pressure from his own people from the Republican Party and the Democratic Party for him to recuse himself.

And one more thing, recusals -- we have had attorneys general who recuse themselves but it has always been because of an appearance of, you know, a closeness to the conflict or the wrongdoing. In this case this man, himself is involved in this.

VAUSE: Ok. We're running out of time thought. I just want to come back to Shawn and Ethan for a final thought as we go to break.

You know, Ethan, the pressure is mounting whether you like it or not there are Republicans who, you know, are they're pushing him for this recusal which has happened. The Democrats are demanding he resign.

And you know, you know you're in trouble in Washington when the defense of your colleagues and friends is fairly lukewarm which is what happened today.

STEEL: Well, you have about six Democrat senators, the most extreme, that's called for an outright dismissal.

VAUSE: No, there's a hundred congressional Democrats who have called for his --

STEEL: Well, I saw six senators on the list about three hours ago. Now, maybe it has expanded to another 90 but they don't have that many senators.

VAUSE: Ok.

STEEL: Secondly, not a single Republican has called for a dismissal and maybe about four or five have actually asked for a recusal which they got in less than 24 hours.

[00:15:02] Again, this is not about Jeff Sessions. This is about mainstream media's war because the Democratic Party is pretty feeble. It's pretty dead. It's not a threat to the Republican Party. It's mainstream media's war against Trump.

SESAY: Ethan -- final word to you. BEARMAN: Yes, we have to hold our elected officials and appointed officials accountable. If you lie, especially the top law person in the United States of America, you need to be held to account.

VAUSE: Ok. Ethan -- we will leave it there. Thank you so much.

SESAY: Ethan, Shawn, Sara, and Jill Dougherty there in Moscow. We're going to come back to every --

VAUSE: Well, she's actually in Seattle.

SESAY: Oh, she's actually in Seattle.

VAUSE: She used to be in Moscow.

SESAY: She used to be in Moscow.

(CROSSTALK)

VAUSE: She's sometimes in Moscow.

SESAY: Jill we appreciate it. All of you stay with us. We'll keep the conversation going. Thank you.

VAUSE: We'll go to extra break.

When we come back, did Attorney General Jeff Sessions commit perjury? The legal ramifications on his confirmation testimony and the Russian revelations that led to his recusal. That's next.

SESAY: Plus U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly used his personal e-mail to conduct official business when he was governor of Indiana -- an account that was later hacked.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello, everyone.

We're following breaking news. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has bowed to political pressure and recused himself from any investigations into the Trump campaign and its contacts with Russia.

VAUSE: That decision came after Sessions admitted he did not disclose two meetings he had with Russia's ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign even though he was asked about that during his confirmation.

[00:20:02] Sessions denies any wrong doing but some top Democrats say he should resign, even be charged with perjury.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE CRIST, (D), FLORIDA: The notion that you have somebody at the head of the Justice Department which essentially is what he is. And saying that he is digging in his heels, that he's recusing himself, he's going to go to time-out room in elementary school.

The analogy I draw is not to be funny. It's to put the seriousness of this issue where it needs to be. We have an Attorney General basically being exposed for having lied to the American people while under oath. That is called perjury. That is an offense that somebody ought to charge him for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Ok. Well, let's bring in Ron Bamieh. He's a former assistant chief deputy with the U.S. Justice Department.

VAUSE: Also joining us is CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin. Nice to have you guys here with us.

RON BAMIEH, DEFENSE: Thank you.

SESAY: Welcome.

VAUSE: Ok. So a lot of questions right now. Should Jeff Sessions face charges of perjury for that moment during the confirmation session -- hearing rather -- when Al Franken, the senator, asked him this question?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Ok. Areva -- I know that you are well aware of the law but for our viewers who don't, the Supreme Court in 1993 decided that perjury must include the willful intent to provide false testimony rather than as a result of confusion, mistake or faulty memory. Right now, how would you prove willful intent by Sessions?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, willful intent is not someone's subjective statement that I was not intentionally making a false statement. I think that's the problem with this case.

Jeff Sessions thinks that it's ok and it's enough for the American people for him to say I didn't intentionally mislead the American people when I gave that response during the Senate confirmation hearings.

But the real issue here is it's not his decision to make. This should be fully investigated by the FBI. There were apparently other people in the room when these conversations took place. So even though Sessions says I don't remember, I don't recall, which by the way, is pretty suspect given that he told this really detailed story about talking to the ambassador about taking a trip there, a religious trip and how the ambassador said he wasn't religious but how glad he was that religious people were there.

So he could remember specifics about that part of the conversation but he has no recollection about whether he discussed the campaign.

Well, let's investigate the people in the room. Let's talk to them. Let's look at the notes. There is a lot that can be done to get to the bottom of whether this statement was intentionally made.

SESAY: So Ron -- you heard Areva say just there that the FBI should be investigate. Is that automatically the case that they step in and take the lead here?

BAMIEH: Well, there's a couple of things there. One is that to have perjury it has to be material and it has to willfully false, ok. You can do that from the tape itself. The way perjury works is we look at the question first. And it's the questioner's responsibility to prove up the perjury.

So when he makes the statement to the question and it was vague, we don't know. We're having this debate. What did he mean by the no? Did he mean no that he was not as part of the campaign? Did he mean no, as a senator. Right there you are done with perjury. You're never going to prove it. You're never going to prove that.

As somebody who has prosecuted perjury and defended perjury counts, I can tell you that unless the statement is clear and unambiguous you're not going to -- you're never going to prove perjury.

Perjury is a false misleading statement by political hacks who are trying to make a claim to do it for other purposes other than the truth. To prove perjury is a high standard. And there's no way they're going to get close to it.

Now, you had Attorney General Eric Holder, he admittedly made false statements in front of the Senate. And what happened with him. He was censored. Nobody prosecuted him for perjury.

Those are admittedly false statements -- the point where the Senate that they were false and they still didn't prosecute them. In this case we are not even close to that.

VAUSE: Ok. Well, part of the news conference on Thursday, the Attorney General implied that he was kind of surprised by this question coming from Senator Franken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I was taken aback a little bit about this brand-new information, this allegation that our surrogates, and I had been called a surrogate for Donald Trump, had been meeting continuously with Russian officials and that's what I -- it struck me very hard and that's what I focused my answer on.

And in retrospect I should have slowed down and said but I did meet one Russian official a couple times and that would be the ambassador.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Areva, this is kind of the core part of his defense. He was confused. He was focusing on the wrong part of the question.

MARTIN: That John, and this parsing of his person. So I was answering the question in the context of me as a senator not in the context of me as being a surrogate for the Trump campaign. And that is a part of what he wants the American people to believe is that somehow he can divide himself.

[00:24:58] I think what is troubling to me about that statement is this was at the height of a lot of news media attention around the prospects that Russia was involved in the cyber attacks. They were hacking the DNC. They were involved in colluding to cause Donald Trump to win the election.

So here you have a senator who must be aware of all of this activity happening. He's meeting with the Russian ambassador but yet when the question is asked he can't make that connection?

So at best we have an Attorney General that seems unfit to serve as Attorney General if he didn't himself recognize the importance of what was going on in the nation around Russia and now having a conversation with someone but yet he doesn't recall the details.

SESAY: Ron -- I see you're shaking head there.

BAMIEH: Well yes. First of all, she uses the word "colluding". There is no evidence -- there's been no evidence of colluding. That is just something that's been made up in the press. Nothing has been done.

And also just so we go back a step here. What Senator Franken was referring to was a Buzz Feed article that has been completely discredited as false that was published by a few news agencies -- completely false.

So once again, he is given a question off a false article, off made up news, fake news and he's asked to respond live. And Franken when he was even reading it says, you know, I know this is all new and it's just coming in so please hang with me basically. And then he answered the question, no I -- basically wasn't doing anything.

VAUSE: But he did offer up a bit at the end about not meeting with any Russian official.

MARTIN: And it's not false that he met -- he's admitted he's met with the Russian ambassador. Trump has admitted it.

So you can talk about the article being false but the reality is he had the meetings. He denied having the meetings. He was under oath --

BAMIEH: No he didn't deny having the meetings. That's not true. That's just not true.

(CROSSTALK)

BAMIEH: He did not deny having the meeting.

MARTIN: He absolutely did not state under oath that he met two times with the Russian ambassador.

BAMIEH: He wasn't asked that question.

MARTIN: You can parse that as much as you want to. But the reality is he himself has admitted he should have given a more truthful response.

VAUSE: Ron -- you get the last word.

BAMIEH: Well, when you start saying things like this that he's not giving a truthful response to this line. I mean you look at the question, you just can't make it there. Now, if you want to take an objective approach, you look at the question, and you say was the answer responsive? The answer was responsive.

Is the answer true? Did he have any talks with the campaign? No, he didn't. If they find evidence there that he did --

MARTIN: We don't know that. We don't know that. In fact he said he doesn't recall. So you cannot say definitively that he did not talk about --

(CROSSTALK)

BAMIEH: I have no problem with saying that.

MARTIN: You can't say that. There's no evidence of that.

VAUSE: We have to go to break everybody.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: When we come back Republicans hammered Hillary Clinton for her private e-mails during the election campaign. Now the Vice President, one of her biggest critics, may be caught up in his own e-mail scandal.

[00:27:30] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:31:28] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. It's 9:31 here on a Thursday night. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. Our breaking new this hour.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wasn't the only member of the Trump campaign meeting with Russian officials last year. A senior Trump administrations official said the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn also met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in December.

VAUSE: Not long after that news break, it was reported U.S Vice President Mike Pence used a private e-mail account for official business when he was governor of Indiana. According to the Indianapolis Star newspaper, Pence's personal e-mail was hacked last June.

Let's bring Democratic Strategist Matthew Littman and Trump supporter Gina Loudon in San Diego. Thanks for being with us guys.

GINA LOUDON,BEHAVIORAL AND PSYCHOLOGY EXPERT: Hi.

VAUSE: Matt, first to you. It seems right now, if you look at what's been happening to this administration whether it's the National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He was forced to resign because he, you know, he lied or whether the situation of Jeff Sessions or Pence's e-mail service. There is now sort of rolling disclosures. The administration is making these revelations, these admissions only after it's being revealed. Only after it's been made to the public. Is there a big issue here than just a rookie administration finding its feet?

MATTHEW LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the biggest issue for this administration is that they're paralyzed. So, they have several issues that they want to get to. They want to get to tax reform. They want to get to infrastructure. They want to health care. But just remember when Bill Clinton had his scandal in 1997, it was very difficult for his administration to do anything at this point.

And now, you're looking at Trump with this drip, drip, drip of disclosures and aside from executive orders, they're not able to do anything. There's chaos on Capitol Hill. So, this is affecting the Trump administration generally just not enabling to do anything with their agenda.

SESAY: Gina, I'm going to ask you. I mean, why does this White House appear to have a problem with getting on the same page especially in these moments of crisis?

LOUDON: Well, I do think that they are a new administration but I think they're on the same page. I mean, you look at the timing of this so-called drip, drip which we all know is emanating from the house of Obama where he is there in his $5 million castle with 8,000 square somewhat feet with Valerie Jarrett by side constantly firing missiles at the Trump administration trying to disable them.

I wonder where all the talk went about unity. I wonder where all the talk went about the little guy because that's certainly isn't the concern of Obama and Jarrett and the rest of those trying to do everything they can to make it so no progress is made. So, there is division. And so, there isn't unity.

It would be nice to see them ever working in any manner with some of the things that the president mentioned in his speech the other night such as victim's rights, such as clean air and water. You know, these are things that we can find common ground on it. It would be certainly nice if the Democrats instead of trying to undermine this administration at every single turn and spread disinformation if they would work with him.

LITTMAN: Well, let me jump in on that John.

VAUSE: OK. Quickly Matt. Yeah.

LITTMAN: And so (inaudible) if Donald Trump wanted to we could just have press conference and say here all the meetings that the people who worked with me had with Russian officials over the last few months. It's been gone this press conferences have happen for. Trump choices not to do that. You do have to wonder why he's not doing that.

VAUSE: OK. Hillary Clinton was hammered by Republicans during the election campaign for her private e-mail server. Here's a reminder.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

[00:35:00] MIKE PENCE, (R) U.S VICE PRESIDENT: 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.

CROWD: Lock her up! Lock her up!

(END VIDEOCLIP)

VAUSE: It turns out Vice President Mike Pence has got a little e-mail problem of his own according to the IndyStar. There are concerns that he was using a private e-mail account when he was governor of Indiana that may have been hacked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY COOK INDYSTAR REPORTER: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: Gina, the vice president as governor did not break any laws. Hillary Clinton did not break any laws. Critics may say there is a good deal of hypocrisy here.

LOUDON: There's no hypocrisy at all John. There's a huge difference between classified information that is top secret that someone who is Secretary of State of the United States has access to and the governor of Indiana who obviously doesn't have any closely held American secrets like a secretary of state is. Also, there's a big difference between someone using a private e-mail address and someone using a secrets server and being sneaky about it. We know there was something there that Hillary Clinton didn't want seen and that's why she did away with the 30,000 e-mails that she did away with away with. Where you compare that to someone to like Vice President Pence who has cooperated even though there's absolutely no evidence of any crime or any wrong-doing or any cover up here as there was in the case of Hillary Clinton.

SESAY: Matt, before you weigh in and this was to Gina, you need to listen to what Brian Fallon had to say the Clinton campaign -- the former Clinton campaign spokesman. Listen to what he has to say and then just respond, give us your perspective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAL FALLON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON: Hillary Clinton use a personal e-mail server wasn't 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 and it was taken to great extremes and all perspective was lost. And the reason why that was true is because this practice is widespread and very common including that we know with Vice President Pence. But I won't be holding my breath for any of the Republicans on Capitol Hill that cried foul about Hillary Clinton's practices to do the same about the vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SESAY: Matt, you can be holding your breath?

LITTMAN: Well, let me just say this. I'm not going to re-litigate whether Hillary Clinton have should have use a private e-mail server or the big deal that was made out of that shouldn't been. I'm sure Gina would agree me about that. But, let me just say this. Mike Pence and he's not the only one, if you went through the government and saw how many people were using a private e-mail for public business, you have pretty much everybody in Congress and every governor in the country and every secretary of the state. They shouldn't do it.

To me, these are these are just dumb decisions that these people make. You don't use your private e-mail for public business. When you own a private company, you don't use your personal e-mail for company business. I mean, so Mike Pence should know better. And I just think it's a stupid mistake on his part.

VAUSE: OK. Believe of that. Matthew Littman and Gina Loudon, thanks for joining in.

SESAY: Thank you to you both.

VAUSE: I appreciate it.

LITTMAN: Thank you.

LOUDON: All right.

SESAY: Time for a quick break. To quote the White House, the media is opposition party. How that combative approach is impacting the Trump administration, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:42:37] VAUSE: Well some of these organizations certainly have this relationship with the Trump administration usually the ones which break stories the president does not like. Like, the revelations which spilled the end for National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. All reports which leads Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from probes into the election campaign.

SESAY: There was a report through the media that the White House even learned of Sessions meetings with the Russian ambassador. But the president is again seizing on the leaks, feeding the stories as the bigger issue. Joining us now is Seema Mehta, political writer for the L.A. Times and Ted Johnson, senior editor at Variety. Welcome to you both.

VAUSE: Good to see you guys.

SESAY: You're right about --

VAUSE: It does seem like there's a handful of newspapers, the L.A. Times for instance, the Washington Post, New York Times and near all of broadcasts like CNN which, you know, are very -- in many ways driving the coverage if you like. All of the Trump administration in a very aggressive way dedicating resources time and staff to do this. And exposing a lot of major stories is been a flood of stories. Has there anything sort of similar to this from past administrations?

SEEMA MEHTA, POLITICAL WRITER LOS ANGELES TIMES: I can't recall a period where it's this intense this early and this frequently. I mean, obviously with every administration there's -- if there's going to be tension at times, it's an adversarial relationship as it should be. They try to keep it professional but, you know, both sides have their jobs to do and they don't often have the same purposes. But I cannot recall when there's been this much news this fast, this many investigations, this many leaks. And I find it remarkable and I wonder every week I'm like, is this pace going to continue? And then every week there's like a new side of revelations or almost everyday.

SESAY: Yes. And Ted, to you, I mean the lens which all of this information is being viewed has perhaps never been as warped as the times we are living in.

TED JOHNSON, SENIOR EDITOR VARIETY: Oh yes. It's out of the great irony. We see this great investment in investigative journalism. But at the same time we have probably this polarized news environment. People get their news based on what they want to hear. I mean, that's, that's the danger right now.

There -- you know, the question is, are people just going for those partisan news sources. That's why I actually do think that this investment in investigative journalism is so great because they are from mainstream news outlets that have a long history of great reputations. And I just hope that it continues. [00:44:58] Another thing I just want to point out is that, you know, a lot of these news organizations kind of knew this was coming. They knew that this challenge would be there because there were so many remaining questions from the Trump campaign on Russia, the tax returns. And it was almost like they knew that at least the first 100 days of the Trump's presidency would be almost a challenge to journalism.

It wasn't just that, it was also what Trump said on the campaign trail. The whole idea of opening up the libel laws. He made comments to Jeff Bezos, the head of Amazon just to, you know, these kind of suggestions that he was going to look into the antitrust problems at Amazon, Bezos also owns "The Washington Post." So those were a little disconcerting. So I think a number of news organizations kind of approached the start of the Trump presidency with the idea that we kind of have to lay down a marker.

VAUSE: Every time the president having reads a story or hears a story that he doesn't like, he attacks it as being fake news. He does it over and over again. And Seema, I'm just wondering that insult, that attack, is it so losing it's effectiveness out because it is being used so often?

MEHTA: I don't think among his base it is.

VAUSE: Right.

MEHTA: But that's also another challenge as with having this president or not challenge, but something that's very different than we've seen with other presidents. Because in the past if an administration didn't like your story their spokesperson might say something about what they felt was wrong with the story. You didn't have the president on Twitter directly attacking reporters and your news organizations. So that's I think another new thing we've seen in this cycle.

SESAY: Yes. And Ted, another new thing we've seen is the fact that news political goings on in Washington have become like this hyper reality show if you will. They become the bread and butter of comedy sketch shows like "Saturday Night Live". We've seen the late night shows basically almost entirely base their formats and their content around what we're seeing in the political space.

Yes, I mean, it's good for a laugh, you know, the ratings are up for these people, but is there a risk here? Is there are a cost to the political process when serious issues effectively -- serious issues, serious boiling, serious things are taking place are boiled down to a punch line?

JOHNSON: Well yeah. I think there's always a serious risk of people to just viewing politics as entertainment, because at a certain you actually have to get down to policy, you have to make sure that the public understands what the issues are and as you said, they're not just a punch line. They're not just part of this ongoing reality show or lately this ongoing mystery that we have about the connections to Russia. I think at a certain point the public has to understand what the role of the government is in their lives. And if they see that role as just another channel that they turn on the air each night, I think that's pretty disconcerting.

SESAY: Yeah.

VAUSE: And again, you know, the -- it does seem that, you know, the media, the photo state is one of the checks and balances like it has never been before specially with, you know, I guess with Democrats. You know, it must played in both houses and not able to, you know, do anything about the, you know, the White House on air. Moving to that with Seema and Ted, thanks very much.

SESAY: Thank you.

MEHTA: Thank you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

VAUSE: When we come back, Trump officials spoke to a man, allegedly a top Russian spy. Not just any old Russian spy, but the top Russian spy in the U.S. probably know about Moscow's ambassador, just ahead.

SESAY: Plus, actor Alec Baldwin, what it took to play the U.S. president on a "Saturday Night Live".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:52:19] SESAY: Hello everyone. Russia's ambassador to the U.S. isn't new to Washington, more controversy. Current and former U.S. officials say he's considered one of the Kremlin's top spies by U.S. intelligence.

VAUSE: The Russians deny that and at least publically the ambassador seems to present himself as a man about town. Our Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Michelle Kosinski has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak has spent a dozen of his 66 years living and working as a diplomat in the United States. He and his wife Natalia has often seen out and about enjoying parties and events around Washington D.C.

SERGEY KISLYAK, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: I personally have been working in the United States so long that I know almost everybody.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He's straight out of central casting. Perfect English, heavy Russian accent, immaculate suits, he's blunt and he stands out.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Trained as an engineer in Russia and described as highly intelligent, Kislyak joined the foreign ministry at the height of the Cold War in 1977. He's been ambassador to the U.S. for more than eight years running. But some U.S. intelligence officials believe he's more than that. Far more, they believe he has very close ties to Russian intelligence according to current and former senior U.S. government officials.

Here speaking at Stanford, he described the U.S.-Russia relationship just after Donald Trump was elected president.

KISLYAK: Most probably we are leading as into the worst point in our relations after being under the Cold War.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): He expressed optimism, things would get better. This week he attended the President's address to Congress.

(on camera) Now though, the controversy over Kislyak's meetings with Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a second time in weeks, the ambassador finds himself at the center of a storm regarding the Trump White House.

(voice-over) Then incoming National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had told top members of the administration that when he spoke to Kislyak by phone prior to the inauguration, he did not discuss sanctions against Russia. Later though, admitting he did not remember whether they had talked about that, Flynn was forced to resign. Those conversations had been captured and recorded according to U.S. intelligence officials because Russian diplomats calls routinely are, and some of the content raised flags.

Kislyak has not responded to the latest flap over Attorney General Sessions. His spokesman saying they have nothing to add to this. From the Russian Foreign Ministry responding to questions over whether he himself is a spy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is pretty lie and bold news.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): Echoing a now familiar refrain.

[0:55:06 DOZIER: Something I've heard from former spies is that the Russians have really stepped up their spy game in recent years. And you can see that by looking at their embassy in Washington D.C. They estimate that something like half the personnel in there are related to intelligence.

KOSINSKI (voice-over): As Russia continues to figure into the political controversy in America right now, whether it's hacking, spying, or just through talking.

Michelle Kosinski, CNN, the State Department.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Well finally here, actor Alec Baldwin is known for his scathing impersonation of Donald Trump on the comedy shows "Saturday Night Live".

SESAY: He says he didn't hate Trump. But when he was asked to play the part, he said he wasn't interested until his first dress rehearsal. He told talk show host Jimmy Kimmel what happened next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I had no idea what I was going to do. I tried to stick my face out and my mouth out. I was in the makeup room, they put my wig on and I literally -- it was like a scene from like a mental hospital. And I see the host and I'm going (inaudible).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAUSE: It's memorable. Baldwin and Kimmel later discussed the possibility if he could at least play the president at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner because the real Donald Trump says he wasn't going.

SESAY: Well, thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. Please stay with us for another hour of news. All the very latest on Jeff Sessions, the attorney general recusing himself from the investigations. You're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Hello and welcome to our viewers from United States --