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More Russia Contacts with Trump Aides Revealed; DHS Report Undercuts Trump Rationale for Travel Ban; Trump Demands 'Investigation' of Dems' Ties with Russia; NAACP President Meets with Attorney General. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's 9 p.m. Eastern only on CNN. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter. I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, in denial. CNN has learned about multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia's ambassador. But after months of denying any campaign contacts, the president is dismissing the controversy as a witch hunt.

Far enough? Democrats say Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not go far enough in recusing himself from any campaign investigations. Tonight, they want him to come back before Congress to answer for what they call a lie during his confirmation.

NAACP Sessions. In the middle of the controversy over his Russia contacts, the attorney general now sits down with the head of the NAACP. Is he going to ease up on civil rights enforcement? I'll talk to the president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks.

And "I won't be back." Arnold Schwarzenegger says he quit "The Apprentice," in part because President Trump is still tied to the show, and he blames Mr. Trump for his bad ratings.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions under fire for not disclosing his campaign contacts with Russia's ambassador, new details are now emerging of such contacts by other members of the Trump campaign team, including the president's senior advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Key Democrats are not satisfied with Sessions' decision to recuse himself from any campaign investigations. Some still want him to resign. Others want him to come back to Congress and testify about his failure to tell the truth during his confirmation.

President Trump says the Democrats are overplaying their hand, accusing them of a witch hunt, a phrase also used today by the Kremlin. He's counterattacking by tweeting an old picture of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer eating doughnuts with Vladimir Putin at a New York gas station and demanding an investigation of that.

But as the list of campaign contacts grows, Republicans, too, are putting pressure on the White House to come clean. And during the campaign, Vice President Mike Pence worked the crowds, accusing Hillary Clinton of threatening U.S. national security, because she used a private e-mail server. But it's now emerged that Pence also used a personal e-mail account to conduct state business, including security matters while he was governor of Indiana. And that same account was hacked in a phishing scheme.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee, along with NAACP President Cornell William Brooks. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're all standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

President Trump is spending the weekend at his Florida retreat again, leaving behind a growing list of questions about his campaign's contacts with Russia. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, I understand you have new information.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, we are learning new details, Wolf, about the scope of the Trump campaign's contacts with the Russians, in particular the Russian ambassador, who met with multiple aides from the campaign. One of those aides tells CNN he was just doing what then-candidate Trump wanted when he advocated for a change to U.S. policy toward Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): When then-candidate Donald Trump delivered a foreign policy speech in Washington last April, Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak was in the audience, listening in as the real- estate tycoon called for better relations with the Kremlin.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible.

ACOSTA: Three months later, Trump national security advisors say they met with the Russian ambassador in Cleveland during the Republican convention. Former campaign advisor J.D. Gordon tells CNN he and another foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, discussed U.S.-Russian relations with the ambassador. A meeting Page did not deny on MSNBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're not going to deny that you talked with him in Cleveland?

CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I do not deny that.

ACOSTA: Heading into the convention, Gordon says, he fought for language in the Republican Party platform that opposed the arming of Ukraine and that nation's battle against pro-Russian separatists. Gordon says he sought the change following a meeting at the Trump Hotel in D.C. earlier in the year, when Trump himself said he did not want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine.

"I was just doing what the boss wanted," Gordon tells CNN.

Contrast that with former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who insisted the campaign did not seek the change in the party platform.

PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign.

ACOSTA: Though Trump appeared to acknowledge such an effort in an interview on the same day.

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

ACOSTA: The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn also sat down with the ambassador at a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower in December. Now even Republicans are saying it's time for White House officials to tell all.

REP. WILLIAM HURD (R), TEXAS: I think the -- everybody who has had contact with the Russians need to get in the practice of over-sharing.

ACOSTA: The president, who has pushed back on questions about his campaign's contacts with the Russians--

TRUMP: Well, I had nothing to do with it. I have nothing to do with Russia.

ACOSTA: -- is fighting back, tweeting this photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer from 2003, calling the New York Democrat a total hypocrite. Schumer responded he's willing to talk about his contact with Putin under oath, asking the president, "Would you and your team?"

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.

ACOSTA: Democrats warn Attorney General Jeff Sessions's recusal from the Russian investigation may only be the beginning.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The recusal is an admission that something was wrong.

ACOSTA: Russia is not the only headache for the White House. As it turns out, CNN has confirmed Vice President Mike Pence used a private e-mail address when he was governor of Indiana, even as he was joining in on the Trump campaign's criticism of Hillary Clinton for her e-mail practices.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very confident that our e-mail practices were in full compliance. There's no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton's practice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House is definitely seeking some separation between the president and his team when it comes to Russia during the campaign. A White House spokeswoman said just today, Wolf, that the president had, quote, "zero involvement with the Russians" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta over at the White House.

After rushing -- after rushing, at first, its failed attempt at a travel ban citing urgent national security reasons, the Trump White House has now failed to issue a replacement, at least not yet, even as a new homeland security report may undercut the rationale for such a ban.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. What's the hold up, Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that is a great question. We're ending the sixth week of this administration here, and we have heard time and time again that the president will be signing a new travel ban. Well, that simply is not happening as we are entering the close of business here yet on this Friday.

The White House initially said that they were going to hold back a day after that speech earlier this week to Congress. He was scheduled to sign it on Wednesday. They said they were going to hold off a bit. But now they're still holding off.

Now, the question here on this -- yes, there were legal challenges. Yes, there are issues inside other agencies here. But what happened to the urgency that the president talked about?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Those given the high honor of admission to the United States should support this country and love its people and its values. We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.

That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures; and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep those out who will do us harm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: So it's clear that this is more difficult than the president originally thought, trying to find an executive order, a travel ban that will meet legal challenges.

But the other issue here, Wolf, is there's a new report from the Department of Homeland Security, essentially undercutting the idea of this travel ban. It is saying that people are radicalized not from other countries, but after they spend time here in the U.S. It looked at 88 different people.

And it is a sign here that the majority Muslim countries the president was initially targeting in that first ban, which we believe he will be including most of them in the second one, it may not have the same effect he was talking about, Wolf.

So now we do not know if it's coming next week. One administration official said this is still the president's plan to do it, but stay tuned on when that actually gets signed and when it happens, Wolf. BLITZER: We will do that. Thanks very much, Jeff, for that report.

Jeff Zeleny reporting.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Hello, Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN has learned that Trump national security advisor J.D. Gordon met with the Russian ambassador Kislyak during their Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, along with Trump advisors at the time, Carter Page and Walid Phares. You've been briefed. Were you aware of these meetings?

HIMES: I wasn't aware of those meetings in particular, but it is, of course, part of a much larger issue, which is that there -- there have been meeting after meeting after meeting with Jeff Sessions, with Michael Flynn, now with these other advisors. All kinds of people associated with the Trump campaign, which by the way, in and of itself -- and this is why the president's tweet about Schumer and about Pelosi are really pretty silly.

There's nothing wrong with meeting with a Russian ambassador. In fact, it's the Russian ambassador's job to meet with people. What is wrong is when you then misrepresent or lie about it the way -- the way Michael Flynn did and, subsequently, Jeff Sessions did.

[17:10:11] And, of course, in the context of this administration, when we know that Russia interfered with our election for the purpose of helping to elect Donald Trump, you have a lot of questions.

BLITZER: Do these meetings, though, concern you specifically about -- about anything improper?

HIMES: Well, you know, as one of the people on the investigative committee and the House, I don't want to say yes or no. And let me draw a distinction between that and what the chairmen who run the two committees, Devin Nunes and Senator Richard Burr, did last week when they were out there saying, "Gosh, I haven't seen anything just yet."

It's incumbent on those of us who are doing that investigation to be very clear that there's not necessarily anything wrong with those meetings. There are questions: Why is the White House sort of denying that they occurred? Why are they defending the inaccuracies that both Flynn and Sessions put forward instead of saying, "Hey, let's get to the truth"?

So no, those meetings aren't inherently necessarily a problem. But -- and that's why we have an investigation to find out whether anything improper occurred related, of course, to the hack of the elections.

BLITZER: President Trump's senior advisor, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former advisor, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, we now know they met with the Russian ambassador in New York City at Trump Tower back in December. Were you aware of that meeting? HIMES: Well, that's been reported in the news, so--

BLITZER: I mean, other -- other than in the news, were you aware through other channels that that meeting was going on?

HIMES: Yes, Wolf, I've got to be a little careful about stuff that I might have learned behind closed doors, but now, obviously, we're all aware of that.

BLITZER: Does that concern you, that specific meeting at Trump Tower?

HIMES: Well, when it's -- when it's Michael Flynn involved, I'm particularly concerned because, of course, Michael Flynn very simply lied to the public, lied to the vice president about his contacts with Russia. Why would somebody lie? Somebody lies to obfuscate something that is, you know, probably not on the up-and-up.

So when Michael Flynn is involved, in particular, who's no -- there's no any argument about Michael Flynn the way there is about Jeff Sessions. Because in fact, the White House fired him from his position of national security advisor. Yes, of course, the nature of those meetings is now on the very long list of things the investigation needs to look into.

BLITZER: Have you seen the transcripts of any of the conversations that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador, for example, or any other conversations?

HIMES: Wolf, again, I'm not going to comment on things that happened behind closed doors, but you should know that this investigation that is underway in the House is going to have access to all of that.

BLITZER: So, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like the transcripts finally have been provided to the committee. You don't have to tell us what were in the transcripts; that's classified. Just the notion there are these transcripts and you were allowed to see them, can you confirm that?

HIMES: What I can do is I can tell you that both the Republican and the Democratic leaders of that committee have agreed on a scope of work, have agreed on what we want to see, and we expect to see a very wide array of information relevant to this investigation.

BLITZER: I guess the question is was Michael Flynn fired simply because he lied to the Vice President and others in the White House about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, or was there something else?

HIMES: Well, the disturbing thing here, Wolf, is that he was fired, not because of what he did, because, of course, what he did occurred, you know, really weeks before there was a new president. He was fired because, of course, the media discovered the story that he had not been honest with the vice president and put the vice president in the position of being out on national TV peddling a falsehood.

But it was only when the media exposed that that he was then fired, which raises very difficult questions about who in the White House was willing to proceed with a national security advisor that they know -- that they knew had been dishonest with -- with the vice president.

BLITZER: But was there anything else beyond the dishonesty?

HIMES: I don't know the answer to that question, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Congressman. There's more to discuss. We're getting additional information. We'll resume our conversation right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with Democratic congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, President Trump, he tweeted just a little while ago a photo, as you pointed out, of Nancy Pelosi with the Russian ambassador Kislyak back in 2010 after she denied meeting with him. He then tweeted, "I hereby demanded a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia and lying about it."

What's your response to his demand for an investigation into these two Democratic leaders and their ties to Russia?

HIMES: Well, you know, there's a small lesson and a big lesson. And the small lesson is that people who get asked, you know, who are members of Congress, who get asked if they've ever met the Russian ambassador ought to be careful about the answer.

But the really big lesson and the only thing important here, of course, is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with meeting Russians. There is something wrong with meeting Russians and lying about it. And there's certainly something very wrong about meeting Russians, lying about it to the United States Senate as they're thinking about confirming you to be the highest law enforcement officer in the country.

[17:20:12] So, obviously, look, Trump's tweets are not serious; and he is the president of the United States, so, I wish he wouldn't sort of throw around lightly the idea of doing investigations. But again, the point is, there's absolutely nothing wrong with meeting with Russians. It's meeting with Russians and lying about it that is the problem.

BLITZER: Yes. That picture of Nancy Pelosi, that was at a meeting with then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. He was sort of in the back there. He was there -- she claims she was -- she never had a one-on-one meeting with the Russian ambassador, for what that's worth.

Another question, Congressman. CNN is told that, in the days before President Trump's inauguration, the State Department sent a batch of documents detailing Russian efforts to meddle in the U.S. presidential elections worldwide to Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. Have you seen any of those documents? Did you receive any of those documents from the outgoing Obama administration? HIMES: Well, I'll say this. As you might expect, the House

Intelligence Committee, which is undertaking the investigation of the Russian hack and whether there is any knowledge of or collusion with that hack by people associated with the Trump, obviously that committee and I will see those documents.

But I can tell you specifically that, you know, in early January, after the election, when the extent of this hack came -- became clear and once it became clear that the Russians were doing this on behalf of Donald Trump, as well, a lot of us worried that very soon on January 20, the boss of all of these departments, whether it was FBI or Justice or CIA, the new bosses, of course, would be Trump people. And so we all worried that there would be some risk that some of the evidence or some of the, you know, paper trail might suddenly disappear. That there might be a desire to sort of quash these investigations and make them more difficult.

So for our part in the Congress, a number of us wrote to the agency chiefs and others and to the last president saying, "Hey, do all you can within the law, obviously, to preserve whatever evidence they -- there may be of this very dark finding that the Russians interfered in our election.

BLITZER: And presumably, some of those documents may be surfacing publicly in the days and weeks to come. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, after months of protesting Jeff Sessions's nomination, and even being arrested outside his office in Alabama, today the NAACP president, Cornell William Brooks, sat down with the new attorney general. Cornell William Brooks will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He'll be sitting down with us, and he'll tell us all about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:27:17] BLITZER: We keep learning new details about meetings between Russia's ambassador to the United States and some top advisors to President Trump.

Even though he denied there were any contacts between his team and any Russians during the campaign, we now know four of the future president's top advisors, including then-Senator Jeff Sessions, met with the Russian ambassador in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention last July.

Later in September, the ambassador met with Sessions in his Senate office and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and future national security advisor Michael Flynn, they met with the ambassador in December over at Trump Tower in New York City.

Let's bring in our political experts. And Gloria Borger, looking at the big picture, why are there so many meetings that we're only now learning about the Russian ambassador with some top Trump advisors? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, that's the question

that ought to be asked and that we're going to continue to ask as journalists. And I think, look, there are a couple of ways of looking at it.

One, the question is was this about policy? Was this about a president who clearly seemed more inclined to do deals with Russia than the previous administration? And was the Russian ambassador who, by the way, is doing his job, was the Russian ambassador just reaching out on policy issues?

The second question you'll have to ask, which is a lot less benign, is was this about some kind of collusion? Was there collusion, for example, during the election?

And again, we don't know any of this, but the likely question that should be asked is, was there collusion during the election between anyone on team Trump and the Russians in terms of the election hack? We don't know the answer to that, but we do know the FBI is investigating it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This is what's so interesting to me, Gloria. We don't know the answer to that.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: There's no doubt about that.

But we do know that the intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was involved in trying to affect our elections at the benefit of Trump and the detriment to Hillary Clinton.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: So, we do -- everyone knows that. Even Donald Trump has conceded that he believes that to be true.

Therefore, why as Congressman Hurd said on CNN this morning, anybody in the Trump world who has had a meeting with a Russian should probably be in the practice of over sharing.

And that's my big question right now. If in this context, we don't know where this is going to lead, but given the context that we know what Russia was doing with our election, where is just the full, "Here are the facts, every single fact"? We've asked every single senior member of the team to detail every connection they ever had, and get that out there as they try to manage this.

BORGER: And every single member of people who are -- talked to the team. I mean, I think the White House should err on the side of getting out more information rather than -- rather than less.

BLITZER: Because as you know, Mark, it's going to come out. There are a lot of people out there who have all of the sensitive information. If there are more meetings from the White House perspective, from the president's perspective, put it out yourself rather than let it come out in The Washington Post or The New York Times or CNN.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I mean, drown us with facts. I mean, you know, the bottom line is that we didn't necessarily expect that Jeff Sessions would be pulled into this in the way that he has been, which has leads us to believe when's the next shoe going to drop? When was there another meeting? And we're not saying that he's guilty by any stretch of imagination. But what we're saying is that the best way for them to get over the story is to immerse themselves in the story, and then immediately push back against Russia, which is the most confusing thing throughout all of this is that Donald Trump really has not done enough to push away Russia.

BORGER: Well, you have the national security advisor, the attorney general, the son-in-law, and two advisors to the campaign who have all said, "Yes, I've had conversations," which leaves the question, Wolf, "What else don't we know?"

PRESTON: Well, and they had a campaign manager, his second campaign manager who had strong ties to Russia.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Paul Manafort.

PRESTON: Paul Manafort.

BORGER: Who's gone. Who's gone.

BLITZER: But he was let go during the campaign. Go ahead.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: What is confusing to me is you say you're waiting for the next shoe to drop. What I -- what is not clear to me is why, if Russia is the thing --Jake Sullivan, the Clinton National Security aide and campaign aide was on your show, and said, "He met with ambassadors. He met --" there's nothing wrong -- as you said --

(CROSSTALK)

CHALIAN: -- there's nothing wrong with meeting with officials from another government if you're involved in a presidential campaign.

PRESTON: But.

CHALIAN: So, except that -- so what are you hiding?

PRESTON: Right.

CHALIAN: So that immediately begs the question, if you're not putting this forth, how do we stop asking the question? Well, what more is there and what are you hiding if you believe for some reason not to come forth with it until it is publicly reportable?

BORGER: And this is why White House is -- generally do this if they're under siege on a particular issue. They put all the information out there.

PRESTON: Right.

BORGER: And we haven't -- we haven't seen that.

BLITZER: But listen to the president. And this is President Trump on February 16th, at his news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Well, I told you General Flynn obviously was dealing, so that's one person. But he was dealing, as he should have been --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: During the election?

TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of. Nobody that I know of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Look, look, look. How many times do I have to answer this question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you just say yes or no?

TRUMP: Russia is ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, is this a legal problem, Gloria, or a political problem?

BORGER: Well, I think it could be both at this point. Obviously, now, it's a political problem because it's what we're talking about and it is what journalists are investigating. And there are a lot of unanswered questions, and it's a problem for the attorney general who had to recuse himself from his -- an investigation going on under his purview. So, and will it become a legal problem? I don't think we have the answer to that.

PRESTON: How does he not know, by the way, that his national security advisor -- I'll give him that he doesn't know that Flynn is meeting with the Russians, I'll give him that -- how does he not know that Jared Kushner, his son-in-law met with the ambassador back in December, and was he saying that --

BORGER: In Trump Tower.

PRESTON: -- that wasn't the --in Trump Tower, in his building -- that wasn't the campaign that was the transition. I mean, it's the same thing. It's absolutely the same thing. So, I don't think we're -- I think Donald Trump -- and I'm not going to say he's lying to us about this, I just don't think he's being as truthful --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here's what's raising questions, David, and I want you to explain this because there's a lot -- a lot of stuff out there that raises some questions. There were these meetings between Trump national security advisors and the Russian Ambassador in Cleveland at the Republican National Convention back in July. A week later, Trump in a speech starts saying to the Russians, go ahead, find Hillary Clinton's -- release Hillary Clinton's 30,000 e-mails that she deleted.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hack and find those e-mails. And the other thing that's curious is there was this meeting at the Republican National Convention, then all of a sudden, an anti-Russian plank in the republican national platform on Ukraine is suddenly removed and people to this day are not sure why it was removed.

CHALIAN: Right. Well, Mark mentioned his second campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was the convention manager, that was the role he was in when he came onto the campaign. And clearly had ties to Ukraine and Russia. So, there was a key figure involved in working with the RNC and on the convention plank. You'll recall in Jim Acosta's reporting on your air last night that some aides to the Trump campaign believed that they were moving through with Donald Trump's wishes about that, and then when Donald Trump was asked by George Stephanopoulos about that, he said he wasn't really aware of that but he was aware that it was a softening and that he would look into it.

BLITZER: The softening of the position of Ukraine.

CHALIAN: The softening of --

(CROSSTALK)

[17:34:56] BORGER: Yes, he was -- he said he didn't direct it. Which in fact, if they thought that's what he would have wanted, even if he wasn't directing him, you know, there -- this is a big question here, which is when you work for somebody in a -- in a political campaign, and you think this is what the guy at the top wants, sometimes you don't have to ask him. You just believe that you're doing -- you're doing what he would -- what he would want you to do and then when you come back to him, he'll go, "Oh, great. That's terrific." So, did they just aim to please?

PRESTOM: Well, and to David's point about Paul Manafort, he was asked on our colleague, Chuck Todd show "Meet the Press", why was this inserted? You know, did anybody from the Trump campaign have anything to do with it? Manafort answered, "No, zero." So, clearly he wasn't telling the truth.

BLITZER: All right, guys, the president once again very active today on Twitter. He's targeting some democratic leaders. We'll update you on that, and a whole lot more when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:00] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. Gloria, he's active, the President of the United States, on Twitter. He tweeted just a while -- little while ago.

BORGER: That didn't take long.

BLITZER: Showing a picture of Chuck Schumer with Vladimir Putin writing, "We should start an immediate investigation into Senator Schumer and his ties to Russia. And Putin, a total hypocrite." Schumer responded, "Happily talk re: my contact with Mr. Putin and his associates, took place in '03 in full view of press and public under oath. Would you and your team --

BORGER: I don't get the under oath part of that tweet because it took place in a Lukoil gas station on the west side of New York, and that's a Russian company, which is --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: No, I think what Schumer is suggesting, he's happy to talk about it. They do it under oath and he'd like Trump to talk about it under oath.

BORGER: I know, but the picture wasn't under oath. Because it was just --it was just in a gas station

BLITZER: And limited to 140 characters. So, you can't be that precise.

BORGER: Oh, is that what it is?

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: And Putin was visiting and he was in the country, and his next stop was to go to Camp David to meet with the president. And Schumer, of course, pushed a Krispy Kreme donut on him. And so, it was a -- it was a -- it was a photo op, and I'm hoping the president was joking a little bit about that. I'm hoping.

PRESTON: Are you hoping or --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But then he follow -- he followed up, David Chalian, with this tweet, just a little while ago, involving the democratic leader in the house, Nancy Pelosi. "I hereby demand a second investigation after Schumer of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia and lying about it." Showing a picture of Nancy Pelosi. She was at a meeting in 2010 with the then Russian President Medvedev, the Russian Ambassador, Kislyak, was there sitting at the table as well.

CHALIAN: And again, she made the same argument back, saying, "This was before cameras, not in hiding, and I didn't lie about it," trying to draw a contrast with Sessions. I do think there's something interesting to note here. Donald Trump, a lot of the time on this Russia story, has taken to Twitter to lash back at the press. He's not doing that now. He's going after democrats. I don't know if he's going to find that as satisfying in the feedback loop as going after the press because then we get all worked up that he's going after us. I wonder if just going after democrats, which is a more traditional partisan, (INAUDIBLE) thing, and probably not going to get the same level of coverage if that's a less satisfying tactic for him.

PRESTON: It was like eating Chinese food, an hour later and you're not satisfied.

BLITZER: Who is behind this strategy, I think over at the White House? The president himself or is he getting some advice from -- in other words, to avoid going after, you know, the fake news, the media, because he's been relatively silent on that lately.

PRESTON: Right. So, I know there's an effort from the more traditional part of the west wing to have him be reined in and toned down. And we also heard from the likes of, gosh, his -- the chairman of the inauguration, whose name escapes me.

CHALIAN: Tom Barrack?

BORGER: Tom Barrack?

PRESTON: Tom Barrack, himself, has told and has said it publicly that he has told his good friend, "Tone it down, you can't go after the media." I wonder if Donald Trump is starting to heed some of those concerns. And also, I wonder if Steve Bannon, mind you, is saying, "You know what, back off a little bit right now. There'll be a time to go back in a few years,"

BORGER: It may be that he was basking in the glory. Don't forget, earlier this week, he gave a speech to a joint session of Congress that was very well received.

PRESTON: Right.

BORGER: And maybe he was basking in the glory of that and trying to carry that tone to the rest of the week. I don't think it necessarily lasted, but you didn't see him tweet very much. And that may be one reason why he's not tweeting against the media because our polls showed that he did well after that. And he was, you know, he got some critical acclaim after the speech from the media.

BLITZER: Very quickly, David. Sessions, all night, democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, now want him to come back, answer questions. Is he going to do that?

CHALIAN: Well, I doubt he's going to run right up there because I don't think he wants to answer all these questions so quickly, and republicans aren't calling for it. I do think that's a smarter political tactic for the democrats than calling for outright resignation which is not going to happen. This seems to be a smarter, just raw political approach, call for him to come back up, call for a special prosecutor. That's how they could continue to keep the heat on. Resignation seems so far out of the realm.

BORGER: And overreach.

PRESTON: Yes, overreach. Exactly.

BORGER: It could backfire.

PRESTON: Absolutely.

BORGER: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody stand by.

Coming up, despite taking part in protests over Jeff Sessions' nomination, NAACP President Cornell William Brooks met with the new attorney general here in Washington today. Cornell Brooks, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us all about that meeting. That's next.

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[17:45:00] BLITZER: Today, we saw the highest level of contact between the Trump administration and the NAACP, the group's President and CEO Cornell William Brooks met with the Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions. And Cornell is with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us about it.

Thanks very much, Cornell, for joining us.

CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF COLORED PEOPLE PRESIDENT AND CEO: Good to be here.

BLITZER: All right. So give me very quickly a headline, how did it go?

[17:49:45] BROOKS: It was a polite but blunt conversation about the state of civil rights in this country and the rule of the Department of Justice. We were very candid about our concerns, about the fact that the Department of Justice seems to be taking a course backward in terms of backing away from voting rights, backing away from a full- fledged commitment to addressing police misconduct in this country. And it was an honest conversation with the Attorney General about the degree to which history rests upon his shoulders.

BLITZER: Because all of us remember, you were arrested not once but twice protesting his nomination. You went to his office -- the senate office in Alabama, at the time. You said he can't be trusted to protect voting rights. He remains a threat to all of our civil rights. He, of course, was fully aware of what you did. And then, you had this important conversation today. What did he say about that?

BROOKS: Well, he asked me about my time in Mobile, and he was aware that we conducted this demonstration in his office. He said that his staff said that the NAACP was nice to them and they were, in fact, nice to us. So we joked about it. But what we did not joke about was the commitment or lack of sufficient commitment to civil rights by the Department of Justice thus far. And so, here's what we would note, in the opening days of his administration, he has talked about the fact that he wants to step away from using consent decrees, step away from using pattern and practice investigations to hold police departments accountable.

Now, where we have literally in the course of the last two years, over 2,000 people lost their lives at the hands of the police, where we have young black man who understand all too well. The young black man is 21 times more likely to lose his life at the hands of the police than his white counterpart. To hear a -- an attorney general say that we're not going to use or decline to use a (INAUDIBLE) tool such as a consent decree is very alarming.

BLITZER: Do you feel he took your concern seriously?

BROOKS: I think that he took the meeting, he requested the meeting.

BLITZER: It was his initiative.

BROOKS: It was his initiative. He requested a one-on-one. We had a small meeting today. So, I think he understands the role of the NAACP. When there's a crisis in this country, a civil rights crisis, people call on the NAACP and they call on the Department of Justice. It remains to be seen whether or not he understands -- or should I say the department understands the gravity of our concerns. And what we mean by that is where we have seen in this last election, a season of voter suppression, where the NAACP secured nine court victories against voter suppression in 10 months. For this department in Texas to reverse position in terms of saying that the state legislation in Texas has engaged intentional racial discrimination with respect to both law -- (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What is critically important is the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: An assistant attorney general for civil rights, did you make a recommendation? Did you talk about that?

BROOKS: We absolutely did. We ended the meeting by talking about the fact that we need an assistant attorney general for civil rights who has a demonstrated commitment to civil rights, and who has a commitment to prosecuting civil rights violations. We don't need someone in the position who is simply well-credentialed and well- polished and glib, but someone who has a record and a full-fledged commitment. Why? Because people all across the country, looking at the Department of Justice, as a bulwark against injustice. You can't have somebody in the -- in the job who doesn't have that kind of commitment.

BLITZER: Cornell, it's obviously a very important for you to sit down with the Attorney General of the United States but you know what's even more important? To sit down with the President of the United States. What are the prospects of that? BROOKS: Well, we would hope that we'll have such a meeting. But here's what I'll note. Sometimes people call on the -- on the NAACP when there's a crisis. When there are flames in the streets, when there is unrest. Let's not call on the NAACP as though we are the first responders of the civil rights. When in fact, we are the primary care physicians of civil right.

BLITZER: So you leave bottom line hopeful?

BROOKS: I leave hopeful and vigilant. We oppose Senator Sessions -- Attorney General Sessions' nomination. And with the same vigor that we opposed him, we're willing to hold him and the Department of Justice, hold their feet to the fire. We have to do that.

BLITZER: Cornell Williams Brooks with the NAACP, thanks for joining us.

BROOKS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, we're learning about a growing list of contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russia's ambassador to the United States. But after months of denial, the president is now dismissing the controversy as a witch hunt.

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[17:55:00] BLITZER: Happening now. Kremlin connections. There's mounting pressure on the president to explain his top aides' contacts with Russia, as more previously undisclosed meetings are revealed. We have images of the Russian diplomatic at the center of the storm attending a Trump event.

Ban stand. Weeks after the controversial roll out, a revised version with the president's travel ban is on hold again. And now, a new intelligence assessment of the threat from foreign-born extremists appears to undercut the rationale for the ban altogether.

You've got mail trouble. Vice President Pence claims there's no comparison between his use of private e-mails when he was governor and Hillary Clinton's e-mail controversy. Tonight, Pence defense: an allegation of hypocrisy.

And self-terminated. Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's putting "Celebrity Apprentice" delivering a party shot at President Trump, who mercilessly mocked his ratings.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

END