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Jeff Sessions Plans to Continue as Attorney General; Interview with Senator Bill Cassidy; OJ Simpson to Face Parole Board Today; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: -- is doing important work, right, this press conference about fighting crime. And you know, we'll see if he gets fired. I mean, you know, President Trump does have a pattern of insulting people without firing them. So welcome to the club.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He also has a pattern of insulting people and then firing them.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's true. That's true.

HARLOW: James Comey, however the optics -- the optics of him firing Attorney General Sessions after Comey are very -- would be very, very bad.

So there's been a lot of talk this morning, Jeff, as I'm sure you've heard on Twitter-sphere and elsewhere that perhaps his attack of Jeff Sessions in this "New York Times" interview, even attacking the way he testified in his confirmation hearing, is a way to try to get him to quit to put in place a more friendly AG who would then go on and fire Mueller.

TOOBIN: You know, I'm not sure the president is that calculating. I think the president is angry and when Donald Trump is angry, he tells you he is angry. And he's still angry at Jeff Sessions. And it may be just as simple as that because, you know, what I think is very clear in the president's mind is that Jeff Sessions set in motion by recusing himself the Russia investigation by Director Mueller. And that is infuriating to the president. And he blames Sessions for that turn of events. And that's just the way it -- that's just what he said.

HARLOW: Actually the president also set in motion, Bob Mueller, from what he said in the NBC interview about why he fired James Comey.

TOOBIN: Well, Donald Trump doesn't believe in blaming himself for his own problems. I mean, he believes in blaming others. You know, he used this word that he often uses for his critics. He said it was very unfair of Sessions. He felt like it was unfair to him.

HARLOW: Right.

TOOBIN: And that concept of fairness to him is something very -- the president talks about all the time and Sessions violated that, at least to Trump's mind, and that's why he's on the outs.

HARLOW: Big picture of this interview with "The New York Times" and obviously subsequent questions that came to Rosenstein and Sessions. This was an attack on the entire, you know, the entire Department of Justice. Have we seen anything like this before? What does this remind you of in American history?

TOOBIN: Well, the message I took is that Director Mueller's job is not secure. That, you know, he really may fire or order the Justice Department to fire Mueller at some point, which, of course, would -- which would be immediately parallel to Richard Nixon's firing of Archibald Fox in the Saturday night massacre of 1973.

We are not there yet, but the contempt that the president showed for Attorney General Sessions, for Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and for the Special Counsel Robert Mueller was very much out in the open.

HARLOW: He talked about red line, which one of my conservative guests on earlier this hour, John Philips, defended and essentially said what the president doesn't want them, the investigators, Robert Mueller, going off topic here, going off Russia. That is not up to the president to set lines about where the special counsel could go. But it was apparent in his interview with the "New York Times" that he thinks there are these lines.

TOOBIN: Well, and, you know, it's just so amazing that he would say that when you think about -- you know, I used to be a federal prosecutor. I've covered federal prosecutors. If you say to a prosecutor, don't investigate my personal finances, what do you think that federal prosecutor is going to think? Wow, there might be something there. So, you know, I think there could be a coming confrontation.

You know, Director Mueller is a very experienced and apolitical figure who is going to investigate whatever he finds important to investigate and let the chips fall where they may. And that may include getting fired by this president.

HARLOW: Jeffrey Toobin, stand by.

TOOBIN: All right.

HARLOW: Let's go to our justice reporter Laura Jarrett who is in the room.

Laura, not a single question about what they wanted to talk about.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. that's exactly right, Poppy. They were here to announce the largest takedown of a cyber crime, so-called dark Web marketplace. But instead all the questions were directed towards obviously the president's comments to "The New York Times" last night. Sessions said that he planned to stay on as attorney general as long as it is, quote, "appropriate" to do so.

The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who was also slammed in "The New York Times" piece, was asked about his feelings on the subject. You'll recall the president said something like he's from Baltimore, who is he? And the deputy attorney general also said, look, we're going to continue to do our jobs here. I'm proud to serve here at the Justice Department yesterday as I am today. And that we're going to continue doing our work, fulfilling the president's directives, specifically taking down crime units like the one they announced today for AlphaBay -- Poppy.

[10:35:06] HARLOW: Laura Jarrett there at the Justice Department, thank you very much for that.

A lot of breaking news. And we're going to get reaction to all this from Republican Senator Bill Cassidy on the other side. Stay with us.



JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.


HARLOW: Those very measured remarks from Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he was attacked repeatedly by President Trump in a new interview with "The New York Times."

Let's get reaction from Republican Senator Bill Cassidy.

Thank you for joining us, sir.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: And I do of course want to talk to you about Senator John McCain's health and health care in just a moment but since this just happened, let me get your response.

[10:40:06] Of course this is all because questions have been asked about the president telling "The New York Times," quote, about Attorney General Sessions. "If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else." Talking about the Russia probe.

What is your reaction to that?

CASSIDY: A couple of things. First, President Trump appoints Jeff Sessions and Jeff Sessions serves at President Trump's pleasure. But Jeff Sessions serves the American people on behalf of President Trump. And I think Jeff Sessions felt like it would best serve both the American people and President Trump if there was no sense of conflict of interest as regards how the Russia thing played out.

Lindsey Graham has said that President Trump is most likely innocent but -- but he should allow his attorneys to prove that he is. Kind of channeling my inner Lindsey Graham. So I think what you see here is Jeff Sessions serving the American people and frankly serving President Trump.

HARLOW: Yes. Does it concern you that the president is in sense clearly that his attorney general didn't do what he wanted him to do on the Russian probe?

CASSIDY: You know, I can't help but think of George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin. How they kind of always at each other. Both New Yorkers, I suppose. Steinbrenner and -- and yet Billy Martin would win World Series. And so I think the president, as your commentator said earlier, I think it's Mr. Toobin, he's going to tell you when he's angry. He's just absolutely going to tell you when he's angry. On the other hand, if this just plays out and justice is served and the American people feel reassured, that's actually the purpose of the process.

HARLOW: It's just that it's something different than that. He said he would have hired someone else, implying he would have hired someone who would have done what he wanted them to do on this Russia probe, not showing that independence.

All right. We're going to get more into the "New York Times" interview in just -- go ahead.

CASSIDY: Can I say one thing to that?

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

CASSIDY: The thing about it is Jeff Sessions ended up feeling compromised by, frankly, what others were saying about him. If he hired someone else, there may not have been that sense of compromise. I suspect Jeff Sessions in going to this job knowing that. It was just later as things transpired I think he was being the diligent attorney.

HARLOW: All right. We're going to get more into "The New York Times" in a moment. But first, you were in this meeting last night with a number of your other Senate colleagues on health care and you heard the news as we all did that your fellow colleague for so many years, Senator John McCain, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

And from what I heard at the meeting, you all stopped, took a moment, prayed together. Tell me about that.

CASSIDY: Yes, very moving. John McCain has served our country so diligently with such incredible sacrifice that even those who disagree with him politically acknowledge and respect the man's life and dedication to our country. And the mood there was not just a colleague, not just a human being, a fellow American, but the life of someone whose given so much. And that touches us all very deeply.

HARLOW: Given so much to this country in so, so many ways.

Back to "The New York Times" interview and some of your reaction to key parts of it. Let me read you this. Talking about the FBI director and to whom the FBI director reports and frankly should be loyal to, here is what the president said. "The FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States," which is interesting.

But the thing is, Senator, he doesn't. I mean, that is not how the independence of the FBI director works. Does his understanding of that concern you?

CASSIDY: I think it may be a different understanding. In a sense, it's my understanding that at least once weekly the FBI director goes and speaks with the president of the United States regarding real or possible threats to the United States.

I suspect that is what the president is referring to as a report. Clearly, the FBI director can be appointed by the president. That is another definition of the report.

You're right on the kind of the diagram organizationally, he's the one the FBI director goes first to the Department of Justice head --

HARLOW: Attorney general.

CASSIDY: Attorney general, and then to the president. But the president, obviously believes in a flatter organizational structure and all other presidents as well. I've heard directly from the FBI director. I suspect that's what he meant.

HARLOW: Are you concerned, though, that it could be more than that? Because of course as you know in the lead-up to James Comey being fired by the president, the former FBI director, you know, it was reported that he and Comey said, you know, that he asked Comey for loyalty. And that is not the loyalty that an FBI director needs to give. The FBI director has a loyalty to the constitution and the American people.

CASSIDY: A couple of things. We are a nation of laws, you just pointed out. And so, although we may have personal preferences, ultimately we are a nation of laws and that's what dictates action for all. Number one.

Number two, Comey's replacement when asked about a loyalty test is I was not asked and I would not have given. So I think that's probably the more important testament to this. The president did not ask and it would not have been given. The measure of man that he chose would not have given, all that's reassuring.

[10:45:04] HARLOW: I want to get a couple of views from you on health care because you were at the White House yesterday for this lunch with the president on health care. And you said that we are close to reaching a deal. And you said within a margin of two votes. That is drastically different than we've heard from your fellow Republican colleagues.

Where are you close, on a full repeal vote or on repeal and replace? Because as you know the president said yesterday what the American people need is not just a repeal, they need a repeal and replace. So what are you close to agreement on?

CASSIDY: Yes, first, the president was adamant about wanting a repeal. And I think the common ground among all Republicans that we want to get power out of Washington, D.C., return it to the patient, return it to the state. That's a good, conservative 10th Amendment way to approach. That is common ground between us all.

And I think that may unify folks who on a federal level want this policy or that, if we give it to the state and allow the state to do that policy which is best for them, that again I think is common ground. I think there's movement in that direction.

HARLOW: What about the new CNN polling that I'm sure you've seen this morning? Here's what it shows us. When people were asked, is it very likely that the president will be able to be successful in repealing and replacing Obamacare, only 18 percent of the American people now think that is going to happen. What are you seeing that makes you so confident that the American people clearly aren't?

CASSIDY: Well, I look at a principle. If you return power to patients and states, then the patient is happier and the state can do a better job in the federal government.

HARLOW: No. I guess what I'm asking you is the American people don't have confidence in you guys right now that you are going to get this done, what you say is happening.


CASSIDY: Well, I stay in --

HARLOW: Why the divide?

CASSIDY: I'm in the middle of the process so I see the potential there that others may not see. I do see movement that others may not see. And frankly nothing is ever accomplished by a pessimist and so by being optimistic and I think that's one of President Trump's greatest strength, the guy is only optimistic, but so am I, I will work with the White House to try and bring this to completion. I just found in life, if you work hard towards a good thing, good things happen and that's the basis for my optimism.

HARLOW: You had certainly a moment of fame across the Internet and TV screens when you said on this program to my colleague, John Berman, look, this bill, whatever it is, whatever I vote yes on for healthcare has to pass the Jimmy Kimmel test, of course talking about what his own son was diagnosed, his baby is going through.

Now the CBO, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, came out yesterday afternoon as you know and they said a repeal bill would cost 32 million Americans their insurance, their coverage within a decade. Premiums would double within a decade.

If McConnell brings this to the floor, are you going to vote for it? And I know you're going to say that was a 2015 bill, but they are very, very, very similar to what McConnell wants to take up on Monday.

CASSIDY: You know, the president was so adamant about a replace, the 2015 bill did not have a replace associated with it. It just didn't. HARLOW: And this one doesn't either as you know, Senator.

CASSIDY: No, it doesn't. But the president is being adamant about being replaced probably changes the dynamic as to what we vote on. We have to wait and see what that is. In the meantime, I am working on an amendment with Lindsay Graham very much based upon what Senator Collins and I laid the groundwork for. The Grand Cassidy Amendment but it could be called the Grand Collins-Cassidy amendment in which we would put forward a replace that, again, returns power to patients and the states.

HARLOW: OK. But can you vote -- I'm getting the wrap. But can you vote yes on something that the CBO has just said would cost 32 million Americans their insurance? On Monday, can you vote yes?

CASSIDY: It depends on what happens next. If what happens next is a replace, yes.

HARLOW: But you don't know that.

CASSIDY: Because --

HARLOW: You don't know that. You're going into Monday not knowing that. Knowing what you know now, can you -- will you vote yes?

CASSIDY: What I know now is not what I will know on Monday.


CASSIDY: So I will avoid the hypothetical and say, if we've got something to replace as the president is adamant that he wants to replace, then that's what the consideration I'll take with my vote.

HARLOW: OK. So will you come back here on Monday and let us know?

CASSIDY: After the vote.

HARLOW: Thank you, Senator Bill Cassidy.

CASSIDY: Thank you.

HARLOW: Still to come, will O.J. Simpson walk soon, a free man? He faces a parole board in just a few hours. You'll see it all play out live here. And there's an unlikely person testifying in his favor. More on that, next.


[10:53:25] HARLOW: In just a few hours, O.J. Simpson will try to convince a parole board to let him out of prison. The former football player spent the last nine years behind bars. Convicted of armed robbery. If the parole board doesn't vote in his favor, though, Simpson now, 70 years old, could face another two decades behind bars.

Ashleigh Banfield, host of "Prime Time Justice" on HLN, live in Carson City, Nevada, where they are about to begin this hearing. And I understand, Ashleigh, an unlikely person is going to testify in

his behalf.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, HLN HOST, PRIMETIME JUSTICE: Oh, you nailed it. The most unlikely person. The victim of his crime. The only surviving victim. The second victim died a few years ago. But Bruce (INAUDIBLE) has indicated he will travel to Lovelock, the correctional facility, and testify on his behalf, which, by the way, is a big deal because O.J. Simpson has checked so many positive boxes in this case.

The outlying factor would be the crime itself and the people who were victimized. And so now you can check that one off, too. Testifying on his behalf, saying he's made amends with O.J. Simpson about this.

So I asked the former head of the Parole Board of Nevada, for god's sake, this has got to be a lock, what could possibly go wrong? And she had an interesting answer. She said yes, last time around, a few years ago when he was up for parole and got paroled on five of the 12 charges, that was a whole different kettle of fish. The fact that it's the same four officers who will hear him today, well, don't expect that it's apples and apples. Have a listen to how she put it.


DORLA SALLING, FORMER CHAIRPERSON, NEVADA PAROLE BOARD: What's different this time is, if he did receive a parole it would be to the street.

BANFIELD: That makes a big difference?

[10:55:02] SALLING: It makes a big difference because four years ago he was going to remain incarcerated. Now he would actually be out in the community. And that's what the parole board looks at. They look at, is he going to be of any kind of danger to society? Is he going to be a credit to, you know, to society?


BANFIELD: So the fact that they said yes last time around, she says was easy because he was still going to be locked up. This time, parole to the street means it's final, a little bit tougher. But the betters in Vegas and the betters all around Nevada have the odds on O.J. by a long shot.

And I've got to be honest, everyone in the system that I have spoken to as well says the very same thing. I'd expect O.J. to get some pretty good news in just a few hours -- Poppy.

HARLOW: We will see. You will be there live. Of course your show live tonight from there tonight. "Primetime Justice" will be on all day as we carry this live as well, 1:00 p.m.

Ashleigh Banfield, thank you.

We'll be right back.


HARLOW: Golf star major of the year, the Open championship teeing off in England.

Andy Scholes is here with this morning's "Bleacher Report." Good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy. You know, we've had a first time major winner now for the last seven majors but Jordan Spieth may be on his way to breaking that streak. The 23-year-old Texan shooting a five under this morning in round one to take the early lead. Spieth, a two-time major winner but has never won the Open championship.

Now fellow American Brooks Koepka, also five under. He's looking to win his second major in a row after winning the U.S. Open last month.

And you've got to check out Justin Thomas' wardrobe today. He was rocking a shirt, tie and cardigan. He's probably going to have to keep on wearing that now. He played pretty well today. Currently tied for third at three under par.

Team USA advances to the Gold Cup semifinals last night beating El Salvador but it wasn't easy especially for Jozy Altidore. Salvadorian defender Henry Romero appears to twist Altidore's chest area before a corner kick. Altidore understandably pretty mad, knocks him down. And moments later, if you look closely Romero fights Altidore with the back of the shoulder. It wasn't very nice. And Altidore and the U.S. will get the last laugh, though. They will win the game 2-0.

Finally, college football season right around the corner. And this season Oklahoma State's Zach Sinor campaigning to become the first punter ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Sinor was handing out these neat little flyers to media day earlier this week. And you have to check out his Web site. Looks like a straight out of the year 1999. It's got rotating tags. He's got that dancing baby from years ago.

Also a picture with Sinor with a dolphin, that says, "Animals love him and opponents hate him." Love that Web site. So creative, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got a Heisman vote, right?

SCHOLES: I do have a Heisman vote.

HARLOW: Right.

SCHOLES: I'll tell you what. I have Sinor in my top three as of right now in July.


HARLOW: I would, too. Andy Scholes, thank you, my friend.

SCHOLES: All right.

HARLOW: And thank you all for joining us. I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.