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Five Biggest Questions for Trump at News Conference; Trump Slamming A.G. Jeff Sessions; Senate Vote on Health Care Today Down to the Wire. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired July 25, 2017 - 11:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[11:32:33] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump will be facing reporters in just hours. A joint press conference with the prime minister of Lebanon at the White House. Before that, the leaders are expected to discuss Syria, the refugee crisis, and growing tension in the Middle East.
With the president's consistent attacks against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, smart money is on that being the first question the president faces.
Joining me, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large, Chris Cillizza.
Chris, talk about the questions the president should be, will be facing today. It is no short list. I'm sure you are a betting man. Where do you put your money on the first question?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: He probably will only take a few, usually about two, Kate. The first question should be, and I assume will be, are you going to fire Jeff Sessions, why or why not? I don't see how you could ask anything else. The president is basically courting this question with calling him -- his attorney general beleaguered and weak. Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director, essentially saying, well, it may be time to go, it's probably right that Trump wants him gone. You have to ask that.
I would say question number two should be, are you going to fire Jeff Sessions.
Just because it's that important. This is the attorney general in his administration. This is someone who is one of his loyalist supporters, a Senate endorser. It's really hard, I think, to get beyond that.
Question three, I'll refer to my list. Oh, yes, there's the old health care bill.
BOLDUAN: I was going to say, what about health care? Isn't that supposed to be the focus?
CILLIZZA: Any other day, Kate, that's the first question. On a day like today, it can't be, but should be asked. Depending on the timing, does the Senate vote before or after? He has been outspoken in saying this is Republicans last best chance. He just tweeted before I came on air, the best chance to repeal and replace Obamacare. What does -- what's the consequence? Is he going to campaign against Republicans who didn't vote for it or don't vote for it? Is he going to, like with Jeff Flake, in Arizona, talk to primary challengers to him? This is a carrot and a stick approach. This is the carrot. He tried the stick. Where does he wind up?
Let's see if you get it before I do. Ah, there you go.
[11:35:03] CILLIZZA: Do you agree with your intelligence agencies on Russian meddling? This question has been asked a million times but should be again. He continues to be the one outlier unwilling to say, yes, Russia meddled in the election.
BOLDUAN: How about this one? Are you going to sign the sanctions bill when it gets on your plate?
BOLDUAN: Because then he has answered the question.
CILLIZZA: He hasn't answered that. He has vague answers.
And my last one, what crime do you think Hillary Clinton committed? He tweeted this morning about Jeff Sessions about Hillary Clinton's crimes. He said, earlier in the administration, she should not be prosecuted, should not be prosecuted. Now he's saying she committed crimes and Jeff Sessions should look into them. What specific crimes? You don't just get to say stuff when you are a president or a high- profile anchor on CNN or me. You have to be responsible for what you say.
BOLDUAN: Not so much, if you have seen anything you and I talk about. I'm kidding.
CILLIZZA: I mean, the truth of the matter is, he's unlikely to answer anything beyond Sessions. Sessions, he has to say something about and maybe health care.
BOLDUAN: Just like the tapes, just like the tapes, he will say, you will soon find out. That's my guess.
CILLIZZA: Stay tuned. Stay tuned. I think you are probably right. BOLDUAN: Stay tuned on that.
CILLIZZA: Thank you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Chris. Thank you.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: President Trump very publicly and very strongly condemning, slamming his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as we were just discussing. What happens if Sessions bows out? What happens if the president fires him? Robert Mueller, special counsel, his former aide joins me to discuss the ramifications, coming up.
[11:40:50] BOLDUAN: First he was "beleaguered," now he's "weak," according to the president of the United States, Donald Trump. Jeff Sessions waking up with another headache that is quickly becoming a migraine as the public shaming and bullying from his boss. This started with the president telling "The New York Times" he regretted appointing Sessions in the first place because Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation. It's important to note, the president is the one with the power to fire the attorney general. What is the president's end game here?
Joining me now, Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.
Michael, I want to read to you, because it came out a while ago, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham put out a statement on the latest developments between the president and Jeff Sessions. This is what he wrote, in part, "President Trump's tweet suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate."
How would you describe it?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It has been done already. Didn't the FBI spend a year and a half investigating Hillary Clinton, from Benghazi to the server to her e-mails, and come up with conclusions that it wasn't criminally worthy of their time? I'm not sure exactly what more he wants investigated. I thought this was a done deal and that was part of the reason he became president of the United States. It's confounding to me.
What's equally confounding is why he is going after Jeff Sessions the way he is going after Jeff Sessions. Leaving aside the politics of Sessions being the first Senator to endorse him and a loyal guy, the firing of Sessions or the forced resignation of Sessions -- and they are equal. There's no difference if he retires himself or getting fired himself -- it will provoke, I think, a constitutional crisis of an order we have not seen in a while. If Sessions is removed, I don't see how Rosenstein stays. I don't see how Christopher Ray, the FBI nominee, stays. I don't understand why Mueller doesn't then ratchet up his obstruction
of justice investigation. I don't understand how Congress doesn't look at articles of impeachment for abuse of office. It's a cascade of horrors for the president.
I don't understand who is giving him legal advice that he would do these things that are so against his legal interest. Leave aside politics. I don't know anything about politics. Legal interests, this can't be helpful to him. It's confounding.
Yesterday, you asked, what would Jeff Sessions do if he woke up and saw the articles, we said, probably take two Advil. Today, he needs prescription strength. This is just untenable for him. I think he has to, for the sake of the Constitution, if you will, and the rule of law, stay on, as tough as it may be for him, personally.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you this. John Weaver, a CNN political commentator, a long-time Republican strategist who worked with John Kasich in this election, he said this -- he tweeted, "We are witnessing abuse of power, threatening prosecutors if they don't prosecute and investigate his opponents."
He says this has reached the level of abuse of power with the president over the Sessions thing. Do you think it has?
ZELDIN: It's certainly walking up to that door if it hasn't already crossed the threshold of it. This is why we were talking about whether Mueller views it as obstruction of justice and/or whether Paul Ryan and his team of Republicans in the House should begin looking at whether or not an article of impeachment would lie. I don't see how it makes sense to him legally.
If the string is this, you fire or force Sessions out, you then make a recess appointment of an attorney general who is loyal to you. There's only one that doesn't violate the code of federal regulations that doesn't allow a personal relationship type of appointment.
ZELDIN: You get a new attorney general. A new attorney general then says, I don't need to recuse myself and either, one, I fire Mueller, or I so constrain his investigation as to essentially neuter it. Under those circumstances, you have just a disaster, a legal disaster waiting for you. That, if he goes that route, I think that's an abuse of power, consideration for the House. And I think it would be something that would lead the Senate, at least, to look into reinstituting the independent counsel law for Mueller to be reappointed if the attorney general fires him.
[11:45:30] BOLDUAN: There are a lot of steps there. And a big one, seeing the change in opinions and the change in stances, rather than calling things inappropriate that the president is -- would be doing if he took these steps. We'll see where it goes.
BOLDUAN: Michael, thank you. Thank you so much.
ZELDIN: OK, thank you.
BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, breaking news on Capitol Hill. As the Senate gets ready vote on health care, something that is still something of a mystery, what they are voting for. One Senator, who has long been a "no," just made an announcement. Details ahead.
[11:49:57] BOLDUAN: It is down to the wire now for Senate Republicans in the battle over health care. Will they or won't they vote today to move ahead with a health care vote? A procedural vote today that's become hugely important. It appears too close to call.
Let's go over to CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, with more.
Dana, a big factor is Senator John McCain, returning to the Hill today. Besides how remarkable he's coming back after surgery, how big a factor is the Senator in this?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's a factor in that every vote counts. No question about it. You and I covered health care when Obamacare first passed, and remember that dramatic return from Senator Ted Kennedy to cast one of the critical votes. That was legislation he was passionate about and wanted to see passed. I'm not sure this is analogous. Not that John McCain doesn't care about health care. But I wouldn't say he is coming in to be the deciding vote to convince fellow Republicans to do the same. It seems to me more along the lines of, the Senator wanting to get back in the game. You and I know that's what John McCain is all about. He feels good enough right now to do it. His doctors said it's OK. He's getting back. And there are other issues for them that are really critical. The defense authorization bill, which is very important for lots of reasons. Chief among them, he's the Senate Armed Services chair, so that's his bill. And the Russia sanctions bill moving through the House. And he has a very important imprint on. Those are other issues. And also so he can make his statement about the state of play. He is going to vote. And we know he is going to give a floor speech on the Senate floor shortly after the vote, which I am sure is going to be one that -- it's hard to imagine most if not all of his colleagues sitting in their seats to listen.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.
On the health care front right now, there is news you have on Senator Rand Paul and his position. What's changed?
BASH: Well, our colleagues, the team her, has confirmed and reported that Rand Paul is going to vote to proceed to this measure. So he is not going to try to block the procedural measure, which is really all that it is today, a vote on whether or not to get on the bill. They still don't know if they have the 50 that they need, though, even with Rand Paul. The thing that I am finding just in the half hour that I've been
running around here, Kate is that there is a relationship between what is going on with Donald Trump and what he is doing to Jeff Sessions, and the kind of feeling of whether or not his former colleagues, the Senators who are still here, feel like they should go out on a limb for a president who's trying to put pressure on them. If you have a guy who was the first to endorse this president as a candidate, who was, they believe, very loyal to him, and now he's being treated, they believe, very shabbily, why should they do something that maybe puts them in a precarious position with their folks back home and expect to get political support from the president?
BOLDUAN: Who can you trust is going to have your back when the chips are down?
BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Dana. Thank you so much.
BASH: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Joining me to discuss this further is former Democratic Senator from Florida, Bob Graham.
Senator, great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
BOB GRAHAM, (D), FORMER SENATOR: Thank you, Kate.
BOLDUAN: An important day for the Senate with chaos and confusion around the health care vote. But also, as Dana laid out, an emotional one. John McCain, your former colleague, makes his return for this. What will it be like for Senators on the floor for that return? How will the emotion play in how the Senators vote today?
GRAHAM: There are a few Senators that are held in such high esteem and affection by colleagues than John McCain. John and I came into the Senate at the same time in 1987. He's a good personal friend. Obviously, an American hero. And I am so pleased that he is going to be back in the game, and that his health is at least at a point that he can participate. That's a great sign.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely is. Another one of your former Senate colleagues is in the spotlight today that I want to ask you about. Jeff Sessions under attack by President Trump, his boss, right now. With everything that's transpired in the past, recent days, the latest one today is Donald Trump calling him weak. Do you think Jeff Sessions is weak?
GRAHAM: No, and it's incredible that the chief executive is using the media and third parties to communicate with one of his most important appointees, and a man who was extremely important in his election to be president. This really is unseemly. I think without previous example in U.S. political history.
You mentioned connections. There is a connection between the Sessions' issue and health care for the exact reasons that you gave. If the president would treat a friend like Jeff the way he is, how can I depend on him to be my ally if I cast this very unpopular vote?
But it's also the connected -- connected to the congressional inquiry, into the Russian affair. I think that if the reason for attacking Sessions, asking him almost bluntly to resign is in order to appoint someone who would then fire Bob Mueller as the independent prosecutor, that's going to put tremendous pressure on the congressional committees who are conducting parallel policy investigations to the prosecutorial investigation that Mueller is doing. I think --
[11:55:50] BOLDUAN: Do you see -- you were the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the committees investigating this. One thing we see with the attacks on Sessions and kind of what the president is now saying, the Justice Department he'd like to see do, he doesn't want to see investigation on Russia, but does want to see investigation on Hillary Clinton. Do you see that as abuse of power?
GRAHAM: I think it's an abuse of power. But it's just totally below and beyond the dignity of the president of the United States to be treating the most important law enforcement official in the United States of America in such an unsavory manner.
BOLDUAN: What do Senators do about that? They could have a say in a Senate confirmation if it came about that.
GRAHAM: They could do that. I mean, I think they could demonstrate their displeasure with the president in this vote that's going to take place today. If a number of Senators voted "no" and said the reason they did so was because they did not believe that they could trust this president to implement an alternative to Obamacare that would achieve his own stated objectives of being more accessible, a fraction of the cost, and, therefore, they're not going to support the motion to proceed.
BOLDUAN: That would be quite a statement.
Senator Bob Graham, always great too have you. Thank you.
GRAHAM: Great. Thank you.
BOLDUAN: We'll be right back.
[12:00:03] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.
It is a day of crackling tensions here in the nation's capitol. President Trump again publicly mocks his attorney general, hoping --