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Questioning Trump's Nuclear Authority; Attorney General Denies Lying Under Oath About Russia Investigation; Trump Jr. Messaged With WikiLeaks During Campaign. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 14, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We have a lot of breaking news in the politics lead today. It's been a packed and hectic day in Washington, where three major controversies are being given a lot of scrutiny.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was back in front of lawmakers, insisting that false statements he made in previous congressional testimony relating to the Trump campaign team and Russia were not lies under oath.

The attorney general today also saying he had no reason to doubt the women who have accused Roy Moore of sexual assault and abuse, Moore, of course, running to fill the old Senate seat once belonging to Sessions.

In a separate hearing on sexual harassment policies in Congress today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier testified that she knows of two current members of Congress who she says are sexual harassers.

The big question, of course, being whether this sea change that seeing that the nation is experiencing regarding the treatment of women with men in places such as NBC News in New York or studios in Hollywood, all of these men losing their jobs, but, somehow, is Congress going to be impenetrable to this change?

On the Senate side today, we also saw lawmakers raising concerns over the sole authority of the president to launch nuclear weapons in a hearing convened by one of President Trump's top critics among Senate Republicans, who has openly questioned the president's temperament and suitability for the job.

We are covering all angles of this busy day.

We're going to begin with the latest in the Russia investigation, which includes not only questions about whether the attorney general misled Congress to hide contacts that the Trump team had with Russian officials, but new information about previously undisclosed contacts between WikiLeaks and Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign. We have with us CNN justice correspondents Pamela Brown and Jessica

Schneider here with me.

Pamela, let me start with you.

Just to refresh people's memories, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, he previously pleated guilty to false tame statements to the FBI about contacts with the Russians. He says he told Sessions about contacts he had who wanted to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, and Sessions said that he didn't know anything about that. But, today, he does remember?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He says he does after the media reports that surfaced.

And this hearing on Capitol Hill with Sessions, the attorney general, lasted for several hours, Jake, and most of the focus has been on the campaign's contacts with Russians from Democratic lawmakers, who are questioning why he's now remembering those contacts he didn't recall before.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifying under oath that he never misled Congress regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. But I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie.

BROWN: But after previously testifying he was not aware of any contacts between Trump campaign surrogates and Russians, Sessions is now changing that answer.

Campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, revealed that he proposed setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Putin during a campaign conference with Sessions. Sessions testifying today he now recalls pushing back against such a meeting.

SESSIONS: I do now recall that -- the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting.

After reading his account and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.

BROWN: Sessions has been criticized for not recalling contacts earlier this year that would later be revealed. Today, Sessions said the confusion of the campaign led to his incorrect responses.

SESSIONS: It was a form of chaos every day from day one. We traveled sometimes to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply.

BROWN: Sessions' grilling comes just one day after a report from "The Atlantic" showing Donald Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks during the height of the presidential campaign.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.

BROWN: WikiLeaks sent several Twitter direct messages to Trump Jr., including requesting that he and his father tout WikiLeaks' content to their supporters. One message from WikiLeaks on October 12 told Trump Jr. their site was posting new e-mails that were stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.


Just a short time later, Donald Trump himself tweeted about WikiLeaks. Trump Jr. released the messages Monday night.



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I'm Jessica Schneider in Washington.

Tonight, the attorney general is pushing back, insisting the Justice Department is independent, as Democratic lawmakers question whether the White House is using the DOJ to go after Hillary Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a functioning democracy, is it common for the leader of the country to order the criminal justice system to retaliate against his political opponents?

SESSIONS: I would say that it's -- the Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong.

SCHNEIDER: But critics are pointing to the president's own words and tweets, which often take aim at Sessions, plus this letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, as cause for concern.

Monday night, Boyd informed the House Judiciary Committee that federal prosecutors would evaluate whether a special counsel is appropriate after the House Intelligence Committee announced its own probe into whether Hillary Clinton improperly influenced the nine-agency approval of the sale of a uranium company to Russia because of Russian-backed business donations to the Clinton Foundation.

The president has pressed for a probe.

TRUMP: I'm really not involved with the Justice Department. I would like to let it run itself, but, honestly, they should be looking at the Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: Attorney General Sessions pledged to recuse himself from any investigation into Clinton back in January.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: To be very clear, you intend to recuse yourself from both the Clinton e-mail investigation and any matters involving the Clinton Foundation, if there are any?


SCHNEIDER: But, before the House Judiciary, Sessions seemed to waiver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you recused from investigations that involve Secretary Clinton?

SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, it's -- I cannot answer that yes or no, because, under the policies of the Department of Justice, to announce recusal in any investigation would reveal the existence of that investigation. And the top ethics officials have advised me I should not do so.

SCHNEIDER: Before finally answering yes.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: At your confirmation hearing you said, "I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself."

Do you stand by that statement, yes or no?


SCHNEIDER: Sessions did push back on any implication that a special counsel for Clinton is absolutely necessary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess my main question is, what is it going to take, if all of that, not to mention the dossier information, what is it actually going to take to get a special counsel?

SESSIONS: It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel.


SCHNEIDER: And the uranium deal isn't the only thing the Justice Department is now probing. Attorney General Jeff Sessions disclosed today that the DOJ has 27 open investigations into the leaks of classified information.

That's up from just nine investigations in the past three years. Of course, President Trump has made leaks a focus, and now we're getting this closer look of just how big a focus it is for the DOJ itself -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, Pamela Brown, thank you so much.

We have more breaking news from Capitol Hill, a new proposal to repeal the Obamacare mandate as part of the Republican tax bill. That story's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Just into CNN, Senate Republicans are proposing to repeal the part of Obamacare that mandates that most people have health insurance, known as the individual mandate, and loop that repeal in with their tax bill.

It's a move that President Trump has pushed for several times, including in this tweet -- quote -- "How about ending the unfair and highly unpopular individual mandate in Obamacare and reducing taxes even further?"

CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly is live on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Phil, this would help Republicans finance the tax cuts they want, but we all remember that they have struggled on the issue of getting a health care bill passed.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right.

Look, there's a reason why, despite the president's not just tweets, but also, I'm told, private calls agitating for the inclusion of this to several top GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, it doesn't exist in the House bill and it didn't exist in the Senate bill until now.

And that's because they are very wary of what occurred over the nine months when they were debating health care. They don't want that to get co-mingled with a tax reform process. But when you talk to aides in both chambers, they feel like it's going very well so far.

Here's what's changed. Basically, the political risk was outweighed by the policy risk of not having the money to actually move this through. They feel like this is the only way they can actually get a bill that works through Senate budget rules and addresses some of the middle-class concerns that they have heard from some of their members.

This would create $338 billion, Jake, of revenue, something they desperately need for the Senate bill. If you want to hear how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to sell this, take a listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Every single member of my conference, without exception, from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz, is opposed to the individual mandate.

Plus, it falls most heavily on the lowest-income people. Plus, it is the most unpopular part of the current health care law.


MATTINGLY: Now, Jake, an important clarification there.

While every member of the Republican Conference in the Senate opposes the individual mandate in isolation, they are not necessarily in support of just doing it alone, just getting rid of it alone. That's why a lot of Republicans had problems with this in early iterations of the health care process.

The calculation right now by Republican leaders is, if they can give those members who are wary about this, people like Susan Collins, enough on the individual side of tax reform, enough to say that, look, this is targeted, this money will be targeted for middle-class tax cuts, that they can bring them on board.

Again, it's a calculated risk, one leaders were very wary of actually making up to this point, but one that they just decided today they simply had no other option, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly for us on Capitol Hill with the latest developments in the tax bill.

We have a lot to discuss with our panel, plus, of course, more developments from the Hill, something that has not happened in 40 years, questioning a president's power to launch nuclear weapons.

We will talk about all of that next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We have a lot to discuss with our panel. Plus, of course, more developments from the Hill -- something that has not happened in 40 years, questioning a president's power to launch nuclear weapons.

[16:15:02] We'll talk about all of that next. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead and my panel.

We have lots to pick over today, including the shocking report from "The Atlantic's" Julia Ioffe yesterday that Donald Trump Jr. had multiple contacts with WikiLeaks during campaign.

And, Julia, I want to go over a couple of these moments that you were the first to describe. On October 12th of last year, WikiLeaks reached out to Donald Trump Jr. on direct message on Twitter, so privately, and asked him to get his father to tweet a link to their latest release. Fifteen minutes after that message, President Trump tweeted: Very little picked up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks.

[16:20:04] What's the significance of that?

JULIA IOFFE, REPORTER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, it's one heck of a coincidence, right? It could be a coincidence, but it's one heck of a coincidence, and that this is coming five days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out an extraordinary statement on October 7th and say, hey, the Kremlin is messing with our elections, these e-mails were stolen by the Russians and here is WikiLeaks dumping them.

They're also in that same October 12th message, they tell Donald Jr., they say, hey, you know, we have so many stolen e-mails, we can't go through them all and the media certainly isn't. So, if your followers have any time, here is a link for a search tool, which two days later he tweets out. And again, not a straightforward links like It has random letters in it.

TAPPER: A special URL.


TAPPER: And then two days after the October 12th moment where President Trump tweeted something that Assange, Julian Assange had wanted him to tweet out. Now, Vice President Mike Pence was asked if the Trump campaign was in cahoots, not my word, with WikiLeaks. Take a listen.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing could be further from the truth. I think all of us have, you know, have -- had concerns about WikiLeaks over the years and it's just -- it's just a reality of America.


PENCE: Life today and of life in the wider world.


TAPPER: Nothing could be further from the truth, Bill, and the vice president had to put out a statement saying he didn't know that Donald Trump Jr. was having these private conversations with WikiLeaks.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not a coincidence that Donald Jr. gets this thing and 15 minutes later his father tweets it out. So, what does that tell us? It tells us that they were very close contact. Of course, why shouldn't they be?

TAPPER: Cahoots even.

KRISTOL: Cahoots.

IOFFE: And this is also part of what --

KRISTOL: But what's the other instance where there was a big deal made of Donald Trump Jr. being in a meeting and allegedly not telling his father about it? That's the famous meeting with the Russians, right? June 19th or whatever it is. It makes me think that if Donald Trump Jr. got interesting information that he thought his father would like a lot, he told him right away, as one would expect incidentally, which makes me think that Donald Trump Sr., the president, might be in trouble for having denied-- I believe he's denied on the record, maybe not legally in trouble, but certainly denied that he knew anything about this meeting.

If Donald Trump Jr. told him about this WikiLeaks thing, didn't he until him about a meeting he had with Russians?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: One could argue. One could argue that that's what happened.

Look, I think what we've learned today, I think it's something that we've already knew, is that lots of people in the Trump orbit have been careless with the truth for lack of a better term and that carelessness with the truth, if under oath, could result, you know, in some legal action.

And so, to this is just shocking to me because I didn't think it was confusing that Twitter is not a secure channel of which to share information. So, I think the Trump administration could be in deep stuff, but Republicans on the Hill have to now come to a point where they're going to have to hold this White House accountable and hold lots of folks in Donald Trump's orbit accountable. I just haven't seen that that has necessarily happened.

IOFFE: Republicans have hat these emergencies for months.

TAPPER: For months.

IOFFE: And it is kind of part of a pattern, as bill was saying, of Donald Trump Jr. kind of feeding interesting tweets, tweets he likes to his father, tweets by white supremacists, et cetera. So, it's kind of not that surprising.

TAPPER: Another interesting moment on October 3rd of last year, Donald Trump Jr. was messaging with WikiLeaks, with Assange, and he asked about a rumor they were preparing another leak. Quote, what's behind this Wednesday leak I keep hearing about?

Now, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley just told CNN he found the exchanges he read between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, presumably Assange, he found them innocuous.

Do you agree?

IOFFE: No. I think that they certainly raised my eyebrows. When I first heard about these exchanges, my jaw dropped. I mean, at the very least, let's say you're Chuck Grassley and you're trying to protect this Republican administration, fine, but at the very least they say an awful lot about WikiLeaks.

And I think at this point, you know, the veil, the pretense, the charade is completely over at this point.

TAPPER: Charade of what?

IOFFE: That they're a radical transparency organization. They do something akin to what journalists do. They have a clear agenda that they're pushing that for some reason dovetails pretty cleanly with the Russian secret services.

KRISTOL: Julia, wasn't that over in October? I mean, you covered this stuff much more closely than I have. Hadn't the intelligence community publicly already said that WikiLeaks was in effect an instrument of the Russian government? Shouldn't --

TAPPER: We should note that they deny it. They said that they are not.

IOFFE: WikiLeaks, of course, denied it.

KRISTOL: But I'm saying, Donald Jr., it wasn't like Donald Jr. never heard of WikiLeaks. Who knew they were in cahoots with the Russians, right?

IOFFE: No, that's a separate issue. I'm talking about WikiLeaks per WikiLeaks.

KRISTOL: No, I understand that, but just saying from the point of view -- what it does show is that Donald Trump Jr. was perfectly happy to take something from an organization.

IOFFE: If it's what you say it is, I love it, right?

KRISTOL: Right. He meets with Russians and takes things from Russian front organizations.

SANDERS: I think it has to be said that this is also not normal. Look, I've worked on presidential, I've worked many other campaigns, if a random entity came to me with information, or anyone on that campaign, this is something you flag and you just don't take.

[16:25:09] Like, this is why you run your own opposition research operations inside your campaign. So, folks should understand that this is not normal and this is not how business is conducted on the level of a presidential or any other level of the campaign.

IOFFE: Also, it just also gives you a window or a reminder of how the Trump campaign ran, which is that it always seemed like the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing.

Mike Pence may have not known, the same way that, you know, it just seemed like they weren't talking to each other. The same way Roger Stone is tweeting out about Wednesday, saying Wednesday Hillary Clinton is done #WikiLeaks, and Don Jr. is asking WikiLeaks saying, what's this about?

So, they're not kind of -- they're not necessarily talking to each other.

TAPPER: Interesting.

I want to play some sound of Attorney General Sessions' explanation as to why he didn't tell Congress earlier about his discussion with campaign adviser George Papadopoulos about -- when Papadopoulos said he had contacts in Russia who wanted to arrange a Putin/Trump meeting. Take a listen.


JEFF SESSION, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Frankly, I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports. After reading his account and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government.


TAPPER: So, the way that I've seen some people on twitter and social media talk about this is, Jeff Sessions couldn't remember this and now he remembers this story and he's the hero.

KRISTOL: Yes, could be, though, if Papadopoulos, whatever his name is, is a very junior guy.

I come to -- WikiLeaks was famous. And you're getting something -- just think about this -- I've been in campaigns, too. You're getting something from WikiLeaks and you don't think this is a little problematic?

I mean, it's also -- Trump, of course -- I don't know why we're going down this road because Trump publicly called on the Russian government to release the e-mails he thought they had hacked. Think about that for a moment.

IOFFE: And how many times, like somebody counted 145 times he mentioned WikiLeaks?

TAPPER: He mentioned WikiLeaks many, many teams.

IOFFE: Right. Although the Sessions report, I have to say it is consistent -- the Sessions testimony is consistent with some of the reporting about that meeting with Papadopoulos, where other people remembered Sessions saying, OK, stop. Enough.

TAPPER: Right. No, no, no --

SANDERS: But the fact that Jeff Sessions doesn't remember, look, that's like when I used to ask my ex-boyfriend, where were you last week? And he doesn't remember and I bring up very specifics. Actually, I was there and this is what I said.

So, it's very convenient that he does not recall until a news report comes out. And what we have seen with this administration is that the media gets ahold of something and then, all of a sudden, they now have stories to cop to they did not have before.

TAPPER: Everyone stick around. We got a lot more to talk about, including whether anyone could stop theoretically President Trump theoretically from ordering the launch of a nuclear weapon. It was the subject of a Senate hearing today. That story's next.