Return to Transcripts main page


Sessions Hit Trump: DOJ Won't Be "Improperly Influenced". Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired August 23, 2018 - 16:30   ET



[16:30:20] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump has called his own attorney general disgraceful, scared stiff, missing in action, and reportedly Mr. Magoo.

But today, moments before meeting with the president, Attorney General Jeff Session hit back, releasing a bombshell statement responding to Mr. Trump's latest attack on him for not protecting him enough, stating, quote: While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations, unquote.

The straw that broke the camel's back, sources tell CNN it was the interview with Fox News today, specifically this part.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I put an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department.


TAPPER: CNN's Laura Jarrett joins us now.

And, Laura, what was it about that part of the interview that so bothered the attorney general?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, unlike the name calling of the past, sources familiar with sessions tell me that the fact that he struck at the idea that he doesn't have any control undermines his authority and for that, Sessions thought it was a bridge too far.


TRUMP: Jeff Sessions recused himself which he shouldn't have done or he should have told me.

JARRETT (voice-over): President Trump taking aim at his own attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.

TRUMP: He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said what kind of a man is this?

JARRETT: Then taking it one step further.

TRUMP: I put an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions. Never took control of the Justice Department and it's sort of an incredible thing.

JARRETT: It's that specific line sources say that prompted a rare pushback from Jeff Sessions, defending himself and the work of the Justice Department saying, quote: I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the president's agenda. While I'm attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.

A strong rebuke from the man President Trump reduced to scared stiff and missing in action, blaming him for Mueller's appointment and a failure to further investigate Democrats Trump says have committed wrongdoing.

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: There has been a lot of news coverage around the activities at the Department of Justice of late.

JARRETT: Yes, despite all of that, Trump wouldn't say whether he plans to fire Sessions.

TRUMP: I will stay uninvolved and maybe that's the best thing to do.

JARRETT: If that changes and Sessions is replaced before the November election, the number two Republican in the Senate says --

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: I think it would be a mistake and I don't think it would be good for the country.

JARRETT: But after the election, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham suggests there could be a new attorney general.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly, Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the president.


JARRETT: Well, for all of the president's bluster on Fox, according to sources today at a meeting at White House, President Trump did not bring up Sessions' statement at all. Sessions didn't say a word about it and the attorney general is still on the job -- Jake.

TAPPER: Seems like a real healthy relationship.

Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

So, according to Lindsey Graham there, senator from South Carolina, Republican and friend of President Trump, Sessions is living on borrowed time and maybe after the election, President Trump will replace him. What do you -- SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: As if Sessions wasn't

living on borrowed time --

TAPPER: I didn't know he had an expiration date like a bottle of milk.

MURRAY: Sessions has been on borrowed time and the reality is that they've looked at a number of different instances where they wanted to get rid of him but they know it is an uphill political battle. The Senate, you know, members of Trump's own party has put up a fight in the past, saying don't do this, don't fire him. I think they are a little more amenable to the notion that Trump could replace Sessions after they get through the midterms. I think this is also something they could re-evaluate depending on how the midterms go, if the Republican Party gets slaughtered, then they feel like it's a little bit more politically perilous for them to make a move like that.

But there is no doubt that in the president's mind, it's really just a matter of when he is able to do this, not if he is able to do it.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think Lindsey Graham's statement is totally irresponsible first of all. But secondly, I think your point about the politics, let's think about that for a minute. If you are a Democrat trying to hold the Senate seat in Missouri or North Dakota, or a Democrat challenging in Tennessee it looked like that, open seat, why don't you say, you know what? If you want to have a Republican Senate that's going to rubber stamp, Lindsey Graham said he's going to replace Sessions.

Sessions, whatever you think of him, is protecting Rosenstein and Mueller. You want a Republican Senate rubber stamped some Trump crony put in there who's going to then really effect this investigation?

[16:35:03] We need a Democratic Senate. I think Graham has given Democrats Senate -- you know, it won't make a huge number of people going to vote on that, maybe not. But in a debate, is that an effective for Claire McCaskill to say against Josh Rowley? I kind of think so. So, Graham is both I think being irresponsible and foolish.

TAPPER: Karine, you know what's interesting is that this situation puts people like you, progressives, in a very awkward situation.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG: I don't like Sessions.


KRISTOL: Heads will explode --

TAPPER: Let me just read this to get reaction, Sessions says I took control at the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the president's agenda, which is true, which you don't like.

JEAN-PIERRE: It is true, absolutely. I do not like.

I mean, let's not forget, Sessions was the first U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump. He is out of any of the cabinet secretary, he has managed to advance Donald Trump's agenda very effectively.

So, no, I'm not a fan of Sessions. But it is wrong to fire Sessions because you want to end the Russia probe. So that's what he is gearing up to do. He has been telling us that for months.

So, we should not be surprised if it happens. I believe that it will because Donald Trump has no poker face. He basically puts out all of his cards and tells you what he is about to do. I think we are in a really grave time.

And not only Graham but Grassley who once said, we don't have time to confirm an attorney general, said, oh, well, maybe we do now. So, Republicans are certainly not doing their party any good here.

TAPPER: Take a listen to this because this is another part of the Trump interview on Fox, where he's -- again, you said he has not poker face. This is why he doesn't like Jeff Sessions. It has nothing to do with enacting the agenda and everything to do with loyalty.


TRUMP: You know, the only reason I gave him the job because of loyalty. He was an original supporter.


TAPPER: This is a constant theme with President Trump.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He just said it out loud. While I was watching that interview and it reminded me of some of the things that Nixon used to say on the tapes behind the scenes and when they were released, people were outraged, and he sounded like a mob boss, you know, talking about loyalty and telling his minions to commit crimes. Trump just says it all out in the open.

I mean, there are tapes.

TAPPER: Forget the Nixon names, right.

LIZZA: The interviewer didn't have to ask a single tough question. Just, you know, just stream of consciousness from Trump was just, you know, Michael Cohen, he would go off for five minutes. I mean, this is one of the weird strategies he has is saying all of the stuff that creates constant outrage totally out in the open. His Twitter feed and public statements are like Nixon tapes --

TAPPER: And you know who else, I mean, if Sessions hasn't shown loyalty by that premise, he recused himself because the Justice Department's ethical guidelines, the ethics attorney told him he had to. But you know who has shown loyalty is Paul Manafort. And now, President Trump very openly talking about, and Rudy Giuliani just acknowledges to "The Washington Post" whether or not Manafort will be pardoned.

What's your gut tell you? My gut tells me he is going to do it. MURRAY: So much verbal gymnastics about whether he will be pardoned,

or whether he won't be, whether the president has considered it, whether he's willing to talk about it, what the timing is going to be. The president has pretty clearly forecasted and he has been saying this for months that he feels badly for Paul Manafort because he feels like the only reason that Manafort's past, you know, now crimes have gotten any attention was because this is a guy who went to work for Trump and Trump believes that everyone is out to get him. And so, they're out to get his associates. So, it seems pretty clear that the president wants to pardon this guy.

This again seems like a question of when. I think that he has had a lot of people in his ear saying, please do not do this right now, please do not do this as we are gearing up for difficult midterms, please do not do this while Paul Manafort is in the middle of two different trials. The guy is already in jail. He can sit in jail for a little while longer. If you want to pardon him, you know, maybe that is something we deal with after we get through the midterm elections, after we get through Paul Manafort's second trial.

But as you pointed out, the president has no poker face. And Rudy Giuliani, frankly, is not much better about that. And so, they are just going out there saying whatever they want.

TAPPER: How bad do you think it would be for, I presume you think it would be for the country to pardon Paul Manafort before or after the midterms? How bad would it be do you think?

KRISTOL: It would be bad, I think, and it would be taken by a Democratic House and Republican members of the House as an, you know, arguably, an impeachable moment or one would have to consider impeachment and have hearings on impeachment. If you are pardoning someone almost explicitly to hamper an investigation into yourself, an investigation that has been proven to have some credibility so far based on various guilty pleas and verdicts, I think that would be serious. I think he's also signaling Roger Stone who seems to be under inquiry by the special counsel, that he should hang tough and pardons will be there.

I mean, ideally, I suppose you want Manafort and Stone and others believing they would get pardoned if they hang tough maybe until the end of the four years and not just the two. But that is a tough thing to think of you know, how do you have confidence in that? But I'd never put beyond what could happen that he could pardon Manafort and Stone and be willing to run that risk as supposed to an actual uncovering of what is happening.

[16:40:06] TAPPER: All right. Stay right here. We're going to come back to you, guys.

You don't want to miss this. A throwback Thursday Trump style, the then-businessman giving his take on a president testifying under oath and actually saying something nice about Hillary Clinton. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our politics lead, Rudy Giuliani says the Mueller investigation should be winding down, though the two sides have not agreed on whether the president will testify. So, will President Trump testify? Not if he takes advice from his former self circa 1999 on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno".


JAY LENO, HOST, TONIGHT SHOW: Now, how about your -- the situation with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, what are your thoughts on that?

TRUMP: Well, it wasn't great. I mean, a lot of bad choices there. I don't know where these folks came from, Linda Tripp and Monica and all of the folks, Paula Jones. I've never seen anything like it and I'm sure the President wished he'd never seen anything like it. But you have some beauties in that deal. The whole thing --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me point that out, some beauties in that deal. That's a shame. What do you think he should have done? Let's suppose -- God forbid not good ever happened -- you were in that same situation. What would you have done? What should -- what should -- finger should Clinton have done?

TRUMP: Well, he could have come clean and you gave me that answer just before this (INAUDIBLE). Now, he could have come clean or he should have never answered the question. But answer the question --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you have to you had to (INAUDIBLE) the subpoena.

TRUMP: No, I know, but his lawyer is going to fought a little bit hard. I think his lawyers did an absolutely atrocious terrible job. So they could have fought a little bit harder maybe not to have to answer that question. But once -- I mean, it's pretty tough answering that question with your wife sitting at home. It's a tough question. Did you have an affair with this woman, and you say oh my god can you imagine this. So your wife is home. Hilary has had a hard time of it. Let's face it. This has not been -- this could not have been three years of fun for Hillary.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I mean, wow, wow. I mean, I wish we could have like a back to the future type thing where 2018 Donald Trump goes back or two -- or 1999 Donald Trump goes forward. One of the things that strikes me about this is the idea that Bill Clinton should have come clean but he doesn't really suggest that he thinks that that is what Bill Clinton should have done. He suggests he should have had better lawyers so he didn't have to answer the question and boy would that be tough to do with your wife there.

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. It is all so bizarre. I watch the tape and I said wow as well. It's like everyone has flipped right from where they were then to where they are now. It's -- you know it's you know, Donald Trump is advice from 1999. I don't really know what to make of this, you know, it's bizarre.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The basic -- the basic -- what he was saying is he should have figured out a way to slip the noose of the prosecutors right?

TAPPER: He's right.

LIZZA: -- more creative with his lawyers, you know, that he was suggesting that Trump is someone who can get himself out of a sticky situation like that and he can't believe you know Clinton was so dumb to go and sit down and do an interview with the prosecutor.

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, Clinton tried to do what Trump it and Clinton lied, let's just remember.

PIERRE: Yes, he did.

KRISTOL: He had eight months later, in late 1998 he had to sit down with Ken Starr because the original I didn't -- there was evidence to counteract it, to refute it. So I think you know --

LIZZA: Trump is saying --

KRISTOL: And Trump is still in the stage -- Trump is still in the stage where trying -- where Clinton was in early 1998 or trying to sustain I would say you know, falsehoods against the legal investigation.

TAPPER: I mean, one of the other things that's interesting about it is the sympathy he has for Hillary Clinton.


TAPPER: Like she's sitting there but also he suggested the sympathy for the husband. Boy that would be tough to admit with your wife right there.

MURRAY: Yes, yes. Tough for her to hear I'm sure but much harder for the person who did all of this stuff wrong to I have to admit it. You know, I hope that he tweaks his language a little bit more before you talk about this publicly.

TAPPER: So the basis of this entire interview was Donald Trump, of course, was considering running for president in 1999 on the Reform Party ticket. Take a listen to this exchange from that same interview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you'll be able to restore dignity to the office --

TRUMP: Well, I think I would be. I mean, the country has really suffered from a lack of dignity over the last number of years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would your past be a problem or you -- TRUMP: I don't think so. I think nowadays it's not and who knows.

We'll see.


TAPPER: Would your past be a problem, I don't think so.

MURRAY: You know, like these days it wouldn't be a problem. And I think that he means that in the sense of maybe having been married multiple times and having had sort of a non-traditional --

TAPPER: Oh, I didn't think of that's what he meant.

MURRAY: Yes, I took it as you know, maybe he means that as you know non-traditional sort of like family background. I don't know that people are as sympathetic to the whole you know, paying off former playmates, but at the same time, like this is a guy that elected after like a dozen people accuse him of unwanted sexual conduct and he still won. So you know, maybe Donald Trump was right. Maybe, '99 Donald Trump was right.

LIZZA: I know it wouldn't matter because it doesn't matter to his supporters now, right?

TAPPER: And what of Bill Clinton supporters? To be honest, I mean, it's not like Bill Clinton was only accused of anything after he was in the White House. That was before. But one of the things that's I see, I thought that he meant when he said it wouldn't matter these days is like well, post-Bill Clinton I think we're in like at that time. Swing baby. That's what -- that's what I thought -- that's a quote Frank Sinatra's, swing baby.

KRISTOL: Clinton is right in a sense that the left and feminists wouldn't desert him for behaved that they would otherwise condemned because he was a good president from you know, policy terms of their point of view. And Trump is right. I mean, if you had said to me at that time the Clinton thing that the people who were most upset and genuinely upset I've got to say, what is this Clinton thing doing to the wall and fabric of the country, what lessons is he teaching our kids especially evangelical Christians and others who were just couldn't believe this was happening in the White House, in the Oval Office --

[16:50:06] TAPPER: Yes, well they were right to be. They were right to be offended.

KRISTOL: Now, they're fine with Trump. I mean, it's really -- you said the words paying off a former, I don't know, Playboy model or whatever, and it sounds almost archaic. I mean, it's like is anyone even pretended to be outraged about the underlying behavior. Maybe Trump has a problem because the hush money and campaign finance, has anyone just said in a simple-minded way it's kind of horrible that we have a president who's in -- who's been paying hush money to various women over the last ten years.

PIERRE: That is one thing that I did think. It really highlights the hypocrisy that we have today when you know, when Clinton was in his awful troubles, there was you know, Republicans attacked him and wanted to take him down. And now we have I think times ten, right, with Donald Trump and nope, the Evangelicals stayed with him.

KRISTOL: And to be fair, it's not just -- remember, Democrats all have all had to say, if you remember '98, I think most of them believe, sort of believed that this is really terrible behavior but it's not impeachment. I mean, come on. With -- let me (INAUDIBLE).

TAPPER: Right.

KRISTOL: And I think they all did say the first two sentences where this is unacceptable behavior --

TAPPER: Even Vice President Gore.

KRISTOL: Even -- if I could say, with President Trump -- with President Trump -- yes, with President Trump, they don't even have the first two sentences of this is unacceptable behavior. It's just, the Democrats (INAUDIBLE) worse and Trump --

LIZZA: One person has been consistent on this issue is Donald Trump. He didn't think it was a big deal --


LIZZA: And he doesn't think it's a big deal when he's done it.

MURRAY: The one thing that I will say that that certainly has changed over the course of that time this year there was also a sentiment when Bill Clinton was going through this, that this is not -- this is not a national conversation that we should be having. This is an issue between a man and his wife and it's so salacious that we'd be dragging us out into public and be dragging essentially you know, their personal life through the mud. We're in a very different era now, sort of the era of #MeToo and what's been going on with that and I think that sort of could potentially change the way the light all this is cast on.

We were not as far in the throes of this when Donald Trump was elected although you know, we were kind of at the beginning of that. Will it ultimately make a difference, I don't know. It hasn't made a difference to any of Trump supporters so far. Sometimes is that middle section where you wonder is there a bridge too far? Does it leave a sour taste in your mouth to the point where you are willing to change your vote?

TAPPER: Yes. Donald Trump supporters a ride-or-die. Coming up the last time President Trump made news talking about Africa, he called some countries in that continent S-holes. So a new tweet about Africa be much worse can it? Stick around.


[16:55:00] TAPPER: With everything else going on, President Trump tweeted about Africa, the most prominent reference to that continent that we've heard from this president was when Senator Dick Durbin told us that behind closed doors President Trump complained about having to accept immigrants from the "S-word hole countries in Africa." But the President's tweet about Africa was hardly an embrace of pep far, instead, the President was expressing concerns for the "large-scale killing at South Africa's white farmers." As CNN's Tom Foreman reports, that's the story the government of South Africa says isn't true and one the anti-defamation league today calls a deeply troubling white supremacist talking point.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump directed him to do it all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Manafort may flip, Cohen may provide other evidence --

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The President did nothing wrong. There are no charges against him.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Impeachment. This is what they wanted for a long time.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Amid a storm of legal implications, political questions and even talk of impeachment --

TRUMP: If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash.

FOREMAN: There it was a tweet from left field. "I've asked Secretary of State Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large-scale killing of farmers." The tweet was apparently spurred by a story on the President's favorite Channel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa has begun and you may have seen this in the press seizing land from his own citizens without compensation because they are the wrong skin color.

FOREMAN: It's true the South African government is in a fierce debate over politics ahead of next year's elections. Debate on whether to allow some white-owned farms to be seized and handed to black citizens reparation for years of apartheid. AfriForum, an activist group that mainly represents white South Africans has called for international intervention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Millions of people in this country need your protection.

FOREMAN: South Africa's president says the issue will be debated by the public and in Parliament but is large-scale killing of farmers underway? Not according to a study last year from a large South African farmers group which found while violence in rural parts of the country remains high, attacks on farmers have actually been declining. Trump's tweet was based on false information. Government officials quickly said calling them hysterical comments. Still, the false notion of white South African farmers under genocidal fire is a popular trope with white supremacist, neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists. Some of whom have plenty to like in President Trump, his rural comments about some African countries, his attacks on protesting football players, and more. Even as he insists there's no racist.

TRUMP: I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed. That I can tell you.


FOREMAN: So to be clear, as far as we can find, the President is never before directly tweeted about any issues in Africa and now that he has chosen to do so, he is forwarded a piece of fake news about the alleged plight of white people living there. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much for that. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage now continues with Wolf Blitzer next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Sessions under siege.