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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump Fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Names Acting A.G. Matt Whitaker Who Said Mueller Probe is Going Too Far. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired November 7, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room". "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan in for Erin Burnett. Out front tonight, breaking news, Trump takes charge of the Mueller investigation. Today, firing his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, replacing him for now with Sessions' Chief of Staff, Matt Whitaker.
According to the Justice Department, Whitaker will be, in their words, in charge of all matters under the purview of the Department of Justice. All matters. That must mean he is now stepping in to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Just a short time ago, quite a scene we want to show you. Whitaker and Sessions seen together shaking hands as Sessions left the Justice Department for the last time. It is no secret that President Trump has wanted to replace Sessions ever since he recused himself from the Russia investigation. Over the past year, the President has repeatedly asked Sessions to regain control of the investigation. A demand Sessions refused.
Earlier today, the President played coy, though, when asked about the A.G.'s future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give us clarity, sir, on your thinking, currently, now after the midterms, about your Attorney General and your Deputy Attorney General? Do they have long-term job security?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd rather answer that at a little bit different time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The President saying that, knowing full well Sessions was gone. Sessions, in a letter then to the President, writing this, "At your request, I am submitting my resignation."
So now the focus turns quickly to Whitaker, the man taking over for Sessions, who is in a twist only fitting for today's politics, has made no secret of his feelings toward the Russia investigation. Here he was on CNN in July of last year before he worked at justice. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FOUNDATION FOR ACCOUNTABILITY AND CIVIC TRUST: I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that Attorney General doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to an almost halt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Grinds to a halt. Whitaker also writing an opinion piece for CNN last summer and it was titled "Mueller's investigation of Trump is going too far." And also writing this. If Mueller was investigating Trump's finances, "this would raise serious concerns that the Special Counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt".
Those final words? Likely music to the President's ears. Here's what the President had to say about the investigation today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the Russia investigation, are you concerned that you may have --
TRUMP: I'm not concerned about anything with the Russia investigation because it's a hoax.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you consider removing Mr. Mueller from his position?
TRUMP: I could have ended it any time I wanted. I didn't. And there was no collusion and there's no collusion. It was supposed to be on collusion. There's no collusion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going back to the Russia investigation and the potential investigations from the now Democratic majority in Congress, some say that you could stop all this by declassifying --
TRUMP: I could. I could fire everybody right now. But I don't want to stop it because politically, I don't like stopping it. It's a disgrace. It should have never been started, because there was no crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: A hoax, a disgrace, he could fire everybody right now. Little did anyone know at that time the President already had with Jeff Sessions.
Pamela Brown is out front now live at the White House for us this evening. Pamela, even the White House staff, it appears, was caught off guard by this. PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kate. President Trump's decision to effectively fire his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, on the same day he was touting victory in the midterms certainly caught at least some White House staffers by surprise in terms of time. You know, though there was widespread understanding among aides that this was something President Trump wanted to do shortly after the midterms. But as we know, the President had openly been ridiculing Jeff Sessions for many months. He was upset that he had recused himself.
But instead of the President calling up Jeff Sessions himself, he had his Chief of Staff, John Kelly, do so, calling him before that contentious press conference, telling him that he needed to turn in his resignation letter. And you saw there President Trump was asked about Jeff Sessions and he dodged the question, saying I'll talk about that later. I didn't want to do anything before the midterms. But we know the President had repeatedly asked Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, to regain control. That had been bothering President Trump, so the question now is what will happen to the Russia probe.
Matt Whitaker, as you pointed out, had openly said, publicly said that the Mueller probe should be limited. He suggested one way of doing that would be limiting funds. So now that he has taken the reins of the Russia probe as the acting A.G., the question remains, what will happen now? If the President didn't want any oversight or any changes to it, he could have just had his number two, the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, become the acting Attorney General.
[19:05:02] But Whitaker is seen by Trump as a loyalist, the two had discussed taking this job before and now it has happened with this news today that Jeff Sessions has resigned. Matt Whitaker is now the acting Attorney General. We should point out, Kate, that Matt Whitaker released a statement today saying that he plans to run the department with fairness.
BOLDUAN: Good to hear. Pamela, stick with me. We've got a lot to discuss here.
Out front with us also tonight, Evan Perez is here, CNN's Senior Justice Correspondent. And Laura Jarrett, CNN Justice Correspondent, and Anne Milgram, she's a former Federal Prosecutor. It's great to see all of you. Evan, short of ending the Mueller probe altogether, what can Whitaker do to the investigation?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. He has complete control. Look, I mean, as the Attorney General, he has a say on whether or not Mueller issues subpoenas, if there are steps -- major investigative steps that Mueller wants to take. He has to consult with the Attorney General.
In this case, he was consulting with Rod Rosenstein to get sign off on pretty much everything he did. But going forward, I think even more important than the investigation is what happens to Mueller's report, OK. So when --
BOLDUAN: The final report.
PEREZ: The final report.
PEREZ: When that is finished. And by all indications, the investigation appears to be winding down. So, when Mueller produces the report, that will go to Matt Whitaker and he will control what happens then, if there are any charges -- additional charges that he recommends, that will go to Matt Whitaker. Whether the report ends up with the hands of Congress or if any of it becomes public, all of that resides in the hands of Matt Whitaker now. And I think that's a really important thing to keep in mind. It's also probably --
BOLDUAN: It would be crucial. It could be the end -- it could be -- it's the final decision.
PEREZ: It's the final decision. And I think the President had this in mind when he chose Matt Whitaker for that reason.
BOLDUAN: Wow. Laura, you also have some new reporting on Sessions' view of the Mueller probe. What can you tell us?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. It's interesting, Kate. We talk a lot about how frustrated Trump is with Mueller, but I'm told by a source familiar with Sessions thinking that he too is actually frustrated by the pace of the Mueller investigation, wishing that it would just go away, wishing that it would end. It's sort of taken on a life of its own, something that's unexpected, but he also is very supportive, privately, of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who before today had been overseeing the probe.
Again, a source telling me that he really thinks Rosenstein just got this dropped in his lap. He didn't ask for this. And he basically did as good of a job as anyone could under the circumstances, but it's interesting, Sessions has no regrets about the recusal, despite the fact that it has now resulted in his abrupt firing. He has no regrets about taking the job, and at the end of the day, I think he hopes that he will remember -- be remembered, I should say, for trying to uphold the rule of law, trying to uphold the integrity of the department despite all of these repeated attacks from the President, Kate.
BOLDUAN: I think it will be a while before history can judge any of this chapter that we're looking at right now, though. Anne, with so much -- there's still so much kind of unknown about this tonight. If your concern is the integrity of the Russia investigation, what's your big question, I guess, tonight.
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: Yes. I mean, I think we have to think about this a few different ways. I mean, the first is that the Justice Department is made up of men and women who are career prosecutors, investigators, and so I think while I do think it's significant that Sessions is out and Whitaker is in, particularly because his background, he did serve as a U.S. attorney, but his background is largely political. So I do think there's reason to be concerned about what he'll do to the rule of law and to the Mueller probe.
I think it's important to remember that the department itself, as an institution, is very strong. And so I think, you know, it isn't as easy as he might have said in an interview to just turn off the money to an investigation like the Mueller investigation as Special Counsel so I think some of that is hyperbolic and I think the reality will be different. I do think, though, we have to watch what happens next.
The only thing I know, and I think we're speculating about a lot of stuff, but the only thing I can say for sure is that Mueller will do everything the exact way he was going to do it, regardless of whether Whitaker sits in the chair or Rosenstein sat in that chair. And so the question is how they'll respond to Mueller moving forward, to complete the investigation. And possibly, I think, charge additional people.
BOLDUAN: You know, Pamela, let me ask you. The disdain that President Trump has had for Sessions and his frustration, I mean, that is well known. Just -- listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Jeff Sessions should have never let it happen. He should have never recused himself. I think it was a disgrace.
Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department, and it's a -- sort of an incredible thing.
The Attorney General made a terrible mistake when he did this and when he recused himself.
I'm very disappointed with the Attorney General, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Look, this may have been a long time coming, Pamela, but I mean, you're also reporting not only the White House but justice officials were kind of kept in the dark on this one as well.
[19:10:07] BROWN: Yes, that's right. Again, the President had publicly ridiculed Jeff Sessions, so there certainly was an expectation at the Justice Department and the White House that eventually Sessions would go. But aides have been urging the President to wait until after the midterms. However, timing was surprising at the Justice Department as well.
In fact, U.S. attorneys across the country, DOJ employees only found out because they watched TV, they saw it in the media. They were given no official notification of the fact that Jeff Sessions had given President Trump his resignation letter, which is pretty extraordinary, if you think about it, but also sort of fits in the theme of how the President handles these firings. Oftentimes, it's not him doing it and oftentimes people find out from watching the news. Worth noting that John Kelly was the one in this case who asked Jeff Sessions to hand over his resignation letter and our reporting is that Sessions had asked him if he could stay on for the rest of the week but John Kelly stayed firm with him and said, no, that he needed to do so today.
BOLDUAN: Evan, Nancy Pelosi's already -- and there are others that are already calling for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. Do you have any suggestion that that is going to happen or how that would be decided? Who would be the arbiter, final arbiter on that?
PEREZ: Right. We're told that that -- clearly, this has been thought about, and there's -- certainly at the White House --
PEREZ: -- there's no belief that he should recuse himself. That despite the comments that he's made, including here on CNN --
PEREZ: -- that those perhaps present an appearance of conflict. So, here's what typically would happen. At the Justice Department, there's an ethics officer --
PEREZ: -- and the ethics officers would review this and say, OK, well, you might have a -- an appearance of conflict. I don't think anything indicates that Whitaker would have an actual conflict in the kind that Jeff Sessions had, but certainly, the appearance of conflict is also something that justice rules say that you should --
BOLDUAN: Right. That's written. That's part of it, even the appearance of, right?
PEREZ: Even the appearance of conflict is a problem. So, he could get advice to say, you should recuse yourself. But Whitaker can choose to ignore that. He can say, look, you know, I take your advice, but I believe that, you know, I disagree with it. And, by the way, people close to President Trump point out that Rod Rosenstein has not recused himself, and he is a witness in this investigation.
BOLDUAN: Also true. All -- got to love this wonderful web for weaving here. Anne, can you interpret -- do you interpret this move by the President as anything other than trying to constrain or stop Mueller? Because when you look at the record of Jeff Sessions, he was carrying out Trump's agenda at the Justice Department. When you look through where his priorities were, what he was focused on, he really was delivering on what Trump was looking for.
MILGRAM: Look, I agree. I mean, I think his record, you know, gang prosecutions, targeting MS-13, going after -- creating that task force on religious freedom, he's sort of been, I think, going through the President's playbook. I also think that their relationship did fracture and that the President is a transactional person. He wants someone in that job who he feels that he has some control over is my sense of it, and I think for whatever, you know, I think it was because of the Mueller piece, but that something broke between them. And then of course what you say is true.
You know, I read this also a little bit and I'm no expert in this space, but all of a sudden, the House of Representatives is going to start potentially issuing subpoenas and doing investigations, and this feels to me like a little bit of a chess move back to say, I still have a lot of control and I'm going to control the pieces I can control. And this is certainly one of them.
BOLDUAN: Laura, what do you know? I don't know how important it is at this moment but what do you know about the relationship between Whitaker and Rosenstein? They obviously have been working together at justice.
JARRETT: It's a tricky dynamic, I would say. I mean, we reported several weeks back, we all remember when the Deputy Attorney General flew over to the White House expecting to get fired and on that day, the plan was for Whitaker to take his job. Everyone was preparing for that fact. The solicitor general was going to take over the Mueller probe. And instead, today, Whitaker takes his boss's job so it's all sort of a bizarre occurrence here.
But Rosenstein and Whitaker do not have a prior relationship. They did not work together. These were not people who were close privately or socially. They have a professional relationship, certainly, but it wasn't as if they were buddies behind the scenes and I certainly think that when he's tried to step in and was gunning for his job, you can imagine how awkward that is.
BOLDUAN: It could fray a relationship. It could. There's potential of it. Great to see you guys. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. An amazing day it is then.
Out front next, we have some more on our breaking news. Top Democrats raising the red flag, saying it is imperative Congress protect Robert Mueller. I'm going to speak to Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal to get his reaction.
[19:15:09] Plus, new details tonight on the man who will oversee the Russia investigation. Just who is Matt Whitaker.
And the day after the Republicans lose control of the House, the President mocks his own party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mia love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: One Republican congressman now fights back. He's my guest tonight. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BOLDUAN: Breaking news, Jeff Sessions fired and we are learning tonight that the embattled Attorney General had wanted to stay until the end of the week, but that Chief of Staff -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly shot that idea down. We also know that the President did not call Sessions himself. That was also left to John Kelly.
Sessions officially left the Justice Department a short time ago with a sendoff by members of the department. Including Sessions' Chief of Staff, Matt Whitaker, who is now the acting Attorney General. Whitaker is now expected to oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe, not Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as has been kind of the state of play for so long now.
Out front now, Democratic Senator from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thank you for coming in.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you very much.
BOLDUAN: What's your reaction to Jeff Sessions being fired today?
BLUMENTHAL: It's a break the glass moment. Our democracy is under attack because the President has completely broken the norms of the normal succession process.
[19:20:07] It's a kind of slow motion Saturday night massacre as occurred under President Nixon, and the man he's chosen is someone who provided a road map for how to stifle and strangle the Special Counsel investigation. He called it Mueller's lynch mob and he said the way to do it was to, in effect, deny funding, stifle it that way, or cut authority or disapprove indictments. That clearly creates an imperative for recusal by him and if not, action by the Congress.
BOLDUAN: These are, you know, personal opinions of his, right? That's coming from Whitaker before he was at the Justice Department, things that he said, things that he has written. And I do wonder, if an FBI agent should be allowed to have personal opinions like Peter Strzok, many Democrats said should have been allowed to have personal opinions and not have it affect his work, should the same apply to Whitaker?
BLUMENTHAL: He's allowed to have personal opinions, but not to supervise the investigation. Peter Strzok was taken off the investigation by Robert Mueller as soon as he learned of those communications that indicated his bias. So, whether it violates 45 Code of Federal Regulation, Section 28, it clearly is an appearance of impropriety and it infects the entire Department of Justice and my view is, career professionals in the Department of Justice ought to really raise a protest here along with people throughout the United States because Americans want this investigation to be completed.
There's a reason why Donald Trump waited until after the midterms, because this step will be widely and deeply unpopular. I hope my Republican colleagues will sense it.
BOLDUAN: Well, so, if he does not recuse and right now there's no suggestion that he will, what do you do then, Senator?
BLUMENTHAL: I'm going to be proposing legislation that would, in effect, guarantee funding for the Mueller investigation. It would stop any effort to defund or reduce funding that is necessary for the agents and attorneys who are doing this vital work, and I will also include in that legislation requirement that there be a report. In other words, the results of this investigation should be made known to the American people and give the Special Counsel time to complete that report if there is an effort to fire him.
You know, there's a lot of speculation that Robert Mueller is on the verge of a number of key charges and indictments after this quiet period before the election, and so the timing here is really suspect.
BOLDUAN: But we've heard over and over from Mitch McConnell and Republican leaders that Mueller should be able to finish -- Mueller should and will be able to finish his investigation, that there's no -- I mean, there's no reality in this, especially in this post-midterm world, that they're going to allow your legislation to go forward. Do you have any confidence in that?
BLUMENTHAL: First of all, there's legislation and it's bipartisan that has been approved by the Judiciary Committee to protect the Special Counsel. And you're absolutely right that the majority leader said in the past there's no need for it. So, we will need a really solid move by my Republican colleagues to fulfill their stated intention to protect the Special Counsel. And also, I think that they have to sense that this very unpopular step by the President really embarks on a dangerous road for them.
The reason that he waited until after the midterms was he knew it would be very, very unpopular with the American people, and this move will be judged harshly by history. It will come home to haunt our Republican colleagues.
BOLDUAN: You have been no fan of Jeff Sessions. I mean, I recall one quote when it came to changing rules over asylum claims and you said that, "Today's decision will send untold numbers of refugees to their deaths. Attorney General Sessions, their blood is on your hands". Are you really that sorry to see Sessions go then?
BLUMENTHAL: Jeff Sessions and I have differed deeply on a great many issues. In fact, I opposed his confirmation. I was the first member of the Judiciary Committee, I believe, to oppose his confirmation. But I agree with him that he was absolutely right to recuse himself. He had no choice. I regret his leaving for the reason that the President is, in effect, firing him, which is his refusal to do the President's bidding, stifle the Special Counsel investigation, and I think that the replacement for him, Matt Whitaker, has a duty to recuse himself.
BOLDUAN: So he's the acting. There's going to be a search for a new attorney general. I mean, can you say at this point, is there any attorney general that the President would put up that you're going to support?
[19:25:07] BLUMENTHAL: Rod Rosenstein should be put in that job. That's the normal succession process. That's typically the way the process has worked in the past. The President, in effect, is, again, breaking the norms and avoiding the normal rules and that is the succession that should take place now. That's what's happened under previous administrations when attorneys general have left.
BOLDUAN: Senator, thank you for coming in. I appreciate your time.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Out front for us next, our breaking news continues with a closer look at the President's now acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker. What he said about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITAKER: There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here. The evidence is weak.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Plus, the President publicly shaming Republicans. I'm going to speak with one Republican congressman who says today's attacks angered him to his core.
BOLDUAN: Tonight, Democrats already calling for acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi saying this, Given his record of threats to undermine and weaken the Russia investigation, Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from any involvement in Mueller's investigation.
Jessica Schneider is OUTFRONT with more of Whitaker's record.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Matthew Whitaker has been on the president's succession list since at least late September. The president spoke directly with Whitaker when it was Rod Rosenstein whose future was in question. At the time, multiple sources told CNN that the president talked with Whitaker about becoming acting deputy attorney general after revelations that Rosenstein suggested officials wear a wire to record the president as a way to oust him from office.
But with Sessions' resignation at the request of the president, Trump named Whitaker acting attorney general via tweet.
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think what ultimately the president's going to start doing is putting pressure on Rod Rosenstein. SCHNEIDER: Whitaker has long backed President Trump's tough take on
the Mueller probe. In an opinion piece for CNN.com in August 2017, Whitaker wrote that it was time for Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel, to order Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel and I warned that by investigating the president's personal and business finances, Mueller has come up to a red line that he is dangerously close to crossing.
And he said if Mueller didn't limit his probe, it would raise serious concerns that the special counsel's investigation was a mere witch hunt.
Whitaker also appeared on CNN in July 2017, suggesting any replacement attorney general would likely slow down the special counsel by pinching the purse strings.
WHITAKER: And that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to an -- almost a halt.
SCHNEIDER: And before Whitaker began working at the Justice Department as Sessions' chief of staff in October 2017, he was quite vocal about two main focal points of the Mueller investigation, any possible obstruction of justice by the president.
WHITAKER: There is no criminal obstruction of justice charge to be had here. This is -- the evidence is weak.
SCHNEIDER: And that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 where Donald Trump Jr. And others met with a Russian lawyer.
WHITAKER: To suggest that there's a conspiracy here, I mean, you would always take that meeting.
SCHNEIDER: Whitaker was by Sessions' side today as he left the Justice Department, as he has been for the past year.
JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: My chief of staff, Matt Whitaker. Isn't he great?
SCHNEIDER: And he has a long political history of his own. The former college football player at the University of Iowa ran as the Republican candidate for state treasurer there but lost and was later appointed by President George W. Bush as U.S. attorney for the southern district of Iowa.
WHITAKER: I'm not sure what we are passing on to the next generation.
SCHNEIDER: In 2013, Whitaker ran in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate but came in fourth and one year later, he was named chairman of Sam Clovis's unsuccessful bid for Iowa state treasurer. Clovis was a top Trump campaign aide and has reportedly testified before Mueller's grand jury.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: And despite Whitaker's past comments speaking out against the special counsel, he will be assuming oversight of the Russia probe, taking over that duty from Rod Rosenstein.
But, Kate, Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, they've called for Whitaker to recuse himself, but remember, it was Jeff Sessions' recusal from overseeing that probe that sparked President Trump's fury and led to his firing today -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: So I'm hearing you say is there's not really a chance.
Great to see you. Thanks so much, Jessica.
OUTFRONT with me now, Joan Walsh, national affairs correspondent at "The Nation", and Steve Cortes, member of President Trump's 2020 reelect advisory council. He has signed an NDA with the campaign.
It is great to see you guys. Thank you so much for being here.
So you're saying there's a chance does not apply. I do not think when it comes to recusal.
STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And -- nor should it. By the way, shocker, the acting attorney general has legal opinions. I would hope he does and he has clearly legal opinions on this issue. We wouldn't want somebody who doesn't have legal opinions, by the way, and he's a political appointee and his opinion, by the way, which he voiced on CNN's website, is exactly correct, which is that the idea of a prosecutor who's subject to no one, who has no jurisdictional boundaries, there's a name for that.
BOLDUAN: He has boundaries. There are boundaries.
CORTES: There are no boundaries.
BOLDUAN: Yes, there are.
CORTES: Rosenstein has totally refused to supervise this investigation.
JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You don't know that. You don't know that.
CORTES: We do know that because they are delving -- this was supposed to be about Russia. Now they're looking at -- and not just now, for months -- business affairs before they got into politics.
WALSH: They may be related to Russia. They actually might be, Russian banks, Russian real estate.
BOLDUAN: Here's an important -- let's put some important perspective on this. If this was a Democratic president, if this was an investigation against -- into a Democratic president, if you will, you would be raising hell over this, and shouting from the rooftops.
CORTES: I wouldn't. Here's why. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, they gave us a mechanism to oversee and supervise excesses of the executive branch and that is the legislative branch.
[19:35:02] And by the way, the people just spoke yesterday and the new Democratic House --
BOLDUAN: The new legislative branch said they were happy. This seems like 12 eons ago. But they were happy --
CORTES: But the Constitution says that the legislature is the one to supervise and check and balance against the executive branch and they're going to do so, very aggressively. I have no doubt. But that is the mechanism. Not his own Justice Department.
CORTES: Investigating him and essentially what Mueller has done --
WALSH: This is so outrageous.
CORTES: He answers to no one.
WALSH: He's not been a king. He's a Republican. He's a career Republican.
CORTES: Republican doesn't mean a thing in this town anymore.
WALSH: You have no idea what Rosenstein has told him or not told him and the idea that Matt Whitaker, who speaks -- who has spoken in Trump talking points about this investigation talking about he shouldn't look at his finances, Donny Jr. -- anybody would take that meeting. That's ridiculous. That meeting could get him in a lot of trouble.
The idea that this is the guy that Mueller has to go to talk about subpoenas, to talk about indictments, and when he issues his report, it will be Matt Whitaker who decides whether we get to see it. That is outrageous given everything that's on the record. This is --
CORTES: What's outrageous is the investigation and search of a crime. That's an un-American principle. It's unjust.
WALSH: That's not what's happening.
CORTES: It's not what's going on here.
BOLDUAN: If the president -- Joan, if the president had and we know he did, obviously, a bad relationship with Jeff Sessions, he does have the right to surround himself with cabinet members, with people that he wants to have around him. This was a long time coming. Is this one of those cases where why isn't now as good a time as any to take him out and put Matt Whitaker in?
WALSH: I mean, I can't believe I'm expressing pity or empathy for Jeff Sessions, but I mean, he could have given him until the end of the week, and the only thing Jeff Sessions has done wrong in this president's eyes is recuse himself. I mean, he has carried out a hard line immigration policy that Democrats are aghast at.
BOLDUAN: That is one thing that's surprising. He really has carried out the president's --
WALSH: He's implemented the policy all the way. There's only one reason that he fell afoul of this president and that makes a lot of us very, very nervous.
CORTES: Right. But that is a foundational reason. All that Trump has accomplished in these last couple years, and it's amazing, particularly on the economy, all of it has been with this constant cloud of Russia that wouldn't exist if Jeff Sessions had done the honorable thing in the first place and informed the president, if you make me attorney general, I have to recuse myself from any of he Russia-related --
WALSH: I don't think he realized it. I think former Senator Al Franken --
BOLDUAN: It wasn't Jeff Sessions that sparked the Russia investigation. Firing James Comey that did.
CORTES: I find it funny now that liberals are embracing Session.
BOLDUAN: I asked Richard Blumenthal about that. He said that he --
CORTES: Believe me, he's about as right wing as they get.
BOLDUAN: In this day and age, stranger things have happened. For a president that takes pride in taking no one's advice, why did he wait until after the midterm? If he was so mad at Sessions and he really wanted to get this done, this seems entirely calculated because of the timing to be changing the conversation from bad news, you had a bad night.
WALSH: Terrible night and you could see he had a terrible night just looking at him today.
CORTES: By the way, we didn't have a terrible night. But I think it's part of it is changing the news cycle quickly, yes, I do, but also is that we have a better and more conservative and more Trumpian Senate on the way. So that is the key, is that he couldn't have gotten -- if he had fired sessions under the previous senate, he couldn't have gotten a replacement approved, confirmed. Now he can.
The Senate got better, from my perspective, got better, more Trumpian, so it makes perfect sense for him to pull the trigger now. I advised him and I wish he had done this a heck of a long time ago, but better late than never. Let's hope Rosenstein is next. It's time to get control.
WALSH: It always looks sneaky when you do it the day after an election, like you've been hiding something from the public and now we can do it. I mean, we knew it was coming but there's still something weird act it and it is to distract us from the takeover in the House last night.
BOLDUAN: It seems entirely calculated to just change the news cycle even though this was a long time coming. That just seems entirely calculated.
CORTES: Theoretically, had the Democrats won control of the Senate, I don't think he would fire Jeff Sessions. He'd never get a replacement. There would be no attorney general.
WALSH: That's probably true.
CORTES: Better to have sessions, as feckless as he is, than to have zero attorney general.
BOLDUAN: Do you think -- I mean, when you look at the landscape of things, you didn't like Jeff Sessions. Is Matt Whitaker maybe better than the A.G. that Trump would pick next? Like is this a lesser of two evils?
WALSH: I'm not talking about him as A.G. or anybody as A.G. I'm talking about the oversight of the Mueller probe. That's what I'm objecting to.
CORTES: And I think here's the thing in terms of the Mueller probe. Nobody believes, I don't think, that Whitaker is going to come in and seriously constrain his investigation.
BOLDUAN: You really don't? You don't think you can end it?
CORTES: I think what he is going to say, what I hope he says is, it appears that we're in the fourth quarter or two minute warning, he's a football guy, the two minute warning of this game.
[19:40:04] Wrap it up. This cannot go on indefinitely and I think that's totally fair to say, unless you can tell me reasons why, let's wrap this up in the coming weeks and months.
WALSH: Well, we all hope that happens.
BOLDUAN: All good. Look, agreement.
Thanks, guys. Appreciate it.
OUTFRONT next, President Trump lashing out at, honestly, just about everybody today after his party lost control of the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know why you'd say that. Such a racist question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Plus, women elected in record numbers last night, many defying the status quo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, there were people who laughed me out of rooms because they thought, okay, she's 28 years old, paying off student loans, you know, comes from a working class family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And who is laughing now?
BOLDUAN: New tonight, the president lashing out one day after Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives. Trump told a press conference -- held a press conference for an hour and 26 minutes. He spent much of that time threatening anyone who doesn't agree with him. He took on incoming Democratic committee chairs who might be seeking subpoenas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If that happens, then we're going to do the same thing, and government comes to a halt.
Now, we can investigate. They look at us. We look at them. It goes on for two years, then at the end of two years, nothing's done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Trump also mocked members of his own party who had lost their races for reelection last night. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it. Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman, too bad, Mike.
Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.
And Barbara Comstock was another one. I mean, I think she could have won that race but she didn't want to have any embrace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: A note on that one. That race there, it hasn't even been called yet. Mia Love, she could still win. They have -- that race hasn't even been called and the president said that.
In that same press conference, the president threw endless insults at reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You are a rude, terrible person. You are the enemy of the people. Such a racist question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: And if you were expecting an appeal for unity the day after an election that showed the country is more divided than ever, you were mistaken.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: There was a big day yesterday, an incredible day. And last night, the Republican Party defied history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: He's right about some gains in the Senate and governorships but make no mistake, this wasn't a great night for the president and how could it be when your party loses control of one chamber of Congress. It wouldn't be for any president.
OUTFRONT now, retiring Republican Congressman Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.
Congressman, thanks for coming in.
REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Hi, Kate.
BOLDUAN: You heard what the president said -- well, he said a lot. But when the president today took to naming and shaming, calling out by name some of your Republican colleagues, it almost seemed like dancing on their graves as they lost election. About that, you wrote this on Twitter, in part, to lose because of the president and then have him piss on you angers me to my core.
What made you so mad?
COSTELLO: Well, because that's why. I mean, that's why they lost. They are hardworking, independent minded, center right Republicans who woke up every single day and got angry phone calls and protests and unending amounts of criticism not because of anything they particularly did but because they're Republicans and there is such angst and anger against the president, and if it was anger based on policy, that's one thing. But a lot of the anger emanates, rightly so, from things that he says, the ignorant, mean, name-calling, snide type stuff that you wouldn't want your 12-year-old to say, let alone the president of the United States to say.
And yet, every Republican member of Congress has chosen, I think, usually, with a degree of restraint, on not calling out the president every single time he would say something that they would disagree with because they tried to focus on their jobs. But ultimately, it became an everyday occurrence where members got asked over and over and over, what do you think about Trump? What do you think about what he said about this? And all these members were running in districts where his unfavorable numbers were between 55 and 60 percent.
And they had to deal with him and the fact that he was not favorable every single day. They would have -- if he was a -- viewed favorably, they would have won. And so for them to deal with all that and then the day after losing, very tough races, to have the president mock them like that, I just think it's outrageous. And it bothers me every single time I hear it. I'm sorry if I'm a little emotional about it.
BOLDUAN: No, but I want to say, I mean, I've interviewed you a bunch of times, and we often talk about your position of calling out the president when you disagree with him and, you know, trying to focus on other things when you can. What is it -- you're more angry than I've seen you ever on an issue when the president has said innumerable things that probably have made you mad. What is it about this?
COSTELLO: Imagine -- well, imagine you had a boss, Kate, that drove you crazy a lot of the time but you poured your heart and soul into a job and somehow, some way, you were in it, the type of profession where you failed. You didn't win.
And the next day, even that boss who bothered you, who you disagreed with, but you bit your tongue, instead of that boss saying, you know what, I know we didn't always see eye to eye, thank you for your service, Kate, I hope you move on to bigger and better things, instead, that boss says, Kate, you're a loser, I don't really care whether you on or lost, no big deal.
It's like, to your point, dancing on somebody's grave. It's highly inappropriate. And it's deeply offensive.
And every single one of those members took tough votes in order to advance a center right agenda because they believed in it.
[19:50:07] But they took a lot of heat for it, and the president should be thanking them for putting up the tough votes and advancing an agenda which I believe we are better off economically because of a lot of the policies that have been implemented. And he didn't take that opportunity to do that. Instead, he decided to say negative things about them.
And I just -- I just think it's so entirely wrong. It's a failure of leadership.
BOLDUAN: Would you have written the same thing you did, would you have said what you just said to me tonight, would you have been comfortable doing that if you weren't retiring?
COSTELLO: In this case, yes, because those are my friends. Those are people who I lived and worked with every single day.
Anyone who's watching the program is in a work environment, and if you're in a very tough, intense work environment, and when you serve in congress, I promise you, it gets pretty intense. It gets pretty tough. People say things about you that aren't nice. That's all fine. That's all part of the business.
But you develop a certain respect for the people that you work with. And when you see them lose, it's tough enough, but when you see them lose because of the president and the president not only doesn't acknowledge that, instead he says if they would have just embraced him, they would have won, which is a total joke, nobody believes that. But then to insult them and mock them on their way out, it's just the height of pettiness. It's just --
BOLDUAN: Can I ask --
COSTELLO: It's not excusable.
BOLDUAN: Can I ask real quick --
COSTELLO: Go ahead.
BOLDUAN: You're retiring and the party, I mean, people who lost, as you're saying, center right, much of them, is there -- are you finding that -- is there still a place for you in the Republican Party? Are you questioning that now?
COSTELLO: Well, I mean, philosophically, I am a Republican for a number of different issues and that's not to speak figuratively about those who are philosophically are Democrats. We're a two-party system. You're trying to find compromise.
But to your point about where we are as a party right now, it is very difficult in a suburban environment in this election cycle to have won. And I think there are a lot of voters out there that are making decisions not based on policy right now, but based on the personality of the president. And that's not working to the Republican advantage in competitive seats.
BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you for coming in. We've had many a conversation. None so much like this.
COSTELLO: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: I appreciate your candor. Thank you.
OUTFRONT for us next, the women smashing barriers and making history tonight as they head to Washington.
[19:56:00] BOLDUAN: Tonight, the year of the woman. A record 239 women ran for the House for House seats this year, and at least 101 were elected. That's also a record. That's also a record and there are some races that haven't even been called yet.
Kyung Lah is OUTFRONT.
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The cheers we heard for Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer began as laughter.
ABBY FINKENAUER (D), IOWA REP.-ELECT: Yes, there were people who laughed me out of rooms because they thought, OK, she's 28 years old, paying off student loans. You know, comes from a working-class family. No money of her own to put into this.
LAH: No one's laughing anymore at Congresswoman-elect Finkenauer, part of the record wave of women elected to Congress. Americans voted in more than 100 women to the House of Representatives. A red to blue flip powered mostly by Democratic women.
It's a political claiming of power that rose out of the populist women's march in response to the Trump presidency. Marching became running for office. First-time candidates like Mikie Sherrill campaigned with their powerful personal story as a navy veteran.
Does that open the door?
MIKIE SHERRILL (D), NEW JERSEY REP.-ELECT: I think it does. If you're a veteran, and you've always put this country first, I think that gives people the sense that you'll continue to do so.
LAH: Sherrill now the congresswoman-elect from New Jersey's 11th district.
ELISSA SLOTKIN (D), MICHIGAN REP.-ELECT: When I was a little elementary school, we lived here.
LAH: Elissa Slotkin who worked for the State Department never considered running for office until the House voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
SLOTKIN: You can't expect those people to reorient and become better leaders. You have to replace them with people who are willing to fight, who are willing to actually, like, give a crap.
LAH: She replaces her congressman, elected to represent Michigan's 8th congressional district.
UNIDENTIFEID FEMALE: Today we made history.
LAH: The 116th Congress will not just be more female, but more diverse. New Mexico's Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids of Kansas make history as the first Native American women in Congress and elected as the first Muslim women in Congress, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
Women voters broke for Democrats by 19 points over Republicans. One of the night's biggest surprises, Kendra Horn's victory in deep red Oklahoma.
KENDRA HORN (D), OKLAHOMA REP.-ELECT: Representation matters. Oklahoma is 49th in the nation for women serving in elected office. And we needed different voices at the table to enact good policy.
LAH: Republican women made gains in some offices. While losing numbers overall in Congress. Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn moves from the House to the Senate. While South Dakota's Kristi Noem shatters the ceiling of her state as the first woman governor, a win and a wave of women she predicted last winter, as she farmed on her ranch.
You prefer a tractor to an airplane.
KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA GOV-ELECT: I do, you have control over your own destiny.
LAH: Progress, but women still only make up about one in four members of Congress.
KELLY DITTMAR, RUTGERS ASST. PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: It's a notable increase. But I don't think it's the tsunami that was talked about throughout the whole campaign. I think we have to do more work to get to that point where we're talking about women who are closer to gender parity in government.
LAH: Now, those numbers could rise because women are still in competitive races that are too close to call tonight. Among them, California's Young Kim who hopes to be the first Korean American to go to Congress and here where I'm standing, Arizona Senate race still too close to call between Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally. Kate, whoever wins here will make history as Arizona's first female senator -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: An awesome look at it all. Thanks so much, Kyung. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, all, so much for joining us on this wild day.
"AC360" starts now.