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Obama Farewell Address Tonight; Senate Confirmation Hearing for Jeff Sessions. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 10, 2017 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Senator Coons, thanks for talking with us.

Back to you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Manu Raju and Senator Chris Coons, the Democrat of Delaware, up on Capitol Hill.

Still to come, we're going to have much more on the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions. Thoughts on a potential ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

Also, we're keeping a close eye on another hearing on Capitol Hill. This one regards the intel regarding the Russia hack.

And we are just a few hours away from President Obama's last big speech as president of the United States. We're live from Chicago with a preview coming up next.


[13:34:56] TAPPER: Welcome back. We're awaiting the turn of the confirmation hearing for Senator Jefferson Beauregard Session III, nominee for U.S. attorney general.

Meanwhile, also on Capitol Hill, we're keeping an eye on the intel briefing regarding the Russia hacking. We'll update you on that throughout the hour.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But first, President Obama, he is set to give his farewell address to the nation later on tonight in Chicago.

Our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, is joining us from the site in of the speech in Chicago.

Give us a preview, Michelle.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Yeah, this is a good-bye as well as a homecoming. He is coming back to this city, his hometown, you could say, where his political career began. This is important to him, obviously. This is also a big convention space. Some 20,000 people will be here. And they're already started lining up. In fact, some people were lined up 14 hours before this speech will begin. There's an anticipatory excitement right now to hear what the president will say. What the White House is saying is this is something that he has been

working on now for at least a week or so. It's been through several drafts. He wants to get this right. He doesn't want to focus on listing his accomplishments over the last eight years. That's something we've heard from him a lot while he's been on the campaign trail. It's something he likes to hit whenever he makes a public address. But they say they want this to be different. They want it to be forward-looking and optimistic.

When you look back to past presidents' farewell addresses, they always give a sort of cautionary advice to the next administration. George W. Bush talked about continuing to fight for truth and justice, saying we have to maintain our moral clarity and advance the causes of peace. Going back in town a little further, Bill Clinton talked about - it was almost a warning he gave to keep up fiscal responsibility at America's leadership in the world.

The White House says that President Obama is going to follow that theme. He is going to look at challenges that America faces moving forward, and he is going to give his share of advice on how best to face it. They say that he is going to focus on American values, on fairness, justice, and diversity in America -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski is in Chicago getting ready for the president's farewell address to the nation. We'll, of course, have live coverage later tonight, 8:00 p.m. eastern, "A.C. 360."

Still ahead, we're getting ready for the return of the confirmation hearings for Senator Jeff Sessions. Take a look at these live pictures coming in from the room. The Senators will be going back in there momentarily.

Our special coverage continues right after this.


[13:40:16] TAPPER: Welcome back to our viewers from the United States and around the world. We are live right outside Capitol Hill. I'm Jake Tapper.

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We've been watching an extraordinary display of constitutional authority on this day. Jeff Sessions, Republican Senator from Alabama, Donald Trump's nominee to become the next United States attorney general, examined and cross-examined by his colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first confirmation hearing for a perspective member of the new Trump administration. They are now wrapping up their little lunch break. It's set to resume momentarily. Once it resumes, we'll, of course, resume our own live coverage.

Also ahead, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly is due before the Senate Homeland Security Committee over his nomination to become the next secretary of Homeland Security. That's scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. eastern, less than two hours from now. We'll have live coverage of that as well. And another key hearing is underway right now as well as well. The

heads of the FBI, the CIA and the NSA, the National Security Agency, also the director of National Intelligence, they are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.

But right now, I would like you to hear some of the sounds, some of the arguments that were made, the legal points, from the hearing on the attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions. Let's begin with this.





SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, (R), ALABAMA: I deplore the Klan and what it represents and its hateful ideology. I assisted on Maurice Dees, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in his lawsuit that led to the successful collapse of the Klan, at least in Alabama, the seizure of their building, at least for that period of time.

I am not naive. I know the threat that our rising crime and addiction rates pose to the health and safety of our country. I know the threat of terrorism. I deeply understand the history of civil rights in our country and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African- American brothers and sisters. I have witnessed it. We must continue to move forward and never back.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R), IOWA: During the course of the presidential campaign, you made a number of statements about the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton relating to her handling of sensitive e-mails and regarding certain actions of the Clinton Foundation.

[13:45:06] SESSIONS: Mr. Chairman, it was a highly contentious campaign. I, like a lot of people, made comments about the issues in that campaign. With regard to Secretary Clinton and some of the comments I made, I do believe that that could place my objectivity in question. I've given that thought. I believe the proper thing for me to do would be to recuse myself from any questions involving those kinds of investigations that involve Secretary Clinton that were raised during the campaign.

We can never have a political dispute turn into a criminal dispute. That's not in -- in any way that would suggest anything other than absolute objectivity. This country does not punish its political enemies, but this country insures that no one is above the law.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you agree that the issue of same-sex marriage is settled law?

SESSIONS: The Supreme Court has ruled on that. The dissents dissented vigorously, but it was 5-4, and five justices on the Supreme Court, a majority of the court, has established the definition of marriage for the entire United States of America, and I will follow that decision.

FEINSTEIN: You have referred to Roe v. Wade as, quote, "One of the worst, colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time." Is that still your view?

SESSIONS: It is. I believe it's -- it violated the Constitution and really attempted to set policy and not follow law. It is the law of the land. It has been so established and settled for quite a long time. And it deserves respect and I would respect it and follow it.


TAPPER: Let's bring in our panel to talk about this. We have with us associated editor of Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard; CNN senior Washington correspondent, Jeff Zeleny; CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown; April Ryan, the White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief for American Urban Radio Networks; and CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Symone Sanders.

Pamela, let me start with you.

I think there are probably a lot of viewers out there who heard Senator Sessions say that he, if attorney general, if he is confirmed, he would recuse himself from any matter regarding Hillary Clinton. A lot of people might have thought I thought this was all settled, I thought the case was closed regarding Hillary Clinton. What could he be talking about theoretically?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The case, when it comes to the e-mails, from the DOJ perspective is, as we know, Attorney General Lynch, as well as the FBI director both came out and said they didn't find probable cause to prosecute. But what I think what he was referring to is the ongoing probe into the Clinton Foundation. We had previously reported that there was a preliminary inquiry into the Clinton Foundation that's been going on over the last several months, but DOJ did not give the authorization for a more robust investigation. It was sort of at a standstill before the election. We'll have to see what happens now under the new administration. I think that's what he was referring to.

TAPPER: Although, if he's confirmed, Attorney General Sessions, presumably --

BROWN: He says he will recuse himself.

TAPPER: -- will recuse himself.

BROWN: Which, would mean, presumably, a special prosecutor will then take over.

TAPPER: Or the deputy attorney general.

BROWN: Or the deputy attorney general. TAPPER: What else did you think was interesting from this hearing, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I was struck by the fact of when he was asked early on about the Russian hacking situation. He said he had not studied that and was not necessarily up to speed on that. It seemed like to me he was trying to get that issue off the table as soon as possible in case Donald Trump was potentially watching this hearing.


Then he went on, and as the hearing went on, and said that he was aware of it, but I was struck by that.

But, again, I was just struck by his -- he was utterly prepared for this. 20 years is a long time to prepare. He wanted, right out of the gate, to exactly go back to that moment from the 1980s, a very painful moment. He talked about a race much more openly than I thought. Again, talking to just a few staffers up there, you know, this may be a party line confirmation. But important to remember he needs only 50 votes, 51 votes, and Republicans have those votes. You can bet at least a few Democrats, unless we learn something else, may support him as well.

TAPPER: And maybe, presumably, he is up to speed at least a little bit on the Russian hacking. This, theoretically, could become part of his job if he is confirmed because the FBI is part of the investigation into whatever hacking took place, the intelligence community, part of which is the FBI plays a role. And if there are any criminal charges that take place, this would be under Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

[13:49:50] A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Right. He was asked if these probes lead to further Russian connections that even go to Trump or his staff, you know, is he willing to follow there, and he said that he would. Senator Graham, after learning that he had not really studied the briefing or had the briefing, and then Graham expressed that he already would. He asked, "Do you like the FBI," and he laid the trap that Sessions would say, of course, I respect the FBI and they do a good job, so that -- not only because the FBI has determined that the Russians were involved in this hacked, but as we get deeper into this probe and deeper into this sort of political hornet's nest, he is on the record saying he's backing up the full department.

BLITZER: Senator Sessions is now back in his chair. This hearing has resumed. Let's listen in.