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tv   CNN Tonight With Don Lemon  CNN  March 1, 2017 8:00pm-9:01pm PST

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break news is attorney general jeff sessions, when still senator and adviser to the trump campaign had meetings with russia's ambassador to the u.s. but didn't disclose it in confirmation hearings. this is "cnn tonight," i'm don lemon. thanks for joining me. evan perez, what are you learning tonight about the two meetings between senator jeff sessions and russian ambassador. >> well don, at issue are two meetings that then senator jeff sessions, now tern general jeff sessions had with the top russian ambassador here in washington. sergey kislyak, one of the them on the sidelines of the republican national convention in july. event sponsored by the heritage foundation.
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about 50 ambassadors at event he met with. second in september in jeff sessions' office at time he was member of the armed services committee. and two of them had a private meeting in his office in the senate. reason this is disconcerting or an issue is because sessions said at his confirmation hearings in january that when he was asked whether or not -- what he would do if there were any meetings or contacts between people who were surrogates of the trump campaign and russians, he said he knew of no such meetings. obviously sessions was one of the early backers of donald trump's candidacy. he was a surrogate often on television speaking on behalf of donald trump. he simply did not remember, people we're talked to say, he
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didn't remember having these two meetings and didn't consider it part of something he should disclose when asked about it by senator al franken. in addition, the person we're talking about, meetings he had with sergey kislyak, who u.s. intelligence considered to be russia's top spy in washington, not only top spy but top spy recruiter in washington. going to see a lot more questions asked about these meetings and why the senatoe apparently -- senator apparently didn't remember them. >> he's saying the meetings in his position on the armed services committee. but one of them at least at republican convention. why was the ambassador even there and can he claim that this was in his capacity as senator when he's meeting at nominating
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convention for his party? >> that's a good question. one of the things that people might be interested to know, at both conventions, democratic and republican conventions, you have invitations made to ambassadors. it's not uncommon for ambassadors to come to these conventions as celebration of american democracy. obviously additional context here is talking about the russian ambassador and this is the time -- well known by july that russians are behind an operation that is not only hacking into democratic party organization, but is releasing damaging e-mails, trying to undermine u.s. democracy and u.s. election and trying to meddle in those elections. all of that is the context that is happening. everybody knows this publicly. all reporting it back in july. so it's very curious that not only at the time that he decides
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to have this meeting in july and doesn't think about it, but also has a subsequent meeting in september in his private office on capitol hill, where they have a meeting which frankly, a lot of senators and members of congress would not have this type of meeting with sergey kislyak, because they know, warned, told by u.s. intelligence this is a guy who is not only a spy but a spy recruiter here in washington >> i want to put this up evan. reading it with you, just getting it. don't have hard copy. but al franken is saying when then-senator jeff sessionsified under oath during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general he explicitly told me he had not been in contact with russian officials in the course of the
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presidential campaign. but now according to report he actually met with the russian ambassador during that time period. if that's true, then i'm very troubled that his response to my questioning during his confirmation hearing was at best misleading. he must recuse himself immediately. >> what is happening here tonight, i've been here in washington for many years and seen opposing party immediately go to attorney general is in trouble, should recuse himself. what we haven't seen before is within a month of takes office. jeff sessions in office just a couple of weeks and people not only asking himself to recuse himself from investigation that's ongoing but now you have people saying he should resign because misled members of the congress. that's something we haven't seen
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before. talked to officials in the justice department who say mr. sessions simply did not remember those meetings and did not consider them to be relevant to his answer. what is strange about it is during the interaction with senator franken, he wasn't really asked whether he had any interactions. >> he volunteered it. >> what would you do. right. simply volunteered additional information and -- >> can i ask you something, you were pivotal in the reporting of flynn and sessions' explanation seems similar to me to what flynn said. i don't recall, i don't remember what we spoke about. at first initially, correct me if i'm wrong, that there was no contact. and once it was found out there was contact, didn't remember exactly who he spoke to or what they spoke about. am i correct?
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>> that's correct. that's what flynn first -- >> and flynn ended up having to resign. >> exactly. that's one of the things that happened. things advanced so quickly, people now asking for resignation of attorney general who has barely taken office, probably not walked all the floors in the justice department, doesn't know the whole building yet. that's how new he is in office. perhaps it's a little quick to get to that but obviously a lot more questions generated by this revelation. fact that the senator -- then senator had these meetings and attorney general did not disclose them is a big problem. because this is one of the biggest, most important investigations ongoing at fbi, an agency that he oversees. he's going to have to sign off on warrants and things that the fbi might seek as part of this
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investigation. so it's going to be a tough thing for him to navigate, whether or not he recuses himself, one of the things people are asking him to do, orually has to do more than that, we don't know. >> thank you evan. if you have new reporting, get back to us as soon as possible. bring in senior legal analyst jeffrey toobin. thanks for joining us. before we speak i want to play the exchange at sessions' confirmation between al franken and jeff sessions. listen to this. >> if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the trump campaign communicated with the russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do? >> senator franken, i'm not aware of any of those activities. i have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that
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campaign, and i did not have communications with the russians, i'm unable to comment on it. >> jeffrey, did he tell the truth? >> no. he didn't tell the truth. that's quite clear. i think as legal matter, what we need to determine or what the authorities need to determine is whether he didn't tell the truth because he made a mistake, or because he lied. and legally there's a world of difference between the two. but you know, based on what the "washington post" said, and evan's reporting, we know there were at least two meetings, one a group meeting with the russian ambassador and other a meeting in sessions' office which is unusual for a senator to meet with an ambassador in those circumstances. it's not unprecedented but unusual thing. for him then to say i did not have communications with the russians is simply false.
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explanation that's being put out by the justice department is that he met with the ambassador as a member of the foreign relatio relations committee, not as leading senatorial surrogate for the trump campaign. that's a kind of met aphysical distinction that i don't think exists in the real world but merits investigation. i'm not here to convict sessions of anything but any reasonable prosecutor would say these are statements that need to be investigated by independent prosecutor. >> you say there's a difference between i don't remember, i don't recall, and flat-out lying. and one would wonder why if meet with russian ambassador, would think he would remember it. if he was under oath jeffrey -- >> which he was. >> if he's under oath, what is
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consequence if he's found to have lied or misremembered to the senate committee? >> those two possibilities are very different. misremembering, making a mistake, saying a -- saying something false because you honestly did not remember the truth, that is embarrassing, something that could subject you to being fired or -- you know, great political embarrassment that might lead you to resign. but if you make a good faith mistake and make a false statement, that is not a crime. if you lie under both in congress, it is a violation of title xviii, united states code 16.21, and eligible to go to prison for five years. it's called perjury.
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and slight correction on your question. if you say i don't remember. he didn't. he said i didn't meet, i had no communications with the russians. we know that's not true. so the question is did he misremember or simply not remember the two meetings with the russians in which case it's embarrassing but not criminal. or did he lie in which case it is a criminal offense. that's a question i certainly don't know the answer to but that is what any reasonable investigator would be looking at right now. >> so we know now there are cries in washington, and probably going to happen that some sort of investigation into the trump campaign's alleged ties to russia -- they're calling for that. what happens now? can jeff sessions as attorney general in good faith say that he can oversee these investigations? >> well it's simply inconceivable to me that he
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could oversee these investigations. since his own statement would be something that is the subject of this investigation. i mean, think the realistic question is whether he can continue being attorney general. but i mean, it is simply out of the question that he could supervise on investigation where his own behavior is at issue. so the question of whether he recuses himself, turns it over to subordinates in the justice department or -- >> sorry break news. want to get this in. statement from the white house. white house is saying -- official says this is the latest attack against the trump administration by partisan democrats. general sessions met with the ambassador in official capacity as member of the senate armed services committee which is entirely consistent with his testimony. it's no surprise senator al franken is pushing this story immediately following president
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trump's successful address to the nation. what do you make of that? >> law enforcement is never separate from politics in washington. and it is true that democrats will celebrate and enjoy and revel in this problem, and democrats are certainly doing that. nancy pelosi is calling for him to resign. >> saying not fit to serve as nation's top law enforcement officer. that's a quote. >> yeah it's a problem. metaphysical distinction between jeff sessions as member of the foreign relations committee and seve jegss as trump campaign surrogate is not necessarily a distinction that exists in the real world. and remember when sessions was asked this question by senator franken, he didn't say i did meet with the ambassador in my capacity as senator on the armed
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services kmeech services services committee, he said i didn't meet with them. certainly misleading at best if not outright false. i'm not saying that jeff sessions lied. but i'm saying that any reasonable investigation would examine that question and look at all the surrounding circumstances and all the evidence. and i don't see how jeff sessions himself can supervise an investigation of jeff sessions. >> all right jeffrey stand by. breaking news tonight. attorney general jeff sessions as senator had two meetings with the russian ambassador. breaking news we're reporting here on cnn. calls from the top lawmakers, mostly democrats, for him to step down. nancy pelosi is saying he is not fit to serve as nation's top law enforcement officer. white house is putting out statement saying this is attack
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the evolution of cancer care is here. learn more at cancercenter.com/experts here we are now with breaking news. attorney general jeff sessions when senator and adviser to the trump campaign had meetings with the russian ambassador to the u.s. but didn't disclose them in the confirmation hearing.
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bring in panel . read the white house statement before i get a response. white house official telling us this is at latest attack against the trump administration by partisan democrats. general sessions met with ambassador in official capacity as member of the senate armed services committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony. it's no surprise al franken is pushing this after the president's speech. >> i think it's embarrassing story. at minimum the attorney general will have to recuse himself from any investigation into the russian ties with trump surrogates. not sure it's going to go beyond that. of course the republicans have
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every reason to be angry at whoever leaked this. striking it's leaked after successful address to the congress last night. but you know, when these things happen -- when you testify at confirmation hearing you spend a lot of time preparing that with lawyers and others who grill you. you have to think through answers in advance. these are not casual in confirmation hearings, had to look at calendar. the team, gone through this with him. to plead i don't remember, that -- does that seem credible given the kind of preparation he would have to go through? i think those are the questions people will have to answer. >> alice? >> look, don, surrogates are a critical part of every campaign and integral part of getting message out but not part of the campaign. i know a lot of people view that
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as distinction without a difference but there is a difference. they're not part of the campaign. when he had these meetings, he was senator, member of the armed services committee. had many meetings last year, 25 as member of the senate armed services committee. spoke with his spokesperson. he said he has these meetings regularly. today he met with the russian ambassador, also met with the ukrainian. and with all due respect to jeffrey toobin, it's not out of the ordinary to meet in their office with ambassadors. that's not unusual. >> but ask you this. he remembered meeting with the ukrainian ambassador but not the russian? >> in terms of which person and when, that's up to him to determine his recollection of those meetings. what i'm saying, he's answering questions not as member of the campaign because he wasn't. he was surrogate.
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senator, member of the senate armed services committee and had many meetings with ambassadors. that's important distinction that needs to be made in the conversation. >> i think the kwequote was i d not have communications with the russians. pretty broad statement, saying no communications. stand by please, someone i need on. on the phone is elijah cummings, senior member of the house committee on the oversight and government reform. thanks for joining us. you're saying he should step down. >> yeah. at the least don. he must recuse himself. let me tell you, first of all, let's be clear, donald trump, over and over again, president trump has said that attorney general sessions was one of his earliest and mage faithful advisers and leadings in his
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campaign. another thing that toobin did not mention was that this man has been the u.s. attorney for a state. and he knows the law. he's probably prosecuted people for telling untrue statements to the fbi and others. so he's held to a standard and as far as forgetting, keep in mind there were all kinds of things going on, all kinds of word going out that the russians were trying to be involved in our elections and he waited and saw all of this going on and still would not have known if it were not for the media. and i want to be clear. i don't get any joy seeing this, as matter of fact it's sickening because i think we're reaching a point where our very institutions that underpin our
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democracy are being threatened in so many ways. this is not a good day for america. and as far as president trump is concerned, and statement that they just issued, at some point people have to ask the question, where is the integrity? where is the rule of law? where is the obedience of law? all these excuses over and over again. and last but not least, when these issues came before our committee, oversight and government reform committee -- if hillary clinton -- they thought she lied, referring to justice department. if they imagined it, they did it over and over. all of us need to take a deep breath. attorney general sessions ought to at least recuse himself. then we need to look in to figure out if he doesn't remember a meeting with the russians, that's a problem too. >> congressman, nancy pelosi is
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saying she believes it's apparent perjury according to her. do you think that senator jeff sessions perjured himself in the hearings? >> i don't know, i want to find out more information. i can tell you one thing, just based upon all the information i have read and heard this evening, it sounds like he did not tell the truth. now he can say he misunderstood or he misforgot, all those other terms. at some point people, we got to go back to something called integrity. i grew up in a home where my mother and father pentecostal ministers, and lie is a lie is a lie. some kind of way got to come to grips with that. i can't imagine as lawyer -- and i've practiced over 30-some years.
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i can't imagine attorney general sessions being involved in this at all. he's over the fbi, number one law enforcement officer in the country. not trying to hold him to higher standard but i'm saying he should know that every syllable that he said to senator franken and to those who were making inquiries at him, every syllable was significant and he had the opportunity to all along come back and say maybe i forgot, give you additional information. >> as leading law enforcement official in the country should be held to the highest standard. >> that's right. >> do you think there's a distinction between him -- alice stewart, a republican strategist says there's a distinction between being surrogate and part of a senate committee. he was meeting as part of the senate, not as adviser or surrogate to the trump campaign.
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is there a distinction to you? >> that's what they're saying, but let me tell you something, these kinds of allegations, if brought before the oversight committee with the republicans in charge, believe me, would be a major investigation and they would be asking for his resignation today if he were a drchlt democrat. i can tell you that. gives me no joy, every time things like this happen, erodes the confidence of the american people in the very systems that underpin our democracy. and at some point people need to stop making excuses, let's get to the truth, have integrity here and hold this administration and all elected government to the highest standard. >> congressman elijah cummings, thanks for your time. >> thank you. >> our breaking news. then senator jeff sessions and
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adviser to the trump campaign had mead meetings with the russian ambassador but did not disclose them to the confirmation hearings. we'll be right back. it's easy to turn your vision into action. it's your trade. e*trade. are upgrading their watere filter to zerowater. start with water that has a lot of dissolved solids... pour it through brita's two-stage filter... dissolved solids remain! what if we filter it over and over? oh dear. thank goodness zerowater's five-stage filter gets to all zeroes the first time. so maybe it's time to upgrade. get more out of your water. get zerowater.
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we have more break news right flow to tell you about. white house staff members instructed by trump administration lawyers on tuesday to save records and material related to potential russian interference in the u.s. election. after asked to preserve those records. discuss that. back with me the panel. so much to get to here. discuss that now they're being told to preserve records, alice you were in the middle of your statement. had to cut you off to go to representative cummings. what do you make of the new development about records? >> unfortunately have to get to that point and tell people to do
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what the law requires of them. people supposed to retain records when working in those positions, as we saw in previous administration and clinton administration, we have to tell people what the law is. there are a lot of questions that need to be answered here and important to maintain the integrity of the investigation, it's proper to maintain records. but it's critical as i said before, it's difference being a surrogate for a campaign and member of a campaign. two completely different things. what he did with the meetings with russian officials was as senator, member of the armed services committee. perfectly normal. not out of the ordinary to have the meetings -- >> why not disclose that? >> as member of the trump campaign and not --
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>> the questions asked were about members of the trump campaign. >> he volunteered that information at the end of his statement. >> not the senate. that said, distinction without a difference. question asked about members of the trump campaign having conversations and meetings with russian officials. he had meetings and contacts with russian officials as senator and member of the armed services committee. two completely different things. >> mark, could he have not said i didn't do it in capacity as trump surrogate or adviser, but did speak with them in capacity as senator? >> yeah. there's no doubt he could. and let me just -- be pragmatic about the situation. would be smart for jeff sessions to come out forcefully and explain whatever happened in public setting and say i'm going to step aside, recuse myself because i don't want there to be
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any question about where the investigation is going. bottom line is, even if he does leave the investigation and were to try to cover something up, not saying he would or is, we would find out about it nachlt from strategic political point of view, why not recuse yourself. i think congressman cummings hit the nail on the head with that. bakari, two statements from the white house, one official and other one not sure if it's on background or not. but one said it's no surprise that senator al franken is pushing this story immediately following the president's successful address to the nation. conspiracy by democrats. and saying that the white house is taking proactive steps to push back against false and politically motivated attack.
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>> reason alice's statement doesn't fly and jeff sessions' statement and white house statement doesn't fly is because we all know he was important in the campaign. also not normal activity. 25 other members of the armed services committee, none met with the russian ambassador, only member of the armed services committee to meet with the russian ambassador has been senator jeff sessions, for him not to remember this or misremember it, he literally met with someone deemed by intelligence community to be a russian spy and recruiter of spies. and my legal background, not the jeffrey toobin of lawyers but when someone deliberately misleads or tells a falsehood
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under oath, committed perjury. whether or not on the campaign or not, irrelevant, but he was. and only member of the committee who met with the russian ambassador. all tell you he either knew or should have known the statement he was giving to the committee was false. martha stewart went to jail for less. i think we have to flesh it out a little bit more. but to preserve the integrity of the investigation as alsz said, least he needs to do is recuse himself. fbi is investigating him, he can't oversee investigation into himself. >> david, big picture this. be accurate to say only raises more questions about what exactly is the connection and affiliation between donald trump, his top officials and advisers, and the russians. >> absolutely. we have to go back to basics here. russians we now know were setting out to attack the
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integrity of our election process in this country, ultimately wanted to throw the election to donald trump. that is a very serious matter. and those questions were already circulating in the fall. when jeffrey sessions met with the russian ambassador, there were questions already out there about this and certainly since then been mushrooming questions about who talked to the russians and whchen. want to go back to bakari's point. reason the russian ambassador set sat down with jeffrey sessions not because of the committee. but he had two hats and he was close adviser to donald trump. that's the reason that russian ambassador didn't meet with 25 other senators that responded to
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the question about meeting with the russians. they were plainly seeking him sessions to form relationships, forge a stronger relationship to serve them. no knows what else. the american people have a right to know what happens when a foreign government -- russians tried to compromise our government. we have a right know. and to have investigations conducted with great care in a process that has integrity. and critical figure, attorney general in the united states, one of most important posts in the government, that person either has to be clean -- old statement was you have to be cleaner than a hound's tooth. that's lyndon johnson phrase. in that situation you have to -- or step aside and recuse yourself at minimum.
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we're back now with breaking
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news, attorney general jeff sessions, still a senator and adviser to the trump campaign, had meetings with russia's ambassador to the u.s. but didn't disclose them in his confirmation hearings. bring in chris and -- you've been listening to the breaking news, what is your take on it? >> sure, he wasn't careful with his language obviously, i don't -- >> can you hang on? statement from attorney general jeff sessions. i never met with any russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. i have no idea what this allegation is about. it is false. go ahead chris. >> bottom line is i don't see any hope or prayer of a perjury charge here.
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have to get inside his head to know what he was thinking and what he remembered. come up time and again in congressional testimony, it will not happen. but a strange set of circumstances. we know there's been an odd courtship going on with russia. i don't get it. it's a mafia state. putin is a thug. we all know that. >> read his statement now and play what he said in january. statement from jeff sessions. i never met with any russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. i have no idea what this allegation is about. it is false. i never met with any russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. i have no idea what this allegation is about. this is false. this is january. in hearings. >> if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the trump campaign communicated with the russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you
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do? >> senator franken, i'm not aware of any of those activities. i've been called a surrogate at a time or two during the campaign and i did not have communications with the russians and i'm unable to comment on it. >> mentioned he had been called a surrogate a time or two and "washington post," to be clear about this, when sessions spoke with kislyak, senator was senior member of the influential armed services committee as well as top trump adviser. played a prominent role on the stump after joining in february of 2016. not just surrogate but part of the campaign. adviser and key member of the trump campaign. julia? >> we have a tendency to think in these cases be an aha moment,
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perry mai per perry mason, i found the knife. but more comes out, on the range of possibilities, know the russians involved in the election, acted alone or collusion with the trump campaign and bunch of options in between that range. it's becoming harder day after day, disclosure after disclosure to say nothing is going on. to bridge the democrat/republican guide you have with your people on, i think it's safe to say all americans deserve to know and have confidence in a fair investigation. that investigation may say there's nothing going on. to me it's untenable that wouldn't recuse himself. >> i understand chris you're agreeing with assessment of no
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aha moment, just a number of things that add up and just don't seem right. >> yes. >> chris. >> if there were investigation, whether preliminary inquiry or full investigation, which i highly doubt at this point, he would have to recuse himself. but we don't know and we may not know for quite a while but has to be predcation to open up investigation. you can parse that statement a lot of ways and would have to get inside his head. >> thank you both. we'll be back with breaking news.
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attorney general jeff sigzs when he was a senator and adviser to the trump campaign had meetings and did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings. i have no idea what the allegation is about. it is false. back with me now. considering this drip, drip, drip. however you want to qualify it at this point, should there not
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be an innocent investigation into this just to clear the air? >> look, i truly believe senator sessions or general sessions of confirmed because he has integrity and adheres to the law and a man of truth and honesty. in this situation i believe he was in the right and acting as a senator and armed services committee and speaking with the russian ambassador. so many questions with the trump campaign and russian tie starting with general flynn and now with sessions, just for the fact of having the facts in this case, i think a special prosecutor would be the best way to move forward to remove any question of impropriety of investigation moving forward. >> do you agree with that? >> we are getting bogged down to
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be charged with perjury. one only has to lie about the federal fact and conversations with the sessions. they forgot or lied to the committee. i do think asking him to resign may be a step too far right now. it does need an independent investigation. the russian ambassador is a witness in the russian hacking that we are investigating. there is no way we can meet twice. there is no way he can investigate himself. i agree with alice that there needs to be an investigation. >> one of the former fbi officials. >> often said there is no aha
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moment. just a drip, drip, drip. that's how it starts. >> that's true, don. if there is a special prosecutor, he will have a hart time staying with the justice department. you can't manage that kind of thing and first he wants to be. these things have a way of mushrooming. it's worth remembering tonight that i objected violently years ago. it happened. the house of representatives. he said i never had sexual relations with that woman. >> breaking news and lots of it coming this evening on cnn. we will continue to follow it. i appreciate my panel. stay with us for the breaking news. that's it for us tonight. we will see you back here tomorrow.
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live from the george washington university in the nation's capital, this is a town hall with john mccain and lindsey graham. we want to welcome our viewers from the united states and around the world. 24 hours ago, president trump stood before congress and made the case for his presidential priorities. two leading republican senators will take this stage and take audience questions on issues facing the country. we reviewed the questions to make sure we cover a variety

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