tv CNN Tonight With Don Lemon CNN March 2, 2017 8:00pm-9:01pm PST
breaking news, attorney general jeff sessions speaks out. this is "cnn tonight." i'm don lemon. sessions saying he doesn't believe anything he said was improper or unwise. in the wake of his announcement he will recuse himself from any investigation related to the trump campaign. president trump defending sessions tonight and charging that democrats are quote, overplaying their hand. listen to this moment from the attorney general's interview with fox tonight. >> i don't believe there's anything wrong with united states senator meeting with ambassador from russia. >> right. >> i see you're asking questions about it, that's fine. but i think it was a perfectly reasonable meeting. i had professional nonpolitical staffers with me. and we discussed some important international issues. i learned something perhaps in that meeting. i usually did. so that's the -- what happened.
people were -- ambassadors were coming by to see me pretty often. >> here with more on the sessions firestorm and what it means for trump administration is senior white house correspondent sara murray. >> tonight the administration had hoped would still be riding high on the glow of president trump's speech to congress which they feel was very successful. instead facing yet another firestorm over russia. saw attorney general recuse himself from any potential probe about interactions between donald trump's campaign advisers and suspected russian operatives throughout the presidential campaign. the president today says he has total confidence in jeff sessions so for now his job could be secure but just as this was happening a new set of questioning arose about who exactly in donald trump's circle was talking to campaign
advisers. confirms what the "new york times" reported that there was in person meeting between the russian ambassador and michael flynn, and donald trump's son-in-law, now a senior adviser at white house. this was not disclosed when there were questions about the flynn talks. told me not aware of this at the time and not brought to their attention until later. and learning there was in fact a conversation between donald trump's national security advisers on the campaign and ambassador around the republican convention last summer. not going to end here. even though jeff sessions explained himself and recused himself. it's clear that the russian story and shadow it's casting over the white house will
continue. >> bring in robert ray, john flannery, and attorney stewart kaplan. good evening. thank you all for coming on this evening. robert, i want to play another clip from attorney general's interview on fox tonight. here it is. >> i have not had any such meetings, not meeting with russian officials on a continuing basis to advance any campaign agenda. sometime before that i had met in my office in official way with the russian ambassador. and so that was the answer i gave. i think it was an honest answer tucker. >> right. >> i thought i was responding exactly to that question and really became a big brouhaha. >> what do you think? >> again a lot of this stuff gets to what are we really asking people here about what
happened? if they had meetings, i don't think they by themselves amount to a lot. really the question is was there complicit with the russians, anything to suggest promises were made about what would be done after the election. >> that's not what he was questioned about in the confirmation hearing, he was asked did you meet with russians or have conversations. >> but that's reason the question is asked. i understood it to be surrogate in campaign as you accused me of. did i do anything improper with regard to russians and answer came back and he acknowledged and president did that language could have been pert and all in agreement about that. >> robert says the question is what happened during the
meetings and what was discussed. >> like most politicians they're dangerous in the sense they can't keep mouth shut. often compromise best defense. said recuse himself, be better off. now we know the motive. it's all about sanctions. met with ambassador at republican convention they were gutting a plank to have sanctions against russia. thing he remembered today in his press conference was he came in really upset about ukraine. sanctions. what was the meeting with flynn about? sanctions. and early december, i bet you about sanctions. >> he's not saying that explicitly though john. not what he's saying you're inferring that from his conversation about the ukraine they weren't happy, so on. >> they weren't happy, but i think they were more than not just happy. he said a couple of other
things. i should have identified my meeting with the ambassador. and when asked about the campaign said two things, one, you know, they're so gossipy, these ambassadors, and also said i think he came to my office because of the fact that i held this position in the campaign. he headed national security advisory committee for trump. you put those together and you have hypothesis to test in real investigation by subpoenas by special prosecutor. if going to have invertebrate republican congress not doing its duty by the country and can't trust the justice department, we've got a constitutional crisis. >> are you saying perjury? >> yes. stronger today. other prosecutors seeing facts unfolding and i'm sure saying now that general statement he didn't talk to any russian representatives when you take
into account what he said today on fox and at press conference as reported by "washington post." things he said that weren't in the transcript that "the washington post" reported. >> john is saying with his explanation and more he keeps talking, i think he's saying backing himself into a corner here and letting on more than he probably wants general public to know or anyone who might investigate it. >> should be debriefing his staffers immediately. >> stewart? >> you have to look at statute. that requires that not withstanding the statement is false. we know today based upon his admission, he made a false statement. but statute requires it was made willfully, in his mind had the intent to mislead the person asking the question. that's going to be a very difficult if not impossible
hurdle to overcome. >> it's not going to happen. >> also understand that -- >> go ahead robert? >> perjury cases are difficult to prove. that's not really had a what is on here. i don't think any reasonable person given what we know in the 24 hours that this was a story that attorney general was intending to intentionally mislead the senate on this issue. >> he said i should have told them about the ambassador. >> that's retrospect. that's not perjure. >> that's intent. >> not even close. >> go ahead stuart. >> i wasn't implying by any stretch of the imagination that the attorney general made a willful misleading statement. i was saying that investigation would require to establish that it was made willfully. and statute and law requires
they would have to have established corroborating evidence. not just a false statement but also have to establish other evidence outside the context of the statement itself. i don't think this in any way is chargeable offense. i think it's a red herring, a big distraction, not the way i would -- >> no. just not true. >> not the way someone wants to start their career three weeks into the job. >> that's how he got the job. why do you think people lie about things? conscious of guilt, something they did wrong. shakespeare said guilt spills itself for fear of being spilt. that happened at press conference, gave us motive for misleading it and underlying offense is what are the russians doing to interfere in the election and why would the trump campaign cooperate? it's about the sanctions that president obama butt in in late
december and sanctions about crimea earlier. that's the trade-off. that's hypothesis you test in investigation, is this the motive for allowing interference in our presidential election by foreign state. >> that's a lot of inferences piled on top of inferences. >> that's not. certainly not. >> that's why we have investigations. >> why did flynn leave his office? >> let him answer john. >> this investigation will not be led as perjury investigation of the attorney general. the key news today is not whether he testified or facts were false or -- key is he made the decision to recuse himself in the best interest of the country. department of justice capable of handling this. >> yes they are. >> deputy retained about i president obama. career prosecutor, have a hearing next week and be confirmed and department of
justice go on just find with the attorney general recused to look into the issue with the assistance of the fbi to fully and fairly investigate it. >> that's a polly anneish attitude. not when the heads the department. >> he's not the subject of the investigation. >> "wall street journal" said he was subject of investigation. not a target, didn't have enough to indict. but that's critical to consider for entire department that bills itself as -- >> it's a big department. >> you don't think the deputy attorney general considers herself -- jeff sessions his or her boss? >> not in recusal situation. boss will be walled off. with regard to this investigation it by the deputy
attorney general. >> john? >> there is no way to repair the fact that the head of the entire department -- you have to believe even by appearances has nothing to do with anything going on in the department. >> ask jim comey. >> i've been on this very show criticizing comey for how he conducts investigation. i don't know where he is. >> all right. thank you gentlemen. stuart you got to jump in. see you soon. >> that's all right don. >> get you back soon. coming back, russian ambassador in the spotlight under revelations about multiple meetings with president trump's team. what do we know about ambassador and what is he trying to achieve. announcer: get on your feet for the nastiest bull in the state of texas. ♪ ♪
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breaking news, more trump campaign advisers disclosing they met with russia's ambassador to the united states before and after the november election. who is this man? michelle kosinski reports. >> reporter: russian ambassador to the u.s. sergey kislyak has spent a dozen of his 66 years living and working as diplomat in the united states. he and wife out and about around washington, d.c. >> i've been working in the united states so long i know almost everybody. >> reporter: straight out of central casting. blunt and stands out.
>> reporter: trained as engineer in russia and described as highly intelligent. joined foreign ministry at height of the cold war in 1977. ambassador to the u.s. for more than eight years running but some u.s. intelligence officials believe he's more than that, far more. very close ties to russian intelligence. according to current and former senior u.s. intelligence officials. speaking at stanford described the u.s./russia relationship after donald trump was elected president. >> leading into the worst orient of our relations after the end of the cold war. >> reporter: expressed optimism. this week attended president's address to congress but now second time in weeks the ambassador finds himself at center of a storm regarding the
trump white house. then incoming national security advisor michael flynn told members of the administration when he spoke to kislyak by phone prior to the inauguration, he did not discuss sanctions with russia. later admitting he didn't remember whether they talked about that, forced to resign. those conversations captured and recorded according to u.s. intelligence officials because russian diplomats' calls routinely are. kislyak not responded to the latest flap over jeff sessions. saying nothing to add to this. and to questions whether he himself is a spy. >> stop spreading lie and false news. >> reporter: echoing a new familiar refrain. >> something i've heard from former spies is russians really stepped up spy game in recent
years. see that look at embassy in washington, d.c., speculate half the personnel are related to intelligence. >> reporter: as russia continues to figure into the controversy in america right now, whether hacking, spying or just talking. michelle kosinski, cnn, state department. >> bring in coauthor of "isis: inside the army of terror" and former moscow bureau chief. fascinating. attorney general in trouble for saying he hadn't met with russians but when he had twice with the russian ambassador. play what he said. >> talked about a number of issues. one the ukraine and had disagreement on that. ukrainian ambassador been in office the day before. had a little bit of a
disagreement over ukrainian issue. number of discussions like that tucker. but i don't recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way. in no way coordinating of effort by doing anything improper, and i don't believe anybody in that meeting would have seen or believed i said one thing that was improper or unwise. >> right. >> it was really a sad thing to be attacked like that. but i think we've explained it and we intend to move forward. >> meeting took place four months ago. says he doesn't recall discussing the campaign i think quoted in any significant way. is that plausible? >> look, the problem here is we don't know. i mean, yeah, sure, it's plausible. other things could be plausible too. that there were other people in that room and if we could hear from them, if there were notes and information, maybe we could
judge more. but right now this is a common problem in a lot of these reports because ultimately it's very important to get to the bottom of it and to get the facts. and what we have is drip and drab and incomplete information. talking to somebody could have a benign purpose or a very malign purpose. until we can really understand what they were talking about, and not only they, sessions, but other people. it's going to be a monstrous situation and really -- >> jill? >> i was thinking don, russians are probably ruing the day they thought it would be a good idea to get involved in the election. other than make it chaotic et cetera. this is turning into really a mess -- >> i was wondering -- >> donald trump wanted. >> go ahead. >> you know this ambassador don't you? >> pretty much. as much as -- i've met him many
times. socially, directly, interviews, et cetera. yes. >> what did you think of him? easy i to forget him? >> you know, i don't think so. yes. you might say he's rumpled, you know, gray hair, yeah. i suppose people might say that. but then they said that about putin too. but i think he is an experienced diplomat. he used to be the deputy foreign minister of russia. representative to nato. now is he a spy? probably what you want to ask. i don't think -- let's define spy, but i do not think that the russian ambassador is running around putting microphones in people's bedrooms in washington, d.c. i mean his job -- there are people in the embassy who do that. his job is to collect information. so that information, who did you
have lunch with, what did they say? what did they say in passing? mr. sessions mentioned lot of rumors and gossip. gossips can be very useful too. all of this gets collected and is sent back to moscow as we send information back to washington. and it's used many times for intelligence. >> i want to get michael in here to help us make sense of this ambassador, we're trying to figure out -- i mean of course he should try to figure out who the incomeling president is and figure out information and get to know people. but he's met with then-candidate trump, senator sessions, michael flynn, jared kushner, is this normal? >> how many people from the trump campaign need to meet with this one ambassador right? here's the thing, al franken asked in no uncertain terms did you have contact with russian
officials? all he had to say, sure, met kislyak in my office, at republican convention. talked about syria, disagreed about the ukraine. no fire there. >> in my capacity as senator. >> but he lied or misremembered. michael flynn lied to the vice president of the united states about the nature of his communication with kislyak which was done on the telephone. mike flynn former head of the dia. himself a spy, not knowing that nsa would be listening to that, big mistake. only question i have is why are they covering up, misremembering or so promiscuous with the facts as to their interactions with russian officials? as to whether kislyak is a spy, people in the kgb didn't cultivate or run assets but cultivated information. lot of officers in the cold war
for posing as journalists for tass, the soviet news agency. almost a distinction without meaning. as pointed out to me today. when you're in the russian embassy at residentura, where the military intelligence guys are, you are aware, have intimate knowledge of what russian intelligence officers are doing. you can be tasked to gather information on behalf of them. >> watching the michelle kosinski report you made a good point about oral testimony and there's written testimony as well speak of jeff sessions. >> i haven't checked written but stands to reason put the same question before him. if answered no. >> senator leahy did. >> so he answered it wrong
twice. met in my office and we disagreed. telling me this roly-poly charming rotund soviet style apparatchik looking ambassador you met during sanctions regime, russian intervention in syria, annexation of crimea and ukraine, you had argument about geopoliticians and forget about it? makes no sense. >> play a little bit more with tucker carson on fox. >> little over two weeks later the national security adviser has to resign because of conversations he had also in capacity as nonsurrogate for the campaign with the same ambassador. did anyone on your staff say to you, perhaps we should clarify this? could be a problem. >> never gave it a thought, never considered it, i don't believe anybody mentioned that
to me. quite different circumstances to me tucker. unrelated. >> okay what was -- >> go ahead. >> what -- >> meeting with two senior staffers, retired military people. nonpolitical. meeting with 25 ambassadors in recent months while i was senator and russian ambassador was just one of them. >> making distinction they never talked about the election, jill, and he was not working as surrogate when he met with these folks. with this ambassador. >> but -- but the issue could have been obviously ukraine, immediately think not only of the war in ukraine, sanctions -- ukraine is a very sensitive subject. whether he was acting in capacity just on the committee or whether actually in some capacity working or -- being
representative -- he was wearing both hats and ambassador knew that. if he got a straight answer that in jeff session's mind came from the mind of person on the intelligence committee, it still has resonance in a different platform, which is what does the donald trump's campaign going to do once they get into office. >> you think that response he gave tucker carlson was nonsensical? >> didn't make any sense. nobody advised him to tell the truth to congress during confirmation hearing because you run the risk of perjury and losing position when you're confirmed and found to have been lying? either lack of iq or horrible judgment. i don't know what. what jeff sessions said about russia in 2015, conventional standard foreign policy republican. condemns russia for ukraine and talks about baltic states
nervous about the invasion of their territory, recommitment needed for nato, et cetera. then in march appointed to trump campaign, chairman of the national security advisory committee i think. >> february. >> and tone begins to soften. nice to have better relations with russia. then interview with "new world" saying we should work together. adopts donald trump's prorapprochement or conciliatory tone with russia. could say occurying favor with new bosses or something has happened. in the midst of this meeting with kislyak. you know. fake news right? look at chronology. just facts. >> thank you all, jill, michael. up next, president trump standing by attorney general and accusing democrats in congress
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attorney general tonight in a statement insisting jeff sessions did not say anything wrong. bring in peter byner. hilary rosen. paris dennard and ron nehring. good evening to all of you. let's play exactly what the attorney general said during his confirmation hearing back in january. >> 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 campaign and i did not have communications with the russians and i'm unable to comment on it. >> here's what he said earlier tonight on fox news. >> well, tucker, the question that came to me from senator
franken who went into great length saying that day some new story had come out and said that various trump surrogates were meeting continually with russian officials as part of the campaign. and he raised that question with me and my answer went straight to that. it was first time i had heard that. so i focused on that i had no had any such meetings, not meeting with russian officials on continuing basis to vns any campaign agenda. sometime before that i had met in my office in official way with the russian ambassador so that was the answer i gave and i think it was honest answer tucker. >> right. >> i thought i was responding exactly to that question and really became a big brouhaha. >> what do you think of the
explanation? >> i think it's sound. if you're sitting united states senator you're not calling shots day to day on how the trump campaign is being executed, that's not your role. show up at events and so on. but not operative on behalf of the campaign. so i take jeff sessions at his word on this. i really think that in terms of his meeting with him in senate capacity, just wasn't on his mind when he responded to the question. >> hilary, why are you laughing? >> first of all, we don't know what the conversations were. and you know, i think there's a bigger picture here. look, you've had experts on tonight and experts been on tv all day today who know a lot more about global affairs than i do, talking about russia is most significant global relationship the united states has. this is an important issue. but here's the bigger issuer i think for viewers and americans,
who holds this president accountable? for actions of his -- his own actions and for his political appointees' actions? don't have investigative body that is neutral. run by political appointees. republican party dominating on capitol hill looking for their own agenda. who is going to hold those folks -- >> he had on -- >> dean like figure. >> said -- whether the democrats or republicans were in the majority, special prosecutor is the only one who can do it because would have subpoena power and then would have to tell the truth with that. >> instead of president trump constantly saying that there's nothing there. he would do well to say we have
nothing to hide so i'm okay with at any point investigation >> i want to bring paris in. did sessions mislead, misspeak? flat-out commit perjury, misremember, what did he do in front of the senate committee? >> you know don, i don't think he committed perjury at all. i believe what he did was respond honestly to the question that was being asked of him by senator franken. i believe he interpreted it as did you have these meetings in your capacity as a surrogate for the campaign? were you meeting as surrogate, doing something in your capacity for the trump campaign? and i believe like the president said he could have answered it differently or said more accurately to reflect the true nature of all of the meetings that he had or what they talked about. but i think in his response he
felt he was responding accurately because he was saying in my capacity as united states senator. >> that's not what -- >> i know where you're going but say this. wasn't just the exchange with franken. asked in written questionnaire roughly the same question by patrick leahy. several of the president-elect's nominees or senior advisers have russian ties. have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day? that's straightforward question. >> can i jump in, all the defenders keep saying he was only referring to himself as senator, not a surrogate. he's the one who said i was a surrogate, called a surrogate for the campaign and i never met with the russians. >> brought in as adviser in
february. >> it wasn't franken who used word surrogate, sessions used it to describe himself and then said i never met the russians. i agree perjury is hard to prove. can't know -- but what he said was not true. trying to parse he thought only referring to senate meetings, not borne out by the transcript. >> the transcript -- >> paris i got to get to break. stand by. no, i'm good. come on, moe. i have to go. (vo) we always trusted our subaru impreza would be there for him someday. ok. that's it. (vo) we just didn't think someday would come so fast. see ya later, moe. (vo) introducing the all-new subaru impreza. the longest-lasting vehicle in its class. more than a car, it's a subaru.
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nominees and senior advisers have had russian ties. have you been in contact either before or after election day. >> key point is about the 2016 election. he responded no. i believe at the time the senator was saying meetings he had -- reminder, over 25 meetings with different ambassadors throughout that time frame, that meeting he referred to was not about the 2016 election but in capacity as senior member of the armed services committee. he answered accurately. >> even if you can make that claim based on the response to leahy, you can't to franken. he specifically says i was a surrogate and i had no contacts with the russians. >> he also said -- there was also a meeting at republican convention. paris, if i see you at super bowl and then i say i saw paris
at super bowl but we didn't talk about football, i think people would say what were you guys talking about at super bowl? >> same thing that attorney general lynch said meeting with clinton before the -- >> you know what happened? let comey lead the investigation. go on. >> also -- big difference. >> should not have done that. not under oath either. >> didn't say she didn't remember what they discussed. they went through line by line as opposed to what jeff sessions is saying, i tonigdon't really remember. here's the problem, trump surrogates are now parsing individual meetings. we've had carter, sessions, flynn, campaign manager, don jr. getting paid $50,000 in december by russian businessman for a speech. there's just been this
consistent connection with russia. and instead of jeff sessions getting on tv today and saying yes, there ought to be a thoughtful look at this, we understand why the american people might be concerned, instead of the president doing that, we have them parsing this back and back and back. >> let's say maybe they didn't talk -- talked about grandkids, who knows. benefit of the doubt but question here is that he said something that wasn't true, whether it was intentional or not, when he was under oath in oral and written statement. and just today after that ron, we hear that white house disclosed that jared kushner, michael flynn, met with kislyak at trump tower. so why all these connections? why all these meetings ron? >> well, let's be really clear on this, that is that the
russians were involved in information warfare campaign that directly affected u.s. elections. that's been well-established. and it's not helpful to the white house to have constant, been now a couple of days -- unfortunate for the white house because president had a good speech and good response to that and now back talking about russia. someone internally really needs to get a hold of this issue and have all of this information completely come out at one time and put the issue behind them. house and senate intelligence committees are looking into this. they do have subpoena power. not mentioned so far. and democrats and republicans on the house and senate intelligence committees get the same information. so it shouldn't be overlooked that's the case. at the same time no one has accused anyone of crime committed, other than the fact that the russians did commit what is in effect a crime, messing around in our elections
and they continue to do it, doing it in france, throughout europe right now. three big important elections the russians are actively involved there. that needs to be exposed. >> i have been posing the question all night. i have seen almost every democratic and russian to the mike. he has to step down. doesn't it seem like they are overplaying their hands and shouldn't they call for the investigation instead of saying the man has to step down? this is just unfolding. i think he might have to step down for lying under oath. the larger issue is not what jeff sessions said. was there complicity in the russian effort to undermine the election. people say the best thing is to get it out on the table.
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