tv CNN Newsroom With John Berman and Poppy Harlow CNN October 18, 2017 7:00am-8:00am PDT
all right. good morning, everyone. i'm john berman. >> and i'm poppy harlow. top of the hour, 10:00 a.m. eastern. we do have breaking news. attorney general jeff sessions in the hot seat, literally, about to sit down for this senate judiciary committee. you're lacking at live pictures of capitol hill, where at any moment, his former colleagues in the senate will likely deliver a grilling. and they really want answers, actual answers this time, from sessions. >> all right. this is a big deal, especially after jeff sessions avoided testifying before this committee last spring. i want to go up to capitol hill right now. our manu raju speaking with the senate whip, dick durbin, right now, who will be part of this today. let's just dip in. >> -- spoke to the senate judiciary committee. he actually did not -- he said he didn't have any contacts with russian officials. and it turns out that he actually did, with sergey kislyak. how much do you think that the committee, the democrats are going focus on this?
are you going to focus on this new line of questioning today? >> well, of course that investigation is underway. he's recused himself from the russia investigation. bob mueller and the deputy attorney general working on that aspect of it. but i can guarantee you, after that exchange between the attorney general, then nominee and nasenator franken, people wl be very careful with the questions they ask and he'll be very questions with how he answers. >> and what do you want to know about the conversations that attorney general sessions had with the president of the united states about firing of james comey? >> that's a legitimate question, but not likely he'll answer. >> is that something you'll focus on as well? >> i'm working on daca d.r.e.a.m.ers. i may get to that. >> reporter: thank you senator. thank you, sir. there you heard senator dick durbin right there, talking a little bit about his line of questions right now. he did want to focus a lot about the issue of d.r.e.a.m.ers. that is, of course, jeff sessions has been a hard line immigration hawk. so that's one of the topics of questions that we're going to hear. but interestingly, though, this is the first time that senator
sessions, former senator sessions, the current attorney general, has come before the senate judiciary committee since janua january. that was when his confirmation hearings took place. he did not disclose he had immediate metings in january with sergey kislyak. that led to a big dustup between al franken and jeff sessions. they'll have a chance to have another exchange later today. sessions did speak to the senate intelligence committee in the spring and said he really didn't do anything wrong. he didn't mislead the senate judiciary committee. he did not collude with the russian russians in any way, but clearly those questions are not satisfying democrats. expect them to push them pretty hard on those issues. but republicans, too, watch for them to come back and ask jeff sessions about whether or not james comey handled the clinton e-mail investigation properly. particularly in light of the president's own tweets from this morning, even suggesting that the justice department should
open up an investigation into james comey and the e-mail investigation, whether he exonerated hillary clinton prematurely. major questions about it, we'll see here in the coming minutes here, guys. >> manu, one interesting point. what we just saw was very interesting as jeff sessions sits down right there. he was wandering back there, talking to each senator, as only a former member of this committee would do. perhaps trying to remind them of his former relationship. here's the committee chairman, chuck grassley. >> all right. we're waiting to hear from the chairman of the senate judiciary committee, chuck grassley of iowa there. he'll make his opening remarks, followed by the ranking member, dianne feinstein. let's listen in. >> for all the people in the audience, we welcome you, as well. i thank the general sessions for being here, for this oversight hearing. oversight is just one of the
critical functions and constitutional responsibilities of our branch. it's an opportunity for congress to investigate and question the policies and actions of any executive branch. it's an opportunity for the executive branch to take responsibility for any of those policies and actions. and it's an opportunity for congress to defend its constitutional powers and check any abuses by an overreaching executive branch, and it's been that way for 230 years. some have complained that we haven't had an oversight hearing with this attorney general earlier. my reason for deferring was that the attorney general should have his team in place before appearing before us.
certainly, attorney general holder and attorney general lynch did have their respecive teams well in place by the time they appeared here, as you are now here. the other side has been blocking executive nomination for the past ten months, significantly delaying the department of justice' ability to get management in place and things in order. but we're here now and ready to do our oversight. the department of justice is an incredibly important part of the executive branch, enforcing laws and ensuring public safety against foreign and domestic threats among a lot of other responsibilities. our citizens look to the department of justice to provide federal leadership in preventing and controlling crime. we rely on the department to seek just punishment for those guilty of unlawful behavior and to ensure fair and impartial
administration of justice. the department currently faces many difficult issues. our country is challenged with the overgrowing threat of foreign or homegrown terrorism. we've seen terrorist incidents involving -- evolving around the europe, especially impacting europe. in the uk alone, there have been at least a half a dozen major terrorist incidents in the past nine months. and i have a couple of paragraphs here of other things that have gone on, both in europe and the united states, that to save time, i'm going to skip over. but there's been a lot of people killed and terrorist attacks in the western world are something that we ought to be very concerned about. they are real, and we must protect our country by lawful means. congress has tried to do so by
providing lawful authorities, such as section 702 to have the fisa amendment act. congress passed the legislation, and president bush signed it into law in 2008. after more debate and president obama's support, congress reauthorized the law in 2012 unchanged. the law is again up for reauthorization. section 702 is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. it's up to congress to reauthorize this important national security tool, while preserving privacy and civil liberties and increasing transparency for the american public. general sessions, i am interested in hearing your thoughts on that important legislation. in september, the fbi released its annual crime data, for the second year in a row, violent
crime increased across the united states. homicides, 8 .6% increase, cities like baltimore, chicago, missouri have seen massive increases in homicide. baltimore is on pace to top the number of homicides in new york city, even though the population is almost 8 million less. and this country continues to be mired in a national epidemic of overdose, death, and abuse of opioid drugs. over 47,000 people died in 2014. 50,000 died 2015. and last year, 64,000 people. now that we have a new administration, i want to know what the department of justice is doing to reduce violent crime, to help ensure that the citizens around the country are safe. i also want to find out what the department is doing to combat
opioid crisis. and we all care deeply about this issue. the abuse of prescription painkillers, heroin, synthetic opioids, fentanyl, as an example, are destroying lives and communities across iowa and the nation as a whole. i know that it's a national issue. i co-sponsored the comprehensive addiction and recovery act known as cara. it passed through this committee, signed into law last year. cara addresses the opioid crisis in a comprehensive way, by authorizing almost $900 million over five years for prevention, education, recovery, and law enforcement. just this past weekend, reports suggest that the congress gave a pass to big drug companies making prescription opioids, by enacting the -- quote, the
ensuring patient access and effective drug enforcement act, end of quote. doj and dea, last year, signed off on this bill. now former dea employees are railing against the law, pointing fingers at lawmakers. if dea had problems with this bill, they were the ones that could have given -- had the expertise to warn congress. and they didn't. the obama administration actually provided language for the bill and signed it into law. i'm planning on having an oversight hearing that will include your department, general sessions, to see what, if anything, needs changing. october 1, this country suffered through the deadliest mass shooting. and i don't need to go through the history of that, but it will be in my printed statement. and aft has recently, recently
briefed judiciary staff on the addition to guns called bump stocks. we'll be looking more at that issue. in september, the president announced a wind-down of the deferred action against childhood rival programs, daca, for short, with a six-month extension. my office received preliminary data showing 2,021 individuals who had daca status terminated for criminal and gang activity. we want to know whoa these criminals are, what kinds of crimes they're committing, and if they're with any gangs. separately, general sessions, you announced earlier this year doj's recommitment to criminal investigation enforcement. 50 more immigration judges were supposed to be added to the
bench this year and 75 more next year. we need to know what steps doj has taken and what still needs to be done to reduce this immigration court's backlog. there's another issue that i want to address that came up in the news just yesterday. in june 2015 and again last week, i wrote to the justice department about russia's acquisition of uranium one, which was aproved during the last administration. that transaction resulted in russians owning 20% of america's uranium mining capacity. it turns out during the transaction, the justice department had ongoing criminal investigation for bribery for officials and the russian company making the purchase. russians involved in the conspiracy were reportedly coordinating with high-level officials, some close to
vladimir putin. while all of this was going on, the clinton foundation reportedly received millions of dollars from interested parties in the transaction. then secretary clinton's state department was one of thingses that gave a thumbs up to the takeover. somehow, despite all of this, the previous administration approved a transaction. in my letter, i asked the agencies involved in approving the transaction if they were aware of the criminal probe and the intelligence operation examining russian activity. this committee has an obligation to get to the bottom of this issue. the committee is also waiting for responses to 11 oversight letters sent to the justice department on matters from which the attorney general is not recused. there are more letters that haven't been answered. the letters date back to january 2016. i expect thaese letters will be answered, including most
importantly, those from the previous administration. i also want to ask you about the fairing of former director james comey. it was an important moment for the department of justice and for this country. the american paem hameramericant to know why he was fired, especially in the middle of so many high-profile issues going on, including the investigation into russian interference in the 2016 election. so thank you, general sessions, for being here. and for your continued service to the country. senator feinstein? >> thanks very much, mr. chairman. good morning, mr. attorney general. this is the first time you've appeared before this committee and i want to say welcome, but as a former member, you know well the oversight authority that we hold. as i mentioned, at your confirmation hearing, i've got a deep belief of the independence of the attorney general.
although we've had attorney generals who view their job as serving the president and as an extension of the white house, i do not believe that's the job of the attorney general. for the attorney general's master is the people and the law, importantly, his job is to enforce federal law fairly and equally for all americans. which is why i was surprised that in april, you declared that the justice department, quote, is in a new area. this is the trump era, end quote. i want for a moment to explore with a few issues what you mean by that. and let me begin with voting rights. during your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote, the aggressive enforcement of laws to ensure access to the ballot for every eligible voter without hindrance or discrimination, end quote, would be a, quote, special
priority, end quote. i was really very pleased to hear that. however, this year, the justice department discarded its long-standing position on a texas voter i.d. law. for nearly six years, the department of justice had argued that the texas law was unconstitutional, and intended to discriminate against minority voters. based on evidence that shows voter i.d. laws, quote, have a disproportionate affect on minorities. despite this, just two weeks after you were confirmed, the department dropped its opposition to the texas law. the department also changed its position on another key voting rights case. this one involving ohio's purge of voters. under ohio's procedure, voters who hadn't cast a ballot in six years and failed to return a
postcard were removed the from state voting rolls. this process, reportedly, resulted in the removal of 40,000 voters in one account alone. cuyahoga county, which covers cleveland, and its surrounding suburbs. civil rights organizations challenge the process, arguing that the national voter recession act, forbids the state from removing individuals for failing to vote. in july, 2016, the justice department told the court it opposed ohio's purge and in september 2016, the sixth circuit agreed that ohio's process for removing voters from its rolls was illegal. this ruling cleared the way for thousands of ohioness to cast ballots in the 2016 presidential
election. however, that decision is being appealed to the supreme court. and now the department of justice is taking the side of removing voters from the rolls, even though the last election clearly demonstrated how this policy harms eligible voters. i would now like to turn to lbgt rights. throughout my career, i've worked to ensure lbgt americans have equal rights and protections under the law. and it's important to me that we preserve these protections. and the committee should not tolerate efforts to undermine the progress that's been made. as your confirmation hearing, you testified, and i quote, we must continue to move forward and never back. i will ensure the statutes protecting the lbgt community's civil rights and their safety are fully enforced, end quote.
so, i was very pleased to learn that the department is sending a top hate crimes lawyer to iowa to assist with prosecution of the case of a transgender teenager murdered last year. according to the times, this decision was personally initiated by you. however, i was also surprised and concerned to learn that this summer, the justice department switched its position on title 7, and is now arguing that the law does not protect lbgt workers. then you issued a memorandum to all attorneys and agency heads, instructing them that the department must now take the position that title 7 does not protect transgender employees in all cases.
in other words, it appears that your department is urging the courts to allow employers to discriminate against all lbgt workers, across the country. i hope you'll clear that up in your testimony. there are other controversial policies being implemented at justice. the president's travel ban, for example. multiple federal courts found the muslim ban unconstitutional, including another court in hawaii just yesterday. these travel ban efforts are an affront to our nation's commitment to religious liberty, yet the justice department staunchly defends the ban. on daca, you recommended in september that the program be terminated. and i think we believe these young people have placed their trust in the government, they have come out of the shadows, they have provided all their information, to authorities,
they seek the opportunity to get right with the law. and i think most of us believe these d.r.e.a.m.ers embody the american spirit and have made positive contributions to the country, so we should stand by them. finally, we will also want to hear about the firing of fbi director, james comey. president trump initially said he fired director comey based on your recommendation and that of deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein. within days, however, the president admitted to lesster holt on nbc news that he actually fired comey because of, quote, the russia thing, end quote. it's also been reported that the day before he fired director comey, president trump summoned his top advisers and told them
that he had prepared a termination later. it's important, i believe, to understand what role you had in this process, including conversations with the president and others in the white house. last week, the democratic members of this committee sent a letter, making it clear we would be asking about director comey's firing at this hearing. and that we expected answers or the assertion of a valid claim of executive privilege, by the president. in conclusion, attorney general, your department, as you know, is incredibly important, and you are, as well. our country depends on a department that's independent, committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of all americans. it's not just some. so we look forward to hearing from you on these and other important issues.
i thank you, mr. chairman. >> general sessions, i would like to swear you at this point. do you affirm that the testimony you're about to give before the committee will be the truth, the whole truth, and not but the truth, so help you god? yeah. before you speak, i would lake to -- we have a long session ahead of us here, probably with you, i don't -- because there's going to be a lot of questions. since we did not get a copy of your opening remarks, i was wondering if it would be possible for you to submit your longer remarks and maybe summarize so we can get to questions sooner. but i'll defer to you, but that's my request, but whatever time you need, take it. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you. ranking member feinstein and distinguished members of the
committee, former colleagues and friends, i appreciate this opportunity. it's an honor of a lifetime, you have to know, for me to serve as attorney general, of the united states of america. you can understand and know that with my 15 years in that department, and my 20 years in this committee, with oversight of that department, i understand the respondesibilities that i have, the duties i have to undertake, and i'll do my best every day to be worthy of the trust you've placed in me. every single day, the men and women of the department of justice work to protect our national security against terrorist threats, defend our civil rights, reduce violent crime, stop deadly drug dealers, and strengthen the rule of law. today, i would like to share some thoughts about what we are doing, give you insight into the exciting activities that are
ongoing. the department of justice is resolutely focused on dealing with the terrorism threats that we face. they are real, the military tells us we can expect not a reduction after isis is defeated, but maybe even an increase in attacks. the president's executive order is an important step to ensuring that we know who is coming into our country. it's a lawful, necessary, order that we are proud to defend. and indeed, most may not know, the supreme court has already vacated one court's injunction against that order, and we're confident we will prevail as time goes by in the supreme court. we know, colleagues, that violent crime is rising after almost 30 years of decline. for two years in a row, we've seen the fastest overall increase in violent crime in 25
years. the homicide rate increased 20% in two years. that's the -- and in 2015, the increase was the greatest in 49 years. i believe it's a trend we must confront. the president understands this in one of his first executive orders, he directed us in simple terms to reduce crime in amer a america. we have heard that challenge, we embrace it, and we are setting about to do something about it. at the department of justice, we understand a key fact. and we all need to understand this. 85% of law enforcement officers in america are state and local. they are better trained and more professional than ever. it's a huge factor in the decline in crime in my opinion, that we've seen previously. and we know crime in america will never be reduced without a partnership between federal and state officers.
there's no doubt that federal, state, and tribal resources professionally applied and in accord with scientifically proven policies can positively impact the crime rate. if you look at our cities, as mr. chairman, you noted, new york has dedicated itself over decades to highly effective, proactive, community-based policing. they saw 344 homicides last year. chicago, on the other hand, while only a third of the size of new york, logged more than twice as many murders. so our professionals in the department have been intensely studying how research-based, proven crime reduction techniques can reverse sea breezes they produced, in my opinion, a brilliant set of initiatives. i was very pleased with their plan. whatever the violent crime might be, have been in the next few
years, it will be lower if these policies are followed. i can assure you of that. our aim is not to see how many people can be incarcerated, but to focus on the most dangerous repeat offenders and actually reduce crime and violence in america. an effective crime reduction strategy also means starving criminal enterprises of their profits, the assets seizure and forfeiture program is one of the most effective tools congress has provided. i know a number of you are concerned about the operations of that program. i hear your concerns. i have established an asset forfeiture account director to oversee the entirety of this forfeiture program and ensure it operates in an accountable responsible way, and be able to report to you at any time you need information about it. the department is committed to protecting the civil and
constitutional rights of all americans and to prosecuting hate crime violence. every american, regardless of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation must be safe from violence and criminality. we will not shy away from defending first amendment rights. we stand ready to enforce federal law, to protect the right to speak and to assemble peacefully and to defend the free exercise of religion. we're in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic this country has ever seen. we've seen nothing like it. our availability of drugs, lower prices, increased purity, along with a deadly substance, fentanyl, has resulted in climbing death tolls across this country. it was 52,000 last year died of overdoses. 64 in '15, and 64,000 died in
'16. many of these deaths resulted from opioid overdoses that began with prescription drug addiction and then moved to heroin and fentanyl. there can be no doubt, colleagues, we need much stricter accountability in the manufacture and the prescribing and the distribution of addicted opioids. we do not need to delay this any longer. it does often lead to death through other drugs. we know that most of the heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl that is fueling the drug crisis was brought across our southern border by powerful drug cartels, bringing violence, addiction, and death. an important factor in our long-term success requires securing our borders. for decades, the american people have asked for a just, lawful system of immigration. they are right in their demands. we can end the illegality.
president trump has sent an unambiguous message to the world. and the illegal flow has been reduced by almost by half. but there is more to do. we can end the lawlessness. legislation is essential. the president has set out a reasonable and effective plan with numerous immigration priorities for this body to consider, including a border wall, significant asylum reform, swift border returns, and enhanced interior enforcement. with the progress already achieved, our country is on its way. and whether it's an end to sanctuary city policies or an e-verification system to ensure lawful employment, they are supported by the vast majority of americans. there has been, i'm afraid, an erosion in the respect for the rule of law. too often, advancing political
agendas has been substituted for following the law. this department of justice respects congress and the constitution and we intend to enforce the laws, as you've written them. the daca policy produced by the last administration could not be sustained. it was unlawful and contrary to the laws passed by this constitution -- this institution. in congress, you now have the ability to act on this issue. i would just note, the president has said he wants to work with congress. he has a heart for young people. but we have got to have more than just an amnesty, friends. we need a good improvement in the illegality that's going on, and there is an opportunity right now. i'm telling you, an opportunity now to do something historic. so the department is also directing taxpayers' dollars to the overwhelming number of cities and states that cooperate
with federal enforcement, but grant funding is not an entitlement, it's an allocation of taxpayer dollars by the department to advance the goals set by congress and the department of justice. so, we urge our jurisdictions to cooperate with federal officials, stop letting criminal aliens back on their streets, that further victimize your communities. it does not make sense. we are grateful that the overwhelming overwhelmingly, most cities and jurisdictions cooperate fully and to those who have heard our message and are now cooperating, so after 20 years in this body. i understand the responsiveness, mr. chairman. something you have been vocal about ever since i've been on this committee. and we're going to do so. we inherited a very significant backlog of unanswered congressional inquiries, chairman grassley, dating back
to 2015. and we have already reduced it by half. you can be sure we'll continue to reduce that backlog. and it will remain a priority of ours. finally, i want to address a letter i received last week from the minority members of this committee. that letter demanded that i determine by today whether the president will invoke executive privilege upon issues which i may be asked about today. i have considered this request very carefully, but i can neither assert executive privilege nor can i disclose today the content of my confidential conversations with the president. under the administration of both parties, it is well established
that a president and entitled to have priority, confidential communications with his cabinet officials, his secretary of state, his secretary of defense, his secretary of treasury and certainly his counsel and the attorney general of the united states, who provides counsel. and that such communications are within the core of executive privile privilege. until such time that the president makes a decision with respect to this privilege, i cannot waive that privilege myself or otherwise compromise his ability to assert it. as a result, during today's hearing and under these circumstances today, i will not be able to discuss the content of my conversations with the president. i understand you have an important oversight responsibility today and hope you will respect this long-standing practice and respect the duty that i feel and
that i face. mr. chairman, thank you and i would be prepared to do my best to answer your questions. >> i would like to make two points before i start to ask questions. number one would be you -- and only because you mentioned the backlog of letters, remember that in january, the president put out an advisory that they would only answer questions for chairman of committees. that leaves out about 35 republicans. that leaves out 48 democrats. i wrote to the white house. he's rewritten that advisory or whatever it was with the understanding that he would answer questions for any member of congress, republican or democrat, chairman or not. the other thing is, for the benefit of the committees and the long oversight hearing we're going to have today, i thank you for your cooperation on a request i made last time that if you get at the end of your seven
minutes and you start before the last second hits and you ask a question, go ahead and ask that question. you go ahead and answer it, general sessions. but don't have dialogue after the time's run out. some of you noticed, i think, that there was special consideration given to senator leahy and senator hatch and ranking member feinstein. i think they deserve that courtesy as former chairman of this committee and as of ranking member. so if they run over a little bit, i hope just a little bit, then that's okay with me. >> what's a little bit? >> yeah. >> uh, i'm -- the only one i paid much attention to is mrs. finestein, and she was a couple minutes. so don't crow about that.
you and director coates wrote a letter to the leadership about the importance of 702. fisa. you said that reauthorization of section 702 is the department's top legislative priority. question, if section 702 were not reauthorized, can you tell us what impact that would have on the intelligence community and our national security interest? mr. chairman, having been involved since i've been in the department with many of the day-to-day impacts of section 702, i believe it would have a detrimental impact of significance. it would -- it reduced our ability to identify terrorist acts and potential acts before they happen. that was one of the goals that we had when we passed the patriot act. and i know that senator hatch
and senator leahy worked very hard on that. 702 has proven its worth. courts have upheld it. it has one of the most rigorous oversight procedures that -- of any act that i think in existence today. and it enables us to focus on terrorists s abroad and identif those who could be threats to u us. >> now that we have that in place, the fbi, for example, is able to search limited 702 collections subject to minimumization procedures using u.s. person data to help connect the dots. if congress were to impose a warrant requirement on assessing information obtained through so-called u.s. person queries, how would that affect the fbi's
ability to do its job. >> mr. chairman, it's just not practical, and it's not legally required in my opinion, to have a warrant requirement for this information it originates abroad, by people who are not protected, by the u.s. constitution, and i do not believe that we could carry out the responsibilities that we're expected to do with a warrant requirement for any of the 702-type material. >> there will be some talk of reforms in congress, i'm sure. are there any reforms that can be made that would help provide more transparency into the amount of information that the intelligence agencies collect or the amount of searches conducted, especially with respect to u.s. persons? >> i think we're certainly open to discussing that, with the members of this committee. a number of you have proposed
ideas and we would be pleased to provide our suggestions, our support, our concern as appropriate. >> yeah. i want to ask a question that looks like history, but it was in the news recently, yesterday, i believe. according to government documents and recent news reports, the justice department had an ongoing criminal investigation for bribery, extortion, and money laundering into officials for the russian company making the purchase of uranium one. that purchase was approved during the previous administration and resulted in the russians owning 20% of the american's uranium mining capacity. what are you doing to find out how the russian takeover of the american uranium was allowed to occur, despite criminal conduct by the russian company that the obama administration approved to make the purchase? >> mr. chairman, we will hear your concerns. the department of justice will
take such actions, as is appropriate, i know. and i would -- i would offer that some people have gone to jail in that transaction already, but the article talks about other issues. so without confirming or denying the existence of any particular investigati investigation, i would say i hear your concerns and they will be reviewed. >> i know you're probably reluctant to go into some detail on that, but i would like to remind you that deputy droerire rosenstein supervised a case when he was attorney general in maryland. i don't think it would be appropriate for him to review his own conduct, do you? >> it's his own decision. he's a man of integrity and ability, if he feels he has an inability to proceed with any investigation, it would be his responsibility to make that determination. and should consult, as i told
you i would, and as i have done, with the senior ethics people at the department. >> reports suggest that the clinton foundation received millions of parties for interested party. bill clinton received $500,000 for a speech in moscow, june 2010, from the russian government aligned bank. the same month as a speech russia began the uranium acquisition process. this fact pattern raises serious concerns about improper political influence on the process, by the previous, by the clintons during the obama administration. has the justice department fully investigated whether the russians compromised the obama administration's decisions to smoouf away f smooth away for transactions? and if not, why not? >> we're working hard to maintain discipline in the department. it wouldn't be appropriate for
me to congressmen on any ongoing investigation. >> okay, let me move on to another issue. 2017, last year- well, i remember, criminal referrals regarding payments in connection with transferring human fetal tissue. that report referral outlined evidence from the organization's own financial records that they profited from the sale of fetal tissue, which is in violation of the law. no one from the department or the fbi replied to my criminal referral or sought unredacted copies of the evidence outlined in the report. 7 months after the report referral, there is no indication that anyone from the fbi or justice department has actually read the referrals and the full reports. i hope you will committee to providing the committee written confirmation when the relevant
justice department/fbi personnel have completed their review of both the referral and the majority staff report. that's my question and that will be the last one. i'll go to senator feinstein. >> thank you, mr. chairman. we will -- i will evaluate your request, personally, and make sure it's promptly and properly handled. >> okay. senator feinstein? >> thanks very much, mr. chairman. i wanted to ask you a question or two about the firing of the fbi director, specifically, i have your letter dated may 9th to the president. specifically, what was your designated role in the decision to fire director comey? >> it is -- it's a matter that i can share some information
about, because the president, i'm sorry, has talked about it and revealed or -- that letter. he asked that deputy rosenstein and i make our recommendations in writing. we prepared those recommendations and submitted it to the president. senator feinstein, i don't think it's been fully understood that the is thasignificance of the e that mr. comey made in the clinton matter. i don't think i've heard of a situation in which a major case in which the department of justice prosecutors were involved in an investigation, that the investigative agent announces the closure of the investigation. and then a few weeks before this happened, he was testifying on -- before the congress, will
comey was, and he said he thought he did the right thing and would do it again. so the deputy attorney general rosenstein, who's got, what, 27 years in the department of justice, harvard graduate, served for eight years, as u.s. attorney on the under president obama and four years under president bush, he said that was a usurpation of the position of the department of justice that position. but particularly we confirmed that he reaffirmed he would do it again. i think that's a basis that called requester a fresh state after the fbi. mr. comey had many talents. there's no doubt about it. no hard feeling about that. but i am really excited about the new director, chris wray, who you've confirmed with an overwhelming vote and i believe hays going to be able to do the
job of fbi director with great skill and integrity. >> what exactly did president trump truell you was his reason for firing director comey? i know he has said he thought the department was a mess and he asked you and mr. rosenstein to take a look at it and my understanding was these two letters were presented, the letter from you, dated may 9th, and the letter from rosenstein, dated the same date, a response to that request, to take a look at the department. >> that's what i can tell you. he did ask for our written opinion and we submitted that to him. it did not represent any change in either one of our's opinion as deputy rosenstein has also
indicated, i believe. and we were asked to provide it and we did. >> did the president ever mention to you his concern about lifting the cloud on the russia investigation? >> senator feinstein, that calls for a communication that i've had with the president and i believe it remains confidential. >> but you don't deny that there was a communication? >> i do not confirm or deny the existence of any communication between the president that i consider to be confidential. >> when did you first speak with the president about firing director comey? what date? >> senator feinstein, i think that's also covered by my opening statement. i believe the president has the right and i have a duty to meet with him on proper occasions and provide such advice, legal or otherwise, as i'm called upon to
do. i have done that. and i believe he has a right to protect that confidentialitity until appropriate circumstances exist that he might choose to waive that privilege. >> all right. let me go to another aspect. and that's emoluments lawsuits. the president is facing three different lawsuits alleging he is violating the emoluments clause of the constitution. in these cases, strangely, to me, at least, the justice department is defending the president. what did the department do to determine that it's appropriate to represent the president? was the office of legal counsel consulted? >> i believe so. and i would say that it is the responsibility of the department of justice to defend the office of the presidency in carrying on
his activities against charges that are not deemed meritorious. >> and you believe that emoluments is part of that charge? >> well, you know, senator feinstein, i guess i'm not able to discuss legally all the case law and the history of it, except to say we believe that this is defensible and we've taken a position that our top lawyers believe is justified. >> well, let me go to another subject. and that's the pardon of sheriff joe arpaio. president trump pardoned the former maricopa county sheriff, who was convicteded of criminal contempt for defying a court order to stop racially profiling
and detain iing latino motorist based solely on suspicion they were undocumented immigrants. "the washington post" reported that before he decided to pardon arpaio, the president asked you to drop the criminal case against arpaio. did the president ask you whether the case against arpaio could be dropped? >> senator feinstein, i cannot comment on the private conversations i may have had about the president. i would just say that attorneys in the department of justice at the request of the judge prosecuted that case. a federal judge found the defendant guilty for his actions, and the president decided to issue a pardon. >> well, let me ask you this. what was the process then by which the decision was made to
pardon arpaio? >> i'm not aware of the details of it, to the extent to cwhich can provide you in writing, i would be pleased to do so. >> well -- >> but the president has the power to issue pardons with or without the department of justice involved. and that has been done in the past in some very dramatic-type pardons. this pardon, evening, was well within the power of the president to do. >> well, my understanding is that pardon requests usually go through the office of the pardon attorney in the department of justice. and decisions are made according to certain standards, set out in that off's rules governing petitions for executive clemency. it has been reported that the process was not followed here, as you so indicate.
so that you are saying, in fact, that there was no process. that the president simply made the decision to pardon arpaio, who had been convicted. >> i'm not intending to say that, at all. i'm just saying to you that i am not -- personally at this moment, to the prepared to give you an accurate answer, because i don't know that i remember or know it precisely. let me get you something in writing that would be accurate. i think i would prefer to do that. >> all right. >> are you done? >> i'm over. i'm sorry. thank you. >> senator hatch? >> well, welcome back to the committee. we appreciate the service that you've given and both on this committee and in your current position. eas well as others. before getting to my questions, i want to set the record straight on something. over the weekend, "the washington post" wrote an article accusing congress of passing a bill last year that "the post" claims gutted the
dea's enforcement authority. now, the article insinuates that i, senator white houhouse, and other bill's sponsors put one over on congress by sneaking through a bill that no one knew anything about. now, mr. chairman and general sessions, ranking member finestein, these allegations are complete bloaloney and we all kw it. the full senate agreed to the bill by unanimous consent. every member of this senate supported the bill twice, first in committee and then on the floor. so i don't want to hear anyone claim they didn't know anything about the bill. the bill us with seven pages long and took all of five minutes to read. if the senate minority leader wants to take to the floor and decry this bill of unconscionable and as grounds of withdrawing the president's chosen nominee, he should remember he himself supported the bill twice, with once in
committee when he was a member of this committee and again on the floor. we all supported this legislation. every one of us. we all voted for it twice. i've asked "the post" to allow me to publish a response to their 10,000-word hit piece, maligning me and my colleagues. i hope they'll do so and i believe i deserve an opportunity to respond. now, moving on, i have a few questions, and i would appreciate it, mr. attorney general, if you would keep your answers brief. first, i would like to discuss a substance which is often offered a as a substitute more opioids. many states across the nation have adopted laws to legalize marijuana for medicinal use based on research suggest iing there is some medicinal value to be found it. to be clear, i remain opposed to the legalization of marijuana. however, i introduced with senator cassidy a bipartisan
marijuana drug studies act of 2017, or the meds act, because i believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and dangers of marijuana. and i'm very concerned about recent reports that doj and dea are at odds on marijuana research, particularly when it comes to granting applications to grow marijuana for further research. can you clarify the position of the justice department regarding these applications? >> i would be pleased, senator hatch. and thank you for your leadership. and i've been honored to serve under your chairmanship. this -- we have a marijuana research system working now. but there's one supplier of the marijuana for that research. people have asked that there be multiple sources of the marijuana, from medicinal research and have asked that it
be approved. i believe there are now 26 applications for approval of suppliers who would provide marijuana for medicinal research. each one of those has to be supervised by the dea, and i have raised questions about how many and let's be sure we're doing this in the right way, because it cost a lot of money to supervise these events. so i think it would be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but i don't -- i'm sure we don't need 62 new suppliers. >> well, thank you. on another topic, i remain firmly convinced that we need to revisit original intent requirements in our law. because of the lack of mens rea requirements in our laws, i believe that many americans may be unwittingly breaking the law while not having the slightest idea that their behavior may be illegal. to address this problem, i
recently introduced the mens rea reform act of 2017, which sets a default mens rea requirement, unless a statute explicitly states that an offense is intended to be a strict liability offense. general sessions, would you agree that menas rea reform nees to be a part of our confession on criminal justice reform? >> well, it should a part of our conversation, it has to be, and you've made sure that it is over a number of years, you've raised it and discussed it and i've heard you articulate your concerns. yes, i think it should be a part of what we do. and we would be pleased to work with you to evaluate what kind of legislation might be appropriate. >> well, withank you, and i wit you. just two weeks ago, you issued a memorandum detailing 20 principles of religious liberty, as well as guidance for executive departments and agencies in implementationing those principles. the very first principle is,
with i think, the most important. quote, the freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, unquote. and it, quote, is not a mere policy preference to be traded against other policy preferences. it is a fundamental right. now, general sessions, would you say this status of religious liberty is a fundamental and paramount right and poses the psalm obligation on the legislative branch as it does on the executive branch? >> i think it does. i would just say this, senator hatch. your legislation that you worked so hard and passed, the religious freedom restoration act, was a big part of the foundation of the principles that we set out in that religious freedom guidance that we produced at the request of the president. we believe that there is a lack of appreciation of the