tv MSNBC Live With Hallie Jackson MSNBC October 18, 2017 7:00am-8:00am PDT
that wraps us up this hour. i'm stephanie ruhle. now my friend is here, hallie jackson. you are looking live at the room, attorney general jeff sessions will be front and center. and democrats hope this time will be a little different than last time sessions was there. because they want to talk russia and hear the attorney general talk about it. looking for promises. the ag won't interfere with the special counsel investigation. we have live coverage. also this morning, you've seen this headline, the president accusing a florida lawmaker of lying about a phone call he made to a grieving widow with questions now about
empathy. about sensitivity. about the time and place for politics. and especially about what caused all of this in the first place. what happened in niger that led to the soldiers losing their lives. we're getting to all that. plus, the bipartisan deal with a new tweet from the president in just the last little bit. who is in, who is out and who is still on the fence? a lot to get to over the next 60 minutes as we wait for the hearing to begin with senate judiciary committee members. garrett haake is in the hallway right outside the hearing room. and this is a significant moment potentially. jeff sessions' first appearance before the judiciary committee for months now. talk about what democrats want to hear from him. >> reporter: well, i've been talking to democratic senators as they have been arriving for the hearing. and they say by and large, jeff sessions has a lot of work to do to restore his credibility with democrats. you remember, he was here during his confirmation hearing in
january where he said he had no contact with russians during the campaign, which turned out not to be true. so that set things on a pretty negative tone with democrats. and now you've got the trump justice department really at the center of essentially every controversial issue of this presidency where it goes to the russia investigation and the dismissal of james comey to the special prosecutors work to daca to the muslim ban. i mean, you name it. jeff sessions is right in the middle of it. and democratic senators have put him on notice that they're not going to allow him to sort of wiggle out of answers by saying he doesn't think it is appropriate to talk about conversations he's had the with president like he did in front of the intel committee many months ago. they are determined to get answers today. so, you know, to overuse the cliche, jeff sessions will be in the hot seat here today. democrats are very anxious to get him in front of the camera and to get him in front of this panel and really grill them on all these issues. >> three minutes into the show, first use of the phrase "hot
seat" goes to garrett haake. as we look at the attorney general walking into the courtroom. we'll go to pete williams watching this from the washington bureau. a lot of topics that the attorney general will be asked about today. you have russia inquiry, you have daca and immigration, for example, what are you going to be watching for a in the hearing? >> reporter: well, this is the first real oversight hearing for jeff sessions in the judiciary committee. he testified in june, but that was really to answer what james comey had said about the circumstances of his firing. since then, jeff sessions has changed a number of obama-era policies on sentencing, much tougher on immigration, his campaign against sanctuary cities, so all of that, i think, is going to come up as well because of the way he's changed the direction of the justice department, which is, of course, what elections do. they have consequences. as for russia, i think good luck with that. he's recused from the russia investigation. he may be asked more questions about his meetings with the russians during the campaign.
i'm sure that the answers will be the same as he gave last time. there really isn't much he can say about the russia investigation because he's recused, a decision which, of course, made his boss, the president, very unhappy. >> and pete, explain, as we are watching the chairman, chuck grassley, give his opening remarks. we expect to hear from him and senator dianne feinstein, the democratic ranking member, we expect that opening statement to run 25 to 30 minutes. we are monitoring that, but this is routine. this happens every year. this is not abnormal. we would think that jeff sessions would come in and have the oversight committee hearing, right? >> reporter: well, it's typical for attorneys general to be called up before the senate and house judiciary committees for what they call oversight hearings, which typically talk about whatever the hot issues of the day are and members ask about problems in their own districts. and the hearings inevitably evolve to that. what is unusual here is that there have been a number of attempts to get the attorney
general up for these oversight hearings. and for various reasons, that hasn't happened. so this is the first real true oversight hearing. i think it's unusual that it is happening so late into the term. it's happening in october. so that's a little unusual. >> pete williams, we know you'll be watching that. and we'll be coming back to you with any news we get out of this thing. pete, thank you very much. that's secretary chuck grassley delivering opening remarks at the senate you dish arjudiciary. we'll hear from dianne feinstein and we'll bring you news as we get it. but we want to hit the other big headlines of the day. we are closely monitoring this appearance on capitol hill. and we are looking into president trump's phone calls into the phofamilies of one of soldiers kill in the apparent ambush in niger. peter, in the last two hours,
there have been developments. >> reporter: that's exactly right. first we heard from the white house yesterday that the president spoke to the four families of those american service members who died a couple of weeks ago in niger. we now know more details about those conversations because a congresswoman from florida who was traveling with the widow of one of the young men who was killed spoke out about it. the president refuting the criticism from that congresswoman's statements. the president tweeting just a short time ago the following, he wrote, democratic congresswoman totally fabricated what i said to the wife of a soldier who died in action and i have proof. sad! we have reached out to the white house to try to find out what that proof may be. you remember in the past, president trump said, even teased for weeks if not months, that he had proof that there may be recordings of his conversations with the former fbi director james comey. of course, there proved not to be any such recordings, so no word on what that proof is, but about the fundamental of this
firestorm. the back and forth, the latest coming from the florida congresswoman, fredericka wilson. who said the following, describing the conversation that president trump had with myesha johnson. the widow of the sergeant that was killed. take a listen. >> he was almost like joking. he said, well, i guess you know he, something to the fact that, he knew what he was getting into when he signed up. but i guess it hurts anyway. you know, just matter of factually, that this is what happens. anyone who is signing up for military duty is signing up to die. and that's the way we interpreted it. and it was horrible. it was insensitive. it was absolutely crazy and unthu unnecessary. i was livid. >> reporter: she is detailing a conversation that she overheard on speakerphone that lasted three to five minutes as she and the widow of sergeant johnson
were en route to receive his body that returned to his home of miami. the white house basically saying that the conversations of this time to the president when he's speaking to families who have given the you want mat sacrifice, they are private, not detailing anymore, not disputing the account but saying these words are being taken out of context here, but they won't go beyond that right now. accusations of who litizatipoli. not always making phone calls to fallen families. and also against this congresswoman who in a statement late yesterday said in effect that president obama would never have said something like this. it's become a pretty ugly back and forth. >> peter alexander in the white house briefing room where peter in several hours from now, we expect to see sarah huckabee sanders taking questions from you, me and other reporters in the room. thank you. i want to bring in our panel for the hour, nancy cook and associated press white house
reporter joel corbin as we keep an eye on what is happening just behind us here on capitol hill with the judiciary committee. but i want to stay on this topic as we listen for news related to the attorney general's hearing today regarding this back-and-forth now over this gold star mom, six months pregnant, two young kids, you have seen the images of her weeping over her husband's flag-draped casket. the president now says he has proof that congresswoman fredericka wilson is lying. are we going to see that proof? >> i don't know. the president tends to go down these rabbit holes similar to the comey firing. >> he literally said this before. he had proof of something and turns out that did not exist. >> right. and what we're seeing is the president sort of made this off-the-cuff remark that he had called more fallen service member families than president obama had or that his predecessors had. and basically, he went out on a limb there. i think he said it off the cuff. you have seen him do this many times before. and now he's sort of rather than walking it back, continuing to double-down on it.
and really going into this multi-day news cycle about whether or not who is more compassionate, is he the compassionate one, were his predecessors more compassionate, and it is not a great political win for him either way. >> it reminds me of the recording of a call made after guam was threatened by north korea and there was a recording made of the president's conversation with one of the leaders there. and the president said, well, at least your tourism numbers are going to go way, way up. he said/she said here, but it's the kind of comment that the president makes. and this underscores a problem that has developed for this president where he seems again and again to have trouble hitting the right sympathetic notes of kind of being the consoler-in-chief, the role after the hurricanes, after various attacks, he just seems to have trouble connecting with people on the emotional level sometimes. >> i think it is important to pull-back to remember why we are talking about this in the first place. it came from a question about the deaths of four green berets,
four american soldiers in niger. so there are still questions related to what happened in western africa, to what happened in this apparent ambush, and that is a conversation i want to have with hans nichols joining us from the pentagon. i'm juggling things here, hans, there are some questions about what we don't know related to this ambush, apparently. and what we do know. can you break it down for us here? >> well, we'll stick with what we do know. right now there are investigations into an hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute, into what went wrong that led these four soldiers in this group of about 12 u.s. forces training with nigerian counterparts to be totally ambushed. >> let me stop you there. that's normal, right? whenever an american service member is killed, there would be an investigation or a look into this minute-by-minute breakdown, right? >> reporter: yes. if there's a death in a combat situation or in a non-combat situation, they look into if it is training, they look into what happened.
now, they will go deeper here, in part, because one of the faults here is about the intelligence that led them into this position. they thought they were in, quote, a quiet area. that's what they thought they were doing. they were going to visit some villagers. they were speaking with the villagers. and there's some indication they may have been delayed by the villagers. and when they came out of that meeting with the villagers, they w. ambushed and out of their cars and dismounted. they were out of their vehicles and came under the ambush by a much larger force and started returning fire. and then air support, air medivac was there within 30 minutes. officials stress the 30-minute medivac is pretty good for this part of africa. remember, they are in western africa, northwestern africa, a pretty remote place. they relied on the french medivac. i was speaking to a u.s. general about this last week who said, look, they have done 29 such patrols in this part of niger and were totally routine. so that is why this was such a
surprise. they thought they were in, quote, a quiet environment. >> hans, do we look at the evacuation process, tenippicicay the dod wants to get them out in an hour, but there are questions on whether that is possible in parts of africa specifically, right? >> reporter: the golden hour is the rule, that's what they want to achieve. they recognize in africa you are not always potentially going to achieve that. in part, because you have special operators in remote areas. and just when you look at what could have been the recovery mission when they still thought that david johnson could have been alive, you had forces coming in from all over the globe flying into niger bringing in all kinds of assets. so this isn't, although there are 800 to 900 u.s. forces in niger, this is not a place with huge air support or close air support. and you certainly rely on the french for medivac. >> so this investigation, this review by the department of defense, by the pentagon, will look at where the intelligence
went wrong. it will look at the evacuation plan issued. and it will also look at the villagers here, right? and the role of isis, what happened, what do we know at this point, if anything, about that? >> reporter: so the preliminary report was that this was an isis-affiliated group and that became ultimately the thought, the conclusion, the assessment that it was a group associated with isis. what they don't know is whether or not the fighters are foreign. they don't know whether or not this is a self-proclaimed group that declared allegiance to isis or whether or not this group was actually involved in foreign fighters losing territory in the caliphate. we know that raqqah is all but fallen. now, the question the villagers had is, there will be investigations into that as they try to figure out what happened. i want to stress, though, this is standard. service members die, especially in action, and they will do a thorough job on top-to-bottom, minute-by-minute, trying to figure out what went wrong. we have the formal investigation to imply negligence and to imply
there was a big mistake made that could have been avoided. that's a different kind of investigation. and that formal investigation hasn't been triggered. halli snerks. >> hans nichols, i know you will follow-up on that story certainly. we'll come back to the news that we're seeing on the screen right now, you're seeing senator dianne feinstein at the senate judiciary oversight hearing with attorney general jeff sessions. the first time in months he's appeared in front of this committee. the democrats have a lot of questions for the attorney general about a lot of topics. we want to get to everything from immigration and daca, that program to protect roughly 800,000 undocumented young people in this country to the special counsel inquiry. looking for promises that the attorney general won't interfere with what bob mueller is doing. i can tell you something that has come up with senator chuck grassley kicking off the hearing. he wants to hold the oversight hearing on the bombshell "60 minutes"/"washington post"
investigation into a law passed by congress via unanimous consent that to critics undercut the dea's ability to go after pill mills, insurance companies pumping drugs into certain areas of the country and the opioid crisis. we are keeping an eye on what is happening here at this hearing. we'll bring you any news as we get it. we expect the attorney general to speak after senator feinstein does. but we are following what else is happening on the hill, specifically this fight over health care. on monday, president trump declared obamacare dead. on tuesday, he seemed to support a bipartisan move to stabilize it. today, well, back to square one, maybe? the president doesn't seem supportive in the new tweet just out. we are looking at the compromise and the long checklist for congress with lawmakers and 30 days left in their year. the latest behind one of the biggest health care deals, next.
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we have been keeping an eye on the senate judiciary hearing with dianne feinstein speaking. this is before attorney general jeff sessions addresses the oversight committee. so far they've brought up the issue of lgbt rights. something we expect them to be pressed by democrats on the city. we'll keep an eye on this. once we get news here or the questioning begins, we'll go to it. and we are covering the
bipartisan deal on health care facing an uncertain future. you've got senators lamar alexander and patty murray announcing this plan, this deal to fund and fix key parts of obamacare. right after the president seemed optimistic and the ad visors say not so fast. just before senator alexander took the stage for a conversation, he got a phone call from the president himself. >> he called me to say that, number one, he wanted to be encouraging about the bipartisan agreement that senator murray and i announced yesterday. number two, he intends to review it carefully to see if he wants to add anything to it. number three, he's still for block glarants sometime later, t he's going to focus on tax reform this year. so that's -- i was thinking this morning, sort of a parlor game around washington is that president trump doesn't know what he's doing. i think on health care he
probably does. >> okay. stamp of approval then from senator alexander. joining us onset is katelyn owens reporting for axios and political analyst michael steele. nancy and jill are back as well. katelyn, at some point after the phone call with the senator and before we came on the air for the show, the president tweeted he's supportive of lamar as a person and also of the process. but he says he can never support bailing out insurance companies who have made a fortune with o-care. so he's not so into what senator alexander and senator murray are talking up. >> i think he's gone back and forth on this. we have seen a lot of confusing statements coming out of the white house yesterday. he's been tweeting and talking. it's back and forth. i think something that alexander said this morning at the event is he doesn't want to play his hand too early. he still wants leverage here. >> meaning the president doesn't want to play his hand here. >> right. yes. it is not surprising that he hasn't thrown weight behind this because republicans want the best deal out of this. >> what other headline stood out
from the conversation you just had with the senators? >> we talked about the future of this deal. so it was alexander, cassidy and tim kaine. they think it will end up passing in one way or the other. but i think that alexander, he wouldn't predict whether cassidy/graham eventually passes. that shows while this is the next step that they were all wanting to try collectively, we really don't know where things go from there. >> well, that's a good point. so it is interesting because susan collins is making that point this morning, even as you talk about how senators alexander and cassidy and king are optimistic. here's what senator cassidy said and we'll get your take on the other side. >> will you get a vote on this? >> well, that is the big question indeed. yesterday i would have told you absolutely. it seemed to me that everything was going very well, that the president, despite in some ways precipitating the crisis, had come on board with this bipartisan approach.
but now the white house is sending conflicting messages. now that some opposition seems to be arising, i'm not sure what is going to happen. >> so to sum that up, michael, a question mark. >> well, yeah. this is all nice, fun and games in the united states senate. no one is talking about the house. they just think -- >> so talk about the house. >> well, we are just going to pass all this stuff and graham/cassidy and al alexander/murray and fitch and abercrombie or something. but the fact of the matter is this is not done in isolation. >> correct. you have mark meadows who says this is a good start. and you have mark walker, the republican senate committee member, saying this is unacceptable. which celebrates your point. >> exactly. why can't the republican caucus, which is comprised of republicans in the senate,
republicans in the house, get a working group together between the two to come up with an outline to something that will be acceptable to both memberships. so that you don't do this dance, this sort of phony, fake move, oh, is the president with us. this is the bipartisan deal in the republican caucus. that's where you go. >> we want to make sure we know that the attorney general jeff sessions is delivering his opening statement as we talk about what is happening on the hill to the senate judiciary committee. their oversight hearing. he's going to speak for the next, maybe eight minutes or so, we think. and then he'll begin getting questions from senators in the room with him. we're keeping an eye on that. and as we do, we want to keep up the conversation about the other topics on the hill. because michael raises the question, why don't they get together to hammer out the michelangelo deal.
>> yes, patty murray and lamar alexander came up with this deal. but the whole white house is obsessed with passing tax reform and the senate budget this week. they are no focused on health care, president trump, although tweets about health care, is not particularly animated by it. and i think the white house sees tax reform as the next legislative victory. being pulled into health care is not something the white house wants. >> both questions from u.s. reporters in the news conference yesterday had to do with obamacare. the president delivered the response about backing the short-term deal. i said to mark shore, what is going on? the legislative affairs director said the president applauds this but is not endorsing the whole thing. >> which is not what it sounded like in the rose garden yesterday. once it seemed like the president supported this deal, there was a lot of push-back
from conservatives and then you have him speaking in front of the heritage foundation last night and kind of pulling that back. and part of problem is not just that you have the senate and the house coming together to figure out what they want, but we don't know what the president wants. did he want to sign this? is he okay with the fix before the real deal that will happen at some point. we don't know what he's willing to sign. >> that's why the republicans actually have more leverage here than they seemingly give themselves. the president doesn't know what he's wanting. he doesn't care about the situation. so it makes it easier to you. we are all unified on this. with alexander's bill, he's with it until he gets deal from conservatives. then he lightens up to something else. if they come together, you have a greater chance of getting the president behind it. >> i had a source say to me last
night, the president likes to keep his deals open. he likes to be open on this. >> republicans are saying this is an ensured bailout. they don't like it based on that principle, but at the end of the day, i think some of this is ignoring reality with real chaos that is happening now on these exchanges and could happen in the future. and i mean, i think that republicans are focused on tax reform. and that pressure is going to build so fix it. and lamar alexander is out there saying his fingerprints are all over this deal, the president does, so trump can say this is his deal. and if it passes, that's a victory that he will be able to claim. >> isn't a lot of this about what happens in 2018 to get something in place for the alexander/murray deal so it is
stabilized and there's not so many issues come midterms. >> absolutely. everything is gearing to the window in 2018. what does that mean for republicans who are currently in office and have to go out to talk about the successes over the last year. and the candidates, as the piece that no one knows exactly which way it is going to play. >> health care as we noted is one of 17 trillion things that congress has to be looking at over the next few months. that the administration is going to be talking about as well. in addition to what we are watching on the screen right now. the new direction of the justice department, some of the initiatives it has pushed, specifically the travel ban with the attorney general in the last couple minutes in his opening remarks saying he's proud to defend that travel ban, which as you know has been tied up in
this. garrett, very broad discussion we expect to hear when democrats and republicans begin to question the attorney general in about five minutes from now. >> reporter: yeah, it was interesting, i was inside the hearing for the opening statements from the two republican ranking members that want to talk about pure criminal justice issues as part of the department of justice on the republican side to voting rights issues. something the democrats very much want to talk about. one of the few issues of significant overlap of republican chris. over the last week or so, they have made it clear they won't accept sort of squishy answers
from jeff sessions. they are discussing the recusal, it won't be enough. they very much intend to hold his feet to the fire of this, to answer those questions, which have not gone away over the last few months. >> did he bring up james comey, garrett? >> reporter: he did. people want answers. as did feinstein. it is a narrow issue that neither party is particularly satisfied with how it has been explained thus far. >> garrett haake. i want to bring back our folks on set. because when you talk about charles grassley bringing up the fired fbi director.
flashback to the stated reason why the president fired james comey in the first place. it was because comey had been unfair to hillary clinton. in ten months, does that not -- what happened? >> that is how you sum it up. you start in one place and end up in the other. the reality of it is, the attorney general has been on the bubble with this president for some time. still on the bubble with the president. and i think, you know, part of this is going to the hill to do some clean up with the members to, you know, patch up the relationship certainly and to sort of rebuild his brand in the administration. but it also doesn't take away from the fact that there is still these conflicts that are out there that the administration doesn't want to have to deal with. and the only thing they are hoping for right now is that he doesn't make it worse in any kind of answer that is he gives. >> well, we're going to see that when he gets questioned in the
next three moninutes. and nick ackerman, i want to bring you in here. he was a u.s. assistant attorney. nick, do you foresee this hearing as being productive? are we going to come away with more concrete information, specifically regarding russia, some of the other topics, than we did before? >> we should. and there are two areas relating to russia that we want more information on. one, we want a commitment from the attorney general that he's going to continue to fund the mueller investigation. that's extremely important. congress has to fund it but it has to be requested by the department of justice. and secondly, we really need to know what the president said to jeff sessions about comey and why he really wanted to fire him. >> and nick, i'm only cutting you off because it looks like the questioning is about to begin for attorney general jeff sessions starting with senator chuck grassley sitting in the
room right now as sessions finishes his opening remarks. let me quickly point out with folks onset. nick, thank you, apologies for the interruption. this is not just about russia. the attorney general has already brought up, for example, the opioid crisis, calling it the deadliest drug epidemic facing this country. he's going to be asked about immigration, he's going to be asked about, for example, the travel ban, which he's already discussed as well. >> well, he's also going to be asked about all the ways he's reshaping the department of justice, including the rollback of some of the enforcement of civil rights. >> especially with the lgbt community. people say watch what the president does and his administration does and not what the president and his administration say. the doj is doing stuff. i mean -- >> the doj is acting on so many of the president's campaign promises from all over the issues you just mentioned there. >> and the attorney general talking about executive privilege that has come up. we do want to listen in to this. >> -- the content of my conversations with the
president. under the administration of both parties, it is well established that a president is entitled to have private, confidential communications with his cabinet officials, his secretary of state, his secretary of defense, his secretary of treasury and certainly his counsel and attorney general of the united states who provides counsel. and that such communications are within the core executive privilege. until such time as the president makes a decision with respect to this. can i cannot compromise his willingness to assert it. as a result of today's hearing and under these circumstances here 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 i hope you will respect this
long-standing practice and respect the duty that i feel and that i respect. >> i would like to make two points before i start to ask questions. number one, 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 chairmen of committees. that leaves out about 35 republicans, that leaves out about 48 democrats. i wrote to the white house. he's rewritten that advisory or whatever it was. with the understanding he would answer questions for any member of congress, republican or democrat, chairman or not. for the benefits of the committees, i thank you for the
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 is -- 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 has run out. i think there was special consideration given to senator leahy and hatch and ranking member feinstein. i think they deserve the courtesy as former chairman of this committee and ranking member. so if they run over a little bit, i hope it will be just a little bit, then that's okay with me. >> what's a little? >> the only one i paid much attention to was mrs. feinstein and she was a couple minutes. so don't curl about that.
you and director colts 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 end, it would reduce our ability to identify terrorist acts and potential acts before they happen. that was one of the goals we had when we passed the patriot act.
i guess senator hatch and senator leahy worked hard on that. it was one of the most intense times i have seen this committee do. 702 has proven its worth. courts have upheld it. it has the most rigorous oversite. procedures of any act, i think, in existence today. it helps us to focus on terrorists abroad. and to identify those who could be threats to us. >> now that we have that in pla 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 you want to obsess over
information obtained through personal query, how would that affect the fbi's ability to do its job? >> mr. chairman, it is just not practical or legally require in my opinion to have a warrant requirement for this information. it originates abroad by people who are not protected. and by the u.s. constitution. 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 provide more transparency into the amount of information that the intelligence agencies conduct or the amount of searches conducted with respect to u.s. persons. >> i think we'll be certainly open to discussing that with members on this committee.
a number of you have proposed ideas. and we would be pleased to provide our suggestions, our support, our concern as appropriate. >> now, 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, it talked about money laundering from the company purchasing yuranium one. what are you doing to find out how the russian uranium was allowed to occur despite criminal conduct that the obama administration proved to make the purchase? >> mr. chairman, we'll hear your
concerns. the department of jus atice wil take any appropriate precautions. the article talks about other issues. without confirming or denying the existence of any particular investigation, i would say i hear your concerns and they will be reviewed. >> i think i know why you are reluctant to go into detail on that, but i would like to remind you that deputy attorney rosenstein directly supervised the criminal case. i don't think it would be appropriate for him advise his own conduct, do you? >> if he feel that is 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 dollars from interested parties in the transaction. bill clinton received $500,000 for a speech in moscow. june 2010 from the russian government aligned bank. the same month as the speech, russia began the uranium work. by the clintons during the obama administration, has the justice department fully investigated whether the russians compromised the obama administration's decisions to smooth away for transactions. and if not, why not? >> mr. chairman, we are working hard to maintain discipline in the apartment.
it wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigation. >> okay, then. let me move on to another issue. 2016 last year, if the criminal referrals regarding payments in connection with transferring human fetal tissue, the report and referral outlined evidence from the organization eels, no one from the department or the fbi replied to my criminal referrals or saw unredacted copies of the evidence outline in the report. seven months after the report referral, there's no indication that anyone from the fbi or justice department has actually read the referrals. and the full reports. i hope you will commit to providing the committee written
confirmation when the relevant justi justice department and personnel have completed their review of both the referral and majority staff report. that's my question and that will be the last one. i'm going to senator feinstein. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i will evaluate your request personally and make sure it is promptly and properly handled. >> okay. senator feinstein. >> thanks very much, mr. chairman. i wanted to ask you or question you to 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 is a matter that
i can share some information about because the president himself has talked about it and revealed that letter. he asked that deputy rosenstein and i make a recommendation in writing. we prepared those and submitted it to the president. senator feinstein, i don't think it's been fully understood the significance of the -- in all my experience, i don't think i have heard of a situation in which a major case and the department of justice prosecutors were involved in an investigation. that the investigative agency announces the closure of the investigation. and then a few weeks before this happened, he was testifying
before the congress, mr. comey was, and he said he thought he did the right thing and would do it again. so the deputy attorney general rosenstein whose got, what, 27 years in the department of justice, harvard graduate, served for eight years as u.s. attorney on the president obama and four years under president bush, he said that was a position of the department of justice, the attorney general's position, but particularly we were concerned that he reaffirmed he would do it again. so i think that was a basis that called for a fresh start at the fbi. mr. comey had many talents. no doubt about it. no hard feeling about that. but i am really excited about a new director, i believe that
i'll be able to do the job of fbi director with great skill and integrity. >> what exactly did president trump tell you was his reason for firing director ko meco mom? i know he thought the department was a disaster and asked you and mr. rosenstein to take a look at it. and my understanding was that the 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 my opinion and we submitted that to him, but it did not represent any change in any one of our opinions as
deputy rosenstein 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 goes with the communication i've had with the president, and i believe it remains confidential. >> but you don't deny that there was a communication? >> no, 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 is also covered by my opening statement. i believe the president has the right. and i believe i have a duty to meet with him on proper
occasions and provide such legal advice or otherwise as i'm called upon to do. i have done that, and i believe he has the right to protect that confidentiality until appropriate circumstances exist that he choose to waive that privilege. >> all right. let me go to another aspect. and that's lawsuits. the president is facing three different lawsuits saying he is violating the amolumence clause. what did the department do to determine it was appropriate to represent the president? was the office of legal counsel consulted? >> i believe so.
to defend the office of the presidency in carrying on activities against charges that are not deemed meritorious. >> and you believe emoluments is part of that charge? >> 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 this is defensible and we've taken the 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 convicted of criminal
contempt for defying a court order to stop racially profiling and detaining latino motorists 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 droped? >> senator feinstein, i cannot comment on the private conversations i may have had with the president. i would just say that attorneys in the department of justice at the request of a judge prosecuted that case. a federal judge found the defendant guilty of a misdemeanor. and 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 of which i can provide you in writing. i would be pleased to do so. 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 dramatic type pardons. this pardon i think was well within the power of the president to do. >> well, my understanding is that pardon requests usually go through the office of pardon attorney in the department of justice. and decisions are made according to certain standards set out in that office's rules governing petitions for executive clemency. it's been reported that the process was not followed here as
you so indicate. so what 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 personally at this moment not 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'd prefer to do that. >> all right. i'm over. i'm sorry. thank you. >> senator hatch. >> welcome back to the committee. we appreciate the service that you've given both on this committee and in your current position as well as others. before getting to my questions, i want to set the record straight on something. over the weekend "the washington post" ran an article accusing congress of passing a bill last
year that the post claims gutted dea's enforcement authority. now, the article insinuates that i and other sponsors put one over on congress by sneaking through a bill that no one knew anything about. now, mr. chairman and general sessions and ranking member feinstein, these allegations are complete baloney and we all know it. the committee -- this committee reported the bill out by voice vote. the full senate agreed to the bill by unanimous consent. every member of this committee 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 was seven pages long. it took all of five minutes to read. if the senate minority leader wants to take to the floor and decry this is grounds for withdrawing the president's chosen nominee, he should remember that he himself supported the bill twice.
once in committee when he was o member and again on the floor. we also supported this legislation, every one of us. we all voted for it twice. to publish a response to their 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 would appreciate it, mr. attorney general, if you would keep your answers brief. first i'd like to discuss a substance which is often offered as a substantive for opioids. many states across the nation have legalized marijuana for medicinal use based on research suggesting there is some medicinal benefit. or value to be found in it. to be clear, i remain opposed to the broad legalize of marijuana. however, i introduced along with
senator chance the bipartisan marijuana effective drug studies act of 2017 or the meds act because i believe that scientists need to study the potential benefits and dangers of marijuana. i'm very concerned about recent reports at 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'd be pleased. 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 for 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 costs a lot of money to supervise these events. i think it'd be healthy to have some more competition in the supply, but i'm sure we don't need 26 new suppliers. >> well, thank you. and 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. now, general sessions, would you agree that mens rea reform needs to be part of our conversation on criminal justice reform? >> it should be part of our conversation. it has to be. and you've made sure that it is. for a number of years. you've raised it and discussed it and i've heard you articulate your concerns. so yes i think it should be a part of what we do. and we'd be pleased to work with you to evaluate what kind of legislation might be appropriate. >> thank you. and i with you. just two weeks ago you issued a memorandum detailing 20 principles for executive departments and agencies in
implementing those principles. the very first principle i think is the most important. quote, the freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, unquote. and it, quote, is not 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 imposes the same -- >> good morning, everyone. i'm stephanie rhule. my partner ali velshi is on assignment. it is wednesday, october 18th. let's get started. jeff sessions testifying for the first time since his confirmation. he began by touting what the justice department is doing to solve some of the nation's biggest problems but at the end he revealed he would not comment on any of his conversations with president trump after democrats on the committee sent him a