tv Andrea Mitchell Reports MSNBC October 18, 2017 9:00am-10:00am PDT
of mine, the superstar, kristen welker, sitting in for andrea mitchell on "andrea mitchell reports." >> good morning, everyone. i'm kristen welker in for andrea mitchell on "andrea mitchell reports." there was a tuesday phone call between the president and the grieving widow of sergeant johnson killed earlier this month. the widow took a phone call from the president this month, saying the commander in chief told m s myesha johnson that her fallen husband knew what he signed up for. president trump said, democrat congresswoman totally fabricated what i said to the wife of a soldier who died in action, and i have proof. sad! >> she knows i did not say that and she now is not saying it.
i did not say what she said, and i'd like her to make the statement again, because i did not say what she said. i had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who sounded like a lovely woman. did not say what the congresswoman said and most people aren't too surprised to hear that. >> what's your next move, mr. president? >> let her make her statement again and you'll find out. >> a fiery response from president trump. my colleague, nbc national correspondent peter alexander is at the white house. peter, before we get to what the president just said, i just want to remind my viewers what congresswoman wilson had to say earlier on "morning joe." let's take a look. >> he said, well, i guess you -- something to the effect that he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but i guess it hurts, anyway. she was in tears. and she said, he didn't even remember his name! >> so, peter, pretty bitter back and forth at this point.
what's the latest there from the white house? >> reporter: to be clear, this is the most bitter back and forth possible over the gravest of obligations by presidents, their contacts with the families of american heroes who give their lives and service to this country. you heard about the president's comments just moments ago. initially the white house had not been confirming or denying the congresswoman's account, in effect saying these were private conversations, and as you heard, the president wasn't going to detail exactly what the two spoke about other than to say it was a nice conversation, pushing the congresswoman, effectively, to revisit her accounting of this. this morning the "washington post" spoke to another individual who was in that vehicle with the widow of la damon johnson. that was the aunt of sergeant johnson. she was in the car and said, in fact, president trump did insult
my daughtniece. they were driving to greet the body of sergeant johnson as it was returning back to miami, his home. kristen? >> and peter, you and i have been working our sources trying to determine what, if any, proof the husband has about this conversation. he's talked about having proof before of conversations and we haven't seen any materialize. i wonder, based on your conversations at the white house, this was the week to reset the fall agenda, to talk about tax reform, to get a deal on health care. that's been a big topic. what is the concern that this is just overshadowing, again, policy that the president wants to be talking about? >> reporter: this is definitively not what the white
house wants to be talking about. he teased proof that he had about james comey with the former fbi director which there was no evidence of that, no recordings, no tapings, no nothing. this is just a narrative that continues to grow and it takes away from what the president does want to be focusing on, the reason he was gathered here at the white house with members of his finance committee, including democrats that he hopes to come to common ground on not just the budget but reportedly tax reform as well, kristen. >> thank you for that reporting, peter. appreciate it. attorney general jeff sessions still facing some tough questions right now from the senate judiciary committee for the first time as the nation's top law enforcement official. sessions is being grilled by senators on a range of topics. he defended president trump's decision to fire fbi director james comey and denied talking to russian officials about details of the 2016 campaign. he also was asked if he had been
interviewed by robert mueller on the russia investigation. here's what he had to say. >> have you been interviewed or requested to be interviewed by the special counsel either in connection with director comey's firing, the russian investigation or your own contact with russian officials? >> i would be pleased to answer that. i'm not sure i should without clearing that with the special counsel. what do you think? >> have you been interviewed by them? >> no. >> you haven't been interviewed by the special counsel in any way, shape or manner? >> the answer is no. >> interesting exchange there. nbc news justice correspondent pete williams joins me now with more on all of this. pete, start right there. what did you make of that exchange, sessions saying he has not been interviewed yet by bob mueller. what else stood out to you?
>> reporter: it's the nature of the two questions that senator leahy asked. first he said, have you been interviewed or requested to be interviewed? that's when mr. sessions, the attorney general, said he wasn't sure he should answer. so senator leahy said, i'm just asking, have you been interviewed? and the answer was no. so it leaves you with the suggestion that at least the special counsel's office has talked to the attorney general about wanting to interview him at some point. that's the natural supposition there. i must say that's not surprising if, indeed, the special counsel is looking into whether there was an obstruction of justice here by the president, whether he wanted to get rid of comey to make the russia investigation go away. it seems only natural that he would talk to rod rosenstein, the deputy, and mr. sessions, the attorney general, about their role. now, members of the committee did ask about that today, and on there attorney sessions didn't really go over any new ground.
he repeated that we've known that he was asked to draft memos on why mr. comey should be fired. mr. sessions said the way the clinton investigation was handled, he thought, was wrong. but then when asked by senator feinstein whether the president ever told mr. sessions that he thought mr. comey should be fired to lift the cloud of the russia investigation, that's the other sore point here with democrats, mr. sessions said, i can't discuss my confidential conversations with the president, and here he said, this is a longstanding tradition between members of the administration -- with members of the administration from different political parties who have declined to tell congress about their private conversations with the president. so i think those are the things that stand out most in this hearing so far, kristen. >> and, pete, we should let our viewers know right now, senator ted cruz is asking sessions some questions which relate to his decision to effectively, at this
point in time, halt the daca program. i want to ask you one more point, though. sessions was also asked about his conversations with then-russian ambassador mr. kislyak? anything come out of those discussions? >> reporter: no. he was asked by al franken about meeting with the russians. he was asked later by senator leahy similar questions. the attorney general's answer has been very consistent. he said, i thought when you were asking me if i had any meetings with the russians or conversations with the russians during the campaign, you meant it in the context of russian officials trying to influence the campaign and that's why my answer was no. but he said, obviously he did meet with russians. he met with the russian ambassador once at the republican convention, again, in his senate office with some of his staffers. he said he wasn't trying to mislead the senate but he understood the question to be in a different context, and as you know, some of the democrats have
found this unsatisfactory, but he's been pretty consistent there. >> all right. pete williams, thank you for helping us break down a very complicated morning on capitol hill. appreciate it. >> you bet. >> let's bring in matt miller and justice correspondent cliff. thanks to both of you for being here. really appreciate it. matt, let me start with you there. sessions pressed on whether he was interviewed by special counsel robert mueller. you just heard what pete had to say. what do you make of that exchange? >> i think pete is right. whether he was interviewed yet, it sounds like he wasn't interviewed. he may have had a request coming in the door. he will no doubt be interviewed at some point. jeff sessions was there talking to the president the day before he was fired about his reasonings for firing him. he endorsed that memo which we
now know was a sham that said they were firing him because of his handling of the clinton investigation. he is a key witness. and the worst interpretation, he is a possible co-conspirator to obstruction of justice. but he is a key player that the special counsel plans to talk to him about at some point. >> he was also asked if he met with kislyak? >> when you're proceeding through this process, you stack up all the evidence surrounding your key principles, like matt said. he's a witness to many of these discussions. these are the last people that are going to be talked to usually when the investigation is going, and i think for the public, when they see this timeline start to progress, when you see these people at the the top of the ladder, you know they're closing in with whatever they're going to come up with for the investigation. >> we're going back to the hearing now. senator ted cruz talking to jeff sessions about border security.
>> if you make cloear the borde is closed and we back it up, there is no doubt that attempts to enter unlaufwfully will plummet. this is not an awesome task for america to secure the border. they are challenging us now. there are many, many problems with our ability to enforce the law, some loopholes ofm monumental proportions and this is about the american people doing what they want. >> i recently did a town hall with a number of border patrol agents and visited with a significant number of border patrol agents all along the rio grande. what i'm hearing from the border patrol agents is that the policies of catch and release of the obama administration are still continuing in the current administration. that is highly troubling. when i heard those reports in january and february, i told them give the administration
some time to get their team in place, to change policies. you can't turn a battleship overnight. it's now october. is the trump administration continuing the policy of catch and release? and if so, what is the plan to end that policy? >> i'm glad you asked that question. in 2011, we had a backlog of immigration cases of 300,000. it's now over 600,000. 5,000 people in 2009 who were apprehended at the border claim they should not be deported because they have a fear of being sent back home. last year it increased from 5,000 to 94,000. and those people are bakesicall entitled to hearings. this is a loophole that's too big and we need to create some sort of control over it. we're looking at if there is anything we can do effectively
short of legislation, but there's no doubt, mr. dharm, we need lejt lags on this subject and several others. we added 50 judges, we'll have another 40 by january, and the backlog, instead of going up will be going down, and we'll continue to work at that. but legislation is critical. >> gentlemen, my time has expired, but if i could just have a direct yes or no whether catch and release is the policy? >> it's not the policy, it's just the reality that there are so many people claiming and being entitled to hearings that we don't have the ability to provide those hearings, and they're being released into the community and they're not coming back for their hearings. it's unacceptable. >> senator franken. >> thank you, mr. chairman. attorney general sessions, welcome back. the last time we spoke, i asked
you about russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. there is now absolutely no question that the russians meddled in the election of american democracy to damage the campaign of hillary clinton and to boost donald trump. our intelligence agencies have confirmed this. we also know that there were many contacts and communications between russian operatives and trump campaign officials and associates. in order to make sure this kind of attack never happens again, we need to understand what happened and whether anyone inside the trump campaign assisted the russian effort. during your confirmation, i asked you, and i quote, if there is any evidence that the trump
campaign interfered in the 2016 election, what will you do? that was a straightforward question. what will you do? the implication was, will you recuse yourself? rather than answer that question, you replied, quote, i've been called a surrogate or two in the time of that campaign, and i didn't have -- did not have communications with the russians, closed quote. that was on january 10th. on february 8th, you were confirmed, and on march 1st, the "washington post" published a story that you met with sergei kislyak, the russian ambassador, twice during the campaign, once in july on the 18th and once on september 8th, and it was later reported that you met with a russian ambassador a third time at the mayflower hotel in april of 2016. confronted with these reports,
you subtly changed your story. your answer under oath before this committee was that you, quote, did not have communications with the russians, period. but on the morning that the story broke, you said, quote, i have not met with any russians at any time to discuss any political campaign. on twitter you said, quote, i never met with any russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. so confronted with the truth, you started to qualify your answer. later in a letter you sent to this committee to clarify your testimony and to disclose two of your three meetings, you wrote, quote, i do not recall any discussions with the russian ambassador or any other
representative of the russian government regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasions. but this summer the "washington post" reported that american intelligence agencies intercepted communications between the russian ambassador and moscow in which he described two of his conversations with you. the april meeting the mayflower hotel and the july meeting at the republican national convention, citing both former and u.s. current officials. they quarterly indicate that you had substantive discussions on matters of policy. the ambassador was well known for actively, relating its interactions with u.s. officials at the kremlin.
mr. sessions, upon this report they clarified the veracity of the telephone intercepts, but you said you did not, quote, discuss interference in the election, which is also how you describe your communications to the senate intelligence committee. so, again, the goalpost has been moved. first it was, i did not have communications with russian, which was not true. then it was, i never met with any russians to discuss any russians in the political campaign, which now mayor m or not be true. now it's i did not discuss interference in the campaign, which further explains your blanket denial about meeting with the russians. since u qualified your denial to say you did not, quote, discuss
issues of the campaign with russians, what in your view constitutes issues of the campaign? >> well, let me just say this without hesitation, that i conducted no improper discussions with russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country. i want to say that first. that's been the suggestion that you've raised and others, that somehow we had conversations that were improper, number one. >> may i suggest that -- >> no, sir, you had a long time, senator franken. i would like to respond. >> we'll note that senator cruz went two minutes over. they're going to cut me off, so i want to ask you some questions. >> no, mr. chairman, i don't have to sit in here and listen to his -- >> you're the one --
>> -- charges without having a chance to respond. give me a break. [ inaudible statement ] >> thank you. go on. >> it was not a simple question. the lead-in to your question was very, very troubling, and i answered to you in a way that i felt was responsive to what you raised in your question. let me read it to you. you said, "cnn has just published a story" -- meaning that day while we were in the hearing that none of us had heard about. >> keep reading. >> and i'm telling you this -- about this news story that's just been published. i'm not expecting you to know whether or not it's true, but cnn just published a story alleging that the intelligence
community, that's of the united states of america, provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that, quote, russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about mr. trump. you went on to say, these documents also allegedly say, quote, there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the russian government. now, again, i'm telling you this as it's coming out so you know, but if it's true, it's obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the trump campaign, conferred with the russian government during the course of this campaign, what will you do?
taken back to this dramatic statement that i never heard before and new nothing about, i responded this way. senator franken, i'm not aware of those activities. i have been called a surrogate a time or two in this campaign and i did not have communications with the russians and i'm unable to comment on it. i don't think that can fairly be interpreted as saying i never had conversations with any russians. it was preplying directly to th inference that there was communication with trump surrogates and intermediaries in the russian government that did not happen, at least not with me. that's why i responded the way i do. i'm disappointed. yes, you can say whatever you want to about the accuracy of it, but i think it was a good faith response to a dramatic
event at the time. i don't think it fair to you to suggest otherwise. [ inaudible question ] >> three minutes and some change. >> he took more than three minutes. >> three and a half. >> i didn't take as much time as senator franken took. >> let me just deal with senator franken. three more minutes, please. >> okay. first of all, you said "i didn't have -- did not have communications with the russians." this was about ongoing communications? you had three communications with kislyak. and now you can't recall answering senator leahy, you
can't recall whether you discussed what you discussed with kislyak. >> what i would say to you is -- >> please. >> go ahead. you make a lot of allegations, senator, it's hard for me to respond in the time i've got. >> can i have a little bit more time? okay. [ inaudible ] >> you said today in response to senator leahy that you don't recall whether you talked about the campaign, you don't recall whether you talked about issues with russia. those are very, very relevant to the campaign, whether a surrogate from the campaign is talking with the russian ambassador about the candidates' views on russian policy,
especially at the republican national convention, at the mayflower and president trump is going to gi us his opinion on foreign policy? not being able to recall what you discussed with him is very different than saying, i had no discussions. and how your responses morphed from "i did not have communications with the russians" to "i did not discuss substantive -- i did not discuss the political campaign" and then
finally going to, "i did not have discussions. by the end we're going to a 75-yard field goal. saying i didn't discuss interfering with the election is your last statement, that's a very different bar than "i can tell you i did not meet with any russians." >> relatively short answer. >> so you get to do about 10 minutes improperly framing this subject and i'm given a short stance to respond? >> proceed, please. but then we're going to call on senat
senator. >> you and i have had a good relationship on this committee. i would tell my colleagues, i think most of you know, i have committed to a high. you have had a hard time being honest about what i had to say. now you've gone through this long talk that i believe is unfair to me. it all rose from this question. "when it was charged that these documents allegedly say, quote, there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between trump's surrogates," as if all of them, trump's surrogates -- and intermediaries of the foreign government. >> not all of trump's surrogates. >> it didn't say some of, it
said his surrogates. and i felt a need to respond. i responded on the spot. we've been six hours in the hearing, the end of the day, and i said, i'm not aware of those activities. and i wasn't and i am not, and i don't believe they occurred. and i said, i have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and i did not have conversations. now you take that if i ever met with a russian to be candid with the committee and i reject that. >> gentlemen, thanks for being here. there was some drama there. sorry to have added to the drama. >> some fireworks on capitol hill as attorney general jeff sessions testifies before the senate judiciary committee.
this, by the way, is a routine meeting with the judiciary committee, but a lot of the hot button issues are being revisited. you're just watching a heated exchange between jeff sessions and senator al franken pressing him on why, when he came to capitol hill, he said he hadn't met with any russian officials, and of course that account changed bh he realized today, he did not meet with any russian officials or any other items serving the country? he then went on to say that the did not have anything to do with the campaign. so matt, your take on what we just saw. did we see or learn anything
new? >> a little bit. so sessions is trying very hard to defend the answer he gave in the confirmation answer, and i think we can give him the benefit of the doubt, it was a long confirmation hearing, and say that he did misunderstand the question and is giving it differently. today the question he's hearing is confronted with two comments he made at the confirmation hearing. he then got a follow-up question, a written question, where he gave the same answer. then later when it came out he had talked with russian officials, he said he met with them but they did not discuss the substance of the campaign. the ambassador says they did, and sessions now says, well, i can't recall what we discussed. we didn't discuss interference. i can
i. >> thinking they can spend on a military level and we're investing in a lot of military planning. as the nation's chief financial officer and as adviser of our multiple committees, i'm curious about your feelings on this issue. the first is, do you think we're doing enough to prepare for future interference by russia and other foreign adversaries in the information space? >> probably not. we're not. and the matter is so complex that most of us, we're not able to fully grasp the technical dangers that are out there. we ever commercial penetration by some of our toughest competitors, interference by some of our people, and it requires a rare review. >> so under your leadership,
what concrete steps has the department taken or should the department take to learn the lessons of 2016 for the purposes of fighting against future foreign election interference? >> well, we are looking at a number of things. we specifically, intensely are reviewing the commercial interference and theft of trade secrets and important information that some companies have spent decades developing and millions of dollars and had it stolen in a moment. the national security division of the department of justice has got some really talented people. the fbi has as good a group of experts on sophisticated computer technology that probably exists in the world. but whether we're at the level
we need to be yet, i don't think so. >> so let's distinguish between two things. the first is, i think you were asked earlier if you have confidence in the january 6th, 2017 intelligence community assessment of russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election. i had stepped out for a minute. >> i acknowledge that as my confirmation, yes. i have no reason to doubt that. >> so you have confidence in the integrity and the professionalism of the men and women of the intelligence community. >> yes. >> there may be an issue, though, about whether or not our pipeline is robust enough. do we have enough people coming into the national security division? if you were arriving at doj today as attorney general, and you were going to focus on nsd for the first 100 days you're there, talk us through a little bit about how you would prioritize in that space. because my view is we're investing way too little in the pipeline to be ready for offensive and defensive aspects of cyber at large, but
especially the misinformation campaign. >> the misinformation campaign is something i'm not sure we're at the bottom of yet, and it needs to be continued to be examined. when i was on the armed services committee, i got legislation passed to review our entire defense department situation to see how vulnerable we are there, and we have many vulnerabilities in our defense department and our missile systems, perhaps. and then we've got the commercial penetration, that we've got some cases ongoing now, that validate that concern, quite clearly. >> so that looks at hardware and software exposures retrospectively, but do you think the department of justice has a proactive role in looking at hardening our democratic process of foreign interference?
>> you make a valid point. if you have any legislation or thoughts on that, i would be glad to hear it. i'm not sure we have a specific review on the way at this point in time. of course, most of this has to be coordinated with the intelligence community, nsa, cia, the director of national intelligence. >> well, i appreciate your responsiveness to me on a number of other issues, so i will follow up with you in a less public forum about that. i'm nearly at time and i won't ask for a precedent of the 13 minutes and 20 seconds, mr. chairman, of the question that preceded me, but if i can run over by 30 seconds, i would like to just draw your attention to the fact that we have a number of crimes committed by illegal aliens in nebraska. some of these are some of the most heartrending crimes you can imagine. but i want to point out this isn't just a case of
cherry-picking isolated bad apples. we know that some of the crimes we're dealing with committed by illegal aliens in the country are are dealing with threats that are posed in particular by transnational organizations like ms 13. i've got a series of questions i'd like to ask you about that, but because we're in time, i want to pivot to would you commit to coordinating a briefing to my team and me about some of these used by the transnational organizations? >> i would be glad to. transnational organizations has been given to us as a priority by the president, particularly ms 13, and we would be pleased to discuss it with you. >> thank you, general. >> i wanted to ask for your accommodation. i was going to call on senator coombs and senator till lis. then i was going to ask if you
needed a few minutes away from the table. we have senator blumenthal, senator horano, and then we have seven democrats that want five minutes second round. so we've got at least 40 -- >> we got eight. >> at least 40 minutes for a second round. if you just want to stay there, we'll -- >> i'd like to have a break at some point. >> okay. then after senator coombs and senator tillis, we will take -- let's see, a 20-minute break? >> make it a half hour. >> a half hour break? that's what senator feinstein asks and that's what we'll do. senator coombs? >> thank you, chairman. mr. attorney general, it's good to see you again. this is our first time we've had an opportunity for an oversight hearing in your role as attorney general, and i've appreciated this hearing so far. you have publicly recused yourself from all matters relating to the ongoing russia investigation. and mr. attorney general, i
wanted to focus on that because i'm concerned about whether or not you've honored that recusal fully. it is easy to state that a recusal applies, but it's harder and more important to actually do it. i wrote to the office of professional responsibility in the department of justice back in july asking exactly how employees at the department of justice participating in special counsel mueller's investigation are ensuring that they are aware of and honoring your recusal and i haven't gotten an answer. i took that sort of personally until i realized from what the chairman said earlier that there are many letters not answered yet by the department. so if your department hasn't yet answered, could you, please, mr. attorney general, just answer directly. how are employees participating in special counsel mueller's investigation instructed about your recusal? >> the day i took office after i
told this committee that i would meet with the ethics officials at the department to determine whether recusal was appropriate, the day after that we had my first meeting and we had a series of meetings, and since i realized that there is a possibility i would need to recuse myself at the first meeting, i took -- i received no information whatsoever from that investigation, never met with investigators, didn't even know who the lawyers were officially working the case, and reviewed no documents relating to it. i had a little brief from the ethics officials, the nature of the case, because you need to know something about the case before you can make an official recusal decision. when i recused myself, we sent an e-mail out to all the key people in the department of
justice, including the fbi director comey, that i would not be involved in investigation, that neither i nor my staff, the attorney general staff, were to be involved in this investigation or receive information about it. director comey once said he didn't get this, but we got the document we mailed directly to him by name. he gets a lot and maybe he lost it. but we did, and i complied with that rigorously. for the purpose of the russian investigation, the attorney general of the united states is deputy attorney general rod rosenstein. he makes all the decisions and manages the processes and guarantees its integrity. >> have you spoken with president trump about special counsel mueller or his investigation at any point?
>> i've never discussed anything with him -- well, i'm not going to comment on the conversations we've had because i think that violates the privilege, executive privilege. >> do you think the deputy attorney general made the right decision to appoint a special counsel? you spoke previously in response to another senator's question about knowing mr. mueller, having respect for his professionalism, his experience. do you think that was the right choice? >> the decision to appoint a special counsel depends on the facts and circumstances of the case of which he was fully apprised, and i'm not, so i'm not able to opine about his judgment. but, you know, he's a talented and experienced prosecutor. >> you made a statement at the outset that some of the core mission of the department of justice, fighting violent crime, keeping our nation safe, respecting rule of law and promoting rule of law.
i think it is important, as you have stated, that this investigation reach its natural and full conclusion without any interference. in your view, if the president asked for your advice about whether or not to remove or fire the special counsel, would that be an appropriate conversation for him to have with you? >> i have not thought that through, but it's -- if it deals with the special counsel, i think the communication would need to be directed to the person who supervises the special counsel, and that would be the deputy attorney general. >> if the special counsel were removed, would you protest or consider resigning in order to clarify the importance of that position and that investigation being followed to its end? >> you know, i won't attempt to deal with a hypothetical. i think it would be best to
leave my answer as i gave it. >> let me lead to another your . in your confirmation hearing, and i think this was a response to the chairman. you said it would be proper to recuse myself from any questions involving investigations of hillary clinton out of respect for the campaign. the chairman said, when you say you'll recuse, you mean the decision will fall to the deputy attorney general? and you say, there is a procedure for that which i will follow. and you just shared with me you followed that promptly. yet on may 9, deputy attorney general rosenstein delivered to you a memo entitled "restoring public confidence in the fbi" that is about director comey's conduct during the clinton e-mail investigation and concludes that the director handled the conclusion of that e-mail investigation incorrectly. is that correct? >> yes. you're talking about the recommendation, yes. >> yes.
and on the same day you penned a memo to the president, relying exclusively on the deputy attorney general's memo where you recommend that james comey be removed, correct? >> that's correct. >> so if you were recusing yourself from any investigations or issues that relate to secretary clinton and the e-mail investigation, why did you write a memo to the president exclusively relying on that matter, t matter,? the administration's matter was removing james comey. why would you react to that if you were recused? >> first, an attorney general does not recuse himself from supervision of the fbi, a $7 billion agency that he's responsible for, because he may have recused himself about one or more matters that the fbi was working on, number one. number two, the clinton case had
been closed. it was not an ongoing matter at that time. number three, the discussion about whether or not mr. comey conducted himself properly did not deal with whether or not there was sufficient evidence to go forward or not with regard to a charge against secretary clinton. it dealt with whether or not he acted properly when he just closed the case without -- instead of the attorney general's office or the prosecutors in the attorney general's office. i think it's quite different, senator coombs. i'm actually glad to have the opportunity to discuss that. but i'm confident that i did not -- i was not required to recuse myself on the decision of whether or not to keep
secretary -- director comey. >> mr. attorney general, if i might just conclude, in your letter on may 9, you say, i'm committed to the role of law at the department of justice. i'm concerned that we have a different understanding of the scope of your recusal and the relevancy of the e-mail investigation when that was the cited reason for the firing of the fbi director. >> i would just respond and say i'm very comfortable that i did not violate what i told this committee are proper rules in not recusing myself on the decision of mr. comey, because it was not based on the merits of the investigation, it was based on his performance publicly in regard to announcing a decision that was a decision he was not entitled to announce. >> senator tillis. >> thank you, mr. chair. attorney general sessions, thank you for being here.
i think you know -- >> and you're watching attorney general jeff sessions on capitol hill being questioned by members of the senate judiciary committee, and you just heard an exchange with senator chris coons. i want to bring if matt miller, who is chief justice analyst and of course eric hague who is in capitol hill. matt, let me just pick up with you on this exchange we just witnessed. you heard senator coons press sessions on the fact that he recused himself from the russia probe. so, therefore, why did he write a letter recommending that president trump fire the former fbi director james comey? and sessions said, look, as the attorney general, he doesn't recuse himself from overseeing the fbi. what did you make of that exchange which struck me as very critical. it's something that's been discussed since that moment, really. >> sessions is in a box on this recusal issue. the statement is on the clinton
investigation. sessions recused himself from that. he said, i was recused on the substance of the investigation, not whether comey handled it appropriately. if you recuse yourself, you can't flit in and flit out, you're completely out of the investigation. but there is a flip side of that, too. the president has said that's not the real reason he fired comey, the real reason he fired comey is because of the russian investigation. sessions was recused from that, too. so if he knew about that and he violated it, anyway, he can get fired on that issue. but there is something, and it's also a big problem for the attorney general because it showed he allowed the president to breach the sanctity of the criminal investigation, something every a.g. is supposed to protect and he didn't do it. >> i want to bring in garrett
hague. you heard him ask questions by ben sass. you heard sessions say he did not interfere in the meddling of this election. what did you take away from that exchange or anything else that struck you in that hearing? >> kristen, that's been an under covered issue, what are the united states doing about any of these things we learned about russian interference? you saw jeff sessions say it was something they continue to look into. when senators presented their so-called progress report about what they're doing with russian interference, and you heard the white house talk about it, too. this is going to be an ongoing issue. you have an election in virginia in just a few weeks and there
have not been significant concrete steps taken by the federal government on this issue by and large. that was most telling exchanges. what was more sessions had with al franken senator from minnesota who's shown a unique ability to get under sessions' skin and pressed him on sessions' own meetings and pointed out today the inconsistency in statements over time about his meetings with russians during the campaign. and really drew a pretty emotional visceral reaction from jeff sessions that i think is somewhat telling. >> it is, garrett. and that's an important point. matt, very quickly, because we're about to go to break, what did you make of what garrett said? i mean, you did really see al franken get under attorney general jeff sessions' skin. as you were pointing out that's when mistakes can happen. >> yeah, i spent several years prepping attorney general holder for these exact type of hearings
and he knows when you lose your cool you lose it in these hearings. >> all right. they're going to be taking a break perhaps soon. matt miller, garrett hague, thank you so much for helping me break all of that down. coming up, the inside scoop. new details on president trump's phone call with the gold star widow. you're watching "andrea mitchell reports" only on msnbc. she's nationally recognized for her compassion and care. he spent decades fighting to give families a second chance. but to help others, they first had to protect themselves.
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didn't say what that congresswoman said. didn't say it at all. she knows it. and she now is not saying it. i did not say what she said. and i'd like her to make the statement again because i did not say what she said. >> that was president trump just moments ago talking about his phone call with a gold star widow. getting a lot of attention today. let's get the inside scoop from "the washington post" white house correspondent ann garen and "new york times" white house correspondent glenn thrush also an msnbc political analyst. usually we're all in the white house, so it's great to see you guys all here on set. thank you. let me start with you, your colleague spoke with the woman who raised the fallen soldier. talk about what you know, what you learned and how it pushes our understanding of what happened forward. >> well, kwanda with whom we communicated earlier today says that the congresswoman's account of the phone call is correct.
and they were all together riding in a car actually on their way to meet the body of the soldier as he returned to the united states. so they all heard the phone call on speakerphone. and she backs up fredricka wilson in saying that the president was somewhat cavalier in saying, well, he knew what he was signing up for. >> and, of course, glenn, the white house wouldn't officially comment last night. then this morning we got not only those comments from the president but a tweet this morning. and he said, democrat congresswoman totally fabricated what i said to the wife of a soldier who died in action and i have proof. sad. so i've been working my sources trying to come up with proof. i have not gotten any proof yet. what do you make of that charge? she's made before there's proof of conversation hasn't existed. >> we have tons of proof. aren't we still waiting for the birth certificate from honolulu, right?
>> right. >> a lot of this has to do with the fact that the president sometimes has trouble articulating himself on certain things. you heard him talking now, you know, at the pool spray. the problem is, and even the way he was talking about the niger situation in the rose garden the other day, there's not a preciseness to the way he's articulating it the way previous presidents have done. this is as unbelievably avoidable situation as you can imagine. all he needed to say was he's getting in touch with them. and when this version of events came out he could have said it was perhaps misunderstood, that wasn't the way what i intended to do, which by the way is basically what he's saying. but he just doesn't seem capable of avoiding any fight. >> to that point, anne, this week was supposed to be dedicated to his policy agenda, tax reform, they're talking about health care on capitol hill. a potential compromise that seems to be losing steam. these unforced errors to what extent do they get into the way of his agenda?
>> well, it keeps happening and the agenda is largely stalled. certainly there is a potential compromise in the works on health care. but he's gone three or four different directions on whether he backs that himself in the last two days. so if that is part of an agenda, he's not moving it along with a simple declarative statement, i think this is a good idea. i mean, what we think he thinks is this is a good idea as a stopgap measure but it isn't what he really wants to have happen in the end. but he hasn't actually said that. >> right. been a little bit of whiplash over at the white house on the health care point. glenn, let me change topics and shift over to sean spicer. we know that he was interviewed by robert mueller earlier this week and other members of his team. what do you know about that? >> well, what we know is, and politico broke the story last night, what we know is that mueller wanted to talk with him about the oval office interactions with kislyak and other things and also talk to him about his preparation for some of the stuff with the
president. what we have subsequently learned since that story broke is that any number of white house officials, particularly in the comm shop are very likely to appear before mueller prior to thanksgiving. so there's a really compressed timeframe on all this. mueller is calling people in this week, next week and i think you're going to see an accelerating parade. >> okay, a little bit of breaking news there glenn just had. that was great. and obviously the white house is eager to get these interviews done with. i mean, glenn says they'll be done by thanksgiving, awesome. >> the president said the other day he would like to see this wrapped up. he added that he thinks the american people are sick of it. maybe they are. i'm certain the white house is sick of it and would like to wrap it up. >> all right. fantastic conversations. anne gearan, glenn thrush, thank you so much. >> good to see you. >> that does it for this edition of "andrea mitchell reports." craig melvin is up next right here on msnbc. and, craig, i'll toss it to you. >> all right, kristen welker, always good to see you.
craig melvin here at msnbc headquarters in new york. we are following three big stories unfolding at this hour. in washington, that firestorm that's erupted over what president trump said during a phone call of a family of a soldier killed in an attack on u.s. troops in the african country of niger. congresswoman fredricka wilson was with the family when president called. >> he was almost like joking. he said, well, i guess you knew something to the fact he knew what he was getting into when he signed up, but i guess it hurts any way. 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 unnecessary. i was