tv CNN Tonight With Don Lemon CNN June 13, 2017 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
if this was a real thing but maybe it comes back if they start closing in on something. >> i want to thank everybody on the panel tonight. time to hand over to don lemon and cnn tonight. this is cnn breaking news. >> attorney general jeff sessions angrily denouncing accusations while testifying before the senate intelligence committee. sessions had this to say to his former senate colleagues. >> and to suggest that i participated in any collusion that i was aware of any collusion with the russian government to hurt this country is an appalling and detestable lie. >> and plenty of fireworks between sessions and democratic members of the committee. sessions refusing to discuss his private conversations with president trump yet denying he was invoking executive
privilege. democrats accusing him of standing in the way of the russia investigation. we have a lot to get to tonight but want to begin with political director and the staff writer at the atlantic and contributor john dean and the other of conservatives without conscience. hit the road to talk jobs in milwaukee but all eyes on capitol rr hill. >> things got testy. take a look. >> mr. comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal. >> there are none.
i can tell you that for absolute certainty. there is a secret innuendo being leaked throughout about me and i don't appreciate it. >> so what did we learn, gloria from the attorney general with his interactions with the fbi director? >> we learned that he's mad these stories have been leaked and he believes he did nothing wrong. and when responding to this notion i call it comey left a lot of. and there's been an awful lot of reporting that in fact there may have been another meeting with ambassador kislyak from russia and he denied that in his opening statement and throughout the rest of the testimony he said he did not recall or his standard fair. so what he was trying to do is
say this is all wrong about me. and to the notion that james comey said well, wait a minute, if i was fired because of russia, what did attorney general sessions have to do with it because he recused himself on the russia investigation. sessions also tried in his own way to clear that up. pointing to the rod rosenstein memo and saying this was about the way he behaved during the campaign. so he tried to sweep everything aside and really clear his name here. >> there is a lot of nonrecalling, not recalling as i watched today. so david, sessions today on firing james comey. >> president trump intended to remove director comey.
when you wrote your letter did you know the president already decided to fire directorer comey? >> i would say that i believe it's been made public that the president asked us our opinion. it was given and he asked us to put that in writing and i don't know how much more he said about it than that. but believe he has talked about it and i would let his word speak for themselves. >> so he doesn't directly answer the question, david. what do we know is the president -- we do know the president made it clear that russia was on his mind when he fired james comey. >> yep. and then he went and told the russians in the oval office that should alleviate pressure and there's no doubt that russia was
very much the reasoning in donald trump's mind from his own words. that's not jeff sessions' account here. his recusal would become a lot trickier. so here he's reverting back to the original excuse given by the administration, the rosenstein memo detailing in length all of the offenses that this administration felt jim comey made with regards to the clinton email investigation. so here jeff sessions is saying hey when i set up my recusal from the russia investigation i did not recuse myself from over seeing the justice department which includes the fbi. and so it is totally within my purview to take my deputy ag's memo and forward that along with my endorsement recommending comey be fired because of his actions having nothing to do with russia. the problem for sessions is that the president as he does time and again with people on his team, completely undermines that
by telling lester holt he was on his mind when he fired james comey. >> he pushed back against the assertion that he didn't respond to comey's concerns about being left alone with the president. let's listen to comey last week and sessions and then we'll talk. >> i don't remember real clearly. i have a recollection of him looking at me and there's a danger i'm projecting on to him. but i got his body language gave me the sense like what am i going to do? >> did he shrug? >> i don't remember clearly. i think the reason i have that impression is i have imperceptable like what am i going to do? but i don't have a clear recollection of that. he didn't say anything. >> i believe it was the next day he said something expressed concern about being left alone with the president. but that in itself is not problematic. he did not tell me at that time
any details about anything that was said that was improper. i affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the department of justice. >> what do you think, julia? >> you know, jeff sessions was an ardent advocate of donald trump when he declared his run for the presidency early on when it was unlikely and he remain as dogged defender of the president now and he has to protect himself in addition. but what you saw in the hearing he didn't give much ground on anything and david is totally right. he tried to sweep all the crumbs that led to him awaway and go back the original excuses. the way he responded to senator tom cotton's questioning where he rattled off a number of spy novels and action films and he
said thank you for that opportunity. this is absurd. that you're going after me. there's nothing. there's no there there. trying as hard as he could to protect himself and his boss. on one hand he said the president didn't invoke executive privilege but he might in the future and so i'm not going to say anything because he might down the road want to invoke executive privilege. it sounded like he was pub lackly if you're listening, you might want to invoke executive privilege. >> i want to ask you about that because he said he didn't invoke executive privilege, right? and yet he refused to answer many of the questions asked of him. here's how it went down and then we'll discuss it. >> you're impeding this investigation. >> senator, i'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he
has a chance to -- >> what is the legal base for your refuse tool answer the question snz. >> i'm reserving the right of the president to asert it if he chooses and there could be others that apply in the circumstance. >> so is he trying to have it both ways on executive privilege, john? >> this is called, from the nixon era, stone walling as he was accused of today. he was obskating and delaying and using a very weak excuse. there are apparently memos in the department of justice from the regan era that call for this kind of privilege but it's not anything that is regular order in the department and it is certainly not a legitimate use of executive privilege. >> can i point out and david gurgen made this point earlier tonight and it's important that
during the regan era, during iran contra, regan waved executive privilege and waved it for everybody in his administration. so they could testify before the congress. so they could get to the bottom of the story. so it's kind of odd you would use something from the regan orrau when in fact president regan did the opposite when he was under the gun in the iran contra investigation. >> if people are refusing to answer questions, trying to have it both ways when it comes to executive privilege, then what good do the over -- what teeth do the oversight committee have here? does any of this mean anything? >> it's pretty hard to dig. what they're going to have to do is go a few layers lower to try to gather information. they don't have the same investigative tools as a special counsel. they don't have a grand jury
they can bring people in. >> so what's the point then, john? >> it's a good question. i think they're trying to inform the public but it's a -- the administration, trump people are doing a pretty good job blocking the senate and house from learning anything. >> it's totally different, don, from the mueller investigation. what the it administration rightly is most concerned about is the mueller investigation with the special counsel. as john dean is saying there's a whole different set of powers there and that means that the stuff that's going on the hill that we see, yes, these are public officials trying to do the public's work and get to the bottom of russia attacking our fundamental small process of our elections but a lot of this is theater and that's not the case with the mueller investigation. >> stick around. we've got lot more to talk about. we'll talk on the other side. when we come back more on sessions' testimony in front of the senate.
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my panel is back with me. but first i want to bring in a utah republican, a member of the house intelligence committee. i've got to get your response to what john dean said. you know he was a nixon white house special counsel and he said what jeff sessions what he did today was a definition of stonewalling. how do you respond? >> i'm not sure i agree exactly. i think he was trying to be as forthcoming as he could. there's a couple constraints. one is with the classified setting. but also this executive privilege. i'm not an attorney. but i do believe there's some merit to that and he probably wasn't being improper in how he handled those private conversations with the president. >> more than anything he said i don't know if it's appropriate to answer rather than saying i'm
not comfortable answering something classified and other thing he said the most was i don't recall. >> you know i think if he would have answered one question in that fashion, there would have been demands for him to be forthcoming. i think obviously the investigation is going to go forward. obviously these questions are going to be asked again and again. i think at that time they'll have this opportunity to claim. are they going to claim executive privilege or answer the questions? we want the american people to know. it just may not be appropriate for right now. >> listen, you're on the committee. they are also going behind -- some of the people testifying in public, you're questioning them privately where you're getting classified information. are you satisfy wouied with the information you're getting in those settings?
>> there's a long list of witnesses we want to talk to. in some cases i've been frustrated. i was very frustrate would the former fbi director. we were quite angry with each other because i didn't feel he was being as forth right as we needed him to be. by and large you do get better answers. that's one of the reasons why those of us on the committee, we hate for it to become so partisan, so public. i don't think we do as good a job. i think sometimes there's grand standing that takes place and that's unfortunate. i think there's value doing it in a nonpartisan way that allows tuse be a little more serious. >> i know the american people agree with you on that but do you think the former fbi director was more forthcoming with his questions and answers? >> it's hard for me to say.
it depends on what circumstances. in this one i'm referring to he wasn't but in some of the open sessions he's been quite forthcoming. so i think it depends on the subject and what we're probing. again these are good men. they're trying to provide the information and will eventually learn everything we need to know. >> i want to ask you about health care. you voted in favor of the republican house bill. we're just learning that president trump told senators the house bill was mean and to show more heart. why is the president coming out against the republican bill now because after they and before th they passed it, he was touting it? >> it's one of those times i say we're on the same side. help us out here, throw us a bone. but you got to give mr. trump credit. it's one of the things that indeared him to the american
people is he spoke off the top of the head. but we're clearly -- >> so you don't think the bill is mean? >> no. that's what i'm trying to say. we're clearly not trying to be mean. we're trying to make this affordable for people. we're trying to draw more and more people in and i know the media has been mayby that's not the story they're telling but that's sincerely our intention is to help americans. >> it's not the media. this is what members of congress are saying, constituents back home. we're just the vessel or the platform that gets what people are saying out there. >> i'm not pointing a finger at you. >> i understand that but why would the president call it mean? why would the cvo score it the way it is? but you're saying it's not mean. do you have concerns with the
score? do you have concerns with what people are saying at town halls back home? >> sure, we do. for sure we do. look, this is not an easy task we're trying to do and it's controversial and there will be some people disappointed. there's no question about that. and again i'm not throwing the media under the bus but you got to realize as well that the media coverage is in some cases not been as fair or accurate as it could have been. i'm not here to talk about that. i'm here to talk about can we help people? can we make this better? if the president thinks it's mean or insufficient, how can we make this a bill a lot of americans are going to support? >> i apreciate your time. thank you very muff. back again now with my panel. okay. so, david, you just heard from congressman stewart. what's your reaction?
>> that was fascinating to hear a republican house member basically beg the president, throw us a bone here, man, help us out. i think it was clear recognition that the president of the united states after celebrating in the rose garden with all of the house members took a bus and rolled right over them. >> gloria, do you think -- i would think his strategy was, meaning the president, he's a negotiator. he needed a win. he needed a win in congress, regardless of what the bill is like, knowing it had to go to the senate and the enset would fix it. >> yes and now he wants another win. but don't forget. do you remember rose garden celebration after the health care win last time around? and the president was praising the bill and praising republicans who voted for it.
and now he's turning around saying we need a more generous bill, a bill that costs more money. because the president understands that this bill may hurt some of his constituents, his base of support. he understands that the house bill is not popular in this country. and so he's putting on his political hat to looking towards the senate but he's sawing off the limb out from under all the republicans in the house who voted for him. >> i was surprised when he said give us a break. i think it was a bit tongue and cheek the way he said it. >> imagine the democratic congressional campaign committee ad as they're trying to take back the house, they're already going to plan and now they're going to use president trump in their ad saying even he said it
was mean. >> where are congressional republicans? are they in sink? what about republicans? >> well, it sounds like -- you know, it sounds like he's telling them to jump and they jump and he says jump faster, jump higher. then he says no, faster, high, faster, higher. they get the bill through. he celebrates in the rose garden. big group photo and no, shouldn't have jumped at all. the jump was mean. >> do you think this will have any effect responses like the one we just heard from the congressman, do you think this will have any effect on senators working through this bill as well? are they not going to try to make it as mean? >> the president first of all asked for it to be more
generous. it's going to be difficult. i think the senators are working through their own bill. a lot of them are probably relieved because they didn't want to tie them to the house bill which they had no intention of tying them to anyway. so i think mitch mcconnell is probably working quietly to get his own bill passed and i think his goal is probably and if i had to guess, his goal is probably to pass a bill out of the senate so he can say i've passed a bill but who knows what would happen between those two bills eventually if they had to reconcile. >> john dean back to -- let's get back to the testimony today. the deputy attorney general rod ros rosenstein testified at a separate hearing. i wanted to read what he said about special counsel.
>> if president trump ordered you to fire the special counselal, what would you do? >> senator, i'm not going to follow any orders unless i believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. under the regulation, special counsel mueller can only be fired for good cause and if there were good cause, i would consider it, if there was not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says. >> that was a stand up statement. that's exactly what the statement he should have given. it certainly sent a message if it they want to fire the special counsel, they may need to fire the acting attorney general and the president may have to make the move himself. he may have to move by undercutting the regs and getting the job. i thought that was a perfectly fine statement. >> but a very strange statement
given what rod rosenstein did. now he's decided he has a backbone. a couple months ago or seven years ago comey was fired, he knew he was going to be fired no matter what. seven years give or take a couple. but he went back and he said he knew comey was going to get fired but he still went back and wrote that memo, this insane memo about the hillary clinton email investigation which clearly was not what this was about. so he was clearly adjusting to what the white house wanted him to do because he -- the white house wanted to fire comey and he helped them find a rational for it. so to now say that he would never do such a thing is a bit rich. >> unless he was being used by the white house it's perfectly plausible to me and tell me if you disagree, that rosenstein,
who is by all accounts an upstanding person, wrote that memo because he didn't approve of the way comey handled the hillary clinton email story, particularly as it pertained to his july statements and his october reopening of the case. and that he didn't like it and he wrote a memo about that and why it was so terrible. my question is did he know that this was going to be used as the sole rational at least pub lacklac -- publicly. >> but he said he knew he would be fired before he got the memo. >> we'll finish it. >> lots more to talk about. when we come back, a group of men who have investigated some of washington's biggest scandals join me. i'm going to ask. [vo] what made secretariat the greatest racehorse
and it's a much closer race than expected. and the very latest on this. so, tell us what's going on here. a name known to republicans on the ticket. >> former chairman of the rnc and a former aid they now project he will win the republican primary for governor in virginia. we've been watching this race all night. it is a squeaker. and you're seeing about a 4,000 vote spread there. he'll face the democrat who won and this will sort of assess the trump effect this coming november. this is a much closer race than expected because the trump candidate, if you will had a lot more support than anticipated.
he now has the mission of healing the divide in the republican party before trying to take on raffle. >> so cory stewart was the trump person, sort of ran in trump's image gillespie did not? >> ed gillespie was distancing himself a bit from trump, not doing the full trump embrace, taking more of the establishment lane and it gave him a bit of a scare tonight perhaps. he does emerge with the victory and it's about trying to piece together the factions of the republican party to have a unified party going into the genroom election. >> we will follow. thank you so much. let's talk about the attorney general jeff sessions today now. infuriating democrats by leaving many of their questions unanswered. john barrett, former white water independent counsel robert ray and cnn legal analyst who is a
former watergate special prosecut prosecutor i am really exstatic. so i'm going to start with you. you were all uniquely involved. you're the former watergate special prosecutor. do you see similarities in what happened back then and play out in washington d.c.? >> everything is compressed in time now . this is such an early stage in the investigation and yet there's such chaos with one investigator being fired and a casual discussion about whether mr. trump intends to fire special counsel, mueller. it boggles the mind. this is not a casual game of
wackau mole where you're uncomfortable that one investigator is doing his job, so you fire him and then ask for another. who is the right one? is this goldy locks? one is too hard and the other is too cold? you know, this is not the way the system is supposed to work and i think it's got to be up to congress in the judiciary committees of both house and senate to make things a little clearer and perhaps to the white house. >> you worked on the iran contrainvestigation. you say president trump should take a cue from how president regan handled that. what does he need do? >> at the immediate breaking of iran contra was point an executive commission to air out everything that happened. it really was also an effort to fill in his memory, which was imperfect but that tower
commission was the first out of the box and gave a lot of facts to the public and on parallel tracks a congressional select committee and an independent counsel each pursued their ri e respective roles. gathered facts and president regan invoked no executive privilege. indeed he told everyone to cooperate and the criminal investigation was handled by my boss, the independence counsel, which did federal criminal investigation parallel to what mueller is now doing. >> sure, there are parallels and the best advice i could give is for the administration to stop talking to you so much and also it was particularly disheartening today to start to hear things about trying to --
by gingrich to try to question the special counsel's integrity. from watergate on forward, the first strategy is try to fire the special prosecutor. as he knows with regard to the firing of archibald coxs and continue to investigation. so if that doesn't work, we're now in a special counsel environment. rod rosenstein made it very clear he's not firing anybody without cause, which i think is the appropriate poster and curagice and important because that's the insulation of independence that a special counsel needs in order to do the special counsel's work. that was the clinton strategy
during the white water investigation and that was a concerted effort by the white house to try to under9 integrity of the independent counsel's office, none of which is it in the best interest of the country. ultimately it's not successful and it only delays the inevitable. if you want to guarantee this investigation will go on indefinitely. keep up on the current path. my hope is that wiser heads will prevail and we'll get on with the business of the investigation and done within the election cycle over the course of the next 18 months. that's what should happen. >> the other parallel to watergate -- >> can you hold off for one second because i'm going to keep you guys around for the next block. when we come back, the white house saying president trump has no intention of firing the special councils, robert
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back now with my panel. richard, i know you wanted to get in. robert was making a point about the clinton folks trying to discredit the special prosecutor in his case and the similarities to this case. >> well, here you will remember in water gate the saturday night massacre in which archibald cox was fired and the deputy attorney general resigned rather than carry out president nixon's
order to fire. that's what woke up the public. so to here early on we have all of the chaos around the appointment and a new special counsel. mr. comey boeing fired. the only reason given by the president actually was that he was feeling pressure and that explanation was given to the russians. how much more bazar can we get? so i think roberts' advice that the president needs to settle down and we need to let the investigators do their job, there's no one here who questions bob mueller's integrity or his capability. he's a former marine appointed by a republican president to head the fbi. let's let him determine whether there is any there there in
connection with his investigation and move forward based on reasonable basis to make an evaluation. >> john, can i ask you the white house officials -- because we're talking about robert mueller. white house official is telling cnn that the president interviewed robert mueller, as a potential replacement for the fired fbi director the day before he was named special counsel. does that surprise you? >> it's an interesting tid bit. it underlines how proper it is that he's the special counsel. but i want to draw a distinction i think we're over looking. in each of the previous scandals or matters we're talking about, watergate, iran contra, white water. as to the congress, the major y majorities on each side of the house were in the opposite party's hands from the president. so there was a partisan energy to investigate when these matters raised public concerns.
today the alignment is republican control in the house and senate and in the white house. so i do question not bob mueller. he's doing the intelligence and criminal investigation but i question how much inaerng there is in the congress because the partisan fervor or advantage or at least the partisan instincts not to be a lap dog is absent today. >> you think that's why we're seeing people who are coming in front of the committees and refusing to answer the question or put it in even john dean who was poort of -- during the watergate special counsel to the nixon administration saying this is stonewalling? >> yes, exactly. senator burr, the chairman asked the attorney general if he could talk to the white house about letting the attorney general answer more questions. that's so far short of a committee demanding the white
house wave all of its privileges and encourage people to testify, which is actually what richard nixon did for the senate. it's what ronald regan did. it would allow a congress inclined to investigate to get somewhere. >> and he was white house councils, not special counsel. i want to ask you this, robert. donald trump's friend, the president's friend suggested that mueller has a conflict of interest. he says it's unethical mueller and trump had a private conversation potentially about the russia investigation because the next day he became the man leading the investigation. does he have a point there? >> i think that's a bit far fetched in terms of ultimately assuming a position within the justice department as special counsel but with obviously a very different mission than would be the case if he were the fbi director.
it speaks well of the fact mr. mueller carries bipartisan reputation for integrity. and i think we ought to leave well enough alone. criticisms about who he's hiring and whether or not they're republicans or democrats. seems to be the flavor of the month in washington but it really does a great disservice to the investigation to the person who leads the investigation and again it's not in the country's interest. i still remain of the view that with regard to big matters, the country gets things right. unquestionably a big matter yes, it is in a partisan environment, but i think if everybody keeps their eye on the ball as to what we're trying to accomplish, i think we'll get well past the partisan skirmishes that go
along the way here. >> i hope you guys will come back. >> thank you. >> thanks, don. >> when we come back, sessions says he thinks it's tragic the u.s. and russia don't get along better. what his testimony reveals about the testimony's lax reaction to russia's interference. dynamic performance, so you can own the road. track-tuned handling, so you can cer corners. aggressive-styling, so you can break away from everyone else. experience the exhilaration of the bold lexus is. experience amazing.
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aboard air force one, president trump watched the attorney general's entire testimony. the white house said it thought president trump did a very good job. national security analyst juliette kayyem and steve hall, agood evening. attorney general sessions gave an emotional denial of any collusion with the russian in an
opening statement. let's listen, then we'll talk. >> the suggestion that i participated in any collusion, that i was aware of any collusion with the russian government to hurt this country, which i have served with honor for 35 years, or to under mine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie. >> but when it came to answering specific questions about russia, he said he never received a detailed briefing despite all the stories of russian hacking and michael flynn's contacts with russia even before he recused himself. does that answer make sense to you? >> not at all. i mean, sort of cry me a river about jeff sessions feeling sorry for himself, that sort of seems like a side issue. the bigger issue is that the attorney general of the united states never asked about the sort of biggest challenge to our democracy that we saw in 2016, that we will continue to see in
these elections ahead. you know, questions like what happened, what can we do to stop it, how do we ensure that russia is punished in some way. it's like he'll totally tuned out of any acknowledgement of his responsibility as attorney general. he really did want to say, i don't give a damn, right? he literally seemed to think that this was not his responsibility as a cabinet member overseeing the largest law enforcement agency in this country. to me, that's the story, that he's offended by people asking him legitimate questions because he lied or did not disclose information honor some of his forms. that's silliness. i heard that and i thought, you know, he had planned that. the bigger issue is the jaw dropping aspect of him never having asked, been briefed, or done anything to protect our democracy. >> and steve, he was asked repeatedly about a third unreported meeting with the
russian ambassador at the mayflower hotel in april of 2016. he denied it but then he said he couldn't recall, and even if it did happen, nothing substantial was talked about. what do you think of that answer? >> don, i think that it's really important that we keep the focus on what it really needs to be, which is in this case collusion. now, under certain circumstances meeting with kislyak, which admittedly sessions went back and forth, there were firm comments, he had no recollection of that, but then he kind of waffled a little bit. at the end of the day meetings with kislyak are not in my view that critical. they're certainly politically impactful and the optics may not be good. but the focus should be on collusion and on that sessions was direct, he said absolutely i was not involved in collusion and i didn't see any collusion.
he said that under oath, said it very directly. either there was no collusion that he saw, and by the way, that doesn't mean there wasn't collusion, that's why we have an investigation, or he wasn't telling the truth. we just have to get to the bottom of the collusion piece. >> let me ask you the bigger picture, it really is how russia influenced the election, and if there is collection. there very well could not be collusion. but don't you think it's important that if he failed to disclose some of these meetings and he was only one or the only one who -- members who were like him who met with the russian ambassador and disclosed it or disclosed it at some point, you don't think that's important? >> there is political importance to that and there may even be legal implications, if he says one thing and actually did something different, that would certainly are legal implications. but from a purely intelligence perspective, i've heard
ambassador kislyak described as the dark lord, the spy master in washington. i don't think he was. he is an ambassador, he is the eyes and ears of vladimir putin, but i don't believe he's intelligence officer. from a counterintelligence perspective, were the meetings with kislyak part of some clandestine operation the goal of which was collusion, i think that's unlikely. it doesn't mean the meetings themselves were not important. but from the investigative part of it, i think it's much more important to focus on what were other people doing perhaps behind the scenes less publicly with somebody with a lower profile than the ambassador. >> what do you think, juliette? >> i often agree with steve. i have one caveat to what he said, which is the sort of remarkable aspect of the testimony that sessions has never cared once about russia's attempts to undermine our democracy. so you can go the conspiratorial route and say he's not asking because he knows, or you can say
he's not asking because he doesn't want to know the answer. in other words, he may not know what the rest of the trump team was doing. but to me that suggests this person should not be the attorney general. there is also another piece that got lost, when he was sort of claiming this executive privilege or whatever it's called, where he said, there was a question about has there ever been discussions about pardoning anyone in this investigation. so we all know who that is, that would be mike flynn, the former national security adviser. he did not say no. so he's still to me very intimately involved with aspects of this investigation. but i will agree with steve on this, this investigation -- >> we've got to run. finish your thought. >> no, i mean, look, there's a good investigation, we should focus on that, a lot of this is atmospherics. >> thank you both. we'll be right back.