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Senate Votes on Sessions; Grassley at Senator Sessions Hearing; Trump Meets with Pharmaceutical Execs; Feinstein at Senator Sessions Hearing. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired January 31, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:34:02] CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

I want to take you live to Capitol Hill where hours after President Trump fires the acting attorney general, the Senate Judiciary Committee votes for President Trump's attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions. As you can see, that hearing now underway. Democrats expected to put up quite a fight as backlash over Trump's travel ban continues. This vote was actually delayed last week so the committee could review nearly 200 pages of additional answers to questions sent to Sessions.

OK, so let's talk about this. I'm joined now by George Terwilliger. He was appointed to the Justice Department under President Ronald Reagan and served as the acting attorney general under George H.W. Bush.

Welcome, sir.


COSTELLO: Good morning.

Is there any way Jeff Sessions will not be confirmed?

TERWILLIGER: I don't think so. And it would be a disservice to the country if his confirmation were not to occur, or even be delayed. The chaos we've seen over the last few days is in part the result of not having this important national security cabinet position filled, in my view.

[09:35:12] COSTELLO: Democrats are concerned about that because apparently Jeff Sessions wasn't consulted by President Trump about this travel ban. Should he have been even though he's not attorney general yet?

TERWILLIGER: I can't really speak to that, Carol. I think that - I don't know whether he was or he wasn't, but I wouldn't think that it was either necessary or appropriate that he be consulted given, as you say, that he's not yet - not yet been confirmed and in the position.

COSTELLO: May I interrupt you, sir, because Senator Grassley is speaking positively about Jeff Sessions. Let's listen.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Set aside his role as a legislature and adopt a new role as our chief law enforcement officer. And he told us he'll execute that law with strength, with integrity, and with independence in order to provide for equal justice for all. That's precisely what we want in an attorney general, equal and fair application of the law.

His answers to written questions made all this more clear. And I might add, there were just - there were quite a few written questions given to him, in addition to what was - went on during those ten hours. Senator Sessions answered roughly 700 written questions, including over 350 questions from members who announced that they would vote against his nomination even before they submitted a single written question.

One consistent thread that ran through all of his answers is this, he will follow the law regardless of whether he would have supported it as a matter of policy as a senator. The written testimony that we heard at his hearing tells the same story, we heard from witnesses concerned that the attorney general must provide full and fair law enforcement, and then we heard from witnesses who have known Senator Sessions personally and worked for and with him for decades. Those witnesses included former Attorney General Mukasey, former Deputy Attorney General Thompson, and lawyers who worked with Senator Sessions for a long period of time. All of those witnesses who actually know Senator Sessions said, in effect, the same thing, if you are concerned with securing the strong and equal enforcement of our laws, you should look no further than Senator Sessions to find an attorney general that's up to that task.

Senator Sessions was asked a number of questions about policy positions he's taken as a legislator. That's good and well. But the test isn't whether or not you agree with policy positions Senator Sessions may have taken as a legislature. I'm going to refer to what Ranking Member Feinstein said in her opening statement at the hearing on this question. The test is whether Senator Sessions, as attorney general, will uphold the laws he voted against as senator. On issue after issue then, Senator Sessions made clear that he will.

It's important to recall what Senator Sessions said in this regard. Quote, "the office of attorney general of the United States is not a normal political office, and anyone who holds it must have total fidelity to the laws of the Constitution of the United States," end of quote. And everyone on this committee, be they Republican or Democrat, knows Senator Sessions to be a man of integrity and a man of his word. Because we know him to be a man of his word, we know that he will uphold and enforce all laws equally without regard to person just as he pledged.

[09:39:55] I'll take a second and address a few questions concerning executive orders issued by the president. Some on the other side have raised concerns about Senator Sessions, whether he was involved in drafting or reviewing the executive orders. It's not clear to me why it would be a problem even if he had been involved. But the fact of the matter is, he was not involved. In his written responses to Senator Leahy, Senator Sessions stated for the record, quote, "neither I, nor any of my current staff," and though - end of quote, had a role in formulating or drafting the executive orders.

Ranking Member Feinstein also asked about the department's role, more specifically the Office of Legal Counsel. Of course, as we all know, Senator Sessions is not yet attorney general. He isn't yet running the department because now roughly three weeks and over 700 written questions after his hearing, this committee is still debating his nomination. To me, this underscores that we shouldn't needlessly delay this vote any further. The department needs strong leadership, and needs it in place as soon as possible.

I'd also like to take a moment to address a criticism I've heard lodged against Senator Sessions that I believe is particularly unfair. As I've said, it's fine to ask Senator Sessions policy questions about votes on legislation, but to imply that because he had a principled objection to a provision in a particular bill that he therefore didn't support the underlying purpose of that legislation, and that sort of an approach is unfair. Senator Sessions has been repeatedly criticized for voting against the Democrat version of the 2013 Violence Against Women Act. Of course his critics routinely fail to mention that he voted for my version of that act which provided stronger provisions for grant accountability and tougher penalties for abuse. And, of course, critics also conveniently fail to mention that Senator Sessions supported the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization before when it was brought up in 2005. So to claim that he didn't support the underlying purpose of that legislation is just a rhetorical trick. It's an unfair one, and maybe even mean-spirited. And I'll explain it this way. We all know that members of this committee on both sides of the aisle disagree on bills for all sorts for reasons at different times. Every Democrat in this committee opposed my version of the legislation, which included mandatory minimums to combat child pornography and assault. And we then to conclude that members who opposed my amendment aren't concerned about child pornography? Of course we should not make that accusation. Or what about debates that we've had over the years about legislation that included the death penalty? When members oppose legislation to combat terrorism because that legislation includes the death penalty, would it be fair for us to claim that those members don't care about protecting the nation against terrorism? Of course not. If we were to do that, that would be shameful.

COSTELLO: All right, we're going to break away from the A.G. confirmation hearing and committee and go to the White House and Donald Trump. He's meeting with big pharmaceutical companies, the CEOs. Let's listen in.

[09:44:02] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Foreign price controls, reduce the resources of American drug companies to finance drug and R&D innovation. I think you people know that very well. It's very unfair to this country. Our trade policy will priorities that foreign countries pay their fair share for U.S. manufactured drugs. So our drug companies have greater financial resources to development the development of new cures. And I think it's so important. But right now it's very unfair what other countries are doing to us.


COSTELLO: All right, you see President Trump not wanting to answer reporter's questions about anything other than the matter at hand, which was drug prices in this country. Mr. Trump has vowed to bring them down. That's why he assembled all of those CEOs of pharmaceutical companies throughout the country and he vowed that he was going to lower the tax rate so they could make drugs cheaper and he was going to get rid of 75 percent of regulations. In other words, he said it won't take 15 years to approve drugs through the FDA.

Now I want to take you back to the Senate judiciary hearing for Jeff Sessions' nomination to attorney general. This is the ranking Democratic member, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who basically has been telling the committee that Jeff Sessions is merely a puppet for Donald Trump and will not uphold the constitutional law. Let's listen.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Protests at airports across the country. Press reports have stated that between 100 and 200 people were detained at American airports and more than 300 were not allowed to board planes to the United States from foreign airports, including my home state of California.

In addition, the order effectively bars entry of people ranging from Iraqi translators who helped American soldiers for years in Iraq to Syrian refugees fleeing horrible violence. It is also been interpreted to apply to people with approved visas and dual nationals. The question is, if confirmed, what will this nominee do? Will he support and defend these broad and destructive executive orders? Will he carry out and enforce the president's actions that may very well violate the Constitution? If past is prologue to the future, it's not difficult to assess that he will.

[09:55:05] Just one short year and two months ago, on December 7, 2015, then candidate Donald Trump issued a press release calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, end quote. Three days later, on December 10, 2015, Senator Leahy, the man sitting to my left, authored a resolution in the Judiciary Committee. And here's what it stated. Quote, "it is the sense of the Senate that the United States must not bar individuals from entering into the United States based on their religion as such action would be contrary to the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded," end quote.

The vote was 16-4 in favor of the Leahy resolution. The chairman and a majority of Republicans, gentlemen, voted for it. But the nominee voted no. In fact, he spoke for nearly 30 minutes against it. He had to know that this type of ban would raise serious constitutional questions. He had to know that it was effectively unenforceable, but he supported it anyway. This no vote speaks volumes, but it was certainly not the last word.

According to "The Washington Post," and again I quote, "from immigration and health care, to national security and trade, Sessions is the intellectual godfather of the president's policies. Sessions' reach extends throughout the White House with his aides and allies accelerating the president's most dramatic moves, including the ban on refugees and citizens from seven mostly Muslim nations that has triggered fear around the globe," end quote.

Now, if it were just this one article by "The Post," just one campaign event, just one vote, maybe there would be an open question. But there are many disturbing actions and statements throughout his record.

Let me name some of them. I'm also concerned about the president's repeated calls for an investigation into voter fraud simply because he lost the popular vote by 3 million. And again last week, the White House press secretary reiterated the president's belief that there was widespread voter fraud in this past election and that millions of illegal votes were cast with no evidence whatsoever. What will this attorney general nominee do? Will he use the awesome power of the Department of Justice and spend taxpayer dollars to launch partisan investigations into voter fraud or will he use his position to defend the voting rights of millions of Americans?

When asked about voter fraud by Senator Franken, Senator Sessions responded that he believes, and I quote, "we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles," end quote. In reality, claims of widespread voter fraud have been repeatedly debunked, and even isolated cases have found to be extremely rare. This past December - excuse me - "The Washington Post" reviewed the 2016 election and out of over 135 million people voting, they found four documented cases of voter fraud.

If confirmed, what will Senator Sessions do when faced with questions on reproductive rights? This is an issue of real importance to a dominant majority of women in this country. At this hearing, I asked directly if it is still his view that Roe v. Wade is, quote, "one of the worst colossally erroneous Supreme Court decisions of all time," end quote. He said, quote, "it is," end quote. He said he will, quote, "respect," end quote, Roe v. Wade but believes the decision, quote, "violated the Constitution," end quote.

[10:00:03] As attorney general who says he believes a woman's well- established, fundamental rights are unconstitutional is essentially inviting states