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Sessions Did Not Disclose Meetings With Russian Ambassador; Trump Lays Out Bold Agenda In Speech To Congress; Trump Administration, Delays Rollout Of Revised Travel Ban. Aired 1-2 ET

Aired March 2, 2017 - 01:00   ET


[01:00:00] JOHN VAUSE, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. Ahead this hour.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Breaking news: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, when he was still a Senator and Adviser to the Trump campaign had meetings with Russia's Ambassador to the U.S. But did not disclose them during his confirmation hearings.

VAUSE: Why Donald Trump's no hold bad presidency is splitting public opinion in Britain, and will it put his visit to the U.K. in doubt?

SESAY: And the dramatic shakeup in the French Presidential election, could knock out one of the main candidates.

VAUSE: Hello, everybody, thanks for joining us. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: And I'm Isha Sesay. This is NEWSROOM L.A. We begin with breaking news on Donald Trump's campaign staff's contact with Russia.

VAUSE: The Justice Department says, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was a top advisor to candidate Trump, spoke twice with Russia's U.S. Ambassador last year: once in July, and then again in September. Sessions did not mention those contacts during his Senate Confirmation Hearing.


AL FRANKEN, UNITED STATES SENATOR FROM MINNESOTA: And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign, communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two, in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.


SESAY: Well, Jeff Sessions has not responded saying this, "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issue of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false."

VAUSE: A number of top lawmakers say, if Sessions failed to disclose those contacts he should recuse himself from any investigation. Others, are calling for his resignation. Meantime, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, have now agreed on parameters for their probe of Russian meddling into the U.S. presidential campaign.

SESAY: The investigation will cover what cyberactivity Russia used against the U.S., and whether Russia had linked the political campaigns or other Americans. The committee will also assess the U.S. government response and whether anyone leaked classified information. The White House is firing back at Democrats over the Jeff Sessions story. One official says, this is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats. Attorney General Sessions met with the Ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony. It's no surprise, Senator Al Franken is pushing the story, immediately following President Trump's successful address to the nation.

VAUSE: CNN's Jeff Zeleny, has more now on the President's momentum which might now just be grinding to a hope.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As President Trump basked in the glow of his big speech to Congress.


ZELENY: The hard work of turning the promises into reality, was the first order of business at the White House. With the President sitting down for lunch with Republican Congressional Leaders.

TRUMP: We're just here to start the process. It begins as of now, and we think we're going to have tremendous success.

ZELENY: Yet tremendous success, depends not only on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But on persuading the party's rank and file to pay for his agenda. The President delayed again, the signing of a travel ban to replace the one blocked in the courts.

TRUMP: We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism, to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists.

ZELENY: CNN has learned that Secretary of State, Defense Secretary, and National Security Adviser are all pushing for Iraq to be removed from the list of majority Muslim countries included in the ban. But in most of his primetime address, the President struck a more optimistic note.

TRUMP: A new national pride is sweeping across our nation, and a new surge of optimism is placing impossible dreams firmly within our grasp.

ZELENY: But it remains an open question whether it was a lasting pivot or a one-night performance, after a rough start to his presidency. In either case, his wish list is an expensive and complicated one, even among Republicans. Not mention, Democrats who are largely resisting the Trump agenda. From healthcare:

TRUMP: We should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the healthcare exchanges.

ZELENY: To tax reform.

[01:05:09] TRUMP: It will be a big, big cut. At the same time, we will provide massive tax relief for the middle class.

ZELENY: To infrastructure.

TRUMP: To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure of the United States, financed through both public and private capital creating millions of new jobs.

ZELENY: After the speech, speaker Ryan offered praise but walked away when asked about the price tag.


ZELENY: Did he answer questions: how he would pay for things tonight? Several fiscal conservative lawmakers said, they could not support an agenda that would add to the nation's deficit. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that plans, would be paid for through economic growth.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, UNITED STATES TREASURY SECRETARY: It's the number one issue, we got to get back to sustain the long-term growth rates, three percent or higher. We are going to have a tax plan that's going to bring business back to the U.S. and make the it competitive again.

ZELENY: It's the President's biggest moment of the speech still, we're reverberating within his new role as Commander in Chief. When he paid tribute to the widow of the fallen Navy SEAL, Ryan Owens, who died in a raid in Yemen.

TRUMP: And Ryan is looking down, right now. You know that, and he's very happy because I think he just broke a record.

ZELENY: Jeff Zeleny, CNN, the White House.


VAUSE: Well, public opinion on President Donald Trump is just as divided in Britain, as it is here right in the United States.

SESAY: London Correspondent, Max foster, shows us the President's polarizing effect in the U.K.


rally in Florida, to an anti-Trump rally in London; two very different locations but with the same headline act. I can't remember a day when Donald Trump didn't make the British newspapers. He seems to be on the front covers more often than the British Prime Minister. But there is one politician here, who knows him better than anyone else. Right wing politician, turned radio host, then commentator: Nigel Farage.

NIGEL FARAGE, BRITISH POLITICIAN, BROADCASTER AND POLITICAL ANALYST: I wonder what, Sarah, inaptly, makes of Donald J. Trump? What grade does he get, Sarah?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he gets "F."

FARAGE: He gets F? Does he, right? OK. What for achievement, yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, not for achievement at all. I think he's an entirely opposite, that means he's quite dangerous.

FOSTER: Well, there's really no shortage of callers who want to speak to Nigel Farage about Donald Trump. This was the first British politician to meet Trump, after the election. He's also one of his greatest defenders.

FARAGE: Jim, from Hounslow, is Trump the star pupil? Or is he the class trouble maker?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to say, I think he's that - he's a "Star guy." I just want to say a little thank you for doing everything you did for our country. Much appreciated. Without you it'd be much more trouble.

FOSTER: Trump, is a highly emotive figure here, but he does have his supporters. He's the leader of the free world after all, and the U.K. is a fully signed up member. This said it all, the moment the Prime Minister threw her support behind Donald Trump, just days into his presidency. And as she made plans to pull Britain out of the European Union. U.S. Presidents have always loomed large in British culture, and have long been the subject of ridicule by political cartoonist. Christian Adams works for the right to center Telegraph newspaper. And it's his job to articulate and to challenge British views.

CHRISTIAN ADAMS, THE TELEGRAPH CARTOONIST: You know, outside London, it's quite surprising that they say, you know, good for Trump. He's speaking for the - speaking for the man on the street who hasn't been represented.

FOSTER: So, he represents British views? Or a section of British society?

ADAMS: Yes, definitely. Definitely. People are sick and tired of politicians, you know, and they always have been. They're all the same. You know, they're, you know, not trusted. There's all this sort of thing. And its' sort of always been the way. But there's finally, come somebody, Farage here, and Trump there, who sort of can vocalize this, you know, sort of middle England feeling that's these people don't represent us.

FOSTER: Donald Trump, the poster boy for an international anti- establishment insurgency. And that's what makes him big news well beyond American borders. Max Foster, CNN, London.


SESAY: Well, Dominic Thomas joins us now. He's Chair of the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. Dominic, it's good to have you with us. I mean, when you see that report by our Max Foster there and just the level of division Donald Trump brings to the U.K. How badly has Theresa May calculated or miscalculated the relationship with Trump and what it could cost her politically?

[01:10:05] DOMINIC THOMAS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE STUDIES CHAIR: Well, the situation is already divided and has been in the run up to the Brexit vote back in June, and since then. As you have observed, Donald Trump's or the White House certainly, have been managing his public appearances over the past few weeks, beginning with his trip to Florida, then with CPAC, and then the speech to Congress. For him to take a major international trip to United Kingdom, and be greeted by significant demonstrations as are anticipated, would obviously go completely in the opposite direction as to what they've been trying to achieve.

So, he's a highly polarizing figure. And I think, the big question is to try and understand what it is about him that makes him (INAUDIBLE), you know, in its way. And I think that the really - the big issue is around the question of kind of nationalism and protectionism. Is that people are on the one hand, very concerned about the future of the Atlantic relationship. Not just with Brexit, but with the European Union in a more general manner. And they're also highly concerned with the - at a United States that no longer plays, or can no longer be relied upon in a broader political sphere.

VAUSE: I haven't seen any polling recently, but there was, you know, one of a new poll that came out a couple weeks ago, that said that there was, you know, a majority, or something that, you know, more people were supportive of Donald Trump making a visit to the U.K., than those who were opposed to it. And the point here is that, you know, yes, there are very loud protesters, but you know, volume doesn't mean the majority. They're the people on the streets protesting, it's not reflective of the general opinion in Britain.

THOMAS: It's not. But I think that it's an - it doesn't bring positive attention because the coverage will focus on those political issues. I think there are a lot of people, not just in the United Kingdom, we've seen this extending to the mainland. European political landscape, the ways in which the Trump election is giving voice to a certain group of political parties who see themselves emboldened by what the Trump campaign has been able to put out there for them. But there's also a lot of question marks about which direction this is going to go in. And he's also proving incredibly divisive. And as we saw today, with the House of Lords, and turning down or

essentially going to be asking for that to be an amendment. That already at this stage to the Brexit Bill, Theresa May is in a difficult political position as she tries to negotiate this Brexit, and to even trigger this divorce with the European Union. And I think that the background of this too, is that having Trump come at this particular moment; doesn't help with that particular negotiation which is front and foremost on her agenda, when she wakes up in the morning.

SESAY: She is in an unviable position.

VAUSE: Yes. Stay with us Dominic, because we are going to make in the French presidential election which could knockout one of the main candidates, as in two months before voters actually hit to the polls. Conservative candidate Francois Fillon, vows to remain in the race even though he's facing a fraud investigation. His wife and two adult children, allegedly were paid about a million euros for jobs they did not do.


FRANCOIS FILLON, FRENCH POLITICIAN AND PRESIDENTIAL CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE (through translator): I will not give in. I will not resign. I will not withdraw. I will go to the end because that is democracy which is being defied. I ask you to follow me.


SESAY: Meanwhile in the coming hours, far right politician Marine Le Pen will face a vote in the European parliament, where she could lose her immunity. Le Pen is under investigation for posting graphic images of ISIS executions. Let's bring back Dominic Thomas, Chair of UCLA's French Department, he is still with us. My goodness, these elections in France, eh? What a tussle? This situation with Francois Fillon, basically, can he survive this investigation?

THOMAS: I don't think he can. I think it's impossible for him to run on that particular ticket - particular ticket when he's presented itself as being this clean, moralistic sort of politician, that's going to be tough on employment, welfare benefits, and so on. And he essentially emerges as precisely what people is speaking out against, which are entitled and corrupt politicians. And he has become the poster boy for that, rather than the poster boy for the sort of Mr. Clean political candidate. Now interestingly enough, Marine Le Pen is also caught up in all sorts of financial problems regarding payments and so on at the European Union.

The radical difference is that her base, don't really care, because they think of it as a conspiracy or that she's a victim of media attacks or political attacks. But in the case of Francois Fillon, it's as purely about personal enrichment, it's about paying family members for work they did not perform and enriching himself. And this is somebody who's been in and out of government positions since the early 1990s, who appears completely disconnected from the basic situation in which most French people live. Particularly coming out of the unpopular five-year presidency where unemployment is very high and so on.

VAUSE: Very quickly, out of the two, you know, primary in candidacy, who's benefiting the most from Fillon's problem?

[01:15:02] THOMAS: The great question. Of course, Marine Le Pen will, because that's Fillon's - disappears those that will find the middle-central candidate or the left, completely unpalatable will either not vote or vote for her. But arguably, the person who in this entire discussion with sort of the collapse of the left and this sort of problems on the right, if the candidate running as an independent former Minister Emmanuel Macron, who keeps rising in the polls and appears to be the candidate that is going to be the easiest to vote for in the face of the far right party list, Marine Le Pen.

VAUSE: If people don't turn out to vote, if there's a low turnout, does that benefit Le Pen?

THOMAS: I think it could. The interesting thing though is as opposed to say, the upcoming Dutch Elections, where voting has been dropping slightly over the years in the major political parties has sort of, have lost the kind of support that they have, turn out in the French election s for at least the last 50 years has been around 80 percent.


THOMAS: It's very high.

SESAY: What we are looking at is a realignment of French politics which will change albeit but --

THOMAS: Completely. Old party loyalties are over, Socialist Party over the last 50 years has been in the fact and round and it looks like they will not be represented. This time, it looks like no mainstream political party will be left standing in the run-off stages in a basically just six to seven weeks' time.

VAUSE: Dominic, thank you so much. We appreciate your insights.

SESAY: That's amazing - very much Sir, thank you.

THOMAS: Thank you.

VAUSE: Here at CNN, March 14th, is my Freedom Day. CNN is teaming up with young people around the world for a unique student-led day of action against modern day slavery. What does freedom mean to you? This is what students in Europe had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To me freedom means having control of my own body and happiness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that freedom is everything and it should not be based on where you're from, what you're doing or where you're going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Freedom to me means the right to be safe, to be happy, and to be proud.


SESAY: Well, tell us what freedom means to you using the #MyFreedomDay hashtag.

VAUSE: We'll take a break. When we come back, breaking news out of Washington; more potential trouble for the Trump Administration and its contacts with Russia during the presidential campaign.


PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: Hi there, I'm Patrick Snell with your CNN WORLD SPORT HEADLINES. Starting off with the dramatic news that came after Barcelona's 6-1 La Liga win over Sporting Gijon. The end of the season, Luis Enrique, the club's hugely successful manager, will step down from his post, this after three seasons in charge at the camp now.

The 46-year-old Enrique won the Champions League as part of the treble in his first year and led them to domestic double last season. But they are on the verge of elimination from the Champions League after losing 4-nil to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg round 16. The Barca have returned to the top of La Liga after they thrashed Gijon combined with Real Madrid's fourth - dropping two points at home for Las Palmas returning to Caplands to the summit. It could have been worse for Ronaldo. They had Gareth Bale sent off before they fell 3-1 behind two late goals from you know who, Cristiano Ronaldo, saving them a point.

It's been well over a month since Roger Federer's memorable Aussie Open triumph down under Melbourne, but a nasty shock to the system for him for the 35 year-old in his first tournament since Melbourne as he suffers a really, really unwanted defeat in the second round in Dubai against the Russian qualifier, Evgeny Donskoy, the world number 116 incredibly saving three-match points in the second set. He also was down 5-2 in the third and he was 5-1 down in the third set breaker, would you believe?

That's a look at your CNN WORLD SPORT Headlines. Thanks for joining us, I'm Patrick Snell.


[01:21:25] SESAY: Hello, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUDSE: I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles, just gone 10:21 here. We are following breaking news. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he never met with any Russian officials to discuss the presidential campaign.

SESAY: But the Justice Department says, Sessions met twice last year with Russia's U.S. Ambassador when he was a top Trump Campaign Adviser. Sessions failed to mention the contacts during his senate confirmation hearing. Here is CNN's Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: In addition to the September meeting, there was also one on the sidelines of the Russian -- of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. There was an event held by the -- by the Heritage Foundation and apparently, according to the Justice Department, there are about 50 or so Ambassadors who were there and one of the people that was on the sidelines of it and who met with the now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador.

The context here is that Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, is considered by U.S. intelligence to be, essentially, their top spy in Washington. And not only their top spy, but their top spy recruiter. This is the reason why when Mike Flynn was in routine and-and it's seemingly routine contact with him and then lied about it and misled the Vice-President about meeting with Kislyak, that's one reason why the Intelligence Agency and the FBI were very concerned because they felt that, you know, if you're going to meet with the guy and not recall or mislead when you are asked about it, then that leads to some questions. Again, this is -- he considered to be the top spy recruiter for the Russians in Washington and that's one reason why that is -- raises concerns.

VAUSE: Joining us here in Los Angeles., Democratic Strategist Robin Swanson and Republican Consultant, John Thomas. There's a lot of news to get through. OK, so CNN is reporting this. The Washington Post is reporting this story. We spoke to the reporter Greg Miller for more details about what took place. Listen to this.

GREG MILLER, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER: And it wasn't just during the campaign, it was as recent as September which was really at the height of the alarm in Washington about the Russian hack of the U.S. election. So, it's in the middle of all that, that Sessions had a private meeting with the Russian Ambassador in his Senate office. And just two or three months later is asked, you know, during his confirmation hearing, did you have any contacts or any communications with Russians during the campaign and can't remember that meeting just several months earlier.

VAUSE: OK, stay with us because -- here is the question now to Sessions during his confirmation. It came from Senator Al Franken.


AL FRANKEN, UNITED STATES SENATES DEMOCRAT: And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: OK, John, legally there is a big difference between a mistake, forgetting something, not being sure and a lie. OK? So, at the very least, at this point from what we know, should there be an investigation and should there be an independent investigation as to what happened?

[01:25:08] JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: There has to be. I mean --

VAUSE: Is it going to happen, then?

THOMAS: I'm not sure, because obviously, Republicans control the house but there should be. Here's the reality, a high-profile Senator meet with a lot of people -- lots of diplomats all over the world all the time. That's not unusual. What is unusual is that he forgot to mention it during the confirmation hearings.

SESAY: Robin, before you weigh in, let's bring in Attorney General Sessions' statement because he has spoke one out, let's put that on up. He is denying any wrongdoing saying "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false".

Robin, as push backs, as rejections, denials go, where does this rate?

ROBIN SWANSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I mean, this is pretty bad and it's pretty serious. And I think by tomorrow morning, we're not going to be talking about just Jeff Sessions recusing himself. You're already seeing Nancy Pelosi and members of Congress asking for his resignation. And that's because he is the one person that was put in charge of investigating the ties between Russia and the Trump Administration. And this is the one person that's supposed to do that. Well now, is Jeff Sessions supposed to investigate Jeff Sessions? I don't think so. I think this is going to be the gift that keeps on giving. This has got legs.

VAUSE: Yes, John, this Russia issue just keeps coming up over and over and over again. And yes, just to review what Evan Perez was reporting about the Russian Ambassador, this isn't just your average government diplomat. This guy called in U.S. intelligence is a top spy. He is one of their top spy recruiters. He was at the Republican National Convention which is where one of these meetings took place and Jeff Sessions couldn't recall meeting him? I mean, it does sound extremely suspicious.

THOMAS: Yes, but Senator Sessions' integrity is nearly beyond reproach. I mean, over the history of his career, to think that he is having clandestine meetings with Russian officials -

SESAY: Well ostensibly you are. Stop questioning about the legal reproach.

THOMAS: Well, in the Republican Party, he is held with very high esteem, to think that he would sell his soul for meetings. I mean, it just seems up bridged too far. We need to get to the bottom of whether or not he had the meeting, I agree. But I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt not of whether or not he had the meeting but that if he did have the meeting, that his intentions were transparent.

VAUSE: OK, very quickly. We want to get to the statement from the White House. "This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration. By partisan Democrats. Attorney General Sessions met with the Ambassador in an unofficial - in a official capacity, rather, as a member of the Senate Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony. It's no surprise that Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump's successful address to the nation." Robin, is this just all about politics? Can you put this over the

feet of the Democrats?

SWANSON: Listen, they wanted to have a ticker-tape parade. They had plans to do interviews all of tomorrow morning about the President, being able to give a speech without shooting himself in the foot. So, now they can't do that and there are little upset about it. But the fact is -- this is a real news story. Russia gate isn't going away. This is the second administration official that has serious problems and has forgotten about meetings with major Russian officials. As you pointed out, one of the top spy recruiters for Russia. This is serious news. So they can try and downplay it tonight but the fact is, it's the keystone cops over there.

VAUSE: OK, we'll stay with this because there's a lot more to get to.

SWANSON: Absolutely.

SESAY: A lot - lots of more to dig into. We're going to have more after the break. Specifically, growing pressures for Jeff Sessions to resign and calls for special prosecutors to investigate the Trump Administration's connections to Russia.


[01:32:03] JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: 10:32 here on the west coast. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm John Vause.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Isha Sesay. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live.

Breaking news out of Washington where a growing number of Democrats are calling for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

VAUSE: The Justice Department says that Sessions met with a Russia's U.S. ambassador when he was a Trump campaign adviser but never mentioned that during his confirmation hearings. Sessions says he never met with any Russian officials to discuss the presidential campaign.

Back with us in Los Angeles, Democratic strategist, Robin Swanson; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

SESAY: And from Moscow, CNN senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance. VAUSE: The reaction from the Democrats are predictable, recusal or

resign. But concerns are voiced by Republicans. Lindsey Graham was asked about this during a CNN town hall. He was asked if there is a need for a special prosecutor.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Is there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. So there may be nothing there. But if there is something there, if the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor. If that day ever comes, I'll be the first one to say it needs to be someone other than Jeff.


VAUSE: John, Some Republicans like Lindsey Graham and Darrell Issa are inching closer to this position of a special prosecutor.

JOHN THOMAS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: That makes sense if there are alleged criminal misdoings. If it's a happenstance meeting, it may not warrant that. But A.G. Sessions cannot investigate himself.

SESAY: Democrats are voicing their strong disapproval calling for him to resign. Nancy Pelosi tweeted this, "Attorney General Sessions is not fit to serve as our top law enforcement of our country and must resign." Elizabeth Warren echoing that call for resignation, saying, "We need Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who should have never been confirmed in the first place, to resign. We need it now."

Take a listen to what Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee had to say. He spoke to CNN's Don Lemon a short time ago.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D), MARYLAND (voice-over): People have to ask the question, where is the integrity? Where is the rule of law? Where is the obedience of law? All these excuses over and over again. And the last one I'll leave, when these kinds of issues came before our committee, in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, if Hillary Clinton, if they thought she lied, they were referring it to the Justice Department.


SESAY: Robin, you heard the White House say this is partisan politics on the part of the Democrats. Do Democrats have to be careful that this does not come across as politicking.

ROBIN SWANSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely all Americans want to know if our electoral system was interfered with. The foundation of democracy is our elections, and I think Republicans and Democrats want to know that the president was fairly elected in this country. But there are valid concerns and Jeff Sessions has prosecuted people for lesser offenses. I think we are walking a fine line here but this is a very serious allegation. And this isn't the kind of meeting that you forget about.

[01:35:25] THOMAS: And the messengers are flawed here. It smacks of partisan politics. These are the same people calling Senator Sessions racist. If he's not a racist, oh, he loves the Russians. The Democrats may have the fair case but they're not the right messengers.

VAUSE: The House Intelligence agreed to investigate alleged interference in last year's election.

Let's go to Matthew Chance who is live in Moscow.

Matthew, the FBI, the Senate, they are also doing their own investigation. The Kremlin has denied any knowledge or any involvement in the election, meddling as it's called, but it seems this story just keeps getting bigger by the day.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it keeps getting bigger for the Trump administration certainly. They have lost several top figures as a result of their relationship with Russia and now there are these questions looming over the attorney general as well.

From a Russian point of view, they are sitting here in the Kremlin watching this chaos, this theater that is taking place in the United States with some alarm, simply because they are confused about what the policy is going to be by the United States, of the Trump administration toward Russia. They were expecting an administration that would be sympathetic on Russian points of view on a range of issues, from NATO to Ukraine to Syria, but because the way the Russia issue has become so toxic now in American politics, the Russian government are very concerned about what the implications and consequences are going to be for Trump policy moving forward toward their country. They are watching with some degree of alarm, I should say.

VAUSE: Matthew, thank you. Matthew Chance, live for us there in Moscow.

SESAY: And we're going to leave the conversation there for just a moment. We're going to come back. There's so much to dig into.

Don't run off, John.



VAUSE: Donald Trump's congressional address have people wondering if he is going to make a presidential pivot. We'll talk about that and the controversy that might change all of that.


[01:40:45] SESAY: More on our breaking news now, the Justice Department says that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the Russian ambassador. During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions denied any contact with Russian officials and issued a statement earlier saying he never discussed the campaign.

VAUSE: The White House says Democrats are using the revelations to block the president's momentum after his well-received speech to Congress on Tuesday. That's when he outlined a lofty agenda from health care to taxes and infrastructure to immigration. Now he is trying to firm up support from senior Republicans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're just here to start the process. It begins as of now and we think we're going to have tremendous success.


VAUSE: Back with us, Democratic strategist, Robin Swanson; and Republican consultant, John Thomas.

All this positive coverage, up until a few hours ago, on the president's address to Congress. With that in mind, the administration decided to delay the signing of a new executive order on the travel ban to the majority Muslim countries. It's a decision that Democrats have pointed out seems politically motivated. Listen to this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: The fact that the president thinks we can wait another day so I can get a political benefit focused on my speech tells you they don't see an urgency on this either. It looks arbitrary and political, which is what it is. It's either urgent or it's not urgent.


VAUSE: John, if there is a great immediate threat from these countries, which is what we've been told over and over again by the administration, is the president and the generals around him are they endangering American lives by delaying the executive order?

THOMAS: Potentially, but I think it's ironic that Democrats attacked the president for rushing out his first travel ban because he didn't think it through, and now he takes an extra 24 hours and, all of a sudden, it's a bad thing. It's like, come on, let the man take his time. He's doing the best he can.

SESAY: Robin?

SWANSON: I think Republicans wish they were talking about the travel ban right now. But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about Russia. And you know, Donald Trump is a 70-year-old salesman. He has been selling things for 50 years. When he gets up and gives a speech and he actually -- the ball was set on the tee and he made some contact, we're all supposed to do the wave and cheer because he did a decent job giving a speech. That should be the expectation. We don't need a ticker-tape parade for that. But the fact is they're not going to be able to do the victory lap they want to do now.

VAUSE: The speech to Congress was so well received, it may have taken some in the White House by surprise. The "Washington Post" tweeted this, "Some sources in the White House are frankly surprised at how pundits are warming to the speech. Trump has not changed, no big shift in policy coming."

Robin to you. everyone is talking about the change in tone but the direction hasn't changed. He is measured and calm and looking presidential but the agenda is still the same, right?

SWANSON: Absolutely. He is a salesperson but the product hasn't changed. I think we actually have to look at what he is selling us and that's hasn't changed. Some of the language was divisive and he wants to create an office on immigrants and crimes they've committed. Where did that come from.


THOMAS: For victims. For victims.

SWANSON: No, that came from the words of Steve Bannon and "Breitbart News." They have taken that to a degree with African-Americans and logging their crimes. This is a bizarre agenda he is trying to pitch and sell that you know, it doesn't -- it isn't inclusive. It isn't something that Democrats are going to agree to. I think there is definitely a disconnect. We all feel a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Mr. Trump.

THOMAS: Why would he switch his agenda? He won on that agenda. He didn't win because his favorables were so high. So he's doubling down on the agenda. The only difference is he used his indoor voice. But he also used a more --

SESAY: Which points to political astuteness.

THOMAS: It does, but he rang a more optimistic tone and people and the markets are rallying because of that. He has to deliver on the agenda he ran for. I mean, I don't know what else everyone expects him to do.

[01:45:14] SESAY: The question is, being able to use the indoor voice and having that moment in the speech with Mrs. Owens stepping into the empathizer-in-chief mode. Are we seeing an evolution or are we overselling it?

THOMAS: Let's wait for the State of the Union and see what happens.




VAUSE: We didn't get to President Oprah Winfrey and Vice President George Clooney.


THOMAS: I expect a lot of copy cats coming up.

VAUSE: I'm sure.

John and Robin, thank you so how much.

SESAY: Thank you.

SWANWON: Thank you.

SESAY: Still to come, why CNN's Van Jones is under fire from some liberals for his support of President Trump's speech to Congress.



SESAY: Welcome back, everyone. Recapping our breaking news, a number of leading Democrats are calling on U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign.

[01:49:56] VAUSE: During his Senate confirmation hearings, the former Trump campaign adviser failed to disclose contacts with Russia's U.S. ambassador. Sessions says he never met with Russian officials to discuss the campaign and calls the allegations false.

Before that, the Trump White House was enjoying a positive news cycle. Mr. Trump paid tribute to a fallen Navy SEAL and politicians on both sides of the aisle said that was genuinely moving.

SESAY: Even CNN's Van Jones applauded the way he honored Ryan and his widow.


VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He became president of the United States in that moment. Period. There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him, but that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period.


SESAY: Many liberals, especially on social media, are now -- emphasize not pleased with Van Jones for his praise of the president.

VAUSE: Our next guest, CNN political commentator, Angela Rye, is one of them.

So, Angela, Van saw that moment -- good to have you here. by the way. ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good to be here.

VAUSE: The ladies on "The View" today, they thought it was exploitation. Listen to this.


SUNNY HOSTIN, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: I thought that was so exploitive. I thought he exploited that widow.


HOSTIN: It was so heart breaking to me. We know that U.S. military officials have said to the press that Obama didn't give the green light because he thought it would mark a significant escalation in Yemen and that President Trump, without the intel, without the appropriate ground support, approved this at dinner, while not in the situation room, and was tweeting. So when I look at that, I think, my god, how do you exploit the woman who is grieving over the loss of her husband, the father of her children, when you sent him there without the appropriate ground support.



VAUSE: OK, is it possible to separate the politics behind the death of Ryan Owens and allow the commander-in-chief to honor the widow after the service of her husband for a moment?

RYE: Yeah, I think absolutely. I think the challenge is, this is a very divided moment in our nation's history. And Donald Trump has people who are supporters, no matter what he does and detractors no matter what he does. I understand van's point. I'm not one of the twitter hot headed liberals that you described me as. And I think we had a great conversation where he was able to clarify his points. I don't necessarily believe that Donald Trump was trying to exploit this woman. I don't believe that. But I also don't believe that he has genuine intent like, ever. So I think I am on the polar opposite side in terms of him being a decent human being, and I think that moment was not him being presidential, but him being a decent human being.

SESAY: But is it a moment that pulls a power for him that he can exploit in days to come. It seemed to resonate. It was the headline from the speech.

RYE: And the reality of it is there were a number of moments in the speech that were troubling. I think that a lot of people are distracted about the tone like Donald Trump sounds presidential. What does that mean? If the words that you're using despite the fact as you said earlier, you're not screaming, you use your inside voice but the policies that you are pushing are just as treacherous, racially insensitive, culturally insensitive, religious bigotry, we can't let him off the hook on that.

VAUSE: He was being complimentary to Donald Trump but issuing a warning to liberals. When you ask him to change his tone and use his indoor voice and take the office seriously. When he does those things, you should acknowledge that. The guy can't be wrong 24/7.

RYE: But the guy can be wrong if the policies are still wrong. The same day of his speech they dialed back the regulations behind the clean water rule when we still have a flint crisis on our hands and so many more flints that never made the news. The same day he said that, Jeff Sessions who is now under fire for Russia pushed out a statement saying he was no longer interested in pursuing the lawsuits against police departments. You know, this is the same administration where the secretary of education is saying that HBCU in this country represent school choice. I'm sorry, there was slavery and segregation. There are immense challenges with this administration and that is what we should be holding their feet to the fire on. Forgot whether he is screaming or being quiet.

[01:55:13] SESAY: We have little time left, but let me ask you, given that the president showed that he can pivot and use his inside voice, have Democrats found a way to stand against him and oppose him?

RYE: Yeah, on the policies. And to your point when you have to reduce the standard on whether or not someone is using their inside voice. We have a problem on our hands. That not the standard we're using. This is the leader of the free world, someone who is supposed to represent us on a global stage and given this platform we're on right now, that's serious business.

VAUSE: A wise person says the best way to watch Donald Trump is like a silent movie, turn down the sound and watch what he does.

RYE: Fair enough.

VAUSE: Maybe that's the way to move forward.

Angela, thank you so much.

SESAY: Come back and visit.

RYE: I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

VAUSE: Appreciate it.

SESAY: Thank you very much.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. I'm Isha Sesay.

VAUSE: I'm John Vause. We'll be back with more news after a short break.


[02:00:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.