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Attorney General Under Fire Over Russia Meetings; Pentagon May Greenlight Some Missions Without Trump. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 2, 2017 - 06:30   ET


[06:30:01] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The Motion Picture Academy issuing a lifetime ban for the two accountants who were in charge on the envelopes of the Academy Awards following that best picture envelope gaffe. Brian Cullinan was tweeting just before giving Warren Beatty the wrong envelope for the best picture announcement. The Academy is now reviewing its relationship with PricewaterhouseCoopers after 83 years.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A lifetime ban from the Oscars? How will they live?

CUOMO: Is this justice?

CAMEROTA: Yes, it is justice. Tweeting can get you in trouble. Let me just say.

CUOMO: All right.

CAMEROTA: Just words to the wise.

CUOMO: A lifetime ban, can they not watch it on TV?

CAMEROTA: I don't think so. I don't think they can.

Did Attorney General Jeff Sessions lie under oath when he failed to disclose meeting with a Russian ambassador? Two of them, in fact.

"New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman joins us next.


CUOMO: New questions this morning about the Trump's campaign's contacts with Russia. The Justice Department revealing that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Russia's top diplomat, the same one that Mike Flynn did.

[06:35:03] And this happened during the 2016, while he was an advisor for Donald Trump's campaign. This matters especially because Sessions repeatedly denied having any contact during his Senate confirmation process.

Let's bring in "New York Times" columnist and author of "Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations", catchy title, Thomas Friedman.

Good to have with us, Tom.

Now, let's start first with why this matters. Do you believe this is a question for disclosure or does it go all the way to lying? How do you see this?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Well, I think those suggestive Jeff Sessions purchase injured himself in his testimony have a lot of evidence for that, Chris. He was asked this as you have reported this morning both in verbal interview and in written. So, many opportunities to clarify that, yes, I did meet with him. We discussed -- he could have said -- Senate Armed Services business.

But he didn't. It gets back to the core issue which is that something stinks, something stinks terribly about this Russian intervention question, that the president from the beginning of this campaign has been out there speaking kindly about Vladimir Putin. We now have his surrogate during the campaign, now attorney general, denying context. His national security adviser engaged in context and then misled the vice president about them.

You know, it's so obvious that these people do not want to disclose something. And let's not forget that the president, after promising to do so, has now refused to disclose his tax returns, which people wonder, is it because they suggest financial links between himself and Russian investors who have probably very dodgy connections with the Kremlin or Russian intelligence.

CAMEROTA: So, Tom, today, Attorney General Sessions is saying that he thought the questions were basically about whether or not he met as a Trump surrogate during the campaign about campaign business, if they discussed -- if he discussed anything about the campaign and that he met with him as a senator on the Armed Services Committee about that.

But why do you think aren't more Republicans up in arms about this?

FRIEDMAN: Ali, I think it's one of the most shameful things I have seen in almost 30 years in Washington, D.C. I believe the fact that our three leading intelligence agencies, the NSA, CIA and FBI have all publicly concluded that Russia intervened in our election. Did it make Donald Trump president decisively? No one can say that. I accept Donald Trump is the legal legitimate president. Many things went into his victory.

But the fact that our three intelligence actions have concluded this and the Republican Party, the party of patriotism, the party that made a central fact of its campaign, the fact that Hillary Clinton had a private server that might, might, but without any evidence have been hacked, you know, by the Russians. The fact that we know Russia hacked our elections.

This, look, on 9/11, we lost 3,000 of our brothers or sisters. At Pearl Harbor, we lost thousands of people. These were huge events.

I don't compare it in terms of lives lost, but in terms of import, this was a direct assault on the very thing that makes us unique as a nation, the fact that we rotate power legally, freely, OK? And we don't challenge that. The fact that the Russians attacked this, for less than the price of a MiG-29, for less than the price of a MiG-29, Vladimir Putin intervened in our election and helped to create, to elect a chaos candidate, which is exactly what Putin wants, he is out to destroy the West.

The fact that the Republican Party is sitting there on its hands, not responding to this, looking the other way and looking for excuses for it is one of the most shameful national security cases I have ever seen in Washington, D.C.

CUOMO: What do you see as the likely explanations that come up here? Let's dismiss what we're hearing from the White House in no small measure of irony from a Russian official that this is about the media and about political playing? Let's put that to the side. There's just too many facts to deal with.

What is the best defense for Sessions? Is it that I thought it was specific discussions about elections, I thought we were talking about only in my role as a surrogate for the election, for the campaign? What is his best defense?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, Chris, your question, becks another one, for me, which is all Sessions had to say is, are you asking me that question in my role as a surrogate or are you asking me that question in my role as a Senate?

[06:40:07] CUOMO: Except, he included that in his response, when he said, you know what, I have been called a surrogate and I had no contact. So, he kind of swallowed that context --


CUOMO: -- himself already and now look his defenders will say, yes, which proves even more that this was done in good faith because it came out for the DOJ eventually anyway. He obviously didn't think this was relevant. Is that enough?

FRIEDMAN: I don't think anyone is going to buy it. You know, it gets back to you know what is the meaning of "is" and what is the meaning of "surrogate." You know, Chris, actually, I'm on the staff of "Golf Digest" as a hobby. I want you to know, I'm actually here as the "Golf Digest" correspondent, not as a "New York Times" correspondent. So, if I say anything bad, please talk to "Golf Digest", not to Arthur Sulzberger at the "New York Times."

CAMEROTA: Got it. "The New York Times", that other place you work, is reporting that the Obama administration tried to sound the alarm to Congress about this. Before they handed over the reins to the new Trump administration, they sent documents, paperwork to members of Congress, trying to talk about these connections.

What do we know?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, we reported that this morning, that basically, they tried to create paper trails and actually get information they had into the hands of -- I know someone like Senator Ben Cardin as much as they could, in effect, Ali, to lock it away, to put it in a safe. So when the new team came in, it could not be erased.

And it doesn't surprise me at all. I think it's important to know that, but it's also gives me some assurance that there are people in the intelligence community that know what went on here. You know, these are people who are, in my experience, largely bipartisan. They're trying to get it right. They're ready to serve the president.

But they do not like having their integrity attacked. They are certainly not going to be a party to a cover-up. I am sure about that.

CUOMO: But you now have two curious pieces of information. You have one that the White House was alerted about the Russian responsibility for the hacks near of the election and kind of underplays it. You know, it didn't really come out and say anything and there are different reasons for why they did it that way.

Now, there is a second one, where they had a reason to believe that you needed to preserve intelligence. And they kind of did something with it. Maybe they gave it to a senator. But no full-throated appeal for justice at that time or earlier when they got the information about the hacking.

Is there room for criticism in that?

FRIEDMAN: Chris, I think so. I have always been troubled by the fact, you remember that President Obama, maybe in his last press conference, I believe that he said that this first came up in September, this evidence of Russian intervention and he told Putin to knock it off. Knock it off? You know, that's what I say to someone in the quiet car on Acela if I hear them using their cell phone, not someone --

CUOMO: Are you one of those?

CAMEROTA: That's me.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. Not someone intervening in our election and I found that really disturbing, I have to say.

CAMEROTA: You know, very quickly, I know that you want to call out or shout -- give a shout out to Lindsey Graham and John McCain. You know, they are a little bit in the wilderness of trying to beat this drum to tell people how important these possible connections are.

FRIEDMAN: I think it's so important what John McCain and Lindsey Graham have done. I watched part of their discussion last night on CNN. Susan Collins as well. These are real patriots.

I think at some point you have to ask, what I think are also real patriots, that wear the uniform. Jim Mattis, General Kelly, General McMaster, are you going to be a party to this, to this cover-up? Your whole careers were, in part, based on defending us against Russian attacks on our democratic system. And so, I think there is some real issues here.

You know, there is a point I made last time I was on. I really want to stress it, something my friend Doug Seidman says, he's in the book. There is a big difference between formal authority and moral authority. Trump keeps telling us about his formal authority. I won. Get used to it.

But he -- every day has been diminishing his moral authority. Moral authority is very hard to get. And I think this administration is going to wake up one day, they're going to need to look the American people in the eye and say, trust me on this. And I got formal authority.

People are going to say, you may have formal thunderstorm. But when you played around with the truth so many times like this, you have no moral authority and in a crisis, that is going to be a huge crisis for our leadership.

CAMEROTA: Tom Friedman, great to talk to you, thanks so much.

FRIEDMAN: A pleasure.

CAMEROTA: Well, President Trump considering a plan to give the Pentagon more authority to approve counterterrorism raids.

[06:45:03] We're going to dig deeper on what that means ahead on NEW DAY.


CAMEROTA: All right. March Madness has officially arrived. Northwestern winning on its buzzer beater over Michigan. It may turn out to be one of the biggest wins in school history.

But Andy Scholes can tell us more in the "Bleacher Report."

Hi, Andy.


Northwestern fans have been waiting for a lifetime for last night and I say that because Northwestern is the only big conference school that has never made it to the big NCAA tournament. The Wildcats always at home watching the big dance, just like the rest of us. But not this year.

Tied at 55, under two seconds left, they inbound the ball the length of the court, and Dererk Pardon, the buzzer beater, Wildcats go absolutely nuts. They dog-pile Pardon. Fans rush the court as well. The win over Michigan almost certainly secured Northwestern a spot in the NCAA tournament.

All right. In the NBA, Bill Belichick in courtside the Celtics-Cavs game. In the fourth quarter, check this out, LeBron nearly barreled over the patriots. LeBron said after the game, he definitely slowed up. He knew it was Belichick sitting there. He wasn't going to take out a legend.

This game came down to the final seconds. The Cavs' new addition, Deron Williams, the chance to win it for Cleveland, but his three no good. Celtics beat the Cavs, 103-99.

But how about that respect there, Chris? LeBron knowing where Belichick is sitting, and refusing to run him over.

[06:50:00] CUOMO: It's not easy to stop 260 pounds of steel and bad intentions coming his way. Feel tough for Deron Williams. That's a tough way to have an introduction to the team missing that shot.


CUOMO: He's a good player, though. It's a big add.

All right. Thank you very much, my friend.

So, President Trump considering taking a hands-off approach to anti- terror raids. Should he give more authority to generals to green light raids overseas? This is a big departure from how President Obama did it. What is required of a commander-in-chief? We have the reporter who broke it, next.


CAMEROTA: Defense officials tell CNN that military commanders are discussing speeding up the authorization process of counterterrorism admissions by allowing the Pentagon, even field commanders, to approve some of these raids rather than the White House. The president would be briefed, but he would not have to personally approve each military action.

Is that a good move?

Let's discuss with CNN global affairs analyst and senior national correspondent for "The Daily Beast", Kimberly Dozier. She broke this story. And CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks.

[06:55:04] Great to have both of you.

Kimberly, this is your reporting. So how would this work?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, Alisyn, what this means is rewriting part of the Obama drone strike and raid playbook. It would push more of the authority down to people in charge of operations in placing like Yemen or Somalia, places where the U.S. doesn't officially have combat operations like Iraq or Afghanistan and let them decide. If they spot someone on what's called the high value target list, someone that the White House has already put on a list and said, this is a part of ISIS, this person is a part of al Qaeda, that they can figure out how to do the raid, how to do the strike and inform the White House rather than waiting for the Oval Office permission to come through.

CUOMO: All right. Very valuable reporting.

Spider, obviously, there is going to be a concern about the role of commander-in-chief as the final word and how that plays into this. But how does it work right now? What is the range of requirement of approval that we see right now? Are there some missions that get done at the field level or at the general level or at the CentCom level without going all the way to the White House?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Kimberly just nailed it. I kind of feel I am window dressing in this interview and discussion, because Kimberly is all over it.

The way it works right now, again, as Kimberly described is within a declared theater of war, Iraq, Afghanistan the literals associated with that, it's prescribed, you draw lines, you say right in here, this is the theater of war. The combatant commander, that four star commander, already has delegated authority to make the decisions on these very precise special ops high valued target hit. These are capture or kill kinds of missions. That exists. That's extant.

What we are talking about is those on the periphery that are not disclosed leaders of war much like we saw in Yemen very specifically. We have a very high interest. We want to know what's going on, because those actions will ultimately affect action elsewhere to include the homeland.

And so, what we want to be able to do is push that authority down to the four stars, so the president is certainly going to be involved in the information, certainly will be notified, will be inform, but what you don't have is this very difficult process where the president might be visiting some international body. He may be 12 time zones away. We got to find him. We got to get him the information, he's got to disappear, we got to brief him, et cetera, et cetera.

What you do is you just keep him informed, keep his team inform, a four-star commander execute that task based on good target analysis, good intelligence, lots of rehearsals. So, these are not necessarily fly-by-night serendipitous types of operations where we're going to be cavalier about them. These will be very highly planned, very precise.

CAMEROTA: So, Kimberly, this is obviously good news for the commander on the field, right, who don't want to take the time, as Spider says run everything up the flag pole if time is of the essence. But it's hard not to see this now in the context of the Yemen raid, which, obviously, the White House says was a great success in terms of intel gathering. Other people have questioned whether, in fact, it was actually a success.

And you heard the president say after that -- well, this was the generals. The generals did this. There was a sense in some corners of passing of the buck.

CUOMO: Literally, the president was quoted as saying "they lost Owen," "They lost the chief", talking about the generals. That's the concern.

CAMEROTA: Right. So is this -- who you would this change make it more right for a passing of the buck?

DOZIER: Well, it's as if President Trump in making those comments is still wearing his CEO hat. I delegated this to this team. They take responsibility for what happened, rather than making the mental switch to "I'm the commander-in-chief. I take ultimate responsibility for whatever happened with the raid."

Military commanders listening to some of these comments have been a little ill at ease about it. But that doesn't mean they're going to say no to this authority. Some of this would rest at the secretary of defense level, Jim Mattis would be making these calls. And they have been pushing for this kind of added authority or this pre-delegation of approval because what it does is it steps up the pace of operation against ISIS, and it helps them defeat the network faster, to get that kind of number of raids a night pace going that helped them drive al Qaeda underground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CUOMO: But also changes the chain of accountability. The American people don't elect the generals. They elect the commander-in-chief.

CAMEROTA: Kimberly, great reporting. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.

Spider, thanks for the context as always.

MARKS: Sure. Thanks.

CAMEROTA: And thanks to all of you, our international viewers, for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, NEW DAY continues right now.