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Trump Defends Sessions over Russian Ambassador Meeting; More Trump Campaign Advisors Met with Russian Ambassador; Pence Used Private E-mail Account While Governor; Democrats Demand Sessions Resign; ; Russia Pushes Back on Russian Ambassador Being Spy; Trump to Cut Programs to Pay for Military Build Up; Suspicions Raised over "Actionable" Intelligence Gained in Yemen Raid; Actor Wilmer Valderrama Talks Immigration Debate in U.S.. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired March 3, 2017 - 02:00   ET



[02:00:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Isha Sesay.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. It's 11:00 on a Thursday night.

There is breaking news. U.S. President Donald Trump defending his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, saying he did nothing wrong during his confirmation hearings, but he added Sessions' answers could have been more accurate.

SESAY: Even so, Sessions recused himself Thursday from any investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign after he meet with the Russian envoy twice last year. Sessions failed to disclose the meetings during his Senate confirmation hearings.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I had not had any such meetings. I was not meeting with Russian officials to officials on a continuing basis to advance any campaign agenda. Sometime before that, I had met, in my office, in an official way with the Russian ambassador, and so that was the answer I gave, and I think it was an honest answer, Tucker. I thought I was responding exactly to that question, and it really became a big bruhaha.


SESAY: Meanwhile, a senior Trump administration official says the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, also met with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower in December.

VAUSE: Joining us now for more in this, in Los Angeles, California talk radio host, Ethan Bearman; and California Republican Committeeman Shawn Steel. SESAY: Also Democratic strategist, Matthew Littman; and from San

Diego, Trump supporter, Gina Loudoun.

VAUSE: OK. It seems right now Jeff Sessions' fate is probably in the hands of the president, and for now, Donald Trump is standing by his attorney general. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the attorney general?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has Sessions recused himself from the investigations into Russia?

TRUMP: I don't think so.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador? Did you know during the campaign?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware at all.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, do you think he should have spoken truthfully?

TRUMP: He probably did.


VAUSE: After that less-than-enthusiastic statement from the president, the White House did issue a longer statement. This is what it read, "Jeff Sessions is an honest man. He did not say anything wrong. He could have stated his response more accurately, but it was clearly not intentional. The whole narrative is a way of saving face with Democrats losing an election that everyone thought they were supposed to win. It's a total witch hunt."

Shawn, the president said he had full confidence in Michael Flynn until he didn't. Does there come a point when Donald Trump will abandon Jeff Sessions like he did to Michael Flynn?

SHAWN STEEL, CALIFORNAIA REPUBLICAN COMMITTEMAN: Not going to happen. I just enjoyed the theatrics around this. I'm a little insulted. I seem to be the only Republican who hasn't met with a Russian. I want to put that on the table. This Russian ambassador, who seems to be a roly-poly political hack, actually met with 30 Democrat Senators in the last year as well, so the gets around and he likes meeting a lot of people. But it's not the end of the free world. It's not the end of the Trump administration. Nobody cares about it outside of Washington, D.C., and a couple of newspaper journalists.

SESAY: Ethan, the president standing by Jeff Sessions. Does he risk driving a wedge between the White House and GOP lawmakers in doing so?

ETHAN BREAMAN, CALIFORNIA RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't think quite yet. But I think if there's any additional revelation related to the attorney general or this goes any further in terms of perjury or something else, I think that's when it would reach that level. For now, Trump's thing is loyalty. He stuck by General Flynn until the bitter end. That was ugly.

VAUSE: Back in January, Vice President Mike Pence hit the Sunday talk shows to defend Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. He lied about conversations he'd had with the Russian ambassador. This was the exchange between Flynn (sic) and Mike Wallace.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I'm asking you a direct question. Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country. That's why he won in the election.


WALLACE: I'm just trying to get an answer.

PENCE: Yeah. Of course, not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the -- this is all a distraction. And it's all a part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency. The American people see right through it.


VAUSE: So, Matt, to you. The vice president, now it's not just Michael Flynn, but it's the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and it also turns out to be Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and two other officials from the Trump campaign, who met with this Russian ambassador, who gets around a hell of a lot, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention back in July.

[02:05:13] MATT LITTMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The amazing thing here is that Donald Trump could easily resolve this. He could come out and say here's who the people in my administration met with, and here's when, and it ends all of this. But he chooses not to. Now you've seen Michael Flynn lie about meeting with the Russians, and Jeff Sessions lies about meeting with the Russian ambassador. Why is all this happening? I think the American people want to know, which is why a lot of people are calling for a special prosecutor or an independent commission. This issue is not going away. It's paralyzing Trump with Congress.

SESAY: Gina, why doesn't the White House just do that? Is it a case that they don't know who met with the Russians or is it that they're choosing not to do what matt just suggested there?

GINA LOUDOUN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Well, first of all, Matt's assumption that there was any kind of a lie, there is zero evidence of that. There's zero evidence that there's any wrong doing --


LITTMAN: Michael Flynn told the truth?

LOUDOUN: And to even be concerned about this, you have to first believe the lie that --


LOUDOUN: -- there was any impact in our elections in the very first place. But to publish a random list of whoever people met with, it's the job of Senator Sessions in his position as a Senator to meet with certain people. He had two staffers there. If people want to get upset, there were two staffers there. This wasn't a campaign conversation, as Matthew would like to paint it. And neither was the meeting after Sessions met with the -- spoke to the Heritage Foundation, he was leaving his speech, and he saw and shook hands with the ambassador. Those are hardly campaign meetings. You can't qualify them as such.

VAUSE: Jeff Sessions --


VAUSE: Gina, sorry to interrupt but Jeff Sessions doesn't know it. Gina?


LOUDOUN: The left -- these are the same tactics the left used it during the campaign, and they're not working.

VAUSE: Gina, sorry. But right now, Jeff Sessions does not know if it was about the campaign. He says he cannot recall.

LOUDOUN: Why would he have talked about the campaign on his way out of a speech he gave?

VAUSE: Well, he doesn't know.


VAUSE: He doesn't know what he said.

LOUDOUN: Here's the thing. I didn't hear that, John. And that may be true, but even if it is true, that he doesn't remember every detail, he knows he didn't meet on the terms of the campaign. He knows that he met with him as a Senator. He was very clear about that. And there is a big difference. There's no accusation of wrong doing. There is no "there" there. This is a nonstory.

SESAY: Ethan, does it matter that he met him as a Senator versus --


BEARMAN: It doesn't. Because he was a surrogate to the campaign. He was one of the first people to get on the Trump train. And was campaigning for then-Candidate Donald Trump.

So that whole argument that Gina said is completely irrelevant. He lied because he said something that was factually untrue. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, twice, from two different Senators. And as John pointed out, he said he doesn't recall if it was about the campaign. Perfect lawyer speak.

STEEL: This is just as important as asking Jeff Sessions what he had for breakfast three weeks ago.

BEARMAN: You're kidding me. You're kidding me.

STEEL: It's trivial. It's not important.

BEARMAN: A spy for Russia and the United States of America, who ended up meeting with all these different people other than you --


STEEL: And a lot of Democrats, too.

BEARMAN: But the point is now --


STEEL: I want the Democrats to tell me what he said to them.

BEARMAN: -- who said two things untrue under oath.

VAUSE: Quickly. We want to get to Mike Pence. The "Indy Star" reporting that he was using his own private e-mail address as governor. It's not illegal, but there's concerns it may have been hacked.

And, Shawn, to you, Mike Pence, during the campaign, was one of the biggest critics of Hillary Clinton for the use of her private e-mail server. How do you explain this one?

STEEL: The good news is what Hillary did was illegal. She should have been prosecuted for it.

BEARMAN: She wasn't prosecuted.

STEEL: She should have been. (CROSSTALK)

STEEL: But the good news is that Mike Pence, what he did is legal in Indiana state law. It's clear about that. And the not only that, he didn't have a private server. And so there's -- we're talking about these nice colors of apples and grapefruits. They have nothing to do with each other. But the Democrats are struggling to find some dirt, some mud. And you know what? It's crying wolf once again. And every time they do this, they try to create a temporary news story that two newspapers in American really thinks is important, it gets less credible each time. Don't let your children grow up to be journalists, please.


SESAY: We won't.

STEEL: Present company excepted.

SESAY: Matt, respond to Shawn from the Democrats are being mischievous.

LITTMAN: Let me go back to Jeff Sessions. He is not on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So when the people meet with the Russian ambassador, they're usually on the Foreign Relations Committee. Jeff Sessions was Trump's number-one advocate in Congress. Why do you think the Russian ambassador wanted to meet with Jeff Sessions? Number one, and to Gina's point earlier, Mike Flynn was fired for lying. We see what's happening here with this Russia situation. We need an independent commission to look into this. Donald Trump's legislative agenda is paralyzed. He's not even pushing for anything in Congress right now because of scandals.

[02:10:20] VAUSE: OK. It's now a situation where more than 100 congressional Democrats are demanding Jeff Sessions to step down.

This is how Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, described the situation for Jeff Sessions.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: An investigation will take us to the next place. But an investigation of those charges -- of those actions is definitely warranted. Definitely warranted. I remind you that this Congress impeached a president for something so far less, having nothing to do with his duties as president of the United States.


VAUSE: Ethan, is Pelosi right? Is there a difference between Clinton lying under oath and Jeff Sessions?

BEARMAN: There are differences in terms of the court that they were under oath in. But it makes a solid point. Bill Clinton was impeached over lying under oath. He also lost his law license. His license to practice law. That would be my concern here with Attorney General Sessions. He should be subject to that same scrutiny for lying under oath.

SESAY: Yeah. Gina, to bring you in. You heard what Nancy Pelosi said, there should be an investigation. Many looking to GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill to see what stand they'll take in the days to come and to see whether they're going to put country over party. I mean, what are you -- how do you respond to that?

LOUDOUN: I hope Nancy will keep talking just like that, all the way to the midterms, and all the way to 2020, because what's going to happen is that the country is so tired of the divisiveness, and the fake stories, that they are going to hand Trump a massive majority if they keep being this way. It is good, I have to say, to see this sort of obsession with Russia among the left right now, who didn't seem concerned about it at all during Obama's hot-mic moment where he virtually promised that after his last election he would be more flexible in his attitudes to the things Russia wanted. And it didn't seem they were that concerned when it was discovered that Hillary had made the uranium deal with Russia.

So I am gratified to see that Russia has become such an obsession with the Democrats. I hope they take it all the way to 2020, because it ensures that Donald Trump will win president again and get more done.

VAUSE: Good time to squeeze in a break.

Thank you all.

SESAY: Thank you. Thank you.

VAUSE: When we come back, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fighting back and insisting he did not lie about his contacts with a Russian official. More of our breaking news in just a moment.

SESAY: Plus, the Russian ambassador who met with Jeff Sessions is said to be a top Kremlin spy. How Moscow is reacting to the allegations ahead.

VAUSE: And we'll speak with an actor and activist about speaking out into today's divided political climate.




[02:17:11] SESAY: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions gives in to political pressure and recuses himself from any investigations into the President Trump campaign and the contacts with Russia.

VAUSE: That decision came after Sessions admitted he did not disclose two meetings he had with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the presidential campaign. Now Sessions is giving more details about the meetings which he says were completely appropriate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SESSIONS: I don't recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way. It was in no way some sort of coordinating of an effort of doing anything improper. I don't believe anybody that was in that meeting would have seen or believed I said one thing that was improper or unwise. And it was a really a sad thing to be attacked like that, but I had -- I think we've explained it, and we intend to move forward.


VAUSE: Some top Democrats say Sessions should resign for his actions even be charged with perjury.

Let's bring in Ron Bamieh, a former assistant chief deputy with the U.S. Justice Department.

SESAY: Also joining us is CNN legal analyst and civil rights attorney, Areva Martin; and criminal defense attorney, Sara Azari.

Welcome, everyone.


VAUSE: Thank you for being with us.

The question is, is the recusal linked to the election campaign, is that as far as this goes for Jeff Sessions or will it go further maybe to a perjury charge?

For our viewers, the definition of perjury from the Supreme Court is this, "the willful intent to provide false testimony rather than as a result of confusion, mistake or faulty memory."

Sara, first to you on that issue. How does that willful intent, how do you prove that part of the perjury?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, that's what makes this charge very difficult to prosecutor and prove. Often the witness, the person that's alleged to have made that statement, will find an explanation for it that will cast some doubt. A prosecutor can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt guilt on personal. It's difficult.

In this case, Jeff Sessions is already laying the groundwork for his explanation, what he's going to be putting in a letter to Senator Franken. And he's essentially saying these visits that I did not disclose had to do with my Senate obligations, nothing to do with the sort of Russian connection with the election, and to the extent that I met with the ambassador of Russia, it was because of what I do. I oversee the military operations, and that's my job on the Senate floor, and I had to go and meet with the ambassador.

Well, the issue is that, apparently, that is not something that a Senator does unilaterally, to set up this meeting, and certainly not in July and September right in the middle of the campaign. So it's very suspect. But he does have this explanation that, essentially, he was a Trump surrogate and he was a Senator at the same time. And that these visits and these communications were limited to his Senate hat, if you will.

[02:20:11] VAUSE: OK.

SESAY: Areva, let me bring you in here. We're talking about will he or will he not be charged and can they prove perjury? Are we jumping the gun? Is it a foregone conclusion there will be an investigation?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Unfortunately, we don't know. There are already reports coming out that Sessions may have had communications with the FBI before he recused himself. And we are also hearing that some congressional investigators are having difficulties getting information from the FBI about this entire Trump/Russian connection. So we don't know if the FBI is going to move forward with an investigation. We don't know what that investigation will even look like.

I just want to also comment on one thing Sara said about proving willful intent. And I agree with her that the standard is very high for perjury. But the circumstances of this misstatement, this false statement have to be investigated. The integrity of the Department of Justice is at stake here. What are we going to say to our kids, what are we going to say to other members who may come before a Senate Judiciary or House committee about telling the truth? This is really about this blanket false statement that Jeff Sessions made. We can't let this be swept under the rug. This is something serious and we have to take it serious.

VAUSE: Ron, you used to work at the Justice Department. Do you think the integrity of the department is at stake?

RON BAMIEH, DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER ASSISTANT CHIEF DEPUTY, U.S. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: No. It's not. Not at all. First of all, there was no lie. There was nothing false stated. You have to look at the context of the statement. The statement was given in response to a question about whether the campaign had contacts with the Russians.

It would be like this. If the Senate was investigating my son, Sam, who is nine, and they asked him have you ever tried to kill somebody, and he said, no, I never tried to kill somebody. And they, well, according to "The Washington Post," said your brother, Henry, has been threatened to be killed many times by you. He wouldn't be guilty of perjury. He didn't intend to kill him.


BAMIEH: Are you interrupting, or is that just somebody --

VAUSE: That's Sara.


BAMIEH: The point is the context matters. The context is very clear here. He was asked a question about the Russians' contact with the campaign. He said, no, as a surrogate of the campaign, I had no contact with the Russians. There's nothing false or misleading. It's not close to perjury.

MARTIN: I just have to correct the record. He did not say, I did not have contact with the Russians as a surrogate for the campaign. You've just added a gazillion words to his statement. What he said was, I did not have communications with the Russians. Go ahead.

BAMIEH: In response to a question about the campaign.


SESAY: To the point that Jeff Sessions is a lawyer, I mean, that very point --


MARTIN: Exactly.

AZARI: First of all, he's not --


AZARI: Yeah. He's not nine years old. Yeah, he's not nine years old, and he has a career and education in law. He's been a U.S. attorney. He's been on the Senate floor for decade, and he knows exactly what was asked of him. And he knows exactly what the truth was that he should have delivered to this committee, and he didn't do it. Had he done it, there would have been a slew of over questions asked of him, and he didn't want to go there.

VAUSE: He also knows just how serious perjury is, especially when it comes to President Clinton, because this is what he said almost 20 years ago. Listen to this.


SESSIONS: I am concerned about a president under oath being alleged to have committed perjury. In America, the Supreme Court and the American people believe no one is above the law.


VAUSE: So, Ron, obviously, he knows that this is serious. He knows the seriousness. He chooses his words carefully. There is a context here, though, with the Russians being involved in the election campaign. And the question being asked, why wasn't he ready for this question?

BAMIEH: Whether he was ready or not for the question, first of all, the question came, as you remember, from Senator Franken on a breaking news report from "Buzzfeed," which has proven to be false. As Al Franken is reading, and he's saying it's coming out, and I don't know all the details.

(CROSSTALK) BAMIEH: But -- the premise of how is he not prepared? How can he be prepared for a false story that was going to be prepared by a web page?

But if you're talking about how he is not prepared for a Russian question, he was prepared. The question there was, does the campaign have any contact with the Russian? He said I've had no contact with the Russians. That's a direct answer to the question.

And the reason why you'll never get to perjury or even close to it is because you'll never prove any intent. And you don't prove it based on the guy being a lawyer. You prove it based on the question. Was the question clear enough to result in an answer that would lead to a perjurious answer. The question wasn't clear.


VAUSE: This is why people hate lawyers.


[02:24:55] MARTIN: This is the top cop of the United States of America. And we've spent 18 hours today pretty much on every network in this country talking about whether he committed perjury, whether he made a misleading statement under oath while being confirmed as the U.S. attorney general. This is a very serious issue. We can't parse it, we can't parse whether he thought he was talking in his Senator's hat or whether he thought he was talking in his surrogate's hat. The truth is he had an obligation to come and give truthful answers, and he didn't. That's a serious matter, and it has to be investigated.

VAUSE: Areva and Ron, thank you very much.

Sara as well, thank you as well.

It's been a long night. We appreciate you sticking with us.

SESAY: Thank you.


VAUSE: Many thanks.

SESAY: Thank you.

VAUSE: Well, Sessions faced pressure to recuse himself from almost every corner of Washington, but the most powerful man there stayed firmly in his corner. More on that in a moment.

SESAY: Plus, Trump officials are under fire for speaking to this Russian diplomat. How Moscow is reacting to the allegation he may be a spy. That's just ahead.


VAUSE: Welcome back. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, live from Los Angeles. It is 11:30 on Thursday night. I'm John Vause.

SESAY: I'm Isha Sesay.

Our breaking news this hour, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recusing himself from all investigations into the Trump campaign and its ties to Russia.

VAUSE: Sessions failed to mention two meetings with the Russian ambassador when asked about any contact with the country's officials during his confirmation hearing. Nonetheless, the president is still with him.

Our Sara Murray has details.



SARA MURRAY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, a defiant Donald Trump is standing by one of his closest allies, insisting Attorney General Jeff Sessions has his full support.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, do you still have confidence in the attorney general?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has Sessions recused himself from the investigations into Russia?

TRUMP: I don't think so.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When did you first learn that Sessions spoke to the Russian ambassador? Did you know during the campaign?


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When were you aware that he spoke to the Russian ambassador?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware at all.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, do you think he should have spoken truthfully?

TRUMP: He probably did.


MURRAY: The president saying he believes his attorney general testified truthfully during his confirmation hearing, even though Sessions failed to disclose two meetings with the Russian ambassador, meetings the White House learned about through media reports according to a senior administration official.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When were you aware he spoke to the Russians?

TRUMP: I wasn't aware.

MURRAY: Trump said it wasn't necessary for Sessions to recuse himself from inquiries into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, Sessions did just that.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in.

MURRAY: For Trump and Sessions, the well of affection runs deep. Sessions was the first Senator to endorse him in 2016.

SESSIONS: I am pleased to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States.


MURRAY: At a time when many in the GOP still eyed Trump warily, Sessions was one of Trump's biggest boosters on the campaign trail.

SESSIONS: There's one man with the strength, the courage, the determination, the guts to challenge the things going wrong in this country, and put us on the right track, and that's Donald J. Trump.


MURRAY: He grew to be a close adviser, even flying to Indiana with Trump.


MURRAY: Trump repaying the loyalty after he won the election naming Sessions to serve as attorney general.

TRUMP: Jeff understands the job of attorney general is to serve and protect the people of the United States. And that is exactly what he will do and do better than anybody else can.

MURRAY: Now, just three weeks after leaving the Senate and being sworn in as attorney general, one of Trump's top officials is already facing calls from some to resign.

SESSIONS: In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said, but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times. That would be the ambassador.

MURRAY (voice-over): Now, more revelations about people in Donald Trump's circle and their contacts with the Russian ambassador. There was a face-to-face meeting with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador in Trump Tower in December. This was first reported by "The New York Times," but was not disclosed by members of this administration during this transition process when they were laying out contacts between Michael Flynn and Russian officials. Just an indication that this story is not going to end with Jeff Sessions' recusal.

Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: The Russian ambassador at the center of the Jeff Sessions controversy is seen as a top Russian spy by U.S. Intelligence. That's what current and former U.S. officials are saying. Russia is pushing back.

Here's what a foreign minister spokeswoman said to CNN's Matthew Chance.


UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Mr. Kislyak is a well-known -- I mean, world-class diplomat who was a deputy minister of foreign affairs in Russia, who communicated for decades on different fields, and CNN accused him on being a Russian spy, recruiting? Oh, my god. Come on.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNTIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wait, it was U.S. officials who accused him of that.

UNIDENTIFIED RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Stop -- stop spreading lies and false news.


VAUSE: For more on Russia's reaction, we're joined by CNN international diplomatic editor, Nic Robertson, live in Moscow.

Nic, clearly, the Russians aren't happy their top man in Washington has been falsely labeled as a spy or has been exposed.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: They push back on the allegation that he's a spy. This is internal fighting in the United States. He himself, Sergey Kislyak, said he feels like collateral damage to these sorts of partisan politics in Washington, and he's -- his name and dealing with them in Washington appears to be becoming more and more toxic. And that is not to the interest of Russia. It is certainly not to their interest to have him exposed to allegations of being accused of being a spy. And that's what we're hearing from him. Media vandalism is another word. It's a way they described the allegations against him. But the key issue here is this is the diplomat that Russia trusts to have in Washington to look after their interests and develop the kind of relationship with a new administration, one that it's clear that the kremlin here had expectations and hopes could deliver a change in fortunes in the bigger relationship between the United States and Russia. That's not happening.

So from Russia's perspective, this is -- you know, the spokesman for the president here has said for the President Putin, they said this is an emotionally charged atmosphere in Washington and from Moscow's perspective, they need to wait for it to calm down. It's a waiting period here, but it's deeply frustrating as we heard from the foreign ministry spokeswoman. There's a lot of anger about it as well -- John?

[02:35:20] VAUSE: Is there also maybe now concern in Moscow that this Trump administration as far as the Russians were concerned started out with so much promise, so much hope, so much optimism, if you like, that now because of the controversy over there, ties or alleged ties with Moscow, that President Trump is going to have to take a harder line with the Russians that the sanctions will not be lifted, at least not straight away?

ROBERTSON: This is something that Russia is keenly aware of, because they want to deal with the United States on big issues that are important for them, like Syria, like Ukraine, like sanctions, like Libya. You know how you had the foreign minister meeting with the prime minister of Libya yesterday. These are all issues where Libya -- where Russia is, if you will, sort of stuck to a degree waiting for the United States to decide its position.

So, yes, when the ambassador in Washington is in this sort of a position, therefore, the expectation in Moscow is things cannot really progress, but Moscow is not closing the window here. If you listen to the language that's being used by the president's spokesman, it is still leaving the opportunity -- his words were, we need to wait for a time until this situation in Washington to normalize. They're not shutting the door on some kind of improved relationship. They've clearly had a huge hope for it. If they do close the door on it, then that's the door closed for four years. I think the real sense here is wait and see. But the atmosphere is polluted, it's toxic, and of course, there are other issues that may come to the surface that could pollute it further for them -- John?

VAUSE: Well, they're waiting for the situation to normalize. They could be waiting for quite a while.

Thank you, Nic. Nic Robertson, our diplomatic editor in Moscow.

A short break. When we come back, the president says it's all about the deal. And now he's touting his plan to spend billions more on the military. We'll talk to a former Army general about how realist it is.


[02:40:36] VAUSE: Welcome back. Donald Trump is promising a great rebuilding of military might.

ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR: The president spoke Thursday to sailors and civilian shipbuilders on the "USS Gerald Ford." He linked a bigger military to a potential boom in U.S. Manufacturing.


TRUMP: I am calling for one of the largest defense spending increases in history. And by eliminating the sequester and the uncertainty it creates, we will make it easier for the Navy to plan for the future, and thus, to control costs and get the best deals for the taxpayer which, of course, is very important, right? Got to get a good deal.


VAUSE: Joining us now for more on this, Mark MacCauley, a retired major general in the U.S. Army.

General, thank you for being with us.

It's been a few days since the budget blueprint where the president talked about a 10 percent increase in military expenditure. This is what he said. Other people are taking a closer look at the numbers. People like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, they said it's closer to maybe a 3 percent increase on what President Obama proposed for the 2017 budget. So from your perspective, what they're looking at here, 3 percent, 10 percent, where does it lie and is that enough, what the military needs in.

MAJ. GEN. MARK MACCAULEY, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: The quick answer to the most important answer is it enough? No. If you believe that one of the most important functions of our government, our national government is national security, and indeed, to move one step further, global security, then that type of budget is insufficient. We're really talking about not $54 billion. It's about $18 billion per year. And that amounts almost precisely to the 3 percent figure. Is it a positive? Absolutely. We have huge requirements to provide that type of military capability that allows us to maintain peace around the world. We've got recapitalization which means we have to buy new equipment. We have operational and maintenance requirements with our Navy, with our Army, with our Air Force, our Marine Corps. 18 billion is a step forward. It's not enough. If you're talking about moving out and projecting U.S. power for the benefit of the entire world, you've got to put more money on the table.

SESAY: Does it strike you as contradictory into the president is talking about a massive increase in the military budget, but at the same time is putting out there an isolationist foreign policy?

MACCAULEY: For those of us, some of us, and can I only speak for myself. When you talk about force projection, and you address the subject of protecting the interest of not only the United States but maintain peace around the world, that is absolutely inconsistent with what we talk about when you say isolation itch. You cannot do both. They're inconsistent. You don't keep an Army back at home doing nothing but conducting parade ground maneuvers? An Army and Air Force and Marine Corps has a purpose, and I believe it's to maintain security and stability globally.

VAUSE: To Yemen, officials are saying intelligence obtained during a raid is actionable, a list of contacts for members of al Qaeda around the world. Given the controversy surrounding the death of Ryan Owens in this raid, should that information be viewed with some suspicion?

MACCAULEY: The best way to answer this question is it's two-fold. First of all, all Americans have to show reverence for the ultimate sacrifice made by Senior Chief Owens. And he did this in furtherance of his oath of office, just like every single one of us, veterans, veterans of past wars and conflicts, our today's members of the armed forces, and that's to support and defend the Constitution and obey the orders of the president and the officers appointed above them. He did exactly what he was supposed to do.

Now, whether there was or is actionable intelligence, we'll never know. I think this might be a discussion that will be heard whether behind closed doors or maybe open session at the House Armed Service Committee or the Senate Armed Services committee or a subject of a written treatise in the year 2040 when we talk about it. But this should not have been a politicized event. One man was doing his duty in furtherance of his obligation to his duty. The political dimension is inappropriate.

[02:45:42] VAUSE: We'll leave it at that.

General, thanks so much.

SESAY: General, thank you so much.

MACCAULEY: Thank you.

VAUSE: After a short break, we'll talk with Actor Wilmer Valderrama about his personals story and the immigration debate in the U.S.




VAUSE: Hollywood and Donald Trump's hate-hate relationship isn't improving, at least judging by the reaction on social media from many celebrities on Jeff Sessions' dealings with Russian officials.

SESAY: This is just a small sample from a "Star Trek" actor, George Takei, "Sessions is lying. Anyone would remember any meeting with Russian ambassador while allegations of election tampering were rampant." A "West World" actor posted this, "I can't wait to see Sessions head to the very prison system he adores so deeply. It's going to be a fairy tale ending."

[02:50:15] VAUSE: Comedian Rosie O'Donnell weighed in, "Treason is the reason, #Trumprussia."

Just last week, some of the biggest names in Hollywood held a unity rally to show support for immigration and civil liberties.

And two-time Academy Award-winning Jodie Foster made a call to action.


JODIE FOSTER, ACTRESS: No matter where you're born and no matter who you voted for, red or blue, whether you're white, black, or Brown and all the colors of the identity rainbow, this is our time to resist.


SESAY: The most heartfelt speech came from Wilmer Valderrama, who spoke of the trouble of his parents, immigrants from Venezuela, to make a better life in the United States.


WILMER VALDERRAMA, ACTOR & ACTIVIST: This is the story of millions that for generations have come to this land and brick by brick made it a country. Because of them, we look out the window and we see that American flag, and we know that at any minute, anything can happen. That at any minute we will all wake up to our own personal American dream. See? That's the immigrant's story.


VAUSE: And earlier, we spoke with Wilmer about his concerns about President Trump's anti-immigration policies.


VALDERRAMA: I think it's very dangerous to not understand who you are talking about when you create a conversation that sounds more like a statistic, like a percentage, like a group. When you forget about the actual immigrant story and the people that this conversation is affecting, and the many versions of the conversation which is the mother that got here and overstayed her visa, and kids brought here at three, and now they're 20-something and all they know is America and they're being threatened to be sent to a country they don't speak the language of. It's complicated. To be reckless I think is to stop for a second and take a deep breath. This is not a percentage. These are people. Those are families that are contributing to America. And most importantly, that the virtues of the most American way this has the immigrant's story. It comes out here. Not to quote myself, but we come here and lay bricks.

SESAY: I was struck as I watched your speech how hopeful you still sounded. And you talk about this country is great. You said that. Has it been difficult for you to hold onto that sense of hopefulness with President Trump in the White House?

VALDERRAMA: No. I don't think so. I stay hopeful. We saw a level of excitement from the people to unite. And to speak louder than they've ever done before. I think it was inspirational to speak up for the people that can't speak. It became exciting to go out there and say the things that most people are not addressing. And I think that that brought me a pride and brought me joy to be part of a country that we have the right to be able to stand outside and to call our Senators and Congressmen and say, hold on one second. We have a number to get to them. We don't have the ability to do that. It doesn't exist.

VAUSE: Last year, before the election, you made this funny clip for the "Huffington Post." It was what would happen to America if Donald Trump became president. Here's a clip. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALDERRAMA: Following the inauguration of President Trump, Americans are fleeing in record numbers to Mexico, leaving behind hopefuls, and piles and piles of lattes. While some Americans initially threatened to move to Canada, for some, Mexico was a clear choice after they realized they could trade in hockey sticks for tequila and taco trucks on every corner.

Come here. Come here.

It's incredible. There's -- they're smuggling rich Americans through the border. The shift in society is unbelievable.



VAUSE: A bit of a laugh at that time, but the impact he's having on the country, is that what you expected?

[02:54:49] VALDERRAMA: We all kind of predicted the conversation to go in different ways. I think everyone didn't know how they were going to react if it became a reality. But I think that the most important thing in this moment is to know that we have more things in common with one another than we thought. All the conversations are part of an ecosystem. We've all affected directly and indirectly by the consequences of possible laws and conversations. And not being fragmented. They're not broad conversations. They're complicated conversations. And they take time to understand, and I hope the government actually takes the time to understand the people that it really is affecting.

VAUSE: Wilmer, it's been good to speak with you.

SESAY: Thank you. Yes.

VALDERRAMA: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

SESAY: Thank you.


SESAY: A great conversation.

VAUSE: A very nice guy.

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

VAUSE: I'm John Vause.

Stay with us. The news continues now with Natalie Allen and Cyril Vanier in Atlanta. They'll be back with you in a moment. Not us. We're gone. We're gone. See you next week.



ANNOUCNER: This is CNN breaking news.

[03:00:59] NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. We're coming to you live in Atlanta. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Natalie Allen.


We're following breaking news out of Washington. New reports of contacts between Donald Trump's campaign advisors and the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

ALLEN: Attorney General Jeff Sessions --