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Obama Denies Trump Wiretapping Accusations; Former U.S. Justice Officials Deny Wiretapping; More Trump Aides Had Russian Contacts; Lindsey Graham Faced Tough Crowd at Town Hall; Pro-Trump Rallies Across the U.S.; New DHS Proposal Would Separate Children Crossing Border from Adults; Trump: Sessions Controversy a "Witch Hunt". Aired 1-2p ET
Aired March 4, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. This is a statement just received from a former spokesperson, Kevin Louis (ph). He said, "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered by any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
So we have a categorical denial that President Obama ordered any sort of wiretapping of then-Candidate Trump. Of course, we are still waiting to hear from the Trump White House, more of an explanation, what is he basing these accusations on. He offered no proof, no evidence.
We know the president is golfing right now, and we know, Fred, that that is a president who has been accusing the former president, President Obama, of a whole slew of things. He's saying that Obama is behind the protests we're seeing at town hall, Republican town halls across the country that these Congress members are holding, and that Obama or his team are behind the leaks. So it's clear that the president is angry. He woke up this morning and began tweeting around 6:30. Now he's on the golf course and we are still waiting for more of an explanation from his team -- Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Athena Jones, in West Palm Beach. Thank you so much. Keep us posted.
So, former U.S. Justice Department officials are also speaking out about this.
We're getting new details from CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. He just spoke with a former senior U.S. official.
Shimon, what are you hearing from the people who are now speaking on behalf of the Obama administration?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRODUCER: It goes further than the Obama administration. These are people directly involved in the investigation and were familiar with what the FBI was doing, what the Department of Justice was doing, and where their investigation was going, what they were looking at. It's basically a flat, flat denial. I'll read what this former U.S. official told me. He said, "This
didn't happen. It is made up. False. Wrong."
The official was careful to say, if we had to go down this road, it would have been difficult for us. They would have to go before a judge, get a warrant to get permission to do this.
It doesn't even sound like they were thinking about doing this. "There was a huge investigation ongoing, it's still ongoing, into the Russia's meddling into the election. That's still ongoing. But at no time did anyone present to the Department of Justice, hey, why don't we get a wiretap of Donald Trump's phones.
So they are stressing -- these are officials -- an official who's directly involved in the investigation, who's familiar with the investigation -- and has stressed that, at no time, did this happen.
WHITFIELD: And so, how would this be separate from or related to the Obama administration handing over classified information as it relates to Russia before President Obama departed?
PROKUPECZ: So, because this was a -- this would be involved the FBI and it would have been an FBI investigation. What Trump seems to indicate by his tweet is that he was the target of the investigation, his sort of phones, his stuff that was wiretapped. So, I don't know that the FBI would have, at that time, before he was president, directly briefed him on what the - what their investigation was, where they were going, what they were looking at. The director, Director Comey, of the FBI, has this sort of -- he likes to keep it separate. He doesn't like to talk about ongoing investigations. Even with the president. I mean, this is what sort of happened a couple of weeks ago, when we reported that the White House asked the FBI to knock down some of these reports. And the point is, there's these rules, and the rules are, you cannot -- you have to keep FBI investigations separate and outside of the White House. So, I don't know. I don't believe the FBI would have briefed him on this.
Now, it could be that he went to the FBI today or went to some U.S. officials and said, hey, were there any FISAs out on me. It seems to tweet this early in the morning, I don't think that would have happened in the morning. And I don't know what the FBI would do if he did go to them and ask them.
But I think the bottom line is from talking to these official, this did not happen. So everyone basically just kind of sort of wondering where he's getting this from.
WHITFIELD: And you mentioned that many of them are simply shocked, too, that this would be said, out loud, by a sitting president about his predecessor, without also presenting some facts or something to back up these accusations.
PROKUPECZ: Absolutely. Are they surprised? Probably not. But you know, when they use words like "nonsense," I think that tells you a lot. That's a pretty strong -- sort of a strong way to categorize what he's saying. But they're not surprised. I mean, it's pretty -- it's a pretty severe allegation. It goes really -- it's just sounds to them, obviously, ludicrous. And immediately, when I started calling some of our sources this morning, the reaction was, this is just, it's nonsense. It just did not happen.
[13:05:30] WHITFIELD: Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. Appreciate that.
Let's discuss this further with CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, who is also a retired CIA chief of Russian operations; Julian Zelizer, a historian and professor at Princeton University; and Jay Newton-Small, a contributor with "Time" magazine.
Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: Jay, let me begin with you.
A former senior U.S. official with direct knowledge of the investigations, Justice Department, calling Trump's wiretapping claims false and wrong.
JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: This morning, I heard a lot from my sources on Capitol Hill, Republicans who said they're very worried about this. Two weeks ago, Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, warned Donald Trump essentially to say we could do with less tweeting, it hurt our cause in confirming your cabinet, in getting legislation done. And they had this great week where they had the joint address to Congress where he stayed on message the entire time and it was a very well received speech. Then to wake up Saturday morning to this series of tweets, which is, again, a huge distraction, just causes a whole other furor, it's just not what they want to see on Capitol Hill. Really, they consider this a huge distraction. And it just reignites the whole debate in America about whether or not this should be investigated.
WHITFIELD: And, Julian, this after, you know, Donald Trump was winning some praise after his, you know, address to joint members of Congress, and then seemed to be refraining from tweeting. People even saying he was behaving in a more presidential fashion. Then now, this.
What's behind this either instinct of not being able to help himself to have this kind of stream of consciousness via tweet?
JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN & PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: It's either strategic, meaning the administration and the president likes to distract the public, the media with this kind of tweet scandal while they're trying to do other things in terms of deregulation and public policy. The other, this is Donald Trump, and it's a myth that there's some kind of turning point, some kind of reset. It's a myth. Instead, we wake up with the president essentially making a McCarthy- like accusation against the president by claiming he's the victim of McCarthyism of, again, the former president. We have to assume this is President Trump and there will be more of it. Every time we think there's a turning point, we should take a breath, because this is probably coming the next day.
WHITFIELD: So, Steve Hall, who is with us on the phone.
Just a reminder, which is what Trump tweeted 6:30 a.m. today, "Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."
How could he have just found this out at 6:30 in the morning, Steve? Could this be the result of any kind of intelligence briefing or he's using some other source to justify these thoughts?
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (voice-over): I doubt if it's the result of a briefing. There's been different news agencies that have begun reporting on this. But it's been out there that there has been an investigation with regard to now-President Trump's connections to Russia for a while.
But I'd like to pull attention to how a FISA court works. This is a key check and balance. President Trump himself said that the first time they went to get the warrant for this coverage, this technical surveillance, it was denied. There is an awfully high bar for these federal judges who have been selected by various -- you know, a number of different past presidents, to include Ronald Reagan. These things are not done simply and easily. It's difficult to get domestic coverage. I can tell you, as a former member of this country's national security organizations, there have been a number of times when the government has been frustrated by the FISA court, not being able to get the type of coverage it wants as quickly as it wants. So there's a high bar for this kind of thing.
WHITFIELD: And the FISA, this Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
As a sitting president, wouldn't he have access to be able to get to the bottom of whether there was an application for a search warrant, whether it was denied, whether it was requested, any of these things he's alleging via tweet?
[13:10:13] HALL: It's a difficult area because, of course, as we've seen, the White House likes to keep its distance, as it should, from ongoing investigations. If the investigation involves either part of the Trump team or perhaps Donald Trump himself, that's going to be a real difficult issue. These investigations conducted by the Department of Justice by FBI are structured so that it makes it difficult to get into the political realm. That's part of what the FISA court is expert at doing. It's a panel of federal judges who makes these decisions. It's something key to our separation of powers, and I think something President Trump is beginning to learn about how the judicial system works.
WHITFIELD: We've been hearing from Donald Trump, who has been very critical in recent weeks of President Obama. In fact, this just might be considered the latest example of President Trump upping his attacks on his predecessor. This is what he said just Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts, the bravery to express the hopes that share our souls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: You heard the rumblings in the room. Now with the tweets this morning, it's not moving forward. It's looking back, or at least, in his view, kind of looking back, trying to get to the bottom of something that, again, there's no evidence of happening.
NEWTON-SMALL: This is par for Donald Trump. We saw this throughout the campaign the he would always pick an enemy and rail against that enemy. That really united, to some degree, his base behind him, because they were saying, oh, we're on your side, we're going to help you fight, that's what he's still doing as president, whether it's the mainstream media, the media is the enemy of the people, or whether it's President Obama who is the enemy of the people now, or his enemy. It's really about the mentality, which is classic Donald Trump. The question is, is it helpful in governance when you're trying to reach across the aisle, as he just did in his joint address to Congress, saying I want to work with Democrats, I want to create legislation, and then turn around and revile President Obama this way, with what seems to be baseless claims, that's now helpful when you're trying to govern.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jay Newton-Small, Julian Zelizer, Steve Hall, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.
WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, the White House, Russia and the web are growing more tangled by the day.
Plus, we're keeping an eye on pro-Trump rallies popping up across the country. That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.
[13:17:04] WHITFIELD: Attorney General Jeff Sessions now says he will amend his testimony to Congress on Monday, supplying a supplement. This, after he recused himself from any investigations into possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Several more Trump aides said they had contact with Russians during the campaign, including Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is now a top adviser. President Trump calling the turmoil surrounding Sessions a, quote, "total witch hunt by the Democrats."
A former Trump adviser spoke with Anderson Cooper last night and said, in his case, any contact with the Russian ambassador was incidental.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, A.C. 360: -- speak to the Russian ambassador for more than 10 seconds?
LARRY PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: Never more than. Again, I don't want to talk specifics, but I can assure you, I've never spoken with Ambassador Kislyak more than 10 seconds. Yeah, that's a safe statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: I want to bring back, CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, who's joining us on the phone and historian Princeton University professor, Julian Zelizer.
Good to see you.
And hear, hopefully, from you, Steve, as well.
Julian, while the president is making accusations of his predecessor, still in the forefront is this growing web involving people on Trump's campaign or continuing to be in the White House who have had meetings in the past with the Russian ambassador. You're looking at the faces of them, including the son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who's a key adviser, a senior adviser now. And then Michael Flynn lost his job over not disclosing enough about this meeting with the Russian ambassador.
This investigation is continuing to widen. Is it going to continue to be a distraction for this Trump White House?
ZELIZER: Well, it can become much more than a distraction. I think that's part of the aggressive tone you've heard from the president.
You have two questions. The first is -- it's not really question. Did the Russians intervened in the election through hacking and fake news? And the second is what was all this contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign officials all about?
And what we saw this week in addition to the story about Attorney General Sessions, were more demands, including from Republicans, to conduct an investigation, either through a select committee or special prosecutor, and not just rely on the Republican-led intelligence committee. So this is broadening. And it's both consuming a lot of time for the administration and for Republicans on Capitol Hill. And it also poses a threat. A scandal of this sort can really consume a White House.
[13:19:56] WHITFIELD: And so, Steve, with us on the phone now, while Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from anything related to the investigation of the Russians and involvement with U.S. elections, is it your view there needs to be a special prosecutor involved, even though there are also committees on Capitol Hill that want to continue forward with its investigations? Is this right for a special prosecutor?
HALL (voice-over): Yes, I think it's time for some sort of independent mechanism to get involved here. The reason is because, what the Russians manage to accomplish in this multipronged influence campaign that they were able to conduct during the presidential election, it could be worse if there was some sort of cooperation or collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. We don't know that. That's why the investigations are going on, and that's probably why some of these wiretapping activities that President Trump was complaining about are happening. But when you call into question the potential outcome of the election, in other words, if there was some sort of collusion, does that indeed call into question is outcome of the election, President Trump's election, then it becomes such a hyper partisan situation that you really need something that is far away from the political sphere as possible to do what really amounts to a counterintelligence investigation as to what the role was with the Russians and where this is all going. So, yeah, I think it's time to do something, again, as far as away from politics as possible on this one.
WHITFIELD: And, Julian, when Jeff Sessions took to the cameras on Thursday and said he's recusing himself, he also said, in hindsight, perhaps I should have revealed more. In your view, is this amounting to many oversights or cover-ups?
ZELIZER: Well, there's been a lot of denials like this, and then following the denials comes some revelation that there were more discussions. The more you see of that, the more it at least looks like a cover-up, and that's why there are these calls for some kind of independent or bipartisan investigation. But it's hard not to follow this story, and not think that the Trump administration is at least trying to conceal the extent of the interaction with Russian officials. Again, no evidence of collusion, but there's certainly were more discussions than they initially admitted to.
WHITFIELD: Then, Steve, real quick, if Donald Trump, through his tweets, is offering a diversion, does it instead make matters worse, calls more attention to these relations, potentially, between Russia counterparts and the Trump administration or campaign?
HALL: Well, it gets -- you know, is yet another data point, another part of this steady drum beat about what was happening between the Trump team and the Russians. And it does call more attention to that, which may not be a bad thing, if you favor, like I do, a full investigation into finding out what that relationship was. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it was substantial, but we need to get to the bottom of it.
WHITFIELD: Steve Hall, Julian Zelizer, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
ZELIZER: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: Straight ahead, several pro-Trump rallies this afternoon. We'll talk to Trump supporters about why they turned out today in Washington, D.C.; Nashville and other places.
Plus, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham faces a tough crowd in a town hall. The feisty exchanges, straight ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: How many of you believe elections matter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think elections matter.
GRAHAM: No, you don't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fair elections.
GRAHAM: You want the same policies even though you lost. It don't work that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:28:03] GRAHAM: I want to cut your taxes because we need to.
GRAHAM: I want to rebuild -- I want to rebuild our military because it's broken.
GRAHAM: I want to build the Keystone Pipeline to get oil from Canada.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Just a sample of the agenda that Senator Lindsey Graham wanted to push at that town hall. It got quite rowdy and folks were very excited about all that was taking place there. Lindsey Graham met with cheers, jeers. He tackled a whole lot of political issues and controversies, including President Trump's tweeting, accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping the Trump Tower just before the election, without providing any evidence whatsoever. Talking about Trump there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: I don't know if it's true or not, but if it is true, illegally --
GRAHAM: -- it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN's Polo Sandoval has been monitoring this today. What more did Lindsey Graham talk about, because he did tackle that at
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right out of the gate. And then he quickly began to segue to some of the other topics as he faced his first hometown crowd, first time since he participated in CNN's national town hall earlier this week.
This morning, he tackled several issues. Not really that whole alleged wiretapping issue, but also the economy, veterans' issues and, yes, Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[13:30:00] GRAHAM: The tweet today by President Trump was earthshattering. He claims that the former president illegally wiretapped his campaign. We need to get to the bottom of that. Don't you agree?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to push for a Russian investigation and not just support one? Everyone's involvement in Russia needs to be investigated.
GRAHAM: All right.
GRAHAM: I believe with all my heart and soul that the Russians did interfere in our election.
GRAHAM: It wasn't a 400-pound man sitting on a bed somewhere. It was Russian intelligence services.
You know what I have in common with some of you? I didn't vote for Trump either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: There is clearly opposition against the president. He's a very outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and that is something he made very clear during today's town hall there at Clemson University Campus in South Carolina, Fred.
But going back to what we talked about. It was an interesting dynamic because at no point did he lose control of this. Yes, there were people angry and passionate about the issues he was talking about but, for the most part, things did stay in control. Of course, things wrapping up.
WHITFIELD: It was fascinating, because there have been a number of town halls across the country, and they had rolled out quite differently. This was a stage setting and it provided the optics that Senator Lindsey Graham was very much in control of what was going on, that he was the main attraction. You know, he was engaging with the audience. And I wonder if this was far more advantageous for him than some other town halls we've seen.
SANDOVAL: That may be key from this point forward, as more lawmakers continue to host town halls, is to try to be engaging with members of the crowd, whether they're supporting your policies or against. You saw some holding out red hearts. My colleagues on the ground telling me they would hold those up to express their displeasure with the Senator and they had green cards they would hold up for those issues they were in support of.
Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: Meantime, dozens of pro-Trump rallies are happening today. Supporters outside the Washington Monument in the nation's capitol. Those are the pictures you're looking at now. Then there's a rally in Nashville, Tennessee. Two national groups are organizing the coast- to-coast events.
CNN's Sara Ganim is live in New York where there's a rally still underway there in Manhattan.
So, Sara, what's happening exactly?
SARA GANIM, CNN CORESPONDENT: Yeah, you can see behind me, there are about 200 people who came out to, as they say, in their own words, celebrate the president of the United States. And rallies like this, we're seeing across the country today. They're calling these Spirit of America rallies. They were organized mostly through Facebook groups by a group called Main Street Patriots. And they're essentially people -- we talked to some of them -- they wanted to come out, kind of as a show of force, against some protesting the other protests, protesting the anti-Trump protests. We're seeing them in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, in New York, here in the city, also on Long Island. You mentioned the one in Nashville today.
I talked to some of the people who came out here to 5th Avenue in front of Trump Tower and asked them why they felt it was important for them to come out. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feel like there's been a lot of anti-Trump untrue statements made about him and I'm here to show that the silent majority does support Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I voted for him and supported him and he's doing exactly what we asked him to do. That's exactly why he's a great president. GANIM: Have you been happy so far?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm completely happy. For everything he's doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GANIM: So, a little bit earlier today, in front of Trump Tower, there was an anti-Trump protest. It was education based. And some of those protesters have actually stayed behind. You might not be able to see them because of the city buses, but they're across the street, and for a while, they were changing chants back and forth across the street. Now, the NYPD say they anticipate the anti-Trump protest is going to grow again, as another is scheduled to come down in front of Trump Tower here about 2:00 -- Fred?
[13:34:08]WHITFIELD: Sara Ganim, thank you so much, in Manhattan. Appreciate it.
New details on the fight to beef up security along the border. The Department of Homeland Security now considering a proposal that would separate children from their parents when crossing into the U.S. illegally. That is next.
WHITFIELD: Welcome back. The Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal that would separate children from adults when they try to cross the border illegally. A DHS official says this is meant to protect kids since, sometimes, they are kidnapped and used to cross the border. The newest statistics show more than 54,000 children and family members were apprehended at the border from last of October to the end of January, double the number from the same time period a year earlier.
CNN Washington correspondent, Ryan Nobles, joins me new.
Ryan, how would this work?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: As you mentioned, it's goal is to curb the smuggling and exploitation of the children at the southern border, but critics argue it could separate families and could be difficult to implement. As it stands now, Border Patrol policy allows children and adults to be released into the United States while their cases are pending, but under this new policy, the adult could be detained while the child would be put under protective status, maybe with Child Protective Services or a family member already in United States.
Now, in a statement, David Lapin (ph), a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said, quote, "The journey north is a dangerous one, with too many situations where children, brought by parents, relatives or smugglers, are often exploited, abused or maybe even lose their lives. With safety in mind, the Department of Homeland Security continually explores options that may discourage those from even beginning the journey." The obvious question, which DHS has yet to explain, is how the agency
plans to determine which children are being exploited and which are traveling with family members.
The policy, at this point, is just a proposal. Those fine details are still being worked out.
Remember, during the campaign, President Trump promised, while he'd have a tough line on immigration, he'd work to keep families together. And the Obama administration did propose a similar policy when President Obama was in office, but chose not to implement it because it was just too tough to put in place -- Fred?
[13:40:46] WHITFIELD: So what's next, what's the potential timeline here?
NOBLES: Well, it's going to have to be hashed out within the Department of Homeland Security. And we're still waiting for further executive orders that could come out from White House. So it's going to be a matter of time where all these different agencies come together with a more formal plan before this is actually implemented.
WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thanks so much, in Washington. Appreciate it.
NOBLES: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he didn't lie under oath about meetings with a Russian ambassador, and he's expected to amend his testimony on the matter, but will that be enough? Our legal team weighs in.
[13:45:50] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
On Monday, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will amend his testimony about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. President Trump still calling the controversy over his answers a, quote, "witch hunt." Sessions has since recused himself from any investigation over possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The attorney general announced his decision following the revelation he met with Russia's ambassador, twice, during the presidential campaign, something he denied during his confirmation hearing. But the attorney general insists that he has done nothing wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, in the end, I have followed the right procedure, just as I promised the committee I would. Just as I believe any good attorney general should be. And a proper decision, I believe, has been reached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, let's bring in our legal guys. Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland.
Good to see you.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Hey, Fred.
WHITFIELD: And Richard Herman, a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor, joining us from Las Vegas.
Good to see you as well.
All right, so, just to refresh everyone's memory, let's listen again to the confirmation hearing question that's being made a reference point when Senator Al Franken asked then-Senator Sessions before confirmation, this was back in January.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D), 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?
SESSIONS: 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. And I'm unable to comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, so, Richard, you first.
Sessions says that answer was correct as he understood it at the time. Is it the phrasing that's key, in your opinion?
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: It's not. It's an objection. Failure to respond to the question, judge. He didn't answer the question. He threw out what looked like a prepared response here. Fred, the elephant in the room here is to what extent, if any, did the Trump -- was the Trump campaign complicit with the Russian cyberattack on our democratic process. That's the issue.
HERMAN: People surrounding Trump have ties with the Russians. They're being investigated.
The question here to the proposed attorney general was what would he do if he saw someone have those ties. He offered himself up on a platter. He gave an incorrect answer. It was perjury, Fred. It was a lie. It was an overactive occurring, the question is, the intent aspect of it, and he had opportunity to amend that answer after reviewing the transcript of his testimony. He never did, Fred. He never did until he was caught by "The Washington Post." Now, at this stage, he wants to modify and clarify. It's like you rob a bank and, six months later, they catch you and you say, oh, here's the money, I didn't mean to rob the bank. He committed a crime, Fred. A normal, average person gets prosecuted. He's the attorney general. It's incomprehensible.
WHITFIELD: So, Avery, your chuckling tells me you're in disagreement with almost everything Richard just said.
FRIEDMAN: It looks like somebody has entered a verdict without all the evidence. What's involved here is it seems improbable if you met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russia ambassador -- and this is a guy you don't forget. He fills up a room -- six months before the testimony, then four months, it seems like something's wrong, at best ineptitude.
But the most important person here, Fredricka, is Dana Boente (ph). That's the name nobody knows, but he is the most important person because he is the acting attorney general, and he has the authority to appoint an independent prosecutor. We've seen that before when Attorney General Ashcroft recused himself. Jim Comey, now the FBI director, was the acting attorney general --
[13:50:05] WHITFIELD: And do you see that happening, likely, because of the meetings with Ambassador Kislyak?
FRIEDMAN: It should. I think it should. I think Boente (ph) is a straight shooter. He's the former U.S. attorney in the district of Virginia. And I think, like any other good attorney general, there should be an investigation. It doesn't mean a prosecution, but you've got to get to the facts. And the fact that Mr. Sessions is going to amend in writing, that doesn't do it. He's got to go back in front of the Senate Judiciary. If you appear before a committee, be put back under oath, and then clarify, not written. That's not the way to do it.
WHITFIELD: Do you see that, potentially, happening because, there are some within the Senate Judiciary who say they want him to testify again, they want to ask him questions in addition to the supplement he'll be offering for confirmation hearings?
FRIEDMAN: He should, but he won't.
WHITFIELD: And do you see it, potentially, happening though, Richard?
HERMAN: No. There's no way he's going to appear before that committee again and answer verbal questions.
WHITFIELD: If invited, or if that is the decision of the Judiciary Committee, how would he refuse that?
HERMAN: He would just refuse it. He's the acting attorney general. There are no charges brought against him. He's no way he's going to go before them again because he blew it the first time. He'll answer in writing with a team of lawyers and prepare responses. As far as special prosecutor, there is no more special prosecutor
statute. That expired in '99. An independent prosecutor who does not answer to the Department of Justice and the president must be appointed here, Fred, otherwise, we're never going to get a true objective investigation.
WHITFIELD: Here's the timeline of the meetings with Kislyak that we're talking about. In terms of Senator Jeff Sessions -- the net is fairly wide involving other Trump campaign folks, Carter Paige, the son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But as it pertains to Jeff Sessions, he met with the ambassador at the RNC in July, and there was another meeting later, and as Senator, and Jeff Sessions said there's a distinction. I mean, when he used the language as, "sometimes, I'm described as a surrogate."
So are the meetings different when you are on the campaign trail versus a Senator? Perhaps there are fewer furled brows when you're meeting with the ambassador as a Senator, Avery?
WHITFIELD: The particular ambassador has met with a lot of people.
FRIEDMAN: The fact that the campaign paid $2800 for Jeff Sessions to be here in Cleveland during the convention and then another $223, it was a campaign surrogate. So if he wants to parse, that's awful for an attorney general, but that's going to be his explanation. Did he lie? I don't know. Did he parse? There's no doubt about that.
WHITFIELD: Richard, would it make a difference whether you are having this meeting as a Senator or a surrogate of a campaign?
HERMAN: That's a question of fact, Fred. He was the first U.S. Senator to support Trump. He was his ardent supporter. He was by his side from the beginning here. He was his man. And he was at the Republican National Convention speaking to a Russian ambassador, which slipped his mind, and then met a month later, which slipped his mind. This is on the heels of General Flynn having to resign his office. It comes on the heels of the intelligence agency.
WHITFIELD: Why is that not the same thing, Avery? Why is that not
FRIEDMAN: Because Flynn was untruthful to Mike Pence. In this case, Sessions --
WHITFIELD: Some would argue perhaps he's not telling a full story to an audience of millions of people, starting with those on Capitol Hill and then the broadcast audience, the American people.
WHITFIELD: How is it different, Avery? FREIDMAN: Because he was put under oath. It makes it more serious.
Yes, it's not right because he was not under oath, but the fact is they locked him under oath, he should appear again. I don't think he will because of the potential criminality of saying something again inconsistent with the facts and with the truth.
WHITFIELD: We'll leave it right there.
Gentlemen, thank you so much. Richard Herman, Avery Friedman, always great to see you every Saturday.
HERMAN: Always great to see you, too.
[13:54:36] WHITFIELD: Appreciate it.
Still ahead, we are learning more about what officials in the Trump administration actually knew about these allegations now coming from the sitting president, wiretapped allegations about his predecessor.
Stay with us.
WHITFIELD: Tomorrow night, CNN's original series, "Finding Jesus," returns for a second season. The series explores the groundbreaking, rather, discovery about the role of Pontius Pilate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Are you the king of the Jews?
UNIDENTIIFIED FEMALE: This is really the crucial question, do you have pretentions to overthrow us.
UNIDENTIFEID ACTOR: Do you ask this on your own or did others tell you about me?
UNIDENTIFEID ACTOR: I am not a Jew. Come on. Your own nation and chief priests have handed you over to me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pilate is almost having a conversation as opposed to interrogating someone.
UNIDENTIFEID ACTOR: Are you the king of the Jews?
UNIDENTIFEID ACTOR: My kingdom is not of this world. Everybody who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What is truth?