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Comey to Testify Thursday About Trump Confrontations; Representative Darrell Issa Faces Angry Constituents at Town Hall; Secretary Mattis Calls North Korea a Clear and Present Danger; Questions about Jeff Sessions' Communication with Russians; Increasing Racist Incidents in America; Aired 1-2p ET

Aired June 3, 2017 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] DAN LIEBERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Between President Trump and Russia, and they're calling to beef up the current investigations going on right now in Congress, which they say are understaffed and under-resourced, and right now protests just are ending in Washington, D.C., and we've seen protests all day around the country and some around the globe -- Fredricka.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Dan Lieberman, thank you so much. Glad we were able to connect. There you are. Got you, all right, in Manhattan.

All right. The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right now.

All right. Happening right now in the NEWSROOM the White House weighs a big decision whether to muzzle fired FBI director James Comey's upcoming testimony about his conversations with President Trump involving Russia. And this as activists dial up the heat on the Russian investigation calling for transparency and truth from the administration. And Defense Secretary James Mattis dials up the rhetoric on North Korea saying that country is a threat to us all.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: As a matter of U.S. national security, the United States regards the threat from North Korea as a clear and present danger.


WHITFIELD: That's all ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Hello, again, everyone. And thanks so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield live from Washington, D.C.

All right. We start with the latest on the investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The next week is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal in the Trump administration. Fired FBI director James Comey is on the hot seat Thursday when the Senate Intelligence Committee grills him on the Russia investigation and his interactions with President Donald Trump.

The Russia probe will likely come up Wednesday when the committee discusses renewing the law that governs collecting foreign intelligence.

There's a lot to cover. Let's bring in Athena Jones. She's at the White House.

So, Athena, let's start with Comey. What are the expectations of about whether he will testify or not?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well right now it looks as though he's set to testify on Thursday and that the White House is not going to try to invoke executive privilege to keep him from doing so. That's according to "The New York Times" citing two senior administration officials.

Now I should make it clear that even those officials say the president could still change his mind and the White House has not officially announced whether or not the president will try to use this executive privilege. Of course, doing so, could look bad. It could send the message that the president, the White House is trying to hide something about these conversations and then, of course, there is the issue of whether the president could even be successful in exerting executive privilege and there's some debate among experts among that because the president himself has already spoken about and tweeted about some of his conversations with the former FBI director.

So there's a question there of whether he could now later on assert privilege. Legal experts saying the president can't use the issue -- use executive privilege as a shield in one context and as a sword in another, so that is a big question mark. But as of right now at least, according to some of the reporting we're seeing, the president is not expected to invoke that privilege but, of course, we will have to see what they say officially -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Athena Jones, thank you so much from the White House.

So if President Trump does invoke executive privilege, it would essentially stop James Comey from telling his side of the story. So how will the White House navigate this messaging? Here with me right now are two former communications directors, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist Alice Stewart and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

All right. Good to see both of you. So let's talk about these what- if scenarios. You're in the White House working communications.

Alice, you first. What are you advising the president or what are you telling the president the messaging will be if, indeed, it were to invoke this executive privilege?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First off, if you want to protect conversations with someone on your staff under executive privilege you don't fire them. So right there I think it's important for them not to try and seek executive privilege because as Athena says it looks as though they have something to hide. And based on what they have said, whether regard to collusion with the Russians or with a potential for obstruction of justice they have done nothing wrong.

So if that's the case let's get it out there, put it all out on the table and let the people make their own decisions but also let the facts lead to a conclusion. We need to put this behind us. Let the appointed outside team to handle the messaging on that and driving the message so the administration, the White House, can push their legislative agenda and their accomplishment in the White House. That's what needs to be done from the White House standpoint.

WHITFIELD: So, Maria, this White House likes to control the message. Can it in any way here?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. And while they would like to control the message, essentially from day one, they have not been able to control the message and that's the big problem.

[13:05:04] I agree 150 percent with my friend Alice, it's complete common sense, but guess what, this White House does not run on common sense and that is another problem that they're having.

Even if the president does invoke executive privilege, he probably won't get it from all of the analysis that we've heard from legal experts because in addition to having fired Comey and that Comey is now a private citizen, not under sort of the umbrella of the administration, President Trump himself has talked about the conversations that he has had with Comey.

WHITFIELD: So if he didn't open the can of worms he kind of like pride it open even further.

CARDONA: Well, exactly. And not only that, but he kind of vaguely threatened Comey in one of the tweets saying --

WHITFIELD: About the tapes.

CARDONA: Comey better -- you know, better hope that there aren't any tapes and so the tapes I think are going to be another series of conversations because we already have a letter from members of Congress asking the White House whether there are any tapes and if there are, you know what, turn them over. So I agree with Alice because if, in fact, they have nothing to hide they should act like a group of people that have nothing to hide and they have done everything except that from the get-go.

WHITFIELD: So, then, Alice, how does this White House prepare itself for the kinds of messages that will come from this testimony, whether it be revealing whether, indeed, there was any tape, you know, of conversations taking place in the Oval Office between the president and Comey or whether, indeed, these -- the dinner and the phone conversations were a means in which to offer reassurance to the president from Comey?

STEWART: Right. I think hopefully all of that work is already being done, but the key is to, as they are trying to do, have a war room or a team that helps to drive that message and get together with surrogates and get together with people that are going out there on talk shows and radio shows and pushing the message that the Trump campaign did not do any collusion with the Russians and there was certainly no attempt to obstruct justice on the president's part but I think most importantly have an outside team do that.

It looks as though they're going the route of attacking Comey's character. Look, Republicans and Democrats can't agree on the problems with the way he has handled the situation, but never his honesty. And I think their attempt to go after his character I don't agree with that 100 percent. They need to let someone else answer the questions on Russian intel. The White House needs to drive their legislative agenda.

WHITFIELD: And there's great anticipation for the Comey testimony at the same time there is some anticipation about top adviser Jared Kushner and what he knows, what he will share. He through his attorneys has said he will be completely cooperative, but he continues to work in the White House as the adviser, so, Maria, does he need to give up his security clearance, does the White House need to say until all this is resolved your job or role has changed here?

CARDONA: Well, I think the smartest thing for them to do is to put everything out there. One of the things that has really hurt them from day one is that there has been this drip, drip, drip of information where first they say no, there's been no conversations whatsoever and then we hear that either -- whether it's Jeff Sessions or Michael Flynn who was fired for the conversations that he had that he did not reveal or now Jared Kushner, we find out that in fact there have been multiple conversations in ways that really raise suspicions and really raise sort of the ire of frankly I think both Republicans and Democrats on the hill that are trying to get to the bottom of this.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, now the White House is saying, by way of Sean Spicer in the gaggle room, press room, all those questions, you are deferred now to the -- President Trump's attorney, not the White House counsel but President Trump's attorney.


WHITFIELD: So as it pertains to messaging, getting it all out there how is that going to happen?

STEWART: That's smart to do, first off, because that puts somewhat of a messaging firewall between them and this Russia investigation. They do need to make sure that there's someone on the other end of the line answering the phone. We're hearing from reporters and those in the press corps that they're calling those people and no one is answering the calls.


STEWART: It is important to let another team respond to the rest of the intel. Let Mueller do his investigation, let the House and Senate do theirs. Let's not jump to conclusion, let's not speculate on what the outcome will be, let those facts play out. White House, meanwhile, Spicer and the comms team, focus on talking

about tax reform, health care and issues that they campaigned and won on.

WHITFIELD: How can they do that? This is a giant distraction because it also entails trust. And if you've got folks on Capitol Hill who are starting to wonder, question the credibility coming from the White House they're not so sure about these agendas that the president wants to propose.

STEWART: It can be done. The key is keeping Donald Trump on the same page as the comms team and not have him tweet off message.

CARDONA: Good luck with that.


STEWART: To stay on message, everyone has to stay on message.


WHITFIELD: Well, I don't know. It's 1:09 and so far no tweets. Usually by this point on a Saturday we have at least a handful from the president.

CARDONA: Well, we'll see because, right, it is early.

WHITFIELD: The day is young.

CARDONA: The day is young. And I think Alice brings up a really good point which, you know, has been obvious to so many people who have been watching this play out, which is even if the comms team was really strict on strategy and did, you know, everything that they could by the book on communications and getting this out there and getting everybody on the same page, you have Donald Trump.

[13:10:17] And Donald Trump is probably the biggest issue here in terms of really injecting an unknown because he will come out with a tweet.


CARDONA: He will come out with a statement, he will come out with an interview and blow everything up.

WHITFIELD: He's driving the train.


WHITFIELD: All right. Stick around, ladies. Appreciate it.

Don't miss a minute of James Comey's scheduled testimony this Thursday, watch our special coverage beginning at 9:00 a.m. right here on CNN. We'll be right back.

Plus we've got protests that are unfolding across the country with large crowds mounting in D.C. Here, New York, activists are calling for the truth about Russia. Plus, on the heels of withdrawing from the Paris Accord, and ahead of Comey's testimony this week, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa is facing angry constituents in California. Details on that straight ahead.


[13:15:25] WHITFIELD: All right. We're now hearing from one of Trump's team members about the president's latest view on the climate. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley says the president does believe the climate is changing. She sat down with CNN's Jake Tapper.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me show you what President Trump has tweeted about climate change. Quote, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," unquote.

Are you willing to acknowledge that that is nonsense?

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: What I will tell you is the regulations from the Paris agreement were disadvantaging our companies. We know that. I knew that as a governor. We know that now. The jobs were not attainable as long as we had to live under those regulations. It wasn't possible to meet the conditions under the Paris agreement. Had we even attempted to do that? And so I think we have to look at what's realistic.

We've got a president who is going to watch out for the environment. It's what we do. It's who we are. We are going to continue to be a leader in the environment. The rest of the world wanted to tell us how to do it and we're saying we will do it but we'll do it under our terms.

TAPPER: The -- the standards were set by the United States for the United States but just to be clear on this climate change that the Chinese --

HALEY: No, the standards were set by --


HALEY: The standards were set by President Obama and not passed through the Senate.

TAPPER: Right.

HALEY: Because the standards couldn't have been achieved.

TAPPER: No, but you -- my point is you said that the world was imposing standards on the United States. President Obama, the president of the United States at the time, is the one who set the standards. But moving that aside for one second I just want to be clear on this, you're not willing to acknowledge that calling climate change a Chinese hoax is just a big box of crazy? HALEY: President Trump believes the climate is changing and he

believes pollutants are part of that equation. So that is the fact. That is where we are. That's where it stands. He knows that it's changing. He knows that the U.S. has to be responsible with it and that's what we're going do. Just because we got out of a club doesn't mean that we don't care about the environment.


WHITFIELD: All very fascinating. You can watch the rest of that interview tomorrow on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And today Republican Congressman Darrell Issa was also confronted with the president's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to know if you believe that President Trump is making the right decision in pulling out of the Paris Accords.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: It's a -- it's a very, very fair question and let me answer it quickly in two stages. We put out a statement essentially saying we were disappointed with the tactic that the president is using, although he said he's going to engage and he wants to negotiate a new, better deal. I appreciate that.

I would have preferred, since we, America, are leading in that reduction of carbon, we're down 7 percent in 12 years, yes, it's a big deal.


ISSA: And I would have preferred that he negotiate from that position of strength to say that we need to have -- if we're going to continue to be in it, we need to have China and India, who did not pledge to reduce, but get -- to sign it. North Korea who did not pledge to reduce but sign it. So I do have problems with the agreement because to sign on saying I'm going to do nothing, isn't really signing on. On the other hand, I would have preferred he stayed at the table because we do have a position of strength.


WHITFIELD: All right. Back with me now, CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Maria Cardona.

OK, so, Alice, is there a different language going on here so that Nikki Haley would say the president believes the climate is changing and that pollutants are part of that equation. That's coming really close to, I believe, in climate change.

STEWART: I wonder if she's got sign off on being able to say that statement. Look, the question also still remains, manmade climate change, is that a hoax? So there are still -- there's a lot of nuances. In the end, is this a distinction without a difference? Clearly the president appears as though his thoughts may be changing on this, but the bottom line is, his view on this and he has said unequivocally as well as Spicer and others is that this decision to withdraw from the climate agreement was more about the economics of it as opposed to the -- the environmental aspects.

WHITFIELD: But Issa even just said, you know, he wishes that we, U.S., would have stayed at the table. I mean very --



STEWART: Sends a stronger message to pull out and start from scratch. He believes that this is a bad deal for America. Granted President Obama created this deal without the approval of Congress but President Trump feels as though it's more important for us to go back to the table with something -- that right now this front loads the costs and the standards on America as opposed to other countries that don't have the costs and the standards right now.

[13:20:11] And it's important for us to go back to the table and have a level playing field and I agree with the president on this fact that the America's wealth is being redistributed to other countries with regard to this deal and we need to have a level playing field.

WHITFIELD: But each country makes its own commitment under this agreement, Maria.

CARDONA: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: And so when the president, President Trump, says he wants to renegotiate the deal and other world leaders are already saying there is no renegotiating.


WHITFIELD: Where does this leave this administration, this country, as it pertains to the climate is changing or climate change or whatever the --

CARDONA: Living in their own parallel universe bizarro world which is where they have lived from the beginning because they don't believe in facts, they don't believe in evidence, they don't believe in science. The decision that President Trump made this week was one of the most disastrous, debacle-laden decision that he has made for this country moving forward.

Climate change is real. That is not a theory. It is a fact. And it is also a fact that man has a lot to do with it and it is also a fact that United States is the biggest polluter on the planet. We also should have stayed --


CARDONA: OK. It has been up until now. China has probably now surpassed us. But we have done probably the most to pollute this planet up until now. And so we should be the ones that are taking most of the responsibility for what is being done. That's called leadership by the way. By withdrawing from a deal that has most of the countries on earth except for, by the way, we are now in the company of Nicaragua who was not in this deal because they didn't think it went far enough and Syria.


CARDONA: Yes. So that's leadership. That's making America great. People, I don't think so.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, I mean, is it for real? Or is this a distraction? We're talking about leading into perhaps one of the most consequential weeks for this administration with the testimony of Comey. And with the deputy attorney general to testify as well and later on top adviser Jared Kushner.

STEWART: It could be a distraction simply because this decision and announcement was supposed to come while he was on the foreign trip and he came about making this decision right after that.

WHITFIELD: It came on the eve of now a very big week. So what does the White House really -- is this the White House trying to control some messaging? Let's talk about climate change, it's a hoax, et cetera, as opposed to how it's preparing for what is about to happen.

STEWART: I don't see it that way, and I don't see how the timing of it could have worked out that way because the Comey -- we didn't know at the time that the Comey announcement or the Comey testimony was going to happen. Look, my view and my recommendation for this White House get back on offense. Get off defense on a lot of these topics. Push pro-growth tax reform, push what you're doing to help create a health care system that is affordable and provides quality access to health care for all.

WHITFIELD: Did it do that?

STEWART: Absolutely.

WHITFIELD: Without endearing itself to leaders on the Hill who can say, OK, we feel good about your proposal or we feel good about getting behind your idea?

STEWART: Absolutely. Here's the thing, not only did President Trump get elected based on promising changes on health care and creating jobs and in terms of immigration and securing the border, members -- Republican members of Congress did the same. So they want to be true to their constituents as well. They want to work on these issues and deliver the promises that they made to their constituents. So it's in everyone's best interest to get off of these -- the Russia and these other distractions, get back on the Republican legislative agenda.

WHITFIELD: But they didn't drive that. But, isn't, Maria, it particularly problematic to do so? CARDONA: Yes. Absolutely. And that is huge wishful thinking, not

just on Alice's behalf but on every Republican on the Hill's behalf. Because of course they do not want to be talking about Comey, they don't want to be talking Russia. This has not been just a black cloud and sort of a reminder of how much this president has depended on lies to -- for his campaign and to get elected. But that --

WHITFIELD: These are so-called self-inflicted wounds.

CARDONA: They're self-inflicted wounds but they have rubbed off on every Republican on the Hill and when you have an administration that is saying that they want to lead this country, that they want to make America great again and they control the White House, they control the House of Representatives, and they control the Senate and have not been able to get one thing done, that is a big question mark going into what is going to be a very important midterm elections in 2018.

WHITFIELD: And then there's that.


WHITFIELD: All right. Maria and Alice, thank you so much. Big, heavy load.

CARDONA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come, a warning to the world and a message to North Korea. Why Defense Secretary James Mattis is now saying North Korea is a threat to us all. Is he setting the stage for the U.S. to intervene?


[13:29:40] WHITFIELD: Police in Manchester have made another arrest in connection with the bombing at a pop concert two weeks ago. 17 people have been arrested so far and 11 remain in custody.

The "New York Times" is reporting that the Manchester bomber met with ISIS members in Libya last month. The report also says the same members were linked to the 2015 Paris terror attack.

[13:30:02] Meanwhile, Ariana Grande is back in the city this weekend, less than two weeks after the attack at her concert. She visited a hospital where victims like 8-year-old Lily Harrison are recovering. One little girl's mom said Grande's visit has helped the victims focus on the kindness of people, rather than the hate.

Katy Perry, Black Eyed Peas, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, Usher and Pharrell all joining Ariana Grande for a concert tomorrow night. The money raised goes to the victims of the Manchester attack.

Defense Secretary James Mattis describing the growing nuclear threat from North Korea today as, quote, "a clear and present danger."


MATTIS: President Trump has made clear that the era of strategic patience is over. As a matter of U.S. national security the United States regards the threat from North Korea as a clear and present danger. The regime's actions are manifestly illegal under international law. There is a strong international consensus that the current situation cannot continue.


WHITFIELD: All right. Bring in Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is a CNN military analyst and a former Army commanding general.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: So Secretary Mattis also told the crowd that the U.S. will, quote, "do the right thing." When he says the strategic patience is over, translation, what does that mean?

HERTLING: Well, let's set the context first of all, Fred. Secretary Mattis was speaking at something called the Singapore Security Conference and it's a big deal. A lot of other Defense ministers from Japan, Australia, France, were all there. And one of the things they were discussing was -- the topic that's been at the forefront has been, are we witnessing the destruction of the global order by President Trump?

So he went into a very tough crowd. He gave his speech, he talked about rules based order. Are we going to continue to come together with mutual defense compacts and with shared burdens and concern about the environment and some of the things Secretary Mattis said, he got some tough questions afterwards about hey, you're saying all these things, but it doesn't appear that you're in step with the White House. He did focus on Korea. It was a good place to do that because there is an increasing danger out of Korea but there were so many other issues like the issues with China in the South China Sea, some of the global climate changes within the Pacific theater, so he had some very tough questions. Korea was just at the top of his list but it wasn't at the top of many of the other participants' list.

WHITFIELD: So North Korea, it's tested several ballistic missiles in the past few weeks as well as an anti-aircraft defense system being deployed across the country. So how would you rate, you know, the level of military sophistication at this point?

HERTLING: Very high. And the U.S. military has been closely watching North Korea for about the last six years with their increasing capabilities not only in missiles but in their ability to perhaps mount an atomic weapon on top of one of those missiles.

You know it's been interesting, Fred, while many people think that ISIS is our number one threat, the U.S. military places ISIS about third or fourth with North Korea at the top and Russian expansionism somewhere in the top -- in the next couple. So I think it is very important, there's some focus on North Korea, we have currently have two carrier battle groups off the peninsula right now to approach it with a military method to reinforce diplomacy and information as well as economy, but it's still going to be very difficult to push down the government of Kim Jong-un.

WHITFIELD: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, always good to see you. Thanks so much.

HERTLING: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Coming up, after a number of initially undisclosed meetings with a Russian official, is the U.S. attorney general in hot water and at the risk of perjury? We'll discuss this with our legal guys next.


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Weird sport is usually a spinoff of a real sporting event.

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Weird sports brings out the silliness and not just in people that participate, but also in me. I'm at the point now that I have a database of over 500 weird sports. I'm on the road all the time, I'm usually traveling about five months out of the year. I've photographed in Asia, Europe, South America, throughout the U.S. When I show up to a new city, I go to a national. There's no waiting. I don't want to be bogged down with paperwork. I love the convenience because I just want to get to the event.

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WHITFIELD: All right. We're just five days away from former FBI director James Comey's testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's expected to address private conversations he had with President Trump on the Russia investigation. This comes as we're getting new revelations about Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

According to our sources, Congress is now looking into whether Sessions had an additional meeting with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, during the presidential campaign.

You may remember this testimony from the attorney general back in January.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If there is any evidence that any one affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do? JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of

any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.


WHITFIELD: All right. Sessions amended his testimony in March saying he did, in fact, meet with Sergey Kislyak twice. Now the lingering question is, can this all be construed as perjury?

I want to bring in our legal guys to discuss this. Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland, and Richard Herman, a criminal defense attorney and law professor, joining us from Las Vegas.

Good to see you, gentlemen.


WHITFIELD: Avery, let me begin with you, so what is the likelihood that this, indeed, could be considered perjury if yet again there is another meeting that Sessions had, didn't disclose it, and it's being discovered now?

[13:40:07] FRIEDMAN: Well, it depends on the -- on the third meeting. Number one, you need someone under oath, you have Jeff Sessions under oath in January in front of the Senate for confirmation purposes and we saw the questions by Senator Franken, there were also questions by Senator Leahy, so bottom line is, what was in that third communication, if it happened at all?

You do have two inconsistent statements. You have his testimony and then you have the so-called clarification or amendment. It's kind of a euphemism. The fact is that you've got to go back under oath to clarify. He didn't do that. So the bottom line is, will that third contact, if it can be established, be a blockbuster or will it be nothing? We don't know at this point.

WHITFIELD: So then, Richard, is the issue that you can't recall, you've met so many people, maybe you don't necessarily remember, you know, meeting a third or maybe more times with this particular person, or is the biggest issue what was discussed? Does that, you know, I guess up the ante? It's the what was discussed, not necessarily that you didn't remember with whom you had that discussion?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, Fred, for a lay person, maybe you could go into that arena. But you're dealing with an attorney, you're dealing with a U.S. attorney, from the state of Alabama, since 1973, and who knows how many perjury prosecutions he was involved in, and then you go to the state of affairs in our country after the hacking by the Russians in our election, knowing that this is the inquiry, knowing that this is the reason that we're doing all of these investigations, and you come before a board -- and by the way you've had written questionnaires before you testify for the Senate committee. FRIEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: And you failed to answer this question. Then you go before the Senate committee and you know, every lawyer tells their client, listen to the question and only answer the question. And here, the Franken question was not the answer that Sessions gave. Sessions went on a ramble and he went on a prepared question, a prepared response, that he had, and he opened the door to so many different areas. So the question boils down to this, Fred.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: He recused himself knowing that he misled so that's a recusal in a state of mind knowing he failed to provide information. Then if there's a third meeting where he failed to provide it, we have to find willful intent. That's the fourth category and Section 1623.


HERMAN: We need willful intent and you look at the circumstances and the circumstantial evidence and did he willfully intend? They're going to play games, Fred, with the interpretation of communication and contact. What does that mean? Communication and contact. What did it mean to Sessions. That's where the defense game will be played.

WHITFIELD: So, Avery, how will willful intent be proven? I mean, if anyone is to know that rule of only answer the question that you are asked, an attorney knows that, you know, better than anybody else. So how will that discovery be made about whether Jeff Sessions willfully kept that matter secret?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you have two ways of examining it. Number one, you take a look at the totality of the evidence. You look at the prepared statement that he gave before his testimony in January. You look at this testimony, and I'm in agreement, I think he took off on the wild yonder on the Franken question and then if there's -- if this other issue surfaces you then get to the issue of credibility. If you're going to deal with intent you're going to examine, was the witness credible. And so in order to gauge that, you're going to look at whether his statements have been inconsistent, which they have here, or has -- is there an explanation for why they were inconsistent. So credibility, the question of intent, turns on the totality and the question of credibility.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then, Richard, if in that press conference following that recusal, if Sessions was asked, are there other meetings that you may have had and he said, I don't believe so, is that cover enough?

HERMAN: Yes. That kind of opens the door there. So maybe there were other meetings. I just can't remember them at this time. And what are meetings? If I go to a function and I run into someone and exchange pleasantries, is that a meeting? Is that a contact under the guise of this particular inquiry? That's where his defense is going to lie and that where they're going to take it out of the willful intent to deceive or withhold information.


HERMAN: In Sessions' mind he's going to say, look, I didn't think this was covered. This was just, you know, basic hello, good-bye meeting. I didn't discuss any business.

[13:45:02] So I didn't -- in my mind I didn't consider it a meeting or a contact under this question. That's where his defense is going to be.

WHITFIELD: All right. All fascinating. Richard, Avery, thank you so much. Appreciate it, gentlemen. Good to see you.

FRIEDMAN: All the best.

WHITFIELD: All right. Bill Maher sparking outrage after using a racial slur during an interview with the Republican senator. Details on that coming up.


[13:50:19] WHITFIELD: Bill Maher sparking outrage during an interview with Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Listen.


BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO'S "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": I have to get to Nebraska more.

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: You're welcome. We'd love to have you work in the fields with us.

MAHER: Work in the fields?

SASSE: That's part of the --

MAHER: Senator, I'm a house (EXPLETIVE DELETED). No, it's a joke.


WHITFIELD: So the tweets started pouring in condemning Maher's remarks. Some calling for his firing. Senator Sasse also took to Twitter to address the controversy saying this, quote, "And walking off a red eye from LAX. Three reflections on Bill Maher. I'm a First Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard lines, but free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night was not good enough. Here's what I wish I'd been quick enough to say in the moment. Hold up, why would you think it's OK to use that word? The history of the N word is an attack on the universal dignity. It's therefore an attack on the American creed. Don't use it."

South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott voicing his thoughts on Twitter, saying, quote, "I love the smell of double standards in the morning. Hashtag Maher." So HBO has just released a statement condemning Maher's comment. It

says, "Bill Maher's comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless. We're removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show," end quote. We also reached out to Bill Maher directly, and so far had not heard back. And full transparency CNN and HBO share the same parent company, Time Warner.

All right. This week we saw disturbing amount of racist incidents and hate crimes nationwide. Although each incident occurred in different cities, CNN's Kristen Holmes explored if there is any correlation in the alarming uptick.


DESTINEE MANGUM, VICTIM OF RACIAL SLUR: He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two Oregon men stabbed to death while trying to defend black and Muslim teens from a racist tirade.

MANGUM: They lost their lives because of me and my friend. And the way we look. So I just want to say thank you to them and their family.

HOLMES: A noose found hanging inside the Smithsonian's African- American History Museum in Washington, D.C. And a racial slur spray- painted across the home of an NBA superstar.

LEBRON JAMES, CLEVELAND CAVALIER: Being black in America is tough.

HOLMES: All in one hate-filled week. But these are not isolated events. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there were more than 1800 bias incidents from Election Day through the end of March. And Andra Gillespie, the director of the Institute for the Study of Race Indifference at Emory University says this uptick is partially a reflection of the current political climate.

ANDRA GILLESPIE, PROFESSOR, EMORY UNIVERSITY: We have a president of the United States who has made statements that many people find to be racist. So they have to acknowledge the fact that they -- that may have attracted some voters to their coalition. And as a result they have a particular responsibility to, one, correct the divisive rhetoric that they used during the campaign and then also to call their supporters to task when they engaged in this type of behavior.

HOLMES: The White House Friday denying any correlation.

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: What is the president saying about specifically as people are saying that over the last 130 plus days people are feeling that there has been a divide that is perpetuated from this White House?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would respectfully disagree with the premise to that. I think we need to denounce hate in any form, in any act, and this president made it clear from election night to his inauguration that he wants to unite this country moving forward.

HOLMES: But politics might not be the only explanation. Gillespie also citing social media and advancements in technology for the increase in overtly racist acts.

GILLESPIE: Which allows people to be able to say things freely and to actually create a false sense of intimacy that allows people to really bare their true selves.

HOLMES: For CNN, I'm Kristen Holmes.


WHITFIELD: All right. The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM starts right after a quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[13:59:24] WHITFIELD: We start this hour with breaking news. Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in Washington.

For the first time, we are hearing from the Trump administration regarding the president's current stance on the climate. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley tells CNN's Jake Tapper that the president does in fact believe the climate is changing.

This comes after a slew of Trump's top aides deflected questions all week after he withdrew from the -- withdrew the U.S., rather, from the Paris Climate Accord.

Here is Ambassador Haley trying to set the record straight.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me show you what President Trump has tweeted about climate change. Quote, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive," unquote.

Are you willing to acknowledge that that is nonsense?