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Jeff Sessions Testifies; The Mean Healthcare. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Attorney General Jeff Sessions angrily denouncing accusations against his character while testifying before the Senate intelligence committee.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
In his opening statement Sessions had this to say to his former Senate colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: And to suggest that I participated in any collusion that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country is an appalling and detestable lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And plenty of fireworks between Sessions and democratic members of the committee. Sessions refusing to discuss his private conversations with President Trump, yet denying he was invoking executive privilege.
Democrats accusing him of stonewalling and standing in the way of the Russia investigation.
We have a lot to get to tonight but I want to begin with CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, political director, David Chalian, Julia Ioffe, the staff writer at the Atlantic, and contributor John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon who is the author of "Conservatives Without Conscience."
Good evening to all of you. Thank you for joining us. Gloria Borger, you first. President Trump hit the road today, he talk jobs in Milwaukee but all eyes we know on Capitol Hill to watch senators grill Attorney General Jeff Sessions over this Russia probe over Comey and his conversations with President Trump. And things got testy. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON WYDEN (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Mr. Comey said there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they? SESSIONS: So why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden.
There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. You tell, this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me and I don't appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So what did we learn, Gloria from the attorney general about his interactions with the Russians and the firing of the former FBI director?
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, we learned that he's mad that these stories have been leaked and that he believes he did nothing wrong. And he when responding to this notion I call it Comey left a lot of breadcrumbs about Sessions in this hearing and he tried to sweep it away. Because he said there was nothing problematic.
There's been an awful lot of reporting that in fact there may have been another meeting with Ambassador Kislyak from Russia and he denied that in his opening statement and throughout the rest of the testimony he said he did not recall or, you know, any kind of meeting which is sort of standard fair.
So what he was trying to do is say this is all -- this is all wrong about me. And to the notion that James Comey said well, wait a minute, if I was fired because of Russia, what did Attorney General Sessions have to do with it because he recused himself on the Russia investigation.
Sessions also tried in his own way to clear that up. Pointing to the Rod Rosenstein memo and said well, this was about the way he behaved during the campaign. So he tried to kind of sweep everything aside and really clear his name here.
LEMON: There is a lot of non-recalling, not recalling as I watched today. So David, Sessions today on firing James Comey. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: On May 19, Mr. Rosenstein in a statement to the House of Representatives essentially told them that he learned on May 8 that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey. When you wrote your letter on May 9, did you know the president had already decided to fire Director Comey?
SESSIONS: Senator Feinstein, I would say that I believe it's been made public that the president asked us our opinion. It was given and he asked us to put that in writing and I don't know how much more he said about it than that. But believe he has talked about it, and I would let his word speak for themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So he doesn't directly answer the question, David. What do we know is the president -- we do know, I should say, the president made it clear that Russia was on his mind when he fired James Comey. DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CNN: Yes. And then he went and
told the Russians in the Oval Office after he fired and that should alleviate some pressure. And there's no doubt that Russia was very much the reasoning in Donald Trump's mind from his own words.
That is not Jeff Sessions' account here because if that was the case for Jeff Sessions his recusal would become a lot trickier. So here, Jeff Sessions is reverting back to the original excuse given by the administration, the Rosenstein memo detailing in length all of the offenses that this administration felt Jim Comey made with regards to the Clinton e-mail investigation.
[22:05:09] So here Jeff Sessions is saying hey, when I set up my recusal from the Russia investigation I did not recuse myself from overseeing the Justice Department which includes the FBI. And so it is totally within my purview to take my deputy A.G.'s memo and forward that along with my endorsement to the president recommending that Comey be fired because of his actions having nothing to do with Russia.
The problem of course for Sessions is that the president as he does time and again with people on his team, completely undermines that by telling Lester Holt that Russia was on his mind when he fired Jim Comey.
LEMON: Julia, the attorney general pushed back against Comey's assertion that he didn't respond when Comey said he didn't respond to Comey's concerns about being left alone with the president. Let's listen to Comey last week and then Sessions today and then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: I don't remember real clearly. I have a recollection of him just kind of looking at me and there's a danger here I'm projecting on to him so this may be a faulty memory. But I kind of got his body language gave me the sense like what am I going to do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did he shrug?
COMEY: I don't remember clearly. I think the reason I have that impression is I have some recollection of almost imperceptible like what am I going to do? But I don't have a clear recollection of that. He didn't say anything.
SESSIONS: I believe it was the next day that he said something expressed concern about being left alone with the president. But that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper. I affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you think, Julia? JULIA IOFFE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: You know, Jeff Sessions was
an early an ardent advocate of Donald Trump when he declared his run for the presidency very early on when it was completely unlikely and he remain an ardent and dogged defender of the president now, and now he has to protect himself in addition.
But what you saw in the hearing he didn't give much ground on anything. And David is totally right. And Gloria is totally right. He tried to sweep all the crumbs that led to him away and he tried to go back the original excuses. Nothing happened, nothing to see here. You're making something up.
I mean, the way he responded, for example, to Senator Tom Cotton's questioning where he rattled off a number of spy novels and action films and he said thank you for that opportunity. You know, this is absurd. That you're going after me. There's nothing. There's nothing. There's no there-there. Trying as hard as he could to protect himself and to protect his boss.
I mean, he didn't -- you know, on one hand he said the president didn't invoke executive privilege but he might in the future and so I'm not going to say anything because he might down the road want to invoke executive privilege which was extraordinary. At one point it sounded like he was publicly kind of, you know, if you're listening, you might want to invoke executive privilege.
LEMON: Yes. Yes. And John Dean, I want to ask you about that because, you know, he said he didn't invoke executive privilege, right? And yet he refused to answer many of the questions that were asked of him. Here's how it went down and then we'll discuss it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK WARNER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: You're impeding this investigation.
SESSIONS: Senator, I'm protecting the president's constitutional right by not giving it away before he has a chance to...
WARNER: What is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?
SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to exert it if he chooses and there may be other privileges that could apply in the circumstance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So is he trying to have it both ways on executive privilege, John?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is called, from the Nixon era, stone walling as he was accused of today. And it's exactly what the definition is. He was obfuscating and delaying and using a very weak excuse.
There are apparently some memos in the Department of Justice from the Regan era that call for this kind of privilege but it's not anything that is regular order in the department and it is certainly not a legitimate use of executive privilege.
LEMON: So then...
BORGER: Can I...
LEMON: Yes, go ahead, Gloria.
BORGER: Can I just point out and David Gergen made this point earlier tonight and it's important that during the Regan era, during Iran- Contra, Regan waved executive privilege and waved it for everybody in his administration. So they could testify before the Congress. So they could get to the bottom of the story.
[22:09:59] So it's kind of odd that you would use something from the Regan era when in fact President Regan did the opposite when he was under the gun in the Iran-Contra investigation.
LEMON: So John -- let me, John, quickly let me ask you then, if people are refusing to answer questions, that they're making up rules, that they're trying to have it both ways when it comes to executive privilege, then what good -- what do the oversight committee have here, do they have anything? Does any of this mean anything?
DEAN: Well, it's pretty hard to dig. What they're going to have to do is go a few layers lower than the top people in the administration to try to gather information. They probably do that behind closed doors. They don't have the same investigative tools as a special counsel. They don't have a grand jury they can bring people in and really...
LEMON: So what's the point then, John?
DEAN: It's a good question. I think they're trying to inform the public but it's a -- the administration, Trump people are doing a pretty good job of blocking the Senate and the House from learning anything.
CHALIAN: It's totally different, Don, from the Mueller investigation. I mean, what the administration rightly is most concerned about is the Mueller investigation with the special counsel. As John Dean is saying there's a whole different set of powers there and that means that the stuff that's going on the hill that we see, yes, these are public officials trying to do the public's work and getting to the bottom of Russia attacking our fundamental small democratic process of our elections but a lot of this is theater and that's not the case with the Mueller investigation. LEMON: All right, stick around.
BORGER: You know, but...
LEMON: We've got lot more to talk about, Gloria. I got to get to the break.
LEMON: But we will get -- we'll talk on the other side. Stay with me, everyone. When we come back, more on Sessions' testimony in front of the Senate. Plus, the president calling house republican's health care bill 'mean.' I'm going to ask Representative Chris Stewart who voted for the bill, voted for the bill. His reaction to that. We'll be right back.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The white house saying tonight that President Trump thinks Attorney General Jeff Sessions did a very good job in his testimony today before the Senate intelligence committee.
My panel is back with me. But first I want to bring in Congressman Chris Stewart, he's a Utah republican, he's a member of the house intelligence committee.
Congressman, I'm so glad to have you on. I've got to get your response to what John Dean said. You know, John Dean was a Nixon White House special counsel.
CHRIS STEWART,(R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Yes.
LEMON: And he said what senator --what Jeff Sessions -- former Senator Jeff Sessions now attorney general what he did today was a definition of stonewalling. What do you, how do you respond to that?
STEWART: Yes, I'm not sure I agree with that exactly. I think that Mr. Sessions as they're trying to ask and answer questions and trying to be as forthcoming as he could. There's a couple constraints. One of them is obviously in a classified setting. That's one frustrations we've have with some of our witnesses.
But also, you know, this executive privilege. I'm not an attorney. I don't sit in the executive but I do believe that there's some merit to that and I think that he probably wasn't being improper in being more careful in how he answers those private conversations between him and the president.
LEMON: Do you think he could have been a little bit more forthcoming because he more than anything he said I don't know if it's appropriate to answer that, rather than saying, you know, I'm not comfortable with answering something that is classified or he said the other thing that he said the most was, you know, I don't recall. STEWART: Yes. You know, I think that if he would have answered one
question in that fashion, then there would have been demands for him to be more forthcoming. I think he was probably as forthcoming as he could be at this time. I think that obviously the investigation is going to go forward.
Obviously these questions are going to be asked again and again. I think at that time they'll have this opportunity to claim. Are they going to claim executive privilege or are they going to answer the questions? We want all of these questions to be answered. We want the American people to know. It just may not be appropriate for right now.
LEMON: Yes. So listen, you're on the committee. And because they are also going behind closed doors -- some of the people who are testifying in public or doing private, you're questioning them privately in closed doors settings where you're getting classified information. Are you satisfied with the information you're getting in those settings?
STEWART: Yes, generally. I mean, there's a long list of witnesses that we still want to talk to. In some cases I've been frustrated. Actually I was very frustrated with the former FBI director. My last engagement with him when we were quite angry with each other because I didn't feel like he was being as forthright as we needed him to be.
So once in a while you get frustrated but by and large in those close, closed door sessions you do get better answers, which is really one of the reasons - well, that's one of the reasons why those of us on the committee in trying to do this investigation, we hate for it to become so partisan, we hate for it to become so public.
I don't think we do as good of a job. I think that we sometimes there's some grand standing that takes place and that's unfortunate. Again, we want to get this information to the American people. But I think there's some value doing it in a nonpartisan way, a way that maybe allows this to be a little more serious.
LEMON: I think the American people, I know the American people agree with you on that.
LEMON: But do you think that the former FBI director was more forthcoming than the attorney general with his questions and answers?
STEWART: Well, it's hard for me to say. I mean, it depends on what circumstances. In this one I'm referring to he actually wasn't being as forthcoming which is what led to my frustration but in some of the open Sessions he's been quite forthcoming. So I think it depends on the subject and what we're probing.
But you know, again, these are good men. They're trying to answer I think they're trying to provide the information and it will eventually I think learn everything we need to know.
LEMON: Congressman, I want to ask you about health care. You voted in favor of the republican house bill.
LEMON: CNN is now learning that President Trump told senators that the House bill was, quote, "mean" and to put more money in the bill, to show more heart. Why is the president coming out against the republican bill now because after they and before they passed it, he was touting it?
STEWART: Yes, you know, I kind of laugh as I hear you say that. It's the first time I've heard that but as soon one of those times where I look at our president and I say, Mr. President we're on the same side, you know, help us out here, throw us a bone, you know.
But you got to give Mr. Trump credit. It's one of the things that endeared him to the American people was he spoke extemporaneously a lot -- for off the top of the head I think that's probably one of those times. But look, we're clearly not sure...
LEMON: So obviously you don't think -- you don't think the bill is mean?
STEWART: No, no.
LEMON: I think that's where you...
STEWART: No. I think that's what I'm trying to say. We're clearly not trying to be mean to people. Quite the opposite. We're trying to help people. We're trying to make this affordable for people. We're trying to draw more and more people in and provide them coverage.
[22:20:01] I know that the media and some of the coverage of this has been, you know, maybe that's not the story they're telling but I mean, that's sincerely our intention is to try to help Americans with this. And Mr. Trump thinks...
LEMON: With all due respect though, Congressman, I have to tell you it's not the media. We're just reporting. This is what members of Congress are saying.
LEMON: This is what constituents back home are saying. It's not the media. We're just the vessel or the platform that gets what people are saying out there.
STEWART: Well, I'm not pointing a finger at you or any of the...
LEMON: I know. I understand that. I understand that.
LEMON: But why would the president call it mean? Why would the CBO score it the way it is? I mean, but you're saying it's not mean. Are you -- are you listening, do you have concerns with the CBO score? Do you have concerns with what people are saying at town halls back home?
LEMON: Do you have concern with some of the democratic members or what senators are saying?
STEWART: Yes. Sure, sure, we do. Yes, for sure we do. I mean, look, this is not an easy task we're trying to do and it's controversial and there will be some people who will be disappointed. There's no question about that.
And (AUDIO GAP) throwing the media under the bus but you got to realize (AUDIO GAP) that the media coverage on this is some cases not been as fair or accurate maybe as it could have been. But that's not -- that's not the thing.
I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about can we help people? Can we make this better? Can the Senate make it better? If the president thinks it's mean or insufficient funny, well, let's look at that. How can we help and how can we make this a bill that a lot of Americans are going to support?
LEMON: Yes. Congressman Chris Stewart, I appreciate your time. We'll see you back then. Thank you very much.
STEWART: Good to be with you. Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you very much.
Back again now with my panel, Gloria Borger, David Chalian, Julia Ioffee, and John Dean. OK. So, David, you just heard from Congressman Stewart. What's your reaction?
CHALIAN: Well, that health care conversation, Don, that was fascinating to hear a republican house member basically beg the president, throw us a bone here, man, help us out. I think it was clear recognition that the President of the United States after celebrating in the Rose Garden with all of those house members just, you know, took a bus and rolled right over them.
LEMON: Yes. I mean, Gloria, do you think my -- I would think his strategy was, meaning the president, he's a negotiator. He needed a win. He wasn't having a good time with the travel ban with any legislation with this healthcare, he needed a win in Congress, regardless of what the bill is like, knowing that it had to go to the Senate and the Senate would change it and fix it. BORGER: Right. And now -- and now -- yes. And now he wants another
win. But don't forget. Do you remember that Rose Garden celebration after the health care win last time around?
BORGER: And the president was praising the bill and praising republicans who voted for it. And now he's turning around saying we need a more generous bill, we need a bill that costs more money. Because the president understands that this bill may hurt some of his constituents, some of his base of support. He understands that the house bill is not popular in this country.
And so he's putting on his political hat to looking towards the Senate but he's sawing off the limb out from under all the republicans in the House who voted for him.
LEMON: You just heard the congressman.
LEMON: I mean, he pointed out, I was surprised when he said, you know, whose side you want to give us a break.
LEMON: I think it was a bit tongue and cheek the way he said it.
BORGER: Maybe not.
LEMON: Go ahead.
CHALIAN: Imagine the democratic congressional campaign committee ad as the democrats are trying to take back the House in November 2018, they're already going to plan to hammer the republican House members on their vote and now they're going to use President Trump in their ad saying even President Trump said it was mean.
LEMON: Hey, Julia, let me ask you, what Stewart have used to tell you about where the congressional -- where congressional republicans are right now as it relates to President Trump? Are they in sink? I mean, clearly he in the Congress on this issue may not be in sink, but what about republicans?
IOFFE: Well, it sounds like there -- you know, it sounds like he's telling them to jump and they jump and he says jump faster, jump higher. They jump faster, jump higher. Then he says no, faster, higher, faster, higher. They do as much as they can, they get the bill through. He celebrates in the Rose Garden. Big group photo and then says, no, I shouldn't have jumped at all. Your jump was mean. LEMON: The jump was mean. Do you think this will have any effect
responses like the one we just heard from the congressman, Gloria. I think this will have any effect on senators who are working through this bill as well? Are they not going to try to make it as mean?
LEMON: They don't wnat to hear from the president as well.
BORGER: Well, the president first of all asked for it to be more generous. And if you're going to pass of the majority you have to because of the rules.
BORGER: You have to say the same amount of money so that's going to be difficult. I think the senators are working through their own bill. A lot of them are probably relieved to hear from the president today because they didn't want to tie them to the house bill which they had no intention of being tied to anyway.
[22:25:00] So I think Mitch McConnell leading the Senate republicans is probably working quietly to get his own bill passed and I think his goal is probably and if I had to guess, his goal is probably to pass a bill out of the Senate so he can say I've passed a bill but who knows what would happen between those two bills eventually if they had to reconcile.
LEMON: Ok. John Dean, now back to -- let's get back to the testimony today. The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also testified at a separate Senate, in a separate hearing. I want to play what he said about special counsel Robert Mueller amid all this concern that President Trump could fire him. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUSAN COLLINS, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: If President Trump ordered you to fire the special counsel, what would you do?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, UNITED STATES DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator, I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. Under the regulation, special counsel Mueller may be fired only for good cause and I am required to put that cause in writing. And if there were good cause, I would consider it, if there was not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you think, John Dean?
DEAN: That was a stand up statement. That's exactly what the statement in response he should have given. It certainly sent a message to the White House that if it they want to fire this special counsel, they may have to fire the deputy attorney general who is the acting attorney general on this issue and the president may have to make the move himself. He may have to move by undercutting the regs or something else to get the man out of the job. I thought that was a perfectly fine and strong statement today by the deputy attorney general.
IOFFE: But actually it's a very strange statement given what Rod Rosenstein did, right? You know, now he's kind of decided he has a backbone. A couple months ago or whenever, you know, it seems like it was seven years ago that Comey was fired, he knew Comey was going to be fired no matter what.
LEMON: It was just four weeks.
IOFFE: And he went that -- yes.
LEMON: Four weeks or less, yes.
IOFFE: Seven years give or take a couple. But you know, he went back and he said he knew that Comey was going to get fired but he still went back and wrote that memo, this insane memo about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation which clearly was not what this was about.
So he was clearly, you know, adjusting to what the White House wanted him to do because he want -- the White House wanted to fire Comey and he helped them find a rational for it.
IOFFE: So to now say -- to now say that he, you know, he would never do such a thing is a bit rich.
BORGER: Well, unless he was being used by the White House. I mean, it's perfectly plausible to me and tell me if you disagree, that Rosenstein, who is by all accounts an upstanding person, wrote that memo because he didn't approve of the way Comey handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail story, particularly as it pertained to his July statements and his October reopening of the case.
And that he didn't like it and he wrote a memo about that and why it was so terrible. My question is did he know that this was going to be used as the sole rational at least publicly.
LEMON: By the president.
BORGER: Until the president change his mind with Lester Holt.
IOFFE: But he did say that he knew he would be fired before he wrote the memo.
LEMON: Yes. I've got to get to the break. Thank you. Fascinating conversation. I really appreciate it. BORGER: We'll finish it.
LEMON: Yes, we'll finish it. Lots more to talk about, trust me. When we come back, a group of men who have investigated some of Washington's biggest scandals join me. I'm going to ask them how the Russia investigation compares.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We have some breaking news to tell you about. The results are in tonight, in Virginia in the gubernatorial primaries and on a republican side it is a much closer race than expected.
Let's bring back David Chalian, CNN's David Chalian to give us the very latest on this. So, David, tell us what's going on here. Ed Gillespie, a name known to republicans on the ticket.
DAVID CHALIAN, POLITICAL DIRECTOR, CNN: Yes, former chairman of the RNC and an aid in the Bush White House. CNN now projects, Don, that Ed Gillespie will win the republican primary for governor in Virginia. We've been watching this race all night. You see there on your screen. It is a squeaker.
Ed Gillespie eked this out 43.7 percent to 42.6 percent. You're seeing about a 4,000 vote spread there. This now heads into the polls. He'll face the democrat who won tonight in the primary there, the Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam. This will be one of the murky races this year that will sort of assess the Trump effect in politics this coming November.
This is a much closer race than expected because the Trump candidate here, if you will, Corey Stewart, had a lot more support than anticipated. Ed Gillespie now has the mission of healing the big divide in the Republican Party before trying to take on Ralph Northam.
LEMON: So Corey Stewart was the Trump person, sort of ran in Trump's image supported everything that Trump did, Ed Gillespie did not?
CHALIAN: Former campaign chairman in the state in the commonwealth of Virginia for Donald Trump. Ed Gillespie was distancing himself a bit from Trump, not doing the full Trump embrace, taking more of that establishment lane and it ended up gave him a bit of a scare tonight perhaps. He does emerge here with the victory and now it's about trying to piece together the factions of the Republican Party to have a unified party going into the general election.
LEMON: We will follow. David Chalian, much appreciated. Thank you so much.
CHALIAN: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Let's talk about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions today now. Infuriating democrats by leaving many of their questions unanswered.
Let's discuss now with associate counsel for the Iran-Contra investigation, John Barrett, the former Whitewater independent counsel, and special prosecutor Robert Ray, and CNN legal analyst Richard Ben-Veniste who is a former Watergate special prosecutor.
I am really ecstatic to have all of you on because you have so much when it comes to these matters. So Richard, I'm going to start with you. The three of you bring a very important perspective tonight because you were all uniquely involved at three scandals that rocked our country.
[22:35:00] Richard, you're the former Watergate special prosecutor as I said. Do you see similarities between what happened back then and what we're seeing play out in Washington, D.C. right now?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, everything is compressed in time now. This is such an early stage of the investigation and yet there's such chaos with one investigator being fired and a casual discussion about whether Mr. Trump intends to fire special counsel, Mueller. It really boggles the mind.
This is not some casual game of guacamole where you're uncomfortable if one investigator is doing his job, so you fire him and then ask for another. Who is the right one? Is this goldilocks? One is too hard and the other is too cold? You know, this is not the way the system is supposed to work and I think it's got to be up to Congress in the judiciary committees of both House and Senate to make things a little clearer both the republican perhaps to the White House.
LEMON: John, you worked on the Iran-Contra investigation. You say President Trump should take a cue from how President Regan handled that. What does he need do?
JOHN Q. BARRETT, FORMER ASSOCIATE COUNSEL, IRAN-CONTRA: Well, the first thing President Reagan did at the immediate breaking of Iran- Contra was appoint an executive commission to try and air out everything that happened. It really was also an effort to fill in his memory, which was imperfect but that tower commission was the first out of the box and gave a lot of facts to the public.
And then on parallel tracks a congressional select committee and an independent counsel each pursued their respective roles. The congressional select committee had public hearings, conferred immunity and gathered facts and President Regan invoked no executive privilege to thwart it. Indeed he told everyone to cooperate.
And on the parallel the criminal investigation was handled by my boss, Lawrence Walsh, the independence counsel, which did federal criminal investigation that is parallel to what Bob Mueller is now doing.
LEMON: Robert, you were involved in Whitewater do you see any parallels with that investigation.
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL & SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you know, sure, there are parallels and the best advice I could get -- I could give would be, you know, for the administration to stop talking so much including the president about where they see things.
And also it was particularly disheartening today to start to, you know, hear things about trying to -- I think by Newt Gingrich to try to question the special counsel's integrity. Look, you know, the strategy has been from Watergate on forward, you know, the first strategy if you don't like an investigation is try to fire the special prosecutor.
That didn't work out so well as Mr. Ben-Veniste knows with regard to the firing of Archibald Cox and ultimately the appointment of special counsel Leon Jaworski to continue the investigation. So then the next strategy if that doesn't work, we're now in a special counsel environment.
Rod Rosenstein today made very clear that he's not firing anybody unless there's cause, which I think is the appropriate posture as John Dean mentioned and courageous and important because that's the insulation of independence that a special counsel needs in order to do the special counsel's work.
But finally, you know, when else fails attack the integrity of the investigation, of course that was the Clinton strategy in the main during the Whitewater investigation that led ultimately to the Lewinsky investigation. And that was, you know, a concerted effort by the White House to try to undermine the integrity of the independent counsel's office, you know, none of which is in the best interest of the country.
Ultimately, it's not successful and more importantly, it only delays the inevitable. I mean, if you want to guarantee that this investigation will go on indefinitely. You know, keep up on the current path.
My hope is that we, you know, that was a trial balloon and that wiser heads will prevail and that we'll get on with the business of, you know, the investigation and that it can be done expeditiously, meaning within the election cycle over the course of the next 18 months. That's what should happen.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, the other parallel to Watergate, Don, is...
LEMON: Can you hold off just for one second and I can give you...
LEMON: ... because I'm going to keep you guys around for the next block. So, stand by. We're going to discuss this much more. When we come back, the White House saying President Trump has no intention of firing the special counsel, Robert Mueller. So where does the investigation go from here.
We'll be right back.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Back now with my panel. Richard, I know you wanted to get in. I think Robert was making a point about the Clinton folks targeting or trying to discredit the special prosecutor in his case and the similarities to this case.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, here you will remember in Watergate the Saturday night massacre in which Archibald Cox was fired and the attorney general and the deputy resigned rather than carry out Nixon's order to fire. It woke up the American public to the fact that Nixon must be hiding something. Why else would he take these kinds of actions and suffer the consequences.
So to hear early on we have all of this chaos around the appointment and now of a new special counsel. Mr. Comey being fired. The only reason given by the president actually was that he was feeling pressure and that explanation was given to the Russians.
How much more bizarre can we get? So I think Roberts' advice that the president needs to settle down and we need to let the investigators do their job, there's no one here who questions Bob Mueller's integrity or his capability.
He's a former marine appointed by a republican president to head the FBI. Let's let him determine whether there is any there there-there in connection with his investigation and move forward based on a reasonable basis to make an evaluation.
LEMON: John, can I ask you the White House officials -- because we're talking about Robert Mueller here. White House officials --official is telling CNN that the president interviewed Robert Mueller, as a potential replacement for the fired FBI Director James Comey the day before Mueller was named special counsel. Does that surprise you?
[22:45:06] BARRETT: Well, it's an interesting tidbit. It does go to Bob Mueller's great stature and credibility. It sort of underlines how proper it is that he's the special counsel.
But I want to draw a distinction that I think we're overlooking. In each of the previous scandals or matters that we're talking about, Watergate, Iran-Contra, or Whitewater. As to the Congress, the majorities on each side of the House were in the opposite party's hands from the president.
So there was a partisan energy to investigate when these matters became public and raised public concerns. Today the alignment of course is republican control in the House and the Senate and in the White House.
So I do question not Bob Mueller. He's doing the intelligence and criminal investigation but I do question how much energy there really is in the Congress because the partisan fervor or advantage or at least the partisan instincts not to be a lap dog is absent today.
LEMON: You think that's why we're seeing people who are coming in front of these committees and just refusing to answer the question or to put it in even John Dean who was part of the Nixon -- he was during the Watergate special counsel to the Nixon administration saying that this is stonewalling?
BARRETT: Yes, exactly. At the end of the hearing today, Senator Burr, the chairman asked the attorney General if he could talk to the White House about maybe letting the attorney general answer some more questions. That's so far, short of a committee demanding that the White House waive all of its privileges and encourage people to testify, which is what actually Richard Nixon did in 1973 for the Senate. It's what Ronald Regan did. It would make a big difference and it would get this obstacle out of the way and allow a Congress that was inclined to investigate to get somewhere.
LEMON: Yes. And he was White House counsel, not special counsel. So I want to ask you this, Robert.
LEMON: Donald Trump's friend, the president's friend and NewsMax CEO Chris Ruddy suggested that Mueller has a conflict of interest. He says that it's unethical that Mueller and Trump had a private conversation potentially about the Russia investigation because the next day he became the man leading that investigation. Does Ruddy have a point there?
RAY: I think that's a bit farfetched, you know, in terms of ultimately assuming a position, you know, within the Justice Department as special counsel but with obviously a very different mission than would be the case if he were the FBI director.
And I think I agree with Mr. Barrett. I mean, it speaks well of the fact that Mr. Mueller carries a bipartisan reputation for integrity. And I think we ought to just leave well enough alone. And you know, those kinds of criticisms and criticisms about who he's hiring and whether or not they're democrat or republicans and who they gave campaign contributions.
You know, it seems to be sort of the flavor of the month in Washington to try to impair the integrity of the investigation, but it really does a great disservice to the investigation to the person who leads the investigation and again it's not in the country's interest.
I do think I still remain of the view that with regard to big matters, the country gets things right. This is not with unquestionably a big matter yes, it is in a partisan environment, but I think if everybody keeps their eye on the ball as to what it is we're trying to accomplish here, I think we'll kind of get well past the little partisan skirmishes that go along the way here.
LEMON: Robert, Richard, and John, thank you so much. I appreciate the conversation. I hope you guys will come back. Thanks.
RAY: Thank you.
BEN-VENISTE: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: When we come back, Sessions says he thinks it's tragic the U.S. and Russia don't get along better. What his testimony reveals, what his testimony reveals about the administration's lax reaction to Russia's interference.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: While aboard air force one, President Trump watched the attorney general -- the attorney general's entire testimony. The White House saying President Trump thought Sessions did a very good job.
Let's discuss now CNN's national security analysts Juliette Kayyem, and Steve Hall. Good evening to both of you. Juliette, the attorney general gave an emotion -- an emotional denial of any collusion with the Russian in his opening statement. Let's listen, then we'll talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: To suggest that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But when it came to answering specific questions about Russia, he said he never received a detailed briefing despite all the stories of Russian hacking and Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia even before he recused himself. Does that answer make sense to you?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Not at all. I mean, sort of cry me a river about Jeff Sessions feeling sorry for himself, that sort of seems like a side issue. The bigger issue is that the Attorney General of the United States has never asked about the sort of biggest challenge to our democracy that we saw in 2016, that we will continue to see in these elections ahead.
What, you know, questions like what happened, what can we do to stop it, how do we ensure that Russia is punished in some way. It's like he'll totally tuned out to any sort of acknowledgement of his responsibility as attorney general. I mean, I'm sort of thinking he really did want to say, you know, frankly, about Russia, I don't give a damn, right?
I mean, he literally seemed to think that this was not his responsibility as a cabinet member overseeing the largest law enforcement agency in this country. To me, that's the story, that he's offended by people asking him legitimate questions because he either lied or did not disclose information on some of his forms. That's just, you know, that's just -- that's silliness.
And I heard that and I thought, you know, he had planned that. The bigger issue is the jaw dropping aspect of him never having asked, been briefed, or done anything to protect our democracy.
LEMON: And Steve, he was asked repeatedly about a third unreported meeting with the Russian ambassador at the Mayflower hotel in April of 2016. He denied it but then he said he couldn't recall, and even if it did happen, nothing substantial was talked about. What do you think of that answer?
[22:54:57] STEVE HALL, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Don, I think that it's really important that we keep the focus on what it really needs to be, which is in this case collusion.
Now, with regard to Ambassador Kislyak there are arguments that can be made that would say, OK, under certain circumstances meetings with Kislyak, which admittedly Sessions kind of went back and forth, there were some very firm comments, where he said no, absolutely not, I have no recollection of that, then he kind of waffled a little bit.
But at the end of the day, you know, meetings with Kislyak are not in my view that critical. At least from a counterintelligence perspective. They're certainly politically impact and the optics of them might not be good.
But what we really need to focus on here is the question of collusion and on that Sessions was remarkably at least direct, he said absolutely I was not involved in collusion and I didn't see any collusion.
So he said that under oath, he said it very directly. Either there was no collusion that he saw, and by the way, that doesn't mean there wasn't collusion, that's why we're having an investigation on that entire matter, or he wasn't telling the truth. But we just have to get to the bottom of the collusion piece and that's what...
LEMON: So let me ask you the bigger picture really is, you know, how Russia influenced the election, and if there is collection. There very well could not be any collusion. But don't you think it's important though, that if he failed to disclose some of these meetings and he was, you know, only one or the only one who -- members who were like him who met with the Russian ambassador and didn't disclosed it or disclosed it at some point, you don't think that's important?
HALL: I think that there are political, there's a political importance to that and there may even be legal implications, if he says one thing under oath and actually did something different, that would certainly have legal implications.
But from a purely intelligence perspective, I mean, I've heard Ambassador Kislyak described as the dark lord, the spy master in Washington. I don't believe that he was. I think that he was an ambassador, now he is indeed the eyes and ears of Vladimir Putin, but I don't believe he's an intelligence officer.
And so from a counterintelligence perspective, in other words, were the meetings with Kislyak part of some clandestine operation that was the, you know, the goal of which was collusion, I think that's -- I think that's unlikely.
It doesn't mean the meetings themselves were not important. But from the investigative part of it, I think it's much more important to focus on what were other people doing perhaps behind the scenes less publicly with somebody with a lower profile than the ambassador.
LEMON: What do you think, Juliette?
HALL: I often agree with Steve. I just have one caveat to what he said, which is the sort of remarkable aspect of the testimony that Sessions has never cared once about Russia's attempts to undermine our democracy.
So you can go the conspiratorial route and say he's not asking because he knows, or you can say he's not asking because he doesn't want to know the answer. In other words, he may not know what the rest of the Trump team was doing.
But to me that sort of suggests that this person should not be the attorney general. There is also another piece that got lost, you know, when he was sort of claiming this executive privilege or whatever it's called, where he said, you know, there was a question about has there ever been discussions about pardoning anyone in this investigation.
So we all know who that is, that's likely Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser. He did not say no. So he's still to me, very intimately involved with aspects of this investigation. But I will agree with Steve on this, this investigation...
LEMON: We've got to run.
LEMON: Go ahead, finish your thought.
KAYYEM: Mueller, that's Mueller thought is all have to say.
LEMON: Mueller got it.
KAYYEM: No, I mean, look, there's a good investigation, we should focus on that, I think a lot of this is just atmospherics.
LEMON: All right. Thank you both. We'll be right back.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)