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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Gears Up For Senate Grilling Today; Source: Trump Not Likely To Fire Robert Mueller; Trump: Pence Huddle With Senators On Health Care Today; Trump Heads To Wisconsin To Push Jobs Program. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:13] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. An Attorney General under oath, a Special Counsel under fire, and startling statements made by close allies of the President under scrutiny.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is set to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is the same panel that hosted the explosive testimony from James Comey. Sessions will face questions about how and why the FBI Director was fired. He will also be grilled on his own dealings with Moscow officials.
HARLOW: And shortly, we will hear from the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the only person who can technically fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller who helms the Russia investigation. Why are we even talking about that?
A long-time friend of the President says he is indeed considering that dramatic move, an action so drastic it could trigger outrage from both parties. Today, the friend and the White House are engaged in a bitter back and forth over that.
We have a lot of cover. Let's get straight to Capitol Hill where we find Ryan Nobles. Good morning.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy and John, good morning to you. It could be a long day for the Justice Department as both the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions are expected to get some tough questions today, not just about their budget, which was the original reason that they were supposed to be up here on Capitol Hill, but also the investigation into Russia.
Rosenstein is set to appear before the Senate Appropriations Committee at about 10:00. He will also appear in front of the House Committee at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
But a lot of the focus is going to be on the Attorney General himself, who pulled a switch, asking instead of appearing before the Appropriations Committee, to appear in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee because Democrats had warned that they were going to be asking tough questions about his role in the Russian investigation and the firing of James Comey, and perhaps his conversations and meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.
A lot of this born out of that explosive testimony last week from FBI Director James Comey and when he said this about the Attorney General.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: Our judgment, as I recall, was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia related investigation problematic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOBLES: And could it be that what James Comey was talking about was that potential third undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, and the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions? It is something that the Justice Department has repeatedly said never happened, but the Attorney General himself has not answered the direct question. He will likely be forced to do so today under oath.
Of course, the big question, John and Poppy is, just how forthcoming will the Attorney General be? He could invoke executive privilege on some of these questions or suggest that the information is classified and that he cannot answer these questions in an open session. It could be combative here later this afternoon.
BERMAN: No, he'll be asked. The question is, will he answer? All right. Ryan Nobles for us, thanks so much.
This morning the White House is in the middle of swirling speculation about whether the President would move to fire Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel running the Russia investigation.
HARLOW: This is a bombshell claim. That the President is even considering this made it all the more shocking. And then consider the source, a long-time friend of the President who said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel. I think he's weighing that option. I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Well, this morning, Ruddy and the administration, back and forth, back and forth, trading jobs. Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House with the latest. What are you hearing?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, essentially Christopher Ruddy is no stranger to the White House. He says that he's a good friend with President Trump. They've known each other for 20 years.
He was here yesterday, visiting the White House before he made that dramatic claim, to which Sean Spicer, the White House spokesperson, responded in his own statement, saying that, "Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the President regarding this issue. With respect to this subject, only the President or his attorneys are authorized to comment."
Now, Ruddy is really hitting back hard this morning, doubling down, if you will, taking issue with Spicer's statement, releasing his own statement this morning, saying here that, "Spicer issued a bizarre late night press release that, a, doesn't deny my claim the President is considering firing Mueller and, b, says I didn't speak to the President about the matter when I never claimed to have done so. Memo to Sean: focus your efforts on exposing the flim-flam Russian allegations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievements! Don't waste time trying to undermine one of your few allies."
[09:05:02] One of the things that Ruddy did this morning is he took to the airwaves, not only C-Span but also, just moments ago, on "NEW DAY" to make his case. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDDY (via phone): I always speak for myself and not the President. He has his own spokesman, although they are, I think, in need of a little bit of a help from time to time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And White House sources say that, in fact, his strategist inside and outside the White House are advising the President, certainly, not to fire Mueller. They think it would be a very bad idea.
That is also something that Ruddy said as well. The speculation being that, of course, he, as other Trump friends and advisors know how to do, is to bring their message to television, getting it to the President -- Poppy.
BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks so much.
BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN senior political analyst and senior editor of "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein. Also here, CNN political commentators. Senior columnist at "The Daily Beast," Matt Lewis, and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis.
Errol, let me put this to you because Chris Ruddy notes that the White House is not knocking down the notion that the President is considering moving to fired Bob Mueller. There is no statement from the White House that knocks that down directly.
HARLOW: Yes. BERMAN: So one might surmise that the White House is perfectly happy
to have that floated out there. The question is, why?
ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: Well, this is a time-honored way of trying to see what the reaction might be, to sort of put it out there, see what the reaction.
I mean, if you remember, when Comey was fired, there was some genuine sort of consternation and surprise at the White House. They thought Democrats were going to cheer for this. They got that completely wrong. In a case like this, to avoid such surprise, an unpleasant surprise, you float it out there, sort of to see what people might think.
And Ruddy, I think, was really just part of that process, kind of like weighing in. We're talking about it now. It's leading a lot of different broadcasts, and they can get a sense of what the reaction will be. And maybe they never seriously intended to do it, maybe it's an option they will now pull off the table, but this is how things are done in Washington.
HARLOW: Some, you know, are surmising that Ruddy may be trying to get to the President and have him listen to the airwaves, saying this is a bad idea because he watches T.V. and he listens to a lot on T.V.
Here is why a number of Republicans, Newt Gingrich, are mad about Mueller. All right. They point to the people he has hired around him in the top positions and the overwhelming political donations, Matt Lewis, they've given to Democrats.
Let's pull them up on the screen. These top lawyers he's brought on. James Quarles, $30,000 to Dems. Jeannie Rhee, $12,700. Andrew Weissmann, $4,300. You get the picture. Is that a legitimate gripe, Matt?
MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: You know who else gave a lot of money to Democrats? Donald Trump.
HARLOW: So true.
BERMAN: We didn't put him up on the screen. We forgot.
BERMAN: I'm sorry about that.
LEWIS: Look, it's interesting. I think it's fair to bring up. It might be nice for Mueller to have some more diversity, but I don't think --
HARLOW: Just note, Mueller did not give political contributions.
LEWIS: No, he didn't. But in terms of his hiring these people --
HARLOW: Yes. LEWIS: -- I don't think that's disqualifying. Robert Mueller is a
guy who is a decorated combat veteran. He served for Presidents Reagan and both Bushes. And he was the longest serving FBI Director next J. Edgar Hoover.
And until about a week ago, he was widely respected and heralded by people, including former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who thought it was an excellent appointment. This strikes me as more opportunism, more of an attempt to take down somebody who could potentially pose Donald Trump problems than a legitimate concern.
I will say this though, Christopher Ruddy, in that same interview, brought up something interesting that I didn't know. I think it was a revelation. He says that Mueller was interviewing with Donald Trump for FBI Director just days before being appointed. That's interesting.
BERMAN: Mueller had to discuss that. That's been sort of floated out there. What we need to hear more from the White House there is, was he really asking to be FBI Director again --
BERMAN: -- after 12 years or maybe the President was consulting him about the right person to hire. If it happened, we need to learn more about that.
Chris Ruddy. I want to play a little bit more about what Chris Ruddy just said. Again, friend of the President, runs Newsmax, a conservative publication right now. Chris Ruddy is saying, don't fire Bob Mueller. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDDY (via phone): I don't think the White House Press Office is doing a good job explaining what the President's achievements have been. And they are now facing a very serious threat from Robert Mueller. But I do think, at the basis of all of this, is, I think it would be a mistake to fire Mueller, but I also think the basis of his investigation is flim-flam.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: All right. Ron Brownstein, we've been talking about this for days.
RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Yes.
BERMAN: I mean, clearly, there is some kind of effort by allies to the White House to go after Bob Mueller, at least in some way. But by bringing up the firing, today of all days, when you have Jeff Sessions testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a little bit --
BERMAN: -- and Rod Rosenstein, the guy who is the only one who could actually fire Bob Mueller. He's the only one with the power at this point. He testifies in less than an hour right now.
BERMAN: This guarantees that the Deputy Attorney General is going to get asked about this, Ron.
BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. First of all, as the designated non-Lewis on the panel, I've very glad to be here.
[09:10:01] BROWNSTEIN: Look, I think this is part of a broader pattern we have talked about before. The unerring instinct of Donald Trump is always to try to delegitimize any institution that he believes can challenge him. From the fake news media, to so-called judges, to personally denigrating any member of Congress who kind of stands in the way of his agenda. This fits in a long pattern.
I think it's kind of the inevitable, even the floating of this idea, is the inevitable result of a Republican congressional leadership that has essentially indulged him and explained away and found a way to excuse his excesses at every turn. What Chris Ruddy said on "NEW DAY" was a lot stronger than what we heard from Paul Ryan this morning. His verb was, he'd be surprised if President Trump fired Bob Mueller, not that he would be outraged. Although, he said also, you know, I think we should let him do his job.
I think it is reasonable for Donald Trump to assume that more Republicans than you might expect would accept a move like this. But, you know, again, I think it is a trial balloon. It would be a full- scale constitutional crisis.
And I do think you're going to hear very sharp questions, not only for Rod Rosenstein but also for Jeff Sessions about whether he would resign if such in order. Even though he might be outside the chain of command, whether he would resign as Elliot Richardson did in the 1970s, rather than accept Richard Nixon fire Archibald Cox. .
HARLOW: What I was going to say, on that point, Errol Louis, is, what does Rod Rosenstein say today, not if he is asked this, when he is asked this?
LOUIS: When he is asked this, exactly right. I think he is being sort of a prudent attorney and somebody who has actually sort of stood up and not just gone with the White House spin. A crucial point.
I would expect him to simply say, we're going to figure this out and we're going to speak with one voice at a later date. It's not going to be for me to sort of freelance while I'm here giving testimony about what the White House policy is going to be. That would be my guess. On the other hand --
HARLOW: Kind of a nonanswer.
BERMAN: Yes, exactly, still a good nonanswer.
HARLOW: A total nonanswer.
LOUIS: Well --
BERMAN: Matt Lewis, Jeff Sessions, also with really major testimony today. Really two separate areas, right? Russia, his own interactions with Russians, and then his own interactions with James Comey who testified last week.
BERMAN: How hard do you think Jeff Sessions will go after the James Comey version of events and what's the risk/reward there?
LEWIS: Well, the thing I'm really interested in is the question about when President Trump, you know, allegedly asked to speak with Director Comey alone and Attorney General Sessions, you know, at first wanted to stick around and then ended up leaving. I think he should be asked, why did you leave? You know, you were Comey's boss. Why didn't you stick around?
Look, any time there is a testimony like this, there is a potential for an explosive development. My guess, though, is that Sessions, having been a former senator, having being been a state Attorney General and prosecutor, is going to be very adept at handling these questions in a sort of avuncular style.
If you go back to his confirmation hearing, he really came across well. My guess is that he'll be able to smooth things over and have a lot of those nonanswers today.
HARLOW: He really came across well, Ron Brownstein, until this moment that he then had to clarify with Senator Franken. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.
In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said but I did meet one Russian official a couple of times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: But I did, and now there is, maybe, a third time at the Mayflower Hotel that the Justice Department says, no way, that didn't happen. Ron Brownstein, what does Sessions do here on the questions about Russian contacts? BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think if there is a third contact, you will have,
I think, a full-scale firestorm among Democrats. I mean, you already have Pat Leahy and Al Franken arguing that the Attorney General may have committed perjury.
And I think if there is another contact that was undisclosed, all bets are off. And I do think you'd have widespread calls among Democrats, and perhaps even some Republicans, for his resignation. All indications are they're going to testify that that did not occur. They are going to continue to say that did not occur.
And, of course, again, like the attacks on Bob Mueller, this fits into a larger pattern, where we have Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn with unreported contacts with the Russians that were only disclosed after the fact. And that is part of the pattern that keeps fueling this investigation in a sense of why so often are they trying to keep the public from disclosure of these meetings.
[09:15:02] HARLOW: Thank you all, gentlemen. We'll have some answers, maybe. We might have some answers if they answer questions.
BERMAN: Unless they go to the closed-door session.
HARLOW: There you go. Coming up in less than an hour. You'll see it right here.
Still to come for us, high stakes hearing on the Hill today. The attorney general, both his deputy as well both facing these grillings from Senate committees. We're on top of all the development developments.
And also verdict watch this morning. Jurors in the Bill Cosby sex offense trial are deliberating right now. The world is watching.
BERMAN: Plus, NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman back in North Korea. So the obvious question is what the heck is he doing there?
HARLOW: Today many, many eyeballs will be on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In just a few hours it will be his turn in the hot seat to be grilled on Capitol Hill expected to go something like this, so how many times did you meet with the Russian ambassador and what did you talk about and what role did you exactly play in the firing of FBI Director James Comey after you recused yourself from the Russian probe?
BERMAN: And while things are expected to heat up with the attorney general, there is also a fight brewing in Washington over health care. Want to discuss all of this with the Republican Congressman Mo Brooks, who is actually running for the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions.
[09:20:02]Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. If we can start with the testimony that begins a few hours from now with the attorney general of the United States. What do you think he needs to explain about his interactions with James Comey?
REPRESENTATIVE MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: Well, I think what the Attorney General Jeff Sessions needs to do is just tell the truth and I'm quite confidence that Attorney General Sessions will do that. I've known Jeff Sessions for more than two decades. He's always acted honorably in my presence.
When he came to Washington, D.C. and became attorney general, the media coupled with the Democrats have subjected him to these kinds of disparaging attacks and I think Jeff Sessions will do quite well in a hearing kind of setting.
I'm glad that he insisted that it be a public setting so that the people themselves could get an unfiltered view of what he had to say as opposed to these leaks that seemed to creep out in a myriad of different directions. Many of which have no truth whatsoever to them.
HARLOW: It's not clear if he insisted that it be a public hearing or the intelligence committee insisted if it public, but it is public and you will see it live right here. Let me get your reaction to something that Ann Colter wrote. She writes, "Sessions never should have recused himself. Now that we know Trump is not under investigation, Sessions should take it back and fire Mueller." Do you think that Special Counsel Mueller should be fired?
BROOKS: Well, I don't have enough information at this point to know. Let me be clear about something. I'm very disappointed in the conduct of the FBI today. They have had this matter now for at least 11 months. Why don't we have a report? Why don't we have a completed investigation?
This is a major issue that is distracting the focus of you folks in the news media, the people in Congress and the American public from many significant public policy issues that we have to address in Washington, D.C.
It is critical that the FBI complete its investigation and get it right and all this information be shared with the public so the public could have a clear understanding of what Russia did, if anything, whether there was any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and whether Donald Trump has been cleared --
BERMAN: One of the things --
BROOKS: -- as the former FBI director suggested he has.
BERMAN: Well, the former FBI director never said anything. He said that while he was FBI director. He wasn't under direct investigation and one thing that maybe holding up --
BROOKS: That's a clearance.
BERMAN: No, it's not.
BROOKS: That's a clearance. BERMAN: He had no idea whether or not he's under investigation and he also didn't say whether or not people close to the president or satellites that the president may have said are under investigation. Another thing holding up the investigation may be the fact that the FBI director was fired. On the subject of Special Counsel Bob Mueller who --
BROOKS: No, no. I'm sorry. That is all speculation.
BERMAN: I'm saying he was fired. So I don't know if that slowed up the investigation or not. He was fired. That's not speculation.
BROOKS: The FBI agents are the ones who do the investigation, not -- the FBI agents are the ones who do the investigation.
HARLOW: Congressman, we are trying --
BERMAN: Bob Mueller, you were saying you need to see more evidence. What evidence are you looking for? Do you not have confidence in his investigation, which has just begun?
BROOKS: I'm sorry. I don't know if you're directing a question to me or if there is some third party that's on the set.
BERMAN: No, Congressman, just you, Congressman. We are talking about Robert Mueller and you said you need to see evidence before you weigh in whether he should be fired. What do you need to see to give you confidence he's doing his job? Why don't you have full confidence that he's doing his job well?
BROOKS: A completion of the investigation is imperative. It needs to be done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. And if we have another delay of 10 or 12 months, it's already taken 11 months, then that is unfair to the presidency. That is unfair to the United States Congress. That is unfair to the American people.
HARLOW: All right. Congressman, we are going to ask you one more --
BROOKS: -- he needs to do his job.
HARLOW: So is there anything right now, Congressman, that makes you question that Bob Mueller, who serves under Republican and Democrats as FBI chief for 12 years if he can do this job and do it right. Is there any reason you think the president should fire him through Rod Rosenstein?
BROOKS: As of today, no, ma'am. But we're talking about how things are going to progress in the future. And the job needs to be done. It needs to be done clearly, fairly and quickly. And today that job by the FBI has not been completed for reasons that are unfathomable to me.
BERMAN: Let me ask you one question on health care, Congressman. You were in the middle of that discussion what is in the House now within the Senate. A lot of senators concerned they haven't seen the bill right now that's being discussed. Does that concern you and from what you hear is moving in the right direction?
BROOKS: That's not the way I would conduct myself if I were the United States Senate. I believe that the bill, whatever it is, that the Republican senators are going to come forth with should be completed in a hearing before a committee.
[09:25:13]It should be openly debated. There should be plenty of time for the American people to be able to digest it. I'm sorry if there are people in the United States Senate that don't want to have that open and public discussion, but I think that is essential with respect to everything we do in Washington on a public policy level.
So I disagree with the strategy that's being implemented to the extent they are not going to have a public hearing on a health care bill that is going to have such a huge effect on one-sixth of the American economy and of course, many American lives.
HARLOW: All right, Congressman Mo Brooks, we appreciate your time today. Thank you.
BROOKS: Thank you.
HARLOW: President Trump heading to Wisconsin today. Jobs front and center. He's pushing this new apprenticeship program trying to help retain factory workers for different jobs. Our chief business correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans is here.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: There is a GE plant there actually that's moving its jobs to Canada. So there are workers here. This is Trump country. These are folks who many of them for the first time voted Republican or voted for Donald Trump.
And he is going to go there and give this message about apprenticeship, about how you can get private to private partnerships is the way the White House puts it. You get folks together without the government involved and you get apprenticeships going.
I can show you that in construction of building trades, this is where a lot of the apprenticeships are, about 144,000 of those last year. The military has a long tradition of apprenticeships. But manufacturing only 5 percent of the apprenticeships last year were in manufacturing. So there is work to be done there.
I don't have a lot of the details. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, will be with him. She's been spearheading workforce development week and in Wisconsin they will be at a technical community college, technical college and we'll see what they come through with.
It was $90 million of his budget for grants for apprenticeship. The same as for Obama, but big cuts to training programs and retraining programs. So the key here is what this administration going to do that's different and what are they going to do to incentivize companies if at all to do more.
BERMAN: Christine Romans from your lips to their ears. Thank you very, very much. Will two words executive privilege mean we will hear few words from Attorney General Jeff Sessions later today? Our legal experts weigh in.