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Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Testify Before Congress; Friend of President Trump Says Trump Considering Firing Special Counsel Robert Meuller. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's going to testify. We're aware of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, June 3th, 8:00 in the east. So a long-time friend of President Trump standing by his claims that the president is considering firing special counsel Bob Mueller. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denying a conversation ever happened between Chris Ruddy, the friend, and the president. But Ruddy says the White House isn't denying the president's thinking.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And in just hours, Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be in the hot seat facing questions from senators about his contacts from Russia as well as the firing of James Comey. Will Sessions invoke executive privilege to avoid answering?
We have this all covered, so let's begin with CNN's Ryan Nobles live on Capitol Hill. What's the latest there, Ryan?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions expected to be grilled today on Capitol Hill by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But we're not sure yet just how forthcoming the Attorney General will be. We do know his testimony comes at a time when President Trump and his associates appear to be interfering with the work of the special counsel Robert Mueller.
CHRIS RUDDY, CEO OF NEWSMAX: I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special council.
NOBLES: Just hours after leaving the White House, President Trump's long-time friend Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy claims the president is considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller, the man in charge of investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
RUDDY: I think he's weighing that option. I think it is pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.
NOBLES: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisting Mr. Ruddy never spoke to the president regarding this issue. But hours earlier, Spicer's deputy said that Ruddy, quote, "speaks for himself." Several Trump allies now attacking Mueller's credibility despite initially praising his appointment. Former Trump campaign advisor Newt Gingrich tweeting Monday "Republicans are delusional if they think this special counsel is going to be fair." But only last month Gingrich praised Mueller as a, quote, "superb choice."
One of the reasons for the revolt, who Mueller has hired for his legal team. CNN analysis of FEC records reveals three of the five lawyers on Mueller's team have donated almost exclusively to Democrats, with two giving the maximum donation to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. Still, White House sources tell CNN Trump's advisors are urging him not to fire Mueller, a move lawmakers feel could backfire.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It would be absolutely astonishing were he to entertain this. The echoes of Watergate the getting louder and louder.
NOBLES: All this comes ahead of today's public testimony by embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions is expected to face a grilling about his contacts with Russia and the firing of James Comey.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: 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.
Sources tell CNN Comey told senators behind closed doors that Sessions may have had a third meeting with Russia ambassador Sergey Kislyak which the Justice Department denies. It will likely be brought up today along with Comey's account that Sessions was booted from an Oval Office meeting back in February before Comey said the president asked him to drop the Michael Flynn investigation.
COMEY: My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering.
NOBLES: It is unclear whether Sessions will invoke executive privilege to avoid answering questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that he should invoke executive privilege on the conversation between himself and the president?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it depends on the scope of the questions.
NOBLES: And Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy firing back against Sean Spicer this morning after Spicer saying that Ruddy's statement was inaccurate about the president. He gave a statement to our Jeremy Diamond this morning. Let me read it to you. It says, quote, "Spicer issued a bizarre statement last night, a press release that, A, doesn't deny my claim that the president is considering firing Mueller and, B, says I didn't speak to the president on the matter when I never claimed to have done so. Memo to Sean, focus your efforts on exposing the flimflam Russia investigations against POTUS and highlighting his remarkable achievement. Don't waste your time trying to undermine one of your few allies."
So this morning the president's allies in a bit of a between each other as we get ready to hear from Attorney General Sessions later this afternoon. Chris and Alisyn?
CUOMO: Friendly fire going on. Let's discuss. Ryan, thank you very much.
The panel is with us. CNN political analyst John Avlon, reporter and editor at large for CNN Politics Chris Cillizza, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. He was Bob Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department, by the way.
[08:05:10] John Avlon, explain what is happening here. This man is a friend. He comes out and says I think he's considering doing this. I think it is a bad idea. The White House says the conversation never happened. Now he is fighting with the White House.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, so you've got a fight between Trump allies which I think illustrates the overall coherence of this White House and ally network, which is less than zero.
That said, this is serious because Chris Ruddy knows Donald Trump so well. And it comes on the heels, as this package pointed out, of Newt Gingrich coming out against Mueller, one of the president's lawyers floating this possibility. So you've got a drumbeat of Trump allies and advisors saying he's considering or should consider firing Bob Mueller.
So take one step for a second. That would be DEFCON 10 in terms of raising real constitutional questions about obstruction of justice. That would cause panic among members of Congress who are looking for a degree of objective oversight. It should also cause real concern among the American people because, A, there's nothing to stop the president from doing it because the independent counsel statute expired, and B, why in the world would anyone think that Donald Trump wouldn't do this after firing James Comey? This is a dangerous game that's being played in the corridors of power in Washington right now, and the implications are massive for our democracy.
CAMEROTA: So Michael Zeldin, one theory is that Chris Ruddy who had not met, according to him and Sean Spicer, with the president, was using the television to telegraph a message to the president. We have heard this on his friends sometimes do that to say it would be a bad idea. Tell us the legal implications. Tell us what this would mean if the president were to fire Mueller.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, mostly the implications are political. Legally the president through the deputy attorney general is lawfully allowed to do this. So it's within his power to do it. So the legal implications in the sense are none. He can do what he's allowed to do by law.
The political consequences are much more serious, and you'd have to say to yourself if you were Rod Rosenstein, would you stay in the administration? If you were the FBI designee, would you pull your name from consideration? If you were Senator Schumer, would you reintroduce the independent counsel statute to get around all of this? So there are a lot of political cascading impacts from doing this. But legally it's in his power to do it. It is not wise, but it's in his power to do it.
I think what's going on a bit is that the Trump team or surrogates for the Trump White House are floating the trial balloon of can we go after Mueller and his team in the same way that Clinton went after Starr and his team? I think they're looking at how that is going to play. I don't think it will play. I don't think --
CUOMO: As somebody who knows Mueller and knows his bona fides, and yes, a lot of the same people were praising him, they're going after his choices of counsel. We actually have a graphic somewhere showing that a number of the lawyers that Mueller is picking did donate to Democrats. Do you think that that is a valid basis of criticism and disqualifying for Mueller?
ZELDIN: So, look, firstly, it is not disqualifying for Mueller. Secondly, Mueller himself didn't make any contributions to any political candidate on either side. Principally the donation of one of his office people who most likely will play a supervisory role in the administration of the case.
CAMEROTA: Who also gave to Republicans.
ZELDIN: He also gave some -- right. But the silliness of this argument is evident by the selection by Jared Kushner of his lawyer, which Jamie Gorelick, a long-time Democrat, former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, a terrific lawyer whose judgment is not going to be prepared by who she made a political contribution to. This notion of who you make a political contribution to has nothing to do with the exercise of independence or good decision-making by an attorney. It is a silly gambit that they are running, I think.
CAMEROTA: Chris Cillizza, what is your take?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, EDITOR AT LARGE, CNN POLITICS: Well, politically speaking, I think that there is massive problems here for Donald Trump if he even slightly down the road is talking about getting rid of Bob Mueller. John Avlon said DEFCON 10. I'm with him. If there is -- if there was a DEFCON 11 -- I know there's no DEFCON 10 -- I'd be there. There's just no legally, Michael -- of course he can do it, but just because you can do it doesn't mean you could do it.
This president puts unpredictability at the heart of everything he does. I think he likes to keep every possible option open. It is the same reason that the answer on are you or are you not taping conversations the White House, says I'll let you know, wink, wink. [08:10:11] He likes to keep his options open. He likes to build
intrigue. He likes to keep it as a cliff hanger. He is a reality television show producer in his heart of hearts. I don't think that is good politics for him. And I think that's been born-out that what worked in the campaign has not worked in the White House. Gallup had his disapproval at 59 percent.
CUOMO: When he plays to the base, though, well, the political question obviously for the president heading forward is can he grow? Can he grow his constituency?
Let me ask you something, though, because the proof is in the performance of what we're going to see today with the attorney general. Chris Ruddy says, he's with Newsmax and he says "flimflam accusations." That's means deceptively negative. That's demonstrably false based on what we're going to see with Jeff Sessions today. These are heavy questions. What did you know about the president's intentions with this investigation? What did you know about his desire to talk to Comey alone? Why did you leave? Did you ask the president about it? Did you ask Comey about it? If you did ask Comey and he told you anything, what did you do about it? These are big questions that get him whether he claims ignorance or not, assuming he answers.
AVLON: Right, and that's the big question, is how much does he say I'm not going to speak about that because of the president's executive privilege.
CUOMO: But the president would therefore have to exercise that privilege. A.G. Sessions would have to be directed by counsel that, yes, we are exercising the privilege. That's a question also.
AVLON: That's a question also. But it is going to be --
CUOMO: Because he doesn't have a privilege, the A.G.
AVLON: That's correct. But there's the precedent that the White House could impose upon him in effect. Look, there are no shortage of questions for Jeff Sessions to answer, from undisclosed meetings are Russians to what he knew about the firing of James Comey to how much he actually recused himself from this ongoing investigation to his assessment of Donald Trump at a time their relationship seems troubles.
The question will be, how much does he speak frankly, openly, and honestly about it, because if he's still trying to curry favor with the administration, he's going to be very restrained in terms of how honest and direct he can be. These are his former colleagues. Expect a real grilling, but I think it's a mistake to assume you are going to get a totally open, conversational Jeff Sessions telling the truth as he tells it. I think he is going to tell the minimum viable truth to get through this hearing.
CAMEROTA: Michael, you are the former federal prosecutor. How open will Sessions be? ZELDIN: I hope he will be very open. Firstly, Chris is right that
the privilege is with the president. And so Sessions answer of I'm exerting executive privilege is legally wrong. He has to say the president has instructed me. I don't think that's a very tenable position for the A.G. to be in.
Secondly, I think the A.G. really needs to convince the American public in some respect that he operates the Department of Justice in an independent and partial, blind justice sort of way. His having to recuse himself so early in the administration put a stain on that independence, and I think he has to resurrect himself in some respect in the eyes of the American people so they have confidence in the criminal justice system. So I think there's a lot riding on it for him individually, and hopefully that will lead to him being forthright in his answers, be what may come of it.
CAMEROTA: Panel, we have to leave it there. Thank you very much.
CUOMO: You say blind justice, but he was like this. A little side eye going.
CAMEROTA: Thank you very much, panel. CNN's special coverage of the Sessions hearing begins at 2:00 p.m. eastern. Take off your ear muffs and blindfolds, everyone.
CUOMO: All right, so before this Sessions testimony today, the head of the Republican Party is calling for an end to all congressional probes into possible Trump campaign connections to Russia. Why would such a request be made? We will ask.
CAMEROTA: Plus, a blast from the past on NEW DAY. Our dear friend Michaela Pereira will be here to share the cause and place that is very close to her heart. We're going to see Mickey ahead.
[08:17:47] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: In just hours, Attorney General Sessions will testify before a Senate panel about his interactions with Russia and the firing of James Comey. But the head of the Republican Party is calling for an end to all congressional investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
So, let's bring her in. She is Ronna Romney McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.
Good morning, Ms. McDaniel.
RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: Good morning.
CAMEROTA: Thanks for being here.
Why are you calling for an end to the congressional investigations into whatever the ties were between the Trump team and Russia? MCDANIEL: I'm saying that the investigation about the collusion
between the Trump campaign and the Russians needs to be completed because this investigation started last July Under director Comey. We have not seen a single senator, we haven't seen Director Comey or Clapper say that there is any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
So, why is this continuing? Why is this going almost a year, this investigation? Isn't it time to put an end to it? If nobody can say there is definitive evidence, shouldn't we take that shadow off the White House and let the American people know that there has been no evidence?
CAMEROTA: Sure. Look, you know what they would say thus far. That's why the investigation is continuing.
MCDANIEL: But it's almost a year, Alisyn. It's like almost a year. It started last July.
CAMEROTA: Understood. But --
MCDANIEL: The election ended in November.
MCDANIEL: How long can you let this linger? Why should the --
CAMEROTA: Well, Bob Mueller was just named -- sorry to interrupt, but Bob Mueller to lead this investigation probably three weeks ago, less than four weeks ago. Some people think it is just beginning.
MCDANIEL: Yes, he was -- but Director Comey was -- he started it in July of 2016. The election ended in November. And now we're in June.
CAMEROTA: But Jeff Sessions today --
MCDANIEL: Almost a year out and still --
CAMEROTA: Just today, the Senate intel investigator -- the lawmakers are going to be able to hear from him.
MCDANIEL: Well, here's the thing is, there is not one senator, not one senator, name one senator, Democrat or Republican, who can say they've seen evidence of collusion. Jim Comey said --
CAMEROTA: They would say it's not complete.
MCDANIEL: They said there's been no evidence, but what's taking so long? Here's the thing that's concerning to me is, I feel like they're drawing it out. It's concerning.
The Democrats have a playbook -- draw out, obstruct, play out the clock so that we could get to 2018 with this doubt over the White House.
[08:15:03] CAMEROTA: Yes.
MCDANIEL: And I think the American people deserve to know definitively, is there evidence of collusion? If there isn't, let's put an end to it, and stop putting this doubt in the American people's minds.
CAMEROTA: Yes, I hear you. But, of course, Republicans control Congress. I mean, these are bipartisan committees. The Senate Intel, the House Intel. Their chairmen are Republicans. So, it's not just Democrats with this playbook.
MCDANIEL: I'm just speaking from going across the country. I was in Arkansas last weekend, in Buffalo, in Georgia, and people are saying, why is this taking so long? It started last July. We're almost a year in. Why -- a year into this investigation. Why can't we put an end to this? The election ended in November.
CAMEROTA: Have you shared your --
MCDANIEL: Why can't we start talking about what people are concerned about at home in my state of Michigan -- health care, tax reform, jobs.
CAMEROTA: Sure. Listen, I have heard all of the claims that the Russia cloud is preventing the president from moving forward with his agenda.
MCDANIEL: The president is moving forward, we're just not talking about it because we keep talking about this one thing. And we need --
CAMEROTA: Well, hold on a second. But wait, then you are saying two different things. Is the Russia cloud preventing the president from moving forward with his agenda? Yes or no?
MCDANIEL: No, I think the Russia cloud just needs to be removed from the American people's minds. If we see no evidence of collusion, which no one has seen, let's get it done and over with. But the president is moving forward regardless. It is just not getting the coverage.
CAMEROTA: Have you shared your feelings with the Republican chairs of these committees, Richard Burr and Devin Nunes?
MCDANIEL: I've made some calls. And I'm just sharing that this is what the American public is saying. Let's just get it done and over it. We're almost a year in and --
CAMEROTA: What have they said about that? Did they say that they agree, that they're going to stop these investigations? MCDANIEL: We haven't talked about it at that length. I have just shared with them what I have heard out there, that the American people want to see this cloud removed. It's not fair. We're a year in almost from this investigation. Why don't we have a conclusion?
No one can say there is evidence. If there is no evidence, why are we continuing to investigate it?
CAMEROTA: Well, I hear you with the people that you have spoken to. But let me show you the latest polls because obviously that's a wider swath of Americans. The last Quinnipiac poll, his is from just last week, shows that 73 percent of Americans do support the independent commission investigating the links between team Trump and Russia. Furthermore, 60 percent of Americans, if you add these next two numbers together, believe that the president did something illegal or unethical.
So, Americans do not feel that we should --
MCDANIEL: You do not see my point as to why this needs to be concluded, because you had Director Comey last week say three times that the president was never under investigation, that he has never been under investigation.
CAMEROTA: But his associates are.
MCDANIEL: Every senator, Director Comey, Director Clapper have all said that there's no evidence of collusion.
CAMEROTA: But his associates are.
MCDANIEL: Doubt is being put in to the American public's mind, even there's no evidence. So, let's conclude the investigations and let the American people know that there is no evidence that's been found.
CAMEROTA: Well, look, these polls don't suggest that Americans feel we need to be done with these investigations. It sounds like they want to get to bottom of the investigations and they haven't ended yet.
And about the president not being the target, you know, here is the list of his associates that investigators are still looking into. I mean, as is evidenced by today, just a few hours from now at the top of this list, Jeff Sessions will be asked these questions. You know the investigations into Michael Flynn. They didn't disclose their meetings with Russian officials.
What's that about?
MCDANIEL: Well, it's ridiculous because the Obama administration between 2009 and 2013 had 22 meetings with Kislyak. You have seen senators on the Democratic side meet with him, Schumer, Pelosi. This is something that Democrats and Republicans do when they are in the Senate. CAMEROTA: So, why did Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions disclose those?
MCDANIEL: Jeff Sessions talked to his FBI counterpart when he was putting together his disclosures and said you don't have to disclose things that took place while you were in the Senate.
We're going to hear from him today, but the reality is, why are we still talking about this a year out? I'm not saying don't do the investigation. The investigations have taken place. But if today, no senator and Director Comey and Clapper have said there has been no evidence of collusion, when is the end point?
CAMEROTA: Right. Well, when it's done.
MCDANIEL: When is there the speediness?
CAMEROTA: They're ongoing.
MCDANIEL: To the point where it should be finished?
CAMEROTA: I mean, Robert Mueller has begun.
MCDANIEL: Yes. But Comey was continuing the investigation from July to November. He still hadn't completed it. I mean, what's taking so long?
MCDANIEL: I think that's a fair question. What is taking so long? If you have no evidence, conclude the investigation.
CAMEROTA: Ronna Romney McDaniel, thank you very much for sharing your perspective on all of this. Nice to have you.
MCDANIEL: Thank you for having me.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And it is in that vein of let's avoid criticism of the president or anything about negative about him that leads us to our next story, what happened at the first full cabinet meeting with the president.
[08:25:01] Look at what they did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Biggest privilege in my life is to serve as vice president to a president that's keeping his word to the American people.
REINCE PRIEBUS, CHIEF OF STAFF: The entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you have given us to serve your agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: So, what led to this ring of praise at the cabinet meeting? We're going to get it in the bottom line, next.
CUOMO: All right. Let's get the bottom line.
The president's first full cabinet meeting was a little unusual. Each member spent several minutes going around the table heaping praise upon the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PENCE: Thank you, Mr. President. And this is greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who is keeping his word to the American people.
ALEXANDER ACOSTA, SECRETARY OF LABOR: Mr. President, I'm privileged to be here, deeply honored and I want to thank you for keeping your commitment to the American workers.
DR. TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given and leadership that you've shown.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me.