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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Trump Rips Sessions, Has "Chilling" Effect Inside White House; Sessions Vows To Stay In Job Despite Trump's Criticism; WH: Trump Making Clear Mueller Shouldn't Expand Investigation; Judiciary Chair Threatens To Subpoena Trump Jr. & Manafort. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired July 20, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Erin Burnett OutFront starts right now.
JAKE TAPPER, OUTFRONT HOST: OutFront next, Jeff Sessions insisting he's staying on the job as the President dodges questions about the Attorney General. Plus, is the White House trying to bully Special Council Robert Mueller. And how is Trump's Made in America week going? Or did he steal his own thunder? Let's go OutFront.
Good evening, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. I'm in for Erin Burnett tonight. OutFront tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions defiant vowing to soldier on today in the face of an unprovoked attack by President Trump. Trump telling the New York Times that Sessions crossed the line when he recused himself from the Russian investigation and that he never would have picked Sessions to be attorney general had he known he would do so.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders with a chance to walk back the President's remarks insisted and left Sessions twisting in the wind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As the President said yesterday, he was disappointed in the Attorney General Sessions' decision to recuse himself but clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: How can Sanders say Trump clearly has confidence in Attorney General Sessions when given the opportunity to prove that today, the President took a hard pass.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, does Jeff Sessions still have your full support?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, did you authorize Elon Musk to help Hyperloop services?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you talked to Jeff Sessions, Mr. President?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I spoke with several Republican senators today. One of them told me, "One gets the impression that the President doesn't understand or he willfully disregards the fact that the Attorney General and law enforcement in general, they're not his personal lawyers to defend and protect him. He has his own personal lawyers. And the white house has the White House's Counsel's Office. The Attorney General is America's top law enforcement official. It's unclear he, the President, understands that in that pretty disturbing."
A second Republican senator told me, "I know Jeff Sessions to be a person of real integrity, which is why he recused himself. I don't think it's good for any president of the United States to undermine the federal judiciary.
Now remember, Sessions gave Trump his first endorsement from his sitting senator. That was a big boost for candidate Trump at the time. For a man who says he values loyalty above all else, his rebuke of Jeff Sessions is remarkable, even for Trump. And today, when Sessions was asked all about this, he refused to take the bait. He vowed to stay on the job, but without referring to the President's attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.
We're serving right now. The work we're doing today is the kind of work that we intend to continue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Sara Murray is OutFront for us at the White House. And Sara, I can't imagine what kind of an impact this might have on other members in the administration. Jeff Sessions was the first sitting senator in that foxhole with President Trump. And these comments are just -- we've never seen anything like it before.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. I mean, you see Jeff Sessions there speaking publicly, handling it gracefully, as he faced reporters today. But we are told that behind the scenes here at the White House, this has had something of a chilling effect. People are looking at the comments that President Trump has made about Jeff Sessions. As you pointed out, Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. He came out in support of Trump at a time when that was sort of against everything the party was looking to do. People still had a lot of negative feelings about Trump. They still thought he would be a flash in the pan and be out the door. So people are looking at him and saying, if this is how the President treats someone who was loyal to him from the beginning, how loyal is he going to be to me in the long run?
Now, we did see Sarah Huckabee Sanders say today essentially, look, Jeff Sessions is still around. If the President didn't want him to be here, didn't have confidence in him, wanted him to resign, then Jeff Sessions would be gone. But the other thing that I think is worth pointing out, as far as we know at this point and talking to White House aides, President Trump still has not spoken one on one with Jeff Sessions.
So he did this interview, he made these comments about his own attorney general to the New York Times, and he just leaves them out to sit there. You saw him not answering my question today about whether he wanted Jeff Sessions to resign, whether they've spoken. Our latest indication is they still haven't, Jake.
TAPPER: Amazing. Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.
OutFront tonight, John Dean served as President Nixon's White House counsel during Watergate. Gloria Borger is our Chief Political Analyst and former Congressman Mike Rogers served as the Chairman House Intelligence Committee. He's also a retired FBI special agent. And now the host of that show, "DECLASSIFIED" right here on CNN.
Let me start with this basic question because it's kind of confusing.
[19:05:01] President Trump -- well, let's play the audio of President Trump and exactly what he said about whether or not Sessions would still be on the job, had he has rather. So let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So Jeff Sessions takes a job, gets into the job, recuses himself. In then have -- which frankly, I think it's very unfair to the President. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can't, you know, I'm not going to take you. It's extremely unfair and that's a mild word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, Gloria, the chronology of this doesn't work out, just the basic calendar. How would he -- he was named attorney general, that the President would nominate him in November 18th. Trump announces that he will not nominate Sessions as attorney general.
January 10th is his confirmation hearing. That's when he makes that comment that gets him in so much hot water that non-transparent, let's say, comment about meeting with Russians. March 2nd, he recuses himself from the Russia probe. How on earth could he have told President Trump back in November that he was going to recuse himself in March for comments he made in January?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. He couldn't have. And, you know, obviously he had no idea this was going to come up at his confirmation hearing and then he would have to then correct the record. Then he would recuse himself. But, you know, you do get a bird's eye view into the way the President is thinking as the senator you were talking to, I believe, said to you, you know, said to you earlier.
This is a President who sees things through this lens only as it regards him. And so he said, how could you have done this to the President when, in fact, Jeff Sessions works not only for the President, but he works for the country. And if there is a whiff of the fact that there is a conflict of interests, then he owes it to the country to recuse himself. And at that point, it is not about what the President wants, it's about what is good for the nation.
And it also presumes, Jake, that Jeff Sessions would not have allowed a special counsel to be appointed. We don't know that to be the truth. And we don't know what Jeff Sessions would have done. And clearly, the President sees this as a question of loyalty to him.
TAPPER: So, John Dean, let me ask you. Because what I think President Trump is actually upset about -- because obviously unless Jeff Sessions has a DeLorean and flux capacitors, there's no way he can go back in time and tell President Trump, hey, in a month, in two months, I'm going to say something that get me in trouble at my confirmation hearing, and then in March, I'm going to recuse myself. So just FYI on that.
That, obviously, doesn't make sense for President Trump to be upset about it. What makes more sense is the idea that Jeff Sessions didn't make a clear enough to President Trump and President Trump's view, hey, if it ever comes down to a decision where I have to do either something that I think is the right thing to do or be loyal to you, I'm going to do what I think is right. That makes more sense as something that President Trump would be upset about.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, you know, what's underlying this whole thing when you read the interview is Trump has a tendency to want to blame others for his own problems. And he is certainly doing it with the Russian investigation and the fact that he thinks that Sessions should not have recused himself.
So, I think when you look at the underlying factor that he doesn't want to take responsibility for the investigation that he's largely responsible for being on his shoulders, this is another show of it. And I think, of course, Sessions did the right thing. He did what his ethics advisor told him to do, and that was in the best interest of the Department of Justice and the American people.
TAPPER: And Mike, when Sessions gave that speech in March about him recusing himself, he said it didn't have to do actually with the hot water he gotten into when it came to his non-accurate answer to the confirmation committee. It was actually because the top officials of the Justice Department told him anything having to do with the campaign, any investigation you shouldn't be a part of. Can you explain why you think President Trump might be going after him this way?
MIKE ROGERS, CNN HOST, "DECLASSIFIED": Well, no, is the short answer. And you know what this does, Jake, is that it serves -- now these people in these pretty important jobs not only from the cabinet level but on down, are more worried about keeping their job than doing their job. And I think it doesn't serve the President well anyway and unfortunately this seems to be a bit of a pattern.
He did it to Chris Christie when he threw him out of the, you know, his transition. He took great public shots at him. He's made public shots about his national security advisor, saying, you know, he talks too much in meetings and things like that, and doing some public displays of dissing his national security advisor.
[19:10:15] He brings in meetings according to reports and -- there are people in the room and he asks somebody from the outside if his people in front of him are doing a good job. I mean, it's not an environment that breeds good work performance. And that's my concern.
I -- you know, I know Jeff Sessions well. He is a man of honor. I think he got over to the Attorney General's Office and said, you know what? The investigation may involve people that I either worked with or were a part of the campaign of which I worked on. I really shouldn't be involved in that. That's the right decision for the Department of Justice.
TAPPER: And, Gloria, President Trump today not answering Sara Murray's question. She was asking him, shouting out questions, did you have confidence in him? He wouldn't answer. But he chose to say what he said to the New York Times and he had to known it would be printed, it would be discussed, it would be analyzed, it would be seen as a rebuke. Is there an end game here?
BORGER: If there is, Jake, I'm not sure that anyone knows what it is. I think the President has been griping about Jeff Sessions privately now for some time. And I think he just -- I think you just put it out there. Word may have filtered back to Sessions before this. Probably did.
But by saying it publicly, he put Sessions in this situation where he said, I'll stay if it's -- until it's, you know, not appropriate. Well, what does that mean? So I think, you know, we have to continue to play this out because it seems to me that at some point, push is going to come to shove here, and Sessions may feel that his job is no longer tenable.
And one other thing I want to say is that remember Comey testified famously that he has to take a pledge of loyalty. And the President said, well, that wasn't the truth. Well, I think his behavior in all of these kind of reinforces what Comey said, which is that loyalty was asked of him and required of him. And I think that the President probably felt he didn't even have to ask that of Jeff Sessions that, he would deliver it.
TAPPER: John, if you could describe as best you can what Richard Nixon was like in terms of loyalty, the demands for it and the needs for it, and what you see from the outside when it comes to President Trump.
DEAN: Well, Nixon was a person certainly with his cabinet that expected loyalty, but he didn't hold his cabinet in particularly high regard. I remember working on a book on his election of the Supreme Court justices and being privy to conversations I was not to at the time. He said his cabinet was so lousy that it didn't matter if he had women in it or not, when he was thinking about a woman for the court.
So he didn't return all the loyalty that one might think also. So there are a lot of parallels, actually, between Mr. Trump and Mr. Nixon. They're very similar behind closed doors, personalities. Nixon was much more reserved in public than we have with Trump but similar authoritarian type personalities.
TAPPER: Before we go, I just want to mention Mike's original series which is on CNN this weekend, "DECLASSIFIED" returns on Saturday night. It has this fascinating story of -- in timely story I should say, a Russian spies living as Americans inside the United States. Mike, the spies are -- they're playing -- the Russian spies are playing a long game.
ROGERS: Absolutely. So think about this, Jake. They come here. They assume American identities for a very long period of time, hoping that they get a little piece of intelligence. They infiltrate a government agency. They recruit a government official to work with them.
And the interesting thing I think people are going to be fascinated about is that this could be somebody that you knew, that could have been your friend, your neighbor, your colleague at work. These really truly were the spies next door, and it was the most complicated counterintelligence investigation the FBI ever did.
It will riveting. You should cancel your plans on Saturday night and watch at 9:00, "DECLASSIFIED" on CNN.
TAPPER: I have canceled my plans. That's "DECLASSIFIED" on Saturday, 9:00 here on CNN. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate it, Mike Rogers, John Dean, and Gloria Borger.
OutFront next, the President makes a not-so-veiled threat to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Stay away from my finances, from the family finances in your investigation. Would Trump be willing to fire Mueller if he violates that?
Plus, remember all that buzz surrounding infrastructure week and energy week? There's a reason you might not, actually, if you don't. And O.J. Simpson's remark at his parole hearing, another big story today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER FOOTBALL HERO AND ACTOR: I realize in my nine years here that I was a good guy. I was always a good guy, but I could have been a better Christian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:18:36] TAPPER: Tonight the White House is saying that the President does not intend to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller at this time. But they stand by his assertion that Mueller's probe should not expand beyond Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I think that the President, the point he's trying to make is that the clear purpose of the Russia investigation is to review Russia's meddling in the election, and that that should be the focus of the investigation, nothing beyond that. The President is making clear that the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: This comes after the New York Times asks Trump if Mueller would be overstepping if his scope of his investigation expanded into his personal finances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL SCHMIDT, CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Crossing a red line, the notion that he put forward there, agreed with there and other comments that President made in that interview have caused individuals to wonder if the President is saying, hey, Mueller, I might let you go. I may fire you if you look into things I don't want you to.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, told me today, "It would be catastrophic if the President were to fire the Special Counsel. And another Republican senator who didn't want to be named responded to the New York Times interview this way, "Any thought of firing the Special Counsel is chilling.
[19:20:04] It's chilling. That's all you can say. And that would certainly cause Congress to hire its own somehow. I can't imagine it happening, but many of us couldn't have imagined he'd fire Comey either.
OutFront now is Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. And Manu, is this similar to what you're hearing on the Hill?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question about it, Jake. In fact, Bob Mueller is someone who does have wide support from Democrat and Republicans. And anytime a Republican is asked a question about the latest controversy, they're saying, well, Bob Mueller is investigating it because they have faith in Bob Mueller.
Now, I had a chance earlier today to catch up with the Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked him directly about the President's line about the family finances. He said, well, if that's what in the scope of Bob Mueller's investigation, that something that he should investigate.
RAJU: Do you have any concerns about the President saying that Bob Mueller should not look into the finances of the Trumps?
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Well, I haven't seen that specific thing, but Bob Mueller should look at anything that falls within the scope of the Special Counsel's mandate.
RAJU: And that includes finances Trump -- the family finances?
BURR: Bob Mueller would have to answer that. That's not -- that certainly not in my way.
RAJU: Do you think the President should fire him?
BURR: No. No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, Jake, Orrin Hatch, told me earlier today that Bob Mueller is a quote, totally honest man. He said he got some concerns about some of his appointments for attorneys and his name is part of the investigation. He does have faith in this investigation so far, Jake.
TAPPER: And meanwhile, Manu, the Russian investigation on the Hill is heating up as well with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Republican, telling you that he may subpoena Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort if they do not agree to testify next week. That seems pretty serious.
RAJU: It does. They want an answer on the Judiciary Committee by tomorrow from those two men as well as Glenn Simpson, who is the head of a research firm Fusion GPS. But none of them respond to them by tomorrow, and say they will not testify. Expect a subpoena for those individuals to appear next Wednesday.
Now, this also comes as Jared Kushner, expected to come on Monday in a classified session before the Senate Intelligence Committee. I asked Richard Burr why is this not in a public session. He declined to comment, Jake.
TAPPER: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
OutFront now with more is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly who sits on the House Oversight and the House Foreign Affairs Committees. Thank you so much for being here, Congressman, we appreciate it.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Good to be here with you, Jake.
TAPPER: So what questions you would want to hear answered by Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. if they do agree to testify next week?
CONNOLLY: I guess, I'd start by saying what in the world would possess the son-in-law, an official on the campaign, and the campaign manager to go to a meeting that ostensibly didn't have a lot of agenda to it with a number of known Russian operatives? All you know is that the son of the President is saying they may have dirt on the opponent, and we want to hear this.
TAPPER: Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Deputy White House Press Secretary today said the President does not intend to fire Bob Mueller, but she wouldn't quite rule it out. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: Look, I mean, I can't predict everything that could possibly take place in the future and what Mueller could potentially do that might create outrageous, you know, reason not to take action. So I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals. I can talk about where we are today, and that's the position of the President.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What's your response to that, sir?
CONNOLLY: I think this is a really critical moment in American law. The President has no power to delimit or set the contours of a special counsel, special prosecutor's investigation wherever it leads. For him to decide, my family is off limits, your family made money in Russia. Your family has ties to oligarchs. Your family just admitted it met with Russian operatives to discuss the election, that's collusion.
Robert Mueller cannot be intimidated or obstructed by this President by him telling him I'll fire you if you go beyond this limit. That's not the power of a constitutional president.
TAPPER: No, but the President does have the power to fire Special Counsel Bob Mueller if he decides to. Do you think he was trying to threaten Bob Mueller in his comments today?
CONNOLLY: Yes. Absolutely. He was basically saying I'll fire you if you go beyond this limit, and he has no legal right to set that limit. Yes, it's within his constitutional purview to fire the Special Counsel, but there will be a firestorm in reaction to that, should he do it, and he'll destroy his presidency over this.
TAPPER: I want to turn out to that previously undisclosed meeting that President Trump had at the G20 with Russian President Putin at the G20 leaders' dinner. Here's how President Trump described it yesterday to the New York Times.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[19:25:01] TRUMP: Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about things. Actually, it was very interesting. We talked about adoption.
HARBEMAN: You did?
TRUMP: Russian adoption, yes. I always found that interesting because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because that was a part of a conversation that Don had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Obviously, people familiar with why Putin ended the program of Americans being able to adopt Russian orphans knows that it was a direct response to the Magnitsky Act which was passed by Congress, signed into law by President Obama, issuing sanctions against Russians who were suspected of human rights abuses. I don't know what you think, but tell me, do you think that Putin, who was obviously a very savvy guy, is talking about adoptions with President Trump and not about sanctions? What do you think actually might have taken place?
CONNOLLY: The whole meeting is suspicious. We know Donald Trump has trouble with the truth, and we certainly know Vladimir Putin has trouble with the truth. And the only other person in that exchange was the Russian translator. No Americans were present. So we don't know what was really discussed, but we do know Putin has a pretty clear agenda.
He wants the properties that were seized as punishment for electoral interference returned to the Russians here in the United States. He wants sanctions lifted. He wants a free hand in Syria and a free hand in the Ukraine. And he's already gotten the Syrian piece just yesterday. So that's a very troubling development without witnesses, given the record of this President and that President. I think we have every reason to believe that meeting produced no good at all.
TAPPER: Congressman Gerry Connolly, thank you so much. Appreciate it, sir.
CONNOLLY: My pleasure, thank you.
TAPPER: OutFront next, the White House dubbed this week Made in America week. So how come all we've been hearing from the White House is about the Russian investigation. And O.J. Simpson speaking out at his parole hearing with a view of how he sees himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMPSON: I basically have spent a conflict-free life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:30:45] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hey, you know what I've been wondering? How is the White House's Made in America Week going?
It's hard to say because it's been overshadowed by President Trump's own doing, such as blasting his own attorney general, once again refusing to rule out firing special counsel Robert Mueller, telling Republicans to let Obama care fail as they scrambled for support to repeal it and on and on.
Tom Foreman is OUTFRONT. Tom, this is far from the first time the president has gotten in his own way.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes. The president's weekly themes are being derailed time and again, and often, he plays a big role in this.
Let's take a look back here in early June. This is when Infrastructure Week is what we're starting off with. And there, he wanted to talk about bridges, and roads and air traffic control, things like that.
Instead, look what happened. He tweeted an attack on the London mayor after a terror attack there. That went crazy. And then James Comey, the FBI director he fired, was in front of Congress, testifying about that. All the headlines shifted away from Infrastructure Week.
Then, it was Workforce Development Week. This was a big one where he was hit by a trifecta of problems. He had a cabinet meeting which seemed to have been orchestrated for all of the members to just put this lavish praise on the president, which is very odd. That took some headlines.
Then, Ivanka went on "Fox and Friends" to talk about how vicious Washington, D.C. is. That took headlines. And then his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was in front of Congress, talking about Russia again.
Then they moved on from that to the next week down here, Technology Week. It was one of his better ones. He managed to stay on theme much of the time until he went off to Iowa on tour. And then he had this campaign rally where suddenly they were yelling to lock up Hillary Clinton, and he was revisiting the campaign and talking about how frustrated he was with Washington and all the high-tech endeavors went out the window.
And then there was Energy Week, which he unplugged. He pulled the plug on talking about Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough in such a seemingly mean-spirited way that even some of his own party members were saying, this is just outrageous, and they really couldn't stand for it.
And now, as you know, here we are in Made in America Week, which, as you know, started with complaints that Trump's own companies use foreign labor and suppliers. And now, yes, he's going after Jeff Sessions and others in "New York Times", complaining that they're being unfair to him as president -- Jake.
TAPPER: Tom, since these weekly themes seem to be not working, is there a sign that the White House might just abandon them altogether?
FOREMAN: Well, not soon. In fact, we're just days away from American Heroes Week, which will be quickly followed by American Dreams Week. And we'll have to see if those last longer than the time it takes to announce them -- Jake.
TAPPER: A lot of hardworking White House staffers putting a lot of effort into those theme weeks that the president then steps on.
Tom Foreman, thank you so much.
OUTFRONT now, former Republican senator presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, and former RNC communications director, Doug Heye.
Thank you so much for being with us.
Doug, let me ask you. Why do you think there's this phenomenon where the president gets in his own way, steps on his own message time after time?
DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, I think we've seen, he can't help himself, whether it's watching "Fox and Friends" in the morning and tweeting responses to that, or to "Morning Joe", or whatever happens news of the day, he can't help himself. He always does it.
And whether it's a theme week he gets in the way of or anything else, his ability to dominate a news cycle is what we've seen for more than two years since he announced running. I think the smart thing to do would be to dial it back a little bit. Let some of the visuals that really work for Donald Trump when he does these events, the Made in America events this week I thought were pretty successful when you just look at them. Donald Trump may be the only politician that may violate the don't wear a funny hat rule, which he did this week and it works for him.
HEYE: Stay with that and they can be effective because everything they've done this week or this year, all these theme weeks are all about jobs. And that's his core message and he should stick to it.
TAPPER: That's also where he pulls the best.
Senator Santorum, do you know what would have been a good idea? What if he gave an interview to the "New York Times" in which instead of attacking his own attorney general and deputy attorney general and the former FBI director and the acting FBI director and Bob Mueller, what if he'd just talk about his plans to make Trump brands manufactured in the United States?
[19:35:09] That would be a pretty big headline, I would think.
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it would be. Look, it's -- I'm sure it's frustrating for -- it's certainly frustrating for a lot of Republicans and conservatives who see the Trump agenda as something that is positive and that can be sold to America and obviously see the distraction that is caused by some of these -- particularly a lot of the personal attacks, most of the things that were talked about before are just distractions based on sort of personal back-and-forths and not really policy-related. That's the unfortunate part.
I think the president needs to continue to get out there and get his message across. I'm not saying he shouldn't tweet. I'm not saying he shouldn't do interviews, but he has to understand that it only takes -- I'm sure that interview was, I don't know, probably an hour long. If you give two minutes, if you can get 58 minutes of a great interview and then spend two minutes talking about the controversial, everybody is going to forget about all the great stuff you said.
So, it's that little extra bit of discipline to make sure you don't give the other side something to change the subject on.
TAPPER: To be fair to "The New York Times", I mean, the very first -- they put up a lot of transcript. The very first question they asked was how was lunch? He had just had lunch with the Republican senators, and like immediately he was criticizing Hillary Clinton. I mean -- so, there were a lot of opportunities there for him to make his case, but you know, Senator, we've talked about this many times before, he gets in his own way.
So, Senator Santorum, let me -- you saw Tom Foreman there just lay out the various theme weeks at the White House, weeks that they highlighted during press briefings. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Infrastructure Week continues with the president's visit to Cincinnati, Ohio.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As the secretary said, it's Workforce Week here at the White House.
This week, we're going to wrap up a month-long focus on American jobs with a week dedicated to American energy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I know that there are a lot of really diligent, smart, hard- working people at the White House that are putting together these weeks and actually care about these weeks. You point out that -- I mean, you can't really argue with the idea of Made in America or Infrastructure Week or Energy Week. These are important things and voters want to hear about them. Not just Trump supporters.
Do you think that any of them were successful?
SANTORUM: You know, first off, you have to continue to do them. I mean, this is just like a campaign. I mean, you have a campaign where you're putting out themes for the week and then things overcome it. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to get out there and drive your message. It gets out there. It doesn't get out there as the dominant news story on cable news, but you do get reports and, you know, publications, and you do get some social media.
So, it's still worth doing, but it's worth doing better and more focused. That's what I would suggest.
TAPPER: Doug, our Sara Murray reported not too long ago that there was a new normal in the West Wing. Administration officials hashing out an agenda for the week and then waiting to see how long it takes until the president blows it all up by tweeting or saying something like he did with the Jeff Sessions remarks. Is all the effort behind these theme weeks for naught or no?
HEYE: No, and, you know, I don't know if Santorum knows this, but political staff will often make bets behind their boss's back unfortunately. I've seen it happen time and again, and probably engaged in it a bit.
But this is what we've seen is the new normal, is that we'll start a week talking about Made in America or Workforce Development Week, which I had actually forgotten about, and by Tuesday or Wednesday -- in this case last night, we've moved on to something else. And what's become notable about it -- and I agree with the senator -- they should keep doing these and do them better is ultimately, why we remember them, this may sound like a bad country song, but w remember them because we forget.
And that's what the White House really has to turn around, is that we remember it was Made in America Week. We remember Infrastructure Week. They all go to his core message of what his campaign was about. That's why a better focus would really benefit the president because the visuals are really strong for him.
TAPPER: We remember them because we forget. Doug Heye in the high tones this evening with his new country western song, and Rick Santorum, former senator from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania -- thanks so much. Good to see you both.
HEYE: Thank you.
TAPPER: OUTFRONT next, John McCain not slowing down, taking a swipe at President Trump a day after the senator revealed he has brain cancer.
And O.J. Simpson is about to be freed from prison. What will life be like for him now? Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[19:43:04] TAPPER: New tonight, Attorney General Jeff Sessions not backing down. Sessions saying he is not going anywhere after President Trump told "The New York Times" Sessions never should have recused himself from the Russian investigation.
And OUTFRONT now is Republican senator from South Dakota, Mike Rounds, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you. Appreciate the opportunity, Jake.
TAPPER: So, Attorney General Sessions was a bit defiant today, vowing that he plans to stay in his job despite of President Trump's rather pointed criticism. You know Sessions well. You served on the Armed Services Committee together.
Do you think he should stay on as attorney general despite this very clear expression of disapproval from the president?
ROUNDS: Look, the attorney general is a good man. He's solid. He's doing this job for the right reasons. He truly believes in what that job entails.
I worked with him. I respect him. Whether you agree or disagree with him on some issues, he's always respectful back and forth. He believes in the rule of law. He's good for America.
TAPPER: A lot of your Republican colleagues have privately expressed shock to me about what President Trump said. And, in fact, I'd go so far as to say dismay that the president in this interview criticized or rhetorically attacked the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the former FBI director, the acting FBI director and special counsel Robert Mueller. Do you share their concerns that this president seems to have a disregard for the importance of an independent law enforcement apparatus in this country?
ROUNDS: I think first of all what you're going to find is everybody has the opportunity to express their opinion. This president just happens to express it on a regular basis consistently. Some people find it refreshing. Some of us say, you know, we would disagree, and when the time comes, we'll say we disagree.
I actually think the president understands that we'll look at it in a different light.
[19:45:04] And I think you can say that to the president. In some cases, you're going to agree with his analysis. In another times, you may disagree.
In this particular case, I think Jeff Sessions is the right guy for the job. He's ready to stick in there. Good for America if he does. If he decides because of the discussions and so forth that it's not right, I would support him.
TAPPER: I also want to turn to the news about Senator John McCain. Of course, he's been diagnosed with brain cancer. He chairs the committee. He sits on the Armed Services Committee.
Have you spoken with him? Have you heard from him since his diagnosis? And what are your thoughts?
ROUNDS: I was in the meeting last night that lasted from about 7:00 until 10:30. We were talking about health care. Lindsey Graham was actually in there with us and Lindsey had John on the phone. John was giving us directions with regard to what he thought we should be doing, the amendments that he would accept and the ones that he wouldn't.
So, even though he's in Arizona, he's with us. He's still concerned. He's still part of the United States Senate.
You're not going to keep him down. He's got a tough battle ahead of him. We said a prayer last night as a group right when we heard about it. He is in our prayers, but if there's anybody out there that's willing to give cancer a battle, it's John McCain. He's truly an American hero.
TAPPER: He, today, Senator McCain was still tweeting even after "The Washington Post" reported that the Trump administration cancelled the CIA covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the Assad regime. He criticized the news, saying reports the administration is ending the program to assist Syrian opposition is irresponsible, short sided, and plays into Russia and Assad's hands.
Do you agree with him?
ROUNDS: Just because he's not in Washington, D.C. doesn't mean that he's not going to express his opinion. He's going to hang right in there.
Like I said, he's a tough guy. He believes in it. This is his life. He has given his life to the United States. He's going to express that opinion.
I think the rest of us are going to take a firm lead from what John McCain has to say. We'll do the research on it here as well, but you can't very often go wrong by listening to what the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has to say.
TAPPER: Yes, I notice you didn't answer the question about whether or not you agreed with him, but that's OK.
I want to move on to one last question for you, sir. That's one last question about president Trump and the interview with "The Times". He also appeared to put up a red line for special counsel Robert Mueller to avoid investigating his or his family's finances. This is what he had to say. Take a listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) MICHAEL SCHMIDT, NYT REPORTER: If Mueller was looking at your finances, and your family's finances, unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?
MAGGIE HABERMAN, NYT REPORTER: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. I would say yes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: He also suggested that perhaps -- he left it open -- that perhaps he would fire Mueller for that. Again, a lot of your Republican colleagues with whom I've spoken have said that would be awful. Senator Susan Collins on the record told me it would be catastrophic.
What do you think?
ROUNDS: I think politically and appropriately, it's best to allow the independent counsel to do their work. That's the reason why we have him there. I think when you start talking about removing them, that's when you start getting into more trouble.
Right now, I think it's best to allow the independent counsel to do his work. So, if the president was asking my advice, and he's not, I would say that it's probably not an appropriate thing to do.
TAPPER: All right. Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota, thanks so much. I appreciate your time, sir.
ROUNDS: Thank you, sir.
TAPPER: OUTFRONT next, O.J. Simpson will have to make a living soon. So, what is a 70-year-old ex-con to do?
[19:51:37] TAPPER: O.J. Simpson will soon be a free man after serving nearly nine years in a Nevada state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping in Las Vegas. Simpson was granted parole today. The 70- year-old is said to be released in October.
Sara Sidner is OUTFRONT.
O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER NFL STAR: I basically spent a conflict-free life.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): O.J. Simpson praising himself and at times speaking half truths about his culpability as he tries to convince the Nevada parole board to set him free for the armed robbery and kidnapping he was convicted of in 2008.
TONY CORDA, NEVADA BOARD OF PAROLE COMMISSIONERS: What were you thinking?
SIMPSON: All I want is my property. I just want my property.
SIDNER: Simpson rehashed the case, trying to explain he was only trying to recover his stolen memorabilia, and knew nothing about the guns. But audiotapes in the trial revealed he did know. He admitted making bad decisions, but blamed others for bringing guns and threatening his friend and memorabilia dealer Bruce Fromong.
SIMPSON: You know I would never ever direct anybody to point a gun at him or even threaten. You mentioned all those gun charges, Bruce and Alfred, they made it clear during the trial that I had no weapon.
SIDNER: Some of the strongest testimony for Simpson's release came from that very same friend who had a gun pointed at his head.
BRUCE FROMONG, MEMORABILIA DEALER: He's a good man. He made a mistake. And if he called me tomorrow and said, Bruce, I'm getting out, will you pick me up? Juice, I'll be here tomorrow for you.
SIDNER: Simpson had served nine years in prison after being convicted of robbery and kidnapping at this Las Vegas hotel.
SIMPSON: Don't let nobody out of this room. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED)
SIDNER: A judge sentenced him to as many as 33 years in prison. His attorneys and some legal analysts argued the lengthy sentence was a form of payback for his 1995 acquittal in the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
In 1995, O.J. Simpson's murder trial was a national obsession, 95 million Americans watched this slow-speed car chase unfold live on TV. He eventually surrendered, leading to what was dubbed the trial of the century.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gloves didn't fit.
If it doesn't fit, you must acquit.
SIDNER: And that is exactly what the jury did. After an 8-month trial, the jury delivered its verdict in less than an hour. The acquittal saw celebrations in the African-American community and shock amongst many white Americans.
For the families of the victims, though, it was devastating. The Browns and Goldmans later sued Simpson in civil court, winning a $33.5 million wrongful death suit.
FRED GOLDMAN, RON GOLDMAN'S FATHER: If our efforts for all these years of pushing him drove him to commit armed robbery, put him where he belongs.
SIDNER: But now, the 70-year-old Simpson is ready to walk free.
SIMPSON: I've done my time.
SIDNER: And with the unanimous decision, the parole board agreed.
CONNIE BISBEE, CHAIRWOMAN, NEVADA BOARD OF PAROLE COMMISSIONERS: Based on all of that, Mr. Simpson, I do vote to grant parole when eligible.
SIDNER: Now, just because the parole board granted parole doesn't mean he'll get out right away. He's expected to be released in October -- Jake.
TAPPER: Sara Sidner in Carson City, Nevada, for us -- thanks so much, Sara.
Joining me now is Jeffrey Toobin, author of "The Run of His Life: The People Versus O.J. Simpson", and Paul Callan, he represented the Nicole Brown Simpson estate in its civil suit against O.J. Simpson.
Jeff, O.J. Simpson admitted today that he made bad decisions, but he seemed to place the blame on others.
[19:50:03] What was your take on Mr. Simpson at the hearing today?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it was Simpson at his worth I thought -- self-justifying, self pitying, narcissistic, you know, mouthing the words he was sorry but clearly indicating that he felt he had nothing to be sorry for. And worst yet, saying he led a conflict-free life when he was a convicted and confessed domestic abuser.
And we all know that Nicole Brown had called 911 repeatedly on him. So, the idea that he feels domestic violence is not really violence or not really conflict, I think is indicative of some of the attitudes that we've seen throughout his life, which I thought was pretty bad. I did think that the decision to give him parole was the correct one under Nevada law.
TAPPER: Paul, what will O.J. Simpson's life be like under parole? One of the commissioners made a point about saying he can't violate his parole conditions in any way. What will those conditions be?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, parole conditions can be quite strict. He'll have a parole officer that he has to report to. And he has no constitutional rights in the sense that they can search his premises without a warrant and come in at anytime of the day or night. They can test his urine and test him for drug use, and alcohol use.
So, from that stand point, there will be restrictions on him. But he remains I think a threat in the sense that, you know, as Jeff was talking about, the domestic abuse stuff was very serious.
I mean, even if you accepted the jury's verdict, which I don't, by the way, that he was innocent of the killing of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, the both trials, civil and criminal trial, recounted almost 50 incidents of domestic abuse. Nine times the police were called to the Simpson house. Nicole was so terrified of him, she left pictures of her bruised and battered face in a safe so that people would know who killed her if she was found dead.
I mean, it's a shocking record of domestic abuse and he's a threat to the women in whatever community he unfortunately decides to settle in. And I think that's a disgrace.
TAPPER: Jeff, I was just reading a column in "Mediaite" by John Ziegler about how the case involving Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman directly led to this incident in Las Vegas with the arm robbery, and it has to do with -- in Ziegler's recounting of the story, O.J. Simpson trying to find ways to make money where he wouldn't have to turn over that money, he would hide it from the Goldman's who won this very sizable civil victory against him for the murder of their son. And that's why he got involved with all these shady characters and the whole sports memorabilia business.
TOOBIN: Well, I think that's right. And remember, O.J. was out and free from 1995 to 2007 and most of the way he made a living was with these sort of shady autograph dealers, interview sellers. And I think that's what we can expect that he will go back to, reality television perhaps, when he moves to Florida.
And remember, the reason, main reason he moved to Florida is that Florida has laws that allow people who have civil judgments against them to shelter more of their money than most other states have. And that's why, you know, he has this pension, which is at least $300,000 a year from the NFL. So, that's what he'll live off pretty well. Play a lot of golf, get involved in the memorabilia business.
CALLAN: Hey, Jeff, one more thing. You know, when he was freed in 1995, he said he was going to devote his time searching for the real killer.
TOOBIN: Yes, how is that going, Paul?
CALLAN: I don't think we'll see him doing that. So, that's the occupation we can rule out for him.
TAPPER: Paul, you represented Nicole Brown Simpsons family in a civil suit --
CALLAN: Yes, I did.
TAPPER: -- against O.J., along with the Goldman family. They were awarded more than there is 33 million. Most of that has not been collected. Is there any chance of them getting that money now that he's out of prison?
CALLAN: I think the chances are pretty remote. He had an NFL pension that probably is going to generate about $20,000 a month for him to live on. So, he'll live comfortably but that's protected by federal law from attachment as a result of a judgment. And he was quite successful in hiding most of his assets from the Goldmans and Browns during the period of time he remained out of prison. I would imagine that conduct will continue. So, it remains to be seen. I mean, there are lawyers out there
watching him and trying to trace the assets but he's never really paid even a small -- a large portion of that verdict.
TAPPER: All right. Paul Callan, Jeff Toobin, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Thank you for joining us this evening.
"AC360" starts now.