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"The Washington Post": Sessions Discussed Trump Campaign with Russian Ambassador; Russia Investigation; Sean Spicer Steps Down as White House Press Secretary; Protests in Poland. Aired 2-2:30a ET
Aired July 22, 2017 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An explosive new report claims the U.S. attorney general did in fact speak about the Trump campaign with Russian officials. What it might mean for Jeff Sessions' future in the Trump administration.
Plus the end of the line for the president's much maligned spokesman. Sean Spicer resigns after another shake-up at the White House.
And also this:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER (voice-over): Tensions turning into violent clashes in Jerusalem's Old City.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER (voice-over): Thank you for joining us, everyone. I'm Cyril Vanier, live from the CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta.
VANIER: Just days after a blistering public rebuke by U.S. President Donald Trump, the credibility of U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions is again under attack.
Despite repeated denials by Sessions, "The Washington Post" now reports that he did indeed speak about campaign-related matters with Russia's ambassador on at least two occasions.
According to "The Post," U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, telling the Kremlin about his conversations with Sessions on issues central to the campaign.
The article is based on what Kislyak allegedly said as he was being monitored by U.S. intelligence. Now this is not backed up by other sources at the moment. It's also important to note that Kislyak could have been boasting or misrepresenting Sessions' remarks. "The Washington Post" reporter Adam Entous spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper about the new revelations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM ENTOUS, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We knew about the meetings. We knew about them in March, that Sessions did not disclose them when he appeared for his confirmation hearing.
We were trying to figure out, what was the nature of those contacts, what was being discussed?
So what we've learned is basically what Kislyak sent back to Moscow. This is his account of his conversations, these two conversations, one in April, a second one in July, of his contact with Sessions.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: So while Sessions didn't seem to remember any specifics about these meetings, Kislyak sent back specifics?
ENTOUS: Yes, at the end of his conversations, I assume he gets into his car and goes back to the embassy or back to his residence and then he writes a report. That's the way most ambassadors' diplomats operate.
COOPER: So what did he tell his Russian bosses?
ENTOUS: He told them what he thought they discussed, which was campaign issues; in other words, what the relationship would be like between a future Trump presidency and the Russian government, the kind of thing that Kislyak was under orders from his boss, Putin, to try to get information about.
Kislyak was doing exactly his job, which is basically meeting with people in the Trump campaign, trying to get information about how that campaign would actually deliver on some of its rhetoric during the campaign, if it was elected. And so that way Putin can make a decision about what he thinks of this relationship.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: So let's see what the U.S. Justice Department is saying. It's saying, "The attorney general stands by his testimony from just last month before the Senate Intelligence Committee, when he specifically addressed this and said that he never met with or had any conversations with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election."
Now compare that to what Sessions was saying in March this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-ALA.), U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russian operatives or Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign.
And the idea that I was part of a, quote, "continuing exchange of information" during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government is totally false. That is the question that Senator Franken asked me at the hearing. (END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: Larry Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and joins us now.
Larry, so the attorney general, who was then an adviser to candidate Trump, did speak, in fact, about the campaign with the Russian ambassador, this is according to today's reporting in "The Washington Post."
What's your reaction to that?
LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: It's extraordinary reporting and it's deeply disturbing. This is a pattern now with attorney general Sessions.
At first, of course, he didn't remember meeting at all with the Russian ambassador. And then he remembered some meetings when he was presented with evidence and not others.
Now there's pretty clear evidence that there were three meetings and, while he denied that he had discussed anything about Trump or the campaign, our own intelligence services, having picked up conversations that the ambassador from Russia had with his superiors in the Kremlin, it's pretty clear that he did discuss Trump and U.S.- Russia relations.
So just to be clear, does that defense still hold?
Because you summed it up. First he said he didn't have meetings, then he said the meetings weren't about the campaign or Mr. Trump's policies on Russia.
Now if that reporting is correct, that's just not true?
SABATO: That's exactly the way I interpret it. I've always remembered something that was caught on the White House tapes under Richard Nixon.
At one point, President Nixon, advising his aides as to what to say when they were questioned by the authorities, he suggested that they say, "I can't recall."
And then he added, "You can't recall what you can't recall."
VANIER: So, look, is this normal, that they would discuss Mr. Trump's policy?
He was a candidate for the presidential election at the time, of course, that they would discuss Mr. Trump's policy positions on Russia and what a U.S.-Russia relation might look like under a Trump presidency?
Is that normal or not?
SABATO: It's really not normal, according to the people who have run presidential campaigns for both parties. They've all commented on this. It's a very rare situation.
Theoretically, there's nothing wrong with that kind of discussion between a U.S. senator and the ambassador from Russia. What's unusual here and raises a lot of questions is the fact that Senator Sessions cannot remember any of this until he's prodded and then he has to be prodded again and again to remember more details.
VANIER: By the way, this comes just days after the president criticized Mr. Sessions.
What do you make of the timing?
SABATO: Well, this is not good news for attorney general Sessions. He's being criticized by his boss. In fact, his boss said that, if he had it to do over again, he wouldn't appoint him at all. That's not a good sign.
And then this comes out, which complicates the White House's position on the whole Russia investigation.
So who knows how long the attorney general will last?
VANIER: Yes, that was going to be my question, can he stay on as attorney general with this?
SABATO: Well, he could. Maybe he would want to wait until the end of the investigation. But it's clear at this point that there's serious problems in the relationship between Senator Sessions or, rather, the attorney general now, and the President of the United States. And that is untenable over the long run.
VANIER: Larry, one more thing we have to get in there, which is the source of all of this. This is U.S. intelligence intercepts of conversations that the Russian ambassador himself is having.
In other words, the Russian ambassador is giving accounts, verbal accounts, of the conversations he had with Mr. Sessions back to his hierarchy back in Moscow.
Doesn't that raise some alarm bells?
After all, he could have mischaracterized the conversations or grossly exaggerated the content of his conversations with Mr. Sessions.
Doesn't that at least raise flags?
And isn't that cause for some -- shouldn't we be circumspect about what you're reading there? SABATO: No one can eliminate that possibility. But people who know Ambassador Kislyak or have observed him for a number of years, don't believe that's the way he is, that describes his character. He is a precise, careful individual.
I've had some contact with him. That was my impression of him, in private as well as public. And I would further suggest that he would not have lasted as Russia's ambassador to the United States for so many years had he been careless in the way that's being suggested.
VANIER: All right, Larry Sabato, always a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you very much for joining us and reacting to this latest news. Thanks.
SABATO: Thank you.
VANIER: Also I want to update you now on a Senate committee's Russian probe of Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort.
The committee cut a deal with the men on Friday to avoid a high- profile, public hearing next week. In exchange for that Trump Jr. and Manafort have agreed to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public sessions.
Lawmakers are seeking more information from them about their meeting last year with a Russian lawyer, who had promised, in an e-mail, damaging information. Meanwhile, special counsel Robert Mueller is asking the Trump administration to preserve any evidence pertaining to the Russia investigation.
Our Dianne Gallagher has this report.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter this week, telling the White House to preserve all documents related to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian attorney, among others.
Staff members received notice on Wednesday from White House counsel, informing them to preserve text messages, emails, notes, voicemails and any other communications related to the meeting.
According to a source, who read the letter to CNN's Dana Bash, Mueller wrote in part, "Information concerning the June 2016 meeting between Donald J. Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya is relevant to the investigation."
Russian court records obtained by CNN show Veselnitskaya represented a military unit tied to one of the country's --
GALLAGHER (voice-over): -- intelligence agencies in a Moscow property dispute from 2005-2013.
Veselnitskaya has previously denied that she was linked to the Kremlin. The special counsel's office declined to comment and a White House spokeswoman told CNN they do not comment on internal communications. This comes as the Trump administration appears to be looking for ways to undercut the investigation.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a witch hunt.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): "The New York Times" reports the Trump legal team is conducting a wide-ranging search for conflicts of interest, as the president's people publicly question investigators' possible political biases.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP COUNSELOR: These are significant donations by members of that team. They clearly wanted the other person to win. Now whether that prejudices them one way or the other in the investigation remains to be seen. But it is relevant information for people to have.
GALLAGHER: Justice Department rules allow employees to contribute to political parties and campaigns, so that would not be seen as a conflict of interest.
The president went so far in Wednesday's interview with "The New York Times" as to question Robert Mueller himself, who Trump interviewed as a possible replacement for fired FBI director James Comey before he was appointed special counsel.
TRUMP: So what the hell is this all about?
Talk about conflicts. He was interviewing for the job.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): According to Bloomberg, Mueller is reportedly investigating potentially Russia-related business transactions of the president and his associates. Trump has suggested that Mueller doesn't have the authority to look into Trump family finances.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller was looking at your finances, your family's finances unrelated to Russia.
Is that a red line?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual --
TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would say.
By the way, I would say, I don't -- I don't -- I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something. So, you know, I see a lot of condo units and somebody from Russia buys a condo. Who knows. I don't make money from Russia.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): "The Washington Post" reports the president's team is looking into whether he can grant pardons to aides, family members, even himself. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president maintains pardon powers like any president would. But there are no announcements or planned announcements on that front whatsoever.
GALLAGHER (voice-over): The attorney representing Mr. Trump in matters related to the Russia investigation called "The Washington Post" report, "nonsense," and insists the president's lawyers are cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller on behalf of the president.
GALLAGHER: Now that statement was from John Dowd. He's now the lead on the president's outside counsel when it comes to the Russia investigation. He's replacing Trump's long-time personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, who CNN has learned is going to be taking a bit of a more reduced role in all of this, coming on the heels of the resignation of the communications strategist and spokesperson for that legal team, Mark Corallo -- Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Washington.
VANIER: Sean Spicer says President Trump did not want him to leave his post as White House press secretary. But after just six months, Spicer resigned on Friday when Mr. Trump hired Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director.
On FOX News earlier, Spicer explained his decision to leave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I went in to the president after we had the discussion early with Anthony and Sarah about what the president's desires were.
And I said, "Sir, I've had the opportunity to think about this. I think it is the best interest of this administration and your presidency that I give these two individuals the opportunity to operate without me in the way, so that they have a fresh start, that I'm not lurking over them."
And I think that's in the best interest of the organization, of this administration and of his presidency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VANIER: (INAUDIBLE) saying, "Sean Spicer is a wonderful person who took tremendous abuse from the Fake News Media -- but his future is bright!"
CNN's Sara Murray has more on this White House shake-up.
SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's high- profile press secretary Sean Spicer resigning in protest today, objecting to the president's decision to hire New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.
Today Sarah Huckabee Sanders relayed a statement from the president, predicting his former staffer has a bright future ahead.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: "I wish him continued success as he moves on to pursue new opportunities. Just look at his great television ratings."
MURRAY (voice-over): The new communications director worked closely with Trump on his transition. He's seen as a strong television personality and a fierce defender of Trump at a time when his presidency is under siege.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I was in the Oval Office with him earlier today. And we were talking about letting him be himself, letting him express his full identity. I think he's got some of the best political instincts in the world and perhaps in history.
MURRAY (voice-over): And he'll report directly to the president.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He did a good job. He's a terrific guy.
MURRAY (voice-over): In his debut at the podium today, Scaramucci defended the president's baseless claim that 3 million votes were cast illegally for Hillary Clinton.
SCARAMUCCI: If the president says it, OK, let me do more research. I don't know. My guess is that there's probably some level of truth to that.
MURRAY (voice-over): Scaramucci's hire is welcomed by Trump's son-in- law, Jared Kushner, and daughter, Ivanka Trump. But other top officials, including key strategist Steve Bannon --
MURRAY (voice-over): -- and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, objected to the move.
Scaramucci downplayed his differences with Priebus...
SCARAMUCCI: We're a little bit like brothers, where we rough each other up once in a while.
MURRAY (voice-over): -- and insisted a little friction was no problem.
SCARAMUCCI: We serve his interests. And so if we have a little bit of friction inside the White House as a result of that, it's OK.
MURRAY (voice-over): Spicer was so firmly opposed to the move that he tendered his resignation. He told CNN today, "I wanted to give the president and the new team a clean slate," and tweeted that he will stay a the White House through August. Today Scaramucci had only warm words for his predecessor.
SCARAMUCCI: And I love the guy and I wish him well and I hope he goes on to make a tremendous amount of money.
MURRAY (voice-over): From Spicer's first briefing at the White House podium, he adopted a combative tone and played it fast and loose with the facts. He turned to faulty statistics to defend the president's inauguration crowd size...
SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.
MURRAY (voice-over): -- struggled to defend the president's Twitter- happy habit...
SPICER: I'm going to let the tweet speak for itself.
MURRAY (voice-over): -- downplayed an ongoing investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia...
SPICER: If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection.
MURRAY (voice-over): -- and sparred with the press.
SPICER: Please stop shaking your head again.
MURRAY (voice-over): As Spicer prepares to depart after just six months on the job, Sarah Huckabee Sanders stepping up to the Briefing Room podium, leading the first on-camera briefing in nearly a month, as she accepts her new title as White House press secretary.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Thank you.
MURRAY: Now under Sean Spicer's leadership, this Briefing Room became a pretty combative place. But on Friday, Anthony Scaramucci arrived with his New York swagger and a gentler tone for the press.
Will that hold?
Could there be friendlier relations ahead?
Stay tuned. We'll see -- Sara Murray, CNN, the White House.
VANIER: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, violence escalates in the West Bank and Jerusalem. What we know about Israelis and Palestinians reportedly killed Friday.
Plus: after the tragic shooting of an Australian woman, the police chief is stepping down. But some activists are making it clear that that is just not enough. Stay with us.
VANIER: Welcome back.
This latest flare-up of Middle East violence just keeps escalating. Israel says three of its citizens were killed in a brutal stabbing attack in the West Bank. Officials say the assailant was a Palestinian who climbed the fence of an Israeli settlement.
They say that he entered one of the houses and then carried out the attack. A fourth Israeli was wounded; the suspect, for his part, was shot and then hospitalized.
And Hamas appeared to praise the attack on TWITCHELL: , said it was due in part to crimes against its people in Jerusalem and at the al- Aqsa mosque. Israel said the attacker posted on Facebook that he was motivated by recent restrictions at that mosque, which is a key Islamic holy site.
The al-Aqsa restrictions have also led to clashes in Jerusalem. Palestinian officials say three Palestinians were killed in the violence --
VANIER: -- on Friday. More than 100 others were wounded. Tensions boiled over after the killing of two Israeli police officers in the area just last week. Ian Lee has more now from Jerusalem.
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tensions turned prayer into protest. Both sides anticipated the violence this Friday, pitting Israeli police against Palestinians. Projectiles filled the air. Israeli police used stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons.
Palestinians throw rocks and fireworks, turning quiet Jerusalem streets into battle zones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just want us to leave the country and we're not leaving. We're going to stay here. They don't know this. There's no way for us to leave. Even if they came out of Jerusalem, there's no meaning for my life after that because everything that belongs to me is here.
LEE (voice-over): The day's violence, paid in blood. Here, the body of a dead Palestinian, leaving the hospital. One of several Palestinians killed in the volley. Hundreds more injured in Jerusalem and the West Bank, according to the Palestinian ministry of health.
Several security officers, too, sustained injuries, according to police. MICKY ROSENFELD(?), ISRAELI POLICE: All the police units and the Israeli national police units responded to disturbances in Ras el- Amoud, Wadi Joz, Issawiya, where our police units are located, and are responding, using non-lethal weapons after both stones and fireworks have been fired directly at our police officers.
LEE (voice-over): This cycle of violence began over a week ago, with the killing of two Israeli policemen. New security measures around the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, infuriated Palestinians, who accuse Israel of trying to expand their control and limit access to al-Aqsa mosque.
"We all know al-Aqsa is for Muslims," Ali tells me. "The occupation crossed all the red lines. Those metal detectors prevent us from our right to pray freely."
Israel's prime minister insists he has no plans to change the rules governing the holy complex. Netanyahu says he'll stick to the status quo.
Meanwhile, authorities have deployed thousands of extra security personnel in and around Jerusalem. The violence seen here also playing out across the West Bank.
LEE: The police are pushing the protesters away from the Old City. You can see, here on the ground, pieces of concrete and rocks that they're throwing at the police.
The police are using stun grenades and rubber bullets to push them back but it's really been this game of cat-and-mouse.
LEE (voice-over): Police captured a number of protesters, more than 2 dozen arrested in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police say the day's actions were designed to keep the peace.
But in a land where violence begets violence, clashes won't likely end the current turmoil. It's more likely to take a political solution -- Ian Lee, CNN, Jerusalem.
VANIER: Still to come on CNN NEWSROOM, thousands of people are standing up to the Polish government. We'll tell you about the controversial new law sparking the outrage.
VANIER: The Minneapolis chief of police has stepped down over the recent death of an Australian woman. Janee Harteau says that after some deep reflection, she is ready for new leadership to take over. The victim, Justine --
VANIER: -- Ruszczyk, had called police last weekend to report a possible sexual assault near her home. Instead of that, it was Ruszczyk who was shot by one of the responding police officers. Her death has sparked outrage and some activists shouted down the city's mayor on Friday night, demanding that she also resign.
Let's go to Poland now, where the upper house of parliament has passed a controversial new law, giving it more authority over the judiciary. The move has sparked candlelight vigils across the country, protesting the change as a power grab. Our Atika Shubert has a closer look.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dubbed the Candlelight Revolution on social media, tens of thousands of Poles pour onto the streets in recent days to protest for what many are calling the death of democracy in that country.
A huge crowd gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw, demanding the president veto a controversial bill that would overhaul the country's judiciary.
Parliament has already passed the measure. That would force the removal of Supreme Court judges and give lawmakers control over choosing replacements.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something unusual in democratic countries that through one deal all judges comprising of supreme court are dismissed.
SHUBERT (voice-over): Supporters say the changes are needed to make the courts more accountable. But critics call it a move towards authoritarian rule and a power grab by the ruling Law and Justice Party.
Since coming to power in 2015, the staunchly conservative Law and Justice Party has tightened government control over the courts, prosecutors and state media and introduced restrictions on public gatherings.
This latest bill has triggered warnings from the European Union, threatening the possibility of sanctions and suspension of voting rights, something never used before against an E.U. member.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These measures taken by the Polish authorities in relation to the judicial system and the judges greatly amplify the threat to the rule of law.
SHUBERT (voice-over): Recent protests have gone largely unnoticed internationally, amid high-profile visits from British royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and from U.S. president Donald Trump, who praised Poland's government during his trip.
TRUMP: A Poland that is safe, strong and free.
SHUBERT (voice-over): Many observers believe, in Poland, one of the first Communist nations to join the E.U., Western democracy now hangs in the balance -- Atika Shubert, CNN.
VANIER: And thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Cyril Vanier. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment. Stay with us for that.