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Kushner Admits Meetings, Denies Collusion; Trump Calls Sessions "Beleaguered"; Washington Post: Trump Discussing Replacing Sessions. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:09] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight here in Washington with something we rarely get from the Trump administration, an admission. It's not an admission of wrongdoing, just an admission by Jared Kushner that he took a few meetings with the Russians.

Before meeting with Senate Intelligence Committer staffers today, Kushner released a statement offering his first public account of what he says were four meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition. In this administration, and from this president who cries fake news any time the Russian investigation comes up, it is something.

For months now on Twitter and the very rare times he's answered questions on camera, the president, as you know, has dismissed anything involving Russia as fake news.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia is fake news. Russia -- this is fake news put out by the media.

The entire thing has been a witch hunt. It's all fake news. It's all fake news.

I have nothing to do with Russia.

This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

REPORTER: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

TRUMP: No, nobody that I know of.

REPORTER: So, you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

TRUMP: Look, look, how many times do I have to answer this question?

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Now, keeping them honest, the answer to the question has changed, because today, nobody that I know of now includes his son-in- law Jared Kushner who finally admitted to those four meetings. No collusion, he says, just attended the meetings.

This is after the president and his team not only denied anyone connected to the campaign met with Russians but seemed offended by the question itself.


JOHN DICKERSON, CBS HOST, FACE THE NATION: Did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who are trying to meddle in the election?


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST, THIS WEEK: Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?


DICKERSON: Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We don't know of any, any contacts with Russian agents.

CONWAY: Those conversations never happened.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: This is time and time again, lie after lie.

PENCE: Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?


COOPER: Why there would be contacts is a question that remains to be answered. What we know now is there were contacts and those contacts include Jared Kushner by his own admission, not fake news, real facts.

Jared Kushner now says he met with Russians. He just didn't collude with them.

Manu Raju has the latest on all day's development.

So, what else did Kushner say today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he said that he actually had four meetings with Russians during the campaign season and during the transition. He did say he met with the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel during one of then- candidate Trump's foreign policy speeches. And, of course, he acknowledged being at that now infamous meeting at Trump tower which Donald Trump, Jr. was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign as part of an effort to help with the Russian government, effort to help his father's campaign.

Now, Jared Kushner downplayed these meetings, said that, look, there's nothing there. He said that he went to this meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., really not knowing what it was. He said he got an e-mail exchange about it, but he didn't read the full e-mail. He said he arrived late to that meeting and asked an assistant to call him out of the meeting because he said it was not relevant.

He also acknowledged, Anderson, two other meetings during the transition. Both with Ambassador Kislyak, as well as with the former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was also the center of this probe, in addition to the head of a Russian bank, he claimed there was nothing to those meetings, didn't even discuss easing sanctions.

Now, he made some rare public remarks at the White House today, Anderson, defending his meetings and said there was nothing there. Here's what he said.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign. Let me be very clear -- I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.


RAJU: Now, Anderson, Kushner's team has said that they'd be willing to see a transcript of his interview with Senate Intelligence Committee staff be public today, but this is something that the Senate Intelligence Committee members are saying that is just not going to happen, because it would tip off other witnesses.

But one thing is that we don't know if Jared Kushner would be willing to testify publicly. I tried to ask him that question today as he was walking through the Capitol grounds. He would not answer that question. He did not answer questions from reporters at the White House either, Anderson.

COOPER: And whether it's public or not, does he have to come back for another interview?

RAJU: It's possible. A number of members on the Senate Intelligence Committee are telling me that they do have more questions for Jared Kushner, because they were not at that meeting today, even Mark Warner, the top Democrat in the committee, said there's broad bipartisan support to bring him back before the committee, so senators can actually question him.

And tonight, Adam Schiff, the top Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee, which is interviewing Kushner tomorrow, is telling our colleague, Deirdre Walsh, that tomorrow's session will not be enough, because there are a lot of the members who have a lot of questions. Members will be at that meeting.

[20:05:01] But they said that time frame allotted a couple of hours just will not be enough to get through all of the areas they want to talk about.

COOPER: And what about Donald Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort coming to Capitol Hill?

RAJU: It's possible that they will still face a public hearing. Remember, the Senate Judiciary Committee abruptly scrapped a Wednesday hearing of this week because a deal that was cut between Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, Jr., the two leaders of that committee, a deal that would give the committee records about this meeting at Trump Tower, as well as a private interview with members and staff.

Now, I talked to the two leaders of the committee, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat, who said, absolutely, those two will come back to Capitol Hill and be in a public session. It's unclear when but she said probably after the August recess. And Chuck Grassley, chairman of the committee, would not rule that out either, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks.

Lots to talk about. Joining me now, David Gregory, Laura Coates, Ryan Lizza and Gloria Borger.

Gloria, I mean, Jared Kushner is essentially saying, look, I didn't read the full e-mail chain that Donald Trump, Jr. sent me. There's no defense of Donald Trump, Jr. in this. He's essentially just saying, I went to this meeting, had no idea who the participants were, I don't remember how many people there were, and it was boring and I asked my assistant to call me so I can get out.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, like he was on a bad date, saying, you know, just call to get me out of this meeting. I -- what he didn't contest was the known facts about the meeting. You know, he didn't, in his testimony, say when I read down the e- mail, it was clear that these were Russians and Don, Jr. was thrilled about getting the dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So, his testimony is interesting for what it didn't say, as what it did say. And I will also add that we have known about these meetings, and Jared Kushner had a lot of opportunities, if he wanted to, to say these meetings never occurred with Gorka, with Kislyak, et cetera, et cetera. He portrays him as completely innocent, and that may well be. But throughout all of this, you know, he didn't deny that these meetings took place.



LIZZA: I think one thing that the investigation will be looking at is inconsistencies in his testimony. So, on the one hand, with the e- mail about the Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016, Kushner says, well, I didn't even read that whole exchange, because obviously there was one part of that that's very -- maybe incriminating is not the word, but very eye-opening. It says the Russian government supports your father's campaign and we want to give you some information. So, he's saying, ha, I didn't even read that part, I knew nothing about the meeting.

On the other hand, he talks about an e-mail we got from this bizarre account called Guccifer or something or other, right?


LIZZA: He read that one and he actually took it to the Secret Service and said, is this anything I should be worried about? So, I think little things like that, the investigators, when he goes before the House Intelligence Committee, will be honing in on, and you know?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, remember, the reason he paid attention to that is because there was a threat to release all of his father-in-law's tax records, which they didn't want to release. I mean, I think what's striking about all of this is, first of all, there's the tortured process by which Jared Kushner has finally revealed all of his meetings, which is disorganization at the very least or it's something worse.

But I think what we're piecing together, which has nothing to do with the investigation itself perhaps, is that these folks were open for business. Donald Trump has never taken a threat from Russia seriously by his own statements, and he still doesn't as president of the United States. His son, his son-in-law, apparently they all thought it was just, you know, typical opposition research. They weren't worried about it. Kushner is talking about setting up a secret channel to get information from Russian generals about Syria.

So, that is so negligent and so naive that you want to turn to people who actually know something about this, who can tell you, you shouldn't do that. They don't appear to have done that.

COOPER: Also, if Donald Trump Jr. is to be believed, he is told in that email that the Russian government is backing his father --


COOPER: -- didn't sound like it was new information to him. But at the very least, that's pretty big information. If Donald Trump, Jr. is to be believed, he never discussed this with anyone, not with Paul Manafort, not with Kushner and not with his father. That's a lot of information for Donald Trump, Jr. to be holding on to.

BORGER: It is.

LIZZA: In a small office where they're all there on that day.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And, you know, the reason you had this kind of naivety that's being put forth for Jared Kushner, or this ignorance for what was really going on, which is ironic given that this person who is charged with trying to resolve the Palestinian- Israeli conflict cannot get out of his own meeting, let along understand to read his own emails, they're doing that because in the legal terms, he does not want to have the knowledge, does not want to have the intent that everyone has been talking about.

If he is not knowledgeable about it, he could not possibly have the intent to break the law or collude. And so, he has a vetted statement that he put forth that was vetted exponentially by his lawyers, I'm sure, with an attempt to say, this is a conscious decision. You will be the naive, overwhelmed, inexperienced person on this team, because while master mind might be a political asset in terminology, mastermind is a scapegoat in the legal terms and he does not want to be that person.


BORGER: He said in his statement that he contacted Henry Kissinger at one point to get some advice.

[20:10:03] But he made it very clear in his statement that this was kind of new territory for him. And he even said that when he suggested this general-to-general meeting in the Russian embassy, that both Flynn and Kislyak said no, no, you can't do that. So, he just sort of showed or was trying to show how naive he was.

GREGORY: But I think, Anderson, your point that is important, which is there is information that comes across the transom saying Russia wants to help your father win. There's nobody that doesn't know that's potentially very inappropriate, beside just kind of cheering on the part of Vladimir Putin.

And there were enough people around, lawyers, other foreign policy types, who could have been giving advice, including Flynn, unless he was so compromised that he was giving who wouldn't say put the brakes on this. And that's really the point, is that the president is acting like he has something to hide and is contemptuous of being the suggestion that Russia was meddling.

You know, you talk to business leaders. They understand that there are relationships with, you know, Russian business folks and American business folks. But even they understand that's different than saying you're going to get involved and affect an election.

LIZZA: They didn't care. That's where I think is the timeline now. In June, you get the e-mail that says the Russian government wants to help your dad win. In October, you get the senior intelligence officials saying that Russian government is helping Trump win, right? And then in December, during the transition, you have, as you said, open for business, Russian officials coming in and talking, and we -- there's no evidence that he ever once at any of these meetings raised Russian interference in the election. They just didn't care about it.


We're going to take a quick break. Up next, once upon a time, he was the first senator to back the Trump

candidacy. So, why is President Trump now referring to Jeff Sessions as beleaguered? His own attorney beleaguered.

Later, the president increases pressure on Senate Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. We got a live update from Capitol Hill.


[20:15:36] COOPER: President Trump is taking another swipe at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, just days after he criticized Sessions for recusing himself for the Russian investigation. This morning, the president tweeted, quote: So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G. looking to crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations.

The new attack against one of his earliest and most loyal supporters now, the president's new communications director is weighing on all of this.

Our Jeff Zeleny is at the White House for the breaking news.

So, do we know -- has the president even spoken directly to the attorney general since these comments about him in "The New York Times" last week?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, he's not spoken to the attorney general, and the new communications director like you said, Anthony Scaramucci, he told our Sarah Murray earlier today that, look, he said that they need to have a face-to- face discussion about their future. That's interesting that the communications director would say that the president and the attorney general should have a conversation, but the president has not asked for one. The president has not brought the attorney general -- that's not just any old attorney general, Anderson, he was his most loyal, committed, dedicated supporter back during the presidential campaign. He left his job in the safe Senate seat of Alabama to become the attorney general.

He, in fact, Jeff Sessions was in the West Wing today, we are told. He was having normal meetings with the White House counsel's office, with other advisers, but not with the president. We are told that they have not spoken since before that "New York Times" interview, where last week, the president essentially threw his attorney general under the bus.

And we got a window into the president's thinking today, during a photo op with interns of all things, when the president was standing silently to take a picture and a reporter asked him this.


REPORTER: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?



ZELENY: See the eye roll there and the smirk spoke volumes, although he did not speak anything at all. But, Anderson, again tonight, the president tonight was in West Virginia, speaking at a Boy Scout jamboree. He invited some Eagle Scouts who serve in his cabinet to be on stage with him. Rick Perry, the energy secretary, Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary. Jeff Sessions is also an Eagle Scout, he was not invited, Anderson.

COOPER: Also, Rex Tillerson is, isn't he?

ZELENY: Indeed. Rex Tillerson was not here. He is an Eagle Scout as well. So, you know, read into that what you will, but the reality here is, the president and Jeff Sessions, no two people were closer during the campaign, but because of Attorney General Sessions' decision to recuse himself from that Russian investigation, four months ago, the president fuming about it, and we're told he's gotten angrier as those months have gone passed.

COOPER: And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's name has sort of been bandied about as a possible replacement. He actually commented about that.

ZELENY: He did indeed. I mean, Rudy Giuliani was, you know, talked about being the secretary of state perhaps for a variety of other things. But there's been a rumor in Washington who would replace Jeff Sessions if he would step down? Well, Rudy Giuliani was flying to Washington today and CNN caught up with him and asked him about his. He said, look, there's no truth to this rumor. I'm not going to be named the next attorney general.

And he also, look, I believe that Jeff Sessions did the right thing by recusing himself from this Russian investigation. And should the president, if the president would appoint him, there's a good reason to believe he would have to recuse himself as well, because Rudy Giuliani was also involved in the campaign at the same time period.

But, Anderson, it points out how difficult it would be in this environment in Washington to confirm a new attorney general. It's one of the reasons that a lot of people here, a lot of smart minds think that the attorney general will stay. But again, of course, that's all up to the president. We'll see if they ever have that meeting -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Back with the panel now. Joining the conversation, Kirsten Powers, Matt Lewis, Paul Begala and Jason Miller.

Jason, should the president sit down with his attorney general? And why do you think he hasn't?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the president has to make a decision here. Jeff Sessions is someone who was very loyal on the campaign trail. He's a favorite of conservatives. He's a favorite of Trump Nation supporters through and through. But, look, the president clearly has an issue with Jeff Sessions

recusing himself from this Russia investigation. And if it's something that the president fundamentally can't get over, then he needs to fire him. I think the further this goes on, without dealing with it, I think this is problematic and it distracts away from the bigger things we should be dealing with like repealing and replacing Obamacare.

But I will say that Jeff Sessions does have a big strong support base across both the administration and the country.

[20:20:05] A lot of tough days on that campaign, Jeff Sessions never wavered.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is interesting that there was nobody more loyal to Donald Trump than Jeff Sessions, and this is how Trump -- and, by the way, Trump a lot more loyal to Vladimir Putin who also played a critical role in electing him. He's the only person I think that Trump has remained loyal to.

Sessions had no choice to recuse himself. He was simply following the law. He had no choice. Rudy Giuliani said so today when CNN's reporter grabbed him at the airport.

COOPER: Also, President Trump seemed to believe that Sessions should have told him before he got the job, which -- that he was going to recuse himself, but at that point, as far as I know, he didn't know he was going to recuse himself, because he only recused himself after his testimony.

BEGALA: Well, he would have had to recuse himself irrespective of his testimony because he played a critical role in that campaign.


BEGALA: The investigation touches and concerns the campaign. So, anybody who helped in that campaign can't investigate the campaign.

So, even if he hadn't given the misleading, problematic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he had this deficit. This is what's bothersome is the loyalty has to be the rule of law. The attorney general had no choice. It wasn't simply I don't feel like doing my job. It was my job requires me to recuse.

And the president doesn't understand that.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What's really disturbing here is that he's not firing him, that he's really torturing him I think right now and toying with him. And he's like almost insulting him publicly, two times in a week, trying to -- I guess trying to get him to quit because he doesn't have the guts to fire people.

It reminds me of the movie "Office Space" where they don't fire Milton, they just take his stapler and move him to the basement. Is Jeff -- you know, Sessions going to find his office down by the furnace or something? COOPER: That's how they do it with TV anchors, as well.


COOPER: I don t need to go in anymore detail on that one.


COOPER: Everyone just got very nervous.

But, I mean, it is interesting for a president who, you know, made a name for being the guy you fired --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, saying you're fired. But that's the irony is he actually doesn't. He's not very good when it comes to saying things face-to-face to people. He's not, you know, as much as he was Mr. You're Fired on TV, that's actually not how he operates. And so, he's more likely to try to drive him out.

For me, the question is, why now? I mean, we know that he's been upset with Sessions since the very beginning, since he recused himself. But now, he's really going after him in a much more intense way than he was before. And to me, it suggests that he's realizing that this is serious. And like the Russia investigation is a real problem, and so, whereas he was frustrated before, now he's panicking.

GREGORY: But there's nothing he won't do, apparently. I mean, you know, we thought it was folly to fire the FBI director investigating him. Well, he did that.

I mean, you know, Paul will tell you, Bill Clinton, President Clinton was not very happy with Janet Reno at very various points. But --

BEGALA: Or Louis Freeh, his FBI director.

GREGORY: Or Louis Freeh, right. And nor were top White House, you know, some of your colleagues did the same.

But there was a sense that there was an independence of the Justice Department and the FBI. This president doesn't believe there's any independence. And he'll steam roll, there's no reason he won't make a move on Mueller, or he won't fire the A.G., and on down the line. He wants to litigate every aspect of this before he has to even litigate it.

BORGER: If he fires -- you know, if he fires Jeff Sessions, let's play it out --

COOPER: Or Sessions resigns.

BORGER: -- or Sessions resigns, and he wants -- first of all, very difficult to get another A.G. in there, even if you try to do it during the recess --

GREGORY: Rod Rosenstein gets elevated.

BORGER: Rod Rosenstein gets elevated. He doesn't like Rosenstein either --


BORGER: -- because he's from Baltimore or whatever. So he doesn't like --

BEGALA: There's too many Democrats in Baltimore, unlike New York City where President Trump is from.


BORGER: So, he doesn't want to elevate Rosenstein. What does Rosenstein do? Does Rosenstein stay? Does Rosenstein quit? Does he ask Rosenstein to fire Mueller and Rosenstein refuses to fire Mueller and on and on?

And if he wants to fire Mueller, I guarantee you, his legal team would quit. I can't imagine the president's he will team saying, you know, it's OK --


COOPER: Jason, do you think it would be hard to get another attorney general --

MILLER: I think there is one thing that's a little bit different with this president and administration, that we have to take a step back. If we rewind a couple months ago and we heard the talk about firing Comey and it would be, the sky is falling and, oh my gosh, how could we ever come back from this?

BORGER: But it did.

MILLER: And -- no, but I think, look, this president has the authority, if he wants to go and fire somebody in his administration, he can. That's his right as president to do so. And so, he invariably will fire people at various points in his administration. And I think we need to step back and realize that this administration is different. And it doesn't --

COOPER: But do you think it would be hard to get somebody past on Capitol Hill, another attorney general, I mean, given this climate?

MILLER: Look, in this climate, of course, the partisan opponents are going to make a lot of hay out of this and turn it into one month-long spectacle along Russia and everything else. And that will be a bigger distraction away from what the president is trying to do. I mean, that's why I hope the president sticks with Jeff Sessions and keeps him there.

LEWIS: I don't think he's going to get away from this, though, because, you know, there have been occasions where he has, you know, suddenly gotten mad at somebody and then it blows over.

[20:25:03] But this -- this is the second or third iteration of this, I think. And the way that Trump constantly brings up that he actually won the popular vote and this is one of those things that I just don't see him getting over it, because every time Russia comes up, he blames Sessions.


COOPER: We've got to take a quick break. We're going to continue this discussion. We're also going to hear what Sessions had to say after the president said he would have picked someone else for the job.


COOPER: We got a breaking news tonight about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "The Washington Post" is reporting now that President Trump is discussing possibly replacing him.

With me on the phone, "Washington Post" reporter Matt Zapotosky.

So, Matt, what have you learned?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST (via telephone): Well, we learned that as President Trump and his aides have been discussing possibly removing Jeff Sessions as attorney general, which maybe isn't a total surprise, given what he told "The New York Times" last week, but interesting that it's maybe not just him venting and not thinking about what he's saying, but a calculated move and he's considering, you know, getting somebody else in there.

COOPER: Do you have any idea based on your reporting, I mean, how serious the discussions, what level they're at, or what the kind of permutations are being discussed?

ZAPOTOSKY: We understand at this stage, it is pretty informal. Some names have been floated, but maybe not even with the president himself. It's not as if he is asking people, what do you think about this person, what do you think about this person? And some people characterize this as just a sort of intense level of vetting or -- excuse me, venting on his part. So, it is pretty early, but I mean, in this administration, things move quickly. So --

COOPER: Yes. Is there any timeline that's been discussed, to your knowledge?

ZAPOTOSKY: No, no, not at all. I don't think that the talks are quite that serious that we're going to remove him on X date, just discussing the idea of removing him.

COOPER: Is there anything else you learned that I should ask you about?

ZAPOTOSKY: You know, I think another important point here is that some people, again, not the President himself, but some people in his orbit see this as a possible way to get rid of the special counsel, that this is maybe one step along the line. It's kind of a (INAUDIBLE) path Jeff Sessions is recused from the special counsel investigation as it is, but, if he goes, maybe there could be more stuff happening at the Justice Department.

COOPER: Is there any concern, based on your reporting, that removing Jeff Sessions -- I mean, Jeff Sessions is very popular among sort of the nationalist wing of the Republican Party or conservatives. You know, and Jeff Sessions held a lot of these views before Donald Trump, before President Trump began to hold them.

ZAPOTOSKY: Yes, that's right. You know, one of the things that we reported is that President Trump asked someone, if I got rid of Jeff Sessions, how would that play with conservative media? I know that talked to Newt Gingrich who told me that look, he would really strongly advise against removing Jeff Sessions because he thinks he's great for the Republican base. So I think that's something the President has to keep in mind.

COOPER: Matt Zapotosky with Washington Post, I appreciate the reporting. Thank you very much.

Back now with the panel.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: Think about what this -- if this is true. And it's clearly true that they are talking about this. Then he said it to New York Times. But what this reveals about the President. Here you have the person who has, as Jason pointed out earlier, represents Trumpism more than any other Republican in this administration, whether you agree with Jeff Sessions or not on trade, on immigration, on drug policy. He is the person implementing the Trump policy agenda --


LIZZA: -- policy again more than anyone else. Certainly more than some of the White House people around this President. And Trump doesn't care about that. He cares about himself. He cares about a personal issue. He cares that this guy recused himself from an investigation and cares about his own criminal liability here and he is figuring trying to maneuver and figure out a way to get rid of this guy. And to me, it just shows how much Trump is committed to actual ideas and policy and how much he's committed to self-preservation himself.

COOPER: What does it say about the President's definition of loyalty? Because, he talks a lot about loyalty, he talked about it tonight in front of the boy scouts, about, you know, which is there was more loyalty. You can argue, Jeff Sessions has been loyal to this President from the beginning. I mean, came speaking --


MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- book says, you know, reports that there was a conversation with Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions where Sessions says if I endorse Trump and he doesn't win, then it's over for me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right, so he was also -- LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The President defines loyalty as that, who can be his -- that's very clear through the course of his administration thus far. And Jeff Sessions is the only person in Washington, D.C. who is an appointee, who actually has leverage over the President of the United States respect for it's loyalty at this point for two reasons. Number one, you have the obstruction of justice issue. If he were to fired Jeff Sessions that cloud rains down upon him once again, it's not (INAUDIBLE) Comey whether or not he would be as be or not. It's actually quite clear at that point.

And number two, Jeff Sessions is well aware of his popularity and knows that to replace him would be an uphill battle. And that would leave to his policy platform in limbo and unable to actually accomplish the immigration, the boarder --


JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER TRUMP CAMPAIGN: It looks like you have insight into General Sessions' thinking. And I obviously have not discussed this with him directly. But look, General Sessions is someone who believes in President Trump, not just as a leader on these issues but also the President as a leader, as a person and really bought into this whole movement that we were behind. The President too is -- General Sessions is very loyal, and if the President were to ask him to go, then he would go. And that would be the end of the story. He would make a big thing about it.

But I do think that General Sessions -- I would not expect to see him quit under any circumstance. I think he's loyal. I think he is dedicated to the cause. And that's why I think so many folks like myself who are Trump supporters want to see him in place, because he does believe in that mission. And again, it's not just that he believes in some set of ideas but he also believes in Trump as a leader.


DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: -- which I think is important, he believes in the independence of the Justice Department.

MILLER: And the rule of law.

GREGORY: And the rule of law, such that he was going to follow the ethics guidelines. And I take your point, which is this President has shown he can break the seal on some things and norms and perhaps get away with it, because it's so shocking. But here there's a level of sabotage that the President is responsible for of his own administration, because he wants to fight, because presumably he thinks he's right, and he'll take on all comers.

I think Sessions is a perfect example, I agree with you. I'm sure he wouldn't cause this thing if he were fired. I think Republicans, his Senate colleagues, Republicans would really start to break with the President. And I think that becomes an issue because --

[20:35:06] MILLER: I don't think that will better -- look, they're a good team. They've worked so well together so far. That's why I think that -- look, there are a lot of swamp creatures in this town, a lot of people who have not been on board with this reform agenda. Jeff Sessions has been on board with it. That's why we don't want --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN'S CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So where are the Republicans now? Who can come out right now and say stop doing this to Jeff Sessions? Where's the ground swell? There ought to be one. He's being mistreated. If he's popular in the Senate and some people feel very strongly about it, why aren't they saying Mr. President, stop calling your own attorney general beleaguered?

MILLER: Well, you can make the same case where are the Republicans saying we need to repeal and replace Obamacare. Washington --



MILLER: Republicans can disappear real quickly and that's the bottom line.

BORGER: Right, who are the bad? I mean, you know, maybe in the President's mind, he figures he can appoint a member of the Senate like a Ted Cruz or somebody to take the attorney general's place during a recess appointment in August, and maybe he can do that. And I don't think he can. But let's say, maybe he's thinking, you know, I could get this over with, one, two, three, and we could get rid of Mueller and I can get on with my agenda.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, how President Trump is using his bully pulpit to influence the health care vote tomorrow.


COOPER: We're in D.C. tonight, on the eve of a pretty remarkable, perhaps unprecedented move on health care reform even for Washington. First, the Senate GOP leaders are pushing their own members to vote on the bill even thought they're telling our reporters, they don't even know the specifics of the legislation. There's also this -- the vote is so tight, and Senator John McCain's vote could be crucial they might be needed in Washington dispute recovering from surgery of brain tumor. Like I said, it's a pretty remarkable time. President Trump used his bully pulpit this afternoon to encourage Republicans to, "Do the right thing on the vote."


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the last seven years, Republicans have been united in standing up for Obamacare's victims. Remember, repeal and replace. Repeal and replace. They kept saying it over and over again. Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law.


COOPER: Well, repeal and replace, they kept saying it, you heard the President saying there. Keeping them honest they, was also him.


TRUMP: Real change begins immediately with the repealing and replacing of the disaster known as Obamacare. Repeal it and replace it. Repeal and replace. Repeal and replace Obamacare, we're going to repeal it, we're going to replace it and we're going to get something good.

Repeal it, replace it, get something great. We're going the kill it. Let it die. Let it die, and we're going to come up with something much, much better. You're going to have such great health care at a tiny fraction of the cost and it's going to be so easy.


[20:40:09] COOPER: CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill with the latest. How close is Mitch McConnell right now to having the votes he needs to move this forward?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, I'd say, they're still short. There was about six or seven members, who remain undecided, but it's important to note, those member haven't come out as explicit no's, and we've seen just over the course of the last seven or eight days that members through every iteration of this Senate process have essentially killed that process.

They haven't done that yet. And because of that, there is at least some shred of optimism. But it's important to note what's going on behind the scenes. You've seen an all out blitz publicly. You had Vice President Mike Pence in Ohio with Senator Rob Portman, who is a holdout. You had the President tonight in West Virginia, Shelley Moore Capito who is a holdout.

There are offers on the table I'm told by administration officials for things that holdouts could get behind the scenes. There are amendments that Senate leaders are saying could be made in order for other senators. So there's an all-out blitz right now to try and close the deal on this.

But the kind of crazy reality here Anderson is, as we go -- we're fewer than 24 hours from where this vote is expected to be. There's a real chance we might not know where the votes are until the senators actually vote. That's how close this is right now. And that's how much of an open question remains.

COOPER: What exactly are they voting on? Does anyone really know the details?

MATTINGLY: At least in terms of a final product that they expected to get to, the answer is no. What we do know procedurally is they're voting to start the debate on the essentially the House passed health care bill. But the idea has always been, Anderson, we've talked about this repeatedly, nobody in the Senate likes the House passed bill. They wanted their own version. And so throughout this lengthy procedural and amendment process, they wanted a backstop of sorts, a final product that we've seen multiple iterations of, over the course of the last couple weeks but none of those iterations have been able to actually close the deal. So what does that leave them with? Well, as Senator Bob Corker called it tonight, the Wild West in a situation like this, you essentially walk into a process where any senator can offer any type of amendment so long it's germane and within the budget rules?

That means, essentially that senators are being asked tomorrow to vote -- to vote move forward on something where they don't know the endgame. And that is an extraordinary politically risky move but also a very risky move on the policy side of things. We know very well, where are all these senators are? The specific ask, what they want whether it's conservatives on the regulatory side, whether it's more moderates on the Medicaid expansion, or just the Medicaid program in general side.

They would be going into this debate with no commitments that they could be getting any of these things for sure. As one former Senate aide put it to me, Anderson, it essentially akin to telling a Senator jump out of an airplane with a backpack that is about 50/50 where or not there's actually a parachute inside of it. Except in this case, the scenario is more or like 10/90 that's how risky this is, that's how big of a gamble this is, but this is the only pathway right now that Senate Republicans and the White House have identified to move forward and they're making clear, they're pushing full speed ahead, whether they have those votes or not, Anderson.

COOPER: Phil Mattingly, thank you very much.

Earlier today, I spoke with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse about the health care bill.

Senator Whitehouse President Trump today calling Democrats obstructionists, saying, you and your colleagues offered "zero" help on health care? Are you offering any help?

SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (R) RHODE ISLAND: The first thing, the very first thing the Republicans in the Senate did when they got in, like their first day was to choose to go the reconciliation option and slam the door on us and let us know we were not welcome. In fact, they got to the point where they weren't even having most of their own Republican caucus in the room. They went to the 13 old white guys to come up with their plan. So that's pretty rich to turn that around on us at this point.

COOPER: You know, Senator Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, just last week had this to say about working with Republicans. I want to play this.


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: If Republicans abandon cuts to Medicaid, abandon tax breaks for wealthy, and agree to go through the regular order, the door to bipartisanship is open right now. Republicans only need to walk through it.


COOPER: I lot of Republicans I've talked to say that doesn't sound like a door to bipartisanship, having preconditions, many of which are nonstarters for Republicans.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, look, I think what I've said all along, and which I think many Democrats have said throughout this whole process, we keep knocking on that door and being told you're not welcome. But we've said this look just promise us that you're going to work by regular order. Promise us that you'll take go under the committees that you'll take amendments that will do a bipartisan vote to 60 when the dust settles and this isn't going to be a phony exercise that ends up with you just doing the same ram job that you've been doing now any way. On those terms, I think we're ready to go.

COOPER: I want to ask you about where the Democratic Party is going. Senator Schumer said today, the two biggest priorities for your party or health care include the economic of the working family, not Russia. Have Democrats done enough to get that message out? Our recent polls said that there's a lot of folks who view the Democrats as a party as being anti-Trump but they don't really stand for anything.

[20:45:07] WHITEHOUSE: Well, it's hard when you have a president who is doing outrageous of the minute and horrifying even his own party with tweets that he sends out for other messages to get pro. One of the things about President Trump is he does tend to be the brightest, shiny object in the room and attract most of the media attention.

So it's also a little hard to get out there too far on health care while you're locked out of the room. And they told you we're not going to listen to you. If we were in committee, if we were having hearings, if people are bringing up their amendments, if we were taking votes, if we were doing real legislation on health care, then I think the public would be pretty clear about where we stood. And things that --

COOPER: That's not a recipe for the next election, that's what -- many people would argue, that's what happened to Hillary Clinton in the last election. She was against Trump, but a lot of people didn't necessarily know what she was for. So how do you get out of that?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think, you know, we're going to have a whole lot of seats and a whole a lot of members of Congress we're going to have a really good chance at getting replaced. And a very good chance that there's going to be a democratic speaker as a result. And each of those races is going to happen in each of those congressional districts. I think a congressional race in a specific district, which is where you win those, is a very different thing than a national presidential campaign.

COOPER: Just lastly, Senator Feinstein, who is obvious the ranking democratic judiciary committee today said that even though Donald Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort will not testify publicly on Wednesday, but she is still expected them to do so likely after the August recess. How important is it, do you believe that their hearings are open to the public?

WHITEHOUSE: Well, I think it's very important. For one thing, the work that the Intelligence Committee is doing by virtue of touching in so many places on classified information is never going to be as public as we had hoped. So it's just the nature of the beast.

The criminal investigation is never going to be public. You don't do those in public. So the place where the public can keep up, and with all the experts said who came in Senator Graham in my hearing on how you do congressional investigations while there's a criminal investigation going on, is this going to be public? That's the point, is that we can help educate the public, bring them along, let them know what's going on and be kind of a truth teller that the public can hear from witnesses directly. So very important that it would be public, and I'm very pleased that we've had support from Chairman Grassley in seeing two of that they will be subpoenaed if they refuse to attend voluntarily. And those subpoenas are being discussed and may even be moving quite quickly.

COOPER: Senator Whitehouse, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, good to be with you.

COOPER: When we come back, President Trump has pardons on his mind, but the question raise, can a President actually pardon himself? Details ahead.


[20:50:36] COOPER: Despite assurances from both White House staff and the President's outside legal team that presidential pardons are not on the table, the President remains keen on reminding everyone that he does have that power.

In a tweet Saturday morning he wrote, "While all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon, I think of that, only crime so far is leaks against us. Fake news." raises an additional whether or not a sitting President can pardon himself while still in office.

Joining me now for their take, two constitutional law experts, Norm Eisen, CNN Contributor and Former White House Ethics Czar under president Obama, he co-authored on op-ed about subject in the Washington Post last week. And Jonathan Turley at George Washington University. Professor Turley, do you believe the President does have the power to pardon himself.

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEOERGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, what I believe is that he can make the argument under the text of the constitution. The constitution does not bar these types of self-pardons. The constitution mentions one exception with regard to impeachment. Such as saying a president can pardon his way out of impeachment.

COOPER: Right. It says the President shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment.

TURLEY: Right. So the language is actually not ambiguous. It states an unfettered power with that one exception. Usually in the law if you state an exception, there is a presumption that other exceptions don't apply because you didn't include them. So he would have a very strong case to argue that it's covered by his unfettered authority.

COOPER: Norm, do you agree with that?

NORM EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS CZAR UNDER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Anderson thanks for having me. I do not agree with that. Of course, we know that when interpreting the constitution, the words on the page are just the starting point. And literally entire libraries have been filled with what they mean and it's very clear, whatever school of interpretation you belong to, if you look at the history of the constitution, the structure of the constitution, the meaning, the intent, none of them suggest that something so absurd as a presidential self-pardon could be allowed. It stems from one of the most fundamental principles in American law. And that is --

COOPER: Which is that?

EISEN: That is that no person may be a judge in their own case.

COOPER: That no one is above the law.

EISEN: That is the core principle where government of laws, not of men, and so -- and the proof of it, Anderson, is there's nobody, and Jonathan and I actually agreed on this, there's nobody who says it would be a good idea for the President to do it. Everybody thinks it's catastrophic.

COOPER: But being a good idea and being possible are two different things.

TURLEY: Right. And I have to say, this is where Norman and I disagree. I think that this would be an exceptionally close question. One of the longest unresolved questions of the constitution, there's no clear answer here. I would give the President a 50/50 shot on it. I think it's not clear how a court would rule.

COOPER: It would go to a supreme court.

TURLEY: That's right. But where I disagree with is that, this is not a judicial act, this is not being a judge in your own case. The type of authority that is cited for that proposition often deals with judges and this is an extra judicial act. This is a political act. The act of a pardon is a transcendence over to the judicial process. And I think that where Norm's arguments fall short is they would go too far. I mean, Norm has argued, for example, that the constitution says that regardless of impeachment, you can still be tried criminally, in Article 1. The problem is that article with that same argument would mean the president couldn't pardon anyone in his administration from vice president to cabinet members who are subject to impeachment.

COOPER: So, Norm, didn't they look into this during the Nixon White House?

EISEN: They did. The office of legal counsel looked at it four days before Nixon resigned. Of course, those are Nixon's lawyers. And they determined that a President cannot pardon himself. If you go back, Jonathan, to these debates -- well, not at OLC, there was not. Not at OLC. Of course, Nixon's own lawyers said he could pardon himself but not at the Justice Department.

Anderson, if you go back to the debates in the constitution, contrary to my learned friend's view, you look at the debates, you have James Wilson, one of the framers saying, of course, in course of argument, of course a president can be impeached and prosecuted. Well, that would make no sense if the president could pardon himself, that he couldn't be prosecuted.

TURLEY: Well, the problem --

EISEN: It makes, Anderson, our constitution is a living document. It lives on common sense. And this notion is absurd that the president can do. Imagine he could go out on Pennsylvania Avenue, take bribes, shoot people, walk back in the Oval Office, sign a pardon for himself, do it again the next day. I'm afraid of who he might target if he had that power. It is absurd, Jonathan.

[20:55:21] TURLEY: I don't want you to have an aneurism, but I do want to mention a couple things. First of all, the president doesn't pardon himself out of state crimes. And so the President going around shooting people, he's not going to protect himself from state charges.

EISEN: Bribery, though. Federal bribery.

TURLEY: But most importantly, the argument that Norm just made, once again, has no limiting principle. The same argument could be made that he wouldn't pardon the vice president or cabinet member.

COOPER: If that person --

TURLEY: Right, because they also would have to be prosecuted under the same argument. No one has made that argument. And so the problem I think with Norm's interpretation, I'm not saying it's not a good faith interpretation, he has good arguments to make, is that you need to have some way to thread this needle. The text of the constitution would support Donald Trump in giving himself a self-pardon. That doesn't mean he will prevail but it is not absurd.

COOPER: All right. I have to leave it there. Professor Turley, Norm Eisen as well. Thank you.

Coming up more on tonight breaking news, President Trump talking about replacing Attorney Jeff Sessions according to a new report just out in the Washington Post. We'll talk about that, next.


COOPER: Jeff sessions' days as attorney general may be numbered. Breaking news tonight, the Washington Post reporting that President Trump is discussing possibly replacing him. A short time ago, I spoke with Washington Post reporter Matt Zapotosky.