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Trump Again Rips Sessions, Acting FBI Director; Official: Sessions To Ramp Up Leak Probes Amid Criticism; Soon: Senate To Vote On "Repeal Only" Health Care Plan; Trump Bans Transgender People From Military. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Here it is, "Why didn't AG Sessions replaced Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend, who was in charge of Clinton investigation, but got big dollars for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives? Drain the swamp."

This comes also as we learn the attorney general is planning to step up investigations into leaks, something that's a top priority of this president. A lot to get to on this front.

Joining me right now, CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett and White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. Let's start with you, Kaitlan. Kaitlan, what's the word from the White House right now? What's going on over there?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jeff Sessions was at the White House this morning as Donald Trump sent out that tweet criticizing him. I would also like to note that Andrew McCabe, who Donald Trump said should have been fired is someone Donald Trump interviewed for the position of FBI director back in May after he had fired James Comey.

But putting that aside, Jeff Sessions was at the White House. We do not believe he met with Donald Trump this morning. He was just here for a routine meeting. We don't even think that Donald Trump was in the west wing at the time that that meeting occurred.

But what we're seeing overall is essentially a game of chicken between Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions. The president is all but calling for Jeff Sessions to resign. While Sessions is staying quiet and putting his head down and continuing to do his work.

We are seeing that Donald Trump is essentially alone in calling for Jeff Sessions to resign. Sessions has received a lot of support from his fellow senators from when he was a senator before taking this position in the White House. Even Democrats are saying that they don't think that Donald Trump should fire Jeff Sessions. BOLDUAN: Yes, let's see exactly what comes next, because at this point, it doesn't seem like the pleas and calls for stopping are being heard at all from the White House.

Let's get over to Laura. But Laura, Sessions at the very same time is keeping his head down and working. For his part, he is set to announce some stepped up efforts against leaks. What do we know about this?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, that's exactly right. As Kaitlan said, he is marshaling on despite this continued berating from the president on Twitter. We have learned from a source familiar with the discussions that in the coming days, perhaps the next week, he will announce the Department of Justice stepping up its efforts on leaks.

Of course, the president demanded yesterday in the Rose Garden that he become much tougher on leaks. But I am told again from a source familiar with these discussions that this plan had been in the works before and for quite some time. We should see it very soon.

BOLDUAN: And to be clear, Laura, we're talking about classified leaks. We're not talking about kind of the more general category of leaks that this White House is discussing when folks in the administration are just simply talking to reporters? Is that what we're talking about?

JARRETT: That's exactly right. We're talking about leaks from the intelligence community, not targeting reporters but rather classified leaks coming out. This is something that Sessions has said he has wanted to crack down on for a while, Kate, even dating back to April.

I asked him at a news conference about Julian Assange and he said this was going to be a priority for his Department of Justice. He said it again in May after the Manchester terrorist attack. He said he wanted to crack down on this. He is taking it seriously. So, this has been a priority for quite some time.

BOLDUAN: A priority from presidents past as well. Great to see you, Laura. Thank you so much. Kaitlan, thank you as well.

Joining me now to discuss all of this further is Jimmy Gurule, a former assistant attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. He is now a professor at the Notre Dame Law School. Great to see you, Jimmy. Thanks for coming in.

JIMMY GURULE, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL (1990-1992): Well, thank you for inviting me. My pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Of course, so, it's another day and another attack of sorts against Jeff Sessions. It seems clear as day at this point that President Trump wants Sessions gone. He is refusing to rule out firing him, but he has made no moves to do so right now. If you were Sessions, Jimmy, would you stick around?

GURULE: I would stick around. I think the dilemma that Attorney General Sessions faces is when and if the president asks the attorney general to do something that is unethical or illegal.

[11:05:03] In that situation, the attorney general would then have to decide whether he is going to comply or whether in an effort to preserve his integrity, he will resign. But we will have to see whether that request is made to the attorney general.

BOLDUAN: What do you make -- let me play this for you first. Here is what the president had to say just yesterday when asked about Sessions. Listen to this.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself. Almost immediately after he took office and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked somebody else. So, I think that's a bad thing not for the president but for the presidency. I think it's unfair to the presidency. That's the way I feel.

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BOLDUAN: From your perspective, is Sessions being unfair to the presidency as the president lays out there?

GURULE: No, not at all. He is following the rule of law and that's what he's required to do. He swore an oath -- when he became the attorney general, he swore an oath to enforce the law and to defend the Constitution, not to defend the president and to do the president's bidding.

The president is engaged here in a pattern. We have seen this. He fired former director of the FBI, James Comey. Now he is trying to push the attorney general out of his position. He has threatened further to fire Special Counsel Mueller if Mueller crosses some arbitrary red line.

Clearly, the president is engaged in interfering with the administration of justice. I think it is -- what he is doing is -- he is trying to assert power. He thinks that he has the authority to decide who to prosecute and who is immune from prosecution.

That's not the way things work here in the United States. Perhaps in Russia President Putin could call up the attorney general and say, I want this particular individual arrested and prosecuted, but that's not the way it works in the United States. That's not the way it works in a democracy.

BOLDUAN: What do you see as the end game then, Jimmy? I mean, if the president is trying to assert power. He wants to say who should be prosecuted. He said as much in some tweets, he wants to see an investigation into Hillary Clinton still, what's the end game? What happens here?

GURULE: Well, I think certainly one objective is to derail the Russia investigation. By removing the director of the FBI, by removing, if it occurs, the attorney general and Special Counsel Mueller, clearly, that's going to set the investigation -- the Russia investigation back. And I think that would be to the benefit of the president. That's what the president desires.

BOLDUAN: We also learned today -- we are learning today the attorney general is going to be soon announcing that they are going to be making some stepped up efforts on leak investigations, leaks on classified information is something the past presidents have taken on very seriously.

It's particularly of an important priority for this president. Do you see this move by Sessions now -- they say this was long planned, do you see this as a standard protocol, a standard day, a standard announcement, or do you think that this has something to do with Sessions trying to keep his job and get back in good with his boss?

GURULE: Well, the timing is certainly curious. I mean, the timing, this announcement about going after leaks is coming immediately after or shortly after the tweets by the president criticizing Sessions for not being aggressive enough in pursuing these leaks.

The attorney general should not make a decision to prosecute anyone based on -- to appease the president of the United States or based upon political considerations. The only considerations should be the relevant facts and the evidence. Is there credible evidence that there's been a violation of the law?

And if so, the attorney general should proceed, but not under pressure from the president. Otherwise, what would be the next step? If this doesn't work, if the attorney general is still being criticized by the president, then should he go after Hillary Clinton, should he prosecute her?

Again, this constitutes an abuse of power, an attempt to interfere with the administration of justice by the president.

BOLDUAN: One wonders -- one would love to know what is in Jeff Sessions' mind this morning as he is at the White House when the president appears to have sent it out this latest tweet. Jimmy, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in. Say hello to south bend for me.

GURULE: Thank you. Thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. Now to another decision day in the battle over health care. Moments from now the Senate is holding another vote. This time taking up the Republicans' repeal only proposal of Obamacare. This is something that, of course, they passed once before in 2015. They are taking it up again.

There's also talk now of a new option, a skinny repeal. Try that one on for size. This comes after Republicans came to agreement to move forward with the health care debate yesterday only to reject the repeal and replace option just hours later.

[11:10:00] Are you following me, my friend? Let's get over to CNN Congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, who is very good at following all of it for us. So where are we right now, Phil? Is it two steps forward or is it three steps back?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, I know when you left these beautiful marble hallways a few years ago, you were hoping that second degree amendments to the substitute amendment to point of order to all reconciliation --

BOLDUAN: Music to my ears.

MATTTINGLY: -- were officially a thing of the past, but we are very much in that right now. That can make things really complicated, but here's kind of a base way to break it down. What Republicans are doing right now is moving through the amendment process. Democrats as well. Republicans are starting to put up kind of test votes, if you will.

As you noted, last night, they did their repeal and replace version plus an additional $100 billion that Medicaid expansion state senators like Rob Portman had negotiated. They knew it was going to fail, had a 60-vote threshold. Democrats weren't going to join them for that.

But they wanted to put it up and kind of see where their members were. Well, they lost that vote by seven votes. They lost it 43-57, nine Republicans total left them, seven was basically how -- what put them over the edge there. That's a bad sign.

Repeal and replace, which is where they want to end up on this, did not get a very good showing last night. As you noted, in about 20 minutes they will start voting on the repeal only option. This is something that was put up last week, which seems like about three months ago, and was summarily rejected by a number of senators as well.

So that's expected to go down as well. So where does that leave them? You are going to them go through this process repeatedly, and by the end of this, there is going to be an amendment after amendment. Dozens of amendments will be put up.

But do they get to what you noted, which was the skinny repeal essentially, which is just knocking out three rather unpopular pieces of Obamacare, the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax.

And using that more or less as a vehicle to get to conference with the House. Kate, that would be a major abdication of the effort to try and get to repeal and replace. It would only be an effort to try and just move this a step forward.

So where will members be on that? I think that's the big question right now. Behind the scenes, there's also continued negotiations trying to figure out if they can somehow get 50 votes on a repeal or replace option. This is all happening over the course of the next 48 hours.

It's going to be wild. It's going to be crazy. It's going to be procedurally very confusing. No one is sure of the end game yet, but that's basically the state of play. How did I do? Does that make sense?

BOLDUAN: Well, wild and crazy is a perfect way to sum up what we watch. They're so wild. They're so crazy. Perfectly said. So basically, where there was clarity, we thought yesterday, we are back to unclarity at this moment. You will keep us updated. Great to see you, Phil. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: You're following another breaking story, if you can imagine, it's a busy day. The president announcing a ban on all transgender people from serving in any capacity in the military. He announced this on Twitter this morning. Was the pentagon caught by surprise? We have new reaction coming in.

Plus, we are also watching the White House where we're told Jeff Sessions just left. This, of course, is as the president unleashed a new criticism against him. Did the two men speak? Stand by for that. We'll be right back.

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BOLDUAN: Following breaking news, President Trump banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. He made the somewhat surprise announcement in a series of tweets a short time ago. Let me read them for you. This is the president's statement from the president.

"After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.

Our military must focus on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, she's been working this throughout the morning. She's joining me now with much more. Barbara, what is the very latest you are hearing from the Pentagon on what they knew when and who told them?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, a bit of clarification and update on that at this hour, Kate. We are now told that Defense Secretary James Mattis was aware that the president had come to this decision. Whether he knew exactly when it was going to be announced is another question. But Mattis had been consulted and knew about this.

The president's language quite different now than what he tweeted back in 2016. Let me go back to that for a minute. When the president said as a candidate in June 2016, quoting him, "Thank you to the LGBT community. I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs."

The president taking a very different turn now, very clearly saying that people who are transgendered persons will not be allowed to join the U.S. military and indicating those who are transgendered persons serving will not be allowed to serve in any capacity.

Talking about the medical costs, there is if they want to undergo procedures and medical procedures. That was an accepted part of what was happening. Also, disruption, the concern that some have said in the past is if you had people who were transgendered, they wouldn't be available potentially if they're going through medical procedures for some period of time but disruption to the U.S. military.

Look, this is a relatively small number of people. The Rand Corporation estimated 1,300 up to maybe a few thousand people identifying themselves potentially as transgendered persons.

Today as we stand here, the big question is, what comes next? Is the president going to order commanders to find out who is transgendered, those who have identified themselves as such and thought they were protected and will they now be forced to leave military service?

BOLDUAN: All hugely important questions that you lay out right there, Barbara, with no clarity yet coming from the commander-in-chief. Barbara, thank you so much. More to come from Barbara on all of this.

[11:20:03] Let me just continue the discussion right now with CNN military analyst, Retired Major General James "Spider" Marks, also joining us, transgender activist, Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign.

Thank you both for coming in. Spider, this has been a discussion in the military for quite some time. What's your reaction to the announcement?

MAJOR GENERAL JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I think this is -- as Barbara indicated, this is a very small population within the military. So, it's not this grand issuance of policy that's going to significantly affect the military.

The number one requirement for the military is readiness. Everything else just pales, goes to the side, becomes noise. You want your military to be ready to fight tonight across the board in all these different types of skill sets. So, this joint team can come together and be successful.

The fact that we have transgender military service members serving today honorably is wonderful. It's fine. They are serving. They have made a transition. They are what they are now.

The discussion of whether we want to bring somebody in who is at the point where he or she may be making a decision, I would tend to say, look, make that decision, determine where you think you want to be and then when you are going to join military, you should already be down the path of having your identity solid. You shouldn't come into the military and then go through this period of questioning and then determine I want to serve and I want to be a transgender. I think there are limits to that.

We could embrace that and say, thanks for your service, but honorably, we're going to discharge you at this point. That decision needs to be made. That transition needs to be done prior to serve.

BOLDUAN: Of course, I have many more questions, but Sarah, I just want to get your reaction to the president's announcement. What do you think this means? Barbara raised a bunch of important questions. What does this mean for transgender people serving in the military today?

SARAH MCBRIDE, TRANSGENDER ACTIVIST: Well, what's clear is that for the roughly either 6,000 to 15,000 transgender people who are actively serving in our military right now, this policy change would have sweeping impacts on their lives, their careers, their families.

This is really a mean spirited, unpatriotic and dangerous attack on people who are bravely serving their country right now. While it's still early in terms of what the policy will actually shape up to be, what it threatens to be is an attack on as many as 15,000 active duty transgender service members, who are serving this country, something that I will remind President Trump he failed to do after five deferments to Vietnam.

BOLDUAN: The numbers, of course, Rand Corporation doing an estimate, but it is thousands -- between the number of 6,000 and 15,000. We don't need to debate that. I have a real basic question, Spider. Does this now mean from the little that we know from the statement from the president, that the Pentagon is going to need to seek out and force out service members, who are currently serving because they are transgender at this moment?

MARKS: I would hope not. That speaks to an absolutely ill-advised, poor policy. Suddenly, you are now into trying to hide yourself, trying to not define yourself very, very proudly.

BOLDUAN: I thought we were past that.

MARKS: Absolutely past that. Absolutely past that. Plus, if the transition has taken place, the transition -- it's a done deal. Pick up you rug sack, follow me, let's go do what we have to do. All those discussions are off the table.

When you are in intimate, dirty, tough circumstances, everybody gets that, but we have learned how to work beyond that. So, I don't think this is something that needs to be pursued at all. It becomes very disruptive, and again, albeit a small population, for that population, it's a very significant issue.

BOLDUAN: Sarah, a member of Congress, Vicky Hartsler, she has been an advocate for a move like this, a ban like this, for quite some time. She tweeted this out in response to the president. "Pleased to hear that Donald Trump shares my readiness and cost concerns and will be changing this costly and damaging policy." In the president's statement, he talks about the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgenders in the military would entail. Speak to that.

MCBRIDE: Well, first off, every person who serves our country deserves access to comprehensive medical care, medically necessary health care that every person needs to live and thrive.

And you know, to the major general's point, this would have a serious consequence for so many people serving. It's cruel. But the medical care that transgender people need to access, the same Rand Corporation study found that the cost for providing medical care would be negligible.

We have seen that across the board when we've seen inclusive health care instituted. These are people who want to serve their country. These are people who want to provide for their family. They deserve healthcare just like everyone else.

[11:25:03] At the end of the day, this isn't just about health care. This according to Donald Trump's tweet is about not allowing transgender people to serve at all. We have already seen bipartisan rebukes from members of Congress after the announcement.

It was clearly an ill-advised announcement, something that was done spur of the moment maybe even. It's undermining, I think, our national defense.

BOLDUAN: I actually have a question about that. The Pentagon at first was taken by surprise. Later, as Barbara reports, Secretary Mattis was consulted on President Trump's plans to announce -- can you read into that for me? Does consulted mean he advised and agreed with the president's decision on this?

MARKS: Consulted simply -- it could mean you had that full conversation, you had a give and take, you had alternative proposals discussed or it could be, I'm going do this, are there any significant objections that you have right now. I don't know the nature of that conversation.

But consulted could be something very small. It could be a phone call. It could be a directive. It could be kind of a very robust discussion about what the pluses and minuses look like.

The thing is, Kate, it's all about -- I have to say this again, it's all about readiness. The United States military has been a part of some incredible social experimentation, advance a full gender integration, full racial, ethnic integration, all units.

We emerged from that stronger and better. Commanders on the ground acknowledge and they have the tool sets to handle it. I have to embrace that because at the end of the day, the commander is responsible for his or her unit and how they perform.

This becomes another challenge, but it's been in place for a while. It has been in place. We have embraced this. It works.

BOLDUAN: We can all agree with the president's statement, without any context with it, there are a lot of questions that are to be answered from the Pentagon, from the administration, commander-in-chief, very quickly (inaudible) in the military. Sarah, General, thank you. It's great to have you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

We are following more of our other breaking news, President Trump once again taking on his attorney general. At least the -- count them up, this time in a week. This despite his own party almost pleading with him at this point to back off the attorney general.

Plus, any moment, senators are getting ready to vote on a repeal only version of the health care bill including Lisa Murkowski. She will be casting her vote. She was just targeted by the president this morning on Twitter for her vote yesterday. Stand by for that.

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