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Trump Jr., Manafort To Avoid Senate Hearing Next Hour; Sessions To Announce Stepped Up Leak Investigations; Trump Bans Transgender Service Members; Interview with Rep. Ted Lieu. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:14] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. As of 9:00 a.m. here on the East Coast, Jeff Sessions is still the Attorney General and Senate Republicans have not passed a healthcare overhaul yet.

Will that be the case at the end of the show or even the end of the day? As the President would say, only time will tell.

Minutes from now, the Senate is expected to take up a repeal-only proposal to try to overhaul ObamaCare. This just hours after lawmakers rejected the Republicans' most comprehensive plan to repeal and replace.

BERMAN: This morning the President is on the attack against key votes within his own party targeting Lisa Murkowski for her opposition to brining healthcare to the Senate floor. This is what he wrote.

Senator Lisa Murkowski of the great state of Alaska really let the Republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad.

Senator Murkowski's name now part of the President's growing naughty list that now, most prominently, includes his own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. The President seems to be trying to push him out through a campaign of public humiliation. But this morning, sources tell CNN that several White House officials are urging the President to just back off.

We're covering every angle of this this morning. Let's begin with the healthcare debate. CNN's M.J. Lee on Capitol Hill.

M.J., where are we and where are we going?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning, guys. Well, the next couple of days are going to be extremely chaotic. And at this point, it's really hard to be able to lay out hour by hour what we expect to see happen.

But let's just begin with what we saw happen last night. After senators voted on the motion to proceed, they took up an amendment that was a comprehensive repeal and replace bill that Mitch McConnell had been working on with his colleagues to hash out. Now, it included a hundred billion dollars in extra funding to go

towards Medicaid states, as well as an amendment from Ted Cruz. This was an amendment that was pushed by some conservative members, including Mike Lee and others.

Now, that was not successful. And I want to emphasize here that this was an amendment that required 60 votes for passage because the CBO had not scored it. However, even though it was not expected to pass, the end vote there was 43 to 57. So really, it does not bode well for any attempts to move forward on anything that resembles a comprehensive repeal and replace plan.

Now, what we expect to see today, is that they will bring up the 2015 repeal bill. Remember, this is a bill that was passed through Congress two years ago but that President Barack Obama vetoed. And remember, this is something that would repeal the individual and employer mandates and Medicaid expansion and repeal a lot of the taxes in ObamaCare.

Now, we do not expect this amendment to be successful either because too many Senate Republicans have already come out to say that they do not want to vote for something that is repeal only without a replacement in place.

Now, when I said chaotic earlier, this is because we are going to see a flood of amendments come to the Senate floor. Democrats have promised that they expect to release dozens and dozens of amendments essentially to force Senate Republicans to take very difficult political votes in the next couple of days.

The end goal here is to get something out of the Senate so that they can move to the House that hash out something out -- out -- hash out the differences, but we'll see if the Senate Republicans can actually get something out from the Senate this week. John and Poppy.

HARLOW: M.J. Lee in Washington. Thank you very much. President Trump has treated his own Attorney General like a pinata with public taunts and excoriating attacks.

Now, he may be content to just sort of let Jeff Sessions twist in the wind. President Trump is refusing to say if he will fire Sessions. We're even learning that some top officials in the White House are urging the President to rein in those attacks.

Let's go to the White House. That's where we find Joe Johns this morning. Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Certainly unprecedented criticism from the President of the United States directed at his Attorney General.

President Trump's chief complaint, we've heard it before, is that the Attorney General recused himself in the Russia investigation when the President thinks he didn't have to do that and should not have done that. But there are some other complaints the President has articulated, including one that the Attorney General has not done enough to deal with leakers in the administration.

So just a little while ago here on CNN, the communications director -- the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, indicating that Sessions is putting together a comprehensive, if you will, interagency plan to deal with leakers, which might help Sessions at least try to get back in the good graces of the President.

Still, the question is whether President Trump wants the A.G. out. Here's what the communications director said about that.


[09:05:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think that he's going to get rid of Jeff Sessions because he seems to be injuring him in public?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I don't know the answer to that. But I would recommend to every cabinet secretary and every teammate that I have here on the West Wing, have a tough skin. And --

CUOMO: Have they spoken?

SCARAMUCCI: I don't know the answer.


JOHNS: Sessions, of course, was the first sitting United States senator to endorse Donald Trump when he was running for president. And the President has more or less been minimizing, over the last 24 hours or so, that move by Sessions. Here is what he said to "The Wall Street Journal."

He was a senator from Alabama. He looks at 40 people -- 40,000 people and he probably says, so what do I have to lose, and he endorsed me. So it's not like a great loyal thing about the endorsement.

So does Sessions stay or go? Of course, it would be very difficult for the President to get rid of him because it would be very difficult to find a replacement.

And there is something else to consider. Sessions built up a huge conservative following when he was in the United States Senate. Now, those conservative followers seem to be coming to his rescue. John and Poppy, back to you.

BERMAN: That's right. Conservative Republicans in the Senate rallying to his support right now, not to mention conservative media as well. Joe Johns, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all this. Joining us Mark Preston, CNN senior political analyst; Jack Kingston, a CNN political commentator, former congressman from the state of Georgia. He is also a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Jennifer Psaki, former White House communications director under President Obama. She, too, a CNN political commentator. And Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

Laura, I want to start with you and the law right now. You think that what the President's doing here is trying to force Jeff Sessions to quit because firing him, taking the active effort to fire him, might expose him to future obstruction charges. My question to you, though, is, you know, pushing a guy out by publicly humiliating him, will the law look on that any differently than actually firing him?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. I mean, it will look at it a little differently because the passive-aggressive approach would say that, look, the President the United States, if Jeff Sessions resigns, he did not have an intent and actual hand in the firing, therefore you would have a more tangential relationship with the idea of obstruction of justice. So that's not going to be a situation where you have the President of the United States being as complicit in.

So he wants to force him out in a way that doesn't make him look like he is obstructing. Remember, when he fired James Comey, you had a very scenario. You have the usurpation of Loretta Lynch in an earlier press conference a year before. And so you did have universal criticism of James Comey that gave the President an escape route to say, that's really why I let him go, not because of this Russia thing.

Now, you have the President of the United States on record with the "New York Times" talking about his dismay with the Attorney General over his handling of Russia. And that, my friend, looks more like obstruction. And remember, the end game here is to have somebody in place to be able to get rid of Robert Mueller, the one person who's charged with independence over the Russian criminal probe.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Let me get you to weigh in on a tweet from the President. I think we might have it. We can put it on the screen. He just tweeted this a few moments ago.

After consulting with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming -- and it looks like there's going to be more to come.

Congressman Kingston, as someone who worked on the Trump campaign, as a fellow Republican, what is your response?

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER FOR THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, I think that the lead of the Senate statement is that he's listened to his military advisors, which is one of the criticisms from the left and the right often that the President gets, is that he doesn't listen to the key people, whether they're in the intel community or local law enforcement or whatever. So this is the case where he's actually saying, I've sat down, I've heard their concerns.

And, you know, I want to say one other thing as a Republican taking a step back. At the Republican convention last July, he was the first nominee in our -- in the history of our party to talk about LBGQ from the platform of the state arena. And it think, you know, he is a progressive guy. Ted Cruz accused him of having New York values -- BERMAN: Right.

KINGSTON: -- meaning far more tolerance, so I don't think it's, you know, a slam against transgenders as much as practicality that his generals and his military leadership is saying not right now.

HARLOW: Well --

BERMAN: Well, on the one hand --

HARLOW: Hold on.

BERMAN: Mr. Congressman, you are correct, the President, when he was a candidate, did say Caitlyn Jenner could come use the bathroom --


BERMAN: -- at Trump Tower anytime he wanted. He did take a position there. However, this was an important issue, I think, to the transgender community.

Let me just read to you the rest of this statement from the President because that just came out. He was talking about the military. He doesn't want them to be overburdened. He cannot be burdened by -- with the tremendous medical cost and disruption a transgender in the military would entail.

[09:10:00] Thank you. You know, Jen Psaki, one point. First of all, the President just made an official policy statement right now this morning. He did on Twitter.

And some people say, you shouldn't pay attention to Twitter. Well, this is a big policy decision --


BERMAN: -- the President has just made right there and that's how he chose to do it, which is why we're discussing it right now.

This was President Obama, whom you worked for, this was, you know, a decision he made, to open up the military to transgender troops. Your reaction now to the President's statement.

JENNIFER PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, it's not a decision that any president just makes in the Oval Office by themselves. President Obama made that decision after careful consideration and consultation for months and months and months with high-level members of the military who wanted the time to consider whether it could be implemented.

So I don't -- I'm just going to take Donald Trump's tweet and blame or -- a statement that he consulted with military leaders with a grain of salt because there really has already been months and years of consultation and consideration. I think this is a purely political decision and something he's doing to try to satisfy his right wing. Nothing more than that. It's really disappointing because there has

been a lot of thought that is -- that was put into that policy. The country has changed, the country has moved, and the military had put a lot of planning into making that policy decision to begin with.

HARLOW: Let's go to the Pentagon. We have our Barbara Starr there.

And, Barbara, this is a -- he says this is what his generals and military experts have advised him to do. This is -- would be an overhaul of the Obama administration policy. What else are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, you know, where we are, across the hall from the Pentagon press office, this tweet has taken them really very suddenly. We were just asking for some guidance on all of this.

And right now, there's nobody in the press office that knew the President was going to make this statement on Twitter. That may tell us something about the level of consultation.

But let's take a step back for a minute. The United States military, the people who serve in the U.S. military, always have been a reflection of American society. So number one, if anybody thinks that there are not already transgender persons serving on active duty in the U.S. military, I would say think again.

The -- you know, people from across America, let's just put it that way, everywhere, serve in the U.S. military. So there will have to be a decision about what the President thinks is going to happen to people already serving on active duty by any account on -- in an honorable fashion who are transgender.

Now, the next thing is, under the Obama administration and the previous Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, there was this decision, in fact, to begin to look at this and indeed begin to look at the medical costs if they wanted to get the medical treatment that they would be going through, the medical procedures, and how to do all of this.

The next step, they took it to the military chiefs, the heads of all the services, the chiefs of staff of the army, the Marine Corps, the chief of naval operations, the head of the air force, to get their input on what should be done.

There was, by the chiefs, some discussion that they wanted to put it off, that they weren't really ready to advise wholesale on moving ahead with any of the proposals on how these people who identify themselves as transgender, who are transgender, might be able to get medical procedures while they were serving in the U.S. military.

So we knew, from Defense Secretary Mattis, that some of this delay was in the works while they were continuing to look at it, but what the President has done is put full stop on it. And now, what we don't know is the way ahead. Can somebody who is transgender not serve the country? Is that really what we're looking at? BERMAN: Well, just, you know, his policy, which he just laid out, he

said, in any capacity. So he's not just talking about front lines, not just talking about infantry here.

HARLOW: Right, any more.

BERMAN: In any capacity. We may learn more --

STARR: So, John --

BERMAN: Go ahead, Barbara.

STARR: Let me just say something. If you take the Commander-in-Chief at his word, may not serve in any capacity, does -- and, of course, this is very early moments of the President's tweet.

May not serve in any capacity. Does the United States military now go on a search for those who are serving who are transgender and force them out of the military? I think, right now, as we stand here, that is the big unanswered question.

BERMAN: And we have to learn more going forward. Barbara Starr, we're going to let you go. Thank you very much from that Perspective from the Pentagon.

We want to shift back for just a moment to what we were talking about before, Mark Preston, and this is, you know, the fate of Jeff Sessions going forward as the Attorney General.

[09:15:01] One of the things that has developed really over the last 24 hours is the groundswell of support for the Attorney General from within the Republican Party. Republican senators coming out very publicly saying, no, no, we stand by Jeff Sessions. Conservative media coming out and saying, no, no, we stand by Jeff Sessions right now, and now some people in the White House apparently telling the president he should back off. What do you make of it?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, 24 hours ago, we were sitting here in the same position, and we talked about how there still is a little bit of loyalty left in Washington, D.C. and we are actually seeing that play out now.

Whether that is centrist or Republican senators who tend to go more to the Senate because I don't necessarily want to call them centrist. But Lindsey Graham, for instance, coming out and forcefully defending him.

Rob Portman from Ohio forcefully coming out acknowledging he doesn't always agree with Jeff Sessions on the issues, but yet finds him to be an honorable man. At the same time, we are seeing the same things from conservatives.

Let's take a step back, though, and look at the totality of what Donald Trump is doing now. Not only is he personally hurting Jeff Sessions because he's humiliating him, but Donald Trump is hurting himself. He's hurting the presidency because what he's doing is that he's weakening some of the most powerful people that he's surrounded himself with that he needs to be effective.

Now whether that is trying to implement his policies or whether that is Jeff Sessions trying to go to Capitol Hill in order to get Republicans to come on board, maybe try to whip some votes on some of the other controversial policies that they may address in the future.

So President Trump may think that he's taking a dig at Jeff Sessions and he is, but it really is hurting him personally by doing so.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman, quickly before we go, do you think that there is one legitimate reason for President Trump to fire Jeff Sessions, if he does?

JACK KINGSTON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that they should have had a better understanding about what his role would be. As I understand it, before he recused himself, he did not talk to the president. I do think that's a slap to the president.

But I want to say this. What Anthony Scaramucci just said on the previous clip was that you need to have thick skin to be in this cabinet and yesterday he said the two of them needs to talk.

I believe that Attorney General Sessions really does have a way back to viability and vibrancy by looking at the leaks, maybe doing something on opioids, continuing to be a strong enforcer of the border.

And I think you can have a fall and a rise in this town. We've seen it with Newt Gingrich. We saw it with John Boehner. I was in the House when Boehner was actually thrown out of leadership, but came back to become speaker.

And then Newt who resigned as speaker is now one of the most influential voices in America. So, you can fall in Washington or be pushed, but you can come back.

HARLOW: Though the method and the tweets are a whole new ball game. Congressman, thank you. Mark Preston, Jen Psaki, Laura Coates, we appreciate it.

A major Senate hearing on Russia's election meddling about to get underway. The headline is who is not going to be there. Two of those folks on your screen, but who is there also fascinating.

BERMAN: Also, the new sanctions bill against Russia drawing new critics but not from the White House or really even just the Russians this time so who is complaining now?

Plus, time off or thinking about taking off. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson back at work today amid reports that he is frustrated and may be possibly thinking about resigning early.


HARLOW: Next hour on Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off the hearing digging into Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The real headline maybe the lack of some of the people who were going to be there but now they are not.

BERMAN: Yes, no Donald Trump Jr, no Paul Manafort, at least not yet. CNN's Manu Raju joins us live. Manu, though, we are expecting some interesting details and some people we really haven't heard from much at these hearings.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. In fact, Michael Horowitz, who is a Department of Justice inspector general in fact launched an investigation for months in the aftermath of the James Comey decision to publicly announce that Hillary Clinton was not under investigation, was not to be charged with a crime after the e-mail investigation.

Mr. Horowitz announced earlier this year that he would look into the circumstances of Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail case as well as Comey's decision to, of course, tell Congress just days before the election that they were going to look into this matter further.

In addition to that, Horowitz has been urged by a number of senators and congressmen to look into other issues including the firing of James Comey by President Trump as well as the recusal of Jeff Sessions, the attorney general from overseeing the Russia probe and whether or not he effectively recused himself or whether or not he's interfered in any way.

A lot of key issues Michael Horowitz is going to be weighing in on. Now we have other justice officials who are testifying today as well as Bill Browder who is a financier, who could shed new light into some Russian activities here in the United States in his own experiences with that.

But indeed there could be new information that this committee gleans even though Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. as well as Glenn Simpson, who is the head of that firm, (inaudible), behind that Russian dossier all cut deals with the Judiciary Committee to avoid appearing in public in today's hearing providing some records, potentially private interview before they come publicly.

But at least the committee believes they can get some more information from these key witnesses today -- John and Poppy.

HARLOW: All right, that kicks off very shortly. You'll see the opening statements live right here. Manu Raju, thank you very much.

Some more breaking news just into us, officials tell CNN that Attorney General Jeff Sessions indeed as some reports were swirling is planning to announce stepped up multiple investigations on leaks. This is something the president has called for over and over again and criticized the attorney general for not doing more on. Now he clearly is. [09:25:03] BERMAN: Yes. This may be one of the paths that Jeff Sessions has to rehabilitation in the eyes of the president. We will see what happens with that.

All right, joining us now to talk about a lot of developments this morning, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Judiciary Committee. Congressman, thanks for being with us.

First, we want to get your reaction to the breaking news that we learned just moments ago, the president put out a statement saying that transgender individuals will not be allowed to serve in the United States military in any capacity. Your reaction.

REP. TED LIEU, D-CALIFORNIA: I thank you, John and Poppy, for having me on your show. I believe that is an awful decision and in fact the bipartisan House of Representatives rejected that very amendment last week. We voted on it. We rejected it.

So, I'm surprised the president tweeted that this morning. I served in active duty in the military. I can tell you we don't care about gender orientation or identity or who you love. We just care you can shoot straight and complete the mission.

HARLOW: He cites, the president, first of all, his generals and military experts of this decision and then he cites what he calls burdensome and tremendous medical costs and disruption of having transgenders serve in any capacity in the military.

This follows a statement from the president back in June of last year, a tweet, when he said, "Thank you to the LGBT community. I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs." Does this do that?

LIEU: I have no idea where he gets his burdensome medical costs from. But keep in mind, what he's doing now is excluding qualified and competent people from (inaudible) military. A military that we need to continue to recruit people to join and so this is actually hurting our military readiness and I hope that he reverses his decision.

BERMAN: You know, the Rand (ph) Corporation estimates about 4,000 transgender people currently serve in the military. Congressman, what do you think happens to them and what is your message to the transgender people serving right now?

LIEU: It's going to have a similar effect under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" when that was implemented. People are going to go into hiding. You're going to have commanders who are not going to want to have their troops be taken away from the military because they're doing a great job.

You've got thousands of people serving in the military who are transgender and doing a fantastic job, and this really is a slap in the face to them and it's going to hurt our military readiness.

HARLOW: All right, we're going to stay on this topic. We're going to ask your Republican counterpart in the Senate, Richard Shelby, about this. We do want to get you on some other topics because you have been very vocal about them on Twitter.

One of them is Jeff Sessions. Here's a tweet from you yesterday, "Dear Lion Jeff Sessions, the bad feeling you have in being bullied by POTUS is a small taste of what millions of immigrants feel every day."

That sounds like you do not want him in this job. Do you think Jeff Sessions should fire -- be fired or quit?

LIEU: Thank you, Poppy, for that question. I am deeply conflicted. In a normal world, I would have wanted Jeff Sessions to have resigned months ago. But in this bizarre Trump world Jeff Sessions is one of the people keeping Special Counsel Mueller from being fired.

I think it's, quote, "un-seemingly and un-presidential" for Donald Trump to publicly criticize his own attorney general and if you were to force him to resign or to fire him then I think that could be obstruction of justice.

BERMAN: Just to clear, it's OK for you to criticize the attorney general, but not for the president. I'm not sure the First Amendment works like that, Congressman. I mean, I will say it's unusual for the president to say it but you know, you're criticizing too.

LIEU: Well, let me give you an example of James Comey. There were people on the Democrat and Republican side who did not like him and criticized him, but a fire storm broke out because the president fired him. It's because the president was doing that with corrupt intent to obstruct justice and that's what we're seeing now.

HARLOW: That's your opinion.

LIEU: That is my opinion. But what we're seeing now is he's not trying to get Jeff Sessions to resign because they disagree on immigration policy. He's trying to get him to resign because he won't influence of the Russian investigation. That's a problem.

BERMAN: He made it absolutely clear. It's because Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation. That's why he is angry and some people do take that leak to say right now what the president wants to do is look for a way to push out Robert Mueller.

We'll have to see if anything develops there. The president basically said he's going to wait on that one. Congressman Ted Lieu of California, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

LIEU: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. One step forward, one step back, the Senate is in session in just minutes debating health care after, you know, getting away through yesterday dealt a severe setback overnight. What's next?