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Sessions Testimony Under Scrutiny; Agriculture Nominee Withdraws; Republicans On Tax Cuts; Video Of Terrorist; New York City Terrorist; Carter Page Criticized by Lawmakers. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 2, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Gloria Borger is with us. There's -- this is an important day and there are other issues, of course, hanging over the president. But the Republicans seem pretty hopeful they can get these tax cuts, the tax reform, through. It's going to be a tough struggle.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, it's going to be a tough struggle. It costs a lot of money. There are some Republicans who are concerned about the implications for the deficit.
There is also a lot of concern about the corporate tax rate and the president wants it very low. Can you afford to do that? There are -- there are -- there are questions about 401Ks, et cetera, et cetera.
You know, how do you take away things from people that they already have. How do you make sure that this isn't perceived if you are -- you are repealing the estate tax in any way. Even if it's gradual, how do you make sure this isn't perceived as a tax break for the wealthy?
However, Republicans understand that they have to get this done because they need to go home to their constituents and say, look, we are all about tax cuts. This is what the Republican Party is about and we want to give this to you because we didn't repeal and replace Obamacare.
BLITZER: Especially, even more importantly, because they failed --
BLITZER: -- to repeal and replace --
BLITZER: -- Obamacare. Now, the pressure is on them and they're deeply concerned if they don't get these --
BLITZER: -- tax cuts through, the tax reform unveiled today in the House of Representatives. It could be a disaster politically for them next year. BORGER: And the special interest will be out there. You know, the
home builders have already come out and said that they -- that they oppose this.
And so, once you put a tax bill on the table, everybody comes out of the woodwork. And the special interests come out and they want to try and reshape it. And, you know, that's one advantage to trying to get it done quickly. But there is going to be a big fight over this.
BLITZER: There certainly will be and we'll have much more coming up on the latest tax proposals here in the United States.
We want to welcome our viewers by the way, here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
There's other important news we're following, including some dramatic new video, the moments after the suspect terrorist smashed his truck into a New York City school bus, after a mile-long killing spree on a bike path.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The (INAUDIBLE) OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, (INAUDIBLE.) You OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got stuck behind there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Are you OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Oh, my god. Hey, I need -- can you call 911? I got it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god! Oh, my god! OK. I need an ambulance right here. Right here. The guy got T-boned. This kid right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That very emotional video coming to light just hours after the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, appeared in court shackled and in a wheelchair.
Investigators say he waived his rights and admitted he was inspired by ISIS, admitted he had been planning the attack for a year, admitted he wanted the carnage to continue on the -- onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
The criminal complaint also revealing he chose Halloween as the day because more people he thought, more potential innocent victims would be on the streets of New York City.
And that's not all. According to federal investigators, the 29-year- old is so devoted to ISIS, he wanted to displace -- display the terror group's flag in his hospital room. He had been shot in the abdomen by an NYPD police officer, telling police he felt good about everything he had just done.
Joining us now, CNN Terrorism Analyst Paul Cruickshank. Paul, when you look at how the suspect says he planned this, rehearsed it, how it was executed, it sounds as if it's coming right from the ISIS playbook.
PAUL CRUICKSHANK, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Literally right from the ISIS playbook. Wolf, there was a manual put out by ISIS in November 2016, about a year ago, and he followed that to the letter right down to the verbiage in his claim of allegiance to ISIS.
So, he was paying very, very close attention to what ISIS was saying and following their instructions to a T.
Somebody, we understand from the complaint, who was planning some kind of an attack in the United States for one year, which takes us all the way back to last November.
Well, last November, he was actually forced to pay a fine for a traffic citation that was, sort of, perhaps, a grievance attached to that.
We've seen, in past cases, notedly with Chattanooga where the suspect was arrested for drunk driving just a few months before the attack. But a brush with the law can, really, help trigger a move towards wanting to launch an attack.
Of course, we understand he had other grievances. Grievances over the United States air strikes in Iraq against ISIS. Grievances against the United States policy towards Israel.
[13:05:04] This was somebody that was listening to speeches by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. We understand that also played a significant role.
But he was very meticulous in his planning, lots of preparations, testing the maneuver of (INAUDIBLE) of a truck that he was going to hire. He wanted to kill as many people as possible. That is what ISIS have told sympathizers is a top priority in these attacks.
He wanted to carry on driving, head towards the Brooklyn Bridge and take out many more people. Fortunately, he was stopped before he was able to do that.
BLITZER: Yes, he was. The suspect also says he was inspired by watching hundreds of ISIS videos on his cell phone. Officials say he had about 90 videos stored there. And nearly 4,000 ISIS images on his phone. Many of them incredibly graphic, including beheadings of innocent people.
Could that be the main way he was actually radicalized? CRUICKSHANK: Well, actually, in most cases, it's not online
radicalization which is dominant. In most cases, it's some kind of contact with people that you know socially that are like-minded people that, really, is the driver.
And so, we'll have to wait and find out more information about the nature of his contacts in the United States.
But what we already know is that he was on the periphery of a number of counterterrorism investigations. People that the FBI were looking into, suggesting that he was moving in radical circles inside the United States, Wolf. That's very significant.
We need to hear a lot more about what kind of connectivity he has to these individuals who were under investigation.
BLITZER: They're learning a lot every single day.
All right, Paul Cruickshank, thanks very much.
Meanwhile, serious questions are being raised about whether President Trump is now jeopardizing the prosecution's case after tweeting, not once, but twice, that the suspect should be put to death. He sent the first tweet last night and then another doubling down this morning.
Let's discuss this and more, the impact of the president's words, what could that have.
Joining us, the former counsel to the assistant attorney general for national security, Carrie Cordero, CNN Legal Commentator, the former Virginia attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, and still with us, our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.
You know, Carrie, this is a serious issue. If the federal government in a federal court wants to charge him with crimes that could lead to capital punishment, the death penalty, presumably, the defense could use the president's words as undermining that opportunity.
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER ASSISTANT TO ATTORNEY GENERAL, U.S. HOMELAND NATIONAL SECURITY: You know, it does. It raises that problem and, you know, one would think that the president's advisers would be able to communicate that to him. But when he is tweeting specifically about a particular -- a particular penalty.
So, going, sort of, beyond saying just, this person needs to be brought to justice, but he should have the death penalty when this individual, a criminal complaint has been filed.
He is going to be prosecuted in the southern district of New York. That court has a lot of experience with terrorism cases. So, regarding the debate over whether that's an appropriate venue, that particular court in New York has lots of experience with terrorism cases, so they can handle this case.
But what they don't need is some sort of political statement potentially jeopardizing the legitimacy or the process of that particular case (INAUDIBLE.)
BLITZER: Yes, let me read that -- there a couple of tweets but I'll just read one. NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. This is the president tweeting. He killed eight people, badly injured 12. Should get death penalty.
You are a former attorney general in Virginia. Could that weaken the case that the federal prosecutors might have, once they go to court? Jury tampering, that's what some people are suggesting.
KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it doesn't -- it doesn't weaken the case. It does give the prosecutors, or we'll start with the defense counsel, one more layer of motions they're going to get through. And it'll be primarily played out in jury selection.
And, you know, there are enough people, I think, in New York who don't give a lot of credence to what the president says that it isn't going to be hard to seat a jury that would be unbiassed from the start, even though this will be a well-known matter.
I mean, we dealt with something like this in Virginia. This -- in the whole D.C. area with the sniper. It was a terrorism situation. It was multiple offenses. Not one.
So, there were two states to choose from. And you had federal involvement. It ended up being a state-prosecuted case. This will, undoubtedly, be a federal-prosecuted case. If for no other reason, then New York doesn't have the death penalty.
BLITZER: Yes, he's being pretty specific, Gloria, the president of the United States, not saying suspected terrorist or alleged or anything like that.
He's already convicted him, if you take a look at what he's put out there on Twitter. There is -- when he says, would love to send the New York City terrorist to Guantanamo, but, statistically, that process takes much longer than going through the federal system.
[13:10:06] There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. Death penalty.
BLITZER: So, he's already convicted the guys, although he seemed to be --
CUCCINELLI: He admitted it.
CUCCINELLI: This isn't -- this isn't one where that's a big issue. Normally, I would have the same sort of reservations you do, Wolf, but when this guy is declaring it to the world after the fact. You know, obviously, there is plenty of video evidence and everything else. I don't have a problem with that. BORGER: It's political -- you know, and it's a political statement.
I mean, we've had other politicians, presidents, after terrible terror events coming out and saying, you know, this guy ought to get the death penalty --
BORGER: -- or he's guilty. So, you know, you can -- you can, really, read it as a -- as a political statement. Is it potentially counterproductive? Sure.
But, you know, in the end, I think what the president says, in this particular venue, as you were -- as you were pointing out, the people who are going to be potential jurors will probably not have much of an impact. Should he probably not say that? Yes.
CUCCINELLI: And I -- and I would --
BORGER: It's, like -- he wouldn't be the first politician to come out and say somebody ought to be brought to justice.
BLITZER: It's popular -- politically, it's popular. But going legally to carry out (INAUDIBLE.)
CORDERO: Well, he also, sort of, back tracked from what he tweeted last night which is, obviously, last -- yesterday evening, somebody briefed him on the fact that using Gitmo, Guantanamo Bay, for this particular case would be inappropriate, given that the events took place here that the individual has lawful status in the United States.
So, obviously, he had to back track a little bit, but it --
BORGER: And that it would take longer.
CUCCINELLI: That was interesting. That was interesting, yes.
CORDERO: He originally said -- he originally said he's open to naming him as an enemy combatant, sending him to Gitmo, sending him to Guantanamo Bay. But, overnight, he apparently changed his mind. Although White House press secretary flatly said he is an enemy combatant, this -- the suspect in this particular case.
Everybody, stand by. There is a lot more going on.
We have breaking news in the Russia investigation. Days after the special counsel, Robert Mueller, announced the indictments of former top campaign officials, there's now some new CNN reporting about heightened scrutiny. Right now, the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Stand by, we'll share the new information.
Plus, North Korea said to be working on an advanced missile capable of hitting the United States. The president's national security adviser getting ready to meet with journalists, answer reporter questions at the White House briefing. We'll have live coverage of that as well.
And a stunning claim. The former interim head of the Democratic National Committee now saying that Hillary Clinton had a secret deal that helped rob Bernie Sanders of the presidential -- the Democratic presidential nomination. Stand by. We have new information.
[13:16:46] BLITZER: There's breaking news here in Washington up on Capitol Hill. Several lawmakers now openly questioning just how accurate the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, was when he testified before Congress. There are concerns following a former Trump campaign adviser's guilty plea on Monday in the Russia investigation detailing campaign officials discussing meetings with Russians. Something Sessions said under oath, quote, never happened.
He's speaking live at a veteran's event here in Washington right now. We're monitoring that.
But I want to quickly go to CNN's Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill with the breaking news.
Manu, what are lawmakers telling you?
MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats are raising sharp concerns and Republicans say they want to look into this matter further.
Now, this started on Monday in -- after court papers were unsealed that show that George Papadopoulos, that foreign policy adviser, had actually floated a meeting between President Putin of Russia and then candidate Donald Trump. Now, at that meeting, Trump did not dismiss the idea, but Jeff Sessions, who was then a senator and a top surrogate for the campaign, weighed in and he said that a terrible -- that's a bad idea. He rejected it. This is according to a source in the room who tells us that's exactly what happened.
Now, this is prompting a lot of questions on Capitol Hill because, as you can recall, Wolf, under sworn testimony on multiple occasions, over the past year, Sessions, now the attorney general, was asked multiple times about his conversation with Russians, if he overhead any conversations with Russia, about Russian meetings and the like during the campaign. He either did not recall or rejected that. He said things like this earlier this year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.
Well, let me just say this without hesitation. That I conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country. (END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And this happened repeatedly during his hearings earlier this year, even when Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, asked him about whether or not he heard any conversations occurring about Russia meetings. He said, I have not seen anything to indicate collusion with the campaign.
Now, Democrats in particular are very angry. They now are saying that he should amend his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee. Here's what they said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Jeff Sessions concealed his meetings with the Russians and he had an obligation to be more forth coming about the meetings that involved Papadopoulos as well. And, in fact, one of the points of question is whether Papadopoulos, in that charging document, where there's a reference to a campaign supervisor, was, in fact, talking to Jeff Sessions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was very troubled by the attorney general's comments overall.
[13:20:00] RAJU: What kind of concerns do you have?
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: HEINRICH: About whether he is being honest and forthright with the committee, and what does that mean for the highest law enforcement officer in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Wolf, I just talked to the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, the Republican of Iowa, and I asked him if he shared these concerns. He said he's still learning the details, but he said, I'm going to look into it. And also the number two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, who sits on those two key committees, said it's a certainly legitimate area to explore. Something that he's trying to learn more details on too, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Let's bring back our panel.
Carrie Cordero, Ken Cuccinelli, and Gloria Borger.
So, what could this renewed scrutiny of the attorney general lead to potentially?
BORGER: Well, he may have to amend his testimony. You know, maybe they're going to call him back. I think the big issue here is George Papadopoulos. And nobody knew that he was going to be raised in this.
Jeff Sessions could conceivably say, as have many people in the campaign, who is this guy? CUCCINELLI: Right.
BORGER: I didn't know who he is. And, yes, I was in a meeting with him and, yes, now it was raised that, should Trump have a meeting with Putin and, according to our reporting at CNN, Jeff Sessions was the one who shut that down and said, no, candidate Trump is not going to have a meeting with Putin. So he -- yes, members of Congress have a right to say, well, we didn't get the whole picture. But Jeff Sessions will probably say, if I had to guess, I didn't know who this guy was and as soon as it was raised in that meeting, in which other things were also raised for foreign policy, I shut that suggestion down.
BLITZER: Should he at least now go back to the committees, the attorney general, and say, yes, I was at that meeting with the president. George Papadopoulos was at that meeting as well. I issue of Russia came up. We had a brief discussion about it. I didn't think it was a smart idea for the president to go to Moscow to meet with Putin. I'll just -- I should have probably told you about that during the Q and A, but I didn't.
CUCCINELLI: I mean the way it sounds at this point is that a discussion was sort of proposed and he shut it down. So his perspective may very well be, there wasn't a discussion. There was nothing to discuss. We said, we're not going down that path and we didn't talk about it any further.
Now, does that mean you talked about it? Yes, arguably, you could say yes. And so, in that sense, he may make -- the need to amend.
CUCCINELLI: But I doubt he remembers much. This is a guy who just showed up in March. Nobody really knows why he was there. That hasn't been explained yet.
BLITZER: You're talking about Papadopoulos?
CUCCINELLI: I'm talking about Papadopoulos. So if you're the senator from Alabama and you're leading the national security team, which was very thrown together, you know, really to show there was something together, you know, you're not taking this very seriously.
BLITZER: Let me let Carrie weigh in.
CORDERO: Here's the problem a little bit with that argument is, Jeff Sessions was the head -- the ostensible head of the national security advisory group. And even if he did, and if we take him at his word that he shut down the particular proposal at that meeting, the plea agreement that Papadopoulos reached indicates that after that meeting, for at least a couple months, Papadopoulos was e-mailing other senior campaign advisers about setting up meetings with Russian government related officials.
BORGER: Right. CORDERO: And so if Sessions was the head of that committee and he didn't like what was being proposed at that meeting, then he should have either said afterwards, what is this guy doing on this team? What's he talking about? I don't want any more of this. There should not have been a couple more months of activity, at least that we know of, as evidence in that plea agreement of potential meetings being set up and communications that this guy was having, Papadopoulos was having with these Russian contacts.
CUCCINELLI: Yes, but all we know from what's been publically released is the one way. This looks like a pie in the sky thing. The guy said, I'm going to set up this meeting between Trump and the president of Russia, just like they set one up with the president of Mexico, and say (INAUDIBLE) --
BLITZER: But look what's now happening today with somebody else who was involved with Papadopoulos and that advisory meeting, the former Trump campaign adviser Sam Clovis --
BLITZER: Who had been nominated for a senior position at the Department of Agriculture, has all of a sudden today announced he's withdrawing his name.
BLITZER: Saying this, the political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position. The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day.
BORGER: But he was one of the people that Papadopoulos was communicating with.
CUCCINELLI: Right. Right.
BORGER: Who was apparently encouraging Papadopoulos to try and set up these meetings. And what Jeff Sessions has said is, that he wasn't aware of anybody that had any communications with Russians. And so I think there's a -- there is a disconnect here.
BORGER: And it's a problem for Clovis. And I do think Sessions probably ought to amend his testimony. But I'm --
CUCCINELLI: Well, let's be clear, it's a bigger problem for Clovis than it is for the attorney general.
BORGER: Yes. Exactly. Of course. Of course.
BLITZER: Right. And that's why Clovis is no longer going to be working at the Department of Agriculture.
CUCCINELLI: That's right. That's right.
[13:25:01] BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. There's much more coming up.
Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page is grilled on Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential election. This as President Trump insists he's not under investigation himself.
And we're standing by for today's White House press briefing. It's just moments away. We'll hear from the president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster and Sarah Sanders. Live coverage of that, coming up.
BLITZER: Yet another Trump campaign advisers in the hot seat today, grilled by House investigators about possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was questioned behind closed doors this morning by members of the House Intelligence Committee. President Trump has described the appearance as a chance for Carter Page to clear his name.
This testimony comes on the heels of two indictments, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign staffer Rick Gates in a guilty plea by another former adviser to the campaign, George Papadopoulos.
Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congressman Andre Carson. He's a Democrat from Indiana and he's a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, so this was called an open hearing in a closed space, meaning we didn't know what was going on, although I take it the transcript eventually will be released. What can you tell us about what you heard today from this former campaign adviser, Carter Page.
CARSON: Well, what I will say is that members on both sides of the aisle were asking very important questions to kind to get to the bottom of his involvement with the campaign and his involvement on the other side. I think it's important for us to really dig more deeply. You know, this three-pronged approach with the House Intel Committee, Senate Intel Committee and Director Mueller's investigation are all of our -- are all a part of pushing for a more perfect union. I mean this is -- this is our tax dollars at work. And so I think making sure that we bring in the right witnesses and we ask the right questions, I think it furthers our efforts to honor the truth. [13:30:00] BLITZER: And Carter Page was part of that same Trump
campaign foreign policy advisory board as George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to those charges earlier in the week. Page says -- said publically that he may have seen e-mails from Papadopoulos on