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Jeff Sessions to Face Grilling from House Members on Russia Contacts; Donald Trump Junior Exchanged Private Messages with WikiLeaks During 2016 Elections; Pence Denied Trump Campaign Coordinated With Wikileaks; Soon: Sessions Grilled On Knowledge Of Russia Contacts. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 14, 2017 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you can just give somebody 10 seconds. Ten seconds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CAMEROTA: For more information you can go to justlikeyoufilms.org.
CUOMO: And unfortunately 10 seconds is nine and a half more than too many people have given each other these days.
CAMEROTA: That's right.
CUOMO: The movie is a good instruction. I hope you see it.
All right. It's time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. And good morning, everybody. I'm Poppy Harlow.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman.
The breaking news this morning, Donald Trump Jr. exchanged private messages with WikiLeaks, so naturally the attorney general is considering appointing a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
Explosive developments. Let's start with the backdrop for what would be a dramatic morning on Capitol Hill. Just minutes from now Attorney General Jeff Sessions sits before the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats promise tough questions about why Sessions keeps denying the Trump campaign had contacts with Russia, despite the fact that at least two campaign advisers now say they told Sessions they did.
HARLOW: Then there's the revelation overnight that the Justice Department says that Sessions has asked prosecutors there to examine whether or not to name a special counsel to look into various matters surrounding Hillary Clinton, something that the president has openly campaigned for, for a long time on Twitter and elsewhere.
But wait, there's more. This news just out hours after we learned the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., exchanged messages with WikiLeaks right around the time that WikiLeaks was posting those hacked e-mails from Democrats and from Clinton campaign officials.
We have a lot to cover. Let's begin this morning with our justice correspondent, Evan Perez.
And Evan, there's a lot to get through with you. Let's start with this Sessions hearing. He's going to be sitting there, taking questions, he's going to get grilled certainly by Democrats about, you know, these contacts with Russians while part of the Trump campaign.
What's expected to be some of the key questions that he is asked today?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, I think we expect a lot of fireworks. Democrats want to hone in on one thing in particular. They say that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions has provided misleading testimony when he said that he knew of no contacts between people associated in the Trump campaign and Russians.
Sessions says he's told the truth all along, but we now know from court documents unsealed by Special Counsel Mueller that there were indeed contacts. So the question is, was Sessions telling the truth?
This is the testimony in January before he was confirmed as attorney general. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, THEN ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: And here's his testimony last month when he was asked again about those contacts. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: You don't believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians. Is that what you are saying?
SESSIONS: I did not and I'm not aware of anybody else that did, and I don't believe it happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PEREZ: Well, since that hearing we have now seen court documents in the case against George Papadopoulos who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He attended a meeting of the Trump campaign's National Security Advisory group where Sessions and the then-candidate Trump were present. And according to the court documents Papadopoulos brought up the meeting at this meeting the possibility of using his Russian contacts to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Now we also from congressional testimony that Carter Page who also was named by Trump as a national security adviser, he said he briefly mentioned to Sessions that he was soon taking a trip to Moscow.
So what we have today is Democrats see an opening here to accuse the attorney general of lying to Congress -- John and Poppy.
BERMAN: Look, there's a glaring discrepancy in his most recent testimony from just one month ago, Evan. And in the face of this, we learned overnight this dramatic revelation that the Department of Justice is looking into the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor to look into matters surrounding Hillary Clinton. Explain.
PEREZ: Right. Given the overshadowing of the presidency by this Russia investigation, it does seem that the answer now is to try to investigate the Clintons, right? This is the old playbook that we've seen before. But, look, the letter -- there was a letter that was sent by the Department of Justice to members of Congress in anticipation of today's hearing in which they say that the department is looking into whether or not it's appropriate to appoint a special counsel to look into this uranium deal from a decade ago, and whether or not there were any ties to donations to the Clinton Foundation.
It is something that the FBI had looked at before and it is an allegation that came back up during the campaign courtesy of Donald Trump.
[09:05:03] So we don't know where this is going to go. I think we're a long way away from seeing another special counsel. Certainly because I think what you see in that letter is simply them saying we're going to take a look at this.
I think what Sessions is going to be telling them today is, look, we're taking a look at it and that will help him avoid having to answer more deeper questions on this.
BERMAN: All right. Evan Perez for us in Washington, watching things very closely.
Again the most startling headline in the last 24 hours or so might be that Donald Trump Jr. was in contact with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.
CNN's Michelle Kosinski with the details on that -- Michelle.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right. Now that those exchanges have been published, he himself has released them. Even though there are just a few of them, they shine a light on a couple of significant things. First of all look at WikiLeaks. You see what it wanted to do for the Trump campaign and what it wanted from the Trump campaign, and of course, here again, you have another person deeply involved with that campaign that was willing to communicate with what the U.S. intelligence community and even Trump's own CIA director sees at the very least as a channel for Russian influence.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The interactions between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks happened in private over direct message via Twitter, starting as first revealed in the "Atlantic" on September 20th last year. WikiLeaks reached out to Trump's son, asking what he thought of the new anti-Trump Web site. He responded the next day.
"I don't know who that is. But I'll ask around. Thanks."
The "Atlantic" reports Trump Jr. then e-mails a number of senior officials, letting them know that WikiLeaks had made contact. On October 2nd, President Trump's friend and former adviser Roger Stone tweeted that damaging material from WikiLeaks was coming. The following day Don Jr. reached out to ask about it.
"What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?"
Trump didn't get an answer back but four days later the intelligence community announced that it believes Russia was behind the DNC hacks. Shortly after WikiLeaks began releasing hacked e-mails from Hillary Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta. Three days later these now infamous remarks from then-candidate Trump.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks.
KOSINSKI: Then October 12th WikiLeaks was back in Trump Jr.'s DMs.
"Strongly suggesting your dad tweets this link if he mentions us. There's many great stories the press are missing."
Fifteen minutes later Trump Sr. tweeted about how WikiLeaks isn't getting enough media coverage. Two days later Trump Jr. tweeted that link that WikiLeaks asked him to post. That same day Mike Pence denied the Trump campaign was coordinating with WikiLeaks.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing could be further from the truth.
KOSINSKI: A spokesperson for the vice president says Pence was not aware of communications with WikiLeaks and first learned the news from the media Tuesday.
On October 21st, 2016 WikiLeaks made a request. A, quote, "unusual idea," asking Trump Jr. to leak them his father's tax returns. The reason? Quote, "If we publish them it will dramatically improve the perception of our impartiality."
But Trump Jr. didn't respond to anymore Twitter DMs from WikiLeaks, including, according to the "Atlantic," a message on election night urging the campaign to, quote, "reject the results of the election as rigged if Trump lost." Something the Russian government was also planning on doing, according to a report from the intelligence community. Trump's own CIA director said this about WikiLeaks.
MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a nonstate hostile intelligent service often abetted by state actors like Russia.
KOSINSKI: A lawyer for Trump Jr. responded to the revelations saying, "We can say with confidence that we have no concerns about these documents and any questions raised about them have been easily answered in the appropriate forum."
President Trump meanwhile has been trying to shift attention to Democrats, expressing disappointment on Twitter 11 days ago that the Justice Department isn't looking into issues related to his former rival Hillary Clinton. The Justice Department announcing in a letter yesterday that prosecutors are now examining allegations related to the Clinton Foundation and the sale of the company Uranium One to a Russian nuclear agency and considering whether a special counsel should be appointed.
KOSINSKI: A source tells CNN that Trump Jr. already provided these communications to congressional investigators and he in fact was asked about him in his closed-door session with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
So this is really his communication with WikiLeaks now themselves being leaked, which he in a tweet called ironic, but others want to ask him more questions including the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And this has raised serious concerns among former directors of U.S. intelligence agencies -- John and Poppy.
[09:10:04] HARLOW: Michelle Kosinski, thank you for the reporting from Washington.
So in light of all this, the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to know a lot more about it and it wants that to happen in public.
Let's go to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what are you hearing?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Democrats in particular on the Senate Judiciary Committee have been pushing to bring down Trump Jr. to a public hearing after that September private interview in which he was asked, we are told, by multiple sources, about these exchanges. He did disclose these exchanges overnight, getting the full picture yet of exactly that, if his answers to the committee were satisfactory to the members.
That was only a staff level interview that occurred in September. There are members, particularly Democrats who want him to come before a public setting in which the members themselves, the senators can push him to answer questions. Now the chairman of the committee, Chuck Grassley, has yet to schedule
a public hearing. There have been negotiations that have stalled with Democrats on the committee and some Democrats are getting frustrated, including Senator Dick Blumenthal, who's -- of Connecticut, a Democrat, who yesterday called on Grassley to issue a subpoena to compel Donald Trump Jr.'s public appearance before the committee to explain exactly all of these correspondence with WikiLeaks and other Russian agents that may have occurred during the election.
And also for any other documentation that Donald Trump Jr. has not provided to the committee. No word yet back from Grassley as he and Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, guys, have been squabbling for weeks over finalizing the parameters of the investigation including whether to bring Donald Trump Jr. in for a public hearing -- guys.
BERMAN: And that's on the Senate side. What about the House side, where you are, Manu? Jeff Sessions is about to sit down? What are the House members, the Democrats in particular, want to get from him?
RAJU: Well, this is going to be all about Russia from the House Democrats. They are going to push him over and over again about apparent inconsistencies about his past testimony, about Russian contacts and what he knew and what he didn't know, what he didn't disclose to Senate committees during multiple congressional hearings this year, as Evan noted earlier, multiple contacts have since emerged that we do know about, that at least Sessions was brought in -- was told about, including George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, that he did not disclose when he came before the House Senate Judiciary Committee back in October.
Expect House Democrats in particular to press him on that as well as his communications with President Trump over the firing of FBI director James Comey. As you recall, guys, Jeff Sessions would not disclose a number of those conversations in his past testimony before the Senate, saying that they could be protected by executive privilege, although he did not invoke his executive privilege. And that frustrated senators so expect some Democrats to be frustrated today as well -- Poppy and John.
BERMAN: All right, Manu. Thanks so much. Keep seeking, Mr. Raju, on Capitol Hill, awaiting House members who will try to avoid him and will fail.
Joining us now to discuss, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst, senior editor at the "Atlantic," Jeffrey Toobin, CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Caitlin Huey-Burns, national political reporter for RealClearPolitics.
Guys, there is so much to discuss, and Jeff, the WikiLeaks thing yesterday such big news I think lost in all the smoke of it, this key, salient, legal fact which you point out which is now with this revelation, Donald Trump could be open to legal exposure. How?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's illegal under American law, under Campaign Finance Law, to receive contributions or solicit contributions from a foreign national or a foreign company. That is not limited to cash contributions. It can be in kind contributions.
The issue here is, did Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else solicit WikiLeaks, which is not an American company, to give in kind contributions to the Trump campaign? They essentially gave opposition research to the Trump campaign. Is that a campaign contribution?
It's a legal question that I don't think has a clear answer at this point, but it is certainly something that the Mueller team is going to be wanting --
TOOBIN: Will be investigating, whether there was a violation of the Campaign Finance Laws here in the relationship between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.
HARLOW: Let's point out, to Jeffrey's argument here, Caitlin, one of the most concerning exchanges and what happened afterwards. So here is -- this is October 12th. This is WikiLeaks' direct message to Don Jr.
"Hey, Don. Great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggests your dad tweet this link if he mentions us. There's many great stories there that the press are missing. We're sure some of your followers will find it that way. By the way, we just released Podesta e-mails."
[09:15:00] OK. So 15 minutes later, 15 minutes later, you see the time circled there, Caitlin, the -- you know, the president, then candidate, tweets, "Very little pickup by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest. Rigged system."
Two days later, Don Jr. does the same. That is, case in point, what Jeffrey is talking about.
HUEY-BURNS: Right. Don Jr. in his defense was saying look at the direct messages, I only responded a couple times. If you look at the timeline, it shows that's not necessarily true. You can count these Twitter interactions or these messages as interactions, too.
And remember, this is the second instance where Donald Trump Jr. is shown to be at least open to engaging with foreign ad adversaries here so that's significant. Lawmakers are going to certainly want to hear from him.
And also what is interesting here, too, is that this is another instance in where the campaign -- there are more shoes to continue to be dropping here, and I think Donald Jr., Jeff Sessions and other members of the campaign are really testing the patience of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
BERMAN: What is fascinating -- go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: I wanted to make a point of, well, I only responded to a few direct messages. It's not a defense to bank robbery that you only robbed a couple of banks. You don't have to commit multiple crimes to be guilty of a crime. I just wanted to interject that point.
BERMAN: All right. Let the record show, the record has been resized from your last statement. Jeffrey, thank you. Ron Brownstein to you, Mike Pence on October 14th, that day in the same time period, he was on Fox News and he was asked if there was any connection between trump campaign and Russia -- Trump campaign and Wikileaks.
And he said, "Nothing could be further from the truth." That's what Mike Pence said. Last night, overnight, his office released a statement saying when he said that he had no idea what was going on essentially between Donald Trump Jr. and Wikileaks.
Now I covered a little bit of politics in my life. You don't put out a statement denying something you think is benign. That was a very odd statement from Mike Pence last night.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He's basically saying what I said in the first place, I had no idea whether it was true, and I think people have to treat all of his statements about Russia with that same caveat. What he's basically acknowledging is he made a blanket denial without any basis in fact.
In addition to what these DMs say about Donald Trump Jr., and as we have been talking about his willingness to engage what clearly had been identified as an adversarial foreign essentially intelligence source, it tells us quite a bit about Wikileaks, right?
In a sense that their encouragement on election eve, urging the Trump campaign to contest the results if they lose parroting exactly the line that the Russian government and intelligence committee was pursuing at the same time really kind of aligns them more deeply as an arm of that effort, and puts the willingness of Donald Trump Jr. to communicate in a harsher light.
HARLOW: OK, so, one of the many other headlines, Jeffrey Toobin, the news overnight, the attorney general asked senior federal prosecutors in his office to look into things around the Clinton Foundation, one of them being the Uranium One deal.
This is in part a response to two letters in July and September from Republicans in Congress asking him to do so, but this also comes with the backdrop of the president saying over and over again, "I wish my Justice Department were investigating Hillary Clinton." Coincidence in the timing or quite significant here and possibly disturbing?
TOOBIN: Well, we will see how this plays out. I don't want to be an alarmist, but it's worth pointing out that it is only in authoritarian countries like Russia and Turkey that the victorious candidates start criminally investigating their defeated opponents.
This is something completely outside the experience of the American government. You know, it's not just a violation of traditions, it's a violation of all the norms of American political life that an incumbent politician starts to criminally investigate the predecessor party. If this really goes forward, and, you know, Fox News and the chance that Donald Trump's political rallies lock her up turn into an actual criminal investigation, that would be something that we have never seen in American life before.
BROWNSTEIN: Just one straw in the wind, real quick. Yesterday, Mark Saltier, who was for a long time John McCain's chief of staff, the co- author of his books, and probably the closest adviser to him over his career tweeted that if the Justice Department in fact pursues what he called the faux investigation of a former political rival.
[09:20:12] That was grounds for impeachment. Now obviously he was speaking for himself, but historically that is one degree of separation from John McCain. So, I just put that out as kind of, as Jeffrey said, you know, we don't know where we are in the story yet.
But this is something -- if it moves forward, while there would be some Republicans that would cheer it, many would find it deeply disturbing as a departure, as Jeffrey was saying, a deep departure from American traditions and the way we view the Justice Department. So, I just kind of file that thought away as something we could hear more about.
HUEY-BURNS: One of those may have been Jeff Sessions, remember in his testimony he said he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Hillary Clinton, and you look at the DOJ letter, the special prosecutors -- or the prosecutors that he is tasking to look into it would report to him as well as the deputy attorney general. So that's a significant backtrack.
BERMAN: Yes. It's just something he could be asked about in a few minutes right here on the air.
HARLOW: He said I will recuse myself from questions about this. We will see. He does hedge in the letter saying this could report to the deputy attorney general. We want you back ahead of the Sessions hearings. Ron Brownstein, Jeffrey Toobin, Caitlin Huey-Burns, thank you very much.
We are minutes away from what is hopefully going to be an enlightening hearing today with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. One of the lawmakers asking him questions will join us next.
Republican call growing for Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore to drop out after another sexual assault accuser speaks out, someone who has not personally weighed in, the president. What will he say when he lands back in the U.S.?
BERMAN: And then after questioning the commander and chief's competence and stability, Republican Senator Bob Corker minutes from now holding a hearing on the president's power to order a nuclear attack.
[09:26:29] BERMAN: A huge morning in Washington. You are looking at live pictures from the Capitol Hill where in just minutes Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before lawmakers who have new questions about Trump campaign contacts with Russia.
HARLOW: Joining us now, somebody who has likely been working very hard on many, many questions is Congressman David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island. He sits, of course, on the Judiciary Committee. He will ask Sessions questions. The first question to you, Congressman, what is question number one on your mind this morning?
REP. DAVID CICILLINE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: I have a lot of questions. This will be our first hearing with the attorney general ever. We have oversight responsibilities. I am very interested to hear more about the role that the attorney general played in the Trump campaign and the contacts with Russian officials.
I think there is a lot of interest about political interference of the Justice Department in particularly antitrust issues and the AT&T merger. There's lots of questions about policies in the criminal justice area and the immigration area.
So, I think there will be a lot of interests in the committee on a whole range of issues, and obviously the involvement of the attorney general and the statements he made about the involvement which seems to contradict themselves with the respect to the Russian collusion with the Trump campaign I think will be a central issue.
BERMAN: Alleged collusion. And you were kind enough to send a note to the attorney general telling him some of the areas where you expected to question him, you and the 16 other Democrats in the committee.
One of the things you tell the attorney general is you stated that you were not aware of any communications between the Trump campaign and Russian government but you ran the meeting in which Mr. Papadopoulos explained his intent to do exactly that. What do you expect to hear from the attorney general on this point?
CICILLINE: Well, I mean, this is a really important fact. There was a meeting where Mr. Papadopoulos talked about his ability to connect with the Russians and make arrangements for a trip and according to the report, Mr. Sessions shut that down which means he heard it and was aware of it.
Candidate Trump was at that meeting so I think we want to hear more about what else he knew, what exactly did Mr. Papadopoulos say. What was the president's reaction? Were there other conversations? This is very significant information and I think we have lot of questions surrounding it.
One of the reasons we wrote to the attorney general is we wanted to give him an opportunity to think about some of these questions so that he'll have an opportunity to answer fully, and we wanted to give him an opportunity to prepare for this. You will see a lot of questions about that meeting.
HARLOW: I think some of your fellow Democrats and Republicans in Congress would say not fully answering questions is putting it mildly sometimes for the attorney general. He kept claiming executive privilege but not really but saying I can't answer that.
You guys send this letter and in it you say you, quote, "expect him to respond" and if he doesn't we will urge our chairman to resort to compulsory process if you do not. The chairman is a Republican. Are you convinced you can convince him to do that, and what would that result in, holding him in contempt of Congress and then what?
CICILLINE: This is a really important question. When an individual comes before a congressional committee, they take an oath they are required to testify fully, accurately and truthfully, and there's no such thing as, I don't want to answer. You have to invoke a legal basis to not answer.
It could be executive privilege, the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, but there's no such invocation of I just don't feel like it. And so, if the attorney general does that again as he's done in the Senate, we're going to ask our chairman to direct the witness to answer the question.