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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
WaPo: Trump Derided Sessions as "Mr. Magoo" in Private. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 1, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's extraordinary that no one in the White House -- no one in the majority, in the House and Senate, hasn't spoken out about this. In any other law passed so overwhelmingly that the executive branch says we're not going to enforce this, it's just beyond comprehension.
[16:30:07] And the fact of the matter is, the White House has said, and the president has said there's nothing to this. But he certainly is acting when he does this, when he doesn't implement this law, like the Russians have something on him.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Congressman Mike Quigley, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.
QUIGLEY: Thank you.
TAPPER: Did the attorney general just double dog dare President Trump to fire him? How much more can Trump's feud with Jeff Sessions escalate? That's next.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)
TAPPER: That's the old cartoon character, Mr. Magoo, a bumbling, doddering fool, and apparently, according to "The Washington Post", the nickname President Trump has given to his attorney general.
We're back with our politics lead.
A source tells CNN that behind the scenes, President Trump is fuming and indignant after Attorney General Sessions responded to the president's Twitter attack with acts of defiance, practically daring the president to fire him in a statement he put out defending his priorities.
[16:35:10] And Sessions was later seen dining in the company of Rod Rosenstein, another of the president's frequent targets, and the Justice Department official supervising the Russian probe after Sessions recused himself. The president's attacks had already prompted Justice Department staffers to give their boss a bullet proof vest as a tongue in cheek gag gift.
My panel is back with me.
Mr. Magoo, that's not a particularly nice thing to say about your attorney general.
NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not.
TAPPER: And guess what? You can get rid of him.
TURNER: Yes, but he'd risk more if he did. And good for AG Sessions for standing up. He was the first Republican senator to endorse him, and this is how he repays him? It was one thing to be disappointed in somebody who works for you. There's another thing to malign them, and publicly. You have those kind of conversations behind closed doors, not through tweets to the entire world.
TAPPER: Sessions used to be the senator from Alabama, his former colleague in the Senate, Richard Shelby, saying if he were Sessions, he would not stand for such treatment. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: President saying you don't have confidence in me, so that is Jeff's challenge right now, and what he wants to do and how he does it, and he's a good man, and he's going through a lot. He's got a lot of challenges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So a problem with the audio there, but you hear Senator Shelby saying he would not stand for it. What do you think?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think it's hard to overstate just how badly broken the relationship between Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions is to where the president publicly lambasts him all the time, and sessions after calling him weak, very weak, saying he regretted picking him, disappointed in him timely pushed back on that, and that statement, which wasn't even that forceful, but it was very pointed and directed at the president. The president did not like that statement.
But it's just very telling to see what the relationship is like between these two men, and this has been going on for nearly a year now. It was last March that Jeff Sessions rescued himself from overseeing the Russian investigation, which is what infuriated the president and really taken over his mind. He's never gotten over it. He may publicly not mention it for a few weeks or might be off of his mind, but it always comes back to this recusal, and it's just hard to overstate just how much these men dislike each other.
When they're in meetings together at the White House as they were just two weeks ago welcoming Medal of Valor recipients in the Oval Office taking photos with him, Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump barely interacted. It's just hard to overstate just how badly broken the relationship is, but the question is, the next question is, where does it go from here? And no one knows.
The White House staffers don't understand why the president wants to fire him, if he's this tired of him, people at the DOJ don't think that Jeff Sessions is going to quit any time soon. He seems to be digging his heels in, so we'll just continue this saga of them publicly criticizing each other, but nothing saying to each other directly.
TAPPER: Where does it go from here? The Sarah Sanders' clip we showed there accidently, it was a reporter saying does the president want to get rid of this attorney general, and Sanders says, not that I know of. What is that?
JOSH HOLMES, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, SENATOR MCCONNELL: Probably honest answer.
TAPPER: Do you want to get rid of your babysitter? Not that I know of. I mean, yes, but it's -- it's an honest answer, fine. Well, first of all, it's not, because she probably has some idea. She knows something, but more importantly, that's not what you say about your attorney general. You say, no, I mean, the appropriate thing you're supposed to say is, no, he has complete confidence in the president, or you get rid of him.
HOLMES: Yes, look, the president will never see it this way, but the reality is the attorney general is protecting him from himself. The only way that they are truly beyond the Russian investigation is if the Department of Justice functions independently from the West Wing, make an independent valuation based on facts, and provide recommendations that either cleared his name and clear the administration or not.
And the idea this is directed or influenced by the West Wing is how we found ourselves in this problem in the first place. So, look, the president, again, is not going to see it this way, but what Attorney General Sessions did yesterday by pushing back is the absolute best thing he could do for this administration.
TAPPER: It's why you have Nina Turner, new president of the Jeff Sessions fan club, which --
TURNER: Just on the issue of him standing up for himself.
TAPPER: But also, I mean, but Josh's point is a poignant one because the truth is everything that the president has been mad at him for doing is him being ethical.
TAPPER: Him rescuing himself. Him saying, no, I'm going to have the inspector general and -- look into this.
TURNER: Doing things the proper way.
TAPPER: Right, exactly.
TURNER: Not the Trump way, which is just do what I say, how I say do it, when I say do it, forget the consequences, just do what I say. And so, Jeff standing up for himself, you know his policies, I don't agree with at all.
[16:40:02] But good for the AG for standing up.
TAPPER: There's one other interesting thing, Jerry Falwell Jr., who is a big supporter the president's, piled on on Twitter and wrote this after the president bad mouthed Sessions. Jerry Falwell Jr. wrote, I couldn't agree more, U.S. Attorney General Sessions must be part of the Bush Romney McCain Republican establishment, he probably supported real Donald Trump in early campaign to hide who really is or he could just be a coward.
COLLINS: I don't often do a double take on Twitter, but I read that and I was, like, what?
TAPPER: Is this a parody?
COLLINS: It was laughable. I mean, that's, like, you know, it takes a lot for people in Washington to defend someone like Jeff Sessions, but that tweet had everyone being, like, what are you talking about?
TAPPER: You know, what do you think? What goes through your mind as you're very serious conservative, you're part of the conservative establishment in this town, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense at all, when you see Jerry Falwell Jr. starts to float these conspiracy theories, that he only supported Donald Trump to hide who he really -- what does that even mean? How would that work?
HOLMES: That's a really good question, how would that work?
I felt like a missed a chapter, right? I mean, all of a sudden, it's like, wait, Falwell? This is where we went here? It's like Infowars, right?
HOLMES: I mean, I don't know. Clearly, it's out of place. I think that that is the sentiment that's not shared widely anywhere.
COLLINS: And Jeff Sessions is one of the few people in the president's cabinet that's actually carrying out the agenda that he said he was going to enact if he got into the White House. That is where, saying he was hiding who he really is, Jeff Sessions is doing exactly what we thought he would do if he became attorney general as the attorney general.
TAPPER: The statements you were referring to, that Sessions put out, that is -- pointed, if you speak Washingtonese, he says, as long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.
What he's saying there is, as long as I'm attorney general, meaning, go ahead, fire me, big boy, if you want to, I'm going to do the ethical thing. TURNER: That's right. He's saying this is how I roll, Mr. President,
come on, bring it. He's saying bring it to the president. That's what he's saying.
TAPPER: But it's almost like a dare to fire him.
HOLMES: Yes, I mean, look, he's been down this road so many times over the last year and a half. How else does he handle it? He's taken -- he's turned the other cheek. He's provided information that would be counter to what the president claims. He's handled it in every way he can, now to the point where he's saying, this is the way I roll.
TURNER: How I roll.
COLLINS: Well, staying on in a job is a dare to fire him because it's very clear from the president's tweets and many, many criticisms of Jeff Sessions that he wants him to quit.
TAPPER: Oh, yes.
COLLINS: He doesn't want to fire him. So, Jeff Sessions even just remaining on and not quitting is essentially a dare.
TAPPER: It's defiant in itself, and your point, Josh, is a great one, he's protecting him from himself.
HOLMES: Absolutely. And a number of senators and congressmen on the Hill are begging him to stay right where he's at.
TAPPER: Thanks so much, everyone. Stick around. Just how hard is it to confiscate guns from people who are not supposed to have them? CNN gets a rare look how one state is trying to tackle the problem. Stick around.
[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Despite all the talk about guns, after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not bring up any gun legislation next week. The White House says he had to outline gun legislation the President would support which is expected sometime this week. One of the issues being discussed among lawmakers is the question of how to keep guns out of the hands of people barred from having them and it's a complicated one, it's a matter of priorities when it comes to the resources of stretched thin law enforcement. California says it's the only state that has a law to take firearms away from felons. CNN's Stephanie Elam rode along with authorities as they tried to enforce it.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 6,000 rounds of ammunition, three semiautomatic weapons, a shotgun, and a pistol.
TONY LADELL, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: One of the assault weapons was fixed with a bump stock.
ELAM: Bump stocks like what the Las Vegas mass shooter use to turn his guns into automatic weapons were banned in California in 1990. Altogether, an arsenal 57-year-old Timothy Pope is not allowed to have.
TIMOTHY POPE, LISTED IN ARM PROHIBITED PERSON SYSTEM DATABASE: I forgot they were even here, really.
ELAM: He was previously convicted of possessing a destructive device, a felony.
Do you remember being notified and told that you couldn't have guns anymore?
POPE: Yes, in the court.
ELAM: How do you feel right now?
ELAM: This bust coming at the end of the daily mission for these California Department of Justice Agents, who door knock targeted homes in search of weapons in the wrong hands.
XAVIER BECERRA, ATTORNEY GENERAL, CALIFORNIA: Only in California do we have a law that permits us to seize these weapons.
ELAM: It's the only system of its kind in the nation. The Arm Prohibited Person System or APPS flags those who previously registered firearms but were later deemed unfit to own a gun after a felony conviction, violent misdemeanor, domestic violence restraining order, or found to be mentally unstable. Using the APPS data, agents visit Hope, who now he likely faces a new set of felony charges including the possession of so-called ghost guns, homemade weapons free of serial numbers officials used to track guns.
LADELL: Can you imagine if these guns got in the wrong hands through a burglary?
ELAM: California's Department of Justice has recovered 18,000 firearms since the program began. More than 10,000 people are on the list state-wide. As the country is, again, embroiled in the gun control debate, some point out that APPS would not have caught the mass shooters in San Bernardino and Isla Vista, California.
[16:50:11] There are people out there who say with all the shootings that we've seen across the country that none of this, that the APPS program would not have stopped that. What do you say to that?
SAM RICHARDSON, SPECIAL AGENT, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: I say that it's impossible for us to measure the success of this operation because nobody knows whether or not one of the guns that we seize would have been the next mass shooting.
ELAM: Another concern for Second Amendment advocates how well the database is kept up to date?
CRAIG DELUZ, SPOKESMAN, FIREARMS POLICY COALITION: And the people that are prohibited are appropriately notified and given ample opportunity to get rid of the firearms and ammunition so that they're not in further violation of the law.
ELAM: But after a night like this, these officers believe APPS is a good place to start, and that other states should follow California's lead. Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.
TAPPER: A lot to talk about bravery in the last few weeks, coming up, one of the bravest people I've ever met. Stay with us.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "BURIED LEAD" today, President Trump announced he will roll out a plan to handle the opioid crisis in the next three weeks. Today, he floated the idea that suing some of the opioid companies, he even saying he talk to Attorney General Sessions about it. He also highlighted the need for harsher punishment for drug dealers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some countries have a very, very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do. So we're going to have to be very strong on penalties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Joining me now is former Staff Sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha. He is here in Washington today lobbying on Capitol Hill for his fellow veterans addicted to opioids. Clint, it's always good to see you. Thanks for being here.
CLINTON ROMESHA, MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT: I appreciate it.
TAPPER: People who watched the show have met you before and heard your story before. If you had been in the room with President Trump today to talk opioids, what do you tell them? What are you telling people on Capitol Hill?
ROMESHA: You know, the message that we're bringing this go-around in D.C. is the patriot project is a non-profit organization out in Canton, Ohio started by Dr. Novelli to do free chiropractic care for veterans because -- I mean, by the time you get to the point of giving a prescription for opioids, you could have already had an adjustment. I mean, there's so many different options, so many other options other than just fill that prescription. And in the military, I mean, a lot of injuries we suffered were, you know, muscular and skeletal, and stuff that a quick adjustment could have got you back up and going instead of give you 800 milligrams of (INAUDIBLE)
TAPPER: So you think there's a lot of over prescription for --
ROMESHA: I do. I do. And I think it's kind of a blank, just let's go to it because it's quick fix and gets you right back out there. But any time we limit what we're going to do, there's always options out there. And I'm not saying chiropractic care will helps everybody, but what I've been through, what I've been adjusted with, what Dr. Novelli has exposed me to has been world-changing and it comes at a price not with side effects and being down the road with opioids.
TAPPER: Yes, and the statistics are haunting on opioid use for veterans. Most recent study from the V.A. found V.A. patients were nearly twice as likely to overdose and die of opioids than the rest of the population. And we know there's a huge problem with the population as a whole. This is a serious problem for everyone, but especially for the veterans' community. Do you talk to fellow service members, fellow veterans who experienced this problem?
ROMESHA: Yes. I mean, it keeps coming up that, you know, when you're in the service, it's about kind of getting back into action. It is you know, the mentality, the culture we kind of had. When I was in was here's -- you know, here's pills, get back to work. Where if we could incorporate other options, chiropractic medicine, acupuncture, I mean, there's so many different things out there and that's kind of the thing we're fighting up on Capitol Hill is to get some legislation passed to help kind of streamline and get chiropractors into the V.A. that would help reduce the amount of prescriptions being handed out, to take away some of that chronic pain that is now just numbed. A great example is, like, whenever you go get your prescription filled, it's kind of like your fire alarm is going off in your house. Well, you're just taking out the battery. The alarm's going off, there's still a problem. Let's get to the root of it instead of just covering up the symptoms.
TAPPER: What is the biggest problem, other than opioid addiction, which obviously is a big one and why you're here today, what is the biggest problem your fellow veterans are having today?
ROMESHA: You know, it's battle of attrition still through the V.A. and the process. You always want to see it more streamlined. A lot of guys are going in trying to get help for something, and the red tape, and the constant struggle, and I just applaud, I mean, there's so many great people in the V.A. that are doing so many great things, but we got to streamline it a little faster, a little better and continue to focus on the promises made to the veterans, for the service and sacrifice that they have you know, basically given at blank check with everything to include their life for this country.
TAPPER: Very quickly, if you could, we've heard a lot of people talking about how brave they would have been had they been outside Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. You are somebody who actually has had the misfortune as one of your fellow troops, we'll put it, of having that challenge there, and you met it. You're a Medal of Honor recipient. What do you say when you hear things like that?
ROMESHA: You know, it's one of those -- I never look to go be a hero. I still -- I guess, I don't feel like I've ever been a hero. I just was someone that did a job. And until you're actually put in that experience, that situation, it's all about timing, we're all going to be faced with something in our lives, but to hear someone say in hindsight, (INAUDIBLE) quarterbacking, yes, I would have ran in there and I would have done this, that, and the other, well, until you do it, you know, stop talking about it.
TAPPER: Clint Romesha, always an honor to have you here and honor to know you. Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it. That's it for THE LEAD, it turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.