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CNN NEWSROOM

Sanders Says Trump Not Planning to Fire Sessions; Ben Carson Cancelling 30k Dining Room Set; Putin Claims New Invincible Missile Can Reach Around the World. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The White House moments ago weighing in on the public fight between President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President want to get rid of his Attorney General?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I know of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: This comes after Sessions pushed back on the President's latest insult calling Sessions handling of an investigation into alleged surveillance abuses

disgraceful. And then CNN captured some exclusive video of Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, key because he is overseeing the Mueller investigation, as they left the Justice Department and walked down the street. At one point in the video Sessions actually pumps his fist in the air.

And then later "Axios" snaps some photos of these gentlemen dining at a fancy Washington restaurant not too far from Trump International Hotel. It is significant, right, to see these two together because Rosenstein is overseeing the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling after Sessions recused himself. And then you have the "Washington Post" reporting that President Trump's public shaming of Sessions over that recusal is now part of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation. I want to talk this over now with Daniel Goldman, he's a former federal prosecutor and Laura Jarrett, she's our CNN justice reporter.

OK, Laura, how big a deal is this outing that we saw? What intrigue to watch these guys head publicly to go dine together.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely. I think it is fair to see this as a show of force. A showing of solidarity in a day where once again the President attacked his attorney general and attacked the independence of the Justice Department on Twitter, Brianna. And for the first time ever, Sessions fired back. He didn't aim at his head, but he certainly made it clear enough was enough. He invoked the constitution. He invoked the rule of law. He was defending his own integrity and honor and I think the showing of dinner last night with the top three officials at the Justice Department spoke volumes.

KEILAR: And Daniel, I wonder what you thought when you listened to Sarah Sanders and she was asked does the President want to fire Sessions, not that I know of, what did you make of that response?

DANIEL GOLDMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it is certainly not unequivocal, that much we know. But remember, the beef and the tension between Trump and Sessions has been going on for quite some time now. This is not the first time that this has come up. There have been reports that Trump has wanted to fire Sessions and has been convinced out of doing it. I think Trump recognizes from a political standpoint that it is a difficult thing for him to do right now given all of the grief and criticism that he has made to Sessions over the past several months.

He then is going to have to get another attorney general confirmed in a Senate where Sessions was for 20 years. So, I think Trump's trying to convince Sessions to resign because I think if Sessions resigns, then the Senate will have a much more difficult time saying we're not going to confirm another attorney general as opposed to if Trump fires him.

KEILAR: Sessions didn't seem to indicate any willingness to resign but I wonder what you thought yesterday when -- so the president tweets at him insults, insults him and how he is handling things, Sessions was so strong in his response, why do you think that he stood up to the President now?

[15:35:00] GOLDMAN: Well, Jeff Sessions is a life long public servant. And while Trump and Sessions have similar policy views and perhaps political views, Sessions has been in government for his entire career essentially and Trump has been in the private sector for his entire career. And I think what Sessions is recognizing and acknowledging is that law and order matters. The process matters. And this is also right on the heels of Trump making the comments about how we're going to take the guns and then we will go through to process. To a lawyer, you hear that, and you say to yourself, what are you talking about? You can't just go --

KEILAR: Violating rights.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. There are any number of constitutional rights that that is violating. So, you can't do that. And I think that Sessions is essentially saying I'm following the proper protocols that are in place and have been in place for a very long time. You asked me to look into this. I'm referring it to the inspector general. This is the FISA abuse the Trump tweeted about. And that is the proper protocols procedures. And Trump's tweet is wrong as well on the law because the inspector general does have prosecutorial power if he finds anyone within the Department of Justice has violated any laws.

KEILAR: Daniel, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. Laura Jarrett as well with us, thank you. And next, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, says he had no idea his office was spending 31 grand on a dining room set. He is happy to send it back he says. I'll speak live to an interior designer about the lavish spending.

[15:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson wants to cancel a $31,000 mahogany dining set ordered or his office amid allegations of excessive spending using taxpayer money. Carson's move comes after House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a Republican, announced an investigation into Carson's redecorating spree. Carson now saying I was as surprised as anyone to find out that a $31,000 dining set had been ordered. We will find another solution for the furniture replacement.

This whole thing came to light after a HUD employee turned whistleblower alleged that she was demoted in part for refusing to spend more than legally allowed on other office furnishings. I want to talk this over with Jeff Trotter. He is an interior designer in Los Angeles. Jeff, thanks for joining us. And you of course are in the enviable position of spending other people's money on interior design, which must be very fun having looked at some of the interiors that you have done. But this price tag, I mean what do you think about a price tag of $31,000 for a dining set?

JEFF TROTTER, INTERIOR DESIGNER: First of all, thanks for having me. You know, to give us a little bit of perspective, some of my high-end clients with large disposable incomes, this would not be unusual for. But given the fact that this is a government employee that has budgetary restrictions placed on what they are allowed to spend to furnish their office space, this budget of a $5,000, this blows past it. And the fact that this comes down to, you know, a misuse of taxpayer money, it looks like a big PR scandal for this administration just in the long line of others that have come to surface over the past few months.

KEILAR: Well first off, I mean, what do you think about -- you've seen the pieces. Would you think about these pieces for that kind of price tag?

TROTTER: They are beautiful pieces. They are opulent.

KEILAR: How would you describe them aesthetically?

TROTTER: They are extremely traditional. I had seen that there is some onyx inlay and blue velvet for the upholstered chairs. They are opulent. And you know, I think that there are many more affordable options when it comes to decorating space such as this that could follow a little bit more closely with their budgetary restrictions.

KEILAR: So, you work with all kinds of budgetary restrictions. We understood from this whistleblower that when it came to that $5,000 cap on the office furniture, someone had said to her, you can't get a good chair for $5,000. I mean what do you say to that?

TROTTER: I say that is not true. You can get a great chair for under $5,000.

KEILAR: Or a whole set. Could you do his whole office under that cap?

TROTTER: You know, it would be a bit tight to do the entire dining set and the hutch and the tables for $10,000 --

KEILAR: Well, separately, because I think that the dining set is separate. If you are talking about in dining sets over here and let's just be reasonable about that, and then you have the office furniture, what would you think about the office furniture with the cap of 5 grand?

TROTTER: Absolutely. It is more than doable. And I think most experienced interior designers know how to design a space that is both beautiful and functional with a budget such as that.

KEILAR: Have you ever had a situation where you are trying to come up with, you know -- I'm not trying to say that $5,000 is frugal, but obviously you are dealing with some clients who are pretty rich. If you are looking at something that is a little, you know, that is less money than some of your clients, I mean, what are some of the things that you would consider that obviously these folks at HUD should be looking at?

[15:45:00] TROTTER: You know, there are a lot of ways that you can commission pieces to be built that are custom that are not as opulent as some of these pieces that are being reported. There are obviously great stores that you can purchase items similar to these from that are much more cost effective. This just seems like a real extravagance.

Again, it is important to impress upon the American public that this is taxpayer money. And a lot of the American public are bringing home maybe $31,000 in their annual salary. So, when you hear something like this, I think it leaves a bad taste in people's mouths that, you know, our HUD secretary is willing to frivolously throw away this money to decorate a space that most of the public will never see or use.

KEILAR: And now we're learning he is saying no, they will find another solution. Jeff Trotter, interior designer, we really appreciate you being with us.

TROTTER: Thanks so much to having me.

KEILAR: And next, the Russian President makes a startling claim that he has, quote, invincible nuclear missiles with unlimited range that could elude any missile defense system. So, is any of that true or is it just bluster? I'll be asking a nuclear expert. Plus, the Dow is down hundreds of points. We're keeping an eye here 418 points after President Trump announces that he wants to slap new tariffs on steel and aluminum and Wall Street is responding negatively. Stay with us for that.

[15:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Putin warns world of Russia's military might, and specifically boasting his country created a new and, quote, invincible missile system, completely immune to all existing defense systems. At one point during his presentation, he even showed missiles circling the globe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): Russia still has the greatest nuclear potential in the world, but nobody listens to us. Listen now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Joining me now, Jeffrey Lewis nonproliferation expert from Middlebury International studies. Is a nuclear-ready cruise missile with unlimited range really capable of eluding air defense systems, and is if really in Russia's hands right now?

JEFFREY LEWIS, NONPROLIFERATION EXPERT, MIDDLEBURY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, it certainly is a feasible thing to build. The United States had a project to design a nuclear-powered cruise missile in the 1960s. Downside was that it was an environmental nightmare. I guess the Russians just don't care about that. It's unclear how far along the Russians are. Putin released videos that seemed to show that the missile had been tested at least once. I've now seen reporting that suggested it crashed. My guess is it's something that's under development. How well it works? We'll have to wait and see.

KEILAR: Why were the earlier testings by the U.S., why was this an environmental nightmare? What was the problem with it?

LEWIS: Well, there were two primary problems. Both of which were pretty awful. One was that nuclear powered ram jet was incredibly loud. It was deafening, so if the United States flew this over allied countries into the Soviet Union, it would have deafened people all the pathway. That's not even the worst problem.

The bigger problem was it was unshielded nuclear reactor. It needed to be very light, so you didn't have the lead or concrete you would normally have around the reactor, so it spewed radiation along its path. It was good at deafening and killing people it was supposed to protect. Maybe the Russians have found a way around these problems, maybe they'll come up with a slightly different design, maybe a nuclear-powered turbo fan engine, or maybe if you are visiting central Russia, you should consider led underwear. Right. I don't know.

KEILAR: Well, so, aside from the missile itself, just a lot of this has to do with the rhetoric. What do you make of Putin's rhetoric here he's clearly trolling the U.S.?

LEWIS: Yes. I think there are a couple things at play. These systems have been in development for a long time. It was not just the nuclear-powered cruise missile that got announced, there were a bunch of other systems, all of which are designed to defeat American missile defenses, and Putin made it clear this has been building for a long time. What's new now is he's deciding to make an issue of it, and I think what he's decided is the U.S. has released a new nuclear posture review.

It contains proposals for new nuclear weapons, so he can go ahead and announce these same programs, and he does it -- it's not really a response to the nuclear posture review but can use that as a convenient excuse to say, oh well, you're developing new nuclear weapons, hold my beer.

[15:55:00] KEILAR: Jeffrey Lewis, smart and funny, which we appreciate. Thank you so much for being with us.

LEWIS: It was a pleasure.

KEILAR: Next, bizarre scene, couples carrying AR-15s to a church in Pennsylvania. Were going to give you the story behind this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:00:00] KEILAR: As the country and Congress debate gun control, I want to take you to a church in Pennsylvania where parishioners are doubling down on their support for the second amendment. This is the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church in Newfoundland. Now this week couples there entered the church to recite weddings vows wearing crowns and carrying AR-15 rifles, like the one used in the shooting in Florida.

The church believes that the AR-15 symbolizes the rod of iron in the "Book of Revelation." Here's what they told reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the celebration of the right to bear arms, we believe is a human right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christians just feel that they have to arm themselves for protection the way the world is going today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: The ceremony coming so close to the Florida mass shooting prompted a nearby elementary school to move students to another school for the day. Some locals protested outside.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We do not believe in guns in church. Not in our town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like, giant [bleep] you, a giant [bleep] you to the parents and everybody who lost loved ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: This is a church that has 200 parishioners. I want to thank you so much for in me. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now. Thank you.