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Trump Aide Sentenced to Prison for Lying; Trump Calls on Sessions to Uncover Anonymous Author of NYT Op-Ed; Sessions at Peace with Prospect of Being Fired; Obama Blasts Trump, Says The Politics Of Fear, Resentment And Paranoia Have Found A Home In The Republican Party. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 7, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Trump aide sentenced. Former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos is sentenced to a very brief prison term after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. His contacts with Russians led to the investigation of Moscow's interference in the 2016 campaign.
[17:00:26] Investigating Anonymous. The president tells Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unmask the anonymous official behind the scathing "New York Times" op-ed that has thrown the White House into a panic. "The Times" calls that a blatant abuse of government power.
"This is not normal." Former president Barack Obama accuses President Trump and the GOP of fostering resentment and paranoia, saying the vision of the Republican Party these days is radical and not normal.
And circling Roger Stone. Robert Mueller's team draws closer to long- time Trump confidant Roger Stone, who boasted of his ties to WikiLeaks before it published Clinton campaign e-mails. Now one Stone associate appears before Mueller's grand jury and another gives a voluntary interview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news. The first sentence is handed down for a former Trump campaign aide. George Papadopoulos given two weeks in prison after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators. In a CNN exclusive, he says he can't guarantee he didn't tell the campaign the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
As the special counsel's investigation closes in, President Trump says he doesn't want to be, quote, "set up with a perjury trap" by sitting down with Mueller, insisting yet again that there was no collusion.
And furious over the scathing anonymous "New York Times" op-ed, written by one of his senior officials, President Trump calls on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to uncover the identity of the author. Sources say, meantime, that after constant attacks by the president, Sessions is ready for whatever outcome awaits him, including being fired.
Our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.
Let's get to the breaking news first. The former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos has been sentenced to a brief prison term for lying to investigators about contacts with Russia.
Our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is over at the federal courthouse here in Washington. Shimon, update our viewers on the very latest.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. So, you know, a big sigh of relief, certainly, here for the Papadopoulos family, by all accounts. They had expected he would serve at least a month, perhaps as much as two months in jail.
But the judge, the judge here listened to George Papadopoulos when he stood up, said he was remorseful. The judge saying words from George Papadopoulos gave him indications that he regretted what he did here, that he was certainly remorseful. And so the judge said he had anticipated giving George Papadopoulos as much as 30 days in jail; decided 14 days was sufficient.
He did say, the judge, that this is an unusual case. It's rare for someone to go to jail when they lie and when they admit to lying to the FBI. But this was a different kind of case given the national security implications. The judge said Papadopoulos realized that he was lying.
And George for -- in terms of what he had to say here in court, was that he said that he was doing this, because he thought he would be able to stay with the Trump campaign, would be able to join the administration at some point. And then his attorney, George Papadopoulos' attorney, arguing in court to the judge that he did this for loyalty; that he lied to the FBI, didn't admit to the FBI that he had contact with Russians because of his loyalty to the president to Donald Trump. He did not want to admit that he had this contact with Russian agents, Wolf.
BLITZER: We -- do we expect, Shimon, Papadopoulos to walk out those doors, those front doors of the federal courthouse, and maybe make a statement?
PROKUPECZ: Yes. Perhaps he may be doing so now. We do expect him to walk out, Wolf. You know, his wife is there with him. You know, she's been outspoken. She's been out there talking about this case.
BLITZER: Hold on, Shimon. It looks like he's walking -- he's walking out right now with his wife. Let's see if he goes over to the microphones. He doesn't look like he is. He's simply walking away from the courthouse.
But, Shimon, he must be pretty happy. He's only getting two weeks in jail.
PROKUPECZ: Look, I think they should be pretty happy here. This is a huge sigh of relief for them. You know, I had talked to his wife. She was concerned that he was
going to get as much as two months. In fact, even, Wolf, the probation department here, the federal probation department, had recommended a sentence of 30 days in jail.
[17:05:06] So the judge here, really the key here, the judge said, was George Papadopoulos. The fact that he came into court, stood there, admitted that he made a mistake, regretted. The judge really believed him here, thought that the words were sincere. He said, the judge, often people come in here, they say things. Sometimes, it's sort of -- it's rehearsed and they're acting.
But in this case, the judge certainly felt that George Papadopoulos admitted, realized the mistake he made and that the toll, the toll that this has taken on George Papadopoulos's life certainly also played a role in the judge's ultimate decision here, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what may come next in the Mueller probe?
PROKUPECZ: Well, there's still a lot going on, Wolf. As you said earlier, the Roger Stone matter is still very much active. That investigation, you know, people here today meeting with the grand jury on that case. Yesterday someone on the Roger Stone matter, as well, meeting with the special counsel's office. So that is still very much --
BLITZER: Shimon, hold on a moment. Papadopoulos's lawyer is speaking. I want to listen.
THOMAS BREEN, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS: The judge issued what he thought was a very fair sentence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you explain why you think President Trump hindered the investigation or that George Papadopoulos --?
BREEN: The problem I have with the fake news Twitters that go out or the tweets that go out is that he was tweeting seven days before George was interviewed that -- and he's the president of the United States -- that based on all of his information, I would assume, and the information he had, that this was a witch hunt. And that it was fake news that Russia had meddled in the election.
Well, I think we're all somewhat satisfied this point in time, at least, that we know Russia meddled in the election. There's no doubt about it. George was listening to his preferred candidate and his president of the United States opining that this was a witch hunt. And it obviously was not. But when George went in on January 27, he was of the mindset this was not as significant as we have now all learned it to be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Mr. Papadopoulos (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
BREEN: Pardon me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Mr. Papadopoulos believe now that there was collusion directed by the Trump campaign? BREEN: Well, "collusion" is a word that is thrown around. I'm saying
that I think all fair-minded people who listen to the facts in the case would conclude that Russia meddled in the election. I thought even President Trump had come around to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did Mr. Papadopoulos know, anybody in the campaign that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton while the campaign was going on?
BREEN: To his knowledge, he does recall doing that, and if he did, he does not recall who it would be that he had told that to. That was not his primary interest. His primary interest was to do what he thought the campaign wanted him to do, which was put Russian officials together with the United States officials to work on some better relationship with Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time you talked to Joseph (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Face the camera, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time he talked to Joseph Mifsud?
BREEN: Hold on. Let me try to think. You know, I don't know the answer to that. I know that he spoke to him. I think it was on April 24, but I do not know if he talked to him after that. It's a great question. I never asked him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was the sentencing delayed so many times?
BREEN: Well, I think we did it as a courtesy to the prosecutors, because we knew they were very deep into this investigation, and we didn't want to saddle them with what we thought was a minor player. Let them work through what they were working on, and that's why we agreed to delay the sentencing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said Mr. Mifsud was -- played him. Who do you think Mr. Mifsud was working for?
BREEN: I have an opinion. I don't know what the intelligence agencies' opinion is. My opinion is he was playing on behalf of Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know if George believed that there were e-mails with dirt on Hillary Clinton? Did he -- did he think they existed?
BREEN: At the time he was told that, he didn't really concern himself with that. He just -- he didn't know. He didn't know if it was somebody just exaggerating or putting some garbage out there. He didn't put any credence in that representation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) telling to Congress about the work (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
BREEN: Would you repeat the question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Attorney General Sessions was honest with Congress about what happened in the March 31 meeting?
BREEN: I know that George's recollection is different from what I saw the attorney general testify to.
[17:10:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of a message does a 14-day sentence send?
BREEN: Well, first of all, I think it is really stupid to lie to the FBI, especially when you don't need to speak to them. So I think most people who would read about this sentence would begin to educate themselves that they don't want to do 14 days because they lied to the FBI. I think it does send a message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying he lied to the FBI because of what President Trump said?
BREEN: No. I'm not saying that at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With regard to your fake news comment --
BREEN: That's not why -- no. That's not why he lied to the FBI at all. I'm just saying that the president had a position that it was fake news and it was a witchcraft.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that on his mind when he went to testify?
BREEN: He certainly considered it, yes. He knew about the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does your client have any idea whether there was a conspiracy involving e-mails from Russia? Any information --
BREEN: He has never seen any e-mails that would have been hacked by Russians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether there was a conspiracy between the Trump administration --
BREEN: He has absolutely no -- he has absolutely no knowledge of that whatsoever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When is the --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give me clarity on who, if anyone in the campaign, that he told about the e-mails?
BREEN: He does not recall telling anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Breen --
BREEN: He just does not. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: George Papadopoulos has been saying for months
that you think an entrapment campaign by the FBI and western intelligence to go after her husband. Are you equivocally saying that's not incorrect or you don't believe that to be the case?
BREEN: Our firm would, in a second, stand up if we saw prosecutorial or governmental misconduct. We have seen no such thing. We have no entrapment. We have seen no set-up by U.S. intelligence people.
As far as we're concerned, based on everything we saw, they did this on the square.
And another important thing is we received from the prosecutors, search warrants, cover sheets of search warrants. We never received and have no reason to believe whatsoever that there was a FISA warrant involved in George Papadopoulos' case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How does your client feel about his sentencing?
BREEN: I have not talked to him. Except I think -- I think he's relieved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With regard to the court papers, referring to loyalty to his master, who are you referring to when you say his master?
BREEN: He was loyal to the Trump campaign and, more specifically, to Donald Trump, his chosen candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he remain loyal? Does he still support President Trump?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Tom, is he --
BREEN: We don't talk politics.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So Tom?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part of the question --
BREEN: Chuck, I have absolutely no idea.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what about the relocation? So to be clear, are they thinking about moving, then, to Los Angeles?
BREN: They're thinking about moving away from their Chicago home base or his home base and possibly moving to California.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And to do what?
BREEN: I have not checked on this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, what was the New York request for?
BREEN: He wants to go to New York to visit people that are interested in his case, which I think are friends and perhaps members of the press.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So is there a book -- is there, by chance, do you think, a book in the works?
BREEN: I'm writing a book about my experiences with you at 26th and California, the bar. It's going to be a big seller. We used to drink together! Fifty years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
BLITZER: That's Thomas Breen, the attorney for George Papadopoulos, who was just sentenced to two weeks in prison for lying to federal prosecutors.
I want to bring in our chief Washington correspondent, Jake Tapper, who's done a lot of reporting on this George Papadopoulos case. And you had a chance to sit down with him.
But let me first get your reaction to what we just heard from his attorney, who was basically defending the way the federal government behaved, and he was critical of Trump.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Critical of President Trump, saying President Trump has done more to impede the Russia investigation than his client, George Papadopoulos, had. Robert Mueller had been saying when he asked for up to six months in prison for Papadopoulos, which he did not get today. Only got two weeks. He had been saying that, because Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about when it was that he first had that contact with Joseph Mifsud, who told him that the Russians had Hillary Clinton's e-mails, because he lied about that, that impeded the investigation and was a problem to the investigation.
The attorney argued in court that Trump has been much more of a hindrance than Papadopoulos. And in fact, the attorney seemed to side with Mueller when it comes to the fact that, A, the Russians did interfere in the election. But his argument is it had very, very little to do with his client, George Papadopoulos.
BLITZER: And you heard this attorney, Thomas Breen, say that he believes -- this is his belief -- that Joseph Mifsud was actually working with the Russians.
[17:15:00] TAPPER: Yes. Although, as we'll discuss more on our documentary this evening at 11 p.m., Joseph Mifsud has another claim about who he was working for, and it's unclear who he was working for. It's not like any -- it's not like he's acknowledging and any intelligence agency is acknowledging that he worked for them.
But it's certainly the case that the government is making, Mueller is making, that he was a cutout, because he had contacts with the Kremlin and this is all how it began. The idea that Papadopoulos met Mifsud, and Mifsud told him, "We -- you know, the Russians say that they have Hillary Clinton's e-mails."
And then the question is, what did Papadopoulos do then? And in fact, Papadopoulos has said he doesn't remember telling anybody on the Trump campaign, he has admitted, telling us in our interview he told the Greek foreign minister a few months later. He also told a different ambassador, the Australian ambassador to the U.K.
So there are a lot of people out there who don't believe that he didn't tell anybody on the Trump campaign. There is no evidence he did.
But there is an individual who worked on the Trump campaign. John Mashburn is his name. He now works at the Department of Energy in the Trump administration. And he told the Senate Judiciary Committee a few months ago, according to "The New York Times," that he remembered an e-mail from Papadopoulos that claimed that the Russians had Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
So in any case, this is the big question. What did Papadopoulos tell the campaign? And it's one of the things that I pushed Papadopoulos on when I interviewed him just a few days ago.
TAPPER: There are going to be people out there who think there's no way George Papadopoulos didn't tell anyone on the campaign. Did you tell anyone on the campaign?
GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: As far as I remember, I absolutely did not share --
TAPPER: You didn't tell Corey Lewandowski?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, I absolutely did not share this information with anyone on the campaign.
TAPPER: Not Sam Clovis?
PAPADOPOULOS: Anyone, anyone.
TAPPER: Walid Phares. None of them?
PAPADOPOULOS: I might have. But I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee it. My memory is telling me I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.
TAPPER: So he says he might have. He can't guarantee that he didn't, but his memory says that he did not tell anybody on the campaign. Again, according to "The New York Times," there is an individual, John
Mashburn -- he works for Department of Energy -- who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he remembered an e-mail from Papadopoulos in which he said that the Russians have Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
So this investigation still continues. That e-mail has not been discovered, according to "The New York Times." When we asked for the Mueller team to weigh in, they would not comment. The FBI also would not comment, Wolf.
BLITZER: One very sensitive part is when Papadopoulos says he pitched an idea for Trump, then the candidate, the presidential candidate, to actually meet with Putin. He thought that Trump was open to it, but he thought that Sessions was pretty much very open to the idea, although we're getting a different line from Sessions.
TAPPER: This is interesting, because Sessions testified before Congress about ten months ago that his recollection is that when Papadopoulos brought this up, he pushed back.
Papadopoulos told me very clearly his memory is that President Trump, then candidate Trump nodded in a noncommittal way, but that Jeff Sessions was very enthusiastic about it.
So right now, we have Papadopoulos, who we should point out, has been -- has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Papadopoulos claiming that Sessions did not tell the truth to Congress.
We asked Sessions what he thought about that today. We got a statement from his lawyer saying Sessions stands by what he told Congress and stands by his recollection.
BLITZER: Yes. We got the statement. Chuck Cooper, the attorney for the attorney general: "Attorney General Sessions has publicly testified under oath about his recollection of this meeting, and he stands by his testimony."
Jake, thank you very much. Great reporting as usual.
And to our viewers, remember, you can watch much more of Jake's interview later tonight. A one-hour CNN special report, "The Mysterious Case of George Papadopoulos," 11 p.m. Eastern later tonight.
We're going to have much more on the breaking news right after this.
[17:23:24] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. President Trump is calling on his attorney general to uncover the identity of the anonymous author of that scathing "The New York Times" op-ed.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, the president still steaming as he hits the campaign trail. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no question
that anonymous op-ed is still weighing on the president. But he went further tonight in calling on his attorney general to get involved in all of this. Even as he's campaigning in the Midwest, he's asking the DOJ to get involved.
But Wolf, he's not saying one thing. What crime is he asking them to investigate?
ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions tonight to investigate and unmask the author of the anonymous essay in "The New York Times" that blasted him as unfit for office.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One today, the president calling it a matter of national security. Not simply as outrage over a senior administration official publicly saying he's ill-informed, impetuous and reckless inside the White House.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was, because I really believe it's national security.
ZELENY: On a two-day campaign swing to Montana and the Dakotas, the president is telling his supporters that their decision at the ballot box in 2016 is being subverted by a government bureaucrat.
TRUMP: Unelected deep-state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself. I think it's backfired. Seriously.
ZELENY: Yet the president made clear he is seething.
[17:20:00] TRUMP: The latest act of resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by an anonymous, really an ominous, gutless, coward.
ZELENY: Struggling to say "anonymous" but adding today the search is still on for the person responsible for the op-ed.
TRUMP: We're going to take a look at what he had, what he gave, what he's talking about. Also, where he is right now. Eventually, the name of this sick person will come out.
ZELENY: Asked how criticizing his presidency presents a danger to national security, he explained.
TRUMP: Supposing I have a high-level national security meeting, and he has got a clearance, and he goes into a high-level meeting, concerning China or Russia or North Korea or something, and this guy goes in. I don't want him in those meetings.
ZELENY: Two months before the midterm elections, former President Obama stepped back onto the political stage today with his own message to the anonymous Trump official. BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're not
doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, "Don't worry. We're preventing the other 10 percent." That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal. These are extraordinary times, and they're dangerous times.
ZELENY: Obama has largely remained publicly silent about his successor until today, in a speech in Illinois, where he called on Republicans to take notice of how Trump treats the rule of law.
OBAMA: It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.
ZELENY: Trump, who has not spoken to Obama since his inauguration day in January 2017, responded to Obama's hour-long speech like this.
TRUMP: I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found he's very good. Very good for sleeping.
ZELENY: But Trump made clear he's also worried about Democrats in the midterm elections, planting early seeds of an argument against impeachment.
TRUMP: "We will impeach him." "But he didn't do anything wrong." "It doesn't matter. We will impeach him! We will impeach."
But I say how do you impeach somebody that's doing a great job, that hasn't done anything wrong.
If it does happen, it's your fault because you didn't go out to vote.
ZELENY: So even as the president is talking about the specter of impeachment, out as he's campaigning for Republicans, the Department of Justice is saying, you know, they do not comment if they're getting involved in an investigation or not.
The president also called for potential action against "The New York Times."
As for "The New York Times," Wolf, they are issuing a statement about that op-ed. It says this. Let's take a look. "We're confident that the Department of Justice understands that the First Amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power. The president's threats both underscore why we must safeguard the identity of the writer of this op-ed and serve as a reminder of the importance of a free and independent press to American democracy."
So Wolf, that's where this stands at the end of a very important week here. It started with the Woodward book, now this op-ed. The president will be coming back here to a stormy night in Washington. He's campaigning in South Dakota now. He'll be spending the weekend here at the White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
We also have some new reporting on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. I want to bring in our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.
Kaitlan, so where does the attorney general -- what does he think right now? Where does he think he stands as far as the president is concerned?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's really come to terms with the fact that his relationship with President Trump isn't going to end well one way or another. And surely today, the president's request for him to investigate who it is that wrote that critical op-ed of him isn't going to help.
Now Wolf, over the last year and a half now that the president has been attacking Jeff Sessions, at the beginning he said he was going to keep his head down, keep doing his job at the Justice Department. And then as those attacks increased, we saw him start pushing back on the president more and more.
And now even in recent weeks, he's acknowledged that that relationship with President Trump has only gotten worse.
Now, Wolf, some days he treats this with humor, joking with people that he looks at the president's Twitter feed to see if he still has his job. But in all seriousness, he is prepared for any outcome that is going to happen, including potentially him being fired, Wolf.
BLITZER: So does he think he might be fired?
COLLINS: I think that it seems like a likely outcome. I think a lot of people believe that, judging by the president's Twitter feed.
But also, there's a question of would Jeff Sessions resign? Would it come to that with this relationship with the president? And you saw the president in an interview recently, saying he would keep Jeff Sessions around until those midterms in November.
But after that, even some of the Republicans who typically have voiced support for Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill are saying that they could expect the president to pick a new attorney general.
BLITZER: Kaitlan, thank you very much.
Let's talk about all of this with our correspondents and our experts. And Gloria Borger, White House clearly still reeling about that anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times."
But now, in a stunning move, the president says he wants the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to launch a formal investigation into who actually wrote that editorial and the president's going one step further in suggesting maybe it was treasonous.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And you know, he wants the attorney general to act like his general counsel at the Trump organization and investigate what amounts to an anonymous source, and the New York Times has responded that they would not cooperate with that kind of an investigation. But the president is clear to me, I mean, this is part of a pattern here with this president who has said to Jeff Sessions, for example, why did you indict these two Republicans so close to the election? Because now they may lose their seats as a result. I want you to investigate this for me. The attorney general works for the government of the United States, and not personally for the president of the United States. And so, Sessions knows that his time as attorney general is getting shorter and shorter.
WOLF BLITZER: Good point. You know, Mark Preston, listen to this exchange that Sessions had with the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley during his confirmation hearing last year. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: The attorney general of the United States is, of course, the nation's chief law enforcement officer. He or she is not the president's lawyer. Will you be able to stand up and say no to the president of the United States if in your judgment the law and your duty demands it?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I understand the responsibility of the attorney general and I will do so. You simply have to help the president do things that he might desire in a lawful way and have to be able to say no both for the country, for the legal system and for the president, to avoid situations that are not acceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, in contrast to that, the president seems to think that the attorney general and the Justice Department are there to do what he wants.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I would go a step further beyond saying that he is the counsel for the Trump organization. In some ways, Donald Trump looked at the Department of Justice as his folks that are going to fight on his behalf, they're going to go out (INAUDIBLE). In some way, he's enforcer -- he wants them to enforce things or against people that he feels that have done him wrong. You know when's amazing about this DOJ thing is that if this had happened at any other company there would be outcry, right?
There would be anger, and there would be frustration, and then there would be an investigation but it will be done by the human resources department, you know. They wouldn't bring in, in an investigative agency to do so. If Donald Trump is really that concerned about this, which he should be, then why isn't (INAUDIBLE) the office of personnel and management looking into this? Because it really does seem to be a personnel issue. BLITZER: Good point. Jeffrey Toobin, the president's previous
attempts to try to influence the Justice Department, at least from your perspective, may actually have included some impeachable offenses. Has he crossed another new line with this latest demand?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think you can look at any of these acts by the president in isolation. I think they're all as Gloria and others have said, it's just part of a pattern. That he doesn't understand that the Department of Justice works for the taxpayers, works for the government, is guided by the rule of law, and they're not his personal attorneys to settle his personal and political vendettas.
You know, using the Department of Justice to shield Republican officeholders who commit crimes which is what he was asking the Department of Justice to do in that tweet from last week, no question in my mind that could be an impeachable offense. If he uses the Department of Justice here to ferret out a leaker who did not leak classified information that, too, would represent part of a pattern of abuse of power.
It is true, I think it is fair to say, a political appointee which I think this person clearly is, can be fired for any reason or no reason including disloyalty, including not supporting the president's agenda. That's what it means to be a political appointee, but to use the FBI to identify someone that the president simply doesn't like would be an abuse of power.
BLITZER: Very interesting. You know, Sabrina, as you just heard, our report, Jeff Sessions is now increasingly convinced, you know, it's only a matter of time he's going to be gone either -- and the president probably is going to fire him. He may resign, but he's not going to be there much longer, so what do you make of this?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, remember that Jeff Sessions did offer to resign last year when he was berated by the president for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation and he does have some support from Republican leaders on Capitol Hill but it's notable that many of them have said that this is about not having the votes to confirm a replacement before the midterms, so it's fully possible that if the president does try and remove Sessions after November the calculus may change. Now, the irony of course is Sessions is one of the more effective enforcers of Trump's agenda certainly when it comes to policy such as immigration, you know, criminal justice and rescinding a lot of the Obama-era guidance on mandatory minimums.
[17:35:41] So, what that tells us is it has everything to do with Russia and the president said as much himself, and the challenge then will be, as Gloria and others pointed out, that the president ultimately does see the attorney general as acting in the service of him and his presidency and he's protecting the presidency so anyone who comes into this role, I think, will face a similar challenge if perhaps they don't move to shut down the Russia investigation and we'll have to see, of course, if he appoints a loyalist or someone who like Jeff Sessions distance himself from the president. TOOBIN: And remember, the sin, the unforgivable sin that Jeff
Sessions committed in the eyes of Donald Trump was recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which was the right thing to do. That the unforgivable sin is when Jeff Sessions did the right thing, which makes this whole vendetta even more sinister, frankly.
BORGER: And also, don't forget, when you want to talk about loyalty, Jeff Sessions was loyalist number one in the United States Senate. Jeff Sessions was the first senator to come out and say, you know what? I think Donald Trump ought to be president of the United States. That made a big difference for Donald Trump.
PRESTON: He came out at a time -- Jeff Sessions walked out on that limb when it wasn't cool to be on that limb.
BORGER: That's right.
PRESTON: That limb almost broke several times as we know during the campaign.
BORGER: That's right.
PRESTON: And he certainly didn't earn any great friends. Certainly, in the United States Senate when he won the --
BORGER: You know, and Trump's complaint is, well, if Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself on Russia he should have told me because then I wouldn't have appointed him attorney general. But what he had to do was he had to get advice, he had to get ethics advice, you know? And Sessions wanted to be attorney general. This was his reward for supporting Trump. And he -- I would argue he's been loyal to Donald Trump on policy as you point out. But Donald Trump believes, of course, that everything is about Russia. And that he hasn't been loyal on that key issue because he's not doing what he wanted him to did.
BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, I just want to play a clip for you. This is the former president of the United States, Barack Obama. He was speaking, by the way, coincidentally, the president was aboard Air Force One, talking about raising the notion that the attorney general has to go and investigate and find out who wrote that article in New York Times, and President Obama was criticizing the president very bluntly, very openly in an hour-plus speech for politicizing the Justice Department. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party. It did not start with Donald Trump. He's a symptom. Not the cause.
He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think it's worth remembering that in the beginning of President Obama's second term, in 2013, the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform where there was a path to citizenship for some people in the country illegally, there was protection for the DREAMERS -- the young people brought to America as children. I mean, the Republican Party has moved dramatically to the right on a number of issues, most notably immigration, and I think that's what President Obama is talking about. That there used to be a constituency for moderation when it comes to issues like immigration and that's gone now. And, you know, how hard can it be to condemn Nazis? That's of course a reference to the president's -- President Trump's statements after the events in Charlottesville last year.
BLITZER: Yes, that's exactly the point, Sabrina. When President Trump said there's fine people on both sides and now all of a sudden, and you know that President Obama did not want to publicly go after his successor because they're not supposed to do that but I take it he couldn't wait any longer.
[17:40:00] SIDDIQUI: Well, Democrats have been clamoring for President Obama to be more involved in taking on Trump, especially ahead of the midterm elections. Obama enjoys a post-presidency approval rating in the mid-60s and he is extraordinary popular in the Democratic Party -- arguably, one of the more popular figures in the party. So, I think they really see him as an asset when it comes to turning out the vote ahead of November, and it is interesting to see the contrast because for the past year and a half president Obama's been very careful in issuing occasional statements, condemning some of Trump's policy decisions on immigration, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran nuclear deal, but he had never attacked him by name. That, of course, changed today. I know aides who are close to the former president told me it's because Obama sees this as much bigger than Trump. He sees this as a critical point in American democracy and its future.
BORGER: You know, what's interesting to me, because Trump saying, you know -- Trump was asked about his response and he said it was boring, I almost fell asleep, because he didn't know how to respond to it. It was a very complex speech that wasn't only about Donald Trump but it was about what's occurred in the country since the election. And I'm not quite sure that Donald Trump actually could formulate some response to what the president was saying and all he could say is, you know, I fell asleep. And by the way, if you had been president we would have had negative growth, not positive growth.
BORGER: That was just about it.
BLITZER: And President Trump and President Obama, don't talk to each other. The last time they actually had a conversation was on President Trump's inauguration day. BORGER: Now, we know why.
BLITZER: And clearly, there's no great love there. Coming up, there's move breaking news. The president tells the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unmask the anonymous official behind the scathing New York Times op-ed that has thrown the White House into a panic.
[17:46:30] BLITZER: Breaking news. President Trump now suggesting that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions should launch a Justice Department investigation into the identity of the anonymous author of this week's scathing op-ed in the New York Times. Our Brian Todd has been checking in with experts. Brian, what clues would a possible investigation be looking for?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told that they could look for clues in how the piece was written, they could also try to search the e-mails and other communications of top officials to see if anyone had contacted the New York Times. And it seems President Trump's team is doing some of those things. Tonight, this is taking on the look of one of those classic cold war style mole hunts.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's really an ominous, gutless coward.
TODD: He's enraged, paranoid, and on the hunt for the person on his team who the wrote the anonymous op-ed in the New York Times slamming him. President Trump is enlisting his top aides in the search. Tonight, is calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to uncover the writer.
TRUMP: I would say, Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it's national security.
TODD: And he's pressuring the Times to reveal the person's identity.
TRUMP: For the sake of our national security, the New York Times should publish his name at once.
TODD: As the president himself acknowledged, it's not clear if it is a he. The New York Times says, one of Trump's outside advisers has told the paper the White House has a list of about 12 people who they believe could have written the op-ed. Tonight, the possible tactics being used in these high stakes mole hunt include an option that the Times says is being floated by people close to the president, forcing senior officials to sign sworn affidavits that could be used in court if necessary.
CARRIE CORDERO, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT COUNSEL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: But I don't see a law that has been broken. Indeed, a person has a first amendment right to express themselves. So, I don't see why there would be affidavits that would go to any court because there's no legal proceeding going on. TODD: Republican Senator Rand Paul has even suggesting forcing
staffers to take lie detector tests.
CORDERO: Unless there is some legitimate investigation under their guidelines and under law, I don't see how they would legitimately be able to use that technique.
TODD: A source close to the White House tells CNN tonight: Trump's aides are also following leads based on how the editorial is written looking at key words which stand out. The writer used the word "lodestar," which means guide or beacon. It's a word Vice President Pence has used several times in public.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lodestar. Lodestar. Lodestar. Lodestar.
TODD: Pence vehemently denies being the writer. A forensic language expert says, the word lodestar could have been placed in the op-ed to throw readers off, trick them into thinking it was Pence. Finding the actual writer using their words, he says, is tough.
ROBERT LEONAR, FORENSIC LANGUAGE EXPERT, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: You have to get an adequate set of known documents as samples from the various people who are candidates and then compare it meticulously to the anonymous document. Also, we're not looking for things that are really obvious to somebody who's trying to mimic somebody else, like lodestar, but patterns of constructing the sentences, how they construct arguments.
TODD: Whatever tactics are used, this is a mole hunt observer say that could paralyze an already besieged White House.
DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: These are really hard jobs. Where you are under attack from events, from political opponents, from everything else. And if you can't trust the people in the foxhole with you, you -- it's just impossible to succeed.
[17:50:06] TODD: Some Washington veterans including former government officials say they believe the op-ed writer is going to be outed even if it takes decades like it did with the Watergate source, deep throat. Some say they wouldn't be surprised if the person in or outed him or herself to win public praise or maybe even score a book deal. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much. Joining us right now: Democratic Representative Don Beyer of Virginia. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
REP. DON BEYER (D), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let me get to this very controversial decision by President Trump today to pressure the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find out, launch a formal perhaps criminal Justice Department investigation, who wrote that article in the New York Times. Is there any legal basis for that?
BEYER: Wolf, I'm not a lawyer, but I can't imagine that there's anything like that. You know, it's -- you know, I've been running business for years and years, when you get internal criticism, you want to go try to find out how to fix it, how to make things better, not pursue the person that just expressed their first amendment rights. All those notion about lie detector tests all suggests that there was something criminal done there. I don't see anything.
BLITZER: Well, the president, he's going one step further, suggesting whoever wrote this article may have actually committed treason. Treason, which of course, is if you're convicted of treason, potentially, you could get capital punishment, the death sentence.
BEYER: Yes, which is crazy, because there's nothing in there that most people haven't already figured out. A lot of this is in the Woodward book. And if you just read Trump's tweets from the last year and a half, you've pretty much come to the same conclusion with op-ed.
BLITZER: It looks like the president is trying to pressure the attorney general, the Justice Department, to go after his political enemies. Do you believe that is an impeachable offense?
BEYER: That may well be. You know, there's so much more that Trump has done as president including emoluments issue, that may, in fact, be impeachable. But certainly, expressing your opinion about what's happening within the Trump administration in no way violates the constitution of the law.
BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to the breaking news we've reported this, where the former Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, he was sentenced today, but he just got two weeks. A two-week sentence for lying to the federal prosecutors, to the FBI, about his role in the whole Russia probe and all of that. The attorney for Papadopoulos came out and he suggested that President Trump has actually done more harm to the Mueller investigation than his client, Papadopoulos. How do you see it?
BEYER: I heartily agree with that. Trump has undermined it in so many different ways, but the Papadopoulos thing, the two weeks probably reflects that he's been willing to cooperate with the FBI and a lot of other things. But Trump promised to drain the swamp now has Cohen, Flynn, Papadopoulos, Manafort, et cetera, et cetera, Gates. All, either being indicted or convicted, or pleading guilty to crimes.
BLITZER: The more serious accusation for Papadopoulos is -- and he told our own Jake Tapper this that Jeff Sessions, Attorney General, was enthusiastic when Papadopoulos pitched this idea of a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Putin, maybe in Moscow. That directly contradicts the sworn testimony of Sessions during the that he gave to the House Judiciary Committee. Do you think Sessions may have lied? Because he's standing by what he said.
BEYER: Well, he may have. It's not for me to judge that, but it's certainly worth continuing to look into. The whole Russia collusion thing is, I think, where Trump is most vulnerable to actually having done something that's impeachable.
BLITZER: Where do you see all this heading?
BEYER: It depends -- unfortunately, as President Obama suggested today, our Republican Congress has been unwilling to provide the oversight that the separation of branches that this executive branch has really needed. If Democrats take back the House, I think we could have a lot more appropriate oversight. Not witch hunts, but trying to find out what's actually happened, and who's broken the law.
BLITZER: Because the Democrats, if they're the majority, they would have subpoena power, and they can do what they can't do right now as the minority power in the House of Representatives.
BEYER: Which is one of the reasons why Brett Kavanaugh's possible confirmation is scary because he's written again and again that perhaps presidents don't have to respond to subpoenas, perhaps presidents can do whatever they want.
BLITZER: Congressman Beyer, thanks so much for coming in.
BEYER: Thank you.
[17:54:11] BLIZTER: Don Beyer of Virginia. Coming up, the first sentence is handed down for a former Trump campaign aide. George Papadopoulos gets a very brief prison term after pleading guilty to lying to federal investigators about Russia contacts, and he speaks exclusively with CNN.
BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Headed to prison. The Trump campaign aide whose information helped trigger the FBI's Russia investigation was just sentenced. George Papadopoulos has been talking exclusively to CNN and contradicting the top official in the Trump administration.
Perverted justice. The president is once again urging his attorney general to investigate someone he views as an enemy. Will Jeff Sessions do anything to track down the anonymous op-ed writer who portrays Mr. Trump as a danger to the nation?
Obama strikes back. The former president breaks his silence and slams his successor by name, accusing him of capitalizing on resentment and fear. Tonight, a mocking response from President Trump.
And crash in the stone. The special counsel ramps up his focus on a long-time Trump ally, questioning two of Roger Stone's associates. Why did one of them suddenly agree to a private interview instead of facing a grand jury?
[18:00:01] We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."