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Interview With New York Congresswoman Kathleen Rice; Travel Ban Blow; Jeff Sessions to Testify; President Trump Being Sued Over Business Ties. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 12, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: public Sessions. The attorney general is just hours away from being hammered with tough questions in the Russia investigation, as he prepares to face senators in an open hearing. Will Sessions try to avoid giving answers by citing executive privilege?

Travel Ban Blow. Another federal court rules against the president's revised executive order, using Mr. Trump's tweets against him. Will the Supreme Court ultimately deliver a similar verdict?

Taking Trump to court, attorneys general from the District of Columbia and Maryland announcing they are suing the president, accusing him of violating the Constitution by accepting foreign payments. Will they force Mr. Trump to finally release his tax returns?

And audacious adulation. Cabinet members pointedly take turns praising President Trump in a rather unusual public show of loyalty and devotion to the embattled commander in chief.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight: The White House is leaving the door open for Jeff Sessions to cite executive privilege and avoid giving answers during the attorney general's public testimony in the Russia investigation.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer says that decision will depend on the scope of the questions asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Also breaking, the White House still refusing to reveal if there are tapes of President Trump's private conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, saying the president will make an announcement when he's -- quote -- "ready."

Even many Republicans are now urging the president to disclose if he had taped proof to dispute Comey's rather explosive testimony last week.

Also tonight, the administration is reviewing another serious blow to the president's revised travel ban, keeping it blocked, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals offering an even stronger ruling against the latest executive order than the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals did last month.

Still more legal trouble for the president, a new lawsuit by the attorney general of Maryland and the attorney general of the District of Columbia. They allege the president is violating the U.S. Constitution by accepting payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress, particularly at his new D.C. hotel. They will seek access to the president's personal tax returns.

This hour, I will get reaction to all the breaking stories from Democratic Congresswoman and former prosecutor Kathleen Rice. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

Jessica, the attorney general will face tough questions from senators less than 24 hours from now.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Tough and intense questioning is expected, especially in the wake of James Comey's testimony last week, where Comey said Sessions left him alone with the president and then didn't respond when Comey told the attorney general he thought it was inappropriate.

But questions do remain about how wide-ranging Sessions' testimony will be and if the White House might try to intervene.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's an honor to be able to serve of you in that regard.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Attorney General Jeff Sessions praising the president in today's Cabinet meeting.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're right, Jeff. Thank you very much.

SCHNEIDER: It follows weeks of tensions between the two over Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation in March. Sessions will testify tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Sources say he tried to arrange a closed hearing, but after objections from Democrats, agreed to speak publicly. The White House is still weighing whether to exert executive privilege to preclude some of Sessions' testimony.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It depends on the scope of the questions, and to get into a hypothetical at this point would be premature.

SCHNEIDER: Sessions faces a long list of questions from lawmakers.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: What were his contacts, if any, with Russian officials during the during the period of the campaign? I think that's that's certainly a question that we need to ask. Secondly, a question I'm interested in is, what role did he play, if any, again, in the Comey firing?

SCHNEIDER: CNN is told James Comey revealed to senators in a closed- door briefing last week that Sessions may have had a third undisclosed meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016.

Sessions could also come under scrutiny for Comey's claim that Sessions did not respond when Comey told the attorney general he felt uncomfortable being left alone with the president. And questions linger about why Sessions left Comey alone in the Oval Office on February 14 when Comey contends the president directed him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Donald Trump Jr. seemed to confirm Comey's account of that conversation.

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: When he tells you to do something...



TRUMP JR.: ... guess what? There's no ambiguity in it. There's no, hey, I'm hoping. You and I are friends. Hey, I hope this happens but you have got to the do your job. That's what he told Comey.

SCHNEIDER: Comey's memos about his interactions with President Trump could be turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, a friend of Comey's who shared the contents of the memo with media, has copies the committee wants.

The president continues to criticize Comey via Twitter. "I believe the James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal. Very cowardly."

Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that that could get the president in trouble.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't think what was said amounts to obstruction of justice.

Now, what the president did was inappropriate. But here is what is so frustrating for Republicans like me. You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that, if you just were quiet, would clear you.

SCHNEIDER: Meanwhile, former Manhattan U.S. attorney Preet Bharara says, like Comey, he, too, received -- quote -- "unusual phone calls from the president," one of which he refused to return. Bharara was later fired by Trump after refusing to resign.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: It appeared to be that he was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship. It's a very weird and peculiar thing for a one-on-one conversation, without the attorney general, without warning, between the president and me or any United States attorney.


SCHNEIDER: Attorney General Jeff Sessions will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., and senators, they are still deciding whether Sessions will be asked to testify in a classified briefing after that public hearing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see and we will have extensive live coverage, of course, of all of that. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

Now to the tale of the tapes, if there are any. The White House and the president still playing it very coy about whether or not there are recordings of the president's conversations with James Comey.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, what's the latest on this front?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House once again dodged and danced around the question whether the president has recordings of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

Last Friday, the president told reporters at a news conference that he would reveal the answer to that question soon. Now it seems the White House is stalling for time, insisting the president would have an announcement shortly, when really it's a simple yes-or-no question. Take a look from earlier today.


SPICER: The president made clear in the Rose Garden last week that he would have an announcement shortly.

QUESTION: Do you have any sort of timeline on when that announcement will be?

SPICER: When the president is ready to make it.

I think the president made it clear what his intention is on Friday.

QUESTION: It's an open question.

SPICER: And i understand that, and he said he would answer that question in due time. He's not waiting for anything. When he's ready to further discuss it, he will.


ACOSTA: Now, the president's outside counsel, Marc Kasowitz, did not respond to CNN's request for comment on the tapes and whether they exist.

And one of the president's other personal attorneys, Michael Cohen, suggested to CNN that reporters ask Mr. Trump directly about these tapes. Of course, we have already done that time and again, including earlier today at the president's Cabinet meeting.

The president did not respond to the question. Wolf, but it is a simple yes-or-no questions. Do these tapes exist, and, if they do exist, the follow-up question logically is, where are the tapes?

BLITZER: The Secret Service, correct me if I'm wrong, they said they don't have any recordings, right?

ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. That's according to a report in "The Wall Street Journal," that, yes, the Secret Service can say at this point that they don't have any tapes. Of course, that is an obvious question for the Secret Service, because this is something they used to do, record conversations in administrations a generation ago. They no longer really do that.

But, at the same time, Wolf, that does not exclude the possibility that the president or a close member of his team was doing their own recording in the Oval Office. That, obviously, is a possibility that would exist outside of whether or not the Secret Service is doing recordings in there, and the Service tells us and other outlets that they are simply not doing that now.

So it remains a question for the president to answer, does he have recordings of his conversations with James Comey, and, if he does, where are the tapes?

BLITZER: Yes, and why is it such a difficult question to answer?

ACOSTA: That's right.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta reporting for us at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get more on all of this.

Democratic Congresswoman Kathleen Rice of New York is joining us. She's a member of the Homeland Security Committee. She's also a former prosecutor.

Congresswoman, thanks for joining us.

REP. KATHLEEN RICE (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, you have called on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to resign immediately if he had an undisclosed meeting with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. But could he also be guilty of perjury?

RICE: Well, we're going to have to see. I actually thought he should have resigned when it came out that he didn't disclose the first two meetings that we actually know about before his confirmation hearings.

I worked in the Department of Justice as a federal prosecutor. And I can tell you that the credibility of the agency itself is only as good as the person who's leading it. And right now, it seems very clear to me that Jeff Sessions has no credibility when it comes to that to, you know, running the agency.


And it's a critical agency. It has to have a certain level of distance from the president. Yes, it's an agency that can carry out policy proposals that the administration wants to do as part of their four years in office.

But they have to stay somewhat disconnected as well in terms of, you know, what cases they pursue and things like that. And that kind of credibility has to come straight from the attorney general himself, and I just think that his credibility has been compromised way too much.

BLITZER: As I said, you're a former prosecutor. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked today about if the president would invoke executive privilege, and he said it depends on the scope of the questions -- if the attorney general, I should say, would invoke executive privilege.

So how do you see this unfolding? What could the impact of Sessions' testimony be tomorrow if he says on some sensitive questions, you know, I really can't discuss my private conversations with the president?

RICE: I don't think it's going to go over very well. I think that he's probably made the calculation that he tried to be able to testify in private in front of the committee.

There were some members of the committee that balked at that, and that's why he's now doing it in an open session. But we will all have to wait and see. I think it would look really bad for the public.

And, Wolf, to me -- look, it's easy for me to say what I say -- I'm a congressperson -- people are going to say I'm just being partisan. But I'm also an American. I'm also a voter.

And I think that what's important now is for the attorney general to show a level of transparency that's been somewhat lacking up to this point coming out of the administration. It's up to the American public to decide whether they think that Sessions is telling the truth, and they deserve the information, quite frankly.

BLITZER: The president said he will tell the country if there are White House recordings of his conversations with Comey or tapes. He's the one about a month or so ago raised that possibility of tapes.

Will there be any repercussions, Congresswoman, if they don't exist or if they do exist, for that matter? How do you see all of this impacting the president's credibility?

RICE: I think it will have an enormous impact.

And there's only three things that can happen, right? If the tapes existed and they backed up what the president was saying, there is no way that we would not have seen them and heard them by now. There's no question.

So, if they exist and they back up Comey, we deserve to see them, the American people deserve to see and hear them. And if they don't exist, he should just say, I didn't tell the truth. I thought maybe -- whatever, give a story, say something.

But to keep dangling this out there, you know, we hear so often that it's this committee or this congressperson or this outsider who's prolonging all of these investigations and all of this questioning, when it seems to me that very often the finger can be pointed right back at the president, whether it's through a tweet that he sends or a statement that he makes about tapes that don't even exist.

He can put an end to this speculation right now by saying the tapes don't exist, or, if they do, turn them over.

BLITZER: At what point should the various committees in the House and the Senate go one step further and formally issue subpoenas for those tapes if they exist?

RICE: I think they should -- both committees should be prepared to use their subpoena power.

There are -- look, whatever is going on in terms of any possible obstruction case, we have a special prosecutor right now who's going to look into all of that.

But what we need to do is have these committees continue to investigate the level of intervention that Russia had into our election. I mean, we have to boil this down, Wolf, to what's the most important thing here.

And, look, as a former prosecutor, would I love to have a case like this? Yes, I would, but I'm looking at this solely as there is a special prosecutor who's going to look into that, and is going to tell the person people whether a crime was committed. And we will have to wait for that investigation to be done.

But, right now, what we should be worried about as a country, given what happened in 2016 right here in our country, and what is going on in France and Germany in their elections as well, is this unbelievably unprecedented intervention by Russia, trying to break down democratic institutions all across the world.

And the American people deserve to know exactly what level of intervention there was, how they did it, and how we most importantly can prevent this from happening again, because, right now, you know, the Republicans might have benefited from their intervention, but guess what, three years from now, they can say, you know what, Trump, we don't want you anymore. We want the other person.

We have to stop that, and the only way that we're going to do is if these committees can get to work and see, you know, finally divulge exactly what level of intervention the Russians had.

BLITZER: Do you believe the president will make a statement under oath to the special counsel, Robert Mueller?


RICE: I have no idea if he will take that step.

He is represented by able counsel who will give him advice about that, but there's no question that what he would have to say would be relevant. I think he went out of his way with former Director Comey to show that he was not personally being investigated, but he did make mention of satellite people around him that may have had contact.

But Mueller will get to the bottom of that. I would never want to -- I have been a prosecutor. I would never want anyone prognosticating or second-guessing decisions I made as a prosecutor, especially in an instance like this.

BLITZER: The reason it's important is because, as you know, the president is saying that at least some of what the former FBI director testified before the Senate the other day under oath, the president is alleging it wasn't true.

So how could that play out if there are two accounts, two very different accounts, and if the president, in fact, makes that allegation under oath?

RICE: Well, that's what Mueller is going to look into.

Look, Wolf, I have to tell you, I think that it wasn't just the president. It was other people, other Republicans saying, look, we believe Comey when he said this, but when he said X, Y, and Z, we didn't find him credible in that instance.

Now, I'm a Democrat. I heard Comey's testimony. I take it at face value. I think he's a credible guy. Now, that means as a Democrat I also have to believe what he said about former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and I do, and it was disturbing for me to hear that.

And I'm a Democrat. But let's be honest, this is not about partisan politics. This should be about getting to the bottom of a case here that can threaten the very democratic principles that we all hold so dear, so I never buy when someone says, well, I believe that Comey was truthful when he said this, but not that. You either accept him as credible or not.

BLITZER: You were upset when he testified that Loretta Lynch, then the attorney general, said to him, don't use the word investigation about Hillary Clinton's e-mail server, use the word matter, much more neutral. That upset you, right?

RICE: Yes.

I mean, and, look, there's no reason to disbelieve him, but it's very disturbing that someone in that position would try to soften something just by use of a word.

And, you know, I thought Comey put it very well, that it really just left him feeling queasy that the language that she asked him to use very closely tracked, if not completely mimicked the language that the Clinton campaign was using at that time.

So, look, for me, it's not a question of politics. It is someone in that position having to be straight down the middle, right, and not take sides, and not shill for one side or the other, whether you're Loretta Lynch or Jeff Sessions.

BLITZER: All right, Congresswoman, there's more to discuss. I need to take a quick break. We will resume our Q&A right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with House Democrat Kathleen Rice. We're following the breaking news in the Russia investigation, as the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, prepares to testify in an open Senate hearing tomorrow.

Congresswoman, I want you to stand by, because we're getting an update now on a new legal defeat for President Trump and his revised travel ban.

Our justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is with us.

Laura, I understand we just got a statement from the Justice Department on this setback, this legal setback for them?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, strongly worded statement here from Jeff Sessions weighing in, saying: "The president's executive order is well within his lawful authority to keep the nation safe. We disagree with the Ninth Circuit's decision to block that authority."

And, of course, Sean Spicer said earlier today that the administration plans to take this all the way to the Supreme Court to see this case through. But it's interesting to note the Ninth Circuit is actually doing something different here, unlike the Fourth Circuit that ruled last month on this exact same revised executive order.

The Ninth Circuit is looking at the statutory authority, the broad statutory authority that the president so often invokes and saying, even under that, this travel ban fails because he's failed to show how blocking people from predominantly Muslim countries would serve our national security interests.

BLITZER: And the other legal challenge the president facing today, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit against the president for supposedly taking foreign gifts through his business empire, which could be a violation of the so- called Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

JARRETT: Exactly, and this all stems from the fact that the president refused to divest his business interests before he took office, and so the states are now saying, well, hold on a minute, every time a foreign dignitary stays at the Trump International Hotel here in D.C., or even plays golf at one of his golf courses all around the country, that's money flowing directly into the president's pocket from foreigners, in violation of the Constitution.

And the attorney general here in D.C., the D.C. attorney general, actually gave a news conference earlier today and he called this unprecedented. Listen to what he had to say.


KARL A. RACINE, D.C. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings.

President Trump's businesses and his dealings violate the constitution's anti-corruption provisions known as the Emoluments Clauses.


The framers included these two anti-corruption provisions to prevent foreign and domestic entities from seeking to influence the president by bestowing money or other things of value on him.


JARRETT: Now, the Justice Department has already weighed in on this in a different case, saying hotel payments can't possibly violate the Emoluments Clause. These are just fair market transactions. And Sean Spicer actually weighed in on this, too, today, saying this is just pure partisan gamesmanship. Here's what he had to say, Wolf.


SPICER: The president's interests, as previously discussed, do not violate the Emoluments Clause. It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations behind the scenes.

The suit was filed by two Democratic attorney generals. The lawyers driving the suit are an advocacy group with partisan ties.


JARRETT: At the end of the day, Wolf, the states say they want the president to stop accepting these foreign payments, but it also appears that they are angling to try to get their hands on the president's financial information, including, of course, his tax returns.

BLITZER: Yes, they may have an opportunity on that front.

All right, thanks very much, Laura Jarrett, reporting for us.

I want to get back to Congresswoman Kathleen Rice.

Congresswoman, do you believe this lawsuit potentially could force the president to release his tax returns?

RICE: I mean, it very well may, but I remember very clearly, Wolf, right after -- it was actually before the president was sworn in, and he -- his attorney went -- with great dramatic flair put all these -- this paperwork on a big table and piled it all into big piles, and said he's signing over all of his businesses over to his sons and he's going to have nothing to do with it.

And they even went so far as to say that in an event that any foreign entity were to patronize a Trump business, they were going to take that money and they were going to send it to the U.S. Treasury.

And a couple months later, when there was an inquiry about that, the administration said, well, there's no way we are going to be able to do that. We can't do that. It's going to be a violation of the privacy of our people who come and patronize these hotels.

And they clearly had no intention of ever doing it. This goes to the very core, Wolf, of the public's right to have faith that their commander in chief, the president of the United States, is beholden to only one master, and that is to the American people.

If you are accepting money through your businesses from foreign entities, whether they are friend or foe, that gives the impression that any decision that the president makes could be influenced by that money, by that business, and I think a first-grader can understand that.

And we have never had -- this is an unprecedented presidency, obviously, given the business nature of Donald Trump's background, but also keep in mind that it's important that we set this precedent now and we do it in a transparent, clear way with the American public as the number one person that we should be caring about, so that they now have all the information and they can ensure that the president is working only on their behalf and on no one else's behalf.

We don't know how many people are going to run for president in the future that might have similarly a wide ranging-business interests, and we need to set that precedent now, and we have to do it outside the glare of partisan politics.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Kathleen Rice in New York, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

RICE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, we will have much more on the Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Senate testimony tomorrow. Will he help or hurt his already rocky relationship with the president?

Then we will talk about the spectacle of the Trump Cabinet members one by one singing the president's praises with the camera rolling.


TRUMP: I will say that never has there been a president, with few exceptions -- in the case of FDR, he had a major Depression to handle -- who's passed more legislation.



BLITZER: We're just hours away from another pivotal moment in the Russia investigation. The attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, preparing to face the Senate Intelligence Committee tomorrow.

[18:33:48] And tonight, the White House is acknowledging that Sessions might cite executive privilege to avoid answering some questions. Sessions is certainly a central embattled figure in the investigation. There's a lot of ground for the senators to cover tomorrow. CNN, of course, will carry all of it live tomorrow afternoon.

Right now let's bring in our analysts and our specialists. And Gloria, there's a lot at stake right now, especially for Jeff Sessions when he testifies tomorrow. He's already been criticized by the president of the United States, by the White House on Twitter for various decisions, and he once threatened to resign. They didn't accept his resignation.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Look, he's been criticized by the president of the United States. He's also been criticized by the Congress. You know, some Democrats are wondering whether he perjured himself in front of their committee when he said he didn't have any contacts with Russians, which he then later had to amend.

I think the big question we're going to want to see an answer to tomorrow, and maybe, Laura, you agree or disagree, is that we want to know what his role was in the Comey firing. And why he believed he did not have to recuse himself in that, and what were his reasons for wanting Comey gone. Because we already know that Donald Trump has said to Lester Holt that it was about Russia. Well, what was it in the attorney general's point of view, and should he have recused himself if, in fact, it was about Russia?

[18:35:12] BLITZER: But potentially, they're leaving the door open. He could exert -- he could say there's executive privilege, my conversations, Laura, with the president of the United States are private. I'm not going to discuss them publicly.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUDICIAL CORRESPONDENT: He could, and we heard Rogers and Coats, national security officials, do that move last week. But the issue, of course, here is that the president has put some of these conversations into the public square, and so it's very difficult to claim executive privilege on things that you've been tweeting about, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be a sensitive issue, Phil Mudd, for him to explain, for example, if he's asked -- and I'm sure he will be -- about Comey's suggestion that the president kicked everybody out of the room except Comey, that Sessions lingered outside during that very sensitive meeting. You've got a little smile on your face. How's he going to answer


PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I'm smiling because I'm getting the popcorn ready. This is better than "Wonder Woman." I'll be watching tomorrow.

I don't think there is a good answer. If you serve at the FBI, as I did, any attorney general -- I served under three of them; I saw them every day, Wolf. Any attorney general knows it's their responsibility to shield the FBI from inappropriate political pressure. So question one, did you intervene? If the answer is no, you've got to ask why. If the answer is yes, you've got to say, "We haven't heard that before. What happened?"

I think the third answer is the one I would expect to hear, which is what I learned at the CIA, go dumb early. "Well, it was early, you know, it was an unusual situation. As Director Comey said, we were surprised."

So I'm not sure we're going to hear a clear yes or no. I'm waiting to see if we get a "go dumb early" answer, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the other important question, Bianna, that he's going to have to answer, did you or did you not have a third undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel on such and such a date, as has been suggested? He's going to have to answer that, and if he says, "Yes, I did," they're going to say to him, "Why didn't you acknowledge that report that on your formal disclosure statements?"

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Yeah, and I spoke with Senator John McCain on Friday about that very issue, whether or not, as rumors have suggested, that there was an undisclosed third meeting. Obviously, Senator McCain could not confirm that for me, but he did say that, if that were the case, it would be, indeed, very worrisome.

Remember, this would be not one, not two, but three meetings that he did not disclose. All taking place, by the way, within the last eight or nine months, so it's not a situation where he could have said, "Oh, ten years ago, how on earth could I have remembered that I met with such and such person?" This was in a rather short period of time, and, obviously, the other question is to get back to the earlier point of when he knew or if he ever knew that the president wanted Comey to go specifically related to the Russia investigation.

BORGER: Right, right.

BLITZER: Gloria.

BORGER: Look, I think Bianna's right. I think that's the key here, because Comey in his own testimony said that he had to presume he was fired because of the Russia investigation, because the president said it. And you know and we all know early on after Comey was fired, the White House used as justification a memo by Rod Rosenstein talking about Comey's performance during the Hillary Clinton saga over the e- mails.

And so in a way, Sessions is very important, and it depends how the senators ask the questions. They have to be careful not to allow him to go and retreat to executive privilege and ask him his opinion, you know. In your opinion, why -- what were you thinking when Comey was fired and you did not recuse yourself? What was in your mind? That has nothing to do with the president of the United States.

So like a journalist knows, you know, sometimes it depends how you ask the question, and I think the senators are probably thinking about that right now, because we need his view in this picture.

BLITZER: Let me ask -- go ahead, Bianna.

BIANNA: I was going to say, there's already a contradiction that we're getting word of now between Comey's testimony and what we're hearing from Sessions' spokesperson. Comey said that, in his view, that he did think Sessions understood that that was an uncomfortable, at the very least, suggestion that the president asked everybody to leave the room. Sessions' spokesperson today denied that, said that the attorney general didn't think anything of it.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Phil, you know, this whole notion of this third meeting. Apparently, we've reported it was picked up in an intercepted phone conversation or conversation between Russian officials. The U.S. doesn't know if they were simply bragging or they were just trying to deceive the U.S. or if, in fact, there was this real third meeting.

MUDD: I think you hit something on the head, Wolf. We've got to be careful here. The source of this information is a third party whom we can't trust.

That said, Gloria Borger hit the nail on the head. Watch the art of the question tomorrow. For example, on this one, let me give you two questions. Talk about the third meeting. You could see the attorney general saying, "You know, I forgot it."

[18:40:10] Here's another question. Here's the question I would ask: "Do you keep a schedule or a calendar of the people you're meeting?" I presume with the incoming attorney general the answer is yes, so then I would go to the second question. "Did you not even bother to review your schedule when you filled out the same kind of forms I filled out in terms of who you met coming into office? Did you not even bother to do that?" The art of the question tomorrow is really important.

BLITZER: Yes, it's going to be an important hearing and we'll, of course, have extensive live coverage.

A lot more happening. We'll take a quick break. We'll resume our coverage right after this.


[18:45:18] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're talking to our analysts and specialists about the attorney general's Senate testimony tomorrow in the Russia investigation.

Jeff Sessions taking part today in a rather strange cabinet meeting with the president. Very strange, indeed.

The president convened, Gloria, his entire cabinet. Listen to some of the words that were uttered.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNTIED STATES: Thank you, Mr. President, and it's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice president to a president who's keeping his word to the American people.

ALEXANDER ACOSTA, LABOR SECRETARY: Mr. President, I am privileged to be here. Deeply honored, and I want to thank you for keeping your commitment to the American workers.

DR. TOM PRICE, HHS SECRETARY: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege you've given me and leadership that you've shown.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. President, thank you for the honor to serve the country. It's a great privilege you've given me.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people.

SONNY PERDUE, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: I want to congratulate you on the men and women you've placed around this table. This is a team you've assembled that's working hand in glove for the better of America, and I want to thank you for that. These are great team members, and we're on your team.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President. We have a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year and even greater honor to be serving in your cabinet.


BLITZER: All right. Gloria, have you ever seen anything like that before?


BLITZER: I've covered a lot of opening photo ops with cabinet members.

BORGER: Yes, this was beyond a photo op, and, you know, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who is a Democrat, tweeted today, he said, maybe a bit too dear leader-ish and I think that's what it kind of sounded like. And I think that usually cabinet meetings are held when the president in private wants to get unvarnished advice from the people who work for him about things that are going on and they are usually proceeded by a bit of a photo op with the president saying, I'm glad you're all here, but not with this kind of adulation that we saw today.

BLITZER: Yes, it was rather unusual.

Yes, go ahead, Bianna.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: I was going to say, I mean, it was a bit cringe-worthy, to say the least. It reminds me of the opposite reason as to why my parents brought me to this country from the former Soviet Union. I mean, their leaders were forced to do that. The difference here is, they are not forced to do that, and you could see how uncomfortable the cabinet was in having to dole out these accolades. It was -- it was something you don't do or bestow upon a 5 year old, much less the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Phil, Senator Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, he had some fun with his staff. Watch this.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: I want to thank everybody for coming. I just thought we'd go around the room. Lucy, how'd we do on the Sunday show yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your tone was perfect. You were right on message.

SCHUMER: Michelle, how'd my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have great hair. Nobody had better hair than you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we go any further, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.


BLITZER: Phil, what did you think?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You know, just cringe-worthy is a polite word. I went to staff meetings, thousands of them at the senior level with the CIA, FBI, and also the West Wing of the White House.

Here's the problem with this session. Nothing good and nothing simple ever goes into the Oval Office. You have got to have the responsibility to have people who have been in leadership positions, including former generals, who prostrated themselves in that meeting. Walk into the oval office and say this is why the immigration policy isn't working. This is why our engagement with the Congress isn't working.

If anybody I worked for, FBI director, CIA director, national security adviser had seen one answer like that, whoever said that would be laughed out of the room. That's got to be a serious conversation around that table. The message we got is, the president can't stand a serious conversation.

I didn't know he wanted to build a Berlin Wall, Wolf, I thought it was a wall with Mexico. That looked like a Soviet style meeting.


You know, Laura, what was interesting was, the attorney general was there at that meeting, and as you know, there has been a rift. There's been some serious problems between the president and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who will testify tomorrow on several issues, including his controversial decision to recuse himself. The president hated that decision, because he sees it as a step towards special counsel.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: And that's why I think Sessions' testimony is going to be so enlightening tomorrow, because on the one hand, he's got to make sure that his boss is pleased and doesn't feel like he's done anything to get, you know, out of line, especially on the special counsel issue.

[18:50:03] But on the other hand, he has so many pressing questions from senators day after day, whether it's the firing of James Comey or this possible meeting with Sergey Kislyak that may or may not have happened. He says didn't happen. They think he's got to tread really carefully here to serve those dual interests.

BORGER: Well, he also has to serve his own credibility, you know? That's important for him, too. He's got the Congress. He's got the president, but he also has to appear as a credible witness telling his side of the story insofar as he's willing to do it.

BLITZER: It's going to be an important hearing. We'll have special coverage starting at 2:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow afternoon.

Up next, while the president won't say if he taped James Comey, he's been accused of recording his adversaries before, often before. Does his past offer clues about what may be happening in the Oval Office now?


[18:55:18] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news including the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer once again refusing to answer questions about whether President Trump taped his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

CNN's Brian Todd is here with us.

Brian, despite the non-answers from the White House, the president has a long history apparently of recording conversations.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are getting accounts of that, Wolf, and as you mentioned tonight, investigators hanging on that key question. Does President Trump have tapes of his conversations with the fired FBI Director James Comey.

Now, why the White House stalls on that answer, there are accounts we're getting of an alleged history of Donald Trump recording conversations while he was a businessman.


TODD (voice-over): They are either an idle threat or important evidence.

REPORTER: Do tapes exist of your conversations with him?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'll tell you about that maybe sometime in the very near future.

TODD: Alleged recordings or tapes as the president described them on Twitter of meetings between Donald Trump and fired FBI director James Comey that the White House has yet to release. But some people who have worked with or interviewed Trump in the past say they believe the president's Twitter tease may be nothing more than a tantalizing trick.

MARC FISHER, THE WASHINGTON POST: He certainly has made comments along the way to reporters about taping us while we're having conversations especially on the phone.

TODD: Marc Fisher is an editor at the "The Washington Post". He says despite those claims, he's never seen evidence those recordings exist. But when he interviewed Trump for a biographer he says, it became clear that Trump had other people listening in on conversations in his office at Trump Tower.

FISHER: In the middle of a discussion, he asked if we wanted anything to drink and we said sure, and he in a very soft voice said two waters and a coke, and there's nobody else in the room and less than a minute later, a secretary walks in with two waters and a coke. And it turned out for our discussions later on that the secretary was indeed listening in on the conversation in the office.

TODD: Casino developer William Weidner told "The Wall Street Journal" that during a lawsuit, Trump's team once produced a recording of a phone conversation Weidner had with Trump which Weidner never knew was being recorded. "The Journal" cites three former high levels of employees of Trump's as saying Trump sometimes taped conversations from his Trump Tower office where he had one or more recording devices that he used to record calls.

When biographer Timothy O'Brien was sued by Trump, he says Trump threatened that he'd taped O'Brien but Trump reversed himself under oath.

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, SUED BY TRUMP FOR LIBEL: During our deposition with Trump, which was over two days in December of 2007, we asked him, do you indeed tape people? And he said, no. And we said, so you don't have a tape recording system set up in Trump Tower? And he said, no, I do not have that set up. TODD: In talking to reporters, Trump has raised other questions about

his honesty.

TRUMP: Well, I'm sort of handling PR because he gets so much of it.

TODD: Trump biographers say in the 1980s and early 1990s, Trump would speak to reporters on the phone masquerading as his own PR agent, fictitious front man he called John Miller or John Barron.

"JOHN MILLER": He's somebody that has a lot of options. And frankly, he gets called by everybody. He gets called by everybody in the book, in terms of woman.

TODD: Frank denied doing that, but his answers to reporters this time about whether tapes of White House conversations exist have sounded less like a denial and more like a cliffhanger.

REPORTER: When will you tell us about the recordings?

TRUMP: Over a very short period of time.

REPORTER: Why won't you tell us now? Are there tapes, sir?

TRUMP: Oh, you're going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer, don't worry.


TODD: Now, we also reached out to President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen and the attorney for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten. Both of them told us they are not aware of any instance where Trump secretly recorded any conversations with anyone while he was in the private sector and they say they never saw any recording devices in his offices at Trump Tower or anywhere else -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If there are White House tapes of the president's conversations with James Comey, one key question is, does the White House have to turn them over? What are you hearing about that?

TODD: Well, Wolf, CNN legal analyst Steven Vladeck, whose a law professor at the University of Texas, says that if there are tapes and if they're subpoenaed, the White House will probably have to turn them over. Now, the White House could fight that subpoena, so we will see how this plays out if indeed there are tapes. There is a lot of doubt about that tonight, though, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Brian Todd, reporting for us, thanks very much. I'm sure this entire issue will come up tomorrow during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Our special coverage of the Jeff Sessions testimony will begin.

That's it for me. Thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.