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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Sessions Denies Improper Russia Contacts; Interview with Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:04] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. Thanks for joining us tonight.
The last man in the room before the president spoke alone with FBI Director James Comey testified under oath, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is seen and heard a lot as a cabinet member and before that as one of Donald Trump's closest campaign advisers.
He's also been accused of being untruthful about the encounters with the Russian officials and went before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, in part he said to set the record straight about a number of things, including in his words, secret innuendo being leaked about himself, the president and this whole affair. He had plenty to say about that. However, he had less to say to the considerable irritation of some committee members and the loud approval of several others.
We'll be talking about this over the next two hours. In a moment, we'll hear from Senator Ron Wyden who is involved in a contentious exchange with Attorney General Sessions.
But, first, some of the key moments from today's testimony.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: Has the president invoked executive privilege in the case of your testimony here today?
SESSIONS: He has not.
KING: Then what is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions?
SESSIONS: Senator King, the president has a constitutional --
KING: I understand, but the president hasn't asserted it.
SESSIONS: Well --
KING: You said you don't have the power to exert the power of executive privilege, so what is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?
SESSIONS: I'm protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses.
SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: To the best of your knowledge, sir, did any of these following individuals meet with Russian officials at any point during the campaign? And you can say yes or no on this -- Paul Manafort?
SESSIONS: I don't have any information that he had done so. He served as campaign chairman for a few months.
MANCHIN: Steve Bannon?
SESSIONS: I have no information that he did.
MANCHIN: General Michael Flynn?
SESSIONS: I don't recall it.
MANCHIN: Reince Priebus?
SESSIONS: I don't recall.
MANCHIN: Steve Miller?
SESSIONS: I don't recall him ever having such a conversation.
MANCHIN: Corey Lewandowski?
SESSIONS: I do not recall any of those individuals having any meeting with Russian officials.
MANCHIN: Carter Page?
SESSIONS: I don't know.
SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Have you ever, in any of these fantastical situations, heard of a plot line so ridiculous that a sitting United States senator and an ambassador of a foreign government colluded at an open setting with hundreds of other people to pull off the greatest caper in the history of espionage?
SESSIONS: Thank you for saying that, Senator Cotton. It's just like through the looking glass. I mean, what is this?
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable. And General Sessions has acknowledged that there is no legal basis for this stonewalling.
SESSIONS: Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalled.
WYDEN: So I want to ask you just point blank, why did you sign the letter recommending the firing of Director Comey when it violated your recusal? SESSIONS: It did not violate my recusal. It did not violate my
recusal. That would be the answer to that, and the letter that I signed represented my views that had been formulated for some time.
WYDEN: Mr. Chairman, just if I can finish, that answer, in my view, doesn't pass the smell test. General Sessions, respectfully, you're not answering the question.
SESSION: Well, what is the question?
WYDEN: The question is, Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?
SESSIONS: That -- why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none, I can tell you that for absolute certainty.
WYDEN: We can --
SESSIONS: You tell -- this is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
COOPER: Well, that was Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. I spoke with him shortly before we went on air.
COOPER: Senator, you accused Attorney General Sessions of stonewalling. Do you have any evidence that shows that he wasn't, in fact, following proper procedure? He claims he was following long- held policies at the Department of Justice.
WYDEN: He refused, Anderson, to address the most basic issues today, why didn't he recuse himself sooner, what did the president say to him about firing Director Comey. Look, the bottom line is that we have had one of these Trump officials after another and they basically say they're not going to respond to questions because they don't feel like it.
COOPER: Right. I mean, he did take an oath to answer questions and executive privilege was not being called in. So, is there any recourse, you or any other senator can take to actually get him to actually answer questions that he wouldn't answer, or are your hands pretty much tied?
[20:05:05] WYDEN: Oh, you certainly can take action against officials, but look, what we're going to do now is show that there's no legal basis for the stonewalling. He didn't have a claim of executive privilege. And on some of the matters, he just threw in really bizarre kinds of comments.
For example, when I asked him about what Director Comey said, Director Comey said when I asked him about Jeff Sessions' recusal, he said, it was really problematic and he couldn't get into it in public. So I asked Jeff Sessions what was meant by that, and Jeff Sessions just got all riled up and started hollering about innuendos, but he didn't answer the question.
The question was, why would the former FBI director find this so problematic he couldn't talk about it in public?
Here's my bottom line, Anderson. What we learned today is the country's top legal official doesn't have much of a grasp of the law, and he certainly doesn't understand what recusal is all about.
COOPER: Was -- do you think you'll actually be able to find out whose account was accurate? I mean, was Director Comey accurate when he said that he knew the attorney general was going to have to recuse himself based on some things which he didn't go into?
WYDEN: When you have a situation like that, you know, he said/he said, examine the relevant facts. Director Comey responded to questions for several hours and didn't pass on any of them. What Jeff Sessions did was, in effect, pass on all of them.
So, when you have two officials and one of them is straight forward and lays out a lot of details and the other one just seems to duck and weave and try to figure out how to escape accountability, I think the American people are going to say, we're going with the people who offered the facts.
COOPER: Today, also, the attorney general fortunately declared that any accusation that he had anything to do with collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is a, quote, appalling and detestable lie. Do you believe him? Do you believe he had no hand in any possible collusion?
WYDEN: Well, what I can tell you is when you have someone who violates the terms of his recusal, you certainly have grounds to question other matters. So, the point you are asking about I intend to follow up on.
COOPER: And the attorney general also said that he would not participate in any effort to remove Robert Mueller. Does hearing that give you confidence that the integrity of the independent investigation is going to be upheld?
WYDEN: Under normal circumstances, you would say yes. But certainly when you look at the Trump inner circle, they have a long track record here based on the first few months of this administration to take steps that honor the one principle above everything else, which is protect the president.
COOPER: Finally, the attorney general was asked about his meeting with Kislyak in his office, and he seemed unable to go into much detail of what he actually did discuss. He said it wasn't anything to do with the campaign, that it had to do with his role as a senator at the time, and yet, you know, some of the major issues, as John McCain pointed out, it didn't seem like he went into them or just didn't remember. Normally in a meeting like that, would there be staff sitting in
taking notes? Would there be any kind of account at the time of what was actually discussed?
WYDEN: What I indicated at the hearing is some of these answers, Anderson, just don't pass the smell test. If you're talking about meetings with a prominent Russian official and he says he doesn't really remember much, he doesn't know if there are any records, this kind of thing, it just cries out for those of us who are charged with oversight to insist that we get more facts and we're going to stay at it.
COOPER: All right. Senator Wyden, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
COOPER: All right. I want to bring in the panel. Ryan Lizza, Matt Lewis, Kirsten Powers, Gloria Borger, Jeffrey Toobin, Matthew Whitaker, and Ken Cuccinelli.
Jeff Toobin, you said that the attorney general's testimony was the White House basically having its cake and eating it, too.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I thought so.
COOPER: What does that mean?
TOOBIN: He said -- he didn't answer any questions about what Donald Trump said or did. But he did not cite executive privilege. He just said confidentiality which is basically a made-up legal kept that has no basis in law.
[20:10:00] COOPER: He said it's a long-standing Department of Justice policy.
TOOBIN: I mean, that he couldn't identify in writing and is not known to me and apparently not known to many people in that hearing. So the White House got the secrecy they wanted. They got the nondisclosure of conversations involving the president, but they didn't have to take the political heat of citing executive privilege.
COOPER: And, Gloria, executive privilege came up a lot. I want to show some of the moments where the term was thrown around.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Has the president invoked executive privilege in the case of your testimony here today?
SESSIONS: He has not.
KING: Then what is the basis of your refusal to answer these questions? SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to exert it --
assert it if he chooses.
Senator Feinstein, that would call for a communication between the attorney general and the president and I'm not able to comment on that.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH (D), NEW MEXICO: Can you tell me, what are these long-standing DOJ rules that protect conversations made in the executive without invoking executive privilege?
SESSIONS: Senator, I'm protecting the president's constitutional right. Mr. Chairman, I'm not able to comment on conversations with high officials within the White House.
WYDEN: Stonewalling of any kind is unacceptable, and General Sessions has acknowledged that there is no legal basis for this stonewalling.
SESSIONS: I am not stonewalled. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: It's the same thing, Gloria, that I mean, we heard from DNI Coats, also Admiral Rogers. They went in -- or at least Rogers went in later to classify testimony, but no indication that Sessions is going to do that.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. In fact, sessions was asked about that today and he didn't indicate that he was willing to do that. Our Laura Jarrett asked the Justice Department what is the precedent that Jeffrey is questioning, and they pointed to two memos from 1982. One from President Reagan and the other from Ted Olson who was then the A.G. for the office of legal counsel, and so they set this precedent up. But it was not something that Sessions could cite in the hearing.
And I think that you have this pattern here of Sessions, according to our reporting, Jim Acosta's reporting, did not go to the White House and ask whether he should assert executive privilege. The other two gentlemen said they tried to contact the White House and never got a response, if you'll recall from their testimony. So what the White House is getting is people who are just saying I'm not going to testify about these conversations because it makes it look like they could be actually damaging to the president.
COOPER: Matt Whitaker, I mean, if it's not executive privilege, what is it?
MATT WHITAKER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think what all the lawyers in the room believe it is, it feels a lot like attorney/client privilege but the president isn't the attorney general's client. So they're thinking we're having confidential communications when their tingly sense tells them they shouldn't talk about it.
COOPER: But DNI Coats and Admiral Rogers -- WHITAKER: Exactly, exactly. I mean, what you see is the executive
branch and the president and the White House have come up with a strategy to not answer these questions.
TOOBIN: But, you know, Congress has a constitutional right to participate and to investigate, and a tingly sense, with all due respect, is not a legal concept that should have -- but the thing is, they don't -- in the absence of contempt or some sort of coercion --
COOPER: There's nothing they can do.
COOPER: Ken Cuccinelli, I mean, would it have made the attorney general's argument stronger if he had actually brought with him and read aloud the specific DOJ policy he kept referring to?
KENNETH CUCCINELLI, PRESIDENT, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND: Of course, the more specific you are at any time -- look at his opening statement. He was specific in the opening statement, but you expect more specificity in the opening statement than in the back and forth with senators. So, there is some give-and-take on that, but unless the DOJ comes up with that kind of specificity for the tradition he cited, other than the memos that Gloria mentioned, then it looks like a weak part of today's testimony.
I will say, though, it was all cabined around the same thing, and that was conversations with the president where you would expect them to potentially exercise executive privilege, and the tingly sense, as it's now being described, is leading somebody like General Sessions who obviously is a lawyer to have that instinct.
I would note that a lot of the -- you look at Ron Wyden today, and, boy, he just looked like he was huffing and puffing and couldn't stand it and this is outrageous and, of course, this was all missing for eight years from people like Ron Wyden.
So, there is a lot of partisanship to this. Look, if this hearing, like the Comey hearing were structured to be purely substantive, each side would have their counsel asking the questions, and it wouldn't be going from senator to senator so they can have their time shouting into the camera, and we saw some of that again today like we did with Comey.
[20:15:12] This is not the ideal structure for an oversight committee to get the most information out of a hearing. And, you know, General Sessions did well in his opening statement, and then there was a lot to fight about after that.
COOPER: Matt Lewis, I mean, was today a good day for the Trump administration? Because again, no real details came out about those conversations that obviously a lot of the Democrats wanted to hear.
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think it probably was. I mean, if you -- you know, if you're looking at it from a political standpoint, it's probably a good day for Trump, for the Trump administration.
By the way, I thought that Senator Heinrich had the best questions today and he made the point that said either you take executive privilege or if it's classified information, you don't have to talk about it. Otherwise, if you pledge to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then you have no excuse for not answering these questions.
Having said that, I think that most -- in terms of the news value and the possibility that down the road -- you know, if Sessions, if Attorney General Sessions had answered questions with more specificity, more specifically today and he had gotten something wrong, even if he had misremembered, down the road it might have come down to haunt him.
COOPER: Well, I mean --
LEWIS: He answered very few questions. So, I think politically it doesn't hurt him and it also shields him down the road.
COOPER: Also, a lot of his answers were, well, I don't remember or, not to my knowledge, which are, you know, classic answers when --
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. But it sounded like he got cornered in a hallway, you know, by some cameras, and he said I'm not ready to talk about this. He knew he was coming, the president knew he was coming. What he kept saying was that he was trying to preserve Trump's future executive privilege as if they couldn't have had a conversation about it before he came to actually testify.
So, it seemed like a game. It seemed like something, and he can only play this card one time, you know, but he did play it and I think that it actually harmed his credibility because it just, it didn't really make sense to people. I think you're listening to this and you're thinking --
TOOBIN: I just think -- forgive me for interrupting, they can play it as many times as they like, as long as they have Republican control of these committees. Because the only thing that's going to stop them from essentially stonewalling is coercion, force. You're not going to get that from Republicans.
COOPER: Right. I mean, another thing hanging over the hearing today was whether then Senator Sessions intentionally misled the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. I want to play a portion in question from back in January and then what was said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: If it's true, it's obviously extremely serious, and if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians. I'm unable to comment on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: He was asked about that today by Vice Chairman Warner. So, let's play what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: This is what happened. Senator Franken asked me a rambling question after some six hours of testimony that included dramatic new allegations that the United States intelligence community, the U.S. intelligence community, had advised President-elect Trump, quote, that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump's surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, close quote.
I was taken aback by that explosive allegation, which he said was being reported as breaking news that very day and which I had not heard. I wanted to refute that immediately, any suggestion that I was part of such an activity. I replied quote, I replied to Senator Franken this way, quote, Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate a time or two in that campaign, and I didn't have communications with the Russians and I'm unable to comment on it, close quote.
That was the context in which I was asked the question, and in that context, my answer was a fair and correct response to the charge as I understood it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Ryan, Senator Franken's put out a statement saying he doesn't buy the attorney general's explanation.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, just look at the language of the question. He -- Franken asked him about intermediaries for the Russian government which is exactly what the Russian ambassador is, and surrogates for the Trump campaign which is exactly what Jeff Sessions is.
So, even by his own explanation of the context of that question, I don't quite understand what Attorney General Sessions is getting at. The question was about exactly the kind of contacts that we now know he had. Now, he may think they were just innocent contacts, his contacts with the Russian ambassador were about some issues that were totally innocent, but the question was indeed about surrogates and intermediaries, which described --
COOPER: He has said that he wasn't meeting with the Russian ambassador as a surrogate in the time.
POWERS: John McCain kind of got into that --
LIZZA: Take off your surrogate hat.
POWERS: Yes. I mean, John McCain said I don't remember you really being that interested in foreign policy.
COOPER: And quizzed him on what specific foreign policy issues were discussed --
POWERS: Right, yes.
COOPER: -- and really didn't know many of them.
POWERS: Yes, there was a story in "The Atlantic" today by Julia Ioffe, where, you know, based on the Department of Justice accounting that Sessions had had zero meetings with any ambassadors or, you know, foreign advisers of foreign governments up until the point he was appointed to the campaign in March and then in April, he had almost 30.
So, that's not -- I understand that he could theoretically do that as a senator or as a surrogate, but he said he was doing it as a senator and he previously did not do that.
LIZZA: What's clear is Kislyak, what Kislyak was doing was trying to find out about the Trump campaign and its views on Russia.
COOPER: Yes. We've got to take a break. We're going to have the latest from the White House next.
And later, the man who would have to make the call if ask to actually fire special counsel Robert Mueller, or perhaps could instead, Rod Rosenstein was asked about it and we'll see what he said when 360 continues.
[20:25:37] COOPER: The president has yet to react to today's testimony. He did, however, tweet somewhat on the subject earlier today. Quote, fake news is at an all-time high. Where is their apology to me for all the incorrect stories?
CNN's Sara Murray joins us now from the White House with the latest.
So, the president was traveling in Wisconsin today during Sessions' testimony. Do you know if he watched it?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he may not have tweeted about it and it may have seen like he wants to talk about anything else. He was talking about workforce development. He was talking about health care. But a source does say the president spent most of his flight to Wisconsin which is 90 minutes watching his Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifying on the Hill, getting peppered with questions about Russia and about his conversations with the president.
So, as much as Trump may want to escape the fray here in Washington, even he is still dialed in on what's going on in this Russia investigation. COOPER: Has the White House or anyone in the administration had any
comment about the hearing today?
MURRAY: It had no official response. There's been no official White House statement. I spoke with a spokesperson for the president's personal lawyer earlier today who said his personal lawyer would not be putting out a statement today.
It's possible we could still hear from the White House on this. They are still on their way back from Wisconsin now. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is with reporters. So, you know, we have asked for more of a readout, but so far, the White House has been pretty mum on this today, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Sara Murray -- Sara, thanks.
Back for a second to the attorney general's alleged meeting with the Russian ambassador back in April of last year at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. The key moment, if it ever occurred, some sort of exchange at a VIP gathering before then candidate Trump's speech. We don't know if there's video of that reception, but we did find this, this video from a few minutes after the VIP reception.
In it, you see the Ambassador Sergey Kislyak making his way to a seat down there in the front. A short time later, less than a minute, you see Senator Sessions walk in across the front row, walk past the ambassador, saying nothing, eventually just sitting behind him. So, that's the video.
Back with the panel.
Jeffrey Lord, I know you appreciate the tradition of people saying they don't recall certain things. It does seem like the Russian ambassador though was very forgettable to a lot of people who met with him.
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He was apparently forgettable to Nancy Pelosi, too, who said she never met him and then a picture shows up of the two of them at a table with other folks.
But, you know, seeing that video there, right before I came on the air I talked to someone who was there in the room, that would be my editor at "The American Spectator", R. Emmett Tyrrell, who along with Frank Buckley, had helped write that speech. And so, they were there sitting right behind Jeff Sessions.
And Mr. Buckley has a piece tonight on another network in which he says, if I saw this, I'd say so. I saw no indication he had any conversation with the Russian ambassador and he left alone. And I just talked with Mr. Terrell who says the same thing.
So in other words, I mean, this is such a -- Mr. Buckley points out that Bob Woodward was there, that there were reporters. I mean, this was a very public place. So, to have some sort of private conversation in a conspiracy that would hardly be the place to do it. I mean, it makes no sense on the face of it. COOPER: Brian, I mean, after the -- you know, Sessions testified
today, he clearly does not seem eager to go into some sort of a classified briefing to answer more questions about this. Is there really anything more the senators can do?
BRIAN FALLON, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY, HILLARY CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Well, if I were the Democrats on this committee, if I was Mark Warner, say, who is the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, I'd have two things that I'd be following up with and trying to pursue. Number one, I'd be going to my Republican counterpart, Senator Burr, who's the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and saying, hey, we need to change the process in which we're bringing these administration witnesses up to Capitol Hill.
Up until now, these have been voluntary appearances that this administration officials have agreed voluntarily to come up to the Hill and testify. I think they need to think about issuing subpoenas. And then, if you have a subpoena issued, you have a possibility of contempt of Congress situation hanging over the heads of these witnesses.
COOPER: If -- you're saying if executive privilege isn't invoked and yet they're not answering.
FALLON: Correct. Absent an invocation of executive privilege, or if the underlying material that the senators are asking about is classified, there's no legal basis for these administration officials to be refusing to answer questions. Congress of both parties -- members of both parties should be taking this issue seriously. It's thwarting the oversight role of Congress.
But if you issue subpoenas, you have -- you can dangle the threat of contempt of Congress charge. It's a criminal matter. If that's dangling over their head, they'll think twice about refusing to answer questions.
The second thing I would be doing if I was Mark Warner is getting ready some kind of statutory proposal, a legislative proposal to maybe revisit an independent counsel law. That was sunsetted in the twilight of Clinton administration, in the late '90s, for good reason. Both sides agreed that Ken Starr sort of got that investigation run amuck and there was a serious question about lack of accountability in that position with the independent counsel as it was written in that statue that lapsed in the late 90s.
But now you have a situation with the (inaudible) that's not taking its place where the president can basically fire, albeit through the acting attorney general, in this case Rod Rosenstein, Bob Mueller. And you have surrogates for Donald Trump that are going around floating that possibility. If that happens and Mueller is gotten rid of by Donald Trump, we're left without any independent conducting investigation. We need to at least have the back-up option of an independent counsel.
[20:30:39] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Jason, I mean what about the idea of subpoenas? I mean the fact -- is that - I mean if people are willing to come voluntarily, is that fair?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SR. COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, that's what Atty. Gen. Sessions did today, he came voluntarily in front of the committee. You've seen a number of people step forward and say we would like to come and testify to knock down the silliness of this entire --
COOPER: Right but they're testifying but not quite -- they're saying -- the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
MILLER: -- from national review in a very well written piece tonight writes, I mean preserving privilege is not obstructing justice. I mean I think it's pretty clearly what Atty. Gen. Sessions was doing here.
But, Anderson, take a step back for a second. When he coming into today really, there were two things, two potential outcomes. Number one, they would kill Gen. Sessions there in that hearing, they knock him down politically and he wouldn't make it out, or he would still be standing at the end. And I think across the board he is still standing. In fact, he came out with a surprising amount of vinegar and fire in his belly today with his answers. He knocked away some of the hysteria from Kamala Harris and some of the Democrats who wanted to make this a big partisan show.
But I think the single biggest takeaway today, this is really the end of the so-called Russia hysteria that we're seeing, because we're this far into it and there's still not one shred of evidence that there's been any coordinating between the campaign and a foreign entity. And in fact, the biggest thing -- actually the biggest piece of news that come out of it is the fact that we're finding out that there are investigations into multiple leaks which is a very big deal. So reality winner might --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Just get him out of the wood shed with the president? I mean the president wasn't happy with Sessions before --
MILLER: I think, I think --
BORGER: -- before today. Today Sessions didn't speculate at all about whether the president was appropriate in his conversations. He didn't discuss their conversations, so you think he's now back in the good graces of Donald Trump?
MILLER: I think the attorney general today was strong, decisive, he gave a very clear vision --
BORGER: You're not answering.
MILLER: I'm not going to speak for the president. I haven't worked -- the other president, I know not to speak for him unless I have permission to. But I would say watching this, as any Trump supporter, I would look and see that the attorney general did a very good job.
COOPER: Bakari Sellers, I mean Sen. Joe Manchin asked Atty. Gen. Sessions questions about the Russian interference, it was very similar to what he was asked James Comey last week. I want to play both of those clips. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: You were part of the National Security team --
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yeah.
MANCHIN: -- so if he would have heard something about Russia and with their capabilities and our concern about what they could do to our election process, was there ever any conversations concerning that whatsoever?
MANCHIN: I don't recall it, Sen. Manchin.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't remember any conversations with the president about the Russia election interference.
MANCHIN: Did he ever ask you any questions concerning this?
COMEY: There was an initial briefing of our findings and I think there was conversation there, I don't remember it exactly, where he asked questions about what we found and what our sources were and what our confidence level was. But after that I don't remember anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Bakari, I mean now we have two people from -- who were in the administration -- well, former FBI director and the attorney general both saying they've not heard the president expressing concern or much concern about Russian interference in the election which the entire U.S. Intelligence Community is on agreement on. Does that concern you?
BAKARI SELLERS, FORMER SOUTH CAROLINA STATE HOUSE MEMBER: Well, it does concern me because what our Intelligence Community has said, you know, uniformly and anonymously is that we had Russian interference in this election and it's not going to stop. They're going to do it again.
I do think that the ball -- that the needle didn't move one direction or another today for Democrats or Republicans, but I will say that whether or not you're talking about Russia interference and Atty. Gen. Sessions literally said if it occurred. I mean we all agree it did occur, but he said if it occurred. But whether or not we're talking about Russian interference, whether or not we're talking about the Ukraine, he was reminiscent about Roberto Gonzalez, former attorney general in 2007 with (inaudible) I don't recalls.
But even more importantly, I mean he looked relatively incompetent and had a huge dosage of willful ignorance. I mean he was literally sticking his head in the stand. He never was briefed about Russia interference. And could care less, this is our top legal mind in the United States of America, and today he just looked befuddled and utterly incompetent.
COOPER: Kirsten, still the outstanding question of whether or not the president taped James Comey in the Oval Office, which, you know, Sen. Rubio asked the attorney general about that, so let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Do you know if the president records conversations in the Oval Office or anywhere in the White House?
SESSIONS: I do not.
[20:35:00] RUBIO: Let me ask you this. If in fact any president was to record conversations in their official duties in the White House or the like, would there be an obligation to preserve those records?
SESSIONS: I don't know, Sen. Rubio, probably so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I mean it's just such an easy question to have answered. I don't know, I mean clearly nobody wants to ask the president or they have asked and haven't gotten an answer.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. I just think that's a question they probably don't want the answer to, especially the attorney general. But can I just go back to something that Jason said. How was Sen. Harris hysterical? I don't really understand that. I mean she was asking some tough questions.
MILLER: -- completely partisan's creed.
POWERS: But how was that his hysterical? I don't --
MILLER: It was -- from my perspective, my -- I would say objective perspective, I mean it was -- it didn't seem like there was any effort to try to get to a real question or get to the bottom --
POWERS: I think she asked a lot of questions actually. She was very dogged. There's no question. But I wouldn't say she was any more dogged than Ron Wyden was, would you say that?
MILLER: Look, I have my opinion on that. I think she was hysterical. I don't think that Sen. Wyden was really trying to get to the bottom of answers either. I think he was --
POWERS: But he wasn't hysterical and she was. OK, I just wanted to clear that up.
MILLER: So, no, but she was trying to shut down --
POWERS: Got it.
MILLER: -- Atty. Gen. Sessions. And I thought it was way out of bounds. This is the second hearing in a row. POWERS: She didn't -- she didn't shout actually but even if she did, I'm just saying, they both were asking a lot of tough questions and I think calling her hysterical is probably a little --
JEFFREY LORD, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Hysteria is a quality.
POWERS: -- thing to say. What was that?
LORD: Hysteria is --
POWERS: And yes, it's just women that usually are called hysterical. But I just -- I just think that she was asking --
BORGER: You're being hysterical.
POWERS: Yes, I'm hysterical right now for example. But, no, but I think she was asking a lot of questions and he wasn't being very forthcoming and I think there was a lot of frustration on the part of a lot of the senators there and it wasn't all Democrats who are frustrated. So I --
MILLER: So in your opinion she was making a legitimate effort to try to get answers to questions and to hear what the --
MILLER: -- attorney general was saying?
POWERS: -- you might not like the questions she was asking, but, yeah.
MILLER: And you didn't view it as her talking overtop of him? Or trying to --
POWERS: I think he was talking over her and she was trying to make ---
MILLER: -- everything he is saying.
POWERS: -- her questions. I don't think it was any more than any other senator was doing. Like I said, I think that Sen. Wyden's was by far the most aggressive of the questioning and there's nothing wrong with that.
MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEST: One thing I think that Atty. Gen. Sessions does very well is, look, if your shtick is to be super polished and super confident and on top of everything, that's a kind of a burden. You sort of have to bring it every night and deliver. If your shtick is being sort of a character of a southerner and kind of a good old boy, then you can just be like, I don't recollect that, I don't recall, and I think that benefits him like -- I think he comes across as (inaudible) and, frankly, pretty likable. The opposite of hysterical, it's like, I don't know, tell me.
BORGER: Well, but he was outraged today. POWERS: Yeah.
LEWIS: -- he was fired up.
BORGER: He was outraged. You're not going to do this to me. I came here voluntarily because I want to clear my name and I recused myself from the Russia investigation but I didn't recuse myself from clearing my name.
COOPER: It could also just be his -- I mean, you know, as someone whose father comes from -- people have southern accents and it's not shtick.
COOPER: It's actually how they talk --
COOPER: I will not be able to go to Cooper family reunion if he did not speak up and to say --
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: For him it's entertainment.
COOPER: Exactly. Yeah.
LIZZA: But I think one thing that we've lost sight of, the most important thing, whether this was good for Sessions or not, whether he performed well, the most important thing that has happened in the last week is that James Comey laid out a case that a lot of former federal prosecutors argue is obstruction of justice.
And, the thing that I was looking for today is how much damage did that case get today from Sessions who was a witness to a number of the things in the Comey testimony last week. And I would say no damage at all. In fact, he corroborated -- overwhelmingly corroborated the parts of Comey's testimony that he was involved with, did not contradict in any significant way any piece of it, and that is the thing to watch. Because far more important than the senate investigation is Mueller's -- is the FBI investigation for Trump.
COOPER: We're going to talk more shortly about the story that Brianna Keilar mentioned a moment ago, a friend of the president saying he's considering firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Pretty much everyone has something to say about that including the deputy attorney general who'd be the one actually give him the acts or tell the president no. We'll get into that next.
[20:43:27] COOPER: Some breaking news, the White House says Pres. Trump has no intention of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In a press briefing aboard Air Force One with Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on the way back from Milwaukee, reporters asked about it. She replied and I'm quoting here, "While the president has the right to, he has no intention to do so." Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be the one to do it if the order came. He was in hearings on Capitol Hill today. Brianna Keilar joins us now from Capitol Hill with more.
What did the deputy attorney general say about Mueller in the special counsel today?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Rosenstein said that he would not fire Mueller unless there was cause. He said there would have to be good cause, and he said it's not an action that he would take unless it was lawful and unless it was appropriate. This was something that a number of senators, including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, pressed him on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Do you know of any reason or cause to fire Mr. Mueller as of this date?
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I do not, senator.
GRAHAM: And that would be your decision if that ever happened, right?
ROSENSTEIN: That's correct.
GRAHAM: And you're going to make it, nobody else?
ROSENSTEIN: As long as I'm in this position, senator, it would be my responsibility to make that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: And Rosenstein also explained the process by which that would happen. He said that if it were to happen, he would be the one to put it in writing. So this is something that he would have to sign his name onto, Anderson, and he said that if there was not good cause, that it would not matter to him what anybody says. So he really seemed to be saying that the buck stopped with him and he wasn't going to bend to any influence on this.
[20:45:03] COOPER: Did he say anything about his memo about then director of the FBI, Comey?
KEILAR: He did. Because that was the memo that excoriated Comey that he sent on to Jeff Sessions and that White House officials used to justify the firing of Jim Comey, of course until Pres. Trump mentioned that Russia was on his mind when he fired Jim Comey. Rosenstein did say, well, I will say he was very careful not to associate himself with anything that pertained to Russia. He said that when he wrote that memo, he stands by what he wrote by those criticisms, but he said the memo is about what it is about, and he said that any questions about what clearly he seemed to be referring to questions of obstruction of justice, anything pertaining to Russia, that was going to fall under Bob Mueller's purview. It was very interesting, though, Anderson, he would not say when he was told to write that memo and Rosenstein would not say who told him to write the memo.
COOPER: All right, Brianna Keilar. Brianna thanks.
A friend of Pres. Trump's who got all the times wagging (ph) yesterday was back today with some clarification. Yesterday, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy said the president was considering firing Mueller. Today on "New Day", Ruddy said he never spoke with the president about it but know that Mr. Trump's attorney was on TV over the weekend saying the option was there.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, NEWSMAX MEDIA, CEO: I never said that the president told me. I never said I had a conversation. I never implied. As you know, I have been on CNN many times and I always speak for myself and not the president. He has his own spokesman, although they're, I think, in need of help from time to time. So the president's spokesman issued a -- what I'd call a bizarre press release last night saying that I had not spoken to the president about it. And I said, hey, I never said I spoke to the president. And interestingly enough they never denied my underlying report.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COOPER: Back with the panel. Joining the conversation, CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan.
Jeff, I mean it is true that they never denied outright that the president was considering it or thinking about it. What they said last night, Sarah Huckabee Sanders put out a statement saying Chris Ruddy speaks for himself and even today that quote we just read from Air Force One, the question was, is POTUS considering whether he'll fire Mueller and she answered, he has no intention to do so. She didn't say, no, he wasn't considering it or wasn't taking under --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think this -- you can file this under a trial balloon that sank very quickly and I think Rod Rosenstein really underlined today how difficult it will be to fire Mueller if the president wants to do it. Because it is quite clear that Rosenstein is the person who has to do it, and he said I won't do it if I don't find good cause. In other words, you're going to have to fire me and have someone else come into this job and do it, which is precisely what happened in 1973 in the Saturday Night Massacre where Elliot Richardson and William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire Archibald Cox. It really raises the political stakes that if the president wants to get rid of Mueller at this point it will be World War III and I think no one, even in the Republican Party, wants that.
COOPER: Ken, I mean it is interesting that the three people we've heard from the White House or the three times we heard from the White House on this day, they have never said, no, the president was never considering it. KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, so what? You know, this is not a place they can go as a practical matter, and I don't think they want to try, to Jeffrey's point. And I think it's a good one to stay away from for them. Mueller has a great reputation. There's no one I can think of in law enforcement who has worked with him who doesn't hold a high opinion of him. He's an ideal person to flesh this all out, and as long as he doesn't run amok in the Ken Starr mold, then I think that America is going to be better for clearing this issue up and having whatever the outcome is put before the American people on a clear basis.
And Rod Rosenstein made it clear today, he's not firing this guy unless the regulatory standard of good cause is met. And look, good cause for Robert Mueller is a very high bar, is a very high bar. And I would say that I understand their concerns when you see the kind of smearing going on of the attorney general in light of what he had to say today and the incomplete reporting. For instance, people who say, for instance, that in the Franken exchange it was about contacts with Russia and it was about this, but they never mentioned collusion, right, Ryan? Are you listening, Ryan? It was about collusion, and the attorney general made that about as clear as he can be, so we just had it here 30 minutes ago and that myth is still going forward.
There are few things the attorney general cleared up today, that was one of them. The Mueller thing now, I think, it's clear. And whatever people may want to hypothesized, might have been flashing through people's heads in the White House, it's clearly not the case. And we can wrap this thing. Take the password, the truth, whatever that maybe, that Robert Mueller's job is to achieve.
[20:50:17] COOPER: Matt, what about, you know, the concerns have been raised about some of the attorney's that Muller has hired than they voted -- than they donated overwhelmingly almost universally to Democrats over the years. I think one of them had also --
MATTHEW WHITAKER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Phenomenal.
COOPER: -- phenomenal like 2000 or something. I mean do you make -- is that a concern?
WHITAKER: I don't think it is. I mean sort of lady justice is blind and political donations don't mean that someone has a partisan acts to (inaudible). I mean I think what the White House really should be worried about is a Patrick Fitzgerald type special counsel, with very broad discretion as Rod Rosenstein has given Bob Mueller for good reason. I think Bob is worthy of that trust. But, if you remember sort of Pat Fitzgerald got very expansive jurisdiction from Jim Comey, of all people, and used that to eventually, you know, convicts (inaudible) related to what was initially to start the prosecution.
COOPER: Paul, what about the fact that according to Chris -- I think you heard that the -- that the president actually interviewed Mueller the day before about -- before he was named special prosecutor, about a possible position.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That is such a strange coincidence someone you consider. But, obviously, the president had rejected the idea of naming him as FBI director. And now, Mueller is in charge of the investigation.
But, you know, Anderson, the federal regulation here about firing the special prosecutor is very specific. You have to demonstrate misconduct, dereliction of duty, conflict of interest --
COOPER: That's what good cause would be.
CALLAN: That's - -well, it's more than good cause. It's a separate item. But those things are also specifically listed in as possibilities for firing somebody. What it amount to is, there's got to be a really specific act of misconduct to justify firing a special prosecutor and it can only be done by the acting attorney general which got Richard Nixon in trouble. You know, as Jeff was saying, he had to fire Elliot Richardson, William Ruckelshaus, and then Robert Bork finally accepted the position of acting attorney general and fired Archibald Cox, and that scandal led ultimately to the resignation and disgrace of Richard Nixon. That's the example, historically, the president is looking at if he's going to fire the special prosecutor.
COOPER: Jeff, I was reporting on the White House back then, but my understanding is under what Ken Starr that the Clinton White House, you know, they had a lot of people going out basically including Ken Starr for a long time.
TOOBIN: Daily, hourly.
COOPER: Is that a strategy you think this White House may take towards --
TOOBIN: It's quite possible. I mean I think, you know, Mueller is going to be a target and he is in the midst of a political struggle. Now, Mueller is likely to conduct his business very quietly. We are not likely to know a lot of what he's doing. We -- until -- and in last, he indict somebody. So, if he's completely silent I think it's less likely that they will be attacking him, but if he does charge somebody and if it does implicate the president he will be a big political target just the way Starr was for the Clinton folks.
COOPER: Ken, this notion of, you know, the attorney he's hired of overwhelmingly have given money to Democrats, that he'd met with president maybe --
COOPER: -- you know, Chris Ruddy raised the idea that his law firm also it represented members of the Trump family and therefore he might have been pretty due some information, does that -- or any those red flags for you?
CUCCINELLI: Well, the only one that is a concern is the disproportion at hiring of Democrats who had donated. I don't consider $2000 a nominal donation.
COOPER: Well, compare to like $30,000 or $40,000 that one individual gave to Democrats.
CUCCINELLI: Right, well, you know, he needs to not only be beyond reproach. He needs to appear to be beyond reproach. And I think Robert Mueller will fix that. Bob Mueller will fix that over time as they fresh out their hiring. But, it's going to more critical that when -- what they've done surfaces and most of it will be done quietly. That it be rather obviously done professionally, be thurl (ph) and not be one sided, but it be balanced at least in terms of the consideration of all the angles. And if that's the case, then the -- whatever final product, whether it's indictments or report or what have you could be a combination, will have greater credibility.
So the interview for the -- to take on the FBI director role again doesn't concern me. Because of his reputation, he was a natural person to have on that list to maybe bring back. I frankly think that the fact that he was on Trump's list even interview adds to his credibility as special counsel.
[20:55:01] COOPER: Interesting. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
Just ahead, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions in the hot seat, what he said about Russia's meddling in the election. What he can't recall about his meetings with Russians, and what he refused to talk about as well.
Plus all the things he did say plus reaction from Capitol Hill when we continue.
COOPER: We've been talking tonight about today's highly anticipated, hotly disputed, occasionally discombobulated testimony from Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. He said he wanted to set the record straight. I mean Russia affair, the Comey fairing and all the innuendo surrounding the administration. He called suggestions he colluded with Russia a detestable lie. He had a lot to say about that, less to say about encounter with Russian ambassador and next to nothing about certain conversations with the president. It was at times a fiery testimony, maddening to his critics, encouraging to his supporters. And what do you see the stonewalling or straight talk, there was plenty to see. So right now we just want to play more extending portions of the testimony. CNN Jessica Schneider has more.
SESSIONS: There are none.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Attorney General Jeff Sessions grew angry and frustrated with the continued questions about a possible meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016.
SESSIONS: This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me. And I don't appreciate it. And I've tried to give my best in truthful answers to any committee I have appeared before.
I recuse myself from any investigation into the campaign for president.