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Sessions On Trump's Rebuke: "Plan To Continue" Job; Trump Regrets Hiring Sessions After His Russia Recusal; Trump: Comey Used Dossier As Leverage Against Me; Trump Warns Mueller Not To Probe His Family's Finances. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 20, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. James Comey, Jeff Sessions, Rob Rosenstein and Bob Mueller, what do they all have in common? Well, today they are all targets of President Trump.
In a remarkable and at times blistering interviewing with the "New York Times," the commander-in-chief slamming these current and former Justice officials on everything from their hometowns to how they are handling their jobs.
Let's start here, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on him, the president makes clear he regrets picking Sessions, saying, that he wouldn't have if he knew Sessions would eventually be recusing himself from all things Russia.
Then on Sessions number two, the president criticized Rob Rosenstein for bringing on the special counsel, Bob Mueller, and oddly enough also for being from Baltimore, Maryland, where the president says very few Republicans live.
And for the special counsel, Bob Mueller, the president had a warning, stay away from his family finances or else. As for the fired FBI director, James Comey, the president leveled a new accusation against Comey, saying, that he thinks Comey tried to use a salacious dossier as leverage.
And there's more if you wanted to know about that undisclosed meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20, the president now says they discussed Russian adoptions, which means, of course, they discussed sanctions, more than just small talk.
Let's get to it. Let's get to all of it beginning right now with his stunning comments about Jeff Sessions. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Sessions should have never recused himself. If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He gave you no indication? PRESIDENT TRUMP: Zero. So Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself -- I then have -- which, frankly, I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said thanks, Jeff, but I'm not going to take you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Let's get right to CNN's chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, for more on this. Dana, there is a whole lot on this. We are going to get to her and there she is. You are finally in my monitor, Dana.
Sessions just responded, finally, to the president's criticism. Let's play the sound bite, then I want to ask you about it. Let's listen to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We, in this Department of Justice will continue every single day to work hard to serve the national interest and we wholeheartedly join in the priorities of President Trump. I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought that I would have had for myself. We love this job. We love this department and I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: How long it is appropriate, I guess, is a huge question right now. What do you make of this response, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I have to say that most people, many people, I should say, probably would say, I'm done. I am out of here, to have that kind of public slap across the face from not just your boss, but the president of the United States. Pretty intense.
You know, when I say public, I chose that word for a reason, and that is because, Kate, and we have been reporting a lot of this realtime, that the president has been angry, furious, at Jeff Sessions since the day he recused himself.
And I'm told by people who talk to him frequently, pretty much anybody who is within five feet of him, that he believes that Sessions recusing himself is an unforgivable act, not just because he was taken off guard, but also because -- as the president said in the "New York Times" interview, all of the things that happened, the domino effect, as a result of the recusal.
The deputy attorney general taking over, him deciding to appoint a special counsel, and so on and so on and so on. So, that anger has been not just simmering, it burst into the open behind closed doors many months ago, the fact he, the president, decided to do this in public is noteworthy. I think, look, he was with some reporters. He was known for a long time, Maggie Habermann, you know, chief among them, and he's comfortable and he was sitting there without a camera and he felt like he was going to tell them on the record what he had said in private.
But again, to have that kind of trash talk and anger in public and to have the attorney general stay in his job is very interesting.
[11:05:06]And I think the way you came to me, Kate, asking, OK, he's staying there now, but how long is that going to last is really the key question.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely is. Another big question also this morning is simply, why did the president give this interview in the first place?
BASH: I don't know the answer to that. You know, he enjoys talking to "The New York Times." Even though he calls them a failing newspaper and, you know, all the sort of --
BOLDUAN: Look, I'm not criticizing, more interviews is better --
BASH: No, no, exactly.
BOLDUAN: -- more interviews the better (inaudible) the White House has been trying to keep him from these interviews.
BASH: More interviews the better, absolutely, with anybody he wants to talk to, no question. But with "The New York Times" in particular, look, he's a creature of New York. He grew up with -- in a place, in a town that revered and still reveres "The New York Times."
And he has a relationship with some of the reporters that goes back many, many years. I think that is probably the answer. I think, what you are getting at is a very important notion, which is the president had a pretty good day yesterday.
I mean, he came out with leadership, finally, on health care, both politically and in terms of the substance. He called all of the Republican senators to the White House. He was both tough and kind of, you know, fun and irreverent and got them talking again on a major, major policy issue.
Senators were, because of that meeting, back up on Capitol Hill burning the midnight oil trying to find a deal, and then he takes that steering wheel that was kind of going on the right, you know, on the right road.
And then he turns it off, into, I wouldn't say a ditch, but definitely a side road that many people did not want him to go on. They wanted him to stay focused.
BOLDUAN: It detoured, if you will.
BASH: Detoured, perfect word. Thank you for finishing my metaphor.
BOLDUAN: We love a metaphor, which I always butcher. Great to see you, Dana. Thank you so much.
Joining me right now to discuss all of this, legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former assistant at the Justice Department, Michael Zeldin, legal commentator and former Virginia attorney general and the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, Ken Cuccinelli is here, senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin is here, and CNN's justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, and CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Let's get the Brady bunch boxes going. Jeffrey Toobin, what was your reaction when you read what the president said about Jeff Sessions? Part of it was, Jeff Sessions recusing himself was unfair to the president. Was it unfair to the president?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't unfair to the president. It was the right decision to make, but Donald Trump always interprets decisions as how they affect him, and it has had negative implications for him.
But the problem is not with the procedure. The problem is with the fact his administration had all these connections, his campaign had all these connections with the Russian government, Russian businesses.
And then practically everyone in his administration has said false or misleading things about it since then, leading to the appointment of the special prosecutor. That's not Jeff Sessions fault. That's Donald Trump and his campaign's fault.
Trump never sees things as his fault. He's always looking for people to blame and Sessions is a convenient target.
BOLDUAN: A convenient target. Pam, the president makes clear now publicly, he regrets appointing Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Are you hearing anything from folks at Justice right now about this today?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think a lot of people at Justice are sort of shell shocked that the president has said this publicly. I mean, as Dana reported, there have been ongoing, heated exchanges between the attorney general and the president about the attorney general's recusal.
The president has certainly expressed his displeasure about that. In fact, the reporting is that at one point during the conversation, Attorney General Sessions several weeks ago at least offered to resign. He said he was willing to, and the president didn't want him there.
Obviously, that didn't happen. Now that the president has made this public that essentially he does not want Attorney General Sessions in the job or he shouldn't have hired him, as he said, have he known he was going to recuse himself, that changes things.
And I asked him today at this press conference about a totally unrelated subject, about a criminal organization dismantling that, I asked how he can effectively continue to serve in his role as attorney general if he doesn't have the confidence in the president now publicly.
And he deflected a little bit. He said, look, I feel like we can continue to run effectively here at the Justice Department. He said that I will continue in my role as appropriate.
So the question is, what is appropriate, what would make it inappropriate now that you have the president coming out and saying he wished he had never hired him.
[11:10:04]BOLDUAN: Michael, exactly that point. I mean, from your perspective, Michael, how long Jeff Sessions says, I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate. Give me your guess, how long is that appropriate?
As long as the president doesn't interfere with the priorities of the Department of Justice.
BOLDUAN: Is he doing that now?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, no, I don't think so. I think the Department of Justice is moving forward with its priorities. Its maximum sentencing priorities and bring the most serious charges and undermining medical and legal marijuana cases.
So I think they are moving along with their agenda and the president doesn't seem to be interfering with it. They are litigating the immigration bans all over the country as the Supreme Court case requires them to do.
So I guess what the president is going to say, he will do this periodically then he'll calm down and then we'll just move forward. So I think that's what Sessions probably has to be saying. But, if the president starts interfering with the new administration of Justice, that's a whole different matter.
BOLDUAN: Well, and Ken -- go ahead, Gloria.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Kate, I was just going to add, it's not just Jeff Sessions. It's the entire infrastructure of the Department of Justice. In this interview with "The New York Times," he complained about Sessions, but he also complained about Rod Rosenstein, Andrew McCabe over at the FBI.
And, of course, he also complained about the special counsel, Mueller, saying that, you know, he staffed himself with a whole load of Democrats and it's unfair. So if you look at every -- I mean, it's all of them, it's not just Jeff Sessions.
So now he is presiding over a team of people who have all been publicly criticized or their motives questioned by the sitting president of the United States. So, you know, I think the president has made it very difficult for Jeff Sessions and made it tough for everybody who serves with him and under him because the president has publicly come out and said, you know, you guys are not fair.
BOLDUAN: And Ken, as Michael and Gloria are pointing, you have recusal on this only impacts the attorney general's work on the Russian stuff. It doesn't impact today, the attorney general doing work and announcing progress in their work.
KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: (Inaudible) 99 percent of everything else --
BOLDUAN: Right, exactly. But the fact that the president is so upset with Jeff Sessions about the recusal, in that, is he in some way admitting that he wants an attorney general to do something about this investigation?
CUCCINELLI: Well, this is certainly consistent with the frustration he's expressed over the Russian investigation in general. I don't think it's a change in that sense, in any way. It also suggests to me that the president wasn't aware of the attorney general's contacts with the Russian ambassador and what the then Senator Sessions said was his role as a senator.
And you know, I find that interesting as well. That's somewhat to the president's defense, though, it's a defense of not knowing, not a defense of knowing and deciding.
So, if you are Jeff Sessions and you've already offered your resignation and it wasn't accepted, one of us, I forget who said, this is kind of what the president does. Every few weeks or months he blows his top publicly.
I don't think it's OK. If you are Jeff Sessions, you left the Senate and assumed the most extraordinary role a lawyer in America can have, and that's the Attorney General's Office of the United States.
And so once you've offered that resignation, I think he stays there until the president affirmatively asks him to leave. I don't see that coming.
BOLDUAN: Chris Cilizza, go --
TOOBIN: I think that's right. Sorry, I just was agreeing with Ken. I think he's going stay until he gets fired. He's got this job that he likes a lot, being attorney general. It's kind of embarrassing that the president attacked him, but the president hasn't stopped him from doing the work of being attorney general and he's going to continue doing it.
BOLDUAN: So, it's just, it is what it is, Gloria. I guess that's where we are at this point. I mean, that's all we can say. So, Gloria, as you laid out, it's not just Sessions, Rob Rosenstein, it's Bob Mueller, we'll get to him in a second, but we also have James Comey.
He has a new accusation in this interview, a new line of attack when Comey, about Comey and the dossier with the salacious allegations and brought it to Donald Trump during the transition. We all know that happened.
And then Trump says this, he says, "So anyway, in my opinion, he shared it so I that I would think he had it out there. (Inaudible) asks as leverage and Trump says, "Yes, I think so, in retrospect." Why is the president thinking so much about that element of it?
[11:15:08]BORGER: Well, because obviously the Russian investigation is high on his mind right now and he's clearly thinking about that a lot. If I recall, when James Comey told the president that and pulled it aside, I think he was the one who drew the short straw.
And that there may have been others in the national security apparatus who knew about it and, I think it was the topic of discussion and that Comey was the one who ended up telling the president that.
BOLDUAN: Ken, why are you laughing?
CUCINELLI: The drawing of the short straw.
BORGER: Yes, well, am I wrong?
CUCCINELLI: You can picture it, the head of the CIA, DNI, FBI, maybe they play rock, paper, scissors --
BORGER: Yes, maybe they do. It was Comey who ended up telling the president and now his motive is being questioned. I think that's unfortunate.
BOLDUAN: All right, guys, stick around. We have a lot more to come. A lot more of this interview to get through.
The other big bombshell, President Trump essentially warning the special prosecutor, special counsel, Robert Mueller, whatever you do, do not look at the family finances or else. That crosses a red line. One Democrat now says what he said is now further example of obstruction. Is it? We'll get to that.
Plus, the president reveals what he and Vladimir Putin talked about during their previously undisclosed sit-down at the G20. Why President Trump says there were similarities between their chat and Donald Trump Jr.'s infamous meeting at Trump Towers.
Just a short time from now, O.J. Simpson will be learning whether he'll walk free. What to expect in the parole hearing. Stay with us.
BOLDUAN: More from that remarkable interview now President Trump gave "The New York Times" laying down a warning in it for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, "Don't reach beyond Russia or he'll -- well, he doesn't exactly say. Here's that part.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances unrelated to Russia. Is that a red line?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: The panel is back with me. So Jeffrey, how would the president know if this council is reaching beyond and what could he do about it?
TOOBIN: Well, he could know because witnesses could come forward and say I was subpoenaed to talk about the family finances. Witnesses are free to talk about their interactions with a criminal investigation, even if Mueller, himself, does not disclose it.
He could fire Mueller. I mean, he would have to tell the Justice Department, which would mean telling Rod Rosenstein because Sessions has recused. If Rosenstein refused, he would move down the chain of command to get someone to fire him.
But presumably, he would get someone to fire him. He is in charge of the Justice Department, and I don't think we could rule that out. I don't think it is out of the question that Robert Mueller will wind up fired from this investigation. Donald Trump fired the FBI director, why wouldn't he fire Robert Mueller?
BOLDUAN: Well, Gloria, on this point, though, kind of the premise of what he is talking about, he says don't go beyond -- don't get out of your lane. Isn't that by definition what happens as we've seen just ask Bill Clinton, you know, where these investigations go. Folks around the president, they know that.
BORGER: Absolutely. You know, I think Mueller and Ken Star are two very different people, but it's very clear to me and I agree with Jeffrey that what the president was doing was essentially, you know, what we call in politics a pre-buttle.
It was sort of putting him on notice here and saying this isn't what you are supposed to do. You are supposed to cover the Russian hack, you are not supposed to delve into my family's finances and he drew a line there.
And then, at some point in the interview, he started talking about, yes, maybe I sold a condo to a Russian at one point. He went off on this tangent, but it's very clear to me that that's on his mind right now and he was -- he was telling Mueller to be careful.
BOLDUAN: And Michael, CNN's reporting is that the investigators are looking into Donald Trump Jr.'s finances as part of their investigation. One Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal, a critic of the president, especially on all things Russia, he says that the president after this interview, the president here is offering more evidence of obstruction of justice. Do you see that, Michael?
ZELDIN: Two things about this. First is whether Mueller is investigating financial matters related to the Trump ecosystem. I think the answer to that is most likely yes and that is already within his mandate.
The mandate that Rosenstein gave him on May 17th says all matters related to Russia and anything that may arise out of it and whether or not the financial dealings provide motive why the Russia/Trump team met is perfectly within his purview. He is not going to see that as a limitation on his swim lane.
Secondly, whether or not this is an obstruction of justice, I don't think it's obstruction of justice. I think were Mueller to be fired, it would be an abuse of office, an abuse of power that would lead to consideration of Article of Impeachment.
But I don't think legal indictment before a grand jury says you are going to get obstruction of justice out of that, but those things sort of conflate what is the difference between obstruction of justice or abusing your power of office, it's really much the same.
TOOBIN: But just as a matter of how criminal investigations work, if someone you are looking at, investigating says, don't look at my finances, they are absolutely fine --
BOLDUAN: Don't look under this rock.
TOOBIN: There's no problem. What rational investigator wouldn't start looking at their finances? I mean, you know, the thing about the president, is that like all the emotions are out there in front. You know, it can be a problem.
[11:25:03]BOLDUAN: Ken, what is your take on this one?
CUCCINELLI: Well, first of all, the president didn't, you know, make a threat as you characterized it. He answered a question, and in and of itself, on paper, the question, the answer to the question were correct, accurate and appropriate.
You remember that we don't have an independent council law because on a bipartisan basis, Republicans and Democrats thought that these independent operating prosecutors went too far afield. That is the main concern that continues to exist, setting aside the constitutional concerns.
And that continues to this day, even though this is under a special counsel regulation of the Department of Justice. The same concern continues to exist. History has proven it a legitimate oncern.
Robert Mueller will, you know, essentially define for himself by his performance whether he falls into that category or stays focused on the target and that is Russian involvement in the election.
BOLDUAN: Michael, you were --
ZELDIN: Yes, I was going to say, the president said this would be a red line if he crossed it to look into family finances. Jeffrey is right --
CUCCINELLI: No, "The New York Times" said it -- "The New York Times" said it, not the president. Red line is a serious phrase. "The New York Times" said that, not the president.
BOLDUAN: They asked it as a question.
ZELDIN: Yes, they did. They asked him that question and he seemed to imply, yes, it would be a red line. That would be something -- that would be a bridge too far for him. But it is part of the mandate, as I read the mandate.
The mandate says all matters that arise out of this investigation. It's hard to understand how the investigation of financial dealings with the same people that may be those involved in the conspiracy or the collusion wouldn't be part of this mandate.
So I just see it as something that is a misunderstanding on the president's part about what Mueller's mandate is. Mueller didn't pay much attention to it.
BOLDUAN: He said -- no, Ken --
CUCCINELLI: I'm going to step up here and defend the president very much, but he said family finances. I completely agree with what Michael said that --
BOLDUAN: The question was, Mueller was looking at your finances, your family finances unrelated to Russia, is that a red line? Would that be a breach of what his actual charges --
CUCCINELLI: Unrelated to Russia.
BOLDUAN: -- I would say yes. I said unrelated to Russia when I was talking about it.
ZELDIN: Mueller will decide -- Mueller will decide within his prosecutorial discretion whether this is or isn't related. But in order to determine whether it is unrelated, you have to look in it. You cannot determine it's not related.
You have to look into it and say this is unrelated and then he can make a referral to the Justice Department to investigate any criminal activities that may arise in that investigation that are unrelated to his mandate.
It's all appropriate for Mueller to do this. It's inappropriate I think for the president to threaten Mueller, if you go there, you may be fired. That is abusive to me.
BOLDUAN: We'll see. The president asked several times, not saying what would happen if he did go that route. We will see. Thank you all. I really appreciate it.
A parole board getting ready to decide whether O.J. Simpson walks free in a televised hearing. Hear what to expect and his (inaudible) that's ahead.
Plus, support right now is pouring in for Senator John McCain after the shocking news of his diagnosis of an aggressive form of brain cancer. We're going to speak with one of his friends and former campaign adviser.