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White House: Trump 'Very Proud' of Kushner; Trump Claims "Complete Power to Pardon."; Trump Pushes GOP Senators on Repeal and Replace Vote. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired July 24, 2017 - 17:30   ET


TAPPER: You can see me tonight at 7 p.m. I'll be in for Erin Burnett again on "OUT FRONT." I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Denial. President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, denies collusion with Russia and says he has nothing to hide as he...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Kushner, will you testify publicly?


BLITZER: ... investigators. Kushner insists all of his actions, including meetings with Russian officials, were proper. Will lawmakers agree?

Insulting Sessions. President Trump derides his attorney general, referring to Jeff Sessions as beleaguered, in a tweet referring to Russia investigations. Why is President Trump attacking one of his most loyal supporters?

"Do the right thing." President Trump ups the pressure on Senate Republicans ahead of a procedural vote tomorrow on health care. But some lawmakers aren't even sure what exactly they'll be voting on. We're standing by to hear the president live tonight.

And punishing Putin. Congress reaches a deal on sanctions against Russia for its meddling in the U.S. presidential election, but President Trump still refuses to admit Russia's role. Will he sign the sanctions bill?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news. New pressure from President Trump on Senate Republicans who will hold a health care vote tomorrow. Speaking at the White House just a little while ago, the president warned lawmakers a vote against a motion to proceed means, quote, "You're fine with the Obamacare nightmare," closed quote.

But Republican leaders have not made clear which version of their health care plan lawmakers will be voting on. We're standing by to hear live from President Trump tonight.

We're also hearing rare public remarks by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who spoke behind closed doors with Senate investigators as part of the Intelligence Committee's Russia probe. Kushner says he did not collude with Russia, and the information he provided shows all of his actions, he says, were proper.

Meanwhile, Senator Dianne Feinstein is now calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appear before the Judiciary Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

President Trump stepped up his public disdain obsessions, one of his earliest supporters referring to him in a tweet as, quote, "beleaguered." CNN has learned that Sessions was at the White House today for meetings. New White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci won't say whether the president wants Sessions to resign. Scaramucci tells CNN -- and I'm quoting him now -- "They need to speak and determine what the future of their relationship looks like."

Congress is expected to vote tomorrow on new sanctions against Russia for its election interference. The question is, will President Trump sign the bill?

We're covering all of that, much more this hour, with guests including Congressman Adam Kinzinger of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

But our correspondents and specialists are also standing by. Let's begin with Jared Kushner's interview with Senate Russia investigators. Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, is joining us with the very latest.

Jessica, the president's son-in-law says he's done nothing wrong in regards to Russia.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Jared Kushner insists his actions were proper, and he maintains he's been fully transparent.

The president's son-in-law sat with staffers from the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors for two hours, and then he made his case to the America public outside the White House.


SCHNEIDER: Tonight in a rare public statement, the president's son- in-law is trying to set the record straight before Senate investigators and the cameras.

JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia. Nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.

SCHNEIDER: Kushner's brief prepared statement outside the West Wing came after two and a half hours on Capitol Hill, where he was questioned behind closed doors by staff members from the Senate Intelligence Committee. KUSHNER: The record and documents I have voluntarily provided will

show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.

SCHNEIDER: Kushner kept his on-camera comments brief but reiterated the president's line, suggesting that the Russia investigation is a political excuse.

KUSHNER: Donald Trump had a better message and ran a smarter campaign, and that is why he won. Suggesting otherwise ridicules those who voted for him.

SCHNEIDER: Kushner released an 11-page statement detailing four meetings with Russians between April and December 2016. He acknowledged a previously undisclosed meeting at the Mayflower Hotel with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in April 2016 that Kushner said was a short meet and greet.

Kushner met again with Kislyak in September where they discussed policy in Syria. Kushner admitted he suggested using the Russian embassy to communicate confidentially but stated emphatically, "I did not suggest a secret back channel. I did not suggest am ongoing secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office."

[17:05:10] Kushner downplayed that June 16 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and others, writing that he didn't know what the meeting was about and claiming he never read the full e-mail chain that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But Kushner's statement shows Don Jr. e-mailed him twice, once to set the meeting and again to change the meeting time. The subject line of both e-mails read, "Russia-Clinton: Confidential."

Kushner says he left the meeting when he realized it was a waste of time, e-mailing his assistant, "Can you please call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting."

As Kushner was headed to the Capitol this morning, President Trump was tweeting: "So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G. looking into Crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?"

President Trump's use of the word "beleaguered" seemed to be his second slam against one of his top officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It came in the wake of a "Washington Post" report that intelligence intercepts of conversations between Russians indicate that Sessions discussed the campaign with Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, at least twice during the election. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then denied the conversations were campaign related.

President Trump vented his frustration with Sessions' decision to recuse himself in March from the Russia investigation in a "New York Times" article last week. Sources tell CNN the president and attorney general have not spoken since the interview. And the president rolled his eyes when asked about Sessions during a photo op with interns inside the East Room today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, should Jeff Sessions resign?

SCHNEIDER: CNN caught up with former campaign advisor Rudy Giuliani, who denied he is being considered to replace Jeff Sessions and Sessions was right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: I believe that Sessions made the right decision under the rules of the Justice Department.


SCHNEIDER: And Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at the White House today for a regularly scheduled meeting with White House counsel Don McGahn, along with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

New communications director Anthony Scaramucci confirmed Sessions' visit but wouldn't say whether the president wants Session to resign, only adding that the two need to talk to, quote, "determine what the future of the relationship looks like" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting indeed. All right. Thanks very much for that. Jessica Schneider reporting.

We're standing by to hear directly from President Trump as he appears in West Virginia with one of the Republican senators critical of the Republican health care plan.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us with the very latest on the health care chaos.

Jeff, the president had some strong words for his Senate Republicans.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. He did have strong words, indeed. The president was also doing something he seldom does: using the power of him presidency and that unique megaphone of the president, to sell the health care plan. He told Senate Republicans that now is the time to keep their problem [SIC]. The question tonight: Is it too little, too late?


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember repeal and replace, repeal and replace? They kept saying it over and over again.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump delivering an ultimatum to Republicans on health care.

TRUMP: Every Republican running for office promised immediate relief from this disastrous law. We are a party must fulfill that solemn promise to the voters.

ZELENY: On the eve of a critical Senate vote, the president weighing in from the White House, stepping off the sidelines on one of the biggest Republican promises.

TRUMP: Every member of the Senate, I say this. The American people have waited long enough. There's been enough talk and no action. Now is the time for action.

ZELENY: Surrounded by those he called victims of Obamacare, the president delivering one of the most forceful arguments yet on the health care plan that's stuck in Congress.

TRUMP: Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, which is what it is.

ZELENY: In a series of tweets, he's been ramping up pressure on his fellow Republicans. "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president."

He message went from gentle prodding -- "Republicans have a last chance to do the right thing on repeal and replace, after years of talking and campaigning on it" -- to a not-so-veiled threat: "If Republicans don't repeal and replace the disastrous Obamacare, the repercussions will be far greater than any of them understand."

It's an open question whether any skeptical Republicans will be won over by a president with some of the lowest approval ratings at this stage of his tenure since modern-day polling began.

Tonight the president is bringing Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia senator, along for the ride on Air Force One. She's been one of the most vocal GOP critics of the bill.

SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), WEST VIRGINIA: I can't say right now. I'm still very much a no.

[17:10:03] ZELENY: Republicans still seem to be short on votes, even to start debating the bill this week, as Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged to do.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I know many of us have waited literally years for this moment to finally arrive, and at long last, it has. I would urge every colleague to join me.

ZELENY: With Senator John McCain back home in Arizona after his diagnosis with brain cancer, and other Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine firmly against the bill, it's yet another pivotal moment for Republicans.

TRUMP: But so far several Republicans have not done their job in ending the Obamacare nightmare. They now have a chance, however, to hopefully -- hopefully -- fix what has been so badly broken for such a long time.


ZELENY: Now Wolf, we learned just a few moments ago that Senator McCain is going to try and come back to Washington for that vote tomorrow in the Senate. Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is telling our colleagues on Capitol Hill that Senator McCain wants to make this trip back to Washington. It's unclear yet if he'll be able to do so.

But Wolf, that would likely give Republicans one more vote. They still need more than that, and that is just to get the 50 votes they need to start debating the bill. So Wolf, Republicans, after seven years of talking about this, are still more at the beginning of the process than they are at the end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. You know, there's another development. I want to get your quick word on this. The -- we're learning that we may begin to see more White House press briefings on camera once again. What's the latest?

ZELENY: Wolf, indeed. The new incoming communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, told our colleague Sara Murray that the White House briefings will be back on camera, on televised camera. That is something that is supposed to happen later this week. Of course, that is the tradition and the norm here at the White House. It has been interrupted for the last month or more here in the end of Sean Spicer's tenure. But we are told that deputy White House press secretary, who will become the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be back in that briefing room on camera in the coming days -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny, over at the White House. Let's get some more on all of this. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois is joining us. He's on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Very interesting, the statement put out by Jared Kushner today. He confirmed all of the meetings; a lot of those meetings, as you know, Trump officials calling fake news. He confirmed, for example, April 27 he did meet with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak. June 9 he met with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in New York, Natalia Veselnitskaya. December 1 once again with Ambassador Kislyak. December 13 with the Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, who has very close ties to Putin.

Do you think he would have confirmed all of this without that kind of reporting, aggressive reporting over these past several months?

KINZINGER: It doesn't seem like it. I mean, this is the kind of thing where I think there's a lot of self-inflicted wounds from the White House. Information comes out. The White House denies it, and then they admit it when there's more proof to those meetings.

And I've always said from the beginning, we're going to let the investigations bear out what the answers are. Mr. Mueller, with his investigation, will I think, be able to present us the best case of these facts. But when it's all said and done, any time you hold back information -- and I've tried to say to the White House any chance I can, any information you have, get it out there. Get it out there to the American -- because it's going to come out. And so whether or not this would have come out fully, it just doesn't seem like it.

BLITZER: Yes. This statement, the 11-page statement very, very important. You know, he -- he blamed, though, a couple of -- a couple of the mistakes he made, miscommunication with his assistant. That's why there wasn't all this forthcoming information on the security clearance questionnaire to begin with. Do you accept that? Is it appropriate to blame his assistant?

KINZINGER: It may not be appropriate, but I can tell you when you meet with hundreds of different officials, a lot of times you do rely on staff to say, "Hey, help me remake what happened in July or October, because I don't remember." So I'm not going to say that's dishonest. I don't know.

And this is where I think this investigation, whether it's in the Senate, in the House or in Mr. Mueller's investigation, these answers are going to come out.

But in terms of yes, I mean, a lot of times some things can fall through the cracks...

BLITZER: But he blamed his assistant for filling out the security clearance form, that it was not complete and the -- it was just sent without being complete. Shouldn't he have been in charge of that?

KINZINGER: Well, I think ultimately, the buck stops with you. And when it comes to -- I have to fill out security clearance forms all the time with the military, and -- and I, you know, do it all myself. So I think if, in fact, what he's saying is true and that it was his secretary, and she sent it along without them, he definitely should have double-checked that and triple-checked. And then, as you find out you missed things, update it.

BLITZER: You know, he also -- it was very interesting. He also seemed to suggest, you know, he was inexperienced in politics. He's a business guy, real-estate guy, a lot of experience in that. But he seemed to think, he seemed to suggest he was over his head in this new area of politics, the campaign and the government.

But now he's in charge of, what, Arab-Israeli peace. He's in charge of new initiatives dealing with China. Should he be in charge of all of that if he was that inexperienced in politics?

[17:15:15] KINZINGER: Well, that's a determination for the president. The president has the ability to put who he trusts and who he wants around him. So I won't question that.

And I think there is some truth to this kind of firehose thing with government. I know when I got elected to Congress back in 2011, you know, the first few months, you're still figuring out where the restrooms are in the Capitol building. And so it takes a little bit of time.

But this is, especially in the presidency, it's a very obviously grown-up game. And you have to jump in, especially you come in without political experience, basically, as if you had been in for a long time already.

BLITZER: The president tweeted this morning, very interesting, at 8:39 a.m. "So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G." -- attorney general -- "looking into Crooked Hillary's crimes and Russia relations?"

He's referring to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, of the United States. It's not the first time he's come out and criticized him. It's rather extraordinary, given the fact that Sessions early on endorsed him, gave up a Senate seat to work for him in the cabinet. Now the president is going after him.

You're a fellow Republican. What do you say to that?

KINZINGER: It's sad, because Sessions was one of the very first -- I think he was the first senator to endorse President Trump...

BLITZER: He was.

KINZINGER: ... as a candidate. And to do this in public is what I don't understand. If the president has lost faith in Mr. Sessions, he should call Mr. Sessions into his office and tell him that and ask for his resignation. It's when you do this stuff on public.

I mean, it goes to show some of the palace intrigue that's going on in the White House, the competing factions we hear so much about. This is -- Twitter is not helpful to the president's cause. Use it for things like health care. Use it for things like that. But to air these kind of interpersonal problems on Twitter, I think, is unhelpful not just for us, but the whole world is watching this stuff, too.

BLITZER: Because, you know, he's effectively telling the Justice Department what to investigate in this tweet.

You increasingly hear that, you know, he wants Sessions out, but he doesn't want to fire him. He wants Sessions to resign. Do you buy that?

KINZINGER: Maybe. But he could ask Sessions to resign. I think the attorney general said if he lost the faith of the president, he would move on. That's the way to do it. It's not on Twitter. It's not in "New York Times" interviews. And I think the president can be very good and can really achieve some of the things on our agenda, but we've got to discipline that message. His talk on health care today was a good start, but we're seven months into this.

BLITZER: We've got a lot more to discuss. I need to take a quick break, Congressman. We'll be right back. Much more news coming up.


[17:22:05] BLITZER: We're following breaking news, including a new call from the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee for the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to testify in his Russia investigation.

We're back with Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, Congressman, he defended the special counsel investigating the Russia probe, Bob Mueller, from the president's criticism in a radio interview. This is what he said. Listen.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Remember, Bob Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican, who served in the Republican administration and crossed over -- I mean, and stayed on until his term ended. But I don't think many people are saying Bob Mueller is a person who is a biased partisan. He's really sort of anything but.


BLITZER: Do you think the speaker is worried that the president might fire him?

KINZINGER: I don't know what the speaker is thinking. I know that I agree with what the speaker said. Bob Mueller is -- in fact, when he was announced, I had called for the special investigator that day, and I said, "This is the best pick." You know, people tried to discredit him by saying he was friends with Comey. Well, this is a small town. A lot of people are friends with people and especially an outgoing to an incoming FBI director.

But I think he's going to do his work. He's an honest American. He just wants to get to the bottom of what's going on. And I'd say let the investigation proceed. If there's any sort of firing -- and I'm not sure what the administration is thinking on that -- that would create way more headaches than it would solve any problems.

BLITZER: The president tweeted this this morning, as well, quote, "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president." What do you think he's referring to in that tweet?

KINZINGER: It's hard to tell exactly what he's referring to in every tweet. It seems like he wants, probably, Republicans to be out there defending him more, no matter what.

I take my position like this. I'm an elected legislative member. My job is to be a check on the executive branch. I'll be as supportive of the president whenever I can. He's of the same party I am. But I also have a responsibility to my country and to the 700,000 people I represent to do what is the right thing and be a check.

So while we need to go out there and be defensive of our policies, we would ask him to do the same thing, too, whether it's health care, tax reform, et cetera. BLITZER: I don't know what he was referring to, but I suspect he was

referring to the sanctions legislation on Russia, the bill that overwhelmingly went 98-2 passed in the Senate. Now it's going to be up in the House, slightly revised session.

The White House doesn't like it, because it strips away a bit of the president's power. You're going to vote for it...

KINZINGER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... irrespective of the concerns from the White House?

KINZINGER: Yes, absolutely. And keep in mind: probably any administration, when it takes away their ability to pull sanctions back or whatever, would oppose anything like that, because they want to have as much power in that process as they can. I understand that.

But this is the right piece of legislation to do. It sanctions Russia, sanctions Iran, and we add North Korea to this. We passed that overwhelmingly out of the House. We expect that the president signs this, and this is the right thing to do, to say, "Russia, you do not meddle in the American elections. You don't meddle in the elections of our allies and partners. This ends."

BLITZER: What does it say that the president of the United States can't even convince members of his own party to include language that doesn't strip him of that authority to ease sanctions, for example, against Russia if he wants to do it? Is he that weak with his fellow Republicans?

KINZINGER: No, I don't think it's that weak. I think you have a Republican Party, though, that is still very strong on this Russia issue, that understands that, despite some of the tweets that he has sent out and some of the things he said about, he doesn't know who hacked the election.

BLITZER: He says it's a hoax; it's a witch hunt. You've heard him say that.

KINZINGER: We obviously very much disagree with that. And we think defending the institution of democracy and defending our republic is far more important than any implications it has for today. Because if people lose faith in their ability to have their vote counted, and the faith in the republic, that leads in the long term to real serious problems.

BLITZER: If he vetoes, will you override that?

KINZINGER: Absolutely. One hundred percent.

BLITZER: In the House of Representatives? You have no doubt?

KINZINGER: I have no doubt.

BLITZER: Congressman Kinzinger, thanks for joining us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, legal and constitutional experts weigh in on President Trump's tweets that he has complete power to pardon. Could that include pardoning himself?

Also, today's extremely rare on-camera statement by the president's son-in-law and top advisor, Jared Kushner.


JARED KUSHNER, DONALD TRUMP'S SON-IN-LAW AND TOP ADVISOR: I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.



BLITZER: Our breaking news, President Trump went before TV cameras at the White House this afternoon to push Senate Republicans to begin debating an Obamacare repeal and replacement bill. The showdown vote is tomorrow.

[17:30:58] Also this afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president is very proud of his son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, who answered questions from Senate Intelligence Committee investigators. Today Kushner made an extremely rare public statement, denying he colluded with the Russians.

We have a lot to discuss with our political specialists. And Mark Preston, I'll start with you. Kushner's statement today, was it a milestone? Because in effect, he subsequently confirmed a lot of the press reports about his four meetings over these many months with various Russians.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Various Russians, and offered details that I thought were very eye-opening in some ways.

One of the details he provided to us is the fact that the former Russian ambassador, then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak offered up Russian intelligence information during the transition about what they were doing in Syria. I thought that was fascinating.

And also, he acknowledged that he tried to have that briefing with the Russian generals in the Russian ambassador's residence. So that in itself was very interesting.

The second thing is he really pushed back on all of these meetings and said, "Listen, you know, either I didn't know what the meeting was about," which was the June 2016 meeting he had with Donald Trump Jr., or, "Listen, I'm kind of a novice in this, and I just took these meetings; and I was trying to be pleasant." That doesn't necessarily cut the bread for everybody in Washington, D.C. And he actually probably is going to open the can for more questions about what all these meetings, what occurred during these meetings. BLITZER: Yes. He went into good detail, confirming what a lot of his

associates earlier said was all fake news. He confirmed...

PRESTON: Right. Witch hunt.


BLITZER: ... all of those meetings. You know, Dana, what do you make of his style and his defense? A very lengthy statement made public, that he was a novice to politics, didn't have a whole lot of -- had no government experience. He was a real estate guy, a business guy. What did you make of that defense?

BASH: Yes. It's the "aw shucks" defense. You know, "I'm new at this. We didn't have the sort of establishment or the people around us who maybe we should have or could have, had we been a more traditional campaign." I think it's the best that he can do, and I'm sure it also has a lot of threads of truth to it, that they didn't have a really good sense that Kislyak, the ambassador from Russia, going and saying, "Oh, maybe -- maybe you should come to the embassy and have a conversation with Russia about Syria" is a good idea.

I mean, regardless -- I mean, this is separate from questions of Russia meddling in the election. That's about, you know, one president at a time; and it's probably not appropriate during the transition to have those kinds of conversations.

Having said all that, look, there are a lot of things that he didn't answer, even though he did go pretty far in talking about a lot of these meetings. Namely what many Democrats want to know, which is how much, if at all, did the Trump campaign, Jared Kushner in particular, who was involved with and supposedly running the digital operation, how much did they know about what the Democrats and some in the intelligence community believe was a real Russian effort to put fake news onto the Internet in key places, like Wisconsin and Michigan and others, to help Donald Trump?

BLITZER: It's an important element in this. Do you think this is enough to get him through this investigation, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: No, I do think it raises a lot more questions. And I also think it was pretty fascinating how he kind of separates himself so much from Donald Trump Jr., right, where he says he -- basically, he doesn't know what the e- mail was about. He didn't read the whole e-mail, where it makes clear that there's a favoritism from the Russian government for Donald Trump to win. So there's that.

And then there's also this -- a number of things that he reveals that make him look like he doesn't really have it together. You know, from not knowing what the Russian ambassador's name is, to you know, not -- his assistant mistakenly filing his security clearance so that it was incomplete and didn't have these things. He didn't recall, really, this meeting at Trump Tower until he was reviewing documents.

So in addition to not really closing the door on all of these questions, he also just doesn't come off looking like he has it together.

[17:35:16] BLITZER: The president and the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that tweet this morning, it stunned a lot of us. I'm sure it did you, as well. I'll put it up on the screen once again. "So why aren't the committees and investigators and, of course, our beleaguered A.G." -- attorney general -- "looking into Crooked Hillary's crimes and Russian relations?"

Do you believe he's trying to push the attorney general out?


BASH: I can't believe you paused there.

PRESTON: We would go right to commercial.

CILLIZZA: That was a simple answer. It just seems to me -- I mean, context matters here, even though that tweet in and of itself would maybe be enough. But this comes five days after Donald Trump said, "Well, I never would have hired Jeff Sessions if I knew he was going to recuse himself" to "The New York Times." It comes after a tweet over the weekend saying something similar but -- to the "beleaguered" tweet but not using the word "beleaguered."

It's difficult with Donald Trump, because he does so many things that are so wildly different than we've ever dealt with in a president, but imagine Barack Obama, six months into his term, saying, "Our beleaguered A.G., Eric Holder, isn't looking at" fill in the blank issue. I mean, we would go bananas, because we never see or imagine anything like that.

I think Trump either doesn't want to or is concerned about what it would look like if he fired Jeff Sessions but is at the point where he's making it so uncomfortable for Jeff Sessions...

BASH: Yes.

CILLIZZA: ... to hold the job that he hopes Jeff Sessions resigns.

BASH: I talked to somebody who is in frequent contact with President Trump, who said, pretty much that, that for months, as we've been reporting, behind the scenes, the president has been steaming about Jeff Sessions ever since he recused himself and has been trying to, you know, behind the scenes, push Sessions to quit, maybe through other people, et cetera. It didn't happen, and so he decided, as he has done with other things through his life in the past, when people can't get stuff done for him, he takes it into his own hands, starting with the "New York Times" interview, where he first publicly threw Sessions under the bus, and now in a series of tweets.

It doesn't sound like, at least for now, Sessions is taking the bait. He's in a job that people around him say he really likes, and he's going to hang in as long as he can.

BLITZER: And since that "New York Times" article, the president apparently has not spoken with Sessions, including today when Sessions was meeting with others at the White House. It's pretty startling when you think about this.

All right. Everybody stand by. The vice president, we're now being told, Mike Pence, he's up on Capitol Hill, desperately trying to get some sort of deal on health care. We've got new information right after this.


[17:42:20] BLITZER: Back with our political specialists. As we look at Air Force One, it has just landed in Beaver, West Virginia. The president is going to be walking down those stairs momentarily, heading over to a convention. About 30,000 Boy Scouts have gathered. The president will address them. This is American Heroes Week from the White House perspective. We'll have live coverage of the president's remarks. That's coming up. Stand by.

You know, Brianna, the president tweeted this on Sunday about his fellow Republicans. He said, "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president."

I thought he was referring maybe to the sanctions legislation, because he doesn't think it's -- it's good. His aides say it goes too far in stripping the president of the United States of some authority in easing sanctions against Russia if he wants to. What was your analysis?

KEILAR: It came not long after the spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new press secretary, said that he would sign it, so that's possible. Because they are new sanctions, but they also stop the Trump administration from easing the sanctions and take some of the power away. It could also be about Obamacare. It could be about a number of things where he really wants backup.

But he doesn't seem to understand that the mission of members of Congress is not to protect him. They're not cheerleaders. They are a separate branch of government that represents constituents.

And as I was reading that tweet, I sort of -- I made a joke to myself where I thought -- I thought of that saying, you know, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog." If you want protecting in Washington, maybe make it a Doberman, you know, because you can't rely always on members of Congress, especially when your approval rating is where Donald Trump's is.

CILLIZZA: Brianna is exactly right about senators -- I think he thinks senators work for him at some level, right? So that's No. 1. Point two, the way in which you get elected officials, if you're the president, to do your bidding...

BLITZER: there he is. He's walking down the stairs now in Beaver, West Virginia. The president heading over to the motorcade.

CILLIZZA: You get more popular than 36, 37, 38, 39 percent. The truth of the matter is, the Susan Collinses of the world in Maine,

the Shelley Moore Capito or Lisa Murkowski, they're not all that worried about Donald Trump coming out against them, because they can say, "Look, I voted what I thought was the right thing for my constituents." And he doesn't really have that hammer to bring down on them and say, "My people -- the people who backed me, who elected me, they're going to visit, you know, defeat or problems on you." And that is often the stick that works as it relates to members of Congress.

BLITZER: The big issue this week, health care, the future of health care. He just tweeted moments ago, "Any senator who votes against starting debate is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare." We know the vice president, Mike Pence, he's up on Capitol Hill right now. They're desperate; they need this win.

BASH: They need this win, but they also, I think, that just tactically and politically, that is not a bad tactic: to remind Shelley Moore Capito, for example, that...


[17:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- Pence. He's up on Capitol Hill right now. They're desperate. They need this win.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: They need this win, but they also -- I think that just tactically and politically, that is not a bad tactic to remind Shelley Moore Capito, for example, that she run --

BLITZER: The West Virginia senator who --

BASH: -- and the West Virginia senator who he is going to appear with shortly, that she ran in the House and then when she ran for the Senate on repealing ObamaCare, and every other Republican --


BASH: -- who voted on it.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BASH: However, the big issue is, I mean, the cliche the devil is in the details could not be more profound right now because what the leadership is asking for is these Republican senators to vote to start debate tomorrow on TBD bill. They don't know what it is right now.

BLITZER: Do they know what they're going to be starting a debate on?

BASH: Yes.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely not. And you know what's interesting about this, President Trump is absolutely right when he says, they need to vote to move the debate forward in order to have a debate. The reason why you have senators who are on the fence or who are not

supportive, that don't want to move forward, because once they pull the trigger on that and they move forward, now they have backed themselves into a corner. And they're going to be forced, in many ways, by President Trump and the Republican leadership to vote for a bill that they don't want.

This bill is -- I wouldn't even say it's on life support. I mean, I wouldn't say it's even born yet.

CILLIZZA: And politically speaking -- just to add to Mark's point, politically speaking, once you vote for the motion to proceed, the average person does not understand --

PRESTON: Won't understand, right.

CILLIZZA: -- oh, well, it was a procedural vote. Once you vote, well, you will own whatever --



PRESTON: You own your vote.

CILLIZZA: Once you vote, you will own whatever it is.


CILLIZZA: And they're cognizant of that.

BLITZER: Stand by. There are new developments coming in.

Also coming up, President Trump claims he has complete power to pardon. Does that include pardoning himself?

Plus, both in private and with Senate investigators up on camera, the President's son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, denies colluding with Russia.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The records and documents I have -- voluntarily provided will show that all of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign.



[17:51:27] BLITZER: As we await President Trump's speech in Glen Jean, West Virginia, we're trying to sort through some of the conflicting signals the President and his aides are sending about his power to issue pardons. Let's bring in Brian Todd who has been looking closely at the story.

All the talk presumably started because of the Russia investigations, right?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, it did start because of the Russia probe, and there have been reports that President Trump has asked his advisors if he's got the power to pardon his aides, relatives, even himself.

That sparked some confrontations between the President's aides and the media and a big debate here in Washington over the President's powers.


TODD (voice-over): President Trump and his inner circle fighting off salvos from all directions in the Russia investigations tonight.

KUSHNER: I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the President's team is also dealing with rumblings of a potential legal fight with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, following a report in "The Washington Post" that Trump has asked his advisors about his power to pardon his aides, relatives, and even himself.

The President tweeted over the weekend, quote, while all agree the U.S. president has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime, so far, is leaks against us? Fake news.

That got one of his personal attorneys on the defensive on ABC's "This Week."

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: -- pardons. Pardons have not been discussed and pardons are not on the table.

TODD (voice-over): But in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Trump's new communications director didn't deny pardons had been discussed.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It has been coming up a lot. There is an undercurrent of nonsensical stuff, all that is --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Because he has asked advisors about it.

SCARAMUCCI: Oh, come on, Jake. He's not allowed to -- this is the problem with the whole system. He's the President of the United States.

If I turn to one of my staff members at Sky Verse (ph), I ask them a question, they run out to the news media and tell everything that I'm thinking about, is that fair to the President?

TODD (voice-over): It's triggered a debate in Washington over whether the President can pardon himself. Some constitutional experts say he can because there is nowhere in the constitution where it says specifically that he cannot pardon himself. Others say the constitution at least implies that a president cannot go that far.

NORMAN EISEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL FOR ETHICS AND GOVERNMENT REFORM: A fundamental principle, it's embedded in the constitution, is that no man can be a judge in his own case. How can you have a rule of law system where the President is both the judge, pardoning himself, and the defendant in the case?

TODD (voice-over): Experts say no democratic leader anywhere has ever tried to pardon himself. Richard Nixon looked into it, then decided against it.

How does it look for Trump, politically, that pardons are apparently being discussed just six months into his presidency?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORKER: It's a terrible sign for Trump's presidency that not only is his legislative agenda completely bogged down on Capitol Hill, but at the same time he has this metastasizing Russia scandal that is forcing him to talk about extreme options of pardon and potentially firing the investigator.


TODD: Now, of course, the President and his aides have not been found guilty of any crime, but legal experts say, if the President was ever in hot water and tried to pardon himself, he would set off a constitutional crisis. The courts would probably strike it down after a long legal fight. And that is, of course, aside from all the political problems the President would likely be causing himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Enormous political problems. What about his family, Brian? The President could pardon Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr., other members of his family, if they were to get into legal trouble as a result of this Russia probe, right?

TODD: They -- he could, Wolf. The President does have the power to do that. And other presidents have pardoned relatives. Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother.

[17:55:02] But experts say the President can do that only if he is not doing it to protect himself or his inner circle from legal trouble. If he pardons them for that reason, that could be obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

Coming up, presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner speaks to congressional investigators and to the American public about Russia.


KUSHNER: Let me be very clear. I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.



[17:59:57] BLITZER: Happening now. Questioned. The President's son- in-law and senior advisor offers his first public explanation of his contacts with Russian officials. Jared Kushner, facing Senate investigators, denying wrongdoing and confirming meetings previously dismissed by the Trump camp as fake news.