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AT THIS HOUR
Trump Intensifies Assault On Sessions, Calls Him "Weak"; GOP's Graham: Trump's Sessions Tweet "Highly Inappropriate"; Now: Kushner Testifying Before House Intel On Russia; Senate Judiciary Subpoenas Manafort To Testify In Public; McCain To Return As Mystery Health Care Vote Looms; Chaos, Uncertainty Over Senate's Health Care Vote. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired July 25, 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. It would appear that the president has a Sessions obsession. Jeff Sessions, the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Donald Trump's presidential campaign is on the receiving end of another round of blistering ridicule from his boss, including this tweet.
"Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are e-mails and DNC server and intel leakers?" So, there is that and there is this, "The Washington Post" reports the president may be looking to replace Sessions atop the Justice Department.
But publicly, the White House, of course, to this point, has refused to really comment on the president's public comments, until now. The new White House communications director offering a new take this morning.
CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with all of this. So Kaitlan, what are you hearing there today?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's exactly right. We've heard from Anthony Scaramucci this morning. He went one step further than yesterday when he suggested that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions need to meet.
They were both in the west wing yesterday, but they did not cross paths and see each other. Jeff Sessions was there for some lunches that he had regularly has and he did not see the president.
But Anthony Scaramucci said the men need to sit down and figure out what their future is going to be. Let's listen to what Anthony Scaramucci said this morning.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not just fire Jeff Sessions? ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, listen, I mean, you know, I think the president has certain style, certain skill set. He's obviously frustrated. I said yesterday, I think to Sara Murray, maybe the two of them to get together.
My guess is the president doesn't want to do that. So, I think it's going to -- I think him and Jeff, sorry, Attorney General Sessions need to work this thing out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear that the president wants him gone.
SCARAMUCCI: I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well. If there's this level of tension in the relationship that is public, you are probably right, but I don't want to speak for the president on that because he's a cabinet official. It has to be between the president of the United States and the cabinet official.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So Kate, we don't know what Jeff Sessions' future is here, but we do know that Donald Trump is fuming. He is equating Jeff Sessions to Hillary Clinton on Twitter, which for an insult from Donald Trump, that's about as low as it can get.
He is treating his attorney general like a political foe. Ever since Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation back in March, we've heard that Donald Trump privately complained about it.
But ever since that "New York Times" interview last week when he said he would not have picked him to be his attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself. We have seen Donald Trump continue to lash out at him.
Now we cannot overstate how loyal Jeff Sessions has been to Donald Trump. He was the first senator to endorse him. He gave up a state Senate seat to take this job and he has done a lot for the Trump agenda in these last six months since they have been in office.
He also wheeled a lot of influence over the west wing. Several of his former staffers, including Rick Deerborn (ph) and Stephen Miller now work here. Steve Bannon even once referred to him as his mentor.
But it's safe to say that Jeff Sessions' job is in jeopardy here despite all of that influence.
BOLDUAN: Despite all that, things have clearly changed. What that means now, though, is anyone's guess and right now it's in the president's court. Great to see you, Kaitlan. Thank you.
COLLINS: Thanks, Kate.
BOLDUAN: Joining me now to discuss this further, Matt Zapotosky. He covers the Justice Department for the "Washington Post." He wrote about the Trump team weighing options now for replacing Sessions and CNN political director, David Chalian is here with me as well.
So, David, I mean, I think it's a pretty big deal that what the president's new communications director said today. Finally, it seems acknowledging rather than dodging the obvious, that the president probably does want Sessions gone. Why, then, doesn't the president just fire him? Are you getting any read on this, yet?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: We can drop promises, right. It is clear Donald Trump doesn't want Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general anymore. It also seems clear that he is concerned about some blowback if you would outright fire him. And it's clearly nudging him towards trying to resign.
You can see some of the conservative blowback that is already forming to this notion. I mean, you see Republican senators coming out today, one after the other, Lindsey Graham, Tom Tillis, Richard Shelby, former allies of Jeff Sessions coming out to support him and defend him and call him a man of integrity.
So clearly, there seems to be some movement to try to shore up Jeff Sessions, but, Kate, this is so much larger than just one cabinet member. This, to me, is very different.
[11:05:04] This is part of a larger pattern into Donald Trump's thinking about the people who hold the positions at the highest levels of law enforcement agencies in this country, whether it is the acting FBI director, the attorney general, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, the deputy attorney general, Rob Rosenstein.
Donald Trump clearly sees their mission as one that should be about loyalty to him, protecting him and his family's legal points of view and political needs. That is how he seems to think of it more than being committed to the Constitution and rule of law. That is what is so alarming about what Donald Trump is saying about Jeff Sessions.
BOLDUAN: By definition, their jobs are the latter of what you played out. Everyone knows that and the president should as well. Matt, you are reporting that the president is now talking with his team about the possibility of replacing Sessions in light of the tweet how it is a constant drum beat coming out from the president attacking Sessions.
How serious are those discussions in terms of replacing him? I mean, first they have to get him out, whether it's firing or something else, but how serious is it?
MATT ZAPOTOSKY, CO-WROTE STORY ABOUT SESSIONS POSSIBLY BEING REPLACED: Right. When we reported that, the indication was that they were preliminary discussions. In some ways, this was the president venting. He was asking pretty serious questions. He asked one person we've talked to, you know, if I replace Jeff Sessions, how would that play in the conservative media?
So, he's clearly seriously entertaining the idea. Another point this morning in that interview you played between Anthony Scaramucci and Hugh Hewitt, Scaramucci joked, Hugh, would you be open to being the attorney general? That's so humiliating for Jeff Sessions and shows that you really are seriously entertaining removing him. I don't know how serious they are, though, in terms of identifying replacements and having approached people and said, hey, would you step into this role?
But they know they want Jeff Sessions out and their minds I think are starting to go to that next step.
BOLDUAN: David, there are a couple names that have been floated about possible replacements so far, Rudy Giuliani, Ted Cruz. How serious are those options?
CHALIAN: You know, until there's a vacancy, I think you are going to have a hard time getting a sense from those kinds of folks how serious they are about being wooed. As you know, Ted Cruz put out a statement --
BOLDUAN: I'm happy where I am.
CHALIAN: That's right. And defending the people of Texas and Rudy Giuliani said this is a grim -- those calculations can change if there's an actual vacancy. But Kate, we also have to remember we are talking about why does he want to remove Jeff Sessions? Because he's unhappy with the recusal of Jeff Sessions --
BOLDUAN: It's a moving target, David. It's a moving target as of this morning. I mean, it's all wrapped up in the same thing, but it was, I'm mad that you recused yourself from the Russian investigation. But now it's morphed back into something that we thought the president was past, which is why aren't you investigating Hillary Clinton?
CHALIAN: Do you remember when he made that point during the presidential debate last fall what the reaction in the fall? I mean, across the spectrum, people were saying you don't say you are going to have your attorney general prosecute your political opponent because that's the stuff that separates a banana republic from a functioning democracy.
There was wide blowback when he said that last fall. In fact, Attorney general Sessions at his confirmation hearing because of the comments he made as a Trump ally on the campaign trail regarding Hillary Clinton said he would recuse himself from Hillary Clinton matters.
So, he already has been on the record. I know the president saying he is too weak on it, but he said if there were any Hillary Clinton matters that came up before him, related to her campaign or the e- mails or the investigation, he would likely recuse himself from that because of his work on the Trump campaign.
BOLDUAN: Matt, you mentioned the president's concern about conservative blowback, how conservatives are going to respond to that. You have Rush Limbaugh, who says it is discomforting and unseemly the way the president is going.
And as David points out, you see some folks coming out as a conservative realm trying to shore up Jeff Sessions who, by definition, is a conservative. You cover the Justice Department. Do you have any inkling where Jeff Sessions is headed this morning versus last night?
ZAPOTOSKY: I wish I did. It's certainly seems in the recent days that he is just keeping his head down and doing the work. I have talked to people inside the Justice Department frankly who wouldn't disclose if they had talked to Jeff Sessions or not.
They told me that they are demoralized, but a part of them was also hoping and this was earlier before today's tweets that this would just blow over, that everyone would roll their eyes and say, well, this is just what the president does. He's kind of full of bluster and this will blow over.
I don't think that's going to happen. So far, though, it seems like Jeff Sessions is drawing a line in the sand and saying if you want me to go then fire me.
BOLDUAN: Yes, it's hard to see this blowing over, but it's hard to see a lot of things. We are here today. Great to see you, Matt. David, thank you as always.
BOLDUAN: We are also following some breaking news on two fronts in the Russia investigation. We want to update you on.
[11:10:00] The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued a subpoena for the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, now compelling him to testify in public as opposed to what was being negotiated before, which was being interviewed behind closed doors.
Also this, Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, arrived on Capitol Hill a short time ago for a second day of closed door meetings with congressional investigators. This time, he's meeting with lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, will be facing their questions. They are in the middle of that right now.
So, let's get over to the capital where senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju is following all of this. So, Manu, is there any word on what's going on behind closed doors right now with Jared Kushner?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We are still waiting for this hearing to finish. It started around 10:00 a.m. These are members of the House Intelligence Committee who are questioning Jared Kushner, much different than yesterday's session before the Senate Intelligence Committee when it was just staff interviewing Kushner.
It's the first time he's facing lawmakers and expect to bit of a more of the partisan and combative round of questioning particularly from Democrats who believe that Mr. Kushner has not been forthcoming enough and believe that his 11-page statement that he released yesterday about his contacts with Russians had a number of holes in it they plan to explore. Now the question for Kushner going forward is, is this it for him? Will he come back to Congress after today? There are a number of Democrats who say he should. Not just on the House side, but also the Senate side.
When Jared Kushner came in for this hearing, just moments ago, I had a chance to ask him, will you appear in public? He didn't say. This was our exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Mr. Kushner, will you testify in public? Will you testify again before the Senate?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, this comes as Paul Manafort is now in the center of two committees, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. Today, we have learned that earlier this morning, Paul Manafort did, in fact, sit down for an interview with staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, behind closed doors, answering their questions.
But, that is not to the satisfaction of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which had wanted its own interview with Paul Manafort. In fact, last week, calling him to appear in a public session. They agreed not to bring him forward in a public session.
They cut a deal so he could have a private interview, provide documents to them, and see whether or not a public session was necessary. Well, it turns out that Mr. Manafort did not provide the records the Senate Judiciary Committee wanted.
They only said they'll give one transcribed interview to Congress. That appears to be the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning, and as a result, Senator Chuck Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, along with Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat, had issued a subpoena to compel Paul Manafort to appear in a public hearing tomorrow.
Uncertain whether or not Mr. Manafort will heed the request of the committee. I have asked his spokesman, no response quite yet, but clearly, a lot of pressure on Paul Manafort after testifying today to come at least publicly tomorrow or have to plead the Fifth if he does not want to answer their questions -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Really fascinating because that really seemed to ratchet up very quickly from where it was. It was going to be behind closed doors. Kind of like what we are seeing with Jared Kushner where they make a lot of -- try to make a lot of -- make it easy for them, get in, do the interview, get out.
It seems like Paul Manafort got on the wrong side of Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein. Let's see where that goes tomorrow. Great to see you, Manu. Thank you. Go ahead, go ahead. RAJU: Thanks, Kate. I was going to say a turf war between the two committees, the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee fighting over who to -- which witnesses come forward. Grassley not happy that Manafort has agreed to talk intelligence and not his committee -- Kate.
BOLDUAN: Clearly not. Thanks, Manu.
Coming up for us, Senator John McCain expected to return to Washington today as the Senate gets ready for a vote on something of a health care mystery. Still, a vote many senators are still undecided on. John McCain's return that's ahead.
Plus, legally speaking, is the president's assault on Jeff Sessions an abuse of power? We will ask Robert Mueller's former aide on that one.
And the president's raising eyebrows to the wild speech to thousands of Boy Scouts speaking on everything from loyalty to the Electoral College and he threw in Christmas. Republican eagle scout joins me live.
BOLDUAN: It is decision day for the Republican-led Senate. The stakes are so high, Senator John McCain is returning to the Hill to cast his vote just days after brain surgery and the diagnosis of an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Will his vote be enough to help Senate Republicans move forward to debate health care on the Senate floor or will they fall short? We will soon find out. That means the final lobbying blitz is on in a very big way.
Some of the loudest pressure right now coming from the president himself, this morning issuing a statement on Twitter, this -- "Big day for health care. After seven years of talking, we will soon see whether or not Republicans are willing to step up to the plate."
A big question, though, is that doing anything to win over those wavering Republicans right now? CNN national politics reporter, M.J. Lee is following all of this from Capitol Hill and it's a lot. What is the latest right now, M.J.?
M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: It is a lot, Kate. A lot of moving pieces today, but first on the news that John McCain is going to be coming back today. That is a big deal for his colleagues.
Obviously, a lot of colleagues have been very sad and shocked about his brain cancer diagnosis. The fact that just days after his big surgery, he is going to be coming back with all that much more pressure and really brings in a lot of emotions to a day that was already going to be quite dramatic.
And now I do have some new reporting to share on leadership plan or at least a plan for right now I should say. That is a huge caveat right now on how they want to move forward if the motion to proceed vote is successful.
They will bring forward the 2015 repeal bill. This is not expected to be successful. A lot of Republican senators have concerns about doing a repeal bill without a replacement and plan.
[11:20:04] And then they will bring up a (inaudible) 3.0. This is the repeal and replace plan but a third version of it that would include additional funding for Medicaid and also the Cruz/Lee amendment that conservatives still wanted.
This of course is a sign that leadership wants to offer various members a chance to offer what they want to offer in this health care bill. But finally, what leadership wants to get to is a skinny repeal bill.
A smaller version of the 2015 repeal bill and leadership feels like they could potentially get 50 votes on this. So, obviously, a very fast moving process.
The lunch today, we should keep a very close eye on because this is when McConnell will continue pressing the case for members to vote yes today so that they can move on to the amendment that have this debate.
BOLDUAN: A lot happening on the floor, but a lot of senators may not be with him on that. Let's see. M.J., thank you so much.
Joining me now to discuss, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Congressman, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.
REPRESENTATIVE MARK SANFORD (R-SC), MEMBER, FREEDOM CAUCUS: My pleasure.
BOLDUAN: What do you make of what's going on over in the Senate right now? They are voting to move ahead to a vote today. A lot of senators say they don't know what the end game is. M.J. was trying to lay it out there. It's still a little bit muddled, you know. What do you think?
SANFORD: I think she did a good job. I mean, an accurate assessment of where we are. It's something that has been very much in flux. Up until today, I don't know that you could have zeroed in on those three possibilities as being the logical outcome of what would come next after a motion to proceed.
So, I think that's where we are. You know, everybody is trying to read the tea leaves. We'll see what comes next.
BOLDUAN: Absolutely. To be clear, I was not being critical of M.J.'s reporting at all, I'm more critical of the senators not knowing really what they are about to step up and vote on.
You know -- you have, in the past, had some interesting thoughts on where this is all headed. The former Republican, someone who had interesting thoughts on where this bill is headed is the former Republican speaker of the House, John Boehner.
"The Washington Post" obtained a video of the talk that he gave in Las Vegas. I want to play you a bit of this and then get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOEHNER (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Here we are, several months into this year and yet they have not passed this bill. They are not going to repeal and replace Obamacare, it's been around too long. The American people are accustomed to it. The governors are accustomed to this Medicaid expansion. So, trying to pull it back is really not going to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: Is he right?
SANFORD: Yes. What's interesting is he called this, you know -- you know, months, back in January or December, he said, well, you know, at the end of the day, we have a lot of debate. At the end of the day, they are not going to fully repeal and fully replace. It will be something much, much watered down. He said something to that effect.
It was Ronald Reagan who observed a long time ago the closest thing to eternal light is a government program. Indeed, what John was getting at was once things are in place, they are difficult to pull back. That's true for the governors who indeed have gotten used to the Medicaid expansion and the money they bring to their states. For individuals --
BOLDUAN: Is it a foregone conclusion -- you know, is it a foregone conclusion that it is going to stick and you guys are just going to have to work on rebranding what you are doing here?
SANFORD: Again, I think, it's not my vote, but I think the political reality to the former speaker's point is that, you know, there's been a lot of hyperbole in Washington, D.C. Republicans have talked about, quote, "full repeal," but it's never been full repeal.
If you look at staying on your parents plan until age of 26, that's part of the Affordable Care Act. If you look at different treatment of pre-existing conditions that was part of the Affordable Care Act.
So you know, Republicans have sort of overstated their claims in terms of what they want to do and Democrats have overstated the degree of harm or loss that would come with, frankly, what amounts to a bill in either case of tweaking the Affordable Care Act.
And hopefully pulling it back from sort of where it is from tax and other standpoints and giving the folks out there in the individual marketplace some relief that they don't have right now.
BOLDUAN: Let me ask you about this, Congressman. The president is, again, today publicly shaming Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Today, he is calling him weak, yesterday was beleaguered. You have been critical of the president's rhetoric in the past. Can you explain this one?
SANFORD: I can't other than it's mistaken. You get the loyalty you give in life. If there's any person on Capitol Hill that has been loyal to the president of the United States, it's Jeff Sessions. He gave up his Senate post to take on this post.
He was out there as an advocate for then Candidate Trump, at a time when nobody else was. What you can't say is I don't like everything -- or you didn't do one thing that I don't like, therefore, you are off the playing team.
[11:25:04] That's not the kind of loyalty that anybody expects whether in a corporate boardroom or in the church vestry or here on Capitol Hill. We ought to be loyal to ideas that we believe in and recognize the fact that as human beings, we are going to have a little bit of difference in the way we approach those ideas.
BOLDUAN: What is the president missing here then if it's so obvious to you?
SANFORD: He beats his own drum. That's obviously approved to his political success and business success as well. So, I'm not one to try and say you ought to do this or that. I'm saying, I don't think it's a way a lot of folks would do it whether in business world or private sector or church world or go down the list.
And I think he's doing it to his own harm because, indeed, the loyalty you give in life will be the loyalty you get. He signals to other folks on the team, oh, my goodness, if Sessions could go, am I next?
BOLDUAN: You are also an eagle scout I learned this morning, Congressman. The president spoke at that huge gathering of Boy Scouts yesterday. Here is some of what he said. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts? We ought to change from the word swamp to cesspool. Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree? Do you remember the night with the maps and the Republicans are red?
A scout is trustworthy, loyal, we could use more loyalty, I will tell you that. They have been down playing that little, beautiful phrase. You are going to be saying Merry Christmas again, folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That was in front of Boy Scouts. What do you make of that speech?
SANFORD: Again, what we have been talking about, which is one can expect the unexpected the Trump. That's been part of his allure. Again, he does these things to his own undoing. This is an 80-year tradition before the Scout Jamboree where presidents of both parties have come and spoken on civic themes.
They talk on leadership themes. They've talk about a number of different things that apply to young folks of that age and that fairly impressionable chapter of life that they are in.
And he decided to deviate from that, again, to his own undoing because we are talking about it now. I loved my time with Boy Scouts. It's an incredible program and I think it's important to keep politics out of that program.
BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to say. Would you want your scout troop to sit and listen to that?
SANFORD: I don't think scout troops want to listen to political speeches, but I can't speak for all scout troops out there. That will be my guess.
BOLDUAN: Congressman Mark Sanford, always great to have you on. Thanks, Congressman.
SANFORD: Pleasure. Thanks.
BOLDUAN: As the president gets ready to hold a news conference very shortly, we are going to show you the five biggest questions the president needs to answer today. That is next.