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Trump: 'I Am Disappointed in the Attorney General'; Pence Breaks Health Care Tie, McCain Demands Bipartisanship; Manafort Subpoenaed by Judiciary Panel, Talks to Intel; Interview with Rep. Adam Schiff. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired July 25, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Thanks for watching.
[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Tiebreaker. The closely-divided Senate votes to move forward with debate on a health care bill after Vice President Pence casts the tie- breaking vote. But huge hurdles remain for Republican voters. Can they get a bill to the president's desk?
Bullying Sessions. President Trump refuses to say if he supports Jeff Sessions after multiple Twitter attacks on the attorney general Mr. Trump suggests endorsed him only because of the huge crowds his campaign drew. How long will this public campaign against Sessions continue?
Russia rebuke. The House is poised to vote on a Russia sanctions bill punishing Vladimir Putin for Moscow's meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Does the bill take power away from President Trump, and would he even sign it?
And begging for unity. John McCain makes a dramatic return to the Senate and gives an emotional speech, urging a return to regular order and bipartisan consensus. Will lawmakers heed his plea?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump is fueling new speculation about whether he'll fire the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Just a little while ago, the president said he's disappointed in Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. And in a Twitter attack, he called Sessions' positions, quote, "very weak." Asked about Sessions' future, Mr. Trump said, quote, "Time will tell."
Also breaking, the Senate has approved a motion to begin debate on a health care bill with Vice President Pence casting the deciding vote, breaking a 50-50 tie. But right now, it's unclear what the final bill will look like and if the GOP leadership can muster the votes to pass it.
And former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its Russia investigation. Earlier, he met behind closed doors with Senate intelligence investigators while the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, talked to the House Intelligence Committee.
We're going to get more on all of that with our guests, including the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by as we cover all the breaking news this hour.
Let's begin with President Trump's unrelenting public disdain of the attorney general, Jeff Sessions. CNN White House correspondent Sara Murray is in Youngstown, Ohio, where the president is getting ready to hold a rally tonight.
Sara, the president said time will tell as far as Sessions' fate is concerned.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Donald Trump may have built his reality television career on telling people "You're fired," but if that's Jeff Sessions' fate today, the president isn't saying.
MURRAY (voice-over): Donald Trump using a crucial day in his presidency to hurl insults at his attorney general. But Trump dodged questions about whether Sessions should step down at a Rose Garden news conference today.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general, but we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
MURRAY: Trump tweeting, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a very weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes. Where are e-mails and DNC server and intel leakers?"
Advisors say the real reason Trump is doing, is because he's still over Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe. That decision made back in March on the advice of other Justice Department officials.
TRUMP: He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office, and I would have quite simply picked somebody else.
MURRAY: Sessions said earlier this year that he would bow out of any investigation into Clinton.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be very clear, you intend to recuse yourself from both the Clinton e-mail investigation and any matters involving the Clinton Foundation, if there are any?
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes.
MURRAY: And Trump himself said after the election he didn't want to see the Clintons investigated.
TRUMP: I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to hurt them. They're good people.
MURRAY: Trump's newly-minted communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, made no apologies for the president's behavior today as he acknowledged that Trump probably wants Sessions to step aside.
ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but I do know the president pretty well, and if there's this level of tension in the relationship that that's public, you're probably right. But I don't want to speak for the president on that, because he's a cabinet official, and I sort of think that has to be between the president of the United States and the cabinet official.
MURRAY: Sessions was once of Trump's closest allies and the first U.S. senator to endorse Trump's presidential bid.
[17:05:04] JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am pleased to endorse Donald Trump for the presidency of the United States.
MURRAY: Now the president's public flogging of his former friend isn't sitting well with other U.S. senators. Republican senators, including Rob Portman, Ted Cruz, Tom Tillis and Lindsey Graham, all leapt at Sessions' defense. In a statement, Graham called Sessions "a rock-solid conservative" and shot back at Trump's criticism, saying, "President Trump's tweet today suggesting Attorney General Sessions pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate."
MURRAY: Now, some administration officials are making the case to President Trump to keep Sessions on board, and they're pointing to that outpouring of support that Sessions is getting from Republican senators, but even they acknowledge that this rift may be too far gone for these two men to mend fences -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thanks very much.
We're also following breaking news on Capitol Hill in a dramatic vote this afternoon. Vice President Pence broke a 50-50 tie, allowing the Senate to begin debating health care. Then Senator John McCain, who's just back after being diagnosed with brain cancer, made an impassioned plea for both Democrats and Republicans to work together.
CNN's Ryan Nobles is up on Capitol Hill for us. Ryan, so what happens next?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, senators are set to begin 20 hours of debate before offering up amendments on this bill, which is now on the Senate floor. And it was tense right up until the final moment. And even though senators have a long way to go, Republicans finally have a much-needed win on health care.
NOBLES (voice-over): Tonight Senate Republicans have pulled off what even a week ago seemed impossible.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On this vote the ayes are 50 and the nays are 50. The Senate being equally divided, the vice president votes in the affirmative.
NOBLES: Securing enough GOP votes to bring a bill to the floor and begin debate on dismantling secure Obamacare.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We can't let this moment slip by. We've wrestled with this issue. We've watched the consequences of the status quo. The people who sent us here expect us to begin this debate.
NOBLES: But it wasn't easy. Even up until the last minute, the majority leader was whipping Republican votes. McConnell held a very animated conversation with Wisconsin's Ron Johnson on the Senate floor just moments before Johnson cast an affirmative vote.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Mr. Johnson, aye.
NOBLES: McConnell also secured support for this stage of the vote from skeptical senators like Dean Heller of Nevada, Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.
And he needed the help of Senator John McCain, who made a dramatic return to the Senate floor, just days after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. While McCain voted "yes" today, he warned his colleagues the current process was doomed to fail.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Let's see if we can pass something that will be imperfect, full of compromises, and not very pleasing to implacable partisans on either side, but that might provide workable solutions to problems Americans are struggling with today. What have we to lose by trying to work together to find those solutions?
But while the successful vote to proceed was a big win for McConnell, the real war over health care is just beginning. Lawmakers will now begin the fight over what exactly the bill will ultimately become.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: For many senators, myself included, it depends on what the final bill contains. That -- that's essential in doing your job as a senator.
NOBLES: It means the final bill could go in a number of different directions. They could strike a grand deal to repeal and replace Obamacare. They could vote for a straight repeal, one that some conservatives favor but will start the clock and up the pressure on finding a full replacement. Or they could pass what's being called a skinny repeal, a bill that strips out some of the major aspects of Obamacare but leaves many of the provisions in place.
Getting the vote to the floor also opens the door to Democrats to offer up a flood of amendments that would likely fail but would force Republicans on the record in a number of key areas.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The best the majority leader has been able to cook up is a vague plan to do whatever it takes to pass something, anything, to get the bill to a House and Senate conference on health care. My colleagues, plain and simple, it's a ruse.
NOBLES: Two Republicans did vote no on the motion to proceed today, and they weren't surprises: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.
As for a time line, well, we could still be waiting a while before this final bill comes up for a vote. John Cornyn, the majority whip and a key player in this process, of Texas, said it may not be until September before a final vote is cast -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ryan. Thanks very much. Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, has subpoenaed campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify in its Russia investigation.
Let's go to our senior congressional reporter Manu Raju. He's also up on Capitol Hill. Manu, the -- Manafort also spoke to the Intelligence Committee earlier today. Update our viewers on what's the latest.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, Wolf, I'm hearing that source close to Paul Manafort are confident that a deal can be reached with the Senate Judicial Committee to avoid a public hearing tomorrow. They're confident in discussions that are happening behind the scenes after Manafort was hit by a subpoena from the Senate Judiciary Committee last night asking him to, compelling him to appear tomorrow.
Now, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, told me earlier today that she believed that it was possible that a deal could be reached. Now this came, Wolf, after last week the committee invited him to appear in a public session. Instead, he along with Donald Trump Jr., negotiated behind the scenes to not appear in public; agreed to a transcribed interview; agreed to provide records to the committee.
But those talks between Manafort and the Senate Judiciary Committee broke down after Manafort apparently only agreed to give one single transcribed interview to the congressional committee, that being the Intelligence Committee. And earlier today he did speak with the Senate Intelligence Committee, and I am told that conversation was exclusively about the Trump Tower meeting that he was at along with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner.
And Paul Manafort, I am told, has agreed to come back, talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee members and staff about a fuller spate of Russia issues as part of their investigation.
But tonight, Wolf, there's some optimism in the Manafort camp that perhaps tomorrow's showdown, in which he was subpoenaed to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee may be headed off because of a deal that may be in the works, Wolf.
BLITZER: You'll update us on that.
Meanwhile, the president's son-in-law, senior advisor Jared Kushner, we're told he may return to Capitol Hill to answer even more questions, today the second day in a row that he answered questions on the Hill.
RAJU: Yes, he did. For more than three hours before the House Intelligence Committee, members pressed him about that 11-page statement that he had released yesterday, discussing his ties and connections and contacts with Russian officials.
Republicans generally applauded his performance afterwards. Yesterday, a lot of Democrats said that he did not answer a lot of questions that they would like. I just had a chance to speak with Scott Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He said, quote, "Absolutely." They want Kushner to come back before his panel.
Yesterday Kushner talked to staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner said that the members of the committee need to question him, as well. And that's one question, as well: will Jared Kushner appear again on Capitol Hill? I tried to ask Jared Kushner that repeatedly over the last two days as he appeared on the Hill. He did not answer questions from any reporters. So it's uncertain about whether or not he'll come back before either the Senate Intelligence Committee or the House Intelligence Committee. But its members clearly have more questions that they want him to answer, Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California is joining us, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Lots to discuss. But very quickly, you just voted on the Russia sanctions bill. The current vote count is overwhelming. Let's take a look. You see it right over there, what 418 -- four hundred eighteen -- to 3. Four-nineteen to three right now. I assume you're among the 419.
SCHIFF: Absolutely, and I'm very proud that we passed this. We should have taken it up, frankly, some time ago when the Senate passed, because we knew this was the inevitable result. It has overwhelming bipartisan support.
The members understand, I think, in both parties the importance of sending a message to Moscow about their interference in our election, as well as their continued efforts to destabilize and occupy parts of the Ukraine, and I'm very pleased that we have done this. It will cabin what the president can do, his ability to unilaterally, for whatever reason, lift sanctions on Russia. So I'm very pleased with the result. BLITZER: So this weakens the president's ability to ease those
sanctions on Russia, North Korea and Iran. You combined new sanctions out of all three of those countries, right?
SCHIFF: Yes, we did. And I think all three are very important. The Iran sanctions to go after those entities that are involved in the ballistic missile program or other nefarious Iranian actions, but as well, to take steps to deal with North Korea and clamp down further on that regime and its efforts to expand its nuclear program, its intercontinental missile ballistic program. That's probably among the most direct threats facing the country. So a very important bill in all three respects.
BLITZER: It passed, a similar, slightly different version passed the Senate, what, 98-2. So I assume you have total confidence the president will sign this into law. If he doesn't, you certainly have the votes in the House and the Senate to override his veto.
SCHIFF: Yes. I don't see how he could veto this bill. For one thing, it's, you know, very important on a national security basis, but more than that, he ought to see the writing on the wall, which is, if he were to veto this out of some loyalty to -- I don't know what, his relationship to Putin, that veto would be, I think, almost certainly overridden.
BLITZER: And if he wants to ease sanctions on Russia, he first has to come back to you, to members of Congress and get your approval. Is that correct?
SCHIFF: Well, effectively, if he were to take that step, it would be suspended. The Congress would have the opportunity to vote to disapprove it, and I think the result would be a rejection of that. So as a practical matter, the president no longer will have the unilateral authority to lift sanctions imposed under the prior administration.
BLITZER: Let's move on to another critically important issue. You and your House Intelligence Committee colleagues, you had the opportunity today to question Jared Kushner, the president's son-in- law, senior adviser. What did you learn?
SCHIFF: Well, we had about a three-hour opportunity for members to ask Mr. Kushner a range of questions. Certainly, a lot of the questions focused on those four meetings that he disclosed in his public testimony, his written statement. But even more of our questions went to other matters. I can't go into the particulars. But of course, our investigation is looking at the whole range of instrumentalities that the Russians may have used to influence this administration or U.S. policy. And that involves, in other countries, financial transactions, potential money laundering. It involves the use of their paid social media army.
So the whole range of issues that the committee is exploring, we wanted to explore with Mr. Kushner. And that's about as specific as I can be.
BLITZER: Did you buy the explanations he laid out in that 11-page public statement we all read yesterday?
SCHIFF: Well, I don't want to characterize my view of his testimony, but you know, if we're going to do our due diligence, we can't accept, frankly, any representation on its face.
And, you know, we have seen, unfortunately, with other members of the Trump family and organization that they will say one thing, and then the truth will prove to be something quite different.
Certainly that meeting with Don Jr., Mr. Kushner, Mr. Manafort, with now multiple Russians or Russian Americans, where there was initially, by at least Don Jr., a -- an effort to deny that such a meeting ever took place and a lot of phony indignation that we would suggest such a thing; and then an admission it took place and then dissembling about what the meeting was about. So we can't, unfortunately, accept at face value any of the representations that may be made in this area.
BLITZER: So you -- what I hear you saying, Congressman, is trust but verify. Is that right?
SCHIFF: Well, in this case, I'm not even sure you can start out with trust. I think we simply have to verify if we can, disprove if we must, corroborate where there's corroborative evidence, but just follow the facts where they lead us and not take too much for granted.
BLITZER: Did you ask him about the Trump campaign's digital or analytical operations, which have been -- which he was involved in during the campaign, Jared Kushner?
SCHIFF: You know, again, without getting into specific areas, that is an area that we're deeply interested in, with respect to any witness that might shed light on the digital operations, whether there was any use of information that was either obtained from Russia sources or Russian funding of those efforts, or Russian targeting. That is something that our committee is deeply interested in; any witness that has any relevant role in the campaign would be asked questions about that.
BLITZER: Have you seen evidence of that?
SCHIFF: You know, I don't want to comment on the evidence, Wolf.
BLITZER: Why has it been so difficult for the various committees in the House and the Senate to get Paul Manafort to testify? He spoke before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors today, but strictly about that controversial meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer, among others.
SCHIFF: Well, you know, I can only speculate. We've been in communication with Mr. Manafort and his counsel, in the process of obtaining documents. And of course, we are going to want to have them come before our committee.
It sounds like he came before the Senate committee for a limited purpose, and he's resisting even that limited questioning or more broad questioning. Ultimately, we're going to want him before our committee to answer the whole set of issues that have been raised in connection with his role in the campaign, his role in Ukraine, his disclosures or nondisclosures, where they're pertinent.
And you can imagine a number of reasons why Mr. Manafort might be concerned about giving testimony on those issues, but we're going to need that if we're to get to the bottom of this.
BLITZER: The House speaker, Paul Ryan, today had this to say about President Trump's attacks on the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:20:00] REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president gets to decide what his personnel is. You all know that. That's his -- he is the executive branch. We're the legislative branch. He determines who is hired and fired in the executive branch. That's his prerogative. If he has concerns or concerns or problems with the attorney general, I'm sure he'll bring them up with him himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What sort of response would you expect from your Republican colleagues in the House, if President Trump does ask Attorney General Sessions to resign?
SCHIFF: You know, I hope we have a more courageous response than that one, and we've heard similar responses from the speaker in the past along different lines, along the lines of, "Well, you've got to excuse him. He doesn't know what he's doing."
In this case, he's speaking generically about what the authority of the president is but ignoring the very reasons why the president is trying to push out Jeff Sessions. And that is he wants the attorney general to investigate his prior political opponent. Well, that's what third-rate banana republics do. When we have democratic interactions with parliaments in other parts of the world, we always impress upon them the importance of accepting the results of elections and not seeking to punish or imprison your opposition in the last election. Our president seems to be suggesting we follow that path that is certainly antithetical to our country's history and tradition and values.
But in addition to that, it's -- the president isn't being very transparent here. He wants to fire Jeff Sessions, but he'd rather not have to do it, so he's trying to force him to resign. And he wants to do that so that he can bring if a new attorney general that will limit the scope of what Bob Mueller can investigate.
We cannot allow that to happen in any way, shape or form. And this Constitution needs to stand up and speak out, and it's, I think, deeply distressing to hear that the speaker is not willing to do that in the least. But we are going to count on senators from both parties to reject any effort to interfere in the investigation by appointing a new attorney general who is more malleable to the president's interests. BLITZER: Congressman, there's a lot more we need to discuss,
including the president of the United States. He's now beginning to attack you personally. We'll have that, much more right after this quick break.
BLITZER: The breaking news, President Trump's former campaign chairman and the president's son-in-law, both on Capitol Hill today talking to congressional investigators behind closed doors about Russia.
Paul Manafort, who led Trump's campaign last summer, is now also being subpoenaed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, you've argued that President Trump wants the attorney general out, Jeff Sessions. out of the way so he can limit the special counsel's investigation, Robert Mueller's investigation. What would you do if President Trump were to remove Mueller?
SCHIFF: Well, I would reintroduce an independent counsel law, not one as far-reaching as we've seen in the past, but one that is limited to the Russia investigation. That would be for a period of time, and that would allow for the reappointment of Bob Mueller in a position that would be beyond the reach of the president to hire or fire. That would allow this investigation to go on unimpeded.
You don't let the president pick the one that investigates or potentially prosecutes cases involving his own organization. And I would hope we would have strong bipartisan support for that. It would certainly be a crisis here; it would be a constitutional crisis, and I think that would be the only responsible way forward.
BLITZER: President Trump yesterday attacked you personally, tweeting this. Quote, "Sleazy Adam Schiff. The totally biased congressman looking into," quote, "'Russia'," closed quote, "spends all of his time on television pushing the Dem" -- Democrat -- "loss excuse. So what's your response to the president?
SCHIFF: Well, I think his tweets are really beneath the dignity of the office. You know, at one level, I'm tempted to think it was pretty funny. My first impression was, like, a character on "Ghostbusters," that I'd just been slimed.
But the reality is, it is really quite sad that the presidency has been reduced to hurling insults like you hear when you're in grade school. And I think about, you know, the stature of people that have occupied that office in the past, and it, you know, troubles me to see this kind of thing going on.
But it is what it is. I suppose it's a measure of the fact that the president views me as a threat and it, certainly, has enhanced my stature among my colleagues, who are proposing a button that says, "I'm with Sleazy."
But in any event,I think it's unfortunate, but not all that unexpected.
BLITZER: What's been the reaction of your Republican colleagues to the president of the United States calling you sleazy?
SCHIFF: You know, look, I don't think my Republican colleagues approve of what he does on Twitter, not just with respect to me but more generally. I think they all wish that he would, you know, give up his Twitter account or let -- or make sure there was adult supervision before he sent things out.
But in the case of what he leveled against me, you know, it follows a familiar pattern. We looked back, and just before he sent the tweet out attacking me, he was -- there was a segment on FOX News attacking me. So he tweets that, and then FOX News and Breitbart and the others amplify his attack. So it's an echo chamber of people listening to themselves, and it is what it is, but I don't think it's in the national best interests, that's for sure.
BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff of California, thanks so much for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to have much more in-depth coverage of today's breaking news. That's coming up, including the very dramatic Senate vote to debate health care and Senator John McCain pleading with his colleagues to start working together.
Also breaking, President Trump on camera, at the White House, once again criticizing the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He should not have recused himself almost immediately after he took office. And if he chose to tell me that prior to taking office, I would have picked someone else.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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... (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Kushner, will you testify publicly?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: Yes.
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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...
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 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.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He did.
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?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, yes!
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...
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 --
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR: That's right.
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?
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 --
JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You sit your vote, right.
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[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.