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Jeff Sessions Questioned by Senate Judiciary Committee; Trump Speaks Out on Fallen Soldier in ISIS Ambush Niger; Trump Sending Mixed Messages on Alexander/Murray Health Deal. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 18, 2017 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:30:00] JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We simply ask that they call us so we can come by and pick them up if they need to be removed. That's not happening. And we've got to work through it some way.

CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDIDIARY COMMITTEE: Senator Kennedy.

SEN. JOHN NEELEY KENNEDY, (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Chairman.

General Sessions, welcome back. Thank you for your service.

SESSONS: Thank you.

KENNEDY: Did you conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election?

SESSIONS: No.

KENNEDY: Do you want the special counsel, who is investigating those matters, to succeed?

SESSIONS: I want him to complete his investigation, professionally, yes.

KENNEDY: If he asked you for your cooperation, would you give it?

SESSIONS: Yes.

KENNEDY: If he asked to meet with you to discuss what, if anything, you know about all of that, would you agree to meet with him?

SESSIONS: Absolutely.

KENNEDY: I want to talk to you for a second about New Orleans. New Orleans is extraordinarily important to my state. My first job in government was with a governor, Governor Buddy Roemer. And at the time, he took an economic development trip to Japan. He tells a story he was meeting with about 20 Japanese businesspeople and he started off by asking them, he said, how many of you have been to Louisiana. He said, five, five Japanese businesspeople raised their hand.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We've been listening in to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, of course. Jeff Sessions back in the hot seat. The attorney general facing questions on a whole range of issues, but a lot of questions coming out about his role in -- his role -- his role in the campaign, his answers that he's previously given to the -- about the Russia investigation, and also executive privilege, because he says he's not answering those questions about private conversations with the president of the United States about it all.

Much more to come on this big moment for Jeff Sessions and the Senate and the Russia investigation. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:59] BOLDUAN: All right, we're keeping our eye on the Hill. The Senate Judiciary hearing where Jeff Sessions is back on the Hill the first time since June, in the hot seat once again, facing questions about his role in the Trump campaign and answers he's given in the past about his -- any meetings and conversations he's had with Russians with regard to the 2016 election and his private conversations with the president of the United States about the firing of FBI Director James Comey. We're going to bring you all of the big moments as they play out. Senator Kennedy questioning the attorney general right now. We're going to bring you the big moments when they pop up.

I want to bring back my panel right now.

Gloria, before we went to break, there was a question I had with regard to the fact that Jeff Sessions. I'm trying to think of the quickest way to say that. Jeff Sessions is not saying that executive privilege has been asserted, but he still says he's not going to speak about confidential conversations he's had with the president. With regard to that gobbledygook, why at this point has the president not asserted executive privilege?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in our conversations with people around the president, they believe that he shouldn't assert it if he doesn't have anything to hide. I think there's -- there's a disagreement of sorts about whether to protect the office of the presidency you ought to assert executive privilege, because a president ought to have the right to have communications with people that are protected, so people can be candid about their conversations, and that's kind of a larger issue that I believe has been discussed internally over there. But with regard to the Mueller investigation, at this point, I think the president has not asserted it, because he believes that his -- that the conversations will prove he has nothing to hide. That they haven't found the need to do that.

BOLDUAN: With that, let's jump back into this hearing on Capitol Hill. Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse is questioning Jeff Sessions about election interference.

SESSIONS: -- by President Obama in northern Virginia.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D), RHODE ISLAND: So we need --

(CROSSTALK) SESSIONS: Let me -- I'll be frank. I don't know that we're doing a specific legislative review at this point.

WHITEHOUSE: Do you think it would be prudent to do it?

SESSIONS: Well, you make a --

WHITEHOUSE: We have been warned.

SESSIONS: I take that as a suggestion. And I know that with your time in the Department of Justice, you could contribute to that discussion, so I would be glad to discuss it with you.

WHITEHOUSE: Similarly, there is an executive order out of the White House regarding cybersecurity that is more or less a call for information from various cabinet departments. To my knowledge, there has been no proposed legislation of any kind. My conversations with Mr. Bossert at the White House have not produced any type of liaison or way of going forward on this issue. As you know, there are multiple congressional committees that touch on cybersecurity. And it really complicates life if there is not somebody at the Department of Justice whose job it is to work with us on cybersecurity legislation. And the silence has been deafening. If you could get me a name of a person whose responsibility is it at the Department of Justice to work with the Senate on cybersecurity legislation, that, with I think, would help move things forward.

SESSIONS: I will do that. Because there are two levels of it. First, at any time, I hope that you would call our legislative affairs and say I want to talk about legislation.

WHITEHOUSE: Well --

SESSIONS: Secondly --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE: The reason I bring this up with you right now is we have a lot of trouble getting answers to anything out of the Department of Justice. I've got a list here of unanswered mail. January 30, 2017 letter, unanswered. February 17, 2017 letter, unanswered. March 7, 2017 letter, renewed September, September 15, 2017, unanswered. May 26th, 2017 letter unanswered. Renewed July 27th, 2017, unanswered. July 11th, 2017 letter, renewed September 26th and October 17th, unanswered. September 26th letter, unanswered.

So, please don't refer me to the people who are supposed to be in charge of this relationship when they won't even answer my mail.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:40:33] SESSIONS: Well, my new director was just confirmed on -- shortly, recently. And we've cut the backlog by half. And we're going to continue to cut that backlog, and we'll get on that.

But I guess another thing, knowing that you are particularly knowledgeable about these complex issues --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE: The cybersecurity --

SESSIONS: Yes, you would like to talk to an attorney who's actually working the cases and has dealt with the issues in more --

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, but -- so, yes, I'm up to speed on that side. The issue is, there are things we need to fix legislatively on cybersecurity. At the moment, I can't find a point of entry into this administration of anybody who is working on cybersecurity legislation or is appointed to or delegated to. So that's the person that I need, about legislation, not just an update on cases. I'm pretty familiar with that stuff. OK?

SESSIONS: I understand.

WHITEHOUSE: So executive privilege. We talked about it a little bit. The reason I sent you the letter would be so that you'd be prepared to talk about executive privilege and this wouldn't be a gotcha moment.

Let me ask you if the November 4th, 1982, executive order by President Reagan is still the guideline under which the department operates or have you changed that guideline?

SESSIONS: That is a part of the principles that we operate under, yes.

WHITEHOUSE: It is the document that describes how the executive branch will respond to executive privilege, correct?

SESSIONS: It's that, and case law and other executive documents that have been issued over the years.

WHITEHOUSE: So here's what I -- let me know if anything of this has changed. That rule says that, "Executive privilege will be asserted in only the most compelling circumstances and will not be I invoked without specific presidential authorization." Is that still the rule?

SESSIONS: Repeat that?

WHITEHOUSE: "Executive privilege will be asserted only in the most compelling circumstances and shall not be invoked without specific presidential authorization."

SESSIONS: Executive privilege cannot be invoked except by the president.

WHITEHOUSE: "Congressional requests for information should be complied with as promptly and as fully as possible, unless it is determined that compliance raises a substantial question of executive privilege."

Is that still the rule?

SESSIONS: That's a good rule.

WHITEHOUSE: "The attorney general has the authority to determine on his own that executive privilege shall not be invoked."

You can make the decision not to invoke executive privilege yourself --

(CROSSTALK)

SESSIONS: Well, the attorney general does not have the power to invoke it, period. Only the president can.

WHITEHOUSE: But you can determine that it shall not be invoked. You have the negative power to allow questions to be answered and documents to be released, as not violating executive privilege. You can make that determination under paragraph three, correct?

SESSIONS: I'm not sure about that.

WHITEHOUSE: All right, well --

SESSIONS: I don't think so.

WHITEHOUSE: OK. I'm reading aloud, so. "The department head, the attorney general and the counsel of the president, may in the exercise of their discretion determine that executive privilege should not be invoked to the requested information."

The attorney general, says it right there.

SESSIONS: I don't believe they can do it without the approval of the president.

WHITEHOUSE: They can't release information -- of course, they have to be able to release information without the approval of the president. You do it all the time.

SESSIONS: Well, I guess you're talking about core -- but not about -- core privileges of the executive branch --

(CROSSTALK)

SESSIONS: -- such as private conversations, between his --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE: But even for that, there's still this rule that the issue has to be presented to the president. We have -- you have a moment, what they call a request of the congressional body to hold this request for information in abeyance. You have a period of abeyance you're allowed to ask for under the executive order, while you get the presidential determination, if you're going to exert executive privilege. But sooner or later, the claim of executive privilege must be made with the specific approval of the president. And my concern is that this period of abeyance has turned into a non-assertion assertion of executive privilege. We have questions that we've asked you about going back to your Intelligence Committee appearance in June or July. I mean, how long a period of abeyance do you need to get the answer from the White House as to whether these questions a protected or not? You can't have a situation in which the president never has to assert it and the abeyance goes on indefinitely, don't you agree with that?

[11:45:14] SESSIONS: Well, I think you make a point. But the burden is on those who want to breach a core privilege of the president, which is private conversations with his attorney general, to show precisely what it is that you would like him to waive it on. And that's what your letter failed in. It was sort of the reverse.

WHITEHOUSE: OK.

SESSIONS: It said, you have to tell us what you're going to do, want to talk about --

WHITEHOUSE: Well, for the record --

(CROSSTALK)

SESSIONS: -- and what you're not going to talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE: It was intended to refer to the questions as which you had asserted an interim executive privilege. We'll follow up on that and we'll have more time.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITEHOUSE: The questions asked of you in the Intelligence Committee and I'll pursue when I have more time.

SESSIONS: And just briefly, I have to say that the executive branch is a co-equal branch. And you would not want someone demanding to know who you talked to in your office, your counsel, your chief of staff. Neither would we want to be prowling willy-nilly through the Supreme Court, what their clerks knew and what they were told by the justice as leading up to some decision that's not popular.

So I would just urge us all, to first and foremost, respect the legitimacy of any president's right to seek advice in confidence. Eisenhower is once reported to have said, "If one of my advisers reports the advice they gave me during the day, they'll be fired that night."

I mean, you have -- this is not a little matter. That's all I'm saying to you. And if this isn't legitimate and you make the specific cases, we'll review it. But it shouldn't be done casually. I've got to say.

WHITEHOUSE: My time is up.

GRASSLEY: Before I call on Senator Graham, a question to you on this very subject. Has the Intelligence Committee, since you told them similar to what you're telling us today, attempted to compel you to either answer specific questions or claim privilege or subpoenaed you in any way to get answers to questions?

SESSIONS: I don't believe so, Mr. Chairman.

GRASSLEY: Senator Graham?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thank you.

For the record, that was more than a little bit. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

GRASSLEY: Again, I thought it was important enough to both Senator Whitehouse and Senator Sessions --

GRAHAM: It was.

GRASSLEY: Maybe that will shorten it for other people that maybe want to have the same harangue.

GRAHAM: It was important, but it wasn't little bit. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

GRASSLEY: Well, I ought to be able to define little bit.

GRAHAM: Yes. I'm joking.

BOLDUAN: Listening in to Senator Lindsey Graham beginning questioning in a Senate Judiciary hearing.

But we need to go to the White House. President Trump at the White House meeting with the Senate Finance Committee to talk taxes. But also addressing cameras for the first time since the controversy erupted over his call with to -- call of condolence with the widow of a fallen soldier. The president also claiming a congresswoman lied about the call that he made. Let's listen to what he has to say now.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- member Ron Wyden for joining us today.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Ron.

We're here to discuss our plan to deliver historic tax cuts for American families, businesses, workers. It will be the largest tax cut in the history of our country.

Here's some of the highlights from our framework. We are doubling the amount of income that is taxed at the zero bracket. In other words, the zero bracket, many people will be able to take advantage of that bracket that are not in that bracket. We're increasing the child tax credit. We will end the estate tax, sometimes referred to as the death tax. We will cut the business tax rate from the highest in the developed world of 35 percent to no more than 20 percent. According to the Council of Economic Advisers, reducing the corporate tax rate from 25 to 30 percent would increase average Household income by $4,000 a year. So each household, on average, would take in $40,000 and they'll go out and they'll spend that money and that will be great for the economy. We're cutting taxes on small businesses to the lowest rate in more than 80 years. For 30 million Americans the who and they will thrive and they will expand and they will be happy.

[11:50:03] For at least the next five years, businesses and manufacturers will be able to expense the full value of new equipment in the year in which they buy it, something which nobody even thought in terms of, and something which will have I think one of the biggest impacts on our economy. We will impose a one-time low tax on trillions of dollars of wealth parked overseas to encourage companies to bring back those profits and bring them back home and spend the money at home where it belongs. Right now, they can't bring the money back in because after bureaucratic problems, because of certain legislation, and most importantly, because the tax rate is so high that only a very foolish company head would bring the money back in. I think the numbers could even hit the $4 trillion mark. People have been saying 2.5 trillion for many years but we know it's now much higher than that.

The vast majority of Americans will be final to file their taxes on a single sheet of paper because not only will these be massive tax cuts, but these will be a big simplification. It's going to be a very big simplification. So it's really tax cuts and reform. But I focus on tax cuts because it's such an important weapon to get our country really moving.

So we'll go from being one of the highest taxed nations in the world to one of the lowest taxed meaning more jobs, higher wages and more products stamped with the words "Made in the USA." This is a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity in my opinion. This is something that will be really unique, the timing is right. I have had people on both sides, and I promise not to mention the name of the people on the other sides or names, but a lot of people are liking this very much and I think we'll have tremendous support.

We're going to restore America's competitive edge, rebuild America's middle class, very much aimed at the middle class and renew the promise of the American dream. We're going to have companies can pouring back into our country instead of leaving our country. We're not going to have them leave and fire everybody and make products and sell them back into our country totally untaxed. All we do is end up with lots of people without jobs and no product. It's not going to happen anymore.

So I just want to thank everybody for being here. It's a great honor. We're going to have a great discussion today. And I'm sure we'll have unanimous support. I have no doubt, right?

Right, Ron, I think? Right?

So thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

Reporter1: Change your mind on the health care bill?

REPORTER1: Mr. President --

TRUMP: Didn't say what that congresswoman said. Didn't say it at all. She knows it. And she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said. And I'd like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said. I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said and most people aren't too surprised to hear that.

Reporter1: What is the truth?

TRUMP: Let her make her statement again and then you'll find out.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: OK, let her make her statement again and then you'll find out.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.

REPORTER1: Bipartisan health care bill?

TRUMP: We'll see the bipartisan. We're going to see the bipartisan. And Lamar Alexander's working on it very hard from our side. And if something can happen, that's fine. But I won't do anything to enrich the insurance companies, because right now, the insurance companies are being enriched. They've been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody's ever seen before. I am not going to do anything to enrich the insurance companies.

OK, thank you so much, everybody. Thank you. Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: You're listening to President Trump talking taxes as he meets with the powerful Senate Finance Committee. Very importantly, speaking out for the first time on camera I guess we should say with regard to this controversy that has erupted since his call to his condolence call to a family of one of the fallen soldiers from the ISIS ambush attack in Niger.

If I can, and, Jeff Zeleny, I think is here with us joining me now.

You were the pool reporter who was in there speaking to the president right then. He says very clearly, this is not what he said.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, Kate. He said I did not say that to that widow. He says the congresswoman, as you heard, was wrong in that statement. He asked her to make a new statement here. So I'm not sure this adds any new information to this pretty extraordinary and unfortunate back and forth between a member of Congress, a Democratic member of Congress, and the president, of course, over the fallen soldier here. But the president insisting he did not say that. He did not repeat what he tweeted earlier this morning that he had a copy of that phone conversation, but he says he did not say that. So look, this is just another sort of you know distraction I think from the real matter at hand here. There is a grieving family in Florida and indeed four others across America here. You know, in the wake of the Niger attack with those soldiers there. So this is something that the president also, as you heard, did not expound on that or offer condolences there but he said he did not say what the congresswoman said.

[11:55:32] Moving on to a different subject, we also asked him about health care. There's been a bit of a whiplash here. Yesterday, he said he supported the bipartisan plan that Lamar Alexander, a Republican, and Patty Murray, a Democrat, were working on to shore up the insurance markets. He tweeted out this morning he did not support that. So I asked him about that. He said, look, I would be open to some type of a bipartisan plan, but I will not enrich insurance companies. So, OK, what's being lost in the debate is people on both sides will say these payments are not meant to enrich insurance companies. They're meant to allow lower-income people to purchase insurance here. So we do know the president talked to Senator Alexander this morning and told him to keep working on this. But at this point, I think a deal that looked like it was reached yesterday, in fact, the president hailed it as a great solution, today, he's not on board with that at all.

The reason is conservatives have sort of reached out to the White House in alarm over this, over the president's support of this. So there are many Republicans Kate in this town both at the White House and Capitol Hill who think the president does not have a grasp of what the bipartisan deal actually did here. So we'll see if they can work something out. But he did not issue his support for that this morning.

BOLDUAN: I mean, I'm trying to get a grasp of exactly what is going on.

ZELENY: Very confusing.

BOLDUAN: On both fronts.

Jeff, thank you so much for laying that out.

Let me bring in Gloria Borger right now.

Gloria, I want to make sure, I'm sure all of our viewers are somewhat up to speed where this stands with the president and this call that he made to the widow of the fallen soldier, La David Johnson. What the Florida congresswoman, who is also very close to the family, Gloria, as you well know, what she said is she heard part of the conversation. And she recounted it when she was asked what did you hear. She said that the president said to the widow, he knew what he signed up for, but when it happens, it hurts. And she called the president insensitive and now this back and forth with the president. But also had, just what do you make of this right now, Gloria?

BORGER: What the president didn't say is here's what I said. Let me clarify there. Here's what I said. I had somebody in my office with me taking notes. He said he had proof of it. So we should perhaps -- I mean it raises the questions of recordings and all the rest. BOLDUAN: Right.

BORGER: If people are -- there's a he said/she said issue here.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Can I jump in really quick? It's actually more than that at this point. The "Washington Post" spoke with the mother of the widow. And the mother of the widow who was in the car to the "Washington Post" was asked whether Wilson, the congresswoman's account of the conversation between Trump and the family was accurate, and she replied yes. The mother telling "The Washington Post" that, "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband."

So this is -- is this any longer a he said/she said? It doesn't seem like it.

BORGER: Right. No matter. Honestly, no matter what the exact words were, this is how they feel. And there has to be a reason that they feel so disrespected. And the widow said, well, he didn't even know my husband's name, et cetera. But you know, either there was a huge miscommunication here or something occurred that should not have occurred to disrespect this family.

BOLDUAN: Plain and simply.

Gloria, thank you so much.

BORGER: Sure.

BOLDUAN: There is much more to come on this. We'll see -- we will see if the family speaks out any further or what the congresswoman has to say about this back and forth any more.

But also this. We are keeping our eye on Jeff Sessions on Capitol Hill where Senators are questioning the attorney general. We'll get right back to that in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)