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Attorney General Sessions Met Twice With Russian Ambassador; Top Democrats Call For Sessions' Resignation; New Travel Ban Pushed To Later This Week. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 2, 2017 - 05:30   ET



[05:30:45] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, President Trump's attorney general failed to disclose, under oath, he had met with Russia's ambassador during the campaign. Could the difference between his roles and surrogate determine whether he keeps his job?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs on another breaking day.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I know. I'm Christine Romans. It's 31 minutes past the hour. A lot of news to get to. While you were sleeping, a big story broke here and here is what is not in question this morning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. twice last year.

What is in question this morning, whether he did so in his capacity as Trump campaign surrogate or as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now, Sessions is facing accusations he misled Congress about those meetings, with all of this making for a potentially devastating blow to the new attorney general.

The Justice Department now confirming that twice last year Sessions did meet with the top Russian diplomat in Washington. Once, it was on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention in July and a second time, in September, in Sessions' Senate offices. Sessions was a prominent surrogate for the Trump campaign at the time of the meetings with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. He is considered by U.S. Intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies and spy recruiters.

But listen to what Sessions said or didn't say at his confirmation hearing when Sen. Al Franken asked him directly about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.


SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: So, despite failing to disclose the meetings, the attorney general and the administration are pushing back at the accusations he misled Congress. Sessions saying in a statement, "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false." A spokesman for Sessions says there was "absolutely nothing misleading about his answer." That he was meeting in his capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, not the Trump campaign.

Now, that distinction will be critical in efforts to absolve Sessions of wrongdoing. The White House dismissing the story as a partisan attack intended to blunt the momentum of the president's speech to Congress.

ROMANS: All right. Reaction overnight to the late, breaking news was swift, with the top Democrat in the House calling for the attorney general to resign. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi issuing this statement. "Attorney General Sessions has never had the credibility to oversee the FBI investigation of senior Trump officials' ties to the Russians. Now, after lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign."

Another leading Democrat, Sessions' former Senate colleague Elizabeth Warren, also calling for him to step down. The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, Elijah Cummings, at first called for sessions' resignation, then later told CNN he should at least recuse himself from the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.


VOICE OF REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: This man has been the U.S. attorney for a state. I mean -- and he knows the law. He's probably prosecuted people for telling untrue statements to the FBI and others. At some point people have to ask the question, where is the integrity? Where is the rule of law? Where is the obedience of law, and all these excuses over and over again?


BRIGGS: Even some top Republicans are voicing concern at a CNN town hall last night. Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that it might be time for an independent investigation into the Trump-Russia communications.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If there is something there and it goes up the chain of investigation, it is clear to me that Jeff Sessions, who is my dear friend, cannot make this decision about Trump. So there may be not -- there may be nothing there, but if there's something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature then, for sure, you need a special prosecutor. If that day ever comes I'll be the first one to say it needs to be somebody other than Jeff. (END VIDEO CLIP)

[05:35:15] ROMANS: All right, for more on where this leaves Attorney General Sessions, the Russian investigation, and the Justice Department itself, I want to bring in justice reporter Laura Jarrett, live for us in Washington this morning. Good morning. What is the possibility of Sessions being able to prove he really had these conversations as a senator and not a surrogate?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Good morning, Christine. So the issue at this point is really one of transparency as Sessions said that he never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. But the reality is that last year he was both a sitting senator and also a major surrogate for Trump. He was the first senator that came out for Trump. And so, even though he may believe he could wear those two hats at the same time, it raises questions about why he didn't disclose that he had those conversations when he was directly asked during this confirmations for attorney general earlier this year, Christine.

BRIGGS: Right, Laura, because if he did talk to 25 ambassadors, as he has suggested, why not just reveal it and say that is my job as a senator? One of the many questions. But after Mike Flynn now, Laura, had to resign as national security adviser, we reported the NSC was a bit of a mess. Now, how does the DOJ handle these next few weeks amid all this uncertainty?

JARRETT: Well, DOJ is one of those institutional agencies that has a number of career lawyers that sort of march on, just doing their cases --

ROMANS: Right.

JARRETT: -- no matter what else is happening politically, even chaos outside their doors. But there's no question that this is going to be a distraction, right, until it's resolved. And at best, it puts Sessions and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill in an awkward position amid this chorus of calls now for a special prosecutor in the Russia investigation.

ROMANS: So Laura, if Sessions can't oversee a Russia probe, who makes decisions on that in the meantime, and what's the timeline for appointing a special prosecutor if that's necessary?

JARRETT: So, if Sessions decides to step aside then the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, could step in. That's happened a number of times throughout history -- Eric Holder did it -- and the attorney general can do that when he feels like he has a conflict of interest.

But the special prosecutor issue is actually really interesting because there used to be a statute on the books which provided an easy mechanism to appoint someone in a situation like this, but that statute lapsed in the 1990's. And so, ironically, the very person who can name a special prosecutor at this point is Jeff Sessions, which means the timeline on this is really going to be up to him and the political pressure --


JARRETT: -- he feels from Congress -- Dave, Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much for that, Laura Jarrett. Let's bring in "CNN POLITICS" reporter Tal Kopan. She's also in Washington this morning where this is the buzz of the morning -- the story of the morning, and help us understand here. There's two parts of this story. The one part of the story is Sen. Jeff Sessions' meeting with the Russian ambassador, at least twice. You know, once on the Heritage Foundation with other folks around the Republican National Convention, and once in his own office.

But then, there's the -- also the -- that's one thing and that may be perfectly appropriate, quite frankly. That might be how business gets done when you're a senator on the Armed Services Committee. Then there's the idea of being asked about Russians and talking to surrogates during the campaign and he misleads or -- you know, his critics say he completely misleads Sen. Al Franken.

TAL KOPAN, REPORTER, CNN POLITICS: Yes, that's absolutely right. You know, to -- it's sort of a cardinal rule in politics, don't give your enemies any ammunition if there's nothing there, right? So if this was just sort of a benign meeting that he conducted, as you said, like 25 ambassadors that's he met with in some time, you know, it begs the question when you are asked. You know, we saw the Al Franken clip earlier. It came up again during his confirmation hearing and he was asked about his own contacts with the Russians through the course of the campaign. Even though the question was sort of 'in your capacity as the campaign' it begs the question why he did not disclose that those contacts had occurred, even if they were sort of for other business.

And so, you know, that just keeps adding fuel. Keep in mind, this is coming in the context or more and more reporting about, like you said, Mike Flynn, the national security adviser who had some contact with the Russians that, again, he sort of misled exactly what went down, including to the vice president. So, it's a constellation of factors that the optics are just not good for Jeff Sessions.

BRIGGS: Speaking of misled, earlier on Tuesday before this big address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama -- President Trump, rather, told anchors and news reporters in a meeting that they were talking about a comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Now, of course, all the media, us included, jumped on this as a positive step in the right direction, now admitting this was a misdirection play to take the focus away from what the real idea was. Now, did the president, technically speaking, do anything wrong?

[05:40:18] KOPAN: (Laughing) I don't -- I don't think we can say that he did anything wrong, necessarily. I mean, you know, Trump has a tendency to do this. He likes to float ideas that are very general that allow people to sort of see in them what they want, you know. He's done this on Obamacare, as well. He says things like, you know, I want everyone to have insurance and

then, you know, his people sort of spring into action and try to mollify Republican senators who are like we can't promise everyone insurance. And so it's not uncommon for him to sort of state a lofty goal and then, in hashing out the details, we sort of realize that that's not exactly what he meant.

You know, I spent yesterday up on the Hill talking to a lot of lawmakers about this on both sides of the aisle and there was a lot of skepticism about any sort of immigration reform compromise, the way things --

ROMANS: Well, it was a complete 180. I mean, the entire campaign was about throw them out, you know, build a wall, lock the door. And then, all of a sudden, to say if there was something on my desk I would -- I would sign it, it was a remarkable turn. And the suggestion --

BRIGGS: Both sides were stunned.

ROMANS: I guess the suggestion is that he was playing what he perceives to be liberal T.V. anchors who then would go breathlessly report this and that would give him some good press where he maybe didn't think he was getting good press. And then he would turn and go hardline in the speech, and then he --

BRIGGS: It worked, right, if this was the idea?

ROMANS: That's what he was doing. He was playing all the sides.

KOPAN: I mean, that's one interpretation of what went down. It may be somewhat true, you know. There was a line in the speech -- it wasn't quite I support some sort of pathway to --

ROMANS: Right, right, right.

KOPAN: -- but there was a line in the speech that he's looking for an immigration reform compromise and then he laid out some goals, and so there's a lot of reading between the lines. For example, he mentioned that he wants a merit-based system of immigration. What that means depends on who you ask. You know, Jeff Flake, who was part of the Gang of Eight immigration reform compromise, thinks that they have a merit-based proposal --

ROMANS: Right.

KOPAN: -- that Trump might like. But then you ask Jeff Sessions and Tom Cotton, they interpret that very differently. So what Trump was doing was really giving something to all sides that they could think was theirs when, really, sticking to his guns a little bit.

ROMANS: All right. We covered so much of this ground back in 2008. We've covered so much of this ground -- it's all there. The proposals are there, they've just got to figure out what they want to do. All right, thank you so much, Tal Kopan. Have a great day.

KOPAN: Thank you.

BRIGGS: Thanks, Tal. One final note on this Jeff Sessions story regarding the Russian ambassador. We should note, the Kremlin is disputing CNN's characterization of Sergey Kislyak. We reported current and former senior U.S. officials tell us Kislyak is considered by U.S. Intelligence to be one of Russia's top spies in Washington. We stand by our reporting, but Russia certainly pushing back significantly on that this morning.

ROMANS: Yes. You know, the CV's -- the resumes of spies doesn't usually say "spy from 1985 till 2017."

BRIGGS: He is a diplomat going all the way back --

ROMANS: He is. He's had a long --

BRIGGS: -- to the 1980's here in the United States.

ROMANS: That's right, that's right. Do you recognize this guy? There he is. His name is Evan Spiegel and his net worth is about to get a huge boost this morning when Snapchat goes public. Such an interesting character. He did not sell this company for several years and now --

BRIGGS: Genius.

ROMANS: -- he gets the last laugh.


[05:48:00] ROMANS: All right, everybody, in this firehose of news the biggest IPO since Facebook here. Back in 2011, Evan Spiegel launched a little app called Snapchat -- there he is. A couple of years later he turned down a $3 billion buyout offer from Facebook. People -- jaws dropped around the world that he didn't take the Facebook money. Today, he's taking Snapchat public and his personal windfall will likely exceed that original buyout offer of $3 billion.

Snap pricing its shares at $17 each, higher than the initial ratings. We're hearing there was good demand for all this. That reportedly gives Snap a value of $24 billion, making it the biggest tech IPO since Facebook. It will start trading this morning at the New York Stock Exchange. As often happens with these cool companies, it's not yet profitable. It lost more than $500 million last year. It recently launched a line of glasses that shoot video called Spectacles.

It's good timing for Snapchat, though. All three major averages sitting at record highs right now. The Dow is now above 21 -- crushing 21,000 for the first time. Since the election, the stock market has added $2.7 trillion in value. I'm telling you, crushing 21K. Bank stocks doing great.

BRIGGS: But no real legislation, right, from the president regarding the markets?

ROMANS: Well, they paused -- they've paused the fiduciary rule. The president has suggested that he --

BRIGGS: Suggested?

ROMANS: -- would try roll back a Dodd-Frank bill.But also, we think interest rates are going to start to rise because the economy is humming and that's great for banks, too. It means they make more money. It's all about profits and profits -- the Trump administration has been a gift to Wall Street.

BRIGGS: It's tougher to argue you need deregulation, though, when you're making record profits if you're the big banks --

ROMANS: They still do. They still do.

BRIGGS: -- but they still will. Could we see a big change when the president reveals his new travel ban? That's next.

ROMANS: The Dallas-Fort Worth area is a busy destination for business travelers. It's a modern city, of course, but it doesn't mean you can't step back in time to get that Old West feel.

[05:50:00] (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fort Worth is where the west truly began.Welcome to the Fort Worth Stockyards. We're in beautiful downtown Fort Worth Stockyards. It's what they call the Cowtown area. This was the hub of the stockyards and packing houses. We are probably one the few remaining stockyards that are still up and around where you can actually see what it looked like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming here to Fort Worth Stockyards is like stepping back into time. You can get the whole cowboy experience. We'll get you on a cowboy hat, put on a pair of boots, slap you on a horse, and you're ready to go. We get a lot of people who have never been on a horse or even touched a horse and we'll take them down the trail and they can experience it without having to go too far. What I do love about horse riding is it could be the most busiest, hectic day -- I can get on a horse and it's just a calming effect that they give you.


[05:55:25] BRIGGS: We could see a big change when the president unveils his new travel ban. Three of the president's top advisers all urging Mr. Trump to remove Iraq from the list of seven banned countries. The revised ban was supposed to be unveiled yesterday but the White House delayed the signing in order to keep the spotlight on the positive reaction to the president's address to Congress Tuesday night.

Critics are slamming the delay because the president has been making the argument that a national security emergency requires quick passage of the measure. Now might be a good time to release it -- sneak it under the wire.

ROMANS: All right, 56 minutes past the hour. Let's get a check on CNN Money Stream this morning. The Dow -- wow, cracking 21,000 -- never been here before. Futures are flat right now but look at this move. Over the past month, the Dow is up more than 2,000 points. It has only dropped three days since the start of February, just a stellar rally. President Trump's speech is one positive. There's also optimism the Fed will raise rates at its next meeting in two weeks.

Raising rates means banks make more money. Look at this. JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, they were among the big winners on the Dow yesterday. Boeing and 3M also among the top gainers. A lot of optimism that tax reform can happen and infrastructure, too.

A new public relations crisis for Uber. A now viral video Bloomberg says it received from an Uber driver. The passenger, CEO Travis Kalanick. It shows the billionaire and the driver arguing over pay.


FAWZI KAMEL, UBER DRIVER: I lost $97,000 because of you. I'm bankrupt because of you.


KAMEL: You keep changing every day.

KALANICK: What have I --

KAMEL: You keep changing every day.

KALANICK: Hold on a second. What have I changed about black?


KALANICK: What have I changed?

KAMEL: You changed the whole business.

KALANICK: What, what?

KAMEL: You dropped the prices.

KALANICK: On black? (Expletive).

KAMEL: Yes, you did. (Expletive) with $20. (Expletive) with $20.

KALANICK: You know what?

KAMEL: How much is the mile now, $2.75?

KALANICK: You know what?

KAMEL: What?

KALANICK: Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own (expletive). They blame everything in their life on somebody else.

KAMEL: Why you --

KALANICK: Good luck.

KAMEL: Good luck to you, too.


ROMANS: Ah, Kalanick issuing a statement about that rant. "To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."

You know, this is the third kind of public relations problem they've had in very short order. There's a sexual harassment investigation going on, there's some complaints about the way women feel they have been treated they are investigating. And they are, they're investigating that fully. And there's also the hashtag #DeleteUber movement because people thought that -- who are against the travel ban thought that -- they didn't think that Travis Kalanick --

BRIGGS: Has it hurt them at all, though?

ROMANS: I don't know. I mean, that leadership thing is just -- it's not good. Leaders -- people don't want to see something like that.

BRIGGS: No doubt about it. People are always watching. We're way too familiar with that.

ROMANS: Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: And I'm Dave Briggs. "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're watching NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March 2nd, 6:00 here in New York City.

We begin with breaking news for you. Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose, during his confirmation hearings, two meetings that he had with a Russian diplomat. The Justice Department says that then-Senator Sessions met with this Russian ambassador twice during the 2016 race when he was an adviser to Donald Trump's campaign.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now, the White House is playing this off as a partisan political play but the facts are pretty plain. Meeting twice with the same Russian that Mike Flynn did directly contradicts the answers that Sessions gave twice during his Senate confirmation hearing. The explanation from the DOJ, basically, Sessions met with a lot of people. Sessions has resisted calls to recuse himself from Justice Department and FBI investigations into Russia. Democrats are saying he should not only recuse himself, some are saying he should resign. What will Republicans ask for now? Just 42 days into the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns, live at the White House -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. One of the president's early supporters on the campaign trail who later became his attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer in the federal government and, apparently, has a credibility problem this morning. Jeff Sessions was sworn in three weeks ago today. Now, the latest administration official answering questions about contacts with Russia.