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Sessions Criticized by House Judiciary Committee: Trump Speaks to Reporters from Air Force One. Aired 11:30-12p ET
Aired November 14, 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] REP. BOB GOODLATTE, (R-VA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Tennessee, Mr. Cohen, for five minutes.
REP. STEVE COHEN, (D), TENNESSEE: Thank you, sir.
Mr. Attorney General, first, I noted you went to the 50th anniversary of the Selma, Alabama, march in Montgomery.
COHEN: I want to commend you for that. And you were a sponsor of the gold medal for those folks that marched. Having done that, I would like to ask you what have you done as Attorney General, to see to it that African-Americans and others who been discriminated for years in voting have more access to the ballot box?
SESSIONS: We will absolutely resolutely defend the right of all Americans to vote, including our African-American brothers and sisters. It cannot ever be suggested that people are blocked from voting. And we have done a number of things in the Department of Justice.
COHEN: Let me ask you this, Mr. Attorney General, it's a fact -- there have been studies that show that voter ID is more discriminatory, in its effect on African-Americans and Latinos, than anything else. Will you stop defending voter ID law cases?
SESSIONS: No. The Supreme Court has approved voter ID, if properly done, other courts have too. It can be done in a discriminatory way, which is not proper and should not be approved. But I believe it's settled law that it -- that a properly handled and written voter ID law is lawful.
COHEN: Let me suggest, sir, with all due respect, we come from a similar region. I think we have a greater responsibility than anybody else in this country, to see to it that African-Americans get a chance at the ballot. When they were discriminated against, they were slaves for 200 and plus years, they were under Jim Crow, they weren't allowed to vote, and they're still been discriminate against. And I would submit to you and ask you to look at voter ID laws, access to the ballot, Election Day voting, early voting and other indices that would allow people to vote that have been stopped.
Secondly, on marijuana, you said that that you are basically doing the same as Holder and Lynch. I believe General Holder and General Lynch abided by congressional appropriations that limited the Justice Department in enforcing marijuana laws where states had passed laws on medical marijuana and others.
Are you -- will you abide by congressional appropriations, limitations on marijuana when it can conflict with state laws?
SESSIONS: I believe we are bound by that.
COHEN: Thank you, sir. That's -- that's great. And I saw you -- what you did on crack-cocaine was good, it wasn't as good as it could've been. Your proposal was a 20 to one ratio, and Mr. Durbin's was a ten to one ratio, you all decided on 18 to one, you were a good negotiator, like Mr. Durbin took what he could get.
But it should've been one to one. But you admitted in that hearing that it could discriminate against the disparity against African Americans and minorities, and you ought to look at that.
SESSIONS: Well, I would just say that the net effect of that legislation was to significantly...
COHEN: It was good, sir.
SESSIONS: ...reduce the penalty one is subjected to for -- on dealing with crack-cocaine.
COHEN: Yes sir, and that was good.
SESSIONS: That may be a better analysis than the 18 to one, or whatever it is. It's generally considered a more dangerous drug.
COHEN: Marijuana is not as dangerous as heroin, would you agree with that?
SESSIONS: I think that's correct.
COHEN: Well, thank you sir. I would hope that in your enforcement that you would look at the limitations you've got. There's always an opportunity cost, and put your opportunity cost your enforcement on mari -- on crack, on cocaine, on meth, on opioids, and on heroin.
Marijuana is the least bothersome of all. Twenty eight states or 29 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it for medical purposes, 8 states and the District of Columbia for recreational purposes.
Justice Brandeis famously said that the states are the laboratories of democracy. I would hope you'd look at marijuana and look at the states as laboratories of democracy and see how they've helped.
In states where they've got medical marijuana, they have 25 percent less opioid use. It gives people a way to relieve pain without using opioids, which, inevitably, leads to death and crime.
And so I would hope you'd take a look at that. SESSIONS: We will take a look at it, and we'll be looking at some rigorous analysis of the marijuana usage and how it plays out. I'm not as optimistic as you.
COHEN: You said one time that good people don't smoke marijuana. Which of these people, you'd say, are not good people?
SESSIONS: Well, let me answer -- explain how that occurred.
COHEN: All right. Quickly.
SESSIONS: I talked about --
COHEN: Is John Kasich a good person? George Pataki, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, George Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Judge Clarence Thomas, which of those are not good people?
SESSIONS: Let me tell you how that came about, Congressman. So the question was, what do you do about drug use, the epidemic we're seeing in the country and how you reverse it?
Part of that is a cultural thing. I explained how, when I became United States attorney in 1981 and the drugs were being used widely, over a period of years, it became unfashionable, unpopular, and people were seen and it was seen as such that good people didn't use marijuana.
COHEN: Would you propose...
SESSIONS: That was the context of that statement.
COHEN: It might've affected your short term memory.
GOODLATTE: Time of the gentleman has expired.
COHEN: Which drugs were those?
GOODLATTE: Do you recognize the gentleman --
COHEN: One last question. Alabama or Auburn.
GOODLATTE: The gentleman's time has expired.
COHEN: Oh no, I went to law school, I love Alabama.
GOODLATTE: I recognize the gentleman from Ohio, Mr. Jordan, for five minutes
JORDAN: Mr. Attorney General, did the FBI pay Christopher Steele?
SESSIONS: Where am I?
JORDAN: Right here. Did the FBI pay Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier?
SESSIONS: Those matters you'll have to direct to the -- I think maybe the special counsel.
JORDAN: And why is that? I'm just asking if someone...
SESSIONS: Well, I'm not able to reveal internal investigatory matters...
JORDAN: You know...
SESSIONS: Here that's under the investigation of anybody, but particularly I think the...
JORDAN: This happened in the summer of 2016. We know the Clinton campaign, the Democrat national committee paid through a law firm, Fusion GPS, to produce the dossier. We know the author was Christopher Steele, it's been reported that he was on the payroll of the FBI. I'm just wanting to know if in fact that is the case.
SESSIONS: I'm not able to provide an answer to you.
JORDAN: The FBI present the dossier to the FISA court?
SESSIONS: I'm not able to answer that.
JORDAN: Do you know if the FBI did the established process protocol in evaluating claims made in the dossier?
SESSIONS: I'm not able to answer that.
JORDAN: On January 6th, then-FBI director James Comey, briefed president-elect Trump up in New York, about the dossier. Surely they're after that, the fact that meeting took place and the subject of the meeting was the dossier was leaked to CNN. Do you know who leaked that information?
SESSIONS: I do not.
JORDAN: Are you investigating who leaked that information?
SESSIONS: That would be a matter within investigatory powers of the special counsel or the Department of Justice.
JORDAN: You said you got a number of investigations going on Mr. Attorney General, regarding leaks. Is that likely one of those that you're investigating?
SESSIONS: I'm not able to reveal the existence of investigations or not.
JORDAN: Mr. Attorney General, I appreciate your service in the Senate. I appreciate your service at the Justice Department, consider you a friend. And frankly, I appreciate yesterday's letter saying you were considering appointing a special counsel, that you sent to us. But my concern is, we sent you a letter three and a half months ago asking for a second special counsel. And if you're now just considering it, I -- what's it going to take to get a special counsel? We know that -- we know that former FBI director James Comey mislead the American people in summer of 2016, when he called the Clinton investigation a matter. It's obviously an investigation. We know FBI Director Comey, was drafting an exoneration letter one day before the investigation was complete. We know Loretta Lynch, one day before the (ph) report came out, five days before secretary Clinton was scheduled to be interviewed by the FBI met with former President Bill Clinton on a tarmac in Phoenix.
We know after that meeting, when she was corresponding with public relations people at the Justice Department she was using the name Elizabeth Carlisle. You know, as I've said before, it seems to me if you're just talking golf and grandkids, you could probably use your real name.
We know that Mr. Comey publicized the investigation and we know he made the final decision on whether to prosecute or not. And then when he gets fired, he leaks a government document through a friend to the New York Times and what was his goal? To create momentum for a special counsel, and of course it can't just be any special counsel, it's got to be Bob Mueller, his best friend and predecessor, his mentor. The same Bob Mueller who was involved, we've now learned, in this whole investigation with the informant regarding Russian businesses wanting to do business in the Iranian business here in the United States, regarding the Iranian One deal. So, I guess my main question is what's it going to take if all that, not to mention the dossier information, what's it going to take to actually get a special counsel?
SESSIONS: It will take a factual basis -- a standards of the appointment of special counsel.
JORDAN: And is that -- is that analysis going on right now?
SESSIONS: It's in the manual of the Department of Justice about what's required. We've only had two. The first one was the WACO, Janet Reno. Senator Danforth, who took over that investigation as special counsel, and Mr. Mueller. Each of those are pretty special factual situations. And we will use the proper standards, and that's what -- I only think I can tell you, Mr. Jordan.
JORDAN: Well, I appreciate (inaudible) ...
SESSIONS: ...you can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it meets the standard ...
JORDAN: Well said, so let me ask you this, if in fact ...
SESSIONS: ... it requires a special counsel.
JORDAN: ...well, we know one fact; we know the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee paid for -- through the law firm, paid for the dossier. We know that happened. And it sure looks like the FBI was paying the author of that document. And it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document, the equivalent of some National Enquirer story, into an intelligence document, take that to the FISA Court, so that they could then get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with President Trump's campaign. That's what it looks like.
And I'm asking you, doesn't that warrant, in addition to all the things we know about James Comey in 2016, doesn't that warrant naming a second special counsel, as 20 members of this committee wrote you three and a half months ago asking you to do?
SESSIONS: Well, Mr. Comey's no longer the Director of the FBI.
JORDAN: Thank goodness.
SESSIONS: We have an excellent man of integrity and ability in Chris Wray. And I think he's going to do an outstanding job. And I'm very happy about that.
JORDAN: He's not here today, Attorney General Sessions...
SESSIONS: And I would say (inaudible) ...
JORDAN: And I'm asking for a special counsel.
SESSIONS: ... looks like ...
GOODLATTE: The time for the gentleman has expired.
SESSIONS: ...there's not enough basis to appoint a special counsel.
GOODLATTE: The time for the gentleman has expired.
The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Johnson, five minutes
H. JOHNSON: Thank you.
General, you have led a remarkable and notable career over the last 42 years as an attorney in private practice, as the Attorney General of Alabama, then the U.S. attorney in Alabama, later the U.S. Senator of Alabama, and now the Attorney General of the United States of America. And you made a professional judgment call when you recused yourself from the investigation of the Russian interference in the 2016 elections. And you've caught a lot of flak for that decision.
What I want to know is, why did you recuse yourself?
SESSIONS: Well, thank you very much.
I told the Senate Judiciary committee, when I was confirmed, that I would evaluate those matters. I would seek the counsel of the senior ethics adviser...
H. JOHNSON: My question is why did you recuse yourself?
SESSIONS: I'll get there.
H. JOHNSON: I don't want you to filibuster (inaudible) ...
H. JOHNSON: I just (inaudible).
SESSIONS: So, I did do that. I evaluated that. And they showed me something I was not familiar with, one of the Code of Federal Regulations. It says if you participate in a substantial role in a campaign, a Department of Justice employee should not participate in investigating that campaign.
H. JOHNSON: All right. Thank you.
SESSIONS: I felt that was correct. It was not because I had any ...
H. JOHNSON: You and I are in agreement.
SESSIONS: ... concern about anything I had done previously. But it was, to me, if I were not bound by that I don't see how other people in Department of Justice could be expected to follow the rules of the Department either.
H. JOHNSON: Well, thank you, sir.
And after you recused yourself, you do you did participate in the firing of the FBI director, who was leading the investigation into the Russian interference with the 2016 elections.
Prior to Jim Comey's termination, were you contacted by the Donald Trump administration? Anyone in that administration, Donald Trump himself or any of his political or campaign officials about their quest to fire Jim Comey?
SESSIONS: I am not able to, and cannot, reveal conversations with the President of the United States or his top advisers.
H. JOHNSON: Let me ask you this question; with regards to the AT&T proposed acquisition of Time Warner, which owns CNN, it appears to be a vertical merger much like the Comcast, NBC, Universal merger that DOJ approved.
But unlike its treatment of Comcast, NBC, Universal, DOJ has suggested strongly that it will not approve the ATT&T-Time Warner merger unless Time Warner sells off CNN's parent company, Turner Broadcasting. It's well known that your boss, President Trump, has great disdain for CNN, which he calls fake news.
And what I want to know is, has the White House or any individual in or on behalf of the Trump administration or the Trump Political team or campaign, excluding staff from FCC or DOJ -- has anybody contacted you, your office or your assigns regarding that AT&T-Time Warner acquisition?
SESSIONS: First, I would say that I don't accept and cannot accept the accuracy of that news report. We have a professional...
H. JOHNSON: So your -- your -- your department has not told Time Warner that -- and AT&T that they must shed Turner Broadcasting?
SESSIONS: Our work is professional. They do meet with the...
H. JOHNSON: Is that a false report or is it a true report?
SESSIONS: I just would tell you -- I don't think it's -- I'm able to accept as accurate a news report that have come out on that.
H. JOHNSON: All right. I got you. Let me ask you this question. On October 18th, when testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Sasse asked you if the Department had taken adequate action to prevent election meddling in the future. You stated that there was no review underway of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
Have you requested a review of what laws need to be updated in order to protect our elections from foreign influence?
SESSIONS: We have discussed those matters, but no completion has been done...
H. JOHNSON: Are you conducting a review at this time?
SESSIONS: Yes. Our team is looking at that. The FBI has real skills in that area...
H. JOHNSON: What individual...
SESSIONS: ...and I think we're not anywhere near where I would like us to be yet...
H. JOHNSON: All right. Let me ask you this question. What individual with your department is leading that inquiry?
SESSIONS: We would be working with our voting rights section, our criminal section, our national security section, probably, is the most knowledgeable in the hacking and -- area, as well as the expertise in the FBI.
GOODLATTE: Time of the gentleman...
H. JOHNSON: Thank you.
GOODLATTE: ...has expired. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Smith, for five minutes.
SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Attorney General, first of all, I want to thank you for all your efforts to restore the rule of law. Nothing could be more important to our justice system and nothing could be more important to our justice system and nothing could be more important to protecting the lives of Americans.
And frankly, not just protecting their lives, but keeping all Americans safe. In particular, many of us appreciate your efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities that blatantly ignore federal immigration laws to combat criminal gangs that prey on our communities, to return to robust prosecutions of drug cases, to protect children from dangerous child predators and to safeguard religious liberties that are enshrined in our constitution.
I'd like to go back, for a second, to sanctuary cities. I have been waiting 20 years for a president and an administration that would enforce current immigration laws. So happens that I introduced a bill in 1996 with Senator Al Simpson that among other things, outlawed sanctuary cities. So the law is there and I want to thank you for being willing to enforce that law which will protect many innocent Americans from harm, and perhaps, save their lives. More generally, I'd like to ask you if you feel that there are any immigration laws and if so which ones need to be better enforced.
SESSIONS: There absolutely are and maybe even some improved. I know you've worked on that and the chairman has worked on that with some excellent legislation. I totally believe that professional legislation, I know the chairman has worked on and you've worked on, would be tremendously helpful.
We we've got to deal with numbers and so when you create a mechanism by which -- we had 5,000 people in 2005 who claimed a credible fear. Last year, it was 95,000. This is creating hearings and backlogs that were never intended to be part of the system.
Did not happen before and so there's so many things out there that burden our law enforcement officers, make it more difficult, more expensive, more lengthy to complete these things.
We've just got to makeup our mind. We've got to make up our mind, do we want a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest or do we want open borders and we're not going to enforce it. Thank you for your leadership, Mr. Smith. I know you'll be leaving this body also. And I've enjoyed so much the honor of working with you.
SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General. I'm not going to ask any questions and I'm good and with that, Mr. Chairman. I'll yield back. Thank you.
GOODLATTE: The Chair thanks the gentlemen. We're going to take a break Attorney General Sessions. So the committee will stand in recess for 10 minutes.
SESSIONS: Thank you.
[11:49:57] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. I'm Kate Bolduan. And you have been listening to what has been a fiery and fascinating hearing between Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the House Judiciary Committee. Let me bring in right now -- there is a lot to go through here --
"Real Clear Politics" reporter, Kaitlyn Huey Burns, is here, CNN justice correspondent, Evan Perez, CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and CNN chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, all here with me.
We have been watching this. It started at -- say that again, Control Room?
We have been watching this play out together.
Hey there, Jeffrey. Nice to see you popping up right there. Let's start with you.
Give me your big take. It has been fascinating so far.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: On the big question of his prior testimony and the facts that have come out subsequently that showed his prior testimony was inaccurate, he said, look, I didn't remember the other meetings. I didn't remember the meetings with George Papadopoulos. What's peculiar about that is he said he didn't remember meeting Papadopoulos, but he says he does remember telling Papadopoulos not to engage with the Russians. That seems somewhat contradictory. But his defense, as it were, of his prior testimony is, look, I was a busy guy and the campaign was chaotic, and I didn't remember everything. People can evaluate that as they wish.
BOLDUAN: Let's play that moment. That happened a quite bit ago. This is the first time the attorney general is answering questions in light of the news of the Papadopoulos meeting, that that foreign policy adviser meeting. Let's play that moment. That's sound byte one. Everybody, let's listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw the news reports. I do now recall that the March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel and Mr. Papadopoulos attended. I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter. But I did not recall this event that occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago. I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it because I pushed back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: That's exactly what you were talking about, Jeffrey. He said he seemed surprised they would expect him to remember a meeting that happened 18 months ago. Isn't that expected of witnesses on the stand all the time?
TOOBIN: Of course. And 18 months ago, is not 18 years ago. It's fairly recent as these things go. And it's important to remember that when he was asked questions about
the Trump campaign's interactions with Russia, which is obviously something that has gotten a lot of attention over the past few months, when Al Franken asked him about it, Senator Al Franken, he was categorical in saying that he was unaware of any connections, any negotiations, any conversations between people regarding the Trump campaign and Russia. And here, of course, what he now remembers is that he told George Papadopoulos, don't get involved with the Russians.
Look, all of us have had our recollections refreshed by news. There is nothing sinister about that. What is peculiar is going from a very categorical statement to a new statement that is equally categorical and quite different from the first.
BOLDUAN: All categorically important in some regard.
Let me bring in Evan Perez for more on this.
One of the very important moments, Evans, let's play it before we discuss, where Jeff Sessions has been accused by some members of perjury. He's been accused of lying since his confirmation hearing in January and the subsequent hearings. Today, he said, "I did not lie." This is sound byte two. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I have been asked to remember details from a year ago, such as who I saw on what day and what meeting and who said what and when. In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory. I will not accept and reject accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie. Let me be clear, I have at all times conducted myself honorably.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: He goes on and on to talk about it.
Evan, your take on this. Did he clear it all up?
[11:55:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He tried his best to, Kate, but if he was still in Congress, he would have a very hard time with any witness who behaved the way he is behaving. The problem for him is that it's not just one problem of recollection, but if you remember, during his testimony before he got confirmed, he was asked about any meetings and so on. He did not bring up any of the meetings he had with the former Russian ambassador, Kislyak, here in washington. That was the beginning --
BOLDUAN: I'm going to cut you off, Evan.
We have tape from President Trump aboard Air Force One. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A fantastic job. It's been a great trip. It's also been good in terms of North Korea and getting everyone together. We are all together. China has been excellent. Japan and South Korea have been excellent. That's a very important part of the trip.
The other important part is trade and relationships. The Philippines is an unbelievably important military location because -- and if you speak to the admirals and the generals, that's a perfect spot. As you know, we had no relationship for a long period of time with the Philippines, and we have a good relationship there. We are back with the Philippines, strategically, we have a very important strategic location, maybe the most important strategic location in that area.
We had a great time. And I hope you guys are all OK. You all look well. Go to sleep for a little while. We will be around, and we'll talk to you later.
TRUMP: The basketball players, by the way, a lot of people are asking, and I will tell you, when I heard about it two days ago, I had a great conversation with President Xi. What they did was unfortunate. You are talking about long prison sentences. They do not play games. He was terrific and they're working on it right now. Hopefully, everything is going to work out. I know they are grateful because they were told exactly what happened. But it's a very, very --
TRUMP: It's a very, very rough situation with what happened to them. He has been terrific. I was with him yesterday. He's been terrific. President Xi has been terrific on that subject. But that was not a good subject. That was not something that should have happened.
OK, folks, go rest.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
TRUMP: I hope so.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE QUESTION)
TRUMP: Well, I think we're going to go into details on what I said.
TRUMP: Deals and concepts and will be pinpointing things. It's minimum $300 million. That will be very quickly over a trillion dollars. That's the least significant thing. I think one of the things we really accomplished, relationships and also letting people know things that, from now on, things will be reciprocal. We can't have trade deficits of $30 billion, $50 billion, $300 billion, in the case of China, we can't do that. We have to have reciprocal trade. What's good for them is good for us.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why is it so important and is there a risk of getting too close to --
TRUMP: The relationship is always important. It's really a relationship based on respect. To me, a relationship based on respect is much more important that anything else, including friendship because this is really something they have to respect our country, and they have not respected our country for a long period of time.
Thank you all very much, everybody. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BOLDUAN: All right. A quick review from President Trump about Air Force One as he makes his way back to Washington, D.C. Teeing up a major announcement that he will be making, that he wants to make on Wednesday, tomorrow, with regard to North Korea, trade and, of course, his trip.
I do not want to miss the big moments that we have been watching play out in the House Judiciary Committee with Attorney General Jeff Sessions all this morning as he has been facing a grilling and some tough questions about his past testimony and current news that is happening right now.
Let me go to Manu Raju, who is on the Hill and listening to all of this.
Manu, your Twitter feed has been one to watch throughout this. You have been capturing every single important moment coming out. What is the highlight for you? Where is Jeff Sessions going to need to face more questions when they return?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I do not recall a number of key episodes that happened in the campaign, campaign contacts that occurred with Russian officials. Those questions coming almost exclusively from Democrats. What's remarkable to watch, Kate, is that Republicans, in particular, have been steering clear of these issues about Trump and Russia. This has been mostly Democrats exclusively pushing him on the key issues. He is making sure he doesn't get into jeopardy by saying I don't believe I discussed Michael Flynn with Ambassador Kislyak, I do not recall discussions like that happening. That is an effort to make sure that he does not get trapped because --