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Trump Blasts Sessions for Prosecuting Two GOP Lawmakers; FBI Investigation Sought Info from Russian Oligarchs. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 3, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Our coverage continues with Jim Sciutto in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:00:09] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Bullying Sessions. President Trump aims an angry tweet at the attorney general he appointed, upset at the Justice Department for prosecuting two Republican Congressmen. Is he suggesting that his own political allies are above the law?
Trump versus Mueller. The president's personal attorney said he may block the public release of the special counsel's final report. It's just the latest threat from the White House, which continues to battle Robert Mueller every step of the way.
Flipping oligarchs. New details emerge on a secret FBI program to flip Russian oligarchs, including one close to Paul Manafort. A Justice Department lawyer behind the operation is now a top target of President Trump's attacks aimed at discrediting the entire Russia investigation.
And hurricane warning. A hurricane warning has just been issued as the Gulf Coast braces for Tropical Storm Gordon to intensify over the next 48 hours. We'll have the latest on the storm's track.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
This is a SITUATION ROOM special report. President Trump attacks Attorney General Jeff Sessions for allowing the Justice Department to prosecute two Republican lawmakers ahead of the midterm elections.
Congressmen Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter, the first two House members to endorse the Trump candidacy, by the way, are now charged with financial crimes, serious ones. The president tweeting, though, quote, "Two easy wins now in doubt."
I'll speak with Congressman Gerry Connolly of the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees. And our correspondents and specialists standing by with full coverage.
We begin with our breaking news and CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, really just a stunning attack by the president. An attorney general he, of course, appointed. But saying here, in effect, that those prosecutions have no merit because of the politics.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, it was a stunning attack because of the substance of all of this.
Of course, he has gone after Jeff Sessions routinely now, you know, for more than a year. But he has never before suggested that they should use politics to overlook actual criminal allegations. That's what he did today, Jim. But it was another sign the president at war with his own Justice Department.
ZELENY (voice-over): Summer may be over at the White House, but the same storm clouds are gathering as President Trump heads into the fall.
Tonight, the president lashing out again at Attorney General Jeff Sessions but this time over the Justice Department's recent indictments of two Republican Congressmen. "Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff," the president said on Twitter.
He's referring to Chris Collins of New York, indicted on insider trading charges, and Duncan Hunter of California, accused of stealing a quarter of a million dollars from campaign funds.
It's an extraordinary statemen, not only for the president to weigh in on specific cases but also, suggesting that Justice Department should overlook criminal allegations for political reasons.
All this as a confrontation is looming between Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the White House over publicly releasing his report into potential Russian collusion and obstruction of justice.
RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER FOR DONALD TRUMP: Has nothing to do with collusion.
ZELENY: Rudy Giuliani, the face of the president's legal team, saying they're likely to cite executive privilege, telling "The New Yorker," "I'm sure we will try to block the release of the report."
The president walking out of the White House today, presumably to go golfing for a third straight day but abruptly changing course and going back inside.
On a day traditionally seen as a kickoff for the fall campaign, the president had no public events on his schedule but tweeted, "Our country is doing better than ever before, with unemployment setting record lows. As Democrats like Joe Biden provided the opposing view while marching on Labor Day.
JOE BIDEN (D), FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in a fight for the soul of America.
ZELENY: With the midterm elections only two months away, the president is hitting the road again this week, heading to Montana, North and South Dakota. And he's still threatening to intervene in the Russia investigation as part of his ongoing feud with his own Justice Department.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will get involved, and I'll get in there if I have to.
ZELENY: The president also increasingly isolated from all but his most loyal supporters as words from the funeral services of Senator John McCain still echo.
MEGHAN MCCAIN, DAUGHTER OF JOHN MCCAIN: The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great.
ZELENY: As Meghan McCain spoke, applause filled the Washington National Cathedral, where the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, were seated.
While President Trump's name was never spoken, a critique of his tribal brand of politics was a notable theme.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John's voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: "We are better than this. America is better than this."
[17:05:03] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough but, in fact, is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that.
ZELENY: Only hours after the service, a Trump tweet served as a quiet rebuttal: "Make America great again."
All this setting the stage for confirmation hearings this week for the president's Supreme Court nominee.
TRUMP: I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
ZELENY: His nomination is one of the bright spots for the White House as the president seeks to secure a more conservative legacy on the high court.
ZELENY: Now those confirmation hearings will begin tomorrow in the Senate, expected to go all week. Now Republicans hope that this is a moment of -- a unifying moment for them, because they do believe the president has been very successful in the judiciary throughout, from the federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court.
And frankly, Jim, they wish the president would talk about that, not being at war with his own Justice Department -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Well, let's see where that wish goes. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much.
Let's dig in deeper now with CNN senior Congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, just a reminder for our audience. Here's what Trump -- Trump tweeted today. Quoting here: "Two long-running Obama-era investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge just ahead of the midterms by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt, because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff."
Of course, very sarcastically there. I mean, he clearly -- he seemed to be blaming Sessions for the Justice Department indicting two House Republicans on what are very serious financial crimes.
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it, Jim. This remarkable comment coming in the wake of his repeated attacks against Jeff Sessions who, of course, recused himself from overseeing the Russia probe because of Sessions's role in the Trump campaign.
Now Trump seems to be demanding even more loyalty from the Justice Department, this time to protect the House Republican majority, saying Sessions should have prevented Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter from being indicted, simply because they are Republicans.
And that is the opposite of the Justice Department policy, which actually says this: "Prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting an election or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate for political party."
Now, Chris Collins, who's indicted on insider trading charges, has said he is not running for re-election. But his name remains on the ballot. But the GOP is still trying to get his name off that ballot and replace him with another candidate, and that remains a decent possibility.
Duncan Hunter is still running for re-election, and he's still the favorite in that Republican district. Now, Republicans so far have reacted to this latest barrage of Trump tweets with silence. And I've reached out, Jim, to the speaker's office, and no reaction yet from Paul Ryan's office about the president's comments this afternoon.
SCIUTTO: All right. Well, Jeff Sessions, beyond the legal problems, faces a legal challenge now. Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos contradicting him in a court filing Friday about what Sessions said about whether the Trump campaign was open to a meeting with Putin during the campaign. This may spell trouble for him going forward.
RAJU: Potentially, Jim. He's directly contradicting how Jeff Sessions reacted when Papadopoulos proposed at that march 2016 meeting that Trump meet with Vladimir Putin.
Now, in this court filing from late Friday night, the former campaign, foreign policy adviser says this through his attorney: "While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated the campaign should look into it."
Now, after that meeting, Papadopoulos -- Papadopoulos's attorney told the court that the client was giddy about Trump's apparent approval. Now, this court filing contradicts both what Trump has said and Jeff Sessions told Congress in sworn testimony last year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: 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. I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, the Justice Department had no comment about this court filing in which Papadopoulos is actually asking for leniency from the court for lying about his contacts with Russia.
And, also, Jim, Democrats have also been quiet. We have yet to hear from the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Gerald Nadler. and that's perhaps because Democrats are concerned if they go too hard after Sessions it could give the president pretext to fire him and install a loyalist to look after the Mueller probe -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes. Those are some delicate politics there. No question. CNN's Manu Raju, thank you.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly. Thank you for joining us on this holiday.
Great to be with you, Jim.
So first question, the most direct one, a sitting president attacking in public and we told to treat the president's tweets as official White House statements, attacking two criminal investigations here that have resulted in charges. Is he undermining the rule of law -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, those are some delicate politics there, no question. CNN's Manu Raju, thanks very much.
Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. He's a member of both the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee.
Congressman, thank you for joining us on this holiday.
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Great to be with you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: So first question, just the most direct one. A sitting president attacking in public, and we treat -- we're told to treat the president's tweets as official White House statements. Attacking two criminal investigations here that have resulted in charges.
Is he undermining the rule of law?
CONNOLLY: Absolutely. And I think this is a pattern. Clearly, Donald Trump thinks the Justice Department of the United States is his private law firm and should do his bidding and follow his direction. And he has no understanding of the constitutional role of the president with respect to the Justice Department, let alone the rule of law itself.
I think his comments about the two indicted Republican members of Congress are reprehensible and very troubling in terms of his understanding of how the law works, how law enforcement works. Apparently, you know, ought to work only to suit his political preferences and ambitions. And of course, that's not how it works.
SCIUTTO: The president has done this a number of times. During the Manafort trial, he was making public statements while the jury was deliberating. I just wonder: part of Congress's role is to balance this president, to check and balance the president.
What is Congress doing to prevent the president from undermining the rule of law?
CONNOLLY: Well, unfortunately, Jim, the Republican majority in the Congress sees, hears and speaks no evil when it comes to this president. And so, instead of calling this out, instead of having, you know, hearings on it, instead of having the Republican leadership throw the flag down on comments like this, we hear crickets. It is totally quiet.
There is no oversight function the Republican majority wants to undertake in this Congress, and that's why the midterm elections are going to be so important. We finally have to restore check and balance in this government.
SCIUTTO: You heard my colleague, Manu Raju, just before speaking about the legal trouble, potentially, that the attorney general himself is in, because you have George Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign advisor, in sworn testimony now -- and he's already going to prison for lying, so you can imagine he doesn't have a lot of incentive to lie again -- contradicting Sessions's sworn testimony about his approval of a potential meeting between Trump and Putin during the campaign.
Does it -- does it appear to you that the attorney general in this case perjured himself?
CONNOLLY: I think -- I think we have to take Papadopoulos' recent revelation with a little bit of a grain of salt. You mentioned that he's going to jail, but he's trying to negotiate a deal whereby he will be given probation and that he will be given time off for the last year he's already pled guilty to. Thus, meaning, he will spend no time in jail.
I don't know that the judge or the prosecutors are going to go along with that. But this latest revelation is in that context.
SCIUTTO: So you're saying you don't believe his account of what Sessions said in that meeting?
CONNOLLY: Well, I would take it with a grain of salt. I think we're going to have to see this in a fuller picture. It is a little hard to believe that Jeff Sessions would have vigorously agreed to a meeting between Putin and Trump on the eve of the election, knowing the consequences of that.
But it's worthy of exploration, and it's another example of where are the Republican leadership on an issue like this? Let's have the Judiciary Committee have a hearing about it and get to the bottom of it.
SCIUTTO: The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is publicly raising the possibility of the president, the White House, blocking parts or perhaps all of Robert Mueller's report from becoming public, even from being shared with Congress, based on executive privilege. In your view, do they have the grounds to do that?
CONNOLLY: Absolutely not, and that would be unprecedented. All special prosecutor reports, when it has come to the executive office, have, in fact, been made public.
And there's real irony here. I thought Mayor Giuliani and President Trump said there was no collusion. There's nothing to worry about. He's guilty of nothing. In which case, why wouldn't you, in fact, welcome the public release of the Mueller report?
SCIUTTO: Fair question. It is on another topic related to the Russia investigation. We've had this kind of running drama between Giuliani and Robert Mueller's team as to will he or won't he? Will the president, or will he not, sit down with Robert Mueller for an interview? The president's lawyers have repeatedly come back with conditions under which they would do it, et cetera.
[17:15:02] But the bottom line: Do you think the president has any intention of sitting down with the special counsel?
CONNOLLY: I have no earthly idea. He said -- he said he wants to and can't wait to, and then he said, you know, he's worried about a perjury trap.
This president has a lifelong habit of pathological lying. And I can understand why he would be nervous about testifying under oath before a special prosecutor.
SCIUTTO: His lawyers might be nervous, too.
Congressman Gerry Connolly, thanks very much for joining us.
CONNOLLY: My pleasure.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, there is more breaking news. President Trump attacks "The New York Times" article which revealed the Russia probe grew out of investigations into Russian organized crime. I'm going to speak to the reporter who broke that story.
And by attacking the attorney general for allowing the prosecution of two Republican congressmen, is the president undermining the country's rule of law?
[17:20:14] SCIUTTO: Among his flurry of Labor Day afternoon tweets -- and it was a flurry -- President Trump attacked "The New York Times" over an article that revealed U.S. attempts to flip a billionaire Russian oligarch, hoping to obtain information about organized crime and, later, possible Russian aid to Trump's presidential campaign.
We're joined now by Matt Rosenberg. He's a co-author of "The Times" article.
Matt, great story. Thanks for coming on.
What's interesting about this is that it gets at the background of Bruce Ohr, who's become this sort of bete noire of Trump and many on the right for being a kind of secret player in a Democratic plot to bring down this president, et cetera. But what your story seems to get at here is that Ohr was working hard to get in the depths of Russian organized crime. Is that right? But also its attempts to find allies in the U.S.?
MATT ROSENBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. I mean, this was an effort that predated Trump's candidacy. This began in 2014, in which the FBI and the Department of Justice sought a number of Russian oligarchs -- we think about a half dozen -- to see if they were willing to king of become informants in exchange for, you know, being able to travel to the U.S., where the oligarch in question, the one we named, Oleg Deripaska, has business interests.
The other person involved in this was Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier, the former British spy. He had known Ohr since 2007 when he was still a British spy. They had met. They both had a long professional interest in Russia and Russian organized crime.
And when the FBI and Department of Justice began this initiative in 2014, they used Steele as an intermediary. And so rather than Steele and Ohr plotting to get the dossier to the FBI, what we found is that, you know, fast forward now to the summer of 2016. In July, Steele's passing through D.C. He has breakfast with Ohr. Over breakfast, Ohr, who's an old friend, says, "What are you working on?" He tells him about the dossier.
But Steele was, you know -- the dossier got to the FBI through other means. Steele had gone to a different FBI agent about it. No great plot here. What there was, was a sanctioned U.S. government effort to go and try new sources and information about Russian organized crime and Russian intelligence.
SCIUTTO: To be clear, did that -- as they're looking into Russian organized crime, trying to make them allies in effect or informants, rather, did they then stumble on a relationship with Trump world? Is that the connection? Or was it --
ROSENBERG: They didn't.
SCIUTTO: Coincidental that it was at the same time that the counterintelligence investigation started?
ROSENBERG: They didn't. You know, as far as we now, they had no success in this effort.
ROSENBERG: That, you know, this starts in 2014. We know in the summer of 2016, separately, FBI counterintelligence began investigating possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.
And then in the fall of 2016 FBI agents went to one of the oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska -- he was in New York at the time -- and said to him, asked him about whether his former business partner, who was Paul Manafort, served as a link between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
But it didn't start out as a kind of attempt to find dirt on Trump. It later kind of grew out of an FBI investigation that was started separately.
SCIUTTO: Understood. Understood. And is it atypical for a U.S. law enforcement agent here, in this case Bruce Ohr from the Justice Department, to call on contacts with -- with a former agent from British intelligence, of course, an allied intelligence service, is that unusual?
I know, for instance, that the FBI had used Christopher Steele in the past in its investigation of FIFA, so they had a relationship there. But is this kind of relationship that you're describing here out of bounds; is it unusual?
ROSENBERG: We've had no indication it is. You know, they weren't asking Steele to do anything illegal or anything that the U.S. couldn't do. They were simply trying to find people they knew they could rely on who had contacts to some of these men they were trying to cultivate and to serve as a bridge. That's not unusual in the intelligence world. You know? All kind of intermediaries are used.
SCIUTTO: Well, it seems that President Trump might have been watching you on CNN earlier today. Imagine that. He responded to your reporting by tweeting the following. We're quoting here. "According to the failing 'New York Times,' the FBI started a major effort to flip Putin loyalists in 2014 to 2016." Quoting here, "'It wasn't about Trump. He wasn't close to a candidate yet.' Rigged witch hunt."
Is he misreading the thrust of your reporting?
ROSENBERG: Yes. I mean, he's sort of missing the larger point here, is that, you know, there -- what we found is this was not part of any witch hunt. This was part of a legitimate effort to kind of cultivate a new source or new source of information and left out the second part of what I said, which is that it did eventually turn to Trump after an entirely separate FBI investigation had begun.
SCIUTTO: Understood. All right. Matt Rosenberg, thanks very much for helping us understand.
ROSENBERG: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, more on our breaking news. President Trump attacks Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the timing of two recent corruption indictments of Republican Congressmen.
Plus, new court documents show one-time Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos contradicting the sworn testimony of the attorney general. Who's telling the truth?
[17:30:03] SCIUTTO: Our breaking news, new tweets from President Trump attacking Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the timing of the Justice Department's recent indictments of two Republican Congressmen. The president upset because the indictments come so closer to the midterm elections.
[17:30:16] Let's talk about all this with our political and legal experts. Mark, if I could begin with you, I want to read this tweet from President Trump that he put out this afternoon about this -- investigations of both Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter for serious financial crimes, I should mention.
"Two long-running Obama-era investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge just ahead of the midterms by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt, because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff." That last line, of course, sarcastically there.
Point of face there, we should mention that the Chris Collins investigation had nothing to do with the Obama era, since the alleged crime supposedly took place on the White House Lawn while Trump was president.
But let's look at what's behind this here. Continuing to try to force Mr. Sessions out of office on his own?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, no question. I mean, what we're seeing here right now from President Trump is that he's using these two Congressmen, two Congressmen who have been very vocal supporters of President Trump, in fact, they were the first two to endorse President Trump for president. But he -- if you deconstruct what he writes right there, he's not necessarily coming to the defense of these two men.
What he's doing is that he's using them as basically a hammer to try to bludgeon his attorney general on Twitter, which is just amazing and astounding. And the fact that Jeff Sessions continues to stay in that position, I don't understand how he does it.
But having said that, I do give him a lot of respect and a lot of credit for doing so, because could you imagine if Jeff Sessions did resign and did leave that office because of this constant pestering and attacks from his own boss? I mean, it would put us in a whole new -- a whole new world, a whole new chapter would open up into the problems we have here in D.C.
SCIUTTO: No question. Well, of course, the president could fire him outright on his own.
Laura Jarrett, you cover the Justice Department. They're, of course, going to very -- react very gingerly with any public statements about the president. But what's the reaction inside that building when a sitting president, and not for the first time, takes a very public shot at very serious criminal investigations here, financial crimes. Misuse of campaign funds when we're speaking about Duncan Hunter. Insider trading when we're speaking about Chris Collins. When's the reaction inside?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, no public word from anyone on the Justice Department's side today, Jim, and that's not surprising.
But I think it's worth noting: this tweet today is stunning. And we've seen a lot that we say crossed some sort of red line or a custom or a norm. But this one truly shakes bedrock principles that federal prosecutors are supposed to follow.
And every so often attorney generals put out memorandum to federal prosecutors to tell them to be careful of election sensitivities and tell them to do the opposite of what the president tweeted today.
And I want to just read one portion just for our viewers so they can understand what prosecutors are explicitly told. And it says, simply put, "Politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges."
And it goes on, Jim: "Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election or for the the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party."
Yet nonetheless, that is exactly, effectively, what President Trump is saying here in the tweet. He's saying that they should have slow- walked this investigation of both of these two Congressmen who supported him, because it hurts the Republican Party.
SCIUTTO: Michael Zeldin, of course, the law is the law. It's written down on paper, as are policies. But the law is also the perception of the law, and do people respect the law and how it's followed here? It's not the first time that the president has done this kind of thing. During the Paul Manafort trial while the jury was deliberating he made comments about Paul Manafort.
As a lawyer like yourself, who served for decades, how insidious are these attacks by the sitting president?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they undermine the mission of the Department of Justice as Laura outlined. The mission of the Department of Justice is blind justice. You bring cases based on facts and evidence and not on political affiliation. And the president just simply doesn't understand that or doesn't want to understand that.
But as a prosecutor I think, and particularly as Jeff Sessions, I think in some sense, it emboldens you to continue on in your job and not be intimidated, because they understand just how wrong the president's approach to the operation of the Justice Department is. So I expect that this would be something which Sessions will take and find as evidence for him to stay on his job, rather than force him to resign from that position.
SCIUTTO: It's an interesting point. You could say there's even evidence that it backfired, because after all, Jeff Sessions pursued these aggressive investigations, despite the presumed reaction from this president.
[17:35:11] Sam Vinograd, another issue for Jeff Sessions, beyond the political problems. George Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign advisor, already convicted by Robert Mueller for lying, contradicts sworn testimony by Jeff Sessions regarding a possible meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin.
The following coming from his sentencing memo: "While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated the campaign should look into it."
Trouble is, Jeff Sessions was asked before Congress what he thought of this meeting and what he expressed about this meeting. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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. I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: "I pushed back at his suggestion," said Jeff Sessions. Is it possible he perjured himself here?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's honestly so difficult to know who's lying about lying at this point, isn't it, Jim? And we have a long way to go from the George Papadopoulos statement in the sentencing memo to proving that the attorney general of the United States knowingly and willfully provided false information to Congress. And my money's on Robert Mueller figuring that out.
What we do know is that there is precedent for someone going to jail for lying to Congress. Ronald Reagan's national security adviser was actually sentenced to prison for lying to Congress about the Iran- Contra affair.
But, Jim, the longer that this all goes on, this game of liar's poker between Papadopoulos and the attorney general and other members -- other Americans that are facing indictments, the more it helps Russia.
We're all confused. Different people are sowing doubt about the functioning of the Justice Department and the attorney general. And, remember, those are key focuses of Russia's mission against the United States. So in effect, the Russians want this to continue, probably as long as possible, because it helps them achieve those mission objectives.
SCIUTTO: Yes. It's a win-win.
Everybody, please stand by. I do want to ask you about new revolutions from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani about possible White House plans to block part of Robert Mueller's report. That's coming up.
[17:42:11] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our political and legal experts.
Laura Jarrett, if I could begin with you first, in a "New Yorker" article by Jeffrey Toobin, Rudy Giuliani, of course, the president's lawyer, says he expects the White House to invoke executive privilege to block some parts of the Mueller report from being shared with Congress and the public.
First and simplest question is, does the White House have the ability, the power, to do that?
JARRETT: Well, potentially. But you can be sure that will end up in court. And these don't get tested every day, these executive privilege claims. And there are different types. And it's not at all clear that the president hasn't waived executive privilege by tweeting nonstop on all of these issues every single day.
And even with deliberative process type of executive privilege, where you say, "We have to keep all of this under the cloak of secrecy, because the president's entitled to have these types of interbranch communications," it's not at all clear that they wouldn't say, "That's been waived because there's evidence of a crime."
And so, a court will likely have to weigh in on this. But there's also the political cost. For after having months of said this is a witch hunt and there's no "there" there, for the president to then say, "Oh, no, actually, all of this is under the cloak of the expectative branch and the public shouldn't see anything," for a president who claims to want transparency, that would be stunning. SCIUTTO: No question. But we have seen stunning before, I suppose we
can say. Mark Preston, the GOP Congress, for all the political division here, particularly the Senate has consistently backed the Mueller investigation. They've consistently said in public they won't pass legislation to keep this from happening but that Mueller should be allowed to do his job. If the president were to do this, would Republicans in Congress protest?
PRESTON: I think you would hear a lot of voices from Republicans in Congress coming out and wondering why this wasn't released.
But you would have dissenters. There's no question about that. President Trump does have a loyal group of followers, supporters in Congress. The Jim Jordans of the world, specifically those on the House side.
But could you imagine if the president did decide to do this? At the same time when Rudy Giuliani has also said that they're going to put out a competing report to try to disabuse anything that comes out in the Mueller attempt.
The bottom line is, is that what we're seeing from Rudy Giuliani, what we're seeing from President Trump, what we're seeing from other supporters of the president is that they're just trying to create a lot of white noise. They're trying to create doubt. They're trying to sow doubt in the minds of everyone watching television right now and people all across the country that, no matter what comes out in this report, that President Trump is innocent. And it's very transparent how they're doing it.
SCIUTTO: No question. Attack the evidence, the witnesses, attack the report. All right. Thanks very much. Stick around.
Coming up, more on the breaking news: President Trump's new attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
[17:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: While his personal lawyer now says the White House could try to block the public release of a final report by Robert Mueller, President Trump's attacks on the Special Counsel are going sharper every day. And he has issued what sounds like an ominous warning.
Our Brian Todd is here. Now, Brian, where does this look to be headed?
[17:49:57] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it could be headed to the President firing Robert Mueller, firing his boss Rod Rosenstein, then getting into an even bigger political and legal mess.
Mueller's investigation has clearly irritated the President and placed enormous pressure on him. And those who know Robert Mueller say don't expect him to back down in the face of the President's threats.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are angry. People are angry.
TODD (voice-over): He has taunted Robert Mueller from the get-go, calling Mueller's investigation illegal, rigged, a witch-hunt. Now, President Trump is making a not-so-veiled threat to take action against Mueller.
TRUMP: What's happening is a disgrace. And at some point -- I wanted to stay out. But at some point, if it doesn't straighten out properly -- I want them to do their job -- I will get involved. And I'll get in there if I have to.
TODD (voice-over): How could the President get involved at this stage?
GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX: INSIDE ROBERT MUELLER'S FBI AND THE WAR ON GLOBAL TERROR": We certainly know that he has, at various times, threatened to fire Jeff Sessions, threatened to fire Mueller, threatened to fire Rod Rosenstein. Any one of those would be a pretty clear attempt to stymie and stonewall this investigation.
TODD: Is Robert Mueller intimidated by the prospect of being fired by the President?
STEF CASSELLA, FORMER CHIEF OF THE ASSET FORFEITURE AND MONEY LAUNDERING SECTION, DISTRICT OF MARYLAND'S U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: I would be very surprised if Bob Mueller were intimidated by anyone. But in terms of just wanting to do the job, do the right thing, I think he is exactly the right person to have in the position where he is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please raise your right hand.
TODD (voice-over): Those who know Robert Mueller say for the man who led the FBI through 9/11 and the war on terror, who earned medals for bravery as a Marine in Vietnam, none of these threats from Trump are even registering.
GRAFF: This unprecedented historical -- historic investigation is probably only the third hardest job that Bob Mueller has ever done.
TODD (voice-over): A job that Mueller has taken on with characteristic meticulousness, perseverance, and public silence.
CASSELLA: We know almost nothing about what he has. We have only heard that he has a couple of -- a handful of cooperators. We don't know what evidence he has subpoenaed from banks, we don't know whether he has the President's tax returns, we don't know who is cooperating who hasn't gone public with his cooperation.
TODD (voice-over): What could Mueller's next big move be in this investigation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to give you an opportunity --
TODD (voice-over): Analysts say look toward Trump's shadowy former campaign adviser who may or may not have had advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks' release of hacked Democratic emails in 2016.
GRAFF: The next thing we know that Bob Mueller is doing is zeroing in more on Roger Stone. You know, he has subpoenas out for more testimony regarding Roger Stone's relationship to the Trump campaign and his actions during the Trump campaign.
TODD (voice-over): Stone denies any wrongdoing.
Tonight, while President Trump shows signs of stress over this investigation, experts say Robert Mueller is likely feeling pressures of his own.
CASSELLA: Prosecutors among themselves have a cliche. And that is if you are going to aim at the king, you better hit him.
TODD: But experts say Mueller's potential damage to President Trump at this point could go beyond a report potentially saying that the President's campaign colluded with Russia or the President obstructed justice.
They say that the move that Mueller could make which would really shake Donald Trump, a potential indictment of a member of Trump's family like Donald Trump, Jr. or Jared Kushner for their involvement in that Trump Tower meeting in 2016 with Russians and looking at whether they have been truthful with investigators about that, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Brian, Mueller is so committed to being a prosecutor, to public service, he often hasn't lasted long in the private sector in his career.
TODD: That's right, Jim. He is very dogged about public service. In his entire career, he has taken maybe two breaks from public service to take high-paying jobs as a private lawyer. But each of those breaks has lasted no more than a couple of years.
One biographer of Robert Mueller says that's because he just can't stand defending people who he thinks are guilty, so he doesn't last long as a criminal defense attorney.
SCIUTTO: That's a great line. CNN's Brian Todd, thanks very much.
Coming up, breaking news. President Trump attacks the Attorney General for allowing the prosecution of two Republican congressmen who were early supporters of his. Is he suggesting his own political allies are above the law?
[17:54:12] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
SCIUTTO: Happening now, breaking news. Above the law? President Trump launches a bitter attack on the Attorney General he appointed for allowing indictments of two Republican congressmen, suggesting that midterm politics should have been more important.
Fighting Mueller. President Trump's lawyer reveals plans to try to block the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report. Can the White House actually keep it from the public?
[18:00:03] Hidden documents. The Trump administration withholding more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.