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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Sessions: Never Briefed On Russian Interference In Election; Sessions Suggestions Of Collusion A "Detestable Lie"; Sessions Won't Discuss Conversations With Trump; Trump Calls House Bill "Mean"; Report: Trump's Atty. Bragging About Bharara Firing; W.H.: Trump Has "No Intention: To Fire Mueller. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:02] JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: -- I recuse myself from defending my honor against careless and false allegations.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The attorney general repeatedly rebuffed the speculation that has swirls since James Comey's testimony last week when the fired FBI director briefed senators in a closed hearing that Sessions may have met with Kislyak for a third undisclosed meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.
SESSIONS: I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): His denial was concise, but when pressed by Chairman Richard Burr, his answer seemed less clear.
SESSIONS: I would have gladly have reported the meeting, the encounter that may have occurred, that some say occurred in the Mayflower if I had remembered it or if it actually occurred, which I don't remember that it did.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sessions remained stern and emotional as he fought back against all allegations he had improper contacts with Russians during the campaign.
SESSIONS: And the suggestion that I participated in any collusion, that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our Democratic process is an appalling and detestable lie.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): But Sessions repeatedly refused to comment on the details of his interactions and conversations with the president.
SESSIONS: I'm not able to comment on conversations with officials within the White House. That would be a violation of the communications rule.
SEN. MARK WARNER, (D) VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: But just so I'm understanding, does that mean are you claiming executive privilege here today, sir?
SESSIONS: I'm not claiming executive privilege, because that's the president's power.
SEN. ANGUS KING, (I) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What is the legal basis for your refusal to answer these questions?
SESSIONS: I am protecting the right of the president to exert it. I'll assert it if he chooses and then maybe other privileges that could apply in this circumstance.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich directly accused the attorney general of stonewalling the committee.
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICH, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There are two investigations here. There is a special counsel investigation. There is also a congressional investigation. And you are obstructing that congressional delegation -- investigation by not answering these questions.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sessions also publicly pushed back against James Comey's contention that he did not respond when Comey expressed concern that Comey's one on one meeting with the president in the Oval Office on February 14th was inappropriate.
SESSIONS: I believe it was the next day that he said something, expressed concern about being left alone with the president. But, that in itself is not problematic. He did not tell me at that time any details about anything that was said that was improper. I affirmed his concern that we should be following the proper guidelines of the Department of Justice.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Sessions explained that his recusal from the Russia investigation resulted after weeks of consultation with ethics officials and disclosed he did not receive any information about the probe even before his formal recusal.
SESSIONS: From that point, February 10th, until I announced my formal recusal on March 2nd, I was never briefed on any investigated details, did not access any information about the investigation. I received only the limited information that the department's career officials determined was necessary for me to form and make a recusal decision.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- joins us now. Jessica, the attorney general -- I mean, is the attorney general or the Justice Department giving any additional rational for keeping those conversations between Sessions and the president confidential since President Trump did not assert executive privilege?
SCHNEIDER: Well, Sessions himself, he didn't cite anything during the testimony. But tonight, the Department of Justice, they released two memos dating back to 1982, one from then President Ronald Reagan and one from then Assistant Attorney General Ted Olson. Now, a portion of one of the memos, it outlines that it is possible to withhold information while the president is considering whether or not to invoke executive privilege. But, it's important to note that Attorney General Sessions did not confer with the White House at all about whether the president might even consider invoking executive privilege. That's according to a senior administration official.
And the memo does imply, Anderson, that in order to withhold testimony, the possibility of executive privilege should at least be pending before the president. Anderson?
COOPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.
The attorney general's status as a former long time colleague did not quite skepticism somehow before his testimony (inaudible) the criticism after afterwards. For more on the reaction let's go with that. Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. So what's the latest you're hearing tonight?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, the reaction, Anderson, has really come along party lines hearing. Democrats express frustration and concern about not only why Jeff Sessions was not able to recall certain key elements, including whether or not he had those interactions with Sergey Kislyak at that meeting at the Washington hotel last year.
[21:05:02] But in addition, this policy that he is citing, that Jeff Sessions cited in terms of why he could not discuss any of these interactions with President Trump himself. But Republicans on the other hand say that Jeff Sessions did what he needed to do. They believe he was as forthcoming as he could have been. And they believe that this whole Sessions testimony was a side show from the ongoing Russia investigation.
Here is Marco Rubio from right after the hearing when I asked him about Jeff Sessions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Do you feel like he was forthcoming in his testimony?
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I do.
RAJU: How could you say?
RUBIO: (Inaudible) the opportunity to speak to the -- he is the attorney general of the United States. He's not a former member of the government. And he was as forthcoming with us today as Director Comey would have been had he still been FBI director.
RAJU: Should he have a rule in the Comey firing?
RUBIO: Yeah. He's still the attorney general. The FBI works on more than just the 2016 investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Now, Anderson, other committees do want to question Jeff Sessions as well, including the Senate Judiciary Committee which has oversight over the Justice Department.
Chairman Chuck Grassley, the Republican from Iowa telling me earlier today that he does want to hear from Sessions himself before his committee as they look into the broader Russia issue in their own panel going forward, Anderson.
COOPER: Is there any more -- still to come with the Attorney General Sessions and the Senate Intelligence Committee?
RAJU: It's unclear at the moment. Now, this testimony that happened today really caught the committee by surprise. Sessions offered on Saturday to come before this committee. On Tuesday, the committee was really looking forward to having other big witnesses come forward first, namely the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They're planning on interviewing him sometime this month, as early as this month.
They were not prepared for the Session's testimony to happen so soon. And, of course, Sessions said today, Anderson, that he probably could not disclose more in a classified setting. So its unclear how much more information he would give to the committee even if they went behind closed doors, Anderson.
COOPER: Yeah. Manu, thanks very much.
The president has just arrived back from a trip to Milwaukee. Air Force One there on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews. We'll talk more about his day shortly. And the big story swirling around him, reports he was thinking about firing Special Counsel Mueller.
Joining us our political legal panel, Jeffrey Toobin, David Axelrod, David Gergen, Gloria Borger, as well as Carl Bernstein.
Gloria, earlier today, you said that Director Comey left a lot of bread crumbs out there about the attorney general. Did he -- did the attorney general clarify anything? Address any of the unanswered questions?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: He tried to sweep the crumbs away is what he did. I mean, first of all, the big confrontation today between Senator Ron Wyden and Sessions was about one of those bread crumbs, because Comey had said, well, I expected -- the question to Comey was why didn't you go to Sessions?
BORGER: And he said, "Well, I expected him to recuse himself because he had been in the campaign, et cetera, et cetera." Then there was another issue that was more problematic and that's a key word. It's my least favorite word of this investigation, because everything seems to be problematic these days. But, he was asked about it today and he, you know, he got incensed and outraged.
COOPER: He said innuendo.
BORGER: Yeah, it was innuendo and it was outraged and that there is nothing. There is nothing problematic.
And then Comey also sort of implied that if he was fired because of Russia, why did Sessions have anything to do with it, because Sessions is supposed to recuse himself on Russia and yet he was part of the firing.
And Sessions today answered that question and said, "No, he was fired for other reasons and referred us to Rod Rosenstein's memo." So he did try and kind of say, "Comey was wrong on these issues, very."
COOPER: David, I mean, to somebody who worked in administrations, what do you make of Sessions saying there's longstanding Department of Justice policy that he was following about not revealing contents of a conversation with the president even though the president hasn't asked for executive privilege?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It may be longstanding, but it's the first time has been rediscovered by an administration in years and years. I mean, some memo back in 1982 that I can't remember anyone. Jeff may have a memory of this who is employed the rational that he did. I have to preserve the president's right to exercise executive privilege.
And I would point out that the memo was 1982 from Ronald Reagan, when the Reagan had his Iran-contra scandal in his second term. He waved executive privilege for everyone. He wanted it absolutely clean. He wanted everything -- all the documents out there, everything was on the table. And, you know, I think the Reagan president is actually much stronger on being transparent than it is about hiding things.
COOPER: David, as someone who works from White House, how do you see it?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think we had a little preview of this when the director of national intelligence came before the same committee and the CIA director. They --
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: NSA.
TOOBIN: NSA director.
AXELROD: Yes. And they essentially made the same argument. And that argument will stand unless the Congress is willing to test it. And, you know --
COOPER: Despite all the (inaudible) they don't really seem to --
AXELROD: I don't anticipate seeing that. But -- I mean, look, we didn't get -- Sessions went there for one reason and that is to deny this -- the bread crumbs, to sweep them aside as Gloria said.
[21:10:11] He did not add much to the rest of the story. And the one thing that I thought that may have been underplayed but struck me very strongly given the context of this whole thing is that he sort of kind of casually conceded that he never got a briefing on what the Russians had done. This is a --
COOPER: And didn't know -- and did now know the president -- he didn't remember conversations with the president, the president talking about concern over what happened.
AXELROD: Right, which is a continuing concern. I mean, Comey said the president never asked him about it. I mean, this is a major national security issue. He is the attorney general. And apparently isn't that interested in this issue. And the president apparently isn't that interested in the issue. And so when you go past all of these other questions, that seems like a major concern.
COOPER: And there's the president as well as the first lady at Joint Base Andrews -- excuse me, that's Ivanka Trump. Bad lighting there. Ivanka Trump and the president returning to Joint Base Andrews, just getting off Air Force One right now.
Jeff, was there any legal basis for the attorney general to refuse to answer these questions?
TOOBIN: Well, he didn't offer one. It was only after the fact that they came up with this 1982 memo. But, you know, I think we can have an interesting debate about executive privilege and about the legal niceties.
But the fact is when you have a witness in front of the committee and he doesn't want to answer, he is not going to answer. And unless you go to court to force him to answer, that's the end of the story.
And with the Senate and House in Republican hands, you are not going to have litigation forcing these members to -- these administration officials to talk about their conversations with Donald Trump. And I think that's the end of the matter.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, a couple things. Jeff is absolutely right about the legal side of this. But, if you are not forthcoming in a series of these testimonies over time, if we see a pattern as I think we're beginning to see, a pattern coming from the executive branch of evasion, not really answering the questions, the politics of that are pretty dreadful, you know.
COOPER: Carl, I want to play something that Director Comey said last week in his testimony about Sessions lingering in the Oval Office before his one on one meeting with the president. Let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARNER: You were in a meeting and your direct superior, the attorney general, was in that meeting as well. Yet the president asked everyone to leave, including the attorney general to leave, before he brought up the matter of General Flynn.
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: My impression was something big is about to happen, I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And, again, I could be wrong. I'm 56 years old. I've been -- seen a few things. My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering. And I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Carl, while Attorney General Sessions did corroborate that he was one of the last to leave, he refused to characterize how he interpreted it, how he perceived it the way that Comey did.
BERNSTEIN: Well, he intended to confirm what his testimony actually confirmed what Comey had testified, both in terms of that meeting and the phone call from Comey the next day expressing his discomfort. I think we can look at today's events both Rosenstein's testimony and Sessions' testimony as of a piece.
The first piece is that it's clear that the president and those closest to him do not want us to know the facts underneath this investigation. The underlying facts about Russia, Russians, contacts and their deliberations with each other, the president's deliberations with Sessions, with his other aides. We are not entitled to know those things are what we are hearing from the president and we are hearing from Sessions.
And from Rosenstein, what we heard is hugely significant, because he drew a line in the sand today saying, "This cannot stand if Mueller is fired unless there is some extraordinary cause." And that is a challenge almost to the Republicans. You could hear the Republicans talking about it today in private that they no longer will defend this president if he fires Mueller. So there's a line drawn in the sand.
And also for the first time, the word I have not used on the air I think and that is talk about impeachment among Republicans if the president crosses certain lines and that they will have to look at that question.
[21:15:05] The word as everybody I think in the studio here today will confirm is being uttered if certain lines are crossed and if these investigations go in a certain direction.
TOOBIN: I don't think so.
BERNSTEIN: There are also is a real possibility that this investigation could go nowhere, but we need to see where these investigations are going and why it is these people are trying to keep us from knowing what happened.
TOOBIN: Carl, I don't know what Republicans you're talking to, Carl. But every Republican I have talked to thinks impeachment is an absolutely absurd possibility. And I don't see how you can say today's testimony makes impeachment any more likely. I don't think it really --
BERNSTEIN: No, no. I'm saying Rosenstein -- pardon me. Rosenstein drawing the line and if Mueller were fired, and I'm saying that is what I am hearing if that were to happen, that would be a different threat.
BORGER: But -- and I would argue, Carl, that that's why the president's friend, Ruddy, went out there and said this publicly, because sometimes the best way to make an argument to this president is to take it to cable television and then have it ricochet and wind up in the Oval Office.
And I think if the president has been musing about it and doesn't like Mueller and doesn't like the fact that he is appointed some samurai to attack him as he sees it, you know, maybe one way to get to him to say, you know, you really can't do that is to say it publicly. And I believe that's what his actual friend may have been trying to do.
AXELROD: To Carl's original point, the one thing Sessions didn't do is cast any real light on the key question of the sequence of events that led to Comey's firing. He said, we wrote this memo. It was all about his handling of the Clinton matter. He was particularly unpersuasive on that.
And then when questioned about his interactions with the president on it and what the president's motivations might be, he completely shut down. So there was nothing about his testimony relative to that matter that would have shed any light. And this, of course, we now suspect is something that the special counsel is looking closely at.
TOOBIN: I thought that was such a weak part --
BERNSTEIN: And remember, the president is furious.
TOOBIN: Hold on, Carl. Hold on. There was such -- the idea that -- which Sessions said repeatedly, which is he was fired because of his mistreatment of Hillary Clinton, I mean it was preposterous.
COOPER: And that -- it goes against what the president himself said.
TOOBIN: And Jack Reed. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island at the end of the hearing brought out that Sessions had praised Comey during the campaign for the exact acts that he later said justified his firing, which just showed that he wasn't fired because of Clinton. He was fired because he was investigating Russia.
AXELROD: And one of the elements that, of course, they criticize Comey for now and others have criticized him for is the revelations he made about the Clinton investigation, which was closed when he originally spoke to it. And yet we hear that the president was enraged that Comey wouldn't speak publicly about the investigation into him or lack of investigation into him. So that is another sort of --
BORGER: And I think Rosenstein probably believed what he wrote to the president in that memo. The question is whether he was being used quite frankly by the president as an excuse to fire Comey and whether Sessions also, you know, went along with it.
COOPER: We're going to take a break. David, (inaudible).
GERGEN: I just want to say, listen, I think that we're likely to see these congressional hearings may not produce what we thought they would produce. But it's important to remember that Mueller can put these people under oath and they will have t o answer these kinds of questions. And without the bar for exercising executive privilege is much, much higher in a criminal investigation.
COOPER: More to talk about next, including reaction from the White House to this as well as late word on the story. They got the town talking, Carl Bernstein included, that the president was thinking about giving Special Counsel Robert Mueller the ax.
[21:23:07] COOPER: The president watched a portion of the hearings today aboard Air Force One on the way to stop in Milwaukee. He is back in Washington right now. We showed you him arriving just short time ago with Ivanka Trump.
CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the town that made Schlitz famous. So, Jeff, late toning the White House offered some thoughts on Jeff Sessions' testimony. What did they say?
JEFF ZELENEY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They did indeed, Anderson. These were the first comments we heard from the White House as the president was flying back to Washington from here in Wisconsin.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the Deputy Press Secretary, she said this. Let's look. She said, "What he did see and what he heard, he thought that the Attorney General Sessions did a very good job and in particular was very strong on the point that there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign."
Anderson, so interesting though, the president was trying to fly here to Wisconsin to change the subject, to talk about jobs, to talk about the economy. He was trying to desperately get beyond this cloud that's been hanging over the White House.
But, of course, I am told by someone who is on that plane with him that he watched it for the entire 94 minutes that he flew from Andrews Air Force Base to here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin earlier this afternoon. He went about his business here holding three events and, of course, just flew back. But, Anderson, this was on his mind here.
But also going back tonight, Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not say if this president has confidence in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. She would not answer that question. COOPER: Before the president left for Wisconsin today, he made a surprising comment about the health care bill that passed the House last month that they celebrated. What did he say?
ZELENY: He did. And this was the first time that he's really talked about health care in more than a month, about six weeks or so. He had 13 Republican senators over to the White House to talk about, you know, what was going on with the health care bill. And he acknowledged behind close doors, we're told, that the House passed health care bill was mean and mean spirited. And he said the Senate bill should be more generous.
[21:25:02] Now, this is interesting on several levels because he was, you know, working so hard for this House bill. But, of course, it's, you know, was met with that fierce opposition in the Senate. So, he was urging senators to be more generous. But when he got to -- here in Wisconsin, he didn't sound all that optimistic about the prospects for urgent passage of this. He said, "Hopefully the Senate can get it done at some point."
Now, we know Mitch McConnell had been talking about a July 4th passage of this. At this point, that seems very, very unlikely. But his comments about the House bill certainly so interesting because, of course, this has to go back to the House again before he can ever, ever sign this into law, Anderson.
COOPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, thanks for the reporting.
Back with the panel. And joining us is Jeffrey Lord, Brian Fallon, Jason Miller and Christine Quinn.
Jeff, what about -- I mean if the president is saying to the senators who were there that it was mean, I mean, this is the same bill that he celebrated in the Rose Garden.
JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The first thing the president has to do in getting through legislation, I'm sure David would agree, is get something through first. Then you work from there.
I don't know what the reference was in particular from what he saw as mean here. But it's not out of line with things he said over time that, you know, he just didn't want to have people in the streets and people have to have health care, et cetera. So, I don't think it's out of line. I'd just be interested to know what specifically it is there and if they can fix it.
COOPER: Yeah. I mean, Jason, Jeff makes a good point. It's not necessarily out of line with things he said during the campaign. It may be out of line with the visual of him celebrating in the Rose Garden seeming to back what happened in the House. Is it?
JASON MILLER, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: Well, of course, I wasn't with the president when he did or did not say this. You know, I think that the only thing mean here is if we don't take action to go, and repeal and replace Obamacare. And it continues to implode the way that we're seeing it.
But, I do think that there is a point that Jeffrey touched on a bit here, and the fact that the messaging wasn't right with this House bill coming out after they passed it. And I think one of the things that both the White House --
COOPER: What does that mean with the messaging?
MILLER: Well, the messaging, they haven't yet gone out and defined who exactly is going to be helped by this bill and it also make it very clear who is going to be hurt if they don't repeal and replace Obamacare. And this is very important. It's upwards of a sixth or seventh of our economy.
And it's something this president has promised he's going to do and I believe that he will go and do it. But they need to make a better point here on who exactly they're helping. And I think that's probably what the president was trying to get to.
CHRISTINE QUINN, FORMER NYC CITY COUNCIL SPEAKER: Why this is heavily (ph) absurd, absurd. I just -- absurd. I need to say it again. The man stood with a bunch of other white men, but when you pulled the camera out I think there was a woman or two, celebrating.
If he thought the bill was mean or he didn't know the messaging or didn't know who it helps, we know a lot of people hurts, women being high on that list, why did he go celebrate?
And now, he gets to flip the position, throw his colleagues in the House under the bus that I don't understand how a leader of the party would do that and now you're saying he is like having some intellectual thought process. There is no intellectual thought process. This is just like crazy town has moved into the White House. Thank you.
BRIAN FALLON, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE SPOKESMAN: Could you go over that again? Many of the Republicans that walk the plank in order to get this through the House and get it over the Senate are from red Republican leaning districts where now there are Democratic challengers that are going to be running in these districts are going to be able to say, not only is this proposal opposed by the AARP, not only would it raise your costs and kick 24 million people off the insurance rolls, but president Trump himself called it mean.
And so, the appeal of that message will now reach not just Democratic voters that will be enthused to come out and turn out in this red leaning districts, not just independents that we're seeing register their disapproval of this measure, but even some Republicans now that might actually be --
COOPER: So what -- to Jeff's point that this is a way of pushing the Senate to enact some changes.
FALLON: Well, here is the thing. John Cornyn has gone around in the last couple weeks. It talked about how their bill is probably going to be about 80 percent the same as the House bill. So, he's actually condemned that the Senate proposal before we've even seen it by talking up how bad the House bill is that the Senate Republicans are not likely to deviate --
AXELROD: But, Brian, you pointed out -- we should point -- I think that there's --
MILLER: -- they don't go and get this fix, though. And I think as you look at what's the third of the counties around the county only have one provider, we're seeing almost on the weekly basis, we're seeing state by state with having providers --
AXELROD: Part of the reason to that, Jason, part of the reason and has been written about in some of these recent decisions by insurance companies is they say the uncertainty that's been created by whether the administration is going to go forward with the commitment to provide subsidies, makes it impossible for them to plan properly.
So, the administration is back door undermining these markets even as they're like arsonists who light the fire and then race in with the fire engine and say we're going to save it. But I think --
COOPER: You're saying the argument that is collapsing on a ton of way (ph) is not true that essentially the administration is putting their --
AXELROD: I think there were problems in the exchanges that could be fixed. But what's happening -- what was happening now is the uncertainty is accelerating those problems.
[21:30:04] But just let me say -- and I actually want to hear what you have to say about this. I think there's something else going on here, though. I think that the president, the reason he had a celebration in the Rose Garden is because he had failed -- they had failed to pass a bill. He was so hard up to have a victory and he had a victory. And the contents didn't really matter that much.
And he actually used superlatives to describe that bill. It wasn't just the celebration. But he used superlatives leading up to the vote about that bill. And now he wants to get it through the Senate. He wants a win. He sees himself as a winner. I mean, this is a little bit like the cabinet meeting yesterday. I mean, he wants victories. He wants wins and the content doesn't matter. But the content does matter to millions of Americans.
BORGER: And I think he understands that this bill as written would hurt his base to a degree and I think he understands the politics of that. But a couple of other things are going on here. Yes, he wants a win, but he -- and he also said we need a bill that's more generous, that's more kind, you know, whatever language it was. And that you have to spend more money on it. So the point is, if they spend more money on the Senate bill, it's not going to -- they have to save the same amount of money as the House bill or they can't pass it under these rules.
GERGEN: So that they have more than 50 votes.
BORGER: A little complicated, right. So it's a problem for them, because if the president is now gone out there and dumped all over something he applauded and asked for something more generous. He can't get it if he wants to save the same amount of money, which he has to do.
GERGEN: He might just think about not cutting taxes for the rich quite as much.
GERGEN: You know, that would make a difference, you know. Yeah, it's true. Listen, I think also the Republican Party, especially in the Senate, is really sensitive to the fact that only about 20 percent to 25 percent of people in this country support the House bill.
And Donald Trump's disapproval rating today at Gallop went hit 60 percent. So if you're looking at it as a Republican, you'd say, "We've got to put some more money into this." Look at -- you know, look especially at the governor of Ohio. He had the Anthem pull out. And the Anthem said, "We would probably be here if you, of course, continuing to provide the subsidies." You know, so he is under a lot of pressure from these governors now to do something that's going to be more generous and more popular.
FALLON: From the policy standpoint, it's almost impossible for the Senate bill to have -- to be that much more generous than the House approach because of exactly the point that David made, because of the extent of the tax cuts that they're providing to the wealthiest Americans.
The subsidies are not going to be generous enough for people to get affordable coverage. And they're talking about maybe extending out the Medicaid expansion, but at the end of the day, Medicaid enrollees are going to suffer too.
AXELROD: And they barely got through the bill, they got through the House. The question is if it becomes much more generous, can you then go back and gets the House to go along? And that's a very tough --
LORD: That's how we're providing economic growth.
MILLER: That's why it would be smart -- I mean, they should go and combine the health care bill with the tax cut bill and actually get something that's going through (inaudible) and help the economy. They could do it.
I mean, look, if we're going to take significant action on the corporate tax, do some for tax cuts for the middle class, combine that with or we actually going to repeal and replace and do some actually to save this health care system before it goes off a cliff, I think it could be real winner and I think the president would probably be a lot more excited to get out on the road and go and sell this.
COOPER: Christine, the White House is trying to -- clearly, have been trying to move away from the Russia investigation. It is bringing the conversation back to health care, a good way to do it.
QUINN: Well, health care has not been a winner for the president. And was said by David, if 20 -- only 20 percent to 25 percent of Americans think this is a good idea. This is not a winner.
And I think him pushing this out now in this very disloyal way, a man who honors loyalty to his Republicans in the House really sends not just a bad substantive message to Americans, but it reminds them he is not a loyal guy.
It reminds him that he doesn't have a clear policy agenda. It reminds them that he at best is a scattered thinker and has forgotten the needs of people like coal miners who he promised they wouldn't lose their black lung coverage. So I think all of this just reminds people on substance and beyond what they don't like more and more about this president.
LORD: The coal mine opened in Pennsylvania this last week.
QUINN: And when those men and women get black lung, they will not be covered under the new health care act. So, yes, it's great to have a job. It's also good to not have your job kill you. And we could do both in America.
COOPER: Brian, is the problem that this White House had on health care, is it just a messaging issue as Jason pointed out?
FALLON: No. I think actually the happiest person in Washington to have all this focus on Russia and with the Sessions hearing today is Mitch McConnell, because right now he's going through a very disorderly process.
It is very hard for him to get 51 votes, even under the reconciliation rules that let him do with the simple majority. It's very hard to hear the cats and his caucus behind a controversial proposal that has 20 percent approval rating. But he is able do it largely behind the scenes with very little scrutiny at the back door manner, which this is being negotiated because of the all consuming attention on Russia.
[21:35:07] And that's the way he likes it, because to David's point, they want a victory at the end of the day, but they don't want too much scrutiny on the substance because the substance is a loser.
BORGER: You know, and if I were the president right now, I wouldn't be throwing House Republicans under the bus. By the way, given what's going on with Russia investigations and everything else, you're going to need to be able to rally your troops behind you and not let them think, "Well, OK, I was loyal to you, but you are not being loyal to me." And you could possibly --
(CROSSTALK) AXELROD: I remember, Nancy Pelosi during the House debate on this famously said, "You are being asked to walk the plank for something that will never become law and it will be tattooed on your forehead." And I'm sure those words are sort of bouncing around in their heads right now.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. Coming up, a new report says the president's lawyer in the Russia investigation has been going around saying that he was behind the firing of the U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. We're going to here hear from the reporter, next.
COOPER: Well, as you know, the president hired a personal lawyer in the Russia investigation. His name is Marc Kasowitz. He is the one who responded on the president's behalf to former FBI Director James Comey's Senate testimony.
[21:40:07] Now, a new report of ProPublica says he's also been going around boasting that he was central to the firing of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Back in March, Bharara refused to resign. He was then fired.
Joining us now is ProPublica Reporter Justin Elliott. So, what exactly is Kasowitz going around saying?
JUSTIN ELLIOTT, PROPUBLICA REPORTER: As Kasowitz has described his role as advising Trump to fire Bharara, he told one person that he told Trump that you need to get rid of Preet Bharara because he's going to get you.
COOPER: He's going to get the president?
ELLIOTT: That is Kasowitz account of it that he has given privately. And, of course, the central sort of mystery here if you remember is that Preet Bharara who is, you know, probably or at the time was the most prominent prosecutor in the country met with President-Elect Trump at Trump Tower back in November. Trump told him that he was going to keep him in the job. Then fast forward five months to March, Bharara is fired by Trump.
The White House has never explained what was going on there. And there's a whole bunch of issues there. One is that Bharara's office at Southern District of New York had an open investigation into a Trump cabinet member, Tom Price.
COOPER: Tom Price, who's the Health and Human Services Secretary.
ELLIOTT: Right. There's an investigation. One of my colleagues reported into some of his stock trades when he was in Congress.
COOPER: Right, whether he benefited from stocks that he bought that he then went out and basically it was sort of trying to adjust legislation based on it.
ELLIOTT: Exactly, right. So the Southern District has been investigating Tom Price. Preet was fired during that investigation after Trump had told him previously he's going to stay on. We still have never gotten an explanation for why Bharara was fired.
And by the way, Trump has not nominated anyone to replace him, although one of the names that people has been floated is one of Marc Kasowitz's partners at his law firm here in New York.
COOPER: And -- I mean, Donald Trump's businesses are in-- I mean, are in the Southern District.
ELLIOTT: Right. The Trump organization obviously had (inaudible) in Southern District. I don't know that there has been any reported investigation of the Trump organization by the Southern District.
But the Southern District is also reportedly investigating Fox News in connections made -- in connection with payments made to women who accused the network of sexual harassment. There was an investigation into Deutsche Bank, which obviously is, you know, has a long time relationship with Trump as his lender.
ELLIOTT: So this is, you know, the most important district in the country and we still don't have an explanation for why Bharara was fired.
COOPER: And Bharara responded to your article in the tweet this morning. I want to put it on the screen. He tweeted, "Sheesh, I haven't even had my covfefe yet."
ELLIOTT: Right. So, I don't think Bharara knows why he was fired still. And, you know, again, adding to the mystery, Trump hasn't nominated anyone for this job still.
COOPER: Your report also says that Kasowitz has privately told people that the president asked him to be his attorney general?
ELLIOTT: Right. So Kasowitz who has represented Trump in his business matters over years.
COOPER: A long time.
ELLIOTT: Yeah. He -- the firm represented Trump in one of his bankruptcies, in the Trump University case, now in the Russia investigation. But, in Kasowitz's account, he now seems to be advising Trump on public policy matters, which also I think raises all kinds of potential conflicts.
I mean, Kasowitz's firm is a good size firm. It's around 300 lawyers there. They have all kinds of corporate clients with business before the government. They have allowed (ph) being practice in Washington. So, Kasowitz is not a government employee. Until now, he seemed to only be Trump's personal lawyer. If he is now sort of advising the administration on that as public policy, you can imagine there's all kinds of potential conflicts. COOPER: Is it possible that -- I mean, this sounds like you're reporting is based on people who have heard him talking about things. There's a possible he is just bragging and not saying things which are true.
ELLIOTT: That is possible. I mean, he does -- you know, my colleague and I have spoken to many people that know him and he does have reputation for being sort of a brash bragging guy. So, you know, I think the only people -- it is a very small group of people who know what his conversations with Trump have been, but this is how he has described them to other people.
COOPER: Fascinating report. Justin Elliott, thanks so much.
ELLIOTT: Thank you.
COOPER: ProPublica. Justin is going to stay with us. I want to bring in the rest of the panel here. So, Jeff, I mean could the president have broken any laws with how he fire Preet Bharara? I mean -- or violate ethical standards?
TOOBIN: I don't think so. I mean, it is customary for most -- for basically all the U.S. attorneys to turn over in the course of a new administration. What's unusual about the Preet Bharra story is that he told him -- the president-elect told Bharara in November he was keeping him and then for some reason changed his mind.
Preet Bharara has said that there was this sort of weird courtship by phone similar to the one Comey described which suddenly ended when Bharara did not reciprocate, which ended with his firing. All of which is peculiar, but I can't imagine that it's illegal in any sense.
[21:45:08] COOPER: Ken, I mean if this is true, does it --
KENNETH CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yeah.
COOPER: -- reinforce the narrative that if you're even perceived as a threat the president will come after you? Or how do you perceive it?
CUCCINELLI: Well, certainly, it is traditional to see the turnover in the U.S. attorneys. So -- and it is not -- I wouldn't call it traditional with President Trump, but I don't think any of us see it as unusual anymore when he reverses himself on something like this. And so, I don't have any qualms about other than the qualms I might have about how he reverses himself frequently. There's no legal issue here.
I do think given that it's one of the two most important districts along with the Eastern District of Virginia, which handles a lot of the espionage, national security cases, Southern District of New York handles a lot of the finance cases. I think if there should be priorities for getting a U.S. attorney nominated and approved by the Senate as quickly as possible. But I do agree that when anybody fails to show signs of loyalty, that they are imperiled with this president.
COOPER: I mean, Christine, how much weighed do you give Marc Kasowitz story, because Bharara himself said on Sunday when he was interviewed on ABC that the president -- he felt the president was trying to cultivate some kind of relationship. That was the term he used.
COOPER: He was fired when --
QUINN: I mean, well, I think that he -- I mean, I guess you would need maybe another person to corroborate this because this is a person who brags a lot, so you don't know how much credence you can give to it.
But I do think the connection of him saying this was a deja vu watching the Comey -- what happened with Comey that Trump had basically had a lot of -- he had a lot of unusual phone calls and the same kind of inappropriate contact up to the point that he actually didn't return one of the president's phone calls, because he checked with other lawyers and they said this is inappropriate. And the president seems to have then fired him after that. So, there is something -- I think that's important in light of the broader investigation.
CUCCINELLI: Look, Anderson, you know, can I jump in here? You know, CNN ran a story on Tangier Island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay recently and on their need for a seawall. Well, Donald Trump called the mayor of Tangier Island yesterday. They had a conversation completely unscheduled. And I think this is just something that he does.
So let's not read too much into the fact that he jumps on the phone with people who he's had a thought about. He does it on the positive. It's hard to argue with him calling the mayor of Tangier Island where they are threatened by erosion and promising to help deal with it.
And calling even the U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York and engaging in a conversation sort of what appears to be, you know, on the spur of the moment without a lot of planning or background work.
QUINN: Yeah. The thing I would say about that is that, you know, Donald Trump didn't just fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I mean, whatever you think about him, he had some level of sophistication. He is an international businessman. He lives in Manhattan. He knows a little bit and I think he has at least know that this is a little different than what you're describing. I mean, it's not quite the same thing.
CUCCINELLI: But he acts the same in both situations.
QUINN: He call somebody who's investigating your HHS, you know, secretary, you know, somebody who can cause a lot of problems for you. I just think anybody honestly who watches like crime television knows that you don't do this.
COOPER: Matt, I mean, is there a mission creep for -- I mean if the idea that there's some sort of mission creep for the president's personal lawyer, is that of concern?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would say a couple things. One is Donald Trump just like he behaves in a way that's unorthodox. Some of the people who surround him normally would not be ready for primetime. That people -- Corey Lewandowski, for example, that guy could have never gotten hired on any normal presidential race who ends up managing Donald Trump race, lawyers probably the same thing.
Having said that, I think it was probably good political advice. Like somebody should have gone to Donald Trump much earlier and said, fire Preet Bharara, like you do not want a liberal activist United States attorney, especially in your jurisdiction. He should have done it right away, gotten rid of all of them, cleaned house. And, look, the problem is he did it too late. He mishandled the execution of it. But the advice to fire him, I think is solid political advice.
ELLIOTT: Can I say --
COOPER: Yeah, yeah.
ELLIOTT: Sorry. In Bharara's defense, he is best known for going after top Democrats in New York State. He's -- I don't see how you can describe him as a liberal activist. I mean, he put away the top Democrat in the New York State House and was, you know, he sort of made his name doing that so.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, with just great story shows to me is that everything with Trump is transactional, right? So one of the reasons he wanted to keep him on is because Schumer, Chuck Schumer, the senator from New York, apparently suggested that he should keep this guy on. So he's doing a favor for Chuck Schumer. He thinks he is going to get something out of the relationship in the Senate.
Well, then Preet Bharara doesn't really pay off for him. He's not showing loyalty. He's not doing anything for him and his personal lawyer, according to your reporting says, you know, get rid of this guy and Trump, again, is transactional. All right, let's get rid of this guy.
[21:50:07] COOPER: Carl, how do you see this?
BERNSTEIN: Well, at the time there was no special prosecutor. And the FBI was working both in the Virginia jurisdiction and anything that might have occurred in terms of the Trump organizations finances, including dealings perhaps with Russians or Russian loans, might conceivably have gone through the office of the U.S. attorney in the Southern District.
And that certainly is something that lawyers in the U.S. attorney's office at the time suggested privately. Whether that's the case, I think what we're seeing is that the president has an inclination to try and shut down legitimate investigation when he thinks it's coming close or closing in on him.
I mean, all of this is at a peace. And once, again, what Rosenstein today was doing was laying down a marker and saying if the president goes over that line with Mueller, then a line will have been crossed that others think is irretrievable.
COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We'll continue the conversation next. Plus, new word from a White House official about what Robert Mueller was doing just a day before he was appoint as special counsel in the Russian investigation. He had a job interview with the president, that's next.
[21:55:04] COOPER: Well, it comes as you (inaudible) of President Trump case in point, on May 17th, Robert Mueller was named special counsel in the Russia investigation. It turns out that just a day before that, the president was actually interviewing Mueller for FBI director. CNN reported the time that the White House only got a very brief heads up about the special counsel. What a difference a day makes. Back now with the panel.
This response from the White House spokeswoman, Jeff, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, about -- to question about whether President Trump would fire Mueller saying, "The president has the right to, but he's no intention to do it." Actually the question was, now whether you fire him, but whether he was considering it, she didn't even address the -- whether he's considering it, she just said he's not going to do it.
TOOBIN: I think one thing we've learned in the past 24 hours is that this idea of the Trump firing Mueller is just a catastrophic one that Republicans recognize as much as Democrats.
So, I mean it is technically true that the president through the attorney general can fire Mueller. But, the idea that he would do it, especially now when Mueller's not done anything, it just seems absurd.
COOPER: It can -- I mean, it's interesting because no one in the White House has even acknowledged that he might have been considering it, which is what Ruddy had said. But what they have said and now Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying is it's not going to happen.
CUCCINELLI: Right. And that's what they should say. And to the extent that anybody had that cross their mind, they should as quickly as they possible, scrub that memory from (inaudible). They're not going to fire this guy. His reputation is unimpeachable.
I think it is important for Mueller to make sure he's got balanced hiring going on. That's the only area that's giving people in a meaningful concern that I think is legitimate. But the White House took the right position in saying this isn't something we're considering and it isn't something we're going to do.
LIZZA: And Rod Rosenstein drew a very bright line today in his testimony. He was made very clear that -- he's in-charge of firing Mueller. If Mueller -- if the president wants Mueller to be fired, he has to go through Rod Rosenstein. That's what the regulations of the Justice Department say. And he was very clear that the only way he would ever fire him is for what the regulations say is cause, right?
Up to that, he basically said he would leave his job before he would carry out those instructions. So, you have Republicans today backing away from the saying it was catastrophic. You have the person-in- charge of this mission if Trump asked him to do it saying, "Not going to happen." So, I agree with Jeff that, you know, basically in the 24 hours since Christian Rudy floated this, all the key players have said you can't cross this line.
COOPER: Carl, how much do you think this was, you know, a friend of the president floating it in order is kind of get the message out that it would not be a good idea?
BERNSTEIN: I don't know. It was also Newt Gingrich, it was also some other people. Clearly, there were discussions going on that gave the idea some currency, perhaps as a trial balloon and because of the catastrophic nature that was conveyed back particularly because of Republican reaction. You heard what Sarah Huckabee Sanders just said.
There is one silver lining perhaps in Mueller's assuming this job for Donald Trump. And that is that unlike Ken Starr who went on a fishing expedition in terms of the Clintons and the Whitewater investigation, Mueller is self-disciplined enough and believes in the rule of law enough that I think there's considerable evidence he would not go on a fishing expedition.
He will go far and wide and it's already started to I gather on all matters Russian, including financial dealings of the Trump organization, perhaps Trump loans, trying to get to the bottom of what happened with things, Russians, collusion, et cetera. But a fishing expedition, no, and I think the White House could take this comfort in that perhaps.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. I just wondered, does the Trump administration want somebody with unimpeachable integrity investigating him? I'm serious. You know, and --
POWERS: And so -- and the other thing is, you know, to the -- so let's say Rod Rosenstein since he would resign, said that he resign and then Jeffrey you can lay it out for us from there. But, I mean, isn't there a scenario where Trump could still do it and people resign and to find somebody to ultimately do what he wants.
TOOBIN: Of course. Right, which is precisely what happened in the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973. You had Elliot Richardson resign, you had William Ruckelshaus resign, and finally Robert Bork fired him. I just think that is something that even Donald Trump who is not deeply steeped in American history does not want to replicate. LEWIS: Well, that the moment is certainly past at least for now. If this was actually a real thing, I mean the (inaudible) was broken, but it could -- maybe it comes back if they start closing in on something.
COOPER: All right. I want to thank everybody for being on the panels tonight. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon in "CNN Tonight."
[22:00:02] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Attorney General Jeff Sessions angrily denouncing accusations against his character while testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is "CNN Tonight." I'm Don Lemon.
In his opening statement, Sessions had this to say to his former Senate colleagues.