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tv   The Lead With Jake Tapper  CNN  November 7, 2018 12:00pm-1:00pm PST

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rosenstein or mueller or gets whitaker to fire mueller or whatever, would congress step in and hire muler to contin er tmu investigation? now the president has a democratic arm of congress who without question, without question would take that step. the or question is would any republican in congress raise their voice and support that? >> maybe lindsey graham would. >> the same lindsey graham from south carolina? >> who has said mueller has to finish his investigation. there are so many dominos here to think about. first of all, who's in charge? is whitaker now in charge of rosenstein, how is -- >> if he's the acting attorney general. >> and in charge of rosenstein and in charge of mueller as a result. because they were thinking of whitaker to replace rosenstein, remember when they all thought rosenstein was going to get
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fired because of what he said in a private meeting about the president. so whitaker was on deck. so rosenstein still remains, but if he has lost his authority and he has expressed faith in mueller, which he has publicly, will he resign? is this one other way of decapitating the justice department? and then congress also, schumer just said in but there's been legislation that you got to protect the mueller investigation. you could get that passed in the house in five seconds now. >> does rosenstein stay, number one? if he resigns and whitaker overseas that investigation, one possibility is that he fires mueller, tries to end it. the president said something very different today. whitaker could curtail and limit the scope on the investigation. >> let's not forget, jeff sessions among republicans in the senate was very well liked. he's a form are u.s. senator from alabama, the first
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republican senator to endorse donald trump. and the way he was treated by the president after all those rallies in alabama and all that, you know, it was a pretty sad moment. and a lot of republicans in the senate right now like jeff sessions are not going to be happy. >> here's your question to gloria as point, the postelection state of the republicans match with their postelection statements? john cornyn just issued a statement saying jeff sessions is a great man, he has done great service. it says nothing about the key investigations. john cornyn had been one of those saying everybody calm down, let him finish his work. >> the justice department is saying whitaker is expected to take charge of the mueller investigation. >> look how -- at the words,
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perhaps he read the tea leaves and noticed the line of succession would be if he leaves, whitaker would become his replacement. he is saying given the notice of noticing that the president believes this person will serve the country well in light of mueller's probe going too far, you have the writing on the wall. the question will be where does the report go? while people are looking at the midterm elections, mueller has not been sitting around twiddling his thumbs. he's been waiting to abide by the justice department's internal rule. he will not disrupt the election. now whether or not whitaker will curtail or undermine the expose of what's already been done is
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the question but he still is in a very powerful position. >> plus the southern district of new york. we're talking about bob mueller. a lot of the trump finances, trump organizations, the things matthew whitaker wrote about in that op-ed, they cut the deal with michael cohen, those v investigations that get to the president's company and the company's associates, that's not under robert mueller anymore, those have been handed off. >> i want to bring in legal commentator jeffrey toobin. what do you think this means, president trump effectively firing the attorney general. instead of having the deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein, bringing in whitaker, who is supporting the unfairness of the mueller probe. >> it means the president is
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taking control of the mueller investigation and the senate is going to do nothing about it. remember, we just had this election yesterday where they expanded their majority. the idea that this senate will exercise any sort of reluctance, hesitance, control over the president i think is folly. i think this is going to be a rubber stamp senate. the fact that jeff sessions is a former senator and liked by several of his colleagues i think is totally irrelevant at this point. donald trump cares deeply about limiting the authority of mueller, if not firing him altogether, and i think he's taking steps right away to take charge of the mueller investigation, and i don't think the senate, this senate, is going to do a thing about it. >> very interesting. thank you so much, jeffrey toobin. one of the things, david
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chalian, that's going to be an interesting test is what happens with this incoming republican senate? what happens -- what will their reaction to this be? will there be enough, i guess, if they have a 55 vote seats, the question is will five of them, will six of them be willing to join with the democrats to take action to protect mueller? i don't know that that's actually needed. maybe the house can just hire him if mueller is fired, which hasn't happened. are there five or six republicans willing to buck president trump? i don't think so. >> i don't know. to your point earlier, you called this senate republican conference trumpier than before. so the numbers don't stack up that way. does a ben sass or a mitt romney all of a sudden come in and feel -- >> that's two. >> collins and murkowski. >> that's four. that's not six. >> they may not need six. we don't know how the total numbers are going to go. >> mcconnell has said let bob
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mueller finish his job. post election. answer. >> if you listen to the president at the press conference today, the president of the united states to my ear was reasserting his belief that he has total control over the mueller probe. and that he can end it no matter what. and, yes, he hasn't done it and he let it play out. i think he was sending a message in that press conference today that this is up to me. i get to decide if the mueller probe ends. >> i don't know if it works that way. >> can i say a contrarian thought. do you really think -- i know the president likes all fights. do you think he wants this fight? >> sure. >> yeah. >> why not? why would he not like it? he maintains he's done nothing wrong. it feeds into his sense of grievance. >> but he invites a war -- if there's nothing to hide, let it play out. they won't find anything.
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he uses that as a bigger club before 2020 and the run-up to 2020 more than if he completely cuts it off and has everybody on him. >> he does like fights and baits the democrats. at this moment when nancy pelosi was calm, now he baits them. >> time is up for mueller. >> i was leaning down in my corner on the phone. i just spoke with rudy giuliani, the president's lawyer, on this issue. he said the following. the obvious question is is fee he goi -- is he going to shut it down? he said "it's gone on that long, i can't imagine he'll end it now." it backs up what you said, let it play out. they claim and insist they have nothing to hide. we've been reporting has been reporting or his lawyers, yi
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should say, has written questions about whether or not there was collusion before the campaign. we'll see where that goes. i also want to caveat, a big caveat, not ending it, allowing it to play out is very different in a president guiding it in how it plays out. >> but that's the point. that's what he's doing by replacing sessions, putting in somebody who agrees with him on the mueller investigation. we don't know what this means for the status of rod rosenstein. so what he's doing is, you know, he's being the puppet master here. >> at a time we know the question soon to come from mueller to whoever his boss is at the justice department, what do i do with this roger stone piece of the investigation? i've had everyone before the grand jury, here's my evidence, roger stone, was he or was he not coordinated with wikileaks, did he pass up something on the trump campaign, whether or not
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he had these e-mails, did he release them? we don't know the answers. we know mueller was investigating them and the grand jury has been very busy and waiting until after the election to bring it to the fore. >> expected to become the chairman of the house judiciary committee tweeted this in response to the president "americans must have answers immediately as to the reasoning behind donald trump removing jeff sessions from the justice department. why is the president making this change and who has authority over special counsel mueller's investigation? we will be holding people accountable." >> we have an answer. we're told now matthew whitaker has the supervisory role over the mueller investigation, taking it away from rod rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. we have an answer to that. in terms of his reasoning, the president doesn't have to have reasoning. after president trump fired
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james comey, i said that we are all going through a slow motion, multi-month saturday night massacre. when president nixon fired leon jaworski, the special counsel looking into watergate and there was a whole blood bath with the attorney general elliott richardson resigning and deputy attorney general resigning, et cetera, and ultimately robert bourque i believe is the one who fired jaworski, that was called the saturday night massacre for people who don't remember and it was president nixon at the time trying to get away from any accountability from the justice department. president trump has been doing that in slow motion. i'm not saying he's responsible for anything like what happened under watergate. we have no idea what happened and what mueller will turn up. maybe he'll turn up nothing. but it has been a slow motion saturday night massacre starting with the firing of james comey and now with the firing of the attorney general. >> hold on one moment.
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laura jarrett, our justice department departmereporter is more information. >> reporter: i'm now told by a senior administration official that the president did not even call the torattorney general to fire him or ask for his resignation himself. instead the chief of staff john kelly did it. that's the person that sessions had his hand delivered resignation letter delivered to a short time ago. it gives you sort of a picture that even at the end of the day the president did not even call this attorney general to deliver this news after all of the tweets, after all of the berating, he did not even do him that courtesy. we're also told that matthew whitaker, session's chief of staff is expected to take over the mueller probe but, again, this is all very fast moving. as everyone has mentioned already, whitaker has a checkered past when it comes to the mueller investigation. he has not been quiet about times where he thinks that mueller has overstepped,
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particularly in relation to the president's finances. and i'm also told there's no word yet on whether mueller actually got a heads up on whether whitaker could potentially be his boss. so we wait to find out more information about how all of that will shake out and whether mueller said anything to that news. as of right now sessions and the deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein, are still in the building, wolf. >> he didn't even have the courtesy to call him up and say it's over. >> it's the irony for somebody best known for the catch phrase "you're fired" actually in real life never has the stomach to say to anybody, whether it is james carey or omarosa or now jeff sessions. >> could democrats do something
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in a lame duck session? >> you mean like try to protect robert mueller? >> yeah. is there anything that could be done? >> there could be. >> paul ryan on the way out the door, jim jordan, steve scalise, house republican battle, yeah. >> the biggest question is the senate. that's where this started and mitch mcconnell has been resistant. >> i just think that the question of whether this has been a slow motion saturday night massacre, again i'm trying to think this through. what made the saturday night massacre so surprising is that it was a massacre all at once. the president could have shut this investigation down. he could have fired rosenstein and had basis to do it according to the "new york times." presumably one of the reasons is
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he was worried about doing it to the midterms. you have to hold on to the idea that there is some risk if he were to actually completely shut down the investigation, that it would be a tremendous risk and could actually lead to his defeat in 2020. again, it's a theory. i may be naive, you may be right. i'm wondering if there is a level of caution that he has exercised despite what's done. >> the guardrails that have been there include speaker ryan, soon to be former speaker ryan telling him not to do it. don mcgahn, who is gone, jeff sessions, john kelly. he's surrounded by people telling him not to do it and he's listened to them so far but he has been getting rid of these guardrails one after the other. >> you would appreciate this. the thing about sessions, too, that's amazing, first supporter in the senate, such a hard line guy, what he understood i think the president forgets about the
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presidency is that his job as attorney general is bigger than him. whether you like sessions or not, he held up to that principle and then gets treated like this. >> it was a protracted saturday night massacre. i will not give the president credit to think perhaps he is now just throwing caution to the wind. he knows the midterms are over and consequences politically are gone. there's hope because mueller anticipated this. so what do you got, mueller? time is up for you to take a protracted approach to this at this point. >> and a lot of us are wondering what rosenstein himself might do. >> one of the questions given the fact that matt whitaker at least is expected to take over the investigation, the oversight of the mueller investigation, the big question is whether the justice department ethics
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department, whether the ethics people at the justice department tell him that because of some of the writings, i think laura jarrett made mention of some of the things he had previously written here at cnn, whether that requires him to recuse himself and the president has the same recusal problem all over again. one of the things in the next couple of days we're going to be watching for is whether the ethics officials at the justice department tell matt whitaker that because of his previous comments, including last year on don lemon's show he made comments about how an acting attorney general could come in and essentially reduce the budget for the mueller investigation as a way to starve it up of of the resources and i way make it shut down. those are the comments matt whitaker has made previously, he made them here on cnn and now those comments are going to come into play for the ethics officers at the justice department as they review whether he can indeed oversee the mueller investigation.
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>> let me just read one sentence from that article that he wrote, matt whitaker, for, mueller's investigation of trump is going too far. it's very significant. quote, it is time for rosestein, who is the acting attorney general for purposes of this investigation to order mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to the four corners of the order appointing him special counsel." >> evan, let me ask you, when jeff sessions sought advice from the ethics attorneys at the department of justice and they told him he needed to recuse himself, that wasn't because of his opinion about the russia investigation, it was because he had talked and met with russian officials while he was a surrogate for the trump campaign. >> right. >> that's not legally binding, though, right? that's advice from ethics lawyers. he doesn't have to take it. >> right. the way the rules are the justice department are, jake, by
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and large people accept that opinion because if you don't accept it, then any decisions you make could be challenged, it becomes a legal problem for the department. so that's the reason why when you seek that ethics opinion, you respect it. that's why jeff sessions himself has said he had no choice but to accept that because anything that he did in oversight of the investigation would then be questionable because of that. so once you have the ethics opinion from the justice department, by and large you generally have to accept it simply because it calls into question anything that you touch that has to do with the investigation. so that's the reason why i think it's going to be very interesting to see whether or not the writings and the comments that whitaker has made in the past, whether those are enough for the ethics officers there at the justice department there to say he needs to recuse. keep in mind it's not just his role here or his comments.
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it's any appearance of bias that might come into play. so people at the justice department are required to avoid any appearance of bias. so that's the big question that i think is going to be decided by the ethics officers. >> the former attorney general eric holder during the obama administration just tweeted this, and i'll read it "anyone who attempts to interfere with or obstruct the mueller inquiry must be held accountable. this is a red line. we a nation re a nation of laws norms, not subject to the self-interested actions of one man." pamela brown, you're getting more reaction at the white house as well. >> i can tell you, wolf, some senior officials at the white house were caught by surprise with the timing of this announcement, with the president asking for the resignation of attorney general jeff sessions. and we're finding out more about how this all played out. a source telling my colleague
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laura jarrett it was the president's chief of staff, john kelly, who called the attorney general this morning, the former attorney general we should say, he has now resigned, jeff sessions, to tell him that he needed to submit his resignation letter. so the president himself did not even call the attorney general, jeff sessions, to ask for the resignation letter. this was all before the press conference that the president had today where he was asked about jeff sessions and what would happen to him. and he sort of tach danp dancedd it saying i would get to that at a later day. this has happened even before the press conference. it is pretty significant. we know, wolf, he has had discussions with matt whitaker in the past, the now acting attorney general about taking on this role. but at the time, those in the white house told the president that there could be issues where he would have to recuse himself because of his past writings and his past comments. as evan pointed out, his comments about the mueller probe
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and suggesting that his budget should be suppressed. all of this of course will now be under scrutiny and the white house knows that. >> you were saying, jake, the president, he may have had the phrase "you're fired" when he was a tv reality star, but in reality he doesn't like to personally fire anyone. >> no, we don't have any examples of him personally doing it himself. he always has somebody else do it for him, comey, omarosa, whom ever. this is just another example of the president destroying basic norms when it comes to law and order. earlier today the president of the united states threatened democrats if they intended to investigate his administration, he said that he would investigate them. and he said he thinks he's better at that game than they are, in a sense and in a fact threatening to use the fbi as a way of threatening democrats who
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want to do their constitutional duty and investigate and conduct oversight. now we have the president of the united states because of jeff session's recusal on the russia investigation, he fires him. >> can i just posit something here about the timing of this and why he did this. david, you spent the night looking at exit polls. one exit poll that struck me was that bob mueller's popularity was underwater. his popularity went up and had gone done. in the exit polls, where was he? >> 46 disapprove, 4 is1 approve. >> so his disapproval was higher. he could use the reform act and put someone in a couple hundred days and go around the congress and may feel he has public opinion on his side right now when it comes to bob mueller.
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>> that's why jeff sessions is so witty in a way in this. you're right about the vacancy reform act. they can appoint somebody if they resign, but you can't force the firing of the person. they have to actually truly resign. that's kind of the question of the law. when jeff session talks about at your request i am submitting my resignation, he's almost signaling to his colleagues, we know the vacancy reform act. it may be that was more than simply a comment on i am not going of my own accord but also a signaling of, excuse me, this is not just bucking of the norm. there's a protocol under the act itself. >> i want to bring in pamela brown at the white house. >> reporter: i just spoke to a
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source for the president who tells me matt whitaker ending or suppressing the russia probe is not part of the plan right now. the feeling at the white house and among the president's level te -- legal team is they want this to wrap up. they know mueller has submitted questions to the president and the expectation is that robert mueller will submit a report to deputy attorney general rod rosenstein before the end of the year about his findings. the plan for now is that there will be no interference in terms of the russia probe and this new acting attorney general. >> i just want to point out when he was interviewed by don lemon in july of 2017, whitaker, who is now going to be in charge of the russia investigation, said this, "so i could see a scenario where jeff sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and
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that attorney general doesn't fire bob mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt." >> well, we can't say we weren't warned. he said it to don lemon and then magically president trump has decided to put him as acting attorney general. so this idea that sources -- and i'm sure pamela's sources are believing what they're saying, that that's not the plan as of right now to limit and curtail the mueller investigation, i'm sure it isn't their plan as of right now, but who knows what president trump will do in 15 minutes. >> no doubt about it. laura used the word witty. >> i tried. it may have been a gift. >> i want to highlight a piece of mitch mcconnell's statement, former colleague, dedicated public servant ends with this line, "i wish him well and look forward to working with him in any future endeavors." doug jones, the democrat from alabama in the jeff sessions
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seat is up for reelection in 2020. and wouldn't it be the sweetest revenge for jeff sessions to actually run for the senate again, assuming that alabama basis like alabama basis politically, gets elected back to the united states senate and becomes a thorn in this president's side. >> would he get a mega rally? >> it just is a really interesting line here that we may not be done from senator mcconnell's perspective with jeff sessions. >> let's get reaction from capitol hill. you make a good point, as you always do, david. sunlen, first to you. what are you hearing? >> reporter: certainly wolf on capitol hill still digesting this information. this of course was something that was talked about for many years and months leading up to election day, but i think certainly the timing is taking many people by surprise. the immediate reaction certainly coming from democrats, as we've been discussing on air, the concern over what this means potentially for bob mueller's
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investigation. that's what we heard from senate minority leader chuck schumer. just a few minutes ago he said he finds the timing of this very suspect, and he said certainly he hopes and believes that this would spark a constitutional crisis, he says, if this was just to limit or this is the first step in potentially pushing towards ending or limiting the mueller investigation. here's more of what he had to say. >> you're first. oh. well, i'd say this. i just heard the news, but i'd say this -- protecting mule ael and his investigation is paramount. it would create a constitutional crisis. >> meantime we are hearing from house democrats to jerry nadler,
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the ranking member on the judiciary committee who stands to likely indeed be that chair next january when their new congress is sworn in. he said he wants to hold the administration accountable here, he wants to know of course why the specific change and specifically who has authority over the special counsel. and certainly as congress continues to react, the discussion very quickly, very likely will turn to what legislation potentially can be put in place and can be proposed again to potentially protect the special counsel. you'll remember that this is something that a bipartisan group of senators brought before mitch mcconnell earlier in the year and he said at that point that he did not think this was necessary so he was not going to bring such legislation to the floor. back to you guys. >> sunlen, stand by. manu raju, what are you hearing? >> reporter: the republicans are greeting this news with a
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collective shrug of sorts. talking about taking up a nominee in a new congress. for weeks before republicans had been raising serious concerns about the prospect of removing jeff sessions, but as it appeared to be more and more inevitable that this was going to happen, some came around to the idea that this was going to happen post election. now, mitch mcconnell privately met with jeff sessions last week. we tried to ask sessions as he leaving if he discussed the possibility of resigning with mitch mcconnell. he did not comment at that time. now today i got a chance to ask mcconnell directly if he were comfortable with the prospect of jeff sessions stepping aside. >> would you be comfortable with sessions being replaced? >> it's not up to me to tell the president who to put in his cabinet. they serve at his pleasure. and if he makes changes, we'll
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be dealing with whoever is sent up. >> reporter: so not raising any concerns from the senate majority leader about the prospects of making this replacement. ultimately this is going to be the senate's control moving forward, as they plan to push forward with whatever investigations here. democrats themselves were caught a little surprised by this news, even if it seemed inevitable just a few days ago, guys. >> all right, on capitol hill, thanks so much. we'll come back to you in a bit. i was talking earlier about watergate and the saturday night massacre, president nixon ordering his justice department, his attorney general, deputy attorney general to fire the investigator, special prosecutor archibald cox. let's bring in someone who knows
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a little more about watergate than i do, john dean, the former white house counsel for president nixon. john, what's your reaction to this move, president trump asking attorney general jeff sessions for his resignation today? >> well, unlike the saturday night massacre where nixon relieved special prosecutor cox, that was sort of a culmination of disregard for the president's direction as to not go after his tapes. here i think this seems to be planned like a murder. i say that given the fact that the president was asked a question in the press conference this morning, he brushed it off, said we'll deal with it later and he's clearly been thinking about it and later meant he's not necessarily going to fire mueller, he's going to undercut him by the people around him. >> do you see this as part of an attempt to undermine the mueller investigation?
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obviously matthew whitaker, who is now the acting attorney general, has been very up front and honest about his belief that attorney general sessions, now former attorney general sessions, could be replaced, should be replaced by somebody who could then use the budgetary process or other ways to restrict the mueller investigation. >> it is almost impossible not to interpret this any other way than to undercut mueller. but i also think mueller has been well aware of that and probably has planned for that contingency. >> how would he plan for such a contingency like that? >> he could have sealed indictments. grand juries are strange animals. they're neither fish nor foul, they don't belong to the executive branch, they don't belong to the judicial branch. they might have a very sharp foreman of the grand jury. he could go ahead and release the indictment or indictments if he thought necessary. >> explain what that means to
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our viewers that mueller could have sealed indictments. what does that mean? >> it means they're already in the works. the grand jury has issued indictments, they just have not made them known public. >> would the people who were indicted know about it? >> no, they would not. >> and so you think that it's possible, and you're just hypothesizing here, that mueller in preparation for any sort firing or undercutting so that he can't do his job would have these sealed indictments as already handed down by a grand jury and then if he were fired or actions to that effect, what would happen to those sealed indictments? >> theoretically, i think the foreman of the grand jury can take them in to the judge or they may be in the file with the judge already, and this would be the basis to unseal them. and these would be the kinds of indictments that would be very high profile. it could be one of the president's children, it could
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be somebody else that is very high in the pecking order. >> how much confidence do you have in our judicial system to survive whatever is about to happen here, assuming more is about to happen? >> well, i have a lot. the system is not just five judges that are conservatives on the supreme court, it is an entire branch of the government. and even for those five justices, if they do lean towards the president to do press didn't bre precedent breaking action that makes this look like a banana republic, you could start losing one or more of those five. we saw that on health care with john roberts. it's his court, he's the chief justice. i have an underlying faith in the system. >> all right, john dean, thank you so much for your experience and calling in. i want to read a tweet from senator lindsey graham who we've been talking about for the last hour or so. quote, i look forward to working
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with president trump to find a confirmable, worthy successor so that we can start a new chapter at the department of justice and deal with the opportunities and challenges our nation faces. as to me, i will be part of a larger republican majority in the united states senate working with the president and my republican democratic colleagues to make america safer and more prosperous." dana bash, graham once said there will be holy hell to pay if jeff sessions was fired. that does not sound like holy hell. >> no, because last month or maybe two months ago he said something quite different from holy hell. he said basically it's time for jeff sessions to go. i'm paraphrasing it but that's the gist of what he said. and the argument that he made is that it's obvious that the relationship between the president and jeff sessions has frayed beyond repair. and so, yes, it is an example of the evolution of lindsey graham when it comes to holding the
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president accountable on a whole bunch of issues. i will say that graham as senior member of the judiciary committee and somebody who actually did want immigration reform holds jeff sessions accountable for that falling apart and also accountable for the child separation policy that went on on the board rder. also wants to get justice reform done and doesn't think jeff sessions can do things. so there are things separate from the 800-pound guerrilril g the corner. >> he made it clear he has no intention of being the next attorney general. >> the four republican leaders who know the question on the table and refuse to answer it. >> the nuance question is, a, is the nuance just going to be a hammer here?
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if the nuance piece is they want to force an end so they find a way to get the new attorney general to choke off the investigation and forces it to conclusion because of the fear that the president and others have that it could go in different directions, and again, how m how mueller prepares for that, there's the possibility of indictment, and there's the report that he could get into the public domain or congress's hands. >> or not. >> normally when a secretary or an attorney general or cabinet member resigns, the number two person in the department becomes the acting. there's a deputy attorney general, rod rosenstein. he was humiliated just now when the president said somebody else is going to be the acting attorney general. that's a real snub of the number two at the department of justice. >> it was.
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i'm sure that it was predictable in his mind. remember this is somebody who the president of the united states has been critical of in the past and they have now kind of a new-pound bromance following the "new york times" article about a statement about wearing a wire and they had a coming to jesus moment of some sorts. but there was still the animosity between, at least maybe one-sided from the president, to anyone overseeing the mueller probe. i can't imagine he did not anticipate there being some snub, particularly in light of how james comey was tweeted, wasn't in the same state when he was fired unceremoniously. i do think, however, there is preparedness from both robert mueller and his team, as well as rod rosenstein, who have seen the writing on the wall for quite some time. i think john dean makes a particularly astute point about the notion that preparedness can come in the form of indictment. the grand jury has been
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empanelled for crime squite som. it's been narrowing into people who are closer and closer to american citizens. i would, astonished if mueller's team did not anticipate this and try to have indictments. the last indictment talked about -- they didn't name the people. roger stone came out to say i think i'm the person you're talking about but didn't name people in the indictment who may have been of assistance to people in the collusion investigation. they knew the names of people then. those people could be the subjepeople that are the subject of a sealed indictment that can come forward. there's a lot at stake here and robert mueller is aware of that. when rod rosenstein made the point of what you will see going forward will give the american people clarity and confidence that what we have in investigated and developed is actually not a witch hunt.
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and he hasn't left yet but, again, paperwork has a funny way of being retained. that's the bueauty of paperwork. >> i don't want to be naive. >> that's my job. >> i don't understand if it comes with a hammer or if it's a slow burn process here, there is a clear effort on behalf of the president with his action today firing the attorney general to accelerate a bringing to an end this investigation. this is an investigation that is set up to be independent of the president. i understand the chain of command. >> you think he's not going to have control over it. >> i'm just saying the fact that the president is now taking steps to be in control at least in lighting a match and accelerating the end of this, get to the conclusion of this to me is just an encroachment on the whole concept of what the special counsel investigation should be, which is really apart from the president since he is
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being investigated. >> as we try to answer these legal questions, we're trying to answer them in a very different political environment. remember those midterm elections that seem like six months ago? they were yesterday. you know how trump can move the news cycle at his will and sometimes in controversial ways. these are questions, what does math utility whitaker do, does rod rosenstein survive? does the investigation get shut down? does he get fired? whatever happens, there will now be a democratic house that can bring everybody in, everybody we just mentioned and people we don't know. that didn't exist yesterday. >> evan perez is getting new information for us. what are you learning? >> reporter: i think one of the big questions, the panelists have been making this point a little bit over and over, but i do think we need to pause and think about this, the fact that matt whitaker has been chosen by the president to oversee this investigation and given his comments, we have to really take it seriously that matt whitaker
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was chosen for a reason. we don't know what he's going to do but certainly his public comments about the investigation, about starving it of resources and trying to find a way to end it i think need to be front and center as we discuss this in the next few days and in the coming weeks. matt whitaker is somebody who is the chief of staff for the attorney general, but just a couple weeks ago when there was a whole drama about rod rosenstein and whether he might be fired or pushed out, whitaker it was at the center of all of that drama. he spoke to the president, as a matter of fact, before that happened. so we don't know all of those conversations, the conversations that have gone on between him and the president. certainly, though, i think at the justice department there's a little bit of suspicion about what his role has been behind the scenes in engineering these changes and whether or not he has promised anything to the president. i think these are big questions that are now hanging over him that he's going to have to answer. again, the ethics officers of
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the justice department will give some advice as to whether or not the appearance of conflict is enough for him to recuse himself, and then he'll have to decide whether or not that is something he's going to accept, you know, at the peril of the justice department. but we have to pause and look at this for what it is, which is the president has chosen deliberately a man who publicly has been out there saying that the investigation needs to be ended and there's a way for it to be stafforved of its resourc and that should give everybody pause. >> thanks so much, evan. pamela brown has news about someone who is expected to arrive on the white house ground at any moment. >> reporter: yes, we're hearing that rod rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is headed to the white house right now. we're being told that this was a preplanned meeting. in the wake of this news that jeff sessions has resigned, matt
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whitaker has taken the reins now essentially of the russia investigation. it's hard to believe that will not come up in this conversation. and rod rosenstein, this raises questions about his future in this department. he, too, has been bullied by the president. sources tell me he wanted to stay in his position over the russia probe as a way to protect it. he no longer has that role now that there is an acting attorney general. the president did not like the status quo of rod rosenstein overseeing that because he felt like he didn't have the control. that is why he asked jeff sessions repeatedly, according to our reporting, to regain control of the probe. that is why he was so upset that jeff sessions recused himself from the probe, because the president didn't think he had control. now he has put someone in this role to oversee the probe who has publicly said that mueller has gone too far with the probe, that mueller should not be investigating the president as
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it pertains to his finances, matt whitaker has said on cnn -- suggested that there could be -- whoever takes over session's role should perhaps limit mueller's budget. so while sources close to the budget are telling me and my colleague dana bash that the plan is not for matt whitaker to end or suppress the russia probe, this is someone who is on the record as saying it should be limited at the very least. and so this will no doubt have an impact moving forward. >> it certainly will. none of us should be surprised if rod rosenstein decides maybe this is a time for him to move on as well, now that he's been embarrassed and humiliated once again by the president, who named someone else to be the acting attorney general, not the number two at the department of justice. we just received a statement from democratic senator mark weste werner of the senate intelligence committee. "no one is above the law, to
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interfere with the special counsel's investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the president. while the president may have the authority to replace the attorney general, this must not be the first step of an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the mueller investigation. senators from both parties have repeatedly affirmed their support for special counsel robert mueller's investigation. every one of them should speak out now and deliver a clear message to the president that the special counsel's investigation must continue without interference." >> well, think about this, okay, president trump knew that he had asked sessions for his resignation and was going to replace him with somebody who had publicly made it very clear, he thinks that the mueller investigation should be undermined one way or another. he knew that before he held this press conference. and what did he do at that press conference? he shamed republicans who distanced themselves from him before the election and went on to lose their seats, he attacked the press for asking him
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questions and then he also said to the democrats if you choose to conduct oversight and investigate my administration, i am going to have you investigated. that's what president trump said knowing that all of this was about to roll out. so think about what he was trying to convey to democrats, to the press and to republicans who dare cross him. gloria. >> yeah, it was a threat. it was a threat and he followed through on it. i think to step back for one minute on this rosenstein thing. he was a decision-maker -- i don't want to talk about him in past tense. he's the decision-maker about whether subpoena should be allowed for the president to testify before mueller. and mueller's team, as dana and i have reported and pamela and we've all been reporting this, that they're in the middle of negotiations with the president's attorneys. and you have to ask the question right now about whether they're at a point where, yes, they have
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written questions on collusion but on obstruction, mueller reserved the right to question the president personally. and you have to sort of ask the question about whether something is going on vis-a-vis the everyone stick around. attorney general jeff sessions fired by president trump. we're going to squeak in a break. our special coverage continues in a moment. stay with us.
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resignation. president trump tweeting this afternoon, we thank attorney general jeff sessions for his service and wish him well. a permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date. the russia investigation is now expected to be overseen by sessions' acting replacement. the chief of staff, matthew whitacre, not rodd rosenstein, deputy attorney general. in a cnn op-ed in august, he argued the russia investigation had gone too far. cnn's pamela brown is at the white house. and pamela, rod rosenstein is expected to show up at the white house any moment, if he's not already there. >> reporter: yeah, that's right. this was apparently a preplanned meeting with president trump today. but, of course, a lot has happened in the wake of the attorney general, jeff sessions, giving his resignation letter at the request of the president. so all of this raises the question, what is next for rod rosenstein? and this really is a slap in the face to him, because he was the number two at the department. yet the president didn't put him in this acting attorney general
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position. he put the chief of staff, matt whitaker, in the position. also, it raises the question of the russia probe, jake. because the president didn't want to do anything with the russia probe and keep the status quo, he would have put rod rosenstein in that acting position. but instead he put someone in that role who has publicly said that the russia investigation has gone too far. matt whitaker is on the record, saying that mueller has overstepped his bounds in an op-ed on cnn. he was also on don lemon's show, suggesting that whoever takes the role of sessions' place should limit mueller's project. those close to the president say there is no plan as of now for matt whitaker to interfere, suppress or end the russia probe. but make no mistake about it, this is certainly a signal that the president is trying to regain control, regain the reins of the russia probe by putting matt whitaker in this position. because we know that over the course of the last year, he had
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repeatedly asked jeff sessions to regain control. he had openly fumd, bullied jeff sessions for recusing himself. he felt like he had his hands tied before the midterm elections. now that that has come and gone, the president wasting no time putting matt whitaker in this position. again, a man who has openly said the mueller probe should be limited. and this is how it all played out this morning, jake. john kelly, the president's chief of staff, was the one who called jeff sessions. not the president himself, to essentially tell him he's fired and to hand over his resignation letter. this was all before the president's press conference, jake. >> and pam larks the president earlier today at the press conference said he didn't want to talk about the possibility of removing sessions. >> reporter: yeah, that's right. it came up, and he said he would talk about that at a later date. but he didn't want to do anything before the mid terms. here's what he said. >> can you give us clarity, sir, on your thinking currently, now after the mid terms, about your attorney general and your future
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attorney general? do they have long-term job security? >> i would rather answer that at a little bit different time. we're looking at a lot of different things, including cabinet. i'm very happy with most of my cabinet. we're looking at different people for different positions. you know, it's very common after the mid terms. i didn't want to do anything before the mid terms. >> reporter: and now we know, jake, that at that press conference, jeff sessions had already given his resignation letter. and if you listened closely to what the president had to say during the press conference, it was clear that he felt like, look, i have control of the russia probe, and what's going on. i can do whatever i want. but i'm not going to interfere. well now this is a big step, jake, for him to basically have someone take the role of acting attorney general, matt whitaker, someone who has publicly said that the russia probe should be limited and that it's gone too far. >> and pamela, reporting what's on the table for whitacre regarding the russia investigation. >> reporter: well, that's right. and so you know that there are
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these writings from matt whitaker that i just referred to, what he has said on don lemon's show. so ethics officials at the justice department could scrutinize that. but here's the thing. matt whitaker is not bound by whatever the ethics officials suggest. jeff sessions, of course, as we know, took the advice of the ethics officials, recused himself, much to the dismay of the president. but that's not necessarily the case with matt whitaker. he can take over the reins of the russia probe and basically do whatever he want at this point. >> pamela brown at the white house, thank you so much. this just in. senator mark warner, ranking democrat on the senate select committee on intelligence, just reacted to this news. he said in a statement, quote, no one is above the law, and any effort to interfere with the special counsel's investigation would be a gross abuse of power by the president. while the president may have the authority to replace the attorney general, this must not be the first step in an attempt to impede, obstruct or end the mueller investigation. joining me on the phone right now is democratic congressman,
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ted lew of california. congressman, your reaction to the news jeff sessions has essentially been fired. >> thank you, jake, for your question. look, attorney general jeff sessions' hard line ideology was completely in sync with donald trump. except on the russia investigation. so it seemed like the only reason donald trump fired him was to interfere with the special counsel's investigation. if that's the case, that could constitute obstruction of justice the same way that firing james comey was obstruction of justice. >> well, you are part of the new democratic majority. in january, you will all be sworn in, and nancy pelosi presumably will be speaker. what will, i suppose, the house judiciary committee, of which you're a member, what will you do about it if that's your view? >> i believe we need to be sending out, first of all, document preservation letters to the special counsel, to make sure that during this transition there's no shredding of documents or any documents are
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lost. we could also have hearings, we could also conduct our own investigation. we could build upon what the special counsel has done and then continue it in the house judiciary committee. there are a lot of ways we can hold donald trump and his administration accountable. >> can you do that right now, or do you have to wait for the democrats to take power in january? >> if republicans put country over party, we could do it next week. if they don't, we are going to have to wait until january. >> okay. so it will happen in january. the chief of staff to jeff sessions, matt whitaker, will be the new acting attorney general. matt whitaker told cnn he could envision a scenario where the new attorney general would reduce mueller's budget so low, make it so small that the mueller investigation would grind to a halt, essentially. do you fear that matt whitaker as acting attorney general will have that happen? >> he is exactly the wrong person to oversee the mueller probe. the whole reason there was a special counsel investigation is because there was a