This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 2, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. AL FRANKEN, D-MINN.: And if there is any evidence that
anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian
government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have been called a surrogate a time or
two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians,
and I'm unable to comment on it.
Let me be clear. I never had meetings with Russian operatives or
Russian intermediaries about the Trump campaign. That is the question I
responded to. I did not respond by referring to the two meetings, one very
brief after a speech and one with two of my senior staffers, professional
staffers, with the Russian ambassador in Washington where no such things
were discussed. My reply to the question of Senator Franken was honest and
correct. I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself as this
investigation continues at the Justice Department. The FBI, of course
there are investigations in the House and Senate intelligence committee as
well about possible contact or even collusion with the Russians before the
election with the Trump campaign.
A lot of pushback on this from Republicans, but we are getting word
of meetings that the White House put out now saying that then-NSA to be,
National Security Adviser to be Michael Flynn met with Ambassador Kislyak,
there you see the second person, that's the Russia ambassador. Also Jared
Kushner met with the Russian ambassador in that same meeting, and then
obviously you are hearing about the attorney general's meeting. He was the
senator back then in September, a one-on-one meeting and another group
This has caused quite a stir here in Washington, and from Sessions
after his testimony he also received a questionnaire from Senator Leahy in
which he was asked, specifically a written questionnaire, about Russian
ties, and "Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of
the Russian government about the 2016 election either before or after
Election Day?" His response, as you see there, is "No."
So what about all of this? Let's bring in our panel: Charles Lane,
opinion writer for the Washington Post; Katie Pavlich, news editor at
TownHall.com, and Chris Stirewalt, politics editor here at Fox News.
Katie, your thoughts on this. There are some people are saying heads are
exploding and people are going way over on this thing, and others are
saying wait a second. Maybe he didn't tell the truth in that statement.
KATIE PAVLICH, TOWNHALL.COM: Heads exploding unfortunately
seems to be a normal practice when it comes to responding to stories about
Russia and President Trump.
Look, the White House is clearly putting out more information about
meetings with the Russian ambassador to try and show that this is a normal
process that took place during the transition with members of the campaign
as part of a normal way to reach new relations with Russia.
When you look at the details of the question that Senator Franken asked, he
himself keeps saying this is brand-new information, if this is true, if
there is evidence. So far, after months of reporting on this issue, we
have seen no evidence that there's any wrongdoing here. These seem like
normal meetings. There is information about meetings held, and yes, maybe
some of them weren't disclosed, but there is no information about
wrongdoing and these seem to be just normal processes.
And yes, Senator Sessions, Attorney General Sessions now, could have saved
himself a lot of trouble today by simply following up on the question and
saying, well, in my capacity as the chairman of the Senate Armed Services
Committee, I did have this meeting. But in terms of this being some kind
of out of the ordinary issue when he met with dozens of ambassadors last
year seems to be overblown.
BAIER: Chris, I get all these tweets and Facebook posts about "Why are you
covering it? It is fake news. There's no there there." But you did have
the attorney general recuse himself. It is news. And there is that
question about why doesn't he remember the meeting in September when Russia
is in the forefront of the election news at that moment? And why doesn't
he clean it up afterwards and say "You know what. I forgot about the
meeting. I met with the ambassador."
CHRIS STIREWALT, FOX NEWS: First of all, never check you
mentions. This is not a day to check you mentions. Don't do it. Look, on
the issue of Russia, they Trump administration has to be cleaner than
Caesar's wife. There is no room for error anymore because they've had a
couple of oopsies, right? We had the Flynn oops. We had Paul Manafort.
We had Carter Page. There is this concatenation. And to Katie's point,
there's no allegation that they colluded with the Russians to hack or
disseminate the hacked material from the Democratic campaign, email
accounts. There's no allegation of any wrongdoing.
But when you get enough stinkaroonies in a row, then you say, and
this is what the president essentially has to say, whether he uses the
means of a special counsel or whatever he does, he says no more mistakes on
Russia. This administration cannot afford any more mistakes on Russia
because it feeds into the Democratic narrative that he is a puppet and that
the election was stolen. So they just can't screw up anymore.
BAIER: I know, but you open the door to a special counsel and then it
opens a lot many doors, as we've seen many times before.
STIREWALT: Look, either take a special counsel now, find a trusted person
that you believe will execute a fair-minded inquiry, have it over with, or
you could end up with a special prosecutor. You could end up with real
terror at the end of this thing. They have to, whether it's to a special
counsel or whatever means they take, they have to clean house and be done.
BAIER: Let's explain the difference. One would be the White House
reaching out to say some independent, look at this to collaborate
everything. And the other is Congress initiated and ordered. Ken Starr
finds out something else.
STIREWALT: You start out with a land deal in Arkansas and you end up with
Monica Lewinski's dress and things get out of hand quickly. If you pick
somebody, and I today suggested somebody like Tom Ridge or Kelly Ayotte,
former senator from New Hampshire, someone who has credibility on both
sides of the aisle, you come in and say check us out and tell us what you
CHARLES LANE, WASHINGTON POST: Well, good luck in
the current environment finding anybody who has what you call credibility
on both sides of the aisle. I don't think we live in such a world anymore.
And that's part of our problem is that whatever the truth is here, there is
really nobody who is viewed as an honest broker for finding it out.
On Jeff Sessions, he said "let me be clear." He doesn't seem capable
of making himself very clear on this issue and that's where all the
problems started. This exchange with Al Franken has me completely baffled
in terms of just the aptitude of Jeff Sessions, who should know better. He
was asked a hypothetical question. If such and such is true, what would
you do? The only thing you say in response to a hypothetical question,
especially if you are under oath, is I can't answer hypothetical questions.
BAIER: He clearly screwed up the answer, but he didn't clean it up. So
what about the overall, the fact that we don't have any fire yet, and
everybody is chasing smoke? Do you know how many reporters the Washington
Post has on the Russian story?
LANE: Not personally.
BAIER: I think it's like 10.
LANE: Well, you have better source sources at The Post than I do. But
to be serious about it, it would be a big deal if there had been any kind
of pretty arm's-length cooperation or intermingling between the U.S.
presidential candidate and a foreign government like Russia. And there's
all these meetings, oh, we just discovered another one today. So it does
seem like it's worth the effort to find it out.
BAIER: Right, but I guess but I am pointing to is what we know so far.
And that is the intelligence community does this scrub before they leave in
November and December. This is CIA Director Brennan, DNI Clapper. And
let's play five Paul Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PAUL RYAN, R-WIS.: They did in
investigation, intelligence community wide. Many of us went down and got
the briefings from Clapper and Brennan after the election, before the
inauguration, and never have we ever seen any evidence presented to us that
an American or a person in the Trump campaign was involved or working with
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: So at what point? Obviously these investigations continue
but there has to be a clearing of the deck otherwise it continues in
PAVLICH: And I think it goes back to what Chris said about the president
being able to sit everyone down and say there will be no more mistakes on
this issue, and actually the president making a clear statement about how
the Russians do not have the best interests in mind when it comes to U.S.
elections. The conclusions from the intelligence reports that was made was
there were no votes changed but there was a Russian propaganda campaign
waged against the United States in order to undercut our faith in
democracy. They are doing it now in Europe.
BAIER: Republicans don't deny that. Paul Ryan starts out with
PAVLICH: Right. And I also think that one thing they can do is try
to clean up the timeline here so when people are saying at the height of
the WikiLeaks saga and allegations of Russian interference, yes, that
happened. When Senator Sessions met with the Russian ambassador in his
office on September 8th, but the day before Senator Sessions also met with
the Ukrainian ambassador. And then a week later they came up with a
ceasefire that Russia then accepted. So they were probably there
discussing the ceasefire. And it doesn't help that today Attorney General
Sessions said he couldn't remember what they talked about. If he could
remember the details it would help --
BAIER: Let's just play four. We're going to talk about this in the other
panel, but let's play four here from Sessions today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I thought he was pretty much of an old style Soviet type. To
listen to him, nothing -- Russia has done nothing that was wrong in any
area, and everybody else was wrong with regard to the Ukraine. It got to
be a little bit of a testy conversation at that point. Most of these
ambassadors are pretty gossipy, and this was in campaign season. But I
don't recall any specific political discussions. I don't recall having met
him before that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Talking about the meeting with the Russian ambassador.
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