This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," January 5, 2018. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Senator Jeff Sessions, you love Jeff Sessions.
TRUMP: He is doing a good job.
REP. CHRIS STEWART, R-UTAH: We have been weakened in our investigation into very important concerns at the Department of Justice and the FBI because Jeff Sessions is not able to take the reins and to direct that investigation. I believe it may be time for him to step aside.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now, he is focused on doing his job. We are focused on doing ours. We don't have any reason to see anything different today than there was yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: Talking there about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, under fire from some lawmakers about how he's handled the investigations of the Justice Department and the FBI. Now the White House lawyer, Don McGahn, is coming under some scrutiny after a New York Times story, obstruction inquiry shows Trumps struggled to keep grip on the Russian investigation.
President Trump, quote, "gave firm instructions in March to the White House's top lawyers, stop the attorney general Jeff Sessions from recusing himself into the Justice Department's investigation into whether Trump's associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016. Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy as attorney general had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric Holder had for Barack Obama," continuing with this story.
So what about this development, the Russia investigation? And we will talk about the other investigations that now the Justice Department is involved in. Let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent of the Washington Examiner; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics and host of "No Labels" Radio on Sirius XM, and Matt Schlapp, contributor with The Hill.
OK, Byron, let's start with the story, and we have confirmed that there was an effort not only McGahn but other officials asking Sessions not to recuse himself in the Russia investigation which he eventually did.
BYRON YORK, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: The other officials is important because there were a bunch of people telling Jeff Sessions don't do it. Don't recuse. The Democrats are trying to push you into this. This is a bad idea. And I would suppose that Jeff Sessions gets points for standing up to whatever pressure this was.
BAIER: Not with President Trump.
YORK: Not with President Trump, but he did defy the president's wishes here by going ahead and recusing himself because he had gotten a lot of advice not just from the career people in the Justice Department but also other people he trusted in the legal world that he had to do this.
I don't think this is a huge deal. The other thing in the New York Times story about Sessions was that it suggested that an aide to sessions had gone to Capitol Hill looking for dirt on Jim Comey. That was the weakest part of the story and it's the one the Justice Department very, very specifically said did not happen.
BAIER: We obviously have all of things that came out and have come out in this book, this new book. And among them some new eyebrow-raising allegations about possible obstruction that people are looking into about Air Force One. We talked about that night on the panel. But A.B., what about the White House attorney, his role, and is this a problem for McGahn?
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Once again McGahn was taking orders from his boss, his principal, and doing what everyone around Donald Trump does, which is to follow instructions. The president as we know because he's been very public about this felt very strongly about this and believes it is the role of congressional Republicans as he told Mitch McConnell to protect him. That's why he wanted the Russia probes on the Hill curtailed. And it is the role of the attorney general to protect him.
I don't how much exposure Don McGahn has as a result of this, but what is very concerning I think is that you see a real campaign now to bring down Jeff Sessions. It is no longer the president of the United States. It is many members on Capitol Hill. Congressmen Meadows and Jordan writing in "The Washington Examiner" yesterday that because he allows leaks he is not in control. It is because of what he cannot do because of the recusal that they say he is failing at his job. It's really an unbelievable allegation.
He did what he thought was the right thing to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and as a result they want someone in there that will stick it to Rod Rosenstein or Bob Mueller and operate those probes the way that the president wants them operated.
BAIER: It is quite something to see the turn here. Remember Sessions was one of the first if not the first, he was the first senator, lawmakers to endorse Donald Trump. He stood up for him in the darkest of hours after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out. I interviewed him that night. And now this has all turned.
MATT SCHLAPP, THE HILL: Right. I think the biggest problem Jeff Sessions has had in this long, long year is that he picked a career number two as the deputy attorney general. Why is that an issue? That's an issue because when he recused himself, he recused the investigation over to somebody who was, let's just say, awfully damn cautious about each one of these question on not only how you manage the FBI, and it is a job to manage the FBI, but all these other questions and investigations. Now we find out a year later that they are starting to take some surefooted steps on the investigations in the clear wrongdoing of Hillary Clinton.
And the second question here is Don McGahn. And I want to say this aggressively. I am not a lawyer. I talked to lawyers who served in the White House counsel's office for the president I worked if. They believe that Don McGahn acted 100 percent correctly, that they would have done exactly the same thing, Bret. It is their job as the White House lawyer, as the counsel to the president, to make the legal case to the attorney general about why you don't have to recuse.
The only correction I would make is that Sessions had already gone to the internal lawyers and already gotten guidance that he needed to recuse himself. So what Don did was exactly right. And when he realized Sessions had already gotten that guidance, he pulled back. So he has acted completely appropriately and I think the "New York Times" is completely off.
BAIER: And sources are saying that he talked about a whole bunch of things including that recusal. I want to turn to what you mentioned, the Clinton investigation, and obviously the president has talked about that a lot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
TRUMP: She engaged in corrupt pay for play at the State Department for personal enrichment. She lied to the FBI and she lied the American people many, many times.
SANDERS: I think that's good news. I think there have been a lot of things that give us cause for concern. I think it's a great thing that it's being looked at. We will have to wait and see what happens, but there has certainly been a lot of information out there that I think gives all of us a cause for concern. And I think it's important that they are finally taking a look at it. And we will see what comes from it.
SEN. ED MARKEY, D-MASS.: I have not seen any evidence to conclude that those allegations are accurate, so it should be pursued.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BAIER: And here's a statement from the Clinton camp, Nick Merrill. "Let's call it what it is, a sham. This is a philanthropy about the Clinton Foundation that does life-changing work which Republicans have tried to turn into a political football that began with a long debunked project spearheaded by Steve Bannon during the president campaign. It continues with Jeff Sessions doing Trump's bidding by heeding his calls to meddle with a department that is supposed to function independently. The goal was to distract from the indictments, guilty pleas, and accusations of treason from Trump's own people at the expense of our justice system's integrity.
It's disgraceful and should be concerning to all Americans." Byron, we should point out it's not only now the Clinton Foundation which was an investigation now is getting a second look, but obviously the email situation is also getting a fresh look.
YORK: Yes, that's right. I would not absolutely assume that the Clinton Foundation was closed and over. Back in November, Stephen Boyd, top Justice Department official, when the House lawmakers that you were talking about putting pressure on Sessions, they want him to appoint some special counsels. Stephen Boyd writes to the House Judiciary Committee and said we will take a look at this, and we will include looking at whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources. It could be that that foundation investigation has been going on quietly the whole time.
BAIER: The FBI office in Arkansas and New York, we're told, new interviews in recent weeks.
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