Political fallout from Jeff Sessions' Senate testimony

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This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," June 13, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


ATTORNEY GENERAL JEFF SESSIONS: Let me state this clearly, colleagues. I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.

The suggestion that I've 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.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: And that is probably why the attorney general decided to testify publicly in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a forceful rebuttal of accusations that he met with the Russians in some effort to collude for the Trump campaign.

We will begin with that with the panel: Steve Hayes, editor in chief of The Weekly Standard; Mercedes Schlapp, columnist for The Washington Times; Tom Bevan, Real Clear Politics co-founder and publisher. Tom, your thoughts of this hearing?

TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I thought Sessions was very passionate and sincere in his defense, and drove a stake through the heart, another stake through the heart of the collusion argument, which is like an undead animal walking around. There's no evidence. He I think forcefully argued that again today. All in all I thought it was a spirited defense by him, but I don't know that it's going to convince anybody, any Democrats, anybody who thought that there is collusion or obstruction. He probably didn't change any minds in that regard.

BAIER: Let's put up one of the other questioning moments with Senator Wyden and his former colleague, the attorney general.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.

SESSIONS: Senator Wyden, I am not stonewalling.

SEN. RON WYDEN, D-ORE.: Mr. Comey said that there were matters with respect to the recusal that were problematic, and he couldn't talk about them. What are they?

SESSIONS: Why don't you tell me? There are none, Senator Wyden. There are none. I can tell you that for absolute certainty. This is a secret innuendo being leaked out there about me, and I don't appreciate it.


BAIER: Mercedes?

MERCEDES SCHLAPP, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Goodness, what a strong performance by the attorney general. I have to say Comey did miss the email that was sent from the chief of staff of the attorney general over to Comey saying this is why Attorney General Sessions is going to recuse himself from the Russian investigation. Obviously Wyden was trying to show discrepancies between Comey and Sessions but I think Sessions came up with the upper hand here in basically explaining I did provide him with that email, that information. Obviously he didn't see it.

And so I think those people who are watching out there are looking at the Democrats trying to build up this narrative about the Russian collusion with Attorney General Sessions, it's basically I think that he was successfully able to stop that.

BAIER: He didn't answer some questions of Democrats, and that was frustrating, much like it was frustrating in the in the NSA hearing and DNI hearing where they said they were not going to talk about the conversations with the president. But that was pretty much the extent of the gloves on Sessions, wasn't it?

STEVE HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I think so. I think he was weakest in talking about privilege or refusing to answer questions in explaining why he was refusing to answer questions. He was also I thought relatively weak in trying to explain his role or why James Comey was dismissed and why the White House had given the convoluted explanation that it gave.

But overall I think he was a very good witness for the White House, it was a good day for the Trump administration. And if you go back to the exchange that you just played, the James Comey comments last week where he seemed to be suggesting that there was really something potentially big that he couldn't possibly talk about. It was one of the things we talked about coming out of the Comey hearings. Wow. What does he have? He seemed to be suggesting that there might be really something significant there.

And if it's a case, as Attorney General Sessions alleged today, or claimed today, that all he was talking about was a possible brush by encounter at a public speech, that dents the credibility of James Comey in a pretty significant way. There better be something more behind the kinds of things James Comey was alluding to, or he didn't look very good.

BAIER: There is a serious side to not necessarily the collusion, because you're right, there hasn't been evidence of collusion, but there has been evidence of Russian attempts. Senator Klobuchar putting out a statement, "Free and fair elections of the cornerstone of our democracy. It is clear that a foreign adversary attempted to undermine elections and we are now learning that as many as 39 states may have been hit by Russian hackers," or attempts, I would assume. "This is unacceptable. As ranking member of the Senate rules committee, I am renewing my call for a classified briefing for the committee on the full extent of Russian interference in the U.S. election system. As much information as possible should be made publicly available. We need to know exactly what happened, to know how best to strengthen our election infrastructure and prevent it from happening again."

Again, Comey testified, Tom, that there were no votes changed. But this is more as far as the outreach and the attempts at these different states' election boards.

BEVAN: Yes. Bloomberg reported this morning that 39 states, something like that, the Russians tried to hack into. This is serious stuff, and it is bipartisan. Let's get to the bottom of it. But what we've seen in Washington for the past couple of weeks is not about that. It's about James Comey. It's about Jeff Sessions. It's about collusion. It's about obstruction. And so, look, I fully agree with Senator Klobuchar and others. But do it in a classified setting, then. Let the special counsel proceed with his investigation. Let's stop this sort of public kabuki that is going on here that is all about innuendo and really isn't about that, which is a very serious matter.

BAIER: There was another story, Mercedes, that was really shot down right away, and that was that President Trump was going to fire Bob Mueller, the special counsel. There was some talk about that, and then the deputy attorney general who is in charge was asked about that today.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, R-MAINE: At this point, have you seen any evidence of good cause for firing special counselor Mueller?


COLLINS: If President Trump ordered you to fire the special counsel, what would you do?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. As long as I'm in this position, he's not going to be fired without good cause.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, D-W.VA.: Could you be terminated without cause?


MANCHIN: And who would appoint your replacement?

ROSENSTEIN: The president.

MANCHIN: So that is a possibility?

ROSENSTEIN: Anything is possible, senator.

MANCHIN: I understand.


BAIER: I mean, love Senator Manchin, but it sounded like, so you're saying there's a chance? They can't say enough this is not the deal and yet going for the one more thing.

SCHLAPP: Right, and that's exactly it. They want to put it out there, the Democrats do, that Trump would want to fire Mueller. And that's also talk that you've heard from several of these Trump allies, for example, I think it was Ruddy from Newsmax who came out and basically made some mention of it as well. So there's some of these individuals pushing this narrative about firing Mueller which is preposterous. That's not the case.

And in fact actually Sessions today even mentioned the fact that he has full confidence in Mueller and this investigation. But there is talk out there in the conservative sphere in terms of Mueller being tight-knit with Comey. Does that impact the investigation? And those are the questions that arise.

BAIER: We talked about Newt Gingrich raised this very issue. Others have as well. Mueller was interviewed for FBI director, and then obviously you have the testimony from James Comey about leaking the contents of those memos in an effort to get a special counsel as the end result.

HAYES: Yes. I guess I don't see the conspiracy there. I do think there are valid questions being raised about who Bob Mueller has hired. In this case he hired a number of prominent investigators and lawyers who have contributed overwhelmingly to Democrats. Those are fair questions. I would think that Bob Mueller might be concerned about the optics.

But the story about Mueller potentially being fired has certainly been overhyped in the last 24 hours, but it didn't come out of nowhere. Christopher Ruddy was at the White House. He then went on television and said I think the president might fire Bob Mueller.

BAIER: It turns out he was talking about it in an interview on ABC that he watched with Jay Sekulow.

HAYES: But we only got that later. And the fact that Jay Sekulow wouldn't answer the question on Sunday I thought was -- it's not crazy notion. The White House has now walked it back considerably and it was overhyped, but it didn't come out of nowhere.

BAIER: I want to move on, but is there a chance Capitol Hill moves on? I mean, when does the onus shift? I have asked this a couple times to different panels and different people. When does it shift? Does it ever shift to produce a "there" there, otherwise we all need to move on?

BEVAN: I don't think so. Look, theoretically in a perfect world Bob Mueller comes out, absolves -- with a decision that either absolves the president or moves forward the investigation. And that is sort of the decisive moment. But I do think we've seen Democrats, and part of this is because of the base of their party. They do not believe Trump is the legitimate president. They want to see him removed by any means necessary. And so there was initially collusion and we're moving to obstruction. Now we've got Democratic attorney generals of states suing on the emoluments clause. They're going to turn to his business dealings. So I think despite even if Bob Mueller comes out with a decision opinion one way or the other this is going to carry on.

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