AG Sessions testifies before senate committee Transcript 10/18/17 The Rachel Maddow Show

Sheldon Whitehouse

Date: October 18, 2017
Guest: Sheldon Whitehouse

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

In February 1850, Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary Todd Lincoln, they lost
their son. His name was Edward Baker Lincoln. They called him Eddie. He
was not yet four years old but he died in Illinois, in February of that
year, February 1850, died of illness.

Later that same year, in December of 1850, another son was born to the
Lincoln`s. His name was William Wallace Lincoln. They called him Willie.
He was born in December 1850.

And in February 1862, when Willie was 11-1/2 years old, and by which time
Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln were the president of the United
States and the first lady of the United States, on February 28th 1862, the
Lincolns lost yet another son. Willie Lincoln aged 11-1/2 died in the
White House while his father was president and his mother was first lady.
He also died of childhood illness. He died of typhoid fever.

And the president and the first lady were plunged into just profound grief.
Abraham Lincoln is now believed by many modern scholars to have suffered
with fairly profound depression during his life and during his presidency
but when – what he and his wife went through in 1862 was something
different. They had lost a first son in 1850, and then they had lost a
second son who had been born just after they lost their first one, lost
both of these little boys in childhood.

And the Lincoln`s had this to deal with on top of everything else that was
upon them, right? With the country being in the grips of civil war. And
in that dark year in 1862, with everything else that was going on with the
country and for the White House and for the Lincoln family, that winter in
1862, after his second son had died, President Lincoln got word that an old
friend of his from Illinois, a man named William McCullough had been killed
fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War in a battle in Mississippi.

And, you know, one thing that is a real blessing about working in this
building, working under the auspices of NBC News, is that I don`t know that
many other places where while you`re doing your daily work, you have a
presidential historian on standby at all times. But we`ve got that.
Whenever it helps to be able to report or understand or contextualize the
news, to know whether or not something is unprecedented we can call NBC
presidential historian Michael Beschloss at any time, to see if there is
something that he knows of from presidential history that could help
explain what`s going on now in our current life.

So, we contacted Michael Beschloss a couple of days ago for his help in
trying to contextualize, trying to figure out if there was something
unprecedented about President Trump`s remarks in the Rose Garden on Monday,
his sort of flippant remarks, casual asides he made sort of glibly on
Monday afternoon in the Rose Garden when he volunteered what turned out to
be false information about previous presidents, particularly President
Obama and the ways those previous presidents had interacted with the
families of soldiers who were killed in action.

The president made those remarks on Monday in the Rose Garden and it caused
a great uproar. And we contacted Michael Beschloss to see if the
president`s remarks on that subject really were unprecedented or maybe
there was something else like this in U.S. history that we should remember
at a time like this, when we were talking about what President Trump did
that upset so many people.

In response to our query, Michael Beschloss sent us this – this letter.
He told us about the long history of presidents sending letters and making
sympathy phone calls and visiting with the families of fallen soldiers and
how profoundly that responsibility has affected various presidents over the
years. But he said this handwritten letter – he called this, this letter
from Lincoln, quote, what I think is the most eloquent such letter. So,
the most eloquent condolence letter that a president has sent.

And in this letter is what Lincoln wrote when he had learned in 1862 about
the death of his friend William McCullough fighting in the Civil War. He
wrote – Lincoln wrote this letter to McCullough`s daughter in that dark
year of 1862, when he and the country and he and his own family we`re
dealing with so much trauma and so much grief.

And some of the power of this is seeing it in hand in its handwritten form,
but the words that Lincoln wrote are not just a historical artifact.
They`re still important as to what we expected the presidency and what we
understand is our moral inheritance as a nation.

The way Michael Beschloss put it, he told us not only does he think this is
the most eloquent example of a presidential condolence letter to us the
family of a fallen soldier, he told us: I find it so beautiful that I think
what Lincoln has written consoles anyone dealing emotionally with
significant loss.

So, this is that letter from Lincoln. You can see at the top, it`s on
stationery, that says the executive mansion and then they`ve pre-printed in
there Washington comma and then you fill in the date by hand and the year.
December 23rd, 1862.

The letter says: Dear Fanny, it is with deep grief that I learn of the
death of your kind and brave father. In this sad world of ours, sorrow
comes to all and to the young, it comes with bitterest agony because it
takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it.

I`m anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect
relief is not possible except with time. You cannot now realize that you
will ever feel better. Is this not so?

And yet, it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this,
which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had
experience enough to know what I say.

The memory of your dear father instead of an agony will yet be a sad sweet
feeling in your heart, of a pure and holier sort than you have known

And then he signs off please, present my kind regards to your afflicted
mother. Your sincere friend, A. Lincoln.

One page, that`s how it`s done, right?

And every American president since Lincoln has the unfortunate reality at
some point being compared with Lincoln. No other president will ever be

But having that, having that document in our history and our public record
as the standard of decency and moral generosity from a president, having
that in kind of our ethical bank as a country makes it almost impossible to
compute what the current news cycle has just revealed, has just dredged up
about the behavior of the current occupant of the same office that Abraham
Lincoln once held.

The widow of U.S. Army Sergeant La David T. Johnson received a phone call
from the president yesterday about the loss of her husband in an ISIS
ambushed in Niger. We learned about the content of that call late last
night. We learned about what the president actually said to that grieving
widow, and we learned it from the congresswoman who represents the district
for Sergeant Johnson`s family lives, who has known the family for years and
who was with Sergeant Johnson`s widow when she received the president`s


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You spoke to the widow of La David Johnson`s,
Sergeant La David Johnson. Her name is Myeshia. How was she doing tonight?

REP. FREDERICA WILSON (D), FLORIDA (via telephone): Oh, she`s very
distraught. And we were in the car together, in the limousine headed to
meet the body at the airport. So I heard what he said because the phone
was on speaker.

LEMON: What did he say?

WILSON: Well, basically he said, well, I guess he knew what he signed up
for. But I guess it still hurts. That`s what he said.
LEMON: The president said to her he knew what he signed up for –

WILSON: He knew what he was signing up for.

LEMON: But when it happens, it hurts anyway.



WILSON: So, it`s almost as if this is a young, young woman who has two
children who is six months pregnant with a third child. She has just lost
her husband. She was just told that he cannot have an open casket funeral,
which gives her all kinds of nightmares how his body must look, how his
face must look.

And this is what the president of the United States says to her?


MADDOW: So after that account from the congresswoman last night and again
this morning, she reiterated her comments this morning on MSNBC, the
president today was asked by reporters if he honestly said that to that
grieving widow last night. And this was his response.


REPORTER: Mr. President, what did you say to Sergeant Johnson`s widow on
the phone yesterday?

congresswoman said, didn`t say it at all. She knows it and she now is not
saying it. I did not say what she said. And I`d like her to make the
statement again because I did not say what she said.

I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who has
sounded like a lovely woman. I did not say what the congresswoman said,
and most people aren`t too surprised to hear that.

REPORTER: What is the proof, Mr. President?

TRUMP: Let her make her statement again and then you`ll find out.

REPORTER: She`s saying that you said this.

TRUMP: OK, let her make her statement again and then you`ll find out.


MADDOW: So, after the president with his arms folded denied that account
about this call to this grieving widow, Congresswoman Wilson said she stood
by her account of what the president had said in that conversation. She`s
not retracted her account. She stood by it.

And although the president insisted today that he had proof that he had not
said any of those things that the congresswoman had quoted him saying,
turns out if you`re looking for proof – well, it wasn`t just the
congresswoman who was listening in on that conversation with Sergeant
Johnson`s widow. That was a conversation in which the president was on
speakerphone and the people who heard his remarks, included not only
Sergeant Johnson`s widow and the congresswoman, but another member of
Sergeant Johnson`s family, who also confirms that the congresswoman`s
account is correct, that that is what the president said.

She told “The Washington Post” today, quote, President Trump did disrespect
my son and my daughter and also me and my husband.

Cowanda Jones-Jackson, Sergeant Johnson`s mother, confirmed it again to
“The New York Times” tonight. Asked if the president did say he knew what
he was getting into when he signed up, she confirmed to “The New York
Times” tonight, quote, yes, he did state that comment.

And it is one thing if the president inadvertently spoke in an
unintentionally callous manner to somebody he should have prepared better
to speak to. That`s one thing. It`s own kind of failure, it`s its own
size failure. It is another matter when the president then called on that,
chooses to deride the grieving family of a fallen soldier as liars.

Now, in the uproar caused by these revelations today, we then learned that
the president had also some time this summer called the father of an Army
sergeant named Dillon Baldridge who was killed in Afghanistan in June. In
the middle of his call with president, Chris Baldridge, the father, says it
says his conversation with the president took an unexpected turn when the
president volunteered in the middle of their conversation, quote: I`m going
to write you a check out of my personal account for $25,000.

So the president speaking with this grieving father the father`s an
American, U.S. Army corporal, who was killed, the president in speaking
with him told him he was going to send the father a large personal check.
According to the grieving father, this happened in the conversation after
the dad said he didn`t expect to benefit from the Pentagon`s death benefit
for his son. He thought that would all go to his wife.

And it is – it`s an unusual, it`s a certainly an interesting thing for the
president to have promised, that he would personally make a financial
contribution to this father, to Chris Baldridge, to the father, it was
reportedly a shocking thing that the president had offered to send him
personally some money. It`s all interesting. It`s all unusual.

The part that`s nauseating is “The Washington Post`s” further reporting
that president Trump didn`t actually send the check after he told that
grieving dad that he would, didn`t send him the check, not apparently until
today when the news of him not sending the check ended up being reported in
“The Washington Post”. After hours of dodging “Washington Post” reporters
on this story, “Post” reporters who had spoken to this father had heard
about the president`s promise to send him money and had heard the president
– had heard the grieving father say the president`s check never arrived ,
after hours of trying to check this out with the White House and the White
House not responding, and the White House not giving any explanation what
happened with the president`s personal financial offer to this grieving
father, eventually, this evening, a White House spokeswoman put out an
angry statement calling the media disgusting and saying, quote, the check
has been sent.

And it has been further reported this evening that what she meant by that
was the check was sent tonight – once the president`s broken promise
became national news.

Beyond that, the president`s remarks on this subject this week appeared to
have just dragged many of these grieving families through it. President
Trump has only been in office for nine months, so anybody who`s been killed
in action since he`s been president is – it`s a relatively recent
occurrence. Those families can all be expected to be raw and hurt and
actively grieving and in some cases, they may still be actively dealing
with the logistics and circumstances and handling of their loved one`s

Knowing that circumstance, knowing the fresh grief of these families in
terms of what they`re going through right now, it makes reporting like this
from “The Washington Post” tonight almost impossible for us to absorb as
Americans, given our history as a country and the way we have dealt with
these things in the past, it is almost impossible to believe this is real.

But this is quoting from “The Washington Post” tonight. Sergeant Roshain
Brooks aged 30 was killed on August 13th in Iraq. His father, Euvince
Brooks, has not heard from the White House. The president`s claim this
week that he had called every military family to lose a son or daughter
since he has been president only upset the Brooks family more.

Brooks said after watching the news on Tuesday night, he wanted to set up a
Twitter account to try to get the president`s attention. Quote: I said to
my daughter, can you teach me to tweet so I can tweet at the president and
tell him he is a liar? You know when you hear people lying and you want to
fight, that`s the way I feel. He`s a damn liar.

And nobody wants to live in a country where people can credibly call the
leader of the country a damn liar. But when that credible in this case
well-founded complaint can be waged by somebody whose son just died in
uniform fighting for the United States of America, we just like, we don`t
have very many circuits as Americans to process this kind of moral disgrace
in our leadership.

I mean, it`s just hard for us as a country to face the loss borne by
families of service members anyway even in normal times. Such a tiny
proportion of U.S. families have anybody serving in the military while the
U.S. Armed Forces have fought the longest war in U.S. history and other
wars alongside it, there have been less than percent of American families
have got somebody serving while those wars have been happening.

And civilian life has proceeded basically as if those wars are not
happening, it`s therefore already hard for us as a country to face the
sacrifices and the losses that these patriotic families have gone through,
right? They`ve done something we civilians will never do. They`ve
incurred a debt from this country that we don`t know how to pay back

So, it`s hard in normal times. But it is – it`s incomprehensible for us
as a country to see those families of all people jerked around and lied to
and slimed and called liars by the president very shortly after these
service members died. And so, this – I mean – this just feels like a
strange news story to report.

It feels surreal. It just – it feels so – it feels so unbelievable. But
this is happening.

I want to say though that there is something else that`s happening here
too. That isn`t just a moral decency thing. It`s a political tactic
that`s at work here, and not a dumb political tactic and that story`s next.


MADDOW: Go back to the first week of March this year. On March 1st,
“Washington Post”, “New York Times”, “Wall Street Journal”, all reported
some very troubling news about the new administration. They reported that
Attorney General Jeff Sessions had in fact met with multiple Russians –
excuse me – had in fact met multiple times with Russian officials during
the presidential campaign, even though he had repeatedly denied that,
including it under oath. That was March 1st, those reports came out about
Sessions having meetings with Russians.

On March 1st, Sessions came out in response to those reports and insisted
that they were inaccurate. He had never, never, never met with Russians
during the campaign, March 1st. By March 2nd, Jeff Sessions changed his
mind about that and admitted in fact he had taken meetings with Russians.

Then that same day, March 2nd, J.D. Gordon and Carter Page, they also
admitted that during the campaign and they too had taken meetings with
Russian government officials. Again, that was despite their earlier

Then that same day, March 2nd, “The New York Times” reported that Trumps
national security adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner had also taken
meetings with Russian officials during the campaign that they had failed to
disclose. That was – that was all in two days. That was March 1st and
March 2nd this year.

The White House had previously just been given giving blanket denials than
anybody from the campaign, anybody in the transition had been taking
meetings with any Russians and March 1st and March 2nd, those denials were
just blown out of the water by that reporting.

So, reporting happens March 1st and March 2nd, then on March 4th, do-woop,
huh, bright early, 6:35 in the morning March 4th, what`s this? Just found
out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory.
Nothing found.

The president made that remarkable claim before dawn on the fourth day of
March, right after that a flurry of damning reporting about the Trump
campaign and all their secret contacts with the Russians. And once the
president made that wiretapping proclamation, everybody was sort of obliged
to play six-year-old soccer and run down the field, chasing that other ball
that he kicked down there. So, that became the story of the week.

This is a political tactic. It`s not – it`s a political tactic. It`s not
just distraction. It`s diversion of a difficult line of inquiry.

I mean, so the – in the first week of March, there`s this cascade of
reporting the Trump campaign personnel are meeting with Russian officials
during the campaign and then covering it up, right? And it`s a whole
litany of them, Page and J.D. Gordon and Flynn and Kushner and Sessions,
they`re all caught out, they`re all having to admit it despite their
previous denials. It`s a very bad news cycle for the White House.

And so, the White House decision about what to do about that or at least
the president`s decision is to divert that line of inquiry don`t just start
talking about something else and hope that you can change the subject
instead try to harness the energy of that initial damning news story and
turn it to something related but different.

So, the president made that diversionary statement on a different issue
that was still vaguely related to the question at hand, and the effect of
that was to sap the initial story of its punch, right? To divert it, or at
least to muddy it up, right?

Once he created that diversionary storyline, now depending on if you like
to listen to the White House to get your news or not, you might still be
thinking of the intelligence scandal that broke in Washington the first
week in March as lots of Trump campaign officials having secret meetings
with Russians during the campaign, or you might think that the intelligence
scandal that broke in Washington that first week of March was about Obama
wiretapping Trump Tower. Either way, it sort of seems like the same thing,
we`re all upset about a scandal. Which scandal again?

I mean, President Obama never wiretapped Trump Tower. But saying so at
that moment made the previous president a factor in the news cycle, it got
Obama administration officials involved in defending the previous president
from this outrageous and false allegation. It gave Republican Trump
supporters in Congress, and then the conservative media something to
exclaim about and to demand the media should start covering because that
was the real scandal, right?

It`s not just distraction. This is diversion. The trick is that it`s just
barely related enough in terms of the subject matter that it doesn`t just
challenge people to talk about something new, it stands in for the real

It muddies the real stories – storyline. It diverts attention and energy
from that initial news cycle that was so difficult for the White House to
deal with in that first week in March. Not just destruction, diversion.
That is a political tactic. You can either learn it or you can have it
instinctually, but either way, it`s pretty good tactic.

Today, the reason the country is having our hearts torn to bits over the
news about how this president has talked to and talked about service
members – the families of service members who were killed overseas is not
because the president`s interactions with the families of killed service
members was ever brought up this week. That`s storyline, even questions
about that, didn`t emerge organically on their own this week. The reason
we`re all talking about this is because the president brought it up without
being asked.

When the president on Monday made his initial false claims about President
Obama not calling the families of service members killed in action, those
comments that called us to call Michael Beschloss to find out how
presidents have dealt with this in the past, when Trump first made those
remarks on Monday, he hadn`t been asked about calling service members
families. He hadn`t been asked about condolence practices in his White
House or any other. He hadn`t been asked about President Obama.

Now, this conversation we`ve now been having for three days now and all
these nauseating revelations it has led to about how President Trump has in
fact behaved and spoken towards service members` families, these were
nothing anybody else brought up, this what he brought up. This is what he
diverted the story to. What the original story was, what he was asked
about when he first brought up this topic, what he diverted from was this.


REPORTER: Why haven`t we heard anything from you so far about the soldiers
who were killed in Niger? And what do you have to say about that.


MADDOW: The president did not answer that question. Why haven`t we heard
anything from you about the soldiers who were killed in Niger? The
president didn`t answer that question. Instead, he diverted the discussion
into this inflammatory thing that has now taken up three days of news. His
inflammatory false assertions about the way he contacts the families of
fallen service members and the way other presidents have approached that
same issue.

There still has been no answer as to why the president made no public
statement about those American soldiers who were killed in Niger. It was
four U.S. Army soldiers. They were killed in Niger where most Americans
didn`t even know we had a sizeable contingent of troops.

What were they doing when they were killed? What is the nature of the
overall American mission in Niger? How dangerous is it? What was the
specific operational mission they were engaged in when these four service
members were lost? Does the president have any response to their deaths?

When the ambush happened that killed these four soldiers on October 4th,
the White House said that day that the president had been briefed on their
deaths but there was no word from him personally. The initial word had
been that three U.S. soldiers were killed in this ambush in Niger. Two
days later, on October 6th, the body of a fourth U.S. soldier, Sergeant La
David Johnson, was recovered. But there was still no word from the

And even two days into this crisis, it was already starting to be weird
that the president was making no public remarks about it.


REPORTER: A body of another U.S. soldier has just been discovered by local
forces in Niger, which brings to four the total number of Green Berets that
were killed on Wednesday in Niger. So far, there`s no response to this by
the president, not tweet from the president, no statement from the


MADDOW: Press corps is already asking the White House. That was almost
two weeks ago in the White House briefing room. It was strange even two
weeks ago that the president had made no public response no public
statement about these American soldiers being killed in Niger. It`s now 12
days on from those questions and still no public response from the

When he was asked about it on Monday in the Rose Garden, he responded with
this diversion about President Obama not calling the families of service
members he heard or maybe not. I don`t know.

Even today, the White House still will not explain why the president has
made no public remarks on the deaths of these soldiers. Not on his own
behavior, not about President Obama, but about what happened in Niger.

Well, late today, finally, thoroughly call the question on
this matter with a remarkable leaked document out of either the Pentagon or
the White House, we`re not sure. Again, these soldiers were killed in
Niger, October 4th. On October 4th, the National Security Council drafted
a statement for the president to release about it, acknowledging the deaths
of these soldiers, mourning their loss. It was this decent, noble, simple
statement the kind of statements that presidents typically make when these
things happen. It was drafted for the president, October 5th, circulated
at the National Security Council, and at the Pentagon.

And for some reason, the president ignored it. He didn`t issue the
statement and that had been written for him and cleared by DOD and his
National Security Council. He didn`t do it then when they put it together
for him on October 5th, still hasn`t done it.


Nobody knows and somebody inside the process of writing that statement is
mad enough about it that they showed the statement to a reporter from
“Politico” who was able to report on it today. But still, there`s no
explanation for the president`s reticence.

And the Trump administration appears to not even know how to deal with
questions about it now. Quote: The statement was circulated among National
Security Council officials, as well as DOD officials, but was never
released and was not – it was not immediately clear why.

NSC spokesman Michael Anton declined to comment. The NSC staffer who wrote
the original draft statement for the president, quote, hung up on a
“Politico” reporter who called to ask about it.

The powers and responsibilities of the presidency are obviously vast. You
see how it prematurely ages them, right? It`s hard to know how individual
humans get that job done, let alone how they find the energy and the focus
and compassion within that job to show the kind of grace that Abraham
Lincoln showed in that condolence letter that he sent to his friend`s
daughter during the Civil War back in 1862, when he was awash in his own

But being president, getting elected president, staying president doesn`t
just require strength and remarkable personal characteristics. It also
requires innate political intelligence or at least instinct. And something
about what happened in Niger has caused this president apparently
instinctually to divert the conversation from what happened to those
soldiers, from even acknowledging publicly the deaths of those soldiers and
what happened to them, he will not talk about it.

Why were they under armed and under armored in a place where they were
potentially subject to a massive, heavily armed ISIS ambush? Was it the
French who had to evacuate them out of there once they had killed and
wounded soldiers who needed to be taken off the battlefield? Was it U.S.
private contractors as has also been reported? Was there an evacuation

If not, is that because the military didn`t expect them to be in danger?
Why was that intelligence wrong if that was the basis on which this mission
went ahead?

After these reports that La David Johnson was separated from the other
soldiers who were killed, that his body was not located until 48 hours
after the other ones were found, do we know why that is? Do we know how it
is that Sergeant Johnson became separated from those other soldiers? Do we
know if he was initially taken alive?

What was the mission? Was it worth it to have them there? What`s the U.S.
going to do in response to these deaths?

There is something about what that this president has instinctually
diverted the conversation from, to the point that he will not even issue an
already prepared statement somebody else has written for him on the matter.
He would rather have a national conversation about his own callousness and
mistakes and forgetting to send the check to the family members of service
members killed in action.

He would rather talk about that than talk about what happened in Niger.
That makes me really want to know what happened in Niger.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: It takes nine seconds. Watch this – nine seconds turns out to be
a surprisingly long time.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Why did it take so long?


GRAHAM: No, the firing.


MADDOW: Most compelling nine seconds of the news day today.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions maintained vigorously today that the reason
the president fired FBI Director James Comey was because of Comey`s
handling of the Clinton email investigation in the summer of 2016. OK,
then, if that`s what he was fired for, why didn`t he get fired until this
May, pause, pause, pause, Senator, are you there?

This was supposed to be a routine oversight hearing before the Senate
Judiciary Committee today. It was not. That story is next.


MADDOW: The last time Jeff Sessions spent time with his former colleagues
on the Judiciary Committee was in January for his confirmation hearing as
attorney general, when he pointedly did not tell the truth to his Senate
colleagues when he told them he hadn`t talked to anybody in the Russian
government during the campaign. He later had to admit that he had, twice.

So, these senators got Jeff Sessions back today, and amid the awkward
pauses, it was time to tie up loose ends. And in some cases, to tie up
some new knots.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Have you discussed with them Russian
interference in our elections?


LEAHY: Have you discussed anything like sanctions like the Magnitsky Act,
but what they call the adoption issue?

SESSIONS: I don`t believe I`ve ever had discussing at any time about the
Magnitsky Act.

LEAHY: Have you discussed with him any policies or positions of the
campaign or a Trump presidency?

SESSIONS: Yes, I`m not sure about that. It could have been that in that
meeting in my office or at the convention that some comment was made about
what Trump`s positions were. I think that`s possible.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: Not being able to recall what you
discussed with him is very different than saying I have not had
communications with the Russians. The ambassador from Russia is Russian.
First it was, I did not have communications with Russians, which was not

Then it was, I never met with any Russians to discuss any political
campaign, which may or may not be true. Now, it`s I did not discuss
interference in the campaign. That to me is moving the goalposts every

You don`t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had
communications with the Russians, is that what you`re saying?

SESSIONS: I did not and I`m not aware of anyone else that did and I don`t
believe it happened.

FRANKEN: And you don`t believe it now?

SESSIONS: I don`t believe it happened.

FRANKEN: So, let me ask – that`s what I wanted to ask you.

Do you believe that Michael Flynn was a surrogate for the campaign?

SESSIONS: He could probably have been defined as that.

FRANKEN: Do you believe that Paul Manafort was a surrogate for the

SESSIONS: Well, for a short time he was a chairman of the committee – a
campaign chairman.

FRANKEN: Do you believe that Jared Kushner was a surrogate for the

SESSIONS: I really don`t know whether his role. I sort of see – there`s
no clear definition I assume, but I – a surrogate is someone normally
speaking on behalf –

FRANKEN: Do you believe Donald Trump Jr. was a surrogate of the campaign?

SESSIONS: Well, he was his son and he spoke.


LEAHY: My concern is you were part of the Russian facade and went along
with it. I`m sorry. I`ve known you for years. I`m sorry you do that.

SESSIONS: It did hurt me to say you think I`m part of a fa‡ade. I`m not
part of a fa‡ade.


MADDOW: Attorney general says he`s not part of a facade interesting though
there, he calls himself today in the hearing a surrogate for the Trump
campaign. He also acknowledged what he previously denied, which is that
during the Trump campaign, he had contacts with Russian officials, and then
he insisted that surrogates for the campaign didn`t have any contacts with

That`s like saying I`m a penguin I like Slurpees. I don`t know if any
penguins that like Slurpees. Like huh? What?

Confronted with names like Flynn and Manafort Kushner and Donald Trump Jr.,
all of whom did have Russian meetings during the campaign, the attorney
general shrugged it off, shrugged it off. It`s enough to make you think
that he maybe doesn`t take all that seriously the Russian government
running an intel operation against American elections.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: We have heard the intelligence
and national security professionals of our country and people who study
those issues professionally warned us that campaign and election
interference by the Russians is not going away, that we can expect more of
it in the 2018 election, that we can expect more of it in the 2020

SESSIONS: I`ll be frank. I don`t know that we`re doing a specific
legislative review at this point.

WHITEHOUSE: Don`t you think it would be prudent to do?

SESSIONS: Well, you make –

WHITEHOUSE: We have been warned.

SESSIONS: I take that as a suggestion.


MADDOW: Who me? Something-something protect the next election after
Russia attacked the last one? I`ll take your suggestion, an interesting

You could tell from the way Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questioned the
attorney general today that he has – he at least doesn`t seem satisfied
with the response he`s been getting from Attorney General Sessions and the
Department of Justice on this issue about whether Russia is doing it again
for the 2018 election. Did he in fact get any satisfaction from the
attorney general today?

Joining us now is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island,
who`s on the Judiciary Committee who questioned the attorney-general today.

Senator, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you being

WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.

MADDOW: You were pressuring the attorney general there in that exchange
about whether or not the Department of Justice is doing anything to try to
head off any future Russian influence in future American elections. Did
you ask him that because you know the Justice Department isn`t working on
that, or was that – was that news the way he came back to you today?

WHITEHOUSE: No, I was asking that because I have found no sign of there
being any interest within the Department of Justice in addressing this
problem legislatively, which is weird because we`ve had a great number of
very public hearings with a lot of people including administration
officials making this very plain warning that they`re coming at us again,
and we`ve had a lot of testimony about the types of things that we could do
to close up some of our vulnerabilities.

And it kind of stands out in that context that the Department of Justice
which would presumably be leading that kind of an effort has nobody
assigned to it, has no plan and that the attorney general at the top of his
head doesn`t even really know if there`s anything going on legislatively.
Seems unusual.

MADDOW: There`s also this remarkable moment today where the attorney
general shrugged and he said that he didn`t believe that any campaign
surrogates from the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russians during
the campaign. That`s remarkable just as a matter of logic because he`s
confirming now that he as a Trump surrogate had contacts with Russian
governments during the campaign. There`s obviously now uncontested
reporting about a number of other people associated with the campaign
having had those contacts.

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, like five.

MADDOW: Like – yes, a lot of them. And yet he said, he doesn`t think
they really happened.

I got to ask what you – what your take was on that?

WHITEHOUSE: It`s hard for me to figure out what he intended – if he was
just confused, if this is subject he simply wants to close down with a
simple an answer as he can even if it`s not fully truthful. But you align
that with the failure of the department to undertake any effort to protect
against future Russian interference and you align that further with the
repeated stonewall of non-assertions of executive privilege. But not
providing the answers either, and it`s just very awkward to try to get
factual answers, and interest on this subject out of the Department of
Justice right now.

MADDOW: And to that point, the one of the issues that I was very
interested to see raised today, I didn`t necessarily expect to hear it
until it came up was the implication that the Department of Justice has not
been forthcoming with documents information and cooperation for the various
investigations that are happening into the Russian attack. Is it true that
the Justice Department has been holding back in terms of requests for
information from you, from your committee and from other investigators?

WHITEHOUSE: Yes, in my opinion, yes. I think they`ve provided a few
things, but we have innumerable letters, some of them months old, that have
gone unanswered. And over and over again, you see the attorney general and
other administration officials do this non-assertion assertion of executive

There`s a quite distinct pattern that you`re supposed to follow with
executive privilege and it has to end in the president actually asserting
it. And they`ve never asked the president to assert it on anything and
yet, they continue to refuse to answer the questions as if he had, or as if
they were in the sort of study period during which they were, you know,
teeing up their analysis of whether to assert it or not.

But months have gone by. It`s way past time for that. So, you know, over
and over again, whether it`s these statements that don`t seem to add up
with what we know the fact to be or the inability unwillingness or
incapacity to advise Congress on how to defend our next elections or this
non-assertion assertion of executive privilege, it`s a very, very hard
screen to penetrate through, and I think that the Senate has the right to a
lot more answers than we`re getting.

MADDOW: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, member the
Judiciary Committee – thank you for your time tonight, sir. I really
appreciate your being with us.

WHITEHOUSE: My pleasure.

MADDOW: Thank you.

All right. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We just got some tape into our newsroom. This has just came in.
I think we`re the first news outlet to have access to this. Remarks
tonight from former CIA Director John Brennan.

Tonight, he did an on-record event at Fordham Law School. This is his
first on-the-record public remarks in several months. And he took this
question from NBC`s Andrea Mitchell about the 2016 election.



ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Do you think that the Russians could have had
developed the expertise in American politics to have micro-targeted areas
of Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere? Is it your theory of the case that
there was some connection between the campaign and the Russian operations?


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, it`s hard for me to believe that
the Russians, as good as they are, as sophisticated as they are, a program
like this, were not able to get some Americans to cooperate with them,
either wittingly or unwittingly. I find it implausible.


MADDOW: I find it implausible that no Americans helped the Russians,
wittingly or unwittingly, as the Russians targeted their influence
operation in the campaign.

Director Brennan also revealed he`s not been asked to testify by special
counsel Robert Mueller but he said he would be happy to do so if asked.
But again, the top line new that is Andrea Mitchell of NBC News was able to
get him to break tonight, the man who was CIA director during the Russian
attack on the election says to him it is implausible that the Russians were
able to do what they did in our election last year without American help.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: Today, for the first time since his confirmation hearing in
January, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions went back before the same
committee that he, well, had to face for his confirmation, famously, he did
not tell the truth during that confirmation hearing, during acute
questioning from – in particular Democratic senators. He didn`t tell the
truth about whether or not he had personally had contacts with Russians
during the campaign while he was a senior figure in the Trump campaign. He
said that he hadn`t had those contacts that later turned out that he had.

The senator who nailed him on that was Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Al
Franken is the guest of Lawrence O`Donnell on “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE

That does it for me tonight. You should stay right there, because now,
“THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL” is about to begin and he`s got Al

Good evening, Lawrence.



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