-- THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT FOR 'THIS WEEK' on March 5, 2017 and it will be updated.
The big questions -- was there a wiretap at Trump Tower?
If there was, what did it find?
If there wasn't, why is Trump leveling this charge?
All this as another member of Team Trump is clouded by possible ties to Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will these Russian revelations overshadow Trump's first 100 days?
Who's telling the truth?
Complete coverage this morning, as we break down the Russian connection.
From ABC News, it's a special edition of THIS WEEK.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC HOST: Good morning.
Just five days ago, the president looked like he was turning it around -- fewer protests in the streets, the same question soaring and that well-received speech to Congress.
And now, whatever goodwill he had seemingly blown away in a Saturday morning Tweet storm.
Even by his own standards, the president leveled an extraordinary accusation against his predecessor, accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping him last October during the critical final weeks of the election.
President Obama has denied any direct involvement through a spokesman, saying, "Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
Either Obama tapped Trump's phone or he didn't. One of them has it wrong.
This hour, the search for the truth.
Two questions we'll seek to answer.
Is it possible that there was a legally sanctioned wiretap at Trump Tower?
Did a court approve surveillance based on evidence the public does not yet know?
And second, if Mr. Trump is flat-out wrong, what made him level this extraordinary charge?
Did the man who has daily access to the deepest levels of U.S. intelligence base his claims on something he read on the Internet?
Chief Washington correspondent, Jonathan Karl, joins us in a moment with what may have motivated Trump to Tweet.
But we begin with chief investigative correspondent, Brian Ross, and what we know about Trump's incredible accusation.
BRIAN ROSS, ABC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's Twitter outburst came just before sunrise at the private Palm Beach club the president likes to call the Winter White House. "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found!"
White House officials this morning say they do not know the basis for the president's allegations -- a top secret intelligence briefing or whether it came from reading an article on the conservative Breitbart Web site posted Friday that detailed speculation from a conspiracy-loving talk show host, Mark Levin.
MARK LEVIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: How many of Trump's people were eavesdropped on?
How many had their conversations intercepted, recorded, transcribed?
Because this, ladies and gentlemen, is the big scandal.
Even a senator from the president's own party, along with U.S. intelligence officials called Trump's claims "a troubling development."
SESSIONS: I feel like I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in.
ROSS: Last April, when Trump gave his first major foreign policy address…
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time to shake the rust off America's foreign policy.
ROSS: … video of the event uncovered by ABC News, reveals the Russian ambassador arriving just before Trump, being shown to a front row seat.
Until this week, the president had denied, when asked by ABC's Cecilia Vega, that anyone from his campaign had met with the Russians.
CECILIA VEGA, ABC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did you or anyone in your campaign have any contact with Russia leading up to or during the campaign?
ROSS: None at all, he said. But now, that answer no longer stands.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We need to know, is anyone compromised? Are there risks to the country because someone is compromised?
ROSS: We do know the FBI is investigating whether there was possible collusion between Russian spies and the Trump campaign. But if there was a wiretap in that case, actual evidence would have to be provided to obtain approval from a special panel of federal judges, not the White House.
In fact, anyone other than the president would break the law to reveal such a wiretap. And no U.S. official contacted by ABC News would confirm Trump's allegation that Trump Tower was bugged by the FBI -- Martha.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, Brian.
Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl joins me now.
And, Jonathan, what are you hearing from your sources at the White House? We'll be talking to the White House directly in just a few moments. But I want to know what you're hearing, why Donald Trump did that?
JONATHAN KARL, ABC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, these allegations made over Twitter caught the West Wing by surprise. They had no idea this was coming, had no idea what the president was talking about. After the tweets went out, you had something of a mad scramble, Martha, in the West Wing, trying to figure out what was he talking about? Is there evidence? A search to find out if the allegations, the explosive allegations the president just made, were, in fact, true.
And as of now, I see no indication they found any evidence that Trump Tower's phones were tapped, let alone the idea that President Obama would have ordered such a thing.
RADDATZ: As we just heard Brian Ross say, was it from this Breitbart report?
KARL: There's no indication it's anything beyond the speculation that was in conservative media, including that Breitbart report. There was also an interview that aired on FOX News the day before, Paul Ryan, Bret Baier interviewed Paul Ryan and specifically asked him about this. Paul Ryan said he just didn't know. There's also speculation that he saw that interview, as well.
RADDATZ: Of course, President Trump is down in Florida this weekend at Mar-a-Lago. But you have reported there was a very tense meeting on Friday.
KARL: This was quite a scene, Martha. In the Oval Office, the president summons his senior staff, including Reince Priebus, the chief of staff, Stephen Bannon, Jared Kushner, brings them -- Don McGahn, the White House counsel.
And I am told he went ballistic. That's the way it was described to me. Infuriated specifically at the fact that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from this investigation.
Trump, the president saw this as emboldening his Democratic critics. He said, we never should have given ground on this. There was no reason for him to recuse. Nobody has done anything wrong.
And he then left that meeting, went on his trip to Florida, and didn't take his senior staff with him. I'm told by two sources that Reince Priebus and Stephen Bannon both said, we'll stay behind and work on this.
RADDATZ: And then came those tweets at 6:30 the next morning.
KARL: Then came those tweets.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Jon.
As Jon just mentioned, the White House has not appeared before cameras to explain what the president meant, until now. So let's bring in here live White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Thanks for joining us this morning.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning.
RADDATZ: These are extremely serious charges the president is making. Where is he getting this information?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think there have been quite a few reports. I know that Jonathan and others earlier in the program mentioned that it was all conservative media, but that's frankly not true. The New York Times, BBC have also talked about it and reported on the potential of this having had happened.
I think the bigger thing is, let's find out. Let's have an investigation. If they're going to investigation Russia ties, let's include this as part of it. And so that's what we're asking.
RADDATZ: Was the principal source the Breitbart story, which links to The New York Times? But The New York Times doesn't say anything definitive. Donald Trump does. There is nothing equivocating about what he says. "I just found out that Obama had my wires tapped."
That's not look into something. He says it happened.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. Well, we are today. We're taking the reports that places like The New York Times, FOX News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this. All we're saying is let's take a closer look. Let's look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.
RADDATZ: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.
SANDERS: I think that this is, again, something that if this happened, Martha.
RADDATZ: If, if, if, if.
SANDERS: I agree.
RADDTAZ: Why is the president saying it did happen?
SANDERS: Look, I think he's going off of information that he's seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential. And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that I think we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.
RADDATZ: OK. The president, let me say again, the president said it did take place. Why does he believe these articles that you say you cite and I'm saying, they are not definitive. The Breitbart brings them all together, a heat street. They have two sources with links to the counterintelligence community. That's it. Anonymous sources. The president constantly says he doesn't like anonymous sources, and he doesn't like leakers.
SANDERS: I love how anonymous sources don't count when it's something that's positive in this administration and against the former one. You guys use anonymous sources every single day.
RADDATZ: Is that the bar? Yes, yes, we do. Yes, we do. But the president believe this is -- but what's the bar there? What does the president believe?
SANDERS: Look, I think he's made very clear what he believes. And he's asking that we get down to the bottom of this. Let's get the truth here. Let's find out. I think the bigger story isn't who reported it, but is it true? And I think the American people have a right to know if this happened, because if it did, again this is the largest abuse of power that I think we is have ever seen.
RADDATZ: OK. Let me just say one more time. The president said, I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October. So the president believes it is true?
SANDERS: I would say that his tweet speaks for itself there.
RADDATZ: The Washington Post says this morning that senior U.S. officials with knowledge of wide-ranging federal investigation into Russian interference into the election said there had been no wiretap.
SANDERS: Well, they've also said there's no evidence of any wrong doing by the Trump administration, or the Trump campaign in coordination. But that doesn't seem to matter to the media. That point gets continued to be ignored over and over again.
We have been on this for six months. And you guys continue to ignore that and continue to bring up the investigation.
All we're asking is that we have the same level of look into the potential that the Obama administration wiretapped Trump Tower.
RADDATZ: The Obama -- President Obama, through a spokesman, denied any direct involvement. Does President Trump not believe him?
SANDERS: Well, I think they don't have the best track record. They said they had a cardinal rule. Well, frankly, that's just not true. The president himself got directly involved when it came to the email scandal with Hillary Clinton.
RADDATZ: You do not believe him. You don't believe him...
SANDERS: The attorney general met privately and secretly with Bill Clinton during the middle of an investigation, so to pretend like this is a very clean and credible source, coming from -- I'm sorry, I'm not just not buying it.
RADDATZ: Do you believe there was a FISA order, even if President Obama didn't order it?
SANDERS: I think there certainly could have been. And it sounds like there's somethingthat we should look into and verify.
RADDATZ: Is the Trump administration working now.
SANDERS: You know, that's above my pay grade. I think that that's something that White House counsel would have to answer. But I do think that we owe to it the American people to look into it.
RADDATZ: If there was an order, there would have to be probable cause shown before it was granted, evidence of wrongdoing. So, isn't the president saying this indeed happen confirming that the investigation had enough evidence to get a FISA order?
SANDERS: Look, I'm not sure if they can create wrongdoing. They've been trying to make the case for it. The FBI says that this is BS, the House intelligence chair has said that there is no evidence of it. But I don't know that that would indicate that intelligence services wouldn't have attempted to see if there was something at that point in October.
RADDATZ: And a FISA court order wiretap is highly classified information. Why is it acceptable for the president to tweet something like that out?
SANDERS: I don't think he's tweeting out classified information. He's talking about could this have happened? Did this happen.
RADDATZ: He's saying it did happen.
RADDATZ: Once again, he said it did happen.
SANDERS: Everybody acts like President Trump is the one that came up with this idea and just threw it out there. There are multiple news outlets that have reported this. And all we're asking is that we get the same level of look into the Obama administration and the potential that they had for a complete abuse of power that they've been claiming that we have done over the last six months. And time and time again, it's been said, there's no evidence there was wrongdoing. The FBI says this is B.S. Yet you guys continue to hammer and hammer some false idea and false narrative that there's something there when frankly, there just isn't.
RADDATZ: I just want to say Donald Trump started this on Saturday morning. (INAUDIBLE).
SANDERS: I hardly say he started this when there were multiple news reports prior to that.
RADDATZ: President Trump -- let's talk about this. Many months ago.
President Trump has consistently complained about leakers. If these stories are true, if Heat Street has two sources, they say are linked to counterintelligence, are you going to go after those leakers?
SANDERS: Look, we take every leak seriously in the White House, whether it is something that helps us or not. We cannot have people leaking classified information at any level and we certainly take that very seriously and would not ignore that.
RADDATZ: Have you ever heard these allegations from the president before?
SANDERS: I have not had a conversation with him about these personally before.
RADDATZ: Had anyone? Had any -- Had he consulted anyone before he tweeted that he was going put these explosive allegations out?
SANDERS: I can't speak 100 percent whether he did or not. I'm not sure.
RADDATZ: Couldn't the president declassify these things if he wanted to?
SANDERS: You know, I don't think that's necessary. I think what is necessary is Congress doing its job. Let them investigate this. Let them do exactly what they've done on our end and see whether there's something there. And I think there is a lot of reporting that indicates that there certainly is.
RADDATZ: Do you think there should be a special prosecutor to look at this?
SANDERS: I don't think we're there yet. I think we need to let Congress do their job. I think that's where we need to start. Again, I think that's the first place to go. And we see what happens if there.
RADDATZ: Can you tell us anything about the meeting that President Trump had last night with Attorney General Jeff Sessions? Did they meet?
SANDERS: I believe they had dinner, yes. They did.
RADDATZ: And the subject?
SANDERS: Look, he's the Attorney General of the United States. Um --
RADDATZ: Who recused himself as --
SANDERS: He's one of the cabinet members for the president. We have a lot of activity ongoing. Potential for an E.O. coming out at some point that would certainly involve the attorney general. And I would imagine that came up during dinner.
RADDATZ: Does the president still believe Attorney General Sessions should not have recused himself?
SANDERS: Look, the president believes that Jeff Sessions is a good man and that he didn't do anything wrong. So I certainly feel that he didn't feel it was necessary. But he also is very supportive of the attorney general.
RADDATZ: And did the White House ask attorney general sessions specifically not to recuse himself?
SANDERS: Look, the White House was not involved in the details of, you know, what that decision process looked like. I know the attorney general met with the ethics counsel at the Department of justice. And he made that decision internally in going through that process, not by direction of the White House.
RADDATZ: And Sarah, I just want to go back again, to the president's tweet one more time. And Sean Spicer tweeting today as well -- reports that potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of 2016 election are very troubling.
Sounds like the White House is really doubling down on what President Trump says happened.
SANDERS: As we should, Martha. If this happened, once again, this would be the greatest abuse of power and overreach that's probably ever occurred in the executive branch. And something that certainly --
RADDATZ: Well, what about these accusations? You keep saying, if, if, if. The President of the United States said it was a fact. He didn't say I read a story in Breitbart or "The New York Times" or wherever else. He said, just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower. That's not an if.
SANDERS: Look, I -- I will let the president speak for himself. But in terms of where we are in the White House, our ask --
RADDATZ: You're his spokesperson.
SANDERS: And I'm speaking about it right now.
RADDATZ: But you're backing off of it. You're backing off of it.
SANDERS: How am I backing off of it while I'm saying that I think that this happened --
RADDATZ: Because you're saying if.
SANDERS: And I think the American people have a right to know. And I think that we should get definitive answers. I think we need to put out hard facts that show that this happened.
RADDATZ: OK, that's what President Trump was clearly doing in those tweets.
Thank you very much for joining thus morning, Sarah. Appreciate it.
SANDERS: Thank you, Martha.
RADDATZ: Now to President Obama's former press secretary, Josh Earnest, who argued right up until the end that the Russians meddled with the U.S. election for one reason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSH EARNEST, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You didn't need a security clearance to figure out who benefited from malicious Russian cyber activity. The president-elect didn't call it into question. He called on Russia to hack Secretary Clinton. So he certainly had a pretty good sense of whose side this activity was coming down on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: And Josh Earnest joins us now.
Thanks for joining us. I want your reaction to what Sarah Sanders just said.
EARNEST: Good morning, Martha. And I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to be on the show today.
Let me just remove the mystery here and explain to you and your viewers why it is false to say that President Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower. This may come as a surprise to the current occupant of the Oval Office, but the president of the United States does not have the authority to unilaterally order the wiretapping of an American citizen.
If the FBI decided to use their wiretapping authority in the context of the counterintelligence or criminal investigation, it would require FBI investigators, officials at the Department of Justice going to a federal judge, and making a case, and demonstrating probable cause to use that authority to conduct the investigation. That is a fact.
And here's the other thing that we know, Martha. And let's just remove the mystery from all of this. We know exactly why President Trump tweeted what he tweeted. Because there is one page in the Trump White House crisis management playbook. And that is simply to tweet or say something outrageous to distract from a scandal.
RADDATZ: Josh, I…
EARNEST: And the bigger the scandal, the more outrageous the tweet.
RADDATZ: We know about that denial from President Obama and the law as well. As President Obama's former speechwriter, Jon Favreau, your former colleague, tweeted: "I'd be careful about reporting that Obama said there was no wiretapping. Statement just said that neither he nor the White House ordered it."
Can you categorically deny that the Obama Justice Department did not seek and obtain a FISA court order?
EARNEST: What I can categorically deny, Martha, is that the White House was at all involved in directing or interfering or influencing an FBI investigation of any sort.
RADDATZ: That's not what I'm asking. What I'm asking is, can you deny that the Obama Justice Department did not seek and obtain a FISA court-ordered wiretap of the Trump campaign?
EARNEST: It was a cardinal rule -- here's the simple answer to that question, is, Martha, I don't know. And it's not because I'm no longer in government. The fact is, even when I was in government, I was not in a position of being regularly briefed on an FBI criminal or counterintelligence investigation.
The White House -- no one at the White House, including the president of the United States, should be in a position in which they're trying to influence or dictate how that investigation is being conducted.
RADDATZ: Do you to know with whether the president was ever given information about surveillance at Trump Tower?
EARNEST: What I can tell you -- well, first of all, I'm not aware of all of the details of how the president was briefed by the FBI. But what I can tell you is the president was not giving marching orders to the FBI about how to conduct their investigations. He was not asking for regular updates on FBI investigations.
And let me just stipulate one more time, you have to ask the FBI whether there actually is an investigation into Mr. Trump, his associates, his campaign. That's for them to talk about. That is not something that was talked about or directed or managed by the White House, because this is a cardinal rule. These are rules that have been in place since Watergate, and for good reason.
RADDATZ: Well, let me ask you something directly involving the Obama administration that was in The New York Times this week, saying that the Obama administration rushed to preserve intelligence that Russians hacked the election and that Mr. Trump's statement doubting the intelligence and saying the Russian story was hyped "stoked fears among some that intelligence could be covered up or destroyed once power changed hands."
Was there a scramble to spread information about the Russian efforts in the final days of the administration?
EARNEST: In the final days of the administration, Martha, what you'll recall is President Obama ordered the intelligence community to conduct a top to bottom review of Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
And what they determined, after conducting that review, is that Russia did interfere in our election and they did so with the goal of trying to benefit President Trump -- President-elect Trump and candidate Trump.
RADDATZ: Was The New York Times correct saying there was a scramble to spread information about the Russian efforts in the final days of the administration?
EARNEST: I did not speak to the journalist for that New York Times story. What I can tell you is what the White House did. And what the White House did was order the intelligence community to conduct this review.
They released the results of that review on the president's order, an unclassified version. And what the president said is, it's important for the intelligence community to be honest and to brief senior officials in the U.S. government.
So, yes, they did give briefings to senior officials, Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives, in the United States Senate, and even to the president-elect in his office, because it was important for people to understand exactly what Russia did to interfere in this election. And it was important for the president-elect's team to understand what they were going to confront once in office.
RADDATZ: Are you concerned the current administration is trying to quash the investigation or even destroy evidence?
EARNEST: I can't speak to whether or not there is an investigation. But what I can tell you is, it is clear that President Trump is working very hard to try to distract the American public and the news media from the growing scandal about why his administration and why he himself has, at best, not been forthcoming about their talks and their ties with Russia, whether it's Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, J.D. Gordon, Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions.
It is almost like a Russian novel…
RADDATZ: I just want to get -- I want to get…
EARNEST: … to try to keep up with all these conversations.
RADDATZ: Seb Gorka, a deputy assistant to President Trump is accusing President Obama of being behind recent leaks from the intelligence community. Can you say that no Obama staffers have been involved in leaks?
EARNEST: Martha, what I can tell you is that the men and women of our intelligence community are patriots. And these are professionals who have served presidents in both administrations. And they took an oath to protect this country and set aside their own political views. And that's what the men and women of our intelligence community do and they should be lauded for that. They put their lives on the line to keep us safe. They deserve the support of the administration. They deserve the support of the White House. They don't deserve to be attacked or accused of having a political motive.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much for joining us this morning, Josh.
EARNEST: Thanks for the opportunity, Martha.
RADDATZ: We want to try to put this all together now with Michael Mukasey. He was former U.S. attorney general under President George W. Bush and knows the federal wiretap laws and the FISA courts inside and out from his time fighting terrorist threats. But now we have the president himself saying he was the target of surveillance ordered up by his predecessor.
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Mukasey. It's good to see you.
Your reaction to the tweets and the explanation you just heard from the White House?
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I don't do tweets.
RADDATZ: You heard about them.
MUKASEY: Yeah, I hear about them, but I don't do tweets and for good reason. It's not the' ideal medium in which to get an idea across.
This is the difference between being correct and being right. I think the president was not correct certainly in saying that President Obama ordered a tap on a server in Trump Tower. However, I think he's right in that there was surveillance and that it was conducted at the behest of the attorney -- of the Justice Department through the FISA court.
RADDATZ: And what do you base that on?
MUKASEY: I base that on news reports that you mentioned in the last spot. I also base it on kind of inadvertent blurting out by Adam Schiff that his committee wants to talk to the counterintelligence agents at the FBI who were involved in this. Now, what that means is this is part not of a criminal investigation, but of an intelligence gathering investigation.
The FBI has got two functions. They investigate crimes and they gather intelligence. They started gathering intelligence in '08 based on guidelines that we put in place.
They tried to get -- apparently tried to get a wiretap based on their criminal investigation function in June. That was turned down. They then tried to get, and got, an order permitting them to conduct electronic surveillance in October. This is October of 2016.
So that's when, apparently, that's when...
RADDATZ: And again you're basing this on news reports as well.
MUKASEY: And on, and on, Adam Schiff.
RADDATZ: And on Adam Schiff. If a wiretap did exist, it would have to have been approved by a FISA court based on real evidence. So, if there was a wiretap, does that mean there were suspicious things going on between the Trump administration and the Russians?
MUKASEY: It means there were some basis to believe that somebody in Trump Tower may have been acting as an agent of the Russians, for whatever purpose, not necessarily the election, but for some purpose.
And the FBI keeps track of people who act as agents of foreign governments. They keep track of people who act as agents of the Chinese, the Russians, the Israelis, everybody.
RADDATZ: Some of the evidence may have been gleaned from classified means. Is there any way to verify these claims in the press or Trump's claims so the American people can really understand what's going on here?
MUKASEY: The only way to verify, whether there was a -- whether there was electronic surveillance is to disclose the warrant and to disclose the fruits of it. And that should not be done even in a political storm as hot as this one.
RADDATZ: Given all these accusations, and you're aware of the tweets that President Trump put out. And they were pretty definitive. Shouldn't they want a special inquiry, a special prosecutor, an independent prosecutor to look into this?
MUKASEY: No. There's nothing to prosecute. The only crime I that have heard about or seen of that was committed was committed by the Russians when they hacked the DNC. They hacked John Podesta, and they tried to hack the Republican National Committee. That's the only crime that I'm aware of.
Now, the question is of course is why was it committed? Some people say it was committed to promote the election of Donald Trump. I happen to think that is ridiculous. Because at the time that it had happened, Donald Trump looked like a sure loser. And you'd have to believe that Vladimir Putin was an idiot trying to back a sure loser. I think much more likely he was trying to intimidate a sure winner, Secretary Clinton.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much for joining us. That helped us understand everything. Thanks very much. And it's great to see you.
Just ahead, the senator who started the chain reaction. Senator Al Franken is our exclusive guest next. How hard will Democrats push for a special prosecutor? For resignations? Coming right up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: 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?
SESSIONS: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have communications with the Russians. Um, and I'm unable to comment on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: That's Attorney General Jeff Sessions telling Senator Al Franken that he had no communication with the Russians. Turns out, that wasn't true. So does Senator Franken buy the attorney general's explanation? Is recusal enough? Senator Franken here live in just two minutes.
RADDATZ: And I'm joined now by Senator Al Franken, Democrat from Minnesota, and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And a key play in the wild series of events this week.
Senator Franken, you sit, as we said, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Do President Trump's claims, to you, have any basis in fact?
FRANKEN: Not -- no, not that I can see. I mean, as you said in our opening interview, he said this is a -- he claims this as fact. I think this is just a distraction. To distract from this very, very serious interference by a foreign power on our democracy. And, the question of whether Trump world, his campaign, his business associates, had anything to do with it and colluding with them.
So I think he's just distracting, as he tends to like to do. And, what you're referring to, the reason I'm here, is that -- when I asked then-Senator Trump, now Attorney -- I mean Sessions, now attorney general, about revelations that members of the campaign had met with the Russians, what he would do as attorney general with that. Instead of answering my question, he just said flatly he had not been in contact with the Russians. And that turned out not to be true. And this is -- now another --
RADDATZ: How would you characterize that? You had a couple of days to think about it. I know you said at best it was misleading. Was it a lie?
FRANKEN: You know, I would like to -- I -- I called for him to recuse himself even before this incident. I hadn't called for him to resign. But, he needs to answer some questions. For example, he said at his press conference that if he had just thought about it for a moment, or if he had taken his time, he would have said that he had met twice with the Russian ambassador. He had seven weeks to say that. He was testifying under oath to the American people. And he said something that just wasn't true. But he had seven weeks --
RADDATZ: -- after that confirmation hearing. But I want to go back to it. You know, words matter. Did he lie?
FRANKEN: Um, well, lie is knowingly telling an untruth. I would like to give him some benefit of the doubt. He needs to come back before the committee and explain it. It doesn't make any sense.
RADDATZ: You said Mike Flynn lied. You said Mike Flynn lied or he forgot. What's the difference there between Mike Flynn and -- ?
FRANKEN: He lied to the vice president. I mean, he did. He -- that's why he had to resign, OK?
RADDATZ: Understood. But in that confirmation hearing, Jeff Sessions did --
FRANKEN: As I said, at the very, very least, it was very, very, very misleading. Um, I -- it's very serious. Because if he lied knowingly, then he committed perjury. Which -- so I don't want to go there and definitively say that we should be prosecuting the attorney general. But I think the attorney general owes it to the Judiciary Committee to come back and explain himself. And if he doesn't and if he -- I wrote him a letter on Thursday asking for a reply by the end of business day on Friday. He's has not responded to that. Why --
RADDATZ: I think he said maybe next week, right?
FRANKEN: I didn't hear that. But -- look, he -- he -- in his press conference, he quoted his conversation with the ambassador. So in other words --
RADDATZ: Do you think there is anything wrong meeting with the ambassador?
FRANKEN: There could be. There could be. But why offer that you didn't meet with him unless there is something wrong? And look, this is about did people in the Trump campaign or his business associates, the whole world surrounding Trump, did they collude with the Russians to attack our democracy? That is an enormous, an enormous issue. That's something we need to get to the bottom of. We need a special prosecutor.
RADDATZ: You absolutely agree that they need an independent special prosecutor? You heard Michael Mukasey say there nothing to prosecute.
FRANKEN: Well, you need an independent investigation, and you have a prosecutor do that investigation. That's what an independent prosecutor does, makes -- leads the investigation. Because, right now, we have a large number of people in the Trump campaign, his business associates, who were dealing with the Russians at the same time that they're hacking and then releasing information. And not only that, they had hundreds of trolls putting out disinformation. Fake news. Messing with Google's algorithms so that if you Googled anything about Russia you saw things from Russia Today and from Sputnik.
This was an attack on the United States. And the question is -- and it's beginning to look more and more like we -- we certainly have to investigate this -- that the Trump campaign was in league with them. And what the -- what do the Russians have on Donald Trump? Why won't he release his taxes?
RADDATZ: I want to just very quickly here -- James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence just said on Meet the Press there was not a wiretap of Trump Tower. And he would know that.
So, just your reaction to that and having the president tweet the way he did.
FRANKEN: My reaction to that is, of course there wasn't. The president asserting like, if your first interview. He said this was a fact. And the -- anyone who knows. I'm on the judiciary committee, we do look at this intelligence stuff. You have to get a FISA order in order to get something like that.
RADDATZ: And you would know?
FRANKEN: Would I know? Probably I wouldn't know for sure whether they got a thing on a server, or applied for something on a server. But the president of the United States did not tap Donald Trump's phone. I mean, that's just ridiculous, and it's a distraction.
And here's what I want to get to. His own son, Donald Trump's son, has said in 2008, that Russia did an inordinate amount of business with them. And we don't know what they have over him. We don't know what the Russians have on Donald Trump. And we need -- and we need to see, if anything -- we need to see his tax returns.
He said that he couldn't release his tax returns because he was under audit. First of all, you can release tax returns if you're under audit. But he won't even release a letter from the IRS saying you're under audit. That's it's easy to do.
RADDTAZ: And I think they've said those tax returns are not going to be forthcoming. We are going to have to leave it there. But I thank you very much for joining us, Senator Franken, this morning.
FRANKEN: Thank you.
RADDATZ: Let's take a quick break. When we come back, our powerhouse Roundtable. Is Trump's 100-day agenda off the rails? We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: Can Donald Trump regain his 100-day momentum? "The Washington Post" Dan Balz writes that the administration is in a slow burn. We'll ask him about that on the Powerhouse Roundtable after this.
RADDATZ: And we are back now with the roundtable. ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, White House reporter for Bloomberg Politics, Jennifer Jacobs, and chief correspondent for "The Washington Post" Dan Balz. Welcome to all of you.
I got to start with Matt Dowd here because Tuesday night, when we were covering the president's address to the joint session of Congress, we were talking about that this Sunday. And you said, oh, no, no. Something huge is going to happen. Something will happen.
What did you know? Come on, Matt.
MATTHEW DOWD, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: The great Carnac says…
RADDATZ: Even you couldn't have predicted these tweets.
DOWD: No, well, I needed to do a number of those to make up for my election night predictions. So I'm glad I got one thing right.
I think that this -- well, obviously, this administration and every day is an unfolding of this. And I think there was a misreading actually of many -- by many of the president that night that somehow he had totally changed.
One thing I can -- two things I can guarantee to the viewers. One, Donald Trump is never going the change. Donald Trump is a 70-year-old man who was successful at behaving in the way he was throughout his life. He will not change.
And two is Donald Trump doesn't tweet for strategic reasons. Everybody thinks, oh, this is what he's doing. Because if he was tweeting for have strategic reasons, what he just did is made this issue even bigger, the Russia issue, the Russian connection, Moscow on the Potomac. All of that.
And I can't decide whether Donald Trump is Captain Queeg or Captain Bligh in the manner with which he operates. One was "Mutiny on the Bounty," and the other one was "Caine Munity." And both didn't end very well for both captains in this.
Donald Trump is either one of those two. But Donald Trump is never going to change.
RADDATZ: Dan, you heard the White House explanation. And they're kind of doubling down on this but saying, let's look into it, not, it happened.
DAN BALZ, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's a very odd formulation, which is an assertion by the president of the United States that something did happen, and a request by the administration to Congress to see whether something did happen. I mean, those two don't fit together.
So, clearly, they don't have the evidence that Donald Trump claims is there. Secondly, it's my understanding that the president of the United States could find this out himself. He has the authority to find out through the intelligence agencies what did or didn't happen. They don't have to ask the Congress about it in order to get the information.
So, clearly, I mean, I disagree slightly with Matthew on this. It may not have been for strategic reasons. But I think that when he tweets something like that, it is to try in some way or another to get back on offense, and not the be on defense, which they have been.
RADDATZ: And, Jennifer, you -- if you didn't hear, James Clapper said this morning on NBC that there was no wiretap. So how does the White House deal with that one?
JENNIFER JACOBS, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: Yes, this was a strange dance for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to have to not criticize her boss and yet defend this.
We're in unfamiliar territory. I mean, probably the most memorable quote from this particular situation is that one from Nebraska, Senator Ben Sasse where he said, you know, this trafficking in unsubstantiated rumors represents a "civilization-warping crisis of public trust."
And but, you know, the voters out there who support Trump might just continue to see this as one big thriller. I mean, this could be a -- you know, that TV show "Homeland" could base a whole season on this.
RADDATZ: And probably will.
To the point about messaging, again, Matthew, Sessions recuses himself, but Trump said he didn't need to. Sessions was listening to his lawyers. What about accusations of perjury that you may see there? Back to the Russia.
DOWD: Well, I think -- well, first, I mean, the lawyers can talk about this. But first, the idea of perjury is a difficult thing to prove anyway because you have to prove that he had the intent of doing that. And so I think that's difficult.
I think this is just another example of Donald Trump's behavior, which is basically to make the -- to assert these allegations. He did it with voters. He said 3 million illegals voted in the election, and that's why Hillary Clinton won.
And then when you went back to talk to all his people, they were like, basically, I don't know what he's talking about, but we ought to look into it. Same thing he's doing here in this.
I think what this is fundamentally going to do, it's going to -- this reminds me actually of Watergate, of what happened in Watergate. And if you remember what happened…
RADDATZ: Pretty strong term to put out there.
DOWD: I think it reminds me in this way, is, Watergate, the break-in happened in June of 1972. Then The Washington Post, in a couple of stories, found a couple of bits of information. It took more than two years for that to finally come to fruition and the president of the United States to resign.
I don't know have any idea if the president of the United States is going to ultimately have to resign, whether or not through impeachment. But this is the kind of story that's going to preoccupy the White House for a long period of time and put their agenda on hold at best.
JACOBS: This is called a D.C. obsession. And that's what it has become.
RADDATZ: And, Dan, you called it a slow burn. Your colleague, Chris Cillizza, at "The Washington Post", said "where there's smoke sand smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, most reasonable people will assume there is fire."
BALZ: Well, we know there's fire in one element of this, which is a very big issue, and that is the Russian effort to disrupt the election.
There is going to be an investigation of that at a minimum. There is a second aspect to this which is much murkier, which is what communication, collusion, collaboration, whatever, between Trump campaign officials, or hangers-on, or associates, and the Russians existed.
We are getting pieces at this point. It doesn't add up to anything specific yet. But as Matthew said, we're at the front end of this. And these investigations, even if they come to nothing significant that affects the Trump administration, will take months and months and months. And that is something that the administration needs to deal with in a much more proactive way than they've been willing to.
RADDATZ: And Jennifer, what do they do? Or is it fair at this point -- I mean, we all talk about this. You have written about this a lot. You have as well, Matthew, that every interaction with an ambassador, which is normal behavior in many, many cases, does that build on itself too much? What do they do to stop that?
JACOBS: Well, listen, you know, I think what they're going to start doing right now from talking to some of the aides, they're going to shift all the focus back onto governing on Monday. They're going to start talking about that executive order on refugees. They're going to really start pushing the infrastructure plan again. I mean, I think they're really try to change the conversation. President Trump is very serious about that infrastructure plan. He's been pulling cabinet members together into planning sessions on this.
They're going the try to fight hard on Obamacare. It sounds like they realize that if they're going to pull the trigger on this, they are going to have to do it very soon. And if the conservatives in the House are going to go along with it, it's going to have to be Trump that rolls them, because they're not necessarily going to go along with a moderate bill.
So, it's all about governing and shifting that focus back onto governing.
RADDATZ: I'm going the give you 10 seconds, Matthew, with your prediction for what we'll be covering next week?
DOWD: We're going to be in the middle of this or some other aspects of it. There's just too many. He is not going to be able to shift the focus. He's tried before. This is going to be fully occupy Washington and much of the country for the next 12 months.
RADDATZ: OK. Thanks, Matthew. Thanks, Dan. Thanks, Jennifer. We'll be right back.
RADDATZ: In the month of February, one service member died overseas in Iraq, in a non-combat related death.
Right back after this from our ABC stations.
RADDATZ: That's all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT". And have a great day.