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Nepotism in the White House; Confirmation Hearings for Donald Trump's Cabinet Nominees; Old Bernie Sanders Narrative; Meryl Streep on Trump at Golden Globe Awards; A Senator Versus a Senator. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired January 9, 2017 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Chris, thank you very much. Very nice job, my friend. You and the senator both. You just saw our town hall with Bernie Sanders. He his Senate colleagues begin confirmation hearings tomorrow for Donald Trump's cabinet picks.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us.

[22:04:58] One president getting ready to move into the White House, the other getting ready to say good-bye. President Barack Obama hard at work tonight on his farewell address set for tomorrow in Chicago.

And meanwhile, as President-elect Trump prepares to take the oath of office in just 11 days, his daughter and son-in-law has become D.C.'s newest power couple. Jared Kushner today named a senior adviser.

And the president-elect, well, he is outrage over this from Meryl Streep's Golden Globe's speech.


MERYL STREEP, ACTRESS: The person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.


LEMON: We have so much to get to tonight. But I want to begin with our senior White House correspondent, Mr. Jim Acosta joins me here on set. CNN contributor Emily Jane Fox, also here, Richard Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush joins us. And Jon Meacham, a historian and author of "Destiny in Power."

Quite a fascinating hour, Jon Meacham, you first, that we just saw there. I want to get your reaction to Bernie Sanders town hall. Trump assembling his administration, as we said, the democrats are regrouping to try to figure out what happens, you know, with the Democratic Party. But he said you should be worried about the issues at hand instead of four years ahead. What do you make of what happened?

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: Well, every action produces a reaction. And if Trump was in many ways, if Trump is in many ways an answer to the Obama years, there's going to quickly be given the speed of the American political pulse. There's going to be a moment where the democrats are going to be rethinking.

And I think people are going to be listening to democrats. It's striking to me still that Senator Sanders, given his age, given his ideological leanings, he was the author of what I consider to be, at least in my view, one of the most memorable policy proposals that Secretary Clinton offered as the nominee, which was the free college idea.

A lot of the ideas are going to come out of the Sanders world. And the question is going to be, can those be packaged and make palatable to the working class he just talked about.

LEMON: It's interesting don't you think seeing him on stage there. I mean, because he's been out of it, Emily, we were talking about it. He's been sort of out of it for about eight months now. He hasn't really out for a couple of months, at least since the summer.


LEMON: And we haven't really seen him on the stage. But Hillary Clinton is kind of in obscurity right now.

FOX: It's interesting to me to tie together that town hall that what we just saw and what happened today with Jared Kushner. You just heard Bernie Sanders say, you know, a small number of billionaires holding outside amount of power in this country. And just today we got another billionaire headed to the White House.

LEMON: Yes, interesting. Because, you know, everyone has been talking about this whole idea about the elites, of who really are the elites when you have so many billionaires who are going to be in power.

Speaking of, she mentioned Jared Kushner.


LEMON: Jared Kushner now they are making it. This is a very pivotal moment for the campaign. They're making it official that his son in law is now going to be an adviser. Some people are concerned about the nepotism rules and laws as he governs the White House. But what are you hearing?

ACOSTA: Don, this is a very big deal. You know, people have been comparing this to Hillary Clinton running health care reform under Bill Clinton, I think Jared Kushner could be more powerful than Hillary Clinton was in that White House in the Trump administration.

Keep in mind he was probably Donald Trump's most trusted adviser throughout the entirety of the 2016 campaign. And what they're -- what they're envisioning for Jared Kushner is sort of the senior adviser who overseas everything.

Domestic policy he was down at the Capitol today meeting with Paul Ryan to go over tax reform. He's also been meeting with Donald Trump and other foreign leaders and consulting on foreign policy. They've looked at this, the legalities of all of this, they were on a conference call -- reporters early today, transition officials of one of Jared Kushner's attorneys, assuring all of us that this is not going to break those nepotism laws that were passed in the 1960s, after JFK made Bobby Kennedy the attorney general. That's the reason those laws adopt.


LEMON: Legally they can do it.

ACOSTA: Legally they are saying they can do it. You know, I talked to Jonathan Turley, the constitutional law professor over George Washington. And I said, hey, what's the point of having nepotism laws if you can appoint your son in law senior adviser in the White House.

And he said, well, when they built these nepotism laws, they did not consider the White House a federal agency in those laws. And so, that's what the Trump transition team is saying, because the White House is not an agency, and the president has broad discretion to name the advisers he wants, he can do this. And so it appears that is going to pass the test.

LEMON: And Richard, you're the perfect person to ask this. Because you were a White House ethics lawyer. The Trump team asked you to review their plans. What questions are they asking to make sure that they're on solid ground ethically and what are you telling them?

RICHARD PAINTER, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, I'm not working at all with the Trump team, I have asked questions of lawyers who represent various people who are up for positions in the administration, and I've given my honest opinion on that.

I think on the nepotism statute it's debatable. Whether it applies to an appointment by the president in the White House it certainly applies to the president making an appointment outside the White House.

[22:10:05] One point I've emphasized with all the lawyers representing anybody appointed in this administration, it is absolutely critical to comply with a financial disclosure laws and also the financial conflict of interest statutes. These are criminal statutes that prohibit a government official from engaging in any official action that has a direct predictable effect on their financial holdings.

So this means for Mr. Kushner, that he's going to have to sell quite a lot of holdings, and if he holds on to some real estate, and some bank loans, he may have to recuse from some important issues, such as the regulation of the financial services industry.

It's going to be very important that he follow the rules just like everybody else. And I hope that he will persuade his father-in-law to also divest conflict creating assets, to disclose his tax returns and to follow the same rules that everybody else does.

LEMON: Richard... PAINTER: We have a lot of billionaires in this administration, they

are not -- they don't necessarily understand the needs of working Americans, but at least they can do their jobs free of conflicts of interest in this...


LEMON: You are -- you are reading everyone's mind on this panel, probably every viewer at home is saying, if Jared Kushner has to do this, if he's only an adviser, what makes a president-elect so different? Why doesn't he have to do it if he's going to hold the top office in the land?

PAINTER: Well, technically, the financial conflict of interest statute does not apply to the president, but there are other provisions that do. Such as the mind that's close to Constitution that will prohibit any foreign government money coming into any business that is owned by the president holding that position of trust with the United States government.

That applies to Mr. Kushner and also to the president. So they are going to need to make sure there's no foreign government money coming into these businesses that are still owned by President Trump or by Jared Kushner or anybody else in the United States government.

We need to look at Wilbur Ross, who's a billionaire going over to the commerce department. Betsy DeVos going over to the education department. There are a lot of billionaires here.


PAINTER: And they need to file their financial disclosure reports and let the American people know what's going on. And those who expect Senate confirmation, need to file those with the Senate before they ask for hearings.


LEMON: You know, Jon.

PAINTER: They need to question for hearings.

LEMON: Yes. I want to get Jon Meacham back in. Jon, the transition team believes these anti-nepotism laws, as you heard Richard said, it doesn't apply to the Office of the White House. Should they be able to get around this?

MEACHAM: Right. Well, you know, the law was passed in '67. It was a rider to a bill that President Johnson cheerfully signed, because to say that President Johnson and Senator Robert Kennedy, the former attorney general were not close is something of an understatement.

And so, this was seen as kind of pay back for years of rivalry between LBJ and RFK. It began actually to some extent when Bobby went down to sound Johnson out in '59 about whether or not he was going to run for president. And Johnson gave Bobby a particularly harsh rifle that knocked him down.

And Johnson said, you know, son, you got to learn how to shoot a gun like a man. So that was the beginning of that romance. When Kennedy became attorney general, he was harsh towards Johnson. When the tragedy of Dallas happened, that tension rose.

So, there are technicalities here that seems to me that the courts, that there probably is a way, obviously for Kushner to do this, I think one of the questions, if I were Mr. Trump, which is quite a subjunctive, is what -- how do you -- you know, what if you don't like the advice you're getting?

LEMON: Right.

MEACHAM: Can you fire your son-in-law? Can you move him out? It does raise an interesting question on both sides, both outside the ethical questions and on the inside, which in terms of the family dynamic.

LEMON: Yes, that will be interesting to watch, if it doesn't quite work out, what happens. And speaking of that family dynamic, I think what's important, and a lot of people aren't talking about and we haven't discuss here, I should say, is that Ivanka who has a very robust business. Is she planning to divest, and what's going to happen with her business, Emily?

FOX: Well, she's planning to -- she announced today that she's planning to take a step back from both her role at the Trump organization and her own brand of fashion, line accessories of jewelry. She's moving to Washington, she's moving her whole family, she's going to settle her whole family there. And she's taking a step back.

That's not to say that she's not going to get paid by the Trump organization still. But she set a cycle of fix payment. So she won't be paid say, if her brothers decide to make a deal, she won't necessarily get a cut of that specific deal, but she'll get, you know, a share of the overall Trump organization revenue.

ACOSTA: And she is going to be involved in that new D.C. hotel that was built in the old post office pavilion, they're right down the street from the White House.

[22:14:57] And according to transition officials who are on this call today, if a matter comes before the White House, that is involving that hotel, Don, Jared Kushner is going to have to recuse himself. So there are going to be some cases here and there. He's not divesting himself of all of his holdings and all of his investments.

LEMON: Neither is she.

ACOSTA: Neither is she. So, there are going to be some cases and we have to watch this where Jared Kushner is going to have to step back. And they acknowledge...


LEMON: But how do we know?

FOX: Well, this is -- this is the whole problem.

ACOSTA: Right.

FOX: We don't even know. Jared has said today that he's going to you know, comply with the federal laws about what he has to disclose about his financial statements. But we don't know what kind of holdings he has.


FOX: We have no idea what kind of holdings she has, we have no idea what kind of holdings the president has. And so, all of these things are steps in the right direction, but it's still just so opaque.

LEMON: Well, I don't know if it's a step -- and it sounds good. I mean, Richard, how do we know. I mean, how do we know that Jared Kushner is, you know, recusing himself or you know, Ivanka Trump is not getting a cut on some deal. How would the American people know that?

PAINTER: Well, we're not going to know for sure. But we're going to get a financial disclosure statement from him, because he's going to be a senior White House employee, and he's going to be subject to a criminal conflict of interest statute, which I doubt to say is a lot better than we are with Carl Icahn who they pertain to claim is not a government employee, even though in fact, he will be after January 20 if he keeps doing what he's doing.

So, at least we have the financial disclosure forms, and the criminal conflict of interest statute that apply. The Department of Justice will enforce the criminal conflict of interest statute, they have in the past, they have good prosecutors there, I expect him to comply.


PAINTER: But that hotel, they've got to get rid of that hotel, because they have foreign governments coming in there, there are foreign government money coming into that hotel. No person holding a position of trust with the United States government can be receiving profits from dealing with foreign governments.

And now we got lobbyists who stay in that hotel. Including the NCAA coaches there, athletic directors all want to go in there and lobby the president while staying in his hotel.

I mean, that hotel is going to be...


PAINTER: ... an ethics nightmare for the next four years. If they don't get rid of that hotel, change the name.


PAINTER: They've got one place on Pennsylvania Avenue they ought to be focusing on, and that's the White House.

MEACHAM: Jon, can I just jump in to this?

LEMON: Yes, but can I tell you -- Jon, can you just stay for the other side of the break. That is good way to you, Jon. You'll get the first word on the other side of the break. And I have to warn the audience, please bear with me. I'm a little sniffling, you might hear some of that during the show tonight. But I apologize in advance. We'll be right back.


LEMON: And we're back to tell you about Donald Trump's son-in-law. Jared Kushner is named the senior adviser to the new president and saying he'll sell a significant number of his assets to comply with government ethics rules.

Back with me now, Jim Acosta, Emily Jan Fox, Richard Painter, and Jon Meacham. Jon Meacham, as promised you'll get the first word out of the break. Richard was saying, they got to get rid of that hotel on did do you say, Pennsylvania Avenue, right?

MEACHAM: Yes, I just think, I think we're talking about -- I think this conversation is of a piece with so many similar conversations that have taken place since Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower back in June of '15.

We're talking in terms of conventionalities, in terms of normal expectations, and I think that Trump has every intention of making his own political rules. And the interesting intention obviously is going to be where the law Trump's, so to speak, the politics of these things.

But if the job numbers get strong, if in fact, people feel that the country is getting better under a President Trump. The political appetite for the kind, raising the kinds of questions, and making these questions stick is going to be I think fairly minimal.

LEMON: Yes. But Jared and Ivanka are following the rules. They're ahead of the person who is actually in the White House who knew he's been elected since November. Why the double standard?

FOX: I don't think there's a double standard. I just think there's a difference...


LEMON: So why the difference. yes.

FOX: ... there is difference in ambition here, right? Jared and Ivanka are 35. They're actually turns 36 tomorrow. They're half Donald's age and twice as ambitious. I think if they want to have a long career in Washington, or at a very least in power.

And so, they're taking steps that look good and appear to comply with ethics standards and rules. Donald is 70 years old, do you think he's going to have a political future down the road?


FOX: So, I think that this is really important to people who have always been incredibly ambitious and striving for them to do in orderto get on with their show later down the road.

LEMON: Yes. So, why -- go ahead, why do you think it's tough for him to -- because Ivanka and the two sons who are apparently running the business and maybe Jared had some influence.


LEMON: As it is already, why is it so tough to have him untangle all of his entanglements?

ACOSTA: Well, it's interesting. We were supposed to have a press conference about all of this back in December and it was pushed off.


LEMON: Will that come Wednesday?

ACOSTA: So, nine days before the inauguration, is we're finally going to find out how Donald Trump is going to do all of this. Speaking of that escalator, he descended into the lobby of Trump Tower today, and took a few questions from reporters, he also dodged a few.

But one of the questions that he takes was about this conflict of interest. And he basically said, listen, this is simple, I can do this, it's not going to be that tough. That sounds like a very Donald Trump-like answer to a very complex complicated question.

As Mr. Painter was saying earlier, you know, there are no conflicts of interest when you're president of the United States. Those conflict of interest restrictions don't apply to you. But that Emolument Clause does apply to you.

And he is going to have to demonstrate how he's going to disentangle himself from all of these hotels, all of these properties, all over the world that have Russian interests and Chinese interests. And interests with countries that are not friends of the United States.

And he's going to have to make it crystal clear to the American people, this is not a problem. As Jon Meacham said, yes, he gets the economy going again, he does more of these car company announcements, people are going to be, you know, jumping on the bandwagon, but there's still the question of the Constitution. And if questions of violating the Constitution are raised, they're going to be pursued, no matter how popular he is in that Oval Office.

LEMON: Yes. Richard, if there are ethics conflicts, for example, with the hotel as you said, who's going to hold the president accountable? You said who -- you talked about who at hold the adviser to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump accountable. But who would hold the president accountable? PAINTER: Well, it depends on the type of conflict, if he holds on to

these businesses, we're going to have the risk that people are mixing Trump business with the United States government business. And conversations that look like a quid pro quo.

If that ever happens there could be an investigation by the Department of Justice under the bribery or gratuity statutes.

[22:25:07] With respect to the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution which simply prohibits foreign government payoffs for United States government officials through profiteering or anything else, that is something that the House of Representatives might very well look at, and if somebody refuses to stop taking illegal payments from foreign governments, they would have to resort to impeachment.

But we're not there yet. I hope this can be resolved. And I hope President-elect Trump understands that the vast majority of people who voted for him wanted a president who represents the interest of the American people.

And it's already difficult for someone to understand what it's like to make $15 an hour, if you make $15 million in an hour and then calls the art of the deal. So he's already coming at this from a different perspective from the average American. There's only so much of this putting the billionaires in charge that voters are going to put up with. I think that point is going to sink in quite quickly once he becomes president of the United States.

LEMON: Hey, Jon, I've to run, but do you think that Donald Trump thought about this, about all of this, you know, disentanglement and divesting and all that before he ran for president?

MEACHAM: I think he thinks he can get away with anything.


MEACHAM: And you know, he said it himself, he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his numbers would go up, and I don't -- and there's been nothing that's happened in the past -- during the transition, it seems to me that would undercut that central view. He believes in intuition, he believes in his gut. He believes in himself, and I think that's what we're about to deal with.

LEMON: Jon, Emily, Richard, and Jim, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Straight ahead, will democrats try to slow down the confirmation hearings and would that make a difference in the long run.


[22:30:00] LEMON: The Senate got a very big week ahead, starting in just hours, senators hold a series of confirmation hearings on Donald Trump's cabinet nominees.

Let's discuss now with CNN political commentator Mr. Van Jones, political analyst Kirsten Powers, a columnist for USA Today, she's doing double duty. Political commentator, Kevin Madden or moonlighting, Kevin Madden who is a republican strategist, and former Congressman Jack Kingston, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

Hello, to all of you. Thank you for joining us. First, I have to ask you all about the moment in the Bernie Sanders town hall, he had some choice words for Donald Trump. Listen and then we'll discuss.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We are dealing with a man who in many respects is -- how can I phrase this. You know, a pathological liar. And I say that without any -- look, I have many conservative friends and I disagree with them, they're not liars. They have their point of view. But time after time after time he says stuff which is blatantly absolutely untrue.


LEMON: He's basically calling -- he's saying, Van Jones, that the president-elect is a liar, what's your reaction?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's telling the truth, that he can't deny. Listen, it doesn't give me any great joy to say it, in a few days, he's going to be the president of me, of you, of my children, but he has a pattern of saying things that are not true.

And then -- and then he won't apologize or retract very easily or very often and that is a bad thing. We should not adapt to absurdity and pretend that blue is green and green is plaid. It's a true statement.

LEMON: While in the room I'll just go to Kirsten. Not that I'm putting democrats first, all right, Jack and Kevin, so calm down. But go ahead.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. I think probably the -- what's almost as bad or worse, is the sort of gas lighting component of it which is not telling the truth, and then telling us that we imagined he didn't tell the truth or the things that actually didn't happen.

For example, that he wasn't imitating that reporter, you know, the disabled reporter, just telling us the things we're looking at are not happening, that is the sort of crazy making aspect to it.


POWERS: That he doesn't ever -- people make mistakes and they say things that aren't true. But sometimes they come back and they say, I misspoke. That's not what I meant.


POWERS: But he doesn't do that.

LEMON: Well, if that was not my intention.


LEMON: He thought that was I'm really, I'm sorry about that, I didn't mean to mock you.

POWERS: He just tells you it didn't happen.

LEMON: Yes. It didn't happen with the video. Go ahead, Jack, you next.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I just think it was a nostalgic tour down the golden oldies of Bernie Sanders. I mean, everything was corporate greed, 1 percent. He opened up saying that this election is about sexism and racism and xenophobia, and all the other tried and failed campaign rhetoric of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

So, to me, there were a few bright moments. And one of the bright moments that I can tell you, because I have worked with Bernie Sanders on legislation before. When he said he would work with Donald Trump on repealing or reforming NAFTA, he meant that.

And I know because I worked with him on a drug importation - re- importation issue where he will work with somebody if he believes them. And so, I enjoy that part of it, but the rest of it I got to say it was just the old campaign rhetoric pulled out one more time like a golden Goldie's hit right.

LEMON: Mr. Madden.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I agree with Congressman Kingston. There was a retread quality to a lot of what we saw in the town hall. But you know, I think if I look at this clinically, that is a what he said about Donald Trump is a Clarian call for, you know, the heart and soul of what the progressives want to see as part of an opposition message to Donald Trump.

They don't want to normalize Trump in anyway and they want to go directly, and actually, in a very personal way, at -- you know, his veracity. And not only call that out.


LEMON: Have you ever seen it this personal, Kevin?

MADDEN: Pardon me?

LEMON: Have you ever seen at this personal?

MADDEN: Yes. I mean, the 2016 race has desensitized a lot of us. And you know, I think so much of our outrage, people of those of us who have worked in politics for a long time, we look at the 2016 race, and so much of it is a departure from the past. But this is in many ways that, you know, the personalization of so many attacks right now, it could potentially be the new normal. LEMON: Yes, it's interesting, Van. Go ahead.

JONES: Well, look, there are four things that I think progressives are concerned about, his personality is one of them. Because there's a concern that he's not just a bad role model but a dangerous, erratic person to have his finger on the trigger.

[22:35:05] So, there's the personality. Then there are the appointments, the personnel. He's putting people in place that progressives have a very hard time with, especially when you're talking about putting people in charge of the EPA, who don't believe in global warming.

So that's -- and then third, there's a question of the policies, you know, the sort of you know, rolling back Obamacare without any real help for 20 million people.

But then the most important thing though to me, is not the personality, not the personnel, not the policies, it's the principles and the values that we should be one country, that we shouldn't be picking on people because of how they dress or their faith or whether they're disabled or not.

The principles and the values I feel, that's what's under threat for progressives, and progressives are there for wanting to fight harder than ever, to defend our principles and values.

LEMON: To Congressman Kingston point though, you said, all of that, all those things were said on the campaign trail.


LEMON: In the 18 months leading up to this, and you know, now that two years that we're -- from this moment where we are now, and none of it seemed to make a difference. Donald Trump still want...


JONES: One thing is different. Yes, he did. But one thing is different, there was a hope. And I think a false hope, but one that even I had, that maybe the man that you saw on stage during the primaries...

LEMON: Will change.

JONES: ... was just an act.

LEMON: Right.

JONES: And he was going to change for the general election. Then there was the hope at the general election. Once he is elected and he is the man, that then he's going to become presidential. And now there's a fading, dwindling hope that maybe he want he puts his hand on the bible.


JONES: But I think -- I think that maybe this is it.

KINGSTON: Van, he is a populist. This is what populist do, they rub the feathers the wrong way of the establishment.


LEMON: But Bernie Sanders was a populist as well. And you know, there were other people who were populists and they didn't quite handle themselves this way on the campaign trail.

KINGSTON: Well, but I think the idea of going to Twitter seems to have everybody in Washington, D.C. alarmed I think is great, I think he goes straight to the American people. And frankly, I was disgusted last night with Meryl Streep. And I was real glad that Donald Trump jumped on it today.


LEMON: You did bring Meryl Streep. Well, we're going now.

KINGSTON: To me, he spoke to the heart of somebody who's simple minded like me, you know, I just, I understood what he was saying. I mean, here's this woman that's extremely wealthy and she's whining like she's the victim.


LEMON: Did you just call yourself simple minded?

KINGSTON: Well, I'm just saying this is the way I look at it. And I think what Donald Trump does he goes straight to the heart of the American people. And I think that that's what the populist.


JONES: He goes to the heart of this.

LEMON: Yes. When you were saying, you know, about Donald Trump, you thought he would change. During this campaign, van, they said, you know, when someone shows you who they are you're not the old folks who just say it fool me once.

JONES: Shame on you.

LEMON: Shame on you who will shame on me. yes. That's actually what he said. We'll talk, we will be right back, don't go anywhere.


LEMON: Back now with Van Jones, Kirsten Powers, Kevin Madden, and former Congressman Jack Kingston. So, Kevin, Jack Kingston said that...


MADDEN: He's simple minded. That's what I heard.

LEMON: he's simple minded.

KINGSTON: I mean that.

LEMON: He base to the heart, he said that -- and you know, so he was, did you say you were -- I didn't want to put words in your mouth. He was disgusted or he didn't like the Meryl Streep speech last night. Go ahead, Kevin.

MADDEN: He doesn't give himself enough credit. Yes, he didn't like the speech. I don't think there's a lot of people in the country that liked the speech.

JONES: I like it.

MADDEN: I think -- go ahead.

JONES: I was just going to say, I danced in small circles. I was have to...