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Trump, Intel Chief Spoke by Phone Tonight; Confirmation Hearings for Trump's Nominees; Aired 11-12a ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 23:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[23:00:59] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: We begin this hour with breaking news. The director of National Intelligence speaking tonight with President-elect Donald Trump.

I want to turn right away to CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE RESOURCES," and our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, a big development tonight. It seems like every night brings incredible news. Tonight the director of National Intelligence issuing a statement concerning that report presented to the president- elect and it confirms CNN's reporting. Take us through it.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right and confirms that he spoke directly with the president- elect tonight. This is the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

I'm going to read the statement in full, allowing our viewers to make their own judgment then I'll draw your attention to a few lines in here. But it begins this evening, "I had the opportunity to speak with President-elect Donald Trump to discuss recent media reports about our briefing last Friday. I expressed by profound dismay at the leaks that have been appearing in the press and we both agreed that they are extremely corrosive and damaging to our national security.

"We also discussed the private security company document which was widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and congressional staff, even before the Intelligence Community," those are the IC, "became aware of it. I emphasized that this document is not a U.S. intelligence community product and that I do not believe the leaks came from within the IC. The IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable and we did not rely upon it any way for conclusions.

"However part of your obligation is to ensure that policy makers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security. President-elect Trump again affirmed his appreciation for all the men and women serving in the Intelligence community and I assured him that the IC stands ready to serve his administration and the American people." It is signed James R. Clapper, director of National Intelligence.

I would just draw your attention, Don, our viewers' attention to a couple of lines in here. First of all, we should draw attention to this. The director of National Intelligence says that he shares the president-elect's dismay that this information was leaked out to the press. That makes sense. This was a classified briefing. You would understand why they want to keep that classified, keep that private.

I will also draw your attention to this because this was a day that the president-elect accused CNN of being a terrible fake news organization largely on the basis of this report. But immediately after referencing the document that CNN was the first to report, we were the first to report that this document was included in that classified intelligence briefing for the president-elect. Immediately after referencing that document the director of National Intelligence said the following, "Part of our obligation is to ensure that policy makers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security. Confirming there that this document was included in that briefing as CNN reported.

LEMON: So it seems a bit -- I'm not sure if it's unprecedented and maybe you can tell us, but how often, Jim Sciutto, does someone on the level of the DNI, Clapper, issue a public statement like this one in rebuttal to what Trump said at the press conference?

SCIUTTO: Well, public statements, Clapper, earlier this week the DNI was -- gave hearings which were public on Capitol Hill. He's done television interviews. I've interviewed him before. Appeared on our broadcast. But what's unique here is to issue a statement following a private phone call with the president-elect and essentially contradicting what the president-elect said in his press conference this afternoon that this is all fake.

And let me be very precise here about what I'm talking about. The director is not saying that the allegations about Mr. Trump are true. In fact he says that they have not reached a judgment, reached a conclusion on that. That's one thing. But remember president-elect didn't just say those allegations were not true. He said that the report, our report, our exclusive report, that those allegations were included as part of his briefing, he said that that was fake news. The director of National Intelligence here in this statement appears very strongly to be contradicting that.

[23:05:02] LEMON: Jim Acosta, what stands out to you tonight in this statement?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think exactly what Jim Sciutto just said. I mean, I think we have some confirmation from the director of National Intelligence that there was a presentation made to the president-elect that included some of this additional unsubstantiated material.

Now we should point out, Don, that Donald Trump just tweeted a few moments ago and said, "We had a great news conference at Trump Tower today. A couple of fake news organizations were there." Fake news in all caps. "But the true -- people truly get what's going on." So Trump once again coming after the news media, coming after us. I

presume we are one of those fake news organizations he's referring to. But, you know, this is not fake news, Don, this is real news and sometimes the powerful, they just can't handle it.



LEMON: Hang on. Hang on, one second, one second. I want to play this sound bite and then we'll discuss it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen and it was gotten by opponents of ours as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got together, sick people. And they put that crap together. But it should never have been released but I read what was released and I think it's a disgrace. I think it's an absolute disgrace.


LEMON: It didn't really address what was inaccurate in the reporting, just saying it was a disgrace and that is was fake news, although it's not.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he's talking about that BuzzFeed document, this 35-page memo that was posted by BuzzFeed. He's conflating what BuzzFeed was doing, what CNN was doing. We looked at his tweet a couple of minutes ago here. The president-elect is willfully misleading people at every turn on this topic and so were his aides.

You know, Kellyanne Conway on Anderson Cooper's show earlier this evening saying that CNN linked to the BuzzFeed story. That's just not true. You can go check on to see it's not true. Both Donald Trump and his aides today purposely misleading people about this. I think trying to confuse the matter. And that's what Trump is doing with this tweet, you know.


STELTER: Calling CNN and BuzzFeed against fake news. We saw this 12 hours ago on his Twitter feed and again tonight.

ACOSTA: Misuse of the term.

STELTER: Fake news is a very specific term. Now I will acknowledge that this has changed in recent months but three or four months ago this term was sort of used in academia and in the media to describe stories that are written on Facebook trying to trick and hoax people. These are stories designed to deceive. It's actually very specific definition. Now partisans on left and right have misused the term, exploited the

term and I think as Margaret Sullivan wrote in the -- in "Washington Post" this week, it's time to retire the term fake news that's being misused.


STELTER: But Donald Trump knows CNN is not fake news. He knows better than this.

LEMON: Yes. Well, fake news is when you mislead someone on purpose and as you said they are willfully misleading people. That would be actual fake news. But here's the thing, you mentioned Kellyanne Conway and then Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway said that the reporting on BuzzFeed, they tried to conflate the two. And they're talking about --

STELTER: Trying to deceive people, yes.

LEMON: -- 35-page unsubstantiated report which CNN did not put out there. Here's Kellyanne Conway and her exchange with Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And what CNN said was and I quote, "Classified documents presented last week to President Obama and President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.


COOPER: Multiple U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN.

CONWAY: Anderson, your sources are not correct. And the fact is that I am --

COOPER: So you're saying in that intelligence --

CONWAY: You're telling me --

COOPER: You're saying in that intelligence briefing there was no information in any of the documents that's -- of that two-page summary?

CONWAY: So two things on that. Number one. We don't discuss the classified information that is presented in the intelligence briefings. That's why they're closed-door --

COOPER: Well, you just said it wasn't true.

CONWAY: Excuse me. But Anderson, if you just -- if you want me to talk. I know CNN is feeling the heat today. But I was gracious enough to come on and discuss it.

COOPER: I think you guys are feeling the heat.

CONWAY: We feel -- what heat do we feel? That you've got this raw information, this complete, ridiculous fake news?


LEMON: So now the story has been confirmed here, Jim Sciutto. So then what is the strategy?

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, the strategy, there are about 14 different strategies when you listen to that conversation between Anderson and Kellyanne Conway there, because, you know, one you have the conflation, right? Conflating BuzzFeed's report which put out the unconfirmed allegations, that's one. But bigger one is one that I think is just more worrisome as a journalist, which is that news that the Trump campaign doesn't like, they call fake. Right? I mean, and let's be honest, it's not just the news that gets targeted here, intelligence that the Trump team doesn't like, they haven't called it fake but they've certainly called into question, that the president- elect has repeatedly called into question until today.

It was the first time today I think Russia was behind the hacks. I mean, it's been consensus, it's been the high confidence assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community that Russia has been behind these hacks since October, a month before the election.

[23:10:03] So, you know, inconvenient facts and reports, uncomfortable ones, critical ones, these are things that are attacked by the president-elect and his team. And here you have, I mean, the important thing -- forget about how we feel. We're doing our job and part of our job is, you know, people are going to -- you know, politicians have attacked the media for years, it did not start with Trump's election.

You know, we know that. But I think what's different here is just trying to undermine news as something that's credible. But also other things like intelligence. And that has a decaying effect it seems on our national debate.

LEMON: But in a strange way I think it also emphasizes the importance of the Fourth Estate and -- and putting the truth out there. As you said, forget how we feel.


LEMON: As an American the fourth Estate is important because it speaks truth to power and it keeps --


LEMON: Checks and balances on our politicians and people who are in power. And speaking of the strategy here, our Jim Acosta, after Trump mischaracterized CNN's reporting, he tried to ask a follow-up question. Lets listen then we'll talk to you guys about it. Here it is.


ACOSTA: Since you are attacking our news organization --

TRUMP: No. Not you. Not you.

ACOSTA: Can you give us a chance?

TRUMP: Your organization is terrible.

ACOSTA: You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir?

TRUMP: Go ahead.

ACOSTA: Sir, can you state --

TRUMP: Quiet, quiet.

ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect --

TRUMP: Go ahead. She's asking a question. Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Can you say categorically -- Mr. President-elect, can you give us a question?

TRUMP: Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: You're attacking us. Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: Don't be -- I'm not going to give you --

ACOSTA: Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: I'm not going to give you a question.

ACOSTA: Can you state categorically --

TRUMP: You are fake news. Go ahead.

ACOSTA: Sir, can you state categorically that nobody -- no, Mr. President-elect, that's not appropriate.

TRUMP: Go ahead.


LEMON: So, I have to obviously go to you because that's what -- so -- and then you had another exchange with Sean Spicer who said that he was going to kick you out if you did that.

ACOSTA: Right. He came over to me during the middle of that and said if you do that one more time you're out of here. And I've been covering presidential campaigns for a long time. This is my fourth one at the White House covering President Obama, we asked him hard questions, too. A lot of questions they didn't like. You know, we'd go after both sides. That is what we do but I've never had a press secretary come up to me and threaten to throw me out of a news conference.

Now heat of the moment, maybe he regrets that. And if that's the case then that's fine, but, you know, listen, we're not going anywhere, Don. We're going to do our jobs. This is what we're going to do. And, you know, the story is not about us. As I like to say, people don't care about us. People care about the president of the United States. And the last time he had a news conference was at the end of July. And you know what he said at that conference?


ACOSTA: Russia, if you're out there, if you find those 30,000 missing Hillary Clinton e-mails, will you let us know about it?


ACOSTA: We tried to ask Donald Trump throughout the course of this campaign following that about his relationship with Russia, about his business interests over there. He refused to have news conferences. Our first news conference with Donald Trump is 10 days before he takes the oath of office down in Washington? That's outrageous and it's not in keeping with tradition.

Tradition is presidents when they're elected they hold news conferences, they talk to us, they answer questions about what's going on during this transition of power. That's what makes American democracy so special, Don.

LEMON: Right.

ACOSTA: You have a president leave, you have a new one come in, that's an important time and we need the president-elect to talk to us.

LEMON: I saw an interview with Sean Spicer, he said that you were rude. I did not think you were rude.

ACOSTA: I -- being persistent. You know.

LEMON: That's -- you're a journalist. You're supposed to do that. Right?

ACOSTA: Right.

LEMON: He says you're rude. He's asking -- he said you should apologize on Twitter tonight. There is --

ACOSTA: Well, I --

LEMON: Have you read that?

ACOSTA: I will not -- I will not take him up on that. Listen, I don't think I owe anybody an apology. I think I was doing my job and, you know, we're going to go out there and we're going to do it again tomorrow. I would like to have a good relationship with Sean Spicer. I think he's a good guy. I've dealt with him for several years now. I like Kellyanne Conway. I've dealt with her for many years now. I'm not going to call them names.

And, you know, listen, let's try to figure out a way to have a good working relationship when they move into the White House because listen, you know, when times are tough, there's a terrorist attack, there's a natural disaster, the White House is going to want to come to the news media and say, hey, listen, we need some time to talk to the nation. We've got to have a good working relationship in addition to having the opportunity to ask the president hard questions.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you all.

ACOSTA: You're welcome.

LEMON: We appreciate it. Thanks, Jim Sciutto. Thank you, Brian.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you, Jim Acosta.

Up next, Donald Trump finally admits that Russia was behind the hacking of the election but he's still offering warm words about president -- Russian President Vladimir Putin.


[23:18:07] LEMON: Welcome back, everyone. Our breaking news tonight, the director of National Intelligence speaking tonight with the President-elect Donald Trump.

I want to bring in Evan McMullin, a former CIA operative and 2016 independent presidential candidate, Jill Dougherty, former CNN Moscow bureau chief, now at the International Center for Defense and Security, and Jonathan Sanders is the associate professor at Stony Brook University School of Journalism.

I'm glad to have all of you on. Jonathan, I'm going to start with you. We have been talking about this statement by the director of National Intelligence confirming CNN's reporting. What do you make of it?

JONATHAN SANDERS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: Well, I think that the idea that Mr. Trump denied hearing things, I think that the intelligence agencies are just getting very frustrated. And in fact, that may be one of the reasons that somebody put this into the public sphere. You know, what's behind it, I read all 35 pages today. Jill and I could teach you two new Russian words, one is articles for pay and the other is masking things. And, you know, compromising material, might be a third.

There's compromising material made up and you never know if it's true or it's fake. And, you know, I think you guys did the right thing in reporting that there was a discussion of this but not going into the grisly details. There's some gross errors in those 35 pages and it's rumor.

LEMON: Yes. SANDERS: It's speculation. I'm sure there's rumor and speculation

about me and about Jill.

LEMON: Yes. You know, and I'm glad, you know, we did not report the contents and we did not link to the contents at all, but it is important as the director of National Intelligence said, that it's part of their obligation to ensure that policy makers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security. And it was -- it's incumbent upon us to report that the president receive this intelligence.

[23:20:02] Donald Trump said this about CNN's report that intelligence chiefs presented him with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him. Listen.


TRUMP: I do have to say that -- and I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies, who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies, which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that. A tremendous blot. Because a thing like that should have never been written, it should never been had, and it should certainly never have been released.


LEMON: Evan, what kind of -- first of all, do you agree with him and what kind of a precedent does this set for Trump's relationship with the Intelligence Community?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: Well, I would say that it's unlikely that the leak came from the intelligence community given that the information was so widely dispersed in Washington. There are a lot of investigative reporters and a lot of intelligence people both from United States of America and from other countries not only here in Washington but in Europe.

This information has been known for quite some time. So I don't think it's fair of Donald Trump to blame the Intelligence Community for the information coming out on CNN first that he was briefed on the information.

I would also offer that it does say something that the Intelligence Community chose to brief this information to President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump. Having spent time in the agency myself, I can tell you that most of the information that comes across the radar of the CIA is -- ends up on the cutting room floor. A very small percentage of it ever gets to the president. And so the fact that they actually saw fit to brief this tells you that they knew it was relevant, and that they did some sort of -- they made some sort of judgment about its credibility because believe me they hear things like this every day of the week, every month. So they made some kind of judgment.

LEMON: Jill, do you agree with that?

JILL DOUGHERTY, FORMER CNN MOSCOW BUREAU CHIEF: Well, you know, I've been concentrating on what the Russians have been saying about all of this, and look at Dmitri Peskov, who is the spokesperson for President Putin. He used an English phrase. He said it's "Pulp Fiction." And then he went on to say that we don't collect kompromat, as we say, compromising information on anyone. And at that point you have to laugh because of course they have.

I mean, one of the first stories that I ever covered when I came as bureau chief was the chief prosecutor who ended up, you know, having some compromised material released in order to kind of get him out of the way. So this is commonly done. And I think right now it's more interesting to me, it's really important to concentrate on what Donald Trump and his secretary of State are talking about -- or saying about Russia and how they're going to deal with Russia.

This is going to be a big part of the president's brief and right now it's a pretty confusing picture.

LEMON: All right. Jonathan, so -- you gave a nod to Evan when Evan said there's some reason that they put this information in that report because a lot of it ends up on the cutting room floor?

SANDERS: Yes. I mean, compromising material and gathering information coming out of Moscow, there's lots of this but it rose to the level of answering two important questions. Was it sex or girls or was it money that is motivating Mr. Trump to have a different attitude towards Russia? I think that having a different attitude and saying -- Tillerson said today, do you want to see things get worse? I think that's a good and important question, but I think Trump did himself no favors today by not seriously addressing what motivates his thinking about Russia.

I mean, he could have gone and said, you know, this particular incident, I saw a Sputnik, I've been interested, I think the whole country's political correctness is wrong. But by not seriously explaining why he wants to think in a different way about Russia than the whole majority of people and you could see the Cold War atmosphere in the Tillerson hearings today that he did him and his nominee for secretary of State no favors. I thought on Russia Tillerson was pretty good.

LEMON: Yes. So speaking of his attitudes towards Russia, here is Trump discussing Vladimir Putin at the press conference.


TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That's called an asset, not a liability. Now I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't.


[23:25:04] LEMON: Jill, what's your reaction to that? DOUGHERTY: Yes. It was interesting. I mean, there are kind of

incremental movements by the president-elect about Russia, about Putin. I mean, he said, for example, yes, Russia probably did do the hacking. But he doesn't blame Putin. And then he has this kind of two-step, well, I might not get along with him but it's great that he likes me and that will be an asset.

So I think he's playing both sides against the middle. And then he bring in Mr. Tillerson who actually does say it is a fair assumption that Vladimir Putin was behind the hacking. And then the most incredible thing to me was Mr. Tillerson saying that he actually hadn't had any substantive conversation with Donald Trump about Russia. And that is disturbing. I mean, there's been plenty of time to talk about Russia and to figure out kind of in general terms what your policy will be. So right now you have his secretary of state nominee with a quite different approach to Russia than the president himself.

LEMON: Yes. That's going to have to be the last word. Sorry we had such a short time. Thank you, Jill. Thank you, Evan. Thank you, Jonathan. I appreciate it. See you soon.

Straight ahead, a key Republican senator refusing to say if he'll support Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of State.


[23:30:20] LEMON: Well, it's a rough road today for Donald Trump's Cabinet nominees during confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill and at this late hour that is where we find our intrepid CNN senior political reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, thank you for burning the midnight oil and joining us. You know, this was enormously important day on Capitol Hill for the incoming administration. Set the scene for us, will you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don. This is actually -- Congress is moving very rapidly to try to fill significant portion of Donald Trump's Cabinet. By the time that he is sworn into office on January 20th, there is a hope among the Republicans that they will actually get six or seven Cabinet nominees done by January 20th. They may need some cooperation from Democrats in order to do that.

So they're moving on that front and separately right now in this hour as we speak the United States Senate is still voting on a budget plan that would actually set the stage to repeal significant chunk of Obamacare in several weeks. So two key elements of the Trump agenda moving very quickly. And on Capitol Hill today, Rex Tillerson's nomination to be secretary of State very contentious key moments there. And also the second day of Jeff Sessions' hearing to be attorney general. Both those nominations creating some controversy on both sides of the aisle so we'll see how those pan out in a matter of weeks here, Don.

LEMON: You caught up with Senator Marco Rubio after Rex Tillerson's hearings. What did he tell you?

RAJU: Well, he wasn't very happy, Don. He actually came into the hearing skeptic of Rex Tillerson because of Tillerson's ties to Russia, his closeness with Vladimir Putin when he was the head of ExxonMobil. He tried to ask Mr. Tillerson a number of questions about Putin, on whether or not he agreed that Putin was, in Marco Rubio's words, quote, "war criminal," and whether or not he believed there should be stiffer sanctions on the country, and listen to this, Don, he did not think that those answers were very clear.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I'm prepared to do what is right. I'm not analyzing it from a partisan standpoint. I was elected by the people of Florida. I have a very clear view on foreign policy, both in my presidential race and in my reelection. I swore an oath about a week ago to protect, defend and uphold the Constitution of this country. And that Constitution requires me to provide advice and the consent of the president's nominees.

My view is that the president deserves wide latitude in their nominations but the more important the position is, the less latitude they have. It's like a cone. It's really wide and some positions as it gets higher and higher, the discretion becomes more limited and our scrutiny should become higher. And I consider this the highest of them all.


RAJU: So, Dan, that was in response to my question, asking him, are you prepared to be the one Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to vote against Rex Tillerson? He said I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary, however, I feel. So he is not ready to support Rex Tillerson by any means potentially could be a decisive vote against Rex Tillerson in the committee. So this is a danger zone for a key nominee for Donald Trump's Cabinet.

LEMON: Interesting. So if Rubio votes no on Tillerson, what happens, Manu?

RAJU: Well, that's a great question. There are several possibilities. One, it could be the end of Rex Tillerson's nomination because the committee is split from -- one, Republican has a majority, they have a one seat majority. So if the Democrats all vote no and then Rubio votes no with them, presumably that could stall. But the Republican leadership can take extraordinary steps to bypass the committee and moving it straight to the floor to try to confirm it through the floor.

Now that is rarely done. It will provoke an outcry and it could presumably anger some other Republicans, people like John McCain or Lindsey Graham who are also skeptical about Rex Tillerson on the Russia issue. So not necessarily that would actually avoid any sort of controversy or avoid problems on the floor which is one reason why that committee vote is so critical, and how Marco Rubio comes down so critical to Rex Tillerson's fate. LEMON: And I have to ask you about this before you go. Because you

also spoke with Senator Cory Booker today about unprecedented testimony against Jeff Sessions, Trump's pick for attorney general. Tell us what happened and why was it significant that Senator Booker testified today.

RAJU: Yes. This is the first time ever a United States senator has testified against another sitting United States senator for a Cabinet post. And he said that -- I asked him, well, why did you do this, take this unprecedented move, he said he did it because he felt like the moment was calling for it, he had to do this.

I talked to him about that, as well as questions about whether or not he was doing for his own political ambitions, possibly a future presidential run. Here's a little bit about what he said.


[23:35:07] SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: So this is somebody who clearly has told us if he is attorney general he will not be executing one of the key function of the attorney general's office which is to protect the vulnerable, to protect women, to protect minorities, to protect voting rights, to protect the poor. So this is clearly something in good conscience I could not remain silent on. And I believe that it's more important for me to stand up for principles and ideals of my country than it is to stand up for Senate norms.


RAJU: So I asked him about the 2020 consideration, are you considering running in 2020, he would not answer the question. He sidestepped that question. And I also asked him, what about Rex Tillerson because Cory Booker, Don, also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is actually not ruling out supporting Rex Tillerson. So it's uncertain where he may come down on Rex Tillerson's nomination. But it's very clear he's adamantly opposed to Jeff Sessions and virtually every other Donald Trump nominee, maybe Rex Tillerson. He has not made that decision just yet -- Don.

LEMON: Manu Raju, thank you. And again we appreciate you staying late.

When we come right back one congressman says that opposition to the nomination of Jeff Sessions is akin to a war on whites.


[23:40:15] LEMON: Senator versus senator at the confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill today. Joining me now four CNN political commentators, Peter Beinart, contributor to the "Atlantic," Andy Dean, former president of Trump Productions, Matt Lewis -- I thought it said former president, Jesus. Matt Lewis, a senior contributor at the "Daily Caller" and David Swerdlick, assistant editor at the "Washington Post."

Glad to have all of you on. David, I'm going to start with you. Today at Jeff Sessions' hearing for attorney general, Cory Booker became the first sitting senator to testify against another sitting senator. Take a look.


BOOKER: Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job. To aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens. His record indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system.


LEMON: Will Booker have an impact?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he'll have an impact in this way, Don. Right now Democrats across the board are trying to figure out how vigorously they're going to oppose Trump's nominees, how vigorously they're going to oppose Donald Trump's agenda. And I think this was a signal that some Democrats, Booker included, Congressman Cedric Richmond, Congressman John Lewis included, were going to take a stand in this particular nomination.

I'll say this, whether or not people agree on the underlying premise that Booker laid out there, that Sessions was not up to the requisite aspects of the job of attorney general, he's gotten a lot of criticism for being an opportunist here. But I'll just say this, Booker has not built his reputation on being a bomb thrower. He's built his reputation on being a bridge builder. So the idea that he's an opportunist here I think is shortsighted of people criticizing him.

He clearly felt passionate about this as -- to testify against a colleague who he probably likes personally but sees as someone who is not -- who his constituents that support him feel should be the attorney general.

LEMON: Matt, you called Booker's testimony a bust. Why?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, first of all, I don't think he was up to the occasion. This was -- you know, I think this was a politically motivated opportunity for the senator. There is no Democratic bench. This was a chance for him to sort of vault to the top of what is a very empty campaign for -- you know, for -- what is it, 2020. He didn't perform that well. He might have been passionate. I don't think it was that effective. I think what it did do is further erode comity and cordialness -- cordiality in the U.S. Senate.

This was unprecedented. And whether it's Harry Reid destroying the filibuster or now a senator testifying against another senator is just one more step down the road of more polarization and bitterness in the Senate.

LEMON: Comity with a T not a D.

LEWIS: With a T. Yes.

LEMON: Yes. Is what you mean. So, Peter, Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama responded to Democrats' criticism of Sessions' civil rights record in a radio interview today. Here it is.


REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: It's really about political power and racial division, and what I refer to on occasion as the war on whites. They are trying to motivate the African-American vote to vote bloc for Democrats by using every Republican as a racist tool that they can envision even if they have to lie about it.


LEMON: A war on whites.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: A war on whites? Gosh, I don't even know what to say. I mean, the reality is that Jeff Sessions will be in charge of the Justice Department that has enforced -- is in charge of enforcing the Voting Rights Act. We have seen in Republican state legislatures across the country, especially in the south, efforts to make it harder for African-Americans to vote.

Why on earth would we be surprised that Cory Booker, a progressive African-American, Democratic senator, would be fighting against that? That's what he was elected to do, that's what he believes. It's probably good politics, too. But anyone who doesn't think that Cory Booker is profoundly disturbed by the prospect of Jeff Sessions, the guy who has a zero rating for the Human Rights Campaign on gay rights, a guy who asked the department -- the National Council why they were buying so many books on Islam, if you go down the list, this guy is totally, morally antithetical to the tradition of the Civil Rights Movement that Cory Booker comes out of.

LEMON: Andy, do you think Congressman Brooks went too far in saying it was a war on whites and what he said on the radio show?

ANDY DEAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I think he's being dramatic. He probably went too far. But, Don, if we get super specific about Jeff Sessions, because I really looked into this today, about why there's this undercurrent of this Jeff Sessions might be a racist. And a lot of this has to do with what happened back in 1985, and there was a prosecution of the Marion Three from Marion, Alabama, and there were three African-Americans who were accused of potentially stuffing the ballot box.

[23:45:05] And it turns out that Albert Turner Senior who went on trial, who was acquitted, you know, of course, felt that there was racial intimidation but if you talk interestingly enough to Albert Turner Jr., his son, today, and CNN has actually interviewed his son.


LEMON: There was a long report on it. I think it was Drew Griffin who did the reporting on this. DEAN: Yes. Right. Exactly.

LEMON: We're going to -- but go on, just make your point.

DEAN: Hold on. If I could.


LEMON: But in the interest of time, just make your point. I know.

DEAN: No, no, but, Don.


LEMON: I know what you're going to say here, his son thinks it wasn't racist. His wife now says it was and -- right. He will never -- she will never give it a chance.

DEAN: Don, his son -- hold on, if I could. His son doesn't think it was racism and if you ask anyone surrounding that incident, it was other African-Americans that brought this case because they wanted this guy out of power. So this whole thing that Jeff Sessions is a racist because of the prosecution of the Marion Three, if anyone investigates, it's very clear that it's just inaccurate and it wasn't racism. So that's just a fact.

LEMON: His son saying that he didn't believe that it was racism does not, you know, absolve him of racism if he is indeed --

DEAN: Well, Don, it was other African-Americans who brought the case.

LEMON: His wife -- his wife actually also says that she believes that he was.

SWERDLICK: Don, can I just --

LEMON: And -- go ahead.

DEAN: Well, no, no. She said she needs to forgive.

LEMON: His mother. Excuse me. His mother.

DEAN: You know, like she's not sure. Yes. Yes.

LEMON: Go on.

SWERDLICK: Yes, Don, I was just going to say, I spoke to Cornell Williams Brooks, the president of NAACP, earlier today and what he described to me, I'm paraphrasing, was that, look, this is said not about fact that Senator Sessions is likeable, that his Senate colleagues like him, that there were a number of prominent African- Americans who testified on his behalf.

He suggested that, look, there's no issue with that. He said that when he sat in at Sessions' office, that he and his NAACP colleagues were treated very well, respectfully and cordially. He said that his organization and other civil rights leaders and these three African- American members of Congress who testified against Sessions today see this as an issue of whether or not Sessions' actions in the past as a prosecutor led to other issues down the road in terms of voting rights violations, voting rights laws, that hampered efforts of African- Americans to vote in Alabama down the road and that this is not about whether or not he's a, quote-unquote, racist.

LEMON: OK. I've got to get to the break, that's why I didn't want Andy to litigate the whole thing.


LEMON: Because we only have limited time. We'll be right back. I'll give you the first word, Peter.


[23:51:12] LEMON: All right. Back now with my panel. And we don't have a lot of time so I want to get everyone in. So if you can make your answers short, I would appreciate it. So, Peter, first to you, the director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, tonight confirming CNN's reporting. What's your reaction to the statement?

BEINART: I think it underscores the basic point. Right? We need an independent commission to investigate. These are incredibly serious charges here. And there is a lot of different evidence swirling around and we need to really someone to really go through this.

The role that the Russians played in this election is unprecedented and the possibility that they intervened perhaps even with Donald Trump's knowledge on his behalf is a huge issue. If this were the other way around, Republicans would be at the front of the line saying we need an independent investigation.

LEMON: Andy Dean?

DEAN: Well, imagine if Hillary Clinton won, would we want an investigation of the "Access Hollywood" producers who helped release that tape? No. Because this is what it is. It's liberal hypocrisy. And we see it very clearly. Russia didn't influence any Americans and to say that they did influence Americans is insulting to American voters especially in the Midwest when they were voting for jobs, not because Vladimir Putin felt a certain way.

LEMON: So what is one -- so voting for Donald Trump and Russians influencing the election, one has -- I mean, what does that have to with the other? Even if people did vote for Donald Trump and they had every right to, and they believed in him, and that's great, but to say that the intelligence reports are false that Russians influenced the election, do you not agree?

DEAN: Now look --

LEMON: Do you not agree with the national -- national intelligence --

DEAN: Don, I'll tell you what I agree. Don, I'll tell you what I agree. I think Putin probably wanted Trump to win, but I also think that Merkel wanted Hillary Clinton to win. And Theresa May wanted Hillary Clinton to win.

BEINART: Yes, but --

LEMON: Andy, hold on, hold on.


LEMON: Andy, stand by. Just answer my question directly.

DEAN: Sure, Don. No problem.

LEMON: Do you believe the intelligence that Russians interfered with the election?

DEAN: See, it's not as cut and dry as that.

LEMON: Yes, it is.

DEAN: It's just not.

LEMON: You can say yes or no. Donald Trump said yesterday in a press conference.

DEAN: Do I think that they --

LEMON: Do you believe that?

DEAN: Well, OK, then I'll say no and the reason why I'll say no, Don, is that the main crux of the argument here is that Vladimir Putin, apparently hacked or he had his team hacked John Podesta's e-mails when his password was actually the word password which any teenager could break in.


DEAN: And also Julian Assange and WikiLeaks said that Podesta e-mails were not provided --

LEMON: Andy, stand by. Let me through.

DEAN: -- by the Russians. So what did they hack? What did they hack? I don't get it, honestly, Don. I don't.

LEMON: Play it. Let's play this.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I can say that, you know, when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn't make a big deal out of that.


DEAN: I think Donald has got a great point here. And you're right, the hacking could come from Russia, China hacks, there's that 400- pound man in his bed that hacks. And the media wasn't freaking out when, you know, the Chinese were doing it and when Chelsea Manning was doing it.

LEMON: I have to laugh to keep from crying.

DEAN: It was seen -- when Chelsea Manning was doing, it was seen as, oh well, you know, he or she is bringing out information that we need to know about. Snowden became a liberal hero. Oliver Stone made a --


LEMON: Andy, you're conflating a lot of things. You're conflating a lot of things that have nothing to do with nothing. Go ahead, David.

DEAN: Well, Don, you give me limited talk time so I have --

LEMON: You're not making sense, man. I'm sorry. I hate to -- I hate to be the bearer of bad news.

SWERDLICK: Real quick here. Don, if we step back and talk about the problem that President-elect Trump has gotten himself into, it's this. Look, you would expect that today he would have come out and pushed back on the idea that he had been compromised. You would have to expect that he would push back on that. But if you go back to December 11th when he went out on the Sunday shows and dismissed the Intelligence Committee's finding as, quote-unquote, ridiculous to now today in that clip you just played, he said, you know, reluctantly yes, it was Russia.

[23:55:05] In the intervening weeks he's allowed himself to be -- have the appearance, whether or not it's true, of being soft on Russia. And some of what you see him pushing back on now is this appearance and this perception. That I think is the bigger problem in the incoming Trump administration.

LEMON: Matt -- I'll give you 15 seconds, Matt.

LEWIS: Well, Donald Trump has no problems attacking anybody else and saying bad things about anybody else. And frankly being hawkish on North Korea and China and Iran, but why not Russia? I don't know. Who knows.

LEMON: Yes. Peter?

DEAN: Why can't we get along with Russia?


BEINART: The question, there is not a very plausible explanation for why Donald Trump is so soft on Russia. And this is part of the reason we really need an independent investigation to try to understand what was actually going on here.


BEINART: And if Trump is so innocent, you know, Andy, you don't have anything to worry about.

LEMON: That's it for all.

DEAN: We want to destroy ISIS.

LEMON: Thank you very --

DEAN: We want to destroy ISIS. Russia can help.

LEMON: OK, now we're on ISIS.

DEAN: Don, you're the best.

LEMON: Thank you very much. Thank you. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.