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Gray Area for Flynn; DOJ Warned the White House; Abrupt End to a Brief Tenure. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 13, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, that's it for us, time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now. Thanks.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: What is this, the White House or the apprentice?
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
Who's going to hear the president say you're fired. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn under siege. Kellyanne Conway says Flynn has the full confidence of the president. But one official claims the knives are out.
And according to Press Secretary Sean Spicer, President Trump is, quote, "evaluating the situation," end quote.
Meanwhile, the president says Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is doing a, quote, "great job." That's after a member of Trump's inner circle Newsmax chief, Chris Ruddy questions whether Priebus is up to the job. Then later says, he now has an open mind.
Chris Ruddy is here tonight, we'll talk to him about that.
Plus, what's wrong with this picture? At the North Korea's missile test President Trump confers with aides right in the middle of Saturday night dinner on the patio at Mar-a-Lago. The White House says it was all about logistics for a press conference. But was there more going on?
There's a whole lot to discuss tonight, and the plot is thickening now on National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. As the president left the Oval Office tonight, he was asked two questions about Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have confidence in Flynn, Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly will you be evaluating about Michael Flynn?
(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Well you can see the president smile but didn't answer as he
walked out. So let's discuss this and much, much more. CNN's Jim Acosta, Mchelle Kosinski, Mark Preston, Nia-Malika Henderson, and David Gergen.
The plot certainly does thick. And Jim, we have new reporting tonight about what the White House knew about General Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador and when they knew it. What can you tell us?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Don. And we're just getting this information a White House official just confirmed to me that a Justice Department official did warrant the White House last month that there were these concerns inside the Justice Department that the National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn had misled administration officials about what he was saying to the Russian ambassador, what he was discussing with the Russian ambassador about Russian sanctions during the transition period.
This is just the latest wrinkle in what has becoming a very serious situation for the national security adviser. I can tell you, Son, a senior administration official tonight told me, that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is in a, quote, "gray area" as the White House tries to figure out what to do about this top aid to the president.
You'll recall earlier today, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Flynn had the full confidence of the president, and then within an hour, we were getting whiplash here, Don, because the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer cautioned, as you said, that Flynn's status was being evaluated by the president.
His fate is unknown. Officials believed because he discussed those sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador before President Trump was sworn into office. Flynn is facing resistance inside the White House after he denied discussing those sanctions to Vice President Mike Pence who vouched for Flynn on television. Mike Pence who vouched for Flynn on television.
And we're told Flynn did apologize to the vice president about this, but it's not clear whether that's going to be enough for Flynn to save his job at this point, Don.
LEMON: Interesting, and all of this information -- previous information was from Sally Yates who was the acting Attorney General, who President Trump fired after the whole -- the travel ban incident.
LEMON: So, listen, I want to talk about this So, Flynn possibly misled the vice president about whether he discussed sanctions with Russia before Trump took office. So where does the president stand on Flynn tonight specifically, because we saw -- he was asked twice, he didn't say anything, just smiled, where does he stand, Jim?
ACOSTA: You know, I think it's fascinating, because, you know, there were some reporters over in the west wing who were standing outside the office of the Press Secretary Sean Spicer, when the president walked up, and he was asked about Mike Flynn and he simply said, there's a statement coming soon, and that was referring to the statement that Sean Spicer gave all of us that, you know, that Mike Flynn's status is being evaluated.
But when the president was asked how Reince Priebus was doing, the chief of staff. The president said, he's doing a great job. So, there's clearly a huge difference here about how the president feels about his chief of staff and how he feels about his national security adviser.
I will tell you I was there in the hallway in the west wing, standing outside of Sean Spicer's office, when Kellyanne Conway was in his Sean Spicer's office talking about all of this, this was after she said that Flynn had the full confidence of the president.
After that meeting as I were Conway bolted out of the room, left that area where the press gathers outside Sean Spicer's office, and then we were all brought in where Sean Spicer said that, Flynn is being evaluated at this point.
[22:05:05] And I think the best way to describe it is the way that this senior administration official described it to me earlier this evening. That Michael Flynn is in a, quote, "gray area right now."
And Don, when a top official right under the president is described as being in a gray area, it is very difficult for that official to get out of that situation, Don.
LEMON: Let me put up the full screen, Jim, it says "The president is evaluating the situation, he's speaking to the vice president relative to the conversations the vice president had with General Flynn and also speaking to various other people about what he considers the single most important subject there is, and that's our national security."
So that's where we are. Let me bring you in now, David Gergen. Because CNN and the Washington Post are now reporting the Trump White House was warned by the Justice Department under acting Attorney General Sally Yates last month that Flynn could potentially be blackmailed by Russia, that sanctions were a main point of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., so the White House has apparently known for weeks and what have they done?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Don, my judgment, this story is mushrooming; we've been talking all along about Mike Flynn's relationship with the vice president. I think now we're knowing that the Justice Department made a warning to the White House a month ago.
The question really becomes the relationship of Mike Flynn and the president. The question becomes did the president know that Mike Flynn, did he instruct Mike Flynn to have conversations with the Russian ambassador about sanctions? And if he did not, was Flynn really acting on his own? It's hard to believe, but it's possible.
In which case you've got a, you know, we've got a loner out there who's going way beyond his brief with the president. But then the question become, also becomes OK, when they were told a month ago, they clearly decided to ride this out, if it didn't become public, you know, they could bury it. But now that it's become public they have this problem on their hands.
Why didn't they act a month ago on this, why didn't the president act? Why did the vice president not act? Why did they let this drag out in this way? It's very curious. One could say it's even more than curious.
GERGEN: But I do think it's become a different story now, and it's a very important story.
LEMON: You're raising the question, David, that Ryan Lizza posed. Because you mentioned maybe -- you know, possibly the president knew about it. Ryan Lizza said, "Isn't it possible that Trump told Flynn to talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions and knew Flynn lied to Pence?"
Now we don't know that, but what do you think of that?
GERGEN: Well, I think those are some of the questions that deserve answers, and you know, you begin to wonder whether Pence has been used to deflect attention from what is a more central question, set of questions. So, it's been, as I said, the story has been the center of gravity has been the relationship between Flynn and Pence.
But is it how many people really think that Mike Flynn started making those calls to the Russian ambassador all on his own? You know, that's -- it's sort of not what one would expect.
LEMON: Mark, so, Kellyanne Conway first says Flynn enjoys the full confidence of the president. And then about an hour later, Spicer says that the president is evaluating the situation. Jim reported that to us. Is this White House in turmoil?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, I think it is in some ways. I'm not sure if I would -- if I would lay it all at the doorstep of what happened this afternoon, because if we are to believe what we were told, that new information came in, or the president was apprised of new information which caused him to change, then you know, let them -- you know, we'll let them have their moment there.
However, I do think that we've seen the opening weeks of a White House that has been very -- you know, I mean, turmoil is a strong word, but it has been -- it has been really steeped in turmoil, and that really comes down from the principle, it's been Donald Trump that has created the chaos, that has put this on his aides to go out and, you know, constantly repeat lies on his behalf and what have you.
So Don, yes, this has been a tough couple of weeks. And I will tell you, this is going to be a very difficult night for Donald Trump, now that he's in a position that he has to either fire Michael Flynn or somebody has to get to Flynn and tell him that he needs to resign. LEMON: An interesting. Let's talk again a little bit more about
national security, Nia-Malika Henderson. And this one has to do with North Korea and the missile tests. Here's what democratic leadership is saying. Nancy Pelosi tweeted this, is that "There's no excuse for letting an international crisis play out in front of a bunch of country club members like dinner theater. Hash tag fire Flynn."
And then here's Chuck Schumer. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: First, we have asked for and demand an independent investigation of what Flynn's discussions were with the Russian ambassador and all others, and will be saying more about that soon.
Second, his security clearance ought to be withdrawn until that independent investigation is completed and if he has violated any law or ethical precept, he ought to be fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:10:06] LEMON: So, Chuck Schumer is talking about Russia, and then Nancy Pelosi appears to be talking about maybe looking at confidence information at the dining room at Mar-a-Lago this weekend. Nia, do democrats smell blood in the water here?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: They absolutely do. And they have smelled blood in the water for the three weeks that Donald Trump has been president. And you've seen that not only on the Hill, but out in the country protests against this president.
I think what's more important to watch is what republicans do and say. And we already know that republican Senators like Marco Rubio, Senator John McCain, as well as Lindsey Graham, very interested in this Russia relationship. They at some point I'm sure will be holding hearings to look closely into this.
And this Flynn situation really only highlights this ongoing problem in the specter of Donald Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin. That seems to be a constant in terms of how this president feels about Putin. He is constantly seeming to suggest that there is some sort of friendship or some sort of he wants a different sort of relationship with this -- with Putin. And that causes lots of consternation among republican hawks.
This is like common ground between democrats and republicans. Very curious about where this relationship has been and where it might go. What kind of business dealings might Donald Trump have in Russia?
So, I think this is going to be a constant. And you're going to see I think rare bipartisanship between the two parties in terms of wanting to dig into this issue of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
LEMON: Michelle, let's look at this in broader scope. How might other countries, how do other countries feel about the national security adviser being involved in this type of conflict or scandal or trouble?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends. I mean, in some countries, some of the inner workings of the White House are not making big news. For example, in France, where they're dealing with their own politics right now, but the White House is always watched by other countries.
And when you talk to people here in D.C. with embassies and around town who are visiting, they're looking at these developments day to day with a sense of disbelief. I think sometimes there's some enjoyment that these kinds of issues are happening with the United States.
Because some countries diplomats see the United States as always thinking that is it doesn't have these kinds of problems or these kinds of political intrigues within the White House.
So to see it now, I mean, it's playing out for them kind of like a soap opera. Kind of like, you know, Americans are watching -- some of these points with a sense of deep worry. While others from the outside are looking in and thinking, wow, that's happening in the United States.
And they're also taking that a step further, and thinking, what does that mean for the relationships and for the issues that we want to deal with the United States on now? Is there going to be the bandwidth, for example, to deal with us on certain points that we'd like to raise with the United States when they are dealing with these kinds of uncertainties?
For example here at the State Department, I mean, diplomats that have been calling in trying to talk to certain levels of management about things that they usually deal with the United States on, they're finding that there aren't people around who really know what the policy is going to be.
Because it's all coming out of the White House at this point and they're hoping that that kind -- the kind of disarray that they're reading about isn't going to trickle outward, in effect the relationship that they have with the U.S.
LEMON: Jim, today at a press conference with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and the President of the United States. Four questions were asked, zero questions, zero on the Flynn situation. Zero on North Korea, how in the world does that happen?
ACOSTA: It's a good question, Don. I think that, you know, the fix is in somewhat with respect to some of these questions that we're seeing at these press conferences. We've had three joint news conferences so far. And I know this is probably going to make people stomp their feet inside the White House when I say this.
But in those three joint news conferences with foreign leaders that the president has had so far. Five of the six questions, they're two plus two, five of the six questions going to the American news media, have gone to conservative news outlets. That is highly unusual, that is not something that we have seen in
recent years, typically you would have a wire service like the Associated Press, Reuters did get a question at that first press conference with Prime Minister May. But there hasn't been a wire service called on in the last two press conferences. The one on Thursday with Prime Minister Abe or the one today with Prime Minister Trudeau.
And Don, you know, at the risk of sounding a bit self-serving here, this is the reason why reporters shout questions at the President of the United States. If they're going to design a news conference in such a way that the story of the day is not going to be asked about. Then reporters are going to shout questions.
[22:15:09] It's just that simple. And that's why you heard some reporters shouting questions about Flynn at the end of this news conference today. The president did not answer those questions, just as you heard him not answer those questions in the Oval Office when he was swearing-in his treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin.
But eventually these things tend to get worked out, perhaps this is the White House, and some officials they're working out their aggression, working out their frustration with the national news media. But at some point in time they're just going to have to call on us, that's the way things work.
LEMON: I think you're giving on a lot of credit and they worry why the authoritarian government comparisons here why this may be why. Jim -- Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Everybody else, stick around.
When we come right back, much more on our breaking news. The Justice Department warning to the White House about Michael Flynn.
LEMON: We're back now, and we have breaking news, the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Michael Flynn misled them about his communications with the Russian ambassador, and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
That's according to a source with this matter, familiar with this matter. A White House official also confirmed the Justice Department warning.
[22:19:59] Back with now, Michelle Kosinski, Mark Preston, Nia-Malika Henderson, and David Gergen.
This is a very interesting bit of news that we have coming out now. Mark, I want to get back to you with this conversation. If the Flynn situation is fluid as the White House is saying. After this latest reporting about the White House being warned weeks ago that Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail, is it even more fluid now?
PRESTON: Look, no doubt, because it's now been exposed that, in fact, that they've known it for several weeks and that it could be. But you know, we talk about him being susceptible to possible blackmail. But what did he do that the Russians have on him? We haven't actually explored, you know, that avenue, if anything.
And it would be interesting to know what the Justice Department thinks or the FBI thinks could be used against Michael Flynn.
And you know, Don, there's been a lot of talk about loyalty here and about how Donald Trump is very loyal to his people. And that is true. There's no question about it, and you could sense that he probably has strong loyalty to General Flynn.
However, there is another bit of loyalty that he owes and that's to his vice president. Somebody who went out there and defended Flynn on national television, somebody who has really done a great job of defending him and standing by his side, and at that point Donald Trump has to wonder where does his loyalty really lie if it does to that? Does he lie with Mike Pence or does he lie with Mike Flynn?
LEMON: David, what does the president need to do to show leadership in this situation? He was elected to be a manager, and to only have the best people around him. And again, the second -- the person who is second to him is the vice president, and if they're putting him out there, you know, with bad information, shouldn't he be a leader in this situation? What should he do?
GERGEN: you know, let's go back to this loyalty point that Mike just raised. The President of the United States first loyalty is to the country, it's to the people of the country. And we now have a mess on our hands that is very, very curious, that the White House has known for a month.
Now, when that -- what happened to that report when it came in. It came in to the general counsel at the White House when Ms. Yates went over there and talk to the general counsel. That report must have gone to the president almost instantaneously. It's impossible to believe that the White House staff would sit on that report and not tell the president.
And if that's the case, why didn't the vice president know at that time what had come in. I don't understand that. There's something here that just doesn't add up about what happened internally. Now, I think the president has to act quickly, Don.
I do wonder, and maybe Mark or someone else can address this. As long as Pence stays in the White House, and Congress wants to hold investigations he can invoke executive privilege and not testify. If he leaves, is he vulnerable to testifying, and is that -- is that an outcome the White House would like to avoid? That maybe part of the consideration that are underway now.
LEMON: Wait. Say that -- say that again? Testifying to who, where?
GERGEN: Well, the Congress -- there are a number of people, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham and others who have been quite curious about the Russian relationship for a while and want to have hearings to get to the bottom of it. So, let's say the person who really knows what went on in that
conversation because he had the conversation was Mike Flynn. So, the Congress says, OK, Mike Flynn, come up here and testify. Mike Flynn, no, no I don't have to testify, I'm on the White House staff and the president's going to invoke executive privilege, which means I don't have to say anything to you, you know, I don't have to disclose anything about the president.
Does he lose that executive privilege if he were to be fired? And does that make him vulnerable to testifying? That may be something the White House is considering. There may be someone here who can say more definitively about what happens when he leaves the White House on executive privilege.
But I can tell you that must be part of the conversations that are going on, because, Don, they have clearly been trying to sit on this story for a month.
LEMON: For a month. Right.
GERGEN: For a month. They've known this for a month.
LEMON: And if you read the reports there.
GERGEN: We just -- yes, we've just learned tonight, they've known for a month, and they've clearly...
LEMON: Michelle, you've been -- Michelle, you've been a White House correspondent for a -- for a while now. And do you know the answer to David's question about privilege?
KOSINSKI: No, but it would seem that -- I mean things that you dealt with while you were in that position would probably still be protected afterwards. That doesn't mean you couldn't ask questions around that. But I think that's -- you know, that's getting into some legal intricacies.
GERGEN: But he wasn't in the government. He wasn't in the government.
LEMON: Yes, that's probably answered by...
GERGEN: He wasn't in the government when he had the conversation.
KOSINSKI: That's true.
LEMON: It's probably best answered by some attorneys.
KOSINSKI: How can you -- right. LEMON: But let's talk about this. Because you're saying they've known
this for a while. And I'm reading here. This is from, Nia, from the Washington Post reporting.
They're saying that analysts that they were concerned about it, because they -- the thing that sort of raised concern for them was when Vladimir Putin did not retaliate for the Obama sanctions and they wondered why, and then what they realized that phone calls like that are monitored often by the government.
[22:25:08] So, they went back to this ambassador's calls and then picked up the conversation, according to the Washington Post, with General Flynn, the discussions there. And then it says Yates, then the attorney -- we're talking about Sally Yates who was fired by Donald Trump, by the president after the travel ban.
Yates, the deputy Attorney General then considered Flynn's comments in the intercepted call to be highly significant and potentially illegal. That's according to an official familiar with her thinking.
Yates and other intelligence officials suspected that Flynn could be in violation of an obscure U.S. statute known as the Logan Act, which bars U.S. citizens from interfering in diplomatic disputes with another country. And so, there are recordings of these phone calls potentially, how damaging can that be?
HENDERSON: Incredibly damaging, and certainly also that the White House seems to have known about this for weeks and weeks and weeks, it's unclear what their strategy is.
I mean, David may be giving them too much credit to suggest that they're thinking about whether or not Flynn can testify in any sorts of hearings on the Senate. I mean, it almost seems like they want Flynn to resign gracefully and, you know, as the result of sort 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000 words from the Washington Post.
All of these revelations are very embarrassing for him. I mean, he's been exposed as someone who hasn't been entirely truthful, so I mean, I think a lot of questions. And then, the question I think also of what Trump knew and when he knew it.
I talked to someone who knows Flynn, and his suggestion is that, this was probably like a Flynn freelancing operation, that this is something that he undertook on his own maybe that's hard to believe, but in some ways, Flynn does have a bit of a checkered past.
Certainly at the DIA and was forced out of that role there. But, I mean, this White House, again, one of the things that I think in some ways has shielded him from getting pushed out is the chaos in the White House, it's almost like to push him out would in some ways too much -- acknowledge the chaos, but you also wonder, that why don't they just end this now, again. I mean, this has been going on...
LEMON: Well, I think the question is, is probably saving face, how much can they stick by this and try to save face, for someone who was a controversial pick by many to begin with. Or do they just say, OK, enough is enough and then they move on.
So, we'll continue to discuss this. Standby, everyone. When we come right back, more on our breaking news coverage, the White House warned last month about Michael Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, and his potential vulnerability to blackmail.
We'll be right back.
[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We're back now with our breaking news tonight, the Justice Department warned the Trump White House last month that Michael Flynn misled the administrations regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
And as President Trump left the Oval Office tonight he was asked two questions about Flynn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have confidence in Michael Flynn, Mr. President?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly will you be evaluating with Michael Flynn?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The president smiled but didn't answer as he walked out.
And let's discuss this now, with Christopher Ruddy. Christopher Ruddy is a CEO of the conservative news organization, Newsmax, and he's a friend of the president and also a friend of the show. We're so glad to have you on. Thank you, Chris. Good evening.
CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, NEWSMAX CEO: Don, thanks for having me on. Always great to be on with you.
LEMON: So, tonight we're reporting about the White House, the White House was warned in January that General Flynn misled Vice President Pence and Sean Spicer about his communication with the Russian ambassador. The White House has known about it for weeks, this is the reporting. What's going on here, if so, why is General Flynn still in this position?
RUDDY: Well, I think if -- I'm not privy to all the inner workings of the White House. But I do think I know Donald Trump well enough to know that he's very deliberate. He just doesn't just go by press reports, on CNN and claims made by Obama holdovers to make a decision whether he's going to keep his national security adviser.
Don, let's put this really in clear perspective. General Mike Flynn was promoted by Barack Obama. He was considered a brilliant general, national security guy, put in charge of the Defense National Intelligence Agency, defense agency, why? Because he was a guy that could get things done.
And he said to Obama, look, we have a problem in Syria, there's a group emerging called ISIS, we've got to destroy them now or else we're going to suffer later. And Obama said no, it's a manageable problem, I don't want to -- the two clashed, he was fired, he later became Trump's security adviser.
And now we have the former attorney general of the holdover from the Obama administration saying General Flynn violated the law. What law? The Logan Act. Nobody ever gets prosecuted under the Logan Act because it's a bogus act, and there's nothing anybody has said -- if Flynn talked to the ambassador about sanctions there's nothing illegal about that.
LEMON: Christopher, you're a straight shooter. The thing is fired -- he was fired for mishandling classified information. And so, I mean, you're a straight shooter here. There is -- if, you know, if he was...
RUDDY: It's well known that he was clashing about...
LEMON: ... if he was promoted by the Obama administration...
RUDDY: ... yes, they were -- he was clashing over Islamic radicalism and how to deal with it, whether they use that as an excuse or that I don't know. Look, there's a lot of people, Don, as you know, in Washington that don't like Mike Flynn. And I don't think Trump is the type of guy, just because somebody is not liked.
And I think he -- look, what's the basis of the crime. And then David Gergen say, well, what did the president know, when did he know it? Come on. There's no crime committed he can talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.
LEMON: He can talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions before he's even in the White House during a transition even at a time...
RUDDY: Why not?
LEMON: ... when the current administration was discussing sanctions against the Russians? You don't find that to be a conflict of interest?
[22:35:04] RUDDY: Why not, we have a lot of -- oftentimes presidential candidates go abroad and meet with foreign leaders and they have discussions about how they're going to change policy. Trump was very open that he wanted to change policy with Russia.
I happen to disagree with that, I think Putin is a bad guy. I've talked to the president about it. He's very optimistic he can build a new relationship, I'm open to seeing how that works out, but I also think it will eventually blow up. But I think that nothing is wrong by reaching out...
LEMON: Do you think that knowing this president and your words here, that he's a straight shooter, and you said he's not going to listen to reports on CNN or the Washington Post, or what have you. If you believes what you said he believes and that this is no big deal, and that the violation of the Logan Act no one gets prosecuted, why doesn't he just come out and say, this is nothing to see here, move along. He has my full confidence instead of now saying that it is fluid?
RUDDY: Well, I think he's accumulating all the information he can, and they're deliberating as to what the implications and all of that, they're not going to rush to judgment on it. So, I think we have to give them a little time.
The idea that because CNN has reported something he should be -- Mike Flynn should be fired the next day. It's a little over the -- I think even you have to agree, Don, it's a little over the top.
LEMON: I'm just -- look, I'm asking you the questions here, but if he -- if it turns out that he did -- and I get your point. If it turns out that he did indeed mislead the president of the United States, what do you think should happen? Should he be fired?
RUDDY: Well, I think that's a decision for the president to make on how serious, if that was really misleading. You know, they keep saying he lied. You and I know back 20 years in journalism, you never used the term lie because you imply something really...
LEMON: I said mislead.
RUDDY: Yes, I know you did.
RUDDY: But your guests -- or the first --you did. But the first half hour of this show, everybody is saying he lied, he lied, he lied, he lied. So, you know, you are -- yes, I give you credit, you said it appropriately, but there's so much -- I was on CNN yesterday, and half the program everyone was saying the president was a pathological liar and he was mentally ill.
And I had to come on to discuss after that. You know, this is a little. So when the president says the press is out to get him, I think you have to say, you know, maybe he's right here, you know, they're not giving him a break, and it's just like drum beating all the time against him.
LEMON: Yes, well, I think that is an easy thing to say, the press is always the easy - easiest target, but I will assure you that no one on this show is out to get anyone in the White House, we're only out to tell the truth and to inform the American people, and this is a very serious accusation by the person who is there when the president makes a very serious decisions on national security.
And the security of all Americans, really the world. So, that is why we're doing it. And I want to talk to you, let's talk -- let's discuss this, because there seems to be a lot of leaks coming out of the White House.
A power struggle in the White House, we're hearing that -- you know, and this is -- that the knives are coming out, and that certain factions are, people are forming factions and taking sides in the White House, that Reince Priebus is -- there's issues between Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. What have you learned about that?
RUDDY: I don't believe there's any issue, I think they get along, actually. And if I knew otherwise, I would tell you that I didn't know. But I do think from what I'm hearing, they do get along.
Jared Kushner's there now, and I think he's been a really good influence coming in. But he told me yesterday that they have a great working relationship the three of them, and that they're accomplishing a lot.
And I believe Jared. And I do think he's a straight shooter, so I don't think there's -- those are not the issues that I think people are upset about, that there's some sort of in fighting.
They keep saying this, but I don't see the infighting. I think there's been some criticism of the White House, and I think that's certainly fair and appropriate for all the media to make, but it should be done based on facts.
LEMON: Let's talk a little more about Reince Priebus.
LEMON: Here's what you said to Brian Stelter You mentioned yesterday on the air. Here's what you said to Brian yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDDY: I think there's a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff, I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well-intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work, he doesn't have a really good system, he doesn't know how the communications flow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So why then did you decide to go public with your take?
RUDDY: Well, I was just offering some criticism, I'm a media person. I've been a commentator for 20 years on media politics and all sorts of things. I've been on your show before Donald Trump was ever elected or in politics actively.
And I talked about these things. So, that was in the context of Brian Stelter's show, where we were talking about the media fumbles the White House have made on some of things with immigration. I think there's an acknowledgement they overstepped.
[22:40:01] They've done all these great things, the lobbying ban, the executive orders to protect American jobs, to protect the border, the XL pipeline, he's doing all those things and none of that is getting heard by the public because of the immigration thing that's got into a quagmire frankly.
And Reince called me after I made those comments. And he said, look, you know, I think they were a little unfair. And we're making steps to improve the messaging. We know that's a really important thing. And he asked me to keep an open mind about it, and I said I would.
I'm not out to get anyone or to claim that I'm speaking on behalf of anyone. It's just my honest take. And I'm willing to, if there's big improvements in the White House going forward. And I think we're seeing that every day, I think that we could -- you know, I'd be willing to change my opinion, but I'm going to obviously wait and see what happens like you.
LEMON: That seems like an admission, though, that they do often step on their message. Many times good news can be reported but -- reported but they step on it with something that is a self-inflicted wound.
RUDDY: Well, you have to remember, these guys were in a campaign mode, they came into the White House where the White House press corps is essentially at war with them, they're not giving them a break. You see the line of questioning coming out of all the major cable channels and at the White House pressroom.
They're under fire. We have a president who has never been a politician, a political office holder before, so he's the first citizen president, and he's learning how government works to a degree, he's an extremely fast learner, you know about his success in New York in real estate, and his TV show.
RUDDY: He ran for president two years, he's president. So he adapts quickly, but I think, you know, we need to give a little slack. And even I have to do that when I'm looking at them. But I also have to criticize when I think there's something -- and I've told the president this in the past, that sometimes I'm going to have to criticize him, even though we've been friends and I hope that...
LEMON: I think that -- I think that most people agree that you are going to have to -- I mean, we -- you said give slack, we can't do our jobs any different with any president or any administration, and by the way, all presidents are citizen presidents, because they have to be citizens of this country to be president.
I understand where you're going with that, but for me.
LEMON: That's just a saying. They're all -- they're all citizens. No one knows what it's like to sit in the Oval Office until you actually sit in the Oval Office, and it's a tough job, you have to be up for it, and you should know that before you run.
Thank you, Chris Ruddy.
RUDDY: Well, I think Donald Trump's -- Donald Trump is going to surprise even you, Don, at the end of the day, so we'll just hang in there.
LEMON: I think though, the America's hoping that he surprises everyone for the best and not for the worst. So, thank -- and it's good for us.
RUDDY: All right.
LEMON: Thank you, Chris. Always a pleasure, I appreciate you coming on.
RUDDY: Call me on. Thank you.
LEMON: We'll be right back with our breaking news.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: All right, everyone. We're back now with our breaking news tonight, the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Michael Flynn misled the administration about his communications with the Russian ambassador and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.
Let's discuss now with republican commentator, Joseph Borelli, he was a member of the New York City Council -- city council. And then political commentator, Charles Blow, a New York Times op-ed columnist, political contributor, Hilary Rosen, and political commentator, Alice Stewart, a republican strategist.
I'm so glad to have all of you on. We have so much to talk about, but I have to talk about this breaking news and get all of your reactions to this news about General Flynn. Charles, I'm going to start with you.
CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's incredible, actually, I mean, if you -- if it is true and they knew about it for an entire month and did nothing about it -- I assume hoping that it would go away or hoping that no one would ever find out about it, and then see how it shakes out, that's an incredible thing. And for this particular president who has basically said that he's going to set up extreme vetting for people coming into the country but he couldn't extremely vet the people on his own administration, in particular the person who is in charge of security of the country, is an extraordinary admission.
But I think we need to back up and say this as well. It all starts at the top. If the president himself is a habitual pathological liar, it filters down throughout the entire administration, where people -- I could imagine people feel like you don't necessarily have to tell the truth. And he doesn't -- he's not necessarily just lying about the big things, he's lying about everything. Whether or not his crowd sizes, whether or not how people voted.
BLOW: And if you have a person who is your boss and he is not adhering to the truth, what does that tell you about how you are supposed to behave?
LEMON: And I have a short time, I want to get everyone in. And Joseph Borelli, what -- how do you respond?
JOSEPH BORELLI, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN: Look, I think there's two separate issues. Whether there's been any type of legal violation of the Logan Act is kind of moot, as Chris Ruddy pointed out earlier. Otherwise, you know, Nancy Pelosi, Jimmy Carter they probably would be sharing a jail cell with Michael Flynn right now.
I think this is really a question of the insiders in the White House and whether or not Michael Flynn did mislead members of the Trump cabinet, and if he did, I mean, the only way we're going to find out is whether or not he is either asked to resign or is fired.
I just don't think that they're denying that he spoke to the Russian ambassador. In fact, I saw something from the White House earlier that they believe this is something he did in the course of his normal duties as director of national security. They said he spoke to at least 30 foreign diplomats before he was the designee before the inauguration.
LEMON: Well, the thing is that, but then, if he -- yes, he spoke to them, but did he misled the vice president? Is he been telling the truth about whether he discussed sanctions? I think that is what's in question here, not necessarily that he had a phone call with someone. Am I wrong, Hilary?
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, you're not wrong, and in fact, it's more than just whether he lied. It's when President Obama who was the sitting President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia as is his perfect right to do and appropriate to do in this instance, did the president-elect and his, you know, national security adviser designee call Vladimir Putin and his representative and say, don't worry about it? When we get there, we're going to get rid of this thing.
[22:50:01] LEMON: Yes.
ROSEN: So and that is why, as everybody knows, Vladimir Putin did not respond or react when President Obama imposed those sanctions.
Now, this isn't just sort of a casual violation of the Logan Act, this is sort of a direct and -- you know, maybe even treasonous activity on the part of the incoming Trump administration. And so, I do think the question, though, the bigger question for people is, at what point does this White House get held accountable? Who's going to hold them accountable?
Will a republican Congress use investigative authority to do so, will a, you know, politicized Justice Department use their authority to do so. We saw yesterday on TV, Stephen Miller say, you know, the president's authority shall not be questioned by the courts.
LEMON: Shall not be questioned. Yes. Yes.
ROSEN: So I think this all does tie together in a bigger picture.
LEMON: You said at what point -- hold on, hold on, Alice. You said at what point does this White House get held accountable? The guests before says, you know, maybe the media should cut them some slack, which is an interesting take on that.
And Alice, when Hilary said treasonous, I saw you didn't quite agree with that you think that was a bridge too far. Alice Stewart gets the first word on the other side of the break. I got to take a break. I'll be right back.
LEMON: All right. We're back now with our breaking news, and this is big breaking news, because according to two sources, they're telling CNN that Michael Flynn has resigned.
Donald Trump's pick and short lived National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn according to two sources telling CNN has resigned. We're going to get someone from D.C. And from the White House to respond.
[22:55:02] Our Washington folks to respond in just moments here.
But again, CNN is learning, according to two sources that Michael Flynn has resigned.
I want to bring back my panel, Hilary Rosen, Alice Stewart, Joseph Borelli, and Charles Blow.
And again, we're waiting for folks from D.C. So, Alice, I promised you the first word on this breaking news. There was a lot to respond to, treasonous, all of that, but I think that we're just going to have to leave that in the rearview mirror. What do you think now? (CROSSTALK)
ROSEN: Probably it doesn't matter now.
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's not a surprise. I think he got a lot of runway with this story coming out, because of his relationship and his loyalty to Donald Trump. But when a member of the team is making headlines over the actual news of the day, it's not good for the administration and it's in the best interest for that person and the administration to step down.
And clearly, Donald Trump supportive of him for quite some time. But with regard to Hilary's point about treason, look, keeping in mind, this phone call happened right after -- yes?
LEMON: Hey, Alice -- Alice, go on, sorry, I'm getting information from my producers, I'm trying to get someone on the phone again from D.C.
LEMON: But I want to get -- pardon me, Alice, I want to get Gloria Borger. Gloria Borger is on the phone for us now. Gloria, what do you know about Michael Flynn and his resignation?
Do we have Gloria? Do we have Gloria? We'll dial Gloria back. Alice, I'm sorry, continue your thought.
STEWART: No, I understand. Breaking news, and that happens.
STEWART: Look, when -- Hilary made a good point, this happened on the say, this phone call happened on the day that Barack Obama issued sanctions with Russia, and it made sense for him to reach out to Russia, the Russian ambassador to talk about this.
But the problem is, I don't think there was a violation of the Logan Act here, I think he was within his rights and his authority at the time to do so. I don't think there is treason...
LEMON: But here's the thing.
STEWART: But here's the thing.
LEMON: Everyone talks about the Logan Act, and maybe the Logan Act didn't apply to other people because at -- usually other people abide by one president at a time.
LEMON: It seems like this administration did not do that. ROSEN: That's exactly right.
STEWART: But here's the thing, I don't think -- I don't there was a crime. But that being said, I think the cover-up was worse than the crime here, I think the fact that he didn't fully disclose it, and he appeared to not be factually accurate with Vice President Pence.
And vice president goes out there and defends him. That's where the problem is, and that's where this has taken on a life of its own. And I think it was difficult I'm sure for him to make that decision, but I think stepping down was the right thing to do.
LEMON: OK. Again...
ROSEN: Well, they need to have lessons.
LEMON: Again, listen, I want to tell our viewers if you're just joining us. According to two sources CNN has learned that Michael Flynn has resigned and again, that's according to two sources that are telling CNN.
I want to get to Gloria Gorger now. Gloria, do we have you?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
LEMON: Gloria, what do you know?
BORGER: I got a message from a source at about quarter to 11 this evening that said General Flynn had resigned. And that I asked about the -- what was next, and all I was told is that General Petraeus is coming in tomorrow.
But there is no deal yet or replacement yet for General Flynn, as you know, this has been going back and forth and back and forth all day, I don't know yet about whether General Flynn spoke with the president this evening. But we do know that the drama over this is finally over.
LEMON: And Gloria, if we can put up the video, the video earlier of the president leaving the Oval Office after having several meetings today, a couple meetings with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
But as he was leaving the Oval Office tonight. He was asked a number of times by reporters if he had confidence in General Flynn. Smiled and did not answer. Did that say anything to you considering what's happened so far?
BORGER: Sure. I mean, it says that -- you know, if the president had made a decision at that point that he was going to keep General Flynn, he would have said he had complete confidence. But as we were all reporting earlier this evening, something occurred between when Kellyanne Conway came out and said the president had complete confidence in General Flynn. It's later in the evening, about an hour later, when Sean Spicer came
out and talked about how they had had a meeting with the president, he and Reince Priebus had a meeting with the president, and the president was still considering what to do.
And we were told at the time, Dana Bash and I were told that it was very fluid, it was a very fluid situation, and so you have to believe, Don, that more information was coming in to this White House about General Flynn.
[23:00:04] As you know, there were stories this evening, both in the Washington Post and the New York Times about the Justice Department, and Pamela Brown reported it.