Return to Transcripts main page
New information on President Trump's taxes; The house intelligence committee holds its first public hearing next week on Russia's meddling in our election; Aired 11-Midnight ET
Aired March 14, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:16] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, new information on President Trump's taxes.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
The White House says the President earned more than $150 million in income and paid $38 million in taxes in 2005. That's in response to the leak tonight on the President's 1040. But while we have all been distracted by this and President Trump's wiretapping allegations, what about -- what is Russia been doing? Is Vladimir Putin had his eye on Libya? We will discuss that.
Let's get right to CNN's Mark Preston and David Kay Johnson, who broke the Trump tax story. He is the author of "the Making of Donald Trump." Also CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN contributor Norman Eisen of the Brookings Institution.
It is so good to have all of you on. So you guys know, I'm going to spend a lot of time with David. So you are free to jump in at any point because he report it.
So let's talk about this. You saw what he made, $150 million, $38 million in taxes.
DAVID KAY JOHNSON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Didn't pay $38 million. That was $36.5 million.
LEMON: OK. $36.5 million. How is this not good for Donald Trump?
JOHNSON: I think it may be good for Donald Trump. I mean, one of the things that's strange about this, Donald Trump probably would benefit from releasing tax returns with a lot of people. It would show his income which I think probably averaged in the ten years before this, four-and-a-half, at least or more than $81.5 million a year. That would put in almost the top 400 tax returns.
Why is he hiding his tax returns? Well, I think he doesn't want us to know other things. What are the sources of income? Who is he partner with? Does he have divided loyalties? Remember, Donald also has a long history of being very deeply involved with serious vicious criminals, convicted felons and in particular major cocaine trafficker he risked his fortune to show loyalty to. So maybe there is stuff in those returns that would tell us about the Russians, about criminals he is involved with that he doesn't want us to see.
LEMON: Do you plan - you said that these taxes, these two pages of taxes came under the transom? Someone sent it to you, right?
JOHNSON: Right. It came when I was looking at Mar-a-Lago. I was in Palm Beach when it arrived at my house.
LEMON: Do you think it's convenient that it's 2005, that year he paid, he did pay taxes and that was released?
JOHNSON: No. I don't know why whoever sent them to me did so, alright. My suspicion is because I have written a great deal about negative incomes and our failure to pay attention. One of the ways very wealthy get out paying taxes or pay much less and about the alternative minimum tax. And those two pages show, that if wasn't for something called the alternative minimum tax, there are two taxes, regular and alternative. Trump would have been taxed on the $152 million plus at a lower rate than poorest 50 percent of Americans.
LEMON: And wants to get rid of the alternative minimum.
JOHNSON: He did. He wants to get rid of it, if we got rid of it, that's what he would have gotten that year. But the Trump's statute turns around in various places. He has been involved in litigation, regulatory matters where he had to turn them over. So there are people out there who got him and somebody decided that, you know, I would make good use of this. So we will sent to you.
LEMON: So, it mailed to your home anonymously, you say. Do you think it is possible that he could have sent them to you?
JOHNSON: Absolutely. I think Donald may well have been the source of the three pages that went out last fall. Donald may well have been the source of the really sleazily pornography pictures of his wife that were taken when she was young with the "New York Post" published in July and August.
LEMON: That's what you believe. That's not CNN's.
JOHNSON: No, no, no. I think it's entirely possible. Remember, Donald has a long history of leaking information about himself and he doesn't think like most us do. Doesn't have the sort of framework of what makes him look good or look bad that rest of us have. But he has created fake PR people. He has leaked stories, you know, that Madonna and Karla Bruni (ph) and Kim Basinger were paddling on his bedroom door, complete nonsense. So he has a long history of leaking stuff about himself.
LEMON: We have one (INAUDIBLE) earlier who wrote a book about Donald Trump when he says that we should look at the fact that there was a client copy written - stamped on those. What do you make of that?
JOHNSON: Well, that this was a photocopy of what went to Donald. It is one of the reasons to think maybe it went to him. There is no signatures because they are electronically filed. So you have a pin you use to file. You don't literally signed the return. LEMON: So do you think that they could have been a litigant that sent
it? Someone involved in a --.
JOHNSON: I mean, I just have no way of knowing. I think it was somebody that believed, it could have him. And if it wasn't Donald or someone in Donald's direction, then it was somebody thought that the public should see this. That it was important that the public citizen. And I have been clear that we should have all of Trump's tax returns back to the 1970s.
[23:05:11] LEMON: OK.
Mark Preston, he received this anonymously. Do you think it's distraction from the White House on Russian thing?
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes. I mean, we know for sure that it is. But if I was a betting man and I am, I would suggest that this has happened at a very good time for him to throw in a distraction because of, of course, his own mess regarding allegations that Barack Obama had his home basically, his office, wiretapped.
And also we are seeing his signature domestic issue basically fall apart right now on health care. But I can ask David, just a quick question. We saw the White House push back very hard against Rachel Maddow today. When you went to them and said that you have the tax, that you have these returns, what was the reaction from them?
JOHNSON: They like me wanted to do everything we could to vet them, to make sure this was not a setup of some time. And that was their overwhelming concern. I mean, I have been running since 5:00 this morning tying down all sorts of little details. You never got to throw in the air to make sure we have consulting with people, checking all the numbers.
LEMON: You sent them to them. You have sent them?
JOHNSON: I gave them to - first of all, they published at DCreport.org which is a nonprofit website that I run.
LEMON: But you ask the question, when you - did you sent them to the White House?
JOHNSON: Yes. No, that I sent to Sean Spicer, he did t not reply to me. And I made very clear that thought this would be a very big story and particularly the AMT issue. And I wanted to make sure the White House fully got its story up there about it. And I sent them also to the firm. And the firm said we are not going to comment on it. And the White House confirmed the documents in releasing them. So what we have is Donald Trump when it's convenient putting out tax information and what it's not, withholding it.
And I think your point is perfectly right. I think that this may well have known as a further distraction. The problem with the distraction mode is Donald has so many issues going on here involving his finances, his relationships with the oligarchs, Wilbur Ross, the health care plan, and the Republicans that I don't think distraction is --.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And I think what is so interesting about its whole tax return issue is how it has evolved over time. You know, during the campaign a lot of people were curious on how much did he give to charity? Did he get --?
Now, much more seriously than how much you gave to charity is where did the money come from? I mean, we have the situation now where the Trump campaign, for whatever reason, was making all these overtures to Russia. Then when confronted about it, several people have lied about it. Why? Is there a financial connection between Donald Trump and Russia?
JOHNSON: There are.
TOOBIN: But a full tax return would certainly tell us if not everything, a lot more about that.
JOHNSON: No. This is a summary page.
TOOBIN: And says nothing about sources of income. Just gives a number.
PRESTON: And it also says something about interest paid and debts owed.
LEMON: Before I get to the ambassador, what's the legality of leaking these or mailing them? Si there anything.
TOOBIN: It would certainly be a crime if someone within the IRS took the returns and gave them out. But there is certainly nothing unlawful or even improper about David or us broadcasting this. We get it from various sources. If a litigant gave it to us, if someone found it on the street and gave it to us, if family member gave it to us, that is not illegal on their part unless there was a protective order in a lawsuit. And certainly not illegal on the part of any journalist.
LEMON: Ambassador, I want read something to you because this from Edward Kleinbard. He is a former chief staff in the joint committee in taxes. And he responded to the release tonight, writing in part. He says the release of the top pages of Trump's 2005 tax return is useful start but it is drop in the disclosure bucket of what Trump owes the American people. We are not talking about some collective prurient interest in his private affairs here. Only complete returns can resolve the questions swirling around as alleged financial obligations and sources of income such as Russian oligarchs and other sovereign. The President can and should put these in similar issues to bed by releasing entirety of his tax history just as other Presidents have done for decades. Is he right?
NORMAN EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Don, thanks for having me and congratulations David on your scoop.
He is absolutely right, Don. The tax returns have a plethora of information and bipartisan experts have been calling for release since the campaign because of the Russia and other foreign connections. Mr. Trump has to file forms about his Russian partnerships if any. He has to reveal custodians of their books and records are. Russian investors, Russian payments, gifts that he might have received.
And there is form after form that would be in the full taxes. Remember we just have two pages, single year's reportedly as much as 12,000 pages long. So I think it's absolutely correct that we need this information. I'm a little less sanguine than Jeff in his reading of the tax code. I do think there's some exposure here. I congratulate David on his bravery. Although, ultimately I believe a first amendment defense would succeed.
[23:10:42] LEMON: OK. Let's discuss that. So I'll keep you guys. We will bell right back.
[23:14:53] LEMON: New information on President Trump's taxes tonight.
I'm back now with my panel. Ambassador Norman Eisen is here. And ambassador Eisen said that he believed that David Kay Johnson may have some exposure for putting these tax returns out. David you say what?
[23:15:10] JOHNSON: I don't think there is any exposure at all because the (INAUDIBLE) which is well settled is -- I didn't solicit this. I didn't go to you and say hey you work at place that has tax return. Send to me. It just came in the mail. I haven't done anything. And once I got it, I'm absolutely free to publish it.
LEMON: Yes. You said you teach this?
JOHNSON: Well, actually, no. I teach law, the business and tax law in the ancient world. But I'm not a lawyer but I teach --. I teach him this. Actually, I promise you, you would be fascinated.
LEMON: And you say?
TOOBIN: David is absolutely right. Now, there -- may be that someone broke the law in giving it to him.
TOOBIN: Whether - and if it came from IRS, if it came from someone who gave it even though a protective order entered by a judge said no one should disclose this. But David I don't think is at any risk at all.
LEMON: You think we are going to expect someone to knock on the door or phone call asking how you got this or can make sure --?
JOHNSON: I mean, we have said how I got it. A DCreport.org which is crash right now. Someone has been trying to reach it. We layout all the question about how we did this and why we did it because we are into complete transparency and we are nonprofit, non-advertising wed news service.
LEMON: Ambassador, what other questions do you have about the President's tax returns?
EISEN: Well, Don, on the point about the exposure, under section 26.13A3, it does -- it is written very broadly. But want to be clear, I think David is protected.
David, don't lose any sleep tonight.
JOHNSON: I won't.
EISEN: I think you are protected under (INAUDIBLE) case in the Supreme Court because the first amendment allows you to publish. That's number one. So much so that Larry (INAUDIBLE) and I offered on twitter tonight to defend David if anybody comes after him.
Don, and then in terms of taxes, this really is just the tip of the iceberg. And these taxes are going to come out. It is a national security matter to understand Mr. Trump's ties to verify them, not just to accept his assertions, particularly when the people around him have made so many false ones about Russia. But to see what he has reported year after year about foreign connections.
And it is not just Russia. We have a lot of very troubling information about financial benefits, trademarks, very valuable trademarks coming into Mr. Trump as he has changing his China policy. So we want to see what the tax returns say about financial connections there too.
LEMON: So before we discuss that -- I want to jump in. So, why are you so sure that his tax returns will be released? You said sure that they will come out.
EISEN: Well, we are seeing - we have seen this time and again in Washington. It's like the squeezing of a boa constrictor. The -- all of the processes are focusing now on Donald Trump's ties with Russia. And I don't think you can evaluate those. There is - we have already had the attorney general recuse himself. We are going to hear supposedly tomorrow, may hear that the FBI has investigation.
We know that investigations are proceeding in the house and the Senate. May very well be a select or joint committee there. It may end up with an independent, what we call special counsel under the rules. So I think that it's all focusing in and at least the Russia stuff has got to be looked at. And that is as simple as the relevant committees requesting the returns from the IRS. It only takes a signature from Orrin Hatch.
TOOBIN: Can I just say that, you know, we have spent two years saying about Donald Trump, what he has to do x. And you know, this is, this you know. And you know, he said this terrible thing about John McCain. He has to drop out of the race. And he said something terrible about Megyn Kelly.
Donald Trump has operated by different rules all along. Everyone said, well, he has going to have to release the tax returns after he got the nomination. He became President of the United States without releasing his tax returns. (CROSSTALK)
JOHNSON: Congress has subpoena power and they can get these documents as they want them. And the question is, is the pressure building because, you know Richard Nixon --.
LEMON: Republican Congress.
JOHNSON: Yes. But that doesn't mean their interests are always connected with him. They are not there yet. I agree they are not there yet. But if their interests separate from him, they will turn on him very quickly. And let's remember what Richard Nixon said, people have got to know their President is not a crook in case of Donald Trump. We need to know both if he is not a crook and that he is also not divided in his loyalties.
LEMON: All right.
PRESTON: Well, let me say to the point of Congress actually requesting in a completing subpoenaing these documents, I don't think we are going see that happen unless they really gets to the point where something comes out from another source that shows that there is in fact some kind of connection with Russia. Otherwise you are not going to see the committee chairman who have the power to do so requesting it.
[23:20:08] LEMON: Ambassador, I'm out of time - overtime. One last word, quickly if you can.
EISEN: It's also in the courts, Don, on part of a lawsuit suing Mr. Trump for his unconstitutional foreign government payments and benefits. When we make it to discovery, we're going to request the tax returns.
LEMON: Boy. OK. Thank you ambassador. Thank you, Jeffrey. Thank you, David Kay Johnson. I appreciate coming on. And of course, always thanks to Mark Preston.
When we come right back, while everybody argues about president's taxes, are we being distracted from Russia? We are going to talk about that next.
[23:24:51] LEMON: The house intelligence committee holds its first public hearing next week on Russia's meddling in our election and tomorrow FBI director James Comey has promises to confirm the existence and the scope of their Russia-Trump investigation. But many in Moscow have already drawn their own conclusions.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen has more.
FREDERICK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As the row over Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. election deepen and questions about President Trump's contacts, the Kremlin continue -
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think there is a lot more shoes to drop from this centipede.
PLEITGEN: A lot of Russians are mocking the allegations and the discussion about them. Like Vladimir Putin's spokesman in a CNN interview.
DMITRY KESLOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN: All the hysteria in public opinion, hysteria in official Washington, hysteria in American media is doing lots of harm to the future of our relationship.
PLEITGEN: As spring temperatures rise in Moscow, the new ice age between U.S. and Russia is on people's minds.
I think this is stupid and it is just a provocation this man says.
How can you say all this? He adds. USA admits that Russia changed their history? I'm just so shocked. How can you say these things?
And this woman adds this is ridiculous and stupid. I think we have nothing to do with it. I'm sure of it.
Whether it is questions about contact between Trump hotel servers and a Russian bank, or questions about which Trump associates met with Moscow's ambassador during the campaign, Russia's mostly state-run media is lashing out at western coverage of the events, especially CNN's.
This is the top pro-Kremlin pundit Dmitri Keslov and one of his many unfounded accusations.
The CIA feeds the Russian hacker stories to the media, he says. And then let's say CNN blows them out of proportion.
Some here in Russia even say the current mood in America reminds them of their country's dark soviet past. Like Carnegie historian Dmitri Trenin.
DMITRI TRENIN, CARNEGIE MOSCOW CENTRE: People seen by Soviet Union as seen by the soviet government as too easy to be contaminated, to be manipulated each and every pan that came into contact with foreigners particularly western foreigners. I see some of the same things now on display in the United States. That's astounding.
PLEITGEN: But Russians also realized the current conflict is hurting their chances of improving relations with the west. While some people here may ridicule, the question being ask in America about President Trump's ties to Russia, most people here are simply want to see the issue go away. They feel their country is being demonized and that the issue also hampers any efforts to try and repair relations.
Every new allegation, every new revelation makes those ties more complicated and more toxic. Any effort bringing back on track, more challenging.
Fred Pleitgen, CNN Moscow.
LEMON: So let's discuss all of this now with Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Kennan institute at the Wilson center. Also CNN military analyst, retired major general James Spider Marks and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer.
Good to have all of you on this evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much.
Matthew, you just heard Fred's reporting. You were recently in Russia. What did you find?
MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR, KENNAN INSTITUTE, WILSON CENTER: You know, my sense, Don, is that this is way worse than Russians being uncomfortable with allegations. They think are unfounded. You heard the young man say this is unimaginable that Russia is being accused of changing the course of American history.
What the rationally, whether you are talking about inside the Kremlin, thought leaders or folks that Dmitri Trenin who was interviewed, they overwhelmingly see very little difference between Democrats and Republicans. You know, to them, the comments that then candidate and now President Trump had made, those are outlier comments.
Basically, they believed Democrats and Republicans have the same view of Russia which is hostile. At the end of the day, that they are all hostile to Vladimir Putin. And I think they are waiting for other shoe to drop in some sense as McCain suggested if this investigation concludes that Russians intervened in order to try to achieve regime change in the United States. There's a huge risk that the Russians will assume this is an existential fight. And that Americans will try to achieve regime change in Russia in response.
But that is not an exaggeration. That's what they have been afraid. We have been about in the post-Soviets space for the last quarter century. This is very serious stuff.
LEMON: General, you are not surprised one bit that Russia is critical of what is being said about them in the U.S. explain that.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES 'SPIDER' MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: No, not at all. The concern that I think is very obvious to a guy like me who wore a uniform all his life is that we have real opportunities here to make a strategic decision as to whether we got to compete or whether we want to cooperate with Russia. And clearly, we can do both and we must do both. We can't give away the crown jewels. But at the same time we have to be able to find common ground where we can find the confluence of interest.
Clearly, there are plenty of opportunities to do that. Syria not one of those, clearly. And Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine, that is a real opportunity where the United States can exercise some influence and find some common ground that gives Russia an incentive to back away. But that is very much a tactical fight right now. And in order to
break those parties apart, the separatists and the Russian-backed forces, is that is going to take some very hard bargaining at policy level. There have to be sanctions in place in Russians. Moscow and Putin need to understand there is a way out. That is to their advantage and to ours. But we have to be able to come forward and exercise that influence.
[23:30:28] LEMON: Bob, I always love your perspective here. And I want to know what concerns you the most about the U.S. relationship with Russia right now?
BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think that we have to look at possibility there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, at least at some level. And the fact that these elections may have been influenced by Russians, you know, it's a question of sovereignty. We were under cyberattack. McCain said this. A lot of people said it and a lot of people in this country wonder whether our President - what his relationship is with Russia.
I mean, you look at all of his property holdings and you see Russian connections. You see his advisers talking to Russians. Russian intelligence officers, the Alpha Bank. There was communications between the campaign and so on.
This is a classic counterintelligence investigation. And you have to wonder about the President's loyalties. So you just have to until they come clean on this, including his tax returns, including his business contacts in Russia. And until we cleared this up, this will go on for another four, you know, another four years.
And it does concern me as former CIA officer, who has watched Russians try to get into the elections. Back in the '90s, they were trying to put money into the DNC. I was in middle of that. And it caused over and over and over again. And this is a classic covert action attack on the United States. And until we get the facts out, it is always going to be a doubt in our minds what is going on here.
LEMON: You know what, Matthew, you know, that there have been a lot of distractions when it comes to this administration. What geopolitical moves are Russia making now when you have such constant distraction all the time?
ROJANSKY: Right. This is the problem. So it is not only the distraction of having to play defense on anything that even has the slightest whiff of Russia. It basically blocking administration from developing a Russia policy. And problem is, look. You know, Congress has a role to play in foreign policy. Quite frankly, you know, American public at large has a voice on foreign policy. But basically it the President and administration have to do foreign policy. So he has got to deter the Russians from threatening the United States directly, from threatening our allies. That is very hard to achieve at a time when you can't actually have a direct conversation with the Russians. That's become hyper sensitive. Can't fill positions relevant to Russia. That's basically politically impossible on Capitol Hill. So my advice would be number one, you know, keep eye on the price.
United States for reasons of national security survival, our national interest. We got to have a Russian policy which means we got to walk and chew gum. Let's conduct whatever investigation we are going to do but let's try to compartmentalize it. Do that at the same time that we actually develop a meaningful Russian policy.
And the second problem, we have to remember, look. Russia is not like any other country on the planet in terms of the potential threat they pose. They can destroy life as we know it if Vladimir Putin decides to do it with their nuclear arsenal in under an hour. What that means s we do not want them with backs against the wall thinking they are about to be accused of existential regime change against the United States because their assumption will be that's what's coming towards them. What is going to be our retaliation? We just have to communicate with them clearly as we are undertaking the investigation to say here is the ceiling, he is the floor. We are going to conduct our relations within the zone. We need to maintain stability.
LEMON: That is a sobering, sobering assessment, general Marks. Are we under risk right now? That big of a threat?
MARKS: Yes. As Matthew indicated, if this is by definition existential, and I would it has all the potential of being and certainly from the perspective of Moscow, it is marching down that path. The thing that I take comfort in is that as Bob indicated, this is countered potential counterintelligence operation. It is being classic. The best thing we can do is from our side, expose everything we have done, make a completely transparent so we can push this thing aside immediately.
And then also we have some very senior adults in charge of national security apparatus. I can't think of a finer group of gentlemen. And that when they conduct their negotiations and their engagements, they can close the door behind them and say look, you are dealing with me. Despite what the President might tweet, you are dealing with me and here are the factors that we are going to talk about. These are very serious, very focused individuals. So I think from that perspective, existential gets a little bit of an air break release but it is still out there and it needs to be addressed.
LEMON: Bob, this is I think a long game for Putin because - some may wonder are those folks that general Marks mentioned by the White House to do, everything that he is saying, is this Putin's long game? And the second part, are they empowered to do that?
[23:35:15] BAER: I heard over and over again from within the government and in from Russians that Putin was actually surprise that Trump was elected. That his game was never to put him in the White House. He was as surprised as every - you and I were. And what they really wanted to do by hacking into the DNC and Hillary Clinton and Podesta's email is weaken the Clinton administration. They were so mad about the Ukraine, they were so mad about missile defense, NATO expansion, and the rest of what they figured, well, at least, we will give her a hard time. We will let this out by WikiLeaks. So there are lot of Russians that disagreed with this in the FSB, the
KGB essentially. And they said this is going to backfired. And what's happened, it has backfired and it could be a lot worse. And it could be existential at this point because right now there's no way that our President can talk frankly to Russia while the investigation is going on. And these things have a way of going sideways very quickly especially with autocrat like Putin.
LEMON: Thank you gentlemen. I appreciate it. See you soon.
MARKS: Thank you, Don.
When we come right back, President Trump's inner circle, how much do Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway shape the President's agenda?
[23:40:34] LEMON: How much do we know about President Trump's inner circle? And are there fingerprints all over the President's agenda?
Let's discuss now. Michael Bender, the White House reporter for "the Wall Street Journal" who (INAUDIBLE) joins me. And also Molly Ball, political writer for "the Atlantic" who interviewed Kellyanne Conway.
It is so great to have both of you on.
Good evening, Michael. You first, you just interviewed Steve Bannon for your piece in the "Wall Street Journal." Do you think Brietbart is helping Steve Bannon pushes White House agenda?
MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sure. Yes, of course. I mean, Breitbart is built in Steve Bannon's image. I don't know how much Steve is involved in the coverage anymore. He says he is not. You know, they have been reports - have been talking to reporters after stories for people that Steve Bannon hired for specific reason and they are still in place doing the job he hired them to do.
So sure, yes. I mean, I think largely they are helping push Trump agenda. I do think that their sort of attacks on Paul Ryan and Reince Priebus are not necessarily helpful to Steve. I think Steve likes having Reince Priebus as chief of staff in the White House. I think he does have a lot of respect for him and what Reince brings to the table.
LEMON: So what did you learn about Bannon though?
BENDER: Well, my reporting on the story was focused on his upbringing and his father. And, you know, I joked on twitter that the story essentially confirmed that Steve Bannon was born of human parents. Right? I mean, this is the guy that has been characterized as the angel of death on "Saturday Night Live." He was in New Yorker cartoon as sort of like knocking the devil off of Trump's shoulder and saying I will take it from here.
You know, it is a little more complex than that. It is a little more nuanced. So I spent some time in Richmond with Steve's dad. He is 95 years old. This is a guy who spent 50 years working for AT&T with high school education. His father spent 48 years at same company. And what was interesting to me was that, you know, Steve very much believes in this make America great idea, right. This sort of call back to an era of the 1950s, and kind of the stability of his dad's adult life that Steve himself has never had, right. Steve was in the Navy. He was at Goldman. He was at Harvard. He was Iran biosphere II. He dabbled in penny stocks. He was a Hollywood producer. He ran Brietbart. So, you know, a little more chaotic and a little bit more dramatic than his dad's life but a lot of the economic nationalism that Steve pushes came from his upbringing in Richmond, came from, you know, the white working-class neighborhood he grew up in.
LEMON: I want to bring Molly in now because you spoke with Steve Bannon. This is for your piece and Kellyanne Conway, by the way, in "the Atlantic" and Bannon credits Kellyanne Conway for saving then- candidate Trump after the release of that access, that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.
And you write in part. You say quote "Bannon says it was Conway's calm presence that led both wavering women and conservative voters to think if she can still support Trump I can too. If Kellyanne had not been there when the firestorm hit, I don't know if we would have made it, he told me."
So you say that he was - that she was also behind the push for white working-class voters. Is Kellyanne Conway why Donald Trump is President do you think?
MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: You know, I think there's a very good case to be made that he would not have won the election where if not for her. I mean, she was his campaign manager for one thing, at least in the final stretch, the third person to run his campaign. But she also crucially was part of the intellectual infrastructure of forming the Trump sort of populist agenda, particularly on immigration.
For 20 years Kellyanne Conway has been outside the mainstream of the Republican consultant class arguing that Republicans need to talk more about immigration and talk about it as working people's issue. She has been producing polls for a lot of the immigration restriction groups on the right that a lot of the sort of Republican establishment would not talk to or considered fringe. But she really believed in it.
And Bannon told me that he was making a cabal a few years ago when he was running Brietbart. He described it as the cabal composed of himself, Jeff Sessions, Steve Miller and Kellyanne Conway who really believe there was an alternative to the GOP autopsy view that you had to pass immigration reform. There was another way entirely and Trump became the vessel for the view that you could win over, you could galvanize a new segment of the white working-class electorate, the same guys that Mike is talking about, that Steve Bannon has rooted in as well that you could get those people to vote by talking particularly talking about immigration issue. [23:45:36] ROJANSKY: But wonders now if she is hurting not the
campaign but the administration because she makes headlines with these things. You know, you said the word alternative. And the first thing that came in my head was alternative facts. And you know the whole microwave things. Sean Spicer responded to that today. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the President believe that he was surveilled through microwaves and televisions?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going -- I will just say the President has tweeted about this. He is pretty clear that he believes surveillance that was conducted during the 2016 election. We are going to wait for the conclusion of that. I think there's pretty sound evidence that has been - that microwave is not a sound way of surveilling anyone. I think that has been cleaned up. It was made in jest. So I think we can put that to rest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK. He said it was made in jest. He was pretty serious when she said it. Didn't seem like it was a joke at all. But what do you think? They have been controversial. Doesn't seem to have hurt her within the administration but certainly outside the administration. What do you think?
BALL: Well, it is funny. And there seems to be a new one of this every day, right. She has this incredible ability to get under people's skin. To create these viral moments whether it is an interview or, you know, alternative facts, the Bowling Green massacre, the controversy about Ivanka Trump's fashion line. And now, this microwave thing.
She is always making people's head spin. I think she actually enjoys sort of trolling people not in the way that Trump himself does. And they have a lot of personality characteristics in common.
To a lot of Trump supporters she's kind of a folk hero. She is a celebrity. She is sort of a mascot for what he represents and her closeness to the President is real. I don't see her going anywhere. But at the same time she has this incredible ability to infuriate people on the other side and there is this fascination with her. When I think even a lot of liberals who absolutely deplore her and what she represents still sort of can't take their eyes off of her.
LEMON: I appreciate your writing for "the Atlantic." I appreciate Michael, you for your stuff in "the Wall Street Journal." I wish we had more time. I will have you both back on. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
BALL: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[23:32:04] LEMON: Can President Trump deliver on the campaign promises that won him the White House?
Here to discuss, Ron Klain. He is a former aide in the Obama White House. He was a contributing columnist for "the Washington Post" and former Jack Kingston, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign. And I believe my co-anchor this evening.
So Jack, welcome back.
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: A promotion.
LEMON: And Ron, welcome to the show.
Ron, you wrote an op-ed, the winning arguments Democrats have against Trump. And you say it's all about exposing where the President is filling to deliver ad that is --. Explain that.
RONALD KLAIN, CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Well look, I think there is a lot of noise about what the President is doing. But what he is not doing that is the most important political edge against him. He made a lot of promises about bread and butter issues and the campaign. That he fixed health care immediately after taking office and that everyone would have great health care at a fraction of the price that he would stop jobs from moving overseas on day one. That he get trade deals renegotiated the first 90 days of his presidency. They put anti-outsourcing legislation through Congress 100 days. They said an infrastructure through Congress.
So my point, Don, is I think there is a lot of people who voted for Trump who expected really help on their kitchen table, bread and butter issues and that's not what President Trump is working on. And I think we should, Democrats, should hold him accountable for that.
LEMON: You go through a list of things that you said that he hasn't delivered on yet and again as you said -- in your estimation there has been a lot of noise.
Jack, but you know, the most recent Gallup tracking poll shows that the president's approval rating at 39 percent disapproval 55 percent, disapproval I should say, a big drop from the two previous weeks. Polls are a snapshot, but he is losing ground. Why do you think that is?
KINGSTON: Well, I do think he is hitting the ground, Ron. And I think that time will tell. Frankly, the big poll will be four years from now. And it is all going to depend on if he has delivered on these promises. And those promises are jobs and better trade agreement and lower cost health care and more choices. And then he has taken these issues on.
And I think Ron is right technically. But the American voters don't think of it that way. They don't worry about the 100 days. What they see is he is trying to make progress on the wall. He is trying to make progress on health care. He has withdrawn from the trade agreement or the negotiations for the trade agreement. And he is draining the swamp. He has new ethics rules for people he hired and tax reform is around the corner as is infrastructure and his budget rebuilds the military. He is delivering on his promises, but not strictly on a 100 daytime table. But the (INAUDIBLE) understand Washington. And he is hitting the ground running and this is --
KLAIN: Yes. But of course that's what President Trump promised. He said he would do some of these things starting day one. He said he going to passed in 100 days. A by the way, he is breaking promises he has made as president. He said mid-February that when he approved the keystone pipeline, they would use U.S. steel creating all the jobs here. He said two weeks later, note that promise didn't apply to the keystone pipeline. He changed his promise, broke his promise.
[23:55:14] KINGSTON: But Ron --
KLAIN: That's a reversal of something he said two weeks after he made the promise. This is a person who is not delivering for Americans. He shouldn't have made the promise.
My point, Jack, is he made a bunch of promises he is not keeping. And look. I agree. The ultimate poll comes two years from now and four years from now. I agree with Jack on that. But they are going to judge on infrastructure. The White House has now said they are not giving senate build a Congress until 2018. That means projects will not even start until 2019.
LEMON: And Ron --.
KINGSTON: What about your friend Chuck Schumer who is doing everything he can before our monkey runs it. Can we even get his cabinet members appointed?
KLAIN: Jack, every cabinet member has been confirmed.
BALL: Hold on. One at a time. Executive orders are not legislation.
KINGSTON: Well, you know, what? That's what got the keystone pipeline stopped under President Obama. That's what got it done and started under Donald Trump.
KINGSTON: They can get things moving.
LEMON: Creating jobs with Russian steel.
KLAIN: Yes. So look, I think the point is he promised a lot of action. The Democrats are in the minority and the Republican run the show in the house and Senate. And he has not even proposed the things he said he would get done.
KINGSTON: Obamacare and new trade agreements. He is doing all of that. LEMON: I'm out of time. And we are still dealing - (INAUDIBLE). I
think there has been progress, but a lot of things have not happened that he promised.
But we will see. We are in the middle of it.
Thanks you all. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I will see you back here tomorrow.