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Democrat Leading Up for a Seat in Georgia; Mounting Allegations for Fox News' Top Grosser. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 18, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight. A fierce battle is underway in Georgia. And it could have major implications for President Trump and the republicans. Results are coming in this highly anticipated special congressional election. Who will win and what does it mean for the Trump presidency?
There it is right there you see it up on your screen.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
The House seat has been in republican hands for decades, but a young democrat, Jon Ossoff is leading in early returns. If he wins, if he wins and he needs to get over 50 percent in order to win in a crowded field. It is a major upset for republicans and could mean the GOP's House majority is in jeopardy in 2018 midterms.
Is this really a referendum on President Trump? We're going to discuss all that. I want to get look at the returns so far. Let's put them up. Democrat Jon Ossoff has 51 percent right now, they're up on the screen. Fifty-one percent. Again, he needs 50 percent to avoid a runoff and win outright.
The next person behind him, Karen Handel, 18.1 percent. We have been watching the returns all night and the race has been tightening.
And I want to begin with CNN's senior congressional reporter Manu Raju who is in Atlanta. He is following this for us. Jim Acosta is at the White House, he is following this for us as well. He's our White House correspondent, of course.
Manu, to you first. You're at democrat Jon Ossoff's headquarters tonight. What is the mood like right now?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty energetic here. There's a lot of anxiety in the room as the crowd waits for those results. But I can tell you, Don, there's been actually shift on the republican side over the last half an hour or so as more results have come in from one or two counties. Cob County where republicans had hoped that they could keep Mr. Ossoff below 48 percent of the vote in that republican strong vote right now.
Ossoff with a 90 percent of the votes coming in, in that county about 42 percent. Now there are still a lot of votes outstanding, Don, including in Fulton County where there are actually just 19 of 100 of 1,0115 precincts that have actually come in so far.
Meaning there's a lot of that vote that we're still waiting to hear. And both Karen Handel, the republican candidate is number two and also Jon Ossoff expected to make significant end rows. But the feeling right now, Don, is that...
LEMON: Manu, I don't want to -- I hate to cut you off. I just want to tell you we have some new totals up as you're speaking. But Jon Ossoff is at 50.1 percent with the latest totals that we have. Sixty nine percent of the tallies are in. Go, continue on, Manu.
RAJU: Yes. You know, the feeling right now, Don, is that's going to be tough to maintain the 50 plus threshold that he needs to avoid a runoff. That is something that both republicans and democrats right now are skeptical that he can reach at this point unless something significant changes in the numbers.
So the chances are still pretty high that we're going to end up in a two person run off on June 20th. But I still caution a long way to go. A lot of votes still outstanding and we don't know what's going to be. It's going to be close to that 50 percent number, even if Mr. Ossoff's falls just short, Don.
LEMON: Yes. You're right. The mood there at Jon Ossoff's headquarters seem -- I mean, it seems to be pretty jubilant. People are celebrating behind you, at least very happy behind you, Manu. I have to ask you. I want to get Jim. Let's go to Jim first and then we'll get back to Manu.
Jim, why is the president so invested in this congressional race? He sent six tweets, he's done robo calls.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He doesn't like to lose, Don. I think that the sense we're getting from over here at the White House is that if Jon Ossoff wins this race, that I think the president is going to feel this is some sort of a loss on his part.
We were talking to a White House official earlier this evening who indicated there's some hammering been going on inside this White House. They feel if Jon Ossoff wins tonight, that there's going to be a bad news cycle tomorrow. That they are going to have to deal with.
The Press Secretary Sean Spicer has a briefing schedule before noon, obviously if Jon Ossoff wins and clears that 50 percent threshold, the 50 percent plus 1 vote threshold, there's going to be lot of unpleasant questions for Sean Spicer to deal with tomorrow.
But I was talking to a White House official earlier today who was saying, yes, the president was personally invested in this that's why he recorded that robo call, that's why he was sending out those tweets. And the feeling was here at the White House if they had not done that,
and Jon Ossoff were to win they would have been slammed. But, Don, you can see a situation where in either scenario they were going to receive some criticism.
But in the event that Jon Ossoff does not clear this 50 percent threshold, there is some feeling of confidence inside the White House that, well, if it's between Jon Ossoff and say Karen Handel, the leading republican candidate there, there is some confidence inside the White House that they should be able to hold this off and have some sort of victory.
[22:05:01] But I was talking to some republican sources just this evening, Don, who were saying, wait a minute, Reince Priebus is the former RNC chair, he's the White House chief of staff. You know, if Jon Ossoff wins this race there's a feeling of some republican operatives here in Washington that the White House should have seen this coming, they should have done more to prevent this, perhaps have the president endorse one of these candidates.
He did not endorse one of these candidates, Don. He got essentially in Jon Ossoff's face in tweeting all sorts of things about him all week long but he did not get behind a particular candidate.
Now in the event that Jon Ossoff does not clear that 50 percent, does not win the run off, you can expect a tweet that we saw from the president a couple of days ago. You can see some of these tweets that are o screen right now.
A couple of days ago he tweeted "The recent Kansas election was a really big media event. And so the republicans won. Now they play the same game with Georgia, bad."
If the president somehow comes out ahead in all of this I think you can expect some crowing out of the Oval Office that he feels like he was right once again, Don.
LEMON: All right, Jim, I want you to stand by. It's going to be a long night. Maybe Manu stand by as well.
I want to bring in now my political panel. Margaret Hoover is here, Gloria Borger, David Chalian, Hilary Rosen, and Jack Kingston. Good evening to you. Wow, election night all over again.
So, Gloria, let's talk about this Georgia congressional seat. It's a ruby red district. Crowded field. Eighteen candidates including 11 republicans and 4 democrats. Explain why this one race has taken on such an outsized significance.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Because it's precisely the kind of districts that democrats salivate over when they think about potentially taking back the House in 2018 or at least gaining a number of seats. This is as you know well, Don, because you lived in Atlanta. This is a suburban district that is diverse, it is highly educated. It is wealthier. It's just the -- and it's younger. So, it's just the kind of districts that democrats believe that they
could potentially flip. So when this comes up for grabs and you see a large group of republicans, you know, forming a circular firing squad and you see a young candidate out there who is unexceptional by the way, but has some appeal and you put 9 or $10 million behind him, which they have done, they think it's an opportunity to create momentum for themselves going into 2018 and embarrass the president.
LEMON: Well, I'm wondering if this a win already before. Because I was in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago for a wedding and I saw, you know, I sort of got tuned into this election and I said there's a democrat that stands a chance? There's a democrat at 50 percent now on election night. I mean, what message does this send to the president and republicans, David?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, the message that it sends is this is not Newt Gingrich's district as you may remember at one as Gloria is saying the shifting demographics. But the other message is these are not trump republicans and the leading republican is a key example of that.
Karen Handel a much more mainstream, Mitt Romney style republican, if you will, who won this district by 23 points in 2012, Don. What I think you will see here is that you have -- let's say it's heading to a run off. We've seen Ossoff's going down the whole way.
Credit to the republicans they understood mission one here was to get enough turnout of their voters in this reliably republican district to keep him below 50. But now on to the real battle because this is not going to get any less competitive.
CHALIAN: They may be trickier for Jon Ossoff to go one on one against the republicans in this district than a divided field of 11 republicans, Don. But the money that Gloria was just talking about, that's going to keep flooding in. The energy with the democrats is going to keep coming into the district and so this is going to be a competitive race now if it goes to a run off all the way through June.
LEMON: All right. Margaret is going to hit me if I don't let her in right now. Go ahead, Margaret.
HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But this is...
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Call on me.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Money. I just want to point out we're talking about a lot of money here on the table. There's lot of outside money and there are a lot of hard dollars on this race. So, as we know.
And look, $7.2 million in outside republican money flooded into this race. And as you mention, David, it's 11 republican candidates and one democrat. There's no wonder that he's leading with barely 50 percent and republicans are all divided. It's actually quite shocking that Karen Handel has emerged from that field as really the strong second contender.
I think that's what is noteworthy and also just another data point on this district. The median income in this district is $72,000 for a family household. That is significant higher. David, you're right. This is not Trump republican country but these are mainstream republicans.
LEMON: Let me ask you this. I mean, go ahead, David. What do you want to say? Was it David or Jack?
ROSEN: No. It's Hilary.
LEMON: All right.
KINGSTON: I'm hoping you'll call on me, Don.
[22:10:00] LEMON: Go ahead, Hilary. We'll get to you, Jack.
ROSEN: Here's why this district matters, why this election tonight matters is because Jon Ossoff is not running against those 11 republicans, he's running against Donald Trump and he's being very aggressive about it. And now we've seen as the president is engaged against him.
And so for all of those republicans in the House who are, you know, have won their districts by less than, you know, 10 points they're all wondering is Donald Trump going to help me in 2018 or is he going to hurt me?
Because if Jon Ossoff does well tonight, people are going to start to worry that maybe this president is a liability in their district and not a help.
LEMON: So let me ask you this, Jack. If you look at it, you know, Margaret said, well, it's a run off and you know, it's other people here. I'm adding up these numbers, 18 percent, 10 percent, 10 percent. That's 38 percent. It still doesn't add up to the 50 percent that Jon Ossoff has.
KINGSTON: He is not going to get over 50 percent. I just thought that Karen Handel maybe 10 minutes ago, they're feeling good. They're cautious. She's a savvy politician. She knows the rope. She knows the district. But she's going to be in a run off and he's going to get in the run off what he is going to get tonight.
It will be below 50 percent. He'll probably 44 to 46 percent in the run off. LEMON: Yes.
KINGSTON: He has had $8.3 million. He's had the triple D triple C, the DNC, the AFL CIO and the Sierra club on the ground and this is the best he can do.
I want to agree with Hilary. He is running against Donald Trump and you know what, he's losing. And that's very important. I want to disagree with my friend David. It's not going to be competitive. The race ends tonight for Mr. Ossoff. I think he was a very basic candidate.
CHALIAN: Jack, I'll just say a senior republican...
LEMON: Hold on, David. David, I got new number and then you can get in.
LEMON: Let's put it up there. I think it's 50.4 percent. The last one was 50.1 percent, so it was just, you know, a point missed. Yes, yes, just a little bit.
HOOVER: And remember...
CHALIAN: Jack, let me just -- guys, Jack, let me just respond to what you said.
LEMON: Let David -- let David finish.
CHALIAN: Let me respond to what Jack said. Just so you know a senior republican campaign source said they think that both sides are going to be spending money all the way through June and that this is going to be competitive. That's from your own party, Jack. So I think it is going to be a targeted race all the way to June.
KINGSTON: Listen, I can tell you. I don't know what he did with $8.3 million. He ought to be sitting on about 5 million because you meet critical mass around 3 million in a district like that. Now he's probably spent every dime of it like a true democrat would. But the reality is, I don't know what he's done with this kind of money. And you can have a good time in any district in the nation except for maybe L.A. and New York City, but where $8 million you can have a good time.
LEMON: Jack, I've got to tell you and I know you're from Georgia.
ROSEN: Come on, Jack.
LEMON: Jack, I live there -- I live there for almost 10 years. It is a ruby red district. And Georgia is a red state. So at this point, I mean, just saying someone who's not political. I was surprised to see a democrat getting this far when I went back.
KINGSTON: But remember -- remember...
ROSEN: And let's remember one other thing here. And you know, I love Jack but he's spinning his top off here with his, you know that we've got...
ROSEN: Hillary Clinton only lost this district by one and a half points. That's Hillary Clinton in Georgia. Right? So, this is a -- this is a swing district. This is not, you know -- that's why democrats are invested here. Gloria I think said it at the top. But so this will be close all along and it will be continue to be a referendum on Donald Trump.
BORGER: Can I -- can I just...
KINGSTON: I can tell you Karen Handel is going to eat him alive. She is a very tough competitor. She has run statewide two dif6ferent times. She's run Fulton County...
ROSEN: And lost.
HOOVER: But she lost.
KINGSTON: ... as the county commission chairman. No. She won as secretary of state.
BORGER: She's county commission chairman, right, OK. Yes.
CHALIAN: But do you expect Karen Handel to invite Donald Trump into the district in the run off?
KINGSTON: Absolutely and I'll recommend it too that she does. I mean, you know, everybody says, well, he's tweeting. Well, it looks like the tweeting works, doesn't it?
LEMON: Gloria and then Margaret.
BORGER: Well, can I just add, I just want to add a couple of things from a source who's been working with Handel. One is that they believe what helped in the end for them is that Donald Trump's favorable/unfavorable numbers started going up towards the homestretch and that in this district he's over 50 percent favorable which is not where he is and a large part of the country as we know. But that certainly helps a republican, and secondly they believe if he
doesn't get over 50 percent, in particular they believe that he may have miscalculated a bit in his campaign. And this source said to me that he made himself too much of a partisan according to their source and he should have presented himself to be more like Sam Nun who is a former democratic senator who was somebody who was known to work across party lines.
And so from the republican camp looking at Ossoff they just thought he was presenting himself as somebody who was too liberal.
LEMON: Margaret, I have a question for you. I've got question for Margaret.
[22:14:58] ROSEN: That's a 30-year old analysis of a democrat.
KINGSTON: I do have one quick plus.
LEMON: I've got a question for Margaret but she gets to answer after the break. We'll be right back.
LEMON: This is our breaking new. We're watching results come in for the Georgia special election that the country is watching that means so much obviously for the White House and especially for republicans.
Back now with me my panel. Margaret, so I promise you first. Does President Trump deserve credit if there is a win tonight, right, that there is no win, that there is a run off. Does he deserve credit because this is formerly Newt Gingrich's, right, district.
HOOVER: This is not, I mean, Hilary, whatever they said is correct. Trump won this district by 1 percent. And if it is true that it was a ruby red district. I mean, it was a district that's been held since 1976 by republicans and by one by much larger margins by every republican presidential candidate and every prior four years.
It shouldn't have been this close for Trump for Hillary Clinton and everything about the data and the demographic data that we know about this district is these are not Trump republicans. So I don't think Donald Trump deserves credit.
You notice his tweets while he has tweeted frequently about this, he has not once mentioned any of the republican candidates.
LEMON: He mentioned Karen Handel.
[22:19:58] HOOVER: And Karen Handel -- republican have served silently -- mainstream republicans like me have hoped that Karen Handel is the one who emerges as the leader of the past. Because she isn't really a Trump republican.
She represents a candidate that frankly this district will likely rally around and elect in a run off with Jon Ossoff. Compare -- because Ossoff he has become this candidate of the left wing net roots sort of this backlash against Trump, which is sort of just this far left and doesn't represent that district in Georgia either.
LEMON: Yes. Gloria, should this, I mean, should this district even be in play? It shouldn't be in jeopardy in the place?
BORGER: Well, you know, when you think that Tom Price who's now the HHS secretary won with over 60 percent of the vote in the last election, you would think that this would not be in play but the democrats see an opportunity here because of precisely what you guys were just talking about which is that the 1 percent margin for Trump in this district and they see an opening because of the demographics here.
And I think I agree with Jack, that I think in the general election if this goes to a run off I think the republicans are very likely to coalesce around the republican nominee if it's Karen Handel, even though and I've been told this by a republican source just now who texted me that she, you know, she has run for office and lost a couple of times before.
She's a known quantity and what she is known as is somebody who doesn't win frequently. So there may be republicans who decide to sit home because they don't like either of these candidates. So it really depends on mobilization. Now that's just one interpretation of it. And again, it's too early to really talk about the dynamics of that.
KINGSTON: If I may I want to point out that this was also Johnny Isakson seat, and Johnny ran statewide three times and lost three times. So that is not something that's going to hold Karen back. And Karen is not a moderate. She is a very tough, very savvy conservative, fiscal conservative and social conservative republican.
But you know, it was a tough field. Judson Hill, a very popular state Senator. Dan Moody, a former state senator, member of the transportation commissions. Bruce LeVell who had worked very closely with Donald Trump and Amy Kramer. You had a lot of really good people in this race. Bob Gray who was on the city council.
And so when we talk about Donald Trump not endorsing a particular person it was because the family of republicans really had a lot to choose from and we were divided but it was also a tame primary. I think if there is a lesson here there wasn't a lot of cut throat politics that were going on within the Republican Party which is very important when you're in a difficult field like this.
LEMON: Well, you just reminded me that Bruce LeVell texted me and said I should have endorsed him. And I forgot to text him back. Bruce, that wouldn't have helped you. Let me just -- let me just say that. I don't do that but that would not have helped you.
Gloria, again, and I want to ask David Chalian, but go on.
BORGER: No, I just want to say very quickly that this district went for Marco Rubio during the primary. LEMON: Yes.
BORGER: So you know, to Margaret's point this is more establishment republicans, not natural Donald Trump territory by any stretch.
LEMON: David, the rough start to the presidency and the drip, drip, drip, you know, this Russia controversy that everyone has been talking about may be taking its toll. I want to put these numbers up. Let's talk about these new poll numbers from Gallup. Ask if the president is keeping his promised. Only 45 percent say he is, that's down from 62 percent in February, so put that number in context for us, David.
CHALIAN: Yes. That's a big 17-point drop there on a key -- on a key thing. For a candidate who promises to completely sort of upend Washington. And hasn't really been able to do so.
I think what you see there in those numbers and why you see him sort of flat lined around 40 percent overall approval, Don, is because some of his key promises have been stuck like the travel ban in the courts or to repeal and replace Obamacare. Unable to get that through Congress.
He hasn't been able to sort of take the checklist out and check off all of the things he's accomplished quite yet. So I think he looks a little more like a typical politician for in the Washington morass and spaces than voters perhaps expected that will -- the dice within those voters that weren't fervent supporters but were like, I don't like Hillary and I really want change. I think what you see here is that they're not convince they got what they bargained for in November.
LEMON: So, Gloria, the thing, Hilary...
ROSEN: Well, I think you could argue actually....
LEMON: Hilary, let me ask you this. So, depending on where you and I think you're going to -- you're going to talk about this. Depending on where you stand ideologically or you land politically, some people might be happy that he's not keeping his promises because he ran on this popular sort of Bannon influence message. But then that may -- he may gain some support among a group that he didn't get support from. So he may lose some of his base but then gain other people. No?
[22:24:59] ROSEN: Well, I think it's important to note that unlike maybe typical Washington politicians like George W. Bush and Barack Obama whose approval ratings went up in their first year of the presidency, they made an effort actually to reach out across the aisle to reach all Americans, to come up with something that others would like.
So, whether it was infrastructure or tax cuts or something that, you know, they did actually have some improvements in their approval rating. And I think what we've seen with this president is that he has been, you know, as divisive in governing as he was in campaigning and the country thought that they were kind of beyond that.
Yes, you know, people wanted the things to be shaken up but they didn't want things to be torn apart so viciously. And I think that's reflected in these ratings.
LEMON: Yes. Well, the Gallup poll also found President Trump is down seven points with people thinking he's a strong leader, down seven points would bring need a change to the country. And this is again after the strikes in Afghanistan and Syria, which usually, you know, president's poll numbers go up.
OK. Thank you, panel. It's going to be a long night. We may see some of you back here later depending on the results. So, we appreciate it.
When we come right back, we'll continue to follow this special election down in Georgia. Bring you the results up later. There's a 50.4 percent that's where the democrat is. The nearest republican, 18.1 percent. He needs 50 percent, 50 percent or more in order to avoid a runoff.
Plus, we're going to have some new details on the FBI's investigation into Russia's influence in the presidential election and potential ties to Trump associates that said he drip, drip, drip that we were just talking about.
[22:30:00] LEMON: All right. So we're back with the breaking news. As you can see, look up in the scree. A tight race in Georgia. A high stakes special election happening there. The results are coming in. The race could have major implications for President Trump.
As a matter of fact he's been tweeting about, also made a robo call. He's very invested.
Let's discuss now with CNN senior political commentator Mr. David Axelrod is here. Good evening, David. This congressional election is a big deal. First political test of President Trump's presidency. And how Americans view it, what does the outcome tell you so far?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We had one special in Kansas earlier and that what it showed was republicans hung on there but not nearly by the margins they had before.
This is an interesting race in Georgia because Jon Ossoff is a political unknown, 30-year-old guy that doesn't really have political roots in the district. He grew up there. And he's giving the republicans all they can handle.
That said -- no pun intended -- that said, you know, President Trump's tweets were just the cherry on the cake of what has been a pummeling over the last couple of weeks.
LEMON: Yes By the way Karen Handel is the republican candidate. That's why you said they can handle. Karen Handel is the republican, she's at what, 18 points.
AXELROD: I actually didn't mean it that way. (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: That was good.
AXELROD: But I will tell you I'm always willing to take credit for a pun. But I think it's interesting that a guy who essentially is a generic democratic candidate is in a position here where the republicans are huffing and puffing to keep him from getting over the goal line in the first race. And that's not a good arguing for them.
I don't think -- I wouldn't read too much into it. We tend to in the political community, we tend to view each thing as a kind of decisive event. I don't this is going to be a decisive event. And I think Ossoff will have a tough race come June when they can focus all their attention behind, and get behind one candidate.
On the other hand, he'll have a target which he hasn't had here. He's going to have an opponent and he can go after that opponent and I expect it will be a very competitive race.
LEMON: So when you said you don't think it will be definitive as you said or a test. Didn't you say that, right. So then what happens if republican wins one in Kansas and they hang on to it by a small margin, does that give republicans and the president some breathing room?
AXELROD: A little, maybe a little bit of breathing room but they have to look at the margins and say, you know, this isn't great, and particularly in the first months of an administration.
Remember these are seats that were created by cabinet appointment of the president. They're replacing cabinet members that the president chose. You would think that there would be a little bit of a tail wind behind these republican candidates.
There clearly is, and of course this is a different administration in that Donald Trump's numbers are not where you would expect a new president's numbers to be and that's why they've gone to -- they gone to extraordinary lengths to try and stop a candidate here who on the face of it shouldn't have been as threatening as he is.
LEMON: OK. So, let's put up, I'm going to put up this new poll for you, David. It's Gallup. It shows only 45 percent say that President Trump keeps his promises. That's down from 62 percent in February. He's also down when it comes to being a strong and decisive leader on whether he can bring needed changes on being honest and trustworthy and caring and managing government effectively. How do you read these declining numbers? Don't they usually go up?
AXELROD: Well, not necessarily. I mean, Barack Obama's number were stratospheric when he got elected and they slowly came down. But in this case there are certain numbers that I'd be concerned about if I were Donald Trump. The measures of strength, the measure of effectiveness. He didn't really run on being honest and trustworthy. That wasn't his calling card in the race.
But what he did say was I know how to get things done. I can make Washington work. I'll kick them in the butt. We'll get results. We're going to start winning and you're going to get so tired of winning you're going to be exhausted from winning so much.
Well, he hasn't won very much. In fact, he's lost several big fights since he's gotten there and there is no legislative accomplishments. There seems to be a lot of turmoil in his administration and he doesn't look like the world beater that he advertised himself to be.
[22:35:09] And so you see the strength numbers coming down, effectiveness numbers coming down. Those are warnings signs for Donald Trump. He can live with not being viewed as honest and trustworthy. He can't live with not being seen as strong and effective.
LEMON: Well, I wanted to ask you if the sheen is wearing off or the luster however you want to put it because he's as you said, he says, you know, so tired of winning. There are people who supported him who are saying well, when is the winning going to start?
And today when he gave, you know, the speech, he was like we're going to see some big, big things and big, big changes. Those are all the same things he said in campaign trail, big, huge, all of these changes. Everything is going to be great. And so far, as you said no legislative accomplishments. One has to start wondering even among your base, when are these things going to happen?
AXELROD: Well, there's no question about it. And what he's discovering issue by issue is that governing is complicated and that you have to be able to work with people. You have to have a clear world view about what you want to accomplish and not a shifting world view. And then you have to go after it and we haven't seen any of that.
He, look, he ran a very obviously ran a successful campaign. He had a very incisive message. He hit a base that came out for him in big numbers. That's a lot different than being President of the United States with all the complicated matrixes that you have to deal with.
And he is finding it very difficult in the early going to produce. And he's set himself up on a number of issues like health care, like the travel ban. Still bears the scars of those things. His relations with Congress seem a little bit dicey.
He's got the ongoing probe that hangs over him. It has not been a triumphant inaugural, you know, three months for Donald Trump. And he's going to, you know, he's going to run into problems down the line. I wouldn't say that the results in Georgia, the close race in Georgia is a big red flashing light but it's certainly a yellow light and should be of concern to him.
AXELROD: He's not a real liability to republicans around the country.
LEMON: All right.
AXELROD: I think he's not a real asset I should say.
LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it, David Axelrod.
As we continue on, we're going to watch this returns, it's in Georgia, the special election there. They are there. They are up on your screen right now. Jon Ossoff 50.4 percent, that's the latest that we have at 72 percent of the vote in. Karen Handel, the closest republican to him at 18.1 percent. And then, Judson Hill, 10.0 percent.
We have new reporting tonight that we need to tell you about.
The FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election possible connection to Trump associates. You heard David Axelrod saying that this continues to hang over the president and this administration.
Our justice correspondent Evan Perez broke the story along with Shimon Prokupecz and Manu Raju. Evan joins me now. He's in Washington. Evan, what have you learned?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, U.S. officials tell CNN that last year the FBI used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump's campaign as part of the justification to get approval to secretly monitor Trump associate Carter Page.
FBI Director James Comey has cited the dossier in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks as one of the sources of information that the FBI has used to support its investigation. Now this includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which is known as FISA to monitor Page's communications.
Now to obtain court commission to target Page, the FBI and the Justice Department would have to present probable cause that he was acting as an agent of a foreign power including possibly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering for a foreign government.
Comey and other top Justice Department officials would have had to have signed off on this application. Last year Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security, though they have since said that he had limited interactions with the campaign as a volunteer, Don.
LEMON: So, Evan, how surprising is it that this was done?
PEREZ: Don, it's actually quite surprising because, you know, Comey's briefings to lawmakers stand in contrast to efforts in recent months by the bureau and by U.S. intelligence agencies to try to distance themselves from the dossier.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials they told us repeatedly that U.S. investigators did their own work separate from the dossier to support their findings that Russia tried to meddled in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump.
Comey has not mentioned the dossier in all of his law maker briefings, Don.
LEMON: So Carter Page himself would not be aware that this was happening, is that correct?
PEREZ: That's right. But you'll recall that Page has been scrutinized before by the FBI. There was a 13 -- 2013 investigation of Russian -- of a Russian spurring that included descriptions of interactions that he had with one of the alleged spies.
[22:40:09] Now, Page denies that he knew that these guys were Russian agents. But he also gave a speech last summer in Russia that drew the attention of the FBI. Page says that he took the trip independently. He says that he expressed his own views, and overall he's disputed that anything was illegal in his interactions with Russians.
He did provide a statement to us and I'll in part here that says, quote, "I look forward to the Privacy Act of 1974 lawsuit that I plan to file in response to the civil rights violations by Obama administration appointees last year. The discovery process will be of great value to United States as our nation hears testimony from them under oath. And we receive disclosure of the documents which will show exactly what was done in 2016."
Don, the bottom line here is Carter Page is blaming the former administration of the Obama administration for pushing this Russia story which he says has no validity whatsoever.
LEMON: And we shall see. The investigation continues. Thank you, Evan. I appreciate that.
When we come back, more on the special election in Georgia. Is republican majority in the House in danger and what does this mean for President Trump?
Plus, is Bill O'Reilly done at Fox News? Pressure mounting for Fox to fire its main attraction.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. These numbers are just in for the Georgia special election with 77 percent of the vote in. Take a good look. Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is still holding on to a very slim margin above that key 50 percent threshold.
He needs 50 percent to stay above. He's got to stay above 50 percent if he's going to avoid a runoff. So we're going to keep an eye on that again. Seventy-seven percent of the vote, 50.3 percent. As long as he stays at that 50 percent no run off and a democrat takes this seat.
It hasn't happened for quite some time.
There's also more breaking news to tell you about in the wake of numerous allegations of sexual harassment against him. I'm talking about Bill O'Reilly. On his way out at Fox News maybe, is he?
Let's discuss now with CNN senior media reporter, Mr. Brian Stelter is here, civil rights attorney, Lisa Bloom, and Dylan Byers, a senior reporter for media and politics. Are you getting some breaking news, Brian? Because I hear you beeping and texting over there.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: An e-mail and I apologize. You know, in the past few minutes the Wall Street Journal has the boldest headline of all in the story. And the Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch who is making the decision about O'Reilly.
The headline is right here. It says "Fox preparing to cut ties with Bill O'Reilly saying this is imminent." This lines up with our reporting this evening, Don, that there's a decision that's about to be made by the Murdoch family that they're leaning towards letting O'Reilly go. That would be a stunning turn of events in just the past few weeks. All over results of word of these women accusing O'Reilly of harassment.
LEMON: And that's -- you can put that headline up from the Wall Street Journal and I'll ask my colleague, Dylan Byers this. When you look at this, Dylan, at this point considering what has happened, the advertisers so many had dropped out -- at least from the O'Reilly show. They haven't dropped out from Fox News but from the O'Reilly show. I think they said they reallocated. There been protests. Someone else has come forward. Are you surprise by the headline you see at the Wall Street Journal?
DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: No, I'm not. I think we should call a spade a spade here. If the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Fox is preparing to cut ties with Bill O'Reilly, Fox is preparing to cut with Bill O'Reilly, I mean, the call is coming from inside the building.
And look, this is all happening very fast when Bill O'Reilly announced he was going on vacation last week the Fox News. Sources close to O'Reilly said he would be coming back on April 24th and they stood by that up until today.
Now all of a sudden it appears that he's going to be cut from Fox News and it is hard to overstate just how drastic a development this is in the cable news landscape and indeed in the American media landscape. Bill O'Reilly, of course, the top rated host on cable news.
Commands an enormous audience, he brings in over $100 million in revenue for that company. I mean, this is really -- especially in the wake of Roger Ailes ouster last year. This is really sort of see change for Fox News and for the cable news environment.
LEMON: This whole thing started with your client, this latest round, Lisa, with Wendy Walsh, along with other women who spoke about their experiences with sexual harassment, allege sexual harassment, and in fact, $13 million have been settled in what is it? Five settlements, right? What's your reaction and what's Wendy's reaction?
LISA BLOOM, THE BLOOM FIRM FOUNDER: And we had a new client who came out today. So, our reaction is it's about time. This man needs to be fired. I came out as I said with a new accuser today and told her story. He needs to go.
It's absolutely appalling that a man who has sexually harassed so many women allegedly, including two of them who have recordings of him making disgusting sexually phone calls to them, and he would still be there after all of these years hurting women.
I mean, I talked to women who are crying, who are upset, who are shaking at the damage that he's done to them emotionally, the damage that he's done to their careers. I mean, it's such an absolute affront and to all of those women I say good for you for standing up, good for you for speaking up for women's right because we're never going to get anywhere until women do that. I know they're scared but they did it.
LEMON: You said, you had a new accuser today. A woman of color...
LEMON: ... who said that he had a nickname for her.
BLOOM: He called her hot chocolate. So this woman has chosen to be anonymous. But she, like my client Wendy Walsh not asking for any money but we called into the Fox News hotline again today, that infamous hotline they said nobody ever called.
Wendy called with me and now this new woman today called. I got on speed dial now, and she called in her complaint that Bill O'Reilly would walk by her desk and say, looking good girl, hot chocolate. He never said anything else to her other than these kinds of demeaning comment. And she was really scared.
You know, you might hear these things and think, well, one or two comments what's the big deal. But she was a low level clerical employee. This was Bill O'Reilly, a very powerful man. And she was terrified if she ever said anything she'd be fired.
[22:50:00] Well, now she's decided to come forward, she called in her complaints of a hotline and I assume they are going to investigate that as well.
LEMON: I want to...
BYERS: Don, Don, if I may...
LEMON: Go ahead. Go ahead. Yes.
BYERS: Just in the interest of fairness I just want to point out that the lawyer for Bill O'Reilly is pushing back very hard against this new accusation saying that an anonymous accusation should not be taken as fact. And indeed, that's part of a larger push back effort from O'Reilly's attorneys sort of breaking their silence...
LEMON: I was going to read the response. And let me read the response and then you can talk about it.
BYERS: Yes, please, go ahead.
LEMON: It said this is from Marc E. Kasowitz, Bill O'Reilly's attorney. This is a statement that he said by NBC News today. He gave to NBC News. But he says, "It is outrageous that an allegation from an anonymous person about something that purportedly happened almost a decade ago is being treated as fact especially where there is obviously orchestrated campaign by activist and lawyers to destroy Mr. O'Reilly and enrich themselves through publicity driven donations."
BLOOM: May I, so, first of all, I find it rich that a highly paid lawyer for Bill O'Reilly, an accused serial harasser is accusing me of somehow making money off of this when I'm not being paid. I'm doing all of this for free and my clients are not asking for any money.
BLOOM: It's not orchestrated at all. I will say that I spoke to three witnesses who say that my accuser from today told them in 2008 about Bill O'Reilly sexual harassing her.
BLOOM: Her sister, her roommate and her boyfriend.
LEMON: Stand by. More right after the break.
LEMON: And roommate and boyfriend.
LEMON: Breaking news tonight. A tight race in the special election for an open House seat in Georgia. We are waiting for final result there. We'll have them for you. You can see the democrat is at 50.3 percent. He needs to stay above that 50 percent margin to avoid a runoff. We'll continue to follow that.
[22:55:09] Other big breaking news tonight, Bill O'Reilly may be on his way out at Fox News.
Back now with my panel. As a matter of fact the Wall Street Journal according to our Brian Williams -- Brian Williams -- Brian Stelter is a little bit more emphatic about it, they say that it looks like they're negotiating something.
STELTER: And it's getting bigger as the day went on, Don.
STELTER: This afternoon said in New York magazine said the Murdoch's were inclined to drop him then this evening. Our reporting indicated exit talks are underway, and now the Journal saying that Fox is on the verge of doing this.
LEMON: Yes. So, Dylan, what can you tell us about the atmosphere at Fox News particularly among women, among female employees?
BYERS: Well, yes. I should say among all employees. Everyone was sort of waiting with baited breath to see what would happen here. I mean, I've spoken with sources throughout the organization at high levels, at mid-levels and what they say is, you know, we're interested to see how the company reacts because for them it's not just about Bill O'Reilly. It's a measure of the company, it's a measure of 21st Century Fox sort of moving into the 21st Century putting this culture and climate of sexual harassment behind them.
My guess now based off of this Wall Street Journal report is that they will find some level of solace in the decision to at least prepare to cut ties with Bill O'Reilly. Of course, they thought they had found that solace more than nine months ago when Fox got rid of Roger Ailes, lo and behold they're still dealing with these problems now.
LEMON: That's when I want to ask you, Brian. But given the fact that they just recently re-signed him, right? I mean, do you think that, they re-signed and this was after the Roger Ailes controversy. Do you think that they need to do something to do in their business at this moment to let people know, especially the viewers that they don't condone sexual harassment.
STELTER: You know, Fox did renew O'Reilly's contract knowing about these settlements, not necessarily knowing that other women would also come forward. But when they renewed the deal they had language insert in the contract that may make it easier now to cut ties with him, so that might make sense.
Furthermore, there's a big board meeting on Thursday, that's when we're going to hear more about this. A board meeting with the Murdoch's, I think at that point we might hear about the decision after Gretchen Carlton sued Roger Ailes for sexual harassment at Fox there was a settlement and there was a public apology.
STELTER: Maybe something more like that.
LEMON: I'll give you the quick last word and to sum up against it.
BLOOM: Yes. This is not going away. I'm not done. I've had my phone ringing off the hook. I have more women who have come to me about Mr. Bill O'Reilly. And I suggest that the Murdoch's end this before we continue to come out with more and more stories.
LEMON: Lisa and Dylan, and Brian Stelter, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
When we come back, results coming in for the special election in Georgia. Can a democrat win the republican House seat? And why Trump is personally invested in the election.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)