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Isolated President; Man Behind the President's Back Channel. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Time now to turn things over to Don Lemon and CNN Tonight.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Home alone. An angry and isolated president hunkers down as the Russia investigation swirls around him.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

This is just about the last thing President Trump wants to hear. Russian government officials intercepted talking about potentially derogatory information described as financial during the Trump campaign, that's according to sources who say the Russians believe they could influence the administration.

Meanwhile, the FBI looking at Jared Kushner's meeting with a Russian banker, one with close ties to Vladimir Putin himself. And for those keeping score at home Michael Flynn will turn over some documents to Senate investigators by next week.

Cohen, one of President Trump's personal attorneys says if he is subpoena to testify he'll comply. And former White House press official Boris Epshteyn hasn't decided whether he'll cooperate with the House intelligence committee.

I know it's a lot. But we'll explain it all. Let's get right to CNN's Mark Preston, Gloria Borger, and Jim Sciutto. There is a lot. There are a lot of names there. A lot of different nuances, a lot of different story lines going on there but it all relates to Russia, Jim.

President Trump is back in Washington now. The Russia probe is getting bigger and bigger. CNN is learning that the house intelligence committee now wants information from former White House official Boris Epshteyn.

This comes as the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is going to turn over those documents I mentioned to the Senate intelligence committee. What else can you tell us?

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: That's right. Now remember, originally retired General Flynn had refused to hand over information to testify but now he is providing some of those documents. They relate to his businesses. And this of course relates to Russia.

We know as well that Michael Cohen, long time lawyer for President Trump, has been asked for information as well. He is refusing. We don't yet know what Boris Epstheyn's answer is to request from the Hill for documents testimony, et cetera, as well.

LEMON: Gloria, President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen, we just mention him, also asked to provide that information to Congress. He declined earlier total fishing expedition, that's what he said, but he's speaking out tonight. What's he's saying?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, I spoke with him tonight because there were erroneous reports that he'd been subpoenaed. And he made sure to tell me that he had not been subpoenaed to testify but he added this. He said, "If I am subpoenaed to testify I will comply and gladly as I have nothing to hide. There no shred of evidence that implicates me."

So, you know, they may have to force him to testify but what he said to me earlier in the day was that the documents that they wanted was overly broad and that they have to narrow, which is, I think what Boris Epshteyn's attorney may want as well.

LEMON: Jim, I also understand that you have some exclusive reporting tonight about Russians discussing this potentially derogatory information about President Trump during the campaign. What's that about?

SCIUTTO: That's right. Myself, our Pamela Brown, Dana Bash team reporting on this. We're told by intelligence officials, a congressional source is that Russians were intercepted speaking to other Russians bragging in effect, claiming that they have quote, "derogatory information" not only about Trump but some of his senior campaign aides.

We're told that that derogatory information was described as financial in nature and that those Russians, when speaking to each other, we're talking about how that might give them influence inside a Trump administration.

Now our sources caution that these Russians might be exaggerating this information. They might even be making it up. This information, this conversations collected during routine intelligence gathering of Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

But just for the sake of our viewers, part of the bigger picture here they're piecing together a number of clues, what Russians were saying to each other but also of course what Russians were saying to Trump campaign advisors during the campaign and those advisers back to the Russians. All part of a bigger picture. No conclusive evidence yet of, for instance, collusion but these are still open questions.

LEMON: All right. Mark Preston, to Jared Kushner now, also under scrutiny from the FBI over his meetings with a Russian banker. Here's Sean Spicer on that today.


SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You're asking if he approves of an action that is not an approved action. That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that in general of terms back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.


LEMON: Mark, interesting that Sean is not denying or even denying the attempt at a secret channel.

MARK PRESTON, POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN: Yes. Talk about being to that position, Don, having to stand there and to defend something about the president's son-in-law, who is one of his top advisors but yet not necessarily addressing it and trying to, in many ways, I think artfully just pushing it off on the two generals, you know, the national security advisor and homeland security secretary.

[22:04:59] Two gentlemen with vast military experience, two generals who, you know, you would think would know a little something on this. But a very difficult position to be put in. And quite frankly, we're going to hear this every day now about Jared Kushner until we come to some kind of resolution.

LEMON: I want this because is the former CIA Director Michael Hayden. He was on CNN earlier and here's how he sees Kushner's meeting with about back channels.


MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: In general back channels are an important part of diplomacy. This wasn't in general. This was specific. And I wouldn't even have called it a back channel. At least in the way that governments use back channels.

I've been a back channel. I've taken messages from President Bush to foreign leaders below the radars so they would not attract news, so that the conversation could be discrete. But this was a transition team. This was an administration in waiting, trying to establish secret communications, now secret from the Russians, secret from the Americans while the government in power, President Obama's administration was facing and making decisions of a very serious nature with regard to the Russian federation. I wouldn't call this a back channel at all.


LEMON: So the response has been from the administration and also from supporters that other administrations have had back channels. But you heard what Michael Hayden said there, Mark, he doesn't see the Kushner meetings as establishing of a back channel at all. What do you think about what he said?

PRESTON: Well, I think he's absolutely right. Specifically somebody who's been put in that position as a government employee who is going out and doing a task on behalf of the President of the United States. This was a transition time as well as if we go back to this time and our viewers will remember, this is when the United States were putting sanctions, you know, in place that were not being favorably viewed on of course, by Vladimir Putin and Russia.

And then we have Donald Trump basically trying to say don't worry about it, we're going to take care of the -- take care of the sanctions when we come into office. So I think it was very, very dangerous at a time when they were not in controls of the levers of government for him to do so.

LEMON: Gloria, you have some incredible reporting I understand on President Trump and where his head is at right now following his trip abroad. Lonely and angry?

BORGER: Well, you know, I've spoken with a bunch of his friends who talk to him largely after hours. And you know, these are people he's known for quite some time and they say that before he went on his foreign trip, he was in a glum mood and then he came back it didn't get any better obviously because he came back to a whole host of Russia stories, including the ones we've been talking about tonight with his own son-in-law.

One friend of his said to me that now the president lives within himself, as he put it, which is a dangerous place for Donald Trump to be and he said he sees him emotionally withdrawing because he doesn't really trust a lot of people around him.

So here is a president talking to his friends. He's expressing his anger and upset with the Russia story and they are giving him advice, which is well, maybe you don't have the best staff as they're saying. Forget the forever Trumpers, bring in some professionals as one told them but this is the staff he has to rely on. And so he's caught between, you know, these competing narratives and I think in a way his friends, they're kind of worried about him.

LEMON: Yes. Well, he may not be serving himself well and the people around him as well, Gloria.

BORGER: Right.

LEMON: How do you think this is going to impact his decision making this mood?

BORGER: Well, you know, I don't know. I had -- I had one friend of his say to me, in complaining about the people at the White House into a certain degree about Trump himself, he said look, these people don't play chess. They play checkers. Which means that they're unable to see around corners and what he needs to surround himself with are people are not political neophytes.

Don't forget, Donald Trump has never been in political office before; lots of the people who work for him have never been in the White House. Donald Trump wants to be his own chief of staff and you know, they're trying to push him towards getting good advice and listening to it. And one of his friends said to me, you know, the thing that gives me hope is that the only time Donald Trump listens is when he's really down. And so they think now maybe he'll start listening to his attorneys or maybe to even some people he surrounds himself with.

LEMON: Yes. I heard whoever said -- was that Jim? Was that Jim Sciutto? Jim, I've got to run.


BORGER: Say what?

LEMON: Jim, we need -- we need a premier for this. I'm really over time. But just give me the bottom line on this. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, his son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, the former White House official Boris Epstheyn, who has appeared on this network before, his attorney Michael Cohen now declining to cooperate with Congress.

[22:10:59] I mean, he's being pulled in a number of different directions and this investigation is just widening. All of these names. How should people at home read this?

SCIUTTO: I would give three bullet points. One, this is happening while Russia is interfering in the election. And it's the judgment of U.S. intelligence agencies that they were interfering as the election got closer to help Donald Trump. That's the background.

In the midst of that you have multiple communications between Trump world and Russia which are raising questions and the final point is that the FBI and four congressional committees are still looking into these questions. Not only interference but was there any involvement between Trump world and the Russians.

No conclusive evidence of that. That is key. There's no definitive answer but it's considered worthwhile enough for these various bodies to continue trying to answer that question and to do that they're asking a lot of people close to Trump from his lawyer to his son-in- law and others questions that they don't have answers to yet and I think that's the way we should look at it. I think conclusive yet, no definitive answers but multiple open investigations asking hard questions.

LEMON: Multiple. Thank you, Jim, thank you, Gloria, and thanks, Mark. I appreciate it. And when we come back, why would the White House even need a secret back channel to Russia I'm going to ask a former director of the CIA?


[22:15:02] LEMON: A source telling CNN that the FBI is looking at Jared Kushner's meeting with Russian officials before President Trump took office. Kushner was reportedly seeking a back channel to Vladimir Putin.

I want to bring in now Ambassador James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd, a former CIA counterterrorism official.

Good evening to both of you, gentleman.

Ambassador, I'm going to start with you. Trump administration officials say having two countries communicate through a back channel is standard procedure and a good thing. Do you agree with that, Ambassador?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Sure. And it happens a lot and it happens in different ways. So when I ways director, I had people ask me if I could explore some issues because I was going to have a private lunch with Yeltsin, a trip coming up to Russia. I did. It worked fine.

It's a complicated thing to have a back channel, I think, given the American electoral system. We have a new administration selected by early November and they don't take office until late January. And so there's a period of two plus months in which the old Abbott and Costello routine who's on first kind of...


LEMON: But isn't there one president at a time and if the Trump administration had abided by that there, they might not be in this.

WOOLSEY: Well, there is only one president at a time but this particular president's administration was being extremely uncooperative as I read the press with the incoming administration. For about three days ago we had a lot of press stories about of leaks of individual...


LEMON: But Ambassador, with all due respect.

WOOLSEY: ... individual members, individual private citizens' names coming from the...


LEMON: Hold on, hold on. Ambassador, hold on, with all due respect, the Obama administration said quite openly that they would do everything that they could to facilitate the transition with the Trump administration because of the kindness and the respect that the Bush administration had showed to them during -- even the Trump people during the transition said the Obama people could not have been any nicer to them.

WOOLSEY: I know it said that but the story three or four days ago indicated the Obama administration was taking the names and information about private citizens that had come out in some of their government intercepts on intelligence matters and giving people in the White House, still Obama White House to talk about and analyze.

LEMON: What was the timing of that? When did the Trump people find out about that is that is indeed true? Didn't they just recently find that about that after these investigations into Russia when they talk about the unmasking?


WOOLSEY: I just...

LEMON: They didn't know that back then when they were looking for a back channel, did they?

WOOLSEY: I saw it in the press for the first time a few days ago.

LEMON: Right.

WOOLSEY: But they may well have felt some of the bad vibrations from that kind of behavior.

LEMON: OK. Phil, what do you think? Do you want to respond to any of that?

PHILIP MUDD, COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, CNN: Nonsense. Let's be clear about this and let's talk about context. Once you have a nominee of an American political party, you start to receive top secret intelligence briefing. That's going back to last year the middle of last year.

When you become the president-elect, you can have intelligence briefings as often as you want. Daily if you want. Those presumably include briefings not only on strategic issues like the Iranian nuclear program but on something that was debated as early as last fall. Russian involvement in the American elections.

Meanwhile, we have an FBI investigation open in mid-2016. In the middle of this on December if press reports are accurate on December 1st or 2nd of last year a representative of then-incoming President Trump decides in this environment where there are allegations that are public about Russian involvement in the American election that that representative will meet with the individual, that is Ambassador Kislyak who's at the center of those allegations.

And we don't know what they discussed because the White House hasn't told us. And you're going to tell me that doesn't smell?

LEMON: Yes. I want -- but does he have a point though that maybe -- that maybe Jared Kushner or the incoming administration felt that they in some way could not trust that the Obama administration was giving them the information that they needed. Is that a viable argument, Phil?


WOOLSEY: I think that was pretty straightforward.

MUDD: No. It's not a viable argument. So you want to tell me instead of talking to the Russians at a restaurant in Washington, D.C., instead of using American communications systems that you're going to value the communications of the Russian embassy that has been involved in subverting American democracy more than you'll value via an American process? You want to tell me that makes sense? WOOLSEY: You said...


MUDD: That doesn't help? I'm not saying, excuse me, I'm speaking.

WOOLSEY: You said one thing that's true.

MUDD: Excuse me, wait a moment. My point is it's not whether we know something illegal happened. It's whether this smells and the answer is it does.


WOOLSEY: You said one thing that's true.


[22:20:01] LEMON: Ambassador...

WOOLSEY: The Russians are always working to undermine our electoral system as well as out of Europeans and other democratic countries. They call it disinformation. It's continually something they're doing.

What's new is not that the Russians were disrupting or trying to disrupt our electoral system. What's new is that they were doing it in part with cyber and that create a lot more complexity.

But I think there's nothing untoward about having back channel communications as long as the people who undertake them and are operating under orders of, let's say an incoming president and they report to the people they're supposed to report to, such as, let's say the incoming president.


LEMON: So Jared Kushner would have to be acting under orders of the incoming president in order for this to be legitimate? You think he was?

WOOLSEY: I would think that he would need to have cleared it in some way with either the national security adviser or something in order to have a conversation of that sort but that's not a legal obligation. That's just what...


LEMON: But the incoming national security adviser who would have been Flynn, right Ambassador?

WOOLSEY: At that point, I think that's right.

LEMON: Phil, what do you think of that?

MUDD: No. I think that's accurate. If you look at the variety of national security obligations the president has. North Korea, Iran. The president talks about, he talked about NATO during the electoral process, Russia, China.

It is hard to imagine regardless of whether you think this avenue was correct or incorrect for Jared Kushner to walk into that meeting, assuming it happened, without some sort of conversation with the president, the incoming President of the United States. That's hard to imagine.

LEMON: What was interesting because Sean Spicer today was asked about that back channel and he didn't really -- he didn't really answer it during the briefing. So do you think that the president, the incoming president or the president-elect knew about this? Again, I have to ask you, ambassador.

WOOLSEY: I don't know whether it was him or whether it would have been somebody else in the incoming administration. But I don't see anything untoward about having a back channel communications as long as you're doing it accurately and within the confines essentially of what your superiors have asked of you.

People have back channel communications all the time. It's often done via intelligence services because they can often -- the head of DCI, for example, to travel without people knowing that he's traveling.

LEMON: So, Ambassador, why not disclose that then?

WOOLSEY: Well, there are a lot of things I think have been disclosed too much. And I think that is the real scandal here. That so much has been disclosed, it makes it hard for the secrecy that's essential to the operation of the U.S. government in these areas to continue.

And I think the people who have broken these tacit and formal agreements and taken classified information and turned it loose are basically traitors to the country.

LEMON: So Phil, Kushner and others should not have disclosed communications with the Russians because they should fear that it may be leaked to the press?

WOOLSEY: Disclosed to the president, of course.

LEMON: Disclosed, yes.

WOOLSEY: Disclosed to the national security advisor? Of course. What's wrong with that? There was anything wrong with that.

LEMON: Phil?

MUDD: Let me tell you something about leaks. Let me give you one question you should ask. What did you reveal to your adversary when something was leaked? When this was leaked what did we tell the Russians? They knew already if Jared Kushner was talking to them.

We got two problems with this issue. Number one is appearance, number two is reality. In an environment where the Russians according to the American Intelligence Organizations have interfere with the American elections, how is it appropriate to speak with those Russians, including the target of those investigation the ambassador secretly?

Number two is reality.


WOOLSEY: It depends on...

MUDD: How do we know what they spoke about because the White House won't tell us?


WOOLSEY: The White House owes you and the public no comment on this. It may be something that is substantively very sensitive. The obligation of the government is to get its job done, not to talk to the public about something that might get people killed.

LEMON: But aren't we talking about disclosing something on a form about communications with the Russians. You're saying that Jared Kushner should not have disclosed this because he may be afraid that it may get out to the public. I don't -- I don't see that.

WOOLSEY: No. It's not Kushner informing the president informing the other people who have security clearances in the administration. That's fine. What would be I think despicable would be one of the people and it may well not have been on the Trump side of things.

It may have been on the Obama side of things talking to the press and the public about something that once it is disclosed can get people killed. That's been happening throughout all this and it ought to stop.

LEMON: I don't understand the rationale respectfully, Ambassador of if I am, if it's by law, I am supposed to disclose to my employer who I'm speaking to.

[22:25:05] WOOLSEY: Right. I would think that...


LEMON: What sort of communications I have it wouldn't matter if my employer gave them to someone else. That would be their problem, not my problem.

WOOLSEY: That's the...

LEMON: So, it would be incumbent upon me to be honest on my end rather than worrying about what happens at the next level. That's what I'm thinking.

WOOLSEY: I think if you worked for the national security advisor, and you have a conversation with a Russian banker you ought to report to the national security adviser and say, hey, by the way, he ask to see me and here's what he raise.

LEMON: OK. But he didn't do that. (CROSSTALK)

WOOLSEY: That's just basic. I don't know.


WOOLSEY: I don't know what he did and what he didn't do. But it seems to me that's really very straight forward and what we should not do is the sort of thing that we did right after 9/11, which is somebody in the government leaks to the press that Osama Bin Laden is using a satellite telephone we can listen into and the next day he stopped using it.

LEMON: OK. All right.

MUDD: That's not correct.

WOOLSEY: That's the sort of thing people are doing that as far as I'm concern functionally constitutes...


LEMON: I'm way over time. Phil, you have something you want to add quickly because I have to go.

MUDD: Yes, that was in the 1990s. Excuse me. That wasn't 9/11. I was the counterterrorism guy. That fact is a false fact. Incorrect.

LEMON: OK. Thank you both.

When we come back the investigation reaching more members of team Trump and one of the first -- and one of the first family with all of this could legally mean to the White House. A White House is under siege. We'll tell you when we come back.



[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Tonight there's breaking news on Michael Flynn.

I want to bring in Kenneth McCallion, he is a former federal prosecutor who is the author of "The Essential Guide to Donald Trump," and CNN contributor John Dean, the former White House counsel for President Nixon who is the author of "Conservatives Without Conscience."

I'm so good -- I'm so glad to have both of you on because you have so much knowledge in this. Ken, I'm going to start with you. We're learning now that the former national security advisor, Michael Flynn is going to provide some documents requested by the Senate intelligence committee. Why do you think he's finally starting to cooperate because we didn't think he was in the beginning?

KEN MCCALLION, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think that's true. I think he's between a rock and a hard place. He has a lot of explaining to do. He failed to make disclosures on a security clearance forms and to disclose moneys that he had received, failed to disclose it to the Department of Defense and others.

And I think he's made strategic decision with his lawyers that they have to show some degree of cooperation with the intelligence committee in order to stave off possible indictment.

LEMON: So that they don't look like they're stone walling.

MCCALLION: Exactly. The optics of it are very difficult for them at this point.

LEMON: Mr. Dean, the House intelligence committee also requesting information from the former White House official Boris Epshteyn. But the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen did not cooperate with the Senate, House -- and the House intelligence committees calling their request quote, "poorly phrased, overly broad, not capable of being answered." Do you think he has a point?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, he might have a point, but I think he will ultimately cooperate. There's been later reporting that he plans to indeed do that.


LEMON: OK. Let me read the quote before you answer. He said, "I have not been subpoenaed to testify. And if I am, I will comply and gladly and as I have nothing to hide. There is no shred of evidence that implicates me." So, what do you think?

DEAN: Well, I think, I think they probably will produce documents. He runs a -- he has of course the attorney client privilege because he's a private attorney and not a government attorney.

On Flynn I don't necessarily think it was a move of cooperation. It was a decision not to fight something they were ultimately going to lose. Because what the Senate committee was seeking are business documents and those are the documents he agreed to turn over.

So he had a loser if he took that to court and I think he knew that. His lawyer has got him down the right avenue right now.

LEMON: How much can he say no if he didn't want to turn over any of these documents, can he say no, I'm not doing it?

MCCALLION: Well, I think as just mentioned to the extent there are business documents, he would not have a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. It can be a dicey area when it spills over to personal records but ultimately I think John is right. That ultimately the committee would get a substantial number of documents that will subpoena him.

LEMON: Ken, can you weigh in on this Michael Cohen saying, you know, of course, tonight now he's saying if I am subpoenaed. He says he hasn't been. But do you think that he's right? Do you think it could turn out to be a fishing expedition? Because even, you know, innocent until guilty but any attorney will tell you, you know, don't just do something because who knows what they'll turn at, who knows what they're after.

MCCALLION: Well, it's an interesting analogy because the short answer is the intelligence committee does have a fishing license. They're not an investigative body, they're not a prosecutorial one and they can throw a fairly broad net to see what comes up when they pull in that net, when they pull in the lines.

So Mr. Cohen, I think, ultimately will have to cooperate and provide documents. However, to the extent he can claim a privilege. The privilege would be that of his client, President Trump. So it's going to be very interesting.

LEMON: Would it be President Trump or would be it be of Trump the private citizen. Does he still have, is it still privilege?

MCCALLION: He'd still have an attorney client privilege even before the communications, before the inauguration. But it raises some very interesting issues and can put the Trump White House on the spot as to whether he'll be asserting a privilege on that.

LEMON: I want to get this in because I want to talk about Jared Kushner, John. I want you to weigh in on Jared Kushner under intense scrutiny now for his contacts with Russian officials.

This isn't someone who has been fired like Michael Flynn or like Paul Manafort or someone the White House says is irrelevant like Carter Page. This is the president's top adviser, his son-in-law, how can the White House distance themselves from him?

[22:35:00] DEAN: Not easily. This is somebody who wanders off to the residence at the end of the day occasionally. I think what's happened is he may have been on the radar for some time. Press reporting tends to be often several weeks or more behind what's actually happening in an investigation.

I'm aware of that from of course, the Watergate, I'm aware of it from looking at Iran Contra, the Lewinsky investigation. I notice that these things leak or get public long after the investigation is already there.

He may have actually had some signs this was coming. His lawyers might have had some conversations with agents. So, but it's troublesome and I'm sure Trump is not happy with this. It is effecting his role in the White House. There have long been battles going on and factions within there. And I'm told and what I read widely is that some of those sparks are flying again amongst the factions.

LEMON: Ken, quickly, you write about Kushner, you talk about the scars from his father that he views the government with the degree of skepticism after his, you know, he thinks the government went after his dad and put him in prison. But do you think that he would have one, he would have these contacts with the Russians without the president's knowledge? And two, do you think that he can or may go? MCCALLION: Well, it's possible that the meeting that Jared Kushner

and Michael Flynn had with Ambassador Kislyak and then later the meeting with the banker was done without the knowledge of Donald Trump. He was acting on his father-in-law's and the incumbent president's...


LEMON: You think he'll go away of Flynn and manafort?

MCCALLION: Well, Jared has a lot of explaining to do. Like Flynn he failed to disclose these meetings on his security clearance forms. They also went to great lengths. Remember that Kislyak must have been brought through Trump Tower through a service elevator somewhere else because nobody can find them on the security tapes going through the lobby of Trump Tower.

LEMON: You think there are security tapes. The media was camped there every day.

MCCALLION: Exactly. So, you know, we've had a lot of experience with organized crime cases, counterintelligence cases. When someone acts in such a surreptitious and suspicious manner to try and keep that information from the FBI, counterintelligence sources and the entire Obama White House, they must have been up to something and it's extremely suspicious.

LEMON: Thank you, Kenneth. Thank you, John. I appreciate it.

DEAN: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, critics bashing the president's first trip abroad. Yet, this is what the White House says.


SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was truly an extraordinary week for America and our people.


LEMON: So, was it? We'll discuss.


LEMON: Sean Spicer was back in the spotlight today after a long break and got right back into the swing of things or spin of things depending on how you look at it. Here he is on the president's first foreign trip.


SPICER: It was an unprecedented first trip abroad. We've never seen before at this point of presidency such sweeping reassurance of American interest. The visit also included historic economic development deals for the

United States. Those meetings were marked by outstanding success. Trump carried out a semi-revolution.


LEMON: Here to discuss, former Congressman Jack Kingston, a CNN political commentator and former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, former White House communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, and CNN contributor, Jason Kander.

So what do you make of, Jennifer, your reaction to Sean Spicer putting this very positive spin on the president's first foreign trip?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Yes. It was really chilling to hear because that wasn't spin. That was propaganda and you could view it was quite obvious that it was written by Donald Trump and it was written for let's say, listening pleasure of Donald Trump.

This is, that was not, you know, there will be times when I work for President Obama and President Clinton where you could talk to the press you would go into the Oval Office to get their take on something and are be able to say I spoke with the president and he thinks this.

But this is clearly written. No staff person would say this over the top propaganda. It was written by the president. And you know, that's not -- that's not the actions of a stable -- of a stable president and I find it really scary. Chilling.

LEMON: What do you say to that, Jack?

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: I think that's ridiculous. I think it was one of the most successful first presidential trips in the history of the United States of America. And the last...


LEMON: But just to be clear, you think it's ridiculous...

KINGSTON: It's so bright...

LEMON: ... her comment or do you think it's ridiculous what Sean Spicer said?

KINGSTON: Yes. But well, it was ridiculous for her, it was ridiculous to say that's the sign of an unstable president. What kind of ridiculous jargon is that? I shouldn't even react. I know better than to react stuff like that. Jennifer, I took your bait. Let me get back to the question on Don.

PALMIERI: It wasn't a bait. That's what I think.

KINGSTON: You started out, it was absolutely bait, I fell for it. But he visited our Middle Eastern allies which he sent a very strong signal that we're going to be with you to fight terrorism over 50 Muslim leaders from various nations where at his very historic speech then he goes straight to Israel and meets with Netanyahu and the Palestinian authority.

Never been done before. Then he goes to visits with the pope.


LEMON: OK, Jack. We carry the truth. I got your timeline. But my question...

KINGSTON: But Don, this was all made. This was good stuff.

LEMON: Here's the question for you. I understand. You think it was successful and we get it. You think it was successful. I will allow you that. The question if it was so successful, and a serious question, why didn't the president take any questions from anyone, international press, American press, anyone during -- why didn't he hold any press briefings overseas?

KINGSTON: Well, I don't know that he's obligated to do that. But I think that in terms of him getting his message out, I think what Sean did today is probably the right thing and that is to not get bogged down into questions but to tell your story.

[22:45:07] And then if the press decides not to cover it, then you're faced with whatever every other politician is, you just got to try to push your media, your message out whatever means you can.

But I think the fact that he took, did not have any press conferences, he still was available to the press and that was part of him controlling his message. I wouldn't say that the press...


LEMON: But how was he available to the press?

KINGSTON: When he was giving speeches. I saw his speeches here in America. And a great state, for example...


LEMON: Jack, come on. Jack, you know better than that. That doesn't mean being available to the press.

KINGSTON: Don, let me ask you this.

LEMON: He's doing -- he's doing what he's supposed to do on a foreign trip. He's giving speeches and he's meeting with foreign leaders. He's also supposed to hold press conferences to answer questions about what he's doing on that trip.

KINGSTON: Says who? Don, says who?

LEMON: Says history.

KINGSTON: Hillary Clinton was supposed to hold press conferences as a candidate for the President of the United States...


LEMON: Hillary Clinton is not the president of the United States.

KINGSTON: ... where 200 days without holding press conference.

LEMON: We're not -- we're not -- Jack, let's not litigate the campaign over again.

KINGSTON: I know. But what I'm saying is, the people has to make their own decision.

LEMON: Jack, if Hillary Clinton was president of the United States...


KINGSTON: Don, I'm just saying.

LEMON: Let me ask -- let me ask you a question. If Hillary Clinton was the president of the United States and she did not have a press conference as she was on a foreign trip, we would be asking the same questions. Why didn't she hold a press conference and holding her accountable? So let's not do that. Let's talk about this president and what's happening now. And I have more questions for you later.

KINGSTON: There wasn't much curiosity.

LEMON: But let's not litigate this. Well, she's not president of the United States. OK, Jack?


LEMON: If she was president, then we'd be having a different conversation. Go ahead -- go ahead, Mr. Kander.

KANDER: Look, let's go back to Jennifer's comment because what we really need to focus on here is the fact that the President of the United States either really thinks that this trip that ended with a bunch of European leaders literally making fun of him, taking it -- and they're not laughing with him. They're laughing at him and therefore laughing at our country.

So either the president really does think that this went really well or he's just decided to completely deny all of it and send Sean Spicer out there to continue a false narrative.

The problem with that is that everybody keeps asking themselves, when is President Trump going to get better at his job. And the answer is that anybody in any job if they refuse to take any responsibility for their own actions and they're only interested in blaming other people, blaming the press, blaming their staff then they're never going to get better.

So at some point President Trump needs to look in the mirror and say maybe it's me. Maybe I need to do better. That's what the country needs of him.

LEMON: I think Jack Kingston agrees with everything you just said. But unfortunately, we have to get on the other side of the break. That was sarcasm. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Sean Spicer doing battle with reporters today over so-called fake news.

Back with me now my panel and joining us is CNN political commentator, Alice Stewart. Alice, help because Jack is trying to hog the entire panel. And we're talking about, listen the language and what happened today.

KINGSTON: I'm getting ganged up on.

LEMON: No you're not, you're just saying crazy things.

PALMIERI: I also think...


ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I don't believe -- I don't believe that.

LEMON: You're not being ganged up. You're sometimes defending the indefensible. But I want to talk about Hope Hicks who put the story, put out this response today. He said, President Trump, let me tell you what is it about, Washington Post recently run a story titled snubs and slice are part of the job in Trump's White House and then the White House spokesperson, the spokeswoman Hope Hicks push back in a report.

Here's the statement. "President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy, which is infectious to those around him. He has an unparalleled ability to communicate with people whether he is speaking to a room of three or an arena of 30,000. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats every one with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor and has amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible."

STEWART: Bravo. I want Hicks to write my eulogy right now. I will pay him for it.


LEMON: I thought, I actually thought that was a headline, I thought that was a story from an onion, from the onion when I read it. I mean, come on, Alice.

STEWART: Yes. Hope Hicks...


PALMIERI: maybe she was talking about you, Don.


PALMIERI: Hope Hicks didn't write it. Donald Trump wrote it.

KINGSTON: Hey, Don, well...


LEMON: That was Alice. Her name is Alice not Jack. Go ahead, Alice.


STEWART: Obviously you're going to say favorable things about your boss. And anyone on that team they're there to support him and put him in his best light.

And when there's a story like this out there obviously they're going to put out a statement that shows him in the best light. And I applaud her for doing her job. I'm sure a lot of folks could pick that apart very easily. But she's just doing her job and they're all in the great...


LEMON: Do you think that it is credible for a spokesperson to put out about anyone? I mean, any boss? You would say listen I don't always agree with my boss but he's great at this or whatever and sometimes misunderstood. But no one goes on to say he has a magnetic personality. Come on. Come on, Alice.

STEWART: Yes, anyone in the communications position doesn't put a clarifier on a statement like that. You put it out there and let the statement speak for itself. That's just how it -- that's just how it works.

LEMON: OK. So, Jason, let's talk about more about what's coming out of people's mouths at the White House. Spicer got into heated argument where reporters after failing to come out with a sturdy example of fake news.


SPICER: I think he's pleased with the work of his staff. I think that he is frustrated like I am and like so many others to see stories out that are patently false, to see narratives that are wrong, to see quote, unquote, "fake news."

When you see stories get perpetrated that are absolutely false, that are not based in fact, that is troubling. And he's rightly concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give an example of fake news, Sean.

SPICER: Yes, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please. SPICER: Sure. On Friday the president was having a great discussion

at the G-7 and someone from the BBC and ultimately an incoming reporter the New York Times re-tweeted that the president was being rude by disrespecting the Italian prime minister.

When in fact, you all, and every one of the meetings that we sit in and watch the president with that one ear piece been used other presidents, and yet, the president did a great job at NATO building stronger bonds, building stronger bonds at the G-7 increasing America's presence around the world.

And that's the kind of thing that the BBC and ultimately, reporter who's now joining the New York Times push out and perpetuate with no apology. Why are you shaking your head there? I mean, it's true. You did it. No, I didn't mean, but I think...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess reporters make mistakes.

SPICER: No, no but that's just fake.



LEMON: Jason, was that an example of so-called fake news?

KANDER: No. I'll give you couple examines of fake news. How about when the President of the United States said three to five million folks voted illegally in the election or when he claimed that the former president wire tapped him in Trump Tower. We can go through his greatest hits.

[22:55:09] The biggest problem with this is that when every single day no matter what happens in the news, the President of the United States and people who work for him say things that are patently untrue. When that happens it is not just a credibility problem for the president of the United States. It becomes a credibility problem for the United States.

And what that means is that when this president at some point has to tell the American people something that is very important for us to know for our safety, for our security, what happens when a lot of people, even people maybe who voted for him don't believe him.


KANDER: It puts us in danger and it puts us in danger when other countries can't believe.

LEMON: Jennifer, I have 30 seconds left here, do you -- do you feel like this president is writing his own press releases now. That cannot be good for the country.

PALMIERI: No. I really do. I really think that he is. Those scripts that you heard from both Hope Hicks and Sean Spicer, it's very clear that that's coming from the president himself. No staff person would ever do it because you understand that it's destructive and counterproductive.

And you know, I really agree with what Jason said. I think of everything that I'm concern about with the Trump presidency the fact that the world and the United States, that Americans can't rely on the President of the United States, to tell the truth, and can't take him at his word is a very destructive and scary, a scary thing.

And you know you saw that...



PALMIERI: ... you saw with like Merkel what Merkel said this weekend that she names the Russians that the orphan America can't be -- they can't be relied on us.

KINSTON: What about the story that -- what about this fake story that Comey had asked for more money for the investigation. Not true at all. What about the story about Rosenstein that was, that he said he was going to resign? Not true at all. What about the story about the Martin Luther king bust that was moved out of the Oval Office.


LEMON: Jack, you're talking about stories -- you're not -- you're talking about stories that -- those weren't stories, and you don't know if any of those are true are not.

KINSGTON: Those were stories.

LEMON: But listen. But here's the thing. Those were not put out to intentionally deceive someone, that is what fake news is. It's not stories that you disagree with or sometimes -- or sometimes when reporters or news organizations make a mistake, and then clarify or say they were wrong.

That's not fake news, that's the way the world works. So you're always perfect. Do you always say the right thing? Do you always speak -- do you always know the exact same answer?

KINGSTON: Well, I'm just saying there's absolutely fake news. And Don, let me -- let me...


LEMON: You didn't answer my question. Jack, jack, you didn't answer my question. Jack, do you -- are you perfect?

KINGSTON: I absolutely am not.

LEMON: OK. Then no one is. And no organization is. I got to go.



LEMON: We'll be right back.