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Trump Got a Match in Corker's Persona; Iran Nuclear Deal to be Discussed by Trump's Cabinet; Las Vegas Shooter's Plan Slowly Coming to Light; President Trump Proud of V.P.'s Walk-out from a Game. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 9, 2017 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: New developments tonight in the Las Vegas investigation and the top republican questioning President Trump's fitness for office.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

I want you to listen to what Senator Bob Corker tells the New York Times.


BOB CORKER, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I do worry that he's -- sometimes I feel like he's on a reality show of some kind, you know, when he's talking about these big foreign policy issues. And, you know, he doesn't realize that, you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with the kind of comments that he's making.


LEMON: It is impossible to overstate what a big deal this is. This is not politics as usual. This is a respected member of the president's own party on the record saying he's afraid the commander in chief could blunder into World War III. Think about that.

So, is Senator Corker saying what others in his party are thinking and do they have an obligation to speak up too? Plus new developments in the investigation of the Vegas massacre to tell you about.

Police making a major revision to the timeline of the shooting. They now say the security guard who was wounded was shot before the killer began firing on the crowd. More on that in just a few minutes.

But let's get straight to the news about Senator Bob Corker questioning President Trump's fitness for office and worrying that we could being headed towards World War III.

Joining me now is CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Gloria, an unbelievable story. We have some breaking news. I understand that President Trump has a pretty interesting lunch meeting scheduled for tomorrow. Tell me about that.

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes. You know, he's going to meet with two important people as he heads into deciding about what he's going to do about the Iran nuclear deal. His secretary of defense, Mattis, and his secretary of state, who if you recall he's had a little bit of difficulty with lately, Secretary Tillerson.

These are two people, you should know, who are quite close to Senator Corker. The one we've been talking about all day today, who said that the president needs alternative supervision over the weekend.

And the people that Corker is talking about who supervise the president are those two men with whom he is very close. And the third one would be General Kelly, who is his chief of staff.

LEMON: So, Gloria, the administration officials CNN that President Trump is not finished with Senator Corker. That's after Corker told the New York Times this. Watch this.


CORKER: One of the reasons why I supported Mattis and Tillerson and Kelly last week is, again, as long as there's people like that around him who are able to talk him down and, you know, when it gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision is made, I think we'll be fine.

I don't -- I worry that he's -- again, sometimes I feel like he's on a reality show of some kind, you know. It's not that -- when he's talking about these big foreign policy issues. And you know, he doesn't realize that, you know, we could be heading towards World War III with the kind of comments that he's making.


LEMON: Gloria, this is extraordinary because lawmakers say they hear it all the time from republican lawmakers. We hear it when the cameras aren't rolling. And so I'm wondering, this is the first of many, but what is the fallout from this?

BORGER: Well, you know, it's hard to say. First of all, there hasn't exactly been a large group of republican senators who are willing to come out and go on the record and say that they agree with Senator Corker, and that's largely because he's an inhibited because he's decided not to run for re-election and the rest of these senators do have to.

And they also believe that they have to work with the president and try and get something done. So they're not going to come out center stage like Senator Corker did. And you know, I don't believe he did this off-the-cuff. I believe this is something he thought an awful lot about and he decided that he ought to speak what his version of the truth is, because he seize a lot of his friends in the administration.

We wrote an awful lot about Secretary Kelly last week trying to contain the damage after it leaked out that Tillerson had privately called the president a moron. And so, that frustration showed when Senator Corker started talking about this last week.

[22:04:56] And you, in that quote you just -- you just ran he said these people have to contain the president. And I think a lot of people know that, but they do want to get tax reform passed. They want to figure out what to do on health care. And they've got constituents they need to answer to, and so they're not going to line up behind Senator Corker.

LEMON: Yes. And listen, I've listened to the entire audio that the New York Times released. I mean, he goes much further. He admits it's hurting the Republican Party. They can't get anything done. They have no legislative achievements because they feel that the president is tweeting and affecting their ability to get things done.

BORGER: Well, you know, this is all about personal grievance for the president. What occurred here is that he saw Corker go on the record last week saying that the president needed to be controlled by the three men we've been talking about and that they stood between the White House and chaos.

And the president saw that talked about on television, I presume, and took it as the personal insult that it was and then started tweeting about the senator.

And it became very personal because he said that the senator begged him to endorse him if he were to run for re-election and then the senator responded because that's not the way he tells the story. He told the president that he wasn't going to run for re-election according to Corker.

And then it, you know, and then it involved from there and you got into this little tit for tat in which Corker at the end finally threw up his hands and said, OK, we need adult supervision at the White House. That's not the way we ought to conduct conversations in this country between a senator and a president.

But unfortunately, that's the new normal, I'm afraid.

LEMON: Yes. And finally, someone had the courage whether he's running for re-election or not to come out and say again, what many in Washington what we hear so much but people don't want to go on the record with it.

Gloria, I want you to stick around because I want you to be involved in this conversation. I want to bring in CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, Robby Mook, and political analyst David Drucker.

Hello to all of you. So here is what I want to do. I want to go through this. I want to go to the time line here. Corker came to the defense of Secretary of State Tillerson last Wednesday. Gloria was telling us about that. Let's watch that and then we'll continue on.


CORKER: I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis, and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos. And I support them very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: So, Ana, I want to get the first word from you. Over the weekend, President Trump shoots off a few tweets and he says Corker begged him for his endorsement. And then CNN sources say that that is not true. Corker responds with this. "It is a shame the White House has become an adult day-care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning."

Ana, we know this would get under the press -- he knew this would get under the president's skin. What is the end game here?

ANA NAVARRO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I don't know what the end game is for Donald Trump because I do know that Donald Trump still needs Bob Corker. He needs Bob Corker to get his appointments for foreign -- you know, his foreign service appointments through. He needs Bob Corker to get legislation through.

And with a two vote margin in the Senate he basically needs Bob Corker's vote for practically any piece of legislation that may want to be passed.

I do also know that Bob Corker no longer needs Donald Trump but does care about his country. More than that, cares enormously about foreign policy. That is his alley. That is his bailiwick. I think it bother Corker to see the way that Tillerson is being treated. To see Tillerson go out there and have to give practically what should be labeled a hostage video saying that he had not called this president -- basically, you know, hinting that he had not called the president a moron.

That is demeaning for the representative of the United States to the world as secretary of state. So I think Bob Corker is taking this up because he is talking for those that cannot talk. He is giving voice to those that say these things and think these things privately but cannot endure the consequences, don't have the courage to endure the consequences.

Now, I will tell republicans in Congress, republicans in the Senate, listen, guys, stop owing loyalty to a guy that shows no loyalty to you. Donald Trump has been attacking republicans for months now.

Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Bob Corker. You name it. He has no loyalty to republicans. And so really it's a shame to see republicans cede, give in on their principles and convictions to be loyal to a person who does not show that he understands loyalty is a two-way.

LEMON: So David Drucker, what are you hearing from republicans?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, look, this is, Don, a part of a fight that has been going on for several months.

[22:10:01] And the only difference over the last weekend is that somebody actually punched back. We heard -- we saw Donald Trump the president throughout the summer go on Twitter, usually on the weekends but not always limited to the weekends and he went after republican after republican. They were responsible for healthcare reform failing, they were

responsible for this or they were responsible for that. And if you talk to republicans on Capitol Hill, what all of this has done, rightly or wrongly from their point of view, is totally deplete any amount of trust that they have in the president in number one, his ability to do his part in governing and number two, they don't trust that he understands policy enough or will stick with policy enough for them to actually get to the finish line.

What most of them are concerned about right now is tax reform, because if they don't get tax reform, the president is not on the ballot until 2020. He will continue to run against them anyway, meaning republicans in Congress, not democrats. It has worked for him. They're on the ballot in 2018.

They are in desperate need of this tax reform bill or their entire base and their donor base could go south on them, wash their hands of them and be done. And what they worry about the most is in these tax reform negotiations they'll reach a deal with the president, they'll reach agreements and he'll change his mind.

And so I think what you saw from Bob Corker is some of that frustration boiling over in a -- from a voice that is liberated enough to speak. And does he have possibly his own agenda there? So does everybody on Capitol Hill.


LEMON: Yes. But liberated enough now, though, and I hate to interrupt you, because they're liberated enough now because at one point, Robby, Senator Corker was under consideration to be vice president and secretary of state. I mean, where was -- where was -- where was Corker before? Is it a cop-out to only speak out now? I mean, President Trump's antics are not new.

ROBBY MOOK, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, that's right. I think this is because he's not running for reelection. But unfortunately, I think this is a lose-lose for both sides. This is a loss for Donald Trump because I agree with David. They've got to pass tax reform and this may be the day we look back and say this is the day it started to die or at least started to die.

Because the president just lost a key ally. He can't continue to lose votes for that tax bill. And secondly, I do think as Ana was saying that Senator Corker is a patriotic American. I think he cares about our foreign policy. I think by creating this tension with the president he's further endangering the Iran deal. He's further endangering a sane approach to North Korea.

And yet again here we are, the president is talking about pulling out of this Iran deal, which would be tremendously destabilizing for the entire world, and we're talking about drama. We're not talking about the policy substance. That in itself is dangerous.


LEMON: I need to bring in though.

MOOK: It makes it easier for the president to back out.

LEMON: I need to bring in Andre Bauer who is a CNN political commentator as well. Now I want to read this new reporting that we have from the Washington Post, Andre. Welcome to the panel, by the way.


LEMON: "Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of NewsMax and a Trump friend said never truly severs relationships. There is always a dialogue. And with Corker, this isn't a total end point. Trump sees relationships as negotiations and that's what they're in."

So Andre, is that what this is about? This is all some sort of big negotiation here?

BAUER: You know, I don't know if it's that, Don, but I mean, he played golf with Lindsey Graham today. Think back to just a few months ago on how bitter he's been with Lindsey Graham. Trump has a way of bringing folks back into the fold as a businessman.

At the end of the day Corker cannot be against the tax plan. I mean, it's part of his legacy as a republican and as businessman. I mean, he ran on that kind of stuff years ago. He's actually a South Carolinian by birth, so hats off to him as a fellow South Carolinian.

But he's going to be back in the fold. He and Trump will be working back together. This is kind of a weird politicians make strange golf fellows, I guess we could say today, but at the end of the day both of them want tax reform more than they want anything right now as far as accomplishments. And so I think that, you know, it's good for Corker. It raises his public visibility. Maybe he's thinking about a 2020 run himself.

BORGER: He could. He could.


NAVARRO: Don, can I add on something?

LEMON: Yes. Quickly because I have a lot to get to. Go. Ana, first.

NAVARRO: You said a little bit ago that, you know, Bob Corker had not spoken up until now that he's not running for re-election. Actually, if you'll remember, Bob Corker, an important voice from the south spoke up against Trump after Charlottesville...


LEMON: In August. Right.

NAVARRO: ... after the reaction to Charlottesville when he had not yet, Bob Corker, decided. And I do believe he was still deliberating and agonizing about this decision then. So I give him credit and I give him a lot of kudos for having done then what a lot of other republicans were not willing to do.

LEMON: Gloria, I know you want to weigh in on this but let me play this bite and then I get your response.


LEMON: This is Bannon speaking out on Corker tonight. Here is what he told Fox News.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: McConnell and Corker and the entire click, establishment globalist click on Capitol Hill have to go. And if he needs any -- if we need any more proof about what they think, you heard it tonight. It's an absolute disgrace.

If Bob Corker has any honor, any decency, he should resign immediately. He should not let those words stand away he said about the President of the United States.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS: He wouldn't win...


[22:15:02] LEMON: So, Gloria, I wanted to play that because he's calling on Corker to resign.


LEMON: You have some new reporting on President Trump's former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

BORGER: Right. And what Steve Bannon is doing is saying that all of these republican incumbents who were up for re-election should be defeated by anti-establishment, populist candidates. And he spent the weekend in Connecticut trying to recruit candidates, and he's going all over the country to try and recruit candidates because he believes and he says, look, the president understands and agrees that the senators, the republicans in the Senate are not his people.

And this is a president who cares about his voters and his supporters, and he wants to get those people in the United States Senate. So what Bannon is doing from the outside, yes, he's calling for Corker to resign and I think that's just a bit of drama here.

But what he's trying to do is defeat republican incumbents. Have them all primaried. And so what you're going to find is the president in a situation where he may have to choose between the incumbents in the Senate that he may support even though he doesn't like them and Bannon's candidates.

We saw that play out in Alabama where the president was for the candidate that lost, Luther Strange, that had been endorsed by the establishment. And Judge Moore, the candidate that was endorsed by Bannon won.

So, you know, I think that the president is going to have to make a decision here. And Bannon says he's doing it on behalf of the president so he can actually get his agenda through after 2018.


BORGER: And he's nationalizing that election.

LEMON: I've got to go. We somehow Ana and Andre disappeared for a minute on the screen. Maybe that is storm related. But thank you, Gloria. Everybody else, stick around. Hopefully they will -- the sattelites will work.

When we come back, is there much more to Senator Corker's comment? Is he trying to build a case for removing the president?

Plus, the latest on the deadly wildfires spreading across California. At least 10 people have been killed. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Senator Bob Corker saying out loud with some of his colleagues are only whispering, questioning President Trump's fitness for office.

My panel is back with me now. So, Andre, Corker, a leader on Capitol Hill, he held some conservative state, he's questioning the president's fitness for office. That is not a small thing.

BAUER: No, absolutely not. And it's not healthy for the party nor it is healthy for either one of them, quite frankly. You know, the president needs to have advocates up there for his policy. And you know, it's one thing if he votes for it, but he really needs somebody to help him shepherd some of these policies.

And Bob Corker is a stalwart on Capitol Hill. He's respected on both sides. I actually am a fan of Corker. But at the end of the day, the president has got time. He's got several more years, and he's going to get some of these policies through and it's helped for the republican establishment to help him on his policy or some of them aren't going to be with us in a year.

LEMON: Is it helpful for them to tell the truth, though? Isn't that helpful?

BAUER: Sometimes you air your dirty laundry in the backyard, not the front yard. You know, they could have a prayer meeting outside of the Twitter war, and it's probably better for the party.

LEMON: But who airs the dirty laundry more than the president? I mean, even his own, you know, foreign -- even his own generals were sitting there and he said, you know, I need you to bring information to me quicker. He's the one who does it all the time. And now he's upset because someone else is saying how they feel about him. What's the -- so why the double standard? BAUER: Well, look, Don, at the end of the day Trump wins on these

Twitter wars. You know, the average Johnny lunch bucket, they get their news from this. And almost every time and I can go back if I can.


BAUER: Trump has come out on top of his Twitter wars and so he's learned the art of this thing better than about anybody I've ever seen. At the end of the day he'll prevail. I still would rather see him do it behind closed doors. I don't think we're going to change Donald Trump at this point in time of the game.

LEMON: Yes. I want to move on. But this is more than a Twitter war. This is two people speaking to the cameras.

So, Ana, I want you to take a look at this. This is from the Washington Post. One Trump confidant likened the president to a whistling -- to whistling tea pot. Saying that when he does not blow off scene he can turn into a pressure cooker and explode. I think we're in the pressure cooker territory said this person who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

So when a Trump confidant is likely the president -- likening the president to a pressure cooker ready to explode, I mean, what do you think of that?

BAUER: I don't think that much of a confidante, quite frankly.


LEMON: That's for Ana.

BAUER: Sorry.

NAVARRO: I'd say -- I'd say America, you might need some sleeping medication tonight. Sleep well because isn't it comforting to know that the man who has got the nuclear codes is being compared by a confidant to a pressure cooker.

LEMON: Yes, to a tea top, right.

NAVARRO: Look, it's scary. We have seen this over and over from Donald Trump. Everything that Bob Corker said is true. Is there anybody out there who does not believe that part of John Kelly's job includes being a highly decorated four star baby-sitter.

Is there anybody out who doesn't think that Donald Trump makes up things otherwise known as lying, blatant lying. He did it about Bob Corker.

So we have got a President of the United States who acts crazy. It's crazy to be staging and to be giving more flames to an NFL protest fabricated staged debate and stunt when you've got 3.5 million Puerto Ricans still living in perilous conditions and who have no water and electricity, when you have got 58 families mourning the death of their loved ones in the most -- the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history.

And he is spending time on that. That is crazy. It is insane. It is indefensible. And somebody has got to say it. If it took Bob Corker resigning and not running again for him to say it, well, thank God. Maybe more of them should retire.

LEMON: Robby, I want to get your take on. This is what Michael -- Michael Smerconish is saying how he is interpreting Corker's message. Watch this.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, HOST, CNN: Well, the lawyer in me hears something different. I'm thinking of the 25th Amendment, section 4, which speaks to a president who is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

[22:25:02] Let's just reflect on some of the word choices that Senator Corker has made, because post- Charlottesville he was questioning the stability of the president. Now he's using the word reckless. Now he's using the word chaos. Now he's saying that he concerns me. I think he's planting seeds for questioning the fitness, the mental fitness of the president pursuant to the 25th Amendment to continue with his responsibility.


LEMON: Is Corker planting seeds, Robby?

MOOK: Well, he may be. I don't know. I don't know that that's terribly realistic right now, because I don't see an article of impeachment passing the house anytime soon.

But I do think that the republicans in both chambers are going to be between a rock and a hard place when it comes to election time because I don't think they're going to accomplish anything. And those members need that to go back to their districts.

What we're seeing that run up against is Donald Trump doesn't really care about policy details. He doesn't need to get anything done. And when he's winning, it's exactly what Ana said. When we're talking about the NFL, when we're talking about drama and intrigue.

He's not good at consoling the victims of this tragedy. He's not good at the policy. He wants Bannon out there saying we're going to primary every because that's what he wants us talking about. I think this will begin to collide with the interest of these republican members as we get close to the election on and when this tax bill either fails or isn't really much of a tax bill at all.

LEMON: David, I hate to put you -- do this to you but I'm up against the wall. Is it fair to question the president's fitness for office? Ten seconds if you have it.

DRUCKER: Well, look, I think that that is something that's very subjective. I think democrats have done that from the beginning. Some republicans do it privately but it doesn't matter. He will be president until 2020 and democrats are going to have to feel some of the competitive to beat him because of the political makeup of the country.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate your time and the conversation.

When we come right back, new information tonight on the Las Vegas shooting. Investigators giving a new timeline of events that changes key facts about what we know went down that night.


[22:31:30] LEMON: We have new developments tonight in the investigation into the Las Vegas massacre.

CNN's senior national respondent Kyung Lah has the latest. Kyung?

KYUNG LAH, SENIOR U.S. CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, we've had a significant shift in the timeline. Up until now we had been told that the mass shooting had happened first. A security guard had then interrupted and had diverted that fire to the security guard. The sheriff now saying that that is in reverse, that the security guard was shot first. A full six minutes before security cameras saw the first shots fired into the crowd.

Here is what the sheriff told us.


JOSEPH LOMBARDO, SHERIFF, CLARK COUNTY, NEVADA: He was injured prior to the mass volley of shooting. What we have learned is Mr. Campos was encountered by the suspect prior to his shooting to the outside world.


LAH: Jesus Campos, the security guard, had been responding to some sort of door alarm on the 32nd floor. He heard as he was responding to that alarm drilling coming from the gunman's room. That's why he turned his attention to that room. That's when he was shot.

The sheriff saying that the drilling appeared to be caught midway, that the gunman was surprised, and that's why he started shooting at the security guard. We are also told that this appeared to have surprised the gunman.

The drilling was to place some cameras or some guns in that position. So what was his plan if he was surprised? What was it at this point? The sheriff simply didn't know.

He was also saying that the plan -- the idea of a second shooter is completely nonexistent. Those are the words from the sheriff. Saying that those reports are unsubstantiated. There are some 200 sightings of this gunman around Las Vegas and he was always lone.

So, all of this is frustrating for investigators. They still don't have a motive. As of this point they're trying to build a background, a psychological background of this gunman. And CNN has obtained something that may help them as far as the picture of that, what was happening inside this man's mind.

In October 2013, deposition he was suing a local Vegas casino and in that lawsuit, in that lawsuit is a deposition where he was describing his life. He talked about how he was the biggest video poker player of all time, that he would gamble a million dollars a night.

He preferred to gamble at night, sleep during the day. He was prescribed valium for anxiousness, he said. He liked to have easy access to a doctor, so he had that doctor on retainer. He was also asked by the attorneys does he have any history of mental health illness and he said no. Don.

LEMON: Kyung Lah, thank you. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now Tom Ahern, he is a retired ATF senior special agent, and criminologist Casey Jordan. Thank you both for joining us tonight.

Tom, I'm going to start with you. We now have an updated timeline for the attack at 9.59 as you heard the security guard was shot by the gunman. At 10.05 the gunman fired his first shots on the crowd. Six minutes passed. I mean, what do you make of that? Would that have been enough time for police to respond sooner?

THOMAS AHERN, RETIRED SENIOR SPECIAL AGENT, ATF: Well, Don, the security guard, when he responded to the open door, probably startled the shooter. The shooter wasn't expecting him to be up there. However, the shooter did have surveillance technology set up in his room to detect any kind of movement in the hallway outside of his room. So that security guard in essence saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.

LEMON: What do you think was happening during those six minutes, Tom?

AHERN: I believe that he engaged the security guard and he fired over 200 rounds in the hallway at the security guard, which diverted him from directing his attention at the crowd below at the concert.

LEMON: You were shaking your head, Casey, when he said that, that he believed the security guard saved thousands of lives by...

CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: I know it's just a silver lining, but how fortuitous. I mean, he went there to investigate an open door alarm. I mean, what are the chances which was not Paddock's room. It was just a red herring.


JORDAN: When he got up there I don't think Paddock -- I think he had a lot more time that he had been planning to set up this massacre and that interruption, I agree, saved hundreds, possibly thousands of lives.


LEMON: Horrible thing. JORDAN: He had to start shooting because he had been found out.


JORDAN: He didn't have as much preparation time as he thought.

LEMON: He didn't expect anyone to be on to him that early.


[22:35:01] LEMON: So here is what the Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said to investigators what they have learned about the shooter at this point. Watch this.


LOMBARDO: Currently we do not believe there is one particular event in the suspect's life for us to key on. We believe he decided to take the lives he did and he had a very purposeful plan that he carried out.


LEMON: So no sign of any precipitating events, but this man took the lives of 58 people, injured hundreds more. What personality type does this kind of behavior fit? This is for you, Casey.

JORDAN: Well, in criminology we call this a pseudo commando but it's not that easy. It's a constant variables that are very unique to Paddock. And it didn't happen overnight. It's probably I'm going to take it back to like four years, 2013 around the time of that deposition.

He sued a casino for a slip and fall. I mean, this man was just always out to get everybody and he lost that lawsuit. So I think this has been brewing in him for years and years and years. Why that day, why that venue, because he cased other ones as options.


JORDAN: We may never know. But don't underestimate the ability of a long and slow investigation to slowly turn up those clues, because he was planning this, it was purposeful. He didn't want us to know the answer. That's part of his power and control.

LEMON: We appreciate you both bringing us up-to-date on the information. This is a short conversation this time but a much longer one as we get new developments. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Casey.

JORDAN: Good to be here.

LEMON: I appreciate it. When we come back, the vice president walking out of an NFL game in protest of players kneeling during the national anthem. Was this walk out orchestrated and how much did it cost you, the taxpayer?

Plus, the latest on deadly wildfires in California, spreading across 57,000 acres in eight counties. At least 10 people have been killed.


LEMON: There's some breaking news. President Trump tweeting out praise tonight for Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones who is threatening to bench players who kneel during the national anthem. The president also praising Mike Pence for walking out of the 49ers Colts game. The vice president doing so after some 49 players knelt down. It's controversial in more ways than one.

More tonight from CNN's Rene Marsh. Renee.

RENE MARSH, AVIATION CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, critics are not arguing against the vice president flying on Air Force Two. The bone that they have to pick is whether this was the best use of tax dollars because it appears the vice president made the trip on Air Force Two knowing he'd walk out before the main event.

Vice President Pence's NFL walk out Sunday has stirred up controversy.


ERIC REID, PLAYER, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: This looks like a P.R. stunt to me. He knew our team has had the most players protest. He knew that we were probably going to do it again.


MARSH: Pence left the Indianapolis Colts versus San Francisco 49er game in his home state after some players from the 49ers took a knee during the national anthem. Something they've done at all five games this season.

Sunday started with a tweet. "Looking forward to cheering for our Colts and honoring Peyton Manning." At 11.56 a.m. Pence departs his hotel. Aides tell reporters he may leave the game early, and they should stay in their vehicles.

Around 12.55 p.m., as expected some players from the 49ers kneeled during the national anthem. At 1.08 p.m. Pence tweets "I left the Colts game because POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag or our national anthem."

After just 30 minutes Pence's motorcade departs. By 2.16 the president claimed credit tweeting he asked at V.P. Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled. Disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and second lady Karen.

By 7.02 the vice president lands in Los Angeles for a private fund- raiser. By then the critics were pouncing, calling it an expensive political stunt on taxpayers' dime.


EPHRAIM SALAAM, RETIRED NFL PLAYER: To use taxpayers' money to get your agenda across, to prove a point I think is reckless and it's dangerous.


MARSH: Air Force Two costs $30,000 per hour to fly. Pence's flight from Las Vegas to Indianapolis Saturday cost about $100,000. Pence then flew from Indianapolis to Los Angeles costing about $142,500. Grand total, nearly a quarter million dollars.

The flight costs estimates do not include costs of advance personnel, secret service or support on the ground. The V.P.'s office contends if not for the game he would have flown to Washington, D.C. at a greater cost.

Well, this all comes as government watchdogs are investigating several Trump cabinet officials for their use of private jets and military planes. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under scrutiny for delivering a speech to a campaign donor's hockey team then taking a $12,000 private jet. Both his trip and whether he crossed the line between government service and politics are under review.

And the inspector general investigating EPA head Scott Pruitt has now expanded its probe to look at all of Pruitt's travel to determine whether policies were followed. We should point out documents show he spent around $60,000 on private planes and military jets. Don?

LEMON: OK. Thank you so much for that. When we come back, the Trump administration already raising money off of Pence's walk out. Is it a stunt or a winning play? Maybe it's both.


LEMON: President Trump sending out a fund-raising e-mail today telling supporters he's proud that Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game over some players taking a knee.

Let's discuss now with CNN contributor Donte Stallworth, former NFL player, CNN's sports analyst Christine Brennan, sports columnist for USA Today, and political commentators Alice Stewart and Marc Lamont Hill.

Good evening to all of you. Marc, let's start off with the question that gets to the heart of the story. Was it a political stunt?

MARC LAMONT HILL, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Of course it's a political stunt. I mean, first of all, all acts of protest on some level are stunts. They're a form of theater designed to draw attention. So I begin from that premise.

However, I don't expect the vice president of the United States to engage in political theater and political stunts on the taxpayer dollars. This guy comes to a town knowing that they're going to kneel. The San Francisco 49ers players said we're going to kneel all year. This was not a surprise. He then comes here with the intention of walking out.

He did this to draw attention. He did this to put a negative light on these players and of course, as we can see now he did it to fund raise.

LEMON: Alice, you say that this wasn't a stunt, so let's assume that it's true. So then what actually would Pence -- what did he accomplish?

ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, look, first of all, look, those who say this was an outrage because it was done at taxpayer expense, everything the president and vice president does is done at taxpayer expense. The only reason liberals are so outraged is because they don't support this presidency.

And, look, vice president went to that game to watch a football game, watch a bunch of guys on a field play a game and now it's become so politicized it is outrageous.

Look, to say that standing for our flag and for our military and for the national anthem is a stunt, that's disrespectful to our flag, our military and our national anthem. And the CNN poll show that the majority of Americans who support those who are opposed to players taking a knee. They do not think players taking a knee is the right thing to do and this is about patriotism and nothing else.


LEMON: So, Alice, if he went there to watch the game...

HILL: Well, that's a completely dishonest argument.

LEMON: Go on.

HILL: That's a completely dishonest argument. One, he didn't come there to -- one, OK. I'll tell you why really quickly. One, you say that people are saying that to stand up -- no one is arguing about Mike Pence standing up being a stunt. The issue was him walking out and him staging walking out. And he didn't came there to watch the game.

He alerted the press that he was going to leave. He alerted his aides that he was going to leave. Donald Trump told him to leave if there was somebody kneeling and he went to a game where he knew people were going to kneel. So it's dishonest argument.

This isn't about the flag. This isn't about the anthem. This is about him staging a stunt. And finally, yes, you said that, well, you know, everything is paid for by taxpayer dollars, yes, and that is why taxpayers we have a right to critique when the president does things that we don't like. People critiqued Obama for things, we critique Reagan, Bush, Clinton, et cetera.

And at this moment I'm critiquing him for spending $245,000 of my money, it really does money because he's rich, for something that was totally unnecessary.

STEWART: Look, the fact that the president had this planned for quite some time to go to this game. They went there specifically to support the retiring of Peyton Manning's jersey at halftime. And the fact he cannot sit there as the vice president of the United States, the father of a son in the military and stand there as players are showing disrespect for our military and our flag.

[22:50:06] That would be absolutely contradictory to what his role as vice president of the United States. So, I completely support him...


HILL: Can I ask you one question?


HILL: Alice, do you think he knew they were going to kneel when he walk into the game? Do you think he went to the game knowing they were going to kneel?

STEWART: I'm sure he went there hoping that they would support our military and our flag. And that is absolutely...

HILL: Right. But my question is do you think he...


STEWART: I have no way -- I have no way of knowing if he knew that. Clearly, we know 49ers have a history of taking a knee during the national anthem based on their support for Colin Kaepernick. And the fact that they've only won two games since they start doing that, they may want to rethink those policy.


STEWART: But sure. Maybe he thought they were going to do it but he probably also have hopes...


HILL: Right. With the Cowboys in third place. The Cowboys in third place and they support the opposite side. So I don't think -- I don't think winners or losers have to do with your politics.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, I want to bring -- I want to get Donte and Christine in here. Because members of our military -- I think the members of the military including the vice president's son fight for people to be able to take a knee or to stand during the national anthem. That's our constitutional right.

So, Donte, 49ers safety Eric Reid, a former team mate of Colin Kaepernick has taken part in the anthem protest for a while now. He was asked about Pence's walk out after the game yesterday and he said it was definitely planned. How will Pence move -- how will his move impact player's protest do you think? Will they continue to kneel or they are going to do as the owners have been, I guess pushing them now to stand up?

DONTE LAMAR STALLWORTH, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Yes. I think the players have really realized what it is they're dealing with this White House and this executive branch of the Trump administration. A lot of the players that I've talked to over the course of the season have expressed -- some guys have expressed a displeasure at the way the president has spoken towards them and not spoken towards Nazis who have been openly marching in Charlottesville, and just were back there again this weekend, you know, marching not too many months after a young lady lost her life there.

And it just kind of shows you the relevance of these times. Players are looking at this like this is their Civil Rights era. So I don't know if -- I don't know if you're going to see players back down. I would love to see -- and I'm not advocating for this because I'm not going to advocate for any player in the NFL to do anything that's not in their best interest and best interest of their family.

But it would be interesting if the whole wide receiver core took a knee before and look at Jerry Jones like, what, are you going to take us all out, then you won't be able to play a game because then you won't have any wide receivers to throw to. So, I'd like to see that.

But Jerry Jones is a man of his word for the most part. And I do expect if any man does any kind of protest where what he calls disrespect from the flag.


STALLWORTH: I would probably expect him to probably bench those guys. But, again, he himself is going down a slippery slope whenever someone has tried to stifle in this country and other countries around the world. They've always ended up on the wrong side.

LEMON: It would be an interesting league, an interesting game if all the players decided to take a knee and they kicked them off the team. I wonder how the NFL would look. So, Christine, I've got -- Donte, before I get to Christine, would you take a knee if you were playing at this point the.

STALLWORTH: It's easy for me to say what I would or wouldn't do now. I mean, I know that I've always been very vocal regardless of what anyone else they want us.


STALLWORTH: So, easy for me to say either.

LEMON: Fair enough. So this has become about the flag. Christine, I wonder what your take is. I want to ask you in that take -- in your take on this, why are people picking and choosing how to -- what patriotism is, how the flag should be represented? Because if you look at the flag code and you're a staunch believer and what the flag stands for and you want to follow all the rules, the flag should never touch anything beneath it, that's one.

And it says, the flag should never be carried flat or horizontally but always aloft and free. And then you see them with the flag on the field not being aloft and horizontally. So what's the issue? Why are people picking and choosing? What's your take? CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS ANALYST, CNN: Well, that's a great point.

You know, think about it, Don, if Donald Trump doesn't go to Huntsville and use his SOB term we would not be talking about all of this. He triggered all of this. This story was basically dead. Colin Kaepernick out of the league. Not talking about it.

Maybe one or two players kneeling in the pre-season. It was a non- story. I wasn't focusing on it. None of us in sports media were. And when Trump went to Huntsville and did what he did, he just sent that wedge into our society and took us to this point where you've got teammates against teammates, and fans against players, role models who have to defined themselves.

People in turmoil trying to decide what to do. Teams trying to decide what to do all because of Trump's statement. That's what happened. This is absolutely a fact.

[22:55:00] With that in mind, of course the code for the NFL says that they would like players -- they say they should stand. They don't say they must. And I think as I have said before, Don, that because of what Trump did in Huntsville I think we're now seeing a reaction not only to those concerned about social injustice, the Colin Kaepernick model and that kind of protesting, but now we're seeing an anti-Trump backlash.

I think we're going to see it throughout this season. I don't see these players backing down, and I agree, Don, with Donte, that we're going to -- if Jerry Jones says I'm going to fire you or you're not going to be able to play or not even say fire you -- but not going to be able to play if you kneel, really, how do you do that if a player kneels and then they are going to kick off within a minute or two. How are you picking and choosing who is going to play in that game and who isn't.

LEMON: All right. Stay with me, everyone. When we come back more NFL owners are now siding with the president and vice president in the player's protest. Is President Trump winning on this issue? We'll discuss.


LEMON: Controversy spreading over NFL players who protest by taking a knee during the national anthem. Now ESPN taking action against its host, Jemele Hill who supported the players.

Back with me now, my panel. So, Christina, quickly I have to ask you. You know what happened. She tweeted out a series of tweets talking about Jerry Jones, criticizing the Cowboys owner and saying that perhaps there should be some kind of boycott of advertisers. Do you think they should have suspended her?

BRENNAN: What I think that Jemele has said is an important voice with her essay, with her TV show, take that route and take five minutes to discuss it, I think Twitter is such a difficult platform for that. I wish that she would, she's so smart and such an important voice. And I would use those vehicles that she already has to tell those stories, and I wish she had done that in this case.

LEMON: Donte?

STALLWORTH: I would like for her to be able to do whatever it is that ESPN, the company has initially said. Now are we going to be a broadcasting partner or are they going to be a news gathering organization?

And the fact that she has just given an opinion, she explicitly said this is not -- this is not talking about boycotting the NFL but giving you a list of things and trying to take away -- alleviate some of the pressure off the players. So I think the NFL -- or I'm sorry, ESPN moved in the right direction on this.

LEMON: Alice?

STEWART: I think the key was that ESPN be consistent with regard to how they implement these rules with all of their employees as they did with Curt Schilling. He had a few strikes and then he was out. I think the same should apply to her. But I really wish we could get to the day when fans can go to the football games, go to baseball games, and watch the sports channel and escape from the politics and just enjoy the sports. And I wish those days will be back.

LEMON: Marc, I'll give you the last word.

HILL: I wouldn't know that day because the NFL started when our black quarterback baseball was integrated we do the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, we have soldiers football filled with language of war and blitzes.

[23:00:00] There's never been a moment where politics had been in sports. This has been a moment where black politics wasn't prioritizing. It gives white people anxiety with suddenly our stuff is at the center. And finally, free Jemele Hill. This is wrong. ESPN made a bad decision, they're punching her because of pressure.