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Sexual Misconduct No Laughing Matter; Trump Attacks Democrats on Sexual Scandal; GOP Tax Bill Passed. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired November 16, 2017 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: Taxes are not going to go away. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much. That's up for The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. Handing it over tonight to CNN Tonight with Don Lemon.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

The list gets longer and longer. More and more powerful people accused of sexual harassment and misconduct. A hall of shame, including a senator, Senate candidate, a congressional staff, even a former president. And this is what we're getting from the White House.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does his endorsement of Moore still stand?

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, as I've said, the president believes this is a decision for the people of Alabama to make, not one for him to make.

JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE House CORRESPONDENT, CNN: On Roy Moore, would the president campaign with Roy Moore?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah, we've heard from you. We've heard from Ivanka on this. When are we going to hear from the president himself?

SANDERS: The president has put a statement out earlier in the week when we were on the trip and he stands by that statement.


LEMON: This is not a time to duck the question. Sexual harassment, no matter what form it takes, no matter who does it is wrong, whether you're a republican like Roy Moore or a democrat like Al Franken. This is a time for leadership. Moral leadership from the very top. But the White House is painted into a corner by the man who was caught on tape saying this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to use some Tic-Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. And when you're a start, they let you do it. They let you do everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.


LEMON: The president more than willing to speak out when the people accused are democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've known Harvey Weinstein for a long time. I'm not at all surprised to see it.

Huma Abedin is married to Anthony Weiner, who is a sleaze ball and a pervert.


LEMON: Especially when speaking out gives him an opportunity to take a shot at his own personal enemies list.


TRUMP: There's never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation that's been so abusive to women, so you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.


LEMON: So we should believe the women who accuse Bill Clinton, but when it comes to the more than a dozen women who accuse Donald Trump of sexually inappropriate behavior.


TRUMP: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication.


The events never happened. Never. All of these liars will be sued after the election.

A new claim that I made inappropriate advances during the interview to this writer, and I ask a very simple question. Why wasn't it part of the story that appeared 20 -- or 12 years ago?

Look at her. Look at her words. You tell me what you think. I don't think so. Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you.


LEMON: So that is the issue in a nutshell. The president cannot speak out now because of his own words in the past, because if Roy Moore's accusers should be believed, then what about his own?

Let's bring in now Chris Cillizza, CNN politics editor at large, CNN political commentator Margaret Hoover, and former Congressman Jack Kingston, and political contributor Maria Cardona.

I'm going to go to you, Margaret, because I saw your head bobbing as I was reading that and you were listening to the words. Why is that?

MARGARET HOOVER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: It was a really powerful illustration you put together there of not just the predicament that the president is in, but the moral hypocrisy and the failings of the president.

But that's not new, Don.


HOOVER: I mean, we saw moral failings around Charlottesville when the president likened -- said there are people on -- good people on both sides of the neo-Nazi torch lit, you know, fascist protests in Charlottesville.

I mean, we've seen him call true American heroes, you know, not tough enough because they got captured, John McCain. We've seen him, frankly, attack the women who have spoken out about him.

So, this is a man who hasn't been the moral leader in chief of the country.


HOOVER: And so not to normalize it, but it isn't a surprise that he is failing here.

LEMON: And now that we need it -- and this isn't about, again, democrat or republican. We need that moral leadership, as I said, from the top.

Chris, I want to -- look, you get to the heart of this and you have a new piece at and you lay out a lot of blame on President Trump as to why there, as you say, this massive -- there is this massive moral vacuum in the country right there.

[22:04:56] CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Yes. Look, Don, you touched on it at the top. Margaret mentioned it.

I just think we have a tendency to focus on the need for presidential leadership when there's a hurricane or a flood or a mass shooting or a terrorist attack, God forbid.

But this, what we've seen from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. to Mark Halperin to Kevin Spacey, to Roy Moore, now to Al Franken is in a way similar in that I think it does make people wonder who are we? Who are we in our core? Where are we going as a country?

And I think the reality is not that the president, any president can solve that, can answer that question beyond a shadow of a doubt, but it has been the case with most presidents that they are able to say this stuff is not us. We are better than this. We are going to be better than this. We're going to put this behind us, and we're going to start now.

He is, Donald Trump, is both unwilling to do so. I mean, Margaret touched on Charlottesville and I think that's important. Sort of an abdication of moral leadership, of what you do when faced with that.

And then this situation I think cross-purpose out in that any attempt by him to be a moral leader as we would expect from a president is difficult given the fact that you have a dozen plus women who have accused him during the campaign that he called liars.


CILLIZZA: It's just a tough spot to be in. We knew when we elected Donald Trump we were getting something different with impacts and reverberations that were going to be felt in ways that we wouldn't know.


CILLIZZA: This is one of them.

LEMON: Jack, I want to play what we heard, this is from Roy Moore. It was earlier today. Listen to this.


ROY MOORE, SENATE CANDIDATE: As you know the Washington Post has brought some scurrilous false charges, not charges, allegations, which I have emphatically denied time and time again. They're not only untrue, but they have no evidence to support them.

Two of the speakers up here said words that I caught. One said unsubstantiated and another said unproven. Another said they were fake. All of that is true and the Washington Post is certainly not evidence.


LEMON: So, Jack, it seems like Roy Moore feels emboldened to stay in the race knowing that the president isn't going to say anything of consequence. Does the lack of moral leadership embolden him and others to behave in all kinds of ways?

JACK KINGSTON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: No, I don't. I think that Roy Moore is acting on his own. I don't think that he would look at the White House or Mitch McConnell or anywhere else. As you know, he has already been expelled from office twice. He's always had this kind of us versus them attitude.

And, you know, I think in his situation he's not looking to Washington at all. In fact, he's looking at Washington with great disgust overall. You know, I think in the president's situation, there's nothing he is going to be able to gain by saying because his critics are going to snare him either way.

Just for case in point, if he came out at any time last year or this year and said, you know, I did some incredibly stupid, selfish things and I'm a different man now. And here is why I'm a different man and I ask for forgiveness from everybody. Nobody is going to accept that. And I think he understands the environment today.

It's best to let people like Jeff Sessions say I believe the women, people like Ivanka say I believe the women and the president saying I support the Senate's decision not to fund Roy Moore. I think that's what he can do at this point. And, you know, I don't know any way around it, Don. I don't think there's any -- I think we all know what's going on here and he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

LEMON: Well, let me ask Jack -- let me ask the two women who are on the panel, who one is a democrat, one a republican. First to you, Maria. If the president came out and said something to the effect that Jack just said, would you believe him? Would you cut him some slack and say, wow, he finally he said something, or would you as Jack said not believe him?

MARIA CARDONA, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Yes. I think Jack's probably right. I think it's too little too late because we've seen how this man has lived his life. He tried to do that, if we recall after the Access Hollywood tape. He stood there with a, you know, like a statue reading a statement into the teleprompter and nobody believed him.

And I think that's -- that is the case that would happen again if he did what Jack said. Now, I think, though, it all depends on how he did it. Like if he came out and was tearful and, you know, for -- you know, if there was a miracle and he was actually wearing his heart on his sleeve, if he has a heart, then perhaps.

But we know that this is not somebody who ever admits any wrongdoing. He's over 70 years old. He has lived a life that completely lacks any moral compass.

[22:10:01] He has treated women as objects his whole adult life. He has, you know, cheated people in business left and right. He has lied to the American people over and over.

LEMON: OK. On this issue.

CARDONA: So at this point I don't think that there's any -- on so many issues.


CARDONA: So I don't think at this point there's anything that he could do that would make any kind of contrition credible.

LEMON: So, the same question but differently, Margaret. He speaks out about absolutely everything. If he's mad at Jeff Sessions he says he's mad or he'll talk about it on Twitter. He'll say, you know, I was -- I will talk about in an interview. Zero filter. Does this make his silence now even more deafening?

HOOVER: It does until 4 o'clock this morning when he wakes up and tweets about it.


HOOVER: Who knows? We all know. I mean, the elephant in the room is that he hasn't said anything. One thing that's really stark, everybody said the sexual harassment, these allegations, everything is not a partisan issue and it's true it's not a partisan issue.

But as a republican and somebody from the right that sort of has identified with the center right for my entire political life, there is a difference between how democrats and republicans handle sexual harassment allegations.

And, you know, you see this vociferous denial and really rejection of any wrongdoing from Bill O'Reilly, from Roger Ailes, Roy Moore and the left handled it differently for political reasons, by the way.

LEMON: Right.

HOOVER: Totally politically. I mean, the left has less tolerance than the right does for this.

LEMON: Well, I think the moment that we missed is people agree with Jack Kingston tonight. But listen...


KINGSTON: There your show.

LEMON: ... I want you guys to stick around. Listen, the president speaking, tweeting, Margaret you just said. The president just tweeted out this picture with Al Franken, tweeted about this picture with Al Franken and you won't believe what he said about it or maybe you will.



LEMON: Senator Al Franken fighting for his political life tonight after radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said he groped and kissed her without her consent during a USO tour.

And President Trump still silent about Roy Moore's multiple accusations does have something to say about Al Franken. He tweeted this moments ago. "The Al Franken picture is really bad. Speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures two, three, four, five and six while she sleeps?"

Back with me, Chris Cillizza, Margaret Hoover, Jack Kingston...


HOOVER: That makes your point. This is the moral leadership we've all been begging for.

LEMON: Maria Cardona.

CILLIZZA: I mean this is so...

LEMON: This just -- I mean, I just read the open. Maybe he was watching, but I just said the same thing when it's a democrat he'll go after them. He's free to talk about it. When it's a republican he won't do it. So, Jack, come on.

KINGSTON: You know, the disappointing thing is that the tweet just before that just sent out like 10 minutes earlier was about the overwhelming tax vote. And that was a good, substantive tweet. It was on policy.

And, you know, to me, as a republican, that should have been the message after nine months of really little inaction out of the House. You get the tax bill passed. And I noticed during the break that the tweet on Al Franken is now surpassing the number of likes that the tax message got. So I'm disappointed that that tweet is out there.

CILLIZZA: Don, he is fundamentally -- look, I think the congressman makes a good point.

LEMON: There's another one by the way, Jack, so fasten your seat belts. We're getting it together in the control room. Go ahead, Chris. Sorry.

CILLIZZA: I was just going to say maybe he'll prove me wrong here, but I doubt it. Donald Trump is at hearth sort of a provocateur. I think the congressman makes a very fair point which is Donald Trump's Twitter feed is not necessarily a bad thing for him politically.

He makes it a bad thing for him politically, and I think morally because of the way that he does it. He uses it to provoke. He uses it to needle. He uses it to bully. That's what he's doing here. Look, Al Franken's behavior is unacceptable.


CILLIZZA: That's fine. But Donald Trump has a lot of things that he has not answered for, things that his party has not answered for. And that's the problem here is that you're the president of the whole country.

LEMON: Yes. And here's...


CILLIZZA: You can say -- go ahead, Don. Sorry.

LEMON: Here is the other tweet. Let's put up. And I haven't seen it. I stopped following because it was too much. So -- I can't -- that is small for me. And so think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment and respect for women. Leslie Stall tape, question mark. OK. So there you go. And again, it proves the point here, Maria, what

I was just saying. He won't talk about, you know, the press secretary today saying that well the president thinks that the people of Alabama -- that's what he said. He's released a statement. But when asked by reporters yelling questions at him.


LEMON: He won't say anything. But he can go to Twitter and do that. He can go to Twitter and talk about Roy Moore.

CARDONA: Right. But this, I think, again underscores, first of all the huge hypocrisy coming out of the president but also the huge lack of moral leadership. I mean, this is not a president who should be tweeting about where hands go around attractive women. We all know where he wants his hands to go around attractive women. He told us in the Access Hollywood tape.

But that is not something that he -- it's like a complete disconnect for him. But I also think that he was enabled by his party, by the people who elected him, by the people who knew very well what kind of man this was around women, how he treated women, how he objectified women and yet they chose to look the other way.

Some of those republicans who are on the Hill now condemning Roy Moore. Now, perhaps it is all a timing thing because when the Access Hollywood tape came out and we knew everything that we know about how Donald Trump has treated women his whole life, there wasn't this sort of tipping point that we're seeing now. But that doesn't make it excusable.

So when is the Republican Party, those who are now so upset about what's going on with Roy Moore, who are the same ones that looked away, to get Trump elected...


CARDONAL: ... when is the come up answer for that?

KINGSTON: But Maria, I think...


CARDONAL: When had are they going to acknowledge that?

KINGSTON: I think one of the problems is that we are so split as a country that both sides are willing to overlook the fables of their candidate if he or she votes the right way.

[22:20:03] And I have heard the left, that's why they circled the wagons around Bill Clinton because he was still voting and there was that very famous statement by I think a Time reporter who said and I'm going to clean it up, she said I would get on my knees in the Oval Office if he would keep abortion free. And I don't condemn that at all for either side because both sides are guilty of it. That he's wearing my jersey, I'm going to overlook... (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Jack, I let you finish, to make that point.

CARDONA: Yes, and I'm not saying that's right either.

LEMON: Listen, I let you make that point because I think -- listen, I think that what you said is valid. There are people who did circle the wagons, but there are also people who spoke out about it.

HOOVER: Absolutely.


LEMON: And also the tone of the president admitted to lying. He said he lied. It wasn't as if people were making up false accusations about him and that he stuck to his guns. He said I lied. He was -- he's lied in a deposition. He was impeached for it.

CARDONA: And he was impeached.

LEMON: But here is what I think. Even now, even now, and you guys can correct me if I'm wrong, I think just within the last year I don't think Bill Clinton would survive.

CARDONA: He wouldn't.

CILLIZZA: No, he would not.

LEMON: In this environment. I think it would be outraged.

HOOVER: It really is a tipping point. And Maria, I think your commentary is most valid here that we have seen a real change in how the country has really rallied around how we're going to confront these issues.

You know, it's funny, Chris, you were talking about at the top of the show about sort of how, you know, you look to the president for moral leadership. What's interesting is that in that vacuum, right, we're getting there on our own anyway.




HOOVER: We don't need a president to lead us through a moral leadership. I mean, the country is sort of coming to terms on that.


CARDONA: Americans have set...

HOOVER: And by the way, it's left versus right. Even Mitch McConnell, right, the leader -- we're asking I think republicans have improved even since Bill O'Reilly lost his job when you have leading republicans saying I believe the women now.


KINGSTON: You know, so...

CARDNA: So do we think -- do we think that Donald Trump would have survived if this had happened around this time if the election was...


HOOVER: Now you went a little too far.

CARDONA: I mean, that's the question.

LEMON: There are -- the dozen to 20 or so women who have accused him of similar things.

KINGSTON: But, what...

CILLIZZA: What's strange to me, Don, is that he has a blind spot, I guess is the right word, as it relates to himself that he sends out tweets like this. I mean, the theory of why he doesn't talk about Roy Moore was because he doesn't want to open that can of worms as it relate to him.


CILLIZZA: But if you do it with Al Franken, you're doing the same thing. I mean, it really opens all of these conversations that, frankly, never really got finished in the first place.


KINGSTON: But I would say...


LEMON: Quickly, Jack. I've got to run.

KINGSTON: The political move could be confusion to the enemy and just throwing on a little bit. OK. Look at this, they do it, we do it. Not saying it's right or wrong, but I do think there is kind of a confusion factor that makes the whole thing a food fight and therefore, people go back to their own tribalism.

CARDONA: Under -- that underscores his lack of moral leadership.

LEMON: That should not -- that's got to be it.


KINGSTON: I'm just pointing...

LEMON: But the President of the United States should be, you know...

CARDONA: Exactly. LEMON: ... above -- there's a high road and you set the example for everyone else. You don't dig deeper.


CARDONA: Not this president.

LEMON: Thank you. When we come back, the republican's tax plan packaging in the House today that could impact every single American. It also includes a tax break for private jet owners. How will that play in theory (Ph).


LEMON: House republicans passing their tax bill today, claiming all taxpayers will see a cut. The Senate still working on its plan.

Let's discuss now with CNN political commentators Bakari Sellers and Jason Miller who's a former senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign. They both joined me. Jason is the only one for the Trump campaign not Bakari as well.

Jason and Bakari, good evening to you. Jason, the House passed this big -- one step closer to the big tax overhaul, passing a $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for businesses and individuals. It has to head to the Senate now. The Senate is where the president's push to repeal Obamacare died. Why do you think this one will be any different?

JASON MILLER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, this is a huge first step for President Trump and his agenda. Obviously taxes and trade and immigration and defeating radical Islamic terrorism are really the kind of the four pillars of the campaign.

But when you take a look at the pace with which this legislation has moved it shows a real focus by republicans. They know they need to get this done. They got it through the House and now it's going on to the Senate.

This is really the one issue that brings people together. This is the cutting taxes to ignite the economy and spur this economic growth, and this is what makes us republicans. And so despite all the distractions and other things going on, this is something that I think everyone can get really focused on because it's going to be...


LEMON: Well, no democrats voted for it. It doesn't bring everybody together.

MILLER: Well, for sure brings republicans together and I think this is where the mood of the country is. When you talk about the 1100, $1200 in tax breaks that's going to give to the average family or make their wages go up by 4 -- between 4 and $9,000 per Household, and this could make a real difference in peoples' lives.

And it's unfortunate that democrats are so caught up in this -- I mean, you know, they want to go increase taxes by 32 trillion and have single payer healthcare and take the economy right off the rails. But they just have a different view of the economy and that's fine. But I think the president's vision is what's going to win the day here.

LEMON: OK. One possible trouble spot, Bakari, for the Senate is the analysis by the nonpartisan Joint Committee of Taxation. Here is what it shows. It shows the Senate GOP tax bill would cut taxes across the board in the short term, but by 2021 the average household making between 10,000 or $30,000 annually would see a tax increase. Will democrats campaign on this in 2018 do you think?

BAKARI SELLERS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I think democrats will campaign on this because the simple fact is what's going to happen with this tax bill is traditionally what Jason and his colleagues have pushed for which is that the rich are going to get richer.

I mean, not only in this tax bill do you have sweeteners like a tax exemption for private jets but you also have millions of middle class Americans including those people who make $30,000 or less who are going to see their taxes go up.

[22:30:00] More than a quarter of Americans by the year 2027 under this piece of legislation will actually see their taxes rise. And personally, millennials across the country should be completely outraged because, you know, the House republicans have taken their vote and their voice for granted because they're doing things like taking away the deduction for student loans.

I mean, it's these types of things where they just pick on middle class Americans and those who are trying to climb out of a hole that they may have, which makes this untenable.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Jason, how do you defend -- I mean, do you want to try to defend, you know, for staffing and storing private jets on the backs of middle class? How do you defend that?

JASON MILLER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: You know, Don, I'm glad you brought this point up. This is something that was tucked into the Senate version and so it's not something that passed the House and I don't see this making it all the way through.

But really when you look at what the president ran on and this whole vision of trying to help the middle class, you talk about his goal of closing these loopholes and trying to do things, make sure that the private equity people don't get to use this capital gains exemption for carried interest and such.

I mean, this is a complete fundamental shift within the Republican Party to where the focus is on making sure that the middle class gets a tax break here.

And I've got to go back to something that Bakari said a moment ago. There's not so magical tax increase that's coming for folks in any certain bracket. Senators put essentially had the tax cuts expire which I think when this is all said and done they're going to be permanent in here.

No politician running for president is going to campaign on raising taxes on people. We need to make those permanent so everybody gets healthcare.


MILLER: And so, but that's -- but there's no magical tax hike...


LEMON: I need to get this in.

MILLER: ... people are going to get tax reductions.

LEMON: This is just in, moments ago on the Senate floor. Watch this.


ORRIN HATCH, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: I come from the poor people, and I've been here working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance. And I really resent anybody saying that I'm just doing this for the rich. Give me a break. I think you guys over play that all the time, and it gets old. And frankly, you ought to quit it.

SHERROD BROWN, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Mr. Chairman, the public...


HATCH: I'm not through.


HATCH: I get kind of sick and tired of it. True it's a nice political play.

BROWN: Well, Mr. Chairman...

HATCH: It's not true.

BROWN: With all due respect, I get sick and tired of the rich...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Regular order, Mr. -- regular order.

BROWN: We do a tax...


HATCH: Wait a minute, I'm not over.

BROWN: Middle class...


BROWN: And over and over again. How many times do we do this before you learn this?

HATCH: Listen, I've honored you by allowing you to spout off here and what you said was not right. That's all I'm saying. I come from the lower middle class originally. We didn't have anything. So don't spew that stuff on me. I get a little tired of that crap.

And let me just say something. If you didn't -- if we brought together, we could pull this country out of every mess it's in and we could do a lot of the things that you're talking about too. And I think I have a reputation of having worked together...


BROWN: Let's start with CHIP.

HATCH: I'm not starting with CHIP. I did it. I've done it for years. I've got more bills...

BROWN: Start with CHIP today.

HATCH: I've got more bills passed than everybody on this committee put together. And they've been passed for the benefit of people in this country.

Now, all I can say is I like you personally very much, but I'm telling you, this bull crap that you guys throw out here really gets old after a while and do it right at the end of this is just not right. And I just -- it takes a lot to get me worked up like this.



LEMON: Orrin Hatch and Sherrod Brown obviously on different sides of the aisle there. And this is actually in committee. It's not the Senate floor. But still what do you -- this is -- now you see the fight that's happening.

SELLERS: No. I think what you had was a blue collar state. You have two blue collar states what people called...


LEMON: Ohio and Utah.

SELLERS: Yes. And what people call fly over country, but you have somebody who is very, very wealthy in Senator Hatch going back and forth with Sherrod Brown, but the end of that back and forth is what's the most telling.

When Sherrod Brown pressed him about doing something for middle class America, for doing something about poor people and reauthorizing the CHIP program, coming together, democrats and republicans what did he do? He deflected. He realized that's not something that he wanted to do. That was not something in his interest. And so the Republican Party with all of these sweeteners that they're

putting in here, with Lindsey Graham and others coming out and saying that if we don't pass this our donors are going to dry up.

I mean, with Steve Mnuchin standing there with currency, he and his wife flashing dollar bills. If that's the image that the Republican Party wants to portray, they're going to have a hard time passing this bill.

LEMON: That's got to be our last worried. Two minutes. I'm sorry, Jason. It took up our time. I appreciate it. Next time I will continue this discussion. P

When we come back, President Trump reversing a ban on allowing elephant trophies from Africa to the United States. My question is, does it have anything to do with this? We'll report that out next.


LEMON: The president's sons are big game hunters. This is Don Junior right here holding an elephant's tail. That was just a few years back. And that might be a factor in a major move by the White House.

Our senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar is here. Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Don, the Trump administration is scrapping an Obama era ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. And it's putting renewed attention on the president's sons and their enthusiasm for big game hunts in Africa, as well as Donald Trump, Jr.'s influence in his father's administration.

Soon elephants killed on hunts in two Southern African nations, products previously banned, will be imported into the U.S. The Trump administration poised to overturn an Obama administration era prohibition on the trophies as conservationists sound alarms.


[22:39:54] WAYNE PACELLE, PRESIDENT & CEO, HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES: It's just thrill killing, bragging rights, trophies for a threatened species, the largest land animal in the world. I mean, shooting an elephant is like shooting a parked car. I mean, there's no sport in it either.


KEILAR: But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service argues the move would actually help elephants in these countries. Saying in a statement, "Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program that can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to communities to conserve the species and by putting much needed revenue back in the conservation."

The Fish and Wildlife Service is overseen by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who is championed by Donald Trump, Jr. himself an avid big game hunter.

And in March, Donald Junior helped install his hunting buddy Jason Hairston as the liaison at the Interior Department between sportsman groups and the administration. These pictures from a 2011 hunting trip to Zimbabwe show Donald Junior and Eric Trump posing with their kills, including an elephant.

Trump Junior holding its severed tail. The photos sparked controversy when they were initially released before Donald Trump ran for the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody tells me what they did in the world of hunting is fine, but I'm not a fan.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: In Africa and people who haven't been there and don't see it like, you know, over there an elephant will feed villages for weeks. It all gets used. Nothing gets wasted in Africa. And beyond that, all of that money goes to fund the anti-poaching leagues that prevent the people from going in that are doing damage.

D. TRUMP: Say a few words.


KEILAR: On his father's presidential campaign, Trump Junior spearheaded gun rights outreach.


TRUMP, JR.: If I can get some kid off a couch, get him away from a video game, learning the disciplines of shooting a rifle, take him into the woods on a hunt, teach him how to catch a fly rod, if I can get him out there and do that and make sure that we can perpetuate for the next generation I'm really happy to do it.


KEILAR: His so-called Second Amendment coalition on the campaign included the head lobbyist for the NRA and also Paul Babaz, now the head of Safari Club International, the main champion of the elephant ban reversal.

The move is questionable considering elephant populations in the African Savannah plummeted 30 percent from 2007 to 2014 according to the great elephant census. In some places it has dropped more than 75 percent due to ivory poaching. Only about 350,000 remain from the estimated 20 million that roamed the region before Africa was colonized by European countries.

In 2014, the U.S. government specifically banned the import of elephant trophies from Zambia and Zimbabwe, two popular destinations for big game hunts because the Obama administration said their governments were failing to protect the endangered animals. As far as Zimbabwe goes it's also a bizarre time to do this with the

country in upheaval. The military just took over the government there and the Trump administration is arguing that the government in Zimbabwe is in a position to assure hunting and conservation efforts are well-governed. Don.

LEMON: Brianna, thank you so much. When we come back, is there any merit to arguments that legal, regulated hunting can benefit elephant populations or will the already dwindling population shrink even more? I'm going to ask wildlife expert Jeff Corwin. That's next.


LEMON: The Trump administration lifting the ban on imports of elephant trophies from the African nations of Zimbabwe and Zambia, like these shown by president -- the president's son Don Junior -- sons, I should say, Don Junior and Eric.

I want to talk about this now with wildlife expert, Jeff Corwin. Jeff, I'm so interested to hear your perspective on this. Thank you so much for joining us.

Do you agree with the apparent decision by the Trump administration to overturn the ban on elephant trophies from Africa?

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE EXPERT: Don, I absolutely do not agree. These are threatened and endangered species. There are many remarkable African species that today because of human animal conflict, because of habitat loss and of course, because of poaching for ivory and rhino horn, species like white rhino, black rhino, African elephants have been pushed to the brink.

The African elephant population is down by 30 percent in the last decade. It now hovers at just around 300,000 animals. And one of these countries, Don, Zambia where we are opening up the door to allow the importation of trophies from this region and Americans to go over there and hunt, in this one region alone the elephant population has gone down from around 200,000 animals to between 20 and 30,000 animals in a very short period of time. So I do not agree with this policy.

LEMON: But big game hunting advocates say this, Jeff. They say that the move by the Trump administration will help preserve wildlife and help the elephant population. Help the population. But conservationist groups disagree. Is there an argument here for conservation?

CORWIN: Well, here is what I would say. When it comes to the individual reclamation or restoration of an endangered species, if you took that endangered animal of that species to a veterinarian and he said in order for me to save this species I need to euthanize it, I'd get a different vet.

Now, as for hunting as a whole, it is true, for example, in parts of Europe and in the United States, we have a long-standing hunting tradition. I myself, I fish. I deer hunt. I turkey hunt. It's an important resource that I depend upon. And the billions of dollars of revenue in the United States is used

for purchasing land, for protecting and managing species. But you see, Don, the difference is in the United States we have checks and balances. We have regulation that's based on science and research, and we have enforcement. And through that process we're able to wisely and pragmatic resources.

That's why today we have seen recovery of white tail deer, of elk, of these animals. But how do you have that checks and balances, that system in play for -- to ensure that animals are wisely managed and protected and in places like Zimbabwe where they just underwent a military coup and their dictator is under house arrest?

[22:50:02] How can we ensure that someone who hunts there is going through the proper filter process to ensure that the situation remains clean. So, it's an incredible challenge.

And frankly, I think when you are an endangered species, Don, I think when you do everything we can to try to recover that endangered species. Ivory is contributing greatly to the extinction or to the potential extinction of animals like elephants.

LEMON: Right. So.

CORWIN: And I think we need to do our very best to try to recover and save these species.

LEMON: Yes. I've got -- we're out of time. I really appreciate your perspective. Thank you so much for updating us and informing our viewers. We appreciate it, Jeff Corwin.

When we come back, is there a political policy reason behind President Trump's decision to allow elephant trophies back into the country or is it more of a personal reason? We'll talk about that.


LEMON: Outrage from wildlife conservation groups over the president -- this administration's move to lift the ban on imports of elephant trophies. Trophies like these with the president's sons.

I want to bring in now CNN political commentators Charles Blow and Alice Stewart. Hello to both you. Welcome to the program. Alice, you're OK with overturning this ban on elephant trophies. Why is that?

ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Look, I think hunting is a big part of growing up in the south. A lot of my friends and family have been big hunters. And if you look at this from the standpoint of hunting as a sport and Americans travel overseas make up the largest proportion of hunters they go overseas.

And part of their efforts go to a very science-based well-managed program for conservation of animals and that is a big part of this. I'm looking at it from the standpoint of conservation.

And look, what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did as they got new information from these countries and realized that it is necessary for the conservation of these animals to reopen this hunting in these areas and that is why they did it.

I'm not a big hunter myself. But I look at it from the standpoint of hunting as a sport and U.S. Fish and Wildlife and looked at it carefully. They are going to monitor the population, they're going to monitor how the funds are used for conservation purposes. And if by the end of 2018, if this isn't working then they are going to pull this back. So I'm looking at it from the standpoint of conservation of the animals.

LEMON: Charles, I know you want to weigh in on this. But two people who could benefit from this rule change, president's sons, we show the pictures of them Don Junior and Eric who are known big game hunters.

I just want to play this is from Don Junior. This is in 2015. He is defending his hunting. Watch this.


TRUMP, JR.: The tail thing is one of those things. It is a 200-year- old tradition back from ivory hunters. It meant possession of the ivory, so these guys when we get it down you're with local game scouts, you're with trackers. I mean, they're like, no, no, you have to do this because this is -- it meant a lot for them.

People have been talking the tail thing. I mean, it's not really like that. Again, it's a difficult thing to explain to people who haven't done it. But, you know, I've been there enough to sort of know the difference. And you know, I do a lot of local hunting. I donate a lot of that food to, you know, hunters feeding the homeless.


LEMON: Do you think their love of hunting played into this decision at all, Charles?

CHARLES BLOW, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I think this is so -- I really have a hard time like sitting and listening to this nonsense, right. This is yet another example of the administration doing things to benefit rich boys, right? Nobody from the hood is going to Africa to shoot an elephant. Nobody from Appalachia is going to Africa to shoot elephant.

This is a rich man's leisure to do -- to shoot these animals and going on their big safaris and do that, number one. Number two, they are endangered animals. And what sense does it make? This idea like, we shoot them to save them, I don't buy -- I don't buy that concept.

And there was no rationale to do this. We're not doing this because we want to save the elephants. That's just, I mean, it sound good to say that. It's just not true. We're doing this because rich guys want to do this and this is another handout to those rich guys.

LEMON: Alice, do you agree that rich people and the Trumps are going to benefit from this? Is this a rich folks sport? STEWART: Well, look, it's not going to hurt anyone in the hood. It's

not going to hurt anyone in the Appalachia. And this is a program that the Fish and Wildlife has looked at and they have close communication with these other countries and sure are the president's sons going to benefit from this because they like to do this? Absolutely.

So will a lot of other hunters that do this as a sport. And I don't see any problem with the administration taking this action to expand hunting for people that like to do this.

This is something that clearly the Obama administration didn't support. They impose this ban. They're not big supporters of the NRA. The NRA does support this measure and they've looked at it from the conservation standpoint. So I think it's not going to hurt anyone but it will help the people that want to engage in hunting big game.

BLOW: It hurts all of us. If we are -- if we are allowing people to hunt endangered species that hurts the planet. Right? This idea that it just stays local and that, you know, chopping off tusks and tails is just a cute thing that hunters like to do is kind of ridiculous. It hurts the planet when we put pressure on endangered species point blank. Period.

LEMON: Yes. OK. That's going -- that's the last word. Thank you very much. I have to get to the other show. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Just about 11 p.m. here on the East Coast and we're live with new developments.

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