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CNN TONIGHT

No Shortage of Insults from President Trump; Daughter Smooths President's Rough Side; Jared Kushner Potential Termination. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired November 27, 2017 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: -- and CNN Tonight. I'll see you tomorrow.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving. It's good to be back.

And I have a whole lot to say about this president's increasing erratic behavior over the past week or so, and I'm going to get to all of that over the next two hours here on CNN.

But I want to start with what happened at the White House here today, and I just want to lay it all out for you without editorializing, I want you to see it for yourself, facts first, OK.

The president of the United States, in the middle of an event honoring American heroes in Navajo code talkers slamming a political opponent using a racist slur. A racist slur. One that is insulting to Native Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were here long before any of us were here although we have a representative in Congress who they say was here a long time ago. They call her Pocahontas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That remark met with stunned silence from everyone in the room. Because everyone in that room knew it was a racist slur directed at Senator Elizabeth Warren. How they know that, it's an insult the president loves slamming her with. Starting during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Pocahontas. That's Elizabeth Warren.

I call her Pocahontas, and that's an insult to Pocahontas.

And Massachusetts is represented by Pocahontas, right? Pocahontas.

It may be Pocahontas, remember that.

What an insult to Pocahontas, wasn't it? I was being hit by Pocahontas, and Pocahontas is not happy. Elizabeth Warren she is one of the worst senators. Who, Pocahontas?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Native American groups have long condemned the president's use of the term, saying quote, "The name of Pocahontas should not be used as a slur. And it is inappropriate for anyone to use her name in a disparaging manner."

That seems clear enough. But press secretary Sarah Sanders refused to acknowledge that today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the event that the president did with the Navajo code talkers, he referred to Pocahontas being in the Senate. Why did he feel the need to say something that is offensive to many people while honoring the Navajo code talkers?

(CROSSTALK)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career. Steven?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said it was a racial slur, what is your response to that?

SANDERS: I think that's a ridiculous response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The White House doubling down, because that's what the White House does, it doubles down. And looking on as President Trump used that slur, that particular insult to Native Americans, this portrait of President Andrew Jackson added to the Oval Office by President Trump who is such a fan of his predecessor, he laid a wreath on Jackson's tomb earlier this year.

Andrew Jackson famously signed the Indian Removal Act, which allowed white settlers to drive Native Americans off their land by force, if necessary, starting a brutal migration known as the Trail of Tears.

Now maybe you want to argue that President Trump is just tone deaf or ignorant of that part of the record of President Jackson who President Trump admired so much. Maybe you think we should give him the benefit of the doubt, but remember, all the times that this president, Donald Trump has launched attacks against people of color, against Mexicans?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume are good people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Against African-Americans. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Look at my African-American over here. Look at him. Are you the greatest?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Against a judge with Mexican ancestry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This judge is giving us unfair -- now I say why, well, I want to -- I'm building a wall, OK? And it's a wall between Mexico -- not another country.

(CROSSTALK)

JAKE TAPPER, HOST, CNN: He's not -- he's not from Mexico. He's from Indiana.

TRUMP: In my opinion, he's of Mexican heritage and he's very proud of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Against a Muslim gold star mother.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say, she probably -- maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say, you tell me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Claiming there were very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You have some very bad people in that group. But you had people that were very fine people, on both sides.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And, of course pushing the birther myth against President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I would like to have him show his birth certificate. Can I be honest with you, I hope he can. Because if he can't, if he can't, and if he wasn't born in this country, which is a real possibility.

[22:05:01] I'm not saying it happened. I'm saying it's a real possibility. Much greater than I thought two or three weeks ago, then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: This aspect of Donald Trump isn't new, it goes back for years, in fact, I asked him about it two years ago, when he was still a candidate. This is what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Are you racist?

TRUMP: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.

LEMON: Are you bigoted in anyway?

TRUMP: I don't think so. No, I don't think so.

LEMON: Islamophobic?

TRUMP: I am a person -- no, not at all.

LEMON: When people say you're racist or homophobic or Islamophobic or whatever it is. That has to bother you. Or compare you to Hitler. There are newspapers that covers that. Does that bother you?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: You know where things bother me -- if things are true, if that were true, it would bother me tremendously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Here's what everyone should know. Just because you say you're not racist doesn't make it so. Especially if you say, do and defend racist behavior over and over and over again. Especially if you have lost your credibility by telling countless lies, big and small.

According to the Washington Post, 1,628 false or misleading statements in 290 days, 98 days. And that was their last check, that was two weeks ago.

So as I bring in my first guests, CNN political commentator Van Jones and Mike Shields. Also republican strategist, Rick Wilson. I have to start with this question. Van Jones, I'm going to ask you first, does this president have no sense of decency?

VAN JONES, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, apparently not. I mean, part of what I think is so tragic is that this was a tremendous opportunity for the country -- not just President Trump, but for the country to finally give due credit to people who help to win this war.

Those code talkers, any other language, the Japanese and Germans were prepared to break the code, mathematically they were prepared to break the code. These Navajo code talkers were the only people who were able to get communication in that war, they saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. Iwo Jima was won because of them, they've never been truly honored. And today was that day.

A community of people, who, you know, frankly, every treaty we ever signed with Native Americans, have been violated over and over again, they could have sat that war out, they didn't. And this was their day, and he crapped all over it, being an insult comic, dragging in a completely irrelevant issue. It was disgusting, it was despicable, and I feel sorry for those guys in their 80s, in their 90s. Their one moment ruined by this president.

LEMON: Mike Shields, the president honoring Native American World War II heroes, and his brain immediately goes to the word Pocahontas?

MIKE SHIELDS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, look, I agree with Van in that this is a great opportunity to honor those heroes, and everyone watching they should go and read up on it, because they are more than worthy of all of our admiration and what they did for our country.

The only explanation I can come up with, is tone deafness and thinking that they would agree with him, because I believe probably -- I'm just conjecture here, that the president is thinking, tat Elizabeth Warren has been so offensive to Native Americans by claiming their heritage, which is something that they deal with all the time.

There are plenty of Americans who try to appropriate Native American heritage, especially to get ahead and have their name put into the college law yearbooks and the things that Elizabeth Warren did.

My guess is, he said it thinking, these guys aren't going to agree with me, and he's learning a lesson once again, I believe, hopefully, that that's inappropriate, you can't say that, it's a word they're going to find offensive, and they're not going to think it's funny.

That's the only thing I can come up with. I don't think he should have done it. I think it was offensive, and I think it took away from the great event today. But I also do think it is worth talking about why he thought that, which is that he criticizes Elizabeth Warren and using this phrase, because of what she did as well.

JONES: I just don't -- I can't...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I can't even -- I don't even know what to say to that, Mike, really.

JONES: Hey, Don. Listen, I appreciate -- I appreciate you acknowledging that what he said was offensive and inappropriate. And I thank you for trying to psycho analyze it, the problem with you doing it, though, you introduce these talking points about Elizabeth Warren and all the crimes she's committed against people.

She was taught as a child as many people in America were that they had a Native American ancestor, there's no evidence at all that she was -- that she's right or wrong on the actual claim, but the idea that she somehow got ahead, and that her whole success is due to this... (CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: I'm not saying all of her success.

JONES: ... it's just not success.

SHIELDS: I'm not saying all of her success. But if you're being listed in law yearbooks as the only minority that's been hired at Harvard, and you're allowing that to go forward based on a lure, that is precisely what a lot of Native Americans find offensive that people appropriate without any evidence their heritage...

(CROSSTALK)

[22:09:55] JONES: You would be correct, sir.

SHIELDS: That's offensive as well.

JONES: If today, if tonight, the major Native American organizations came out and said the president is right and denounced Elizabeth Warren, we would have a different conversation, they came out and denounced the president, because what the president did was inexcusable.

LEMON: Yes. So, listen, let me just read this, OK? This is from the Atlantic, and I promise you I'm going to let you, Rick, get in.

This is from the Atlantic in 2012, "There's no evidence that Warren ever used claims of Native American ancestry to help her get a job. While Warren was listed as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools, directly of faculty, she had declined to apply as a minority to Rutgers law school, and had listed herself as white while teaching at the University of Texas. The head of the community that recruited Warren to Harvard also said he had no memory of her Native American heritage ever coming up. And the 1995 Harvard reporting on her tenure made no mention of it."

SSHIELDS: But she still maintains to this day, the lure evidence as...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I'm not saying that it's right or wrong, what she did, but do you know how many, Van, do you know how black folks in America think that they are -- have Native American ancestors and they go to get their ancestry done, there's no Native American anywhere -- your grand ma was an Indian, she was Native American.

(CROSSTALK)

SHILEDS: But that's not OK, right?

LEMON: She said she learned that from her family, and I can certainly understand that as someone who has been taught that we have Native American ancestors.

SHIELDS: She should go to ancestry.com right now and fix it and tell them and use it as a teaching opportunity.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So that's what I'm saying, unless you get it done and we don't know if it's true or if it's not. If she used it in that manner, then it's wrong. But there are a lot of people in America who have been taught that, and the facts don't bare it out. It doesn't mean that they use it to get ahead. Rick Wilson...

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: And if there is a time to correct the record for Elizabeth Warren. I don't think stepping on the code talkers moment was the time.

LEMON: Yes, I agree with that. Go ahead, Rick.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, this is a matter that is not about Elizabeth Warren. As Van said and the history of the war, particularly in the Pacific records, these men were a heroic unit, they moved mountains to save American lives, and the president should have had the dignity, the stature, the presence of mind and the sense of purpose, that their visit to the Oval Office was to honor their service, to honor their sacrifice, as these are the last, the last of the code talkers.

Instead, he has to make it about his personal beefs. He has to make it about this petty crap that always obsesses him, because he's a guy that grew up in the page six culture of the New York Post, where who's up, who's down, he's always beefing with people. It's like the worst dullest wrap beef in the universe.

And the fact of the matter is, Donald Trump could have left that on the table if he had the slightest sense of dignity. The slightest sense of honor, the slightest desire to truly respect the service of these men. But he doesn't, it's all about him he's completely inwardly directed at all times, and of course you end up defining the presidency further and further down.

And what really irritates me today, honestly, Don, the thing that irritated me even worse than the president. Look, the president is a congenital jack ass. He's always going to behave this way.

What really bothered me even more, was that Sarah Sanders went out at the podium like federal employee and defended the president using a racial slur. That is disgusting, she should be fired. In a civilized dignified world, she would be fired. Because she's going out in service to, you know, a guy who is mindfully using racist terms and framing this in a way that is just disgusting.

LEMON: Listen, the Navajo nation responded today. This whole talk about whether this is a racial slur or not. It is. I can't believe we're even at a point where we are trying to decide if something is a racial slur. And then having the White House trying to gaslight people, like, no, it's not a racial slur. He didn't mean it in a derogatory, in a derogatory manner. What else was he using it for, to compliment her, by using a name

that's for a Native American? And people -- the Native American people have already said it's an insult, stop using it. And then have the White House as Rick say, said, from the podium say, it's not a racial slur. What is going on here, what is happening in this country?

JONES: Let me say.

LEMON: Van, let me get to the break. Let me get to the break.

WILSON: This culture rewards...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let me get to the break, and then you guys can answer. Because I want to know what is going on here, why is America allowing itself to be gas lighted by these people. We'll be right back.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: I'm back now with Van Jones, Mike Shields, and Rick Wilson.

I just want to put this up, Mike, and this is from the Navajo nation president, Russell Begaye, he said in a statement today. In part he said, "In this day and age, all tribal nations still battle insensitive references to our people. The prejudice that Native American people face is an unfortunate historical legacy."

And previously the National Congress of American Indians has condemned President Trump's use of Pocahontas. I said that in the open of the chow. They say it is a slur. Is it a slur?

SHIELDS: Yes, especially is they say it is. And I think if they are offended by and they are the people of record of that and we should all listen to that.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So then how can Sarah Sanders stand there at the podium and say, it's not a slur, the president doesn't mean it as a slur, and then, you know, people -- it's fake news, it's not a slur, why are you reporting on it? And of course the president didn't mean it at that. I mean, come on, really?

WILSON: Don, because her job -- Don, the reason she does that is because her job is contingent upon her being a serial, congenital liar in defense of Donald Trump's latest outrages. I mean, she probably has something like tiny shriveled husk left in her soul where she realizes this is the wrong thing to do.

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Rick...

WILSON: But she does it anyway because other they'll replace her.

SHIELDS: Every White House press secretary goes out and advocates on behalf of the president. Barack Obama's press secretary...

WILSON: Right. But few presidents...

SHIELDS: Hang on...

WILSON: Few presidents go out and sling over racial --

SHIELDS: Barack Obama's...

WILSON: Few presidents go out and sling over racial code words like that.

SHIELDS: Right. That's not what we're talking about.

WILSON: Few presidents go out and crap on the dignity and legacy of the of people like these code talkers, these heroic veterans. And then send their press secretary out to answer questions in a way that isn't saying, well, the president regrets what he said today, he made a mistake, he truly wishes he had not said that.

Instead she goes out and she tries to bury people in an avalanche of horse shit every day, because this is her job. I get that that's her job. I get the White House press secretary often has to defend the indefensible.

[22:19:53] But in very few cases in our modern political history, has the White House press secretary had to go out and defend somebody who is slinging stuff that is demonstrably racially charged.

SHIELDS: Rick, you and all...

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: If Barack Obama or George Bush went out and said something that was so on the edge like that for a White House press secretary. It's just doesn't -- it's just not the case.

LEMON: Go ahead, Mike.

SHIELDS: Well, if you want to keep your doctor -- if you want your doctor you can keep your doctor is a lie the White House put forward and the press secretary said...

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: Yes, but how racial was that, Mike? I mean, come on, man. Look, but you know -- you know...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Hey, I just listened to you talk for a second. Why don't you let me talk for a second, OK?

WILSON: There's a difference in arguing and advocating for policy -- there's a difference between arguing and advocating for policy...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: No, that's an excellent point.

WILSON: ... and going out and defending the indefensible.

SHIELDS: I would love to -- I would love to ask bound on that point. Two things, first of all, Rick, your arguments as a critic of the president would be more cogent if you didn't make them so personal and angry and start calling people congenital liars when they're doing their job. Don't -- you can respond in a second.

WILSON: Well, Mike, it's...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Hold on. Secondly, you are bringing up a very good point between policy and rhetoric, OK. And I think this is something -- Don, you asked, what's going on here, what's going on in the country. We just had the best black Friday and cyber Monday that we've had in 20 years, the economy is booming.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: What does that have to do with calling someone a racial slur?

SHIELDS: No, I'm getting to that. My point is...

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: It makes racism totally cool then?

SHIELDS: No, it does not. Of course, that is not what I'm saying. And don't say that. It's outrageous.

LEMON: And if you are saying we just had the best...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: No, Mike...

LEMON: Listen, this president is always saying -- Mike, hold on, hold on, hold on.

SHIELDS: Let me finish my point.

LEMON: Hold on, hold on, hold on, everyone. This is me and you talking.

SHIELDS: This is my point before you call me a racist on television.

LEMON: No, listen, I'm not calling you a racist on television.

SHIELDS: I didn't call you a racist.

LEMON: Let me finish. This is me and Mike talking here now. So you are saying we've had the best black Friday, and the president is always talking about the stock market and how great the economy is.

SHIELDS: Right.

LEMON: But then he says everybody in this country is hurting, where are the hurting people, then, if we've just had the best black Friday, the stock market is doing so well. You're negating his talk that this country is so terrible, that the last president left in such a dire situation, that everyone is, no one has any money, no one can afford to pay their bills.

But we've just had, you bring up the best black Friday, the stock market, and on and on and on. So, what are you saying here, and what does that have to do with calling someone a racial slur and defending it from the podium at the White House?

SHIELDS: The point I'm trying to make is that I believe -- as a political analyst, I believe that the country is looking at two different things. They are a group of Americans that -- I don't agree with this perspective, I think he should not say that, let me make that clear.

But there are a group of Americans that are looking at this and going, you know, cable news is covering the president, they're criticizing him for what he said, the economy is getting better, that's what I care about.

And those people are looking for jobs and higher wages. There's a higher educated -- higher income group of Americans that are saying, I have the luxury of being outraged at everything he says and tweets every single day.

And so when you ask the question, what's going on in the country and how can this keep happening. I believe that half of the country is completely outraged by this, and finds it offensive, and the other half of the country is saying, you know what, the economy is booming, that's all noise, and I think the press's job is to sort the difference of those things out. We should absolutely cover the fact that this is offensive. Don't get me wrong about that.

LEMON: Mike, we can hold...

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: You're asking what's going on in the country while this is happening. That's what happened.

LEMON: We can hold two or three or four or five thoughts in our head at the same time. You can want those things for the country. You can also want your president not to be a racist, and not to make racist comments. And not to do things that are -- some people deem to be -- that something's going on with him, that when people question his fitness for the job, meaning, what is appropriate, you can hold all of those thoughts at the same time, it doesn't make you un-American.

You're supposed to be able to criticize people in authority, you're supposed to be able to criticize the president. The president works for us. He works for us. We don't work for him. Meaning, American citizens. Go ahead, Van.

JONES: Look, I think this conversation is important. The one thing we haven't talked enough about tonight is the actual Native American community that didn't stop producing heroes with World War II.

You said, Don, what's going on in the country right now. One thing that's going on in the country right now is that Native Americans right now are fighting to prevent a pipeline from being extended, the Keystone pipeline started leaking, that was a committee warning us about this.

The real problems on the reservations are canary's in the coal mine for the rest of us, when it comes to addiction, there's a lot of genius and wisdom and beauty and strength in that community we could all benefit from, and yet, they are almost always ignored, and then when they get a moment, that gets crapped on.

I just want to say, if you're a Native American, if you're on a reservation, if you're watching this program tonight. Your needs should not continue to go ignored in your ongoing heroism should not be ignored by this country or by this president.

LEMON: What are we going to do -- what are we going to -- in 10 years, what are we going to look back and say about all of these moments that so many people want to excuse about this person's behavior? That there are certain things that you can't talk about that are off-limits, when Nancy used to finish Ronald sentence -- Ronald Reagan's -- President Reagan's sentences because he couldn't finish it himself.

[22:24:59] When are we going to not be afraid to say, what is going on with this person? Are we going to look back in 2027 and say, you know, the press should have said something about this person's behavior.

They shouldn't have been afraid of being called biased or, you know, fake or whatever, because they were speaking the truth about someone's behavior that is just -- I just -- I remember when my grandmother was going through it, and she would say little things like that, and we would try to pretend that it wasn't true.

But I don't know what's up, that's all I have to say. So, listen, thank you all, I've said my peace. Van, I want to congratulate you on your show. I sent you a personal message about the show Van Jones. The Van Jones show it's a primetime hour with a live audience looking at the forces that elected Donald Trump and the anti-Trump resistance movement and the future of both major parties. The Van Jones show twice a month, beginning in January. Van, congratulations. I'm so happy for you.

JONES: Thanks, Don. I learned from the best, I appreciate you, brother.

LEMON: To a great job. And listen, don't stop, OK? Continue on.

JONES: Thank you, brother. LEMON: When we come back, the New York Times is reporting that

President Trump is now telling people that the infamous Access Hollywood tape - here we go again - is fake. Even though he said I said it, and I'm sorry.

[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: It was -- and let's be honest about this, it still is. A shocking moment in an extraordinary presidential race. This is then candidate Donald Trump caught on tape saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful women. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do whatever you want?

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy, you can do any of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: There was outrage, there was intense criticism, and there was something more. A very, very rare apology also on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I've said and done things I regret. And the words released today on this more than decade old video are one of them. I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: A month later he was president-elect. Has he somehow forgotten what happened just a year ago? Because inside a New York Times article on the president support for Roy Moore comes this report, "Something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now famous Access Hollywood tape. He suggested to a senator earlier this year, that it was not authentic and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently."

And the Times Maggie Haberman tells CNN tonight that a third person now reports the president questions the tape, even though he admitted it was him on that tape at that time.

And today's White House -- at today's White House briefing, reporters asked Sarah Sanders if President Trump is rewriting history, and honestly, she didn't have a great answer. Listen to what she said with, this exchange with CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Does the president acknowledge saying that was on the Access Hollywood tape. (CROSSTALK)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I said he had already addressed it. And that we didn't have any updates to that. I said what he didn't like and what he found troubling were the accounts that are being reported now.

ZELENY: What accounts that are being reported now that weren't reported last year. What are you talking about?

SANDERS: The ones that are current that he's questioning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Politico quotes Access Hollywood saying, "Let us make this absolutely clear, the tape is very real. That would be the tape with his voice and his words and then him exiting the bus." You see his face.

Joining me now, CNN political analyst, April Ryan, and New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni. A CNN contributor. It's unbelievable to sit here and watch this and have a group of people try to pretend that something is what you see in front of your very eyes, and what you hear with your very own ears.

Frank Bruni, why is the president trying to rewrite history here. I mean, this is astonishing even by his standers.

FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I'm so glad you're zeroing in on this one, I read that paragraph in the Times story. I stopped in my tracks, my jaw dropped, I couldn't believe what I was reading. Because as you said Donald Trump apologized for this at the time. Billy Bush was fired over this, and never said, I doubt the authenticity of it.

If memory serves me, Melania Trump who wasn't doing a lot of media even came out, you know, and did some damage control. I begin to wonder if the president's grip on reality is firm. Because he's apologized for this as we've said. And now he is saying to people around him, I doubt its authenticity.

I also wonder if for Donald Trump, truth is merely what you can convince people of. You know, it's what you can sell. And now that all this time has elapsed maybe somehow he's convinced himself that people are distant enough from those events, that if he can cast doubt on them they will think it differently. I don't know. It's absolutely stupefying.

LEMON: Well, listen, you say grip on reality. And I mean, one has to wonder if -- I remember sitting here, I don't know if you were here, Frank and April, the night that the tape dropped, the Access Hollywood tape and then his apology. We sat here all night waiting for the White House, the president -- excuse me, the candidate. Candidate Trump -- the Trump administer -- my gosh, the Trump team, they're going to do an apology.

He's going to have a response. And we kept waiting hour and hour after hour, and finally it came out. And then we said for the first time, Donald Trump has apologizes for something, that we to our recollection for the first time.

[22:35:01] He has a problem with the truth, April. I know you sit there in the briefings almost every single day, and you have to fight to get the truth out.

APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes.

LEMON: And the moment you try to get at the truth, Sarah Sanders cuts you off. And then she goes to somebody else and then the next person most times...

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Well, condescending...

LEMON: ... well, the next person doesn't ask the same person. Why doesn't the next person ask the same question as the person before them, until she answers the questions, because she can't keep cutting off everyone else? Why does he have -- why does this White House have such a problem with the truth and with facts? Is this a strategy?

RYAN: Yes, of course it's a strategy. There's an intimidation factor in that room from this White House. I've watched some of the greats in that room, reporters, keep asking questions. And reporters behind them follow up, there's a different breed of reporter now, and some may get upset with me in that room, but, hey, it's what it is. I mean, I was there, and I saw some of the greats as they left. But when it comes to...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: What do you mean a different breed of reporter?

RYAN: ... this president -- a different breed of reporter, when I say a different breed of reporter, we are now, some of these reporters were embedded with the candidates, and when they come in, they feel a friendship to a certain extent with them, then you have reporters who are from the same party who are leaning.

I mean, I remember there was a time, and Don, I know you remember this. You know, we used to hear someone on TV who said, that's the way it was. And you didn't know his politics, you just trusted the facts. And now if you question, you're considered someone from the opposing matter, versus just trying to get the facts.

LEMON: As a journalist, yes.

RYAN: And then, you know, God forbid, yes, God forbid you are someone of a different race. I'm speaking of myself, you're considered an opposition. I don't bring my politics, I just ask questions about what's right and wrong, or things that go on in Washington.

Now when it comes to the issues of truth with this president, he is a great brander, he has been able to make that name so powerful, emblazoned on buildings around the worlds, that has catapulted him into the highest office in the land.

Now, at issue is the truth of who he is. That's a whole another thing. Or the truth of circumstances that happened. He does not want to be seen as someone who fails or has failed or less than what he is supposed to be.

LEMON: Well, let's...

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: So, I guess that's why -- go ahead.

LEMON: Finish your thought, because I want to get Frank in on this.

RYAN: Yes, I guess that's why he is now trying to do revisionist history, and we very close to the situation, said they had thought about actually saying, discrediting the tape early on, they were told not to do this, so this is something they wanted to do early on, maybe that might have been why they waited and waited.

But that was a very big day, remember the Russia issue came out, saying Russia was trying to get involved in our election process.

LEMON: Yes.

RYAN: And then a couple minutes later, this dominated the whole day, the whole news cycle for the week.

LEMON: And maybe they didn't know if anything else was going to come out, and that's why they said, well, you may as well, you know, fess up to it now, because you don't know what else is out there.

RYAN: Yes. Then wait. Yes.

LEMON: Frank, this is clear. Let's talk about the truth.

RUAN: Yes, right.

LEMON: This is coming out because of the flood of sexual allegations against various public figures including Roy Moore. And the president is now, I guess he feels -- according to the New York Times article, some sort of kinship with Roy Moore. Or maybe that he, you know, he has to, because there are allegations against this president, that he has to somehow make up for that, and then he has to lie about other things.

BRUNI: You know, Don, I don't think this president thinks in terms of truth and lie. He thinks in terms of what you can get away with, and what you can't get away with, what you can convince people of, and what you can't. There's the version of events that flatters Donald Trump, and that's what he would consider truth because that's what's convenient to him, and there's the version of events that doesn't.

And you know, April used a couple of words and phrases I thought were really important, brand. His name emblazoned on buildings. We can never forget that Donald Trump is a salesman above all else. He's a pitch person. And what he gives you is a pitch, he is selling himself as an effective, credible trustworthy president.

And he will say and do anything in the service of that sale, much as he would when he was selling real estate, and I think that's fundamental to understanding Donald Trump and what he we call his relationship with the truth.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, it's interesting to be back, I heard my colleague Anderson Cooper say the same thing. I mentioned it to my team this morning, been gone for a week or so, a little bit over. And you get an interesting perspective when you sort of sit back and watch this from afar.

[22:39:56] I said, do I sit there every single night and deal with this stuff? Because when I'm sitting there watching it at home as a spectator, I can't believe what I'm watching, and I can't believe how people actually believe some of the things that come out of this president's mouth, of the podium, and of some of the people on television. It is incredulous to watch.

I can imagine sitting there and I have this platform, I felt powerless, I don't feel powerless now, because I have this platform that many people at home don't have it, so I'm here to speak for you.

Thank you, guys. I appreciate it.

When we come back, speaking of brands, multiple reports about the Trump family and life at the White House. Melania repeatedly -- reportedly reluctant to be the first lady, Jared Kushner's role as senior adviser to President Trump diminished. And Don Jr. and Ivanka's relationship with their father. Where does that stand. We're going to bring you the details, and that's next.

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[22:44:59] LEMON: A moment of holiday celebration at the White House today as first lady Melania Trump welcomes children to decorate for Christmas. That's always very nice.

But behind the scenes, though, could the close knit Trump family's circle be turning into a circular firing squad?

I want to bring in now CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio, he's the author of "The Truth About Trump." CNN political contributor, Emily Jane Fox, staff writer for Vanity Fair, and Vanity Fair contributing editor, Sarah Ellison.

So good to have you on. You have an interesting piece, so let me start with your piece in Vanity Fair detailing Melania's reluctance to embrace her role as first lady.

And here's what you write.

You said, "There may have been -- excuse me, there may never have been a first lady less prepared or suited to the role. This isn't something she wanted and it isn't something he ever thought he'd win. A long- time friend of the Trumps told me. She didn't want to -- she didn't want this come hell or high water. I don't think she thought it was going to happen."

But your sources say she also pushed him to run for office, right?

SARAH ELLISON, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: Well, Roger Stone, who was an early Trump adviser and still is in contact with him, told me that yes, this was not something she was that into, it was never her thing, was his word or the way he described it. But he also said that Trump had thought about it, and Michael knows this, Trump had thought about running for a long time, and had been talking about it, ever since he wrote his book, "Art of the Deal," when he went -- he sort of went up to New Hampshire and he gave a speech at a rotary club, it was shockingly similar to the kind of speeches that he gives today.

Anyway, he had been playing around with this idea for a long, long time, she was the one who said to him, either do it or don't do it.

LEMON: Yes.

ELLISON: And Roger Stone said, simply by saying that pushed him to do it.

LEMON: Who wants that -- that's a lot of responsibility, it's a lot of attention, it takes you out of your normal life, especially if you have kids.

Here's a statement though, from the White House about your article saying in part, "As a magazine tailored to women, it's shameful that they continue to write salacious and false stories meant to demean Mrs. Trump, rather than focus on her positive work as first lady and a supportive wife -- and a supportive wife and mother as has been slated on the record many times before, she is honored by her role." What do you say?

ELLISON: I would invite anyone to try to find the salacious part of the story, honestly, So I don't think that's there, I also think that this is not meant to demean her. You know, she was conflicted about this unquestionably, we write a lot about how she's devoted to her son. I don't think that that's part is controversial, and...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But there have been a number of women who didn't want to be first lady and they've said I didn't want this. What's wrong with that? What's wrong with this?

ELLISON: Well, I think that actually we can have a really interesting discussion about what would be like to be a first lady.

LEMON: Right.

ELLISON: I mean, Michelle Obama was a better lawyer than Barack before they got to the White House. And then she is doing something very different once they get in there. So I do think it's a weird role.

LEMON: Yes.

ELLISON: But -- yes, I feel -- I feel proud of the story.

LEMON: I want to talk -- and let's talk about Jared Kushner, I want to bring Emily in. Because he was handed a very lofty portfolio. When Donald Trump became president Jared was tasked with this Middle East peace, China talks, improving ties with Mexico, criminal justice reform and innovating government.

But then this weekend I read the Washington Post, there are a number, a couple different newspapers, lengthy reports questioning Jared Kushner, questioning what he's accomplished in his 10-month, in his 10-month tenure. What do you jeering, is there a changing role for Jared Kushner inside this White House, Emily?

EMILY JANE FOX, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: So from everything I have heard, this change mostly occurred over the summer when John Kelly was brought in as chief of staff. Now there are two sides to this. There's the side of the supporters of Jared Kushner who say, this is something he invited, at first when he came into the White House, he had so many things going on, the West Wing was like the Wild West, and he felt like he needed to be in every meeting in order to make sure that the president was taken care of and his best interests were at heart.

And now, with some semblance of order in the West Wing he feels like he can actually, you know, hone in on what he wants to be doing, which are these Middle East peace talks, some stuff about NAFTA, government I.R., so instead of having to do everything, he's able to focus on a couple things.

The detractors would say, he's being sidelined by John Kelly and his role, and his judgment is being questioned. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of those two.

LEMON: When we come back, I want to hear from Michael D'Antonio why he thinks Jared Kushner is no longer front and center. And also Ivanka Trump came out with a strong criticism of Roy Moore. We'll talk about that when we come right back.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Russia investigation is moving deep into the president's inner circle and first year of missteps are really tripping up his legislative program.

So what's the move inside the East Wing? My experts are back with me now. So a number of reports the New York -- the New York Times is reporting that Jared Kushner spent five or six hours a day with the president now he's rarely seen. Why do you think he's no longer front and center, Michael?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I think he is becoming radioactive. You see with General Flynn that he is now apparently in the midst of making a deal with Robert Mueller. He's no longer friends with the other people who are being investigated. The joint agreement among their lawyers has been -- it now excludes him. Their next target up is now Jared Kushner.

So at what point does he become someone the president might like to put a little distance between himself and that person? There's also this family dynamic of this is the president's son-in-law. This is why people in complex businesses don't bring their children in.

You try to shelter them and you try to prevent them from being swallowed up when there's a scandal. And so we see now things are getting more heated. I think there's a danger zone here, and if I were Jared Kushner, I'd want to pull back myself.

LEMON: Yes.

FOX: Well, this is why there's anti-nepotism laws the focus for 50 years.

LEMON: They're discussing so much, and they keep saying well...

D'ANTONIO: Right.

LEMON: ... they're doing what they want there. Let's talk about Ivanka, OK? Because you know, she came out and she had a statement about Roy Moore saying there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children.

The president has really stood by Roy Moore, saying, you know, well, he's saying recently Roy Moore has denied the allegations and so he's sort of tacitly saying, you know, I stick by him but the people of Alabama should make the chose. And then Doug Jones used her, Ivanka's -- you know, criticism in an ad. The president cannot be happy about this.

[22:55:00] D'ANTONIO: Well, I'm not sure that this is completely surprising to the president. This is maybe another case where with Ivanka's help, he has two bases. He's got the Ivanka base, which is more younger, he's more liberal, more moderate. And then he's got his red meat base that the president himself appeals to.

So this gives him a little bit of cover. You know I may not be calling out the person accused of pedophilia but my daughter is, and then she's also protecting her brand. Because we have to remember if it's the Trumps, you're talking about a brand as well as public policy.

ELLISON: I think it's such an -- in some ways it almost feels organized even though it's probably not. Because it's such -- he'll say something terrible, this happened in Charlottesville, this happened in a lot of different settings where he says something, and then she softens, he says something and then she softens it, and they get the base and the business community at the same time, or the base and the feminists at the same time, or the base and people who don't like pedophilia at the same time.

FOX: You know, and there is some level of organization there because...

(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Can I say something because you tweeted something?

FOX: Yes.

LEMON: You said this is a very rare if singular example of the president and first star of being publicly at odds. Go on.

FOX: Yes. Well, the interview that she did with the Associated Press in which she said this statement about Roy Moore was something they setup ahead of time, and she knew she was going to be asked this question ahead of time.

And so this was not an off-the-cuff response that she gave. It also happened to be exactly what Mark Short, her colleague in the White House said a few days earlier on Meet the Press. I don't think that this is something she just went into the interview and the first thing that came off her mind she said. So this is definitely something that they had time to strategies about and talk to the whole White House communications team I would imagine.

LEMON: SO I ask the question in a different way, you answered a little bit. But why do you think it took so long. She did criticize, you know, but she didn't really say his name. She didn't say his name. What took so long?

FOX: It's a good question. I asked for comment from Ivanka Trump for several days multiple times and was not given comment.

D'ANTONIO: I think they're looking for the angles. You know, it takes a while to study this and decide what you're going to do. And the president has always been about finding the angle.

LEMON: Yes. I think you're right. Having it both ways. Thank you very much. Fascinating conversation. I appreciate it. Good seeing all of you. I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

When we come back, the president targeting the press in a new series of attacks, yet touting conspiracy theorists who are actually spreading false information. It is pretty clear he doesn't respect the press but what about the Constitution? We'll break it down, that's next.

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