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Omarosa Warns Trump's White House; Black Power Seen in Alabama Elections. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired December 14, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us.
Another day, another departure from the Trump White House. And this one shines a light on what could be a big problem for team Trump with a key voting bloc. After all, as we learned in Alabama this week, no candidate can afford to take black voters, especially women for granted.
So, the departure of Omarosa, one of the very few African-American in the Trump administration. It matters. It bears repeating a stunning 98 percent of black women who voted in Alabama's Senate election, cast their ballots for Doug Jones giving a democrat the victory in a state that has been redder than red for years.
So the Trump White House cannot afford to have this be their message to African-Americans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What the hell do you have to lose?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Yes, sources tell CNN Omarosa's departure was a long time coming. Yes, there have been questions all along about exactly how much she was doing for the voters when she was supposed to represent. But the fact remains the Trump administration, one of the least diverse in years, is less diverse tonight.
What message does that send to voters? We'll discuss all of that. Let's bring in CNN politics editor at large, Chris Cillizza, and political analyst April Ryan.
Good evening to both of you.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Hi, Don.
LEMON: It's a very interesting story. And there are lots of legs to it. A lot of tentacles and nuance here, right. It's not just the departure of a staff member that's controversial.
Chris, the president's approval rating among black voters according to the latest Pew poll is down 7 percent. It wasn't high to begin with. But are all these indications that President Trump and republicans are going to have a big problem on their hands come 2018? Because black voters and young voters may be mobilized against him.
CILLIZZA: Yes, Don, you mentioned the 98 to 2 vote among black women for Doug Jones in Alabama. A couple more numbers out of the exit poll. Ninety six to four of all African-Americans for Jones over Moore.
And most interesting to your question I think is the fact that African-Americans made up 29 percent of the electorate on Tuesday in Alabama. Why is that number important? It was 28 percent for Barack Obama's re-election in Alabama in 2012. The chance to re-elect the first African-American president ever? What does that tell us?
It tells us that African-Americans are very fired up, enthusiastic and keen on turning out to send a message to Donald Trump and to the Republican Party. And African-Americans are a huge pillar of the democratic base. You get a fired up democratic base, and a less than fired up republican base, you get Alabama.
LEMON: Yes. April, republicans lost the Senate seat in Alabama, in large part because of black people, especially women, going to the polls in big numbers. And with Omarosa leaving the White House they have lost their liaison with the community, whether she was effective or not, we can discuss that. But Sarah Sanders was asked about her departure today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With Omarosa leaving how many senior staffers here at the White House are African-American?
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have a really diverse team across the board at the White House. We always want to continue to grow the diversity here. We're going to continue to do that and continue to work for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell me...
SANGERS: I don't have a number directly in front of me specifically not African-American, but I can say, again, we have a very diverse team at the White House, certainly a very diverse team in the press office, and something that we strive for every day is to add and grow to be more diverse and more representative of the country at large.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: April, you're at the White House every day, Omarosa was the only African-American earning a top White House salary, in her position, in that type of position. Talk to me about the diversity there. APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, let me give you a
little bit of history first, the George W. Bush republican administration had the most diverse republican administration racially.
This administration does not compare at all. And when you have people at the table, their voices ring true, I think about Conde Rice back in the day, during the George W. Bush years, when there was the issue of the University of Michigan and the Amicus brief, you know, with the issue of admissions and the preferential admissions that they were dealing with at that time at press -- well at the Amicus brief for.
When you have people in the administration, they bring the issues of a culture to the table.
[22:04:58] I mean there have been a lot of issues on the table. You know, taking the knee. The misunderstanding, if you will, of the administration as to why Colin Kaepernick was taking the knee. It was over police-involved shootings.
Instead, if you had that voice at the table maybe it would have changed the dynamic of saying it's about the flag and about soldiers.
Also, you know, Charlottesville. You know, if you had those voices at the table, and maybe they are, but they weren't maybe loud enough, you know, there could have been more sensitivity, it makes a difference. When you have people of all cultures, to include maybe Native Americans.
LEMON: All right.
RYAN: You know, listen, we just heard what happened with the Navajo code talkers with the president having a backdrop of Andrew Jackson and talking about Pocahontas. There is more of a sensitivity and hope for understanding when you have people of different backgrounds at the table.
LEMON: Yes. Chris, I want you to take a look at President Trump's current cabinet.
LEMON: The only black member of his cabinet is Secretary Ben Carson. Elaine Chao is an Asian-American. There's now a total of three women in the cabinet. With the addition of Kirstin Nelson as homeland security secretary. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta is Hispanic.
From day one the president has been criticized for having a white and male heavy cabinet compared to previous administrations. Is that deserved when you look at previous administrations?
CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, Donald Trump had a very clear focus in cabinet picks, one was wealthy business people he knew, Steve Mnuchin, Wilbur Ross, and the other was military folks. Obviously now one, John Kelly is his chief of staff, but obviously Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster now on a senior position not on a cabinet level position. And I think everything else was just sort of, you know, there. I don't
think -- I think April makes an important point, which is, it's sort of the voices that are in a room when decisions are being made.
I think Donald Trump diversity is not something that he is terribly focused on in a way that Barack Obama was, in a way that George W. Bush was, in a way that Bill Clinton was. I mean, it's just -- it's not a top tier priority when he is picking who does what.
One quick thing on Sarah Sanders, when she says I don't have a number in terms of the number of African-Americans who work in the West Wing. I mean, the reason she doesn't have a number is not because it is impossible to calculate. It is because they don't want to share that number. Because we know, certainly as you mentioned, Don, at that top pay level, it's only Omarosa.
CILLIZZA: So, I mean, let's -- you know, let's have a cut through of why she didn't answer that question.
LEMON: Let's talk about Omarosa more now. Speaking out about her departure, she's not going away quietly. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OMAROSA MANIGAULT-NEWMAN, OUTGOING ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: I resigned, and I didn't do that in the residence as being reported. John Kelly and I sat down in the situation room, which is a very secure, a very quiet room in the White House, and we had a candid conversation. And I wanted to make the one year mark. That was one of the goals that I set out to. And then get back to my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I think people were surprised that she had access to the situation room. But did you notice the emphasis on situation room, April? She says that she resigned, she says there was no drama, what are you hearing?
RYAN: Well, let's go back to the briefing, Don. That question about her exit Tuesday night was asked of Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Sarah said she didn't want to get into the weeds of what happened, she would not deny the allegations or accusations that Omarosa was vulgar, cursing and you know, tried to get into the White House.
You know, I continue to hear that. And it's been reported over and over again by other news organizations. And you know, we broke it here first. We started talking about it.
But the bottom line is, she (Inaudible) to purpose did not make the year, the exit is not pretty, and there's still -- I mean, this is not over yet. She's gone on television, basically threatening the White House. This -- we're going to watch and see how this unfolds.
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Let me play that, since you talked about it.
RYAN: It's not...
LEMON: Let me play that since you talked about the threatening of the White House. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWMAN: But when I have a chance to tell my story, Michael. Quite a story to tell. As the only African-American woman in this White House, as a senior staff and assistant to the president, I have seen things that have made me uncomfortable, that have upset me, that have affected me deeply and emotionally, that has affected my community and my people. And when I can tell my story, it is a profound story that I know the world will want to hear.
LEMON: It sounded like a threat. I don't know if you read it that way, Chris.
[22:09:59] CILLIZZA: I mean, yes.
LEMON: And that's a reality show tease if I've ever seen one.
CILLIZZA: I was going to say...
LEMON: She's taking one right of the Trump playbook.
CILLIZZA: I was just going to say it is the cliffhanger of a reality TV star.
LEMON: This is the "Apprentice" playing out...
LEMON: ... and Donald Trump, President Trump is the only one to blame because he hired her.
CILLIZZA: Well, I mean, and that's the thing. Like, the reason that -- the reason that Omarosa is in the White House is because Donald Trump likes her, he has always liked her, he thought that she should have a place there.
Donald Trump had to know, given he met Omarosa through a reality TV show that she wasn't likely to say, hey, thanks for that great job, I'm going to head out into the private sector, probably you won't hear from me again.
I think it's not who she is and she's not who she ever been. I do think it is remarkable. April mention this. This is someone that according to Sarah Sanders will continue to be paid through January 20th, but on December 14th, is saying, just wait until I can tell my story which is remarkable.
LEMON: Yes. We have a lot more to talk about...
RYAN: Taxpayer dollars.
LEMON: Yes. Stand by, April. We had a lot more to talk about. When we come back, where do issues with the White House's lack of diversity really lie? The president said he'd choose the best people, who could he choose next?
LEMON: Omarosa says a lack of diversity in the White House made her job very challenging.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:15:01] NEWMAN: It has been very, very challenging being the only African-American woman in the senior staff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But there are a lot of questions about whether she really accomplished anything in the job that she is now leaving.
Here to discuss is CNN political commentator, Paris Dennard who was the director of black outreach for President George W. Bush, political commentator Shermichael Singleton, and Ayshia Connors who is a former deputy director of African-American engagement at the RNC.
It's great to have all of you on. Three black conservatives. Listen, I've got to ask you, Ayshia, did the -- I'm hearing from sources that the White House reached out to black conservatives today saying it was OK to talk about Omarosa, criticize her and they would give cover, is that true?
AYSHIA CONNORS, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, RNC AFRICAN-AMERICAN ENGAGEMENT: I mean, yes, they told us to take the gloves off, they wanted us to share our experience. I mean, in my experience, when I was at the RNC, and when other black conservatives or establishment folks were trying to engage her and trying to do black outreach, we were blocked, and we were shut out.
So now that she went on and was talking about what her experience was in the White House and how accomplished she was, I mean, we got the OK to go ahead and express our stories, so.
LEMON: Paris, why didn't people do that earlier? Why do it now? 2
CONNORS: So, look, I mean, the black republicans, when we had a chance to work with her, and we went out of our way to work with her, we just realized it was too much of a distraction, she didn't want us there, and so we just decided not to waste our time. We decided to turn our focus to Congress.
You know, we worked with Mark Walker and Senator Scott on the HBCU initiatives, so we turned away from the White House with the hope that one day we'd be able to break in and help the White House direct our message to our community.
LEMON: OK. So, Paris, this is for you, and you heard the question. So, weren't you at the White House all week or today? Right?
PARIS DENNARD, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, it was Christmas party, that was...
DENNARD: I'm part of that, yes.
LEMON: OK. So then why not speak out before I ask you the same question, why come out now against Omarosa after she's gone if she wasn't effectively doing her job. Why not speak up earlier?
DENNARD: Well, I'm not here to trash Omarosa, but I am here to just say set the record straight as it relates to the diversity issues that are there. I think Ayshia brought up a good point. There are a lot of republicans that happen to be African-American out there, saying they were blocked by Omarosa specifically, and not allowed to have a seat at the table.
I did not have that experience. And I know there were many that did not have that experience. So, just because that wasn't my experience, does not mean that not the experience of a lot of people on that didn't have the seat.
But I will say that it relates to why people are coming out now? I think it looks to what she said at that interview on Good Morning America. It was a veiled threat or an overt threat to the president, to her former colleagues, or current colleagues, if you believe that she was resigned or fired, her current colleagues.
And it was sort of an interesting statement of that she was -- that surprised many of us who spoke to Omarosa privately and publicly, that she was somehow upset or not comfortable with things that were said at the White House by the president or her colleagues.
And so, I think many people are coming out now, because they said enough is enough, and they see it as an opportunity. A lot of us see it as an opportunity for the progress, for moving forward, to making sure we can unify around those who want to unify around this president to get the job done to make America great again for the African- American community.
DENNARD: Because we believe that the president has the potential and the opportunity and the policies to do just that.
LEMON: OK. So then you said that you didn't want to come on and trash Omarosa. Do -- I'm wondering, any of you, Shermichael, you can add to this. Do you think you are doing the bidding or the dirty work for the White House by thrashing them saying, OK, black republicans take the gloves off? I mean, why didn't they call white republicans to do that? Why didn't -- do you know what I'm saying?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Right, I'm not going to be on this network, and shucking and jiving and attacking this black woman because she's down.
You know, look, I know people have their issues with Omarosa, and that's their perspective but that's not what I'm going to do. You know, let's not be stuck on stupid here, Don. You mean to tell me that no one or part of the transition team realized hey, why aren't we seeing more black faces? Maybe we should look into this. You mean to tell me Omarosa had that much power that she could block every single African-American republican from getting an appointment? That's not like a load of crap to me and I'm not fine...
LEMON: Maybe that -- maybe she was doing what they wanted.
CONNORS: No, it didn't. It just wasn't worth it, Shermichael, it just wasn't worth anybody putting their efforts to try to do it, if that's what the situation is going to be...
SINGLETON: No, no, no. I'm not saying it as it pertains to African- American republicans. What I'm saying is the individuals on the transition team, those individuals who are selecting candidates to be a part of the administration. You mean to tell me not a single person or part of transition said, why are not we seeing more African- American people, we should look into this, we need to make sure that there are more of them a part of the process.
CONNORS: They absolutely did do that, though.
SINGLETON: And so you mean to tell me Omarosa is able to block them all together? That sounds ridiculous to me.
CONNORS: The family credible...
LEMON: Well, let me jump in here. I mean, Ayshia, it doesn't bother.
SINGLETON: One person, give me a break?
[22:20:01] LEMON: It sort of bothers me when, you know, when I started getting calls from people saying, black republicans have been told to take the gloves off when it comes to Omarosa, because the president is the one who put Omarosa there in the first place, so why is he using black republicans to go after Omarosa?
Can't he go after Omarosa, can't he say what was wrong? Can't someone an administration official come out and say instead of using black republicans to do it, do you disagree with that?
CONNORS: I mean...
DENNARD: Well, Don, I would just -- sorry.
CONNORS: I mean, what I can say is that I know for a fact that a high volume meeting is going to take place on Monday at the White House with some credible black republicans to discuss tax reform and the urban agenda. So even just days after she's gone, you've already got, you know, Kay Coles James, J.C. Watts, Michael Steele, some credible names that we all know, that are going to be able to help move the ball forward. So that's all I wanted to make sure I point out.
LEMON: OK. Did anyone say -- did anyone say to the president or to someone senior in the administration, that this person is hurting our efforts to reach out to the black community? Did someone said that to them?
DENNARD: Don, they knew it.
LEMON: But what's it?
SINGLETON: Did they just not care if they knew it? Did they just not care?
DENNARD: It is not that they just did not care, it was the fact that this woman was an assistant to the president, had the ear of the president and they trusted her opinion. Because listen, you should trust the people on your team, you should believe that they're giving you wise council, you should believe that they tell you this person is not qualified that you don't take them, that they're telling you the God's truth, and so I...
CONNORS: Paris, how do we explain the insensitive comments that the president made, when you've got the highest level black republican there, quote, unquote, "republican there" and you don't think that she was able to scream or feel and tell him hey, this might be insensitive? He's not from our community.
LEMON: So you're tell...
CONNORS: Can you imagine if a credible black republican was in the president's ear, we would not be see what we've been seeing, and that's just the bottom line.
LEMON: Well, Paris -- well, Paris, let me ask you this. You said that she had his ear, and he trusted her, he has said he doesn't trust information coming from the intelligence community, why would he trust information coming from Omarosa?
DENNARD: Because he knows her, he has a 14 year relationship with Omarosa. And he hired her.
SINGLETON: My God.
CONNORS: But Paris, Paris. Paris, she has...
DENNARD: But remember, at the end of the day.
SINGLETON: Don, Don...
LEMON: One at a time. One at a time. Let him finish. Let me finish.
DENNARD: Hold on, hold on. Let me just finish my point. Just quickly, at the end of the day, when you serve at the White House, most people serve for 18 months, I had the privilege of serving for four years under George W. Bush. What happened is when the pleasure of the president leaves, you leave.
So while she might have reported to General Kelly, remember, Donald Rumsfeld offered his letter of resignation to President Bush several times. And each time President Bush said no. If President Trump wanted to keep Omarosa around he would have said, Omarosa, I appreciate you, I need you. You need to you stay and she would have stayed.
CONNORS: Paris, being...
DENNARD: The pleasure left and she left.
CONNORS: ... being from the McCain and the Bush world, you should know better.
LEMON: Ayshia and Shermichael. Go ahead, Ayshia.
CONNORS: I mean, I just wanted to say, you should know better, Paris. I mean, she had no...
DENNARD: I should know better for what?
CONNORS: She had no political experience. She's never worked to any capacity, no relationship on either side of aisle. Republicans didn't know her. And democrats didn't like her. So how is that -- how is that -- how are we going to use that to message the community when she's not even credible or well-liked by the black community.
LEMON: All right. Shermichael, stand by. Stand by, everyone because we're going to come back. I'm going to keep you guys and hold you over the break.
When we come back, could energized black voters, women and young black people the biggest threat to the Trump presidency in the coming midterms? Could they be? We'll talk about that coming up.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: We're back and we're talking about the departure of Omarosa. And it also bears repeating that black voters, women and young voters made the difference in Alabama shocking Senate election. So how much of a threat does that pose for the president in the next -- in next year's midterms?
Paris Dennard, Shermichael Singleton, and Ayshia Connors are back with me now. Shermichael, you know, you wanted to respond to Paris before the break?
SINGLETON: I mean, look, Don, you know, you raised the point about the White House sort of giving permission, if you will, to black republicans to attack Omarosa, and here's my point.
How naive are the people at the White House? I mean, do they think that people truly are going to believe that they had no idea whatsoever that some black republicans were being blocked? I know earlier today that the press secretary said, well, we have diversity, we believe in diversity. We want to reflect America. If that's the case, where in the hell are the black people. I mean, seriously, where are they? Outside of the ground, keeper, the butlers, the maids.
SINGLETON: Where are the black people? There are none.
DENNARD: There are some general...
SINGLETON: John -- Paris, don't give me that, the people who are in the White House, not the surgeon general, not Dr. Carson...
SINGLETON: ... not the fellows that you mentioned earlier, people were talking directly to the president.
DENNARD: I did make...
LEMON: We're talking about staffers.
DENNARD: I'll give you. I'll give you...
(CROSSTALK) SINGLETON: Give me a break, man. Help yourself, Paris.
DENNARD: Whoa! Shermichael, calm down, maybe you're bitter because you were fired. But let me keep going.
SINGLETON: Do you really want to go there tonight, Paris?
DENNARD: The issue -- the issue is this.
SINGLETON: Do you really -- wait a minute. Do you really want to go there tonight?
DENNARD: You have -- Shermichael, I'm not going to be there tonight.
SINGLETON: Yes, I may have been fired but at least I have respect for my community. I'd rather have respect than be a sellout, but go ahead.
LEMON: All right.
DENNARD: Watch your mouth, Shermichael.
SINGLETON: Don't tell me to watch my mouth, Paris. You should.
LEMON: Come on, guys. OK, one at a time, please.
DENNARD: You have people in (Inaudible) affairs. You have black staffers in (Inaudible) affairs, you have in the vice president's office, the second lady's office, the White House fellow's office, you have them in black staffers that have -- that are actually white fellow that is committed to HBCUs that is working there in the White House.
So the idea that black staffers are not there at the White House, especially in domestic policy is just not true. They are there.
CONNORS: But who is there in a senior role, Paris that can talk directly to the president?
SINGLETON: Speaking directly to the president. Come on, Paris.
CONNORS: Right. Who's there to talk to the president?
LEMON: The president said he's the only who matters. Listen, I know -- listen, there's name calling. I don't like that. I respect to Shermichael, I don't like that. I mean, Paris and I mean, we have had knock down drag out fights on TV, but there's no name calling. So do you want to...
SINGLETON: Fair enough, Don. Fair enough.
LEMON: OK. So, listen here. This is what I want to say. To your point, though. All right? A different way of saying it, I just got this from someone who I respect a lot, who is African-American.
[22:29:57] He says, "So black republicans are mad because Omarosa blocked them from helping the president pass policies that will hurt black people? And now they want to be on the team of someone who backs Roy Moore, cuts health care for millions of people, especially blacks and lies about voter suppression and refuses to push restoration of the Voting Rights Act and whose tax plan will have a devastating impact on the black community. That's strange to me.
PARIS DENNARD, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I mean, I disagree with that person's analysis especially of the tax plan, I just wrote an op-ed about it, it will actually benefit the black community especially the small business owners.
LEMON: But to the larger point than that?
DENNARD: But to the larger point there were African-Americans that were republican who wanted to serve in the administration from the beginning, and still do.
I got -- I've got an e-mails today, and Facebook messages today from people saying, Paris, I would love the opportunity to serve. I've been told that now we have the opportunity. Can you get my resume to certain people? And yes, I will certainly do that. So, the idea that people don't want to serve... 2 (CROSSTALK)
AYSHIA CONNORS, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, RNC AFRICAN-AMERICAN ENGAGEMENT: Can I chime in here?
LEMON: Go ahead, Ayshia.
CONNORS: OK, so during the campaign, there was a bipartisan effort with black democrats and black republicans with the joint center and with inside America, we collected hundreds, thousands of resumes of black republicans qualified. Not just black republicans but we were prepared for any administration, we submitted names, after the president was elected.
And those names, we have information that Omarosa trashed those and those people -- I mean, those people were never given an interview, they never got a call back, I mean, we're talking about hundreds of qualified subject matters experts. So how do we explain that?
LEMON: But, yes, is that Omarosa's fault or is that the president? As I said, the president said -- the president said...
CONNORS: We got information, that's a direct Omarosa obstructing black republicans.
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: But here's my thing, Don. Again, I go back to, you know, look, I get people have issues on Omarosa, I'm putting this back on the White House.
LEMON: Yes, that was my...
SINGLETON: You cannot tell me people at the White House are so naive that they did not realize that there were African-American republicans who had an interest in working for this administration, I mean, how stupid do they think people are?
DENNARD: They're not. Because they had two black people on the transition team in a senior level which is...
SINGLETON: So then why didn't more black people -- then why didn't more black people get jobs, Paris?
DENNARD: Well, because you should ask the two black people that were on the transition team.
SINGLETON: I'm asking you since you brought it up. I want you to tell America.
DENNARD: I'm telling America.
SINGLETON: So get to it.
DENNARD: A lot -- a lot of people believe that there was a process, that was a backlog. So a lot of people who wanted jobs, that are outside just black republicans. A lot of people who wanted to serve the administration is widely reported that their employment filling process was slow.
DENNARD: And there are a lot of positions to be filled. But some people believe that Omarosa blocked them.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, that's got to be the last word, thank you all. I appreciate your candor and I appreciate -- listen, we're all people of color, and there's a diversity of opinion on this panel, and there are black -- young black conservatives, and so I'm glad that America is getting to see that. I don't think we get to see it often enough. Thank you, all.
DENANRD: Thanks, Don.
SINGLETON: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: I appreciate it. When we come back, new development...
CONNORS: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: Absolutely. When we come back, new development in the Russia investigation. Republicans taking aim at the FBI and the Mueller investigation. We have some new reporting on that right after this break.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: We need to tell you about some new developments tonight in the Russia investigation, more on text messages sent by FBI official Peter Strzok when he was still on Robert Mueller's team.
I want to bring in now CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett. Laura, good evening to you. What are you learning about the role of this FBI agent played in both Robert Mueller's investigation, and the Clinton e-mail investigation?
LAURA JARRETT, JUSTICE REPORTER, CNN: Well, Don, I'm told two weeks ago, when news of these text messages first broke, Peter Strzok was not a household name. But within the FBI he's actually considered one of the bureau's top intelligence experts, and he played a lead role in investigating Hillary Clinton's e-mail private server, and then he's part of the group that decided not to recommend charges for her.
And then finally earlier this summer, he helped oversee the beginning of probes into the contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates.
So the fact that he then later joins the Mueller's team for a brief period of time is now being used to say that the entire Russia investigation has to be tainted because he trashed the president in his text messages, Don.
LEMON: What about the role in the Flynn investigation. What more do we know about that?
JARRETT: Yes. So, earlier my -- earlier this year actually, my colleague, Evan Perez reported that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn, initially weren't in favor of pursuing charges against him for lying in his interview with the FBI back in January.
But we're also now learning from sources that that same Peter Strzok, the same one who's part of this counterintelligence team investigating any links between the Trump campaign and Russia was actually among those voices who didn't view Flynn's answers as purposely false at that time.
Now obviously, Flynn later pled guilty so things changed. But the point is, the Strzok texts about Trump show one thing about his personal opinions, but his actions on the job were clearly a bit more nuance, Don.
LEMON: Laura Jarrett, thank you so much.
JARRETT: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: I appreciate that. I want to bring in now CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, a Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Justice Department. Good to have you on, Michael.
Listen, at the center of this controversy surrounding the Mueller investigation are texts messages sent during the 2016 campaign between the FBI lawyer Lisa Page and counterterrorism expert Peter Strzok who was part of the Mueller investigation earlier this year.
This is one exchange between Page and Strzok. He said, "God Trump is a loathsome human," Strzok, "yet, he may win." And in another message Page expressed shock that Trump was to be the republican nominee saying, "I cannot believe Donald Trump is likely to be an actual serious candidate for president."
Michael, how significant is this?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: It's a red herring in respect of the Mueller investigation. It's really not relevant to the determinations that Mueller has to make under his mandate with respect to whether there was collusion or obstruction of justice or other crimes that arise out of that investigation.
[22:40:06] Strzok made these observations inappropriately in some respects because he was working for the FBI. And even though he has the right to do that, prudence would have said not to do that.
But these were not investigative leads that he was pursuing and using his bias to impact the outcome of. These are personal political views expressed long before Mueller was even a figment of anyone's imagination. So, to try to bring the texts of this private citizen -- you know, as he had a right to, into the Mueller investigation, I think is just a red herring.
LEMON: So if you -- if you have expressed these kinds of opinions, does that mean that you can't be unbiased in an investigation? I mean, Congress people hold investigations all the time, and they also express their opinions all the time?
ZELDIN: Exactly. And that's what Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general testified to. He said that people are under Justice Department policy, allowed to have personal opinions, they have the same First Amendment rights as do all of us, the issue is whether those opinions create bias which impacts the outcome of your inquiry.
Now, the inspector general of the Justice Department is looking into whether or not there was opinions which led to bias, which impacted outcome. Until we know that, all this is really is the unfortunate expression of individual personal opinions about a candidate who was polarizing, there's no question, but people held positions like that, all throughout government as to the president and also as to Secretary Clinton. Neither of these people were approached by their detractors with kindness.
LEMON: Is there any evidence at this point that Peter Strzok or Lisa Page negatively impacted the independence of Mueller's investigation?
ZELDIN: No because all of these transaction transactions, that is the texting between them. Predated. Mueller brings this guy, Strzok, on to the investigation. And as soon as he realizes that Strzok has these texts, he gets rid of him.
So, early in July, when Mueller is just starting his investigation and he learns of this, he's dismissed. Which I think is good for Mueller, he saw the appearance of impropriety here and he dismissed this guy forthright.
And so, I think that's a credit to Mueller and a reflection of the independence that Mueller wants to bring to this investigation so that it would be free of the accusations that it's somehow biased against the president from the outset and they're just looking in an outcome determined way for evidence to support that determination.
LEMON: Michael Zeldin, always appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
When we come back...
ZELDIN: Thank you.
LEMON: ... why Vladimir Putin got a thank you call from President Trump today.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump speaking by phone today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, that comes as the Washington Post is reporting that President Trump nearly a full year into his term continues to deny evidence that Russia meddled in the election, and is working to roll back sanctions that President Obama imposed on Russia.
Let's discuss now. CNN security analyst, Shawn Turner, and Steve Hall, retired chief of CIA Russian operations. So good to have both of you, gentlemen, on this evening.
I want to start with you, Steve. We found out tonight that President Trump and the Russian president spoke on the phone today. In a speech in Russia, Putin praised the performance of the U.S. stock market. President Trump thanked the Russian president for the public praise. Putin knows exactly what he is doing here, doesn't he?
STEVE HALL, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Yes, he really does, Don. You know, two things struck me about this conversation, the first is how much 2harmony there is between these two men. You have both using the same talking points, essentially saying, yes, look how good the American economy is going.
And then you had Putin say a very interesting thing, look, all this other stuff going on about Russia is simply spy mania that needs to be disregarded and is being promulgated by enemies of Trump inside the U.S. government.
So what you have Putin doing is essentially promulgating the deep state theory which is nonsense, but he knows exactly what he's doing. And he's very effective at it, Don.
LEMON: Yes. Shawn, this report that was in the Washington Post today raising concerns that the president is not treating Russian meddling in the 2016 election seriously. He's not taking it seriously. And as a result, his staff has really sort of learned to treat Russia with kid gloves around him including at the daily briefing today.
I want you to listen to this. This was, it says, "Current and former official said that his daily intelligence update known as the president's daily brief or PDB is often structured to avoid upsetting his." So, I should say his daily briefing and not the daily briefing today.
Does that mean the president -- is he not getting the best intelligence because he's thin-skinned?
SHAWN TURNER, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Well, I think the important thing to know here is that, he -- it's not that he doesn't have access to that intelligence, you know, I think it's important to provide some clarity here. The people that put together the P.D. brief are absolutely doing what they need to do in terms of making sure that all of the relevant information is in the PDB brief.
Now, when you go in to deliver the P.D. brief, certainly there are decisions that are made with regard to what the P.D. briefer would prioritize in terms of what they decide to talk about verbally, versus what they decide to put in the book.
I've certainly heard rumors that the briefers are making decisions that will allow the president to focus on the major national security issues that we need him to focus on, but at the same time, with regard to this Russia issue, they understand that this is a sensitive topic for the president and so it's likely that those were the kind of issues that were making it into the book but not necessarily being discussed with the president.
LEMON: So, but, does that mean that he's getting it, they're not sure he's reading it? It shouldn't -- if they want him to hear that, wouldn't very verbally tell that to him?
[22:49:56] TURNER: Yes. You know, the idea is you put the most important information in the PDB brief. And so sometimes if you go into the president he doesn't have a lot of time, the expectation is the president will take time to read that brief, you know, when he has time to do that.
But it is concerning that there is this kind of understanding that this issue is so sensitive and that the president has not been concerned enough about it enough to actually have that issue raised to the forefront. LEMON: Steve, I want to bring you in on this. Have you heard of
delivering the briefing to the president this way?
HALL: You know, really in my 30 years, Don, I have not. And this is one of the most concerning things I read out of the excellent piece in the Washington Post, which by the way today is I think must-read stuff for people who want to understand this.
But the idea that PDB briefers, and these guys, by the way, these guys are like the navy SEALS of the CIA analytical team, they're amazing in their capabilities and what they have understand and just about the topics that are there and then they also of course have to read, you know, what kind of person the president is.
And there's no doubt that different presidents have processed the intelligence in different ways. Some are more readers and some are more, you know, want to get the briefing and want to do things verbally with the briefers.
But the idea that a PDB briefer has to go in and somehow not speak truth to power because the president might not be able to handle it, might not be able to take it, might take umbrage, is ludicrous. And it cut against -- it's really got to be grinding of teeth for these folks, because that information is there, they're going to want to get the really important stuff about Russia up front.
But if they feel like they have to hold back because the president won't be able to handle it emotionally, that's really horrific. I mean, it cuts against everything I think that most intelligence officers, you know, live for. It's to collect and get this stuff to the president who at the end of the day is really the ultimate consumer of this material.
LEMON: According to the Post, White House officials also told them the White House has adopted a tougher stance now on Moscow, saying look at our actions, we're pushing back against the Russians. Do you agree with that, Shawn?
TURNER: You know, look, I think that it's to be determined. Look, we have these sanctions that have been passed by Congress. And as we know, the president has been reluctant to move forward with putting these sanctions in place.
I also think that we have to look at this president's rhetoric with regard to Vladimir Putin and Russia in comparison to the other world leaders who we're engaged in national security issues with.
When we look at -- there was a line in the article that talked about the administration's position of not wanting to irritate Russia, but instead to encourage Russia or to in some other way get them to pay attention.
That's really problematic, when you consider that in comparison to the way the president is dealing with Kim Jong-un, where he's called him rocket man and referred to him as short and fat. And even -- if you look at the way the president is dealing with China, where he sent some tweets that would suggest that if China really wanted to do more with regard to North Korea, that they could.
So this idea that the president is dealing with Russia in the same way that he's dealing with other world leaders just doesn't hold water.
LEMON: What about the idea that this president has never convened a cabinet level meeting on Russian interference? How concerning is that to you? Again, that's according to the Washington Post. Steve?
HALL: I mean, it's concerning because I think it's part of a pattern of, you know, sort of this avoidance of the Russia problem, because we don't want to make Vladimir Putin -- we don't want to irritate Russia because, and this is the great myth, because Russia can be helpful to us.
So, I mean, theoretically, can Russia be helpful to us? Because I think that's what the administration would say, we're trying to be careful with Russia because we need them as our partners.
It's a little bit like, you know, an addict saying, I would like -- I would like a drug dealer to help me deal with my problem. Yes, I guess they could help somehow, but the bottom line is that on North Korea, on many of these issues, Russia's interests simply don't coincide with ours and indeed, sometimes Russia's interests are to undermine ours.
Syria is a little different because Russia got in because we weren't paying attention, basically. And now we are already going to have to deal with them on Syria. But on a lot of these other issues where the normal, you know, reaction is, yes, we got to work with these guys. You know, you really have to ask the question, really? Do we? Is it in the U.S interest to work with Russia and it will be helpful to us? I'm not sure about that, Don.
LEMON: Steve, Shawn, thank you very much. We'll be right back.
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: For many, this time of year is about giving back. But the 11th annual CNN Heroes all-star tribute salutes 10 people who put others first all year long. The star-studded gala it airs live this Sunday night at 8 Eastern. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are everyday heroes. They inspire and change lives every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to make sure they make better choices when it comes to violence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you lose your child, the love doesn't go away. It has to find a place. I'm lucky I found a place to put that love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are truly what it means to be a hero.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is people helping people the best way we know how.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they see me, they always feel happy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just give them a chance. They can do anything you ask them to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Sunday night, CNN presents a very special live event.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: I'm Anderson cooper.
KELY RIPA, HOST: And I'm Kelly Ripa.
COOPER: Join us live for CNN Heroes, an all-star tribute.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live Sunday at 8 p.m. on CNN.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[23:00:05] LEMON: It's going to be a great show, you won't want to miss it. So gather up the family, grab your tissues and get ready to be inspired.