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Lawsuits Left and Right from President's Lawyers; Trump's Deal-making with Democrats Live on TV. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 9, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
Big news on the Russia investigation to tell you about. President Trump's personal attorney filing a lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the infamous Trump dossier that included salacious details. That was a year ago.
That as Senator Dianne Feinstein releases closed-door testimony of the man whose firm paid for the dossier when Simpson testifying that the former British spy who wrote the dossier went to the FBI because he believed there was, quote, "a crime in progress."
The president and republicans have spent months painting the dossier as a partisan political attack. But today these revelations are taking the wind right out of their sails.
We'll discuss all of that now. So joining me is CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, legal analyst Michael Zeldin, national security analyst Nada Bakos.
Good evening to all of you. Thanks for joining the program. Jim, so according to this newly released transcript a former British spy Christopher Steele was so concerned that then-candidate Donald Trump was being blackmailed that he personally went to the FBI. What more can you tell us?
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Listen, Don, from the beginning the republican argument and really the Trump argument has been that the dossier was purely a political document. That it was democratic conceived, manufactured and delivered.
But if you listen to Glenn Simpson's testimony before the Senate judiciary committee about Christopher Steele you hear a different genesis to this. So here's Christopher Steele, he's a former agent in the MI-6, it's the British international intelligence services. He served in Russia. He knows Russia's intelligence gathering methods. He begins to gather this information, and he becomes so concerned he thinks there's a national security risk to the U.S., a British intelligence partner.
So he, according to Simpson of his own volition, not under the direction or encouragement of the DNC or democrats, but of his own volition goes to the FBI to report this in July of 2016. And two months later in September of 2016 he sits down with the FBI
attache in Rome and tells them this information. What's interesting is the FBI doesn't tell him, Don, you're crazy. I haven't heard anything like this. According to Simpson, Steele says the FBI told him well, in fact, we have other intelligence that is similarly indicative.
I'm going to read from Simpson's testimony there. He says, "They believe that Chris's, that is Christopher Steele's information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing. And one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization."
Now, I should say, Don, that a source close to Simpson's testimony has clarified this line to CNN since this testimony. He says, in fact, it was indicating that there was, you know, whistleblower inside the Trump campaign, rather this was referring to what George Papadopoulos that former Trump foreign policy advisor had told the Australian ambassador over drinks in a London bar that Russia, that the Trump campaign, that Papadopoulos was aware that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And that the Australian ambassador, another intelligence partner of the U.S. was so concerned that he then reported that to the FBI. So you get a very different account of how this dossier came to be and the motivations of the man behind the dossier, Christopher Steele than you've heard from the president and many other republicans.
LEMON: And a very -- and to clear the time line as well it clarifies that. But Jim, what about the human source from inside the Trump administration? That was -- this was Papadopoulos, is that -- is that correct? That was clarified.
SCIUTTO: That's what we've been told. What he is referring, what Simpson was referring to in his testimony which was actually August of last year, just released his testimony today, was to this account that Papadopoulos had shared with the Australian ambassador.
And again, I know the Australian ambassador who's not an inconsequential figure he thought it was serious enough that he went and shared it with the FBI.
What's interesting here, Don, is that you have a British former agent in Christopher Steele who reported this information to the FBI. And you have the Australian ambassador who did, but, you know, after that Trump tower meeting in June of 2016 you didn't have any member of the Trump organization who saw that, you know, Russians peddling this kind of damaging information on Hillary Clinton. None of them felt compelled to go to the U.S. law enforcement.
LEMON: I want to bring you in here, Nada, now. Because Steele was so worried, Nada, about what he uncovered that he felt he needed to go to the FBI, as Jim is reporting here. Wasn't that exactly the right thing to do?
NADA BAKOS, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: I think it was. And when you look at Simpson's testimony and you walk through the process that they actually took to get to the point of hiring Christopher Steele, what they did was typical risk consulting firm work, from my opinion.
I mean, I've seen some of these types of reports when they're doing political risk on different countries, but what was different in this aspect is the information that they're uncovering. So when Christopher Steele ends up finding out that there might be some kind of connection with Russia between the Trump campaign and Russian officials he does exactly the right thing by going to FBI officials to let them know.
[22:05:03] I see a problem here that could affect national security.
LEMON: Yes. Nada, I have one more for you. Senator Dianne Feinstein released the transcript without the support of the committee's republican chairman Senator Chuck Grassley.
She put out a statement saying, she said, "The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves. The innuendo in this information circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice."
And Fusion GPS even wrote an op-ed in the New York Times called on -- calling on the committee to release the transcript. Does that transcript show this dossier wasn't political?
BAKOS: In my opinion, it does. It shows that they actually just took the steps to investigate and do the research on the project that they were hired to do and then they ended up uncovering this kind of information. They didn't go in looking necessarily, according to Simpson, for a Russian connection. This is just something they uncovered in the process.
LEMON: Michael, it was just last week that republican chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department. They were urging an investigation into whether Steele lied. What does this all say about the congressional investigations versus a special counsel's investigation?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, it tells you that the special counsel's investigation is the only investigation that matters. The Hill has demonstrated on the House side and the Senate side, say for Senate Burr and Warner's committee, that they're just not really serious about getting to the bottom of what these allegations involve. So it falls on Mueller and largely and then Warner and Burr to tell the American people what went on here.
LEMON: yes. And as I was talking to Jim about the time line, and listen, it is said that current American officials and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the investigation say the foreign inquiry did not start with Mr. Steele's dossier, early parts which did not reach counter intelligence investigators and the FBI until August.
That was after the bureau's inquiry had already begun. So this wasn't the genesis as republicans have said, into the investigation, correct?
ZELDIN: That's right. That's right.
LEMON: Yes. Jim, one other thing. During Glenn Simpson's testimony, one of the attorneys for Simpson said a person had died because of the publication of this dossier? What do you know about that?
SCIUTTO: It was an interesting moment in there kind of John le Carre moment in this whole thing. I just want to read so folks get a sense of what he said. This was actually Simpson's lawyer speaking here. He says that "He, Simpson wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Someone's -- somebody has already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier. No harm should come to anybody related to this honest work."
Those are the words of Joshua Levi who is Simpson's lawyer there. Now we've spoken to someone who is familiar with the testimony. And this is not because he has specific information that one particular person was killed because of the publication.
This relates to, and Don, you and I have talked about this a little bit, in the weeks and months following the dossier's being made public there's been nine or ten suspicious deaths you might say of Russian officials, diplomats, businessmen, et cetera, some who were connected to or were involved somehow in the dossier, perhaps quoted, et cetera, have died under mysterious circumstances.
So the question has been, and I should emphasize this. This is purely a question, as to were any of them being punished for their involvement in this? And that's what Simpson's lawyer was referring to there. It sounds like he was acting out of an abundance of caution rather than specific knowledge that a particular death was related to the dossier.
LEMON: What can you say about that, Nada, this mysterious deaths?
BAKOS: When you look at this from an Intel perspective and you look at Russia's actions against some officials that have worked for the Kremlin or have been involved with other operations of the Kremlin, you know, there's a variety of suspicious deaths that we can point to.
And any one of these individuals could have also been involved in internal politics or other internal issues that they were there for, being retaliated against. It doesn't necessarily mean it had something to do with the dossier in particular. It could be that these individuals also had some other issues with the Kremlin tied to the Kremlin.
LEMON: Michael, President Trump...
ZELDIN: Can I add one thing, Don?
LEMON: Yes, go on.
ZELDIN: Because there was reporting today -- I'm going to butcher the name that Oleg Erovinkin may be that person that Levi was referring to. A person who was connected with this fellow Sochin whose connected with the oil and gas company of Russia, and so that name has surfaced as a particular individual potentially that was found...
LEMON: So suffered a death, a mysterious death.
ZELDIN: I was trying to put a nice way of saying it. There's no long...
LEMON: And again, that is not CNN's reporting.
ZELDIN: No, no. Exactly. I'm just saying that was just -- that was one of the names that was thrown out.
LEMON: So, Michael, listen, the President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen told CNN's Brian Stelter that he filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed.
[22:10:02] Because BuzzFeed published that dossier. Brian got a statement from BuzzFeed and said "The dossier is, continues to be the subject of active investigation by Congress and intelligence agencies. It was presented to two successive presidents. It has been described in detail by news outlets around the world. Its interest -- its interest to the public is obvious. This is the first time that Trump's personal attorney has attacked the free press. And we look forward to defending our personal rights in court."
LEMON: What does Michael Cohen -- does he have a case?
ZELDIN: No, I don't think so. I mean, BuzzFeed has a First Amendment right to publish this. It's not a classified document. It has no sort of protections in that respect. If the contents of the document are libelous, if that's what he thinks, then you know, he can sue the authors of the report.
But I think BuzzFeed as a news organization is pretty well insulated from that sort of lawsuit. But it is the type of luster that we have seen in the administration with the threatening of lawsuits or the actual lawsuits that don't actually go anywhere as a means of suppressing conversation, which is obviously problematic.
Can I add one though, one thing, Don, about this Fusion GPS testimony which struck me, is that in the dossier one of the theories that underlie how did the collusion theory come to arise was between the Trump business organization and, you know, former Soviet Union states, the Azerbaijan of the world.
And Bannon said, remember in the "Fire and Fury" book this is all about money laundering. And this dossier and this testimony of Simpson gives further credence to the thought that there is a financial connection between the Trump organization and Russians or people connected with Russia and satellites of what was the former Soviet Union, which I think will embolden Mueller to look further at money laundering and the red line that Trump drew as part of his investigation.
LEMON: Trump says his finances -- his finances should not be part of this investigation.
ZELDIN: Yes. It becomes -- it becomes relevant in this testimony today shows how that is the case.
LEMON: All right. Thank you all. I appreciate it. Fascinating conversation.
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, why President Trump televised his bipartisan meeting today as he tries to hammer out an immigration deal. And why the president says he'll sign whatever they send him.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The president surprising top republicans and democrats when he let reporters and cameras stay in the room for nearly an hour during their immigration meeting today.
According to a senior administration official that was in order to quote, "seize the megaphone and give the president a chance to show- off his deal making shots." But for a president who campaigned on his tough stance on immigration, this may come as a surprise to a lot of his supporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When this group comes back hopefully with an agreement, this group and others from the Senate, from the House comes back with an agreement, I'm signing it. I mean, I will be signing it. I'm not going to say, gee, I want this or I want that. I'll be signing it. Because I have a lot of confidence of the people in this room that they're going to come out with something really good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's discuss now, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro, CN and political -- CNN contributor Jason Kander, and talk radio host John Fredericks who was a co-chair of the Trump campaign in Virginia.
Good to see all of you. Happy New Year to those of you I haven't seen since New Year.
So, Ana, you wrote on Twitter that was the moment you had to lift your jaw off the floor, if they came up with something, the president would sign it. Why did you have to lift your -- it was surprising to a lot of people.
ANA NAVARRO, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, first of all, it was fascinating to watch, right? For a political junky this was really like watching the Super Bowl. But you know, then you've got Donald Trump who built his entire campaign on tough on immigration type of rhetoric. And we've got this -- it was so dramatic.
The DREAM Act, the DACA kids, they've got a deadline coming up. They got two months to fix this or these kids are beginning to lose all their status, beginning to lose any ability to be part of society, their lives are in limbo.
So it was the drama of it. It was the radical change in Donald Trump. It was a conciliatory tone, it was the passionate words coming out of Donald Trump's mouth. It was him, I thought being brilliant. Tactically, strategically brilliant.
He is laying this straight on Congress's lap. If they don't come up with something, it's their fault, they own it. He's given them a deadline. He has stopped them from being able to keep this can being kicked down the road.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, I want to listen to more. Here's more of the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If we do this properly, DACA, you're not so far from comprehensive immigration reform. And if you want to take it that further step, I'll take the heat. I don't care. I don't care. I'll take the heat you want to get through. And I'll take the heat off of both democrats and the republicans. My whole life has been heat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So John, the question -- and Lindsey Graham in that meeting said we're going to get it from the democrats, we're going to get it from conservative talk radio, which you're a part of, we're going to get it from conservative media. How does the president's base, how is it the president's base going to feel about a broader deal? Because you know the fear is always about amnesty.
JOHN FREDERICKS, SYNDICATED TALK RADIO HOST: Well, Don, happy New Year. Welcome back. Great to have you back. Let me just say I coach basketball. Talk is cheap, play the game.
This was a vintage Donald Trump positioning and posturing. He's got to get the deal done, he's got to keep the government help and so he's got everybody at the table and he's trying to make it happen.
His message was really aimed at republican leadership. And that is, get me a bill on my desk that I can sign and my base finds palatable. Otherwise, we might get as well put the democrats in control now, forget about 2018, let them run the show. He's certainly not going to do that. So I think what he was saying today is look, we need something... (CROSSTALK)
LEMON: Does that include the wall, John?
FREDERICKS: You have to have the wall, Don. Absolutely any reform, any deal with DACA has to include a wall. You can't -- you cannot campaign on building a wall for a two-year period and then all of a sudden say, well, I'm going to negotiate it out.
[22:20:02] That was a linchpin of his campaign when he came down the escalator. So in order for any deal on that to be palatable to the Trump base and for them to stay with them, there's going to have to be some funding for a wall and there's going to have to be comprehensive legislative reform...
LEMON: OK. Let Jason get in.
FREDERICKS: ... that he promised and it isn't a kiss in the wind. It's got to be real.
LEMON: But Jason, he didn't say that during the meeting. He later had to come back and clarified. But two -- there were republicans sitting at the table who said, well, let's just be clear about what we're saying, let's be precise. He didn't indicate that, did he, the wall?
JASON KANDER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Several republicans after the meeting said they were confused about what he actually wanted. And sadly, I don't actually think that this had much to do with immigration. I think this had to do, unfortunately, with the Trump administration recognizing that their problem of the moment, over the last week or so has been that Americans are starting to wonder whether or not the president can sit still for an hour and follow a meeting or run one.
And so, they decided to put him in front of the cameras for an hour to try and demonstrate that he could. Unfortunately, what it ended up proving was that it is questionable whether or not he can run a meeting and questionable whether or not he can follow a meeting since he contradicted himself so many times.
And you know, what's maybe just as sad is that it also proved that he may not really now even after a year in the office, have gained any amount of caring about policy. Because what he's sitting there saying is he just wants a win. Whatever that is, just give him something he can consider a win.
When if he really believes in doing something for these DACA recipients, I hope he does, then he should be passionately saying this is the only thing we should be focused on right now. But instead he's just saying yes to everyone in the meeting.
LEMON: Well, John, I see you're shaking your head, you're disagreeing but you basically said the same thing that Jason said. Give me something to put on my desk, but you did have a caveat that something that palatable to my base. But he needs -- you're both saying he needs a win here.
FREDERICKS: I mean, having this on TV because he needs a meeting to show people that he's not eating a cheeseburger, I mean come on, Jason, this is complete gibberish. I mean, he just got to let...
KANDER: He just tweeted the other day that he's a stable genius.
FREDERICKS: ... they stand on principles. Well, that's what he can tweet whatever he want. You guys are obsessed with his tweets. I'm not. They're funny. They make me laugh and he does what he does. But to say that he has...
KANDER: He's clearly a little concerned about it.
FREDERICKS: ... his meetings and he can approve to people that he has an attention span for 60 minutes is gibberish and nonsense and not deserving of being in this news network.
FREDERICKS: He had this meeting because he is positioning and negotiating in order to go forward and to get a comprehensive deal and to finally solve this immigration problem we have that was the engine in electing the president and getting the nomination.
LEMON: So, Ana, do you want to weigh in on this? Because I think you can have both. I think you can have him sitting there proving that well, I can't sit in a meeting for more than a hour, I have an attention span, but also wanting to make a deal, having to make a deal. So do you want to talk about that or get back to DACA, because I know you're passionate about DACA?
NAVARRO: Don, I don't care if this was the art of distraction, the art of the deal or the art of construction. What I care is that the Congress people that were sitting there, the senators and the people in the House grabbed this opportunity, see this as an opening, take advantage of it. Grab that ball and run with it.
They've got very limited time to come up and crack the deal. Look, they've got to stop the posturing, the people in Congress. They've got to get into a room and my understanding is these meetings are going to start tomorrow. They've got a deadline. They want to be able to get this done in the next few days because we've got a looming deadline on January 19th.
LEMON: Let me ask you this. Do you think that they can do this with -- because his base is going to want a wall? They want a wall.
NAVARRO: Well, but listen. Let's not get...
LEMON: Democrats don't want a wall.
NAVARRO: That's right. But let's not get hung up on both sides on the word wall and what wall means.
LEMON: But what...
NAVARRO: We've heard from Trump today what, you know, what I think is a very pragmatic approach to it. There are going to be portions of it that are a wall.
LEMON: He says only 2,000 miles of wall.
NAVARRO: But there's also rivers.
NAVARRO: There's also mountains, there's also fencing that's already there that needs to be repaired. So instead of coming up with a 2,200, you know, square mile wall it might end up being a 200-mile wall with a lot of other things to make a border security.
LEMON: But Jason, 18 months ago, two years ago when this all started and people started talking about the wall, that was exactly what people were saying that there's physically, that they couldn't actually do a wall, that it wasn't possible to do a wall across the entire southern border and that the entire southern border doesn't need a wall.
LEMON: And now the president is saying the same thing. Is this a backtrack? Do you think he'll backtrack on it because Feinstein said she wanted a clean bill, he said I'd be open to it.
KANDER: So we're talking about backtrack...
FREDERICKS: I have no idea what...
LEMON: That was for Jason.
KANDER: I genuinely hope that what he wants is to just get comprehensive reform and to do clean DACA. Like, I genuinely hope that.
[22:20:01] And right now there are DACA recipients watching this. And that's why I'm saying if what the president was doing today was trying to present an argument that he can follow along in a meeting rather than actually focusing on immigration, then I think that that is wrong and it's disturbing. But furthermore, I've been to the wall. It's just like, Ana was
saying, there are rivers. It is ridiculous. And there was an article today that said that the president is interested and his budget request is all about spending money or getting rid of the money that's being spent on effective border security measures to spend it on a wall that's not going to work. Which proves my point that this president has a tendency to care more about how he looks than what happens for the country. And that I think is a big problem.
NAVARRO: Listen, I've communicated with for the folks, for the Congress people who were in there, they're not dumb. A lot of folks have been working on this for decades. They know exactly what they've got to do.
NAVARRO: They've got to come up with a deal. There's got to be a border security component. They may have to do a little, you know, tweaking on the lottery visas. They know exactly what they've got to do. And Donald Trump invited them to come up with a wheel -- deal and he said he would sign it. Call his bluff. Put something on his lap and do it now.
KANDER: I agree.
LEMON: And we know John Fredericks says he's going to backtrack, that the wall has to be there or he won't sign it. That's all we have time for. Thank you, guys. I don't have any more time.
FREDERICKS: Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you, I appreciate it.
When we come back, the White House hoping the president's televised meeting with members of Congress would put to rest questions of whether he was mentally stable. Did it work?
[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: The White House in a rare move allowing today's meeting on immigration between President Trump and members of Congress to be televised. A source saying it gives the president a chance to seize the megaphone and counter questions about his fitness for office.
I want to bring in now CNN contributor Mr. Frank Bruni, an op-ed communist for the New York Times, and Mark McKinnon, executive producer of The Circus on Showtime who is a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain.
Good evening to both of you. Mark, no hat. I think I like it. Let's talk, though.
MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE CIRCUS: I just want to prove -- I want to people that I'm not bald. LEMON: So you got a full head of hair there. Listen, as I mentioned
in your introduction you're the executive producer of your own television show called The Circus. In your opinion the 55-minute bipartisan meeting on immigration today, because you, you know, you've been there, you covered it. I see it on your show. Was that a reality show President Trump at his best?
MCKINNON: Yes, it really was. It was a very smart strategy for the White House, particularly after a week of narrative about how the president was not engaged and working and questions about his mental fitness. This showed that he was in charge, that he was running the meeting.
And in addition to that it showed that he was working in a bipartisan fashion, much different tone than what we've heard from him recently. This sounded like a compassionate conservative talking about a bill of love, and talking, and saying a phrase that our conservatives hate, which is comprehensive immigration reform.
So this checked just a whole lot of boxes that were very positive in terms of strategy for the president and for the White House. So I chalk this up as a good day for the president.
LEMON: Here's what a senior administration official told our Jeff Zeleny, Frank, that they did this purposely to take the microphone back and put to rest the hyperventilation about him. Do you think he turns the page on his "Fire and Fury" book, did he take the megaphone back to, as Mark said, was he in charge of this meeting?
FRANK BRUNI, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, you know, he was calm, and he came across as reasonable and not as combative as he usually is. I don't think this day was a total win, though. I mean, if you followed that meeting, he seemed confused. You know, when Dianne Feinstein talked about a clean bill, a clean DACA, he didn't seem to understand what that was.
Let us not forget there was a moment when Representative Kevin McCarthy kind of had to interject saying -- interject himself and make sure that the president knew, like correct the president, make sure he knew what he was talking about.
President Trump enunciated so many different positions, found himself in so many different positions during this meeting. It was as much a yoga classes much it was like, you know, a convention of politicians. I don't think he seemed that on top of things. He seemed calm, but that was the end of it.
LEMON: But he wasn't the only - that wasn't the only republican who said, listen, I need -- I forget who said it. We need to be precise here with our language, Mr. President.
BRUNI: That's right.
LEMON: And then but it was never clarified. And people left this meeting confused about exactly what the president -- at the end he ended up saying I'll sign whatever you put. BRUNI: Right. Think about that you have republicans were beneath him.
He's the President of the United States and they're correcting him, they're guiding him. They're trying to make sure he understands what he's talking about. That's pretty remarkable. And if we find that reassuring about President Trump, it suggests to me we have set the bar way, way too low.
LEMON: But you know what, Mark, I mean, those -- most people may have left that meeting saying, hey, there's something we can work with him on.
MCKINNON: Well, that's what I think the net take away is. I mean, we can talk about the style and we can talk about a lot of the optics of this, but the bottom line for me is I think it's much more possible now because of today that a deal will get done. I mean, Trump did say -- you send me something and I'll sign it. I think that's a good sign.
LEMON: I know there's a delay, Mark. I know there's a delay. You said a deal will get done, do you think it will be a clean deal? Do you think that there's going to be a wall in there? What do you think?
MCKINNON: Well, listen, yes, I think that he has to get something that he can defend and say I got something out of this in terms of border protection. Now, his definition changed a lot today.
First of all, he lowered the price of the wall and then he lowered the - he diminished the distance of the wall. So I think he's very flexible about what that is, just as long he can take something back and say I enhanced the wall somehow.
And I think that the democrats can give him that, give him some border protection money, call whatever they want to, let him call what he want to. But at the end of the day democrats get a deal that keeps immigrants who are here - here and republicans get a deal that keep immigrants who aren't here out and that's what both sides want.
[22:34:59] LEMON: I want to get this in, because well, first of all, how is it if it doesn't span across the entire border, how is that a big beautiful wall with a door in it, because it's actually not. I mean, he's lowering expectations. You know what I mean?
BRUNI: No, I often want to end up with a very nice hedge.
BRUNI: Wait, and you're not even -- we've all -- we've stopped...
LEMON: As I say...
BRUNI: ... we've all stopped talking about what happened to Mexico paying for it? LEMON: Paying for it as well. But what happened to this, I want to
play this. This is the president, he started the meeting saying that he wanted a bipartisan bill of love. But just watch this flashback from the campaign trail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You asked the question, Jeb Bush doesn't have a clue, he doesn't even have a clue. And if I weren't in this campaign Jeb Bush would not be talking about illegal immigration. If you remember he said they come as an act of love. OK, tell that to the families, and there are many, many families who lost a loved one. Act of love, OK.
It's no act of love. It's tough stuff, it's mean stuff, and it's going to be taken care of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK, so act, bill of love, how is that different?
BRUNI: It's not. And that's why if you're watching...
LEMON: That came out of his mouth.
BRUNI: That's right. If you were watching Twitter today, somebody actually tweeted Donald J Trump, Donald Jeb Trump. I went immediately as one momentous like this to Anne Coulter's Twitter feed. And she tweeted, and this is what Trump has unleashed and was have to deal with.
She tweeted if you think never Trumpers or fears something like this, I'm paraphrasing, wait until you see former Trumpers. He's got people who helped get him elected who were the architects, the ideological architects of this campaign who are freaking out about what they saw in that meeting today.
He's going to get back to the White House, he's going to hear from them and then as so often the case with the president he may change what he's saying again. Mark said maybe there's a deal here. I am much, much more skeptical because Donald Trump says one thing one day and another thing two days later if not two hours later.
LEMON: I'm enjoying the conversation with you, guys, so much we're going to continue on. So, both of you stay with me. When we come back, the president speaking out about Oprah potentially running against him in 2020.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: No, I like Oprah. I don't think he's going to run.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But what if she does?
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump saying today he doesn't think Oprah will run for president in 2020.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Yes, Oprah would be a lot of fun. I know her very well. You know I did one of her last shows. She had Donald Trump, this was before politics, her last week. And she had Donald Trump and my family. It was very nice. No, I like Oprah, I don't think she's going to run. I don't think she's going to run. I know her very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK. Mark McKinnon and Frank Bruni are back with me. I think, Mark, that would be his worst nightmare. She is a self-made billionaire who has the same amount of money as he has, came from nothing, all of her secrets are pretty much out there. She is respected. She has probably as much name recognition as he does. I think he's saying that, but I think Oprah would be his worst nightmare.
MCKINNON: Wouldn't it be great? You know, she's got a story, she's got name recognition, she's got money. And you know, I think that once you open the door on these things it's really hard to close it. I mean, and as soon as she gets Gale and the other thousands of her friends and admirers around her, they're all going to be telling her to run.
So it's difficult once that horse is out of the barn to put it back in. And she's going to be thinking about it, and it would be exciting. It'd be great. But I've got to say that one thing I've predicted after Trump was elected that the next morning anybody with a lot of money and a lot of celebrity would say, hell, why not me. And so Oprah could be one of those, but there could be a whole lot more, 2020 make this 2016 race look pretty tame.
LEMON: What do you think, Frank? Because up here I listen from folks who are close to Oprah, she'll never do it, she'll never do it, and then others are saying like Gale said, was it this morning ro yesterday, this morning, she's intrigued by the possibility.
BRUNI: Of course she's intrigued by the possibility. I don't think she's going to do in the end. I don't say these words very often, but I agree with Donald Trump. I do not think she's not going to run. And I think it's because for every friend who has Mark says is going to say, you'd be great you should do it.
There's going to be someone else who's going to remind her of something I bet she knows well, which is as soon as she has start taking tough positions, as soon as she has to start picking sides, alienating some people, she ceases to be Oprah. It is a total radical change to her brand for lack of a better word. I think she's going to appreciate that, and I think she correctly treasures the voice she has now.
LEMON: So we were talking, Frank and I by the way share with all of you, we're talking in a break about "Fire and Fury" and reading like, and I read it on my vacation. It was like three in the morning. I'm like, why am I reading this book. Well, I had to interview Michael Wolff, but it was just, it's fascinating.
So, Steve Bannon, so let's talk about another media figure. Steve Bannon in that book cooperated with him, was the one who gave him access to the White House, so much access. Do you think it was a grievous miscalculation to cooperate with this "Fire and Fury" book?
BRUNI: A hundred percent, absolutely. How they did not see, forgive the word play, the wolf at the door here. I have no idea. No, I mean, seriously, this is not a journalist writer who came to the immaculate who the reprise is you can trust this guy he's never going to do you wrong.
I think what you saw was a lot of people with out of control egos wanting the audience of Michael Wolff, wanting to be heard and failing to stop and say wait a second, when this all comes out, when these words come back to me, what's going to happen?
LEMON: It certainly a Wizard of Oz effect on when it comes to Bannon that he was, you know, it's all smoke and mirrors. The whole Seinfeld thing they talked about, they really go into. He really went into Bannon's background.
LEMON: And how he pretty much not who he says he is, or as not as successful as he says he is. That did not have very much...
BRUNI: And one of the really important things I think the book showed about how Bannon became the legend of Bannon is how much time he's spending on the phone with reporters.
[22:44:59] BRUNI: And I've been hearing from republicans for a long time Steve Bannon is way less powerful than you all think he is, but he's telling you that all the time because he's constantly talking to you.
LEMON: So, listen, what's your response, let me ask you your response to the whole -- to the book and to Bannon. Bannon being fired today from or leaving Breitbart, was this a grievous miscalculation, was this a death nail when it comes to the Trump administration?
MCKINNON: You cross -- you can't cross the president and his family, any president and expect to survive. What astonishes me, Don, about the book is not so much what's in the book but that it was written in the first place.
MCKINNON: I mean, he, Wolff is well-known character and he's not known as somebody who -- I mean, so this is the sort of thing that should have been expected. And you know, the fact is nobody in the White House ever went to it president saying, you know, this is never a good idea to have any reporter hanging around the White House for a year, just wondering around, writing whatever he wants to write especially somebody who is not known as a conservative or somebody as a supporter of Donald Trump.
So I'm just stunned. Because in the Bush White House or the Obama White House the chief of staff would have thrown that guy over the fence the first day after he walked in.
LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it. I love having both of you on show. The Circus returns for season 3, Sunday April, 15. Make sure you tune in. My thanks to Frank and Mark again.
When we come back, the journalist who says the shocking thing about Michael Wolff's new book isn't the salacious details, it's that everyone in Washington knows and no one is doing anything about it.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump and his inner circle battling back against questions about his fitness for office.
I want to talk about this now with James fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. Hello to you, welcome to the program and happy New Year to you by the way.
JAMES FALLOWS, CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC NATIONAL: Thanks so much.
LEMON: You wrote a fascinating piece in the Atlantic about President Trump's mental fitness, as raised in Michael Wolff's new book. And you write, "Who and what Trump is has been an open secret. Much like the predatory abuses of Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood."
So, who is in this open secret? And here's what you write. You said, "Virtually everyone in a position to do something about it, which at the moment, means members of the republican majority in Congress. They know what is wrong with Donald Trump. They know why it's dangerous. They understand, or most of them do the damage -- do the damage he can do to the system of governance that relies to a surprising degree on norms rather than rules and whose vulnerability has been newly exposed. They know or should know, about the way Trump's vanity and hubris are harming America's interests relatives -- relative to competitors like Russia and China and partners and allies in North America, Europe, and the Pacific."
So, talk to me about that. Because I mean, that's a pretty big statement. I encourage everyone to read this article in The Atlantic. It is amazing. So talk to me about that, tell us why you wrote it.
FALLOWS: So here's the argument I was trying to make. I was using the analogy of the so-called open secret of sexual harassment especially in Hollywood in the way that's spread throughout the realms, and after the stories have come out with the very, you know, extensive New York Times reports on Harvey Weinstein.
There was all this reaction. Of course, this was an open secret. Everybody knew it, et cetera, which raises the question, why did nobody do anything about it? Which I think it's the moment of accountability.
There's something like that in politics. I'm not really talking about the public. Because a year-plus ago people knew who Donald Trump was and they made their choice one way or another. I think the crucial thing is, the part of the American system right now that could do something about this is the Congress. Where the republicans have a majority, both in the Senate and the House.
And they could have hearings, they could have investigations, they could require tax forms. They could make sure their witnesses come in and talk about foreign entanglements and I know and anybody who is in journalism knows that the republicans are aware of this.
When they have their moments they feel like liberated like Bob Corker or Jeff Flake or some others, they say, look, this is a problem with the way Donald Trump is. But they're institutionally not doing anything about it. And that's what the point I was trying to make. That's where our focus should be, on the one group that could do something about it.
LEMON: Your quote is, is that, they could act and they don't. And you're talking about republicans. Is this -- is this a failure of responsibility? You say they should be having hearings or what have you, but is this a failure of irresponsibility?
FALLOWS: I think it is. And I think that if I bet you know this yourself, I won't press you, but most people in journalism know that if you're talking with a republican elected official right now, you say, what do you really think is going on with the president and his administration?
The first thing they'll say is, let's go off the record. And once you do that they'll say, yes, this is a real problem. We don't know what he's going to do. We're glad that Mattis, McMaster is there, et cetera, et cetera.
So the question is, taking the next step for their checks and balances, separation of power, accountability. Even if just two of them. You know, two of them would constitute a majority in the Senate would say, let's have some hearings, like the Watergate hearings, you know, of a generation-plus ago. Or even like the Benghazi hearings of recent memory.
So, I think they will look back on this and wonder, as in the McCarthy era, as in the Civil Rights era, as in other eras, why they didn't do more. Why more didn't do the right thing? And that's the point I was trying to make.
LEMON: So what do you say to supporters of the president and members of his administration who say, you know, it is grotesque and beyond the pale to question the president's fitness. Or as I'm sure that they are going to criticize you for suggesting hearings.
FALLOWS: So, there have been hearings, you'll recall that Bill Clinton was actually impeached by the House of Representatives 20 years ago for failings that were really bad, but I bet in history's eyes will be seen as smaller than the financial ones and others that are going on now.
It is a tradition in our public and history to question power. That's part of what our founders set up. And I think that the republican Congress, they were no slouches in holding accountability hearings during the Obama administration for the attorney general, for the secretary of state, or for others.
[22:55:03] So their curiosity, if there weren't the partisan issue, would be mobilized to say, what we know about the finances here, what do we know about our tax returns?
So, let's say that this is a matter to privately off the record, most, many elected officials, republicans, will tell you the same thing I'm telling you now on the record is a non-elected journalist.
LEMON: Listen, it was no coincidence that the White House allowed the cameras to film president's meeting on immigration today. A senior administration official says to CNN that it was done explicitly to put to rest the hyperventilation about him, including questions about his mental fitness, to rest. So was it a success, do you think?
FALLOWS: I guess like many things in the administration, people will judge in different ways. On the one hand, the president's affect seemed more amiable than in some other appearances. On the other hand, as many of your guest have pointed out and commentary in the last few hours, it was if he wasn't on the program with what the official republican position is. And Representative McCarthy had to step in there and say, well, actually, what we want is something different from what you're saying, Mr. President.
So, I think that as a matter of personal demeanor, it may have had the effect that the White House was looking for of seeing a more relaxed -- probably this is what Donald Trump thought being president would be like.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, the rapid response director for the RNC released a statement saying, "Many in the media have spent the last week hyperventilating over phony writers -- over a phony writer's opinion. But the American people just witnessed President Trump lead arguably the most transparent substantive policy discussion with Congress - maybe ever." What do you think of that?
FALLOWS: So, that is just -- if your view of history started like two weeks ago, you could say this was the most substantive ever. Bill Clinton, after he was elected, had these several day long marathons with economic advisers and Congress people about what his economic recovery plan would be. Barack Obama had these various seminars too on economics and on
recovery plans for the auto industry. Both of the president Bushes had extensive interactions with congressional members.
So this probably is the most thorough thing we've seen from Donald Trump, but if your memory reaches before the previous -- the 45th president, you've seen -- you've seen different examples.
LEMON: James Fallows, always a pleasure. Thank you so much.
FALLOWS: My pleasure. Thank you, Don.
LEMON: When we come back, testimony from the man whose firm paid for the infamous Trump dossier. What he told Congress during a closed-door testimony, and what it means for the Russia investigation.
LEMON: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11 p.m. here on the East Coast. We're live with new developments tonight on the Russia investigation.
[23:00:02] President Trump's lawyers -- lawyer filing a defamation suit against BuzzFeed for publishing the infamous Trump dossier that included salacious details.