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Trump Aide Refuses to Answer Pertinent Questions; Jared Kushner's Clearance Downgraded; No Action from Trump on Russia's Interference; Trump Aide Admits to White Lies; Trump May Not Support Raising Age Limit to Buy Firearms. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 27, 2018 - 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 very much for watching 360. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.
DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm don lemon.
Breaking news tonight out of the White House. We're multiple -- we're following multiple huge stories tonight and we're going to catch up with you on everything throughout this broadcast.
First, our breaking news on the Russia investigation, Sources telling CNN tonight that Robert Mueller's team is digging in to a period when Donald Trump was trying to do deals with Russia while trying to decide whether or not he would run for president.
One source says, among other topics, Mueller is asking questions about 2013, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, questions including, who paid whom? Much more on that in just a moment.
Then there's the news that on any other night would be our top story. That's about Jared Kushner, denied access to top-secret intelligence. The president's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, who was operating on an interim clearance had his access downgraded last week after the chief of staff, John Kelly, made changes to the security clearance system.
And we're learning that officials from at least four countries have reportedly discussed how they could use Kushner's business dealings, his inexperience, and his financial troubles to manipulate him. That is according to the Washington Post, which also reports that those countries, Israel, Mexico, China, and the UAE, the United Arab Emirates, acted on those conversations.
The report goes on to say that a source said top White House officials were worried that Kushner was, quote, "naive and being tricked by foreign officials." And then there's another member of the president's inner circle, White House communications director, Hope Hicks, testifying for nine hours before the House intelligence committee today, according to ranking member Adam Schiff, hicks refusing to answer questions about her role in drafting that misleading statement last year about Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump tower meeting with Russians in June of 2016. And if that's not enough, well, there is this. U.S. cyber command
Chief Admiral Mike Rogers telling the Senate armed services committee President Trump has not given him the authority to take the fight against Russian election hacking directly to Moscow.
So what is going on with all of this? I want to bring in now, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN contributor, John Dean, who was a Nixon White House counsel. CNN national security analyst, Shawn Turner, and CNN contributor, Frank Bruni, of the New York Times.
My goodness, there's so much to talk about tonight. But Gloria, let's start with this. We have new reporting out tonight about one direction the Mueller investigation is taking. What are you learning?
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, my colleagues and I are reporting this evening that the special counsel has very recently begun asking witnesses questions about Donald Trump's business activities in Russia before the 2016 campaign.
And according to our sources, these witnesses have been asked questions about when Trump first decided to get into the race, do they know how Miss Universe, for example, was financed? And they were also asked if they knew anything about why two deals to brand a Trump tower in Moscow fell through.
You'll recall, there was a deal that fell through in 2013 and there was also a deal that fell through in 2015. So they were asked these questions, among others, and that struck us as very interesting.
You can't tell, of course, from these questions, what Mueller knows and what he doesn't know. As one source said to us, you can't tell, because they're not giving away any secrets and we don't know whether they were trying to check the box or what they were trying to pursue, but it is of great interest, of course, that the team is probing about Trump's dealings in Moscow before he became a presidential candidate.
LEMON: And Frank, in Gloria's reporting, she notes several lines of questioning for witnesses have centered around the 2013 Miss Universe pageant as she's been saying held in Moscow. I just want to read, this is a tweet from Donald Trump in 2013. He said, "Do you think Putin will be going to the Miss Universe pageant in November in Moscow? If so, will be become my new best friend?"
Are they looking it for, you know, that great unanswered question here? Like, what is the connection, what is the connection between President Trump with Russia and Putin?
FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I think they're trying to figure out if there's a financial relationship and a financial history that leaves Donald Trump compromised or exposed. And if that explains this worship of Russia, this veneration of Putin. I think that's what they're looking at. And we don't know a lot, partly because Donald Trump has been so secretive with his financial records.
LEMON: Yes. So there's a lot to get to, because any one of these stories, as I said in the beginning, this could have been our breaking news coverage and the story that we covered the entire program.
[22:04:58] But Shawn, the other major story out now is about Jared Kushner losing his top-secret clearance. I want you -- let's look deeper at this. Why can he not secure clearance in the first place? What's going on here?
SHAWN TURNER, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Yes. So we are 13 months into this and Jared Kushner still doesn't have a security clearance. And I think it's pretty clear at this point, that if everybody plays by the rules, that it's unlikely -- it's unlikely that he will get a security clearance.
If the reporting that we've seen is accurate, you know, Don, I've had a security clearance for most of my adult life. And if what we're seeing is accurate, Kushner's business dealings, his interactions with foreign governments, whether these interactions were interactions where he was intentionally trying to accomplish something or not are a serious problem for someone with access to the kind of information that he has access to.
And the real issue here is that you're looking at someone who has a career in the business world, where he has -- he maintains one foot in that business world, where he needs to run businesses and make sure that he continues to tend to the Kushner enterprise. And then that same person has one foot into the foreign policy and national security world.
And even if Kushner plays by all the rules and does all the right things, the people that he's dealing with in these foreign countries, they understand that that gives him an amount of influence and leverage in the White House that will cause them to behave a certain way.
So, I think at this point, with all of that under consideration, it's just very unlikely that he's going to get a security clearance. And I think that's probably the best thing for us at this point.
LEMON: Before I get to John and -- does this hurt his effectiveness, Gloria?
BORGER: Well, it makes it almost impossible to do his job, it would seem to me. I mean, if you're in charge of peace in the Middle East and relations with Mexico, I mean, you should have some access to very high-level security information.
LEMON: And Gloria, what about the...
BORGER: Particularly in the Middle East, you know?
LEMON: What about his credibility among the people he's -- you know, in the Middle East and the people he's trying to negotiate that will bring peace.
BORGER: Right. Well, sure. But you've got to look at levels of intelligence and you've got to be able to see sources and methods and how we drive certain information, particularly in that part of the world. So I think that it makes his job almost impossible to do, quite frankly. You need clearance at that level to do that job.
LEMON: John, isn't this exactly why anti-nepotism laws exist, to avoid all of these complications? And why people have been preaching, divest, divest, divest, you know, get rid of your businesses. Isn't this the reason?
JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Very much so, Don. When you have an -- you know, either a family member or an in-law connected with your presidency, you really have problems. Because this is exactly the sort of thing.
Is the president, for example, really going to cut off his son-in-law? There are questions as to whether that will happen. Maybe he'll have a private channel with Jared and try to enable him to complete his work. You know, I just think it was a terrible idea to hire his daughter and his son-in-law. And I'm quite surprised he really did. I mean, it really is adding to the swamp, not draining to the swamp.
LEMON: But John, it's twofold, as I said. It's nepotism, but it's also businesses. Because Donald Trump did not divest of his businesses. His kids are still running it. I'm sure he's still getting reports about his businesses. Ivanka has her own businesses, have not divested from that. Jared Kushner has his own business, haven't divested from that. So it's more than just nepotism here that we're looking at.
DEAN: Well, the conflict of interest laws were not, they never contemplated a president with the kind of wealth that apparently Trump has and the kind of business activities that he's had. So I think post-Trump, we'll see a new set of conflict of interest laws on a president, which will be appropriate given what's happened during the Trump presidency.
LEMON: That's interesting, because I think part of the excuse, Frank, they've been using is, well, he has so much with businesses, it's not unusual considering all the business size that he has.
But listen, this is what the Washington Post is reporting. Four countries, Mexico, Israel, China, and the United Arab Emirates, UAE, discussing ways to manipulate Jared Kushner, including taking advantage of financial difficulties and his inexperience in foreign policy. I mean, that sounds quite damning.
BRUNI: It totally is. And you look at those two reasons, his business dealings, his business debts and his lack of experience. Both of those are reasons he should have never been in the White House in the first place. And he's there because of nepotism, and that's the third reason he shouldn't be there.
Because you can't trust that things are going to proceed in a normal fashion.
I think we might be seeing the end of Jared and Ivanka. I think they've had a really rough last couple of days. I think things have not panned out for them in Washington the way they wanted them to. And I think this is something to watch. Because I don't think they at this point in time are happy that they made this move.
LEMON: Well, and the way this sort of makes them look. Ineffectual, right?
BRUNI: Totally? And you hit the nail on the head when you talked about, you can say my business is now in the hands of other people, I'm letting relatives make the decisions, I'm not making decision.
[22:10:01] You still remain connected to those businesses. Your family members live and die by those businesses. You are obviously going to have those businesses in mind as you go about the business of government. And that's an enormous conflict and this administration is ridden with them.
LEMON: I've got to ask you the same question I'll ask a different way, Shawn. Because ultimately the president can decide who gets a permanent security clearance. He can, you know, overrule the chief of staff if he wants to. And he can decide that Jared Kushner, if he wants to, gets a permanent or a more permanent security clearance.
So is there -- or he can just say, you know -- he can just tell him this stuff, if he wants to.
TURNER: Sure, absolutely.
LEMON: He can just give him the top-secret stuff. So then is there something there that maybe the president saw in order -- and then said, well, listen, I'm going to let you, Kelly, decide this. Did someone say, this may be bad for your presidency, you need to, you need to know this?
2TURNER: Yes. I think there's two different issues here. One, you're absolutely right, Don. The president can simply say that he wants Jared Kushner to have access to this information. And that's it. You know, the president said it, that will make it so.
I think that the president -- the people around the president who have kind of got to him and made sure that he understands that this is not just about the substance of the issue and whether or not he has clearance and has access to information, but there are also the optics and the politics of this issue.
Not typically my area, but I'll tell you that it is clear that the president knows that he does not need another major, you know, high- profile departure from the White House right now. And I think based on all of the trouble that John Kelly had over the past couple of weeks, if the president had simply said to John Kelly that, you know, despite your policy, pulling back security clearances for people with interim clearances, that Jared Kushner would still have access to classified information, I think that would have put John Kelly in a really tough spot. I think he would have had to have made a decision as to whether or not he was going to stay or go. And I think that if he would have left, that would have been really problematic for the White House right now.
LEMON: Lots more to discuss. Stick around, everyone. When we come right back, why hasn't President Trump ordered the man in charge of U.S. cyber command, Admiral Mike Rogers, to stop Russia's hacking attacks on our democracy?
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So this next story might be the most important story of the day. The NSA director who works for President Trump says that Russians have not paid a price for election interference that threatens the foundation of our democracy. And the president isn't directing him to act even though it's still going on.
Back with me now, Gloria Borger, John Dean, Shawn Turner and Frank Bruni. Gloria, I just -- I wonder these are big stories that we're doing. If there are so many of these big stories that hit the news like on a night like tonight that it sort of diminishes all of them, because they're all happening at once.
BORGER: Right. Well, you get a little numb to it, I think, every day. But the story you're talking about with Rogers is really kind of stunning to me. Because when you have election meddling and you have all intelligence agencies agreeing on it for over a year that there was Russian meddling, one would expect, in normal times, that you would have a president out there saying, we need to get to the bottom of this. We need to preserve our democracy.
I am setting up a special committee to deal with election meddling and it's going to have representatives from every intelligence agency in it. And we're going to make sure that the Russians pay for this. And we're going to do whatever we need to do to sanction them.
And instead, you have a president who believes that by talking about Russian meddling, you're de-legitimizing his election. And therefore, it is a subject that if you work for the president, you really can't talk about. You just have to do it on your own.
And you got the sense that Rogers is doing it, but he's not reporting back to the commander in chief, because he doesn't want to get him upset about it. That's the feeling I got.
LEMON: Well, wishing that -- or thinking all those things should happen, I mean with, Gloria, you know, those were the good old days. That's not happening in this current reality.
But I've got -- let's dig in a little bit more and I want to hear actually from Chief Admiral Rogers, NSA and the USA cyber command chief, he told lawmakers today that President Trump has not ordered him to stop Russian interference and he says this, here he is with Senator Reid.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE ROGERS, DIRECTOR OF THE UNITED STATES NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: I don't have the day-to-day authority to do that, if granted the authority.
HARRY REID, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: So you would need basically to be directed by the president through the secretary of defense --
ROGERS: Yes, sir, in fact, I mentioned that in my statement.
REID: Have you been directed to do so given the strategic threat that faces the United States and the significant consequences you recognized already?
ROGERS: No, I have not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So the House -- the head, I should say, of a U.S. intelligence agency openly saying that he's not getting the authority he needs. I mean, that can't be understated, Shawn.
TURNER: No, it can't. And I'll tell you, this story is the one story that's out there that continues to reverberate through the national security community and the intelligence community.
Look, the intelligence community exists to give the president decision advantage when a foreign adversary does something to attack this country the way that, the way that the Russians did when they interfered in our elections.
And I think that for Admiral Rogers, you know, the one question that wasn't asked today, whether or not in this process the White House has actually requested a set of actions instead of courses of actions for the president to choose from. Because that's a key question.
Because, you know, it's easy to say, and I think we all kind of think that we need to do something to hold Russia accountable. But if the president has not even asked for a set of -- for a set of options here, then that says that he has absolutely no intention of doing anything to hold Russia accountable.
If we knew that he'd asked for a set of options, then we could at least reasonably say that people in his national security team have come together and have at least made a decision that now is not the right time to take any action.
But having, you know, not received those and not been given any instruction to the intelligence community that continues to be extremely disturbing.
LEMON: The White House pushing back on Admiral Rogers' claim. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:20:01] SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nobody is denying him the authority. We're looking at a number of different ways that we can put pressure. Look, this president, as I told you last week, has been much tougher on Russia than his predecessor. Let's not forget that this happened under Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TURNER: That's absolutely ridiculous. It's insane, because Admiral Rogers -- the heads of intelligence agencies, they don't simply make a decision on behalf of the United States to respond to this kind of action that's taken by a foreign adversary. The president has to not only know what the intelligence community is doing and the DOD is doing, but he has to authorize him to do that.
So for Sarah Sanders to say that he's not being, you know, that he can do this on his own, is just -- or to imply that is just absolutely ridiculous.
LEMON: And then going back -- it happened under Obama?
TURNER: I'm sorry?
LEMON: It happened under Obama, she says.
TURNER: Yes, no, I mean, that's a -- I mean, look, we begin to see evidence that the Russians were interfering in the election early on and, yes, we all know now that there was a process or considerations about what to do in the Obama administration.
But we also know that the Obama administration did take real and substantive steps to hold the Russians accountable. And we actually know that President Obama actually smoke directly to Vladimir Putin about it. So, no, this is the new president's responsibility to deal with.
LEMON: That's what I was going to say, Frank. The biggest concern is that it doesn't happen in the future. There's no future interference. But it doesn't seem like that is, you know, they're making sure that that happens.
BRUNI: No, no, I mean, that's what -- I mean, Gloria used the right word. Stunning, stunning testimony by Admiral Rogers. Because what he was saying, exclusively and also if you watched his face and listened to his tone, he was saying this White House doesn't seem to care right?
It is now it is on this White House, it is on this administration to do something to make sure this doesn't happen again. We got the midterms coming up in 2020, and what Admiral Rogers was saying, is I get no sense of urgency from this White House, I don't have proper authority from this White House. I don't get the sense they really care.
And there was that extraordinary moment where Elizabeth Warren asked him, what do you think the Russians have concluded from this? And he said, bluntly, that there's not much of a price to pay for that they did. LEMON: This is, out of all of the stories that's happening today,
this is the one that raises your eyebrows? Your...
BRUNI: This is about our fundamental national security. This is about our autonomy. A foreign government, a foreign power, an adversary tried to -- I mean, meddled and tried to influence the outcome of one of our elections and our president seems not to be able to get worked up about that.
LEMON: John, I wanted to ask you about this because this also happened today. We're learning tonight that special counsel has formally asked a federal court in Virginia to dismiss charges against the former Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates. I mean, this was expected as part of Gates' plea agreement, but what sort of pressure do you think this puts on the former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort?
DEAN: Well, I think Manafort knew it was going to happen, because it was part of the plea agreement. So I don't think he's surprised. But they may restructure that 32-count indictment that will even make it more painful.
And they may add, as they did in the District of Columbia, additional information that will even make it tougher for him. Because I'm sure they're well prepared and they have been planning this since they thought Gates was going to cooperate. So I think it's just more pressure.
LEMON: Yes. Hey, any coincidence, Gloria, that the president threw Russia investigation Twitter fit this morning on the same day that Hope Hicks would be testifying. What he tweeted, just in all caps, "witch hunt."
BORGER: Far be it from me to interpret the motives of any of Donald Trump's...
LEMON: To be the Trump Twitter interpreter?
BORGER: I cannot -- I am sorry. I cannot -- I cannot do that for you. But I do think that the all-caps witch hunt leads you to believe that it's on his mind, tremendously.
BORGER: And whether - whether it's about Hope Hicks or Jared Kushner or himself or the special counsel, why isn't this over yet? You know, his own attorneys have been telling him it was going to be over at Thanksgiving, then it was going to be over at Christmas, then it was going to be over early in the New Year. And now it's March.
So, you know, I think that this is something that hangs over the president's head, like a soggy, wet tent. And he wants it over with. And he considers it to be a witch hunt. We heard from Admiral Rogers that he's not getting any love from the president on this, on the question of Russian interference in the election. And I think the president just wants to turn away to something else and prove that he's right.
LEMON: Gloria, Frank, John, Shawn, thank you all very much. I appreciate it.
When we come back, the House intelligence committee grilling one of the president's top aides behind closed doors today. A member of that committee joins me next, I'm going to ask him what they learned from Hope Hicks.
[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump's top aide, Hope Hicks, appearing behind closed doors today, in front of the House intelligence committee. She testified for about nine hours, but would not answer questions about her time inside the White House.
Until committee ranking member, Adam Schiff said Hicks also refused to answer questions about her role in drafting that misleading statement last year about Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump tower meeting with Russians in June of 2016.
Let's discuss now. Congressman Joaquin Castro is here, he is a Texas democrat who is a member of the committee. Congressman, thank you for joining us. As I said, she spent about nine hours testifying before your committee today. Did you learn anything from Hope Hicks?
JOAQUIN CASTRO, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Yes, no, in some ways, of course, the interview was very useful and we did learn new information, but some of the most important questions we had went unanswered, especially questions we had about her time in the White House. Because Hope Hicks has been described by multiple witnesses as the person who is closest to the president outside of his immediate family members.
[22:29:54] So, we wanted to know what she knew about James Comey's firing, for example. What she knew about that June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and the group of Russian operatives. And she wouldn't answer those questions.
LEMON: So what was her rationale for not answering those questions?
CASTRO: It varied. Part of it was executive privilege. Even though the White House has not formally invoked executive privilege to the committee. And part of it was, what I thought was quite an arrogant answer from her attorney, which was, we're just not going to answer that question. No reason.
LEMON: But isn't it true that only the president can invoke executive privilege? How is she and Steve Bannon, who used the same explanation for refusing to answer questions, how are they able to get away with flouting the committee's authority?
CASTRO: That's a great question. They're basically hiding behind a republican-led committee that they believe ultimately is not going to press them or compel them to come in and answer these very important questions for this committee. But really, this committee acting on behalf of the American people.
And so really, they're playing a real parlor game. What they do is, we've been instructed by the White House not to answer questions with respect to x, y, z time period. Yet, the White House has not communicated with the committee or exercised that executive privilege as far as we can tell.
LEMON: So what are you -- can you compel her in any way? Can you subpoena her testimony?
CASTRO: Sure. If the committee leadership was truly doing its job in a fair way, what you would do is now issue a subpoena, because she was here voluntarily, if she comes in under subpoena and continues to refuse to answer certain questions, then you would hold her in contempt and go to court about it and have a judge decide. Unfortunately, I don't know that any of that will happen.
LEMON: Yes. So, do you think that will happen? Will the committee subpoena her or compel her to come back or no?
CASTRO: I hope so.
CASTRO: We certainly should. We should issue a subpoena. If she still doesn't answer, then we ought to hold her in contempt. But the White House is betting that the makeup of this committee means that that won't happen.
LEMON: That won't happen. So what about her time during the transition or on the campaign. Did she answer questions about that? Did you get information out of that?
CASTRO: She did -- she did ultimately answer questions about her time during the transition.
LEMON: Were they sufficient?
CASTRO: You know, I have to say for the answers that she did give, she gave less of I don't recall or I don't remember than many of the other witnesses. Some of the other witnesses, it felt like half of their answers were, I don't recall. To her credit, when she did answer questions, she usually gave a real answer.
LEMON: OK. So then beyond that, I'm wondering, can you characterize the kinds of questions the committee asked her and how she responded?
CASTRO: Sure, you know, we asked her, as you can imagine, a wide variety of questions about her time on the campaign, about her time during the transition. We attempted to ask her questions about her time in the White House, but those were unanswered. About how she came to know Donald Trump and his family and how she got
started on the campaign. So it was -- you can imagine, nine hours, many of us were in and out, because we had other brief meetings. But, you can imagine, we covered a lot of ground and heard some new information, but in the end, I think got stonewalled on the most important information.
LEMON: But the time on air force one, when she and the president and others crafted that misleading response to that infamous Trump tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon and a whole host of Russians, that was she just refused?
CASTRO: Yes. That still remains a mystery after nine hours of testimony.
LEMON: So what's next, congressman?
CASTRO: Well, there are witnesses that we have to continue to interview and also more witnesses that we need to bring back. I think we need to see Donald Trump Jr. again, we need to see Jared Kushner again.
And in addition to that, just as important, we have to follow up on many of the leads that were given to us by these witnesses who came and testified. We have to subpoena bank records and travel railroads and other documents that will help us verify what was told to us or understand if somebody was lying to us.
LEMON: So when you say you need to see Kushner and Don Junior, are you going to compel them to testify? What does that mean?
CASTRO: Yes. Well, if I was chairman of the committee, I certainly would.
CASTRO: But it's all up to the majority at this point.
LEMON: Thank you, Congressman Joaquin Castro. I appreciate your time.
CASTRO: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, much more on Hope Hicks' testimony. She acknowledged today she sometimes tells white lies for the president. Our legal experts will weigh in on what that could mean.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Top Trump aide, Hope Hicks, told House investigators today that she sometimes tells white lies for the president.
So let's discuss, CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates, a former legal prosecutor, and CNN legal commentator, Ken Cuccinelli, former attorney general in the State of Virginia. I guess we're going to be trying to figure out, is that a legal term, a white lie? But Laura, white lie, is there any distinction between white lies and any other lie under the law?
LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, it depends on who you're speaking to. Talking to Robert Mueller, you've seen a trend that if you're lying in general, he's not going to be nuanced and worried about semantics and whether it's a white lie or one with more gravitas.
In any circumstance, talking to a federal prosecutor or an investigator, a white lie does not become benign. It still remains a lie. So depending on who she's talking to, Congress or the FBI or Robert Mueller's team, calling it a white lie is not going to inoculate it from any sort of legal jeopardy if in fact is a problem.
LEMON: It sounds like Ken agree, so I can move on, right. Ken you agree with that.
KEN CUCCINELLI, LEGAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes.
LEMON: It depends on -- you've said...
CUCCINELLI: Yes, I agree with you, Laura.
LEMON: You've said on this program and on CNN, you should never lie to the special counsel, right, or never lie to an investigator.
OK. So, listen, you heard Congressman Castro say that Hicks essentially invoked executive privilege, which can only be invoked by the president. Are they trying to create a new definition of what executive privilege can mean? I'll ask you first, Ken, and then Laura.
CUCCINELLI: Well, he said, essentially executive privilege, it's one of tose things when you're exercising a privilege, it has to be explicit. So I would be very curious to know exactly what was said.
[22:39:58] But it would not surprise me, frankly, it's been a bipartisan effort of presidents through the years to seek to continually expand what might qualify as executive privilege. And they claim it, even if they're going to lose it later, to buy time, sometimes. I'm not saying that's what's going on here, but that is the habit of presidents and their offices.
LEMON: Yes, well, of presidents, but not necessarily of a Hope Hicks or a Steve Bannon or a Corey Lewandowski, or someone who's testifying in front of the House intel committee. Is this a new definition of executive privilege?
COATES: It seems to be applied in a new way. Because first of all, to be able to claim executive privilege, it usually belongs to a person who is in the executive. And so, we're talking about things pre-dating the inauguration, they weren't part in the executive branch, you can't claim executive privilege. Also on the notion of this administration.
Remember that Jeff Sessions oftentimes signal and said during his testimony in the Hill would say, I'm going to say it in case the president would like to, almost leaving little bread crumbs on the trail for Hansel and Gretel to say, we would like to exert this later on.
It belongs to the president of the United States. And of course, you want the president of the United States, Don, to be able to confide in their advisers, his or her advisers and say, I need to have a free and open discussion.
But you cannot use it in a way that's trying to capitalize on the fact that Congress in this particular incidence will not try to enforce or compel testimony. Because you got a republican-led Congress who would have to do a great deal of Herculean efforts including getting either the Department of Justice to sign off on it or a federal judge to say, we're going to hold you in contempt. Probably not going to happen.
LEMON: Yes. So having said what she just said, Ken, Hicks and the White House, I mean, they know, as long as republicans are heading this committee, there won't be any repercussions. Does this undermine the committee's responsibility, do you think?
Not that, listen, the president has a right for executive privilege. But as long as they know this, can they just sort of skate around this and just undermine this committee?
CUCCINELLI: Well, even within the same party, these sorts of things have limits, because there are always people present on both sides of it, the executive and the legislative, who are defensive of the prerogatives of their branch.
And if you allow a new form of executive privilege now, then you'll be seeing it more, you being congressmen, in the future, right? I mean, that's what precedents are. And courts may well interpret the allowance of a particular interpretation or application, I should say, of executive privilege that is accommodated by the Congress as being Congress' own interpretation, which in turn can weigh with the court.
LEMON: But the question was, but knowing that the deck is stacked. That there is white -- that they know that republicans are heading this committee.
LEMON: Does this undermine the committee's authority or responsibility?
CUCCINELLI: I don't think it undermines the authority or the responsibility, I think you're going to get a certain amount of leeway from a republican majority that you're just not going to get from a democrat majority. That's just, that's no surprise.
I mean, even the contempt issue. When President Obama was in office, there were serious contempt issues raised by the republicans when they had the majority, but the Department of Justice, not surprisingly, wouldn't execute on those. They wouldn't take any steps, even in rather obvious situations.
So we've seen this play out for both parties and hear it is implicitly, although not explicitly, playing out again. LEMON: Well, so it seems like you say, yes, because they're playing
it to their advantage. I mean, if it was a democrat, if it was democrats, they would be playing it to their advantage and now you're saying the republicans are playing it to their advantage. There's nothing wrong with saying yes. I think it does.
CUCCINELLI: Yes. I think I said, each side give its own side leeway that the other side doesn't. And you're seeing that here.
COATES: You know, it's not quite as -- you know, it's very simple to say, that it's either a partisan issue or it's not. But in reality, for the American people to understand how this works.
The reason it's so important about who is in charge of a committee or the overall chamber is because in order for you to actually have a bark with a bite, meaning, you can say, you have a subpoena to come testify in front of Congress and if you do not do it, I'm either going to have the sergeant in arms of our Congress come out and bring you in and they can hold you until the end of the legislative session in the congressional jail.
COATES: Or I can say, I'm going to refer it to the Department of Justice, who is led by somebody at the whim of the president of the United States. Or they can say, I'm going to go to a federal court and say, I would like you to use the rules of criminal jurisprudence here and do that.
The reason it's so important who is in power and the reason it is such a difficult thing to try to meander around is precisely this. You have to have everyone willing to expend political capital to say, they are willing to go ahead and put someone through the contempt ringer.
[22:44:59] If you're not able to do that, why would you not expect everybody to flout any requirement or suggestion that you come and talk to Congress? And never before has this been such an issue where people say, you know what, thank you for your opinion that I should come in, Congress, and speak today. I won't be doing that. And I'm going to say that I have privilege instead. That's what the nuance and why it's so important how partisanship comes into play here.
CUCCINELLI: Well, if I can disagree.
COATES: Of course you can, Ken.
CUCCINELLI: If you think to have the gun matter, I always want to say fast and furious, yes, I think that was it, with the 2000 guns that were sold into the stream of commerce of the bad guys. And Congress was trying to get documents over that. Congress said -- I'm sorry, the Department of Justice, Attorney
General Holder said exactly what Laura just said. No, we're not giving you any of this material, we're not giving you these documents. And they dragged their feet, dragged their feet, dragged their feet for years.
So to say -- I mean, that was much more severe than what we're talking about here. I thought it was interesting, the congressman said earlier that while Hope Hicks did not answer some questions, that when she did answer, she was much more complete, I guess. I forget the exact word he used.
LEMON: Do you think fast and furious is more serious than a foreign entity?
CUCCINELLI: She didn't fall back on, I don't remember this or I don't remember that.
LEMON: You think fast and furious is more important or a bigger issue than a foreign entity meddling in our election, which affects the entire country?
CUCCINELLI: The federal government selling 2,000 guns to felons and criminals, some of which were used to kill Americans. Yes, I think that's pretty serious.
LEMON: You think it's more serious than a foreign -- OK.
COATES: Well, I should say, though, just to be clear here, you're right. That Eric Holder did rye to flout and say, I wasn't going to follow by that in terms of fast and furious. And what happened? Exactly what I have explained.
That they then went to a federal court and said, I would like you to enforce pit it. And the federal court which is their prerogative to do so and said, we're not going to do that in this particular instance.
But that did not set this precedent that seems to be going along and along here between Bannon to Lewandowski to Hope Hicks and beyond that suggest that you can simply say, I don't feel like doing it.
Now one of the distinctions between the fast and the furious case, in this one of course, is you see somebody name Robert Mueller, who is giving that parallel criminal investigation.
2And frankly, you and I both agree, Ken, I'm sure, that if you're talking about whether it's going to be a congressional slap on the wrist and a legislative action taken to correct what happened with the Russian interference, or a criminal prosecution that could land you in jail for life, I'm sure they're going to be less reluctant to be forthcoming to Congress. But fast and furious was a bit different for those reasons.
LEMON: OK. I've got to go. I wanted to ask about Gates and all of that, but I'm out of time. I'm sorry. We'll get to the rest of our show and the rest of our panel. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
When we come back, much more on all the breaking news on the Russia investigation. But just as important, what will Washington do when it comes to new gun legislation. Congress now looking to the president for leadership on the issue. Will anything get done?
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: We have breaking news on many fronts tonight including the downgrading of Jared Kushner's security clearance and new development in the ongoing Russia investigation.
We're also following the debate over guns in the wake of the Florida school massacre and word that President Trump may not support raising the age limit to buy certain firearms even though he said he would.
I want to bring in David Jolly, he is a former republican congressman from Florida. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Today was a day that we saw so much news on Russia and the White House intrigue. But first I have to ask you what's your reaction about today's events?
DAVID JOLLY, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, listen, on the gun debate, I think we're seeing this departure between what's happening in the State of Florida and what's happening federally. We're also seeing Donald Trump try to negotiate where he is on the issue.
Look, at the end of the day, what is not being talked about on the gun debate is this. For background checks to really be effective we have to have this national conversation about whether or not mental health comes into play for background checks, whether or not non-adjudicated cases come into play on background checks. And no party is speaking to that right now. I think that's a conversation we have to have as a country.
LEMON: Well, I wonder if you think the window is closing on the gun control debate, as it has so many times before. Listen to Sarah Sanders...
LEMON: ... this is her earlier today responding to reports that the president backing off the idea of raising the age to purchase an AR-15 and other weapons to 21.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president still supports raising the age limits to 21 for the purchase of certain firearms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What do you think the president's position is at this point? JOLLY: I think it is now being influenced by the NRA. Listen, we have
seen republicans, both Donald Trump, Rick Scott in the state of Florida and others begin to take positions that challenge the NRA's doctrine, if you will.
And we have to give credit to those decisions. I mean, this is a tricky area for people who are critical of the President of the United States, people who distrust the president of the United States, if we are talking about incremental changes when it comes to gun control we want to embrace those.
But at the end of the day, Don, nothing is being talked about that really would change gun laws in a way that protect us from these mass casualty events. Yes, in this specific case raising the age limit to 21 would change that.
But what we're really talking about, the baseline in all of these cases is a mental health situation that is not ever subject to a background check. And nobody is talking about that.
LEMON: Let's follow up a little bit more on the 21 thing.
LEMON: Because the NRA does not support raising the age limit to 21 for semiautomatic guns. A key GOP congressional source tells CNN he doesn't see a path forward for it. The number three republican Senator John Thune said I just don't see that passing. I don't think there are -- you know, the votes in the Senate. I doubt there will be in the House either. And this is House Speaker Paul Ryan. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:55:00] PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We shouldn't be banning guns for law-abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get the guns in the first place don't get those guns. And that is why we see a big breakdown in the system here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: You said do you think the president is being influenced now by the NRA. So, how far.
LEMON: Do you think the president is going to push this without support from the republicans or the NRA or do you seems like -- do you think it seems like it's going to go by the wayside?
JOLLY: It's going by the wayside, Don. Nothing is going to happen in Washington. And I said that with lament. I truly do. But the tactic of the gun lobby to delay, delay, delay. Look what happened after Las Vegas, the idea of a bump stock, delayed, delayed, delayed.
There is not consensus. Even Steve Scalise, a colleague of mine, a friend of mine, who is subject to the attack, the ambush on the softball field he said he is not hearing the outcry of the gun control lobby. Well, they're not listening in Washington, D.C.
And they're going to delay this as far as they can. Look, the fix NICS bill that is being considered on Capitol Hill does nothing more than to say enforce current raw. Nobody is willing to suggest that we need to begin to approach the conversation about personal liberties, whether or not mental health comes into play, whether or not non- adjudicated criminal cases come into play.
LEMON: Congressman Jolly, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
JOLLY: Good to be with you.
LEMON: When we come back, the president said last summer if Mueller were to look into his personal finances he would be crossing, this is a quote, "a red line." And now it appears the special counsel is doing just that. What it all has to do with Russia, that's next.
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