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House GOP Ignores Intel Assessment Putin Interfered In Election To Help Trump Hurt Clinton; House Republicans Ending Russia Investigation, Claim No Evidence Of Any Collusion; Special Counsel Mueller's Case Expands As House Intel Investigation Shutters. Aired 11-Midnight ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon, 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, live with major developments in the Russia investigation. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, tonight handing the President exactly what he wanted saying, they found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and that they are shutting down their investigation.

The President is reacting just the way you expect, tweeting, in all caps, quote, The House Intelligence Committee has, after a 14-month- long, in-depth investigation, found no evidence of collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 Presidential election. The President failing to note that it was the Republicans on the committee, who reached that conclusion, ignoring the intelligence community's assessment that Vladimir Putin was trying to help the Trump campaign over Hillary Clinton.

I want to bring in now, one of the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee and that is Congressman Eric Swalwell. It is good to have you Eric in the studio. So, let us talk about this. You knew that they were going to try shut it down?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL, (D), CALIFORNIA: No witnesses were scheduled, we figured this was coming, but they didn't tell us today, that this report was coming out, we read it on Twitter and in the news.

LEMON: Yes. So, what do you think, he said no shock, no surprise, the biggest -- your biggest surprise by what they put out is what?

SWALWELL: That they have declared that the Russians did not seek to help Donald Trump. You look at the ads that they ran, you don't have to have a law degree or be in the intelligence community to know they had a preferred candidate. So, what they did today is inviting another attack by the Russians and any other adversary with similar capabilities against us this fall. And, Don, they claim there's no collusion, there is no collusion, and they never once looked for collusion. They have no interest. So you can't claim that something wasn't there if you weren't...

LEMON: OK. So you're on the committee then. So take us behind the scene. What do you mean that they never looked for it? Talk to me more.

SWALWELL: I hope these transcripts come out and that the American people can see what little participation there was on their side. How few questions they asked. And when they did speak up, what they focused on. The American people deserve to see that, because we are now more vulnerable, because of their lack of interest and their efforts not to protect the ballot box, but with this report to protect the President.

LEMON: You can't get a specific example?

SWALWELL: It should come out through the transcripts.


SWALWELL: But, Don, also, you know who else retweeted what the Republicans did today? Not just Donald Trump, the Russian embassy, they retweeted our chairman's statement today to show that there was no collusion.

LEMON: The committee interviewed some 73 witnesses so far, yet your Democratic colleague, Adam Schiff said, there are some people he'd like to have come back, some he'd like to interview for the first time. Who else do you want to talk to?

SWALWELL: A whole range of people still associated with the June 9th meeting. You have presidential advisers like Stephen Miller, for example. Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, George Nader, who we just learned about last week, but we also would like to have these individuals who either made up privileges, refused to talk to us or asserted privileges that we don't think are valid, finally sort those out. But, Don, here's how it would go. People would come, they sit in a chair, they will be asked a question, and we'd say, great, thanks, we're not going to verify whatever what you're telling us is truthful by checking your communication logs, subpoenaing your bank records or your travel records. The Republicans have that subpoena power and they chose not to use it at every step of this investigation.

LEMON: OK. So when that would happen, did you follow up? Did you ask questions? Was this on the record? Is it all in the transcript?

SWALWELL: You will see in the transcript time after time, our members, who are witness refused to answer, saying, can -- Mr. Chairman, can you force this witness to answer the question, tell this witness that they have to answer. And the chairman would say, well, they're here voluntarily. They would hide behind their own voluntary structure, where they didn't require them to be under subpoena and say, we can't force them to give us the answer.

LEMON: And by Chairman, you are talking about Devin Nunes?

SWALWELL: No, this was Chairman Conaway and Tom Rooney and Trey Gowdy who led the investigation on their side. So they would say that, they're here voluntarily, we can't force them to answer. When they have the subpoena power, they have the ink that they can put on that paper and force them to answer.

LEMON: Did you have an inkling of this from the beginning when Devin Nunes went over to the White House? Did you -- did you really have hope that this would be a bipartisan investigation and conclusion, ultimately conclusion?

SWALWELL: My train ride up here I was looking and clearing out old text messages, to get more storage on my phone and I saw, some February 2017 text messages, where I was asking Republican colleagues, you know to work with me on an independent, bipartisan commission, because I figured that was the best way to do this. And I just couldn't help, but think, how naive was I at the time? To think that these guys were interested in unifying and protecting us.

But, Don, I think that is the only way to go now, is to have an independent bipartisan commission to tell the American people who was responsible what our vulnerabilities were, whether the government response was adequate, what are we going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again?

[23:05:03] LEMON: Do you think that will actually happen?

SWALWELL: We'll win the House in November and the American people will put a check on this. I'm afraid though, Don, that because of what they've done today, we're going to have two investigations. The 2016 investigation and what the Russians are going to do this election.

LEMON: I'm not sure, if you saw the former Attorney General Eric Holder, his tweet today said, Republican House Intel Committee shut down Russia -- excuse me, shut down Russia probe before doing a complete job, this is a cover-up and is a lasting stain on a reputation of what used to be a bipartisan committee, when it was run by Republican Rogers and Democrat Roethlisberger, politics beat a desire for the truth. What do you think?

SWALWELL: I hate that that is true.

LEMON: You think it's true?

SWALWELL: I hate that that is true.

LEMON: Why so? Tell me about it.

SWALWELL: Because we always would go underground, no cameras, the notes won't be released for 25 years, because its national security, and you want people to just act in the best interests of the country. And I thought, well, this is controversial, because it involves the President, but they'll still do the right thing underground and we didn't see that. We saw them at every turn protect the President, not the ballot box. But I still think that the American people will have the last word on this, when we go to the ballot box in November.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you, I appreciate your time.

SWALWELL: Thank you so much. LEMON: Now, I want to bring in our CNN Legal Analyst Laura Coates, a

former federal prosecutor, CNN Political Commentator, Steve Coates, a former Trump campaign adviser, National Security Analyst Steve Hall, retired chief of CIA Russian operations, and Max Boot, of the Council of Foreign Relations and author of The Road Not Taken. Good to have all of you on. Thank you so much coming in. Max, I want your take on the finding about the House Intel Republican, what do you think?

MAX BOOT, COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, as you've been hearing, it's a joke. I mean, they undertook a cover-up, not an investigation and by strenuously refusing to look for evidence of collusion between Kremlin and the Trump campaign, they then said there's no collusion, they even said there is no evidence that the Trump campaign was the beneficiary of this Russian covert operation to subvert our election, which is in fact a contradiction of the findings of the intelligence committee and a grand jury that issued 13 indictments in the case. So, this is a joke and Republicans will come to regret this, because this will be yet another stain on their honor.

LEMON: Steve, did I call you Coates? Sorry.


LEMON: Sorry about that, I have Laura Coates stuck in me. So listen Steve, the President is clearly happy about this, but everyone knew this committee was hopelessly mired in partisanship and the Mueller investigation -- as the Mueller investigation moves forward with multiple cooperating witnesses and indictments, there's a lot of investigating going on.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. But here's the point I think that is most important is as much as has been investigated, as many people and millions of dollars had been spent on looking into this issue, what have we come up with? No evidence of collusion, because there was no collusion. There's a collusion delusion and I will tell you this, as a partisan, I kind of welcome it. Because I think that the longer the Democratic left won't deal with the reasons they lost in 2016, the better it is for us.

But as an American, I don't like it, because we are literally fixating on a chimera, on something that didn't happen. Did the Russians meddle in our election? Of course, they did, among other countries. Did it matter? No. It didn't matter, it didn't sway Ohio. It didn't sway Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, blue collar workers in those states decided, based on their own self-interest --

BOOT: If it doesn't matter, how come Trump mention WikiLeaks 141 times in the last month of the campaign?

CORTES: Listen, it is insulting to them to say that a few Russians, and by the way, it was a few, with a few million dollars in the campaign that spent a billion-plus total. That they were swayed on social media by the Russians? I mean, that is obscenely offensive...

LEMON: But there are also people who were swayed not to go to the polls as well. It's not just people who voted for Trump. There were people who didn't vote, didn't want to vote for Trump, and maybe weren't enthused by Hillary Clinton, they are also swayed as well. It affected voter turnout overall, not just for Trump supporters.

CORTES: What evidence do you have of that, Don?

LEMON: There's a New York Times article, you should read The New York Times today and The Washington Post. They do a whole layout on what happened with the campaign, especially when it comes to African- American turnout in the country, which were millions of voters who didn't show up, because they were swayed by what happened during the campaign. I would urge you to go look at those two reports. They're from today.

CORTES: I saw that and by the way, you're exactly right, African- American turnout was crucial. So was Hispanic. And I'll tell you this, as a Hispanic, Donald Trump massively outperformed expectations among Hispanics, despite dour predictions from the mainstream media that he was going to be decimated among their population. In fact, we did better than Mitt Romney did among Hispanics.

LEMON: You did better than Mitt Romney, you did better than John McCain did, but you didn't do as well as other Republican candidates before those two.

CORTES: Sure. And not as well as I want to do, no, that was a great point, Don, it is. Not as well as I want to do. I don't want to hold a parade to win a third of the vote, but the point is, why didn't we do better? Because he offered a vision for their empowerment and for economic advancement. And by the way, not just offered that vision, he is now delivering on it. Lowest African-American, lowest Hispanic unemployment in history --

[23:10:21] LAURA COATES, CNN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ANALYST: Your actual point misses the mark, when it talks about why there is a collusion investigation, or why there's a criminal probe in both Mueller's team and legislatively, because we do prosecute and investigate crimes that are even endeavor-based. Meaning it need not have impacted the ultimate success of one candidate or another, it need not have turned the tide in a way you're speaking of. It had to be the endeavor to do so. That is why this is so important and why it's a great facade to have the premise of, well, if it didn't affect the outcome ultimately, and perhaps he would have won, then the actual probe and legislative sessions gather around trying to figure out how it's happening are nonsensical. But in fact --

CORTES: I didn't say that.

COATES: No, and I'm explaining why if that is the illogical premise you're using, why it would be a problem. The issue with congress here is they've put the cart before the horse, when they decided to end an investigation without first interviewing Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, compelling testimony complete from Steve Bannon, from Corey Lewandowsky, Donald Trump Jr. When three of those men have been indicted and two have pled guilty to crimes that have occurred at least in part during the course of the administration. That says to me, they were trying to be perhaps the facade-based investigation. And I don't have a dog in this fight as to the outcome, but I would like as an American voter, as a person, as a prosecutor, to believe that this actual investigation was comprehensive and not a facade.

LEMON: Steve, I know you have a lot to say about this. What are your thought?

CORTES: Look, I think the Democrats should issue their own report. I welcome that, by the way. I guess I would say --

LEMON: The other Steve, Steve Hall.

CORTES: I am sorry.


LEMON: Sorry, that was my bad. Go ahead.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That is all right. Don, I didn't hold out a whole lot of hope for frankly either of the oversight committees, because we're in such a hyper partisan time and this is -- they are a political entity, both sides are. I worked in congressional liaison and CIA for a while and I can say neither side has a monopoly. I was there when Dianne Feinstein was pushing through on very partisan lines, the so-called torture report on neither side. Both sides in these circumstances like in a partisan fashion. And here is the difference though, when you've got the Director of National Intelligence from both administrations saying to you that your country has been attacked by the Russians, by an adversarial country, then all that partisanship needs to go out the window, because this is much less a question about, you know, Donald Trump, it's a question about our democracy, and we're being attacked.

CORTES: Hold on Steve, do you mean --

LEMON: Let (inaudible).

CORTES: Do you mean the DNI Director Clapper, who by the way, lied to the American people and somehow was not prosecuted for his perjury, after all.


Is that who you're talking about?

HALL: I mean the current one, who this morning -- who earlier today said, we agree with the results of the old guy. That is the one I'm talking about. By the way, I'm not so sure about lying by former Director Clapper, because I am sure that he didn't. --

CORTES: Well, look into it.


LEMON: When we come back the British are not afraid to blame Russia for the poisoning of a double agent and his daughter. So, why is the Trump administration so reluctant to point the finger at Moscow?


[23:17:04] LEMON: The British are blaming Russia for the poisoning of a former spy, but the Trump administration doesn't seem to be quite so certain. Back with me now Laura Coates, Steve Cortes and Steve Hall and also Max Boot. So welcome back, everyone. Steve Hall, let's talk about the attempted murder case in Britain earlier today. British Prime Minister Theresa May said, that it was quote, Highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Why are they so certain?

HALL: Well, Don, I think that is probably diplomatic British understatement for being pretty sure that it was the Russians. I mean, it was a Russian agent that was developed back in the '80s for actual chemical warfare use. We've seen a pattern of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin going after opposition leaders and people that are against Vladimir Putin in the U.K. previously. So when you put all of that together, probably together with classified information that the British intelligence services have developed over the course of time, you know, it's pretty clear who's behind this, it's Vladimir Putin.

LEMON: Max, when asked about the attack, the press secretary Sarah Sanders resisted tying it to Russia. Listen to this.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, we've been monitoring the incident closely, take it very seriously. The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate, and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families and our support to the U.K. government. We expand by our closest ally in the special relationship that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not saying that Russia was behind it?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Right now, we are standing with our U.K. allies. I think they're still working through even some of the details of that and we're going to continue to work with the U.K. and we certainly stand with them, throughout this process.


LEMON: So Max, why is Sarah Sanders unable to point the finger at Russia?

BOOT: Because Donald Trump has a strange affection for the Russian dictator. Now later in the day, Rex Tillerson did admit the obvious, that Russia was responsible for this. We still have not heard that from Donald Trump or his spokes people, just as we have not heard anything from the White House about the fact that last month you had hundreds of Russian mercenaries attacking a U.S. base in Syria, and likewise, the White House has refused to respond to the Russian attack on our democracy in the 2016 election. Donald Trump trashes people every single day, people like, Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, just 24 hours ago Alec Baldwin, he never says anything bad about Vladimir Putin. This is why there are great suspicions that there was, in fact, collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, because it's hard to explain why on earth does Donald Trump not call out the Russians? They're attacking our allies, they're attacking our allies and he is looking the other way. That is a disgrace. He is not protecting our country or our allies.

CORTES: Max, if that is the truth, if he is some sort of puppet of Putin or Russia, why did he send cruise missiles, dozens of cruise missiles, into Syria, an air base, by the way, which had Russian planes there?

[23:20:08] Why is he arming the Ukraine, which he already did, against Russia? And why did he go to Poland and give a speech in Warsaw, which was as anti-Russian encroachment as any speech that Reagan --


LEMON: Let him answer the question.

BOOT: It was not an anti-Russian speech. Trump had to be strong- armed by his aides into affirming NATO article 5. That I am -- what you're pointing to is the fact, that we all know, he is incredibly inconsistent, he cannot stay on one theme, for one time. And yes, the administration has done some things that are designed to stop Russian aggression, pushed by his aides who are anti-Russian, but Donald Trump himself has never said one negative word about Vladimir Putin --

CORTES: Why is that? Why do you say that?

BOOT: To respond to an attack on our election in 2016, he refuses to respond.

LEMON: So listen, so Steve Hall, the Secretary Tillerson also said that Russia must face serious consequences for the attack. What type of response do you think we'll see?

HALL: I hope there's two different types of response. First, there's stuff that the United Kingdom can do unilaterally. They can free this or somehow tie up all of the oligarch, the Russian oligarch money that is floating around London banks. This going to be a tough thing, because there is going to be an impact on, you know, on Brits, for that that is something that ought to be done. They also put a travel ban, a visa ban on the same Russian oligarchs. In the international side, I would argue that we need to give some serious consideration to kicking the Russians out of the international banking Swiss system for a specific period of time, in order to make them understand how serious this is. And I think somebody at some point needs to raise the issue as to whether or not a country that annexes pieces of other countries and conducts political assassinations outside of its own borders should be as part of the United Nations Security Council. That is an issue that I think also should be addressed.

LEMON: All right Laura, so help me with this. As Max was pointing out and other panelists have pointed out, the President and the White House rarely criticize Russia at all, and no one really knows why. Is that a question the special counsel investigation is going to be able to get to the bottom of?

COATES: Well we hope so. And the reason is, you can actually not be a puppet, if you want to give benefit of the doubt to the President, and also take a position that is contrary to Russia or one that is perhaps complimentary to it, but the point is that special counsel Mueller's team has to uncover whether there actually are strings. And part of his quest is not simply to pursue a foregone conclusion that the intelligence community has already come to, which is the Russians have tried to interfere with our election.

They also have to figure out anyone as an American citizen was accommodating or helping in that endeavor. It follows the money trail. Sometimes those strings are going to land to the Marionette class (ph), others is going to find its way to somebody's bank account, which is why it is very compelling to people, just look at the congressional action of today, and say, I wonder why there was a congressional investigation about trying to protect the Democratic institution we have here and our electoral system, that did not follow the same trail that Mueller, did when there have been 13 indictments of Russian nationals, There had been three indictments of people who are in the inner circle of the Trump campaign and the administration. It seems to me the question is not whether or not Donald Trump is a puppet of Putin, but whether or not -- why there has not been a thorough investigation of congress as to why that might be a possibility. It's an odd thing that makes the American people question it. And of course raises suspicion of Mueller's team.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

When we come back, the special election that has Republicans on edge. Why they should be worried about what happens in Pennsylvania tomorrow. I'm going to talk to Mark McKinnon. That is next.


[23:25:37] LEMON: Let us talk now about Pennsylvania's 18th voters day on their congressional district, go to the polls tomorrow and special election to fill an empty seat in the house, and a Monmouth University poll released today gives the Democratic candidate Conor Lamb a 6-point lead, 51 percent to 45 percent over the Republican, Rick Saccone. If Lamb wins, it will be an upset, the district has been solidly Republican for years. President Trump even went there over the weekend and stumped for the Republican candidate. So I want to talk about that with Mark McKinnon, executive producer of ShowTime's The Circus, a former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain as well. All eyes are going to be on this, Mark. I mean, this is going to be interesting one to watch. Good evening to you. Let me ask you about this Monmouth poll, Conor Lamb 6 percent, it's a 5.5 percent margin, so basically is neck and neck there. How do you see this playing out?

MARK MCKINNON, THE CIRCUS ON SHOWTIME, CO HOST: Well, the fact that the race is even close is really significant, because Donald Trump won that district by 20 points. So, if that poll is accurate, and we don't know if it is, that would be a 26-point swing since Donald Trump's election. At the very least the fact that it's competitive reflects what we have been thinking all along, which is that Democrats are truly energized. The question is, juts how big a wave is it? 20 points is a lot to make up, but of course this is going to be our big bellwether race. We're all going to watch this week and by the way, the one thing I'll say about this race, is what we're seeing in all races right now, which is that, tip O'Neill's adage that all politics are local is out the window now. All politics are national. All these congressional races are nationalized. All the senate races are being nationalized. So, I mean, really, if you were in that district right now, you would think the race was between Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.

LEMON: Really? If you're in that market right now, because you're watching, because of the media, what they're saying on the trail?

MCKINNON: Yes, all the ads are saying, you know, that Saccone is just a patsy for Trump, and that Lamb is just a patsy for Pelosi, just a puppet for them and their strings are being pulled by the national leadership.

LEMON: Aren't they pretty close politically though?

MCKINNON: Yes, yes. I mean, listen. Particularly in swing districts like this. I tell -- you ask me what the perfect Democratic candidate is, I'd say a veteran, prosecutor, and a woman. Conor Lamb is not a woman, but he checks the other two boxes. He is very pro-second amendment. And so quite conservative obviously and -- but reflects that district as any conservative Democrat running... Democrat running in any district like that would be.

DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: So Mark, I guess he is pretty proud of people saying that he is, you know, running on Trump's coat tails, because he said, I have been campaigning -- he has been campaigning saying, "I was Trump before Trump was Trump." A bit of what the President had to say about Saccone over the weekend, watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go out on Tuesday and just vote like -- you've got to get out there. The world is watching. This -- I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching, because I won this district like by 22 points. I really feel strongly about Rick Saccone and I know him. I feel strongly about him. He is an incredible guy. Number one -- and I don't know that this is important, but to me it is. He is a very fine human being. He is a good person. He is really a good person. Personally, I like Rick Saccone. I think he is handsome.



LEMON: I mean, the President though you've heard privately trashing Saccone and Republicans are already calling him a lousy candidate. Is the blame game already starting, Mark?

MCKINNON: Oh, yes. That's not a good sign. That's when you're hedging your bets before the race. And Republicans, a lot of them are publicly denouncing what a lousy candidate he's been. So that's not -- that's not a good sign and -- but I guarantee you that if he wins, Trump and the Republicans will take all credit for it being a Trumpified national election and a referendum on the President. But the President's showing, by the way, that he is going to be very aggressive in these midterms and go out and plant the flag. And he is glad to have it be a referendum on him.

LEMON: And if it's -- what happens if it's the other way around though?

MCKINNON: Well, then you get Republicans running scared. And then you have kind of, you know, -- the rats are going to flee the ship. Then you get a very difficult situation where you have Republican leadership. And when you try and run away from it, you know, voters get very mixed signals. So it's going to be difficult.

Listen, 41 Republicans have already resigned in this cycle and Democrats only have to pick up 26, which is a lot considering the gerrymandering of the districts. We know that from recent elections.

But you know, if the Monmouth poll is accurate and he is up by 5, that means that there's a really significant wave going on out there. And the question is, you know, does the wave -- does the wave sustain itself all the way through November or do things like economic indicators and jobs, which are very healthy right now, maybe get healthier, maybe that helps crush the wave?

LEMON: All eyes are going to be on -- on turnout too, Mark. Will the Dems be motivated enough to get turnout in droves, and will Republicans show up for Trump?

MCKINNON: Well, that's the big question. That is a particular consideration in special elections. Normal voters don't turn out. This are very activated voters and presumably energized voters. So the turnout numbers will reflect just how much energy there is, but that's indicator that you look at for the fall, this fall races is you could just look at which party is more energized and that's the Party that's gonna -- that's gonna get their surfboards and ride the wave.

LEMON: Mark MacKinnon, appreciate it, sir. Thank you, sir.

MCKINNON: Kick it. Thank you.

LEMON: I kick it hard. When we comeback, a source close to President Trump thinks Stormy Daniels could be more dangerous to the President than the Russia investigation. His strategy, keep quiet. But will that work?


[23:37:39] LEMON: Breaking news, a CNN source believes that the Stormy Daniels situation potentially poses a bigger threat to Donald Trump's presidency than the Russia investigation, that as Stormy Daniels says she wants to give back the $130,000 payment she received to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Donald Trump.

I want to bring in now our Defense Attorney Joe Tacopina and CNN Legal Commentator Kim Cuccinelli. Thank you gentlemen for joining me this evening. A source close to the President says the President has been asking confidants, how he should handle the Stormy Daniels situation. He is being told by advisers to keep quiet and not to fight her or breaking this confidentiality agreement, because it would make him look guilty.

So, Joe, aside from politics, are there legal land mines, if President Trump tweets or speaks out about this?

JOE TACOPINA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I mean, yes, the legal -- look, here is the worst that could happen, she gets to go out there and tell her story and tell it, and whatever facts come out of it, which I don't think anyone's going to be shocked by at this point, she gets to tell. I mean, that is the legal land mines.

What's going to keep happening, if they keep posturing the way they're posturing and his lawyer says one thing and his press secretary says another and he says something else, is that the story continues to grow and gain steam. And that is the problem. I've said all along, if he'd just come out and said, "Yes, I did, so what?" And just chalked it up to another one of the things on his list of minor scandals. He gets through.

LEMON: Ken, are you in agreement with that? Sounds like you are.

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think the biggest -- I think the biggest problem here and when you've got lawyers on with you, but the legal problem isn't their biggest problem. I mean, that -- if there's an agreement in place, the agreement says whatever it may say.

LEMON: Right.

CUCCINELLI: But it's not like there's any criminality threat here. And the biggest problem for the President is the continual talking about it. And clearly, she has now changed her mind about taking $130,000 bucks and not talking about it. She wants to go talk about it, because there's a lot more in it for her that way.

Now, it may be that two or three weeks before the election she thought, well, "this guy's never going to win, I can get $130,000 out of this," but things look a little different today.

LEMON: But here's a -- do you both agree, which is a bit shocking, but the thing is I know his representatives are frustrated by this, meaning the President.

[23:40:00] I am sure he is frustrated by this. And I think that from what I hear, just from my experience, they're frustrated with the wrong thing. They shouldn't be frustrated whether it's legal or not, whether the agreement can hold up. They should be frustrated with the talk on television, the media, by Stormy Daniels, by her attorney, that is really --

LEMON: That is the thing. Right

TACOPINA: -- they've giving (ph) her life. I mean, honestly, I don't know Michael Cohen. I'm sure he is a fine lawyer, but he screwed up here. I mean, he just plain screwed up. He went out and he said something in front of a gauntlet of reporters and he made a pronouncement that, I paid the $130,000 from my own money and the president --

LEMON: Did you say the force? You sort of forced Stormy Daniels' hand and said I want to --

TACOPINA: He was the linchpin to causing her to get a lawyer and absolutely take legal action. He -- this agreement is null and void in so many different directions at this point, that there's no way the President's team of lawyers are going to be able to stop CBS -- I believe it's CBS -- from running the interview that they've done with Stormy Daniels. There is zero chance that is happening.

LEMON: Speaking of lawyers, Stormy Daniels' attorney, the last hour with me, here's what he said about his client.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S ATTORNEY: The veracity of this woman and her credibility is going to shock people. When and if she is able to tell her story, there is no doubt in my mind that the American people will believe her.


LEMON: What do you think he means by that?

TACOPINA: I think, he means they're going to believe her.


What he means by that is she has proof that is what he means. Let me decode that. She has proof, she has proof in writing. I'm sure she has other forms of proof, and there could be a bombshell back there.

LEMON: If they are so frustrated, Ken, because you know, shouldn't they just come out -- shouldn't, you know, Michael Cohen just come out and do take some of the responsibility and say something or shouldn't someone say something instead of spinning and saying, we've addressed it, when we really haven't addressed it?

CUCCINELLI: I don't think they really know what to do. I mean -- and they can't very well talk directly to Cohen about this and sit and plot, because he is not their lawyer for this. I don't care what happens. So there's no privilege. And I really -- I agree that Cohen really screwed up here. You give him more credit than me as a potentially good lawyer, maybe he is in some other regard, but oh man.

TACOPINA: You're right. Look, I don't know the guy -- CUCCINELLI: Sloppy, messy, he has done pathetically --

TACOPINA: Yes, I don't need to --

CUCCINELLI: No, I'm not being critical of you, I think Cohen screwed this up 12 ways till Tuesday.


LEMON: I'll give you -- I'll give you a chance --

TACOPINA: Why do you say --

CUCCINELLI: Look, if you're going to do it, you don't set up LLC's with your name on it. You don't go talk in a front of a bank of reporters. The lack of self-discipline, the lack of a coherent plan, this is -- this looks like it was shooting from the hip all the way along and not doing a very good job of that.

LEMON: Wasn't the story leaked before he spoke? Wasn't it the "Wall Street Journal?"

TACOPINA: It was the --

CUCCINELLI: I think the rumors of this are ten years old --

LEMON: No talking about the --

CUCCINELLI: He goes out and talks --

LEMON: I'm talking about the money, the $130,000.

CUCCINELLI: I know what you mean -- but that is true, but he gives that oxygen. I mean, that was just crazy --

TACOPINA: Well, yes.

CUCCINELLI: -- and foolish.

TACOPINA: He did. What he also did --

CUCCINELLI: And here we are talking about it.

TACOPINA: What he did by saying what he said, which is, I paid the money from my own private account, the President didn't know about it, I just did it to protect him. That violates the canons of ethics of New York State, it's illegal. So he is saying publicly, this agreement that I have is the legal agreement. The President didn't know about it. The President can't be a Party to an agreement, he doesn't know about, no client can be. So, there's so many reasons this agreement is null and void, aside from the fact that he didn't just sign it. That's one factor. But the courts have ruled, sometimes an unsigned agreement can be binding if both parties operate as if it were valid. Here, no parties are operating as if it's valid.

LEMON: I don't mean this in a snarky way, but this is why people should wonder like, they say, why does the President always say, I'm surrounded by the best people, when people there's such turnover in the White House?

TACOPINA: Oh, my god. Here's an example where -- whatever he did, he did. But the mess he is in right now is actually not because of his tweeting. It's not because he did something at 2:00 in the morning on a mad tweet. It's because his lawyer and then a press secretary for the White House, by the way, went and talked about an agreement that the President won, that was supposed to be confidential in nature, thereby, violating any potential agreement anyway.

LEMON: CNN caught up with Stormy Daniels over the weekend. She wouldn't answer questions about the lawsuit or comment on the alleged affair, but she did talk about the intention. Watch this.


STORMY DANIELS, PORNSTAR: Yes, I'm more in demand. And like I said in the "Rolling Stone" interview, if somebody came up to you and said, "Hey, you know that job you've been doing forever, how about next week I pay you quadruple?" Show me one person who's going to say no.


[23:45:00] LEMON: So, she is saying that the scandal is good for business. Back and forth, all this legal stuff is keeping her name in the headlines, right, Ken?

CUCCINELLI: You bet. Oh, absolutely. This is -- and look, you know, she is regularly called porn star, but broaden it, she is in entertainment.

TACOPINA: She is an artist.

CUCCINELLI: And that is what -- yes, she is an artist. And that is -- and that is what's going on here. This is like Don King would be jealous of this kind of promotion. I mean, this is just pure self- interest and --

LEMON: I'm not even being critical of that. She is firing it up.


LEMON: She is a businesswoman and an entertainer. He is a businessman and an entertainer.

TACOPINA: What is surreal -- what is surreal is that we're actually sitting on CNN, your distinguished show, talking about this.

CUCCINELLI: "National Enquirer" stuff.

TACOPINA: The President of the United States that is what we're talking about. Had this been our last President and there was a scandal regarding paying off a paying a porn star hush money and lying about it? The impeachment proceedings, we'd be talking about the third day, those are ready. LEMON: I would be turning down Republicans who took to come on this show, I am sorry, we don't have enough time for you.

TACOPINA: I'm sure you would be.

LEMON: Exactly. Thank you all. Thank you both, I appreciate it. Great conversation.

When we come back, the President is releasing a watered-down gun control proposal after blasting other lawmakers for being scared of the NRA. Is he scared too?


[23:50:44] LEMON: President Trump walking back his gun proposals after lecturing his fellow Republicans about being scared of the NRA. I want to bring in our CNN contributor, Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The truth about Trump."

Michael, hello, welcome to the program. President Trump unveiled his initial proposal to prevent mass shootings at school and it bears very little resemblance to the tone and substance we heard from the President back in February.

It includes some firings training for qualified school personnel and backing a bipartisan bill to improve background checks and a proposal to raise the age limit on certain gun purchases. That is only on the list of issues considered by a commission headed by education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Is she -- is she caving to the NRA, or is she caving to the NRA, I should say?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, of course he is. But, you know, this is something that we've seen before, where a bold statement will be made and then there's a walking back of the details, you know. When the potential summit with North Korea was announced, it was a done deal, and then it became something that had conditions applied to it.

And now, we don't really know, what's going to happen. You look at the sanctions or the tariffs attached to steel and aluminum. And at first it was across the board 25 and 10 percent. Now Canada is exempt. Mexico is exempt. It looks like most of the E.U. will be exempt. Pretty much -- pretty soon the only people who are going to be paying tariffs on steel are you and me.

So this issue with the NRA is just par for the course for this President. You know, he talked about how everyone else was afraid of the NRA, and he wasn't afraid of them, and they couldn't control him and then they went to the White House twice, and now they seem to be in the driver's seat.

LEMON: The White House also seems to be struggling Michael to explain President Trump's softening of his proposal. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He backed away from some of the ideas that he had brought into the discussion, and I'm asking why he chickened out.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: He hasn't backed away from these things at all. As I just said, they're still outlined in the plan, but he can't make them happen with a broad stroke of the pen. You have to have some congressional component to do some of these things. Let's not forget that the Obama administration had the White House and all of congress for two years and never did anything.


LEMON: So, again, the Trump administration dragging the former President into this, who has nothing to do with this legislation right now and, in fact, fought for a ban on assault weapons into this. Why do they keep doing that?

D'ANTONIO: Well, you've got to have someone to fight. So, on some days, it is CNN and Chuck Todd. And then on other days, it's Hillary Clinton. And today, I guess it was Barack Obama on the gun issue. We, who watched President Obama struggle with mass shootings back then, know how much he tried to get something through Congress. He proposed, congress disposed of it. They didn't move forward on it. In this case we've got the White House spokesperson acting as if the President doesn't have a role to play at all.

You know, there are many instances where Presidents propose legislation and work with the leader in the House and Senate to get something done. And in this case, we did have a President who had very specific agenda items that he offered.

And I think, in that moment, especially with the kids from Florida all capturing our hearts and they seem to capture the President's heart, we had reason to be optimistic that maybe this was a Nixon goes to China moment. Maybe this was a Republican President who was going to do something about this crisis of gun violence.

And he wasn't talking about radical things. You know, he was talking about things that most Americans would support and didn't seem to infringe on second amendment rights, but he couldn't follow through.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, I don't want to play it, but -- do you remember that meeting with the President talking to lawmakers that was back on February 28th, telling them not to be afraid of the NRA? Did the President end up being the one who is afraid?

[23:55:10] D'ANTONIO: Well, of course, he is afraid. This is the guy who ran as an outsider, but just about everything he is done has been what an insider would do. It's strange, because I think people really did want him to drain the swamp and they saw this terrible gridlock that exists in congress, it's only gotten worse. Washington doesn't work. He was right about that, but it still doesn't work. So what are we supposed to think about his presidency when these promises are made and then broken, and then new promises are made?

LEMON: Michael D'Antonio, next time you're on, maybe they can put your book over your left shoulder. Do you see the book over your left shoulder? (LAUGHTER)

They can put "The truth about Trump," over your left shoulders, never enough (ph). Thank you, I appreciate it, see you next time. That is it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.