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CNN TONIGHT

President's Lawyers Sit Down For First Face-To-Face Meeting With Mueller's Team; New GOP Calls To Add Mueller Protection Clause To Budget Bill; What Hope Hicks Knows; Trump Considers Gary Cohn For Top CIA Position; Trump Pushes Death Penalty For Drug Dealers. Aired 11- 12a ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, live with new developments on the Russian investigations. CNN has learned that President Trump's lawyers sat down with Robert Mueller's team last week to discuss what topics investigators want to ask the President about.

Their first face-to-face meeting after weeks of informal conversations, but one source says the President has gone back and forth on whether he'll even agree to an interview. That as we have learned the President is more and more agitated as he realizes the investigation is nowhere close to ending. You might have guessed that from his Twitter tirade over the weekend. Look at that.

Now, two more sources tells CNN President Trump is adding a new attorney to his team, one who has pushed a conspiracy theory that the President is being framed by a group of FBI and Justice Department officials. We've got news tonight on departing Trump aide, Hope Hicks, as well and why she really is -- she's really leaving the White House.

I want to bring in now a Conservative commentator, Carrie Sheffield and Jack Quinn who was a Clinton White House Counsel.

So good to have both of you on, thank you so much, good evening.

Jack, a source says -- tells CNN that -- that representatives from Trump's team and Mueller's team met face-to-face to discuss topics that they want to ask the President about and they want to discuss. Are we getting closer to a meeting between the two?

JACK QUINN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I hope so. I hope that this is not just a pretense on the part of the President and his lawyers to -- for him to walk away and say that he couldn't come to an agreement, and therefore, he won't testify, and use this as more evidence of the fact that the deck is somehow stacked against him.

So I hope that they can agree on terms. Having said that, it's going to be exceedingly difficult for Mr. Mueller to really trim his sails on what subjects are permissible and what ones are ruled out. You know, he really needs to have the President in an open-ended conversation where he can assess his veracity, follow up on leads that may come from the conversation as it proceeds.

So it's very hard for the investigators to agree that certain things will not be the subject of inquiry --

LEMON: What if he does --

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: -- the very fact that they ask for something not to be permissible raises one's antenna.

LEMON: What if he retires (ph)? What if he does refuse? What happens?

QUINN: If he refuses, I expect he will get a subpoena. And I will -- I expect that that would be enforced by a court.

LEMON: Got it.

QUINN: I expect that the President's people would take it all the way to the Supreme Court. And like President Nixon, I expect that they will lose.

LEMON: Yes. The Washington Post is reporting that Trump's lawyers have given Mueller's descriptions of key moments under investigation to limit the scope of an interview. Will that be enough to satisfy Mueller?

QUINN: Absolutely not. I can't imagine how that would. You look, unless it's a subject matter that Mr. Mueller and his team are not interested in. But if it goes to the heart of the investigation, namely, whether or not there was a conspiracy that involved Americans, including people involved in the campaign or who were later involved in the transition or the administration, I can't imagine Mr. Mueller allowing them to rule out subject areas.

LEMON: Yes. We are also learning from The New York Times that Mueller has provided President Trump's lawyers with a list of questions as part of ongoing conversations to set up an interview with the President, along with learning that the two sides have met face- to-face, do you think, Carrie, that the Special Counsel is being accommodating to the President here?

CARRIE SHEFFIELD, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, OPPORTUNITY LIVES: Well, I haven't been in every meeting, so I can't speak to the tone or the tenor of the meetings and the conversations. I do think if the President chooses to respond through written testimony, I think that would be perfectly valid as well to make sure there's no sort of entrapment.

In terms of the question of, you know, it appears that things are moving beyond just the question of, you know, collusion in 2016. It appears from everything we've seen there is no evidence of this. And moving into questions of obstruction and by my account, and again -- if you present me with something else, Don, or anybody else, right now, what we see is there is no evidence of any sort of obstruction, because one of the key factors of the -- by the definition of obstruction is that someone has to directly impede an investigation. Yet we know from --

[23:05:00] LEMON: I don't meant that to be true.

SHEFFIELD: -- But we know from Jim Comey that he testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that three times he told President Trump that you are not under investigation. Therefore, by that definition, there was no sort of impediment, there is no --

LEMON: So, I don't know that be true, that there is no evidence of anything. I mean, we keep hearing that from commentators, but we haven't heard that from anyone on the team. And the notion of -- the notion of that there is collusion, collusion is not a legal term. That is a nebulous term that is easy for Trump supporters and for pundits to throw around, because no one can ever be convicted of colluding. They can be convicted of conspiracy, of money laundering, of lying to investigators --

SHEFFIELD: Is there evidence of conspiracy?

LEMON: I don't know, I'm not there.

SHEFFIELD: So there isn't, therefore by due process --

LEMON: No, you can't say there isn't --

SHEFFIELD: -- he is innocent until proven guilty.

LEMON: That is absolutely true, but you can't say there's no -- we don't know of evidence, you cannot definitively say that there is no evidence.

SHEFFIELD: We don't know that there's evidence that Mickey Mouse colluded, we don't know that there is evidence --

LEMON: You're proving my point.

SHEFFIELD: No I'm not.

LEMON: You're proving my point, no one knows that --

SHEFFIELD: I am saying that until --

LEMON: -- except for the investigators -- I don't want to go down this rabbit hole, because no one knows, but you cannot definitively sit here -- you can't sit here and definitively say, there's no evidence of anything, because we're not inside the investigation and no -- it has not yet been determined. Go on Jeff, what do you want to say?

QUINN: If I may, of course, we don't know. We don't work for Bob Mueller, we're not privy to the information. He is investigating. And so we have to wait until his investigation is complete and all of these protestations that there isn't evidence is simply a way of saying he shouldn't do what he needs to do to assemble any evidence that might there be --

SHEFFIELD: No, that is really not fair, because I never said that --

QUINN: No, no --

SHEFFIELD: I never said that he shouldn't be allowed to do what he needs to do. And I think that it's very fashionable (ph) where you live to go to cocktail parties and try to insult the President as much as you want --

QUINN: Excuse me?

SHEFFIELD: -- but there are millions of people who want to get things done. And there's -- the truth that the maters is --

QUINN: Carrie, you don't know me, and you don't know where I live --

SHEFFIELD: Right.

QUINN: -- and I'm not sure what you're talking about.

SHEFFIELD: You live in the Beltway, correct?

QUINN: I take exception to that --

SHEFFIELD: You live in the Beltway, right?

LEMON: But what does that have to do -- let's not get off topic, let us not go into the rabbit hole. This has not anything to do --

(CROSSTALK)

SHEFFIELD: It has to do with the fact --

LEMON: You live in New York City, don't you?

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: The investigation, the investigation --

LEMON: Hold on, hang on, Jack. Let me make a point here. You live in New York City.

SHEFFIELD: I do.

LEMON: Do you go to cocktail parties and do you say disparaging things about the President?

SHEFFIELD: I don't talk about politics, because I don't live in D.C. thankfully.

LEMON: He does the same thing, how do you know that?

SHEFFIELD: He lives in the belt when I used live there --

LEMON: But not everyone who lives in the Beltway does that, but you don't know --

(CROSSTALK)

SHEFFIELD: And I know that is what people do there.

LEMON: So, you're making a gross generalization about someone you don't know.

SHEFFIELD: He was making a gross generalization and saying that people who support the President don't want Mueller to do the job that he is supposed to do.

LEMON: He was saying, you, by saying what you said, he was insinuating that is what you were saying. Now, you can talk about that, but you don't have to make a personal ad hominem attack on how he spends his evening and talking about the President of the United States --

(CROSSTALK)

SHEFFIELD: How I view Mueller's --

LEMON: Then direct your question -- direct your line of questioning or your response to that, and not a personal attack.

SHEFFIELD: OK. Then --

LEMON: Then we go down this rabbit hole, but listen, I got to go, this is new reporting tonight. Jack, Maggie Haberman and Mike Schmidt of "The New York Times" are reporting tonight that Trump is considering reshuffling his legal team, weighing whether to dismiss Ty Cobb while John Dowd has contemplated leaving his post, because quote, "He has concluded that he has no control over the behavior of the President." Where would that leave President Trump if that indeed does happen?

QUINN: I think that would be unfortunate if his legal team, at this point in this investigation, fell apart. I really do. I know Ty Cobb, I think the world of him. I've known Joe diGenova for a very long time. I'm frankly disappointed in some of the conclusions that he is been jumping to, but that is neither here nor there.

I think the President is best served by keeping his team intact. And I would hate for his team falling apart to be once again an excuse to say that this investigation is complete and should be terminated.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. Thank you both. You can never say there's a dull moment on this show, it's never a dull moment. Thank you, I appreciate it.

I want to bring in now Democratic Congressman, Denny Heck, of the House Intelligence Committee and he joins us now from Washington as well, he is live here now, not at a cocktail party. Congressman?

(LAUGHTER)

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: No, the cocktail parties are already over with, Don.

LEMON: Good evening to you. What's your reaction to our reporting tonight that President Trump's attorneys met with Mueller's team to hash out the details of what the President will discuss in a likely interview?

HECK: I think there are two chances that the President will sit for an interview with Director Mueller's team, slim and none. As they say, slim just left the room. There's nothing whatsoever in his past or in his history or in how he has dealt with litigation that would suggest he would be willing to subject himself to the possibility of perjuring himself. So, I think there's zero chance. Moreover, notwithstanding what he said several months ago about a willingness to do this, Don, I don't think he ever intended to.

[23:10:04] LEMON: Yes. So President Trump is hiring long-time Washington attorney, Joseph DiGenova, that was mentioned -- Jack mentioned it in just a little bit earlier to his legal team. Here's what he said on Fox News about the Russia investigation. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY: As we've said from the beginning, that there was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton, and if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.

That is why the Steele dossier was used. It was designed to create a false narrative about Trump and his people and to be used ultimately against them, if Hillary Clinton lost. Senior DOJ and FBI officials engaged in conduct that was designed to corrupt an American Presidential election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: What does this hiring tell you about Trump's legal strategy and frame of mind?

HECK: There's something about the President's tweets and the President's most recent utterances that suggest an almost manic nature, and almost desperate nature to what he is doing. So, in some fashion, I'm not at all surprised by his changing his legal team. After all, he is changed his entire White House staff and key positions, with more turnover in 14 months than any president in history. So this is a little bit more presidency by chaos.

LEMON: Are you concerned, Congressman that the President may attempt to fire Mueller?

HECK: Of course I am. And I think Congress ought to pass the legislation that would protect the Special Counsel. I have no doubt in any mind that what he would like is for Bob Mueller to be gone.

But you know, Don, it was I think at the beginning of last week when the President was in San Diego -- I may have my time frame I little off here -- in which he was talking to some marines that he made the comment that, you never want to be on the other side of a fighting marine or you never want to get into a fight with a marine. He seems to have forgotten, Bob Mueller is a marine and a decorated marine at that.

LEMON: Yes, and that he is a Republican as well, because he is a registered --

HECK: A registered Republican.

LEMON: Yes. He said that it was only Democrats on Mueller's team, which is not true. Senator Lindsey Graham said earlier he does not think the President has the legal authority to fire the Special Counsel. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It's not harsh words, its reality. And I don't see any reason to fire Mr. Mueller. You're going to have calls to fire him. I think anything directed at firing Mr. Mueller blows up the whole town and that becomes the end of governing and the presidency as we know it. And I have zero concern that Mueller's going to be fired by Trump, zero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes. He said earlier, remember he said, it would be the beginning of the end of Trump's presidency if he did that. What do you think about that? The president doesn't seem to be someone who follows any sort of rules.

HECK: No. Not whatsoever. I think we've been inching toward a constitutional crisis for quite some time. I've said it to you before on your program. And the act of instructing Rod Rosenstein to fire Bob Mueller, who is the only person, I believe, that has the legal authority to do so, would in fact precipitate just such a constitutional crisis.

You know, the fact of the matter is, Don, we now have definitive proof that Americans are very, very hungry for all of the truth behind this. We know this because James Comey's book, which has not yet been released, is already a best-seller. People want to know.

LEMON: Yes. The Washington Post is reporting that the President's personal lawyers have turned over descriptions of key events in an attempt to limit the contact between the President and the Special Counsel. Do you think that is a successful tactic for this President?

HECK: I've seen this movie before. We saw it when Steve Bannon came into the House Select Committee on Intelligence and offered 20-some questions that were pre-approved by the White House with one-word answers. It is not a way to get at the truth. It is not a way to conduct an investigation.

And oh, by the way, Don, let me just remind you that House Republicans will vote this Thursday to shut this investigation down, when we have just learned about this massive invasion of privacy data, 50 million of us who are Facebook members having their data taken by Cambridge Analytica and conceivably used in the campaign, conceivably with the assistance of Russians.

LEMON: Congressman Heck, thank you so much, I appreciate your time.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

LEMON: When we come back, President Trump may be getting closer to firing Robert Mueller, but will Republicans step up and try to stop him?

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news tonight, the Russia investigation, sources telling CNN attorneys for President Trump and Robert Mueller had a rare face-to-face to discuss specific topics investigators want to talk to the President about, but President Trump is pretty agitated about the investigation.

Let's bring in now CNN contributor and "New York Times" columnist, Frank Bruni.

Frank, good evening, thank you so much for coming in. You saw all the tweeting this weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes.

LEMON: And show some of the evidence there, but there are lots of tweets and for the first time we saw him named Robert Mueller in his tweets. Are we entering a new phase where this investigation, how he is going to deal within a widening investigation here?

BRUNI: Yes, you know, I mean, I think -- I think a couple things have happened that have left him more frustrated and more fearful than he was before. One is the subpoena to the Trump organization. He knows now they're looking at that, they're looking at financial stuff, that it wasn't clear they would look at before, that is sort of red line he mentioned. It's getting closer to that moment when he has to decide whether he is going to be interviewed or not.

And when they're going to have to decide whether to subpoena him or not, if he does not want to be interviewed voluntarily. You know and then on top of all of that, this has gone on now so much longer than the president ever thought it would.

LEMON: Didn't they say the holiday seasons?

BRUNI: Yes, it is Thanksgiving, and there was Christmas, and then it was New Year's. And if you're -- if you're Donald Trump, if you're President Trump, you're saying, why is this taking so long? You're getting more and more nervous about how deep they're digging, which is measured by how long it's taking. And I think you're seeing his frustration and his desire to try to nullify, neuter, whatever the ultimate verdict, judgment is, by saying these people who are doing it, Mueller, McCabe, et cetera, are unreliable.

LEMON: I was just going to ask you, do you think McCabe is a precursor? Because he is apparently reportedly spent the weekend boasting about firing McCabe and you know, just, like upset about it, upset about what was happening, but spent the weekend boasting. Do you think him getting rid of this as sort of testing the water to see what would happen if I fire Mueller?

[23:20:00] BRUNI: I think it's a great question and a strong possibility. You know, the way he handled McCabe, he is looking to see what the Republican Party or what his Republican colleagues in the Senate and House say about that, which has turned out to be not a lot.

With the tweets about Mueller, and as you said, very significant on Saturday and Sunday, he is naming Mueller for the first time in tweets. He had obviously been counseled against that in the past, he had refrained from doing it, now he is doing that. And I think he is trying to test the waters and see what the reaction is.

And scarily, the reaction has not been one of outrage by most Republicans you've heard people who you are expect to hear it from, Flake, Graham, Corker. You've heard them say, whoa, we don't like what we're hearing, but Mitch McConnell, you heard nothing from him.

Paul Ryan released a statement through a spokeswoman. You didn't hear Paul Ryan say anything. I wonder if from that the president is getting the signal that he can continue to go down this provocative road.

LEMON: A handful of Republicans have spoken out about the possibility of firing Mueller. Let's watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: It would be the stupidest thing the President could do is fire him.

I think he needs to leave it alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would Republicans react if he fired Mueller?

HATCH: I think it would be a total upheaval of the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A total upheaval of the Senate?

HATCH: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: As you talked about here, these are the people who don't face re-election, they don't have to worry about ticking off the base, alienating the Trump voter, whatever -- as you said, Paul Ryan through a speaker.

BRUNI: Yes. You just showed all those people were the usual suspects. And you might -- you might have also shown Lindsey Graham, who would be the one person who's not announced his retirement. We're not hearing from the people who really make a difference and whose words would send a message to the President, you are going too far and we will stop you.

LEMON: But were you surprised by Trey Gowdy, essentially saying that if you're innocent act like it?

BRUNI: I thought there was a strong statement, but he is also been critical in the past. That again was not someone -- no one new came forward, he said now, Mr. President, I can no longer maintain my silence. And the Republican Party's position for too long when it comes to Donald Trump's provocations has been silence.

LEMON: Yes. The New York Times is reporting as it goes forward, Mr. Trump has questioned his lawyers' approach and clashed with them about whether to be interviewed by Mr. Mueller. The President believes he is his best spokesman and can explain to Mr. Mueller that he did nothing wrong. The lawyers see -- little upside. What are your thoughts on that?

BRUNI: I think that -- I think the President and his closest aides have to be very nervous about him being interviewed. He is not someone -- we've seen this time and again, he is not somebody who is good with details, he is not somebody who is good with the truth. He has boasted, he has the world's best memory, but his public statements suggest otherwise.

I think it's very, very dangerous territory for him to sit down for an hour's long interview. And that is why you have things going on now, like let's agree at least to the areas, to the scope, to, you know, the time limit.

2LEMON: Judging from what he said, he seems to think, he can just sit down -- if he sits down with Mueller, he can convince Mueller that he didn't do anything wrong by saying, I didn't do anything wrong.

BRUNI: He certainly wants us to believe that he believes that of himself, I'm not at all sure that he actually does believe that of himself.

LEMON: You say it is possible, Republicans might have become too -- would you say habituated to surrender. What do you mean?

BRUNI: Well, you know, I would have thought I would have heard something from Mitch McConnell, something different from Paul Ryan, meaning not just from a spokeswoman. I think that the Republican posture to date, except for these usual suspects who made it their brand to oppose and call out Donald Trump, I think the posture has been, we don't want to poke at the bear. We don't want to provoke him.

There are some adults around him at the White House who will take care of him, but if we get into shouting matches with him in public, it's just going to make things worse. The problem is, there is a lot of these adults are leaving the White House. You know, we've seen that the last couple of weeks. And I don't think this strategy is working. Donald Trump is coloring

outside the lines all over the place. And this just kind of, stand off and don't make matters worse, I don't think there's any proof that is a prudent course.

LEMON: What do you think of Joe DiGenova, the lawyer he reportedly hired, his pushed conspiracy theories of the President was framed by the FBI and the DOJ? What is this hiring this attorney, what do you think this says about the White House strategy?

BRUNI: Well, it says a lot about the White House kind of personnel decisions right now, which seem to be the President emboldened and surrounding himself with people who tell him exactly what he wants to hear, who say that on TV before he can even ask him, and he is hiring people from TV. And this new lawyer fits those two molds perfectly. He's someone who's telling the President exactly what he wants to hear, and he is someone the President sees on TV and the President seems to equate all television with authority.

LEMON: Don't you think he would have learned his lessons, all about conspiracy theorists in his ranks?

BRUNI: What?

(LAUGHTER)

No, you know, I'm curious --

LEMON: Steve Bannon and --

BRUNI: -- this learning curve that you imagine President Trump has shown, I don't -- I haven't seen it.

LEMON: I'm sorry, my bad.

BRUNI: OK.

LEMON: Thank you, Frank, I appreciate it.

When we come back, brand-new information detailing Hope Hicks' resignation. I am going to speak to the journalist behind a blockbuster article detailing the sabotage, scandal, and jealousy that forced the President's most trusted staffer out the door.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:58:45] LEMON: This is going to be a fascinating interview, so sit down and watch. The resignation of Trump whisperer Hope Hicks is leaving the White -- leaving the President without one of his only people he trusts. A new profile of Hicks in New York magazine is full of details about what her life was -- life behind the closed doors in the White House.

I want to bring in now, Olivia Nuzzi, the Washington correspondent for New York, who reported the profile. I can't wait to talk to you about this, this is a fascinating profile. So let's go through some of it, OK?

I just want to read a portion of this article that you wrote about the -- because it's important to keep in mind when discussing this Hicks' story. You said, Hope Hicks wasn't a victim. On this both her allies and critics agreed. She didn't faint in the field of poppies and wake up -- and wake to find himself in Donald Trump's campaign, 35,000 feet up and strapped in aboard a Boeing 757.

Over the course of three years she spent more time with Trump than anyone. More than his own children and his wife. And she acknowledged his flaws and idiosyncrasies. She had made her choices knowingly, even if she couldn't know where they would lead her. Why do you think Hicks chose to throw her lot in with Trump?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Well, remember, when she first agreed to join the campaign, this was in the winter of 2015. It was several months before Donald Trump formally announced that he would be running. And nobody really knew when it would be. I mean, it's hard to think back now to the winter of 2015. It was such an innocent time in a comparative way. But nobody knew what it would be. And the group that was running the campaign in the months leading up to the formal announcement, it was just a couple -- it was a handful of people.

LEMON: Yes.

NUZZI: And it didn't seem serious -- it didn't seem serious until it was suddenly so serious. And there was no stopping it.

LEMON: What surprised you the most as you spent time with her, about Hope?

NUZZI: Well, I profiled her in 2016 for GQ magazine. So I'm very familiar with the topic at this point. And I started reporting this story several weeks ago before she resigned. In the middle of my reporting it, she resigned. And I guess what has surprised me is that she is so normal in the middle of this extraordinarily strange situation.

And it almost -- it's kind of disorienting to observe that because there's so much unusual stuff happening all the time and outrageous stuff happening and things that worry people for the state of the country in general. And yet there's this normal 29-year-old woman literally at the center of it all.

LEMON: So I'm just going to ask you, she is 29 years old and she is pretty young, do you think there is some naivete there? Not that she was a shrinking violet as we will establish.

NUZZI: Right.

LEMON: Or if it was just sort of blind loyalty. She is loyal to who she works for?

NUZZI: It's difficult to say. I think if you say she's naive, that sort of lets her off the hook, right? As I wrote and you just read -- I should have you read all my stories. They sound better coming from you. But she knew what she was getting into. She made choices.

I mean, she tacitly was choosing to be there every single day, even if she wasn't thinking consciously, should I still be here at this point? The John McCain not being a war hero or with the "Access Hollywood" tape or with Roy Moore. Even if it wasn't a conscious choice that she was making, she still was there. She's still there right now. She still hasn't left the White House.

I don't want to say that she's naive and she just didn't know better than to be there, but I think that she does not -- she does not seem to, based on the 30-plus interviews I did for the story and obviously as you mentioned I spent some time around her, she does not seem to really think about policy and this presidency in terms of its real effects. She thinks about the president.

LEMON: As I was reading this, I was thinking, I wonder what a 40- something or maybe a 50-something Hope Hicks will look back and think about this better than a 29-year-old young woman, what she'll think about her time here.

NUZZI: Right. Again, I don't know if it's a function of her youth. I think --

LEMON: No, not just that, but people change over time.

NUZZI: Sure.

LEMON: Maybe she doesn't realize the scope of it --

NUZZI: Except the president.

LEMON: Yes. Maybe she doesn't realize the scope of it because of how she started in the administration. Initially working for Ivanka Trump, right?

NUZZI: Right. She's with the Trump Organization as a P.R. person.

LEMON: Maybe too close to the forest. Can't see the forest --

NUZZI: I think that's probably more it. It's not like she's not intelligent enough to understand.

LEMON: No, I'm not saying that at all.

NUZZI: (INAUDIBLE) in the White House, and I think that's let her off the hook, but I think it's the forest --

LEMON: I'm not saying that at all. There is another passage in your piece about Hope Hicks having a night out with the White House staffers including Hogan Gidley, Josh Raffel, Rob Porter, and Raj Shah.

You said, "they were unaware that they were not alone. Throughout the course of the evening, their every movement was being watched. Outside Hicks's apartment, at Gidley's home, outside the restaurant, walking to the lobby from the apartment building, each moment was documented in photos and video even though the window in the back of the cab -- even through the window in the back of the cab home." Why -- who was following Hope Hicks? Is it the media? Who was following?

NUZZI: It's this group called probe media. And there isn't a lot of publicly available information about probe media like typical records that you would find for any company. I could not locate for them. But they took these photos.

They say on their website that they work for private investigators, that they work for international news outlets, that they work for different individuals and companies.

And these photos eventually, several days later, made their way to The Daily Mail, where The Daily Mail reported that Hope Hicks and Rob Porter were dating, which of course was closely followed by the revelations about the allegations against Porter by his ex-wives of physical abuse.

LEMON: Yes. It was -- they're not seeing each other anymore?

NUZZI: My understanding is they are not.

LEMON: You know, it sounds like what you are saying, what you are reporting and others are reporting, her time in Washington is almost sort of tabloid-like, like Hollywood-esque. Do you think that was unfair to her?

NUZZI: No. Of course not. I mean, she's a public figure. She serves the American people. She's in the White House. She's on government salary.

[23:35:01] I don't think it's unfair at all.

LEMON: All right. Stand by. I have more to talk to you about when we come back. I want to talk about how the president has been reacting to Hicks's resignation. Plus, the man who is up for Hicks's former job, I'm going to ask him if Olivia's reporting might make him think twice about joining the administration. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back now. Hope Hicks is leaving the White House, but that may not mean she's gone for good. Back with me now, Olivia Nuzzi. Also, I want to bring in CNN political commentators Matt Lewis, Angela Rye, and Steve Cortes.

Welcome to the program, everyone.

Olivia and I just sitting here talking. We are having a great conversation. I want to read a line from her reporting in light of all the recent resignations of the past weeks. This is particularly relevant, I think. She says "no matter how dead any of the eccentrics or maniacs or divas appear to be, how far away from the president their status as fired or resigned or never hired in the first place should have logically rendered them, nobody was ever truly gone."

So, look at both Corey Lewandowski, look at Reince Priebus, the president still meets and talks to them.

[23:40:00] Do you think Hicks is truly gone at this point, Matt?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, not at all. In fact, she's literally still at the white house, right?

LEMON: Yes.

LEWIS: But, no. You know, look, if anybody is going to have the ability to remain in Donald Trump's inner circle, I think it would probably be her. I mean, I know they had the tip there at the ending, but they have a long relationship. I think he probably sees her a little bit like a daughter. And even people that he sort of hates. Look, I wouldn't even be surprised if Steve Bannon someday makes it back inside the inner circle.

So look, I think that Hope Hicks, you know, she's going to be very sought after by speakers, bureaus, and by lobbying firms. And I suspect she'll be able to talk to Donald Trump whenever she wants.

LEMON: And she doesn't really give interviews, so no one's really heard her speak.

NUZZI: No. It would be amazing if she had a speaking gig somewhere because we've never really heard it before.

LEMON: And I can attest to that. People, hey, do you know Hope Hicks's number? Do you have her contact number? I'm like, no. That's amazing, right?

NUZZI: You know, we are talking about whether or not she'll be allowed back in. As I reported, the day after she resigned, President Trump had her in the Oval Office and was asking her opinion about something happening weeks and weeks from then.

And then he said to her -- I'm paraphrasing, but it was, oh, never mind, I don't have to get your opinion on this now because you'll still be here. He does not seem to have grasped what it means that she resigned.

LEMON: Well, he came with a nickname for Steve Bannon, I forgot --

NUZZI: Sloppy.

LEMON: Sloppy Steve. Sloppy Steve Bannon. But he hasn't come up with one for Hope Hicks which means she still has a chance. So, Steve, let me ask you this. Hope Hicks has been often described as the president's emotional support. Recent reports paint the president as increasingly alone and isolated. Is there a correlation with Hicks's absence?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I don't think so. By the way, I'm very happy that I wasn't nicknamed Sloppy Steve. That one is taken. So if the president ever gets mad at me --

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not yet. CORTES: Right, exactly, not yet. He'll have to come up with another one. One of the reasons -- the main reason that I still support this president is because I believe in him. But an ancillary reason is I don't want a nickname someday.

But to answer your question, no. Listen, I do believe this, that reports of the president's supposed isolation or despondency in the White House, chaos in the White House, I think these are overplayed. Is there more turnover than I would like? Absolutely there is.

LEMON: All right. Olivia -- Olivia wants to weigh in on this.

NUZZI: I just think that it's not tethered to reality, with respect. I mean, there has been unprecedented turnover in this White House. Nearly the entire staff that they started with, senior staff, is gone. When you look at this White House staff. I don't really see how you can look at those facts and come away and say that it's been overblown. It doesn't make any sense to me.

LEMON: So, Steve, I got to ask you then, so maybe -- you know, it has been reported that you're in the mix for a Hope Hicks's former position. Does this piece give you pause? Are you auditioning? Are you trying to figure out how you, you know, put a bow on White House chaos or staff turnover right now? Because the president, sometimes he watches.

CORTES: Well, of course he does. As well he should, right? By the way, Don, are you trying to kick me out of CNN? I work for CNN. You want me to get a new job?

LEMON: Listen. I don't have the power to hire you or fire you.

RYE: He just wanted you to answer it.

LEMON: I just want you to answer the question.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Thank you, Angela.

(LAUGHTER)

CORTES: Am I auditioning? No. I'm not auditioning. I'm privileged to talk to the White House each and every day. I love advocating for this administration because I love what this administration is doing for this country. And I will advocate for them wherever I'm planted, whether that be someday inside the administration or whether right now at CNN.

Here's the point I really want to make. Despite the palace intrigue and again, I'll concede there's more of that than I would like. But despite the palace intrigue, what's going on with America, once you cross -- once you get out of the Beltway, cross the Potomac River, what's happening is consumer confidence is soaring. Small business --

LEMON: OK, Steve. It's all great, but we're not talking about that right now.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: We're talking about Hope Hicks. We're talking about you interviewing for Hope Hicks.

CORTES: But that's what matters, Don, to most Americans.

LEMON: That's it. That's fine. You know, the policy or the campaign slogans and the campaign chat, we'll get to that later. We're not talking about that. That's a rabbit hole.

CORTES: Those aren't just slogans, that's real life.

LEMON: We'll see. You know, there are people who live --

RYE: That was a hell of an audition, Steve.

LEMON: There you go. So, 11:43:35, you can send them the link from there. So, listen, Angela, chief of staff John Kelly reportedly referred to Hicks as a high schooler and joked about how inexperience and immature she was. Former White House official even told Olivia that Kelly thinks women should be subservient to him. What's your reaction when you -- when you read that?

RYE: My reaction to that is that it sounds very similar to Steve's commander in chief, right? Like this is a situation where Donald Trump --

CORTES: Angela, your commander in chief as well, by the way. Just as Obama was mine.

RYE: No --

LEMON: OK, no rabbit holes. Go ahead, Angela. Finish your point, please.

RYE: I'm going to finish my point because we let you do all of that auditioning. But my point is this. It's plain and simple.

[23:45:00] Donald Trump struggles in his relationship with women. And I think that he has demonstrated over time that he can be patronizing and bullying. And he is most intimidated by women. And so perhaps John Kelly has the same issue. If he feels that women should be subservient to him, it probably means he's afraid of their power.

But I think it's unfortunate that he referenced her in this way. Perhaps it was just the age gap. But nonetheless, there's nothing worse than being a woman and being undermined in your place of work. Regardless of your political affiliation.

LEMON: Politico is reporting tonight that after handing in his resignation as a director of national economic council, the president considered nominating Gary Cohn as CIA director. Does that make sense to you at all, Matt?

LEWIS: Well, he doesn't have -- I don't think he has any intelligence experience in the intelligence community. So, no. Look, I guess --

LEMON: Wait, wait, where is he going with this?

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: I'm not saying he's not intelligent. I'm not saying he's not intelligent.

LEMON: I get what you're saying. He doesn't have experience in intelligence, yes.

LEWIS: Yes. So, it would be nice if the guy doing this job had some experience in the intelligence community. Having said that, obviously he's a skilled bureaucrat, he can run a big company, a big organization.

LEMON: Yes.

LEWIS: So maybe it's not a prerequisite. I think I'd probably feel a little more comfortable if the person doing this function --

LEMON: Where have you been, Matt? Listen, Betsy Devos, Ben Carson --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I mean, who has experience in the actual jobs that they have?

LEWIS: Yes. Who needs experience, right?

LEMON: I mean, even the president has never been a politician before, but he won. So listen, stick around, everyone. Don't go anywhere. When we come back, the president calling for the death penalty to punish drug dealers, but would that actually curb drug use?

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump calling for the death penalty for certain drug dealers today in New Hampshire. Back with me now: Olivia Nuzzi, Matt Lewis, Angela Rye, and Steve Cortes.

2Angela, as part of the president's three-point plan to take on the opioid epidemic, he wants to impose the death penalty on drug traffickers. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: These are terrible people, and we have to get tough on those people. Because we can have all the blue ribbon committees we want, but if we don't get tough on the drug dealers, we're wasting our time. Just remember that. We're wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: What do you think of that, Angela? RYE: Plain and simple, it's cruel and unusual punishment. Donald Trump is completely out of line like so often. He is completely out of line on this. He is also completely misled on where things are, where the discourse is in criminal justice discussions and on criminal justice reform.

Everyone knows at this point that folks are pulling away from the death penalty. And when we're talking about coming out of the Obama administration where there was a clemency initiative at the Department of Justice to help get folks out of jail who had non-violent drug offenses, for him to come and say that it is time for us to give drug dealers the death penalty is outrageous.

And it's also a huge distraction. What is he going to do about these doctors who are prescribing opioids and have not suffered any punishment and were getting paid by pharmaceutical companies to do so? What about them? There are a number of people in my community as well as many others who have suffered at the hand of drug overdose, et cetera, but I don't think that any of us are calling for the death penalty for people who have been involved in drug dealing.

LEMON: Matt, the president also laid some of the blame for the opioid epidemic on sanctuary cities calling them safe havens for terrible people. Is that a fair statement?

LEWIS: Well, look, I'm against sanctuary cities, and I think that they need to abide by the federal law and enforce the law. Having said that, I don't think it has much to do with the opioid crisis, which I think has a lot more to do with problems that are having to do with people who really don't have a purpose or a meaning in life, also with doctors who are over-prescribing drugs.

So, you know, look, I think if Donald Trump really wants to solve the opioid crisis, he probably doesn't need to start with the death penalty for drug dealers or sanctuary cities. I don't think that's the right place for him to go with this.

LEMON: Anyone -- I guess anyone who would propose something like that in my opinion, they don't understand the nature of addiction. All addictions are the same. Cigarettes, same. You're addicted to it. You can't stop. Food, sex, drugs. One will kill you sooner than the other one. Alcohol.

All addiction is the same and probably he doesn't understand that. That's where we need to start with this crisis and take the stigma off of people who are addicted to try to help them so they won't have to go to a drug dealer or a doctor who over-prescribes medication.

Public health experts do not support this. What is the evidence that it would actually have the intended effect of deterring people from opioid abuse?

CORTES: Right. Don, I agree with you here. I believe in the sanctity of life, whether it's an unborn child in the womb or whether it's a convicted drug dealer. I believe from conception until natural birth that life should be respected. So, I don't believe in the death penalty. I don't think it would be a deterrent.

I'm very glad that the president has taken this issue on. I think it's very important. And I do think that his death penalty talk was a minor part of an overall strategy which I think was very good. But that particular part, I don't agree with.

LEMON: Olivia, no doubt areas that supported the president as among some of the hardest hit places when if comes to this opioid epidemic, although honestly it's hitting everywhere, but how does that factor in here? What do you think?

NUZZI: From day one of this administration, he said that this is something that he's going to be taking on. This is part of initially Kellyanne Conway's portfolio dealing with the opioid crisis along with Governor Chris Christie. New Jersey has an opioid epidemic as well like a lot of other states, like New Hampshire.

[23:54:59] But I think that -- I think his view of taking this on is like this tough on crime the same way that he's going to take on gang groups in America, that his supporters seem to respond to. But this is a very different issue.

And, you know, it just doesn't really -- there is a pretty long history at this point of even Republicans talking about criminal justice reform, talking about reforming the way that we deal with drug crimes.

Rick Perry, who is obviously in this administration, was leading the way on that kind of stuff in Texas. Newt Gingrich had a change of heart. He has a lot of change of hearts on things like that. But on this issue, Trump is completely far removed from that. He is talking about things that don't even occur to anybody else.

LEMON: I really enjoyed having you. I enjoyed having you, guys, but you're regulars. She's new here, and I enjoyed the perspective. Her piece is called "The departure of the Trump whisperer has left the White House in even deeper Chaos. Which surely pleases some outsiders angling to get in." Maybe it's deep. I don't know. By Olivia Nuzzi.

Thank you so much, everyone. Have a good night. That's it for us. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.

[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)