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Mueller Wants to Question President Trump About Trump Tower Meeting With Russians, Firings of Comey And Flynn; Trump Attacks Several People on Twitter Except Stormy Daniels; Mark Zuckerberg Breaks His Silence On Cambridge Analytica Scandal; Trump Says He Only Hires the Best People Despite Scandals Rocking His Cabinet. Aired 11- 12a ET
Aired March 21, 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 breaking news on the Russia investigation. We are learning more tonight about what Robert Mueller's team is focusing on. Here is what sources telling CNN that the Special Counsel wants to question President Trump about four main topics so far, anyway. The President's role in crafting and misleading statement about Trump, Jr.'s infamous meeting with Russians during the campaign, the circumstances surrounding that Trump Tower meeting, and the firing of FBI Director, James Comey, and the National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn.
Source also says the President's legal team is creating a list of dozens of potential questions of Mueller's team could ask. And with Trump already angry about the Mueller investigation and blasting it as a witch-hunt, CNN has learned the President was fuming last night when news leaked that his national security advisors had warned him in all caps, by the way, not to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his reelection.
The President reportedly quizzed his allies and outside advisers asking them to tell him who they thought was the leaker. We are going to get to all of that. I want to bring in now CNN contributor, Frank Bruni, of "The New York Times."
Frank, thank you very much. The President is defending, you know, via Twitter, his congratulatory call. We are going to get to that, he is furious about the leaks. He said, that happened in the first place, that all caps not to congratulate. Also he's attacking Robert Mueller on Twitter as well. But he is not attacking one person, and that is Stormy Daniels. And that is the subject of your latest column called The Calm Before The Stormy. Why do you think that is?
FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I don't know why it is, but I think it's an interesting question to ask and I spend the column basically looking at some of the possible answers, because when you pull back and you think about the way the president usually behaves and all the people who have not been exempt from his attacks.
You know, he attacked the mayor of San Juan, while they're still reeling from a hurricane. He attacked the mayor of London, right after they've been victims of a terrorist attack, right. He is not someone who lays off, because he thinks it's indelicate. This person can't stand the heat, so why?
As she is out there saying she is about to talk about their affair as she is out there representing, you know, something that could really be a problem for him, why utter-utter silence from him? And I think there are a couple of possible answers.
One of which is, you know, this is an area of his life, the erotic area of his life, that has been one of the pillars of his vanity. And maybe it really freaks him out that somebody out there is about to -- well, and she did in a 2011 In-Touch magazine interview and it wasn't a very flattering portrait of the President as Lothario. Maybe that really gets under his skin. I know that sounds tawdry, but we're talking about Donald Trump here and we are talking about someone who wanted his proudest moments in his life, was a headline that said, best sex he ever had.
LEMON: Well, I mean, yes. Thank you for saying that. We are, you know, gentleman of a certain age. And so, we remember all of those, we remember all of those headlines and the person that Donald Trump used to be that character here in New York and how that trades and the tabloids, and the magazines would write about him, it was often in the terms that you just mentioned. So, I have to ask you, do you think it doesn't bother him? Maybe he thinks it's OK or is he really, really, really rattled by this.
BRUNI: Well, I think it could be a little bit of both. And in fact, I think it is a little bit of both, but I'm glad you brought that up, because he may feel that to have in his eyes beautiful desirable women out there saying I slept with Donald Trump, he may actually see that as a badge of honor. But I think it also does rattle him, because let's talk about another figure here, Melania. By all outward evidence, this is not a marriage that's going through its smoothest moment.
They're spending less time together. All of this is happening in the context of a very chaotic White House. I don't think he wants any further strain in that relationship. And it's my educated opinion, guess, you know, some knowledge, that every time Stormy Daniels comes up, every time, you know, the Playmate that he had an affair with or supposedly had an affair comes up, I think that mortifies her. I think it diminishes her and I don't think it does any favors to the marriage, you know, or to the stability of the White House and his home life.
LEMON: And I get you said, supposed to and again, these are all allegations. This is all alleged even though Stormy Daniels said, you're going to mention --
BRUNI: I did say they are alleged, but one of the kind of things we don't talk about much here is why would you pay someone to sign non- disclosure agreement, if there is nothing to disclose?
LEMON: That is a very good question. BRUNI: Like the riddle of the sphinx.
LEMON: Yes. So, one person the President is no longer afraid to call-out or attack by name is Robert Mueller. Why do you supposed that change?
BRUNI: I think, because the investigation has gotten further along. I think, you know, you just talked at the beginning of this about it getting so far along they're talking about exactly what sort of questions that they might ask Donald Trump about.
[23:05:05] I think he is feeling the heat in a new way and if the termination of this investigation is a kind of judgment or verdict that is damaging to his presidency, he wants to discredit the accusers. He wants to say this was tarnished from the start and you could never have trusted Robert Mueller.
LEMON: You don't think it's laying the groundwork to fire Mueller?
BRUNI: I am still on the camp that believes he won't go that far, because, you know, I don't think he's so far gone. The he thinks he could do that and not end up with a constitutional crisis and with the presidency that is effectively at that moment over.
LEMON: So, he is really angry about the leaks, though. And there are larger problems that are stemming from this White House. There is all the chaos, all the people being fired. And he is upset, because someone possibly leaked something. And you know, as I was talking to David Axelrod and others, every White House has leaks.
LEMON: This one more than others. And maybe that is because they just don't -- they don't -- they don't trust this President.
BRUNI: Every White House has leaks, but this latest leak, you know, the do not congratulate him and he went ahead and congratulated him, it's a particular -- it says something particular that most leaks don't. It says the people around him don't trust him to behave correctly. And it says that they're acting sort of his minders. And that is extremely humiliating portrait of yourself. And I think that is why this leak in particular is unusual and bothers him so much.
LEMON: Shouldn't he learn that you have to earn trust, rather than -- rather than having trying to have people take loyalty oaths, that you have learn.
BRUNI: This verb learn coupled with Donald Trump keeps troubling me, because I haven't noticed that this is a man who learns a whole lot.
LEMON: Did I ask you that earlier?
BRUNI: I think we did talked about it, absentness?
LEMON: Sorry about that. My bad again. Listen, I know that you know you want to do deconstructs the President tweets defending his congratulatory call to Putin, so, let's start with the first one.
This is, I called President Trump on Russia to congratulate him on his own election victory and pass. Obama called him also, fake news media is crazed, because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong, getting along with Russia and others is a good thing, not a bad thing. He says getting along with Russia and others is a good thing and not bad things and you say.
BRUNI: I say that is one of the funniest lines I've ever read in one of his tweets, because if getting along with Russia and other places, or other countries is a good thing. Why is constantly alienating our allies? Why he is taking on Angela Merkel and to the point where she is going out and saying maybe Europe needs to think about security by itself. Why is he bragging about having lied to the Prime Minister of Canada? He is not trying to get along with everybody. He is trying to get along with Vladimir Putin. It's an interesting crowd of one who miss more concern with.
LEMON: Yes. Did you see the interview with John Brennan?
LEMON: -- who said that they must have something on him.
LEMON: He said he was just speculating, what do you make of that, that Putin must have something on him.
BRUNI: Well, I think, it's were everybody, everyone has been is wondering if that is going on. Because his hands off treatment of Putin, his utter inability or unwillingness to fully acknowledge and act on what Russia did in terms of meddling with our elections, it begs an explanation. And one of the obvious explanations is Putin has something on him. Now, I'm not saying I believe that. And I didn't like hearing John Brennan say it, because I think, whenever we go too far, we feed Trump's persecution narrative. And we feed the belief among his supporters that none of us can be fair to him. And I think we can be fair to him. But we have big urgent questions here.
LEMON: Second part of the tweet that I read before it says, they can help solve problem with North Korea, talking about Russia. They can also help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS Iran and even the coming arms race. Bush tried to get along, but didn't have the smarts. So, Obama and Clinton tried, but they didn't have the energy and chemistry, remember reset, peace through strength. So, he doesn't attack Vladimir Putin, but he attacks his predecessors, he attacks Obama and he says, what does he get out of saying that Bush doesn't have the smarts?
BRUNI: I don't know and why is smarts, in quotation marks. I think it's hilarious that he is writing a sentence talking about someone else isn't smart and he's doing this Trump Twitter tick of putting random words in quotation marks, as if that's some artful and elevated thing when really it's just nonsensical.
LEMON: He's trusting Russia, because he says here, to --they can really help us out in Ukraine. He's trusting Russia to solve Ukraine.
BRUNI: You know, Don, because they have been such a portrait of international altruism through time and in the past. Of course, Russia wants nothing more than to help us with our diplomatic and foreign recommendations problems.
LEMON: Frank Bruni, thank you very much. I appreciate it. When we come back, a CNN exclusive, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg breaks his silence on Cambridge Analytica scandal. What he says he will do to make sure American's personal information is safe.
[23:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg speaking exclusively to CNN TONIGHT, apologizing for the data debacle that has Facebook under fire and saying, he would be willing to testify before Congress. CNN's senior media correspondent, Mr. Brian Stelter, is here. He is a host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," and CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, and former official at the Department of Homeland Security, she joins us as well. The Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg speaking exclusively tonight to colleague Laurie Segall,. Let's listen to him and we'll discuss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: The reality here is that -- this is not rocket science, I mean there is a lot of hard work that we need to do to make it harder for nation states like Russia, to do election interference, to make it, so that trolls and other folks can't spread fake news. But we can get in front of this. And we have a responsibility to do this, not only for the 2018 mid-terms in the U.S. which are going to be a huge deal this year. And that is just a huge focus of us, but there is a big election in India this year. There is a big election in Brazil. There are big elections around the world. And you can bet that we are really committed to doing everything that we need to, to make sure that the integrity of those elections on Facebook is secured.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Brian Stelter, what stood out to you in Zuckerberg's comments?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: He is looking to the future thinking about how to avoid some of the embarrassments of the past. You know, this scandal that is consumed almost a week is about data from 2014 that might have been misused in the 2016 Presidential election, but we're now close to mid-terms. People are already thinking about 2020. As Zuckerberg said, it's not just about the U.S., it's about countries all around the world.
Facebook is now a global player. It influences elections whether it wants to be a part of them or not. So Zuckerberg is saying right things, he's talking the talk. We have to see if this company is going to walk, the walk in the future. But I thought this was a positive step that he is talking about security, saying they're hiring more people, trying to manage what is all over Facebook, because let's make no mistake, the Russian trolls that tried to attack the U.S. in 2016 --
[23:15:10] LEMON: Yes.
STELTER: -- they're going to get more creative in future elections and it's not just going to be Russia.
LEMON: And you mentioned the 2016 election. And he talked about election meddling, Juliette, let's listen and we'll talk.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Know what you know now, do you believe Facebook impacted the results of the 2016 election?
ZUCKERBERG: Oh, that is hard. You know, I think that it is -- it's really hard for me to have a full assessment of that. You know, it's -- the reality is --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why.
ZUCKERBERG: Well, there were so many different forces at play. The organic posting that people did, the get out the vote campaigns that we ran, the pages that both candidates ran, the advertising that they did. I'm sure all that all of that activity had some impact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Juliette, can Facebook's potential to influence people be dialed back at this point?
KAYYEM: I think it can. You know, like what Brian said, I think Mark Zuckerberg is looking forward. But I don't give him a buy. I mean, in other words, there was a little bit of victimization in the interview. And what people have to remember is that Facebook -- there is a difference between what Facebook does and how it makes money. What it does is bring us together, we get to see pictures of nieces and nephew, communicate with college roommates all the fun stuff we love. That's not how it makes money.
KAYYEM: It makes money by gathering intelligence on its users and selling it. We are used to that being advertisers, we all know they do that with advertisers, but in this case they got caught that some of that information with sold to a -- company involved with sort of very anti-Democratic practices and candidates and also involved with the Trump campaign.
So how did they, all of a sudden realized it? You know, I don't buy that they sort of woke up to it. They knew about it, a couple of years ago. It's just that a difference between what they do and how they make money. They are now going to focus on making money more responsibly, but they're a company. They're not -- they're not a- they're not a platform. They're a company that wants to make lots of money and now they are willing to make less.
LEMON: And they lost billions this year, but are they back?
STELTER: Yes. This week, you know, $50 billion wiped off the value of the stock. The stock is down 8 percent for the week, but it did bounced back a little bit today, maybe investors saw a buy-in opportunity.
LEMON: What you said is a business --
STELTER: You know, we haven't seen that before.
LEMON: That's right. Yes, that is why I brought it up. But listen -- to Juliette's point, Brian, he said that they fixed the issue long ago that led to this breach, but still, I mean, millions of people, personal information was compromised. Do you think that they can fix that, so it doesn't happen again?
STELTER: Yes. Facebook, you know, think of a room with lots of doors. Yes they locked this door. Doesn't mean they locked every door as securely as they need to. And I think users when they hear about this story, the scandal from years ago, they wonder about their security today, because there could be new ways to misuse data today. I think what is good about this controversy and what's great about Zuckerberg speaking out, is it's a chance for all of us to reevaluate our relationship to this giant social networking sites. You know, I signed up when I was in college, you probably signed up a decade ago, right.
LEMON: I did.
STELTER: I don't think we were all thinking about the fact that we were giving over so much of our data and our personal information to this giant tech companies.
LEMON: Before I get to a -- I have a question about Cambridge Analytica for you Juliette, but I do have to say, I don't and this is me personally and some of the people I know. I find myself not going on to Facebook as much, because it became so toxic. It was -- the comments were sore, you know -- the fake news, I would see things that had CNN on it. I was like, that is not a CNN product. And you click on it, there was no CNN product. I wonder how many people are feeling the same sort of thing that I'm feeling.
STELTER: Facebook is starting to see that, they are starting to see a decline in time spent and that actually is the big threat to the business model, because if you rely less on Facebook in your life that is the threat to their business model.
LEMON: So let's talk -- this is a bigger issue to you hear, I'm sure you'll agree, and that is the Cambridge Analytica part of this. Able to exploit these data, Juliette or the fact that Facebook made it so easily available. What do you think of that?
KAYYEM: So, I just -- it's such a challenge or -- it's like who are you going to believe right now? So Cambridge Analytica clearly did something wrong in the sense that it bought information that should have not been gathered, at least under Facebook's rules. On the other hand Facebook knew that it had happened and didn't notify it or try to shut it down.
In fact let's just be honest here. It did not kick Cambridge Analytica off its platform until Friday night a few hours before Matt and others posted their story in the New York Times. So, you know, there is that sort of, you know, timing issue here about what Facebook knew and how engaged they were to stop it.
So, let's go back to my first point, which is, there is a reason why they didn't do this before. And that is because their business model depends on the selling of information. That business model will have to change or we will have to change. One or the other. But it's -- you know, we just have to face up to it that Facebook is not the victim here.
[23:20:11] LEMON: Yes. Go ahead Brian.
STELTER: I was thinking about Cambridge Analytica and what they are going to face. Facebook certainly under pressure to come and testify on Capitol Hill. Zuckerberg said tonight, he is willing to come to Capitol Hill. That is a big change for him. He also said they're open to regulation. That is a big change for Facebook. So again they are saying the right things.
LEMON: Did he say social media, should be -- he thinks social media should be regulated?
STELTER: He said it's not a matter of whether to regulate, it's how to do it. He is opening the door to the ideas some regulation. I don't think he is expecting dramatic changes, but maybe some regulations put out.
LEMON: Juliette --
STELTER: Cambridge Analytica could be in criminal trouble. You know, Robert Mueller asked for Cambridge Analytica's documents, so I think that is an important note here.
LEMON: that the question -- that's what I want to ask Juliette because whether this information, of course, Cambridge Analytica or anyone from the Trump campaign provided the Russians with these raw Facebook data and the disinformation campaign that somehow influenced the election. That is the big -- and will Robert Mueller look into that?
KAYYEM: Well he is looking into that and remember in his indictments against the Russians, Facebook is mentioned several times. So there is this sort of not -- we don't know it yet, but not yet proved connection between all of these different actors. What I will say is that, the Trump campaign's insistence now, that Cambridge Analytica was a, you know, second rate data management firm.
STELTER: Not helpful. KAYYEM: Right, that had nothing to do with the Trump campaign is a
bogus explanation today. And we all know when Trump won, there was a lot of focus on the data team which was led by or chaired by Jared Kushner and what they were able to do with what the information Cambridge Analytica has. So, there are strong ties, whether you can -- whether Mueller is connecting all of those circles, we don't know yet, but he is looking right now.
LEMON: Yes. That is got to be the last word, but thank you. Fascinating conversation. I could talk to you both about it all night. It would be great if Facebook with people like me who have been become, you know, a little bit disillusioned with Facebook.
STELTER: we can make it a safe neighborhood.
STELTER: That's the bottom line.
LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it. When we come back, we are learning exactly what Robert Mueller wants to talk to the President about and we are going to tell you what he is focused on and how the President's lawyers might be preparing.
[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Breaking news on the Russia investigation. Sources telling CNN that the Special Counsel is focusing on President Trump's role in four key events. Let's discuss now with CNN legal analyst, Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.
Good evening, gentlemen.
Michael, you first, we have been talking about our new CNN reporting that Mueller has told Trump's lawyers that he has four different lines of questioning for the president. And hear who they are be -- with the circumstances surrounding the June 2016 Trump Tower campaign meeting orchestrated by Don Jr., the President's role in crafting a statement about that meeting aboard Air Force One. And the firings of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. What are these topics tell you about the investigation, Michael?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, so these -- these topics cover a couple of things. They clearly cover obstruction of justice, the false statement out of Air Force One is one of those things. And so might be some of the circumstances in the Trump Tower denials after they took place. But it also indicates that the firing of Flynn and -- the conversations with respect to the sanctions which Flynn was engaged in implicate coordination, the so-called collusion investigation.
So from these four topics, I think you see Mueller focused on coordination and also obstruction of justice. And I'm surprised that this is the list that I would be, you know, more surprised if this was the complete list. Because, I think, that there are other things that Mueller has on his mind, the WikiLeaks communications, the possible financial crimes ala Manafort and Gates. So, I think this is a broad stroke of what are primary issues of conversation, but not an exclusive list.
LEMON: Ok. So that said -- you know, you're right about that. None of these topics certainly don't represent everything Mueller is interested in, but notably there is nothing in here about Trump's personal finances, trip to Moscow 2013, nothing about the Steele dossier. So, what do you think?
RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I have to say none of the four topics really surprise me very much. We have heard a lot about all four of those topics in the past. Certainly the fact that the President dictated a statement that turned out to be false would be interesting, you know, I don't think anybody at home needs me to explain to them why that might be of their interest to a prosecutor.
It's certainly obviously the firing of James Comey could potentially be obstruction of justice. And I believe there is sufficient evidence that will -- to prove that. So we have heard some of the topics before. I think what's interesting is whether or not Mueller has something else that he is holding back on, because I will say, it is very unusual for the -- a prosecutor to give questions or topics in any kind of detail to the defense attorneys in advance. So, these are certainly high-level topics. I've given those out in the past and said look, I'm going to ask him about a, b and c. But getting into the weeds of all about questioning that is something that is very unusual. So, I'm interested to know whether or not this interview has been circumscribed in any way or is it limited in any way.
LEMON: And Michael it's important to keep in mind that the Special Counsel already has a number of Trump associates to -- who are cooperating with him, including Michael Flynn. And if he is looking into the firing of Michael Flynn, I mean he has a great source doesn't he?
ZELDIN: Well, sure. He has got Michael Flynn. And he also understands that Michael Flynn touches on lots of other issues. They were discussing sanctions. And sanctions is thought somehow to be what undergirds the relationship between Trump and the Russians.
[23:30:00] You help me with my election, I will relieve sanctions, that's a theory, its speculation, but all of these topics, just are start points for a much broader investigation. I agree completely with Renato, that these high-level topics are just the tip of the iceberg, I think, of what Mueller will speak to Trump about.
Which is why I think, Don, we saw such an eruption from the president when he was told that this is the breadth of what Mueller wants to talk about, to start when Mueller was -- you know, when Trump rather was being told that Mueller's investigation was winding down, it would be over quickly, it was a short interview to take place, I think that he was blindsided a bit by the breadth of what Mueller is asking, and that's why we saw the weekend tirade.
LEMON: And Trump has insisted loudly and often that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians. Knowing these topics, could he be right here?
MARIOTTI: Well, what these topics suggest to me is that Mueller's primary focus as to Trump is obstruction of justice which doesn't really surprise me because we have heard a lot of evidence that suggests that the president may have obstructed justice.
We have not heard the details of a lot of the subjects that he -- that were just discussed a minute ago by financial dealings and so on. So one thing that I think is a real open question here, Don, does Mueller believe this to be the only interview of Trump?
You know, I will say that coming here from the outside with the information only available to the public, if I was a prosecutor in Mueller's shoes, I would be thinking this might be my only chance to interview Trump. He might take the fifth in the future. He may try to stonewall me in the future.
I'm going to ask him every question about every topic under the sun. But it might be that Mueller is asking about topics that he is ready to ask questions about now, that he already has gathered documents and evidence on, and he may circle back later for another interview on additional topics as he continues this investigation.
LEMON: Michael, some --
ZELDIN: In fact to that point, Don, we remember that Ken Starr did that exactly with Bill Clinton. There were multiple interviews. And with respect to financial crimes, it may be too that Mueller doesn't need to interview the president about that.
Remember, he didn't need to interview Manafort or Gates before he indicted them on financial crimes. So it may not be necessary. He may have all the documentary evidence that he needs for that aspect of his investigation.
The only thing I would disagree a little bit with Renato about and I agree principally which is that the Flynn topic and the June 9th Trump Tower meeting is broader than obstruction of justice. Those do speak to coordination between the Trump campaign -- Trump campaign and the Russians. And so I think that is different than obstruction.
LEMON: So, ABC is reporting tonight that a year ago, fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe had overseen an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions had lacked candor when testifying to Congress about his contact that he had with the Russians. Sessions of course fired McCabe this past Friday, blocking him from searching his full pension for a similar investigation. What's your reaction to that, Michael? 2
ZELDIN: Well, it's not clear to me that Jeff Sessions did lack candor in his interviews. His attorney, Chuck Cooper, a good lawyer, has said that Mueller has told him that Sessions is not a target or a subject or a person of interest to the Mueller investigation. So it may not be a factually correct statement to say that Sessions lacked candor.
If, however, we find out that Sessions knew that McCabe was investigating him, then -- and investigating him with respect to something touching on Russia, then the attorney general should not have involved himself in the determination whether to fire McCabe. He should have left that to Rosenstein and recused himself from this aspect of the inquiry.
LEMON: So, just quickly, Renato, could the firing of McCabe be seen as a form of retaliation then considering this scenario?
MARIOTTI: I think so. I think more though coming from President Trump himself because he has expressed displeasure regarding McCabe, and it appears to be part of a pattern that was similar to the firing of Comey. We know that McCabe reportedly kept personal notes and kept memos that seem eerily similar to what James Comey kept.
LEMON: Thank you, Renato. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it. When we come back, more big spending of taxpayer money from the Trump cabinet. So much for being public servants.
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So the president said it over and over. He says he only hires the best people. But you can't prove it by the scandals rocking his cabinet. I want to bring in now CNN contributor Walter Shaub. He is a former director of the Office of Government Ethics for presidents Obama and Trump. CNN political commentators, Bakari Sellers, Bryan Lanza, and Alice Stewart. I left the "S" off your name. I left the "S" for savings that goes with this conversation.
OK, so, thank you all for joining us.
2Walter, there is a new heavily sense with EPA document. It reveals that the administrator, Scott Pruitt, spent more than $120 in public funds last summer. More than $30,000 of that was spent on a security detail for Pruitt. Nearly $90,000 of that was spent for food, hotels, commercial air fare, and a military jet used by Pruitt and nine EPA staff members. What in the world is going on here?
WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, and that's just the money spent by the federal government. He has also been exacting money from outside sources as revealed in travel reports that he has filed with the Office of Government Ethics. This is just a wave.
[23:40:00] You got Zinke bringing a security detail on a vacation that he decided he had to take overseas. You got Shulkin spending $122,000 on a 10-day trip with his wife to Europe.
SHAUB: You got Mnuchin spending about a million dollars last year on travel. But these guys are all following the tone from the top. The president has spent tens of millions of dollars jetting off to his vacations at his own properties, every one of which is an advertisement for his properties and the monetization of the presidency.
So I think what's going on from the top is you got people who don't have the sensibilities of public servants that they're supposed to be conserving federal resources, which of course is one of the primary principles of the government ethics program.
But you have Secretary Carson even admitting that his ethics official pointed out that his dining room table purchase might look funny to people, and he responds that he is just not a guy who cares about what people -- how things look to people. The problem is, the ethics program asks you to think about even the appearance of impropriety and that's just alien to these guys.
LEMON: So, Alice, he mentioned a number of other people. For the moment, let's stick with Pruitt. Already under scrutiny for flying expensive first class travel for several trips. I mean, how do all these expensive trips get approved and how is he allowed to do that?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, some of them, it sounds like they're not getting approval. That's the problem. They need to make sure they go through the proper channels of how to get about getting approval for whether it's for travel, whether it's hotels, whether it is dining room furniture or whatever it is. And that's something that needs to -- need to have a tighter grip on this.
Look, I think one shining light out of this, if I can say this, is that Louise Linton, Mnuchin's wife, who got in a lot of trouble for stepping off the government jet and Instagramming all of the high- dollar outfits she was wearing and also wearing the long gloves and engraving area, she has said -- and I think she has learned her lesson very abruptly, she wishes when she came to Washington, there was a book of do's and don'ts.
Since all of this has happened, she has learned. She has gone to a Washington protocol expert and learning -- learning about political etiquette on how to go about, making sure that when you are a public servant, you act like a public servant. You act as though you understand you are working by the people, for the people, and of the people. That is important. I think all these people whether you are in office or not --
LEMON: Don't you know that before you go into office? Before you take these -- listen, fine if she has learned her lesson, but come on, it's not a tough lesson to learn. That's simple basic human decency.
And if -- it's like getting on a -- on a commercial airplane and saying, why are all these other people on the airplane? Because they're used to flying private. So -- but, you know, I see your point, but I don't know. I don't know if I'm buying all of that when it comes to Mnuchin. Go ahead.
BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Don, if I may, listen. I think that one of the things that we are seeing and to compare Steve Mnuchin's wife to someone like Michelle Obama, she didn't get the grace period.
Michelle Obama got criticized because she had her arms out. Because she was first lady who didn't wear stockings. Because she redefined what it meant to be a first lady. She she didn't get a grace period whatsoever. She didn't have to read a book or learn how to act in public.
Now I'm not going to sit here and criticize some of the secretaries or individuals' wives. That's not my place. In fact, as you know, (INAUDIBLE) from South Carolina, he talked about somebody's wife, that's fighting words. I'm not going to do that. But what I am going to say is that what Donald Trump did was surround himself with incompetent people.
So, no. You know, they're either aloof like Zinke or like Mnuchin or they are incompetent like Ben Carson and others. And so I just think what we are seeing right now is the evolution of a cabinet that has no wherewithal, that doesn't understand what common American folk go through.
And the irony in all of this is that Donald Trump sold the American people a bill of goods. He said we're going to fight for you. We're going to fight for you, American public. And now he has people like his EPA director who doesn't know a first class seat that he does not like. And that's the problem with all of this.
LEMON: Well, listen, we are going to have to fight because this is my job to talk about your wife especially if she is spending money --
SELLERS: I'm not talking about nobody's wife, Don.
LEMON: -- and making decisions -- and spending our money as taxpayers. Because, you mentioned -- Bakari, you mentioned the HUD secretary, Ben Carson. So, Bryan, it was discovered that he purchased a $31,000 dining room set for his office, originally denied the purchase, and then he said his wife was responsible. Why is his wife who is not an employee even making decisions?
BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Listen, I'm not going to talk about his wife but maybe Dr. Carson's dog got the invoice.
[23:45:02] SELLERS: Thank you.
LANZA: There really is no --
LEMON: He did. He threw his own wife under the bus so it gave me some leeway.
LANZA: I'm not doing that. The criticism is fair. The dinette set is fair. You know, Pruitt's first class travel is fair. But what's not fair is a lot of these travels when Pruitt would go to the Paris Accord Agreement in Paris, he has to travel with the detail.
When Secretary Gina McCarthy traveled, the administrator traveled during the Obama administration, she also had a detail and incurred some of the costs. So some of these costs are the criticism is fair. Some of these other costs, the criticism is just sort of a little silly at this point because it's standard normal operating procedure.
But I do think that people in this administration at least the cabinet secretaries -- I worked with getting them confirmed are forgetting the principle of, you know, this is taxpayer money. We need to prioritize. We need to justify. We need to go the extra mile to make sure that we are spending this dollar as most frugal as possible because a lot of hard people worked for that. I think --
LEMON: Costs are always scrutinized with every single administration and they should be scrutinized but this particular administration ran on draining the swamp and looking out for the little people. And so far if you look at all of these, you know, $36,000 for this, $120,000 here, $17,000 for this, $90,000 for that. Come on. Let's be real.
LEMON: We're coming back. We're coming back. More on this. The reality show at the White House. We'll be right back. Don't go anywhere.
[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House is looking more and more like a reality T.V. show starring cabinet members and their spouses. Back with me, Walter Shaub, Bakari Sellers, Bryan Lanza, and Alice Stewart. Bakari, talking about people's wives, not good. Walter, you know, it's hard to believe, but these stories go on and on.
Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin traveled to London to attend a conference last July where he and his wife spent most of his time sightseeing and shopping and then went to Wimbledon tennis match. His wife's air fare was also paid for by the government. I understand that Shulkin called you, and you said what? Why did he call? What did you say?
SHAUB: Well, he called, and he was quite angry that I had joined the chorus of people criticizing him. And he pretty much chewed my ear out for 26 minutes, telling me I don't have the full story. So, I told him I'd be happy to go back and look at the investigative file again, which I had read in detail before.
I read it, and I'm afraid it doesn't change my mind at all. I mean the bottom line is this was a frivolous trip. There was no effort to work with the ethics officials to comply with the rules.
And frankly as time passed, I started thinking, what kind of person who's got 370,000 employees and millions of veterans to care about has the kind of time on his hands to sit around and yell at his T.V. or call up the people on the T.V. and yell at them? My advice to him is get back to work on caring for our veterans and maybe follow the ethics rules.
LEMON: Thank you. I have to ask you. Does all of this -- does all of this stem from the top? I'm going to ask you that, Alice. Does this stem from the top?
STEWART: A lot of it, I think, Don, just comes from the environment. You have -- Donald Trump is a very wealthy man. He's used to having everything he wants at his fingertips. A lot of the people he's brought on are very wealthy, have been successful in the private sector, and they just have this mentality that they're entitled to this.
But, look, I sort of disagree with you and Bakari. I think their wives are fair game. If they're out there blowing taxpayers' money like a drunken sailor, they are well deserving of this criticism. I will say this, Don, if you say something about Bakari's wife, somebody's going to have to hold my beer because I'm going to come after you because she's a lovely lady.
SELLARS: There you go. Thank you, Alice.
LEMON: Ellen is off limits.
STEWART: I think all of these people would be well served if they went to Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina and saw the hardworking people in this country that voted for Donald Trump, put Donald Trump in office and, in turn, their spouse in office, and they would appreciate the opportunity they have to serve this country much better and hopefully be a little bit better public servants and not help themselves to these luxurious trips and fancy privileges.
LEMON: Not to enrich themselves. Listen, it would be great, I would love to go visit the Roman baths, Wimbledon, high tea, Copenhagen. That would be really, really nice. Bryan, what do you say to this? Does this stem from the top?
LANZA: No. I think these people need to be better stewards. I think when you look at some of these individual cases regarding Zinke and the doors, maybe you can make the reason that that's why the doors are so expensive, it wasn't as luxurious as we thought. But I think culturally, some of these people have forgotten --
LEMON: What wasn't as luxurious as you thought?
LANZA: I think the doors. My understanding is the doors that he had to purchase had to be customized doors because of some historical preservation reason. Like that's what I heard, so I took it at that value. But, you know, I do think a lot of these people need to be reminded of what the original mandate is, and that's to serve the American people.
I think some of it has gotten lost along the way. I myself am disappointed. But I do believe several weeks ago we heard the president and General Kelly brought a lot of these members into the White House and to the west wing and sort of said, hey, guys, get your act together.
The priority is the American people. It's not a Wimbledon trip and it's not a first class ticket to Italy. It's about the mandate of the American people and what they voted for several Novembers ago.
LEMON: I don't make that kind of money, but I do see some of these folks out and about. Bakari, you know where I'm going here. I wonder what they were like when they worked in corporate America, right? A lot of these folks, they're used to flying private. They're used to people handing them things. They're used to expense accounts and all of that.
And they're supposed to be -- he was going to hire the best people who are relatable to the American people. These people aren't relatable to the American people. They have no idea how the rest of America lives and they're showing it. If someone hands you a bill for doors that is $130,000, was that supposed to be $1,300? Or as mom would say, $139,000 American dollars?
[23:55:01] If you don't say that, then you have a problem. Go ahead, Bakari.
SELLERS: You know, I think the best example is Ben Carson, our good friend Ben Carson, someone who is still invited to the cookouts, I think. Ben Carson bought a 31,000 dining room China set. When I looked at it, I said, oh, my God. My grandmother has one of those. My grandmother also has -- when she was alive, we also had the plastic leather or the plastic covering on our sofas. There was China that you couldn't touch unless good company came over.
LEMON: Good company too, right? Not the people who come over all the time. Good company.
SELLERS: There were towels in the bathroom that you could not touch at all. They would just -- they were decorative. And I just felt as if Ben Carson was just trying to fill himself. He was just trying to go back home, maybe even understand what Waconda (ph) felt like. And so I completely --
LEMON: I got to go, Bakari.
SELLERS: I completely understand what he was doing. Throwing his wife under the bus was not something he should have. Donald Trump hired people who are inept because Donald Trump is inept.
LEMON: I got to tell you this. My mom is staying with me for a couple weeks. I still have to --
SELLERS: I'm coming over Friday.
LEMON: I tried to get her -- every time she goes to a restaurant, like, mom, you don't have to take a doggy bag home. We are not going to eat that. It's going to sit in our refrigerator. It's going to be here when you -- but she cannot -- she grew up poor.
And that is what she's used to and that's the kind of person I think we should hire, who remember that they are public servants and that not everybody grew up with a silver spoon in their mouths. Thank you. See you all tomorrow. Good night.
[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)