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CNN TONIGHT

Two More Lawyers Turn Down Trump Team; CNN Poll: 42 Percent Approve Of Trump, Highest In 11 Months; Roseanne In The Trump Era; NRA Admits Accepting Foreign Donations But None Was Used in American Elections; No Charges Against Officers In Alton Sterling Death. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired March 27, 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. We are live with new developments tonight. Two more lawyers turning down the chance to join the President's team as more and more star attorneys are saying thanks, but no thanks to the White House. But with all the challenges facing President Trump, from the Mueller investigation, to Stormy Daniels. It couldn't be more important for him to have a legal team that can handle all this.

Also tonight, blue collar voters back in the spotlight with the return of the 90's sitcom Roseanne. These are the voters who felt they didn't have a voice until Donald Trump. Are they getting everything they bargain for? We'll discuss that.

I want to bring in now CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, and former U.S. attorney, Michael Moore.

So good to have all of you on. Good evening, thank you.

Laura, we'd now learned of the fifth major law firm that has refuse to represent President Trump in the Russia investigation. What does that tell you about the case or the client?

LAURA COATES, CNN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells you that a lot of the reputation of not only Donald Trump as being a difficult attorney perhaps or one that does not heed the advice of his attorneys, combined with the unpredictability of Mueller's drag net it's combine to have a lot of different law firms in the area of Washington, D.C. and other places to say, we don't know who this is they are targeted. Therefore we may have conflicts.

And also may not want to take on this particular endeavor, because it requires us to have our singular focus outside of a more lucrative practice. We have to get up to speed and frankly, the cost benefit analysis with reputation the President of the United States, being mercurial, doesn't seem to bode well for anyone wanting to take this case.

LEMON: Mercurial? Laura -- (LAUGHTER)

COATES: They worried (inaudible). It is 11:00 p.m., I got out of bed with my dictionary Don. Mercurial is what I'm doing for you right now.

LEMON: I love the word. But I just never -- I just never thought of it to -- to describe this particular President, but good on you. So listen, Renato, I want to play what the former Watergate prosecutor, Ben Veniste, and the former White House Counsel, John Dean said today about the president's legal troubles. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: It's not the same as simply representing the leader of the free world when the people are referring to him here in Washington behind his back by a new nickname, he is famous for giving nicknames. He is now known as Spanky. And that is not good thing.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: There are probably some legitimate conflicts with firms in Washington. But there is also another problem. And that is the reputation the potential client has. He is difficult client. He doesn't follow with the advice of his attorneys. And he also doesn't pay. And I think that last item might be a dominant item.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: We discussed that last item last night here on this show in detail. But is the tawdry sex scandal and Trump's bad reputation for paying his bills making his case toxic for some law firms?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you always -- whenever you take on a client like that, Don, you are -- you are taking on the reputation of that client. And I'll tell you, if I represented Donald Trump, I suspect there would be a lot of people out there that would be pretty upset about it. A lot of potential clients who would react negatively.

Now, typically representing the President of the United States is a great honor, I think it's general in the feather in the cap of many attorneys in the past. I think, what we are seeing here is that the reputation of Donald Trump is such that a lot of his lawyers would rather not represent him.

And given the fact that he doesn't always pay legal fees, that is a very big problem. I will tell you that, you know, you are always a lawyer thinking about when you are bringing in a new client their ability to pay.

And if a lawyer -- if a client stiffs his lawyers essentially the lawyer has put himself or herself in a position where you have essentially made a loan to somebody from your law firm's funds that are not getting repaid and ultimately, your pay, your salary, your bonus at the end of the year is going to be -- going to reflect that short fall.

LEMON: OK. So, let's bring Michael in. Michael, some lawyers have said that their firms have a conflict, because they represent other people in the Russia investigation. But that can't account for all the potential attorneys that could take such a high-profile case, can it?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY FOR GEORGIA: No, it doesn't. And it's probably just a courteous way of saying no thank you to representing the President. I mean, you can say, I have a conflict, sort of. It's hard for me to keep a straight face after thinking about Spanky, to be honest with you, at this point. You know, I just -- I can't believe we're talking about this. But, you know, --

(LAUGHTER)

[23:05:03] LEMON: Yes, welcome to my world, Michael.

MOORE: I get it. I'm with you. I mean, the deal is this. You need a lawyer to come in, who can tell you the truth. The lawyer you get -- you hire a lawyer that you get along with, you hire a lawyer with a spirit of cooperation, you need to be able to jihad with your lawyer. The truth is nobody jihad with Trump. He will fire you, he will yell at you and he will throw you under the bus. At the end of the day nobody wants that kind of person for a client.

I mean, the client has to be able to receive bad advice. He doesn't seem to be able to take that from anybody, but maybe close members of his family. So, my guess is, that it's probably not so much about conflicts or things out there that are maybe business decisions. Folks just don't want to get in the Trump swamp and pulled put into the mess that is going to happen, if in fact he then tries to fire Bob Mueller.

LEMON: Five minutes in this show, we've already had jihad, mercurial and Spanky, so --

(LAUGHTER)

--there you go, America.

COATES: Good evening.

LEMON: And the rest of the world also -- we're simulcast. So, Renato, it's considered of an honor of a lifetime to represent the President. How do you reconcile President Trump's claims that many big time lawyers want to represent him with the reality that none are coming onboard.

MARIOTTI: Well, I -- the way I reconcile it is that the President of the United States -- this particular President doesn't have a very close relationship with the truth. I mean, the fact of the matter is he is getting turned down left and right. And I think that does say something about him, because I'll tell you, Don, lawyers generally likes to represent the rich and powerful clients in particularly the President of the United States. And this creates a real problem for him. I actually agree with what

everybody has said here. You want to have a lawyer, who is going to tell you the tough news, sometimes as a lawyer you actually -- particularly in a criminal defense side, you have to sometimes bring your client around to things that are difficult truths that they have to face.

Hey, you know, you may be facing time in prison. Hey, you might need to plead guilty. Hey, you may need to take the fifth. All these very difficult conversations at times you need to have with your client. If there isn't a good relationship with lawyer and client and the client doesn't have a lawyer that they can really trust, and that really knows what they're doing, that can hurt the client and in this case Donald Trump in the end.

LEMON: So Laura, is the lack of a coherent legal team eventually going to impact the President in the Russia investigation. I mean, Dowd was the negotiator with Mueller's team, he's gone, I mean, this is as a potential sit-down interview with the Special Counsel is looming, right now.

COATES: Of course it's going to impact it and probably negatively. You have to have a point person, you got to have a captain to really steer the ship and you can't just have a skeleton crew, that the way they do it right now. Who none of which have a resounding career in federal litigation or this sort of litigation, that is a very important distinction to make. It's not just any lawyer, it has to be one that actually has the skill set that is needed to go against Mueller and 16 of the nation's top attorneys in an area that has extreme constitutional significance.

But some of the onus or the blame for lack of a better word, has to fall on Mueller, because, remember Mueller is really thriving and the Special Counsel team is thriving on the unpredictability of where he going to go next, who he may or may not indict, who his investigation is covering, who is a target and who is a witness. If you have all of that uncertainty.

If you are a white shoe law firm or any attorney or any even part of the already existing litigation team for Trump, you are trying to figure out, well, can my conflicts be resolved? Will I be able to be represented by somebody who can advent my interests or the other the persons. And I think that Mueller has a hand in creating the uncertainty that's going to really inert to his benefit and really harm Trump in the long run.

LEMON: So, Michael, a lot of people were surprised when Joe diGenova and his wife Victoria, announced that they had a conflict just days after the White House said that they were hired. Then he fears, -- Abigail Tracy's (ph), spoke with President Obama's former acting solicitor general, who suggested Special Counsel Robert Mueller may have intervened, because -- and here's the quote, "Those in prosecutors, when they see a defendant doing something profoundly dangerous to their self-interests. Including hiring lawyers who had conflicts will raise it with the defendant and suggest they rethink it." What do you think, is that a real possibility? MOORE: You know, I think diligent prosecutors do look out sort of for

the protection of the system and protecting the rights of the defendant or the person who is maybe the suspect or the subject of an investigation.

It's hard for me to imagine in this case that Mueller whose team got involved into the Trump lawyer hiring decision and that process -- and I don't know that they would have necessarily wanted to tip their hand either about potential conflicts that might be out there or the people that they're looking at.

So, I -- really don't think that is the case. I -- don't want to question, you know, his sound legal judgment on that. But I just don't know that, that is necessarily the case. I think it's more likely that, you got diGenova and his wife making a decision, it may be a business decision at the end of the day. Although we already know, she had one conflict out there, but conflicts can be waived.

[23:10:00] But my guess is more in line with -- they made some business decision that they didn't want to take the time away from the practice or become so totally bogged down in this, that this is all they could do and that is what you can expect.

You know, as far as the lawyer goes, Trump could hire Clarence Darrow, and if Clarence Darrow, couldn't get ahold of Donald Trump, it wouldn't matter. You know, if he can't talk his client into keeps his mouth shut and not getting on Twitter and doing this things that's damaging to his own case, it simply will not matter, who he gets at the end of the day.

LEMON: Maybe he needs a -- a slick talking southern attorney named Michael Moore, would you take the job?

(LAUGHTER)

MOORE: You know, I had the great pleasure to be able to decline some clients and some representation in my time. And that is a luxury I enjoyed and I still enjoy that luxury. So I'm not so sure I'd want to get involved in this case either.

LEMON: You make me miss home, Louisiana. Decline some clients in my time. I love it. Thank you all.

MOORE: Thank you, good to see you, Don.

LEMON: Good to see you. When we come back, will women make our break -- make or break the Republican Party in the mid-terms? Mark McKinnon is here to break it all down for us, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump laying low this week saying, out of sight, inside the White House. No public events on his schedule again tomorrow. And if that holds true, it will be the fifth day in a row. I want to bring in Mark McKinnon, the executive producer of ShowTime's "The Circus," who is a former adviser to with George W. Bush and John McCain. Good evening, sir. So good to have you on.

[23:15:05] MARK MCKINNON, CO-HOST, SHOWTIME'S THE CIRCUS: Thank you.

LEMON: Absolutely. Listen, Trump is facing serious legal action from three women, the Mueller investigation and a pending meeting with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Staff shakeups, chaos at the White House. And his legal team is falling apart, you know, his approval rating is at 42 percent, it is up from 35 percent last month. Why do you think he is gaining ground amid all the controversy?

MCKINNON: Yes, well there is good news and there's bad news for Donald Trump. The bad news is that he has had -- last week arguably one of the most chaotic weeks in his presidency and a lot, you know -- every week has been some measure of chaos. But last week when we had Stormy Daniels on television and the firing of some top staff in the administration, all of that was, you know, weighing -- was soaking up a lot of media time which obscures a lot of really good news that's happening underneath which is the highest wage growth in eight years.

The highest consumer confidence in almost 18. ISIS in retreat. And now today we learn that the North Koreans are actually talking to the Chinese about denuclearization.

So the most -- the most prominent issues for American voters on the economy and the greatest worries internationally are being addressed in a pretty forceful way. And I think that is why we have seen, actually that Donald Trump is rebounding a bit, because on all the things people actually care about, some good things are happening.

LEMON: Yes. So, look, and we talked about this -- about Republican House Members or maybe in the mid-terms, right. So, if you are a Republican House Member, who may have been freaking out a little bit after the special election lost in Pennsylvania, do you feel a little bit better now, Mark?

MCKINNON: Yes, a little bit better, but, you know, you have representatives like Costello who just announced his resignation and said part of the reason was that it was so hard right now to get out of this positive messages that were being obscured. He said, you know, if I went to a Town Hall meeting this week, everybody would be asking me about Stormy Daniels. And yet I think there are a lot of Republicans who are -- and by the way, Paul Ryan, it was just learned today is likely going to be retiring.

So, that is not a good sign. And yet, I think that if I were an incumbent member of Congress right now, after this last week seeing the numbers today, seeing the President rebound and seeing the -- and seeing the talks with -- pending talks with North Korea, I'd be feeling a lot better frankly.

A whole lot better, because I suspect that if these numbers continue and the confidence maintains on the economic side, and this talks actually happen with North Korea, that is a lot of good news that is going to happen. So, we could say that the worst news for Republicans was really in the last couple of months and that it's likely to get better. LEMON: So, you mentioned Paul Ryan. And I have to tell you by the

way, he denied that rumor. Do you know something we don't?

MCKINNON: It's just a gut instinct for me, Don. And I -- there is a few things that I know that I can't talk about. But I will say that just knowing what I know about Paul Ryan, I mean, he has achieved his signature life ambition which was the Tax Reform Bill. And you know, I -- just don't know that -- you know, that his fires are burned, as hot as they used to, now that is done.

LEMON: And if there is a place for a Jack Kemp type Republican in this new era of the Republican Party.

LEMON: Yes, exactly right. You know, he's got the tax bill done, but then turned around and had a -- had a budget bill that, you know, is over -- now going to have a trillion dollar deficit ongoing and that's got to be tough for Kemp Republican. Tough for me.

LEMON: So, yes, so, you think, your gut tells you retiring?

MCKINNON: That is just my gut. That is my gut.

LEMON: OK.

MCKINNON: And a couple of little birdies.

LEMON: Couple of birdies. All right. Unusually you're right, so again. That is not CNN reporting, but Mark McKinnon, you know the score, you know, so let's break this down, break it down even more. Trump's approval numbers among women, Mark, is just 34 percent, how big a factor will this vote be particularly in the suburbs where Republicans feel vulnerable.

MCKINNON: Well, listen, the thing about mid-terms elections particularly is that what happens is largely a result of enthusiasm. And the Party that is most enthusiastic right now are the Democrats. Democrats, are highly motivated, highly agitated. Highly exacerbated over the women issue. And some of the things that we have seen in the last couple of weeks, which only reinforced the worst thing that they saw, which was of course, the "Access Hollywood" tape.

So, you know, I think Democratic women particularly, and I think suburban Republican women, the problem with suburban Republican women is, that they just may not vote. I mean, they may just get tired of this or tired of defending it and they are just not going to be as animated to get out and vote to the polls. I think that's the real problem.

LEMON: So the votes will be suppressed. Can I -- let me ask you this --

[23:20:00] MCKINNON: Yes.

LEMON: -- because you made me think about that, when you said that Democrats are more animated, more energetic when it comes to voting right now. So, what effect do you think all these young people who were marching this weekend will have, some of them are 18 now. Some will be close to 18. So, some can vote in 18, some can vote in 20. How much of an effect do you think they'll have in those two elections coming?

MCKINNON: I think, potentially a lot. You know, the -- the energy we saw last week and the energy that we've been seeing among millennials is very, very powerful. And it's that kind of heat that will make a big difference particularly in the mid-terms. I mean, that is generally when it falls off. And if younger voters turn out in mid- terms that is going to be a big, big deal, because they just normally don't.

And every time that we are seeing that, they're activated, they are energized, they along with, you know, other demographic groups that generally are good for Democrats, you know, that is why people think -- that is why they're concerned -- you know, Republicans are concerned about Pennsylvania and other signs that we are seeing like this.

LEMON: I wonder if some -- some folks -- not all, but some people on the far right who are attacking these kids, if that is just going to energize them even more.

MCKINNON: Oh, I have no question about it. I mean, yes, I mean, I think that is just, you know, poking a tiger with a stick in the eye. And the tiger is going to bite back.

LEMON: Mark McKinnon. Thank you, Showtime's "The Circus".

MCKINNON: Coming back soon.

LEMON: Coming back soon, to a TV near you and a phone.

MCKINNON: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Whatever platform, you can get it. Thank you. I appreciate it Mark. When we comeback, Roseanne returning to TV tonight and she is a proud Trump voter. Is this sitcom even more relevant now in Donald Trump's America? Some 25 years later?

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The iconic TV sitcom Roseanne is back tonight. Two decades after the original series went off the air. And the reboot is set right now in the Trump era. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you have voted for him, Roseanne?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He talked about jobs, Jackie. He said he would shake things up. I mean, but this might come as a complete shock to you, but we almost lost our house the ways things are going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you looked at the news, because now things are worse? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on the real news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Joining me now CNN contributor, Salena Zito and Joanna Weiss, a contributor to "Politico Magazine."

Good evening to both of you.

Hey, Salena.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening.

JOANNA WEISS, CONTRIBUTOR, POLITICO MAGAZINE: Hi, there.

ZITO: Hey.

LEMON: Hey, President Trump won the election, because he appealed to and spoke directly to Americans, a lot like Roseanne and her family. They felt that no one was listening to them. What do you think about the return of the show?

ZITO: Well, I think it is a great moment. And here is why. Some -- some -- I've been writing about this and I've talked about this on your show before, that there is a cultural disconnect between Hollywood and a lot of America. A lot of people are portrayed on television that are in main street America, they're usually the butt of a joke as opposed to more sympathetic or empathetic.

LEMON: Yes.

ZITO: And I think she did an incredibly good job of showing, you know, the struggles that the family is having. She has always been very good -- you know, in touch with that. But also that the struggles they have with their points of view. So their family wasn't a cookie cutter, but it was very similar to what I see when I am on the campaign trail, or when I'm out reporting, that people may support Trump, but they don't fit into the mold of who you think their entire family is.

LEMON: All right. Hey, Joanna, so you have a piece?

WEISS: Yes.

LEMON: Out in Politico, called "How Trump inspired the Roseanne reboot," talk to me about what's behind this.

WEISS: Sure, I talked for a Politico magazine piece -- to one of the producer of the show, Bruce Halford, who told me that, one of the intentions that they had was to start a conversation and have a conversation that a lot of American families are not having today. Families are divided, you know, we kind of have gone to the separate

Facebook feeds and unfriended people. You go to family gatherings and sometimes politics is such a toxic topic that people don't discuss that in the open. And what they wanted to do was use the Connors as a proxy family for a lot of Americans and get a lot of the issues out in the open and have a dialogue and exchange about them today.

LEMON: Yes, so Salena, Patrick Healy from "The New York Times" has an interview with Roseanne Bar.

ZITO: Yes.

LEMON: It is out today and he ask -- he says, was it your idea for Roseanne to back Trump? Yes, she says, because it's an accurate portrayal of these people and people like them in terms of what they think and how they feel when they are the ones, who sends their kids over to fight. We have been in wars for a long, long time which everybody seems to forget, but working class people don't forget it because the kids -- their kids are in it. I imagine this rings true to you. It sounds like what you have heard on the campaign.

ZITO: Yes, their intensity at disproportionate amount of people from middle class or working class family that go off to the military. And they're the ones that are mostly at the -- at the front lines. And they are -- they tend to be a little more -- show their patriotism than other people.

And it is important to them. And so they don't see their lives portrayed positively in -- in a lot of Hollywood and in a lot of television shows. So I think this intersection of politics and culture is really, really important, because, I think it helps to start heal the disconnect that people have and resentment that they have towards Hollywood, because they think that Hollywood doesn't get them, doesn't understand them. Doesn't understand what their problems and their needs are.

And I say a lot of those types of families and not just working class, upper middle class, you know, single family, where they do have these different opinions. And they do have this robust conversations about politics. And it's much different than what you see on Twitter and it is much more humane and it's much more interesting and so -- and they portray that really well tonight on her show.

LEMON: Why are you nodding your head Joanna?

WEISS: I'm nodding because I agree. And the issues that they deal with -- you know, yes, there are family members for the Connors who are in the military. They also deal with issues like gender identity. They deal with high-deductible health plans, the opioid crisis.

I mean in the context of just normal everyday family life, here is a family that is confronting the issues, wrestling with them, not retreating to different sides, but really having an exchange in the back and forth about them.

ZITO: Yes. WEISS: And again, I think Americans can really identify -- Americans who are in the white working class but also Americans of all other -- all different backgrounds who can still relate on a lot of these levels. And a show like this has the opportunity to make connections.

LEMON: Salena said that, you know, middle class working class folks and in that minorities as well, disproportionately tend go to war, tend to serve in the military more than others. Listen -- I want to talk about -- this is from Matt Lewis, today wrote a piece for the "Daily Caller" called "How Roseanne Gave Us Donald Trump."

And it says, if the "Cosby Show" helped pave the way for Barack Obama's election, then it might also be said that the groundbreaking show "Roseanne" was a harbinger for Donald Trump's candidacy.

Joanna, I want to ask you this. The "Cosby Show" was about an affluent black family. "Roseanne" is about a working class white family. Do TV shows like "Cosby" and "Roseanne" give Americans a glimpse of other people's lives or give people a voice?

WEISS: I think they do. And I think seeing that representation of yourself on television is very meaningful. You know, whether you are a minority and now you have a show like "Black-ish" or "Off the Boat" that you can feel like you identify with. And if you're in the white working class, look, Hollywood is generally pretty disconnected from the white working class.

There are a handful of shows on television right now that feature them. But for the most part, a lot of TV is aspirational. A lot of TV -- a lot of people who are supposed to be middle class on TV, if you notice live in-houses that look a little bit more like Buckingham Palace.

Roseanne's family lives in a house that looks like a real house, that someone who really has to pay the bills, who has a job, you know, painting dry wall or working at a cafe might actually live in. And I think seeing that feels validating.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, before "Roseanne," there was "Archie Bunker," Salena. A working class icon but also a bigot. So let's watch a clip from all in the family (ph) and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL O'CONNOR, ACTOR: American history lesson. You don't know nothing about Lady Liberty standing there in the harbor, with her torch on high screaming out to all the nations in the world, send me your poor, your deadbeats, your filthy.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all the nations sent them in here. They come swarming in like ants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the creator of the show wanted to show a man struggling with change but also clinging to his racist ideas. Do you think -- you know, I asked this -- this question to Norman Lear (ph). Do you think Archie Bunker would be a Trump supporter?

ZITO: May -- I don't know. Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

ZITO: He can also be a Bernie supporter.

LEMON: Right.

ZITO: You know, I could see him on both sides. He was really -- I think he was really proud working class Democrat, if I remember correctly. I grew up watching the show. And remember being just sort of astounded that they said the word "menopause" on television as a kid beyond the other things that they said.

LEMON: They said a lot of things then that they can't say. I mean they said -- actually said the N-word. Remember when --

ZITO: Oh, yes.

LEMON: -- when Thomas (ph) Jefferson would say it.

ZITO: Yes.

LEMON: There is no way you can get away with it. Listen, I got to run, but I do find it interesting. I've been listening to a lot of the interviews with Roseanne, one in particular which is great today on Howard Stern.

Roseanne who is seen as a divisive figure is now telling people, hey, we should talk, we should sit down, nothing gets accomplished unless we sit down and discuss it, which I think is a very interesting transition for her. A metamorphosis in my opinion.

ZITO: Yes.

LEMON: Thank you both. Great conversation.

ZITO: Thank you.

LEMON: When he we come back, the NRA admitting they accept money from foreign donors and a lot of people are worried about that. We'll tell you what we know about where the money is coming from and how they're using it.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The NRA is defending its practice of accepting donations from foreign donors and claiming that none of the money was used during the 2016 election. CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is here with more. Sara, hello to you. The NRA is admitting today that they take foreign

money. Where is this money coming from and why are we just finding out about it?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're not providing a lot of details about where the donations come from but in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden, they are explaining, look, yes, as an organization, we do accept some foreign donations, but the NRA is insisting that none of that foreign money was used in American elections.

Now of course we do know that the NRA did spend big in 2016. They spent more than $30 million on efforts to boost Donald Trump and just to give you a sense of how that spending compares to past cycles.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this is more than they spent in 2008 and 2012 combined, when you look across presidential house and senate races. So it's clear that they were in big and in early for Donald Trump but what they're saying is, look, none of that money we spent, none of it came from foreign donors.

LEMON: Is anyone talking about trying to regulate where they can accept money from?

MURRAY: Well, there are already regulations about how the NRA can use these foreign donations. They're allowed to use them essentially to inform their members, to educate their members, but they're not allowed to use them for instance on ads that say, vote for Donald Trump or don't vote for Hillary Clinton.

Now we have Ron Wyden who is a Democrat from Oregon saying, look, I want a little bit more information on exactly where this foreign money is coming from, on exactly what you are spending it on. It's pretty clear that the senator doesn't necessarily believe that there was no way that any of this money from foreign donors did not go to influence American audiences in some way.

[23:40:00] He sent another follow-up letter to the NRA essentially pressing them for more information to try to get to the bottom of that. Now the NRA in the letter that they put out is insistent. I want to read you a part of that their general counsel wrote and saying, our review of our records has found no foreign donations in connection with a United States election either directly or through a conduit.

Like I said, it's clear that Ron Wyden would like a little bit more information.

LEMON: Sara, I understand that there are also some questions about the relationship between a prominent Russian banker and the NRA. What can you tell us about that?

MURRAY: Well, a lot of the scrutiny around the NRA and this election cycle has centered around this guy, Alexander Torshin. He is a very prominent Russian banker. He has close ties to Putin. And he also spent years fostering very close relationship with the top leaders of the NRA. There was one report in McClatchy that said the FBI is actually investigating whether money was funneled illegally through the NRA and through Torshin to boost Donald Trump's campaign. The NRA has insisted they have not heard from the FBI. But there are a number of reports that showed that people were working on behalf of Alexander Torshin to try to make inroads with President Trump and his team in 2016.

So all of this has raised a number of red flags and drawn even more scrutiny to the NRA to how they are raising money and why they spent so much money so extraordinarily to back Trump in 2016.

LEMON: Sara Murray, thank you.

MURRAY: Thank you.

LEMON: So, let's discuss now the NRA's practice of accepting foreign donations. CNN political commentators Angela Rye and Ben Ferguson are both here.

Good evening to both of you. Thank you for joining us.

Angela, you first. What is your read on this? Is it appropriate for the NRA to accept foreign contributions?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the NRA, period, is inappropriate. So --

(LAUGHTER)

RYE: -- I don't have -- I don't have anything specific on foreign donations except to say that the 2016 -- 2016 election was certainly a very tangled web that continues to spiral out of control. There are some new piece of information we learn every day about what Trump's campaign manager knew, what his deputy campaign manager knew relative to all of the things that they've done with Russia.

And now of course the NRA potentially accepting foreign donations that from a search of their own records, they don't know where the money or they don't have any proof that the money was used in the elections. But I would be interested to see what someone else's investigations discovered.

LEMON: Do you think that that practice will invite the misuse of funds? Ben, I mean if they don't take foreign money, they don't have to worry about the funds being used illegally.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't. And I think the NRA is pretty smart about this, separating the funds. The same way that planned parenthood, for example, is not allowed to use funds that come from the American taxpayers for abortions. They separate it. So there is a very clear separation line here when you know you're going to be under scrutiny from people that don't like you.

It's not illegal for the NRA to take foreign funds. Many non-profits and many groups that have activism ideas like this and others on the conservative and liberal side for decades have been taking foreign funds from people that support what they're about and what they're backing.

I don't think there is going to be an issue here. I think certainly people want to play politics with this. But I think the NRA knows that they're under a microscope and have been for years and they've never had problems with this in the past.

LEMON: So -- but the critics on the right say the money always can't be separate when it comes to planned parenthood and abortions. That's really the criticism from those on the right. But you're saying now the NRA --

FERGUSON: Not really. It's not the criticism. The criticism is that you're taking my taxpayer's dollars and you're giving them to an organization that is the number one abortion provider in the U.S. They get more abortions than anybody else with my tax dollars.

LEMON: Ben, you're saying the money can be separated.

FERGUSON: No one is giving money --

LEMON: You just said in one breathe though that the money can be separated when it comes to the NRA no matter where it comes from, foreign entities or whatever.

FERGUSON: Again --

LEMON: If (INAUDIBLE) are paying tax money and they are saying your tax dollars will not go towards abortions, so --

FERGUSON: There is fundamental difference between planned parenthood and the NRA. The NRA does not receive taxpayers dollars. If they did, many people like Angela would be very upset with that. That is why I'm upset with planned parenthood receiving funds.

My point was again this. There are certain guidelines that go in to make it very clear that you cannot have taxpayers dollars when it goes and hundreds of millions of dollars a year go to planned parenthood. That money cannot be used directly for abortion services.

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: The same way the NRA cannot use this money to go in the other direction with political campaigns.

LEMON: Go ahead, Angela.

RYE: First of all, Ben, I know you have the floor and I know you like to hold it, but I don't ever need you to speak for me in what I deem appropriate or what I will go crazy about.

FERGUSON: I don't think it was crazy to say --

RYE: I'm not done.

LEMON: Let her speak, Ben.

RYE: I'm not done.

LEMON: Ben, let her speak.

RYE: I'm not done. I'm not done. I'm not done. Number two --

(LAUGHTER)

RYE: -- I think it's ridiculous that this segment is about the NRA. This segment is about them taking foreign donations. This segment is about the Second Amendment.

[23:45:01] And somehow, Ben, you have spun yourself into talking about planned parenthood. It's ridiculous. And let me tell you --

FERGUSON: It's an example of funds being separated.

RYE: I know but your example --

FERGUSON: And you started the segment with ripping Donald Trump and the Russians.

RYE: Your example took longer -- I'm just going to talk over you then. Your example took longer than the initial point --

FERGUSON: It's pretty normal.

RYE: -- and the call of the question. That's cool. But let me tell you this. I don't have time for it today. Let me tell you why I don't have time for it today. Because today while you all are talking about the NRA and the Second Amendment and all of this, yet again, a black man's killers vis-a-vis the police are not going to be held accountable for taking his life. You know why? He had a gun on him. A gun that he never brandished but somehow --

FERGUSON: I'm not sure what that has to do with NRA.

RYE: -- the Second Amendment -- I'm just going to make a point about guns today because you did it about planned parenthood. Here's my point. The point is that the Second Amendment doesn't even apply to black lives. The Second Amendment doesn't even apply to Philando Castile --

FERGUSON: Sure it does.

RYE: -- to Alton Sterling. No it does not. So while we are talking about --

FERGUSON: Sure it does.

RYE: -- the NRA and who is here to protect, I want to know who the Second Amendment protects because it does not protect people who look like me.

FERGUSON: It protects all American citizen.

RYE: I am not here for the NRA -- FERGUSON: You have the right to bear arms.

RYE: -- who continues to defend gun revenues and gun money over the lives of black and brown people.

FERGUSON: It's a great talking but you are not talking about the Second Amendment.

RYE: I am not here to play these -- these aren't talking points. This is coming straight from my heart and out of my mouth.

LEMON: OK, listen.

RYE: No, it is not.

LEMON: All right. Listen, I got to go. I got to get to the break. We are going to talk -- we had planned to talk about Alton Sterling after the break. But we will talk -- and we will. That and more. We'll be right back.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back now with CNN political commentators Angela Rye and Ben Ferguson. So, let's talk about this, Angela, because I think it's important to discuss, especially being a Baton Rouge native. The state of Louisiana declining to bring charges against the two officers involved in the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling. Sterling's aunt spoke out about the verdict earlier today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VEDA STERLING, AUNT OF ALTON STERLING: I saw what they did to my nephew and I'll be damned. I'll be damned. Why aren't these people -- why are we still paying their salary? I don't get it. I don't understand. Baton Rouge, stand up. No justice!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No peace!

STERLING: No justice!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No peace!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I know how you feel about your outrage, you made that plain in the last segment, but are you surprised?

RYE: I'm not surprised. And I think to be living in 2018, Don, and there's no repercussions whatsoever for black women, black men to be killed at the hands of police is maddening. To understand that we live in a country where black folks' first interaction with law enforcement was fugitive slaves, runaway slaves being hunted down and returned to their masters, to plantations where they were killed or beaten or worse.

And I just am frustrated that I don't have anything to tell my five godsons and one goddaughter except for, you have to protect your life, you have to be careful, you have to be abundantly cautious. And it's just not right. I don't care what anybody says.

The fact that even we were just talking about the NRA, the fact that there are some lives they protect, some people they go hard in the paint for, and others they turn a blind eye to, I am tired of the hypocrisy in this country. And I'm eager for us to see real justice with real results. It is high time. It's overdue. And I'm sick of it.

LEMON: OK. Ben, she's saying basically the NRA wants to protect some people when it comes to gun rights but it doesn't do it for all. Doesn't speak for all folks.

FERGUSON: Yes. I don't know what it has to do with this shooting in Baton Rouge. What I do know is that the police officers tried to use different commands with him. They tried to use a taser, not once but twice on him. They told him to quit resisting arrest. He had a gun in his pocket.

They saw that gun when he was reaching for it. And after using nonlethal force, they used lethal force. We also know that unfortunately drugs were found in his system which they say contributed probably to his noncompliance --

RYE: You are out of your damn mind. I cannot believe --

FERGUSON: That's exactly what the report says.

RYE: No. No, no, no.

FERGUSON: That's what it says on cnn.com right now.

RYE: Let me tell you --

FERGUSON: How am I out of my mind for stating the facts?

RYE: You are out of your mind because let me tell you why.

FERGUSON: How?

RYE: This is the only country, this is the only place in the world where someone will get killed and we talk about what's in their system.

FERGUSON: Did he have a gun in his pocket?

RYE: You know what? He absolutely had a gun in his pocket, but you know what?

FERGUSON: Did he comply with police?

RYE: It's probably real hard to reach for a gun when you're in a headlock.

FERGUSON: Did he have drugs in his system?

RYE: Have you ever been in a headlock?

FERGUSON: I actually have, yes.

RYE: Have you ever tried to reach with your hands while you've been in a headlock? I don't think you can do it.

FERGUSON: Here is what I know. You don't negotiate with police when you have a gun in your pocket.

RYE: Here is what else is interesting. You know who got to walk out of a situation where he killed nine black parishioners? Dylann Roof. And got a trip to Burger King.

FERGUSON: That has nothing to do with what is going on in Baton Rouge. Let's stick on Baton Rouge.

RYE: Let's get this done because what we are talking about is the inability for this country to apply justice fairly. It does not work for black and brown people. Why? Because we're deemed inherently --

FERGUSON: So you think (INAUDIBLE) this individual to be able to fight police for the gun?

RYE: -- we're deemed inherently criminal and violent. What I am telling you is this man did not pull out --

FERGUSON: And I'm out of my damned mind.

RYE: Yes, you are, because he did not pull out the weapon.

FERGUSON: He had a gun and fought police --

RYE: No --

(CROSSTALK)

FERGUSON: Do you think that he should have fight police with a gun in his pocket?

RYE: No, what I'm telling you, he was not fighting police.

FERGUSON: Wow.

RYE: What I'm telling you is, he was fighting for his life.

FERGUSON: He was fighting the police.

RYE: If you don't understand that, I don't know what else --

FERGUSON: He was absolutely fighting the police.

RYE: -- I don't know how to help you. And you know what's unfortunate? You probably believe everything you've ever seen. I bet you believed everything you ever heard about Laquan McDonald --

FERGUSON: I have no idea what in the world you're talking about right now.

RYE: I bet you do. I bet you do.

[23:55:01] FERGUSON: What I do know is an individual with a gun his pocket who was fighting the police, who had drugs in his system.

RYE: What you need to know is there is a million Laquan McDonald all over the country. There is a million Alton Sterling all over the country. You are ridiculous.

LEMON: Ben, do you have something against someone -- people carrying guns? No?

FERGUSON: I have a problem with anyone who fights police while being armed and doesn't --

RYE: He wasn't fighting.

FERGUSON: -- listen to what the police are saying to them while they're tasing them and and using non-lethal force. You don't get to negotiate with the police when you have a gun in your pocket and you're fighting them and resisting arrest while they're tasing you.

LEMON: I'm out of time.

FERGUSON: And by the way, it also is a recipe for disaster when you have drugs in your system when you're being tased and it has no effect on you.

RYE: You're sick.

LEMON: So let me just say this.

FERGUSON: I'm sick because I think that police should have to worry about someone on drugs.

LEMON: We are out of time, guys. Someone is dead and what I have to say is rest in peace and my thoughts and prayers are with his family this evening. I thank you both for coming on. Good night.

[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)