Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller Using Help From Rick Gates on Central Mission, Hope Hicks Leaving The White House, Donald Trump Congratulates Roseanne Barr For Success Of Her Rebooted Show, Fox News Ingraham Mocks Parkland Shooting Survivor. Aired: 11-12mn

Aired March 29, 2018 - 23:00   ET


DON LEMON, ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT: This is "CNN Tonight." I'm Don Lemon. It's 11 p.m. on the East Coast. We're live with new developments tonight and breaking news in the Russia investigation.

CNN has learned how Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team zeroed in on former Trump campaign deputy, Rick Gates, making it clear to him that they wanted his help to get at their central mission, investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

New details revealed to CNN and in court filings this week are giving us the first indications of how prosecutors are getting that help from Gates and using it to tie Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the President's campaign directly to Russian operatives.

So, straight now to CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray with this bit of news.

Sara, there's so much happening in the Russia investigation, what more can you tell us.

SARA MURRAY, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, I think you know, we knew Rick Gates was cooperating with the Special Counsel and I think a lot of people looked at that as though, this is a guy who is going to flip on his long-time business partner, Paul Manafort, who is the chairman of the Trump campaign and had to try to get him to cooperate or help the government build their case against Manafort.

But one of the things that our sources are telling my colleague, Katelyn Polantz is that when Rick Gates was meeting with prosecutors working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller, they said, "Look, we don't need you to help build this case against Paul Manafort, but we need is for you to help us and provide details that work toward our core mission," and that is of course investigating whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

And that's the latest indication and a very bright signal from Mueller's team that yes, this is still the core of their investigation. They are still pushing forward on the collusion investigation.

LEMON: Do we know how this is playing out with Gates?

MURRAY: Well, this is interesting. We know partly from sources like I said who are familiar with these conversations, but also from this court filing that came out that didn't have anything to do with Gates case necessarily.

It wasn't the Manafort case, rather it was from this other lawyer who pleaded guilty to lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller about this interaction between Gates and a Russian intelligence operative.

And what came out in this sentencing from the prosecutors is them basically saying, "Look, Gates was in contact with this guy throughout the campaign. He knew this guy had ties to Russian intelligence and stayed in touch. And this is all pertinent to our investigation."

So, it gives you this sort of window into the way that they are looking at collusion right now.

LEMON: So, what kind of information might Gates have had access to that Mueller would be interested in, Sara.

MURRAY: Well, President Trump was never a huge fan of Rick Gates. So, he wasn't necessarily in the inner circle, but he was of course close with Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, and he was working at the campaign at a time where a lot of interesting things were happening in Trump Tower.

We learned in retrospect you know, he was there in the summer of 2016 where there was that meeting in Trump Tower between Paul Manafort and some other Trump campaign aides and a number of Russian officials.

So, it's possible that Rick Gates has some kind of information about that. But he also stuck around after Manafort was fired. He was on the campaign for longer and then he went on to work on the Presidential inauguration with Tom Barrick who is one of President Trump's close friends.

So, he could have additional information that we're not even aware of at this point.

LEMON: Many thanks, Sara Murray. I appreciate that. Now, I want to bring in CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem; Michael Moore, a former US attorney, and Renato Mariotti, former federal prosecutor. Hello, everyone. Welcome to the program. Juliette...


LEMON: We're learning more and more about Robert Mueller's focus. Do you think Rick Gates is the lynchpin Mueller needs to make the collusion case?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: No, he will need more, but it's not just Rick Gates. So, remember Rick Gates might have kept -- have e-mails, have documentation, other evidence that then leads to other people who may know more.

Sara was just reporting Rick Gates was not in the inner circle, but as Mueller is able to get more information about what might have been happening in the inner circle, some of that inner circle may begin to talk as well.

So, this is how a conspiracy unfolds. We are just watching it in like, you know, 24/7 cable news time, right, which is some random case of some random lawyer, a court filing at 10:00 p.m. at night with like a little reference to a potential you know, discussion between Manafort and a Russian intelligence agency or that they were -- that they were friendly, then leads to, you know, sort of disclosures about what Gates may be saying.

And this is just going to keep happening. It's at the Oval Office. We know that now and we are heading towards, as I've been saying, you know, the unknown -- is it a pardon or is it a firing? But the idea that -- in my mind, the idea that Donald Trump let's this get much, much closer seems inconceivable at this stage to me.

LEMON: Okay.

KAYYEM: That one of those two things is going to happen.

LEMON: Wow. Okay, Renato, after Manafort was fired, Gates stayed on during the transition and beyond. What would he have been in a position to know.


RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, for a number of things, Don. You know, for instance, there's been investigation by Mueller of what happened at the Republican convention, the changing of the GOP platform regarding sale of weapons to Ukraine, potentially the selection of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser, and the policies of the administration regarding Russia.

And as Juliette said, a number of things regarding potentially the Trump Tower meeting and other contacts with Russia. I mean, here is what we do know, Don based on the reporting by CNN tonight.

What we do know is that Gates's attorney was told we want something more than Manafort in order to give you a plea deal. We want something that's going to help us move forward our main mission and eventually Gates did get a plea deal.

So, what that tells us is that Gates did offer something significant to Mueller. Mueller thought that it was worth giving him the deal. So, we don't know exactly what it is, but we know that Gates is moving Mueller's case forward for him.

LEMON: So, Michael, in a court filing earlier this week, this is for a separate case, Mueller let it be known that Gates was in contact with someone he knew was a Russian spy while he was on the campaign. Doesn't that draw a line from Moscow to the Trump orbit?

MOORE: It does and I think we have known all-along that Mueller is doing this in a methodical way. He is a tactical prosecutor and he sort of started squeezing the toothpaste tube at one end and the tighter he squeezes, and as he works his way towards the spout, you know, the more stuff that comes out. And that's really what we are seeing here. I think he has been

putting the pieces of the puzzle together. He is closed -- he keeps things close to the vest and he is not telegraphing necessarily what his next move will be.

We have seen that even in some of the recent court filings, how he has sort of let a little information go and we're able to kind of assume and put the pieces together that we know.

So, there is nothing particularly unusual about it. It's true that he does not need Gates to get Manafort. Manafort is a money case. That's a document case. It's a money laundering case.

You don't need anybody but the documents and the person who is in charge of the records to do that.

So, there is a reason that Gates got the plea that he did. There is a reason that he is, at this point where there have been certain charges that have not been pursued against him. And I think that probably tells a story.

And it's interesting to me that we are keeping focused on Russia. We are seeing the circle tighten around the President, around the Oval Office. I mean, you know, pretty soon it will be -- the Oval Office will begin to maybe tighten in on him a little bit too as we get closer in on the investigation.

So, no surprises really from Mueller at this point. I think he is doing exactly what a good prosecutor would do.

LEMON: I think Juliette feels similarly. I don't want to speak for you, Juliette. You can, you know, if you don't believe that's the case then say so, but I want to ask you about Rick Gates, can I? Or do you want to respond first?

KAYYEM: No, no, that's fine. I totally concur.

LEMON: He also became close -- Rick Gates also became close to the President's good friend, Tom Barrick as the reporting here and Barrick is a man who introduced Paul Manafort to the President.

Do you think there is scrutiny now on Tom Barrick as well?

KAYYEM: Absolutely. I mean only because you have to assume that Gates is talking about sort of how he came to the campaign, how Manafort came to the campaign and what did they do once they were in the campaign. So, anyone who was in this orbit now is at least going to be a subject of inquiry by a really smart team of lawyers that are working on this investigation.

And so, what that tells us if we just you know, step back is -- because remember how this started? This started with Donald Trump's team saying there were no contacts with the Russians. We are past that. That is a dead, lying story now.

We are at a couple dozen contacts, most of them lied about originally that are getting closer and closer to collusion. You can use the word collusion, but contacts that were about something. Now, were they about protecting the President and his finances? Were they about undermining Hillary? Were they about directing Cambridge Analytica or were they about all of the above? That we don't know.

But what we do know -- and just reminding everyone is that the President of the United States and his campaign during the period in which they were trying to be the President of the United States were in direct contact with Russians and a lot of people in the campaign knew that.

And the only question now is how much did Trump know and how close will this gets to Trump or of course his family members?

LEMON: So, Renato, Reuters is reporting today that Mueller is also asking about meetings between Jeff Sessions and then Russian Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak at the Republican National Convention and also at the Mayflower Hotel in DC. What does that tell you?

MARIOTTI: What that tells me is that Mueller is very interested in whether or not there was a trade of an official act in exchange for something of value.


MARIOTTI: In other words, I mentioned earlier this GOP platform was change at the Republican convention. It was a -- there was a provision in that platform about providing arms to the Ukraine. It was changed to be more pro-Putin.

And you have to wonder why that was the case. There have been reports that it was done at Trump's request and the reason is you know, unknown, and so, I imagine that Mueller is very interested in finding out the circumstances around that, what Jeff Sessions and other members of the Trump campaign were discussing regarding that because it is a federal crime to promise any official act in exchange for something of value.

It's called theft of honest services and there are a number of people including the governor -- a former governor of my state, Rob Bogoyevitch who is in prison for that crime.

LEMON: Illinois, I remember it well. Chicago -- those were the days, listen, when I was there, it was Bogoyevitch, Obama -- all of those guys were -- those were the guys, Mayor Daley, but I digress.

So, Renato, this is to you as well. Today, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against intense pressure by the President and the Republicans to appoint a second special counsel to investigate what they say is FBI abuse and surveillance of Carter Page and an insufficient probing of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and other matters. What is this about?

MARIOTTI: Well, I've got to tell you, you know it's about a politically motivated stunt, Don. You know, frankly, there's been these alarm bells going off on the right about the surveillance of Carter Page starting with -- you know, a culminating, I should say with the Nunes memo.

There has been nothing -- no misconduct has been shown regarding the surveillance of Page, and they've been calling for a special counsel to be appointed. There is absolutely no basis for Sessions to appoint a special counsel, which is only done when there is a conflict of interest or some other very extraordinary circumstance.

Sessions correctly found no special counsel was warranted. But he went out of his way to appoint a United States attorney to oversee an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General of the DOJ, and I have to say, that is a politically motivated investigation.

And only in the Trump administration would we consider it to be a moderate step to have a politically motivated investigation just because it is not conducted by a special counsel.

LEMON: You're talking -- you're talking about him appointing the prosecutor, John Huber to look into various matters as to whether the FBI abused authority in surveilling Carter Page, more on the Clinton e-mail investigation and the Uranium One and that matter. So, what do you guys think of this? About them abusing their authority supposedly when it came to FISA and so on?

What do you guys of this? Politically motivated.

MOORE: Absolutely. I mean, the FISA process is not some willy-nilly process that you get a warrant on simply because you go in and throw some information in front of a judge. It's a deliberative process. There are a great number of checks and balances to make sure the processes are read in an appropriate way.

I mean, the judges who are appointed are not hacks somewhere out there. So, I think all this talk about, did they somehow abuse Carter Page? I mean, to me, I would be thinking more if I was Carter Page or the other people, "What in the world is going on?" I mean, there is clearly some reason that I'm in here.

I mean, there is some reason that I am in these records. There is some reason that they've got a judge convinced that they ought to do a surveillance on me.

So, I mean, I don't know why we are starting to push back on, you know, upset about Carter Page and apparently, he can talk to every Russian. I mean, every rock we uncover, there is another Russian that Mueller turns over.

And so, I don't know why suddenly we are so worried about protecting Carter Page?

LEMON: Well, it's Carter Page. It's Uranium One. It's Hillary Clinton's e-mails. I mean, it's like 2016 all over again.

KAYYEM: It never dies. It never dies, you know.

LEMON: That's your response, Juliette, it never dies. KAYYEM: Well, no mean, I just want to remind -- well, it's so

politically motivated that like you just -- you don't even know what to do with it except for you know, thank goodness Sessions didn't take it even further as Renato was saying, but remember, these are Article III judges who are given special appointments to serve on a specialized court, whose purpose, right, so let's just remember -- whose purpose was to actually regulate warrants of US citizens because they were being abused at a prior time during the FBI in the 1960s, as everyone remembers that story.

So, the FISA court is actually the check. And so, the idea that we're going to unleash a prosecutor to review whether that -- these Article III judges were legitimate with no basis -- no basis except for speculation by the President and maybe some members of his political team, is a really scary step forward, but I'm pretty confident nothing is going to come of it.

So, it's one of the other things that you say in this era, you know, whatever, because there is just much bigger fish to fry.


LEMON: Didn't the same folks just reauthorize the FISA process? It's crazy.

KAYYEM: Four times, and all Republicans.

LEMON: I know. I know.

KAYYEM: They are all Republicans.

LEMON: Okay. So, listen quickly because I have to go here. I want to -- I mean, is Jeff Sessions -- is he on the chopping block? Because he is on the cover of "Time" magazine, and you know what happens with this President, Renato when you -- you know...

MOORE: What are we going to do? Spank somebody with the magazine. I mean, this is...

MARIOTTI: I will tell you -- I will tell you, Don...

LEMON: I really -- I really want to hear from Michael on this one, go ahead, Michael.

MOORE: Oh, well, let me tell you, I mean, Jeff Sessions had his run ins with Trump. There's no secret about that. Trump seems to like to get rid of people when they start to get a little more attention than he does.

Let me put one plug in, though, for Rod Rosenstein. I don't always agree with Rod. I had the chance to serve with him. Rod is a good guy and I think he's probably a gatekeeper, at least, in some respects of the Department right now.

He has kept things in shape. He stood up when there has been some pressure to move on Mueller. I think, he has indicated that he feels like there is no reason to do that right now. So, Sessions has got his problems. I think he may be on the way out.

I don't think there is any secret that Trump wants to remake his Cabinet and you know, what that ultimately does to the Russia investigation, I don't know. But let's hope that Rob hangs around for a while.

LEMON: I have a new appreciation for magazines. That's why I just get the online version, though. Thank you. I appreciate it.

Just ahead, more on the breaking news, Robert Mueller's team using help from Rick Gates on the central mission investigating the Trump campaign contact with Russians. The President still calls the investigation a witch hunt and continues to claim there was no collusion, but as we learn more about Mueller's investigation, will the President try to fire him?

We'll talk about that next.


LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, CNN learning that Robert Mueller's team is using help from Rick Gates on their central mission investigating the Trump campaign's contact with Russians.

I want to talk about it more with Max Boot. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "The Road Not Taken," and CNN political commentator, Scott Jennings. Gentlemen, welcome.

Max, the White House...


LEMON: ... has been denying collusion from the get-go, but the web of connections between the Trump circle and the Russians continues to widens and deepens and go back earlier in time. How can the President and his allies continue to claim no collusion?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, because the President is very practiced at lying with a straight face. I mean, that's what he does as we know, but if you look at the evidence objectively as I think, CNN reporters and others are looking at the evidence, I mean, the signs of collusion are certainly voluminous and growing.

It's not just this latest report about Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager talking with this Russian intelligence officer who is a long- time associate of Gates and Manafort. It's also that Manafort had close ties with Oleg Deripaska who was a wealthy Russian oligarch to whom he owed a lot of money. It's that Roger Stone had discussions with Guccifer 2.0, who we know is a Russian intelligence officer.

We know that George Papadopoulos who was a campaign adviser had discussions with a British professor linked to the Kremlin and so Papadopoulos knew in advance about the fact that the Russians have stolen e-mails from the DNC, on and on and on. I mean, there are at least more than 70 reported contacts in 2016 between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

So, you know, it certainly is very strong circumstantial evidence of collusion, no matter how much Trump and his minions may deny it.

LEMON: Three people closely associated with President Trump, Scott are now cooperating with Robert Mueller, all of whom had Russia ties, you know, Michael Flynn, Robert Gates -- Rick Gates, excuse me, and George Papadopoulos. Is it becoming absurd for Trump to call this a witch hunt?

JENNINGS: Well, it's not a witch hunt when you consider the fact that Russians have already been indicted by Mueller for meddling in the elections. So, the investigation has been worth it if that's all that ever comes of it.

I do think we are speculating bit about what we know tonight. It's absolutely true what these court documents say that Gates was in a position to know certain things, but no one has been indicted for collusion. No one has been convicted of it. Certainly not the President.

LEMON: Well, you can't be -- it has no legal weight. You can't be convicted or indicted of collusion.

JENNINGS: Yes, but that's the question here tonight...

BOOT: But you can be impeached for it.

JENNINGS: ... your initial question is how can Donald Trump continue to -- how can he continue to claim, you know, no collusion, no collusion? Well, until it reaches him or someone that he believes was acting on his authority, that is exactly when he is going to continue to claim.

But that doesn't mean this investigation is invalid. It's already uncovered valuable information about what the Russians were trying to do to our democracy.

So, I think that's why ultimately, the investigation should go forward, but the President right now I think is still within his rights to say he doesn't have any knowledge of it and doesn't believe there was collusion.

LEMON: So, Rob -- go ahead, Max. What did you want to say?

BOOT: Well, I was going to say, I think, Don, you made an important point there which is that collusion is not a crime, and of course that's absolutely correct, and so therefore, it's not like Robert Mueller is going to bring charges of collusion because, again, collusion does not exist in the US Criminal Code.

But it is, however something that Congress can impeach for. It can be a high crime and misdemeanor which is pretty much anything that Congress says, and I think the more evidence you develop that there was in fact collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, the stronger that makes the case for possible impeachment depending on what the Special Counsel's investigation comes up with.

LEMON: Robert Mueller wants to interview President Trump, but as he gets closer to making all these connections between Trump's circle and Russia, do you think Trump will be less inclined to sit down and talk to him, Max.

BOOT: Well, we just had John Dowd, the President's lawyer quitting because he was frustrated that he was telling Trump not to talk to Mueller and Trump apparently is so full of himself that he is going to insist on talking, and I certainly hope that he does.

I mean, I think he does owe -- he has an obligation to the American people to explain this very damning evidence which has been collected against him, not only in the area of collusion, but even more strongly in the area of obstruction of justice where very clearly, you are seeing Presidential action, whereas it may be harder to prove direct Presidential involvement in the collusion aspect of the puzzle.

So, I think that Trump has an obligation to explain this to the American people and sit down under oath with Robert Mueller, but clearly, from a purely legal defense perspective, that is something that his lawyers like Dowd are advising him not to do.

And of course, Trump thinks that he knows better than any experts, and so he going to do what he wants to do.

LEMON: Yes, even though they keep saying no collusion as we have discussed, Scott, there are reports that the Trump administration is becoming increasingly nervous about the Mueller investigation?

Do you think we could get to a point, and this is a question that you know, I have asked everyone where President Trump would feel he must fire...


LEMON: ... Mueller?

JENNINGS: Well, I certainly hope not because I think that would be the functional end of his Presidency. It was grind official Washington to a halt. I think it's the wrong move for...

LEMON: What do you think Republicans would do, Scott?

JENNINGS: ... political and public relations reason. I think -- I don't know what they would do because we don't know when in our political future time line, it would happen. We don't know who is going to be in control of the Congress if it were to happen, say after November, but I have heard from enough Republicans and I think we have heard publicly from enough high-ranking Republicans that it would be the beginning of the end of -- functionally of the Trump presidency.

I firmly believe that he is hearing from enough senior Republicans that this would be the most unwise thing you could do.

Now, might he be upset about the investigation? Yes. Might he continue to complain about it? Yes. But that would be putting us in to a whole new realm of the Twilight Zone that I just don't believe he wants to go into with his own party in Washington, DC forcing their hand to basically grind this presidency to a halt.

It would be a disaster if he did it.

LEMON: So, Max and I want to you respond and I think I know where you are going to go with this because you know, we -- you have discussed how you believe that Republicans publicly don't have back bones.

Samantha Vinograd was on earlier and she said, privately, people have been telling her that and they've made it known to the White House that this is a red line that the President should not cross, but in all actuality, do you think the Republicans would revolt if the President did fire the special counsel?

BOOT: I'm very skeptical given how many supposed red lines Trump has already crossed. You know, with open racism, with you know, praising Vladimir Putin and many other things that ought to be unacceptable to the Republican Party and they have gone along with it.

So, I mean, if they suddenly discover they have back bones, I'll be pleasantly surprised, but I mean, I would take issue with one thing that Scott said, which is I think you know, from the perspective -- if Trump is in fact innocent, it would be extremely foolhardy and unwise for him to fire Robert Mueller, and that would in fact, set off this political -- you know, whatever Republicans say or do, it will set off a major political storm.

It will be the greatest constitutional crisis we've faced since Watergate. That's all true, but nevertheless, that doesn't mean that Trump is not going to do it because just imagine what if Trump is actually guilty? What if the crimes that he is actually covering up are so bad that he is willing to fire Robert Mueller to cover them up? I don't think we can exclude that possibility because Trump in fact constantly acts like somebody with a lot to hide.

And so, that's why I'm very concerned about the possibility even though there is some pushback from Congress, that at the end of the day, Trump may decide that he has to fire Mueller anyway because he simply can't allow all of this stuff to see the light of day.

LEMON: Max, Scott, thank you very much.

JENNINGS: Hey, Don, let me say...

LEMON: Quick please.

JENNINGS: ... one more thing about this -- yes, absolutely. To fire Mueller means he would have fired other people in the Justice Department above Mueller. It means you would have multiple vacancies and I know the White House has been warned, there is no possible way you're going to get numerous high-ranking Justice Department officials confirmed in a scenario like this.

So, it would be unprecedented for Republicans to do something like this, to basically grind a Presidency to a halt, and I think the President and the White House have been advised of that. It would create just a situation that I don't think he wants to -- he wants to open this door.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you so much. When we come back, Hope Hicks leaving the White House today and the President is being told by allies that he doesn't need to replace her, but with so much chaos swirling there, doesn't he need a communications director more than ever?


LEMON: One of President Trump's top aides leaving the White House today for good. The President is saying goodbye to Hope Hicks. She was White House Communications Director but gave the President lots of moral support as well and he will no doubt miss her.

I want to bring in now CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen and Olivia Nuzzi who is a Washington correspondent for "New York" magazine. Thank you both for joining us this evening, I appreciate it. Olivia, you first, Hope Hicks, her departure is a -- is it a critical time for the President and the White House and the battle is on for that job. You wrote a great piece for the "New York" magazine and it is entitled, "Inside the Cutthroat Battle to Be the Next Hope Hicks," about the blood-letting between two early front runners, director of strategic communications, Mercedes "Mercy" Schlapp and Treasury Department spokesman, Tony Sayegh -- both former Fox News contributors.

So, fill us in on what your sources are telling you and no Kellyanne Conway? No?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YOUR MAGAZINE: Well, Kellyanne Conway is being talked about. Sources told me that the President has mentioned her, it's something that is part of their discussion there, and he has also brought up names like Bill Shine, the former Fox News executive.

But the real story of the last few weeks at least, has been this fight between these two officials that you just mentioned. And you know, it's less about the two of them and whether or not they'll get the job, there is just this toxic culture in the West Wing and in the communications shop in particular that has been there since day one of the presidency.

I mean, we all remember that press conference with Sean Spicer about the inauguration that kind of set the tone, but no one can replace Hope Hicks for the President.

She occupied the office right next to the Oval Office. Really was his right-hand woman, which is a very overused phrase by the media when we discuss Hope Hicks. But she is sort of an extension of him in a lot of ways. And I think it will be very unusual for him to be in an unfamiliar setting still as Washington is for him in the White House without here there. She was with him since day one of that campaign since before that even. LEMON: Listen, I have to say, again, I have only met her once, but

very kind, and you said is an extension -- she is an extension of him. She was a nicer version of him if she was an extension of him I do have to say.

NUZZ: Right.

LEMON: David, you know, what Olivia just said, in this post-Hope Hicks era. It's being viewed as a vast unknown for his aides who worry that the President might unravel without her. Do you think there is a real shift that we are about to see here?

DAVID GERGEN, Senior Political Analyst, CNN: Well, I think it depends on whether he finds a successor. What has been surprising, Don, is the conversation -- various reporting that some White House...


GERGEN: ... aides are urging the President not to appoint a new communications director and indeed, not to appoint a Chief of Staff. Both ideas are really dumb.

For almost 40 years now, Presidents have had communication directors. I happened to be one of those in the long line, but they've also had a strong Chiefs of Staff or at least sought to have. In both cases, you want the discipline -- of getting your message disciplined, the kind of discipline that makes sense in a campaign, it also works in the presidency.

And you want somebody who is strategic. And just in normal times, Don, the President would need a Communication Director and a Chief of Staff, but you made a point earlier, which I think is right, given where we are, it's even more important for him as President...

LEMON: Right.

GERGEN: ... to have a Communications Director now. I mean, to think with Mueller potentially closing in, you have got these the really significant decisions coming up on Iran which could, you know, knock the North Korean talks into skittles, and plus you've got mid-terms over the horizon.

This is a crucial time in the life of this presidency, not that other months we've seen in tumult haven't been important, but you do need top flight people.

Now, I think the harder problem is replacing someone who has the trust that Hope Hicks had and had the kind of relationship of someone that could really talk to the President straight at times.

LEMON: Yes, Jimmy Carter actually tried this, David, he didn't have a Chief of Staff. When he first took office, he eventually hired someone about two years in to his term.

Carter said, not having a Chief of Staff didn't work for him because there is simply too much to do as President and I think you agree with that, right.

GERGEN: Absolutely. There wasn't a time when Republicans believed that you had a sort of pyramidal structure where somebody at the top of this is the Chief of Staff. This all came out of Eisenhower in the army days, but the Democrats believe in what they called the spokes in the wheel.

The President would be at the center having all of these different people reporting into him. It was a disaster under Carter.

Jerry Ford tried it for a while. It was a disaster. Closing dinner in the Ford days, the staff gave Dick Cheney, the Chief of Staff, a narrow bicycle tire as a symbol of how badly it has gone. Every President since then has had a strong Chief of Staff.

LEMON: So, Olivia, he is clearly this President that makes a decision on his own. I mean, do you think that the President is better off without some staff? From your reporting and investigating?

NUZZI: Well, I mean when we say better off, what do we mean? Right? What does success look like from the communication's perspective from this White House? I mean, internally, you know, tax reform rollout, that was considered a rare success.

But a Communications Director, David could speak to this better than I could -- it's a lot of long-term planning. It's a lot of you know, planning how you roll out different policies, trying to figure out, you know, what kind of traveling, what kind of public events you do, what kind of access the press gets to the President?

It's just not just tweeting, but I think that because the President does throw everything off course by saying things that nobody even on his own staff is prepared for him to say without any warning, that's why people have this idea that he does not need traditional staff, that they're irrelevant.

And in a lot of ways they are. A former White House official described it to me as being on speed in that press shop because you just jump from one topic to the next to the next, but I don't think that means that he does not need staff.

I think probably more than any other President recently; this President needs staff to try and kind of be a barrier between his impulses and the public.


LEMON: Go ahead, David.

GERGEN: One more thing. Sure, one more thing, a communications director is also the coordinator of the entire executive branch in terms of communications or their daily conversation with the communications people and the agencies about what you're going to say that day about what may be happening on national security, or what -- if you're pushing some big initiative on the domestic side. So, it is a crucial role. And if you don't fill it, I mean, it just

seems like that -- I just think it's like idiotic not to be thinking about filling it. Make sure you have a strong Chief of Staff and a strong Communications Director.

LEMON: Well, we'll see whether he hires one or not, we will be here reporting about it. You guys will be here commenting on it, and I appreciate your perspectives. Thank you very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

NUZZI: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, the President congratulating Roseanne Barr on the huge ratings for her rebooted program, but with a country to run, why is he paying attention to how many people are watching a TV show?


LEMON: President Trump revealing his sweet spot for TV ratings, especially for the "Roseanne" reboot. I want to talk about that with CNN political commentators, Charles Blow, Amanda Carpenter and Andre Bauer. Hello, guys.


LEMON: The President was in Ohio today to promote his infrastructure plan, but it was more like a campaign rally because he spoke about the ratings on the first episode of the "Roseanne" reboot. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look at her ratings. Look at her ratings. I got a call from Mark Burnett, he did "The Apprentice." He is a great guy.

He said, "Donald, I called just to say hello and to tell you, did you see "Roseanne's" ratings?" I said, "Mark, how big were they?" "They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people, and it was about us."


LEMON: It was about us. I mean, us. He is a middle-class person, like, anyways, I don't know. Maybe he was just talking about him and his supporters, but is this what we want our President to be concerned with?

CHARLES BLOW, OP-ED COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Look, Stormy Daniels got 20 million viewers and that was also about him, so I mean, it is. The idea of being obsessed with television, though is really strange. And you know, I thought unless somebody they had done the counting and he had tweeted about ratings like 260 plus times, and human rights, that's tehri counterpoint it was like three times or something.

The obsession with television is the problem. Even trying to put... [23:45:16]

BLOW: ... people in the Cabinet because they are good on television, trying to find television personalities who could be part of the Cabinet. We cannot have a television presidency.

LEMON: Well, we do.

BLOW: Kind of...

LEMON: Yes, he is a reality television star. I mean, Amanda, like it or not, maybe he knows something that you know, a lot of people don't and that's why he became President. He worked the media. He knows television. Yadah-yadah.

CARPENTER: Yes, sure and I'm not surprised that Trump and Roseanne are sort of on the same wavelength. To me, Roseanne Barr was way Trump before Trump was Trump on the national scene. She is crass. She is strangely tolerant of Nazi references if you follow her on Twitter, and she...


CARPENTER: ... likes fast food. And I don't say that to hate on her because when I watched that show as a kid, it was refreshing to be because her house looked like the houses that my friends had too, and you know, my house. It showed that it's a little bit dirty and it was far more relatable than these fancy things like seeing "Full House."

And so, to me it is very refreshing and necessary that we see honest depictions of American life. And listen, it's funny, but I think everybody is getting way spun up about these ratings. This is a one- off thing, and I think that maybe some people were curious to find out why Dan is still alive more than anything else.

And so, let's see how it goes. It's a smart show. There's funny jokes. And it's an honest depiction of life and maybe we just need more of that.

LEMON: Yes, Andre, quick, I'll give you the last word on this because I've got to get to the next block. Go on.


LEMON: Go on.

BAUER: Roseanne is in touch with Americans that most Americans know just like the President. She actually understands what hard working, average folks are dealing with much unlike the other folks in Hollywood.

I mean, she is relating to a segment of the population that feels like they've been left behind, which is exactly what Donald Trump dialed into.

LEMON: She is a multimillionaire. And listen, I don't have to say this, Roseanne, I am not -again, hating on Roseanne, but I'm sure Whitney Cummings, Wanda Sykes and some of the writers of the show also have a lot to do with it. Also, I understand, it wasn't her idea to redo it. It was -- I think it was the woman who plays her daughter or her sister. I can't remember. I actually have never seen the show. She said, the woman who is on talk show now, I think it was her idea.

CARPENTER: I mean, she has a smart show, but way, the crassness and the coarseness, I mean, my first memory of it before I really watched the show was her singing the national anthem screeching and grabbing her crotch. I think I was like eight or ten, I mean, so I'm not upholding her as a model figure. I just think there is such hunger to see what middle-class life is way -- that is not pandering that something like that succeeds.

LEMON: Okay, I've got to get to the break. We'll talk more. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Tonight, one of the students who survived the Parkland, Florida school massacre, really taking on a powerful host at Fox News, 17-year-old senior, David Hogg standing up for himself after a public attack by Laura Ingraham.

Back now with me, Charles Blow, Amanda Carpenter and Andre Bauer.

So, Andre, yesterday, Fox News host, Laura Ingraham mocked Parkland student, David Hogg for being rejected by multiple colleges. And in response, Hogg called for a boycott on her advertisers singling out 12 companies that ran ads during her broadcast this week. And there they are up on the screen. Was this a smart thing to do? Takes where the money is?

BAUER: I think he's been very effective. Look, I am a free market guy. I believe that everybody has a right to pull ads.

I think it's a little bit that he is getting it both ways, that he wants to be treated as an adult, but then when it comes to anybody taking a swipe at him, he gets treated as a child, but hey, that's free market, and people that patronize those companies can feel free to not patronize them as well.

But, I think all of it is fair game, and I think, he was very effective in what he's done so far, even though I'm not a huge fan, I think he is a becoming a bigger and bigger factor here in the news lately.

LEMON: You think he should be able to be criticized, Charles. He said, you know, he is a teenager, but a child, but yet he's an activist?

BLOW: Well, I think a teenager, child, but also victim, right? I think you give a broad latitude to people who are talking out of their pain. And when that's happening. Suck it up.

You may not agree with them. The mother of one of the guys who was killed in Benghazi, she spoke at the Republican National Convention, you suck it up.

If she's attacking you directly, Hillary, you suck it up and when they asked Hillary Clinton about that, she said, "She deserves to be able to say what she wants to say." You know, the facts may be different. We may understand the facts differently, but she deserves to be able to say it.

They deserve, regardless of whether you agree or not, and also, Laura Ingraham is just a horrible human being and that was a low blow. I wish I had a 4.1, 4.2 GPA when I graduated high school, that is not the case.

BAUER: Charles you and I agree something.

BLOW: That is not the kid to attack.

LEMON: What you said about the kid and about giving latitude, thank you because I completely agree with that and I used that example as well last night of the Benghazi mother and so, you know, the NRA is all made at me, in all of my timeline, I really don't care.

When someone is in that much pain, much like the young man who came on last night from Sacramento, Stevonte Clark, he is in pain. And so, he wasn't ready for an interview.

So, you wish him well and you let him go and whenever he comes back and you give people latitude. You don't criticize them. You know what I am saying. What do you think about -- let me just read this for you, Amanda. Here is what I want to say, that she apologized, Laura did. She said, "Any student should be proud to have a 4.2 GPA, including David Hogg. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him and any of the brave victims of Parkland. For the record, I believe my show was the first one..." and she went on saying that her show was the first one to give him a platform.

Do you think her apology was sincere?

CARPENTER: Well, a couple of things. I don't think you should have to hear from your advertisers or to check your calendar to see that Easter is coming to know what you posted was mean, and un-Christian and just plain stupid. Let's say you hate the Parkland kids, which you know, I think...


CARPENTER: ... believe that, a lot of people have pouted on them, ridiculed them, mocked them. It is revolting. And you do give them latitude.

But, okay, put that all aside, if you are a Republican voice like Laura Ingraham who purports to want to attract people to the cause, I cannot think of a worse way to drive young people away from Republicans than to laugh in their face when he didn't get into all of the school that he wanted to, because he did also get into some very good ones. And so, I just don't understand this. Not only is it

counterproductive, but it's just so mean-spirited to do and this is this new trend, I don't know if it's brought on by Trump or maybe it was always kind of there and it wasn't nearly as pronounced in conservative media, not everybody, but some voices.

And man, like I'm with you guys on a lot of these issues. I have fought for Ted Cruz, fought with Jim DeMint, but this kind of attitude, man, I'm not on board with it and if you're losing me, trust me you're losing a lot of other suburban mother types.

LEMON: And mic drop and scene.

BLOW: What can I say? Amanda, I'm reading your book, it's good so far.

LEMON: Oh wow.

CARPENTER: Thank you, Charles. Thank you.

LEMON: What's the name of it again?

CARPENTER: It's coming out in May. It's called "Gaslighting America: Why we love it when Trump lies." And I cannot wait to talk more about this.

LEMON: Good night. Thank you, guys. Good night everybody. Thanks for watching.