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Trump Signs Memorandum Ordering National Guard Troops To the Border; President Trump At Odds With Own Advisers; Former Lawyer of Stormy Daniels Says The "Whole Truth" Has Not Been Told; EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Broiled In Multiple Controversies; Dr. King's Legacy. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired April 4, 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, 11:00 p.m. on the East Coast, live with new developments. President Trump signing a memorandum tonight ordering national troops -- National Guard troops to the border, that after his own administration spent the day ducking question about how many troops -- how many troops, when they'll arrive, where exactly they'll be deployed, and what they'll exactly be expected to do there. All questions in administration ought to be able to answer. But they either can't or won't.
And then there is the President's insistence he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in his words, very soon. Sources telling CNN a meeting between the President and top military brass turn tense when they argued against the immediate action. In spite of his annoyance the President eventually agreed to hold off on immediately pulling troops from Syria. But one source says he demanded the troops, finish their mission against ISIS within six months. Just the latest example of a President determined to go his own way, even if that puts him at odds with his own advisers.
I want to bring in now CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, also former CIA officer, Evan McMullin and CNN -- CNN's legal commentator, Mr. Ken Cuccinelli.
Good evening. Welcome to the program everyone. Good to have you on.
Ken, the President's cabinet spent the day on cleanup duty, sort of, you know, in some cases walking back what the President said, and in other cases scrambling to craft some sort of policy around what he said as sort of fit of what he said, is there a disconnect between the President and his team?
KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think we have seen this sort of tumultuousness before. I mean, you started with Syria. And if the President really rolled back the American presence in Syria, which he said he would do during the campaign, he would be the first President since George Bush Sr. to keep foreign policy campaign promises. I mean, Clinton didn't. Bush junior didn't. Obama didn't. Frankly --
LEMON: So Ken, with all due respect the question was -- the question was.
CUCCINELLI: -- it would be nice to see that.
LEMON: The question was is there a disconnect between him and his advisers? I appreciate you touting what the President could be doing.
CUCCINELLI: They don't agree on everything, but they are never going to. But their advisers and he is the decider, so they -- it sounds like if the introduction was accurate that they're convincing him to slow down the time table. But he is still set a hard goal. And I think it's a good goal for America.
LEMON: All right. Great, thank you for answering the question. Go ahead see Evan.
EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He also promised on the campaign trail that he wasn't going to set deadlines and publicly telegraph them to the enemy and that is exactly what he has done here.
LEMON: He criticized President Obama for doing that.
MCMULLIN: He criticized all kind of leaders for setting time tables and time lines for withdrawals. I also agree that that is a mistake, but that is exactly what he has done here. But look, he is the decider, he is the Commander-in-Chief. All that is fine and dandy. But there's got to be some expertise at the table. And the reality is that President Trump is an ignoramus on national security issues. He proves it every day. And he is not listening to people who have decades of experience.
The truth is, that if we pull out of Syria, we only have 2,000 troops there about. If we pull out in six months, you are basically ceding Syria even more so to Iran, even more so to Russia, even more so to Bashar al-Assad and you're putting Israel's security at risk. You're putting our own security interests at risk. You're increasing the -- the strong likelihood, the refugee flows are going to -- also increase into Europe to further destabilizing politics there. I mean, look, he is the Commander-in-Chief, but he has responsibility to make wise decisions too. And he can't do it without expertise that he doesn't have, but his advisers do.
LEMON: OK. Gosh who do I go to next? I go to Sam or Ken, because she is nodding head yes, he's nodding his head no.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think we are just conflating two different things here. One is President Trump should have policy views.
VINOGRAD: And it's correct that he has wanted to withdraw foreign forces from overseas. But we're reading way too much into this. His statements about drawing down in Syria last week and earlier this week were a result of him waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I heard from multiple sources that he is angry with the Saudis and other Arab countries for not doing more. OK, but that is when you go to your National Security team and have a meeting. You talk to your Intelligence Community and you say, OK, how can we get these guys to do more?
You don't go in front of the press, make a statement that no one on your team has coordinated on and turn your National Security Team into a cleanup squad that wipes up your messes rather than actually doing any work. Use the situation room. Have a meeting and listen to your experts.
LEMON: That was the answer to the question that I asked you at first, Ken, was there a disconnect? So thank you for answering that Sam, look --
VINOGRAD: I am here to help, Don. I am here to help.
[23:05:00] LEMON: Why are you shaking your head though to this, Ken?
CUCCINELLI: Well, I'm shaking my head no to your comment about me answering the question. And look, some of what I've heard here I agree with. But he set the marker. And whether he was cranky when he set the marker and whether he was more public in his predecessor in setting the marker. He has set the marker. And it's consistent with what he said in the campaign. He isn't telling anybody anything new except for the time line comment that Evan mentioned and the President did criticize time lines by President Obama.
I think that was public and it shouldn't have been. But he set that marker with his own team. Look, guys I'm going to compromise with you on how we do this, but I'm going to keep the goal. And I think that is where they are right now. That could change. That could evolve, but he is setting the tone and he is setting it consistent now with how he ran which isn't what happened in Afghanistan.
LEMON: That is all well and good. Listen. And the president -- that is his prerogative to do that, but just, I think, Sam is right on this point. It shouldn't surprise anyone or his National Security Team or any of his advisers or any of his press people, communications people, by saying something that they hadn't heard about, hadn't discussed, hasn't been, you know, meted out to everyone in the administration or at least people who should know. And that catches people off guard, least of which is the American people, I mean, do you double with that?
CUCCINELLI: Well we're talking about that like its new. I don't really disagree with that, but I will say --
VINOGRAD: Right, but he did it again today with the deployment to the southern border didn't he, Ken?
CUCCINELLI: -- that this is part of -- excuse me, this is part of how he has operated. And then they -- then they adjust if they want to adjust going forward. The introductory comments about the National Guard troops, he stated a concept -- I don't think they know a number. Because I don't think they yet know how many they can deploy consistent with both their budget and the law.
CUCCINELLI: But he said what he is going to do. And he is already doing it. They're talking about the possibility of troops start showing up in days.
LEMON: Even, shouldn't that they have figure that out though, because it's about time. It's about time.
CUCCINELLI: Maybe it's --
LEMON: I'll give you that, whatever. Because President Bush did it. President Obama also did it in a limited way. They also sort of -- they also told people what they were going to do. They told people it wasn't going to be permanent. That the people weren't like standing there armed -- arm in arm linked as if they are in some, you know, enemy territory. So it's a different situation. But, I mean, Evan shouldn't they have figured all of this out or he have figured this out before he stood in front of people saying, oh we're going to put the military out on the border?
MCMULLIN: Well, of course he should have -- this is the way President Trump has operated, even since his candidacy. I remember hearing from some of his policy team that they would sit and wait for the President, the candidate at the time to make some statement off the cuff that would usually be outside of what any expert would advise. And then they would go try to back fill and explain that policy and to try to demonstrate that it was indeed a reasonable policy.
Yes, that works as a candidate, I guess to some degree rhetorically it works. But when you're the Commander-in-Chief and when you are leading a country like ours, when you should be the leader of the free world, your words matter. And when you speak it has got to matter. And you got to have gone through a process beforehand.
But, Don, I'll tell you that I think the underlying, or one of the underlying problems here is that the President seems to have this idea that our engagement -- that America's leadership in the world and engagement in the world is costing us in the macro sense. That we are on the losing end of this. That we were being taken advantage of when we lead in the world. When in reality our leadership since the Second World War has enriched and empowered this nation greatly and I believe more than that served the interests of the world, but most importantly ours. He seems to not buy that. he thinks we are being cheated when we are not and that's causing him in part to be angry at allies and our partners and wanted to do things that are not in our interest, such as, pull out of Syria before it's time.
LEMON: Yes. Well, that is more in his head. And that is an indication of how the President as you said -- that is an indication about how the President feels about everything that everyone is being taken advantage of, and you would wonder, do we live in the greatest country on earth, if you listen to some of the rhetoric? What do you hearing about this, Sam, specifically about what's happening on the border? VINOGRAD: Well, what I am hearing is that again, this was not a
carefully coordinated policy rollout. And -- look, President Bush, President Obama, made the decision after a process. They consulted with DHS, they consulted with DOD. There was a mission identified and then resources were allocate against the mission. What I'm hearing is the President is angry that no one will pay for his wall. Remember, he tweeted about Mexico, then tweeted about the Democrats, then he tweeted about the military funding the wall and then coincidentally --
CUCCINELLI: Not sure where it comes from.
VINOGRAD: -- coincidentally we hear that we are sending National Guard into the border for some undefined mission. So I would just like to ask Sara Sanders or the President was there a meeting in the situation room about this? Did anyone actually talk to each other before the President said this a few days ago or was it again, the team trying to wipe up his mess?
[23:10:12] LEMON: Yes, so ken, you said you agree with all of that, because the President is upset about a number of different things, but, I mean, --
CUCCINELLI: I think that is where -- I think that is definitely where it came from. This began -- this began with the saying.
LEMON: Should we be mad at himself for -- hold on, let me get the question I promise I will let you respond.
LEMON: Should he be mad at himself for promising the American people that Mexico would pay for this wall and now the American people are being made to either -- to pay for the wall, if they decide to do that? Or at the wrath of his anger? Over not being able to get it done.
CUCCINELLI: First of all, the -- the multiple efforts he has made to pursue American funding of the wall make -- make that not new. He is willing to pay for it whatever he said.
LEMON: It is new he said Mexico was going to pay for the wall.
CUCCINELLI: I remember, I was there, Don, I mean, but we've seen since at least September, he has been willing to and demanding of congress to fund this. So.
LEMON: That wasn't the campaign promise.
CUCCINELLI: I agree. I'm not arguing with you on that.
CUCCINELLI: But look, the National Guard piece, I think, began -- is rooted in the failure of congress to address immigration, as President Trump wanted it, when DACA was live and the omnibus was floating and immigration was possibly wrapped up in that. And when absolutely nothing happened combined with a couple of district Judges essentially ordering this President to obey the last President's Executive Order, then he started to get really angry. We saw these weekend tweets. And here this is the outcome of it even if we don't know the number -- I think it's a good idea to put National Guard on the border, I think it's about time.
LEMON: Ken, can I ask you a question, honestly. OK, so listen.
CUCCINELLI: Everything I say is honestly, Don.
LEMON: No, I said, I'm going to ask you an honest question. He said -- Mexico is going to pay for the wall over and over and over again. The American people wouldn't have to worry about it. The Mexico is not going to pay for the wall. And then now he is upset, because Mexico won't pay for the wall. He ended DACA, he is blaming the Democrats. He has got a Republican House, he's got a Republican Congress and he is a Republican President, sitting in the White House. Shouldn't he be mad at himself?
CUCCINELLI: No, but I think he should be mad at the other Republicans. Of course he can't get 60 votes in the -- in the senate there is only 51 Republicans. And that counts people like Lisa Murkowski and Mitch McConnell is always being on board with the president.
LEMON: OK. Stop right there.
CUCCINELLI: If there is a chance to solve this.
LEMON: If he reached out to Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and in Congress, don't you think -- instead of just appealing to his base, don't you think he may have been able to get some of this done? And he wouldn't be so angry, he wouldn't have to angry tweet.
CUCCINELLI: I think he could have gotten some of this done if he vetoed the omnibus, but he didn't signed it and said I don't like this and I'll never do it again.
VINOGRAD: Why is it always someone else?
MCMULLIN: Let me just -- let me just jump in on this --
CUCCINELLI: He should have vetoed that bill that was his leverage. And he didn't do it.
LEMON: OK. Go ahead.
MCMULLIN: look, the Republicans in Congress have had a hard time -- in fact they failed to do immigration reform for years. All right. There was an effort to do it years ago and it failed. And then in the last few years, even before Trump became President there was another sort of silent -- or private effort to try to get it going again. That failed too. There is a reason why Republicans can't do immigration reform. And that is because there is part of the base has become anti-immigration, has become xenophobic and nativist. Trump has made that worst not better, since he came on the national stage as a candidate and now as President. So it is -- he has made that worse. It's not -- it's not the Democrats. And it is the Republicans in congress. But it's also his doing.
LEMON: Yes. OK. I'm overtime. Sam, go ahead, finish up for me. Last word.
VINOGRAD: Why are we conflating immigration and lack of progress with sending National Guardsman's to the southern border? I mean, are they there to actually solve a problem? Or again, is the President just angry and sending perhaps thousands of people down to the border for no reason.
LEMON: Well, -- where is my little chart? I had it here. Look -- see this border crossings look how much they are down.
LEMON: Since 2001 it started back in 2001.
VINOGRAD: What is the mission they're going to do?
LEMON: Under Bush -- under Obama and guess what, my fact check says the drugs that are coming over, they don't come over the wall. They come through entry points and they come by airplane, they come by boat, they come by car. They don't come -- and then over the wall -- you know they throw it over? Shoot it over --
MCMULLIN: Fax, fax through tunnels. It doesn't really matter when you're a populist.
LEMON: It doesn't matter and you -- we're going to spend billions of dollars on a wall that is really going to do nothing. OK. Thank you all.
VINOGRAD: Good night.
MCMULLIN: Good talk.
[23:15:00] LEMON: Good night. When we come back, think you've heard the last of Stormy Daniels. Think again. In a CNN exclusive, the porn star's original attorney explains why he thinks the whole truth has not yet been told.
LEMON: A CNN exclusive, the attorney who represented porn star Stormy Daniels and Playmate Karen McDougal in deals that buried their stories of alleged sexual encounters with Donald Trump, now says the whole truth has not been told. CNN's Sara Sidner sat down with Attorney Keith Davidson.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, Keith Davidson talked to us about whether he believes his clients did have affairs with Donald Trump and he talked about the numerous times he had conversation with Michael Cohen, that's Donald Trump's personal attorney. It turns out those conversations continued even after he stopped representing both of the women.
SIDNER: Keith Davidson calls it up coincidence that just before the Presidential election, he was involved in the deals for not one, but two women who claim to have had affairs with Donald Trump, effectively keeping their stories secret.
Do you believe what Stormy Daniels said about the sexual encounter with Mr. Trump?
KEITH DAVIDSON, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DANIELS AND MCDOUGAL: You know, I believe my client.
SIDNER: And Karen McDougal.
SIDNER: For the first time Davidson is speaking exclusively to CNN, saying he is constrained by attorney client privilege, but still giving new details about how the deals came about.
[23:20:00] Stormy Daniels' confidentiality deal signed just days before the election started with a phone call from Donald Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen.
And Michael Cohen calls you up and says what? About Stormy Daniels?
DAVIDSON: He says, I'm hearing rumblings out there that -- you know the press is poking around about Stormy Daniels. Do you have any information on that?
SIDNER: Did you at the time?
SIDNER: So what did you say back?
DAVIDSON: I'll call you back.
SIDNER: And what happened in between that time?
DAVIDSON: Well, that is where really the communications, you know, get in between my client and I and what I can and can't disclose and everything else.
SIDNER: Do you see how the phone call from Michael Cohen might seem nefarious and the fact that he called you?
DAVIDSON: No, quite frankly I really don't. You know, Mr. Cohen and I had a discussion in 2011. There was a website, the posted story about Miss Daniels in 2011. I did used my best efforts to get that story taken down in pursue to my client's wishes. We were successful in doing that. And five years later the story percolates up again. I think, it completely natural phone call for anyone to make in Mr. Cohen's position to circle back and say have circumstances changed? That was really what it was, it was an inquiry.
SIDNER: That inquiry led to Daniels signing an agreements not to talk about the affair in exchange for $130,000.
Can you tell me about the payment? Did Michael Cohen ever indicate to you that he was paying this $130 thousand for Stormy Daniels out of his own personal finances?
SIDNER: And back then did he say to you, look I'm having to take a loan out on my house to get this done?
DAVIDSON: That was never any conversation about that.
SIDNER: And it was one of a number of contacts between Cohen and Davidson. A few weeks earlier, Davidson says he himself reached out to Cohen after brokering an agreement between Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, who sold the rights to her story to AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer for $150,000.
DAVIDSON: I think, I called him as a professional courtesy to let him know that a matter was resolved. And that as professional courtesy it may or may not have involved his client.
SIDNER: Was he involved in the deal at all?
DAVIDSON: Certainly wasn't involved on our end. And there is no basis for me to believe that he was involved or had any communication with AMI.
SIDNER: Do you see why Karen McDougal and her now current representation might construe that as a conspiracy behind her back that there is something else going on that Michael Cohen was behind all this being a puppet master, if you will?
DAVIDSON: Well I think generally speaking, I mean, a conspiracy would have to involve an act that would take place before. And that simply wasn't the case. My conversation with Michael Cohen took place after Miss McDougal had already solidified the deal with AMI.
SIDNER: David says he and Cohen met in person this year more than once to discuss potential violations of the non-disclosure contract.
Have you spoke ton Michael Cohen since?
SIDNER: And what did he say to you?
DAVIDSON: The last conversation I had with Michael Cohen, he -- he called to offer his opinion as to whether or not Miss Daniels and Miss McDougal had breached the attorney client privilege and there by waived it. It was his assertion that each of them had. And he was encouraging me and informing me as to his opinion that they -- they in fact had waived the attorney client privilege and he suggested that it would be appropriate for me to go out into the media and spill my guts.
SIDNER: Are you here at the behest of Michael Cohen.
DAVIDSON: No. No. No, not in any way shape or form.
SIDNER: Davidson was evenly fired by both women, who then hired new attorneys and filed suit to get out of their deals.
Why are you here?
DAVIDSON: You know, there's been certain things that have been you know written and said. And I'd like the truth to come out to the extent that I can assist in that endeavor that is really why I'm here.
SIDNER: Is the whole truth out? Yet?
DAVIDSON: No, I don't believe so. I think most of it. Not the whole truth.
SIDNER: Stormy Daniels' current attorney Michael Avenatti had this to say about the comments Davidson made saying Mr. Davidson should not be making any comment to the press relating to a matter or a client that is terminated him, including Miss Daniels.
He said with all that said obviously the facts of the case and all of them still have not come out. Something that he has said for weeks now. As for Mr. Cohen, he has not made any comment on the story. Don.
LEMON: Sarah, thank you very much. And you just heard Keith Davidson talk about several conversations he had with Michael Cohen.
[23:25:00] When we come back could either Stormy Daniels or Karen McDougal use those conversations in their suits?
LEMON: A strange twist tonight as we just saw the former lawyer for Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, now speaking out. I want to talk about this with CNN legal analyst, Areva Martin, the author of "Make it rain." Also defense attorney, Joe Tacopina, is here.
Thanks for dressing up, Joe. I appreciate that.
JOE TACOPINA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: After 11:00 no ties.
LEMON: So, listen, we just heard from Sara Sidner, Joe, who spoke with Keith Davidson, the former attorney who broker the hush deals between president -- the president and both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. What stood out to you in that interview?
TACOPINA: That Michael Cohen once again seems to have skipped a day of law school, the day where they said what attorney client privilege really means. I mean, the fact that he actually reached out to this lawyer and suggested that this lawyer go on national TV and the media and spill his guts about everything he learned from his clients, because somehow he claims his clients broke the attorney client privilege when they went public with their stories. One has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Fortunately, Davidson went and got advice from an ethics lawyers, OK, which clearly Cohen is not, and was told that's ridiculous, you do that, you're going to have real legal problems.
But the fact that Cohen is out there trying to get this lawyer to break an attorney-client privilege is now going to become fodder for additional filings in this case. It just never ended.
LEMON: Go ahead, Areva. What do you think?
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's kind of ridiculous. Cohen knows nothing about California law. He is telling this guy to do something that can potentially get him disbarred. And we know from this attorney's record, he has already had some issues with the California state bar.
Fortunately, as Joe said, he didn't take this advice. The clients didn't waive their privilege. The privilege belongs to the client. Only the client has the power to allow the lawyer to speak publicly about their case. And clearly in this case, they have not given him the authority to do so.
And I was concerned even listening to that interview, thinking he was getting dangerously close to violating the privilege. And we may see Stormy Daniels's lawyer file a complaint with the state bar, file something with the court, you know, making the accusation that Davidson is violating that privilege.
I don't see any gain for Davidson in this case. He can't tell anything that was said to him in confidence by this client. So I don't see what he is gaining other than getting himself potentially in trouble with the state bar.
LEMON: So Stormy Daniels's current attorney --
TACOPINA: Areva --
LEMON: Quick, Joe, because I want to get the sound bite in. Go ahead.
TACOPINA: Go ahead, Don.
LEMON: OK. So her current attorney who is Michael Avenatti, he spoke to Anderson just a few hours ago, and had some choice words about this guy. Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I've been very careful in what I've said about Keith Davidson, Anderson, over the last few weeks. But I'm going to say this. Keith Davidson is an absolute tool. He is an absolute tool. I'm going to say it on national television tonight. Because what he has done by giving this interview is really unheard of in the legal profession.
For him to go out and comment on two matters, one for McDougal and one for my client, after he was terminated in both cases, all in an effort I guess to get his name out there or his face on television is really outrageous. And it's unethical. There is going to be serious consequences that result from it. I'm shocked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Joe, what do you think?
TACOPINA: Well, I'm going to say what I was about to say before then but this time with a little more juice. I disagree with that statement completely. Yes, it's unorthodox that he went out there and spoke.
But understand this guy has been assailed, assailed without being able to respond, and he still can't respond. And if you look at what he said on that interview, I watched it and I read it, he didn't violate any privileges. All he simply said was, I believe my clients. He said there are other things no one knows about. He talked about what Cohen did. He talked about what Cohen said.
I don't think -- he certainly didn't harm both McDougal and Daniels. He said he credited their stories. So I don't know what the big brouhaha is. But don't forget, this guy has been beaten and called incompetent and called a tool and all these other things. You know, it's almost unfair to attack him because he can't tell his side of the story at this point of the proceeding. So --
MARTIN: I disagree with you, Joe. You can't take the heat, you know, stay out of the kitchen. He knew what he signed up for as a lawyer. We all sign up for the same thing as attorneys. We agree to keep the confidences of our clients. We don't get to go out and spill the beans just because our clients call us nasty names. How many times have our clients assailed us?
TACOPINA: But he did it.
MARTIN: It happens all the time in this business. So you don't get to go out on the attack to protect your reputation if it means --
TACOPINA: He didn't though.
MARTIN: -- getting dangerously close to violating the attorney-client privilege.
TACOPINA: But where, Areva, cite where in that interview he violated the attorney-client privilege? What one word -- MARTIN: No, I didn't say he -- listen to what I said. I said he is dangerously close and there is nothing he can say of substance without violating it. So all he does is get to come on TV and say, I can't tell you anything. That's all he can say. And I think there is no value in that. And he can't protect his reputation.
TACOPINA: I agree with you, Areva. I wouldn't do it, you wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it, you wouldn't it. But he is being assailed, so, look, he didn't violate. In my opinion, he didn't violate --
MARTIN: He is a big boy, grown up, you know.
LEMON: Got to go.
MARTIN: Put your big boy pants on and take it. That's what we signed up for as lawyers.
TACOPINA: He just wants to punch back. He just wants to punch back with his big boy pants.
MARTIN: Do it when the bar calls him.
LEMON: Oh, my gosh. You too.
MARTIN: When the state bar comes and knocking, he will have a chance to strike back.
LEMON: You know what people say -- look, when people say get a room, you two get a show, OK?
LEMON: We'll be right back.
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So the White House is making it clear today that President Trump is not OK with the deal EPA Chief Scott Pruitt got to rent a cut-rate condo from a couple of lobbyists. Let's discuss now. Richard Painter is a former White House ethics lawyer, and CNN political commentators, Amanda Carpenter and Scott Jennings.
Good evening to all of you. Good to have you on.
Richard, I want to start with you being that you know ethics, OK? EPA Chief Scott Pruitt broiled in multiple controversies, most notably the rental agreement he signed with two lobbyists for $50 a night. CNN is learning tonight that the EPA top ethics watchdog is clarifying his analysis from last week which appeared to clear Pruitt of wrongdoing.
He is now saying he didn't have all the facts when evaluating the lease, according to a memo obtained by the campaign legal center. So his conclusion was based on the assumption that Pruitt followed the lease terms as written. In case Pruitt is watching, I mean, do you want to give him a little guidance on this?
RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: Well, what happens from time to time is that people go get the ethics opinion from the ethics lawyer and they give the ethics lawyer about half the facts. And if the ethics lawyer doesn't bother to go ask and find out the other half of the facts, there is a rush to an opinion. And then that's used to justify all sorts of stuff. You know, that's what happened here. This is basic though.
[23:40:00] We don't need -- it's not rocket science. Fifty dollars a night for a room in Washington, D.C. That is a steal. Nobody is going to find a room for 50 bucks a night. Middle class family goes to Washington D.C. They want to find a two-star hotel, maybe $200 if they're lucky. The foreign governments, they got to pay $500 or $600 a night over at the Trump Hotel so they can get the president's emoluments.
But the bottom line is nobody can get 50 bucks a night for a room or a condo in the Washington, D.C. unless you are an administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and it's an energy lobbyist's wife and the ethics lawyer is either asleep or somebody lied to the ethics lawyer. It's that simple.
LEMON: All right.
PAINTER: And he should be fired for this. This is unacceptable. Never would have happened -- I never saw that kind of thing in the Bush White House.
LEMON: Well, the White House was asked about the EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, and his apartment deal today. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president have confidence in the EPA administrator at this point?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president thinks that he is doing a good job particularly on the deregulation front. But again, we take this seriously and we're looking into it. And we'll let you know when we're finished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Scott, Richard just said he should be fired. When you hear that, you thinking fire Friday? Or fire day as we call it? Is Pruitt gone by the end of the week?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, I don't think so. I think as the press secretary there said, the president must be happy with what Scott Pruitt is doing with the EPA because he has been one of the most effective cabinet officers, rolling back the Obama regulatory regime. 2 This is the core difference, I think, between Pruitt and say Shulkin at the V.A. Pruitt actually delivered results to the Trump White House whereas Shulkin was failing at the V.A. So, I think the president has to weigh the effectiveness of Pruitt versus the optics of this. I don't think -- no one has been found to have done anything illegal or unethical here.
Richard has accused him of this. I think there is going to be unfolding -- White House investigation. But nobody has ultimately concluded he has done anything wrong no matter how bad the optics were.
LEMON: Scott -- Scott. Hold on, Amanda. Scott, do you have a monitor there because -- I mean Amanda's mouth was like, just, it hit the floor when you said that. Go ahead, Amanda.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, like, here, OK, I worked in government probably under the rules that rich helped craft. Ethics rules are not hard to follow. Basically you cannot accept any gifts or favors and you cannot misuse taxpayer resources for personal or political purposes.
This isn't just a Scott Pruitt problem. Remember, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned because he had a plane problem. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went on date night with his wife to go visit and kiss his money on the eclipse day. And that's never been fully investigated.
I mean this keeps happening and the fact that Pruitt thought that he can get $50 a night rental from his buddy, and then go to Italy earlier this year -- go tour the Vatican with high-end security detail on the promise of like, I'm stopping at a conference for five minutes. None of this passes the smell test.
And it happens system-wide. There has been Kellyanne Conway violating the Hatch Act. It's just frustrating, like, during the confirmation hearings, it came out that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney didn't pay his nanny tax. Nothing happened. I'm still mad about that one. But I had a nanny, I paid my taxes.
And so why is it that I have to pay my taxes to go -- you know, to have them sent to Washington so people can go on these high-end trips and not apologize for it. I mean, I don't care if it's Republican or Democrat. This isn't hard.
And to say here that they didn't -- there is no ethics violation, there plainly is all over the place. What makes it somewhat acceptable is that we can't keep track of it because Trump can't get a hold of it.
LEMON: Well, maybe you should go work for the administration.
CARPENTER: I would be a good ethics czar.
LEMON: Well then you wouldn't have to pay your nanny tax, you know, so --
CARPENTER: Nobody would have any fun.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, Richard, Scott Pruitt is also pushing back against the assertion that he bypassed the White House and granted raises (INAUDIBLE) loophole, by the way, totaling $80,000. Here he is on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED HENRY, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS: If you're committed to the Trump agenda, why did you go around the president and the White House to get pay raises to two staffers --
SCOTT PRUITT, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: I did not. My staff did and I found out about that yesterday and I changed it.
HENRY: Somebody fired over it?
PRUITT: That should not have been done.
HENRY: So who did it?
PRUITT: There will be some accountability on that.
HENRY: A career person or political person?
PRUITT: I don't know.
HENRY: You don't know? You run the agency. You don't know who did this?
PRUITT: I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: He is blaming staff. Do you believe him, Richard?
PAINTER: No. People do that all the time. When there is a screw up, they blame their staff. But we know where he is coming from. Quite frankly, back to this lobbyist, what he is doing is deregulating the -- a lot of the environmental regulations that the energy industry wants deregulated.
He is doing what the lobbyist wants. And that's the rest of the rent. It's $50 plus the deregulation that the White House praises him for, that the energy lobbyist wants.
[23:45:00] And so he runs the environmental pollution agency. That's what he is turning it into. We got to face facts here. This is about a lot more than just nanny taxes.
LEMON: I got it.
PAINTER: We're not just talking about dotting the I's and crossing the T's. It's corruption and it's destroying our government and he's destroying our environment in the process.
LEMON: I'll give you the the last words. Scott, quickly, please, if you will.
JENNINGS: Yes, look, I mean I think that's a bridge too far. He is not doing what lobbyist wants. He is doing what Donald Trump wants. He is doing what Donald Trump ran on. And I'm not going to decline or deny. Sorry that this stuff looks terrible. It does look terrible. And it does need to be fully investigated.
JENNINGS: But at the end of the day, he has done more, I think, for Trump than Shulkin did which is why I think he has a longer leash right now.
LEMON: Out of time. Thank you all. We'll be right back.
LEMON: Americans across the nation today honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. A large crowd gathering at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, that's the site of the slain, for a day of prayer, remembrance and tributes.
Reverend Dr. William Barber calling on Americans to continue Dr. King's fight for equality and justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARBER, PRESIDENT, REPAIRERS OF THE BREACH: Before he ever said anything about the mountaintop, he said we must give ourselves to this struggle because nothing would be more tragic than for us to turn back now.
[23:50:06] He said that we must rise up with the greater readiness, and what he said then is what we must do now because you dishonor the movement and dishonor a prophet if you just remember the prophet without having a revival of the movement that the prophet stood for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Reverend Dr. William Barber joins me now. Dr. Barber, thank you so much. You gave a powerful speech this morning in Memphis. It was a call to action. You honored Dr. King's last speech on the eve of his assassination by saying nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now. Tell me about that.
BARBER: Well, Don, I really believe that we've got to be careful that we don't have consecrations without re-commitment, remembrances without revival. Oftentimes we name these speeches like "I have a dream," whether it was 17 minutes about the nightmare before he talked about the dream.
We say the mountaintop speech, but before that, he was talking about racism. He actually said the nation is sick. When we look at today, 50 years later, we have a voting rights act that's been gutted for 1,745 days. The Congress has refused to fix it. That's systemic racism.
And then when you add to that, 140 million are working poor people in this country, 14 million children in poverty, 37 million people without health care, 160,000 people die every year from (INAUDIBLE), ecological devastation where you go in a city and buy unleaded gas and can't buy unleaded water, 63 cents of every discretionary dollar being given to the military and to war.
And then this false Christian nationalism that says if you hate gay people and you're against abortion and you're for prayer in the school and gun rights and you're for tax cuts, then you're engaging in the Christian position when in fact the deepest moral positions tell us we ought to be concerned about the stranger, the immigrant, and the least of these.
In this time, we dishonor Dr. King, Don, if we do not rekindle the poor people's campaign and bring together people black, white, brown, red, yellow and all different colors to deal with these five interlocking injustices that are still with us.
LEMON: There is so much going on right now in this day and age. People feeling divided and marching on the streets. You know, there was thousands gathered today. It wasn't a protest, but it was a march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. Tell me what it was like, Dr. Barber.
BARBER: Well, I actually was humbled to be asked to speak from the balcony this evening where he fell, and it was poignant. It was powerful. It was penetrating. Actually, you know, I kind of went inside and teared up to think 50 years later we have to deal with these issues. But then as a Christian perspective, we learn there's power in the blood.
And that what you should do for a prophet or prophetic movement is reach down in the blood, pick up the baton, and carry it the next mile of the way. I believe America is in the middle of a third reconstruction. The southern strategy was designed to last 50 years. This is the 50th year.
It produced Donald Trump, but now we're seeing these birth pains of a third reconstruction. When I go to Kentucky and West Virginia with white people there and black people in Alabama who are joining the poor people's campaign, I'm with people in Chicago who are building, I see the possibility of us having a season, a season of non-violent moral fusion resistance, a season of massive voter mobilization, and a season of poor people being empowered from the bottom up that can begin to shift the narrative.
If we can shift this narrative, Don, and not just talk about this on a king day or on a king remembrance, but put it before the nation's mind and conscience so that never again will we have a presidential election where we have 26 debates and not one hour on poverty, not one hour on the voting rights. We can begin to turn this nation, but we must shift the narrative, and that's what we're going to be committed to starting mother's day of this year.
LEMON: Let me ask you this since you're talking about that. You are the co-chair of the poor people's campaign. It's a national call for moral revival, which you've been speaking about just a second ago. This is work that Dr. King started, but it really sort of fell apart after he was gunned down, and you've picked up where he left off. Tell me about this campaign and tell me what your goals are.
BARBER: Well, on April the 10th, we are releasing a study called "The Souls of Poor Folk," auditing America 50 years later, to make sure America knows what Dr. King said. We have legitimate discontent.
For two years under the radar we've been going around organizing people in 39 states now, almost 40, where we have poor person, clergy, and an advocate who are pulling people together that are going to do simultaneous, non-violent, moral, direct action in 30 states and the district of Columbia, putting our bodies on the line.
[23:55:11] Also they will be doing massive voter mobilization. This is a launch, Don, not an ending. We are launching this campaign because we have a moral malady and such a moral deficit in this country right now that we have to reshape this narrative. You know, since Dr. King, we had the defunding of the war on poverty, we had a diminishing narrative, and we've had a deconstruction of voting rights.
When you put those three things together, you end up with what we have now, a broken democracy. But it's not that it can't be fixed. So people are joining from everywhere. We have people from the Apache nation in Arizona to El Paso, Texas, to New York, to California.
And it's people who have decided, Don, we're not going to just be mad and depressed. But we're going to stand together and put our bodies on the line to drive this narrative and to change the direction of the nation. Dr. King was killed trying to do it. We would dishonor him not trying to live and finish it.
LEMON: I know that you live your life by helping the least of these. I know the collar around your neck says, Jesus was a poor man. I think it's important for folks to remember that. Dr. Barber, much appreciate it. Thank you so much.
BARBER: Thank you so much. God bless you. Take care.
LEMON: You as well. Thank you.
That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.
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