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CNN TONIGHT

Steve Bannon Trying to Get President Trump's Attention; Campaign Controversy Relive Again. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: At a moment of crisis in this country, as the Washington Post reports Bannon is pushing a plan to cripple the Mueller investigation starting by firing Rod Rosenstein but going way beyond that, as the president's own party fears it could lose control of the House come November giving Democrats an opening to start impeachment proceedings.

As President Trump weighs a possibility of a missile strike on Syria, one that could come at any time, and as a president taunts Russia, tweeting that "missiles will be coming." Even as multiple officials insist no decision has been made.

In the midst of all that, the Access Hollywood scandal is back, sources telling CNN that FBI agents who raided the home, the office, and the hotel of Trump attorney Michael Cohen were looking for communications between Trump and Cohen over the infamous Access Hollywood tape, the tape that caught Trump saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. Grab them by the (muted). You can do anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So sources are telling CNN that this is the first time the president has been directly mentioned in the search warrant. That warrant the first sign that investigators suspect there may have been an effort to suppress the Access Hollywood tape.

Why are investigators focused on that tape? Let's consider what we do know. OK? The tape was released just one month before the election, one month before the election, on October 7th of 2016. On that same day, at 3.30 p.m. Eastern Time, the Obama administration broke its silence and blamed Russia for hacking the Democratic National Committee.

Just about a half hour later at 4.03 p.m. Eastern Time, the campaign was shaken as the Access Hollywood tape was released. That was followed just 27 minutes later by the WikiLeaks release of the first hacked e-mails from Clinton, the Clinton campaign, per Chairman John Podesta. Was it a coincidence those three things happened within one hour? We don't know. But add that to the list of unanswered questions in this

investigation. And one thing we do know, this president is facing multiple crises inside the White House and around the world.

Time to discuss now. I want to bring in CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN political analyst Ryan Lizza, CNN contributor, Frank Bruni of the New York Times. Good evening, one and all. Thank you for joining us.

Dana, lots to discuss. Tonight, the Washington Post, they're reporting that this is jaw-dropping, actually. That Steve Bannon rears his head now, pitching a plan to shut down the Mueller probe, starting with firing Rod Rosenstein. What do you know about that?

DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Bannon, himself, spoke to the Washington Post to kind of put some meat on the bones of this plan that hatching. The fact that he spoke to the Washington Post and gave this indication is a real indicator of a couple things.

Number one, that he likely is having some trouble getting to the guy at the top who he used to serve, you know, very closely with, and that is the president of the United States, but also that he understands President Trump so incredibly well, because that he's telegraphing probably exactly what President Trump wants to hear right now.

That there is somebody out there who gets his anger, who gets his rage, and is fueling that, is very indicative of kind of not just his understanding, his, meaning, Steve Bannon's understanding of Donald Trump but also perhaps his desire to kind of reconnect and rekindle that relationship.

LEMON: The question is, though, Frank, is the White House listening? Because, or is he preaching to the choir? Steve Bannon here. Because remember, he left the White House. President has been very critical of him. And as I understand, if anyone brings him up, he becomes sort of hostile, he doesn't want to even really hear his name.

FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Sure, but the president has banished or become estranged from people before that he's later, again, reconnected with. I think -- I think Dana hit the nail on the head.

Steve Bannon is going through the media, going through the Washington Post trying to get the attention of the president and other people in the White House whom he clearly can't get the direct attention of.

LEMON: He's not the only one.

BRUNI: He's not the only one. The question you know, is Trump listening? Trump tends to seek out opinions that validate what he's feeling and he tends to listen to those opinions, that's exactly what he wants to hear. He's angry right now. Steve Bannon understands the president's psychology. He's appealing to that anger and he's saying here's a path out, here's what to do with that anger.

I think if those words reach the president, he will like what he's hearing but he's got plenty of other people pushing back and saying other thing.

LEMON: Let's hope he's listening to the calm adult voices.

BRUNI: I'm with you on that.

LEMON: In the room. Ryan, let's bring you in. Yes, well, that is a good question. That's something we're going to talk about in this program as well.

[22:05:01] A lot of folks leaving the White House. John Kelly fears that he is, you know, really losing his momentum or his sense of power in the White House. Whether or not the White House is listening, what Bannon is saying is similar to what we hear from some of the president's allies and his supporters in the right-wing media. This is a message that has been out there and it's being amplified.

RYAN LIZZA, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Absolutely. I mean, Roger Stone who's probably been in and out of Trump's good graces more than any other adviser over the last few decades likes to say that Trump appreciates the advice from people he's not paying. Right? He tends to get very quickly frustrated with the people who he's paying who are around him. And he constantly goes back to these people who he's discarded.

So I absolutely agree that just because Bannon has been discarded and in a rather dramatic fashion, that doesn't mean he can't have another cycle in Trump's good graces. And Bannon who understands, if you ever talk to Bannon, he understands Trump psychologically quite well.

He is shrewd enough to understand that the thing that Trump -- the pickle that Trump is trying to get out of, o f course, is the Mueller investigation. So pitching to the Washington Post an idea like this is -- it will surely get the president's attention immediately, and if he -- if Trump hasn't called him already, I'm sure he's read the piece. So, Bannon knows what he's doing.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, 2016, the year that will live in infamy. I feel like we're reliving it all over again. Will we ever get past 2016?

BASH: No.

LEMON: Because we're talking about Bannon, Dana, we're talking about the Access Hollywood tape. I mean, this is on top of the stunning news involving the raid on Michael Cohen's office and his homes, we now know the FBI is looking for communications involving the president, himself.

Those warrants specifically reference the president and this is the first time that it's specifically referenced there, any known direct mention of the president in that search warrant and appeared in connection with the Access Hollywood tape. How big do you think this is?

BASH: Well, it's huge. I mean, let's just take a step back. The idea, the notion, of the feds going into the president's personal attorney's home or hotel where he's staying, in his office, and seizing any information is a big deal.

The fact that we now know, according to our Gloria Borger and Shimon Prokupecz, that there are documents that were seized that specifically reference Donald Trump, might have been obvious or might have been the thing that you would suppose to be the case.

But now it -- we have it confirmed from source who are familiar, not just that, as you mentioned, the Access Hollywood tape. The notion that the president and Michael Cohen were talking about suppressing it, talking about trying to find a way to prevent it from coming out and the fact that this search warrant, or at least the execution of it, was included -- they were included in this Access Hollywood tape and the notion of them trying to stop it is really, really fascinating.

And the fact that the sources are saying that the warrant referenced the investigation into wire fraud and bank fraud, connecting that to trying to suppress Access Hollywood, not to mention the Stormy Daniels affair, the affair with Karen McDougal, I mean, this is all related potentially and you now know why the president is, frankly, going bonkers and is, perhaps, interested in and receptive to messages like Steve Bannon has given to the Washington Post.

LEMON: I have so many questions about this Access Hollywood tape and this whole thing because, I mean, I don't know, I don't understand why this would be so significant unless -- I tried to figure it out. I tried to call attorney friends. I'm not sure why. What's at stake for the president here? Why would they want to suppress--

BRUNI: Yes.

LEMON: -- that Access Hollywood tape? I mean, what could--

BRUNI: Well, I mean, it's impossible to answer right now because we have many more questions than answers. But Dana alluded to some of the things. There could have been some effort set into motion unsuccessful to suppress this that ran afoul of laws. There could be a campaign finance violation in here somewhere.

And then there's the question brought up by the timeline that you shown earlier -- showed earlier, was there some coordination with what we saw happen in terms of the Access Hollywood tape coming out and then moments later the WikiLeaks dump? What was going on there? And is it possible that what was going on there reflected a kind of coordination that, again, is squarely in the sort of thing that Robert Mueller's--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: My question came out wrong, I said why should we care so much whether they would -- it should have been why would we care so much if they would try to suppress? Because what, anybody try to suppress a tape like that?

BRUNI: Yes. But--

LEMON: Can we call his attorney and say I need you to stop this immediately, what's wrong with that?

[22:10:00] BRUNI: Are you doing here within the bounds of the law--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, that's -- I'm confused about this because if I had a personal attorney or a fixer and someone was trying to put something damaging out on me, Ryan, I would say, try to stop it.

LIZZA: There is a missing link here between what on the surface looked like, you know, maybe pushing the envelope, but arguably, what political fixers do for political candidates when they are in a pickle. Try and make negative stories go away.

There's a missing link between those acts that we know that Michael Cohen performed for the candidate Trump, and some crime that convinced the senior leadership of the Justice Department to go to the extraordinary measure of breaking attorney/client privilege and were heeding the president--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But what would that have to do with the fire fraud or bank fraud, Ryan?

LIZZA: I'm reading ignorance in saying--

LEMON: Unless it's some weird way money changed hands. I don't know.

LIZZA: There's some missing link between what seemed like envelope pushing but common political acts and what this warrant, obviously, convinced a lot of smart people was evidence of a pretty serious crime. Have to have probable cause to get this warrant signed off on.

LEMON: Because--

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: We just don't have that answer yet.

LEMON: We know that agents took a lot of Michael Cohen's, a lot of his things during the raid, his files, his cell phones. I mean, could there be something else there unrelated to Stormy that has the president worried and that has, you know, the FBI wanting to -- would seem that there's something beyond this, Dana.

BASH: There could be more than one something, there could be many things. You can't overstate how close Michael Cohen is to Donald Trump and has been for many years to Donald Trump. And how many sort of narratives, how many events that he could have had documented in what the fed seized that maybe some that they were going for and some that they didn't know that they were going to stumble on.

I mean, we just don't know, but the best guide to how potentially explosive this is the president, himself.

LEMON: Yes.

BASH: And the fact that he's going apoplectic over this.

LEMON: I'll give you the last word, Frank.

BRUNI: Yes. Well, I think what Dana said is key here. He's going apoplectic over there. He's really unnerved. He's really anxious right now. He's got a lot of big decisions in front of him and one has to worry, for example, how much is this crowding his mind, coloring his judgment as he decides what to do with Syria? You know, that's a big question. And there will be other matters of government he attends to in this state of mind that one has to worry he's going to attend to properly.

LEMON: Boy, every day there's something. It's so much you can't keep track.

BASH: Every five minutes.

LEMON: Every five minutes.

LIZZA: Every five minutes.

LEMON: Yes.

LIZZA: But look, if you're Mueller and you want to -- you think that Trump has done something wrong, who are the two people you want to flip? One is his campaign manager, two is his personal lawyer. And now he's got -- both of those people, one under indictment and now one whose offices--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And you want to squeeze a family member two or family members as well. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

When we come back--

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: -- the stunning on-the-record interview from ousted White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Can the man who Trump said lost his mind help save his boss?

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We've got some more breaking news tonight. Reports that Steve Bannon, the former chief strategist President Trump fired is pushing a plan to the West Wing aides to bring the Mueller investigation to a screeching halt, but will the president listen?

Let's discuss now with CNN contributor John Dean, former White House counsel to President Nixon, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, a former federal prosecutor. Good evening, and welcome. John, you first. The Washington Post reporting tonight that Steve

Bannon is behind the scenes pitching this plan to cripple the Mueller investigation by firing Rod Rosenstein. I mean, this is on top of our reporting that the president is considering firing him, himself. What's your reaction?

JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: My reaction was he's gone very public with what sounds an awful lot like a conspiracy to obstruct justice. When you read the details of what he is talking about, that's exactly what he's been planning to do and trying to encourage the White House to do. And I think he should get himself either a lawyer or zip his lip real quickly.

LEMON: Steve Bannon should?

DEAN: Yes.

LEMON: Laura, you're agreeing.

LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: You know, I am. And the reason so is because first of all, he was persona non grata when he left the White House and shortly thereafter. It seems like he's trying to elicit the good graces once again by talking about things the president seems to already wants to do.

But the reason he's been advised against, talking about Donald Trump, doing the things about obstruction, or trying to interfere or impede, or not speak or exert as he talks about executive privilege retroactively which is a shock to everyone is because it's not a productive or good strategy to actually employ here.

And so when he's asking for the president to do these things after he tried to do this, himself, and spoke with Congress, and tried to assert the privilege and did a consequence from it, that was Congress, not Mueller's team who give the consequence. It's not a good strategy for Trump to follow at all.

LEMON: So Bannon -- this is what he told the Washington Post, OK? "Ty Cobb should be fired immediately and Trump should argue he has been given poor counsel by his lawyers so far and stop cooperating." What do you think of that, John?

DEAN: Well, I think that there's no such thing as a retroactive--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I was going to say, exactly how does that work?

COATES: It doesn't.

DEAN: That is absolutely -- the cat is out of the bag and you cannot get it back in. In fact, executive privilege is rather weak, anyway. It's not a strong privilege. It's a qualified privilege as they say in the law. And it's only can only be invoked by the president.

And so this is long gone. This is history. And what Bannon is talking is absolutely nonsense. And Trump ought to know it, be told it, anyway.

LEMON: Bannon has been interviewed by the special counsel, himself, and he's also telling associates the president should assert what sounds like a blanket executive privilege. Right? And that interviews that the White House officials have done before are null and void. So that's a -- so beyond the retroactive he's saying a blanket executive privilege. Could that work, Laura?

[22:20:03] COATES: No, it couldn't. And what that would do essentially is try to have and pursue a strategy to make every single person whose interviews were given by Mueller increasingly suspect.

You see the whole premise of this investigation is to shed some light onto the issue. Any attempts to try to suffocate the truth, or silence it in some way, are viewed with additional skepticism by Mueller and his team.

The notes have already been taken. The avenues from what they found out have already been pursued and continue to be pursued.

It sounds like Steve Bannon is simply trying to get into the good graces of the president after a Twitter storm indicates he does not want to be cooperative.

But remember, there is a vested interest by Donald Trump and his team to cooperate with Robert Mueller, otherwise they risk having to go to the grand jury which means no counsel can be present to advise him or to give suggestions or to stop any line of questioning. He wants to be in the good graces of Mueller at least for the time being to say I will voluntarily cooperate. If he doesn't, the grand jury is not a happy place to be.

LEMON: It sounds to me like, you know, they're trying to figure out a way to shut the investigation down or wiggle around it. Probably the best outcome for them and the easiest one, John, is to let it take place and if you're innocent, you're innocent. And even if they -- let's just say something does happen, the president can survive an impeachment.

DEAN: Well, that's exactly right. The key person, obviously, at issue here, is the president, is Donald Trump. And he'd be smart to just sit back and let this play out and stay out of it because it looks like if he plays his politics smart, at least he can hold the Senate. And only the Senate can remove him.

That was the strategy once they got Bill Clinton in their sights. He knew the House was going to impeach and he also thought he had a good chance of winning in the Senate which he did, which was to retain his office.

So I think that's got to be the strategy here, and otherwise, a lot more people are going to get involved in conspiracies to obstruct justice and that was the deadly crime for most people that got involved in Watergate.

LEMON: Some top -- I'm reading from the Washington Post, some top advisers such as White House counsel Don McGahn are said to be alarmed by suggestions to fire Rosenstein or Mueller, worrying that such moves could prompt mass resignations at the justice in a constitutional crisis.

People said McGahn who has in the past threatened to step down if the president fired Mueller is widely seen within the West Wing as liable to resign if Rosenstein is fired. John, another question, I mean, you know, if you're the White House counsel, if you're Don McGahn and you know a little bit about this, yourself, what is life like right now for you?

DEAN: Well, it's not pleasant. You got to remember his client is not Donald Trump. His client is the office that Donald Trump holds. So he's got to really give him advice as to how to protect the office as well as himself, and because they're virtually one in the same. But he's got to also be careful not to get the West Wing into a conspiracy to obstruct justice and that's really exactly what Bannon is calling for.

LEMON: Yes. So, Laura, now on to the infamous Access Hollywood tape, I want to talk about this topic. The raid on Michael Cohen and what we have learned today that potentially illegal or criminal, something related to Michael Cohen and the president's Access Hollywood tape. What could that be?

COATES: Well, you know, it's hard to tell at this point in time what the correlation would be and the overall theme. What we're seeing from the reports about what the search warrant contained and the types of evidence they were trying to obtain during the search warrant and the raid, he had the electronic information, he had things related to Stormy Daniels, possibly a campaign finance pursuit here.

Maybe about the idea of suppressing information related to the presidency prior to going for the election 11 days before, and other things. The Access Hollywood tape, perhaps being about the timing of it.

Remember, the Access Hollywood tape was leaked on the same day just a few hours before the WikiLeaks information was also leaked about John Podesta and his e-mails. And so, I suspect if there is any theme to be found here, it's twofold, one is that the pattern of behavior to try to suppress information relates to the presidency and probably circumvent campaign finance laws.

And the second one being, is this another mere coincidence that the same day that you had this information happening that's disparaging to the then future president of the United States, you have this coordinated attack with WikiLeaks by all accounts--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Within one hour.

COATES: Within one hour. I think what Mueller's team is looking at is one coincidence enough to raise the specter here? No. But are 27, 30, 40, increasing numbers about that, is that enough? I think that is what we're seeing here.

That, and also, Don, it's not unheard of to have a very broad search warrant. Especially if you already have the notion from the judge to say, we're going to sign off, we're going to have the threshold level of even having an attorney's office raided.

You've gone above and beyond to show even more that the probable cause is just the base and not the ceiling here. I suspect they want to get everything they can related to a variety of issues.

[22:25:04] LEMON: So let's just say, John, that pretend that there are communications between Trump and his lawyer trying to prevent the release of the tape. I mean, would that be a crime as long as campaign funds weren't used to suppress it, would that be an issue?

DEAN: Well, it would depend upon the substance of the conversation. It could well be a conspiracy to defraud the United States. It only takes two to form a conspiracy. And we're also dealing with a very tough jurisdiction.

The southern district of New York, Don, is one of the toughest jurisdictions in the country. There are experienced prosecutors. There are lots of career people there. They march to a different tune than Washington. They have their own drummer there.

Got to remember that it was the southern district of New York that indicted a sitting attorney -- or a former attorney general, John Mitchell and another cabinet officer in the Nixon administration, Maurice Stans who was head of the interior department or excuse me, commerce department.

So this is a very tough jurisdiction that has its teeth into this issue, and they're going to play it out all the way, regardless of what happens to Mueller.

LEMON: Yes. This is the public corruption team that's doing this. That's pretty serious. Thank you. I appreciate it, both of you.

COATES: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, after being threatened with impeachment, Rod Rosenstein gives the House intel committee access to the document that sparked the Russia investigation. We're going to ask a member of the committee, Congressman Eric Swalwell, how significance this is. That's next.

[22:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: The Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein today giving the House Intelligence Committee access to a document that launched the FBI's Russia investigation.

So how important is this development, and what will it mean for the investigation? I want to bring in now Congressman Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who is a member of the committee. Good evening, Congressman. Thank you for joining us. So, after threatening impeachment of FBI Director Chris Wray, Deputy

A.G. Rod Rosenstein over a document subpoena, it appears that Rosenstein is now giving Republican on the Intel Committee what they want. What is the significance of this FBI document, and when will you get a chance to see it?

CONG. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Good evening, Don. I expect to be able to see it tomorrow. But to me, this just feels like they're going to try, and paper Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein as much as possible until he doesn't turn something over, and then give Donald Trump the reason that he wants to fire him.

You know, where was this interest when we had an investigation going? Where was this interest for all of the witnesses who we did not call, who we knew had relevant information? Where was the interest for all the bank records, cell phone records...

LEMON: So what is their explanation then, wanting this document after the investigation is -- after they shut it down?

SWALWELL: Obstruction, protecting the President, doing all they can to make sure that the President has cover, to fire Rosenstein or Mueller. I mean, that's...

LEMON: But that's not the explanation they're giving you. That's what they believe it is, right? What are they saying to you? What's their reasoning for it?

SWALWELL: You know, to conduct oversight of an ongoing FBI investigation. And, again, Don, if they showed this interest on all the other evidence that they refused to either let the public see what the transcripts that we have, or the people who they refused to subpoena, I would believe them, and take them at their word, but...

LEMON: Wait, oversight into an investigation that they shut down, themselves?

SWALWELL: Yes. That's right. That's why it's so baloney, and you know, not even worth taking at face value.

LEMON: OK. I just wanted to get it straight because you came on, they came on, and said the investigation was shut down. They found nothing. And now they want oversight, and documents for an investigation that they shut down. That's...

SWALWELL: They want to do their job as long as that job is only to protect the President, not to protect the ballot box as we go to vote.

LEMON: So Representative, the Washington Post is reporting tonight that Steve Bannon is trying to influence congressional, and west-wing allies to thwart the Mueller investigation by asserting executive privilege. I mean, that's essentially the same tactic that Bannon, and others took with your committee, correct?

SWALWELL: That's right. Bannon, you know, just like many others made up a privilege that does not exist in the law that the White House actually had told him to assert. And that's worse than actually asserting, and litigating a privilege. That's just refusing to answer.

LEMON: Yes. I think they wanted retroactive executive privilege, and blanket executive privilege.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: Which is...

SWALWELL: From Bannon's birth to present day, he shouldn't have to tell us anything, that was the line of reason.

LEMON: But at the same time, Devin Nunes and Mark Meadows are making comments about impeaching FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein, and that rod Rosenstein should be ousted. What's your reaction to that?

SWALWELL: Don, firing Rod Rosenstein should be treated the same way as firing Bob Mueller. I think the best thing we can do right now is to just tell the President, don't to it, that there will be a price to pay if he does it, and hopefully it doesn't happen.

But we should be ready for the President to fire Rod Rosenstein, and then for the Republicans to do what they've done all along, which is absolutely nothing.

And so to me, I've been careful to say without Republicans willing to do lawful investigations, we shouldn't rush to impeachment until we have all the facts.

But if he were to fire Rod Rosenstein, or fire Bob Mueller, I think that should be referred directly to the House Judiciary Committee.

LEMON: Well, some Republicans in the Senate are working on a bill to protect the Special Counsel. Will the House do anything similar, you think?

SWALWELL: Yes, you know, I was encouraged that Senator Grassley, a Republican, has said that he wants to move this as quickly as possible. I hope that Chairman Goodlatte on the Judiciary Committee, the other committee that I sit on, will welcome this bipartisan approach.

Because, Don, this is not any more about a political party. This is about a President who very, very recklessly is trying to run over the rule of law, and move and clear out of his way anyone investigating him. And we should never tolerate that whether that's a Democrat or Republican.

LEMON: In the short time we have left, I want to talk about this FBI raid on Michael Cohen. Looking into the Access Hollywood tape, what's your reaction to that, and what questions do you have about it?

SWALWELL: Yes, well, to me, as it relates to the Russia investigation, I think it demonstrates just how far Mr. Cohen will go to protect the President.

And so it makes me wonder, you know, for the hours that we interviewed him, was he being straightforward about his role in setting up a Trump Tower in Moscow?

[22:35:04] Whether he was straightforward about the e-mails that he exchanged with Felix Sater, a Russian-American who was associated with Donald Trump.

And said that as early as 2015, let's get Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin together, we can engineer this, and make our boy President. There's a lot of questions that now I wonder, you know, was he just being a fixer, and protecting the President?

LEMON: Thank you, very much, sir, I appreciate it. I appreciate your time.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

LEMON: When we come back, the President meeting with Republican leaders tonight. They look happy, don't they? Check it out. I wonder if they talked about Robert Mueller. Will the GOP stand up, and protect the Special Counsel? We'll talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A group of senators from both sides of the aisle trying to protect Robert Mueller, and introducing legislation today that would make it harder for the Special Counsel to be fired.

Let's bring in now CNN Political Commentator Joe Lockhart, who was President Clinton's Press Secretary, along with Political Commentators Ana Navarro, and Mike Shields. Good evening to all of you.

Let's talk about this. Joe, you first, because despite the Republicans cosponsoring this bill, CNN is reporting that most Republicans oppose it, including the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn.

[22:40:07] You say Republicans in Congress are paralyzed. Why did you say that?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, because the Republican Party has changed. You saw Paul Ryan leaving today, and rather than it being something about portending something for the future, it reflects the fact that traditional Republicans have given up.

They don't think they can win elections without the new coalition that Trump has put together, and they're paralyzed to stand up to a President who's going to lead them off the cliff.

LEMON: That's it?

LOCKHART: It's...

LEMON: What is going on? LOCKHART: You know, in the White House, they're desperately trying to

settle on a strategy. You know, Steve Bannon's out tonight in a somewhat pathetic move to try to get back into the good graces of the President with a terrible strategy. But it's a strategy.

LEMON: Yes.

LOCKHART: The strategy right now is to see what the President tweets, and then run around, and talk about how smart it is. It's just not going to work.

LEMON: Hey, Mike Shields, so this is what Politico is reporting that Senator Lisa Murkowski was asked if she trusts the President wouldn't fire Mueller at this point.

And Murkowski replied, said, no, I don't. Other Republicans who say they'll consider the legislation are Senator Bob Corker, Senator Jerry Moran, Senator Jeff Flake, Susan Collins. Are more Republicans getting worried, you think?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I can tell you, my advice to the President's not to fire Mueller, is not to fire Rosenstein. It's to let this investigation play out, and exonerate him. I think that's what he should do.

But I do believe that Republicans across the country get concerned at how long this investigation has gone on. It was an investigation that was set up about collusion with Russians.

And there is no evidence that's come out about the President colluding with Russians, and in fact, it's not morphing into looking at other things including Stormy Daniels, and other aspects, and I would expect...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That's not part of the Mueller investigation.

SHIELDS: ... work in the Clinton white house like Joe to -- I'm sorry?

LEMON: That's not part of the Mueller investigation. That's part of the southern district of New York.

SHIELDS: It was referred -- it was referred by Mueller, and the public perception is going to be that Mueller had something to do with that because he referred it to them.

And my point is that there are a lot of Republicans across the country that are getting frustrated with how long this is taking, and the fact that it is expanding beyond what it was originally set out to do.

So it looks like it's something that is out to get President Trump as opposed to trying to get to the truth about what happened with the Russians. And so, look, I think there's a lot of members on the Hill that are going to try to do that. What I find is that there's actually been a tremendous amount of

strength by Republicans. We are amateurs compared to the Clinton White House when it comes to attacking the Special Counsel.

I mean, if you look what the Clinton White House did to Ken Starr, they came out every single day, you know, attacking him, attacking what happened to him. You have Republicans that are actually considering how they sort of...

LEMON: Mike, don't you think you miss...

SHIELDS: I think it's a completely different attitude.

LEMON: I think you completely mislead people when you say...

SHIELDS: I'm sorry?

LEMON: ... that the scope of the investigation was for conspiracy because it was a news for Russian influence in the election, possible conspiracy, and anything that arises from that.

And so I think what's being investigated is all of that. I think Mueller is well within the scope even though Republicans -- some Republicans don't want to admit that.

And the reason that he referred this other thing to the Southern District of New York, because he thought it was not in his scope, and I think that you do a disservice to the viewer when you say those things, and...

SHIELDS: Well, no, but...

LEMON: ... it's absolutely not true.

SHIELDS: Well But, Don, you're asking me...

LEMON: If you look at the scope of his investigation, you'll see that it's well within it, it's not what you've just said.

SHIELDS: Well I'm talking -- but you asked me about Republicans on the Hill, and what I'm saying...

LEMON: That's how you replied, and I say that you do -- you're doing a disservice because that's not the only focus of the investigation. That's all I'm saying.

SHIELDS: Right. But let me be clear. I'm not trying to do a disservice. I'm trying to explain the viewers that public perception matters here.

Public perception is going to affect how Republicans on the Hill treat this, and the public perception is that this has gone way on -- gone on way too long, and beyond the scope. Even if you can legally say it's within the scope, that's fine.

LEMON: Yes. SHIELDS: They're not winning the public perception on that. A lot of

Republicans think this has gone on...

LEMON: But that doesn't matter if they proceed, the fact of the matter is that he's well within the scope of the investigation. Ana, I also have to point out...

SHIELDS: It matters to voters and that affects members on the Hill.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me say this. I think, Mike -- look, I think Mike is right, that public perception does matter in a case like this.

And if Donald Trump fires Bob Mueller, the public perception by most Americans is going to be that it is an abuse of power, that it is obstruction of justice to protect himself.

And I, for the life of me, cannot understand why Republicans on the Hill, responsible Republicans who know better, don't do something to send a clear, strong message to Donald Trump by moving on legislation.

There has been bipartisan legislation sponsored by Lindsey Graham, and Cory Booker that's been presented for months, and nobody has done anything about it.

[22:45:01] I've heard some Republicans in the Senate say, well, why should we move on this when Donald Trump is not going to sign it? He may not sign it. He probably will not sign it.

But it will mean that the Republican Party has stopped enabling him for once, and it's actually taking action, and sending him the strong message.

The public perception will be that Republicans are enabling obstruction of justice if they don't do something, and if they don't do everything in their power to stop this from happening.

They should do it for the good of the country, but they should do it also for the good of themselves because the people will flood the streets of the United States, and they will go to the ballot box in November.

The Republicans are already going to get beat, most probably in November. But they are going to get slaughtered if Donald Trump wakes up one day with no -- absolutely no restraint, no impulse, throws one of his, you know, man-baby tantrums, and gets rid of Mueller.

LEMON: OK.

NAVARRO: They all know that that could happen.

LEMON: All right. Everyone, hold your thoughts, because we're going to come back. We're going to talk about Paul Ryan. Maybe one of the people who actually has the clout to stand up to the President. Did he do it? But now he's announcing that he won't run for re-election. Also the President is watching T.V. and tweeting tonight. We'll update you on that.

[22:50:01] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back now with Joe Lockhart, Ana Navarro, and Mike Shields. Speaking of public reception, you said that there's a difference.

LOCKHART: Yes, there is huge difference between what Ken Starr did, and what Bob Mueller is doing. Ken Starr's strategy was bringing political pressure on the President, and trying to get him to resign.

And that's why through his deputies, they leaked consistently information, putting pressure on him. Mueller is doing the exact opposite. He is keeping his card close to them. So anyone who says there's no evidence of collusion, unless they work for Bob Mueller, they don't know what they're talking about. He may have it. We just don't know.

LEMON: Well, let's talk about messegaing here because I have to point this out. One of President Trump's tweets tonight he said big show on Sean Hannity at 9:00 on Fox.

Well, if you watched Hannity, you would see this, the show hitting James Comey, and highlighting what Hannity calls the Mueller crime family. Is this the message that the President wants, Mike?

SHIELDS: Look, like I said, he's pushing back on Mueller in the investigation is nothing compared to what the Clinton White House did to Ken Starr. They eviscerated him.

In fact, I think, they're going to (Inaudible) Ken Starr's numbers, it would still reflect the damage they did attacking him. And we're having a conversation about whether or not Republicans in Congress would do something to protect him.

We're not having a whole conversation about how the party is just destroying Bob Mueller. There are Republicans like me saying, we should let the investigation play out. I think that's where most Republicans are. The President is obviously pushing on him, and there is also...

LEMON: Well, Fox News is pushing back. He's just retweeting -- he's just tweeting.

SHIELDS: Well, he's trying to get people to watch their push back on it. And look, obviously there's a cat and mouse game that's going on here.

Mueller wants the President to sit down for an interview, and he's doing things, and attention, and to push him into it. And Trump is sort of pushing back, and saying I'm not going to do it. So there's a game behind the scenes here that's going on in this investigation.

LEMON: Yes.

SHIELDS: And we're seeing -- we're seeing sort of the ramifications that that play out publicly.

LEMON: I want to put this picture up because the President met with Republican leaders tonight. There he is. One of the reasons I'm putting it up is Paul Ryan is there. But look at that, the picture of diversity.

NAVARRO: Yes, they got diverse colored ties. What's missing from that picture? Women, any gays, any people of color, no brown people, no black people, no yellow people? I mean, I guess maybe you could say Donald Trump counts as a diversity of skin color.

LOCKHART: That's perfectly representative of Republican leadership.

LEMON: So listen, I've reason -- one of the reasons I have put that up is because Paul Ryan say he's not going to seek re-election, Ana.

He says it's because he doesn't want to be a weekend dad, and he feels he's accomplished a lot since he's been there. But when was the last time you heard the Speaker of the House, you know, voluntarily left office when he was on top? What's your take on this?

NAVARRO: Well, John Boehner did it. He did it under a lot of pressure from -- within the Republican Party, and within his conference. You know, Don, this one is hard for me. I happen to love Jenny Ryan. I -- you know, I know this family.

I absolutely believe Paul Ryan when he says that the family factor was his priority, and the biggest aspect of this decision. You have to ask yourself, you know, I'm sacrificing the time with my family for what?

To work with Trump, to corral this conference that includes people who -- you know, who don't want to work with him, and make his life impossible, like -- you know, like the folks in the freedom caucus?

But also, you know, I was so happy -- I had such high expectations when Paul Ryan became speaker, and today, I was relieved.

I was relieved for him because, you know, I hate that Paul Ryan, who's been in Congress for 20 years, who began his career as a Jack Kemp Republican, an optimistic pragmatist offering solutions, and bipartisan ways, that Paul Ryan who could go in, and do a town hall with Luis Gutierrez about immigration, who could talk about justice reform, who talked about poverty.

This was a guy who could bridge gaps, who could -- you know, who could do so much, who could go figuratively, and literally where other Republicans could not.

And he started his career as a Jack Kemp Republican, and he's ending it defined by Donald Trump, by what people see as enabling Donald Trump, not having stood up to him, not having confronted him, not having defended the principles, and convictions that Paul Ryan, and his spouse embraced, and represented at the beginning of his career. And that's why I felt relieved for him. I felt happy for his family, too. (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Go ahead, Mike, quickly, because I want to bring Joe. What did you say, Mike?

SHIELDS: First of all Paul Ryan is a really decent, and good family guy, and he is leaving to be with his family. I think he's accomplished a lot.

Remember, he didn't -- he didn't campaign to be speaker. He was asked to be speaker by the House conference after John Boehner stepped down because no one was speaker.

[22:55:01] And if you would ask him, he said his -- you know, he said his mission was to be the Ways and Means chairman to get tax reform done.

And he got that done, and President Trump signed it into law. He worked with the President on regulatory reform, on getting tax reform done, and so I realize that, you know, he's sort of not standing up to Trump. The President is signing the things that Paul Ryan...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I want to get this in -- I want to get this in before, because I have to gets to the top of the hour. Listen, he can be a decent guy, and a good family man, and people can still be critical of him.

He has not really -- and most people, I assume, stood up against this President, and called the President out in a meaningful way. A source close to Paul Ryan tells CNN's Jamie Gangel that Ryan, in addition to wanting to spend more time with his family, that he really doesn't want to be part of a minority, he's had enough of Donald Trump, and he doesn't think that he can get more of what he wants done. It sounds like he was concerned about a blue wave coming if he can't answer it.

LOCKHART: Sure. And I think whether they narrowly keep a majority, or lose, he fought the fight not very well actually for the soul of the Republican Party, and he lost. It was heroic.

And I think there's no point in going on when the party is the party of Trump. And from a policy point of view, he's going to be seen as the guy, another Republican who says there's a fiscal hawk who balloons the deficit, and that will be the legacy.

LEMON: He also faces a serious challenge for re-election.

NAVARRO: I will tell you though he's got eight months left.

LEMON: I've got to go. Quickly, Ana.

NAVARRO: And hope that in these eight months, Paul Ryan sticks to who he is, his conviction, to his principles. I hope he does something on Mueller. I hope he does something on immigration. I hope he uses these next eight months.

LEMON: Last word, Ana. I got to run.

NAVARRO: He doesn't have to play political games for some good.

LEMON: Thank you very much. When we come back, Steve Bannon telling The Washington Post his plan to end Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but is the White House listening?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)