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CNN TONIGHT

Comey Voices Out His Grievances; V.A. Nominee Hanging by a Thread; Trump Paranoid with Seized FBI Documents from Cohen; CNN Sources: White House Prepared for Possible Jackson Withdrawal; White House Claims They Support a Free Press; Kanye West: Trump Is My Brother. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 25, 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] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Long way to go, but this is an interesting development. It's great to get your take, Carrie Cordero. Thank you.

It is now time to hand it over to Don Lemon, the man for "CNN TONIGHT."

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us, everyone.

We're following multiple big stories tonight. First, there is James Comey who fired off this in CNN's town hall tonight in response to a question about how the Trump administration views the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: They view the institutions of justice with contempt, as just another piece on the board. When that piece is doing something that the leadership doesn't like, it should be knocked over and dirtied up. And that is a terrible place for us to be as a country.

The FBI is not politicized. That's nonsense. The FBI, though, is being politically attacked. And the reason that is so dangerous and so stupid, even if you're a Republican, we need those institutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: We are also learning tonight that President Trump's long time fixer, Michael Cohen, will plead the fifth in a case about hush money paid to porn star, Stormy Daniels, that as lawyers for President Trump say he will be able to personally review documents seized in the FBI raid on Cohen.

Plus stunning new allegations against President Trump's handpicked nominee to head up the Veteran's Affairs Department, Dr. Ronny Jackson, accusations that Dr. Jackson, the White House physician wrecked a government vehicle while drunk. That on at least one occasion he could not be reached when needed because he was, quote, "passed out drunk in his hotel room." And then there's a claim that Dr. Jackson provided such a large supply of Percocet to someone from the White House military office, it threw his own staff into a panic. Those allegations are laid out in a document by Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee based on allegations from 23 current and former colleagues of Dr. Jackson.

That is stunning, serious allegations from 23 people who know Dr. Jackson. And yet, Sarah Sanders insists he's been thoroughly vetted and investigated and the same breath says none of these allegations come up, none of these came up, which they certainly would have in any remotely -- anything remotely close to a vetting process.

Now White House officials tell CNN President Trump is beginning to wonder out loud whether Dr. Jackson should step aside before things get worse.

Frankly, it's hard to imagine things getting much worse here. And the White House is reportedly preparing tonight for the possibility that Dr. Jackson will withdraw his nomination.

And then there's what appears to be a new bromance for President Trump. No, not the French President Emmanuel Macron who threw some shade in a speech in Congress today that we'll talk about. But Trump's new BFF is, wait for it, Kanye. Kanye West. Kanye tweeting today, "You don't have to agree with Trump but the mob can't make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought."

And the president replied was simply said, "Thank you, Kanye, very cool." And the Internet wasn't so simple. Lost its mind. But is everyone missing the point here?

Stick around, we've got a lot more on all of this.

Now I want to bring in CNN Senior Political Analyst, Mark Preston, and CNN Legal Analyst, Michael Zeldin who was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department, and Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor who was deputy special counsel in the Scooter Libby case, and CNN Commentator, Philip Mudd who was an FBI senior intelligence officer.

A lot of ground to cover tonight, gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us, I appreciate it. Mark, I'm going to start with you. Because there was a fantastic CNN town hall tonight with some tough questions for the former FBI director James Comey. Give us the headline. What's the big takeaway, do you think?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Don, I always find it striking when you hear the former FBI director say repeatedly that he thinks that the president of the United States is morally unfit for office. That in itself is stunning.

I think that over time, as we hear it more and more, we have become so deadened to it. But the fact is, this is what James Comey thinks of Donald Trump. What did we hear tonight? We heard James Comey defend himself from the

critics who thought that he overstepped during the investigation into Hillary Clinton and the announcements. We heard about his frustration and anger towards the attacks on institutions such as the FBI. And of course we heard that he doesn't like Donald Trump so much in the sense that he doesn't think he's a good leader.

But here's what came out of this town hall which I think was extremely important. Two things. He told two stories that I think gives us the idea of who James Comey is. And a lot of people don't understand him. But if you watched this tonight, Don, then you would. Two things.

[22:04:53] The first is, he was almost killed by a serial rapist. And the story goes that a serial rapist broke into his home as a child, kidnapped him and his brother, held him at gunpoint. Not once but twice in one night.

So talk about how that formed him as he went into a career in the FBI. He also talked about his time here at William and Mary. He talked about how he participated in bullying and how he grew to regret that. That I think is hugely important as we talk about what his relationship is with Donald Trump and why he always calls or seems to call Donald Trump a bully, Don.

So headlines out of here tonight, James Comey still going after Donald Trump and this is going to continue on for months ahead.

LEMON: Yes. Much of some of the details that people find salacious have been discussed in the media in this book. But the book is much bigger that it contains details, and when you read the book you realize why he wrote it, at least his reasons for, what he says his reasons are were for writing it.

Phil, I want to play this exchange. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: You also said in your memos that the president told you twice that he did not spend the night in Moscow around the Miss Universe pageant. Since then, flight records, social media posts, congressional testimony, also photographs prove that he actually did spend the night in Moscow. What's the -- I mean, do you think it's significant that the president lied to you twice about that?

COMEY: It's always significant when someone lies to you, especially about something you're not asking about. It tends to reflect a consciousness of guilt, as we would say in law enforcement.

COOPER: You've noticed that in the past interactions as a prosecutor, if someone lying about stuff you haven't ask about, that's a tell?

COMEY: Right. Two tells. If they bring things up you didn't ask about and if they bring it up and make a false statement about it, that's not definitive but it certainly makes you very concerned about what might be going on there.

COOPER: It sounds like President Trump did that a lot of times with you, brought up stuff that you hadn't asked about.

COMEY: Correct. And again, I don't know what was in his head, I don't know whether he was intentionally misstating a fact to me or maybe when he said it to me he thought he had stayed overnight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So Phil, you were for the FBI and the CIA, tell us what you think about that.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: One key point, I think Comey is on most solid ground when he sticks with facts and gets away with his personal judgments about the president's fitness for office.

This is a factual question. The reason this is significant is we're going into what I would expect to be the final stage of the Mueller investigation. We have Rudy Giuliani brought on, we're just learning in the past 24 hours. One of his responsibilities is negotiating, for example, whether the president should actually be involved in an interview.

What if the president gets questioned about those visits to Moscow and multiple interviewees over the last year or so in the Mueller investigation have said one thing, multiple documents say one thing, and the president says another?

What we're learning when Comey sticks to the facts is, we know a lot about the president's activities. And the risk the president has, going into an interview, is he will say something different and the investigators are going to say, that's what we call in the government a 1001 violation. That's lying to a federal officer. That's a federal legal violation.

LEMON: But I want to -- something that you said. You said when he sticks to the facts, because most people, right, except for a few, you know, if you listen to conservative media and some, you know, the Trump, some of the sycophants they are trying to impugn his reputation.

MUDD: Yes.

LEMON: Most people see him as a credible person, a credible witness. But it's when he goes off into opinion that you don't or what you deem to be opinion that you wish he would not go into that direction?

MUDD: I wish he wouldn't. I mean, he is credible. He's a career prosecutor. You look at his memos, the detail in those memos, and I look at them on the issue, for example, of whether the president asked for a loyalty pledge. How many people are saying, aside from the president, that's inaccurate?

What they are saying is, why is the FBI director who formerly led an organizations is supposed to be apolitical talking about political issues? I think that's where he gets on weaker ground.

LEMON: Peter, Comey talked about his attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, a former U.S. attorney and personal friend of his. And Comey he wouldn't get into whether he consulted his attorneys about the legality of giving the details of his memo to a friend and whether that was a leak in legal terms. But what do you make of that, because you've worked with Fitzgerald.

PETER ZEIDENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, all I'd say is, he's got great counsel. And the president should be so lucky to have lawyers like Jim Comey does. But you know, obviously Jim Comey is not going to be talking about conversations he has with his attorneys, that would be, that would violate the attorney-client privilege.

LEMON: So Michael, you next. Comey faced a couple of legal questions tonight, a collusion came up a lot. We've talked about collusion not being a legal term before. He sort of puts it in context of, you know, aiding and abetting, he said. So put his description in context for us in this Russia investigation. What are the issues here?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the criminal investigation that involves the coordination, involves essentially two things. One is a conspiracy to interfere with the ongoing elections system, they call it a 371 conspiracy to defraud the United States government of fair and proper elections.

[22:10:02] We saw something similar to that in the Manafort indictment and the indictment against the Russians. And also whether or not there is a coordination between the Trump campaign and foreign nationals in violation of federal election laws.

So there are two broad conspiracy and then substantive crimes that underlie that, that are at play. Unless of course there's a third issue, which is the hacking which implicates the computer fraud and abuse act. We haven't seen a case brought yet under that. But if there is hacking and approved coordination with those hackers to disseminate that information, then you've got a third theory of prosecution against the people who are involved in those events.

LEMON: So bottom, what do you men, the bottom line of his words?

ZELDIN: The bottom line on hacking is, say Russians hacked the DNC computers. They've call up members of the Trump campaign and say, we've got this stolen property, effectively, would you further distribute it for us, conspire with us to interfere with the election. That in itself, I think is a rich area of investigation for criminal conspiracies to violate computer laws and also election laws, and broad criminal laws. So that's the biggest issue, Don.

LEMON: OK. Thank you, all. Stick around, everyone.

When we come back, Michael Cohen says he's going to plead the fifth in the Stormy Daniels case. And President Trump's attorneys say the president will make himself personally available to review documents seized in the FBI raid of Cohen's office. Is this the kind of things that should be on the president's radar right now? We'll discuss.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: So it's the major developments tonight on the Michael Cohen's legal troubles. The president may be getting personally involved in reviewing documents seized from Cohen by the FBI.

Back with me now is Mark Preston, Michael Zeldin, Peter Zeidenberg, and also Philip Mudd. Peter, let me ask you this. The lawyers representing the president in the Cohen case are indicating that the president may make himself available to do through the evidence collected in the FBI raids against Cohen. This is what the leader of the free world is going to be focusing on?

ZEIDENBERG: That's really strange. I mean, the amount of material that be taking in a type of search warrant like that is, it's almost hard to imagine because it's taken off of all kinds of electronic devices. So you're talking about, you know, it could be a terabyte, basically it would be hundreds of thousands of pages of documents if it was all printed out, if not millions.

And you would like to think that the leader of the free world would be have other things to do with his time than to go through that kind of document review. That's something for his attorneys to do, not for the potential target or at least subject of the investigation.

LEMON: What does this, does this show you anything, Phil, does it show you how close the president in all of this, what does it say to you that personally he may reviews this?

MUDD: I think this is pretty simple. I'm going to go on vacation this summer, I'll do a thousand-piece puzzle. There's only two pieces in this puzzle that I see. Number one, a federal judge says there's enough information here about Michael Cohen's activity to authorize going into his hotel, his home and his office, that's violating attorney-client privilege. That tells you the judge saw a lot of stuff.

Number two, Michael Cohen himself, after this says, I'm so burned in this, as the president's personal lawyer, he didn't have many clients, his most significant client was the president, to plead the fifth because there's something really dirty here.

Why is the president reviewing this? Because there's stuff there that shows he was involved in inappropriate financial activity. There's only two pieces of the puzzle. The judge said go look at the office, the hotel room, and the house. And Michael Cohen said, I'm guilty, I've got to plead the fifth. It's over, man, that goose is cooked.

LEMON: Peter, you prosecuted Scooter Libby, right. So when you look at the calendar, the Cohen raids were on a Monday. President Trump pardoned Scooter Libby that Friday. You say this was message to Michael Cohen?

ZEIDENBERG: Well, it's hard not to come to that conclusion. There was nothing pressing about Scooter Libby's situation that would seem to explain the timing. I mean, Scooter Libby's sentence had been commuted by George W. Bush. He had gotten his law license back last year. You know, it's really hard to see what kind of external factor was at

play here. And so you look around at what else is going on. And, you know, it's just very bizarre situation, to issue a pardon in those circumstances. And this is someone -- you know, and the other thing, you know, he's being prosecuted, was prosecuted by Pat Fitzgerald, who was appointed special counsel by James Comey. It seems to be some kind of a message there.

I don't think it's a stretch to look at that and see it as some kind of a message to people who are being perhaps ensnared by the Mueller investigation, and tell them, you now, remember, I got the, I got to get out of jail free card, and they're available.

LEMON: Yes. I want to go to Mark, but Michael, it looks like you want to say something, go ahead.

ZELDIN: Well, a couple of things. First, with respect to that I don't disagree, that is a viable theory. Another viable theory is that Vic Toensing, Scooter Libby's lawyer was just in the office with the president, she probably pleaded her client's cause, and sometimes the president listens to the last voice in his ear and he just may have acted upon it because she made a compelling case as his lawyer for that, and it means nothing in terms of sending a message.

And the second thing, I just want to clarify one thing that Phil said, is that when you assert the Fifth Amendment, it doesn't mean that you're guilty and you're covering something up. You have a lot of reasons that you can assert the fifth that don't indicate that you're necessarily guilty of a crime.

And so I think we should be careful here. When Cohen asserts the fifth in the Stormy Daniels civil case, which is to say I don't want a civil case proceeding against me while there's a criminal case proceeding against me, that's normal blocking and tackling for a lawyer. It doesn't imply guilt necessarily.

[22:19:59] LEMON: Is there a criminal case, though? Because he hasn't been charged in criminal court, right?

ZELDIN: No, there hasn't been a criminal indictment.

LEMON: Yes, so?

ZELDIN: But there's a criminal investigation.

LEMON: Yes.

ZELDIN: And the way the Fifth Amendment works is that you get to protect yourself against those sorts of investigations. You don't have to wait until you take the witness stand and take the fifth.

LEMON: All right. That's all well and good, Mark. But you know what the president has said about the Fifth Amendment over the years. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Have you seen what's going on in front of Congress? Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Fifth Amendment. Horrible. Horrible. The mob takes the fifth. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?

When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the fifth so they're not prosecuted, I think it's disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well -- that's the new term I like, welp, w-e-l-p. I mean, there's a tweet and a sound bite for everything. Now his own personal attorney his fixer is getting the fifth.

PRESTON: Don, how dear you show the hypocrisy of President Trump specifically on this issue. How dear you do that and you do it with his own words, I mean, that is fake news.

Now, listen, the bottom line is we've seen this from President Trump over and over and over again. When it fits his needs, when it fits his narrative, when it fits his defense, he will go to it. When it fits somebody's defense, he will go on the attack.

I know we're talking about all the legalese that goes around this and that is very important, much more important than the politics. Let me tell you, I will say this, talking to Republicans just even in the last couple of days they're getting more frustrated and more worried about the distraction of Donald Trump and the Donald Trump investigation and that these candidates are back home having to answer questions for somebody that they want to answer to you, Don. This is much, much bigger than a legal problem. It is a very big political problem for the Republican Party.

LEMON: Mark, Phil, Peter, Michael, thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

When we come back, shocking new allegations piling up against the president's pick to lead the V.A. The White House standing by their nominee, insisting he was thoroughly vetted. But was he really?

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So here's the breaking news. Sources tell CNN the White House is preparing for the possibility that Dr. Ronny Jackson will withdraw his nomination to head the Veterans Administration. Dr. Jackson met with top White House aides tonight, that's in the wake of the stunning new allegations Dr. Jackson, the White House physician, wrecked a government vehicle while drunk, that on at least one occasion he could not be reached when needed because he was, quote, "passed out drunk in his hotel room."

And then there is claim that Dr. Jackson provided such a large supply of Percocet to someone from the White House military office that threw his own staff into a panic, his own staff into a panic. Those allegations laid out in the document by Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee based on 23 current and former colleagues of Dr. Jackson.

I want to bring in now CNN Military and Diplomatic Analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, and former White House Ethics Lawyer, Richard Painter.

So there is a lot to get to this evening. And Admiral Kirby before I get to you, I mean, these are allegations, these are not thrown around just willy-nilly, right?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: These are pretty serious allegations, yes, Don. I mean, I don't know if they're true, but certainly they're coming from multiple people and I'm stunned that some of them are both current and former. So that tells you there may be some sort of relevance to it in terms of time.

LEMON: OK.

PAINTER: So, yes, these are very serious allegations for any naval officer and they ought to be taken seriously.

LEMON: OK. So, then let's down to it then. So, Dr. Jackson was at the White House tonight, and according to one official he was there to talk about to aides about his next step. I mean, we're told we're not getting any announcement tonight, but do you think he's done?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I don't know that I'm ready to say this nomination is done or doomed. I mean, it's certainly going to face an even steeper climb than it was before. And remember, Don, it was already going to be a challenge for him just based on the way in which he was announced and concerns that many lawmakers had about his experience level and his leadership ability. That was even before this. So this is definitely going to make it tougher for him.

LEMON: All right. So here is what he is saying about the last allegation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: I've never wrecked a car.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never wrecked a car? Did anything happen with opioids? Did the Democrats are laying all this out.

JACKSON: I have no idea where that's coming from.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you still want to move forward with this nomination?

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: It should be -- it should be--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're saying it was a government car, insured, sir. Were they handing giving out Percocet? Was it not a government car? JACKSON: It should be very easy to prove that, right? Yes, OK. Thanks guys. I appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are all there allegation coming from?

JACKSON: I have no idea. Thanks guys. I appreciate it. I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been handing out Percocets?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have no idea?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you withdrawing your nomination?

JACKSON: No, I have not wrecked a car. So I can tell you that. That's easy to deduct. Thanks guys.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you moved forward, sir? Will you move forward?

JACKSON: We're still moving ahead. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're still moving ahead? Did you tell the president that, sir?

JACKSON: Thanks guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So he denies wrecking a car, you heard him, Richard say, you know, I'm still moving ahead. When you first heard about these allegations, what did you think?

PAINTER: I thought the White House hadn't done a good vetting job at all. They hadn't bothered to find out what had been going on in his personal background. It's very similar, the situation we had with Mr. Porter earlier on, the White House staffer, senior White House staffer, staff secretary, who was beating his wives or accused of beating his wives.

That's the kind of thing that should lead to a nomination being killed. And somebody not being allowed on the White House staff. If this White House had the slightest idea what they were doing, they would have known all this before this nomination was made and they would have decided against it.

And the most serious concern, I would have to say, is the allegation that he was giving out prescriptions, you know, right and left, apparently some people calling him the candy man. I mean, that's not the kind of thing we need going on in the White House medical office.

LEMON: You mentioned the vetting process. But yet the White House is insisting, Richard, that Dr. Jackson was vetted. This is what we heard from the White House press briefing earlier today. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Dr. Jackson's record as a White House physician has been impeccable. In fact, because Dr. Jackson has worked within arm's reach of three presidents, he has received more vetting than most nominees.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So as an ethics person, how can the White House honestly say that Dr. Jackson has undergone all his vetting? Because wouldn't this have come up?

PAINTER: Well, that's the same person probably who vetted Rob porter, the guy who was accused of beating his wives. I mean, this White House doesn't know what's going when it comes to vetting any more than they do financial conflicts of interest. And I don't know whether somebody's on drugs or whether somebody just doesn't care.

[22:29:59] The president is tweeting as if -- I don't know what's going on with him. This White House is in complete disarray.

And this never would have happened in a professionally-run operation, to have someone with this many serious allegations proposed for a Senate-confirmed position in the administration.

LEMON: But, again, they're just -- they're allegations now, and they're very serious allegations, Admiral Kirby, as we talked about.

RET. REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: But even if they weren't in the picture, the President himself even talked about Dr. Jackson's lack of experience. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've gotten to know him pretty well. He's a great doctor. And it was a suggestion, now, I know there's an experience problem, because lack of experience. But there's an experience problem, the Veterans Administration is very important to me.

(ENDVIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the White House today tried to make it seem like the President never said that. But I mean, he did, because there's always a sound bite or a tweet for everything. These are real questions about his experience. There are real questions here.

KIRBY: And they're fair questions, Don, and we should all be asking them. And I was quite frankly glad about the bipartisan decision in the committee to, you know, delay this thing indefinitely until they got to the bottom of these allegations, and then they can push forward.

But look, I mean, you can't say in one breath the V.A. is very important to me, and taking care of veterans matters, and then in the same sentence say, you know, I know this guy's not experienced. I mean, that is the crux of the issue.

And I take deep issue with the President's assertion, which he said after that -- after that sound bite ended, if you had listened more you could see that he have said, no one has the experience to run the V.A., it's not possible. And that's just not true.

There have been great V.A. secretaries in the past. Yes, they come at their leadership, and management responsibilities from different levels of expertise, but you can manage a bureaucracy of that size.

And I, as veteran, myself, I want to hear Dr. Jackson answer questions from the committee about privatization of care. I want to hear how he's going to manage a budget that's almost $200 billion, and a career force of 360,000 people. Those are important questions to me as a veteran. And I think, you know, we need to get to the both of those issues.

LEMON: Yes, I think the sentiment -- you said, you can manage the biggest hospital in the world, and still not have enough experience to manage the V.A., so no one has enough experience, that's the import of what the president was saying.

KIRBY: And if could, Don -- just if I could add to this. I mean, just slightly more than a third of the V.A.'s budget goes to medical care. And healthcare is obviously the most important they do, and no issue there. But it's not all that they do.

And there's a lot of other tasks, about -- in terms of benefits, and compensation, and running the cemeteries around the country, and around the world. All of that falls under the V.A. secretary. And I think he needs to be properly asked questions about how he would take care of those functions.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate it. When we come back, Sarah Sanders says the White House supports freedom of the press, but with one really big caveat.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Despite President Trump's constant attacks on the news media, the White House insists the administration supports freedom of the press. Listen to this exchange today between Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and CNN's Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you trying to that say this administration is a champion of a free press? That seems...

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I certainly think -- as I have stated a moment ago, we support a free press, but we also support a fair press.

And I think that those things should go hand in hand. And there's a certainly responsibility by the press to report accurate information. I think a number of people... ACOSTA: Isn't there a certainly responsibility on the part of the President...

SANDERS: I'm not finished. I think a number of people in this room do that every single day. They do their very best to provide fair, and accurate information, certainly support that. That's one of the reasons I'm standing here taking your questions.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: And a lot of times taking your questions in a tone that's completely unnecessary, unneeded, and frankly doesn't help further the conversation, or help the American people get any more information in a better way, which is your job, and my job. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm going to move on. David, go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Jim, I'm finished. Thank you.

ACOSTA: The President's tone towards the press is obviously not helpful at times.

SANDERS: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: And I think that that's plain to see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Is she talking about herself there? I want to talk about this now with CNN's Senior Media Correspondent, Brian Stelter, CNN's Political Analyst, April Ryan, and White House Correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, and Political Analyst Brian Karem, executive editor of the Sentinel Newspapers.

I mean, It was stunning to me when she talked about a tone that wasn't necessary because I thought, April, she was talking about herself. You're in that briefing room every day. And then, did you think this administration defends freedom of the press?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Don, Don, you know, I'm just going to be real honest. The President took an oath of office in January 2017 -- January 20th, actually. He was supposed to defend the constitution. And part of the constitution is that First Amendment, freedom of the press.

And I don't see the defense. I don't see him defending. I see him attacking. And the tone has been set by this White House that has caused so many to say, oh, we don't like the press. There is this saying they're death threats, or they just go after us.

I mean, we are doing what we have been doing. We are not supposed to be in the President's camp. We're supposed to look objectively at issues. We're supposed to question. That's our job. We're not saying yes or nay. We're asking questions. LEMON: So, one of the -- Brian, one of the worst attack on the

President, I know you want to weigh in, when the president declared the free press, do you remember that, the enemy of the people?

BRIAN KAREM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: He uses journalists every single day you say. Talk to us about that.

KAREM: He's defended his actions. And tells us we're the enemy of the people. And most of the time we're only reporting what it is that he's actually said. Or when he said something like -- you know, when he lied about the lack of experience of Dr. Ronny Jackson, and we came back, and showed his very same words, that's when he gets upset with us.

But if you really want to know what this President thinks about us, go to the Comey notes, CNN reported on it, there's page 10 when he told James Comey that what he ought to do is go back to jailing reporters, and then a couple of days in jail with a special friend would soften us up.

[22:40:06] Now, I'm sure he wasn't going to give us a friend, he's going to let me confess my life problems to him. He was talking about physically, or otherwise, abusing us.

It won't be even more blunt, when you keep a confidential source as a reporter, that's a process that you have to go through with an editor, or a reporter, and others, and usually a lawyer.

And you know ahead of time, the risks, and consequences of doing it. So once you make that choice, and you know well that you may go to jail, I'm sorry, Mr. President, you're not going to get me to give it up after two days no matter what special friends you put in the cell with me. And he didn't.

And in point of fact, I went four times in a case that went to the Supreme Court. We can do this nice or nasty as far as I'm concerned. I would like to do it nice.

But as April said, and God bless her, she said it just right. We're there to do a job. Our job is to question the President. Not to take what he says at face value, but to find out the truth. He wants to shoot the messenger because he doesn't like it when he lies, and he changes his mind, and we call him on it.

LEMON: Yes.

KAREM: That's what bothers him.

LEMON: And then the spin at the podium which Sarah tried to do today...

KAREM: All the time.

LEMON: ... end up -- there you go, the sound bites are there, the notes are there, the transcripts are there, the tweets are there. Brian, I mean, it's gas lighting. I mean, there's so much gas lighting going on. She insisting the President supports the press, when the truth is, he denigrates the press.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: She's giving talking points to a group of supporters who can share them, but I think most people see through it. The context for this is the world press freedom index.

It was released this morning, Don. It's an annual study of press freedom all around the world. It's getting worse in many countries. And the U.S., we're lucky compared to some authoritarian regimes where we're seeing severe crackdowns.

But even here in the U.S., the country failed two steps -- two spots on that ranking because of increasingly negative, nasty rhetoric from politicians like President Trump. You know, look at what's going to happen in the next couple of days.

President Trump is going to call into Fox and Friends, his favorite morning show. He hasn't been giving many interview, even the Fox, Don, because the president is bunkered down -- hunkered down almost avoiding the media.

But he's going to call in to Fox tomorrow morning, then he's going to skip the White House correspondents' dinner for the second week -- second year in a row, and instead, he's going to hold a rally in Michigan where he's going to beat up on the press.

That is the reason -- that's one of the many reasons he's not coming down (ph), one of the reasons why in the world press freedom index the U.S. has dropped two spots, because of that daily ugly rhetoric from the President.

LEMON: April, give us the bottom line. I know that you've been there 20 or 21 years, working in the White House.

RYAN: The bottom line is, is that we are the Fourth Estate. There is an accountability piece. The founding fathers -- our founding fathers did not expect that there would be an April Ryan, or Jim Acosta, or Brian Karem, or a Jonathan Karl there.

But they wrote into the First Amendment, freedom of the press for an accountability piece. This is not something that we're doing. This is something that the nation was founded on by our founding fathers.

The Fourth Estate is the accountability piece. And I go back to John McCain. When you suppress the press -- when you suppress the press, you begin a dictatorship. And the question begs, what does the President really want to do?

LEMON: Yes.

RYAN: We are there. And we're not going anywhere.

STELTER: But we're seeing a vibrant press. But it's in spite of him. KAREM: Yes.

LEMON: I've got to go. Yes, we are, and I think that...

KAREM: We're not going anywhere.

LEMON: You were not going anywhere, and I think it actually makes us better. Remember, term limits for the President. For journalism, no term limits.

KAREM: Not for us.

LEMON: Thank you very much. When we come back, Kanye West getting a lot of criticism for praising the President Trump on Twitter, we're going to tell you what is really going on, next.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Remember when Kanye West said out loud, George Bush doesn't care about black people? Well, today Kanye West has a lot of people wondering if he cares about black people. Rapper Kanye West tweeting today, you don't have to agree with Trump, but the mob can't make me not love him.

We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought.

Well, the President's response was a simple, thank you, Kanye, very cool. So let's discuss now, CNN Political Commentator, Marc Lamont Hill. He is the author of "Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-hop Pedagogy" -- what is that, pedagogy? Say that.

MARC LAMONT HILL, PROFESSOR, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: Pedagogy.

LEMON: Pedagogy. That's all about politics -- I can't see with my new glasses on -- and the Politics of Identity. And also with me, Political Commentators, Paris Dennard, and David Swerdlick.

Thank you so much. I will give you the first question then. So he said -- he shared about his Twitter love with Ebro in Hot 97, he said that he loves Donald Trump.

HILL: Yes, so...

LEMON: And that he visited him during the 2016 transition.

HILL: Yes.

LEMON: Why does he love Donald Trump?

HILL: He was at a concert in San Jose -- the Pablo Tour in '16, and said, if I would have voted, I would have voted for Donald Trump. So he's been shouting out Donald Trump for a long time. I think it's weird. I think it's disappointing to see Kanye go from someone who had the

courage to stand up, and say George Bush doesn't care about black people, which was a courageous moment, a protection, and defensive for black people, and the vulnerable in general to go to that -- to defending someone who's campaign was predicated upon white supremacy, white nationalism, erasure of immigrants, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's really disappointing.

LEMON: This goes beyond, because this is being framed in a frame, discussed in a frame of, this is liberal versus conservative. This is not liberal versus conservative. This is an idea that everyone should be able to be whatever...

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: You can believe -- people have a right to believe what they want. And Kanye has a right to believe what he wants. We have a right to hold him accountable for it.

LEMON: Yes.

HILL: And because he's made so much money off vulnerable people, in the sense that he makes music for black people, and he makes music for brown people, he makes music that poor people love, to then defend the President, and to express love for a president whose policies operate against those interests, it's disappointing. Kanye has a right to do it.

[22:50:00] I just don't agree with it.

LEMON: You write, David, in the Washington Post, you say that Kanye fell for the worst black Republican sales pitch there is. Explain that.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": So I started out talking about what I thought was the best black Republican sales pitch. Some one -- a couple of years ago, Niger Innis, who at the time was a spokesperson for the CORE organization, said to me, the Republican Party is not for people who are rich.

It's for people who want to be rich. Now obviously leave aside that there are lots of rich black Democrats, and there are lots of working class Republicans. It's a good bumper sticker, right? That's a good way to pitch your party.

But the pitch that Kanye West fell for, Don, was this idea that he's a free thinker, that black Republicans are free thinkers, and the over 90 percent of black people who vote for Democrats are not free thinkers.

They're either sheep or worse slaves, which doesn't make sense. The issue legislative policy priorities of black people for the most part line up with the Democratic Party. And so most black people vote for Democrats, which is what all voters do.

They look at the two parties, decide which one lines up most with their issue priorities, and they vote for them. It's that simple. And yet somehow, we've gotten to this place that's caught on a lot during the Tea Party era.

It was starting to be sort of -- to fizzle out. But a woman names Candace Owens, who's the spokesperson for turning Point U.S.A., kind of revised this in the last few weeks, this idea that only black people are held to a standard where they can't just vote the issues that they personally prefer.

LEMON: Right. OK.

SWERDLICK: It's crazy.

LEMON: So, Paris, you know, I mentioned the former president. You previously, you know, had a big moment. You remember this when Kanye had this moment involving the former President George Bush. Watch this, and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KANYE WEST, AMERICAN RAPPER: I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family it says they're looting. If you see a white family it says they're looking for food. And you know it's been five days because most of the people are black. George Bush doesn't care about black people.

CHRIS TUCKER, AMERICAN ACTOR: Please, call.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I'm still laughing because Chris tucker is like oh. Didn't you work for -- you worked for George Bush, right, Paris?

PARIS DENNARD, MEMBER, TRUMP ADVISORY BOARD: I probably worked for president...

LEMON: That was a big deal. Do you think Kanye believes that Donald Trump cares about black people?

DENNARD: I think that Kanye West does think that the President cares about black people. But I would go back, and say it was not only a big deal to people who knew and knows George Bush's heart.

But President Bush years later when asked about one of things that really upset him, or things that he wish he could change, he said that moment was really something that really offended him. And all of the things -- imagine all the things that people said about him, the wars, and the economy, and all these things, it was that moment.

Because when you utilize these -- throw these phrases out, and call people racist overtly, or covertly, it's offensive, especially when you know your heart, and know what you've tried to do.

Nobody can talk about or question what this President had did for things like PEPFAR, and his commitment to reading, and the literacy, and HBC (ph), he was an author (ph), and the like, and so, it was offensive.

But I will tell you this about Kanye West, I haven't liked Kanye West since he said that about President Bush, and I don't like his music now, but I will defend Kanye West -- his right to articulate his opinion on politics, especially if it related to Donald J. Trump, or the make America great again agenda, I think it's his right to do it.

I'll defend Chance the Rapper's right to do it. I'll defend Shania Twain's right to do it. Because what happens in society these days, when you say anything that's very close to conservative Republican.

Or in support of Donald Trump, you're automatically labeled a racist, or you're attitude about your community, or in this case, Kanye have been called crazy. It's absurd. You are...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I think you are -- and as I have said, people are framing this, and that's a small part. Can we -- can we elevate this conversation because that's not what it's really about.

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: That is what it is really about.

LEMON: It's not what it's about.

DENNARD: It's about it fact that Kanye West comes out, and says something that is in support of this President. Chance the Rapper said something in support of this President, and all of a sudden, Kanye uses -- loses millions of Twitter followers. Why? Just because...

(CROSSTALK)

DENNARD: Do you support Republicans or this president...

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: I disagree with your framing of this. When you look at Twitter, and do a search, I mean, this provable stuff. Most people -- you're saying Donald Trump -- I mean, Kanye West has a right to say what he thinks about Donald Trump. I agree.

I don't think there's a large movement of people saying Kanye West doesn't have the right to say this. This is about right-wing strong argument just to say that he doesn't have free speech.

[22:55:00] Of course he has free speech.

DENNARD: He shouldn't be demonized for it is what I was trying to say.

HILL: I think -- thank you for correcting yourself. I also don't think that he's not being demonized here...

DENNARD: I just clarify.

HILL: Same thing, (Inaudible). I think that he's -- I think that he is not being demonized as much...

DENNARD: He is being demonized.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: How about this...

DENNARD: He is being demonized.

HILL: I understand you have a different opinion, but let me say mine. And don't cut me off, and I won't cut you off, because I didn't. I think -- I don't think he's being demonized as much as people are challenging him on his perspective.

And I think we have a right to do that as well. I think we do have a right to unfollow people in the same way that you said you don't mess with Kanye anymore, you don't buy Kanye stuff anymore after what he said about George Bush, people have a right to not mess with Kanye anymore after what he said about Donald Trump.

I think we both have a right to do that. And no, I don't think that it's a problem to do so, I think it's actually a part of a robust conversation. I don't know if this is a Democrat or Republican thing.

And I think the conversation about -- I think the conversation about Kanye West, and mental health is a reasonable one. I hope Kanye is great. I don't think that his mental health is in question simply because he supported Donald Trump. If that were the case, there's 50 million people whose mental health should be in check.

LEMON: Yes.

DENNARD: And that little -- that little snippet right there is what I'm talking about. That snippet is what I'm talking about. It's important.

HILL: I think you missed my point.

LEMON: I think you missed the point.

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: Paris, just let me finish. I think you missed my point. What I am saying is...

DENNARD: No, I heard you.

HILL: OK, I know you heard me. Let America hear me now.

DENNARD: And they did, and they were offended.

LEMON: Let him...

DENNARD: Fifty million people who you just...

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: How about this -- let me get five seconds to speak, (Inaudible) I'm saying you're not crazy for voting for Donald Trump because if that were true, all the 50 million Americans who did were crazy. I'm saying they're not crazy. I'm saying the opposite. I'm saying they're not crazy. So, Paris, if you listened, we will reach conclusion.

My point is, is that there are other indicators that makes me concerned about Kanye, the blurting out, the hospital, the fact that he was checked into a hospital a few years ago is under suspicion is a mental issue. I am saying I worry about Kanye, not because a voted or would have voter for, but because of other issues.

LEMON: David, quickly because I've got to get to the break.

SWERDLICK: Yes, two things. Look, first of all Kanye -- people are rallying around him. And I think part of what Paris is saying is that there's this defense of this idea that black people should be able to be conservative.

Black people can be conservative. There are plenty of reasons for black people to be conservative and/or Republican. But one of them is not that everybody who's a Democrat is just simply, you know, following along like lemmings behind the Democratic Party. Number two...

LEMON: I got to go. I got to go.

SWERDLICK: Yes, OK. Yes.

LEMON: All right. All right.

HILL: Ad-libs like a rapper.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast live with all the breaking news.