Return to Transcripts main page


Trump's Legal Team Preparing For Showdown With Mueller That Could Go To The Supreme Court; White House Claims Clerical Error Led To Drastic Change In Iran Statement; Kelly Says Report He Called President Trump An Idiot Is Total B.S.; Trump Is 'Very Happy' With Kelly As Chief Of Staff; Kanye West: Slavery 'Sounds Like A Choice'; GOP Senate Candidate Attacks Mitch McConnell's Family. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: 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 tonight. Sources telling CNN that President Trump's lawyers are preparing for a dramatic showdown with Robert Mueller. One that could turn into a lengthy court fight and go all the way to Supreme Court.

It's over the special counsel's warning that he could issue a subpoena forcing the President to appear before a grand jury. Some of Trump's lawyers are gambling that Mueller won't go that far. But sources tell CNN the already slim chances of the President voluntarily answering Mueller's questions are growing slimmer.

So I want to bring in our CNN's National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem, CNN Legal Analyst, Michael Zeldin, who was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department and CNN Legal Analyst, Laura Coates. Good evening. Thank you all for joining us.

Michael, you worked with Mueller at the DOJ. When you hear that Trump's legal team is preparing for a showdown with Mueller, how do you think that is going to play with Mueller?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think that Mueller is ready for that showdown and has been for a long time. We talked on long ago that when Mueller was putting together his team, he put on his team, his fellow Michael Dreeben was one of the most accomplished Supreme Court criminal advocates in the history of the Socio General's Office.

I expect the issue of whether or not the President can subpoena, President Trump for testimony on this case has been fully briefed and Mueller feels confident that he will win, under prevailing law and that the President wants to push that route as opposed to a voluntary interview, I think Mueller is ready to go that route, and I think he is going to win.

LEMON: Yes. And how about Mueller's -- Mueller warning Trump, his legal team about a subpoena. I mean, do you believe that will actually happen if the President doesn't sit down for an interview voluntarily?

ZELDIN: I think so. Because I think that the nature of the inquiry that Mueller is under a mandate to conclude requires the President's testimony. And there's no way to obtain the sort of closure that he needs on many of the issues within his mandate without the President's testimony.

And so I think that Mueller, being, you know, an earnest prosecutor is going to say to the president, I need this, it is part of my mandate. This is legitimate investigation. And if we can't work out terms voluntary, I have no choice, but to subpoena you.

LEMON: So, Laura, we had heard reporting that Trump's attorneys don't believe that Mueller has the right to subpoena. So if they fight this in court, how do you see this playing out?

LAURA COATES, CNN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ANALYST: Well, terms attorneys are wrong, if the think that Mueller does not have the authority to issue a grand jury subpoena. Remember there is also precedent for this. Ken Starr also issued a subpoena to then President Bill Clinton. Now, he ended up withdrawing it, once Bill Clinton decided to voluntarily agree to a video tape testimony in front of the grand jury.

But they are wrong to think that there is absolutely no precedent to say that the President of the United States could in fact be not above the law. In this case you have a grand jury for the purposes of saying, we would like to compel testimony in a criminal matter.

We already know the Supreme Court has been very, very adamant and lower courts now are starting to agree and particularly that the President of the United States is not only above the law, but that they must comply with subpoenas to testify in a civil case at least.

Now, a criminal bar is one in which we hold a great deal more water in. So, it is a real fallacy to think they could not compel this. But still, Don, there is still some reason for Mueller to try to get that voluntary cooperation. And the reason for that is it will drag out the battle about whether the President can testify or whether he will then be compelled to do so. And it's the definition of a stall tactic that is being used by Trump's team to suggest that they could not have the power to do so.


COATES: And that stall the problem for an investigation.

LEMON: Well, Juliette, Jeffrey Toobin thinks that President Trump will ultimately take the Fifth. What do you think about that?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean I would advise him to if I were his lawyer given how we know he responds to questions, and I think, you know, just picking up over Michael said, I think that would be unfortunate. We tend to view the Mueller investigation as solely a criminal investigation. That this is going to happen in court. But actually Mueller's mandate is different. It is to provide every

port that actually -- that sort of describes the contacts of the Russian influence through the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. The indictments that we're seeing, the plea arrangements that we're seeing are in some ways incidental to this sort of national security review that Mueller's mandate is, which is did a foreign power influence the election?

[23:05:07] So, while Trump would be beneficial to that narrative, he is definitely not necessary at this stage. And I think the only reason that he would speak is, if he could speak honestly about evidence that made him look or is innocent. And unless he can do that, he ought to take the Fifth or, you know, challenge this in court that he has to testify.

LEMON: Kudlow?

COATES: I'd like to say that I disagree with the purpose of one point at least. One is, first of all, we're talking about the Fifth Amendment. Remember that you can only play the Fifth to questions that might incriminate you, you can't come in and have a blanket statement of I'm pleading the Fifth to this whole experience. I don't feel like talking to you.

And normally you would have that the political suicide, but he has political cover now from having to say it's a witch hunt and to say pleading the Fifth is him talking about a witch hunt not about incrimination. But the bigger issue here, is also that the President of the United States does needs to testify not just because its incidental or because Mueller has meandered away from the directive, but because part of this deals with the President's state of mind.

In that 49 list of questions last topic, it deals with something the President only can answer. Which is whether or not he intended to obstruct, what his mental state was when he answered question to Lester Holt. What he knew about the Donald Trump Jr., Trump Tower meeting, what he wanted -- why he wanted to fire Michael Flynn, what was the real reason for his animosity towards Jeff Sessions. All those things are not part of an outside the scope of Mueller's investigation. They are poignant and may resonate with the actual terms of the mandate.

LEMON: OK, so Michael -- go ahead Michael.

ZELDIN: I was going to say, I don't know whether Jeffrey's right or wrong, but were it is the case that the President took the Fifth Amendment and I am going to follow up Juliette's thread that, what we really need to find out is what happened here. I would just immunize the President and require him to testify in an immunized state, where he has no Fifth Amendment right and I will obtain his testimony so I could report to American people what it is that happened here. And in that situation, were the President in an immunized state to lie, he will still be chargeable with perjury, so I mean, even if he run that Fifth Amendment option pretty easily and obtain what you need to obtain.

LEMON: Juliette, a lot of this questions are very open ended.

KAYYEM: Yes. Right, I mean, some are not. This is what's interesting. Some of them are actually specific dates. They mention Jared Kushner. What did you know about x, y, and z person was doing. And some of them are actually quite open ended. And part of that may be, you know, they don't want to tip their hand.

Remember -- we're forgetting how many people are speaking to Mueller who know a lot about what Donald Trump did, in terms of, you know, people who are involved with the campaign, people who are involved with the White House. And so those open ended questions are actually to determine whether Trump is willing to discourse, let's say, in the way that only Trump can do about some of these recollections about what happened.

Mueller probably knows the answer to a lot of those questions. And just going back to the main point, his mandate is not necessarily the number of indictments he can get, not necessarily the number of pleads he can get. The mandate is what happened. You know, did a foreign power, collude, and conspire, you know, whatever with the Trump campaign? And that, to me, you know, it's pretty essential to find that out now and let the indictments and the plea arrangements run their course, of course, but the storyline has to be for our own democracy at this stage and I think Mueller probably knows that.

LEMON: But the President and his team are not really talking about that part of the investigation at this point, which is probably the most important part of it. And another key factor in all of this is the raid, targeting Michael Cohen's office, his home, his hotel, his hotel room, I mean, they left President Trump fuming and reportedly charged the President's -- change the president's view on whether he would sit for an interview with the Special Counsel, right, Laura?

COATES: It did. And that is the report. He even said that Rod Rosenstein told him that he was not a target of that particular raid. That it was his correspondent or his privilege information with then Michael Cohen, if he really is his attorney and not a personal fixer, was not the target of this.

But I actually suspect, Don, as many people do, that the reason the President does not want to sit in front of Mueller or his investigative team has very little to do with Michael Cohen and a lot more to do with his lawyer's advice. And perhaps his own combination of common sense to say, that it would be problematic if he were to meander or he were to answer in these open ended questions that you and Juliette is talking about, because it gives him an opportunity to have softballs, get comfortable in the room and then begin to weave tales and tell things that maybe misstatements or misrecollection that is getting hurt in the end. So it was like, he didn't want to do it for a variety of reasons. It's convenient that Michael Cohen, his raid bolstered his reason not to want to do so.

[23:10:06] LEMON: All right. Thank you everyone, I appreciate it.

ZELDIN: All right. LEMON: When we come back, much more on what could be a coming

showdown between the White House and the Special Counsel. But does the President understand what is at stake for the office and for the country? I'm going to ask the former CIA director, General Michael Hayden.


LEMON: Breaking news. Sources telling CNN that Special Counsel Robert Mueller raised the possibility of issuing a subpoena to President Trump to appear before a grand jury. This as the President was tweeting today venting his anger over the Russia investigation.

Joining me now to talk about all of this, CNN National Security Analyst, General Michael Hayden, a former Director of the CIA and National Security Agency, who is the author of a new book "The assault on intelligence, American National Security in an age of lies." I can't wait for this.


LEMON: OK? So, let's talk about it. It comes as no surprise that in the wake of the release of these questions from Robert Mueller's team that the President wants to ask that he is attacking this Russia investigation as saying that it is a witch hunt, which it's not. He is saying that it's fake news, which it's not. Do you believe the President understands what the stakes are for his presidency and for the country?

HAYDEN: I think he does and hence the response. But unfortunately, Don, the response has been pretty typical of how he is responded in the past when challenged. He doesn't argue the facts of the case. He doesn't present counter arguments. What he does is attack the legitimacy of the other side.

[23:15:07] And so we see it here in the last 24 hours with this list of questions, which my instincts are they were released from the White House end of the conversation not the Special Counsel's end. And now the President can use that in an attempt to delegitimize Bob Mueller and his effort.

LEMON: How damaging would a showdown with the subpoena to the grand jury really be?

HAYDEN: Really, really damaging. You know, we still have to govern this country. I can't imagine what it's like inside the White House now. First of all, you've got the President consumed by this. Which, you know, in the last 24 hours and that list of questions you've got what did you talk to the DNI about, what did you talk to the Director of the CIA about? I mean, you've got other folks who really had full time day job. Now being caught into this. We got to go through this, we've got to finish this, and we've got to get to the other side. But in the meantime this is really hurting.

LEMON: You say and then you write in -- about this new book, he said, there's an even bigger story with bigger stakes even in the Russia investigation, our democracy itself, you say. I know you have strong feelings for it.

HAYDEN: Yes, I do. Look, we are credo (ph) people, we are credo (ph) nation. We are not blood, soil and history. We are united by shared believes. Those beliefs, Don, had the roots in the indictment which talks about evidence, fact based decision making. You know in the face of complexity, I mean that is kind of a good thing for humanity. But it's also imbued in our foundational documents.

So it's really important for us. So when we move into post truth world, a post-truth environment, in which decisions are more made on preference, emotion or tribalism, we are threatening the very foundations of who we are.

LEMON: OK, but let me -- so let me read this in your book.


LEMON: You mentioned about -- you write in your book, you said, I think it's fair to say that the Trump campaign normalized lying to an unprecedented degree and when pressed on specifics, it routinely tried to delegitimize those who would disagree with counter charges about lying, media, intelligence, so-called Judges, fake news, Washington insiders and the Deep State. Talk to me more about that.

HAYDEN: So the friction points -- I can just do this as an observer. I don't have to be judgmental. The friction points of the Trump Campaign and the Trump Administration, all right? Have been mostly with intelligence, law enforcement, the courts, science, scholarships, and you, journalism.


HAYDEN: And what do those six approaches have in common? They're evidence based. They are fact based. Now look, we know intelligence get it wrong, journalism can get it wrong, science can get it wrong. But the idea is to approach problems trying to pursue the accurate view of objective reality. There is no safe haven for journalism or for intelligence other than our pursuit of the truth. And that is why we have such high friction with this administration.

LEMON: How do you respond to the criticism or the critics who say this is just anti-Trump hysteria, that he is actually doing the opposite of what you say, that he is trying to make America great again?

HAYDEN: Yes. So, I talk in the book about going on to Pittsburgh and trying to talk -- enlisting my brother to get some folks in the room. Folks that don't sound like me. All right? Folks who don't sound like us on CNN. And I sat with them for 2 and half hours. Most were friends. I knew them, I grew up with them.

And so I wanted to understand why they felt the way they did. And there is a legitimate concern on their part that they have been forgotten by people, I guess, like me, people like you, people who claim expertise. So I get that. And I sympathize with it, I identify with it a little bit. But I don't think this approach the post-truth approach, the appeal to emotion, the appeal to tribe is the right approach.

LEMON: And I had been -- I want it to make it perfectly clear, you are saying people who claimed expertise that is not a liberal thing or the conservative thing.

HAYDEN: No. No. No.

LEMON: Because he beat up -- I think 17 other candidates who or whatever honestly.

HAYDEN: Right.

LEMON: Republicans who they thought had forgotten about them as well.

HAYDEN: Exactly right. It does sound liberal conservatives.

LEMON: Do you believe they -- the administration, do you think they are taking this office seriously? Because there's a new issue that came up with the typo and the White House responds about a statement about Iran. And first they said Iran has a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program. "Has" and then two hours later they updated saying, Iran "had" a robust clandestine nuclear weapons program. That is a huge difference, they say it is clerical error. I mean, do you consider that a high stakes error?

HAYDEN: Oh my god, yes. I don't know the inside baseball story, but I was in the greenroom here last night when the first announcement appeared, and I looked at it and said, oh, my goodness, this flies in the face of the judgment of the American intelligence community since December of 2007.

[23:20:03] And so I'm thinking how did they put that out? How did the intelligence guys live with this? What's the dynamic within the administration? And again, I don't know the inside baseball story --

LEMON: Wouldn't the intelligence people live with the advisers?

HAYDEN: Actually, my life experience working for President Bush particularly after the 16 words in the State of the Union that were wrong, we were required to vet everything coming out of the White House. Now, we weren't making a political judgment. It was just a judgment, yes, we can back you up. No we cannot back you up. And it doesn't look like that's routine for this administration. Back again, Don, to the disconnect between the fact based guys and the other folks.

LEMON: General Hayden, thank you.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

LEMON: "The assault on intelligence, American National Security in the age of lies." We appreciate it.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

LEMON: We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The White House saying today, the President is very happy with Chief of Staff, John Kelly. That after Kelly yesterday denied reports, he called President Trump an idiot. Chief of staff said in January, he was in it for the long haul though he has reportedly threatened to quit at least twice.

[23:25:05] I want to bring in now CNN National Security Analyst, Samantha Vinograd and CNN Political Commentator, Joe Lockhart. Good evening to both of you. It's good to have you on. So, the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, addressed the controversy surrounding the Chief of Staff, John Kelly, today, continuing to push back against reports that Kelly called the President an idiot. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you tell us what the President's level of confidence is as the Chief of Staff, Kelly, and is he under consideration for the next nominee for Veteran's Affairs Administration?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. He is not being consider as the V.A. secretary. Both the President and the Chief of Staff are very happy with his position that he currently holds, which is Chief of Staff to the President at the White House. And I would refer you back to General Kelly's statement that he put out yesterday specific to the comments that allegations about comments that he'd made.


LEMON: So, Joe, the White House has made similar statements about staffers who ended up leaving, shortly, you know, some of them a little bit longer, but ended up being true. Do you think Kelly's long for this White House?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think so. I think he is probably looking at this and saying there are people who have left gracefully on their own terms and there are people who have left, you know, have been pushed out. You know, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell are people who left, got something done left. Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Spicer, the people who were pushed out. You know, in flames or shame. So, I suspect he is looking for a moment where he can do it on his terms. You know, Sarah's comments, I can't divine whether the President is happy with him or not. But I know a part of that comment that was wrong was, Kelly's happy, because he can't be happy.

LEMON: He is pushing back on the report. He is calling this report total B.S., and sources say, that yesterday the report is just the latest incident that really reflects the friction between the President and Kelly. Do you think this is the final straw or maybe he is waiting for the right moment?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I hope so, because I don't think that John Kelly staying in his job is during any of us a service from the National Security perspective. It is no secret that John Kelly has been neutered by the President. The president is not letting him performed the core functions of his job.

The Chief of Staff is there to be a team captain, a team manager between all the different parts of the White House. Now we have a situation for example where we have Larry Kudlow, John Bolton and others reporting directly to the President, for example. That means that there's a lot of lone wolves going to the President, not coordinating with John Kelly. And I think that is pretty dangerous. So, we can either keep John Kelly, in his position. We can get rid of him and then we have the real question, whether the President is actually going to listen to anybody that replaces John Kelly.

LEMON: As I've said there have been a number of reports right? About, you know, clashes and ask her for waiting for the right moment. But are you surprised that he hasn't left on his own considering that, you know, the reports about him not being happy with the President fate?

LOCKHART: I mean, it's hard to get inside someone's head completely. But there is an element of, I think with a lot of these people of trying to keep Trump from going off the rails. And I think that is justification for people staying maybe longer than they should or longer than they want.

Secondly, I think there's a misnomer about military people that they are not political. And when I say political, that is not a criticism. You have to be political to rise through the ranks of the military. And it's OK to be political. And again, I think he is trying to figure out, you know, how do I get out of this and get on with the rest of my career in the best and most productive way?

LEMON: You don't mean political in the sense of right versus left? You mean political in the office sense or managing someone --

LOCKHART: Getting things done and understanding how you get things done, how you influence people and how you get yourself ahead.

LEMON: NBC reported yesterday saying that Kelly sees himself and this is quote, as a bore against catastrophe. You think that is why he is staying in this job?

VINOGRAD: I honestly don't know why he is staying in this job. I think a lot of people that I've spoken to, sources from within the White House have said, that they feel like they're there to again, keep the President from going off the rails. But Don, it is not working. We have a president that isn't listening to his Chief of Staff, considers himself to be his own communications director, his own Secretary of State, his own National Security Adviser, so I don't think that that is a viable argument anymore.

LEMON: When was the last time we saw or you saw, either of you guys, anyone, John Kelly?

VINOGRAD: Not for a long time, right? It's been a while. So that is telling, isn't it?

LEMON: That is very telling, yes. So the President has defended his Chief of Staff against a number of reports like this one since giving Kelly the job. He gave Kelly the job in July 2017. But, I mean, he can't be happy about reports like being called an idiot. Does Kelly have a target on his back?

LOCKHART: I think anyone who has tries to manage the President and get him to act in a proper way, a traditional way, has got a target on his back. I think the one thing we have learned with all of the people, some of them were terrible people. Some of them are actually quite confident people, is he resists the urge of being managed.

And I think anyone who goes in and tries to put order in and tries to keep him off his phone and tries to keep him -- you know, some sense of, you know, getting him to do the work of the presidency is, you know, it's like a baseball manager waiting to get fired. 2 LEMON: You're agreeing with that, why is that?

VINOGRAD: I agree and disagree at least in the short-term. I do think that we have seen John Bolton and Pompeo come in. And at least in the short-term that they've been in office, I do think that they've been somewhat empowered to do their jobs and to fulfill their responsibilities.

And so we don't know how long that's going to last but their predecessors (INAUDIBLE) and at this point, they do seem to have a little bit (INAUDIBLE).

LOCKHART: Remember they said that about John Kelly three months --

VINOGRAD: They did. And that's why it can be short-lived.

LEMON: Listen, I want to get this in before we go because I need to get your opinion on this. The White House and the statement on Iran. OK, last night, saying that Iran has, H-A-S versus had, H-A-D, a robust nuclear program. The White House claims that this was a clerical error. But I mean how could this possibly happen?

VINOGRAD: A clerical error of nuclear proportions because it's the difference of whether Iran did or didn't violate the deal.

LEMON: You were a press secretary. How did this happen?

LOCKHART: There is a lack of professionalism in this White House and it shows up in typos every day.

LEMON: Thank you, Sam. Thank you, Joe. I appreciate it. When we come back, what may be the most shocking thing yet that Kanye has ever said, quote, slavery sounds like a choice. People are understandably outraged. And we're going to talk about that, next.


LEMON: Kanye West sparking a lot of outrage tonight with his unhinged comments about slavery. I want to bring in now Republican Strategist, Shermichael Singleton, CNN Political Commentator, Marc Lamont Hill, and writer and journalist Kierna Mayo. Good evening to all of you. So today, Kanye West managed to shock us again while at TMZ office today to film "TMZ Live." He made these stunning comments about slavery.


KANYE WEST, RAPPER: When you hear about slavery for 400 years, for 400 years, that sounds like a choice. Like you was there for 400 years and it's all of you all? You know, like -- it's like we're mentally in prison. I like the word prison because slavery goes too direct to the idea of blacks.

It's like slavery, holocaust, holocaust, Jews. Slavery is blacks. So prison is something that unites as one race, blacks and whites as one race. That we're one, with the human race.


LEMON: Kierna, slavery for 400 years is a choice. What's your reaction?

KIERNA MAYO, WRITER AND JOURNALIST: It's, again, unfortunate. You know, we're all worried about Kanye, but at this point we're all also angry and offended and hurt. And he's also factually incorrect, right? So slave rebellions, armed slave rebellions have happened in every slave holding state in this country. We have resisted slavery for as long as we've been here.

His association with slavery is so just uninformed. And I think the problem with Kanye today is that he has taken for granted that his lack of information, it can pass for opinion in a public sphere. And particularly for his young black fans and followers, I'm worried for them, because I'm not sure that they can make the distinction between where he's going and the truth.

LEMON: That's why we're covering it so much, because in my estimation, this is dangerous. And again, as I've said all along and you've said, Kanye can say whatever he wants and he can believe whatever he wants. But he should understand the power of his platform. He has to be responsible as Van said today. And he has to know his facts. He thinks, Marc, that this is a new conversation --


LEMON: -- that he is having because he just discovered it.

LAMONT HILL: He just discovered some information. And I want him to discover information. I also want him to discover books.

MAYO: Yes.

LAMONT HILL: And I want to him to read those books and read that information before he offers public opinion. But in the Kanye West universe at least right now whatever he thinks is the most important thing, facts be damned, and that's something that's super dangerous. In many ways, he is like Trump. I mean, I think he's wrestled with some stuff but --

LEMON: I'm just going to say --

LAMONT HILL: I can see why he likes Donald Trump.

LEMON: He says why he likes him.

LAMONT HILL: Yes. He is a rich, successful white man, does whatever he wants at any circumstances. He doesn't need facts. He doesn't need anything else. He doesn't read. I can see why he likes Donald Trump.

LEMON: But the thing is that -- he doesn't even know his history of Donald Trump.


MAYO: Yeah.

LEMON: So he hasn't read about Donald Trump as well, because maybe he would not be saying these things.

MAYO: But he also -- let's not extract Kanye from hip hop and like the origins around his generation in hip hop. He was up against half of an M.C. (ph) nation that was naming themselves after white men, right, who were supposed to be self-made, who were supposed to be ala- Trump in this very kind of flashy screw you, I do me kind of ilk.

And so there is an attraction to I think what he associates with braggadocious and bravery and radical free thought. However, you're wearing a mega-hat (ph) as though that's not sheepish.

LAMONT HILL: We didn't do that, though.


LAMONT HILL: We still say "F" to police.

MAYO: Absolutely.

LAMONT HILL: We still say my president is black.

MAYO: Absolutely. And so did he. And so did he.

LAMONT HILL: And that's why -- and that's what I'm worried about.

LEMON: So, Shermichael, Kanye tweeted this just a few hours ago. He tried to clarify this. He said, to make myself clear, of course I know that slaves did not get shackled and put on a boat by free will. My point is for us to have stayed in that position even though the numbers were on our side means that we were mentally enslaved. The reason why I brought up the 400 years point is because we can't be mentally in prison for another 400 years.

[23:40:00] We need free thought now. Even the statement was an example of free thought. It was just an idea.

So he's backtracking. But does that make sense?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, it doesn't, Don. Look, I think even a cursory understanding of slavery and history of slave -- people who are in slavery, would better position him to make a more accurate and historically factual statement, he did not. The premise of his statement or his tweets rather that he is a free thinker is somewhat absurd to me.

And intellectually speaking, I would advise Kanye to pick up a book written by Immanuel Kant back in the 1700s, "The Critique of Pure Reason." Perhaps that would better prepare him with the necessary tools to be able to truly be a free thinker because what he said is not a free thinker. There's nothing genius about it.

It's blatantly ignorant and it's embarrassing. And for the all the young people who have invested in him, who go out and buy his sneakers, who buy his albums, what do you say to those individuals? It's because of them he is where he is at currently. He owes those folks an explanation.

LEMON: Yes. So, listen, you're black conservative. Again, this is not about politics although people are trying to frame it that way.

SINGLETON: The difference, yes, I am a black conservative, but I can tell you the reason why I'm a conservative. I can explain a definition of conservatism versus liberalism. I have spent time reading books Edmund Burke and John Locke and Michael Oakeshott and Robert Nozick who all have their own issues as Marc Lamont Hill can factually state.

But with that stated my belief system is grounded upon an intellectual exploration of something. Kanye is not. There is distinct difference between the two.

LEMON: I hope he's watching because you just preach right there. Kanye recently spoke with radio host Charlamagne Tha God. That interview came out today. Here's part of what he said.


WEST: Why do you got to keep reminding us about slavery? Why don't you show us? Put Michael Jordan on $20 bill.

CHARLAMAGNE THE GOD, RADIO HOST: But Harriet Tubman was a slave that rebelled though. Her and Nat Turner were on a different frequency. They were kind of like you when you said you didn't feel like being controlled.

WEST: Yeah. You know what? It's funny like my boy, Germaine (ph) tweeted, you know, a picture of me and Virgil and he said Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. All these people got mad like, how can you compare them to that? Man, I know this is going to cause an uproar, but certain icons are just too far in the past and not relatable.


LEMON: Wow. It's stunning, right? LAMONT HILL: It's stunning on so many levels. First of all, again this idea of why we're still talking about slavery is a right wing, alt-right talking point. This idea about black and black crime. White wing talking point. This idea -- everything he said --

LEMON: He brought that up today. I wanted the guys in the room and, you know, Van was amazing to say black people kill each other because of proximity. White people kill each other because of proximity. Because they live together.

LAMONT HILL: There you go with that data again. You keep using these facts which contradicts Kanye's feelings. You cant keep doing that in the Kanye universe. That's the problem. And we have to keep pushing it. And that's why this conversation is necessary. It's not to persuade Kanye. Kanye probably can't be persuaded but it's to persuade the people who watched this conversation so that they know.


LEMON: Can we run Van soundbite right now? OK. So, this is Van. Writer Van Lathan. He was clearly upset. He passionate and was across the room.

MAYO: Yes.

LEMON: And then he had some words for Kanye. Watch this.


VAN LATHAN, WRITER: I actually don't think you're thinking anything. I think what you're doing right now is actually the absence of thought and the reason why I feel like that is because -- Kanye, you're entitled to your opinion. You're entitled to believe whatever you want.

But there is fact and real world, real life consequence behind everything that you just said. The rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice.

Frankly, I'm disappointed, I'm appalled. And brother, I am unbelievably hurt by the fact that you have morphed into something to me that's not real.


MAYO: Clarity. Clarity.



MAYO: There's an interesting piece that happens there. I don't know if you saw the tail end of that.

LEMON: What he says, you need to be responsible, Kanye wanted to hug him.

MAYO: Kanye, I'm sorry if I hurt you, brother. I'm sorry if I hurt you --

LEMON: Hang on, let her finish.

MAYO: Let me just make this point. I think it's kind of interesting the way that Kanye emotes, right?

[23:45:00] So he has these one-on-one relationships and kind of extrapolates what happens in one-on-one and projects that one to the whole. So he loves Trump because you met him three times and so that's your boy and so that's his reasoning for standing for him.

And so I feel like similarly in this situation, you see the side of Kanye after this where there's a genuine moment where he is just dawning on him, that he actually impacted someone. And in that second, he's ready to move on it. He wants to hug you. He goes into this free love thing which is another --

LEMON: Shermichael?

SINGLETON: This is why, you know, I was going to say, this is why we have to be so careful about considering people as genius. So many people say Kanye is a genius. Without a doubt he's had a successful music career. He has done fairly well for himself. He has gained so much of the world.

And yet despite all the advances he has made economically speaking, he's still so ignorant of all the encounters (ph), if you will, that occur between human nature and human experiences, and why certain people are impacted by certain things differently and how marginalized groups of people struggle in comparison to those who are not marginalized at all.

I mean, Don, the fact of the matter is this, right, if your enlightened, if you're an independent free thinker, then you have sort of gone through the process of -- from enlightenment (ph) to being free. It reminds me of the allegory of Plato's Cave where the individuals who see this shadow before them and they believe that the shadow they see in front of them is true.

But it's not true. It's not true at all. And that's what's so troubling about this, that we're having this conversation about this guy with this huge platform, so many people who would take those words as truth.


LAMONT HILL: And that's just it. You don't have to be genius at everything.

MAYO: No, you don't.

(CROSSTALK) SINGLETON: I wouldn't call -- I push back on that, Marc. Marc, I push back on that at all. He's not a genius, whatsoever. And we need to stop just using that term so loosely and freely.

MAYO: You don't know Kanye.


LEMON: I got to take a break. I got to take a break. It sounds to me like he thinks it's -- that you can't have one -- it's a choice. That you can't have self-pride and be positive and try to improve yourself and have all of those things where you're going to better yourself, better your community, and still know and understand history -- he doesn't understand that you can do both of those things.

LAMONT HILL: You can be critical and have responsibility.

SINGLETON: I'm conservative, Don, and I'm still aware I'm black.


LEMON: We've got a lot to talk about including someone who is running for office who said, a wealthy China man isn't racist, and then this Kanye. I want to play something from Kanye West. I think Kanye is actually writing his own story. We're going to talk about that. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Welcome back. I'm back now with Shermichael, Marc, and Kierna. I want to shift gears now and talk about the former coal executive, Don Blankenship, whose interview with Mitch McConnell has doubled down on comments that he made about McConnell's wife, transportation secretary, Elaine Chao. He talked about her father being a wealthy China person and he defends his comments. Watch.


DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: This idea that calling someone a China person, I mean, I'm an American person, I don't see this insinuation by the press that there are something racist about saying a China person. Some people are Korean persons and some are African persons. It's not any slander there.


LEMON: It's laughable, right? Because he talks about her father being a wealthy China person and then he went after McConnell for being soft on China and he insists his comments are not racist.

MAYO: Lunacy and white supremacy at work. Let's just call a thing what it is. Don't go to make those mistakes anymore. You don't.

LAMONT HILL: White persons be tripping, like, it's a real simple thing when you make a mistake to say, you know what? I misspoke or I didn't know -- or whatever the case may be. But to double down on it, it's almost like he's baiting his base.

LEMON: Shermichael, what about the type of candidates that are running for Republican seats now? Is this a reflection of the Trump era or what?

SINGLETON: You know, I think it is a reflection of the Trump era. And something that I have personally struggled with and I have written a lot about this is trying to figure out if this is a permanent paradigm shift of is this something that is temporary that will only last while Trump is in office.

That is something that I think the jury is still out. But one thing that I can say, of course that guy knew exactly what he was saying. He knew by making that statement that it will rile up the individuals who he would need to come out and vote for him. I get that.

But the fact of the matter is we cannot continue, Don, to allow individuals to get away with theses things, whether it's Democrats or Republicans. There's a certain level of decency and respect that once existed in politics and just because one person is in the White House, you should not change the entire economy for the entire country.

LEMON: I agree with you. I want to end on this Kanye thing. I feel Kanye is sort of writing his -- it's weird. I went back when I thought about this. I said, you know, Kanye is enamored with -- he wrote about being enamored with oneself in 2007, for graduation. Play this.


WEST: Wake up, Mr. West. Mr. West, Mr. Fresh, Mister, by himself he's so impressed. I mean damn, did you even see the task? You got Ds, Ds, Rosie Perez. And yes ass barely passed any and every class. Looking at every ass, cheated on every task. I guess, this is my dissertation. Homie this is basic, welcome to graduation. Good morning.


LEMON: See, get got Fs. Listen to what he is saying. Wake up, Mr. West.

MAYO: This isn't about --

LEMON: Mr. West. By himself he's so impressed. You got Ds. This is his graduation. But seriously, he needs to listen. He needs to take his own advice.

MAYO: I don't think it's about failing in school. I think it's about failing as an adult.

LEMON: That's what I'm talking about.

MAYO: Yes.

LAMONT HILL: I think he needs to be self-critical like all of us do. I think he needs to develop and grow and be open to new ideas, new people, new information. If he does, he can grow. LEMON: I got 20 seconds, Shermichael.

SINGLETON: But the highest of reflection is self reflection, Don, because no one wants to look at the mirror and look at that person and say, wow, I'm really flawed.

[23:55:04] LEMON: Thank you all. It was a great conversation.


LEMON: I really --


LEMON: Like Van said, Kanye, you've got to be responsible. Good night.