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CNN TONIGHT

Trump Accuses Mueller Team Of Conflicts Of Interest; How Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Built A Shadowy Business Empire; Giuliani Says Trump May Take The Fifth; Giuliani Pushes Back Against Criticism; Trump To Reveal Decision On Iran Nuclear Deal Tomorrow; CNN Poll: 57 Percent Say Things Are Going Well In The U.S.; Latest CNN Poll On President Trump; White House Concerned Candidate Is 'Roy Moore On Steroids.' Aired 11-12a ET

Aired May 7, 2018 - 23:00   ET

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


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[23:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: But I want to begin this hour ahead with President Trump turning up his efforts to derail the Russia investigation. I'm joined now by CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem, Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson and CNN Political Commentator, Mike Shields.

Good evening to all of you welcome to the program. Mike, I'm going to start with you. The President came out swinging today against the Russia investigation and the Special Counsel. He falsely tweeted this, he said, the 13 angry Democrats in charge of the Russian witch hunt are starting to go find out that there is a court system in place that actually protects people from injustice. And just wait till the courts get to see your unrevealed conflicts of interest.

The fact is that 13 angered Democrats are not in charge of the Russian investigation although several members of Mueller's team, had donated to Democrats. Mueller is in charge of the investigation. He is a registered Republican, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a respected former FBI Director. Why does the President keep saying this?

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he is attacking Mueller's team, because this is a political fight. And there is obviously some legal components to this, but in the end, this is a political fight. If you look at what the Clinton team did with Ken Starr, I mean James Cargo came out and declared war on Starr and the investigation and George Stephanopoulos and Lanny Davis, Dick Morris wrote an entire game plan for how they were going after Ken Starr.

They went after Al D'Amato, who was the chairman of the Senate Committee that was investigating Whitewater at the time. These are political fights. And the president, and if you look at what's going on with what Rudy Giuliani has even done in the last week, it's clear they've shifted to a sort of a stance to politically talk about this and try and play off it.

And that is what the President said this morning, this is called me fighting back, and that is because in the end this is a political arena they're fighting in, and he believes that he can prove that there's some members of the team that have given the Democrats and are therefore conflicted and this is a partisan witch hunt. That is his message.

LEMON: Rick, did -- Rick, did the Clintons or the Clinton team, did they, you know, send out false allegations about Kenneth Starr, or did they just say it was a political witch hunt? Or because the crux of my question was about the President tweeting false information.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think the difference here, and look the Clinton folks were not exactly fighting Marcus of Queensbury rules every day. They certainly -- they were certainly were willing to shift people when they had to, you know try to achieve their political ends. This President, however, has taken it much, much further. They never -- the Clinton folks -- not even the Clinton folks went out and said, oh, Ken Starr is part of a sinister Cabal trying to destroy us and that he is part of this gigantic conspiracy.

SHIELDS: Yes, they did.

WILSON: Working with every, you know, one of our opponents. Not to the same degree as this where --

SHIELDS: That is why wing conspiracy.

WILLIAMS: Not to the same way, wait a second. Not to the same degrees were they're just absolutely making statements of fact that are so disconnected from reality. But look, this is the President doing professional from reality. Well, look, this is president doing professional wrestling, this is the President doing -- he is talking to one narrow silo of his voters, the Fox News, Fox and Friends audience in the morning, and making sure that they're revved up on this thing, and make sure that their hep up on this thing. And you know, the normal political strategies, you do in a situation like this, they all taint. And everybody would do, no matter party you are in or from. But Donald Trump has a unique, sort of sewy (ph) generous level of being a liar in chief like we've never seen before in any President in history.

LEMON: I know that you want to respond to that, Mike. So, Juliette, stand by. So, Mike, respond at all, the people you mentioned were not the President of the United States. You were talking about Carville and others. Those were his associates doing that.

SHIELDS: Right.

LEMON: Why is the President of the United States doing it?

SHIELDS: I actually look it the other way around. I mean, the President is tweeting things. He doesn't have his entire White House and all of this surrogates outside the White House attacking the investigation the way Clinton White House did is some way.

WILSON: Of course he does.

SHIELDS: Really. OK. Who is the James Carville that is going after Mueller and talking about the conflicts of interest of the investigator that had given the Democrats --

LEMON: Isn't that Giuliani?

WILSON: Look, you've got an entire organization in the White House that has dedicated to pushing this. Kellyanne Conway does nothing else, but serially lie about the administration's position on Mueller. They have an entire White House staff dedicated to one thing only. They're not talking about the business of the country, they're talking about the business of protecting Donald Trump. You also got -- a lot of members of the House, who have decided that their oath to their constituents, the constitution, comes second to protecting Donald Trump.

And oh, by the way, there is a certain television network that has dedicated 24 hours a day to running stories of the most lurid conspiracies and the most egregious misstatements of fact about folks like Robert Mueller, the people in his investigative team. So, no. The President isn't standing alone holding his iPhone in one hand tweeting violently against the hoard --

SHIELDS: Rick, I think this is --

LEMON: Mike, let Juliette go in.

SHIELDS: This is a guy who had the whole administration working fulltime.

LEMON: Go ahead Juliette, what do you think?

KAYYEM: Well, I just think -- I think all Trump has left is the tweets and so they are what they are which is you know, he doesn't have much of a legal defense. Whose people are indicted, people are, you know, making plea arrangements with Mueller.

[23:05:10] You have got, you know the whole Mike Cohen thing which is unfolding in ways that have got to be, you know, terrifying for Trump, not just on the Stormy Daniels front, but on the Russian front. So in some ways this is all he is got left, and we should just treat it as sort of the last, you know, lying, you know, statements of someone whose legal strategy is clearly unknown.

The only legal strategy we've seen so far is a bunch of lawyers quitting. And so if he thinks he can win this way, it's not just convincing Mueller, it's actually convincing judges who have these cases before them, grand juries who have already determined that indictments are allowable. Men who have voluntarily pled to testify against the President of the United States. They're not all going away, because of tweets.

LEMON: Let me read this Juliette, because you mentioned Michael Cohen. New York Times published an extensive piece about Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen operating with the article calls the back waters of the financial legal world. And according to Times, that many of his associates has face either criminal charges are stiff regulatory penalties, that includes partners and the taxi business, doctors for whom he helped establish medical clinics and lawyers with whom he worked, adding that he spent much of his personal and professional life with immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. So what does that tell you?

KAYYEM: It tells me that the narrative of Michael Cohen as some innocent, you know, sort of dufus guy who fell in love with Trump and would do anything for him is a lie. Michael Cohen is in charge of a criminal enterprise that he actually was sort of the legal, you know, the legal brains, in quotes, behind. I mean, what we have learned about Michael Cohen is that he willingly engaged in the kind of contact that is absolutely illegal, so this notion of him as a dupe is just ridiculous.

He is -- look, he is an adult male who should be judged that way. One other quick thing about Michael Cohen. We have been talking about Michael Cohen in the context of Stormy Daniels. And I just want to remind viewers that Michael Cohen is mentioned four times in the Steele dossier. The idea that Michael Cohen is a fixer on the Stormy Daniels front for Trump, but not in some ways implicated in the other stuff Mueller is looking at is ridiculous. He is a key player across both sides of all the troubles that are facing the Trump White House.

LEMON: OK. I want both of you guys, I want Rick and Mike to weigh in, but first, Rick, I'm going to get you, because this is new. This is from -- this is the "Wall Street Journal." In an informal, this is a quote from them, an informal talking about preparing the President for a Mueller interview. An informal four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump's lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions given the frequent interruptions on national security matters along with Mr. Trump's loquaciousness one person familiar with the matter said. Rick, what do you think of that then Mike?

WILSON: You know, I have done a lot media trending for candidates and corporate folks in my career and the idea that Donald Trump has the attention span of a toddler on espresso does not surprise anyone. This is not a man who is able to focus on things for much longer, you know, than the a-block of Fox and Friends in the morning.

I'm not really convinced that Donald Trump is trainable in terms of preparing him for testimony, which is why every attorney with any sense of reality wants him to stay as far away as he can from the grand jury, and as far away as he can from Robert Mueller, because they recognize the legal (inaudible) will immediately occur when Donald Trump opens his mouth.

LEMON: Mike, go ahead. Do you want to respond?

SHIELDS: Yes. Look, I actually -- I understand where his lawyers are coming from. They don't want him to sit down for that reason. But that is a far cry from saying, we don't want him to sit down because he is guilty of collusion with the Russians and it's going to come out if he sits down and answers these questions. I mean there's a huge difference there. It has been 14 months and going, and going at $7 million and going and going, and the real reason they don't want him to sit down is because once you start talking to an investigator, if you say something that is incorrect, even if it has nothing to do with what the initial investigation is about. We saw a footage today were he got confused about who would sign a

lease on something and then he corrected himself. That is the sort of thing that can get you under real legal trouble. But that is why, Mueller wants to sit down with him and my point would be, if Mueller actually had him on something, that wouldn't be the direction they will be trying to go, they would actually have him on something. They want him to sit him down because they want him to talk and speak loquaciously and get himself into trouble from that, not from what the original purpose of the investigation was, which Russian collusion by the Trump campaign.

LEMON: We have no way of knowing that, Mike.

SHIELDS: We have no way of knowing any of this, but we spend hours on here speculating as if President Trump is guilty, and someone every once in a while tries to point out that maybe we don't know anything, because he is not guilty.

LEMON: Juliette, he was talking about during a deposition were the president didn't you know, wasn't true if he signed a lease or not, but did they make allowances for things like that. People don't -- your memory is not 100 percent.

[23:10:02] KAYYEM: Memory, that is right and chances are that his lawyers -- whoever the lawyers are at the time that this conversation happens, his lawyers will go back and fact-check it. So the idea that there is a -- that the President is going to go to jail or be guilty of collusion based on some mistake or error, and you know, whether it was 1979 or 1986 when he signed the lease, is just absolutely ridiculous.

I actually think that people who supported Donald Trump should applaud Bob Mueller for wanting to interview the President. This is actually a really serious investigation that we have to remember was approved by Donald Trump's Justice Department in terms of the mandate, and I think Mueller is actually showing Trump incredible respect in many ways to say, look, this is -- there are big accusations here.

There are people who have pled to serious, serious things. We have indictments, you know, both here and in Russia, and so tell us your story. Tell us what you knew. Because there is a lot of evidence out there that shows that -- whether it's collusion or the money laundering or the sex or whatever it is, a lot of that information is getting very close to you, President of the United States.

And so I don't get this whole idea that the trick notion or they just want to trick Donald Trump. Maybe they're actually treating him like an adult and the President of the United States to say this is serious stuff, explain yourself, because we respect --

SHIELDS: So they can take written answers then.

KAYYEM: -- we respect the office, right? I think you should view it that way. I think it's weird that you think that his silence in any way helps his office.

SICONOLFI: No, but they can submit written answers, then, so he doesn't have to sit down for an interview.

LEMON: That has got to be the last word. I am out of time. Thank you all. Thank you, Mike. Thank you, Rick. Thank you, Juliette. I appreciate your time.

Up next, breaking news, the New York's Attorney General quitting tonight amid multiple allegations of physical and emotional abuse against women. David Axelrod is going to join us -- talk to us about Eric Schneiderman's resignation.

Plus reports of the president increasing frustrations with Rudy Giuliani.

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Here's breaking news tonight. New York's Attorney General resigning amid assault allegations. I want to bring in CNN senior commentator, Mr. David Axelrod. David, thank you for joining us. So let us start with the breaking news. New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman has resigned after four women accused him of violence. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand calls for his resignation. Two of the women spoke on record saying he had hit and choked them. Both sought medical attention, because of the alleged abuse. Two others asked to stay anonymous. In a statement Schneiderman denies that he has assaulted anyone. It's a, you know, developing story. What's your reaction to this news?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he resigned, so obviously he felt that there was a problem here. You know, I read "The New Yorker" account. It was pretty well reported. So, you know, I think he did the right thing by resigning, and I think others who calls for his resignation did the right thing as well.

You know, Don, you can't ride the white horse and then, you know, when the mud comes, it really shows up. These are terrible allegations against him, so, you know, I always believe people are due their day in court, but in the court of public opinion, it's very hard to read this and not say, you who called yourself an ally of the #metoo movement should stay in office.

LEMON: Yes. Again, he is denying it, but he says allegations unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office. They will effectively prevent me from leading the office work at a critical time. So, he is saying, he is doing it because he won't be able to -- I guess there will be such a cloud over him.

AXELROD: I understand that. Eric Schneiderman is a very -- he is a battler. He is a pugnacious guy. I think if you thought there was a way through, he would probably not be resigning. So, you know, again I don't know -- all I know is what I read. What I read was pretty damming.

LEMON: Yes. I want to move on and talk about this new report from "Politico," which says that, President Trump is growing frustrated with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. This is according to "Politico." The President has been griping to associates that Giuliani has failed to shut down the Stormy Daniels hush money saga, and he has express frustration that Giuliani's media appearances are raising more questions than they are answering. Has Giuliani done anything other than make life more difficult for President Trump right now?

AXELROD: Was that a job, Don? Was he supposed to put out the Stormy Daniels fire? Because I think instead of grabbing the water tank, he grabbed the kerosene can and he just heated the whole thing up. He has been unmitigated disaster for the President, and I'm sure that amid the President's legal team, among his White House staff, there is nothing, but consternation.

And I have to believe he is going to pull the plug on Rudy's show. You know, he reviews these things, he throws people on TV and he sees how they play, and then he pulls the plug. This has a -- this has a mooch feel to it. This feels like a Scaramucci moment to me.

LEMON: Giuliani responding saying, you know no one knows the Justice Department better than him and the president was on his side. Do you believe that to be the case considering with what all happened last weekend and this weekend?

AXELROD: Well, I don't doubt he is knowledgeable about the Justice Department. He obviously knows about Mueller. But he didn't look like a very proficient lawyer. I'm not questioning his legal credentials, but I don't know any lawyer I've spoken to who thinks that he did anything, but mess his client up in the last five days. And each time he went out to kind of clean up the last round and he made more mistakes and made things more complicated.

LEMON: Even more.

AXELROD: Yes. So I think Rudy was eager to get back in the fray. I mean, I think, he was happy be back in the mix, he had been kind of sent off to the side by Trump, he wasn't given a job, now he was back in there and he wanted to make a splash. But instead he made a mess.

LEMON: Let us talked about, the Iran deal. Because the President tweeted, he is going to make a decision on the Iran deal tomorrow, a few days ahead of the May 12th deadline. We know Trump doesn't like that deal. If you are reading the tea leaves, do you think he is going to pull out of this?

AXELROD: I don't think there is any questions about it, I would be stunned if he didn't. Look, he has been saying this for a long time. We know that there were reports that he was very frustrated with Rex Tillerson, because Tillerson didn't think he should pull out.

[23:20:00] We know the defense secretary has said much the same. You know, what's been clear about Donald Trump in the last few months is that he is pretty decided to go it alone. He makes his own decisions whether it's on North Korea or trade, and he is indicated that this is the thing that he wants to do, and he is going to do it.

I think it is unmitigated disaster when it comes to the situation there. I think it is going to drive a wedge between us and our allies and it's only going to accelerate the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

But, you know, I don't know that he's studied the details of the policy. This is something he promised, it was an Obama achievement or viewed as such, and so, we know how he feels about that. And I think he is going to take an ax to it.

LEMON: Let's draw down a little bit more on that, because talking about the implications for American foreign policy and those alliances with other members of the deal if the President won't stay in this deal.

AXELROD: Yes. No, I think it is, you know, the French, the Brits, the Germans have all expressed themselves on this. We had two leaders come here to the United States to implore him not to pull out of the deal. And so, you know, when you lock arm in arm with your allies on something like this and then just idly walk away from it, it creates doubt. It creates tension. It creates problems. And that is what's going to happen here. And it will be interesting to see how they react, because he may exit the deal, but they may not.

So we will be on separate sides of this. And then, of course we have to see how the Iranians deal and what they had been indicated that they may take it as an abrogation of the deal and go back to working on their nuclear program. You know that remains to be seen.

But, you know, I think this is being done for domestic political content. Not as a means of securing, you know, securing the nuclear potential over Iran or capping it. I don't think that what this is all bout at all. This was something that played well at the crowds when he was running for President.

And now, he wants to file through on it and the fact that it was associated with Obama, makes an attempting target for him.

LEMON: Always appreciate you rime. Thank you sir.

AXELROD: All right, Don, good to see you.

When we come back, a new CNN polls shows a majority Americans say things in this Country are going well, but what do they think about how the president is personally doing his job. We will tell you next.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. A new CNN poll tonight shows most people are happy with Trump's America. 57 percent of those polls say things are going well, but their feelings about the President is a very different story. Let us discuss now, CNN Contributor, Salena Zito, the author of the new book "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populous Coalition Reshaping America Politics." Also Bill Kristol, editor at large at the Weekly Standard. So --

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's there! Yey, finally.

LEMON: I know. So the President says he doesn't have time to read books, but he gave you a shout out. ZITO: He did.

LEMON: He gave you a shout out. He said, much to tell, he says, your book has much to tell in the way of his election victory and that the forgotten men and women are forgotten no longer. So people who don't support the President, because we know why they support him, right?

ZITO: Right. Right.

LEMON: We had this poll. But why should they read this book?

ZITO: Well, I mean, this book has something for everyone in it, because it explains what this coalition is and it takes it beyond the sort of, you know, like Trump voters are angry and they're this or they're nostalgic and their stuck in a place that isn't there anymore. And it looks at seven different archetypes that we found going to the traditional rest belt blue states that went red, and we went into the counties that voted Obama, Obama, Trump. And we talk to this voters, hundreds of voters. We spent six months all on the road in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa. And you know, there are a number different reasons why they chose all of them are completely different from each other.

It's a really interesting coalition. But one of the things I think that is really important is that this is a movement that people still aren't listening to what it's saying. And it doesn't just impact the ballot box. It impacts spending, it impacts how we watch television, sports, the way we buy things, and it is really kind of fascinating.

LEMON: I've never seen you so excited about you.

ZITO: I am, I'm really excited about this.

LEMON: Good, congrats and we'll talk, and I am sure more about the things that are in this book and much of what you've talked about on this program and other CNN programs, including this book, I'm sure. Let's talk about the polls now, because we had this new poll out today, Bill, and how do you explain the success of a President who has a disapproval rating consistently higher than his approval rating?

BILL KRISTOL, FOUNDER AND EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I think it's an interesting poll, actually. And look, the country is at peace and is prosperous. It is at 57 percent of the public is generally approves or are happy with the way the country is going. The Trump's approval rating is only 41 percent. If this was a normal presidency, I looked back in some of the other ones, if you had this pretty good 15 or 16 months in the economy, quite good, really, and no obvious foreign policy disasters yet.

Yes, the President should have been in the mid-50s and he should have expanded his initial coalition. People were asked in CNN poll, who would you prefer to have as president? Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton won by 3 points, exactly the margins she had on Election Day.

So, for me the story is things could be worst for Trump. People like the, you don't like Trump might wish that his numbers be even worse, but he has not expanded his coalition at all and that is really striking, given, I mean normally what the President does, he wins and then he tries to convince some other people who didn't vote for him to vote support him. And he does that and if you have 15, 16 months of peace and prosperity, you have a pretty good chance of bringing over some people. Trump's -- the way Trump conducts himself in office, I think, limits his ability to appeal to more people.

And the question, if you are a Trump supporter, you have to ask yourself is, what if there is a recession? What if there is a foreign policy crisis? That 41 percent approval which is already on the low side for a president could really go down a lot.

LEMON: We often talk about the evangelical support, Salena, for this president.

ZITO: Right.

LEMON: An overwhelming number of Americans believe this president had an extramarital affair. President Trump continues to overwhelming hold a steady support among white evangelicals, and yet this is what Franklin Graham said on Bill Clinton's affairs back in 1998.

"The God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?"

Why do you think evangelicals are so willing to overlook Trump's behavior? They don't say that about this president.

ZITO: We have an entire chapter about King Cyrus Christian. That's what we call them. Evangelical or Catholic voters. King Cyrus was a Persian king who had nothing in common with the Israelites, but he did lead them out. And they followed him not because there was anything that they -- they didn't have shared values, they didn't have any shared religion, but he would protect them.

And the evangelicals made a decision in 2016, somewhere in the beginning of the primary, that they were going to go with -- they were going to be more pragmatic with their vote. They were going to go with someone who had their back.

LEMON: They weren't going to do what Democrats who didn't have a litmus test --

ZITO: Right, they were reflective. What's most important to us? Protecting religious liberties and the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court.

LEMON: Bill, quickly I want to get your response to it, because many people just see this as pure hypocrisy. What do you think?

KRISTOL: I think the Supreme Court is very important to them, but it's one thing to make a tough, hard-headed calculation and say "I'm Jewish." King Cyrus has good reputation for the reasons Salena said among Jews. We don't worship King Cyrus. We don't think he's -- I don't know how much we know about King Cyrus but he's not necessarily a model for personal behavior.

ZITO: Right.

KRISTOL: The way in which Franklin Graham talks about Donald Trump is not, you know, he's doing some good things, it's really adulatory and I think unbecoming. My evangelical friends, at least some of them, are pretty unhappy about what's happening to the evangelical movement.

It's not my religion so I'm not getting into that, but I'm a little shocked at the way -- it's one thing to make a hard-headed decision that he's better than Clinton. It's another thing to hold him up as a model.

ZITO: And they don't do that. I would make a point that they don't do that. The hundreds of people that we interviewed, we only brought out three and brought their lives to life. But they don't -- you know, there's no worship there of him. They don't hold him up on a pedestal, but they do like how he has their back. And they don't like his personal behavior.

LEMON: There's very little, if any, condemnation of this president.

ZITO: Oh, yeah. His behavior, yes. What he brings to the table for them, they made this decision, we're going to be pragmatic.

LEMON: Let's talk about the NRA and what happened last week at the NRA. The president made this claim. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Kanye West must have some power because you probably saw I doubled my African- American poll numbers. We went from 11 to 22 in one week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So polling among black Americans is actually at seven percent. Talk about the numbers of voters about the president and race, and they say this. They say, "the professional left focuses heavily on the race-related questions in analyzing the Trump vote, but race-tinged subjects were rarely cited by Trump voters interviewed for this book."

So Trump raised a lot in way that make a lot of people uncomfortable. You know, from talking about very fine people on both sides, in Charlottesville, and S-hole countries. Do you think the president supporters don't care about that? Does that bother them at all?

ZITO: Again, pretty interesting. There are several archetypes within the book who are white but they have adopted black children. And so they have this different world view.

So yes, some of the things that he's -- again, it's not that he's personally popular, it's as though he is the result of this, but he's not the cause of it and he's the one that has the advantage with this populous movement. But it -- this is not about him. This whole movement is not about him.

LEMON: Bill, I have to go, but can you understand why that infuriates many African-Americans?

KRISTOL: Yeah, it infuriates me. He is making race relations worse in this country. He is denigrating Mexicans. He is denigrating others. And just because people choose not to look at it because they wanted to see the results doesn't excuse it.

LEMON: All right. Thank you both. By the way, Salena's book is called "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics."

[23:35:00] Good luck.

ZITO: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you for joining us, both of you. When we come back, the Senate candidate that the White House is worried could become Roy Moore on steroids.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A candidate who may be taking a page from President Trump's anti-political correctness playbook is running an ad that is being called racist. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.

Mitch's swamp people are now running false negative ads against me. They are also childishly calling me despicable and mentally ill. The war to drain the swamp and create jobs for West Virginia people has began. I will beat Joe Manchin and ditch Cocaine Mitch for the sake of the kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That is Republican Senate candidate Don Blankenship. A West Virginia coal baron who says that he is trumpier than Trump, but is being opposed by the president. Let's discuss. CNN Political Commentators, Joe Lockhart, Matt Lewis, and Scott Jennings.

[23:40:00] I can't -- every time I see it, it's like the first. I can't believe it has got Blankenship clearly appears to be taking a page out of President Trump's playbook with this ad. Do you think that is going to work?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I sure hope not because I don't think he has a prayer of beating Manchin and I think that's a seat that the Republicans need to keep on the board. I was reminded watching this ad, though, of something that a congressman from Kentucky actually said not too long ago, Thomas Massie, he said, I used to think Republican primary voters were looking for the most conservative person. But then I came to realize, they are just actually looking for the craziest SOB in the race.

And I think Blankenship is running the crazy SOB strategy, because you got two -- you know, relatively normal people running against him splitting that vote. So I hope he doesn't win. And it takes it off the board in environment when Republicans can't afford to be tossing away good opportunities.

LEMON: But Matt, in a tweet this morning, the president urged voters to support Blankenship's opponents, Congressman Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Asked about the possibility of Blankenship winning, a third-rank Republican, Senator John Thune told CNN, quote, let's hope and pray that does not happen. It would not be good.

So why are Republicans so afraid of Blankenship winning? Are they afraid that candidates like Blankenship are becoming maybe the new normal for the GOP?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, I think there are couple reasons. I mean, first, remember, Donald Trump endorsed Luther Strange down in -- you know, what was it? Alabama last time and you end up with Roy Moore instead.

So, Donald Trump now coming in here in the 11th hour and saying anybody but Blankenship. It doesn't necessarily carry that much weight, you know. The voters decided that Roy Moore was their guy even though Donald Trump didn't endorse him.

So I think there's a couple reasons why Republicans don't want this. One is that it's harbinger of things to come, you know, that this would embolden other trumpie candidates around the nation who may not be able to win general election.

And I think as Scott rightly said, you know, Manchin has a much better chance, I think, of winning if Blankenship is the Republican nominee.

LEMON: But he also said, Joe, that he thinks -- correct me if I'm wrong, Scott, that you said, Republicans want the craziest of the craziest -- I'm paraphrasing here, wackiest of wackiest candidate.

JENNINGS: Yeah, I was quoting a congressman from Kentucky, Thomas Massie, who made that comment after the presidential campaign. And look, that's not good. You know, just running to be the craziest person in the race --

LEMON: Yeah.

JENNINGS: -- because you have calculated that a third of the people want the craziest person. That's not a good recipe for winning general elections. And I don't think we would win in November with that strategy. And you know what? I think Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell should go to Joe Manchin if Blankenship wins the nomination and beg him to caucus with Republicans and promise that they will support him against Blankenship in a general election. LEMON: OK. So, Joe, you sat by patiently.

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Let me go with an even bolder idea. Blankenship wins and Mitch McConnell says, it's better for the country for Joe Manchin to be in, whoever he caucuses with. What's striking here is in Trump's tweet this morning, he didn't say anything about Roy Moore and his personal problems. He didn't say don't vote for Blankenship because he went to jail. He's a convicted felon. He's a racist. And he's crazy.

He said, vote for the other guys because we don't want to lose the seat. You know, I get that from political players and consultants who are in the race. But from the president of the United States, do we have any -- any mystery to why things are so screwed up?

LEMON: Why did he call off (ph) this guy's principles? Because that's exactly right. He said, we can't win the election. Why is he talking -- reprimanding on his language?

LOCKHART: I think it might have been a moment of -- rare moment of self-awareness when he realized the glass house that he currently lives in. But I don't think he thinks that way. I don't think a criminal record means anything. I think he likes those kind of candidates. I think it goes to the craziest SOB in the race.

But that's -- you know, the great part about his tweets is you know exactly what he thinks, and in this case it was. It doesn't matter if he was a criminal. It doesn't matter if he is a racist. We are going to lose the seat, if he gives (ph) support for the other guy.

LEMON: All right, everybody, stay with me. When we come back, has President Trump created a new low bar when it comes to the presidency?

[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump running his administration in his own fashion. Has he transformed the presidency? Back with me now, Joe Lockhart, Matt Lewis and Scott Jennings. OK, so let's talk about this.

Matt, you write in your latest piece for The Daily Beast that Trump, you said, he has, in short order, created the low bar presidency, an administration in which we have grown to expect that the spokespeople mislead, the cabinet officials are corrupt, and that the commander in chief is learning on the job. The existential question is whether the low bar presidency ends when Trump's tenure does or will our expectations forever be lowered because of what he has managed to do less than 18 months in office.

So, do you think -- you are a Republican.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Why are you writing this? Why do you say that?

LEWIS: I try to be intellectually honest. Look, I think that past presidents have done things that have changed the trajectory of America, and they have done things that have led us to the point where we are.

But Donald Trump has broken a lot of norms, and we're really inundated every day with these different, you know, crises and scandals and tweets. And, you know, we have to cover them.

But I think it's interesting to take a step back and think of the cumulative effect and impact that Donald Trump's presidency is having on us. And what will happen when he's gone? And I think there is a danger of two things happening.

[23:49:57] Number one, I think there is a danger that we are becoming inured and that our tolerance level for lies and propaganda and incompetence in some cases is changing, our expectations are changing.

And then, the second thing that concerns me is, that I worry that there are other future presidents and possible demagogues who are watching how this works. Now, the next guy could be fine. The next president, you know, sometimes there's a backlash. But I think that the trend is linear.

And I do worry that the genie is out of the bottle and that somebody is watching what Donald Trump is doing, maybe somebody who is actually more competent and potentially more dangerous. If you care about defending liberal democracy as I do, this is something to be worried about.

LEMON: I just hope the next president, whenever that comes, if it comes in the next two years or the next six years, is really boring.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: A return to normalcy.

LEMON: And doesn't blow up my show every night at 9:45 or 9:59. But Scott, listen, I want to get your take on this, because I believe you -- you believe that Trump didn't create our culture, our culture created Trump. But in that scenario, where is the accountability for this president?

JENNINGS: Well, the accountability will come at the ballot box. I think Matt raised a good point and that is sometimes, presidencies do create a backlash. I mean, Joe can weigh in on this. But after the Clinton years, we had a reaction to that. We went with Bush. And after the Bush years, we had a reaction to that. We went with Obama.

We've had reactions to presidencies over time. And so the question for the Trump era is, are we going to have a complete backlash against what Matt argues is a stretching of the norms? I have great confidence in American institutions. I have great confidence in the institution of the presidency.

And presidents have certainly treated it in ways that I wouldn't have preferred they treat it over the last 50 years in some cases. But we typically bounce back. You know, we typically see people come in and then put their own stamp on it. And often that stamp is a reaction or an overreaction in some cases to what came before. So, I think the biggest issue facing Trump is on the trust issue, and clearly they have had some issues with trust, during the campaign and during the presidency. The biggest issue will come in a crisis. If there is a true, deep national crisis, that is when people are going to expect the truth and nothing but the truth.

LEMON: And will they believe him?

JENNINGS: All day every day. That's when the rubber will hit the road.

LEMON: The question is, will they believe him? Since taking office, Trump has made -- this is according to The Washington Post -- over 3,000 false or misleading statements. My concern is, in all of this, is, does the truth matter? Do facts matter anymore?

LOCKHART: They don't in this current environment. They absolutely don't.

LEMON: That's sad.

LOCKHART: The irony is, Trump ran on draining the swamp and has made corruption the hallmark of his administration. If you strip all of it away, his seeking to enrich himself, cabinet officers who are seeking to enrich themselves, you know, a quarter of them are gone already. We've got one 2who's got 11 different federal investigations he's apart of.

But to the bigger question that I think Matt properly framed, politics is a game of imitation. People imitate what works. So, that's why the midterms and the 2020 elections are so important. If it works, if Trump succeeds, then I'm not confident going forward.

It will be our liberal democracy under attack, but it will give voters a chance to stand up and say, this is, we're rejecting this. This isn't what America is all about.

And then you will find, you know, I think will be a positive overreaction. I mean, the classic case of all-time was probably, you know, Nixon and then the Ford short presidency with Jimmy Carter running on a platform of, you can trust me. I'm not Richard Nixon.

So, I think the next candidate will, you know, I think whether it's in the Republican primary or the Democratic candidate (ph) will build it on trust, as Scott was talking about. But it's going to be up to the voters. And if we go the wrong way, it is very difficult to see in the short intermediate (ph) term how we turn that around.

LEMON: I'm just wondering, If you're talking about the elections, especially in the midterms, because, Matt, you write that the long- term danger of Americans becoming complacent, that voters will keep substandard elected officials in power. Do you think the upcoming midterms, do you see them as a good indicator of that?

2LEWIS: I think that right now, we are at a crossroads. And, you know, I think that what -- the kinds of candidates that get elected are going to tell us something about the American public. If people like Blankenship not only win the Republican primary, which I think would be bad enough, but go on to win the general election, that is not a good sign for this great experiment.

LEMON: I think it's interesting, though, you know, I talk to people about, do facts matter, they say, well, all presidents tell mistruths or whatever, which is true, you know, things don't turn out to be true.

[23:55:04] And the one answer that they always give is, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. And I say, OK, give me another one. They can't go on. And I say, well, there are 2,999 more that this president has done, why doesn't that bother you? And there is never an answer to that.

LOCKHART: But to Matt's point, this is an experiment, this democracy. And experiments can go the wrong way. And what Trump is doing to undermine democracy with an authoritarian overtone, that's why these elections are important.

LEMON: The answer to that is ideology. thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.

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