Return to Transcripts main page


Mueller's Team Dig Roger Stone's Finances; Trump's Lawyer Attended Meeting with Lawmakers; North Korea Still Willing to Meet; Propaganda of Lies to Discredit Mueller; President Trump Pardons Boxer, Jack Johnson; Trump, NFL Players, and the National Anthem. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 24, 2018 - 22:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN TONIGHT" starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.


Breaking news. CNN has learned that Robert Mueller's team is examining the finances of Roger Stone, one of the president's longtime confidants and advisers. Reportedly questioning Stone's associates about his tax returns. We'll have more on that in just a moment.

CNN also learning that President Trump came close to sitting down for an interview with Robert Mueller that was earlier this year on January 27th, potentially, at Camp David.

Now just take a moment to wrap your head around that. If the interview had taken place, the obstruction investigation of the president might have been over by now. Over at the end of January.

Instead, here we are. For what seems like, I don't know, the gazillion time the Trump administration is stomping all over the norms that have kept our government running for centuries.

Well, today it was the president's lawyer, Emmet Flood, the man who represents him in the Russia investigation, unexpectedly showing up for the start of two classified Justice Department briefings with lawmakers on a confidential intelligence source used in, wait for it, the Russia investigation.

It is hard to overstate just how unprecedented this is. One Republican congressional staffer, yes, a Republican, put it bluntly to our Jake Tapper saying, quote, "it's the craziest shit I've ever heard." And that's really saying something these days. But there's more.

An official in the Trump White House saying this to CNN about Flood and John Kelly's presence at the briefings, quote, "Not sure how much the White House presence helps legally or politically. Emmet Flood was not on the list of those invited. He has no oversight role." So what was Emmet Flood doing there? Perhaps these comments from Rudy

Giuliani can shed some light on it. President's newest attorney telling CNN there will be no interview with President Trump unless the legal team gets more information about the confidential source.

And amid all this drama about Flood's unexpected appearance at the briefing, Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee who was at the briefing summed up what he heard. 2


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.


LEMON: Well, as you can sum up from what I just read, we have a lot to get to tonight. But first I want to get to CNN political correspondent Sara Murray with our breaking news on Roger Stone.

Sara, good evening to you. You're reporting Roger Stone's finances are being examined by the special counsel. What do you know?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Look, we know that there are a number of Roger Stone's associates who have already been into speak to Mueller or who have been subpoenaed by Robert Mueller's team.

And one of the areas of interest, apparently, is Roger Stone's finances. People have been asked about his tax returns, they've been asked questions about his businesses. And you know, look, we expected that Roger Stone would be a person of interest when it came to the special counsel's probe into potential collusion between Trump associates and Russians.

We know Roger Stone was out there in 2016. He was tweeting. He was saying things publicly that looked like they were almost predicting what was going to come out in WikiLeaks. He has denied any contact with Julian Assange, he's denied having anything having to do with WikiLeaks, any prior knowledge of what was going to come out.

But this is sort of another avenue, it tells you that Mueller's team is interested on something beyond Stone's communications, they're also interested in his finances. And Stone has now said publicly that at least eight of his current or former associates have now been in contact with Mueller's team.

LEMON: How is Roger Stone responding, Sara, what's he saying, anything?

MURRAY: Well, you know, it may not surprise you, Don, to hear that Roger Stone certainly feels like this is some kind of iteration of a witch hunt, he said he's not been directly contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller's team, he insisted he had nothing to do with any kind of collusion with the Russians and he basically said Mueller's team is out to get him on something.

I'm going to read a portion of the statement he put out. Saying, "The special counsel now seems to be combing through every molecule of my existence including my personal life, political activities and business affairs to conjure up some offense to charge me with either to silence me or induce me to testify against the president."

Now, he insists that he will never turn on the president. As for the special counsel's team, they're not commenting.

LEMON: Well, one thing you can say about Roger Stone that I know of, he always responds. I have never known him not to respond. So, good for him for doing that. Thank you very much, I appreciate that.

I want to bring in now Chris Cillizza, CNN politics editor-at-large, Kirsten Powers, CNN political analyst, Phil Mudd, CNN counterterrorism analyst, and Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst who was Robert Mueller's special assistant at the Justice Department.

Good evening. We have a lot to talk about. Chris, you first, so what's your reaction because Mueller has already brought charges against Manafort, Flynn is cooperating. I mean, it's another person who is close to the president seemingly in Mueller's sights.

[22:05:01] CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, yes, we have Flynn as you noted, Don, the former national security adviser, we have Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman both having already pled guilty and we know cooperating with Mueller as well as George Papadopoulos, foreign policy adviser.

So what I think you're seeing is, we saw this as related to Michael Cohen, too, Mueller is coming across things as he goes that he may not have anticipated. Right? He's -- you start in one place and you sort of follow where it goes.

Michael Cohen was a referral. That's in the Southern District of New York, but that was a referral from the FBI. Roger Stone looking into, as well. This is all the Trump orbit, right? Roger Stone and Cohen, in particular, been with the president for a long time. When he was private citizen Donald Trump, they were in that orbit.

So I don't know if it's an effort to just check all your boxes, just follow down all the potential leads that are out there, or is it an effort, as many speculate, an effort to aggregate enough information on people like Roger Stone or Michael Cohen that you can pressure them into flipping--

LEMON: Right.

CILLIZZA: -- and providing what they know to the extent they know it on Donald Trump or Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, or other people in that really higher -- highest hierarchy.

LEMON: Squeezing them as they say. CILLIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: So, Michael, Roger Stone and his allies are saying this, that Mueller is going beyond his mandate. Beyond the scope. What do you say to that?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we don't know the answer to that. As Chris alluded to, when you are a prosecutor and you start your case, you don't know where the facts and the evidence will take you. In this case, Mueller is a little bit different than your ordinary prosecutor, which means he has a mandate and when he comes across something that's outside the scope of his mandate, he is supposed to go to Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and say what do you want me to do about this?

We saw in the case of Manafort's son-in-law, it went to the central district of California. When we saw in the case of Cohen, it went to the Southern District of New York.

In this case, if Mueller came across stuff related to Stone that's outside the scope of his direct mandate, he would go to Rosenstein and Rosenstein would say, keep it or not keep it. Just as he did with the Manafort second indictment in Virginia which relates to taxes and failure to register his bank accounts.

So that could just be what we're seeing here with Roger Stone. No effort to squeeze him in any substantial way, but rather, the dutiful duties of a prosecutor to follow evidence and, you know, indict criminals when they see crime.

LEMON: Well, I feel I have to read this every night because if we look at the directive from Rod Rosenstein to Robert Mueller, it says Mueller is instructed to investigate any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump and here's number two, any matters that arose or may arise directly from that investigation.

That seems like a pretty broad mandate there.

ZELDIN: Right. But, but, the way the rules work is if it is not directly related to his mandate, he's supposed to go to Rosenstein and ask what do you want to do about it?

Now one thing, Don, is that on August 2nd, we know that Rosenstein expanded the mandate of Mueller. We saw that in the Manafort indictment where they released publicly the two paragraphs that allow him to look at Manafort's collateral activities.

We saw in that letter as well a huge blacked out section of others whose mandate was -- others as to whom the mandate was expanded. This well could be within that blacked out part.

LEMON: OK. All right.

ZELDIN: And Roger Stone may well, therefore, be properly investigated by Mueller. LEMON: Got you. Phil, I want to bring you in now because there's

other new reporting from our Gloria Borger and Evan Perez as well that President Trump's legal team discussed having a January 27th, that was of this year 2018, Mueller interview, supposed to happen at Camp David but the president's team ultimately said no. They rejected that plan. If that had happened, things may have looked a lot different.

ZELDIN: Well, they may have. I'm not sure exactly--


LEMON: That's for Phil.


ZELDIN: Sorry.

LEMON: Go ahead, Phil.

MUDD: I'm sorry. I think so, but let me give you two perspective - perspectives on this. Number one, when you hear Rudy Giuliani speak, he wants to speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he's saying for his client, this is a fraudulent investigation, this is a witch hunt.

On the other hand he's saying my client wants to speak and we want to bring this to closure as quickly as possible by September 1st. You got to look at Giuliani and say if you simply cooperated with the interview in January, you might have closed this out.

That said, if you look at information like what you're just talking about a moment ago, the investigation into Roger Stone's finances, even if you complete the interview of the president in January, the complexities of this investigation, dozens of people, their travel, their communications, what they say during interviews, that's why we're in this for a year and a half, not just because the president didn't agree to an interview in January, Don.

[22:00:59] LEMON: Yes. Kirsten, I just want to paint a picture of where things were at the time versus now. Here's what President Trump told reporters. This was on January 24th a few days before that proposed Camp David interview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually. I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all that but I would love to do it.


LEMON: So Kirsten, back then, wow, John Dowd was on the legal team, now it's Giuliani. I mean, it just goes to show you the shift in strategy. KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, if Trump was

being honest about that, we keep being told that he wants to sit down, he's just being held back basically by the lawyers and maybe that's true, I don't know. It's hard to believe. It seems like Donald Trump sort of does what Donald Trump wants to do.

And he, you know, I think what Phil said is right. The Republicans and Trump and his supporters keep saying, this has been going on for such a long time but it hasn't been going on for that long of a time considering what they're doing.

And if they had done it in a shorter period, then I feel like they would have been saying, they didn't even take it seriously. Look, they just, you know, they did this in eight months and then they came up with this.

So no matter what happens, they're just going to attack the investigation and this is just a tactic that it's an old tactic. It's not a -- it's not something -- it's something that has been used in the past. But I think they have upped the ante on other things that I assume we're going to talk about like the meeting today on the hill.


ZELDIN: May I add, Don, one thing, which is to say that I don't really know that there has been a shift in strategy. As I understand it, back in January, Dowd wrote a letter saying we are not going to sit down for an interview, and it is he who nixed it.

Remember, Dowd has always been against the interview and in fact, he sort of quit when he thought that they weren't going to follow his advice. And now Giuliani, as Phil said, he's talking different things on different days, is saying well, maybe we will sit down for an interview.

So I'm not sure there's a clear line from point a to point b that says we were going to testify, and now we're not going to testify, because I don't think from the get-go Dowd--


LEMON: Well, Dowd -- no, no, you were saying Dowd was saying don't sit down for an interview. And Rudy Giuliani was saying maybe. I mean, that's the shift.

ZELDIN: No, I understand that.


ZELDIN: But I thought the initial reporting was had there been an interview in January, and now there isn't because there's this ratcheting up.


LEMON: Well, if they had an interview in January all we're surmising is that maybe, maybe this would have been closer to being wrapped up than it is now.



ZELDON: Yes. But I don't think there ever going to be an interview. All I'm saying, Don, is that I don't think there ever was going to be an interview in January.

LEMON: Got it. All right. We have more to discuss. You guys are going to stick around. Stick with me, everyone.

When we come back, members of the president's own party, even at least one White House official questioning why his attorney made a surprise appearance at today's confidential briefing. So is this working out the way the White House wanted?


LEMON: People who have been around Washington for years, even members of the president's own party, say they have never seen anything like the surprise appearance of the lawyer who represents the president in the Russia investigation at today's confidential briefing.

Back with me now, Chris Cillizza, Kirsten Powers, Philip Mudd, and Michael Zeldin. It was a bit odd.

So, Chris, the White House lawyer, I'm talking about Emmet Flood, made a brief remarks before the start of the two classified Justice Department meetings today. So the question is, what was the president's lawyer doing there in the first place?

CILLIZZA: I mean, I have no idea. It doesn't make any sense. He has no ties to this. The idea that you'd have the president's personal lawyer come into a room of Department of Justice officials and members of Congress and say, hey, guys, let's try to, you know, let's sort of get out as much as we can or get to the bottom of this, OK, I mean, I don't -- it -- it's striking that they would do it at all.

I mean, it's kind of hard to hide in these meetings, right? It's hard to get out with no one seeing you. There's about a billion reporters waiting around each meeting like this.

So it doesn't make any sense, and, again, I just can't make this point enough, this whole thing about the confidential source, no publicly available information, and according to Adam Schiff who is in both of these meetings today, no privately available information suggests that what the president is saying is accurate. That this was not--


LEMON: I could have told you that.

CILLIZZA: There was not someone who was embedded in the campaign.

LEMON: People have been telling you that, have been saying that on this network for as long as they have been making this claim.


CILLIZZA: And to equate it--

LEMON: That there is no proof of it.

CILLIZZA: To equate it to as Rudy Giuliani has done the last few days to essentially say, and I don't know if this is why the personal lawyer was there or not, but to say, well, we'll see what comes out of spygate, which by the way, there's no spy, but spygate.


LEMON: Don't use that word because that's -- that's not what it is.

CILLIZZA: Yes. It's not right.


CILLIZZA: We're going to wait and see what comes out of that then we'll see where we stand with the Mueller interview. Those things have nothing -- one of them is a criminal investigation in which five people have already pled guilty including the former national security adviser and former deputy campaign chairman.


CILLIZZA: The other one is just Donald Trump saying things.

[22:20:01] LEMON: Yes.



LEMON: But there's no there, there. That's what they're saying.

CILLIZZA: So frustrating.

LEMON: There's no there, there. But speaking of Rudy Giuliani, Phil, he told our Dana Bash that he assumes the president wanted Emmet Flood at that meeting. I mean, can this be anything other than political and an attempt to try to exonerate the president?

MUDD: Well, so what if he wants Emmet Flood at the meeting. Let me give you the purpose of the oversight conversations happening today with the Department of Justice and the FBI.

The Congress is supposed to oversee the executive branch and determine whether they're conducting their operations appropriately. What the heck does a private lawyer have to do with determining whether the Department of Justice and FBI are conducting their operations appropriately?

Let's make this even simpler, Don. Let's say you committed, I assume you have, let's say you committed a crime, you're talking to your attorney and meanwhile, that the prosecutor walks in and says, I'd kind of like to listen in for just a moment.

I mean, if the Department of Justice and FBI proceed with additional cases that relate to the White House, how the heck can a White House lawyer representing the president have a right to be in on conversations that might reveal evidence that could show up in that investigation? I think I can explain a lot to you, Don, this one is beyond my scope.

LEMON: Yes. Kirsten, I just -- I want you to take a look, this is an important exchange, it's with Manu Raju. Manu is questioning the speaker of the house.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it appropriate for the president to float the notion that there may have been spies implanted in his campaign? This could be the biggest political scandal in history, without having any evidence to support that notion.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Look, we know Russia meddled in our election. We know that there was an effort to get to the bottom of that and we're going to find out how all that took place. A lot of this is classified. So I'm just going to leave it at that. We're going to have more briefings on justice today.

RAJU: Do you honestly believe that there were spies--


RYAN: I don't know the answer to that question.


LEMON: He totally side stepped that. That question. Why is he giving his stamp of approval but then won't say spies, Kirsten?

POWERS: You know, I think one of the hardest thing to watch with Donald Trump is people who I think are otherwise, I have thought of, as fairly honorable people, behaving like this.

And, look, everybody knows where I stand. I'm not on the same page with Paul Ryan in terms of most policies, but like I said, I typically considered him to be a very honorable person as a lot of other people, frankly, that over the last year I've watched just completely debase themselves for this man.

Paul Ryan knows the answer to this question. This is, as we've already said, it's a made-up situation. There's no even -- there's no need for this meeting, there's no need for this investigation, this little phony investigation that Rod Rosenstein agreed to do for whatever reason, whether it was to mollify a completely out of control narcissistic president.

And just to see how everybody is getting dragged down into the muck with him, where you have now the federalist society. You know, we read today that they're actually briefing people on how it's unconstitutional to investigate the president, this investigation that's going on, is completely insane.

LEMON: You said it's completely made-up. Remember the voter fraud thing, I think the voter fraud--


POWERS: Right.

LEMON: -- thing, I think the voter fraud that, Kirsten--


CILLIZZA: How about the biggest inauguration crowd ever?

LEMON: Biggest -- I mean, I'm talking about--

CILLIZZA: How about being wiretap--

LEMON: Being serious, wiretapping and unmasking that -- turned out to be nothing. And now you have this. It's the same thing, they just keep sending people--


POWERS: Well, Don, what about the -- remember the hash tag release the memo--


POWERS: -- the Nunes memo that was going to blow everything wide open, you know, and just made a bunch of false accusations that were easily disproved.

You know, Devin Nunes is just another person who's become this stooge for Donald Trump who just seems to show up over and over making these ridiculous accusations that have no, nothing to back them up.

LEMON: Well, there are people out there who believe all of these. Like if you can give them the evidence that none of this existed, they'd still believe it. It's just beyond me.

But Michael, White House official told Jim Acosta that they're not sure how much Emmet Flood's presence in these briefings if it helps or hurts the president politically or legally. Does this raise any legal issues? I don't think it's illegal but it's certainly unprecedented.

ZELDIN: The presence of Flood at this meeting doesn't raise any legal questions that I can think of.

LEMON: Is it improper?

ZELDIN: It's an appearance issue. You have to remember how this meeting was birthed which is to say that the Justice Department was kicking and screaming against having to release this information to Congress thinking that it was going to reveal sources and methods and make it more difficult to obtain human confidential sources.

The president essentially forced them to attend this meeting and to reveal information. Then the White House counsel shows up and he says, remember, Justice Department, under the guise of transparency, what your orders are, which is to tell Congress about the informants' background and information.

[22:25:11] And then you think fair enough, benign, really not much there. Until Giuliani enters the scene and he says we expect essentially a full debriefing on what happened there. He says, I think his language was we expect to know what the informants' information produced and then we'll make a decision about what to do.

So what they're asking for is the Justice Department through the auspices of congressional oversight to reveal to them the nature of the investigation against them. That's problematic procedurally and appearance wise, but I'm not sure that it implicates anyone's legal rights in a, you know, violation of law sense.

LEMON: So, Phil, President Trump was twisting this again on Fox & Friends. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your reaction to James Comey?

TRUMP: Well, I'd actually say how is he going to explain to his grandchildren all of the lies, the deceit, all of the problems he's caused for this country? I think a thing that I've done for the country, the firing of James Comey, is going to go down as a very good thing.

FBI is great. I know so many people in the FBI. The FBI is a fantastic institution, but some of the people at the top were rotten apples. James Comey was one of them. I've done a great service for this country by getting rid of him by firing him.


LEMON: So, Phil, when he says the FBI is fantastic but there were rotten apples, what are folks in the FBI supposed to think about that?

MUDD: I think initially, you can sit there and say, look, we can handle a few months of this. We're getting on a year and half of a presidency and the few FBI officials I've talked to, most of them ex- officials, are feeling beaten down at this point.

If you're going to maintain your integrity against daily attacks by a man who lacks integrity, you need a couple of things. Number one, you need some cover. We were just talking about Paul Ryan. I think he will be judged by history. I do think he's a decent man, but by choosing his agenda over integrity, both with Devin Nunes and with the president of the United States, I also think, and this is where Christopher Wray, the director is going to come into play. I think he's done a great job, Rosenstein, and the attorney general

will come in to play. They have got to defend the FBI rank and file. Not just passively but they have to get out over the next two and a half years and continue to tell the president publicly from Topeka to Washington, the FBI officials regardless of what they're involved in are good people. Stop talking about corruption in an organization that's been around for 110 years.

LEMON: Yes. The irony in all of this is that he's accusing the FBI of sending someone in his campaign to get information which is exactly what they're saying he did today in the meeting. He sent someone inside of a meeting to get information. It's all too rich. You can't really -- you can't write this stuff.

All right, guys. See you next time. Get some rest because we'll be back here talking about this.


POWERS: Thank you, Don.

MUDD: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, President Trump started his day by abruptly scrapping his promised summit with Kim Jong-un. We're going to tell you what's behind it and that, well, what happens next. We're live from North Korea.


LEMON: So here's the breaking news tonight. North Korea saying it's still willing to meet with the United States just hours after President Trump called off next month's planned summit with Kim Jong- un via a letter he wrote himself. The president blaming what he called anger and open hostility in a recent statement by North Korea.

Joining me now, CNN International Correspondent, Will Ripley who is live for us in North Korea. Will, hello to you. Night has passed since you learned of the -- and relayed the president's decision to North Korean officials. What has changed?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there really was a lot of strong rhetoric between the United States and North Korea. You had Vice President Pence comparing North Korea to Libya. Of course Gaddafi and Libya gave up his nukes and was dead a few years later after being overthrown by U.S.-backed forces. That triggered a very angry response from the North Koreans who called him a political dummy. And then you have President Trump writing that letter directly to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying the summit in Singapore on June 12th is off.

We got the news when were on the train heading back from the North Korean nuclear test site here to Wonsan. It was more than a 15-hour journey that we had that take and it was incredibly uncomfortable and awkward to relay that news and have it spread quickly amongst the North Korean officials on the train who were making phone calls, we presume all the way up directly to the office of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

But when they put out their statement, Don, it was much for conciliatory and diplomatic. They said they still do want to talk with the United States. They think it's crucial for the U.S. and North Korea to have a summit to try to improve their relations because, Don, they say they pretty much can't get any worse.

LEMON: Will, you're part of the small group of foreign journalists invited by the North Korean government to cover the dismantling of a nuclear test site. What's the status of that site?

RIPLEY: So, we visited the site and spent more than nine hours on the ground and I can tell you what we saw, which was large explosions shutting off at least the entrances to the three remaining active tunnels at the Punggye-ri nuclear site. We also saw them blow up all of the buildings on that site, buildings that housed researchers and equipment and officers who were stationed there.

What we can't verify, because there were no nuclear weapons experts in our group, is how deep those explosions actually went into the tunnels, if the tunnels are rendered permanently unusable as North Korea claims, if this really is a substantial step towards denuclearization as North Korea claims or if some skeptics say, it was all a show put on for the benefit of the international press.

LEMON: Will Ripley reporting to us from North Korea. Thank you, Will. Appreciate that.

I want to bring in now CNN National Security Analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former senior adviser for national security under President Obama, and CNN Contributor, Michael D'Antonio, is the author of "The Truth About Trump."

Good evening to both of you. You, did you call this?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALIYST: A little bit. I mean, we've talked about this, Don, but the president does have a history of getting played by powerful men. And I think that --

[22:35:01] LEMON: You think he got played?

VINOGRAD: I think he got played. And in fairness, previous U.S. presidents have been played, too. We've had Clinton, we've had Bush. But the difference here is that the president let this play out in front of the cameras. Other presidents have kind of tested the waters, seen how it went.

LEMON: Behind the scenes, yes.

VINOGRAD: Behind the scenes, yes.

LEMON: Was it the right thing to do?

VINOGRAD: Which part?

LEMON: For him to pull out. VINOGRAD: I think we're not even sure if he has pulled out. The

summit is kind of offish right now. I don't think we know what the status is.

LEMON: Yeah. Didn't Kim sort of do it first, but not officially? With -- yeah. Is this kind of saving face, like I'm going to break up with you before you break up with me, seriously?

VINOGRAD: Yes, and I've tried that, to not in diplomacy, but I think that we did have indications that the North Koreans failed to send officials to Singapore to meet with White House officials. So I think there was a fear Kim may just not show up.

LEMON: So Michael, Trump wrote this letter himself and here's what he said. He said, sadly based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel that it's inappropriate at this time to have this long-planned meeting. And he closes with, if you change your mind having to do with the most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. So he sounds more gracious than he has with someone who has murdered countless people than he has with our former President Barack Obama. Do you think that this -- there is strategy in this? I guess you can call it, muted tone?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely not. I think that what he wanted was out of this arrangement. He saw -- I believe that Kim had the advantage on him. Kim had already gotten much of what he wanted, 2recognition from the United States and the rest of the world as a leader. He had the president complimenting him publicly. This is an embrace of the outside world that he had never had before.

So now Trump sees that maybe this isn't such a great thing for me. Maybe I'm not going to get the payoff that I want so he writes this letter. At the end of it he sounds like a boy who asked a girl to the prom and she turned him down. He says, well, but if by any chance you change your mind, I'm still open, you want to go?

And so what does Kim do? He says, yeah, I'll go. So, now it's back on Trump again. For a guy who does deals, this is a terrible performance.

LEMON: That's what I was going to ask you. He says he's deal maker but I mean, that is very interesting, who knows? Listen, everyone has said, everyone can agree, if it does happen, it's a good thing if something comes out of it, but I think most people said be careful, go slow and from the beginning here. And just a couple weeks ago, remember when this all happened, some people were suggesting some, you know, pretty big things for this, for this North Korean summit, this deal. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you deserve the Nobel Prize, do you think?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everyone thinks so but I would never say it.


LEMON: He doesn't want to walk away from that, does he?

D'ANTONIO: Look at his face. Did anybody ever look happier? This is crazy. He's already got the frame ready for it on his mantle.

LEMON: Was he too eager maybe?

VINOGRAD: I think he was too eager. And look, I wish that the president would be able to do what takes to get the Nobel Prize.

LEMON: Absolutely.

VINOGRAD: Right. It's great if this could work out through a diplomatic track. And I think that the North Koreans, by the way, the response that we saw is not unsurprising and that we've heard the president ramp up the military rhetoric in the past couple of hours which is a military deterrent. The North Koreans expressing interest to negotiate at some point in the future to keep that door open, and we've seen this before.

Remember, the North Koreans and five other countries were in six-party talks for years and I think Kim's calculus may be, okay, if we keep this 2negotiation warm then maybe the military strike is less likely, and we can continue making progress on different things without the risk of getting hit by the United States.

LEMON: He certainly -- Kim certainly got placed on level -- equal footing with the United States on a national scale, but my prediction is that they will meet, but it will be more of a traditional negotiation now. I think the White House, the Trump administration, will -- they'll be a little bit more diplomatic in the way they approach this rather than just jumping into it. That's my prediction. We shall see. Thank you. Appreciate it.

When we come back, President Trump piling lies on top of lies all in an effort to cast doubt on the Russia investigation, but has he crossed the line into propaganda?


LEMON: The president determined to undermine Robert Mueller's investigation by pushing a series of lies especially the one that the FBI spied on his campaign. It did not. But conservative media and the president's allies are repeating his conspiracy theories, which is exactly what he wants.

So I want to bring in now CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni, columnist for "The New York Times" and Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama. Hello to both of you. So, Frank, the president was at it again today --


LEMON: -- lashing out at the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper. Here's what he tweeted. He said, Clapper has now admitted that there was spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the spy. Far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. Spygate, a terrible thing! That's false. Here's what the director of national intelligence, former director Clapper actually said.


JOY BEHAR, HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": So, I ask you, was the FBI spying on Trump's campaign?

JAMES CLAPPER, FOMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No, they were not. They were spying on -- a term I don't particularly like -- but on what the Russians were doing. Trying to understand were the Russians infiltrating, trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence --

BEHAR: So why doesn't he like --

CLAPPER: -- which is what they do.


LEMON: So, he keeps repeating these lies, the lies that he tells about Clapper and about many others. I mean, is this a new level you think of propaganda here?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. No, I mean, I think Donald Trump has been engaging in propaganda for a long time. But the spying thing, he just feels if he repeats it often enough over and over again it will just enter the consciousness, that will be the term we'll all begin to use. And I think you saw Clapper there really catching himself and hating himself for saying the word spy because he was playing into the president's hands.

LEMON: Right.

BRUNI: Spying conjures a very particular kind of thing. Someone embedded, someone with a double identity, et cetera. That's not what happened here.

[22:45:00] We're talking about an informant that law enforcement was trying to seek information from, not an embedded spy in the Trump campaign or in the Russian camp. And so this is a term that's being used deliberately loosely as a tool of misinformation. And yes, I think you can call it propaganda.

LEMON: I saw on another network, spygate up on the thing and we're not -- we don't say spygate here because that's exactly what he wants. He wants that in the consciousness of people who are watching TV, spygate, for it to trend or whatever. It's not going to happen because that's not what it is.

David, again and again the president pounds his perceived enemies. Today he tweeted about James Comey. So, he said talking about James Comey, No such FBI agents have spoken out about the president offers not one shred of proof that there is political corruption and poor leadership at the FBI. He just made that up. Why?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well look, I think part of the president's case has been from the beginning that there was some sort of political bias against him runs out of the FBI, that this investigation was biased from the beginning. And what he's really trying to do is undermine whatever the outcome of Mueller's probe is.

The thing that we should ask ourselves is if the president is confident about his own innocence and his campaign's innocence in all of this, he should want this probe. He should want Bob Mueller to give his report and to say at the end of it that nothing -- that, you know, nothing -- no laws were broken and that there was no collusion.

Instead, he's taken a different tact and all of his amen corner in the right-wing media and the congress have followed suit. And that is to try and sully the FBI, sully the Justice Department, sully Mueller, sully the probe, sully the rule of law, so that if there's an inconvenient result, they can say, you see, we told you all along that there was bias here and Comey obviously, his attacks on Comey are part of that as well.

LEMON: David, you got something great coming up on "The Axe Files." You interview Sally Yates, the acting attorney general until she was fired by President Trump. I want to play some of it.


AXELROD: What do you make of the president's demand of the Justice Department that they investigate, essentially investigate the investigation that involves his campaign and perhaps him?

SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: This has really taken the assault on the rule of law to a new level really from the beginning of this presidency. President Trump has not observed the time-honored norm that's been in place at least since Watergate, that there should be a real division between the Department of Justice and the White House.


LEMON: You can see more of that interview on "The Axe Files," Saturday at 7:00 p.m. David, she hasn't spoken out a lot. Is she alarmed by what the president is doing?

AXELROD: Oh, beyond alarmed, Don. And she's really, you know, she spent 27 years in the Justice Department. She has great reverence for the Justice Department, for the FBI. She knows most of the players in this story. Bob Mueller, Chris Wray, Rosenstein. She speaks about that here. But what she said that I thought was most interesting was by undermining the FBI, by undermining the Justice Department, he is making America less safe because people -- at least people who listen to his voice are going to be less eager to cooperate with the FBI in future cases and on future missions.

She also said that -- that, you know, no president should use the Justice Department as a sword to go after his enemies or as a shield to protect himself. And that's what the president appears to be doing here. So she's very, very passionate about this and had a lot to say.

LEMON: All right, both of you are going to come back. Let's stick around. We're going to talk about a posthumous pardon and should the president take a knee or just sit down when it comes to this whole flag issue?



TRUMP: I believe that Jack Johnson is a very worthy person to receive a full pardon, and in this case a posthumous pardon. So, I am taking this very righteous step, I believe, to correct a wrong that occurred in our history.


LEMON: President Trump using the power of his office to grant a posthumous pardon today for boxer Jack Johnson a victim of racial injustice. And I want to talk about this now with Frank Bruni and David Axelrod. The president granted a full pardon to legendry boxer Jack Johnson, convicted of the crime of transporting a white woman across the border. This was in 1913. It's a positive step, but you have your own take on this, don't you?

BRUNI: It definitely looks like the kind of kind and big minded thing to do, but I worry that he's just using this as a distraction. I mean, if we're looking at the record and history of Donald Trump, the number of times he's done race-bating things, outright racist things, they aren't erased by this one gesture and I think he sat there thinking, I'm going to really show them a different Donald Trump right now and I'm not persuaded.

LEMON: Yes. David, the president also made the point that Congress supported resolutions calling for a pardon in the past, and they thought it was going to be signed in the last administration and that didn't happen. He just couldn't resist a swipe at the former president, could he?

AXELROD: No, I think that's part of what made this irresistible for him. And you know, I think he sees everything as it's going to play in the moment. And he sees no connection. He can say earlier in the day that NFL players who don't stand for the anthem because they're protesting the kind of injustices that he was referencing in this pardon, that they should leave the country.

And he sees no connection between that and what he was going to do later in the day. And it gives more credence to Frank's point a couple of seconds ago which is that this was a symbolic gesture, a political gesture, not an expression of deep compassion.

LEMON: Yes, and as you just mentioned this is what the president said about -- it's about the kneeling and banning players from doing it during NFL games. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [22:55:02]TRUMP: Well, I think that's good. I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done.


BRUNI: You have to stand proudly or maybe you shouldn't be in the country? My definition of this country is a place where no one tells me I'm a stand proudly and salute any kind of symbol. I think Donald Trump fundamentally misunderstands the meaning, you know, and the importance of America.

LEMON: So I mean, sympathy for racial injustice on one hand and a smack down for players who are protesting for racial equality, how do you explain that, David?

AXELROD: Well, like I said I think he views all of these things as tactics to support his politics. The base loves this kneeling issue and that's why he keeps going back to it. And he thought this would be a neat way -- the other piece would be a neat way to make some sort of gesture towards the black community and the fact that they're entirely inconsistent and his remarks were inconsistent apparently is lost on him.

But let me just say this, Don, I'm the son of an immigrant who came from persecution, religious persecution in Eastern Europe. I do stand and I hold my hand over my heart when the anthem plays because I'm grateful for this country having taken my father in and given us the opportunities it gave us.

But I'm also grateful to live in a country unlike the one he came from where no one dictates whether you stand or sit or whether you can express protest. You're invited to speak your mind. You're invited speak out when you see injustice and you don't get punished for that. So, you know, Donald Trump, he's great at manipulating symbols. He's apparently unable to understand the larger meaning of those symbols.

LEMON: Well said David. Thank you so much. Thank you Frank as well. Appreciate it.

When we come back, what a week for President Trump. Pushing conspiracy theories, lying to the American people and telling NFL players who want to exercise their first amendment rights to get out of the country. I'm going to ask Fareed Zakaria if all of this is damaging our democracy.