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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Pardon Dinesh D'Souza; Double Standard in all Angles of Politics and the Media; Trump Contradicts Himself Says Comey Firing Unrelated To Russia. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Is President Trump sending a message tonight a bad signal to political allies and former aides in the sight of Mueller investigation? Are his pardons a way of telling them, don't worry I have the power to pardon you too just like I pardoned Dinesh D'Souza, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Scooter Libby.

It doesn't matter if you pleaded guilty like conservative flame thrower D'Souza who was sentence to five years probation and a $30,000 fine for violating federal campaign finance laws.

So are the president's pardons all about politics? We'll have more on that in just a moment. And that all comes on a day the president doubled or triple down on his demands for an apology from ABC in the wake of Roseanne Barr's firing for that racist Twitter attack on Valerie Jarrett.

The president making it all about him again tweeting, "Iger, where is my call of apology. You and ABC have offended millions of people and they demand a response. How is Brian Ross doing? He tanked the market with and ABC lie, yet no apology, double standard."

The president completely ducking the point there. Roseanne's tweet was straight up racist. Yet, the president failed to condemn it. Why? Because he can't. Because his own words and actions are racist too.

So, let's review. Back in 1973, the Trump's family real estate company was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination. They settled without admitting wrongdoing but were required to take steps to prevent discrimination, and that was the beginning.

In 1991, in a book that's called "Trumped" by former Trump casino executive John O'Donnell. Donald Trump said, quote, "Black guys counting my money, I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. No one else."

Racism and anti-Semitism all rolled up into one quote. In 1989, Trump took out this infamous full-page ad in four New York City newspapers demanding the death penalty for what he called, quote, "roving bands of wild criminals." This was in the wake of the rape of a white female jogger at Central

Park. Five black and Latino teenagers were wrongly convicted of the crime and later exonerated. Yet Trump was still insisting on their guilt in 2016. And listen to what Donald Trump NBC, this was in 1989.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. And I think sometime a black may think that they don't really have the advantage with this or that, but in actuality today, currently, I said great. I've said in once occasion hearing about myself as I starting off today I would love to be a well-educated black because I really believe they do have an actual advantage today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well-educated black. Fast forward to 2011 when Donald Trump embraced the racist birther lie that Barack Obama was not born in this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I want him to show his birth certificate. I want him to show his birth certificate.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?

TRUMP: There's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't want.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God.

TRUMP: I brought it up just routinely then all of a sudden a lot of facts are emerging. And I'm starting to wonder myself whether or not he was born in this country.

So I would like to have him show his birth certificate. And can I be honest with you? I hope he can. Because if he can't -- if he can't and if he wasn't born in this country, which is a real possibility -- if he doesn't it's one of the greatest scams in the history of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And remember he asked for the college records too on top of that. Finally, September of 2016, Trump said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: President Barack Obama was born in the United States period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yet, he reportedly still clings to that birther lie today. And there is so much more. Much, much more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists.

Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.

I don't know David Duke. I don't think I've ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him and I just don't know anything about him.

You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And on and on and on. Those are the receipts. Why doesn't President Trump condemn racism? His own words and actions tell you why. He's a racist.

[22:05:02] I want to bring in now CNN's Chris Cillizza, he's a politics editor at larger here, also CNN politics analysts Kirsten Powers and April Ryan. Good evening to all of you. Thank you for joining us.

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Hi, Don.

LEMON: So, Chris, are we seeing a presidential pardon edition of celebrity apprentice here?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: I do think you mention this at the open, Don. I do think that there's a clear sort of bat signal sending that exist here. You now have the pardons of Joe Arpaio last year, Scooter Libby earlier this year and then this latest.

And I think there's a very clear connection between Arpaio, Libby and Dinesh D'Souza which is people who are heroes in the certain element of within the conservative party or within the conservative element of the Republican Party, I would say sort of conspiracy minded conservatives, who view them as enemies of the deep state.

People who were unfairly persecuted and unfairly prosecuted. And what message is Donald Trump sending? Why Dinesh D'Souza who he admits he didn't meet and he hadn't met? Scooter Libby either? Why now? Why today? Why in this period of time? Because he wants to send a message that says, hey, Michael Cohen, hey, Paul Manafort. I know you're under extreme pressure here to flip and tell the special counsel Bob Mueller what you know.

Just so you know I'm willing to pardon these sorts of offenses. I just -- timing is rarely accidentally in politics and it's specially not accidental right now, because otherwise the Dinesh D'Souza thing makes zero sense. It comes out of absolutely totally no. LEMON: It's one of those things where it's so obvious that they think

-- well, this is so obvious that no one will believe it or you won't even see it like when someone does something right in front of your face you don't know to say if they try to hide it.

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: No one will suspect it.

LEMON: Yes, no one will suspect it because I'm doing it right in front of your face.

So, April, so the president issues this complete pardon to far right pundit and conspiracy theorist dinesh D'Souza and signals that he may Martha Stewart and issue a commutation for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Blago. Is he telling folks like Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort that I've got your back as Chris just said?

APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes. Like Chris said the president is saying tune in, same that time same bat channel because this too can happen for you. He is definitely doing that. But you know, it sends more of a resounding message to me with Martha Stewart and the former Illinois governor.

But here's the issue for me. What the crimes or the conviction were for, conspiracy and corruption, and then and the former governor of Illinois, he was actually impeached. And I think it sends a resounding message on what they were convicted on and then what's happening with him with this Russia investigation.

So it's sending multiple levels of messages to the community to those that he doesn't want to flip to say look, this can happen. Take a look at the bat signal that's up in the sky. That's what the president is saying.

LEMON: Well, I want you to take a look at this.

RYAN: As Air Force One flies by.

LEMON: Yes, yes. Take a look at this one. The president was visibly annoyed when a reporter asked him if he consider a pardon for Michael Cohen. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering a pardon for Michael Cohen?

TRUMP: All right. Thank you very much.

Stupid. Stupid question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So is it really a stupid question considering what the president is saying today, April, and then I'll get to Kirsten. RYAN: No, it's not a stupid question. Russia is on the table. It has

grown from the moment they walked in the door and it's growing even more. There's never a stupid question in that White House no matter what people think. Everything comes to the White House from border piece and everything in between. And Michael Cohen happens to be everything in between.

LEMON: Well, any time a president pardons someone, right, Kirsten, the media questions, why did they pardon it, whether it's good pardon or bad pardon, why did you do it at this time. We discuss it, correct? There's nothing unusual about that.

POWERS: Yes, absolutely. And I think one of the distinctions you also would make between Donald Trump and other pardons that presidents have done is that, you now, if you, look at Obama's pardons that he went through the DOJ process. He wasn't just sort of picking and choosing random people that he, you know, decided on a whim to pardon.

Look, they've also portrayed people like Dinesh D'Souza or Martha Stewart. I've been listening to the Trump surrogates sort of portraying them as people who didn't do anything wrong. They were somehow caught up in this so-called perjury traps when that's just not what happened.

LEMON: Yes. And they were unfairly treated.

POWERS: And you know, they're criminals, you know. I mean, they lied. They committed crimes and they lied about the crimes.

LEMON: Yes.

POWERS: I mean, it wasn't that they mixed up the date that they were having coffee with somebody. You know, they actually -- Martha Stewart, you know, was doing insider trading and lied about it.

[22:09:59] LEMON: And lied to investigators.

POWERS: And so, yes, they're trying to present them as though these are just minor issues and you have these overzealous prosecutors and that's not just what happened.

LEMON: Hang on, Chris and let me just say this.

CILLIZZA: Sure.

LEMON: John Harwood over at CNBC pointed this out on Twitter and I think it was very astute. He said, "So today Trump followed Roseanne's racism furor by pardoning a guy who said of Obama you can take the boy out of the ghetto, ridiculed Michelle Obama as an affirmative action Princeton student." He said "Slavery wasn't racist. Slaves were treated pretty well. Also mocked Rosa Parks. I think he said what's the big deal about Rosa Parks not moving to the back of the bus?

CILLIZZA: That's right.

LEMON: Chris and then -- Kirsten and then I get to you, Chris. POWERS: Yes, I mean, the only thing that matters today is Samantha Bee, right. It's not and I think what Samantha Bee said was wrong and I think she should have apologized and she did. And yet, you have the president pardoning a person like this who is a complete conspiracy theorist.

So that's another thing that he and the president have in common. And he's said and done the most hateful things imaginable about President Obama. And yet, you know, the big problem in the world is Samantha Bee.

LEMON: Let me ask this, Chris. OK. So, Dinesh D'Souza was prosecuted by former U.S. attorney and CNN contributor Preet Bharara who Trump fired. In the case of Martha Stewart, the prosecutor was James Comey. Let's see. Mr. Rod Blagojevich who was convicted of 18 charges, sentenced to 14 years in prison. Bu when you look at this when you look at that, it's Preet Bharara or anyone else who is connected to the president, is this -- is this settling scores?

CILLIZZA: So, I actually think it's more. I mean, look, I'm not a huge believer in coincidence, Don, certainly not in politics. So I'm not going to dismiss that. I -- but my belief is the prime mover the prime motivator here is -- and Donald Trump said on Air Force One on the way to Texas today, that he was asked about Dinesh D'Souza. And he said no, I never really met him. I called him last night. Boy, was he surprised.

But I heard him on the radio and I saw him on television. Right. So that to me is at least part of this too. Martha Stewart was on the apprentice. Rod Blagojevich was on the apprentice. Dinesh D'Souza. Scooter Libby was to a certain extent sticking into the eye of the Bush administration who weren't willing -- do you remember, George W. Bush was strongly lobbied by Dick Cheney, among others, to pardon Scooter Libby and not do so.

Joe Arpaio is sticking it to sort of the P.C. liberal elite. So I think a lot of it is relationship driven, and then remember, he does so many things in opposition to what he doesn't like.

So, so much of his presidency to date has been what did Barack Obama do? OK. We're doing the opposite. It doesn't even matter really what that is. It's just the opposite. So I think it's relationship driven and there's a score settling piece. I don't think there's any question.

One other very quick thing to Kirsten's point, don't underestimate what a big deal this is. This is a huge deal to pardon people. It's usually at the end of an administration because they're often controversial. Remember Mark Rich in the Bill Clinton days. This is a big deal that a president steps in and does something like this. And Kirsten is right. We should not overlook it.

LEMON: Just do it and then don't say you're not doing it for that reason. There you go. OK, stick around everyone. We have lot to talk about. When we come back, so much more -- so much, I should say for Roseanne Barr's promise to leave Twitter after her racist attack on Valerie Jarrett who she says she wants to now help and why the president still hasn't condemned her racism.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The president still not condemning Roseanne Barr's racist attack on Valerie Jarrett. Instead he is sticking with his strategy of making this whole thing about him and demanding ABC call him to apologize.

Back with me now Chris Cillizza, Kirsten Powers, and April Ryan. OK. So we'll talk about the president but let's talk about Roseanne Barr here, Kirsten. Because she said she was leaving Twitter. But clearly she is not leave. I keep getting I was like, when is she going to leave.

So then she tweets, so she answered my question. Because I thought she quit Twitter. "So I'm staying on Twitter to try and help build a movement of grassroots people who wish to solve the problems of this neighborhood the USA."

But wasn't that the problem because of what she tweeted and her conspiracy theory that she's building a grassroots movement of people who believe in conspiracy theories and who tweet racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic things? I mean, so why is she complaining that she's being attacked?

POWERS: I don't know. I don't understand why Roseanne has been on Twitter at all frankly because here she got a second chance with this reboot of her show. She had all these people that were depending on her.

And she continued to say, you know, a lot of crazy things on Twitter and it culminated with this horrific thing that she said about Valerie Jarrett which she could have easily anticipated she would be fired for.

So if I was her, I would get off Twitter personally and deal with my issues. But I guess she wants to keep engage.

LEMON: Yes. She's an American and she can do what she wants. But as I say around the way, she needs to have several seats.

So, April, then there's the president who refuses to call out Roseanne's racist tweets. Instead, he's again attacking the president of Disney, he says, "Iger, where is my call for an apology of an apology. You and ABC have offended millions of people and they demand a response. How Brian Ross is doing? He tanked the market with an ABC lie, yet no apology. Double standard."

So, this is about him, right?

RYAN: No, it's not about him. Although the president said on Twitter basically it was about him. Sarah Huckabee Sanders again--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That was sarcasm. RYAN: -- yesterday in the White House briefing buried he lead -- I

know, I know.

LEMON: Yes.

RYAN: But Sarah Huckabee Sanders buried the lead yesterday saying it was inappropriate and no one defended it. But this was a chance for the president to say it was wrong.

But you have to remember, if you point fingers, you got to point some back at yourself. This president has said things that people have been offended by. This president -- I mean, I'm thinking of several examples, one that comes immediate to mind the Pocahontas thing. You know, that was unnecessary in the White House.

[22:19:58] The Charlottesville thing where he was wavering back and forth and then listening to David Duke on twitter, you know, about how he should handle it.

This president should not at this moment, as there is racial tension and racial sensitivities, because we are not a post racial society, he needs to listen to America. Listen to America not just his base, not just Roseanne who wants to get the neighborhood right.

My question is what does her neighborhood look like compare to someone else's neighborhood? Baltimore, Chicago, L.A., you know. I'm not talking about in Indiana or Iowa or North Dakota. I'm talking about all of America so we can come together, as we, the people who are still forming a more perfect union.

So with this said, this president has a moment, a fragment moment where it's still not too late for him to be able to come out and condemn what she said but also still say she's my friend but I condemn it.

LEMON: Yes.

RYAN: There's nothing wrong with that.

LEMON: It's not going to happen.

RYAN: As he's working on an urban agenda.

LEMON: It's not going to happen.

RYAN: Well, I don't know.

LEMON: Yes. Wasting your breath. But it is going to happen because Chris, you wrote a piece in CNN.com and you say--

CILLIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: -- "Today can be summed up in something Donald Trump said told Playboy, this is back 1990. The show is Trump. And it is sold out performances everywhere."

CILLIZZA: yes.

LEMON: It all becomes about him in the end.

CILLIZZA: I mean, yes, it is. I mean, look, that was 1990. This is a guy who in the 1980s made up a figure name John Miller, a young P.R. executive in the Trump organization to call the New York tabloids and tout Donald Trump's virility and appeal to women. Like that happened in real life.

So, yes, he is someone who has always made about him. And remember, it's not about good press, Don. It's just about press. It's about attention, buzz. The failure in Donald Trump's world is not being talked about. It's not being judged poorly. It's not being judge by people like -- it's being irrelevant. That's what he fears. That is failure.

RYAN: Narcissism.

CILLIZZA: It's why by the way all the talk of, he won't run for a second term. He's bored, he hates job and this thing. No one who has not learned anything about Donald Trump's life thinks that. He loves it. He's the center of attention. He is a prime mover and he is going to hold on to that for as long as he can.

And yes, it will always -- whether it's this fight over Roseanne or let's remember a few days ago, Don, for Memorial Day a tweet commemorating the soldiers by touting the good unemployment rate, which again something that's worth touting.

But I don't think that most families on Memorial Day while they're thinking of their loved one are also thinking, man, I'm sure am glad that the unemployment rate is low. He doesn't get that piece. He doesn't understand that connection. He never has. He's not going to.

LEMON: Yes. Kirsten, your piece in the Washington Post is right here, it's a terrific piece. It's called, yes, liberals can be condescending. Trump is a conservative's fault. And here's what you write, part of it you said, "reprimanding liberals isn't new. What's new is how the critique has morphed into a kind of ransom demand. Stop being elitist or Trump supporters will vote for him again."

So you say the way to absolve the president for a laundry list of things, that's what it is, that's what's going on.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, my point is, you hear this over and over. And it was interesting even when I tweeted it today I got a lot of tweets back, saying it's this kind of condescending column that made me vote for Trump.

And my point is who votes for somebody because liberals are mean to them? It's so weird. You know, I don't understand why anybody would choose the leader of the free world on that basis. And yet, we hear over and over whenever the media does something that conservatives are like this is how you got Trump, right.

And so, it just seems like, yes, it seems like a way to sort of absolve them of having to come up with any kind of positive reason for supporting him. It's just more to get back at liberals.

But I just also want to follow up on what we're talking about before because I think it's an important point. The reason - I think the reason the president isn't going to condemn Roseanne and doesn't ever really apologize for anything like Pocahontas no matter how offensive it is, is because he's a racial demagogue that's why. It's not just about him wanting to be the center of attention, it's that this is what the people who follow him want to hear and he knows that. And he -- they don't--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: But the problem is racial tensions are ramping up.

POWERS: Of course they are, April. And he likes that. That's my point

RYAN: And he needs to do something.

POWERS: But he likes that.

RYAN: When you have a divided America and--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let me tell you guys this. Let me just say this because I have to go. If we're looking -- we should not look to him for that. He is not capable of it. So we need to look somewhere else.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

LEMON: So maybe -- maybe we have to be the moral conscious and he should be--

(CROSSTALK)

[22:24:56] CILLIZZA: No, he doesn't believe that the presidency is that.

LEMON: -- but it's never ever going to happen.

CILLIZZA: No.

LEMON: And it's a sad -- it's sad and a shame.

RYAN: I agree.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

POWERS: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, what's really behind the president's refusal to condemn Roseanne's racist tweet? Shouldn't it be a no- brainer to speak out against racism?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The president had a perfect opportunity to condemn the racism in Roseanne's tweet and claim the high ground here. Obviously he didn't do that. So why is the president making it all about himself again, demanding an apology from ABC? What's really behind his strategy of always playing the victim in chief?

Here to discuss CNN political commentators Charles Blow and Alice Stewart, also Tim Wise, he's the author of "White Like Me." Good evening.

ALICE STEWART, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Hi, Don.

LEMON: Charles, so when Roseanne compared Valerie did that awful comparison on Twitter of Valerie Jarrett, right.

CHARLES BLOW, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Right.

LEMON: The president had the opportunity to --it was a layup.

BLOW: Right.

LEMON: Why he can't he do that?

BLOW: I mean, I assume that it's not just him. When you refuse to confront -- so he had the option of not weighing in.

LEMON: Right.

BLOW: But when use choose to weigh in and you choose to ignore the bigger part of the story, which is that you must condemn, if you got to weigh on you must condemn what she has said. He chose not to do that, right.

[22:30:07] So that and choosing not to do that says a lot about him himself, whether he does not see it as a big problem, accepts it, approves of it, like those are the options. And it would not surprise me -- you keep saying this because it is true, that the man's just a racist. And it is -- and it's not even something that -- I think we need to stop arguing about this.

LEMON: It's not an argument.

BLOW: It's not an argument, but...

LEMON: And I hate it when people say, well, I don't know what's in his heart. You don't know what's in anybody's heart. You look from their actions, and the words.

BLOW: Right. You can make -- you can deduce things from the evidence.

LEMON: Right.

BLOW: The evidence is there for everyone to see. And it's not like some big mysterious thing that you -- to draw out many collusion based on evidence. I walk outside, and see the sky is blue. I don't stand and argue if it's about -- is it turquoise, (Inaudible), no. It's blue.

You save me and argue about that, I'm going to move on because now I can deal with the fact that I have -- the conclusion they are dropping the evidence, so we need to stop. So once you just accept that, and deal with that part, the other things start to make sense. His actions start to make sense on issues like this.

LEMON: OK, so, Tim, Charles said the evidence is there. I said in the open, here are the receipts. Why are we arguing about it? Why can't people about it?

Why do -- why can't people now -- some, not everybody obviously -- in this society, just distinguish what racism is, and what is acceptable, and what's not? We can't even come to a consensus about what is racist now when it's obvious.

TIM WISE, AUTHOR, WHITE LIKE ME: We never have been able. We never have been able to do that. I mean, the fact is, historically, white Americans by and large, again, not all white folks, but the majority of white Americans have never actually seen racism for what it was at the time that it was happening.

So even during the Civil Rights era which we look back on is this golden age, and everybody says they marched with Dr. King, et cetera. The reality is that two out of three white folks in 1963 didn't think that black people were treated unequally according to a Gallup Poll taken that year.

So if white folks didn't see racist, and even if it was blatant in your face, Bull Connor and Jim Clark in Selma in 1965, all of that, then why would we be shocked that white Americans are in denial about racism even on the part of the president in this case. It's a long tradition of denial. He is not the one who originated it. He's just the current example of it.

LEMON: So, Alice, if the President is offended by -- about what Samantha Bee said about his daughter Ivanka, which was offensive, why is he not offended by Roseanne about Valerie Jarrett?

STEWART: Because he's made similar comments. Look, the important thing here, Don, is that he had really three options on how to respond to this. One, the best option would have been to use this as a teachable moment, and say this kind of rhetoric, this kind of dialogue, racist statements, homophobic statements, misogynist statements cannot be tolerated.

I'm guilty of it, and we shouldn't do it. He didn't do that. they could have done -- they started to do is to say he's busy focusing on more important things like North Korea, and the economy, and not commenting at all.

But for him to take the worst option by saying it's not about this, about me, and apologize to me for the time that I have been criticized, that's not the way to go about it.

And unfortunately, he did make it about him. And it would be the height of hypocrisy for him to come out, and criticize even Samantha Bee, or Roseanne Barr for the statements they have made when he's made many himself, and unfortunate.

I'm a Republican. I support him. I support his policies, but I don't support this kind of rhetoric. And this would be a great opportunity for him to lead the country, and trying to stop aid this kind of dialogue, and be -- stop the normalizing of this kind of talk, and do the best we can as grown ups, people with children watching, and trying to make sure that we don't continue to do this hurtful dialogue.

LEMON: OK. Let's talk about some of these pardons, OK? Blow, I know you want to weigh in. Go on.

BLOW: Well, that's just -- that's just the thing. Because Donald Trump has lived the life he's lived, said the things he said, done the things he's done, and had, to my knowledge, never apologized for any of it, sought -- been contrite about it, repentant on it in any way, it means that he can never lead us in a moment of unity.

I hate when people say we -- Trump needs to bring us together. We need to come together. No, you can't bring me together under Donald Trump. It's an impossibility.

Because I cannot be led by a man who is morally corrupt in this way, who refuses to even acknowledge that he is lying every day, who refuses to acknowledge that he is offending people sometimes without any merit at all in this way, and never apologizing for that.

[22:35:16] You cannot lead me. You cannot bring me together.

LEMON: So someone said this, you can take the boy out of the ghetto, and the President pardoned him. We'll discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So the President is issuing one controversial pardon today and hinting at more. I'm back now with Charles Blow, Alice Stewart, and Tim Wise. So, Tim, today the President tweeted we'll be giving a full pardon to Dinesh D'Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government.

I just want to read some of -- by the way, D'Souza pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance on 2014. He was indicted early of charges of illegally use straw donors to contribute to Republican Senate candidate Wendy Long in New York in 2012. But I just want to read some of what he said about President Obama. He tweeted, you can take the boy out of the ghetto.

[22:40:01] Watch this vulgar man show his stuff, while America cowers in embarrassment. He tweeted, I am thank this week when I remember that America is big enough, and great enough to survive Grown-Up Trayvon in the White House.

And then in his book he said in summary, the American slave was treated like property, which is to say pretty well. So, he's got a history of saying bold things about the President, saying bold things about other people who are in power. What message does this send -- the people of color who are in power, what message does this send?

WISE: Well, I mean, it says that he is willing to not only tolerate, but to give his stamp of approval to people who make blatantly racial comments. Dinesh D'Souza also said in his bio, vulgar book, The End of Racism back in 1995, that the reason that black folks lagged behind in America was because of a civilization deficit with white people. This is the kind of person that Donald Trump will align himself with.

Now I doubt he knows anything about Dinesh's actual case regarding election fraud, I doubt very seriously he knows anything about the contribution that he made, the fact that he pled guilty. All he knows is this is guy who says nice things about him on the radio, on television, and in social media.

And that's all you have to do. A grifter knows a grifter. Game knows game. And Dinesh D'Souza is a grifter from a long time bat as Donald Trump, and they are, you know, birds of a feather both in terms of their racial views, but also the way that they just sort of scam the system, and have scammed the system for years to become famous, to become wealthy, and to become influential.

LEMON: I know you want -- you have some very strong -- you have a very strong opinion, Alice, about some of the pardons, or possible pardons.

STEWART: Sure. First of all -- yes, first of all, I mean, all presidents have the authority to pardon anybody they want. They can do it, that's part of the authority of the president, and in some cases it's a perk of the presidency.

But the difference here is that we had the President today indicating that he was going to pardon Dinesh D'Souza. Also indicating to the press he was considering the same for Martha Stewart, as well as Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois.

All three of these people, you know, committed crimes. And they were convicted crimes. And there are plenty of other people that are well deserving of pardons. But the difference is that the President do these -- these people haven't been fully vetted, and for the President to go about issuing pardons willy-nilly like he is, it does raise concerns.

And there are concerns about what kind of signal is he sending. The fact that there are questions about whether or not he's in illegal -- potential illegal jeopardy with regards to the Russian investigation, other may provide information to him. Is he telling them that he, look, I can provide pardons to you just like I'm going with these people. I mean in (Inaudible).

In 2001, Bill Clinton issued a pardon to Marc Rich. I didn't agree with that pardon, a lot of didn't agree with that. But Bill Clinton did that on his way out the door as he was leaving the presidency. He had nothing really to gain or lose from that other than he wanted to pardon his friend Marc Rich. LEMON: Yes.

STEWART: The President has a lot to gain by issuing these pardons now, by sending signals to people that potentially could provide information against him.

LEMON: Yes.

STEWART: That's the issue I have with the pardons he is doing now.

LEMON: Yes, and because we were talking about Dinesh D'Souza and some of the other folks. But here -- listen, let's get back to this issue, and you were talking about moral leadership, right? This is a new Gallup -- this is a Gallup poll this week.

And it says that 77 percent of Republicans believe that Trump provides strong, moral leadership. Does that number surprise you? I mean, what does it mean?

BLOW: I don't know what it means. I mean, that's one of those broad questions that I don't know exactly how people are reading it, and hearing it, right? So people can read that, and think about, you know, immediately go to abortion right issues, and things like that, and think that -- and say that's the morality they are talking about, not individual, and a personal morality.

I think it is clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that on the interpersonal kind of morals of demand, he's at a deficit. I mean, an incredible deficit. Whether or not you think that his policies help your cause as a moral standing, that's a very different question. So you can read that question any kind of way. So I'm not exactly sure how -- what that question tells us.

LEMON: Yes. Tim, I wanted to ask you about this. Because this was when I interviewed him before when he was running, and he told me that he was the least racist person that you'll ever meet. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Are you racist?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am the least racist person that you have ever met. I am the least racist person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So he often repeats that.

WISE: What does that even mean?

LEMON: OK, well, go on.

WISE: What does that even mean? What is the standard by which we ever judge that? Look, when someone has to tell you how not racist they are, that's probably because they're racist as hell. Like that is probably the reason why they are -- it's like saying I'm the least rapiest person that you ever met.

[22:45:06] Why did you say that unless you were a rapist? Like it just doesn't make any sense except you're trying to cover, look -- and here is the thing, and you brought this up earlier, it isn't about the man's heart. I have long said, it's like asking whether a drug dealer is also an addict.

I don't know if this guy gets high on his own supply, but I know what he's dealing, right? He's dealing that racism. He is playing that card with his constituents. He's the leader of the biggest victim cult in the history of the world. White conservatives who think they're the ones who are discriminated against.

They're the ones who can't get jobs. They're the ones who can't scholarships even though they get the vast majority of the jobs, vast majority of the scholarships. White families fifteen times the net worth of black families on average, but white folks are the victims. That's the group he is playing to.

That's why he won't apologize. That's why he won't criticize Roseanne. But he knows that the people who defend him are the same people who were on Twitter right now, not just angry about Roseanne being canceled, but actually defending her comments, and saying that she did nothing wrong. He's a leader of a victim filled cult.

LEMON: Right.

WISE: And when you're the leader of the cult, you don't apologize for anything.

(CROSSTALK)

BLOW: We're also using the stupid people's definition of racism.

WISE: That's because they say do we really know what's racism?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hold on, Alice.

BLOW: Stupid people's definition is unless the person is articulating, and saying I am a racist...

LEMON: Or using the N word.

BLOW: ... and using the N word...

LEMON: And saying I am discriminating...

BLOW: ... wearing the hood. Has a swastika on their forehead, we say anybody sure of that isn't a question.

LEMON: Right.

BLOW: No, it's not.

LEMON: Right, there is no question.

BLOW: What kind of question -- if they have a record, they have evidence...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I've got to go. They are telling me I have to go. Quick. Quick. Quick.

STEWART: I am just saying he was there before he was elected. And we knew what we were getting...

LEMON: True.

STEWART: ... when people voted for him, and not a same person he was before, and people voted him for his policies, unfortunately not for his moral leadership.

LEMON: Yes. You get what you vote for. Thank you, everyone. When we come back, President Trump claiming he didn't fire James Comey because of the Russia investigation. But that's not what he, himself, said a year ago.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump trying to rewrite history. Tweeting today, not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia. The corrupt mainstream media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true. No, it's the President's claim that it's not true.

He clearly said on camera that Russia was on his mind when he fired Comey. So who is the President trying to fool? So let's discuss now. CNN Contributor John Dean is here, he is a former Nixon White House Counsel, and former Clinton White House General Counsel Nelson Cunningham.

Good evening, gentlemen. So, John, I just want to play what President Trump in his own words when he told NBC's Lester Holt about why he fired Comey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you fire Director Comey?

TRUMP: Because he wasn't doing a good job, very simple. He was not doing a good job. Regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

It's an excuse by Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won. I thought that this would be a very popular thing that I did when I terminated Comey. Some of the people at the top were rotten apples. James Comey was one of them. I've done a great service to this country by getting rid of him by firing him. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, as a lawyer, have you ever seen a client like this? What did you think of those comments?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It starts -- it's broader than just those comments. There's been a mosaic. He did this act of firing Comey three months in to his -- over three months into his presidency. He could have done that immediately if he thought he was such a problem. He didn't.

He waited until he asked Comey if he could have his loyalty, which Comey said no. He asked Comey if he would say that he's not involved in the investigation. Comey said I can't say that. He also asked Comey if he could go light on Flynn, give him a pass, if you will.

Comey refused to do that. So there's a lot that happens before he's got Russia on his mind as he explained to Lester Holt. And after that -- some time after that we know either during the day of the taping or the day before the taping he meet with Russians in the office, and says he has a burden taken off his back by firing Comey.

LEMON: Yes. So, Nelson, what is the strategy here? What is the strategy of trying to rewrite history?

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, this is Donald Trump's M.O., isn't it? He does two things. He tries to rewrite history and get you to believe what he wants you to believe, and the second is he tries to work the ref.

And right now he's trying to write the ref by telling Jeff Sessions maybe you'll be fired, by telling Rod Rosenstein maybe you'll be fired. Trying to work those guys, at the same time trying those remember the past differently than the actual videotape shows it. It's a pretty bold...

LEMON: It's on tape.

CUNNINGHAM: It's on tape.

LEMON: I don't get it. I guess, some people will believe it even though it's right -- you know, do you believe me or are you lying years on us? So, John, sources tell CNN that President Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to you unrecuse himself from the Russian investigation. That he did multiple time in addition to the time at Mar-a-Lago, reported by the New York Times. Legally, can you unrecuse yourself from an investigation?

DEAN: Well, I guess technically you can. It's certainly not very usual. There's a lot of thought given into recusal. There are regulations in the Department of Justice that in this instance the Attorney General actually followed. He got the advice of lawyers in the department.

I don't see how he could have possibly done it. It was rather imaginative of Trump to try to concoct it. And it shows, again, Trump's intent which is not a healthy thing for him to be displaying in this situation.

[22:55:04] LEMON: So a lot of times we'll say, listen, it's not illegal, but it's certainly out of the ordinary. It's not appropriate. Nelson, is there anything wrong with the President pressuring the Attorney General on this? Is it -- is it obstruction?

CUNNINGHAM: What the President fails to understand. or keeps on failing to understand from day one of his presidency is that the Justice Department is different. Prosecutors and law enforcement officials are not loyal political appointees who do whatever the boss says.

Lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement officials have a duty to obey certain values, certain principles, to uphold standards of the rule of law. You cannot -- the reason why Jeff Sessions recused himself is because he realized he had told the public that he had had no conversations with Russians during the campaign.

Well, it turned out he had had multiple conversations with russians during the campaign because that was at the heart of what Mr. Mueller was looking at. He concluded on the basis of counsel, I have to recuse myself. That's a judgment in which I think every lawyer if you ask would agree with.

You cannot unring the bell. The only way he unrecuses himself is if he decides, maybe I didn't lie all those times about the number of contacts I had with the Russians. You can't do it.

And the President doesn't understand that he can't just exert his will on lawyers, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials the way he can on others. There is indeed a higher loyalty as Jim Comey said in his book.

Yes. Nelson and John, thank you so much, I appreciate your time. When we come back, what the President's pardons have in common, and what they might mean for the Mueller investigation.