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CNN TONIGHT

North Korea Summit Back on Track; Putin May Have Summit with Trump Too; Latest Jobs Report Shows Lowest Unemployment Rate for Blacks and Hispanic; Steve Bannon: Trump Is Doing A Fantastic Job; Did Trump Pardon D'Souza Because Of Shared Loathing For Obama; Trump Says He Never Met D'Souza But Former Aide Says They Met In 2012. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired June 1, 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] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Breaking news, sources say the White House is working on a possible summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, one that will focus on Syria, that is according to the Wall Street Journal. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

And this comes at the end of another really wild week, another we say that just about every Friday, but this has been a week that shows regular rules just don't apply when it comes to this president. And here's the latest example of that.

The on-again off-again summit with Kim Jong-un is back on, for now anyway. The president says this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's probably going to be a very successful, ultimately a successful process. We'll see. Remember what I say, we will see what we will see.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: What a cliff hanger. And then there's a letter hand delivered to President Trump today by a former North Korean spy chief. What was in that letter?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That letter was a very nice letter. Would you like to see what's in that letter? Would you like--

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

TRUMP: How much? How much? I haven't seen the letter yet. I purposely didn't open the letter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the president teases the content of the letter and then moments later says he hasn't actually read it. A really big letter, by the way. That is a big letter, look at that. It's huge.

But the White House now says the president did eventually read it. And of that come -- all of that comes on a day that President Trump surprise sidestepped another rule. Tweeting at 7.21 this morning, 7.21, take note of that.

"Looking forward to seeing the employment numbers at 8.30 this morning. And those numbers are good, really good."

They are. Unemployment is down to 3.8 percent in May. The only problem there is there is a federal rule that says nobody in the executive branch is supposed to comment on economic reports until an hour after they're released to avoid disrupting the stock market. So, this is a White House where the rules are made to be broken. Is it?

Let's get right to our breaking news though, with CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski, CNN political analyst April Ryan, and CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd.

Good to have all of you on this evening. Welcome. Michelle, you're first. Quite a day in foreign policy, as I just said tonight the Wall Street Journal is reporting the president is in early talks for a potential summit between President Trump and -- with President Trump and Putin. What do you know about that development?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This was fully expected. This would be the third time that they've met. So they've met on other occasions. One of those times it was a very long conversation. So this is the time in his presidency when you would be expecting a meeting like this to happen. They talked about it on a call in March. And that's when the White House said that a number of locations were being discussed including the White House.

So there is where the controversy could lie. Should the U.S., if they chose the White House be bringing the person that the U.S. intelligence community believes hacked and meddled in the last presidential election, the person that the U.S. intelligence community believes tried to murder a former Russian spy on British soil just months ago.

And you know, now all eyes are on North Korea of course, with the thought of what if -- what if Kim Jong-un came to the White House? You know, the mayhem that would cause. Dictator, murder, runs a kleptocracy, aggressive flouts international law.

But if put Putin was coming to the White House I think a lot of those descriptive could be pretty accurately used for him as well.

LEMON: Yes.

KOSINSKI: Again, we don't know where this -- where this meeting would be. But the White House would be pretty controversial. LEMON: OK. So, Sam, you know, the president -- I mean, the president

should be able to meet with foreign leaders. But how does the cloud of the Russia investigation impact this White House?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I think of Putin meeting at the White House is a slam dunk for Putin. Of course, President Trump should be meeting with foreign leaders, he should be speaking with foreign leaders, allies and enemies.

But the problem is, Don, because the president can't stay on message, we saw that with the phone call that he had with Vladimir Putin when he congratulated him on an election in the "air," quote, that his entire team told him not to do.

So you have to wonder if you put President Trump in the room with Vladimir Putin whose messages are President Trump going to be delivering in the press conference after that meeting? He's probably going to be manipulated by Putin. He's manipulated by Putin when Putin is in Moscow. We have to assume that it's going to be even worse if Putin is sitting in the Oval.

LEMON: Yes. April, you know, the idea of President Trump -- Presidents Trump and Putin meeting with all the Russia investigation stuff happening in the background, I mean, it will be their first meeting.

APRIL RYAN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: But the first one on one summit.

RYAN: Yes. The optics of this are questionable, because one, again, where would the meeting take place? The White House is not the setting for this.

[22:05:01] Particularly you had the Russian government is thought to have or have been confirmed by U.S. officials to have meddled in the 2016 presidential election process.

Vladimir Putin and the president will have to talk over issues. But the question is, you know, where does the president stand with him. We heard the president say before that, you know, he believed Vladimir Putin that he did not have anything to do with it.

And then ultimately, begrudgingly he acknowledged that Russia did do something with the elections. But the question is what's on the table, what's on the menu. And will the president just be free and unfettered with him. That's the big question, and the venue as well.

LEMON: Yes. So, Michelle let's talk about North Korea now, because the president is in broiled in trade fights with Canada and other close allies. They're all pushing back on him.

Meanwhile, Trump now appears to be buddy-buddy with North Korea. This is a remarkable moment. It is remarkable what's happening.

KOSINSKI: Yes. A surreal time. I mean, we just heard the president of European Council say, with friends like these, who needs enemies? I think what's especially concerning is that now you see as concerns North Korea, it seems like the administration might be lowering its standards for what it would take to have this Trump-Kim summit.

I mean, two days ago, State Department officials said, you know, before this summit could happen we're going to need to see North Korea spell out exactly what its willing to do. And that do something needs to be historic, can't be just words, has to be action, needs to be something toward denuclearization that we've never seen North Korea do.

And now here we are two days later and they're willing to have the summit but they're talking about the summit as a very beginning of a long process. So did they get that commitment, did they get that big gesture from North Korea? If they did, nobody is saying it. And if they didn't, why did you lower the criteria before the summit could take place? I mean, are you handing a win to Kim Jong-un here?

LEMON: And then there is, April, that North Korea's big letter to the president, boy, do I mean, big, and President Trump says it was a nice letter before admitting that he hadn't--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Big letter.

LEMON: Look at it, it's huge.

VINOGRAD: Size doesn't matter here--

LEMON: It's like one of those giant checks.

RYAN: Size does matter, it does.

VINOGRAD: To Trump it does, though. What are we talking about?

LEMON: My God. I mean--

KOSINSKI: Are we talking about letters?

LEMON: So, listen.

VINOGRAD: We're talking about the letter, we're talking about the letter.

LEMON: I know. So he said he has -- he talked about what was in the letter but then he hasn't opened it, I mean, what is that all saying? April?

RYAN: You know, with this president, yes, with this president you just don't know. I mean, he wanted to keep people on edge about the letter. He led them on to believe he read it, then he said he didn't, but ultimately he did.

But to have that long meeting without reading the letter I'm sure he felt convinced that there was something in it to move forward. So but the bottom line is, before you say -- for any president, before you say you read it you need to say -- you need to have read it first because the devil is in the details.

What if that large letter had something in it that he did not want? You know, what is it, Jim Acosta said it looks like the publisher's clearinghouse envelop and it did. It's very large. But what's in -- what large words are in that large envelop with that large letter. But I'm going to say this to you--

LEMON: It's the lottery.

RYAN: But before you go, here's the thing -- whatever -- anyway, the bottom line is, no matter the words are, it's about trust and the definition of denuclearization. What does it mean? Because you know, we may think one thing and they may not tell us. It's about trust and trying to find out what total denuclearization, is for one portion or is it for all? There is still a lot on the table that needs to be deciphered.

LEMON: I thought it was interesting, Sam, because you said earlier that you had chills to watch this longer by between North Korea's top envoy and the president knowing that they spent an hour in the Oval Office together. Is North Korea getting everything that they have ever wanted?

VINOGRAD: I think it looks that way. I mean, they have their spy chief who we've sanctioned who was responsible for killing 46 South Koreans walking into the Oval. But I got chills for that reason.

But also, Don, one of the scariest things to me was that the president spent this much time with Kim Yong-chol. This is the president, again, who didn't let his national security adviser come into the meeting and who doesn't stay on message.

So he kind of gave a major upper hand to Kim Jong-un in my opinion because he spent all this time with his personal envoy, letting his personal envoy see how he negotiates, how he talks, what throws him off guard. And that to me, gives Kim Jong-un a massive upper hand when they're in Singapore together.

LEMON: Yes. Michelle, while the president is -- I mean, he's clearly excited that Senate Majority Mitch McConnell less optimistic. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: If you fall in love with the deal and it's too important for you to get it and the details become less significant, you could get snookered.

[22:10:05] And I think the president is fully aware of that as he goes in -- assuming this meeting occurs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He could get snookered. I mean, he's urging caution there, there's a lot at stake here.

KOSINSKI: Yes. There's plenty of risk. There are analyst who feel like what's probably going to happen is that Kim Jong- un and his envoys are going to dangle just enough in front of U.S. to have this summit, to have Kim Jong-un on the world stage.

Now, you know, it's been China, it's been with South Korea then with President Trump, and then he's just going to go back to business as usual. That's one possible outcome. Of course it's possible that there could be real progress here. But you risk if it falls apart, the U.S. losing influence -- well, first of all, losing leverage in the process and getting way less -- way less verification of whatever you do get in the end, the U.S. losing influence.

Because remember, we're already seeing China meeting with Kim Jong-un and then suddenly things seem to change for the U.S. after that. You see Russia yesterday meet with Kim Jong-un. And then all of a sudden they're saying, denuclearization is a long phase in process where North Korea should get sanctions release along the way.

And he's standing there right next to Kim Jong-un saying that. Well, that is the opposite of what the U.S. wants. So the U.S. wants to be extremely, extremely careful in this and make sure that it keeps its influence and its leverage.

LEMON: Yes. Michelle Kosinski and Samantha Vinograd, thank you very much. April, stick around. When we come back, there's no question today's job report is good news including the news that we're as closest ever we've ever been to full employment in the black community. But what's full employment without full respect?

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: There's some really good news today on jobs, overall unemployment continues to fall. And in the black community we're about as close to full employment as we have been.

So back with me now is April Ryan. Joining the CNN political commentator is CNN political Catherine Rampell and Steve Cortes -- commentators, I should say. Good evening. Welcome to the program both of you and welcome back, April.

STEVE CORTES, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Thank you.

LEMON: So, Cathy, let's start with you, black unemployment rate is the lowest since the government start to keeping track since 1972, it's down to 5.9 percent from 6.8 percent last month. It is a downward trend. It started under the Obama administration but everyone is talking about who gets credit, who gets credit here, what do you think?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, if you look at this chart it's basically been a straight line for like, what, the last six or seven years. There is no, you know, sudden discontinuity when Trump got into office and suddenly the economy was booming and employment fell dramatically for everyone and for black people in particular.

This is what happens when you have an economy in recovery. It's great news that unemployment has been falling for the black community in particular. But it's not Trump's credit, it's not Trump's blame, and in general I would say that president get too much credit when things are doing well in the economy and too much blame when things are doing poorly.

It's true for Obama, it's true for President Trump even though he likes to tout these numbers.

LEMON: Yes.

RAMPELL: And I would also add by the way, that if you are going to stack up Trump's record against Obama, in fact, jobs growth month to month under Obama under the last 16 months of his presidency was a little bit stronger for black workers than it is -- has been under Trump.

LEMON: April, the president actually talks about blacks and Hispanic unemployment numbers quite a bit. Take a look at this.

RYAN: Yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Black unemployment is the best it's ever been in recorded history. It's been fantastic. African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.

We're setting records. Black unemployment at an all-time historical low. Hispanic unemployment at a historical low. All-time low, black unemployment, I'm very proud of that. And Hispanic unemployment, all- time low.

And what did I say, what the hell do you have to lose? And now we have numbers coming out that are so fantastic for Hispanic, for African- Americans.

(CROWD CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: April, why do you -- you say you wish the president would stop talking about black unemployment, why?

RYAN: I have said that. First of all, let me say I think it's great that black unemployment numbers are below 6 percent now. But you got to remember, black unemployment is normally 1.5 or two times that of white Americans. Hispanic unemployment is high as well.

Now here's where the problem lies. This president is touting black unemployment numbers dropping. It's great. But guess what, if they would have a targeted approach they can really make history and change the dynamic to bring it down even more, to make it comparable to maybe white America. So, you know, it's one thing to say it, they're not doing anything,

you know, specifically to target black unemployment. Since blacks were brought to this country there has been a disproportionate amount of -- economics are off the scale, there's a big gap. There's a gap economically and job wise.

I mean, if this president decided to really put his hands on this he could really make a difference. So it just happens as he's walking along--

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: April, listen.

RYAN: -- the numbers are just dropping as he walks along.

LEMON: So let me, before you--

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: No, that's not true, April.

LEMON: But before you respond because I want to get -- this is some of the numbers. You can respond to this. The overall unemployment rate is 3.8 percent. OK. Steve, this is for you. Black young employment is at 5.9. Hispanic is at 4.9, whites 3.5, and Asian-Americans at 2.1. So I mean, there's still a gap. And you e-mailed me earlier touting the Hispanic numbers. Go.

RYAN: Huge gap.

CORTES: Yes. And by the way, there is a huge gap. And the gap between, I think even more importantly between household wealth. Between White Households and minority households widened dramatically under the presidency of Barack Obama, it is now narrowing again and the gap between employment between minorities and white is narrowing--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: We were coming out of a recession at that time.

CORTES: -- is narrowing dramatically under President Trump. Hispanic, in particular--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: There was a recession; we were coming out of recession--

CORTES: -- my community we have--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let him finish. April, let him finish.

CORTES: I'm talking, April. I'm talking. In the history of America there have been eight months-- (CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I hear you.

CORTES: -- where Hispanic unemployment was under -- was under 5 percent. Seven of those eight months have been within the year under the leadership of President Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Again, these are continuations of the exact same trend that we saw--

CORTES: And for you to try to diminish this amazing news--

(CROSSTALK)

[22:20:02] RAMPELL: -- under Obama.

CORTES: No. Hold on.

RAMPELL: This is a business cycle.

CORTES: Catherine, the unemployment rate was dropping under President Obama in large part because people were dropping out of the work force and no longer counted according to government statistics as unemployed.

CORTES: That -- OK, that is not true.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: I'm not going to listen. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. There was a recession. There was a recession--

CORTES: Blacks and Hispanic are benefitting.

RYAN: The recession began with George W. Bush.

LEMON: OK, one at a time please. One at a time.

RYAN: The recession began with George W. Bush.

LEMON: One at a time, please stop both of you. OK. But listen, both of you. I want both of you to be heard, all of you to be heard but the audience is not here when everyone is talking at the same time. So Steve, finish your point and then the others will jump in. Go ahead, Steve.

CORTES: Let me talk specifically on Hispanics where the most entrepreneur groups disagree in America by far. Entrepreneur small business confidence is soaring.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But Steve, in the interest of time, can you just please stick to the topic.

CORTES: Regulatory relief--

LEMON: Yes, stick to the topic.

CORTES: This is the topic.

LEMON: All right. Don't be--

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Don, that's the topic, they're hiring. They're hiring.

LEMON: OK.

CORTES: My point is small business is excited and confident and hiring and spending and investing and Hispanics benefit disproportionately in a great way--

LEMON: OK.

CORTES: -- when small business does well. This is wonderful news for black and brown people in this country they're finally starting to prosper.

LEMON: Cathy, what do you want to say?

RAMPELL: I just wanted to say again, that these are continuations of the exact same trends that we have seen. The unemployment rate has been falling pretty much in a straight line for all of these demographics that we are talking about, again, this is the business cycle at work.

You can't credit Trump, you can't credit Obama, presidents have some marginal effects on economic trends but they do not control the unemployment rate and the numbers that we're seeing look good, but again, these are the trends we have seen. And if you actually want to compare Trump versus Obama, the numbers were better in fact month to month.

LEMON: OK. So here's what I have to say.

RAMPELL: Trump just create a change.

LEMON: It seems like everyone and anyone with a brain and anyone who is objective knows that the economy and unemployment that Barack Obama had a lot to do with it. That he had an uphill climb as president. There were meetings before he was president concerned about that the economy might go off the cliff. So you have to give him credit for that.

But you can't expect Donald Trump not to take credit when it happens on his watch, he's just going to do it. I mean--

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Well, he is going to do it. It doesn't mean he deserves the credit--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: This is now his economy. This is now his economy.

RAMPELL: He hasn't blown up the economy.

LEMON: I understand, yes. You can't expect him to say well, this has -- he's never going to say that Obama did this. He's never--

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: No, of course not.

LEMON: He's never going to say that Obama set him up with--

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Look, I'm a journalist.

LEMON: I agree.

RAMPELL: My job is not to say, Trump is well within his rights to misrepresent what the trends are. I'm going to say here's what the trends are.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: Don, Don, Don--

LEMON: April, quick.

CORTES: You sound a lot--

RYAN: OK. This is now--

CORTES: You sound a lot like his right hand right now rather than a journalist.

RYAN: Donald Trump--

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: Here's what's important to his--

LEMON: April first and then Steve. Go ahead, April.

RYAN: Come on, Steve. Steve, anyway.

CORTES: OK.

RYAN: My God, see. This is now Donald John Trump's economy. This is now his economy. Did he have a residue, a positive residue from Barack Obama? Yes. Could he do more for black unemployment? Yes. Is black unemployment dropping now? Yes. But if you really want to show the black community that there's an

urban agenda you still have unemployment that's higher than any other group, and seeing unemployment in the black community is highest of all. So the bottom line is if he were to target it would go down more.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You're talking about full employment and full respect.

RYAN: It's happening and he's just walking along.

LEMON: You're talking about full employment and full respect. OK, go ahead, Steve.

RYAN: Yes.

LEMON: Quickly please because seriously I'm out of time.

CORTES: I would say this. Sure, the slow growth of the Obama years disproportionately benefited only the top 1 percent of the economic spectrum which is paradoxical because they claim to be all about the working class. Income inequality was exacerbated the entire time. The opposite is happening now. Middle class wages are worrying people without a cost--

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: That is absolutely not true.

CORTES: -- are seeing the highest wage growth in a decade.

RAMPELL: That is absolutely not true.

CORTES: This is -- yes, it is. It is absolutely true.

RAMPELL: Middle class wages are--

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN: There are still underemployment--

LEMON: OK. Hang on. Hang on both. Catherine--

RYAN: A lot of people are still unemployed in this nation.

LEMON: Catherine is a journalist here. She's not partisan so, Catherine, give us the truth and then--

(CROSSTALK)

RAMPELL: Look, you and I have actually the same data.

CORTES: So it doesn't -- it sound pretty partisan to me.

RAMPELL: You and I have access to the same nonpartisan data from the Bureau of Labor statistics. You can look it up, you can see what has happened to wage growth. It's been relatively sluggish, that has been the case throughout the recovery.

CORTES: No, Catherine, that's wrong.

LEMON: OK.

RAMPELL: That's not wrong.

LEMON: I got to go guys. Let's continue this.

RYAN: Unemployment numbers--

CORTES: Wages are off.

RYAN: What about the underemployment numbers?

LEMON: Facts are not -- facts are not partisan. So thank you, guys. I appreciate it. Have a great weekend.

When we come back, the man the president said lost his mind after losing his White House job, Steve Bannon sits down exclusively with CNN. We're going to discuss what he says about President Trump now.

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Steve Bannon singing the president's praises tonight in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. Is the former White House chief strategist looking for a way to work his way back on to team Trump?

I want to bring in Kurt Bardella who used to work -- he's our really Bannon whisperer. He work with Bannon at Breitbart, and CNN political analyst Joshua Green, the author of "The Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency."

Listen, one minute, Kurt, he, you know is on team Trump, the next minute he's not on team Trump. What happened, he was fired from the White House. Trump called him sloppy Steve. He says he lost his mind and claims that he had nothing to do with his big election win. But here's Bannon tonight. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: He's Donald Trump, I think he's doing a fantastic job. Look, every day is going to be different. So you just to -- you just to -- you just got to swing with it. And you know, I know Trump for many, many years first off from the campaign not really--

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN: Did he try to call you to tell you, Steve, I'm just kidding?

BANNON: No, trust me, he does not do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Two things there. He looks a lot better. Maybe he's gotten some rest. I don't know what's going on. But-- (CROSSTALK)

KURT BARDELLA, PRESIDENT AND CEO , ENDEAVOR STRATEGIES: Italy agrees with him.

LEMON: But you worked well with him, I mean, why do you think he is still so complimentary of the, I mean, you saying nice things about the president?

BARDELLA: I think Steve just used CNN to have a 60-minute infomercial, to use the network that Trump loves to hate to watch to suck up to him--

(CROSSTALK)

[22:30:02] LEMON: But watches all the time

BARDELLA: But watches all the time, you know, and Steve knows that. There is a reason why he did this -- this type of access. Steven isn't someone that you often times see on television, he isn't the one to give a lot of T.V. interviews, and certainly nothing this expense.

I think he's done maybe two of these in all the years that you've really seen him in the public eye. The reason why he picked CNN, the reason why he picked Fareed to do the interview was so that he could basically have the 60-Minute commercial on a network that he knows Trump is going to hate watch.

And see him saying complimentary things about him, seeing and calling him a great president, seeing that he's still on the team, and trying to give sound advice and council. I always thought even though Steve was in the dark house, and Trump took him to the woodshed, and obviously was disparaging of him, there's still a belief that at some point that there had be a reuniting somehow.

LEMON: Yes.

BARDELLA: And that would happen of things got bad for Donald Trump, and the worse that we for Trump that when he may turn to Steve Bannon.

LEMON: He also went to a place where he thought that he would get the most credibility, and that's on this network. Josh, does it sound like Bannon is trying to get back to Trump's inner circle, and if so, why would he want that?

BARDELLA: Oh, sure he is. You know, the reason he's want to do that is because, you know, in the age of Trump, anybody that wants to have influence in Republican politics has got to be square with Trump. And you saw what happen when Trump ex-communicated him back in January, he lost his Breitbart, he lost his benefactor in the Mercer Family.

And you basically exile the Europe where he's been over with the populous nationalist over these. But you know, the reason that he's complimentary of Trump, despite the way Trump has treated him is that if you look at what the Trump administration has done especially over the last few months, big fights over immigration, in over trade, which are the two issues that Steve Bannon cares about most.

LEMON: Yes. So, Kurt, you know, we've been talking a lot about the up coming midterm elections, Steve Bannon says that the midterms will be Trump's second presidential race. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: This is going to be an up or down vote on November 6. And I think he understands that. The reason of that impeachment, the tax cuts, all the economy will go underneath this.

But the Republicans have been running these ads on tax cut alone, it's not going to resonate. There's going to be an emotional, you know, with Nancy Pelosi or with Donald Trump. Trump's second presidential race will be on November 6th of this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Pretty strong statement, isn't it, Kurt?

BARDELLA: Well, it's interesting, because for Democrats, they're hoping Steve is right. They are hoping that this is a referendum on Donald Trump, that all of their messaging that we've seen is about trying to stop Donald Trump, and having a check, and balance to hold him accountable.

Republicans on the other hand are praying beyond prayer that this is not a referendum of Donald Trump because if it is, they know that their majorities in parallel net that pretty much screwed at this point. They're trying to make Donald Trump a side issue.

You don't see Donald Trump going to a lot of these congressional districts. But if you're campaigning right now a targeted race that's on the map right in this midterm, the worse news you can get is the White House calling you saying, hey, Donald Trump wants to come to your district, they don't want him anywhere near this election.

LEMON: But, do you think Bannon really believes that Trump will do well in the midterms? I mean, let's face it, especially without someone like Bannon in his administration. He's saying, hey, listen, if you want to do well, I think what you said earlier about this interview, if you want to do well, then you need to have me back on your team, correct?

BARDELLA: Right. And I think as this election tightens, as we get into this after the summer season, and the fall campaign really heats up, and it looks like things are going to be bad for Republicans. They are preparing to lose the majority. Steve is positioning himself to be the savior of this midterm election.

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Exactly.

LEMON: So, Josh -- did you want to respond, Josh?

GREEN: Yes, I do think that, look, you know, Bannon has an ulterior motivate around here. And in nationalizing the election around Trump, which I think it basically will be regardless of what Steve Bannon says if Republicans get smoked in November, and lose the majority.

You know, Steve Bannon will be often in Europe. You can't -- you can't hold him to blame. And Trump, as we all know is not one to take responsibility on his own shoulders, blame himself for the losses. So he's going to be angry, and going to be looking at the team of advisers around him.

And he's probably going to want to get rid of them, and bring in some new guys. You have Steve Bannon out there all along saying that, you know, Trump is great, and he is misserve by the people around him.

Well, then maybe that clears the path for Bannon to work his way back, if not in the White House at least into Trump's inner circle, and back into a position of influence in the Republican Party.

LEMON: They talked about Jeff Sessions as -- go ahead. Go ahead, Kurt.

BARDELLA: I just want to say too, one of the key things for the Bannon revival to even happen is if the media allows this to happen. If they keep -- if they give him 60 minutes of prime time air time to do this, you know, bring-back-to-life campaign that's he's trying to do, Bannon is begging, just as he did -- remember when he put out Clinton cash, they went to 60 Minutes, and they went to the New York Times.

LEMON: You're a very smart man, and he is more telegenic now. He's -- do you know what I mean. That's why I said he certainly looks better, so--

GREEN: I don't know what you're talking about, Don, he looks terrible. He looks like Kenny Rogers.

LEMON: No, no, I said better. I didn't say--

GREEN: All right.

LEMON: I didn't say it. I said better, right? So, listen, I want to get this in, they talked about Jeff Sessions and recusing himself, watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[22:35:02] BANNON: I think the President's wrong -- been wrong from the beginning about -- if I can respectfully disagree with the President of the United States, I think that -- I think the whole concept of recusal is not even an issue.

I think that Rudy Giuliani, or Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, anybody associated with the campaign would have had to recuse themselves. I think if you look at what Jeff Sessions' done on immigration, on migration or all key issues of the Justice Department, I think Sessions' has done an excellent jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Yes, so what do you make to see Bannon stand up for one of the President's favorite targets?

BARDELLA: Yes, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Josh. That was for Josh. Sorry.

GREEN: Yes, well he is. But look, you know, again, Bannon wants influence, but he also cares a lot about a certain set of issues, trade, immigration, these sorts of things, and Jeff Sessions, long before Donald Trump came alone was somebody -- almost the only person in the Senate who represented that.

You know, people forget that before Donald Trump ran for president, Steve Bannon tried to talk Jeff Sessions into running for president. So clearly, this is someone that Bannon wants to keep in place -- as a lot of Republicans do, wants to keep in place in the Attorney General's job because that job comes with so much power.

It's been difficult for Sessions to stay in that job, he's been humiliated, and emasculated, you know, beyond, even what Trump has directed at Bannon, but there are a lot of Republicans in there, and I think Bannon is trying to give support to this contingent that want to see Jeff Sessions survive.

LEMON: All right thank you. Kurt, you've get to talk more next time. Thank you very much. Have a great weekend. When we come back, we'll dig into why the President pardoned a very controversial conservative pundit. Here's a hint, it may have had to do with President Obama.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We are learning more tonight about President Trump's pardon of conservative flame thrower, and film maker, Dinesh D'Souza. They seem to share a loathing for former President Barack Obama.

I want to bring in now James Panero, he is the Executive Editor of The New Criterion, also Evgenia Peretz, a Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair, and CNN Political Commentator David Swerdlick, and Matt Lewis.

Good evening everyone. Welcome to the program. Happy Friday. David, so, let's start with you. Dinesh D'Souza is a man who hates Barack Obama. He basically has a whole movie criticizing Barack Obama. Is that the real reason why he was pardoned by President Trump?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, Don, I think this is at least a reason why President Trump feels this affinity for Dinesh D'Souza. Dinesh D'Souza started out as this sort of interesting anti- PC, young conservative of color way back in the '90s.

And he's become sort of this caricature of himself, right, with these unhinged critics of President Obama. Obama, a moderate, centrist Democrat, someone who is like Gerald Ford or an H.W. Bush. And Dinesh D'Souza in his book in 2010, and his film in 2012, Obama's America, tried to pain him as a radical anti-colonialist, mind you, what's wrong with anti-colonialism, right?

George Washington was also an anti-colonialist, but it was all of this piece trying to put him in the mind -- in people's minds of being attached to his father from Kenya, et cetera, et cetera. And Trump, with his birtherism, they are sort of working on parallel tracks here, and I think that's part of the appeal.

LEMON: Two peas in a pod. Yes. And, Evgenia, you profiled D'Souza in jail in Vanity Fair, and he said that he was targeted because of his anti-Obama movie. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DINESH D'SOUZA, CONSERVATIVE FILMMAKER: No American in our country's history has ever been indicted, let alone prosecuted, let alone locked up for doing what I did. There is just not a single case.

And so what was -- what happened here is that Obama and his -- and his team, Eric Holder, Preet Bharara in New York, these guys decided to make an example of me. And I think that the reason for this was Obama's anger over my movie that I made about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: But, that's not true is it, because he even pleaded guilty?

EVGENIA PERETZ, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, VANITY FAIR: It's not true. He did -- he did it. He basically -- what he did was he paid straw donors, and wanted to give to his former college classmate who is running for Senate.

He said, you pay her -- he reached his limit, and he said to a couple of other people, you pay her $10,000, I'll pay you back. And among those people were his assistant, and his lover, and his lover's husband.

So that took some of (Inaudible). So he definitely did it, that's been established. He pled guilty. He claimed that he was remorseful, and that was part of getting -- you know, not a terrible sentence--

LEMON: But you understand about the anti-colonialist thing because he said he was targeted because of Obama.

PERETZ: Well, that's what he says. And he did try to get the case thrown out, but there was no evidence, whatsoever that he was targeted. Now, people can extrapolate, and decide that, you know, well, maybe he was, but there was no evidence. And the fact of the matter is he committed a crime, and he pled guilty, he did it, and he got eight months in a halfway house.

LEMON: Yes.

PERETZ: So -- and he profited while he was -- while he was there. LEMON: James, you've met him a few times, and you believe that his

prosecution was politically motivated, why is that?

JAMES PANERO, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE NEW CRITERION: He was clearly targeted, he did something wrong, he admitted that, and he knows that. But the zeal with which pre-Obama went after him, the justice administration -- the Justice Department went after him, was so out of line with what he did.

[22:45:00] If you look at campaign finance laws, what are we trying to avoid? We trying to avoid undo influence in elections. Now, did he have undo influence in that election where Wendy Long, his friend, lost by 45 points, no. Really it was a first time offense, he should have gotten a slap on the wrist.

LEMON: So, what do you say to that, Matt?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I mean, you know it's really hard to prove whether or not they went after him with more zeal than they would if somebody else. But it's hard to make that argument when you're actually guilty, OK?

So he clearly did this, he admitted to doing this, and then it's hard to say, yes, I did this, I broke the law. And I did it in such a way to, you know, clearly try to avoid detection. You know, it's not like accidentally gave to -- you know, have more than my limit, I was -- I was trying to funnel money, you know, through other people to avoid detection to intentionally--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So what is he saying though, Matt? Is he saying, I did it -- I did it, but I shouldn't have been caught? I mean, what is he -- shouldn't have been prosecuted for it?

LEWIS: Yes, that's exactly it. He's saying I did it, but I should have just gotten away with it because first offense, slap on the -- I should have just gotten a slap on the wrist. And the fact that they actually really went after me, that shows that they were out to get me.

That's essentially his argument, which I think, look, maybe it's true, maybe it's not. I don't know, but it's a hard argument to make when you actually did it, you admitted that you did it. And then why are you worthy of a pardon? I mean, there are a lot people -- I should have said, thousands of people out there--

LEMON: Exactly.

LEWIS: -- who are worth much more deserving of a presidential pardon than Dinesh D'Souza.

LEMON: So, I have a question. So, the President said that he had never met Dinesh D'Souza, but there's evidence that shows otherwise. We'll talk about that when we come back.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back with me. James, Evgenia, David, and Matt. So, David, this for yesterday, President Trump said that he -- that he'd never met or spoken to D'Souza before this week.

But according to The Washington Post, Trump's former political aide Sam Nunberg said D'Souza visited Trump at Trump Tower in 2012. Nunberg said that Trump agreed to promote D'Souza's anti-Obama movies. So, is the President lying, and if so, why?

SWERDLICK: Look, here is the problem with President Trump, Don, it's conceivable that President Trump who is just sort of going from day to day, swinging from vine to vine, doesn't remember any specific promises he made to Dinesh D'Souza, or whether or not he ever helped promote his films or his books.

But because President Trump traffics in so many falsehoods, half truths, outright lies in some cases as documented by my Washington Post colleagues, it's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt when he comes out, and acts like he, oh, who's this Dinesh D'Souza guy, some people brought this case to my attention, and I think it's so unjust.

LEMON: Yes.

SWERDLICK: And you're drawn to think that he can't be trusted on this point. But what he's getting out of it is a triple whammy. He gets to troll liberals here, he also gets to undermine the federal justice system saying that he was corrupt, and someone was railroaded, and he also now gets someone on his side, he'll help promote him, they will promote him.

LEMON: Evgenia, the President has sent multiple tweets back in 2012. He was promoting D'Souza's movie, including one calling it an amazing film. So D'Souza -- I mean, he's clearly been on the President's radar.

PERETZ: Yes. There's no way that D'Souza has not been on his radar for years. You know, as we talked about his book that basically said that Obama was out to destroy America, not that just he had different ideas, but that he was -- he wanted America to fail.

So in terms of like throwing meat to the base, they are, you know, very much doing the exact same thing. And he's also, you know, recently as we know like D'Souza has tweeted very shocking things including about the Parkland students.

LEMON: Yes.

PERETZ: One of them said that -- one of them sort of joked that, oh, these kids like they haven't looked so unhappy since their parents told them to get a job. I mean--

LEMON: He said they were going to get a summer job.

PERETZ: Yes. I mean he is really trying to just up the shock value, I think, only to get attention, and be relevant again.

LEMON: James, I hate to keep going back to this, but it seems like his argument, and maybe in some way your argument is that prosecutors did their job -- like you -- I'm mad at you because you did your job, or you did it too well.

PANERO: That's about right. You know, it's like you're pulled over for speeding, and maybe I was a little fast, but maybe let me off the hook this time.

LEMON: OK.

SWERDLICK: That's never worked for me, Don. And just want to say for the record.

LEMON: OK.

PERETZ: But I don't -- I don't find this pardon all that shocking, I really don't.

LEMON: I mean I -- OK. So listen, this is D'Souza. This is what he told Fox about the call that he got from the President. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

D'SOUZA: The President said Dinesh, you've been a great voice for freedom, and he said that I got to tell you man-to-man you've been screwed. He goes I've been looking at the case, I knew from the beginning that it was fishy.

But he said upon reviewing it he felt a great injustice had been done, and that using his power he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there, and to be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: They were voice defending the president -- is saying that he's -- is this his way, Matt, of recruiting another propagandist, especially one who says conspiracy--

LEWIS: I don't he's--

LEMON: -- who tells tons of conspiracy theories all the time.

LEWIS: I don't think Trump has to recruit a propaganda.

LEMON: He's already -- he's already--

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: Dinesh is doing this for free. I mean, he was -- he was volunteering for this role. So look, I think David Swerdlick really nailed it. This is like a multi-pronged benefit for Donald Trump.

[22:55:00] You have helping out an ally, sticking it to Obama, sticking it to the deep state, you know, smoothly maybe even greasing the skids for future pardons for people like, I don't know, Paul Manafort, or Mike Flynn.

But I think there is another aspect to this that we haven't talked about yet, and that is the fame angle. Donald Trump -- if you were famous, or if somebody famous is advocating for you, you have a much better chance of getting pardoned by this president.

And we saw, you know, Sylvester Stallone goes in there, and says you know, we need a posthumous pardon for Jack Johnson, and you know, gets that. And then Kim Kardashian is in there advocating for somebody the other day. And now you have Dinesh D'Souza who, you know, in the political world is something of a celebrity.

LEMON: Yes.

LEWIS: So I think that's another aspect of this. Donald Trump loves famous people, and I think much more likely to get a pardon if you are one.

LEMON: All right. Well, thank you--

SWERDLICK: Don, can I quickly quote -- can I quickly quote from Evgenia's excellent article?

LEMON: Yes.

SWERDLICK: Yes. She described Dinesh D'Souza as a pathologically -- someone who's pathologically drawn to pushing the bounds of civic discourse. Who else does that sound like? Sounds like President Trump.

LEMON: Right, well I -- thank you all. And I have to say, James, I love your suit. I mean I do declare.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)