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CNN TONIGHT

The Story of Alice Johnson's Release from Jail; Rudy Giuliani in Hot Water for His Big Mouth; Time Magazine Cover Depicts President Trump Dressed as a King; French President Threatens A Six-Country Agreement Without U.S.; Kim Kardashian West Lobbied President Trump To Free Alice Marie Johnson; Trump On Preparing For Summit: It's About Attitude. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 7, 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] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you so much for watching. Let's get after it again together tomorrow night. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now. Don?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Chris. We'll see you tomorrow night. Nice job.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

There's a lot going on tonight and once again, you have to see it to believe it. The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, getting smacked down with a classic burn from the first lady's spokeswoman.

And the president waging a Twitter war against France and Canada the day before a big international summit. But I want to begin with a CNN exclusive and it's our big interview tonight with Kim Kardashian West.

From reality superstar to the woman with the president's ear. She surprised a lot of people when she turned up in the Oval Office to plead the case of Alice Marie Johnson, the grandmother and first-time nonviolent drug offender who was serving a life term in prison.

One week later, Johnson was freed after spending 21 years behind bars. Just a little while ago, Kim Kardashian West sat down with our very own Van Jones to talk about the cause that brought them together. About her husband Kanye West and about what happened when she broke the news to Alice Johnson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN JONES, CNN HOST: First of all, congratulations on the big when, but also just thank you, thank you, thank you.

KIM KARDASHIAN WEST, KANYE WEST'S WIFE: Thank you.

JONES: Second of all, how did it feel to make the phone call to let Ms. Alice Johnson know that it was over, she was coming home?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Well, I was on set of a photo shoot in New York. And once I got the call from the president on my cell phone and I knew it was happening and it was 100 percent happening and a press release was written and it was about to go out. So I called her and I let her know, it's 100 percent happening. The paperwork is signed.

JONES: The ink is on the paper.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes. Let's get Alice on the phone. And I had assumed that the attorneys had already told her.

JONES: Right.

KARDASHIAN WEST: And then Alice gets on the phone. We call her, she was paged to come to the phone.

JONES: Inside the prison.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Inside the prison. She gets on the phone and I think she thought it was a routine phone call with her attorneys. And she was surprised and excited that I was on the phone. And then I was a little bit shocked because she was very calm.

JONES: Right.

KARDASHIAN WEST: And I had assumed she knew. So I was just like wait, she doesn't know? And Alice is like know what? And I was like you're going home. Like I can cry thinking about. Hearing her scream was like -- I know I'm going to cry so much when I see her.

But just to know that we changed one person's life. You know? Is like, we cried maybe on the phone for, like, three minutes straight. Like everyone was just trying. -- crying. I have to get it together.

JONES: That's all right. I understand. It's emotional. I mean, people don't understand.

KARDASHIAN WEST: I mean, I think people might think like, Kim went to the White House, had this conversation, it was done and that's it. This, I saw this seven months ago, and I have been daily phone calls with the White House. Maybe a dozen e-mails a day trying to get letters, letter from the warden.

I mean, I have to give credit to where Alice's whole team has been working on this for years. So, I mean, I did step in late in the game. So I don't want to take away from what -- I mean, you've been working on this for three years.

JONES: That's right.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Everyone has brought attention to this case. And I just happened to see it on Twitter. So I do want to give credit where credit is due to everyone that's been working so hard on this for so long for her.

JONES: I think -- I think lot of people think that, you know, it's just an easy thing to get done to your point. Her family has been fighting for a long time. KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes. I mean, it was a really good team. I first I

reached out to Ivanka. And how it all happened was I reached out to Ivanka. And I said, you know, I know you have compassion for women like this. And I explained her story. And she immediately got it and felt it. And she immediately felt it.

And she connected me with her husband, Jared Kushner, and he has really been amazing. I mean, he listened to her story, would always ask for more details and more paperwork and letters. And he was, like, on top of it.

JONES: What was it about this case that just grabbed you?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Well, I do think there's something to, I had happened to be on Twitter at that exact moment and saw that come across my feed that one of the people that I follow posted a story on her and I watched it. And I just really fell for her. Because I felt like she's a good person. You can -- you can see that in her that she lost her long-time job, got a divorce, her son died.

[22:04:57] Just all of her -- everything was going so bad for her and she got desperate. And she had four other, you know, babies that she had to take care of. And she was desperate. And she made choices that I feel like honestly, you know, maybe not to that extreme, but when you're in a desperate situation, you'll do whatever you have to do to take care of your kids. And I know that I would do anything for my kids.

And so, I just -- I just felt this connection to her like instantly that I just, I wanted to help her.

JONES: For me it's such a huge platform. You got Ivanka Trump's phone number. I mean, it must have felt like hey, listen, I've got to do something. But the meeting with President Trump, now that's a whole other level.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: How did that happen?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Well, when I initially called Ivanka I said I would love a meeting with your dad. I said that from the start. And that took about six or seven months to get. And so once we got our, you know, the file really strong we were able to plan a meeting. And it happened to be on Alice's birthday. And that was the day that they picked. And so I was like, OK, this was all aligned. The stars are all in our favor today. I just feel that this is the right day to do it.

JONES: So you go in.

KARDASHIAN WEST: We go in.

JONES: That's crazy.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: You got to know for normal people, Kim Kardashian going into the Trump White House.

KARDASHIAN WEST: The West Wing.

JONES: The Oval Office.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes. I have to say, I never get star struck. I was star struck over the Oval Office.

JONES: Yes.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Like that Oval Office is so powerful. I just -- I literally had to take a second and take it all in and just inside--

JONES: This is not a movie set.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes. Like it was -- it really felt powerful and felt like you can just feel the history in there. I had just, I don't know, I just took a second to take it all in. And then we talked about it.

JONES: So, you've been, you know, tough on Trump at times. I mean, you're not a Republican.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: How do you make sense of that? In other words, you guys don't agree politically. How did you handle that?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Well, I think, I think you like, for me, I was very focused. I knew that if I have this meeting I can't go in and talk about all the policies that I don't agree with. And I've always just a very open dialogue with Jared about how I felt. And I've been even so honest to say, look, Trump is the last person I thought that would have done this, but he did and he pulled through.

And so when I got the meeting I knew there would be tons of backlash. I knew people wouldn't understand it. And at that point, I had to make the decision that this was bigger than me. That I -- so I'm worried about my brand? It's like, and a woman's been in jail for 22 years almost? That just to me, there was like, it wasn't even a question.

Like I would have taken the backlash no matter what the outcome would have been, just to try for her. And I'm glad it worked out, obviously.

JONES: It's just -- it's just really amazing to hear you say that. I mean, you didn't know her. Why did you feel that this was worth taking that kind of risk? A lot of celebrities to this day are scared to go and be in a picture with Donald Trump. A lot of athletes won't even go in the building. Why did you make a different choice?

KARDASHIAN WEST: And I do still respect their choice. I mean, everyone can do what they want to do. I never judge other people. And I do think sometimes situations are different. But I just am focused. And I could separate my feelings on certain policies. To me it wasn't about policies. It was about, I can change someone's life. And if I have the opportunity to do that like it just wasn't even a question for me. JONES: So just indulge me for a second. What did he say? What did you

say?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: I mean, did he get up, did he shake your hand, did he hug you? Did you salute? I mean, give me something that I can work with.

KARDASHIAN WEST: I walk in and I have met him before. Before he was the president a few times. So it was a hug and sat down and he was like OK. So what's going on? You know, why are we here? He started the meeting.

I did take a second to say like, wait a minute, we're in the Oval Office. This is crazy.

JONES: Right.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Like this is crazy. I did -- I did take that minute to say that. And then he said well, what are we here for? And I said, well, I really want to know -- I'm here because I really want to know why you kicked Kloe off The Apprentice. There was a laugh and it was funny and then we got into business.

[22:10:00] And you know, he felt it, he was compassionate. He was sympathetic to her. He said, you know, this is really a long time that she's been in here. Like this just isn't fair. He knew that this was the right thing to do. And he said that from the start.

After he had heard her whole story and situation. And he knew it was the right thing to do. And he said that and he was really honest with it. And he wanted to make it happen.

JONES: So you said President Trump actually called you?

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: So you're sitting there, the phone rings. It says Donald Trump. What happens?

KARDASHIAN WEST: No, it says unknown. And so, I remember I was on the phone with my husband and I said, wait, babe, I've got to call you back.

And it was a secretary on the line that said she had the president on the phone. I knew it had to be some news. Hopeful, you know, I was always really hopeful and I'd been in communication with Jared. So, I was feeling things were looking really positive.

But that week after the meeting, you're just literally on pins and needles waiting to hear what's going on. So yes, he called my cell phone.

JONES: And what did he say?

KARDASHIAN WEST: He said that he's really investigated this case and spoke to her warden, spoke to just everyone. And everyone had a unanimous -- from the people that he reached out to -- unanimous feeling of Alice that she will live a great life and she will -- that she has done her time, has been such a model person in prison. She's never had any, like, infractions on, you know, behavior or any -- anything--

JONES: Which is almost impossible in prison, by the way, so.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes. I mean, she -- yes. And she became an ordained minister. She got so many degrees. She just -- knowing that she's never going to get out, but she is still so amazing and is working on herself the whole time she's there I think just he felt her heart and he explained that to me. And I was just -- I mean, when he said he has the papers in front of him and he's signing it, I just like, my heart was so full.

JONES: So, you know, of course, no good deed goes unpunished. So you go in there, you get this victory. Some people are very skeptical. All right.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: So they're like, I'm just going to throw them -- you tell me who's right and who's wrong.

KARDASHIAN WEST: Yes.

JONES: Number one, this whole thing is just a P.R. stunt for you. You're a master media person and you know how to get media attention and this is just a way for you to get attention for yourself. True or false?

KARDASHIAN WEST: That's very false. I mean, I could literally walk outside and it will be some ridiculous story.

JONES: You're not desperate for media attention. You don't have to do anything extra to get it?

KARDASHIAN WEST: No, I mean, I think these days I'm trying to dodge it and stay away from it. But, you know, I have kids. And why would I spend my time away from my kids to fly in just for something for a P.R. stunt? To a lot of people was a risky move to take going. So, if there was a possibility that it could have hurt my brand, I mean, I wouldn't take that kind of P.R. risk.

JONES: Got you. Number two, Trump is using you as a political pawn. So now you're sort of -- you've endorsed him in a way. You're kind of given him legitimacy. You might be in a campaign video. He used you.

KARDASHIAN WEST: I think -- I think Kanye has already given him legitimacy so I don't, you know, in that way. So I don't think I would be used. You know? And at the end of the day, he heard me out. We got the job done. So, I don't think like what could he really used me for?

JONES: When you say Kanye gave him legitimacy what do you been asking? KARDASHIAN WEST: I mean, Kanye, you know, co-signed and said he loves his personality and loves him. And it was very, very separate. Like, you know, Kanye obviously knew what I was doing and knew that I was working on it ahead of time. But, so yes, when I hear that and I've heard that, it doesn't really like faze me.

I also saw people like why don't you talk to him about this and about, you know, immigration. And so many other things that I care about?

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: You think that you care about?

KARDASHIAN WEST: I care about that. But I just have to stay focused and I have to know that if there's -- the only person in the world that could have done this for her, why wouldn't I go talk to that person? If I had the opportunity to?

[22:15:02] Forget about my fears, forget about my life. That was the right thing to do. If I am the voice that goes in and tries to -- I mean, there's over 3,000 people in this same exact situation as Alice. And it's not that -- it just so happen to be that Alice was on my screen at that time when I was on but it doesn't mean that we're going to stop here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Well, Kim Kardashian West might surprise a lot of people with what she said there. And I want to bring now Van Jones, host of CNN's "VAN JONES SHOW." He conducted that interview. Van, thank you so much for joining us and airing the interview here.

Of course, the rest of it is going to run on your show this weekend. But you know, I've got to be honest, you addressed head on. You know, that combined with her husband's advocacy for the president, President Trump is pretty controversial to a lot of people and a lot of their fans. She spoke very openly about that, we've been tough on him, you know, on the show, as have a lot of other people and gave her credit for going and doing what she did. But she was quite open about it. She didn't shy away from it.

JONES: She didn't. One thing I think was important was that she also said, you know, this is not over. As the interview was over, she said, listen, I'm going to keep fighting on this. Those other 3,000 other people, I'm not done.

And so, it's interesting she doesn't agree with the president. You know, you've been tough on the president. Kim Kardashian has been tough on the president. She's quoted as saying her daughter could run the country better.

And yet, when it came down to a human life, she was willing to put that to one side and figure out a way to get Alice Johnson home. One more positive thing is Alice Johnson, of course, is a force of nature. Now that she's home, she's going to continue the fight. So some positive things have started to happen. Some dominoes falling.

I think you have to give Kim Kardashian some credit. When you have that kind of a platform, she's got 120 million Instagram followers more than, you know, she's got more Instagram followers than some countries got people. If she decides to make this a part of her life now, fighting for positive causes, I think you have to give her the credit for doing that. A lot of people with that platform aren't stuff like that. She is.

LEMON: Yes. Hold that, because I want to talk a little bit about more. But I mean, as you were saying that, it's interesting, you know, when you said she's been tough on the president.

I mean, you know, just because you're tough on someone, it doesn't mean you don't want them to succeed. It doesn't mean that you hate them. It means that you're giving your objective criticism which is what we're supposed to do as journalist and what citizens can -- our right to do as citizens. Kim Kardashian as well.

But I'm wondering if there's a lesson in here for the president of the United States to work with people who don't agree with him to do good things. It seems like there should be some sort of lesson for him here.

JONES: I think there should be and there could be. For whatever reason, this issue of criminal justice reform, prison reform, and pardons seems to have become a common ground issue, a bipartisan issue. It used to be a marginal issue.

Now it seems the only issue that even a Pelosi and a Trump can sometimes agree on. And so, and you have Jared Kushner in there who's been doing a good job of pushing the issue forward. Of course his father went to prison so he has some sensitivity there.

And then you have organizations out there like cut 50 and you have organizations, and you have young attorneys, we talked about last night. You have these young attorneys out there, like Brittany Barnett, Jessica Jackson Sloan, and others.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And they helped with this, right? They helped with this. Because and not to take away Kim shine but there were others who helped with this.

JONES: Yes.

LEMON: Including you. But I just want to ask you, because I want to get back to that. Would you encourage other celebrities because -- you know, this president has a thing but he loves celebrity. The celebrity apprentice, the host, and other celebrities to work with this president even if they agree with him to get some things done in this country. Maybe that's a key. Who knows? I don't know.

JONES: For the people at the bottom, we're talking about people who are locked up in prisons, people who are suffering in poverty. People who are addicted and can't get free, I think on those common ground issues we have to come together and get something done.

Just because we get something done on those issues doesn't mean we can't fight tooth and nail on 99 other issues. But I think we're talking about people who don't have a voice at all. I think on those issues we've got to be able to come together and get something done.

LEMON: Nice job, Van Jones. And nice job Kim Kardashian. Give credit where credit is due. Let's hope that she continues to do it and other celebrities as well. I misspoke I said this Saturday, it's actually next Saturday that it airs.

Thank you, sir. The entire interview, Kim Kardashian West on Van Jones show, Saturday night June 16th at 7 Eastern only here on CNN. Make sure your tune in.

When we come right back, Rudy Giuliani get smacked down for dragging Melania Trump into the Stormy Daniels saga. We're going to tell you what the first lady's spokesperson said tonight. And trust me, it's an epic burn.

[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Rudy Giuliani getting himself in hot water today for shooting from the left. Remember what he said yesterday about Melania Trump believing her husband and not Stormy Daniels?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: She believes in her husband. She knew it's not true. I don't even think there's a slight suspicion with this when you, excuse me, when you look at Stormy Daniels.

I know Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's respect her.

GIULIANI: Look at his three wives, right? Beautiful women, classy women, women of great substance. Stormy Daniels?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Gee. Well, the first lady's spokesperson delivering an effortless smack down today. And this is a quote, OK? "I don't believe Mrs. Trump has ever discussed her thoughts on anything with Mr. Giuliani."

That stopped Rudy, right? Wrong. So let's bring in CNN Political Analyst, Molly Ball of Time Magazine, CNN Politics Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza, and Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson who worked on Giuliani's Senate campaign.

I hate to throw this word around Molly, good evening to all of you, by the way.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thanks, Don. MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Don.

LEMON: I hate to throw this word around Molly, but that was some shade, epic clap back right there from the first lady's office, isn't it?

BALL: I think it can certainly be read that way. I honestly also read it as a simple fact. It is well known to pretty much everyone in the White House that Rudy Giuliani is freelancing. He is not coordinating his message with anybody else.

[22:25:03] He isn't, in fact, talking to the first lady. He's just saying whatever floats into his head. And it's actually become a sort of parlor game among people in and around the White House about whether there is a grand plan here. Or if he's just kind of shooting his mouth often.

I mean, our cover story in Time magazine this week is about the public relations strategy that is paralleling the legal strategy and that Giuliani is in charge of. And he all but told us explicitly, this is an insurance policy against impeachment.

We're just going to say a lot of stuff that puts doubt into people's minds. And here I'm talking about the Mueller probe, but I think it applies to this, too. He's just going to say a lot of stuff. He feels like he can always walk it back later. Remember when he said a bunch of stuff about the Stormy Daniels payment and then maybe it was true and maybe it wasn't? He's just muddying the water, he's clouding the air and it's on purpose.

LEMON: Yes. And when I said, before I introduce you guy, you know, Chris, that stopped Giuliani, didn't it? No, it did not. Because Giuliani spoke to Dana Bash after that statement was released and admitted that he had never talked to Melania about Stormy Daniels, the first lady. But Giuliani stands by what he said. Here's what he told Dana Bash.

He said, "Yes, I believe that she knows him well enough to know this one is -- what's the word, fakakta?"

Why would Giuliani double down speaking on behalf of the first lady again, Chris?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, I continue to think, I'm with Molly that I think he's broadly freelancing and it's a P.R. strategy designed to sort of sway public opinion and in particular the Trump base public opinion, not broad scale public opinion.

I think the reason why he would double down, Don, is because he hasn't heard anything negative from the president of the United States about it. Outside of that first Rudy's new, we need to get his facts straight. That first smack down about Stormy Daniels payments from Donald Trump to Rudy Giuliani, Rudy Giuliani has said a number of things that I at least thought Donald Trump is not going to be happy about that. Or Donald Trump may just say out the door you go. We haven't heard anything like that. And why? Because what strategy is

Rudy Giuliani following? The one that Donald Trump has made famous. Say as many things as possible, see what stick, see what your base responds to, and go with those. Thirteen angry Democrats, witch hunt, hoax.

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, it's a strategy that works and one that we know Donald Trump likes.

LEMON: Rick, I'm wondering if it's doing more harm than good for the president now. Because you know, he's kind of like, he's become a funny meme on the internet. In the media, people are like, what's going on with him?

WILSON: Look, I think -- I think that Rudy's job is not to be a lawyer. Rudy's job is to throw bombs. The president wants bombs to be thrown. This is professional wrestling, you know, Rudy -- or Trump grew up in this whole, like, New York Post tabloid beeves, all these fights back and forth. And so he wants that stuff around him right now.

Now wanting that is his gut. But the legal side of that -- Rudy is not helping him build a legal case here. He's building only a political case.

LEMON: Publicity case.

WILSON: And if -- right. And if the tides turn -- if the tides turn on that, we're going to end up with Rudy looking, you know, to Trump like a villain because Trump turns on people very quickly if public opinion sways in a way he doesn't like.

LEMON: Yes. I don't know if you heard that. That was someone's cell phone talking. You know sometimes it just starts talking to you, I'm not sure I understand, right. Sometimes if I say seriously, Siri will answer. But that wasn't mine.

(CROSSTALK)

WILSON: Hey, you just kept it face--

LEMON: Yes, that was yours?

So, listen, Rudy Giuliani also made an inappropriate comment about Kim Jong-un saying he got back on his hands and knees and begged for the summit to be rescheduled after president -- the president canceled it last month. And today Pompeo had to clean that back. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: I took him as being in a small room and not being serious about the comments. I think he was, it was a bit in jest.

(OFF-MIC)

POMPEO: We're moving forward, we're focused on the important things. I know Rudy. Rudy doesn't speak for the administration when it comes to this negotiation and this set of issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: How much of a problem is Giuliani creating here, Rick?

WILSON: Look, the fact of the matter is Trump believes that if he creates this bubble of illusion around him, if he creates this tornado of B.S. all the time, that Robert Mueller will go away or the case will go away or magically something will happen one day and Jeff Sessions will wake up on the wrong side of the bed and say I'm done with this.

But that's not how the law works. That's not how prosecutors work. That's not how this inexorable grinding process of a guy who's going after the details and working the cases that are around this entire collusion story and working the influence, the obstruction cases around this entire thing.

That's not how Mueller operates. He's going to keep grinding away. He's the damn terminator. He's going to keep grinding away at this thing. And all the illusion of, you know, making the guys on Hannity happy every night is not moving Robert Mueller's case away from conclusion. He's still going to grind away at it.

[22:30:02] LEMON: Hold that thought, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Sure.

LEMON: But it's also -- but it is again informing -- well, influencing, because it's not informing.

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: Influencing public opinion and he's you know, garnering the base--

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: But it is -- it's also -- but it is again informing -- well, influencing because it's not informing.

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: He is influencing public opinion, and he's, you know, guarding the base...

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: ... emanating the base for the President. So, everyone, stick around, we've got a lot more to talk about. When we come back, after he requested a grand military parade in the capital, and said like, I have the absolute right, well, Time Magazine is portraying the President as a king. Molly Ball is the co-author. Just how far can the limits of executive power be pushed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: And we're back. I want you to take a look at this. This is the latest cover of Time Magazine. There it is. Is this the way President Trump sees himself, dressed as a monarch along with the words king me underneath them? King me?

Well, the cover artist says Trump is also making eye contact with Americans. Back with me now, Molly Ball, Chris Cillizza, and Rick Wilson. I love that cover. It's a very interesting cover, Molly. And you cover it with the cover story, and for a guy who didn't know the history of the war of 1812.

[22:35:03] Does President Trump know enough to understand our entire system was built, so that we didn't put in place a king here in the United States?

BALL: You know, I have no idea what he does or doesn't understand, but the implications of what he is doing -- you know, we were talking in the last segment about this parallel, legal, and political strategy.

And so we sort of are trying to lay it out with some original reporting in this piece about how, and why he is waging this war on Robert Mueller, and this investigation. One thing I think is interesting that people might not realize is that it is relatively recent this escalation of the war on the Special Counsel. He wasn't always in full frontal attack mode against the Special Counsel.

In fact, he never mentioned Bob Mueller's name on Twitter until March, just a couple of months ago. So this is a real escalation. It mirrors the escalation in his legal strategy.

And to your question, what distinguishes what he's doing now from say, the Clinton playbook against Ken Starr, which was also a P.R. strategy to discredit the Special Counsel so that when and if he came up with anything, impeachment would be impossible because of public opinion. What is distinguishing about this war that Trump is waging are these wide-ranging claims of imperial executive power.

Very much, almost a liberalization of Richard Nixon's, you know, hair- raising claim that when the President does it, it is not illegal is basically what the President and his lawyers have been arguing in Giuliani, and his public arguments, and in the January memo that was recently leaked saying, you know, the President can pardon him, and all of these things. And this is somewhat worrying to not just, you know, the President's partisan opponents, but fans of the rule of law.

LEMON: Yes. So, I'm wondering about, look, themes here, Chris. I mean, between the President's interest in pardons, his claim that he can even pardon himself, his love of parades, military pomp, and circumstance. I mean, do you think imperial power is a theme of the Trump presidency?

CILLIZZA: Well, I think what he knows is, what he comes from, Don, is his way goes. Everyone in the Trump organization works for him. Donald Trump wants to get rid of you, you're gone. That's the experience he has.

That's -- his form of experience is that, and a reality television show that was based on three people being in a board room begging him not to fire them, and him deciding up with of them gets fired.

LEMON: Right.

CILLIZZA: So that he has brought those experiences to the government is I don't think terribly surprising. That he has failed to either by choice or by willful ignorance, basically amounts to the same thing, chosen not to understand that the federal government does not work that way that.

That, sure, you're sort of the boss of the Justice Department, but there's a long tradition of independence there. They don't -- they work for you in the broadest sense, but you can't just tell them what to do, and what not to do. He's never seen those lines.

I hesitate to say he's never understood them. I don't know if he understands them or not. But he chooses no to regard them. And so it winds up being the same thing. So, yes, I think that -- I think it's his back ground, and his unwillingness to adopt to the fact that government, and being President is different than being the head of a company.

LEMON: Well, here is what they all don't understand. Rick, I want to let you get in here. And even him, he's doesn't going to want to hear this. It's that they all work for us, including him, right? At the end of the day, they all work for us.

WILSON: Exactly. This is one of the most fundamental elements of our government and our history. We fought a war to free ourselves of a monarchy. We built it into our constitution that we don't have titles of nobility. The presidency is a part of a tripartite government, where there is a balance of powers between three branches.

The executive power was always treated with caution. George Washington, our first president, could have become a king, and didn't want to because he understood the peril of it. Donald Trump is as close to an imperial president as we've had in our lifetimes.

And the fever dream of some of the people around him is that now we have a dynasty of Trumps, and they're treating it like a royal family. And Trump loves that because it also plays in, as Chris said, to the reality TV star, fake corporate CEO mogul, all of that stuff. And a lot of his base, and a lot of his fans, they're perfectly content with that. They like that strong man, you know, war lord deal, kind of thing.

LEMON: But now, he's, you know, reportedly crowing about attending the G-7 summit, the meeting, because he feels like he would be the odd man out. And maybe in part because, listen, this is -- he's, you know, at odds with Canada and France.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Or because French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted this, he said the American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a sick-country agreement if need be. Because these six countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it, and which is now a true international force.

[22:40:07] Are our allies calling his bluff, Molly?

BALL: Well, they're certainly heading in that direction. But look, I think for Trump, and some of the more scholarly, or cerebral theorists behind some of his foreign policy, it is sort of the whole point to isolate America. They believe that that is good for our interests long term.

And that all of these, however many country agreements of every sort, that the United States has been enmeshed in, haven't been in support of American interests. So this is going to be a test. Is that actually the case? When you have -- this has now gone far enough where other countries are starting to take him seriously.

They are starting to realize they can't manhandle him, and flatter him into continuing to play America's traditional role. And so if he's going to walk one way, they're going to walk the other. They are, I think to your point, preparing to call his bluff, and then see where the chips fall.

I mean, the problem is that these have been -- at least to the people who forged these agreements, these have been the idea of mutual interest, so within these countries' interests too.

And so, are they going -- are they willing to disadvantage themselves if it comes to that in order to teach the United States a lesson. I think that's what we are going to see.

LEMON: I wonder if you guys ever -- do you guys ever go on peek at his Instagram?

WILSON: Yes.

LEMON: Because pics -- I don't know if you could call it sub -- it's like a sub-tweet, but sub-Instagram.

WILSON: Sub-insta.

LEMON: What was -- or sub-insta, what's happening at this White House every single day. And it's kind of amazing. I just want to put this up before we go. He posted in Instagram tonight.

This is a photo of President Obama, and other world leaders, and it's captioned back when the G-8 leaders respected each other. You should go check his Instagram. Every single day he does it. And it's really brilliant trolling. Go ahead, Chris, quickly because I've got to go to break. CILLIZZA: I was just going to say. I think two things are true.

Donald Trump is a radical break from anyone who's been president ever before. The 43 people we've held before you say radical break. It is also true that that's what he ran on being, and that's what the people who support him like.

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I can't square that circle, but he didn't pretend like he was going to be in a long line of how presidents have done things. He ran on the opposite.

LEMON: I've got to run.

CILLIZZA: This is what the opposite looks like.

LEMON: I've got to run. Rick, we'll talk more next time.

WILSON: Yes, sir.

LEMON: Thank you all, appreciate it. When we come back, you heard Kim Kardashian West talk about her role in convincing President Trump to commute Alice Johnson's sentence. David Axelrod has been critical of the President side stepping on pardoning process. And I'm going to get his take on that. That's next.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Joining me now CNN's Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Obama. Good to see you. Thank you for coming on.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, Don.

LEMON: I want to ask you about the summit in just a moment, but you tweeted today. And you tweeted critically of the President's pardons. Do you have issues with how this one played out?

AXELROD: Look, I don't have issue necessarily with the end result of it. I don't think it should take Kim Kardashian walking into the Oval Office to affect something like this. There should be a process of review.

The Justice Department should be involved in it. As you know, President Obama pardoned, and commuted many, many sentences of nonviolent drug offenders, in concert with the Justice Department, and applications were previewed.

This was -- there is no process here, where we -- we are living in an ongoing reality show, and this is now celebrity pardons. So Kim Kardashian walks in, and makes the case, and he says sure, let's go, or Sylvester Stallone walks in, and let's do Jack Johnson. It's not that the results of these is necessarily wrong, but there will be wrong decisions made if there is no process behind it.

LEMON: The criticism is that the process kept her from being -- her sentence from being commuted is part she -- the sentence is commuted in the Obama administration. There is a process that...

AXELROD: Yes. And, you know...

LEMON: Go on.

AXELROD: And the process can -- the process can fail, and people should make that case. I guarantee you that President Trump didn't review the process, or ask about -- in fact, the fact that it wasn't done in the Obama administration was probably enough for him to make this decision.

That's not the way decisions should be made. As I've said, I'm not arguing about the end result. The Obama administration focused on nonviolent drug offenders who are in for possessions of drugs. This was about trafficking of drugs. But it still may be the right result.

It's not the right approach. And ultimately, we're going to see a flurry of pardons, and the rationale behind them are going to be in the main more political, and more random, and more driven by encounters like this than the substance of the cases involved.

LEMON: All right. Stick around, David, because I want to talk to you about the upcoming summit with North Korea right after this break.

AXELROD: Sure.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. So David Axelrod is back with me. So let's talk summit -- the upcoming summit with North Korea. In a photo-op with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today, President Trump was asked about it today. So I want you to take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing to prepare for the summit on June 12?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've become very well prepared. I don't think I have to prepare very much. It's about attitude. It's about willingness to get things done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: First, what did you think when you heard that? Are you concerned the U.S. is going to get taken?

AXELROD: Yes, I've been concerned about that. First of all, let me just say I applaud diplomacy. I was -- I was horrified when President Trump told Rex Tillerson to forget about diplomacy with North Korea, it wasn't going to lead to anything.

I thought that was the wrong attitude. I think diplomacy is right. But we also have to go into this in eyes wide open, and understanding how complex this is, and the history of lying, and concealment on the part of North Koreans. And, you know, this is such a complex issue, and for him to say, yes,

man, I got this, I don't really need to prepare for it. This is now -- we're not in Atlantic City. This isn't a real estate deal. These are mortal issues, these are grave issues, and really deeply complex.

And I'm worried that he is so eager to produce a great photo-op, a great story coming out of it that he's going to get taken. And he -- and the North Koreans know that he's eager for the deal, that he wants the deal. And you do worry about him getting played. And you hope the people around him will keep that from happening.

LEMON: Let's talk about a new poll that is out today, and it's from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal. I found that President Trump's approval rating has ticked up to 44 percent compared to 53 percent disproval. That's about 5 points from 39 percent. That was back in April. What do you think he owes that bump to?

AXELROD: You know, I think that he has strengthened his support particularly among his base. I've said for some time that I think, you know, he's kind of made a philosophical shift since the first of the year, that he was going to go back to the Trump that got elected, basically not taking the advice of experts, not taking the advice of the wise people in Washington, but going on his own.

[22:55:00] So he initiated this North Korea thing on his own, the tariffs on his own. He is basically doing what he wants to do because he thinks his instincts are what got him here.

And it may be that his supporters like that, that they appreciate that. And it may have strengthened his base a little. I don't think it's substantially changed the equation relative to the follow-up to the elections.

But -- and his ratings, and on the average there in the low 40s, that's still -- that's still pretty low going into a mid-term election, on the average if you have that kind of rating you'd lose 40 seats. Doesn't mean he's going to, but remember Democrats only need 23 to take over control of the House.

LEMON: It's important to point out, too, that same poll also found that 48 percent of respondents are more likely to support a candidate that promises to provide a check on the President. So Americans should remember that, and he should as well. Thank you, David Axelrod. I appreciate that.

AXELROD: Absolutely. Always good to see you.

LEMON: When we come back Rudy Giuliani gets slammed by the First Lady's spokesperson. Plus, wait until you hear the latest thing EPA Chief Scott Pruitt wanted his staff to do for him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)