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President Trump's Personal Attorney, Michael Cohen, Changes His Legal Team; Trump Allies Concerned Michael Cohen Could Flip; Trump, The President Republicans Feared; Is GOP Becoming The Party Of Trump?; President Trump's Claims About Singapore Summit; Trump Calls Media America's "Biggest Enemy." Aired 11-12a ET
Aired June 13, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. Live with all the new developments tonight.
President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen changing his legal team. Sources telling CNN that he has been meeting with lawyers who might potentially represent him and that he wants attorneys with experience in the Southern District of New York. What does that all mean? Cohen's been the subject of a criminal investigation since the FBI raided his home and office that was back in April. He has not been charged with a crime, but sources say he will not be shocked if he is indicted. What does this mean for President Trump?
Also tonight a top Republican on Capitol Hill criticizing his GOP colleagues for not standing up to President Trump accusing Republicans of being in a cult-like situation when it comes to the President. We're going to talk about all of that straight ahead. A lot to get to in the next hour. I'm going to begin, though, with Michael Cohen and changing his legal team. I want to talk about this now with Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels who is suing Cohen.
Good evening, sir. What does this mean that he is changing his legal team that he split with his council?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIEL'S ATTORNEY: Well, Don, I don't think this is positive development for Michael Cohen or the President for a variety of reasons. I mean, these are attorneys that have had involvement with him for weeks on end. He is paid them likely millions of dollars. I mean, I estimate that his burn rate is probably about $500,000 a week.
LEMON: I read that. Where'd you get that? Half -- that is a lot of money.
AVENATTI: No. It's a tremendous amount of money. But that is what you see in these white collar -- criminal cases, Don, with these many documents at issue. And you know, in the last hearing that we had, Michael Cohen's attorney's, they stated they had 15 -- over 15 lawyers working full time, and based on my experience with New York and Los Angeles rates, I mean if you do the math it works out to probably about $500,000 a week. And look, this is what happens in these cases. You have defendants
that start out and they're very defiant and they state they're going to take bullets for their co-conspirators and all of a sudden the burn rates sets in and they start burning this kind of money and then reality sets in. And the fact the matter is, I'm not at all surprised by this.
I think this source, whoever it is that stated it's about having somebody with experience with the Southern District of New York, I don't think it has anything to do with that whatsoever. I think, it's all about money.
LEMON: All right, hold that thought, because you were talking about the attorneys. I've had legal experts come on and I would get the statements from Michael Cohen's attorneys and whatever his P.R. people, and I would read the statement and the defense to -- our legal experts who are not Democrat or Republican and they would say to me that is wrong. He is getting bad legal advice. Do you think he is getting bad legal advice? Do you think people were stringing him along, because they wanted the money? Or -- I don't know, $500,000 a week that a ridiculous amount.
AVENATTI: I agree 100 percent and I think it is a ridiculous amount of money and the fact of the matter is, Don, look, there were two option. Option one was having the team review the documents. And options two was having Michael Cohen's private lawyers review the documents. Now, the private lawyers advocated for them to review the documents.
LEMON: That means they are charging him?
AVENATTI: Of course. There is a profit motive. There's a disincentive for them to advocate on behalf of having the taint team do it. Let me just -- let me tell you something, Don. The end result is going to be basically be the same with the exception of Michael Cohen is going to be 2, $2.5 million lighter in the pocket. And so now reality has set in and this is a very bad situation for Michael Cohen and it is a very bad situation for Donald Trump.
LEMON: How much did you say lighter in the pocket?
AVENATTI: Well, I mean, I estimate it is $2 -2.5 million that Michael Cohen has burned. And look, here's the important thing, of all the people on the face of it planet that Donald Trump should have brought inside the tent, embrace, given love should have been --
LEMON: Michael Cohen.
AVENATTI: Absolutely, because well, not -- not only because he was so loyal but just from a Machiavellian perspective, if you want to reduce it to that. This is guy that knows where all the bodies are buried. This is the guy that represented the President for 10 or 12 years. If you are going to pick anybody to be loyal to, it is this guy. The problem is that you have a President that values loyalty when it comes to him, but he is not willing to give any loyalty in exchange. And we have seen that in a whole host of context. But here's the problem, nothing lasts forever. And this is going to come back and it is going to bite him in a very big way and I predicted that for two and a half months.
LEMON: You've been very adamant that you think that he faces some serious charges. Do you think this is a sign that charges are imminent when it comes to Michael Cohen?
[23:05:05] AVENATTI: There's no question in my mind that charges are imminent. I don't know that he is going to be arrested tomorrow or even next week. I think some of those reports maybe are overblown. There's no question in my mind, Don, as I said, two and half months ago, that Michael Cohen is going to be indicted and he is going to attempt to flip on the President.
But here's the problem, Don, with each passing day for Michael Cohen his options get more and more limited. If in fact Bob Mueller concludes that a sitting President cannot be indicted, Michael Cohen may have played his hand too long. Not to mix metaphors but he may be left with no chair when the music stops. And when I mean by that is, if Bob Mueller concludes that a sitting President cannot be indicted, and I actually believe that he will conclude that based on what I know of Bob Mueller and what I know of his conservative leanings and his belief related to various legal scholars.
If Bob Mueller concludes that, Michael Cohen is not going to have anybody to roll-up on. He is not going to have anybody to lean on. He is going to have zero leverage and he is going to be out on an island. And I predict if that happens I think ultimately he is convicted, or he pleas, I think this President is going to hang him out to dry. I don't think the President is going to give him a pardon and I think Michael Cohen is going to be sitting there potentially in a prison cell wondering what he did with his life.
LEMON: The president is a self-profess billionaire, maybe he is going to help him pay the legal fees.
AVENATTI: You know, why hasn't he already? I mean, this is one of the cheapest guys on the face of the planet.
LEMON: So, we talked about does him wanting -- I said to hold that thought when it comes to having a legal team that has experience with dealing with the Southern District of New York. Because it is been said that his team has more experience in dealing with the law in Washington or political, that sort of thing. So you said that you're not buying that. Why?
AVENATTI: No. I'm not buying that, because it doesn't matter at the end of the day whether you're litigating cases in D.C. or New York or Los Angeles. When you're at the federal level and you're at a level of this magnitude, whether you have experience with a particular office or not, in my view does not carry a ton of weight. If you look at the lawyers that are prosecuting this case in the Southern District of New York, lawyers that are very, very capable but many of which, I mean, they haven't been in that office that long. We're not talking about 20-year prosecutors. So I'm not buying that. I think it's a bunch of nonsense. I think at
the end of the day this comes down to money. Michael Cohen has probably run out of money or he doesn't have the money to front, and now these lawyers having taken 2 million or $2.5 million off him have abandoned him. And you know, this is what a lot of these big firms do. I mean, they talk a good game, but when it really comes down to it, they're nowhere to be found.
LEMON: You sound like, I mean you feel sorry -- you sound like you feel sorry for Michael Cohen, he is being abandoned by his legal team. Like the President saying, oh, he did Hillary Clinton wrong, Comey so that is why I have to fire him.
AVENATTI: Well, look, I mean, I have to tell you. This is a very serious matter for Michael Cohen, OK. He is going to face some very serious charges. I know he has a family, I know he has a wife, I know he has kids, I understand he is a good father. I don't wish any will, you know, will against him, Don. You know, I have to tell you I'm very concerned about his safety, I am very concern about his mental state. I'm just going to state that here tonight. I don't know where this is going to end. I hope he is able to handle it because this is tremendous amount of pressure, but look. --
LEMON: It is tough on him, I do know that, because the number of times that I've spoken to him, it is toughed on him, he is worried. He is concerned about his family, especially his son.
AVENATTI: Look, this is -- I don't think people can comprehend how much pressure this is. And look, in that respect I feel for the guy. I mean for the reasons I've just stated. But, look, he is been isolated and abandoned by someone that he was loyal to, Mr. Trump, who's shown no inclination to take care of him or have his back. You know, his attorneys have put their own profit motives ahead of his interest, there's no question about that in my view now. I mean, this guy has been placed on an island. And people that are twisting in the wind are dangerous.
LEMON: OK. Quick. Two things quickly if you can get to, because allegedly Trump's allies are concerned that he is going to flip. Should they be concerned?
AVENATTI: They should have been concerned two and a half months ago when I predicted it.
LEMON: So, where do you get and also do you think any of this -- how does this relate to Stormy Daniels? Do you think anything that comes out of the recordings or any of the things that were taken in the raids -- because I think you're waiting -- Friday is the deadline, right? To determine if that is the things that were taken in the raid, if they were attorney-client privilege. Anything that comes out do you think it's going to be related to your client?
AVENATTI: Oh, I think a number of pieces of evidence are going to be related to my client. And Don, look, our case has gotten better every week. It is getting better every other day and you know, hopefully Rudy Giuliani will go on Fox and Friends in the morning and it will get even better.
LEMON: Michael Avenatti, thank you appreciate your time.
AVENATTI: Great to see you.
LEMON: When we come back Republicans attack President Obama throughout his two terms in office saying he was vain and inexperienced. I wonder what those same Republicans would say about President Trump. We are going to discuss that right after this.
[23:10:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Many Republicans now admitting that the GOP is the Party of President Donald Trump. And that was evident in some of yesterday's Republican primary races. CNN's Kyung Lah says the results were chopped below with Trump effect. Kyung?
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don. Last night's primary certainly sent a message that the GOP is the Party of Trump. And you saw it play out starkly in a Nevada State Legislative Race with an unconventional candidate.
LAH: A self-proclaimed pimp, brothel owner and reality TV star the HBI series Pack House, depicting life inside Nevada's legal sex trade. Now Republican nominee for Nevada State assembly district 36, Dennis Hof, soundly beating a three time incumbent in the primary.
DENNIS HOF, NEVADA GOP ASSEMBLY DISTRICT 36 CANDIDATE: This ain't your daddy's old GOP. You know, this is the new GOP with Donald Trump running it.
LAH: America meet the most explicit results of that. Hof ran the same state race in 2016 as a libertarian supporting Trump locally with his tarts for Trump campaign. Hof lost, but Trump won up ending the came for hopeful candidates like Hoff. He now touts Trumps style book the art of the pimp, his entrepreneurial skills a saucy asset, adding an r to his name on the ballot. Thrusting the business man from Pahrump, Nevada to the general election in November.
[23:15:04] HOF: Dennis Hof is the Trump of Pahrump. Donald Trump, you know, he pave the way. He made it OK for a reality TV star to be in office because he is done a great job. I'm going to do the same thing for the state of Nevada.
KATIE ARRINGTON, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We are the Party of President Donald J. Trump.
LAH: the message echoed loudly on the other side of the country. Katie Arrington defeating another incumbent. Trump critic and Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina Republican primary. Sanford, learning if you defy Trump you pay the price politically, but pledge support and you could be Corey Stewart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Virginia. LAH: The former Virginia director of Trump's campaign who fought the
removal of confederate statues in Charlottesville.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am proud to be here this way.
LAH: Winning the Republican nomination for a Senator from Virginia. Trump tweeting his congratulations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We might poke the bear.
LAH: Tennessee Republican Senator, Bob Corker slamming his own Party, the undeniable Party of Trump.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We're in a strange place. It's not a good place for any Party to end up a cult-like situation as it relates to -- to a President that happens to be of reportedly of the same Party.
LAH: The latest CNN poll shows more than 80 percent of Republican voters support the President. Dennis Hof, believes he'll ride that Trump wave even as one of the country's most unconventional candidates rides in to office.
HOF: I think Donald Trump has been a very positive influence on the political space. It's not business as usual. People are sick of career politicians.
LAH: So what's expected to happen in November? Well, in this particular district Hof is expected to win. Republicans are heavily favored there. Don?
LEMON: Kyung, thank you very much. I want to bring in now Larry Sabato, the Director for the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia and the author of "The Kennedy Half-Century." Hello sir, good to see you. It has been OK?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Good to see you Don.
LEMON: Let's talk about Virginia. That is where you are and Corey Stewart who was just on CNN with Chris Cuomo. He is apologist for white supremacist, he is an anti-Semitic, he has a birther past, he is a supporter of confederate symbols.
SABATO: He fits right in, Don. You know, the guy from Nevada, all I could think of, when I was watching him is there's another family values Republican.
LEMON: Yes. Larry, let's play some of this. I got some sound for you.
SABATO: Yes, go ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was that a confederate flag that you were just in
front of taking that mandatory, yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, let me tell you something --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to condemn everything that has happened --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't even answer the question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Larry, the guy's from Minnesota, what does he know about a confederate flag? But go on.
SABATO: yes, you know, that is always puzzled me about Corey Stewart how somebody from Minnesota could have gotten so wrapped up with Robert E. Lee. You know, usually they're not too devoted. But listen, he had a major role in the disaster that (inaudible) city of Charlottesville, last summer. Corey Stewart was here a number of times before that awful unite the right, neo-Nazi white supremacist disaster. And he was encouraging them in every way he could and he still does. Nothing's changed, but, Don, he is not going to be elected.
LEMON: He is going to lose to McCain, right?
SABATO: oh, my god, yes. He won a nomination because 300,000 people turned out. Sounds like a lot of people -- there are 5.6 million registered voters in Virginia.
LEMON: You know Larry, 300,000 people to vote for -- I mean, this guy is a racist. He is a bigot. How do these bigots keep winning office? That is what I don't understand. Well, primaries.
SABATO: He got about 45 percent, 46 percent of the vote. Why did they do 2it? Because the activist, the extreme activists are the ones who come to the primaries and vote in the Republican Party in this state and I think most states around the country the Party has moved way to the right following Trump, using Trump as the symbol of the dear leader, of the supreme leader, the cult leader, whatever you want to call him and Corey Stewart is right out of that mold.
LEMON: Disgusting. It really is gross. Larry, let us go to South Carolina now, I want to talked about lee Bright, he also in favor of the confederate flags, is best known for sponsoring that transgender bathroom bill and he calls transgender people mentally ill. He is in the running to replace Trey Gowdy in South Carolina. Is he another example of the Party Trump versus the old GOP?
SABATO: Yes. He was the leader in the first primary. Now, he didn't come anywhere close to 50 percent. He is got a runoff in two weeks and he is got a strong opponent, so we don't know for sure that he is even going to be nominated. But, yes, I would say some of his views are, you know, ignorant, just to be blunt about it.
[23:20:00] LEMON: I have short time left here so let's go quickly to Dennis Hof, one of Nevada's well-known brothel owners or pimp if you want to use that word. He is now the GOP nominee in Nevada. What kind of the chances he have and how significant is this win?
SABATO: He is the front runner. He is considered to be likely to win the seat. It's Nevada, Don. I mean, they have brothels out there. And look there are 63 legislators in Nevada. Something tells me that this guy, the only thing he is ever going to do in the legislator, he is going to be assigned the organization of the evening entertainment. That is probably it.
LEMON: Larry Sabato, appreciate your expertise all the time. Thank you, sir.
When we come back we're going to ask a man who worked with Corey Stewart on the Trump campaign in Virginia, what he thinks about Stewart's primary win. Will Stewart and other pro-Trump candidate win their races come November?
LEMON: How many t's are there in GOP? Well, some Republicans especially those heading for the exits now say the GOP is the Party of "T," meaning Trump.
So, I want to bring in now CNN Political Commentator, Joan Walsh, Political Commentator, Amanda Carpenter, the author of "Gaslighting America: Why We Love It When Trump Lies to Us," and Syndicate Radio Host, John Fredericks, who was co-chair of the Trump campaign in Virginia.
[23:25:13] Good evening to all of you. So, John, let's start with you and I want to talk about Corey Stewart. You were both co-chairs of the Trump campaign in Virginia. He aspired and you became chair. Is he a bigot?
JOHN FREDERICKS, HOST, SYNDICATED TALK RADIO: Well, I wouldn't say he is a bigot, but I would tell you what, Corey Stewart has spent a lot of time talking about confederate flags and hanging around the wrong people and it's really tarnished him and the Party. And he has zero chance of beating Tim Kaine in November. He survived this primary, because two anti-Cory Stewart opponents split the vote to get under 50 percent. And he was only able to win because the name I.D.'s had from running three times from statewide office and Republicans in Virginia couldn't find a better viable candidate to put up that responded enough to beat him.
LEMON: John, if he is supporting the confederate flag and hanging out with the wrong people, doesn't that kind of make him a bigot? That kind of makes him a bigot. There is evidence there that he is s bigot. Bigots don't do that.
FREDERICKS: I'm not going to speak for what's in his heart.
LEMON: I hate it when people say that, John. I don't know what's in anybody's heart. All I know -- let me finish. All I know is the evidence people show me, what they say, what they do. I don't know what's in my own mother's heart. I don't know, I can't look at -- I'm not a heart reader. I can't look to anybody's heart, but people showed you who they are, you should believe them and it walks like a racist bigot, it talks like a racist bigot. It promotes racist bigoted things like the confederate flag and hangs out with racist bigoted people, what does that mean? That means they're a bigot.
FREDERICKS: Well, it also means that Trump fired him in October of 2016. So he got fired.
LEMON: All right.
JOAN WALSH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But Trump endorsed him. He just endorsed him, John. He is his candidate.
FREDERICKS: He endorsed him because he is a Republican candidate. That is why he endorsed him, but he also fired him.
WALSH: Actually, you know, Corey Gardener of Colorado, he is not endorsing him. There are some Republicans who are not endorsing him. So this is just another one of this test for the Party, and Amanda knows what I'm talking about, where people really need to draw a line and say, Corey, first of all, he is Corey from Minnesota. My Virginia progressive native friends are like this dude, this bigot is from Minnesota. Where did he come up with the confederate flag? It's not from his granddaddy. It's from bigotry.
So he is going to drive Virginia to be a blue state. It's purple right now, but it's going blue. He is accelerating it. And a lot of Republicans really are going to need to stand up and say we're sorry this happened. That is why I give up this election.
LEMON: John, I thought your answer was pretty good until you said you didn't know if he was a bigot. I just think people -- to Joan's point, people need to be more emphatic about it and people need to stand up now and see it, they need to call it out instead of saying they don't know what's in someone's heart. That is all I think. I thought your answer was pretty good, when you talk about what he used to put, but why don't you just call it what it is? That is all I am saying. Go ahead, Amanda.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I wish Corey Stewart in his interview earlier tonight on CNN was forced to talk about what happened in Charlottesville more. He had a connection to those people who marched those grounds. And those were such searing devastating images, and to think that happened so close to a beautiful college campus and people marching around with torches, flames, impersonating Nazis, I mean this is really devastating stuff.
And I think everyone can imagine that happening where they lived and Corey Stewart had a connection to that group. I want him to explain why he is friends with those people. And there's an argument for keeping the confederate flag in historical context, but listen I go all around rural West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia. When I see some boys driving around with a confederate flag on the back of their pickup truck screaming through town it's not because they are paying honor to confederate soldiers who fought it is never OK.
WALSH: It's never a good thing.
CARPENTER: And so seeing how the confederate flag gets displayed in those areas that has no connection to the civil war, you know, Corey Stewart has been around that crowd and he is going to have to answer for it. If his campaign is smart, he is going to make that race a referendum on Charlottesville.
WALSH: And Tim Kaine is smart. And let us also remember, Amanda that Corey Stewart came out and he actually attacked the Republicans who came down on the right side of Charlottesville, not the President. He didn't come out on the right side. He called any Republican who criticized what happened in Charlottesville, he called them weak. He went that far as to criticize Republicans who stood up. So, you know, he is indefensible and I appreciate John is not defending him.
FREDERICKS: Look, you can't defend him, Amanda. But the other thing is he's unelectable. I mean, he is going to get defeated by Tim Kaine --
FREDERICKS: -- at a landslide in Virginia. So it's kind of a waste of time. He can't win. He's going to get outspent 50 to one. He has no money. Tim Kaine already has $10 million. And remember, he only hung on by one percent. If the election was in another week, Nick Freitas would have beat him in Virginia.
LEMON: Can I ask you something, John?
FREDERICKS: Go ahead.
LEMON: You said that he can't win.
FREDERICKS: Oh, he can't win.
LEMON: OK. When was the last time you heard that?
FREDERICKS: I'm just telling he's not going to win in Virginia.
LEMON: Tim Kaine --
LEMON: OK. I'm just saying we heard that before.
FREDERICKS: I told you Trump was going to win. I'm telling you Stewart is not going to win.
LEMON: OK. I'm just saying -- OK, look, let's talk about -- CARPENTER: He's going to push him over the line.
LEMON: -- Mark Sanford.
CARPENTER: That was part of the argument.
LEMON: He learned I guess a lesson in being a Trump critic, right? So here's the president today. Watch this. Oh, this is Corker? OK. So, let's go to Corker then. This is Bob Corker today and his criticism of President Trump. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: We are in a strange place. I mean, it's almost been a -- it's becoming a cultish thing, isn't it? And it's not a good place for any party to end up with a cult-like situation as it relates to -- to a president that happens to be of purportedly of the same parties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, it's kind of similar, John, as to what Mark Sanford said. He agreed with Trump on some things and other things, he disagreed, he criticized, he lost. Now, Corker is saying that there's a sort of kiss the ring from Republicans that they need to do or else they're out.
FREDERICKS: It's the party of Trump. And it's not a moment too soon. Because the Republican politics and agenda of the past has failed the country miserably. That was the party of Goldman Sachs, Wall Street, bank bailouts, big money, lower wages, and open borders.
That's your father's Republican Party before Trump. If it hadn't been for Trump and his America first agenda, Hillary Clinton would be president today and the Republican Party would be on its way to extinction. What President Trump brought to the table is a new set of policies --
LEMON: And lot of people from Goldman Sachs, his administration.
WALSH: Yeah. And be on tax cuts for the rich and for Goldman Sachs and for the banks.
FREDERICKS: Well, the tax cuts are working. You really can't argue right now --
WALSH: Not for the working people.
FREDERICKS: -- with the growth of the economy and the jobs --
WALSH: All going to the wealthy.
FREDERICKS: More job openings. It's not going to the wealthy. It's people. When people have jobs, that's everybody. We have today more job openings than we have people to fill the jobs. We have people that are coming into the job market today that haven't -- WALSH: They're listening.
FREDERICKS: -- went in since 2008 during the recession. Wages are up 2.8 percent -
WALSH: They're barely moving.
FREDERICKS: -- for four consecutive quarters. I mean, you're making this stuff up.
WALSH: Also thanks to Obama.
FREDERICKS: The economy is booming under Trump's policies.
WALSH: Thank you, Barack Obama.
WALSH: He started us on the trajectory and Donald Trump came along. But why did Donald Trump have to bring -- OK, you say he brings populism, he's helping the working class. Why did he have to bring so much bigotry? Why did he have to come out and endorse Corey Stewart today?
FREDERICKS: Look, I wouldn't have done that if I was him. He had already fired Corey Stewart one time. So, it's time --
LEMON: But then he endorsed him. He did endorse him, John. Quick, Amanda, you're going to have the last word.
CARPENTER: This is why Donald Trump is accused of leading a cult. There's no general operating principles that you can cling to. You're forced to go along with the whims of Trump to believe that something like CNN is more of a threat than North Korea --
FREDERICKS: He has a clear agenda, Amanda, that you refuse to recognize it's working.
LEMON: One at a time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- you have to go along with such nonsense.
LEMON: Yeah. OK, guys, thank you. Last word. We'll be right back.
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump back in Washington tonight making a lot of big claims about his Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, including that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat. Let's discuss now. Mark McKinnon, former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain, who is executive producer of Showtime's "The Circus." He joins us. Also Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and at Harvard Extension School, who is the author of "The Death of Expertise." Two nights into a row, Mark McKinnon. Wow. So, I'm going to start with Tom because you have the home field advantage. Good evening to both of you.
Tom, Republicans including you were so critical of President Obama's foreign policy. But now you've got an op-ed out. It is in The Washington Post. Here is what you said. You said, Trump is everything Republicans said Obama was.
I'm going to read some. You said, Republicans were scathing about Obama's immense and obvious self-regard. But Trump has shown himself to be beyond any of the GOP's worst nightmares about Obama. A political narcissist transfixed by his own image and utterly addicted to television coverage.
Trump is unwilling to be briefed, incapable of being educated, and has now blundered into a summit with a monster in exactly the way Republicans were once certain Obama would do if a camera was pointed at him.
Obvious question, Tom, why the hypocrisy?
TOM NICHOLS, AUTHOR, PROFESSOR AT NAVAL WAR COLLEGE AND HARVARD EXTENSION SCHOOL: Well, you know, I think Senator Corker summed it up nicely when he said this is becoming cultish. Look, Republicans have legitimate concerns about Barack Obama, that he was inexperienced, that he had a great of self-regard, that he thought he knew what he was doing without a whole lot of background in things like foreign policy.
The problem is President Trump is Obama on steroids. And I think one major difference is that whatever you thought of President Obama's foreign policy, you assume that President Obama was an intelligent guy. He was listening to intelligent advisers, he was having discussions about it.
[23:40:02] There's no -- I mean, President Trump says pointblank, I don't need to prepare, I don't have to listen to anybody, I'm not getting briefed, I'm just going to wing it.
And Republicans don't say a word. And I think in part because they've doubled down so many times. They just don't know how to climb down at this point. There's nowhere to go now because they've defended him to the hilt. And every time they thought it was as bad as it could get, it got worse. And they don't know where to go now.
LEMON: I was asked a question today as I was giving a discussion and I had the same answer. Basically, I said it was cognitive distance because where do you go after that after you've supported someone for so long and they continue to negate what you think and say about them? What do you do? When do you need to take the exit lane? I don't know if they can anymore.
NICHOLS: Well, especially when you have invested so much of your self in it --
NICHOLS: -- that you simply, you know, if you say you're wrong at this point, then everything you've been arguing for years pretty much comes apart in front of your eyes.
LEMON: There you go.
NICHOLS: That's why they don't do it.
LEMON: You're a smart man. And Donald Trump has less political experience, by the way, than President Obama. And you said, he was Obama on steroid.
So, Mark, I want you to take a look on this. This is a tweet by the GOP chairman, Ronna McDaniel. And she says, complacency is our enemy. Anyone who does not embrace the real Donald Trump agenda of making America great again will be making a mistake.
Mark, that sounds Orwellian (ph).
MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISOR TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN: Yeah, it does. To me, it's more about -- it's become more about idolatry than ideology. It's all about Trump winning. Listen, it's true that any president becomes the party, becomes the face of the party, becomes the image of the party, becomes the ideology of the party.
Except in this case it's unclear other than an America first agenda, exactly what that long-term ideology is. For Donald Trump, it's just about winning and he's exercising his power. By the way, here's a very interesting number.
Donald Trump is enjoying the strongest in-party support of any president in history except -- at this juncture 500 days in -- except for George W. Bush, which was right after 9/11. So, he is really strong within the party.
But there are lots of people in the party who feel like the agenda has left them because it has become the party of high deficits, become a party that is attacking our allies and kissing up to authoritarian dictators.
So, when you asked me about North Korea yesterday, I said it was a win. It's a win for a day or a win for the week. But the problem for Donald Trump is that he just punches what's right in front of him. There's no long-term thinking about, for example, the verification on this. And it really struck me today to see Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State Pompeo now.
LEMON: Secretary of State Pompeo, yeah.
MCKINNON: -- his reaction to the statement that had no verification. And he got very defensive, which is very unlike him.
(CROSSTALK) LEMON: Yeah, I'm insulted that you would ask me that question. Of course, there's a problem. That's a question that everyone should be asking.
MCKINNON: Yeah. That is the most fundamental question there could be about a summit like that.
LEMON: That's it.
MCKINNON: So for him to come on like that made me think there's some issues there.
LEMON: Mark, I want to play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: The agreement that was signed made very clear that this would mean complete denuclearization. The sequence would be different this time. That's important. It's central to the understanding. You suggested that there was some risk that the clock would run out and that they would delay. We believe that Chairman Kim Jong-un understands the urgency of the timing of completing this denuclearization, that he understands that we must do this quickly.
And these sanctions really, we should recall these are U.N. sanctions. The sanctions relief cannot take place until such time as we have demonstrated that North Korea has been completely denuclearized. Verification is central to that. Complete denuclearization certainly encompasses that idea very clearly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So that's what he said tonight, gentlemen, after that initial statement. What do you make of that? I have a short time, I'll give both of you quickly. Tom first.
NICHOLS: Well, I think one of the things you're seeing with all of this is that Republicans even though they're majority, they control all the branches of the government, they control most of the statehouses, they still think of themselves as some kind of beleaguered insurgency which makes them terrified of ever admitting a mistake or allowing any weakness or even allowing for any nuance at all.
They still think of themselves as this kind of put upon --
LEMON: Perpetual victims.
NICHOLS: Yeah, they have a complete victim mentality which is really (INAUDIBLE) of the Republican Party that I joined as a young man and that I grew up in. But it keeps them from ever admitting a mistake.
LEMON: Mark, quick, 10 seconds, please, if you will. I'll give you the last word.
MCKINNON: Well, I'll just echo that it reaffirms that the win was the most important thing.
[23:45:00] Everything else was vague and left of the details. Harken back to Reagan, we need the verify part, we got the trust part. Let's get the verification down.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. We'll be right back.
LEMON: President Trump ramping up his attacks by calling the news media America's biggest enemy. I want to bring in now legendary investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, the author of "Reporter." Seymour, I'm so happy you're on. Thank you for joining us this evening.
SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Glad to be here.
LEMON: The president frequently complains about news organizations which challenge him. Today's tweet was -- it was different in that he cited, news organizations as the country's biggest enemy. What's your reaction to that?
HERSH: Well, there's always been tension with every president.
[23:50:00] I sometimes think that we underestimate Trump but that's just my opinion. I always like to attack the other way, I guess. But it seems to me that the news media -- I always view disliking Trump is like catnip for American audiences.
Obviously television is doing much better. I'm going to put my earpiece in better. You guys are getting better rates (ph). The newspapers, the New York papers and The Washington Post, are getting more audience and going after Trump is really good news.
And I sometimes think that I just wish sometimes instead of so much about Trump and how awful he is and there's certainly a lot of things not to like about him, I wish sometimes we'd talk more about what's going on in Yemen, about mothers having their children taken away at the border and all that.
I wish there was more of a focus. But I can understand Trump is great for ratings. He just is. That's just the reality. And so, you know, presidents have always complained about the press and the press --
LEMON: But to this extent, Seymour, it hasn't been like this to this extent. We do talk about those issues. I mean, this president's administration, as you said, there's lots not to like. That's not for me to decide as a journalist.
But there's lots of even policy-wise that this administration does, things that they do that are just sort of out there. And those things deserve to be talked about as well. It's not just about ratings.
HERSH: You know, the problem is -- I'm a contrarian. The problem is he's going up in the ratings, the more we complain about him. I complain about him too. Nobody likes his cabinet, those people, what's going on in the cabinet and the various divisions of the government, the mistreatment of people, the federal workers is outrageous.
On the other hand, he's going up in ratings. And so I don't see the Democratic Party doing anything but basically running sort of as Hillary did, running against him for the last two months of the campaign. And I'm not sure that if I'm not in the major city in America, I'm not sure -- this guy is different. And I think people are tired of politicians.
And he appeals for a lot of reasons that maybe we don't all understand. I certainly don't understand him. He's got 48 percent, 47 percent of the people. He appeals to them. There's something about him. This is a guy that took down 13 Republicans with a history of more than 200 years of political life. Two hundred years of --
LEMON: Seymour, I get what you're saying. But to me, I'm just listening, correct me if I'm wrong. It sounds like you're conflating the Democratic Party with the news media. It not the news media's job to say, well, we're going to help him go up in the polls by talking about him. It's our job to analyze his policies and his behavior, what he says and what he does. That's our job.
HERSH: You know, with all due respect, and I'm not talking about you or your show.
LEMON: No, I'm talking about the news in general.
HERSH: I think the public -- we have a public right now -- there was a time when the media was trusted. We go back to the old days of networks. Those days are long gone. When I worked at "The New York Times," I always felt I was looking for a newspaper, no matter what you said, where you were, it was trusted. We now have a situation where a lot of people tune in to what they like.
HERSH: And don't listen to what they don't like.
HERSH: It's good for cable television on both sides, for Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and you guys. You've got great ratings, you're making money. I think The New York Times every quarter says it's picked up another 200,000 subscriptions because they're very critical on Trump. And so you have this notion, if you don't like Trump, you're going to go here. If you like Trump, you're going to go somewhere else.
And where is the middle ground? Where is the media that is accepted? Where is the media that whatever they say is going to have some standing. It's not going to be tuned out by 40 percent of the people, whatever percentage. It just seems to me that at this rate, if I'm watching, yes, Trump went to the summit not knowing much about it.
Yes, he doesn't read anything. And yes, he's famous for just doing running on instinct. But, you know, I like golf. He still watches his goofy little golf show on golf channel before heading to audience. He's been in public life for 15, 20 years. There is just that outside chance --
HERSH: Well, yeah, maybe.
LEMON: Since the 80s, right?
HERSH: There is an outside chance with all these tweets and all that other stuff, he just may have some idea what he's doing. He's keeping it focused on him, whether good or bad or otherwise, it works for him. And so I don't know -- we're not all caught up in a (INAUDIBLE) that he probably maybe doing better at running. He did get rid of two dynasties. He got rid of the Bushes first. He got rid of the Clintons for us.
LEMON: Well, listen, I understand what you're saying there, but I think it's -- when someone attacks institutions, we can't normalize lying, we can't normalize bigotry. That is not what America is about.
We can't report on things that are favorable that the American people just want to hear all the time. I am talking about all news media. Because then we would be derelict in our duties. So maybe it's different for you as a writer and an author.
[23:55:02] But as a journalist, I think most of the journalists that I know, we would take lower ratings and less money if this president actually believed in facts and reality. And so, you know, I'm going to have to disagree with you on that part of it.
HERSH: Hey, of course.
LEMON: I got to get you to tell us about the book, though, because that's why you're here.
HERSH: Let me say one more point. The last thing I expect you to do is agree with me.
LEMON: Of course.
HERSH: I'm just giving you a point of view.
HERSH: I'm thinking about, what's he going to do after the next election? You know, I'm just worried. He just may be playing a longer game than we think.
LEMON: Of course he is. We know that. I know that.
HERSH: We're all sort of playing his game. That's what bothers me.
LEMON: OK. Listen, I got to talk to you about your book, "Reporter."
LEMON: Tell us about it. HERSH: Well, what can you say? I've been a reporter for 50 years. I started as a police reporter in Chicago. I got famous I guess very early for doing the My Lai massacre story and I was I guess the lone ranger. Some reviewer called me the lone wolf.
HERSH: But I went after a story that most of the major media did not go after. I worked at The New York Times for many years. And one of the problems I had -- I loved -- it's a love/hate, respect/anger relationship. One of the problems I had when I got to The New York Times in the early 70s.
There was an enormous amount of respect for the presidency. And even Nixon, it was very hard to cut through even in the early days of Watergate, when The New York Times as you know is slow and The Washington Post --
HERSH: We talked so long and we went back and forth. I'm just going to tell everybody to buy your book. If you have the opportunity to come back to talk more about your book, would you please take it? Because I want people to go out and buy "Reporter." OK?
LEMON: Thank you, Seymour. But I am up against the clock here.
HERSH: You know, at this point, I think it is more important to say what I say than worrying (ph) about the book.
LEMON: Thank you, Seymour. Always a pleasure. We'll see you soon.
LEMON: That's it for us tonight. And before we leave, here's a preview of a special series CNN is running all next week.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): All next week, a special CNN series, our anchors profile champions for change.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We travel the globe telling stories and change makers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This time, we are joining our (ph) mission to make a difference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Giving time to the causes that are dear to our hearts.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And sharing the stories of the champions leading the charts (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): It was for a great cause. That's motivating.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to help them in ways that helps them see this is not how your life has to be.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is an opportunity to pay it forward. To do something that is going to be meaningful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are the kinds of students any community would be blessed to have.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just warms your heart that you can help someone with food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rock on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am the champion, can't hurt me now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join the journalists of CNN as we work alongside "Champions for Change." All next week, presented by Charles Schwab.
[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)