Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Considering Russia's Proposal To Interrogate Americans Including Michael McFaul; Trump Presidency; What Was A Russian Agent Doing At The National Prayer Breakfast?; : President Trump's Escalating Number Of Lies; Schumer Demands Kavanaugh Recuse Himself From Mueller Cases. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired July 18, 2018 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon. A little past 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, live with all the new developments for you. The White House is actually considering a pretty shocking proposal by Vladimir Putin, to allow Russia to interrogate Americans, including a former American ambassador to Russia.

In exchange, Putin will permit Robert Mueller to question Russians charged with interfering in the 2016 election.

I want you to listen to what the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said today.


MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Russian authorities yesterday names several Americans who they want to question, whom they claim were involved in Bill Browder's quote- unquote 'crimes' in their terms, including a former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul. Does President Trump support that idea? Is he open to having U.S. officials questioned by Russia?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is going to meet with his team and we'll let you know. We'll have an announcement on that.

HABERMAN: Is that a topic that came up in their conversation? Did President Putin raise this with President Trump?

SANDERS: There was some conversation about it but there wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States and the president will work with his team and we'll let you know if there's an announcement on that front.


LEMON: The State Department is calling Russia's proposal, quote, absolutely absurd. Joining me now is John Feeley. John Feeley is retired U.S. ambassador to Panama. Good evening, sir. Thank you for joining us.


LEMON: The idea that the Trump administration is appearing to entertain turning over American diplomat, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, to Vladimir Putin is yet another shock. What's your reaction?

FEELEY: My reaction is that we've been hearing a lot of jabberwocky, a lot nonsense speak from the president over the last week, and hearing the press secretary say that he would meet with his team and consider it simply goes against every fiber of any professional diplomats' core.

The fact that the State Department said that it is effectively a non- starter is absolutely the right answer. And there in no way should be any equivalency between what is a judicial indictment against 12 GRU operatives and an accredited U.S. diplomat and ambassador, Mike McFaul, under the convention.

LEMON: Yeah. Ambassador McFaul tweeted today. He said, I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces it categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin. Not doing so creates moral equivalency between a legitimacy U.S. indictment -- that should be again legitimate U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy completely fabricated story invented by Putin.

What kind of position does this put you as diplomat in around the world, ambassador?

FEELEY: Well, it's enormously worrisome position. You know, the United States never signed on to the treaty of Rome and the ICC, the International Criminal Court, precisely because we never want to be able to put our diplomatic representatives or in many case our military representatives in the hands of foreign justice.

The United States has historically had an outsize international role. We put our government officials in places and in situations where many other countries wouldn't. And so as a result, we have to take very seriously the issues of their privileges and immunities. And by the president even beginning to entertain such a thought is something that should be very worrisome for all of my former colleagues.

LEMON: Yeah. And ambassador, President Trump again created a diplomatic mess today. He said that Russia is no longer targeting the U.S. His press secretary says, that's not what he meant. The real truth is, Russia is actively trying to undermine U.S. democracy. How can President Trump keep the country safe from the Russian threat if he doesn't believe it exists?

FEELEY: Well, you know, Don, the real problem is -- I got to be honest, I'm not sure what he believes anymore.

[23:05:02] I think what we're seeing is that his words don't mean much. I would, I wouldn't, you know, the best moment (ph) I got all day today was Kim Jong-un standing there with a big smile saying, oh, I meant to say I wouldn't denuclearize. With the president's whiplash, changing of his rhetoric every several hours now apparently, I criticized Prime Minister May, no, I didn't, I actually praised Prime Minister May, nobody really knows what to believe anymore when the president speaks. And that loss of credibility --

LEMON: That's a problem.

FEELEY: -- is enormously worrisome around the world. Absolutely.

LEMON: That is a problem.

FEELEY: It very much is. And I have to say, for many of my colleagues still in service who are attempting to do honorable service as diplomats, as military members around the world, you can just imagine the work that they have trying to explain what the president said to their counterparts. It's almost an impossible task.

LEMON: I just -- I wonder this week how in his own mind, what is going on in his own mind? If he's actually -- would the real -- you know, when you're lying in bed at night or if he's thinking, man, maybe I wouldn't cut out for this. I surely screwed that whole Russia thing up or I just really don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to Russia. Maybe I should just admit it. I don't know. It just seems like this is a moment that he --


LEMON: -- screwed this up so royally, that he should just admit it and then admit that this is something that he wasn't built for.

FEELEY: You know, Don, I'm not going to go there because I don't know the president personally. What I am going to say though is that there are an awful lot of my former colleagues who are deployed around the world, whether they are in military uniforms, I once worn a marine uniform or whether they're in pinstripe or whether they're in khakis as diplomats.

And those people made a commitment, each one of them, 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago to support the president's foreign policy, to support and defend the constitution of the United States. And what I know that many of those people feeling is a tremendous sense of disappointment.

We all who serve in government take an oath to fully implement the president's foreign policy. When it is very clear that the president doesn't himself know what he's trying to accomplish, it makes it virtually impossible for those people.

And yet, they stay on the job, they continue to work, and they attempt to do the very best they can for U.S. interests. Those are the folks I think about when I lay in bed at night, not the president.

LEMON: Well, I just -- you know what I mean. You know when you screwed something up royally. I know when I'm in deep water. And most people at their core knows. That's why -- that's the only reason I asked that. But I got to ask you this, you resigned from the Trump administration in March. And you wrote in Washington Post that President Trump, you said, warped and betrayed what you call the traditional core values of the United States. And as a result, you say, America is undoubtedly the less welcome in the world today.

How would you characterize the president's actions since then and what impact is it having on this country?

FEELEY: Well, I have to say, Dan -- Don, very sadly, I don't think that anything the president has done since March and today would lead me to believe that I made the wrong decision. Everybody has to make the decision for themselves.

And I would be very clear in saying that only senior level officials, career officials in the government should even entertain the idea. If you're a mid-level official, if you're not at a senior level or not in a confirmed position, you really don't have that responsibility to be the president's personal representative.

What I also think is that the president is seriously miscalculating when he clearly plays to base by saying things on a world stage that he hopes will be heard by the people who voted for him in 2016, and who will vote for him again if he runs in 2020, and that they're not heard by the rest of the world.

The United States only has about five percent of the world's population. And the rest of the world looks to us. And certainly since the end of the second World War, has looked to the United States for leadership.

And with his confusing as I call it jabberwocky, his almost nonsense speak, his whiplash back and forth in terms of the rhetoric as to whether or not Russia was meddling in our election, was not meddling in our election, no, I said they wouldn't be, would be, oh wait a minute, maybe are not, what he's doing is sewing confusion.

[23:09:59] And there is nothing in this world in this world that is as unsettling as confusion. Markets don't like it. And diplomacy and great state relations don't like it.

LEMON: Ambassador, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

FEELEY: Thank you so much, Don.

LEMON: I want to bring in now Congressman Denny Heck. He is a Washington Democrat who serves on the Intelligence Committee. Good evening. So, here we are, congressman.


LEMON: Given the president's latest interview, his changing answers, his performance in the world stage, what the ambassador just called jabberwocky, right, how concerned are you about what was actually said in that one-on-one meeting with Putin? HECK: Well, obviously, I'm very concerned, I'm very concerned about -- whenever he talks to a leader of a foreign country. Look, there's a great irony here, I think, with respect to Ambassador McFaul, he's an individual who enjoyed an international agreement, some diplomatic immunity while in Russia. He comes home and he has no diplomatic immunity. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The fact of the matter is, it's highly unlikely that this is even legal if the president were to go ahead on it. And frankly, I think he's going to stand down on it just like he has in million other things in the last year and half when it's revealed to him frankly the affinity (ph) of what it is he is saying that we ought to do.

LEMON: And this goes beyond not being an eloquent speaker. This is knowing your facts, knowing history. You're being aware and understanding your intelligence briefing. This isn't, you know, oh, he's some Joe six pack that the regular guy can understand when he talks that way. This is far beyond that.

HECK: Words matter, especially when spoken by the president of the United States, whose supposed to be the leader of the free world. I concluded sometime ago that this relation with Russia and President Trump's relation with Vladimir Putin, that one or three things or some combination are obviously really what's working here.

Either A, the president just has an epic failure to grasp the significance of what he says and the historical context within which he is functioning. And number two, Vladimir Putin has completely conned him and duped him beyond imagination. Or number three, he's got the goods on him.

LEMON: You think he has something on him?

HECK: I could think of nothing that would account for the bizarreness of his behavior as much as that would. But I don't know that. And I don't know if it's necessarily one of those three. But that's the only construct that can help me understand when he does these kinds of thing because it's so bizarre, so damaging, it's so serious. It's the only thing that makes sense to me.

LEMON: So, the interpreter was in the room, right? No one knows what's going on except for Trump, Putin and interpreter. Do you think Congress should force Trump's interpreter to speak to Congress?

HECK: I think think the world ought to know what went on in that meeting and if there were a way to compel that to happen, I would be for it. But the fact of the matter is, that is not going to happen because majority of Republicans continue to support him and be complicit in every regard.

Look, Don, congressional Republicans are in desperate need of an intervention for their addiction to President Trump. This has gone beyond norm defined, this has gone beyond norm shattering. We're absolutely now in the territory of his behavior and his words putting America and its future at peril.

LEMON: Do you think that they're addicted to him or do you think he's just a means to an end? There you say, well, you know what, this is the guy, let everybody look over there at him and all his wackiness and whatever he's doing, and then we'll actually get the real -- we're getting the real job done over here? Maybe they look to him at someone who is not so bright and just let him bear the brunt of everything and then they will do their work?

HECK: I actually think it's a combination of things. First of all, I think a lot of them are afraid of him. I think they're deathly afraid that he would viciously attack them and go after them in the primary elections. I think I believe that because I've seen him to it.

LEMON: It's happening, yeah.

HECK: Yeah. And secondly, I think they made a political calculus that it is better to stick with him at least through the election if not beyond because to do otherwise would put their majority even more at risk.

And thirdly, I think, in fact what it is that they wanted to accomplish was this huge tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans in our corporations. And that was able to get done under him and so it's kind of the deal they made with the devil.

LEMON: Let me ask you before I let you go, do you think the United States is prepared to be able to stop Russia from interfering in our elections again? We have a very important one coming up soon.

HECK: No, but we're getting there. I don't think it should go unsaid here in this conversation, Don, about what a brilliant --literally a brilliant forensic piece of criminal investigation Director Mueller performed in order to yield the 12 indictments of the Russian intelligence officers.

[23:15:04] That was brilliant. They're going to write that up in history books some day. Their forensic analysis was unbelievable. So we've got some institutions that are still working.

And frankly, I still believe that sooner or later, we're going to get to the point where we once again hear the same words that Gerald Ford spoke, when he was sworn in as president, in the aftermath of those dark, dark day during the Watergate era. First words out of his mouth, Don, you will remember them, our long national nightmare is over.

LEMON: Over, yeah.

HECK: We're going to hear those words again.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, we are making history in every moment here. Who is going to look back and be proud of it? Who is going to look back and be embarrassed? A whole lot of people, I think. The facts always bear out. Thank you. I appreciate it, congressman.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

LEMON: When we come back, how did a Russian agent get into the National Prayer Breakfast and what was she really up to?


[23:20:00] LEMON: Maria Butina was the accused Russia spy who infiltrated Republican politics, attempted to exchange sex for political access, and communicated with the Russian intelligence during her years in America. So, what was she doing at the National Prayer Breakfast?

Let's bring in now CNN National Security Analyst, Juliette Kayyem and Jeff Sharlet, an expert on the prayer breakfast and the author of "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power." Thank you both for joining us. Good evening to both of you.

Jeff, I'm going to start with you. A lot of people are wondering how on earth an accused Russian spay became so entangled with the National Prayer Breakfast. What was she even doing there?

JEFF SHARLET, AUTHOR, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF JOURNALISM, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: What people don't understand about the National Prayer Breakfast is it's not actually a government event. It's run by a private sectarian fundamentalist organization called The Fellowship or The Family.

It believes in precisely this kind of interaction. In fact, the longtime leader of the organization has called it a quiet diplomacy, back channel, backdoor interactions between international leaders, that they use the prayer breakfast to bring them together.

A year ago, the current leader, Doug Burleigh, was predicting an alliance between Trump and Putin. He predicted that at a Russian prayer breakfast. So this relationship has been going back and forth for some time.

LEMON: Not only, Juliette, was Butina at two National Prayer Breakfasts, she was trying to set up a back channel to get Putin invited. Who would ever thought a prayer breakfast could be a security risk?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's exactly right. You know, she has been accused of running an influence operation. I think the most important thing of what we've learned at least publicly in the indictment is how early she started in this influence campaign. We keep talking about her as being here on a student visa.

Actually, she was here before she was on a student visa. Sometimes those were visas that were sponsored by the NRA. So the access point really is in her career really through the NRA. And I think the question is and at least what is being raised in the indictments is the extent to which, you know, the NRA essentially sponsored her knowingly or unknowingly.

We have to remember just to put this whole conspiracy, you know, put a bow around it, there is a separate investigation going on about whether the NRA got an illegal contributions from Russia. And so you put the two pieces together and this is a really bad case right now for not just the NRA but of course anyone who received money from the NRA, mainly the Trump campaign.

LEMON: So, more about the annual prayer breakfast here, Jeff. It attracts close to 4,000 people. In 2018, around 50 Russians attended. Why is there such a warm relationship between Christian conservatives and Russia? Why was Butina so warmly received?

SHARLET: The whole Christian right has strongly embraced Putin as this model of a strong man leader that they admire, particularly for his anti LGBT crusade, his so called family values, his revival to Russian orthodox church.

The fellowship, the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast particularly admire him because they're theology. Their religious view is built around their understanding of Jesus as the strong man. They believe that Christian gets it wrong when it speaks to every day people.

They're called to administer to the elites, to leaders like Trump and Putin, who can bring peace together. That's their vision. That's what they created the prayer breakfast for as far back as 1953, to bring leaders together, as they put it, beyond the voice of the people, which is where it happens.

LEMON: The court papers --

KAYYEM: Can I just --

LEMON: Yeah, go ahead, Juliette.

KAYYEM: I think this is a really important point that we sometimes don't talk enough about, which is, there's one thing about Trump and Putin and the questions about whether there's, you know, whether there is conspiracy or collusion.

Why was the party or elements of the party and the NRA so receptive to Putin, well before anyone thought Trump was going to run? And this very sort of white ethnocentric attitude that Putin was -- you know, as the strong man, begins to embrace as a form of his authoritarian rule, is something that we just have to say publicly.

It was very appealing to very conservative members of the party. And that mixes (ph), right, which may have nothing to do with whether there is stage or collusion or elections, it happened well before Trump and the party needs to face that element within them, which is, it's essentially a white, you know, supremacist element that Putin very much is playing on to.

LEMON: Well, his people were receptive to it. That's what happened.


LEMON: Juliette, the court papers. I don't know if you read all of them, here's a part of it about Putin. An illegal agent of Russia whose plan was calculated patient and directed by Russian official.

[23:25:01] She even allegedly offered sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. And sources are telling CNN that she had a romantic relationship with Paul Erickson, who was a former board member to the American Conservative Union, who has attempted to make inroads with the Trump campaign. How is this all -- what is going on here?

KAYYEM: So, I think, I mean, this is -- well, anyone who saw the Americans, we all miss it because it's off the air. I mean, this is an asset in Russia trying to be an influencer and a connector between people she views as powerful, although this North Dakota guy, I don't know how I'd rank him, and of course her contacts in Russia who are essentially friends of Putin.

So, that is not atypical. I think the thing that is amazing to me and what we see in the court documents is the extent to which she was being followed for this many years, which has got to get a lot of people very nervous about, you know, not just her and what she was doing, but you couple that with the indictments on Friday, of all the Russians, and you start to get a picture that there is so much surveillance going on with these people for good.

I mean, this is in a good way, that a lot more is known, that it's coming out slowly through these court documents. But her behavior is not atypical. She just seems very -- I would say much more press friendly and really desiring, a sort of Kardashian-type character, than you would expect of an asset that you want to be an influence peddler without being on the equivalent of GQ in Russia.

LEMON: Got it. Jeff, you said there were also special meetings outside the breakfast during the week-long event where Putin would have had an open access to powerful lobbyist. Explain how that works.

SHARLET: The event, we see the breakfast event, that's on C-span. The real action takes place on this week-long sort of de facto lobbying (ph) festival. In fact, part of the Russian delegation has already admitted that that's what they were coming for. They were coming for access.

And we see in the affidavit, we see Butina thanking the National Prayer Breakfast organizers for these very private meetings that are taking place after the main event. She's requesting further meetings to share what she describes as important information to develop this relationship.

This relationship, remember, begins in Moscow. This goes both ways, not just her infiltrating the National Prayer Breakfast, but them actually traveling to Russia to seek her out and to work with her to develop the most influential and the most powerful delegation they can for her event.

They'll then take that relationship and carry it on, not just in February but all year around through their organization in Russia and Eastern Europe where their sponsoring travel of members of Congress to go and represent their interest. It's a broader project.

LEMON: Yeah. Jeff, Juliette, thank you. I appreciate your time. When we come back, reports show that the president is lying more than ever, more than twice as much as he did a year ago. Report and keeping track of all the lies you don't want to miss, next.


LEMON: President Trump claiming in an interview tonight that he was, quote, very strong in warning Vladimir Putin against future interference in America's elections. But with no one else in the room except interpreters, how do we know he is telling the truth, especially since the president seems to be lying more than ever?

So I want to bring in now Daniel Dale. He is the Washington bureau chief of the Toronto Star. He joins us once again. He has joined us before. And CNN Contributor, Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The Truth About Trump," and you see him quite often on the program as well. Thank you both for joining us.

Daniel, listen, I don't envy you because you have taken on the herculean task of tracking all of the president's lies. You have been watching and your analysis shows this. In the week that started in 2017, 3.8 percent of Trump's words were part of a false claim. In 2018, it's 7.3 percent.

I mean, that would mean that he has just about doubled his lies per week from the last year until this year, lying twice as much than he did last year.

DANIEL DALE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE TORONTO STAR: That's right. No matter how you count it, and I count it in a couple of different ways. It's gotten significantly worse. You know, I don't exactly know why, but what we did with that analysis was basically prove that it is not just that he is talking more.

You know, he is making about 5.1 false claims per day in 2018, after making 2.9 in 2017, which was already a lot. People ask, you know, is he just talking more? Is that why he is making more false claims per day? And what we did there was prove that no, it's actually that his words themselves, what we call the dishonest density, is also getting worse over time.

LEMON: I'm wondering if there's any pattern to it, but maybe he's doing it just because he can, because he gets away with it.

DALE: Yeah, I'm hesitant to attribute any rhyme or reason to it, any strategy to it. You know, people say well, he's on the defensive now, he's worried about Mueller. You know, he's not getting things done legislatively.

My suspicion is that this is just who Donald Trump is. You know, he was a serial liar as a real estate developer. He was a serial liar as a playboy celebrity. And I think it sort of hardwired into his brain now. This is just how he talks. This is just how he operates.

LEMON: Michael, you've known him forever. You chronicled him. Is this escalating lies, is that alarming to you this is -- as he said, maybe it's just who he is?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, there are two thing going on here, I think, Don. One is the president's own habit. It's correct, that this is an ingrained thing. He didn't acquire truthfulness or honesty as a young person growing up and went into life as a guy who just lies all the time.

[23:35:01] The thing is, that it works. This is the other part of the dynamic that I think is difficult for all of us. This has been studied pretty intently. When we hear a lie for a brief moment, we have to believe it before we consider it and decide whether it's truthful or not.

Over time, if we hear that same lie over and over again, it starts to become true in our minds. For the population at large, the more lying that goes on, the more exhausted people become with the chore of trying to sort them out. And eventually, you wind up with a population that can't sort out the true, doesn't know if anything is factual ever.

And if you want to see how that works out in the end, go to Putin's Russia, because the ultimate result of the loss of truth is an authoritarian state. And that's why it's so disturbing to political experts as well as psychologists and psychiatrists. This is a really alarming problem.

LEMON: It's disturbing because maybe -- to the generally public because maybe the public becomes numb to it. I want you to look at this graphic. It shows a number of lies President Trump has told from January 2018 up until Sunday.

Do you see the two spikes? The biggest spike lies happen, I think it was in the last two weeks. Yeah, there it is, within the last two weeks. Does a sheer number of lies increase the risk of becoming numb to all of this?

DALE: I think it does. You know, the first time he, you know, doubles the actual trade deficit, the first time he makes a widely inaccurate claim about voter fraud, you know, people might be outraged, the media might be inclined to point it out.

But, you know, once he gets to the 5th, 10th, or even 45th time, and at least one of these claims, he made 45 times, you know, people get sick of talking about it. It's stressful. It is exhausting. And so I think our immunity to it, you know, it's sort of worn down by his relentlessness.

My call to my colleagues in the media has always been to not let him win with the relentlessness of his lying. You know, if he is going to be this relentless in making false claims, we have to be just as relentless in calling him out. We can get tired if this is going to be essential start of his presidency. We have to keep featuring it and describing it as such.

LEMON: Well, the question is, Michael, and I want you to answer after the break is, because he's a flagrant liar, right, if he just does it because he can and he knows he is doing it, or is it he just don't know? Maybe he's not aware that he lies so much? I don't know. Well, you know him better than I do. We'll answer that when we come back. [23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump and his top aides are lying more than ever. Just a few examples right now from just one interview.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think both my parents were born in E.U. sectors, OK. I mean, my mother was Scotland, my father was Germany. Women unemployment lowest in 66 years. But in a trade sense, they have really taken advantage of us. And many of those countries are in NATO. And they weren't paying their bills.


LEMON: Daniel Dale, Michael D'Antonio, both back with me. Daniel, are you worried President Trump is going to tell so many whoppers (ph) that it's going to wear the press and people down? You say, we have to be in the press, this is relentless as he is with telling the lies?

DALE: Yeah, absolutely. I think the press to some extent has adjusted to this avalanche of lying, but still not to the extent that I think it requires. I think fact checking is still too often (INAUDIBLE) to, you know, separate column, you know, the day afternoon story around the weekend.

LEMON: It's got to be in real time, don't you think?

DALE: It's got to be in real time and it's got to be every time. You know, we can't be worried about seeming boring by calling it out 20 times. If he says the false claim 20 times, we got to call out out 20 times.

I don't think that's a departure from journalistic norm the way I think some in the media still see it. You know, if someone is telling a lie, I think it is basic journalism. It is objective journalism to put out that they are lying.

LEMON: Yeah. Michael, I want to ask you about President Trump's military parade. It is now scheduled to take place in November 10th. And according to defense officials, it's estimated to cost about $12 million. I mean, he has been wishing to stage a military parade in Washington for months now. But, I mean, is it more questionable under the current circumstances?

D'ANTONIO: I think it is, when you consider that he is such a divisive figure. And this problem of the distortions and lies has made the county so confused and so alarmed that to celebrate this president in this way -- and this really is a command performance, it's not what people might argue a celebration related to veterans or the nation.

This is something that's never been done in recent memory and is something that he's demanded, because he saw it done in France and it felt really good to him. So, none of those values are going to adhere to this president. He is not going to do something because it is the right thing to do. He does a thing that feels good to him. If it's lying or having a military parade, well, so be it.

LEMON: Twelve million dollars would come in handy to the people in Flint who need their water cleaned, right? Lots of good place you want to go (ph).


LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it. When we come back, what the president's Supreme Court pick said that has Democrats on edge and what it could mean for the Russia investigation.


LEMON: Democrats are calling out Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, over his public comments two years ago to a conservative group saying he wanted to overturn a high court ruling that upholds a constitutionality of law that create an independent counsel.

I want to bring in now CNN Legal Analyst, Jennifer Rodgers, who is a former federal prosecutor, and CNN Political Analyst, David Drucker, who is a senior congressional correspondent for The Washington Examiner. Good evening to both of you.

As if we're wondering why this choice, right, when you consider what's said in the past. It's so obvious, a sitting president should not be prosecuted. And an independent counsel.

[23:50:01] OK, so listen, after his remarks about independent counsel became public, the minority leader, Chuck Schumer, demanded that Kavanaugh recused himself from any case that involves anything that has to do with Mueller. Is that reasonable and do you think that that will happen?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think it's reasonable. I don't think it will happen. But really nor should it happen, you know, federal judges have lifetime tenure for a reason.

LEMON: Yeah.

RODGERS: So that they don't owe anyone anything. Once they are on the bench, they can do what they think is right without regard to who appointed them and so on. And recusal is a big deal, you know. There are only nine Supreme Court justices. You can't just pick a judge from another court to come sit in their place.

And you really have to have a true conflict of interest in order to recuse. And here, there just isn't one. There's no financial conflict. There's no, you know, close relative involved. This is just a view of his that they can explore a confirmation hearing so it doesn't warrant recusal.

LEMON: I think you brought up a very good point in the break as you were sitting here. You said the big question is, whether he is going to answer questions about it, meaning in the confirmation hearings?

RODGERS: That's right. I mean, he's written about it, he's spoken about it, so to me it's fair game for questioning. I mean, as we know from recent years, confirmation hearings tend to be a lot of like, oh, it depends on the facts before me. You don't really get a lot of answers. But I think it is fair game for questioning and I think they should press him on it.

LEMON: David, I want to bring you in now, because you recalled Kavanaugh's words that he wanted to, you know, this is the quote, put the final nail in the ruling deeply, deeply troubling, he said. But is it enough to compel him to recuse from the Mueller probe?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think that what the Democrats are trying to do here and I understand this is look for any way they can to derail Kavanaugh's nomination.

The only way they're going to do that is by getting to some of the more centrist-minded Republicans who are protective of the Mueller investigation and were thinking possibly of Collins and Murkowski and some of the others that have been trying to keep the administration from moving against Mueller.

But I do think that this is a sort of species (ph) issue. The independent counsel law which has expired, once the independent counsel was appointed, nobody could fire the independent counsel. I mean, he was in a sense a rogue prosecutor only beholden to himself. So the special counsel which Robert Mueller is, is a completely different animal.

And I suspect Brett Kavanaugh is not going to have an issue with him because there is oversight. You may disagree with the oversight, not you, Don, but meaning voters. But the point is that with an independent counsel, if that independent counsel were to go in a direction that the country opposed, there was no elected oversight.

And with a special counsel although there's been a lot of fear that Trump would exercise his power to fire Mueller through his deputy attorney general, the truth is that in this way there is oversight. I don't think Brett Kavanaugh is going to have any issue with the special counsel's existence. And therefore, I think he will be able to calm a lot of nerves if this would become an issue.

LEMON: I want to talk about the FBI director, Christopher Wray. He spoke with NBC's Lester Holt today at the Aspen Security Forum. He was asked about the Mueller investigation.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: I do not believe special counsel Mueller is on a witch hunt. I think it's a professional investigation conducted by a man that I've known to be a straight shooter in all my interactions with him in my past life in government and certainly since then. So I don't think it's a witch hunt.


LEMON: The president calls it a witch hunt, Jennifer. That's a direct rebuttal to the president, isn't it? RODGERS: It is. And it is consistent with what Christopher Wray and Rod Rosenstein and others have said. They said this is a duly started (ph) investigation. It is being carefully supervised. Nothing is running amok. It has been well within the mission and the mandate. It's been very productive.

So, you know, we have seen the support from the FBI and from DOJ for the special counsel investigation. And that's a good thing. Hopefully, it continues to try to rebut some of what the president has been saying.

LEMON: David, according to Politico, Republican representatives Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, they want to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over his refusal to share some Russia-related documents but House Speaker Paul Ryan, Representative Trey Gowdy are standing in their way. What is going on here? Is this all about politics?

DRUCKER: It's all about politics. The president's allies on the Hill are trying to protect him from the Mueller probe. That means doing anything they can do to undermine the Mueller probe. Rosenstein has become seen as the sort of avatar of the protector of Mueller, the one standing in the way of getting rid of Mueller in the probe.

And so the way you handle this politically is to try to throw dirt at Mueller, to try and request document after document. If the House gets its hands on too many documents outside of the House Intelligence Committee, who knows where the information could end up.

But what this is all about is trying to turn the Mueller probe into Russia meddling and possible collusion by either the president or his associates which may or may not have occurred. We won't know until Mueller is finished.

[23:54:59] Turning that into an investigation into what they believe happened when the FBI during the 2016 campaign was investigating the Trump campaign. And that's why they're not going to let up. And they're based on Republican grassroots voters in these ruby red districts like the ones that Jordan and Mr. Meadows represent are really happy with what their members of Congress are doing. That's another motivator for them to keep this up.

LEMON: Yeah. I've got a quick answer, if you can, Jennifer, because Ryan suggested that the DOJ is now coming into compliance, congressional subpoenas. Meadows and Jordan disagree. Who's got the upper hand?

RODGERS: Well, it's always a push and pull with these things. I mean, DOJ wants to protect this investigation. Congress leaks like a cyst (ph). So there's always the back and forth. I think ultimately they just reach a consensus. I mean, if Ryan says they're in compliance, there's not a lot that Meadows and Jordan can do. So ultimately that maybe where it ends up.

LEMON: Jennifer and David, thank you very much.

RODGERS: Thank you. DRUCKER: Thanks a lot.

LEMON: Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.