Return to Transcripts main page

CNN TONIGHT

LeBron James' Journey from Childhood to NBA; Racism in the Free World. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 30, 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)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: -- it's a fun show. The news continues. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts now. Don?

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

We have a primetime exclusive with the one and only LeBron James. One of this generation's greatest star athletes. Three-time NBA champion, four-time league MVP. But LeBron James started out as a kid from Akron, a kid who missed 83 days of school in the fourth grade but a kid with big dreams.

Now he's a man on the mission helping kids just like him opening the I Promise School in his hometown. The superstar who's had so many great moments on the court who says opening this school may be the greatest moment of his life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, BASKETBALL PLATER: For us to be in a position where we can bring like this into fruition and then see stories of kids that's going through the same thing that I went through, it makes it even more like yes, we did this. This is why we should have did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: But there is a lot that has got LeBron James fired up off the court. Listen to what he says about living while black in America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES: No matter how big you can become, no matter how successful you are, no matter what you do in the community. No matter what you do in your profession, you know, being African-American in America is always tough, and they always going to let you know that you are the n-word no matter who you are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So is there a run for office in his future?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Someone tried to recruit a LeBron to run for president, they said listen, they got no one. If you don't run, Trump is going to win. Would you run?

JAMES: Well, in that case I may.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: This is the interview that you don't want to miss. LeBron James, one-on- one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Thank you.

JAMES: Thanks for having me.

LEMON: Everyone who knows I'm doing this says much respect, much respect for I promised. But you have so much going on. Why do you want to do this?

JAMES: I mean, the kids talk to me. Either verbally or I could hear their mental. I am one of them. Not too far removed. So it wasn't even a question. It was -- it happened organically.

LEMON: You just did it. You figured that this was the best thing for you to do. Are you nervous about this? Because I remember when Oprah was opening a school, she was like it's such a big responsibility. I don't think I've ever been this nervous about anything, I've felt this much level of responsibility.

JAMES: It's not that I'm nervous. I'm more excited about this. I'm truly excited and truly humbled and blessed that first of all, the Akron public school system my hometown even, you know, did this joint venture with us that allowed us to even make something like this possible.

And then not just my support system and my foundation. You know, Michelle Campbell, first of all, the number one point person in my foundation. They brought this whole thing together and brought it to me. And I was like, absolutely.

LEMON: A few have helped.

JAMES: Absolutely. You can't get nowhere in life without help.

LEMON: Without help.

You were I think it was a third grader who interviewed you for teen Vogue, right?

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: And asked you about all the challenges and about the single mom.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: Right? And I relate to that because I grew up with a single mom who is my hero. Your mom is your hero.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: Is that one of the reasons this is important to you?

JAMES: Absolutely. It's one of the huge reasons that it's important. Because everyday struggle me and my mom had to go through at that age. You know, being in the third or fourth grade. And for us to be in a position where we can bring like this into fruition and then see stories of kids that's going through the same thing that I went through, it makes it even more like yes, we did this. This is why we should have did it.

LEMON: But how do you conquer those fears? Jaden was his name, he talked about hearing gunshots and that sort of things, walking through being tempted by drugs and all those things. How do you think they -- how do you get them to understand that that's not the path that they have to take?

JAMES: I think being in a support system and that's what this is all about. You know, I think for me, when I did go to school, or when I was playing little league sports, you know, being around kids and being around people that have fun and kind of speak the same language as you, it allows you to kind of escape away from the drugs and the violence and the gunshots and things that go on, on, you know, on everyday basis, and that's what we're here for right now.

That's why I'm opening the school to be able to get these kids minds away from and their body from -- we even -- we even, you know, made the hours of being in school longer from eight instead of three to five.

LEMON: Yes, we say that's a long time.

JAMES: yes, we want them here, you know, so we can let them know not only do we want you here, but we really do care. We really do about what happens with you.

LEMON: Well, you and people say he's an athlete, right. Athletics are big, but this is a STEM school. It's science, mathematics and reading.

JAMES: Yes. All of that. Math, reading, social studies, all the way down to gym class, to music, arts, everything.

LEMON: It's holistic.

JAMES: Absolutely.

LEMON: Yes, that's important. Are athletics important to these kids or do you think it's their minds right now?

[22:04:55] JAMES: I think both. I think athletics are important but also their mind. I think both. I think it just plays -- it bring -- when you're part of sports and you're part of -- it just brings so much camaraderie and so much fun. You know, we are in a position right now in America more importantly

where this whole -- this race thing is taking over, you know. And because one because I believe our president is kind of trying to divide us. But I think--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Kind of?

JAMES: Yes. He is. He is. Not only is he kind of. He's dividing us, and what I noticed over the last few months that he's kind of used sport to kind of divide us, and that's something that I can't relate to. Because I know that sport was the first time I ever was around someone white. You know?

And I got an opportunity to see them and learn about them, and they got an opportunity to learn about me, and we became very good friends, and I was like, wow, this is all because of sports. And sports has never been something that divide people. It's always been something that brings someone together.

LEMON: Do you remember that any of your first experience is around someone who was different than you or someone who was white because that was through sports?

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: Do you remember what it was and what was your reaction?

JAMES: It was different. I mean, they, first of all, from -- you know, they ate dinner at a different hour than I've ever ate dinner before.

LEMON: Like earlier?

JAMES: Yes. Like supper at 6.30 in the afternoon.

LEMON: Yes.

JAMES: I thought it was the afternoon. They called it the evening time. It was the first time I ever seen a pantry. You understand?

LEMON: Yes.

JAMES: Like, for me, everything, when I grew up, everything was on top of the refrigerator.

LEMON: Right.

JAMES: You know, so, when I when to my white friends they had a pantry. So I learned that as well. But they just, they kind of lived life without no care, no worry, you know. And I wanted to get to a point, you know, maybe I could live life without no care and no worry either, you know, being around a lot of my white friends growing up. It was just a pretty cool thing though.

LEMON: Yes. And even like bedtime. Bed time is like 7.30 or 8 o'clock.

JAMES: Yes. One down to that. None of that for me.

LEMON: Well, I'm glad you mentioned that. Because I've been watching you, especially over -- I've been watching you for a long time. This is not the first time I've interviewed you. I remember interviewing you for your web sites and some other things that you did.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: But you -- there's been something has changed in you over the last year or two. Is it what's going on in the country racially? Is it politically -- political?

JAMES: I think it's a little bit of everything. I think it starts with the Trayvon Martin situation, you know, and the reason it starts with that, I believe, is because having kids of my own, having boys of my own, it hit home for me to see it's to learn the story and to think that, you know, if my boy left home and he never returned.

LEMON: Right.

JAMES: You know? That kind of -- that kind of hit a switch.

LEMON: Right.

JAMES: That kind of hit a switch for me. And from that point on, I knew that my voice and my platform had to be used for more than just sports.

LEMON: Right. Good for you. Good for you, man. You said that your boy, your boy never returned home, but then there are people, kids are returning home. You think about the kids are being taken away.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: The same thing that, your heart like breaks when you think--

JAMES: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: -- someone comes over, they want a better life and all of a sudden their kids are being taken away from them. Can you imagine that being--

JAMES: I can't imagine that. And you know, we've always grown up saying this is the land of the free and opportunity here in America, and to be a parent, to be a father, to be a husband and to think that you can have a beautiful family one day and then the next day they can be taken away, it's something that you never ever could imagine.

LEMON: You were talking about athletics. Right? How you think that this president is dividing.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: I think about the kids now. Like there are kids who are selling water. I interviewed a little kid who wanted some action figures, and he was out doing stuff with his mom and he got like the cops called on him. Like how do you have to tell these kids even with that, you know, when you're just living while black, how do you get them to keep going?

JAMES: I think--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You know what I'm talking about, right?

JAMES: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think the best way to tell them to keep going is that no matter -- no matter how successful you could become, no matter who you are when you're an African-American kid man or female, you're always going against obstacles.

And you see the one or two things that you do. You can allow it to affect you and for you to degrade, or you can allow it to empower you even more, and to rise above it.

And I think if we look at some of the greatest leaders of our time, you look at Muhammad Ali, you look at Dr. Martin Luther King, and all the efforts they went through they never let them -- they never let it down them. They always used it to say OK, this is even more motivation. This is even more a way for me to even be more powerful, and they're the reason why we are here today.

LEMON: Your challenges become goals, and your haters become your motivators.

JAMES: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: Right?

JAMES: Absolutely.

LEMON: So you're saying, you were talking about the -- using athletics to divide people.

JAMES: Yes.

[22:10:00] LEMON: You heard what the man in charge -- you heard what the president said about Marshawn, about Steph.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: About, you know, it seems like it's--

JAMES: Kaepernick.

LEMON: Kaepernick.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: Men of colors who have means and a platform.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: What's up with that?

JAMES: What's up with that is it's all wrong. And it's not up. It's down. And you know, for him to like I say, use sports to kind of divide us is something I can't -- I can't sit back and not say nothing.

LEMON: You tweeted about a couple of these.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: You tweeted about Charles Blow. But you tweeted about when Steph Curry, when he -- he called him -- you called him a bum.

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: Because he -- but Steph had already said I'm not going to the White House.

JAMES: Yes, he already said he wasn't going. And he tried to use it after that to say well, you're not invited. Well, you can't un-invite me to something I've already said I'm not going to go to. And we all know Steph Curry, Mali citizen, great kid, come from a great background, great family.

LEMON: Great father.

JAMES: Great father, and so many different kids -- so many kids white, black, Hispanic, all different races love what he's doing and rightfully so. There's no reason for anyone to ever attack him, you know. And that's -- I felt that.

LEMON: Whenever there's something like he's in trouble, he can't wiggle his way out of something, he'll bring up the national anthem thing and kneeling or standing. Do you think he uses black athletes as a scapegoat?

JAMES: At times. At times, and more often than not, I believe he uses anything that's popular to try to negate people from thinking about the positive things that they can actually be doing and try to just get our minds to not be as sharp as possible right then.

Just to, you know, either from kneeling from football players kneeling. Look at Kaepernick who was protesting something he believed in and he did in the most calm fashioned way possible.

LEMON: Respectful.

JAMES: Very respectful. He had -- he did his due diligence. He was knowledgeable about it, and everyone knew why he did it. You look at all the NFL players that are still kneeling to things. their nature You look at Steph and Marshawn Lynch, you look at all these instances why he's trying to divide our sport, but at the end of the day sport is the reason why we all come together. LEMON: Yes. What do you -- I just wonder where we go from here,

because Charlotte -- to a lot of people Charlottesville was like. I mean, you tweeted, I think you said is this what our country is, make America great again? You said that, and I'm paraphrasing your tweet. But I think that was his sort of for everybody like, all right, that's enough. I can't believe this.

JAMES: Absolutely. I mean, we all felt that. I don't think you -- it didn't matter what color you are to feel that tension, to feel like, you know, our great country, you know, that we all wake up every day in the land of the free as we believe with great opportunity to be even more than what people even expect you to become for that to happen, you just felt like that was -- that was kind of the tipping point.

LEMON: Will you -- I guess maybe you were surprised. Maybe you weren't. The whole n-word incident at your house when it was painted?

JAMES: I don't know if I was surprised. I don't know if I was hurt. I don't know if I was disappointed. It was so many different emotions. More importantly, it was the conversation that I had to have with my boys that it was -- that hurt me.

But at the same time it also enlightened me and also knew that no matter as I stated, you know, when I did an interview after that, that no matter how big you can become, no how successful you are, no matter what you do in your community, no matter what you do in your profession, you know, being African-American in America is always tough, and they always going to let you know that you are the n-word no matter who you are, and that was just a reset.

LEMON: Even when you have LeBron status and LeBron money that--

JAMES: It doesn't.

LEMON: You think it's harder when you see these incidents just bother you, people living and just being black--

JAMES: Yes.

LEMON: -- and what happened to you in your house, do you think it's harder now or do you think it's always been there, we're just seeing it because of cell phones and?

JAMES: No, I think it's always been there. But I think the president in charge now has given people -- they don't care now. They throw it in your face now.

LEMON: Do you -- would you ever run for office?

JAMES: Run for office?

LEMON: Would you ever run -- would you ever be a politician and run for office?

JAMES: I don't think so. I don't think so. I'll say here is -- I don't know.

LEMON: I'm being serious. If someone tried to recruit a LeBron to run for president, they said listen, they've got no one. If you don't run, Trump's going to win. Would you run?

JAMES: Well, in that case I may. Yes, if they had no one, I mean, I believe there's some people out there, I hope.

LEMON: But if there's no one.

JAMES: Let's see first. Let's see first.

LEMON: You would run?

JAMES: Let's see first.

LEMON: Last question is what do you hope happens from this school? Because I got to tell you I walked through. I am impressed. Everybody is impressed. This is a great thing you're doing. What do you want to happen? What do you want this to go from here?

[22:14:59] JAMES: What I want to happen every kid that walk through those doors, every kid, you know, from the 240 kids that we're starting with right now third and fourth grade to the 2022 when we're going to have first through eighth grade.

LEMON: Yes.

JAMES: We want every kid that walks through the school to be inspired, to come away with something, something where they can give back. And it doesn't matter, it could be anything, but just for kids in general all they want to know is that someone care. And when they walk through that door, I hope they know that someone care.

LEMON: And you're going -- you're going to L.A. but is your heart here?

JAMES: My heart is always here. This is Akron, Ohio, that's why I'm doing this school right here today.

LEMON: Yes. You're excited about L.A.?

JAMES: Absolutely.

LEMON: One more question. What would you say to the president if he was sitting right here?

JAMES: I would never sit across from him.

LEMON: You would never, you don't want to talk to him?

JAMES: No. I'd sit across from Barack, though.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: I loved sitting down with LeBron today. You know what I really loved about it, is that he -- is his authenticity. I was sitting down with a celebrity who didn't care about, we're going to offend this demographic or somebody might buy my record, might not buy my record because of this or may not come to a game because of that.

LeBron is who he is. He says it like he means it. I'm so glad that he's around to do that and more people should continue to do that in this environment.

So, thank you very much, LeBron James. That's a good thing. Mr. President tweet about that. "Professional athlete doing a really good thing for his community. That would be nice to talk about."

And we got a lot more to come in our next hour when he gives me an exclusive tour of his school. Plus you'll going to find out why he's giving every one of his students a new bike.

And when we come back, you'll hear LeBron say pretty blunt things about President Trump, but will he keep taking aim at the White House?

[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Welcome back. So you heard my exclusive interview with superstar LeBron James. We talked about the new school he just opened in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. We talked about racism in the country and LeBron definitely wasn't afraid to speak his mind about President Trump.

So let's discuss now. CNN politics editor at large, Chris Cillizza, a former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner, and former assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings. Both Nina and Scott are CNN political commentators.

Good evening. Welcome one and all. Chris, I'm going to start with you. Let me remind everyone of what Laura Ingraham said on Fox News about LeBron and Tim Durant calling out Trump in an interview back in February. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: I must they run their mouth like that? Unfortunately, a lot of kids and some adults take these ignorant comments seriously.

Look, there might be a cautionary lesson in LeBron for kids. This is what happens when you attempt to leave high school a year early to join the NBA. And it's always unwise to seek political advice from one who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball.

And LeBron and Kevin, you're great players but no one voted for you. Millions elected Trump to be their coach. So keep the political commentary to yourself, or as someone said, shut up and dribble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, but look-- (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I mean, it's just -- wait a minute. Let me start from the beginning.

CILLIZZA: Yes, yes, yes.

LEMON: Must they run their mouths like that? Like, really? I almost said a bad word. Who does she think she is to talk to someone about that? A 100 million to dribble a basketball? That's not exactly what it is, and look at what he's doing now. I'm sorry. Go on.

CILLIZZA: Well, I just. You know -- the one dimensional view of anyone is problematic. Right? I want to be able to talk about sports, so I'm not going to be a guy who says that athletes can't talk about politics.

I would also say that there's a lesson in Trump's victory that Laura Ingraham doesn't touch which is that I'm not sure that the average person is looking for a political pundit. I don't want to put myself on a business, but looking for apolitical pundit's view on things as much as they're looking for views of other people in the culture that they respect.

Again, just because they're good at a sport doesn't mean that you can't have opinions about other things. LeBron James, as you shoed, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, whoever you want to name, these are people who live in the culture--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I'm not a politician. I'm not a politician. I'm a -- I do real estate. But you're the president -- so the president of the United States should never talk politics?

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: Well, exactly. That's my point.

LEMON: Donald Trump should never talk politics?

CILLIZZA: You can't--

LEMON: Right.

CILLIZZA: You can't -- there's nothing I hate more in my own life on Twitter than if I tweet something about sports or music and people say stay in your lane. Talk about politics.

LEMON: That goes beyond that, though.

CILLIZZA: No one is one dimensional. And yes, this has to do--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: That goes -- that goes beyond that. Her tone, the language she used.

CILLIZZA: -- without question. This has to do with -- this has to do with -- there's no question when you say things like shut up and dribble, and when you're dealing with a league, particularly the NBA that is overwhelmingly African-American--

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: -- the race goes with it and Donald Trump in the way in which he treats athletes and the way in which he has reacted to athletes, there's no question that--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Who is the country rocker? What's his name that's always saying the nasty things that's always invited to -- what's his name? Is it Ted Nugent? Yes. No one is telling them to shut up and just play guitar.

CILLIZZA: Correct. Play music.

LEMON: So, Nina, you know, you just heard LeBron say that he would never sit across President Trump. Do you think that's the right move?

NINA TURNER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, that's how he is feeling at the time. I think he should sit across from President Trump and school him a little bit. But Don, you got to let me in on Laura Ingraham.

LEMON: Yes, go on. Go on.

TURNER: I mean, just, you know, an insult. It just reminds me of how African-Americans were treated in the 20th century, 19th century, 18th century. Just shut up and do what we tell you to do.

And so she really showed her bigotry and her racism to think that the only thing that LeBron James or any other athlete can do is to shut up and dribble a ball. Just absolutely insulting. We got to call it what it is.

LEMON: Yes.

TURNER: Flat out.

LEMON: So, Scott, you heard what Nina said. You heard what Chris said. But Nina said maybe he should sit across him and try to school him a little bit. Speaking of schools, I promise is a school. You say LeBron should work with President Trump. Why is that?

[22:25:00] SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think this president has shown that when celebrities of his status speak to him, he listens. I mean, even on the issue of using presidential pardons he's taken the advice of celebrities.

So if I were LeBron James who I have a lot of respect for, I would take a step back and say if I ever got the chance to meet the president, I would look and see how other people of similar celebrity status have used that opportunity to effect positive change.

I mean, the president used his pardon power to correct some -- right some old wrongs on Alice Johnson and Jack Johnson, for instance. So I think if LeBron James spoke to Donald Trump and talk to him about the great story he's promoting at this school which is a wonderful story, and I'm glad you're doing the story tonight, I think the president would listen to that.

I think there's something going on in our world that Chris said something at the top, it's true. We want to hear from non-traditional people about what's happening in our world and the public affairs. And so, I think a voice like LeBron's could be more valuable perhaps than he knows.

LEMON: I think Lebron knows that the president would be using him as a prop and he doesn't really listen when it comes to race. He doesn't speak, by the way, there's a big caveat here that I didn't say, that you didn't either. He doesn't speak about Kim Kardashian or people who look like Kim Kardashian in the way he speaks about people who look LeBron James.

TURNER: That's right.

LEMON: I'll give you the last word then I got to go to the break. What would you want to say, Nina?

TURNER: That's right, or yes, or me. But Don, this is the thing. The president may take that advice on that. Those are two good things. But he has an attorney general that has increased the war on drugs, that has increased -- you know, talking about penalizing people with the mandatory minimums.

He has a Department of Justice civil rights division that is in sync with the purges that is going on in this country from the voter rolls. So he says one thing when it benefits him, but talking about doing global change and dealing with systemic racism and discrimination, he has no parts of really trying to correct that.

LEMON: OK. When we come back, we're going to talk more. I mean, I just talked to LeBron about the school but clearly he wanted to discuss these issues. These are issues that are really important to him, and he's not exempt from racism just because he's LeBron James, just because he's a multimillionaire.

Remember the n-word was spray painted across his house not long ago. We'll talk about that.

[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT, ANCHOR: Lebron James is speaking out tonight about racism in the U.S. Here's what the NBA star had to say about his Los Angeles home being vandalized with the n-word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, FORWARD, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I don't know if I was hurt. I don't know if I was disappointed. There were just so many different emotions. More importantly, it was the conversation that I had to have with my boys that it was -- that hurt me. But at the same time, it also enlightened me. No matter how big you can become, no matter how successful you are, no matter what you do in your community, and no matter what you do in your profession, you know being African-American in America is always tough.

And they're always going to let you know that you are the n-word, no matter who you are, and that was just a reset.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So back with me now, Chris Cillizza, Nina Turner, and Scott Jennings. So I know people watch and they say why are you guys talking about race? You're race-baiting. It's not that bad. It is that bad. And stop saying that. Start examining yourself. Why don't you want to talk about it? Maybe I should be more open to talk about it.

Maybe I should learn more about my neighbors of color or people who are not like me. What is it that I don't know? What is it that I am not exposed to? What am I not learning rather than every single time saying there is no racism? It's all behind us. Slavery was a long time ago. That's all really bullshit if you're watching at home and you're saying that. So Chris, not even Lebron James is exempt from racism and bigotry. What does that say about the state of this country?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Well, look. I mean to me, Don, that could (Inaudible) most powerful piece of the interview, that and the one when he was talking about when he decided to start to say more. Because he -- even being Lebron James, and his kids, being Lebron James' kids, he was worried about them going out and maybe never coming home.

To your point, I think it's really important. And we get away from this in politics all the time. But I think it's really important to remember the things that unite us sometimes, as opposed to the things that divide us. A father worried about his son encourages him to speak out more than he had previously. A President who -- whatever you think of him, uses, weaponizes race to score political points, and has since prior to being a political candidate brings out a basketball superstar to talk more openly about sort of being a citizen of the world.

Those are, I think, good things in that we need more people to hear Lebron James speak and not be able to just stereo type. Well, he's good at basketball, but I am not interested in his views. He is a citizen. You do not sacrifice being a citizen because you're good. You're excellent at something. He has a huge profile. People, I think, will at least hear him. I don't know if they'll listen and change, but they'll at least hear him.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But he's at least able to articulate a message, answer my questions, follow a train of thought much better than someone who shall remain nameless, a number of types that I interviewed him. So for people who are saying well, why -- you know why do we care about Lebron James and what he has to say? Lebron James articulate, very intelligence, and knew his subject matter in that interview.

And I can't say that about a lot of people I interviewed lately in this day and age. So Scott, listen. Racism was a problem in the U.S. long before Donald Trump ran for President. But I'm just wondering if he's making it worse. And I think that's the sentiment from Lebron. In fact, he said as much in the interview. By not calling out white supremacists like we saw in Charlottesville, is the President emboldening racist?

[22:34:57] SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I think he's allowing some of these racists to try to appropriate his presidency. When I don't believe the President intends for them to do that, but by not speaking out more forcefully, they go out and try to campaign on his name, and that's a bad thing. Any way you cut it, that's a bad thing.

Some things are going right for the minority country under President Trump. Unemployment rate for African-Americans hit an all time low recently. There are criminal justice reforms that the White House is pushing. That's bringing people from both parties together. That's good. But this attempt by racists to appropriate a Republican Presidency breaks my heart, frankly, as someone who considers himself to be in the party of Lincoln.

And I also would just say that the President leads us all, and has a story to tell here, that when you let these people like we saw in Charlottesville dominate the headlines, it makes it virtually impossible for the good stories that I just mentioned to come out. So I want the President to speak out against these racists, because they do exist. And they will try to use his name and campaign on his name. And it's wrong.

LEMON: Nina, I will give you the last word. Go on.

NINA TURNER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I hate to break it to my brother, but today's GOP is nothing like the radical Republicans of the party of Lincoln. You know what Lebron James is doing, Don, is nothing short of spectacular. Being from Akron, Ohio, from Cleveland, Ohio, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. His heart, as he said to you in that interview, is with Akron, Ohio.

I promise. What he is doing is very reminiscent of (Inaudible), Don, you may remember about 43 years ago, a Chicago schoolteacher saw that black kids were not being treated properly and knew that they had more goals and aspirations and gifts that were not being recognized. And she said that she opened up that school with her own money, and she said I am touching the future.

That is exactly what Lebron James, King James for our way is doing by opening up that school and using his power and his presence to touch the future generations and pour into them life and hope. He said I am one of them. So as a black man in America, he made it clear that it doesn't matter how much money that he has, that in the words of Ice Cube, his skin is still his sin.

He is letting us know that he can relate to everyday African-Americans in this country about how race is still predominate. And unless we have some real truth and reconciliation in this country, and stop covering it up, and have deep-rooted conversations, and push policies that actually change the needle, you know 228 years, one study showed, that it would take an African-American to catch up with the average wealth of white Americans in this country.

We're talking about systems, not just individuals. So I salute King James for the work that he is doing to change the lives and the dynamics of young people in this country. Go Akron. Go northeast Ohio.

LEMON: And go Lebron. Thank you. I appreciate those words, Nina. Thank you for that. And I am glad you mentioned when you talked about the wealth gap. Because generational wealth is something that people of color don't have the luxury of. And I think that is a huge, huge gap in this country that keeps us divided. Thank you, Scott, and thank you, Chris as well. I appreciate all of you.

We're going to have much more in the next hour and then much more of this program right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:40:00] LEMON: The White House distancing itself from Rudy Giuliani tonight. One official tells CNN that the President's press team is not coordinating with Rudy Giuliani on the mixed messages he's been delivering to date, which is not really a surprise given how off the rails the President's attorney has been today.

I want to bring in now CNN Contributor John Dean, who is a Nixon White House counsel, also Chris Swecker, the Former Assistant Director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division. Good evening, all of you. Chris, what's wrong with Rudy Giuliani? What is going on here?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASST. DIRECTOR, CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIVE DIVISION: By all accounts, my former colleagues that know him well say he's off the rails and has been for a while. I mean he's with -- with your counsel acting like that, you don't really need opposing counsel.

LEMON: Yeah. Is he helping the President or hurting the President, John? Have we quite figured it out yet?

JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: I think he's hurting the President. He is clearly unhinged. And he is really appropriately representing Trump in his un-hingedness, if you will. He's throwing smoke. He's trying to cause confusion. It's kind of a relief to hear that the White House isn't coordinating but they're certainly not reining him in either.

LEMON: Yeah. I watch and I you know sometimes I would love to do that interview. And then I watch, and I say I am not so sure. I am not so sure everything is right here. So first, Giuliani went on New Day exposing a claim about a secret meeting, a planning session several days before the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, the new meeting possibly included, get this, Rick Gates. He then tried to walk it back on Fox News. It was equally confusing. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, LAWYER, PRESIDENT TRUMP: It wasn't another meeting. That hasn't been public yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.

GIULIANI: That was a meeting, an alleged meeting three days before. We checked with their lawyers, the ones we could check with which were four of the six. That meeting never, ever took place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So I mean, Chris, he described this supposed meeting and then said it never happened. And once again, he reiterated that President Trump knew nothing about the Russian meeting in advance. Is he trying to clarify or confuse us? It's kind of the version of my first question, but again, what is happening here?

SWECKER: Well, he's not acting as an attorney. He's acting as a PR person. He's trying to muddy the water and create opinion around the Special Counsel. Let me just say this. I think the meeting at the Trump Tower is a special focus of the Special Counsel. And if you -- if there's a pre-meeting, that's going to be relevant to his investigation.

And I think Cohen is auditioning to the Special Counsel, trying to get his attention, because really, Mueller has no interest in Cohen. Pitched him up to the southern district of New York, because that case that he's involved in or cases were not within his mandate.

[22:44:59] LEMON: Get his attention for what, Chris?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I'm sorry. Go on.

SWECKER: He wants a deal. That's his only card he has to play. He wants a get out of jail free card.

LEMON: Is this why Rudy goes after Cohen so hard in these interviews? Blaming everything on Cohen when really -- here's what got me. He said that he called Cohen a liar. He said he's been lying for all these years. But he's lying for whom, if he's lying? He'd be lying for Donald Trump, wouldn't he? He would be Giuliani.

(CROSSTALK)

SWECKER: He's back and forth on it as we've seen. But I think they have some fear with the Manafort trial coming up, it's -- there are going to be some revelations there that relate to the main investigation of the Special Counsel. And Cohen is trying to get -- insert himself into that and create some relevance so that he can get a deal.

He has no card to play up there in the southern district of New York. So Rudy Giuliani on behalf of the President is trying to discredit him as best they can right now. What they don't know is I don't think the Special Counsel has a lot of interest in him yet.

LEMON: Why not?

SWECKER: It's a bank fraud case. It is a tax medallion corruption case. It may be you know (Inaudible) related to the election campaign violations. That might be relevant. But I don't think that Mueller feels like that's part of his main case in chief unless he has something very relevant. And this meeting could be very relevant. That Trump Tower meeting is an important meeting?

LEMON: Yeah, and especially if he has more evidence on it. John, I've got a move on and ask you about this, because President Trump is alleging a vague conflict of interest. He says Mueller has -- he's tweeting this. (Inaudible) is Robert Mueller ever going to release his conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump, including the fact that we had a very nasty and contentious business relationship?

I turned him down to head the FBI one day before appointment as SC, and Comey is his close friend. So in an interview on CNN today, you saw that. Giuliani refused to specify what that alleged conflict is. Is there any legal basis for this claim or is it just like President Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower?

DEAN: It's in that lane. What's going on here is these is Rudy throwing up some smoke, or excuse me, the President also. It started with the President. And this is an old claim he's made. He made -- he said that Mueller had a conflict of interest when -- because of his relationship to one of his Virginia golf courses and country clubs where Mueller once was a member, and they had some dispute that got sorted out, minor incident.

But he thought this was justification alone to have a conflict of interest to pursue a prosecution as a Special Counsel. Well, that's silliness. And all this was disclosed to the Department of Justice. And Mueller has no obligation to turn this information over to anybody other than the Department of Justice.

LEMON: It's sad that a lot of people are buying this stuff that they're putting out there. That's all I will say. I will end it there. Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate it. When we come back, I'm going to ask a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee what he thinks about Rudy Giuliani's defense of the President.

Plus, a new report out tonight says there are signs that say North Korea is working on new missiles. Mike Rogers weighs in on all that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [22:50:00] LEMON: Rudy Giuliani says he doesn't know if collusion with Russia would be a crime despite the Mueller investigation. I want to bring now CNN National Security Commentator Mike Rogers. He's a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Good evening, sir, always a pleasure to have to you on, thank you so much.

MIKE ROGERS, NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR, CNN: Thanks. I hear you're like the Energizer Bunny today, up like since 3:00 this morning.

LEMON: I was here since 3:30 this morning. I flew to Ohio and did the interview. I flew back. But you know, no woe is me, I am fine.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: (Inaudible) the Energizer Bunny today. I'm telling you you're going to get the award.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I know. I'm having trouble, Michael, like saying words, and like -- I haven't been drinking but with words are coming slowly. So listen. But we have been talking about President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, moving the goalpost in this investigation. He never colluded to collusion (Inaudible) and he knew nothing about the meeting to -- there wasn't a meeting, what is this strategy here, Mike.

ROGERS: Well, I don't know. In the last couple days -- you know. And I know Rudy Giuliani and he's a fine man, a he's a good lawyer. I mean I knew him when he was doing mob cases back in New York when I was an FBI agent in Chicago. And so I just think he's having a bad week here. It appears to me that there is just no coordination between what the White House communication shop is doing or at least his lawyer's shop is doing, I should say, the President's, and what Giuliani is doing.

I think they have this kind of general go out there and fix this thing. And Giuliani isn't really doing the legal work it appears to me. He's doing the PR work. And boy, I thought in the last couple of days, he just wasn't at his best.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, I mean he said just since he's been representing the President, he said some things that are not necessarily consistent as well. But the last couple of days, you're right, I think it's you know he's not at his best.

ROGERS: There's a Japanese proverb that says only lawyers and painters can make white into black. Think about it. I mean he's been on both sides of this issue. Michael Cohen is just a terrible -- great guy, and now he's just an awful and terrible guy. And so I think you're going to see more of that as the pressure of this case mounts.

The one that got me, I will say this, Don. When he said collusion isn't a crime, but even if were a crime, you know my client didn't have anything to do with it or wouldn't have done it. Boy, that's just close to being irresponsible with your language when this matter is that serious, I hope they go back and re-huddle up and come out of the gate a little stronger for his client.

LEMON: Yeah. I mean can you put the genie back in the bottle. That is the question. But listen. I have got to ask you about some news here, because there is a new report in the Washington Post. And it says that U.S. spy agencies are seeing signs that North Korea is constructing new missiles at a factory that produced the country's first intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

That's according to officials familiar with the intelligence. So does this fly in the face of the President's claim that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat?

ROGERS: Yeah. But unfortunately, we knew that this thing hasn't worked out well at all. So just by having the meeting, they came back. They agreed to denuclearize. Right away, the North Korean government was coming out of that saying, no, we didn't say that. And so this is -- I hate to say, this is the pattern we've seen over and over again and over again, which is why other Presidents have run into this same problem.

[22:54:54] They're very good about giving concessions. North Korea wants some concessions, they pressure, they act badly, they misbehave, the world comes around and says, and maybe this is the time. Maybe this is the time. And we see exactly the same behavior that we're just watching unfold now. I have no doubt that they're actively engaged in trying to secure their nuclear program.

Remember, Kim Jong-Un believes this is what will allow him to stay in power forever. And he also believes it's what will allow him to negotiate U.S. forces off the peninsula.

LEMON: And Mike, I hate to interrupt you. But I want to get this in because it's important, before I go to the top of the hour. (Inaudible) the President dropped a stunner, saying that he is willing to meet with Iranian President Rouhani with no preconditions. What do you think of (Inaudible) a week ago that President Trump directly warned Rouhani never to threaten the U.S. or else.

And remember when the former President Obama said that he would meet with people, it was oh my, gosh, the heads were popping off all over the country including conservatives, including this President I think who said something about it.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Including me.

LEMON: Yeah.

ROGERS: I was pretty upset when President Obama came out and said no conditions. I am going to meet with the Iranians. And if you remember there were the secret meetings in Oman. I was the intel chairman then. I was not happy about that either. I am not happy about this either. I think any time that you cede any leverage as President of the United States on something as serious as nuclear weapons, you're making a mistake. And you'll get nothing out of it.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Why is it OK now for lots of folks?

ROGERS: Well, they shouldn't be if you're consistent with your national security views. Again, I was pretty upset with President Obama for deciding he was going to reach out with no concessions. Actually, President Obama gave them cash to come to the table. I was apoplectic back then. Even on CNN, saying hey, I really disagreed with it.

I think President Trump is actually doing exactly what I was -- and many people were frustrated about President Obama doing, because you end up not getting anything for it. What you end up doing is giving away pieces of leverage at a really bad time. And I am not sure the President understands that. He had a meeting with Kim Jong-Un. He thought it was great.

Guess what, the report comes out that they're building missiles. I guarantee you. You have a meeting with no consequences for Iran. Yeah, sure, show up. Why not? You're going to end up on the short end of that stick in a hurry.

LEMON: Mike Rogers, much appreciated. Thank you, sir.

ROGERS: Yeah, thank you.

LEMON: We'll be right back, more Lebron coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)