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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Turns Campaign Rally For Florida Governor Candidate Into A Replay Of His Own Greatest Hits; President Hits The Campaign Trail As Manafort's Trial Begin; Trump Gets It Wrong On U.S. Steel Mills; Manafort's Defense, Blames Rick Gates. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired July 31, 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 TONIGHT NEWS SHOW HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon, 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast live with all the new developments for you. President Trump in friendly territory tonight. A campaign rally. What was supposed to be an endorsement of Congressman Ron DeSantis bid for Florida governor ending up as a replay of the Trump greatest hits album. Attacks on the free press, self-aggrandizement. A series of exaggerations and factual mischaracterizations and talking about the phenomenon Trumpism, he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This may be, in fact, it probably is the greatest movement in the history of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The greatest movement in the history of our country. Well, I have to point out as others like former Congressman David Jolly, who is a Republican, by the way, he pointed out that it ignores the civil rights movement. It ignores the women's suffrage movement. It ignores the movement to end slavery and it also ignores the labor movement and on and on. It looks increasingly like though, the President is making the upcoming midterms all about him. Our very own Dana Bash, is reporting that the president's annoyance with the ongoing Mueller probe chipping away at his legitimacy has motivated him to campaign more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: He is obviously in Florida today. He'll be in Pennsylvania this week and possibly somewhere else. And so what I will tell you is he'll be out there making the case that he needs the votes here in Washington to confirm people like Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and also to get much of his agenda passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, the timing is curious. The trial of former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort facing over 300 years in prison for tax -- for bank and tax, by the way, that is starting - stared today, but while being Trump seems to work for Trump, will it be a winning strategy for down ballot Republicans. That is the big question or will it produce a series of primary winners, who can't get traction in the general election as candidates grasp on to the President's coat tails, it remains to be seen whether what has made Trump so popular with a core of loyal Republican voters will translate into success for other Party members.

So, let's talk about it now. I want to bring in CNN political commentator, Joe Lockhart, who was White House press secretary for President Bill Clinton, also Mark Mckinnon, the executive producer of ShowTime's The Circus, a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain.

So good to have both of you on. Gentlemen, good evening to you, welcome to the top of the hour. So Mark, you first. Trump was all in for Ron DeSantis tonight, but what does it mean for 2018 if the Republicans who are emerging from primaries are coming in large part from the Trump wing of the party?

MARK MCKINNON, THE CIRCUS ON SHOWTIME CO HOST: Well, the acid test for any of these primary candidates is who can hug Trump the closest. Remember really unanimous is Adam Putnam, the agriculture commissioner in Florida was the odds on favorite here. And Ron DeSantis got on Fox and defended Trump over and over again and then ultimately got his endorsement and now he is leading by double digits. The question is if these candidates win the primary by being the most loyal to Trump, are they necessarily the best general election candidates? And I don't think that is necessary the case. So it may be good for the primary strategy for these candidates. The question is, does it translate in November?

LEMON: Interesting.

MCKINNON: Because for example, Don, another thing I'd say about that is especially in gubernatorial races, those are not federal races, they are not congressional or senate races. I think the voters want some degree of independence from the White House and from the President. And when you hug that tightly, it's hard to get that separation.

LEMON: I just want to play this because we were talking about how much Republican are -- some of the candidates are hugging the President. Let us play it. This is DeSantis most recent campaign add. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone knows my husband Ron DeSantis is endorsed by President Trump, but he is also an amazing dad. Ron loves playing with the kids.

REP. RON DESANTIS, (R), FLORIDA: Build a wall.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He reads stories.

DESANTIS: Then Mr. Trump said you're fired. I love that part.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is teaching Madison to talk.

DESANTIS: Make America great again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People say Ron is all Trump, but he is so much more.

DESANTIS: Big league. So good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just thought you should know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ron DeSantis for governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I was trying to figure out this an ad Joe, for Trump? Or is this an ad for Ron DeSantis and is it effective?

JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's an ad for DeSantis. I agree with everything Mark said and I will add, that is the only strategy for a Republican.

[23:05:00] Look at Mark Sanford in South Carolina. He expressed some independence. Trump tweeted the day of the elections, saying get that guy out, go for a Trump Republicans.

LEMON: You think that had an effect?

LOCKHART: I think it did. It is not just the tweet. It's these idea that in the Republican coalition right now it is a cult of personality, you know, around Trump, and that ad is a perfect example of it. It's I am Trump. I am Trump. I am with them. And there's -- it is the only strategy. You cannot win a Republican primary in this country right now without siding with Trump.

LEMON: This is -- Access is reporting tonight that Trump's power over politics and Republicans is growing. And here is what they say, they say, his sway often flows from fear. He is a powerful hold on supporter's minds. He has refined the social issues that animate the Republican base and he plucks candidates from obscurity and turns them into household names. Sway from fear, hold over their minds, how do you describe this President's -- his control over understanding the understanding of his base? First Joe.

LOCKHART: Well, I think it's an addition and subtraction game. He is adding to the Republican coalition. There are traditional lower middle class whites in this country that have voted Democrat. That sometimes go back and forth that are now solidly. The question also, the bigger question is who is he subtracting?

It started with the Tea Party, you know, now, eight years ago with the Republican Party pushing out moderates. Pushing out people that they think are too liberal. My sense is they are subtracting more than they're adding. But we will see what happens in 2000, -- you know, in November. LEMON: Yes. Well, Mark, there's no denying his popularity among the

base, I mean, but out of all the special elections you had been here for some in the primaries in which Trump endorsed a candidate, 17 have won. Only four have lost. But we haven't had a real national referendum on this which is what 2018 midterms -- what that will be what that is for. Do we know yet whether this is a blessing or a kiss of death politically?

MCKINNON: We don't. Because you mentioned a keyword there, Don. When you said he is plucking candidates out of obscurity. The question is why were they obscure in the first place? And they only came out of obscurity not for their ideas, but because they embraced Donald Trump. Here is a really interesting poll that just came out the other day that is kind of jaw dropping.

Among Trump supporters, when they're asked who do you trust to tell you the truth? Donald Trump, 91 percent, friends and family, 63 percent, mainstream media like you Don, 11 percent. That is a pretty stronghold on the base right there.

LEMON: Yes. Badge of honor, though. The truth is what matters. That is tribalism. So, Joe, there have been some high profile losses. Is there a lesson in this for Democrats?

LOCKHART: I think Democrats have to do two things. One, nationally keep the attention on Trump, because that is what energizes the base. That is the negative -- that is the anecdote to the Trump fear, but they also in these -- in the congressional races have to talk about the issues. And I think the real measure of this is not what we talk about every day and what you see on the national news. It's what's in their ads.

And in their ads you see much more about health care. You see much more about wage stagnation. You're talking about the tariffs. Real issues. So I think they have to do both. The Democrats will face, you know, a fundamental question about where the party is going the day after the midterms as we look to 2020. This campaign, this for the midterms, it's about doing both those things. Making it about Trump to energize the base, but also appealing to the people in the middle, particularly talking about health care.

LEMON: So, Mark, meanwhile the President continues to show complete disregard for the truth, as I mentioned. Let's talk a little bit more about that. First, I want to play this. This is what he claimed at his rally tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: U.S. Steel just announced that they're building six new steel mills.

(APPLAUSE)

(CHEERS)

And that number is soon going to be lifted, but I'm not allowed to say that, so I won't. And I'm very proud to report that new core is going to build a brand new $240 million steel mill. That is a big one, right here in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So that -- we fact checked that, and found that U.S. Steel is required to announce any major changes such as opening new plants and as of tonight they have made no such announcements. Also he mentioned when he is on the road he said this is the largest tax cut in history. Analysis committee responsible for federal budget found that Trump's tax cut is the eighth largest since 1918. He talks about GDP, which is he is not right about that and jobs and all that. There are some positive things there, but it's certainly not what he makes it out to be. So, what is going on here?

[23:10:04] MCKINNON: Well, I mean, the unfortunate thing about that is they are actually is a lot of good news about the economy that he that he doesn't have to fabricate all these, you know, this other statements about. So, if at earlier statement I said is true that 91 percent of his base get the truth from Donald Trump, when you do any fact checking on any of his speeches the standard amount of information that is imparted that is false by a broad cross section of fact checkers is 75 percent of what he says is not true at these rallies. So that is a lot of people getting a lot of bad information and you know, we wonder why we have a problem in this country about what's true and what's not.

LEMON: I also want to show you guys this video. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CROWD: (CHANTING)

LEMON: So this is from a rally tonight of Trump supporters screaming to Jim Acosta, calling him a liar and trader. The President and his son Eric, also retweeting a video of supporters at the rally chanting CNN sucks. What in the world is going on at the rallies and why would the President and his son want to be even part of that. There was even a thing, a baby that had a button on it that said CNN sucks and they were holding it up smiling. What --

LOCKHART: It appeals to his base. All those people get riled up because there is this sort of phony conspiracy out there that the elites are out to get them and the media is part of the elites. It's not true. And really, it's un-American. I mean, we have -- you know, Mark will, I'm sure agree with this. Every President thinks the press is out to get them. No President thinks that they get a fair shake, no politician think they get a fair shake. But no one has ever done this. Even Richard Nixon wasn't this bad, and something terrible is going to happen, and it's going to be, you know, it is going to be Trump's fault, because he is the one stoking this up.

LEMON: You know the odd thing is, Jim Acosta tells us Mark, that even after that a lot of people come up to him and say can I get my picture with you? MCKINNON: Yes, well it is all about celebrity. But it is not just

un-American. It truly is dangerous. And this is why "The New York Times" publisher just met with Donald Trump to say his real fear is the notion that you're portraying the press as an enemy of the people. Now Donald Trump has really fanatic supporters, and if Donald Trump and his son are retweeting this kind of rage against Jim Acosta and others and at CNN, then you can see how somebody fanatic out there, if they think that this is truly an enemy of the people, an enemy of the President and a traitor, you know, there could be some real consequences and some action that somebody is really going to regret going forward.

LEMON: How do we get to the lowest common denominator? I mean, we are at the lowest common denominator that is appealing to the broad section of this country?

LOCKHART: It is precisely Donald Trump's strategy. It's looking at people who feel grievances and it's playing upon their fears. It's, you know, a big part of the new Republican coalition is are people who have been hurt by globalization where the economy has moved past them and they feel like they've gotten taken advantage of. He plays them. Now, he didn't serve them with his policies, but his strategy from the first day of his campaign --

LEMON: He uses them.

LOCKHART: He uses them. And the strategy of the first campaign was to do this. And it is in some ways it got him elected President. It continues to keep his base happy, and energized, but it's sure not helping him govern in any way.

LEMON: No. It's terrible for his base. It's terrible for the country. We're in a very sad place right now. I wish I could say I'm optimistic, but I'm not seeing those images and hearing the stories. Thank you gentlemen, I appreciate it.

When we come back, Paul Manafort's trial began today with the defense saying that they plan to pin all the crimes Manafort's been accused of on his long time deputy, Rick Gates. Could that work?

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The trial of Paul Manafort got underway today with prosecutors branding the former Trump campaign chairman a liar with an extravagant lifestyle. Manafort's defense attorneys in response say they plan to pin the crimes, Manafort's is accused of on his former associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators last February. Joining me now is CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates and Page Pate. Good evening to both of you.

LAURA COATES, CNN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ANALYST: Good evening.

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good evening.

LEMON: It was all the fault of Rick Gates and the Russian oligarchs. What do you make of Manafort's strategy, Laura? COATES: Well, you know, Manafort is trying to grasp at straws here.

Because he is only defense here, when you have a document heavy case against you. White collar crimes are largely base on the documents and before them and may speak for themselves. His only strategy is to say, ignore those documents and know that the person is probably the main informant for the government. The one that is informing all these documents for you is somebody he cannot trust. That is his only strategy here and he is trying to go full force with it.

LEMON: Yes. Basically they're saying, well, this guy has already pleaded guilty, then we may as well pin it on him, because it is his fault.

COATES: Exactly. You know, the prosecutor, I don't know any prosecutor who ever had Mother Teresa as a witness or somebody who is able to be an informant. It's always somebody who has the credibility issue, unfortunately, it does the system. If you had that -- it is a great equalizer in many ways.

LEMON: OK. So, Page Pate, Democratic strategist, Devine testified today. He worked with Manafort in Ukraine and he said that Rick Gates did more of the logistical work like planning and travel and all of that, while Manafort worked on the strategy. Doesn't that undermine the defense that Manafort was duped? No?

PATE: Well, Don, it could. It all depends on what happens from this point forward in the trial. How will the defense lawyers cross examine this witness? Will they try to show that Manafort may have been the top guy, but he really wasn't involved into day to day, the financial transactions, the paperwork and that he left all of that to Gates, who then tried to cheat him and doctored some of the documents and actually was the one that committed the fraud?

[23:20:15] Obviously that is what the defense lawyers told the jury that they're going to try to prove during this trial. So, it really depends on how the defense lawyers cross examine these government witnesses.

LEMON: Prosecutors brought in Manafort's spending habits in their opening statement including him buying $15,000 jacket made out of ostrich. What do you think the point of $20,000 watch and on and on, a number of houses, highlighting his lavish lifestyle, what's the point here? What is the strategy? Page?

PATE: Well, I think it's obviously to make the jury feel that this is somebody who is not like us. The prosecutors, the government always wants to have the defendant as somebody who is not personally appealing to the jury. So in a money case like this, where you know the defendant made a lot of money and then allegedly didn't pay his taxes, you want the jury to think, this guy lives the lifestyle of the rich and famous. He is not like one of us. So don't feel sorry for him. Don't get in any credit, don't empathize with him. They want to immediately set the defendant off in another place and remove him in any possible sympathy or connection that he might have with the jury.

LEMON: You're work a day an average working person. You're playing by the rules, you are paying your taxes. You know, it's tough to make ends meet. This guy is making all the money and he doesn't play the rules and he is not paying his taxes. Is that what you're saying?

PATE: I am, Don. But they can overdo it. In some cases the government spends so much time talking about how much money the guy made that the jury will start to say, well, OK, he made a lot of money, but he worked hard. Where is the meat here? Where is the actual crime that he committed? So, I think it's important to lay it out in opening statements to try to make him appear above us all. You know, this was a rich guy who lives a different lifestyle, but then they have to turn back to the evidence. And I think they did that today with witness number one.

LEMON: So two things here, Laura. First, you agree with that, right? They can overplay their hand?

COATES: I do, and I think, that even the Judge pointed out during the opening statement, derailed the prosecutor's main argument by saying listen, it's not a crime to simply spend your money frivolously here. Just reminding the jury that is not the crime here to focus on the issue. They can overplay that in their hands. They have to tie it to the actual money laundering or it's not that he worked hard or he spends a lot of money, it's that, there's no other way he would have got his money besides through a nefarious means.

LEMON: Yes. This is Mueller's first prosecution special counsel pressure for a guilty verdict?

COATES: A lot of pressure. It's not the direct tie to collusion. It is not that big case. Everybody assumes that --

LEMON: They can't even talk about -- you cannot talk about Trump, collusion, and on and on, so, go on.

COATES: That is correct. You can't do that, but everyone assumes you're going to lead -- forget the punt, leave with your Trump. You're going to do your strongest case that ties to your directive that you had under Rod Rosenstein. There's a lot of pressure from Mueller's team to be successful, especially on a documentary-based case, but even more than that, Don, it's extremely important at this juncture that they actually abide by the terms of the particular judge, because if they do not have success in this trial, while the second trial coming up in September, may be all for not and going forward it will be a much harder battle to prove to Congress and the court of public opinion that they have got something here.

LEMON: Yes. We've been told Page, that the President -- officials told CNN that the President has been following this Manafort trial closely all day. What's the danger for him?

PATE: Well, I think maybe he is concerned about two things, right? One is something's going to come out at this trial that negatively reflects on him, either his campaign, his connections to Russia, his children, his family, something may come out during the testimony that makes him look bad. He has no control over that. And I'm sure that frustrates him and the White House. This trial will be controlled by this judge. So, what come out during

the testimony, he is just going to be a participant as far as a witness, but he can't control what's said. The other thing obviously is that the government's case becomes so strong, maybe something happens during the trial. Manafort says look, and I have seen this happened in federal criminal trials, we need to strike a deal. Let's talk. I know I didn't want to plead guilty early, but now I've seen the evidence. Trump is not coming to my rescue. I'm not getting a phone call about a pardon, maybe now, I can enter a plea and some new development occurs that changes the course of the investigation relating to Trump.

LEMON: I appreciate it, but before we go, the answer in the form of a question. Who does Alex Trebek wanted to take over for him? None other than who is Laura Coates? He tweeted that out?

COATES: You know, he tweeted -- he actually said it in an interview. I couldn't believe it. I mean, you could have picked me up off the floor.

LEMON: He said it in an interview, not tweet?

COATES: He said it in an interview? Yes. For me, growing up watching Jeopardy and watching with my kids, is always jeopardy is either Alex Trebek with a mustache or without a mustache. My name never came into the equation, Don. I'm really, really incredibly honored by it.

[23:25:03] LEMON: But for now, we love having you. That is jeopardy, but this is CNN. Thank you. Thank you both. I appreciate it.

When we come back, an ICE official describing family detention centers as being like, summer camp today. And this isn't the only thing that is had a lot of people angry about today's hearing on Capitol Hill.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: An amazingly tone deaf moment on Capitol Hill today. A top official with immigration and customs enforcement telling senators this about condition at so called family residential centers where kids and parents are held.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW ALBENCE, HEAD OF ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVAL OPERATIONS FOR ICE: The best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp. These individual have access to 24/7 food and water. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities. Both structured as well as unstructured. There's basketball courts. There's exercise classes. There's soccer fields that we put in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN TONIGHT HOST: But no parents. So I'm going to bring in now CNN political commentators Maria Cardona and Steve Cortes. Good evening. MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi, Don.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good evening.

LEMON: Maria, you heard that right from the head of Enforcement and Removal for Immigration and Customs characterizing these facilities as summer camps.

CARDONA: Yeah. Nothing less than disgusting. Clearly ICE, I guess, now or especially the head of it which is even worse is getting their talking points from Fox News, because we heard this earlier when this policy first started and when kids were being ripped from the arms of their mothers and putting -- getting put in these detention centers, the child prisons from Laura Ingram who said that it was like summer camps.

So I would invite Mr. Albence to send his kids to the summer camp if he really does believe that. Put his money where his mouth is. It's absolutely ridiculous. It clearly is indicative of what they know has been a debacle of a policy, has been a horrific evil policy, has been something that they know they are going to pay for politically at the ballot box in November, and they're trying to paint the best picture from something that actually is completely horrible and un-American.

LEMON: He's not the first person. I mean, that was -- you know, as he is speaking or testifying in front, you know, of lawmakers but other people have qualified it or classified it that way, Steve. I mean, what did you think of his statements? Summer camp?

CORTES: No. Listen, I think he phrased it very poorly. I think he should have said we're trying to create a facility that is like a camp. And by the way, I think for the most part, they have. But to call it summer camp, that evokes happy memories and somebody who was sent there for great reasons.

These children -- and they are the victims. Look, I have nothing but empathy for these children. They are the victims, though primarily of their parents who made a terrible decision of breaking and entering into our country with their children in tow.

CARDONA: They were not breaking and entering, Steve.

CORTES: Well, they're not legal, which means you're breaking and entering. If you come into my home --

CARDONA: They are desperately looking for asylum because they were under the threat of death.

CORTES: I'm glad you mentioned that, because if you look at a map, Maria, it's a very, very long way from Central America all the way through Mexico to the United States. Over 1,500 miles for instance from Guatemala.

CARDONA: That's how desperate these families are, Steve.

CORTES: Hold on. If they're that desperate, then the first time they got to a democracy, to an open democracy, Mexico, why didn't they ask for asylum there? It's because that's not the reason that they made this journey --

CARDONA: They may have.

CORTES: They wanted to come to the United States.

CARDONA: They may have.

CORTES: I don't blame them for wanting to come here. I'm glad my father came here. I'm glad millions and millions of people from all over the world come here legally. And we have a right as a country to determine who best serves the interests and security of America.

That's not xenophobic. It's not racist. And those who decide to do it their own way and decide to break and enter the United States and if they bring their children along with them, there are going to be --

LEMON: Can I ask you just one quick question, Steve? What does this have to do with separating parents and children?

CORTES: Well, it has to do -- again, if you break and enter into my house tonight and you happen to bring your children with, you're going to be separated from your children. That's awful. And they didn't do it. It's not their decision. It's awful for them.

LEMON: But if you break into someone's house, it's a felony. Right? If you cross the border, undocumented, is that a felony?

CARDONA: It's a civil penalty.

CORTES: Not the first but it is the second. And for many of them, it's multiple times. And I think it should be, by the way --

LEMON: And why would you classify it as breaking and entering?

CORTES: Because if you go somewhere without permission, I don't know how much I have to explain this. If I were --

LEMON: What did they break? Breaking and entering assumes that you broke down a door or a window --

CORTES: OK.

LEMON: -- to get into someone's house.

CARDONA: And that you have malice to do it.

CORTES: If I run past the guards at any office building basically in America, I will quickly be apprehended. That's breaking and entering. Why should our country --

CARDONA: What if you surrender to those guards and beg for help because you and your family are under the threat of death? What then? Are you breaking and entering?

CORTES: Once again, Maria, why did you --

CARDONA: Or are you asking for asylum, which is something that is legally available to anybody who feels they are under the threat of death in this country?

CORTES: And we have a heart for asylum in this country. Thank goodness we do.

CARDONA: You don't. The president doesn't.

LEMON: Let him finish. I need to move on. And once again --

CORTES: Why would you go 1,500 miles for that asylum?

LEMON: OK. Here's what happens. We get sidetracked by things that are -- what is the definition of this? Someone using some, you know, language to qualify something and then you just get sidetracked. Let's get back to the subject about what happened today on the Hill.

This is HHS commander, Jonathan White, testifying today that he expressed concerns to the administration that separating children from their parents was a bad thing. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[23:35:02] JONATHAN WHITE, ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: During the deliberative process over the previous year, we raised a number of of concerns in your program about any policy which would result in family separation due to concerns we had about the best interest of the child as well as about whether that would be operational supportable with the bed capacity we have.

There's no question. There's no question that separation of children from parents entails significant potential for traumatic psychological injury to the child.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Maria, the fact that he warned the administration, warned the administration officials about a policy that would result in pain and suffering to children but clearly he was ignored, what does that tell you?

CARDONA: Well, that tells me that this was not a knee jerk reaction. That this was actually a well-thought out policy that was focused on discriminating and essentially raining terror on these families who were just trying to give their children a better life.

But it also indicates something even more insidious, Don. This was the worst mix of incompetence, of immorality, of carelessness, cluelessness, and callousness that I think comes from a very real strain within Trump and his administration that is racist, that is bigoted, and that is focused on implementing policies that are discriminatory, and that is what we are seeing.

LEMON: Listen, we lost a lot of time back and forth there when we got off track. But Steve, can you answer this for me quickly? White also testified that he was told that family separation was not the official policy, but we all witnessed what happened. Members of the administration describing the separation as a deterrent.

CORTES: Look, family separation -- I don't know what went on within DHS. I don't work for the government. Family separation clearly is traumatic. By the way, the best way to deter this going forward long term is to build a wall. If we don't have a porous border and we have only guarded points of entry, 95 percent of the problems like this at the border will be solved.

So that's the long-term solution and it will prevent a lot of human misery at the border. Open borders are not generous. They are not magnanimous. They are not humanitarian. In fact, they're the opposite.

CARDONA: We don't have open borders, Steve.

CORTES: Well, we have effectively open borders.

CARDONA: No, we haven't.

CORTES: And to your point that it's allegedly racist, what's actually racist is allowing people to pour in and compete in the labor market against largely working class people, many of whom are Hispanic and black in the United States. And that, I would argue, is actually a soft racism that we tolerated for decades in this country.

CARDONA: You know, it would be so much easier to have a discussion with somebody who actually knows the facts or at least respects the truth. People are not pouring in. This border has not been porous and open.

CORTES: They have been.

CARDONA: No, they haven't, Steve.

CORTES: Really?

CARDONA: The numbers actually do not support what you are saying. Within --

CORTES: Then how do we have 10 to 15 million illegals in this country?

CARDONA: -- the last decade, the numbers have been going down. There are actually net immigration to this country is negative.

CORTES: Correct.

CARDONA: There are more people going out --

CORTES: That's not true.

CARDONA: -- than coming in. And so essentially -- LEMON: I got to go.

CORTES: They've been pouring in for decades.

CARDONA: -- this policy is based on complete and total lies.

LEMON: OK. We'll continue this discussion. Thank you all.

CARDONA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate your time.

CARDONA: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, Jeff Sessions announcing the creation of a religious liberty task force that is supposed to protect religious groups from persecution, but who is this task force really going to protect?

[23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Civil rights groups are slamming the Justice Department's new religious liberty task force. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the goal is to protect religious groups from persecution. But his critics argue it's more about discriminating against others.

Let's discuss now, CNN political commentator Charles Blow, also Dean Obeidallah, CNN.com opinion contributor and Daily Beast contributor, and Amy Kremer, co-chair of "Women Vote Trump." Amy, we haven't seen you in a while. Welcome back. Dean as well, we haven't seen you.

AMY KREMER, CO-CHAIR, WOMEN VOTE TRUMP: Good to be here.

LEMON: Good evening to all of you. So Charles, critics say this task force is an attempt to allow discrimination against the LGBT community under the guise of protecting the right to worship freely. Do you think we should give the attorney general the benefit of the doubt here?

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, because this is Jeff Sessions, number one. Number two, it was almost a year to the day that Jeff Sessions -- also The New York Times reported that he was going to direct the civil rights division of the Justice Department to look into protecting the rights of white kids to get into school who they said were being discriminated against to such a degree that it required the Justice Department to jump in.

So that was kind of looking at kind of white supremacy. And this is kind of looking at what they call Christian nationalism which is --

LEMON: Right.

BLOW: -- not only believing that the country was founded as a Christian country but believing that it should be governed as a Christian country. And that means, to that degree, people who are LGBT are cut out of that. It's not about their liberties. It's substituting their liberties for these people, saying that they cannot co-exist, and that is not American.

LEMON: OK. Amy, I heard you when he said that Jeff Sessions -- I heard you, sort of grown under your voice there. But I just want -- before you respond, I want to play this. This is Jeff Sessions explaining why this task force was created. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: A dangerous movement undetected by many, but real, is now challenging and eroding our great tradition, our religious freedom. There can be no doubt.

[23:45:00] It's no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So what is this dangerous movement that is challenging our religious freedom, Amy?

KREMER: Well, I'm actually not sure exactly what he's talking about, what dangerous movement, unless he's talking about the effort to go out and suppress people that are Christians and that want to live by their faith. Look, at the end of the day, I think this is to protect all Americans. All of us have the right to religious freedom and liberty.

And I think that's what this is about, protecting our First Amendment rights, and that's why they're doing this. We are a nation that was founded because people came here to break away from the church of England because they were being religiously persecuted there. They didn't want to conform.

So they came to the United States of America. We have all religions from all over the world come here and migrate to this country and they have a right to do that. And so I think we all should step back and not get too wound up about this and let's see where we go from here.

LEMON: OK.

KREMER: I do not think that it is to persecute anyone, and I certainly don't think --

LEMON: I have a time issue here, Amy. I have to let everybody get in. Amy says it's to protect the religious freedom of all religions. Right? Do you feel that way as a Muslim?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN.COM OPINION CONTRIBUTOR: No. I don't think -- I think Donald Trump is --

LEMON: I'm just wondering if a Muslim, someone went into a business and a Muslim person says it's against my religion to serve a woman or a man or an American or a black person or a Christian, what would happen?

OBEIDALLAH: First, that's not based in Islam, so someone (INAUDIBLE) their own faith that point to say my religion says I should not serve anyone like that. Secondly, Donald Trump is the anti-Muslim bigot and chief. This is a man who campaigned on the promise of a total shutdown of Muslims.

The man who said Islam hates us. And those words have had consequences for my community. We've seen attacks on mosques from California to New Jersey. People using the word "Trump" as --

LEMON: So you think this is just -- do you think this is to protect the religious freedom, prioritizing the Christian group? Check this out. This is a break down of religions in the U.S. Christians represent 70 percent of this country. The Evangelicals make up 25 percent of that Christian group. So you think it's an effort to prioritize that?

OBEIDALLAH: Donald Trump said when he first had his first Muslim ban about prioritizing Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. I know they are not U.S. citizens. There is no doubt Donald Trump does not make Muslim Americans feel like part of this country. And to me, really, I don't know where Christians are being persecuted.

Is it the far right ones who wanted to say to same-sex couples get out of my place, we don't serve you? Is that what religious liberty is? Because I'm down with religious liberty but not as using it as a basis to discriminate.

KREMER: I think --

LEMON: OK, I got to get to the break. Amy, after the break. We'll be right back.

KREMER: OK.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Charles, Dean, and Amy are back. So Amy, responding to what Dean said, Dean said basically the Trump administration decided to, remember, the president said he was going to do a total and complete ban on Muslims. So if that wasn't banning or discriminating against a religion, then how is this protecting all religions?

KREMER: This is to protect our First Amendment right. And to say that this is to discriminate against gays and lesbians, that's absolutely not true. I think it's offensive, actually, to assume that gay people are not religious because I know plenty of Christians that are gay, and it's not like they're mutually exclusive. So, to go out there and say that --

LEMON: No one said that, Amy. I have to correct you. No one said that.

KREMER: But you said that they're targeting -- that the LGBTQ community is being targeted --

LEMON: I said that's what critics said.

KREMER: OK, well, I don't think that that's the case. This is the thing, Don, is that we are in such an environment where everybody wants to divide us either by sex, by race, religion, whatever. And at the end of the day, the president is focused on Americans.

And our religious freedom is about our First Amendment right. People came here to this country for that reason. And we should all be able to practice the religion we want without being persecuted for it.

LEMON: OK.

KREMER: And that doesn't matter what religion you are.

LEMON: I've got to get other people in here. Sessions said that this task force would promote cases like the Colorado baker who refused to -- a same-sex couple, a wedding cake, challenged the state's anti- discrimination law before the Supreme Court.

I just keep wondering, whose rights are being taken away? Who is the actual -- I can't figure this out because -- and to say that it doesn't have anything to do with discriminating against gay people, officials from the legal advocacy group that represented the Colorado baker attended Sessions' event yesterday.

And according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a group that has supported the recriminalization of homosexuality in the U.S., defended state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people abroad, linked homosexuality to pedophilia, and claims that a "homosexual agenda" will destroy Christianity and society.

BLOW: This is the thing -- that whole thing is based on (INAUDIBLE). It is the misguided supposition that you can be converted, you can be seduced, that straight people can be seduced into being gay people and once they have one gay encounter, then -- it's the theory of the vampire bite. Once you had one encounter, it's a rap for you, right?

LEMON: But if you are a gay person and as Amy says, you are religious and you believe in god, wouldn't the highest -- one of the things that you would want to achieve is to get married in a church?

[23:55:01] BLOW: Well, sure.

LEMON: And have your marriage -- I'm just saying, or have your marriage recognized by a baker where you can have a cake made.

BLOW: But you know that your gayness is not contagious. Right? That's the problem with all of that philosophy, which is that it believes -- that this is contagious and it is not. If you do not like penis, there is no one on this planet --

(LAUGHTER)

BLOW: -- that can make you like penis.

KREMER: Oh, my gosh.

BLOW: And the same thing goes for vagina. That's just the truth.

LEMON: That's the clinical term for it, and go on.

OBEIDALLAH: In 2018, the idea of religious liberty should not be telling a same sex couple get out of my bakery because I don't serve your type here. Don't forget, religion was used to defend segregation.

It was cited by the trial judge, the bible says blacks and whites shouldn't get married. We're seeing this right now. And I call it Christian sharia law, it angered the right when I say it, but I hope it gets their attention.

LEMON: OK.

KREMER: That's not true. That's not true.

OBEIDALLAH: The far right does.

LEMON: To be continued. Amy, thank you. Thank you, Dean. Charles --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Never disappoints. Charles Blow, everybody.

(LAUGHTER)

KREMER: Oh, my gosh.

LEMON: Our coverage continues.

(LAUGHTER)

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