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Trump's Confusing Tweets Worry His Camp; President Trump a Racist Even Before Entering Politics?; The 2018 Midterms; Trump Voicing Concern About Son Being Entangled In Mueller Probe; First Lady Melania Trump Contradicts The President; "Active Measures" Documents Ties Between Trump and Putin. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired August 6, 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] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon, 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast, live with all the new developments for you tonight.
The star witness in the trial of President Trump's former campaign manager taking to the stand today. Paul Manafort's long time deputy, Rick Gates testifying that Manafort directed him to lie on tax returns and not tell accountants about Manafort's many foreign accounts.
Hunkered down at his New Jersey golf resort, well, the president on a Twitter tantrum. Trying to undermine Robert Mueller's investigation. He is contradicting his son's original story about the Trump Tower meeting with Russians saying the purpose was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Well, if Trump's lied about the purpose of the meeting once it became public, and just over a year ago the president himself dictated the statement to his son saying, "We primarily discussed the program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago."
But e-mails from Donald Trump, Jr. show the premises of the meeting from the get-go was to get dirt on Clinton.
Now, the president admits the meeting was for opposition research and it's no big deal. He's wrong.
Seeking information from a foreign country is a violation of federal law. CNN's Dana Bash reporting that Trump's advisers want him to stop tweeting about the meeting.
There's lots to discuss. So I want to bring in now CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni, a columnist for "The New York Times," and CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Good evening, gentlemen. So good to have you on. We need to get to the news tonight, but first, you know, we had such a vigorous debate in the last hour about the response President Trump had to my interview with LeBron James. And I know you both had some thoughts about it, you're passionate about it and you want to share it. Max, I'm going to start with you.
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think this is another appalling instance, Don, of how the president essentially uses the racist dog whistle to motivate his supporters and his supporters, including, for example, Steve Cortes in the last hour, pretend not to understand what's going on.
They kind of deny in this and engage in this willful denial of reality by denying that Donald Trump is engaging in racism when he calls you and LeBron out as being especially dumb people.
I mean, this is as you rightly said, this is a very ancient trope when directed at African-Americans. And Trump exactly knows what he's doing.
He has a history of doing that, including doubting, you know, where Barack Obama was born, including, we know how you refer to countries in Africa, including, you know, constantly resurrecting this controversy regarding NFL players kneeling.
I mean, this is kind of something that Republicans have been doing for a long time. I regret to say as a fellow Republican--
LEMON: What about the argument, Max -- sorry, finish your thought. I want to hear that. Sorry about that.
BOOT: No, no. I was just want to say Republicans have done it for a long time but they've usually done as a dog whistle and with Trump it's a wolf whistle. So you know, if you're not hearing it that's because you're closing your ears.
LEMON: Yes. What about the argument that he's called white people, you know, similar names.
BOOT: Well, sure. I mean, he's rude and abusive to a lot of people, but and if you just take an isolation if all he'd ever done if his only evidence of racism was calling you and LeBron James dumb, OK, you could have an argument and say, OK, maybe he's not a racist.
But there's a long pattern going back to the 1970s when he was being sued by the government for not renting to African-Americans back to the 1980s when he was calling for the death penalty for the Central Park 60s, these African-American kids who were arrested and then later released on these rape charges. So, this is a long pattern. This is not an isolated occurrence.
LEMON: Yes. I think you made a Central Park -- I just want to make sure you--
BOOT: Central Park Five, yes.
LEMON: Yes, I correct the record for you.
BOOT: Yes. LEMON: What do you think, Frank?
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm really glad that -- I agree everything with Max said and I'm really glad he mentioned the Central Park Five. Because when you go back and you look at that, I mean, that was an error when there was a lot of crime in New York City.
Donald Trump as a resident of New York City could have picked or chose in any number of battles. And he chose that one, and he didn't just choose it, but he prosecuted that and he was vicious and he took out ads in the newspaper.
And even after they were exonerated he refused to apologize, he refused to move from that position. And I think it's possible to go back and look at that and then to fast forward to all the stuff we've seen in the last four years and not conclude that there's a special animus in Donald Trump when he's going after minorities, when he's going after black people.
LEMON: So, Frank, listen. Let's get to the Mueller investigation. So the star witness, Rick Gates, took the stand today incriminating really his former boss Paul Manafort. A multi-million dollar tax evasion, bank fraud, hiding offshore accounts. It's fascinating. But how do you think this is going to tie to the Russia investigation if at all?
[23:04:59] BRUNI: Well, I mean, it doesn't directly tie to the Russia investigation, but I think in a kind of larger way in terms of optics as people watch all of this, it does paint a picture of a group of men and Donald Trump is among them in the broader sense who play outside the rules, you know, who bend rules when it comes to the financial stuff.
Who are playing with players, foreign players, oligarchs, that word that's been banned from the courtroom. And I do think it lends an impression in a general public of people who have secrets to hide and of those secrets finally coming out.
What I think what was so interesting about today is that Rick Gates also admitted that he's a liar, that he's not a reliable person that he cheated Paul Manafort.
BRUNI: Even as the tow of them--
LEMON: Hundreds of thousands of dollars.
BRUNI: Right, so how do you figure out whether that testimony which on the face of it is very damning is going to be as damning as prosecutors wanted to be because the defense attorneys are going to get up and say, sir, have you not admitted that you are a frequent liar and unreliable? LEMON: It's amazing to see all of these people who have been caught
up in this and isn't all the best people -- I hired all the best people. People who are accused of money laundering, people who are accused of tax evasion. They're all the best people.
BRUNI: I hire all the best plunders.
LEMON: Yes. Go ahead.
BOOT: No, I mean, that tells you all you want to know about this president who he was surrounded by and people who not only have these deeply suspicious and suspect links to the Kremlin but as we were hearing the testimony today, people who were basically out-and-out crooks. That's who the president was surrounded by.
LEMON: But Max, he is downplaying Manafort's role in his campaign, saying, you know, it was just a few months. I mean, but Gates stayed -- he stayed on with Trump after Manafort left.
BOOT: Yes, of course.
LEMON: He even -- he even worked on his inauguration committee, and now he's cooperating with Mueller. What does that mean for the president?
BOOT: Well, I think it means big trouble for the president, which is why I think you're seeing some of this lashing out that's going on. I mean, the fact he is lashing out in kind of racist ways is a classic pattern with him.
Because when he's feeling pressure he tries to do something that energizes his base, whether it's trashing the media, dog whistling about Americans or what have you, and he is clearly feeling the pressure ad he indicated in that tweet on Sunday admitting to collusion in plain sight.
I mean, let's not lose sight of that. I mean, this is crazy, the fact that we had a president who more than a year ago basically admitted on TV he was committing obstruction of justice when he fired FBI director Jim Comey and said he was doing it to stop the investigation of the Russia thing.
And now he's basically admitting to collusion, admitting that this meeting that happened at Trump Tower on June 9th of 2016 was about getting dirt from the Russians which is illegal for a campaign to do. And so he is basically admitting that. He's worried about the legal liability for his son and I suspect for himself.
And so, you know, he's lashing out in all sorts of erratic ways because it feels like the room is closing in around him.
LEMON: Yes. Frank, sources telling CNN and Dana Bash that President Trump is being urged to stop tweeting about this Trump Tower meeting. But this is after he sent out a tweet, right, admitting the meeting was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton, which is of course is not what they said initially. Remember it was about adoption, so, I mean, how big of a problem is this for the president?
BRUNI: Well, initially it was about adoption. Initially he didn't dictate that the press release or the statement that Don Junior made and his story has changed so many times. And they have tried to get Donald Trump to stop tweeting before.
This is not the first time that a tweet has gotten him in trouble and that the people around him have said, Mr. President, really let's go easy on Twitter. I think, you know, Don, the story -- the story of Donald Trump's presidency is going to be live by the tweet, die by the tweet.
LEMON: Max, I've got to play this for you. Because earlier today, Don Jr. was asked about these contradictions. He was on Laura Ingraham's radio show. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: Do you any, comments on that, Donny? Because they're hitting you on that for contradictions. I mean, they're calling it worse than contradictions, obviously.
DONALD TRUMP, JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: Hello?
INGRAHAM: Yes. Donny, what is your reaction to all that? We're going to see if we can reconnect with Donald Trump, Jr. on this because we can't seem to hear him. Donny, you hear that? We don't know where he went.
I know where he went.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRUNI: I knew where he went.
LEMON: Sorry. Hang on, don't answer that. Let's talk about it. So interesting time to drop off and then two minutes later he came back on the radio show and then he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP JR.: Yes. They're sort of playing the recording and then they got cut off. It was a 20-minute meeting, it ended up, you know, about essentially nothing that was relevant to any of these things, and you know, that's all it is and that's all they've got.
You know, that's not the premise they got them in the room and then they started, it was essentially, you know, a bait and switch to talk about that. And everyone has basically said that in testimony already. I mean, so this is nothing new. (END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: OK, does it sound to you, though, like the president's son is still disappointed that the Russians didn't deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton, the dirt he expected?
[23:09:57] BOOT: Except we know that they did. We don't actually know, Don, what happened at this meeting. We actually have to take the word on Donald Trump, Jr. and the others that they didn't deliver dirt at this meeting and they may will not have, but we know that a few weeks later they actually started delivering a lot of dirt through WikiLeaks. That's how they chose to do it, not by handing it to the Trump campaign.
And I really think that, you know, while it's hugely important to focus on this meeting because this is I think the tip of the iceberg that reveals the level of collusion that was occurring, I suspect there's a lot more and some of which has already come out including the contacts that Donald Trump, Jr. and Roger Stone had with WikiLeaks.
The contacts that Roger Stone had with Guccifer 2.0. who was a Russian military officer. There's a lot more there and at the end of the day I suspect that we're going to find out is that President Trump himself was in intimately involved with whatever was going on because we've seen, for example, from that tape that CNN obtained from Michael Cohen that Donald Trump himself was personally supervising the payoff to that Playboy playmate.
And now we know that he knew from what Michael Cohen is apparently prepared to testify that Donald Trump -- Donald Trump, Sr. knew in advance about this June 9 meeting. I suspect there's a lot more stuff that he knew about and I suspect he's not only nervous for his son. He's very nervous to himself because, you know, the truth is starting to emerge, and it's highly damning for him.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your time.
Up next, the new book "Everything Trump Touches Dies." I'm going to speak to its author, Republican strategist, Rick Wilson.
[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So President Trump is changing the Republican Party and helping it splinter into various factions.
Long time Republican strategist Rick Wilson is an architect of one of those camps, the never Trump movement. His new book is "Everything Trump Touches Dies." "Everything Trump Touches Dies," and he's here with me now. Good evening, sir.
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: How are you, Don?
LEMON: You coined that phrase. Did you continue it that on this show.
WILSON: I think I may have. LEMON: You may have on this show. Everything Trump touches dies. So,
you, it's no surprise that you would name your book this. So what does this mean?
WILSON: Well, look, I look at Donald Trump from the very beginning as an existential threat to the Republican Party that represented the old school conservative values of limited government, rule of law, adherence to the Constitution, a balance government between three coequal branches.
And I saw him as something that was going to be inordinately destructive to conservatism, and the short-term, you know, own the lib, sort of, you know, American Republican id hat he appeals to has locked down what was the Republican Party.
And I wrote this is a kind of warning to folks who every time they enter his orbit their lives turn to something they didn't expect. And there's this long train of bodies and policies that Donald Trump has left on the ground because of the way he is and because who he is as a person.
And I think that scales down from, you know, if you go to work for him your life turns into a living hell, your reputation is shot. Unfortunately, it also scales up to the character of the country and the way we are seen in the world and the way we treat each other.
LEMON: You afraid the country is going to die because of it?
WILSON: I don't know if we're going to die, Don.
LEMON: Or simply in the country dies.
WILSON: I truly believe that America has an amazing immune system and sometimes it takes a long time for it to kick in. And it's sort of the Churchill thing, it will do the wrong thing until the last second.
LEMON: Someone ask me last week when we were talking about pastors who went to the black pastors who went to that meeting. It wasn't anyone we had on the air but someone who was at the meeting said, well, what do you think? What's your honest opinion?
And I sent them you talking about everything Trump touches dies. And I said if you believe in it, then go at it with full force and don't say I'm sorry I shouldn't have done it. But if you don't believe in it, then you made a major error because your credibility is gone.
WILSON: I think there are a lot of people who would sacrifice their credibility for him.
LEMON: Yes. So listen, I want to take a look, these are some of the many people you say who have tarnished their personal professional reputations by associating with President Trump and policies that in your opinion have failed miserably. How is this different though from other administrations? WILSON: Well, in other administration-
LEMON: Look at that list growing. Jesus.
WILSON: In other administrations there's generally a sense that when you depart at the White House, there's sort of an easy transition out as a general rule. White House tend to not fire people willy-nilly. The Trump White House has fired people at a rate that exceeds all the previous White Houses combined in the first year and a half.
There is a broken system in the middle of this and there's a cancer eating at the heart of it, and that's Donald Trump. He does want to be managed or handled or to behave in the ways that a president is expected and needed to behave as a national leader.
He's very impulsive, you've seen it. It's the tweeting, it's the constant -- it's the constant tabloid-style professional wrestling beefs with people. And those are signs of a very weak man. Those are signs of a weak character and a weak leader.
And he's got a super power which is his Twitter feed, he's got a super power which is a network that is dedicated to him all the time. But beyond that this is a guy who's basically wondering in the dark. He's basically wondering around scared when Robert Mueller is going to finally drop the hammer on him, he's wondering around scared when we finally going to see his tax returns or find about the NDA's of Michael Cohen's got stuck up. He listen fear, Don.
LEMON: And it's just interesting. Because I remember during -- remember during the election, remember he didn't even participate in one of the Fox debates or whatever, and so he sort of like bullied them into his corner, right, because I guess they've realized his base was watching and they wanted more Trump. Because before they were not -- they were no so pro-Trump. So even they have sort of sold something.
WILSON: Well, they recognize it. They hit 90 million households, and they recognized that there was an audience that believed in Donald Trump because they saw this reality TV character.
[23:20:01] LEMON: So then what does that say then about, you know, conservatives? Because a lot of them are over there, and conservatives in Washington, conservatives around the country and those who work for the Trump channel? What does that say, is that--
WILSON: The disappointing thing about a lot of conservatives is they weren't really. A lot of these people who, for years and years were like, I want to have limited government, I don't want to expand federal law enforcement powers, I don't want to have, you know, the government messing picking winners and losers in trade deals are now enthusiastically saying let's quintuple the size of ICE, let's build this gigantic new wall, and all this bureaucracy around immigration.
Let's manipulate companies on their trade policies. Let's pick winners and losers in the economy. I mean, when Barack Obama was president I seem to recall that was supposed to be a terrible--
LEMON: A trillion dollar deficit.
WILSON: Well, not to say nothing of -- right, the fiscal mismanagement of this country, we're going to pay a horrible, horrible price on this, with a combination of blown out deficits, blown out debt and trade -- and trade wars that they never ever end well. Donald Trump is not immune of the laws of economics.
LEMON: How as a Republican I just wonder when you see -- how does the hypocrisy hit you because when you see things like Kim Jong-un and the criticism, I can't believe that Barack Obama wants to meet with a dictator, I can't believe -- we don't meet with dictators, we just -- what's wrong with him.
And then all of a sudden this is the greatest thing that could happen, our president will meet with a dictator. So what does that do to you as a Republican because I think Democrats are like, see I told you so.
WILSON: Look, as a Republican one of the biggest problems I have with Trump as a conservative is that he is authoritarian curious.
WILSON: He is a guy who does not believe in sort of the better angels of our nature. He likes the tough guy, the strong man, the guy with the swagger stick in the fancy uniform. Rather than, you know, the people who built-up a Democratic system somewhere in the world or fight against depression.
He likes the Putins of the world, and the Kims of the world, and the Xis and the Dutertes of the world, rather than the people who are fighting for freedom.
And to me as a conservative I find that deeply troubling. Because the fundamental thing about a lot of moderate conservatism is we were against authoritarianism. We believe in the republic and the Constitution--
LEMON: But what I'm asking you, was that real?
WILSON: You know what, it was real for me and that's why I'm still in this--
LEMON: (Inaudible) to see that if it was real.
WILSON: But I've got to tell you I think a lot of people -- a lot of people were waiting for the opportunity to let out their much less angst -- much less beneficial spirits and go after people based on a lot of things that, you know, are showing out in the way the president treats African-Americans and minority folks.
LEMON: I think that moral high ground and all of the, you know, for the common man of the forgotten man, I think that's all been blown out when you think about exactly what--
WILSON: I want to tell you after Charlottesville I don't want to hear anything about economic anxiety.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you so much for saying that. So, listen Rick, I've got to play this. This is an amazing clip. This is from Jake Sherman. Jake wakes at Politico. He found Donald Trump talking to Dan Rather, this was 1999 about John McCain's military service. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way Trump looks at it, he's at least better than everyone else in the race beginning with John McCain.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was captured.
DAN RATHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He flew combat missions.
TRUMP: Does being captured make you a hero? I don't know. I'm not sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So what does he -- does being captured make you a hero, really? I mean, is he -- is he a captured truther or hero denier, like what is it?
WILSON: He could be both for all I know. But all I know is that, you know, during that time Donald Trump was fighting the battle of studio 54 and battling back his horrific bone spurs. That's real heroism.
I mean, Trump's treatment of McCain from the beginning has been a morally repulsive spectacle and Jake had a great find on this, but I'm not surprise because Trump's, the tropes and the pattern of Trump's behavior they stretch way back.
You know the Central Park Five is not so different from where he's at trying to turn black athletes who are protesting police violence into thugs and criminals.
This is a guy -- this is an arc that's been with him for a long time on a lot of these things. And this arc of the sort of fatuous love of military here was except he guys he doesn't like personally, considering he, you know, avoided the draft five times. I think that's the kind of thing that, you watch this tropes throughout his whole life, the song repeats.
LEMON: Yes. Here it is. I love the cover. How did you come up with this cover? WILSON: Genius graphic designers that are publishers so I'm going to
choose this. It's amazing.
LEMON: I like the hand. Once again the book is called "Everything Trump Touches Dies." Thank you, Rick.
WILSON: I appreciate it.
LEMON: When we come back, the incredibly close race in Ohio that could predict what happens to the House after the midterms. Will a Democrat take a seat that's been held by Republicans for decades?
[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: A special election in a Republican held Ohio congressional district tomorrow could hold clues for how the parties are going to fair in the midterms which are now three months away. Wow, that's close.
Here to discuss is Harry Enten, who is CNN's politics senior writer and analyst, and also Larry Sabato is the director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, he's also the author of "The Kennedy Half Century."
Gentlemen, so good to have you on. So, Harry, this Ohio district here, is district is what, Ohio 12?
HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Yes.
LEMON: It elected Trump by 11 points, right, by a recent Monmouth University poll. Let's put this up. It shows Republican Troy Balderson with a single point lead over Democrat Danny O'Connor effectively a dead heat. Why is this all of a sudden competitive? It's not supposed to. What's going on?
[23:30:12] ENTEN: I mean, this is a district that's been held by the Republicans since the 1980s. John Kasich held the seat when he was in the House. It's an ancestrally Republican district. What we've seen is the special elections throughout this entire cycle is a large shift towards the Democrats.
In fact, if you will look at the shift in the other special elections that have occurred so far, the fact that this is competitive makes a whole lot of sense. And that's why it's so emblematic what might occur in the midterms because it's part of a pattern.
LEMON: It's interesting. So this seat has been held by Republicans for decades, Larry, and registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats two to one there. But Balderson, he was 10 points ahead of O'Connor about six weeks ago. That's according to Monmouth as well. So tell me about this momentum. Why is this so important?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR OF CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, it's important because it's the last special congressional election before the November elections. It's really the last impression that at least activists and the party people will have of what actually is happening on the ground.
And look, if O'Connor, the Democrat O'Connor, actually wins this, it's going to send shock waves through the Republicans around the country. Even if he comes close it will be very, very significant. As Harry was just saying, this is part of a pattern not just in congressional elections but also in state legislative special elections that have occurred since Trump took office.
LEMON: What does that tell you? I mean, you said even if he comes close, he's pretty close in the polling, and Republicans, I think, have outspent Democrats five to one. This is a primary in that district and again this is a district that Donald Trump won. This is an area that is traditionally Republican.
SABATO: Yeah. It's not just Trump. Mitt Romney carried it by 10 points, almost the same as Trump. And as you or Harry mentioned, this was Governor Kasich's district. Thirty-five years of Republicans.
So, if you can have a district that switches, the last district before the election that switches parties to the Democrats, I think it's going to have a major impact at least on morale on both sides. Down for the Republicans, up for the Democrats.
LEMON: It's not far, Harry, from the 18th district. That's where Democrat Conor Lamb narrowly won. But both districts largely white. They're suburban. Democrats have a young challenger in Danny O'Connor there like they did with Conor Lamb. Is this the same playbook here?
ENTEN: I would argue it's not necessarily the same play but because this district is far better educated than the 18th Western Pennsylvania, the 18th had a history of electing Democrats. And that's what makes this district so unique is it doesn't have a history of electing democrats but it is a very well-educated district. And as we know, Donald Trump liked to say, I like the uneducated --
LEMON: I like the poorly educated.
ENTEN: The poorly educated. And so this is a district that I think is more emblematic of the types of districts that Democrats are going to try and go after in the midterm elections. If they can win here then there are a ton of well-educated districts not just in the mid-west but in the south and northeast and in the west, well-educated districts that have historically may have been Republican by may shift in the Democratic column.
LEMON: So what do you think, well educated, they are more likely to be swayed or listen to reason and facts than the poorly educated --
ENTEN: Don, I would say those are your words, not mine.
LEMON: I'm just wondering --
ENTEN: I mean --
LEMON: Larry is the best person to ask about that. ENTEN: But I would say that well-educated districts have been shifting away from the Republican Party. They did so especially in 2016. We've seen it throughout the polling in 2017 and 2018. And so this is the type of district that if well-educated Republican districts are going to flip, this would be one of those.
LEMON: Larry, you want to respond before I ask you other question?
SABATO: Yeah. Look, listen to what Governor Kasich said. This was his district. He knows this area well, the Columbus area. What did he say on Sunday? When he runs into suburban women from his district, his old district, they tell him they're totally turned off to Donald Trump. That's the key demographic that could switch the House to the Democrats.
LEMON: OK, so then, Larry, the president campaigned for Balderson Saturday night even though only 46 percent of the voters in the district approved of Trump's performance as president. That is according to Monmouth there. So, what do you think? I mean, 46, that's -- you know, almost half. What do you think, is Trump visiting, is that going to help or hurt him?
SABATO: In this particular district, I think it could hurt every bit as much as it helps, maybe hurt more. You know, some of the local reporters who went around that hall and tried to interview local residents reported that most of the people weren't even from the district.
The same with the license plates. You know, local reporters notice things like that. This was the Trump base, the Trump colt coming to see the colt leader. Well, they don't vote in the district. At least all of them don't vote.
[23:35:00] So I don't know if it indicated much of anything about the results.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate your time. When we come back, sources telling CNN that the president is worried that Don Jr. might be implicated in Robert Mueller's investigation. But my next guest says, he thinks the president will betray his own son to protect himself. Michael D'Antonio, I'll ask him about that, next.
LEMON: CNN is learning that President Trump is being urged by aides to stop tweeting about Donald Trump, Jr.'s 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. So let's bring in now CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The Truth About Trump."
[23:40:00] Good evening, sir. You wrote a great piece tonight --
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hi, Don.
LEMON: -- for CNN in this title, "To protect himself, Trump is willing to undermine his son." You say the president will do the unthinkable for most people, betray his son to protect his own hide? D'ANTONIO: Oh, I most definitely think he would. You know, think about being Donald Trump's son. It must be the most disorienting thing a person can go through. A father is supposed to provide a stable environment, to provide moral guidance, help form the character of a child.
Donald Trump is a serial liar who has betrayed everyone in his life. He demands loyalty but gives none. He's entirely malformed morally. I don't think that you could imagine a worse parent for a child. And so this young man, Donald Jr., goes into adult life trying to please this man, trying to somehow figure out what the right thing to do is.
No wonder he exhibited such poor judgment by attending this meeting in Trump Tower. And if you think that the president didn't know about it, there's some real estate I'd like to sell you because he absolutely knew. I have no doubt about it.
LEMON: And on top of it, his name is Donald Trump too as well. So listen, you write about Trump's tweets about -- carrying that name -- "His tweet about the 2016 meeting reads like nothing so much as an exasperated father having to clean up the mess left by a bumbling offspring who, it turns out, is pretty bad at plying the family trade. More than anything else, that trade has been about managing and messaging the mythology of the the Trump business: We're rich! We're decisive! We're winners! And in this case Donald Trump Jr. has failed utterly."
So talk to us about that, what you say about Donald Trump Jr., he isn't living up to mythology of the Trump family business.
D'ANTONIO: Well, the first thing that you said was how difficult it must be for Donald Trump, Jr. to carry that name through life. The truth is senior was not so happy about naming this boy after himself. He confronted his wife about it and said, what if this kid turns out poorly? What if he reflects badly on me?
Donald Trump, Jr. knows that this is how he started out in life. So for him to then proceed and try to somehow show that he's as wily, as manipulative, as deceitful as his father is, is an incredible challenge because he's really being taught, do all these bad things and you'll be in good with the family.
Well, I don't think he's up to it. I really think he's a better person than his father and this is the main conflict that we have. We have a young man who is superior in terms of character to his dad and not as ruthless.
LEMON: But how does President Trump view loyalty? Because from the outside, it sure seems like he is very close to his family.
D'ANTONIO: Well, that's all part of the packaging. You know, he's very close to his family except now we see that the danger that his son is in threatens the president. And what does he do? He goes on Twitter and says, well, yes, it was about getting information but I knew nothing of it. So, he's throwing this kid under the bus. And loyalty doesn't mean a thing to Donald Trump except as it flows to him. Look at everyone around him and how he cuts them loose once they start to cause trouble. He's not loyal, he never has been loyal, and he's not going to be loyal to his kid.
LEMON: I want to ask you about Melania Trump. She's contradicting her husband again. As you know, President Trump tweeted on Friday night, slamming Lebron James.
Several hours after Trump's tweet, Melania's office released a statement saying, "It looks like Lebron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, the First Lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today."
So, is she trolling her husband? Are we reading too much into this? Is it good cop, bad cop? And I have to say, this is what I got the most feedback from, and I will just one of -- someone who texted me. Melania Trump released a statement praising Lebron. Great. She's still a birther. So, I mean, what do you think?
D'ANTONIO: Well, you know, I had it in my mind to say that Melania Trump has not exhibited the level of racism that Donald Trump has. And, you know, as a person who is a white American male, I have to say this president is racist. Those of us who have been around racists know it when we see it and hear it.
[23:45:03] The fact that Mrs. Trump was supportive of his birther accusations I think is very disturbing, but there's not the same pattern as exists with the president. His racism goes back decades. In the case of Mrs. Trump, I think that she's trolling him. I think she's -- she is guarding her own reputation and her own image. And like the president's children, there will be a life after the White House for her.
LEMON: Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it. When we come back, the new documentary that looks at the ties between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. I'm going to talk to the director, next.
[23:50:00] LEMON: A new documentary, "Active Measures," takes a look at the ties between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Here's a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Russians have a particular type of mark. They go after somebody who has business resources, shady morals, and political connections or aspirations. I've just described Donald Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Putin realizes that if we are divided as a nation, we cannot protect ourselves from threats within and without.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what you have is probably the biggest intelligence breach in the history of the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I want to bring in now the film's director, Jack Bryan. Jack, thanks for joining us. That was a clip. It's good to see you. That was a clip from "Active Measures." You had interviews with people like Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, John Podesta. How did you get involved? What led you to do this film?
JACK BRYAN, DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: I think what me and my partners, Laura DuBois and Marley Clements, found was that in early spring of 2017, we were really interested in the Russia story, we were sort of obsessed by it. But we didn't think it was getting a lot of mainstream play and even when it did, it seemed like it kind of washed over people.
And we thought that one of the reasons for that was that it's in pieces. It is such a big story. It is so long that you didn't get the full context of it. And we didn't think people would get that without something like a film or documentary to really take you through the 30-year history of this operation.
LEMON: Oh, that's very smart because when you -- even when we're doing it here on television and you're showing the connections and all that, even you're talking about the trials that are going on and the Russian connections, it's a lot. It can be confusing especially to the public when you're trying to synthesize it into just a couple of minutes.
So I think you're right about that. You said the connection though between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, decades old. Earliest connections that you found?
BRYAN: Well, not necessarily directly to Vladimir Putin but to Russian mobsters, the Russian elite. The first one is 1984 where David Bogatin who is a Russian mobster --
BRYAN: -- met with Trump personally and purchased five condos in Trump Tower. It is important to remember that Trump Tower is only the second building in New York where shell companies could buy condos.
BRYAN: And so it became haven particularly for Russian mob.
LEMON: As a kid who grew up in New York, you've known Donald Trump, you know, for some time now.
LEMON: Your dad was even friendly with him and your father had a conversation with him in Florida years ago about selling Trump. You had a conversation with him or your father?
BRYAN: I've had a few conversation with him in my life. My dad had been friendly with him in the past just from growing up in New York. And, yeah, I've had conversations with him.
LEMON: Was this conversation -- was there a conversation about selling something to a Russian oligarch?
BRYAN: Oh, there was a conversation where he took -- Donald took my father to the U.S. Open.
BRYAN: And when he came back, my dad's take away was, that guy likes Russia a lot. This was I think 2010, around that period of time, and even then was just talking of Putin, talking of Russia. That was the first time I'd kind of heard anything in that realm. Around 2008, I heard of -- I was in Palm Beach and I heard about the sale of the property (INAUDIBLE).
But none of these things really kicked up a lot. It wasn't really interesting to me. He was just sort of a guy in New York and those were just sort of things you would hear.
LEMON: As you're sitting watching the news I'm sure as you do sometimes, I'm not sure how often, but then you see all these new developments, as it relates to your film, what are you thinking? What are you thinking when you see this?
BRYAN: Well, I think that it makes it an easier sell, like when we had -- with our last interview last September.
BRYAN: We first showed first cuts to the people. We said, you know, Paul Manafort has been laundering money out of Ukraine largely through the Ukraine gas trade. People kind of look to at us with vague stares, well, why isn't anyone doing anything about it?
And so as the investigation caught up to sort of our investigation of it, it's become -- I think a lot of things have become a lot more plausible to a wider group of people. But that's really the only effect. We haven't had to update anything. We did a really serious kind of research and got to bottom of it, I think. And so we kind of had the story as of last September.
LEMON: What do you think of him recently admitting on Twitter that the whole meeting in Trump Tower was to -- with the Russians was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton?
BRYAN: Well, I mean, they're trying to change it from no collusion to like so collusion, you know. They're trying to, I think, take away the narrative that collusion is a negative thing because it's inevitable that it's going to come out.
LEMON: Why do you say that? BRYAN: Because I think there is just too many meetings, there are too many places, there are too many clear lines where -- listen, if you're accepting -- you're saying -- Donald Trump, Jr., for example, saying let's take that meeting, that's accepting the offer. And going to that meeting is an overt act in of itself.
LEMON: Well, so many people already think that that is the actual crime and sitting here debating it is just really silly.
LEMON: And so I think that there is many of those. I mean, you can make the same case for saying, hey, Russia hack Hillary's e-mails and when they attempt to that that is an agreement and an overt act.
[23:55:00] Go on.
BRYAN: I think that there's many of those. A lot of these date back to a very long time ago.
LEMON: Have you reached out to the White House? Have they said anything to you?
BRYAN: We have not, no.
LEMON: Nothing at all?
BRYAN: Not yet.
LEMON: Any big surprises that you learned from this?
BRYAN: I think that the central figure in a lot of this is this Russian mobster named Semion Mogelevich. And he's a very scary character. He was on the 10 most wanted list of the FBI. And his lawyer is actually former FBI Director William Sessions.
BRYAN: And he runs a lot of the Ukraine Russia gas -- illegal gas trade, the mob element of it. And how closely tied he is to Manafort, to Trump, and to Putin going back to the early 2000s and '90s.
LEMON: Wow! The film, "Active Measures" will be released on August 31st. Jack Bryan, thank you for joining me. I appreciate it.
BRYAN: Thanks for having me.
LEMON: Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues. [24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)