Return to Transcripts main page
What Is In President Trump's Letter To Putin?; Senator Rand Paul Hand Delivers To Russian Government A Letter From President Trump To Putin; President Trump Predicts A Red Wave In November; State Of Emergency Declared In Charlottesville For 'Unite The Right' Anniversary; Corporate America Returns to Trump A Year After Deadly Violence In Charlottesville; Twitter Refuses To Ban InfoWars Conspiracy Theorist Alex Jones. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired August 8, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[23:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Rand Paul in Russia with a letter from President Trump for President Putin that the White House and Senator Paul are saying two different things about what the letter contains. So I want to bring in now Congressman Denny Heck, he is a Washington Democrat who is a member of the intelligence committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us. Let's talk some Russia first. I want to talk Russia first, but first, I want ask you about these conditions that Trump's lawyers are trying to put on any interview with the Special Counsel. They don't want questions that they consider to be a perjury trap. Do you think Mueller, do you think he is going to do it?
REP. DENNY HECK, (D), WASHINGTON: No. I don't think there's much of a chance that the President's going to sit for an interview with Bob Mueller's team whatsoever, Don. As a matter-of-fact, I don't think he'd sit for an interview with you, because the truth of the matter is it probably wouldn't be that hard for you to trap him in some tacit admission of obstruction of justice or some other activity associated with past involvement with the Russian investigation. They are not going to let him sit down with Bob Mueller. The truth is there is way too much liability and risk for the President to do that and, in fact, if his lawyers did allow him to do it, I suspect they'd be guilty of malpractice. And I don't think they have any intent of that happening. All of this is just kind of playing out as a delay and an obfuscation of the fact they don't want to sit down together. I will be stun if he sits down.
LEMON: Well, we shall see. So, Congressman, why is Senator Rand Paul in Russia trying to meet with Vladimir Putin?
HECK: Don't have the slightest idea. I find it to quote "through the looking glass," curiouser and curiouser that he would be required to carry a letter of introduction from the President of the United States. I mean, goodness sakes, Don. He is been a United States Senator for years. He ran for President in the United States, himself, against Mr. Trump. If you don't think that the Russian equivalent of the State Department and the Intelligence Agencies don't know everything about Rand Paul including his social security number, well, they do. So, I have no idea what this is about. I don't know what happened to diplomatic pouches and I don't know what happened, frankly, to the traditional practice of working these things through the State Department. The President just doesn't defy norms. He shatters norms and here we go again.
LEMON: There's also that the new sanctions against Russia over the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the U.K. Do you think Trump would have done this if it wasn't required by law?
HECK: Well, absolutely not. In fact, he didn't do some things that were required by law as it turns out, Don. Look, after the Skripal attack, it took the United Kingdom approximately 12 days to evict a bunch of Russian diplomats. It took some of the rest of the European Union countries just about three weeks to levy sanctions and evict diplomats.
Here we are nearly six months later, and the President is finally getting around to acting on the basis of that incident? That attempted assassination. What new evidence has come forward? What have they -- what took them six months to do what it took less than 12 days for the United Kingdom to do? No, the truth of the matter is, this is probably a whole lot more about trying to head off some proposed bipartisan legislation in the United States Senate and House called the deter act, which actually has some teeth in it in levying sanctions against Russia.
If they do something bad in this year's election, which we now already have evidence that they may be doing. This isn't a serious attempt to levy sanctions. The President has resisted that at every turn since the day he raised his right hand and was sworn into office.
LEMON: I want you to put on your political analyst hat right now, because last night I covered an incredibly close race in what should be a Republican stronghold in Ohio. The President tweeted this, he said, "red wave." Red wave, Congressman, blue wave? What do you think about Democrats' chances in November and also in 2020?
HECK: Well, first of all, we have 90 days to go to find out, but, Don, as it relates to that less than 1 percent margin in Ohio 12, I would just remind you that there are approximately 68, you're hearing that number correctly, 68 Democratically -- Republican, rather, Republican-held congressional districts in America that are more Democratic than Ohio 12.
So they can spin that any which way they want, but the fact of the matter is, the American public, I think, is about to send a message to Washington, D.C., in the corruption and get serious about things like lowering prescription drug prices and protecting people who have pre- existing conditions and get on with building an economy that is fair to everybody. That is the message that is going to be sent 90 days from now.
LEMON: So, Congressman, the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, that was really one way Republicans attacked the Democrat in Ohio's race -- in the Ohio race. Is she a drag in districts that Democrats are trying to flip? HECK: I don't know where the evidence is that would suggest that.
The fact is that that is what they used against Conor Lamb in the special election in Western Pennsylvania which Trump won by 20 points and Conor Lamb won. They used it over and over again with Danny O'Connor in Ohio 12 who, by the way, is still running in November against Mr. Balderson and Danny managed to collapse the Trump margin from 11 down to less than 1 percent.
[23:05:12] I'm not sure where the evidence that that is the case, that that is an effective appeal. It's certainly their standard playbook move in each and every instance. But the fact the matter is, it is not what Americans want to hear about. Again, to be redundant and repeat myself, they want to hear about what they're going to do to lower prescription drug prices and protect people with pre-existing conditions. Build infrastructure that will move this economy strongly throughout the rest of the 21st century. Finally get Americans a raise. These are the things they want us talking and proposing. They want us being practical and working across the aisle and solving problems.
LEMON: Thank you, Congressman. I appreciate your time.
HECK: You're welcome, sir.
LEMON: So joining me now, CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Brian Bender, defense editor and national security correspondent at Politico. Gentlemen, good to have both of you on this evening. So, Brian, I'm going to start with you. We have this whole Rand Paul situation that we've been talking about with Russia, this letter of introduction. It's all supposed to be a continuation of diplomatic outreach and it's coming really during the same week when Russia is being slapped with more sanctions for the U.K. poisoning. Give me your read on all this.
BRYAN BENDER, DEFENSE EDITOR/NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, I mean, I think as the Congressman pointed out, we live in an era where the traditional means of diplomacy, the traditional means that a President, his foreign policy team, would engage with an ally, with an adversary, has just been kind of thrown out the window. You know, it's the style of President Trump and his close aides.
They like to do it their way and clearly President Trump and Senator Paul have mended fences since the election and they have some sort of rapport going on and obviously have like mind on some things so the President wanted his own personal emissary. He didn't want to go through Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State. And I guess it's really not surprising if you look at the whole year and a half of this presidency.
LEMON: Are you surprised, Max, that how supportive Rand Paul has been of President Trump when it comes to Russia? Why is he going to Russia?
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: That is a great question to ask, Don. You know, Russian state TV is actually calling Rand Paul a Russian loyalist and there is good reason for them to be saying that because, you know, the Senate has in the past year voted 97-2 to impose sanctions on Russia. They voted 97-2 to reaffirm support for NATO and part of that, two, was Rand Paul.
I mean, he seems determined to edge out Dana Rohrabacher as the Kremlin's favorite person on Capitol Hill. That is not an honor that anybody should have, but unfortunately, I think that Rand Paul is in some ways in tune with today's Republican Party, what I call the Putin Republicans, because there's been a sea change that Donald Trump has brought about which you can see in one poll number from -- that came out just about a month ago from gallop.
In 2014, about 20 percent of Republicans thought that Russia was our friend or ally. Today, it's 40 percent despite everything that Russia has done to us including interfering if our election. That is shocking.
LEMON: Don't we have a Russian ambassador?
BOOT: We do. What this reminds me of is the attempt by Jared Kushner right after the 2016 election to establish a back channel to Russia through the Russian embassy in Washington to bypass the State Department and our intelligence community and I kind of have to wonder if Donald Trump is trying to say something to Putin in this letter that he doesn't want to go through the normal diplomatic channels.
LEMON: And he is using --
BOOT: -- Rand Paul. Yes, who's establishing himself as a Russian loyalist.
LEMON: Interesting. Bryan, let's talk out your reporting in Politico here about the Trump/Putin Helsinki summit. And according to a leaked Russian document, Putin wanted to make progress on arms control. What do you know about this?
BENDER: Well, this was effectively talking points that Vladimir Putin brought into this meeting with President Trump. Of course, the meeting in Helsinki last month was two hours long. So this was not the entire discussion, but this was a laundry list of things that the Russians said they were willing to start talking about, renewing the new start treaty or extending it to limit the number of nuclear arms on both sides.
It included an appeal to start talking about an agreement that could limit or prohibit weapons in space. In some ways a very traditional kind of Russian diplomatic overture. The U.S. and the Russians have been signing these kinds of agreements for decades. And obviously it's in Vladimir Putin's interests to try and get some of this moving. A lot of people don't trust him. Would Russia actually live up to these agreements?
An open question, but I think the bigger question here is, is whether or not with all of this white noise, all of these things we're talking about, the way the Russians have been acting, the terrorist attack in Britain, there are activities in Syria, in Ukraine, clearly the meddling in America's electoral process.
[23:10:12] Is it possible that Washington and Moscow could set that stuff aside and keep to the very traditional approach to arms control and trying to prevent an arms race? I'm not sure that that is possible in this era.
LEMON: So, Bryan, what is the White House saying about this document that you obtained from Russian officials?
BENDER: Well, the White House doesn't confirm or deny its existence. The Russians were asked today about it and they were somewhat critical of a spokesperson said, you know, you're talking about Russia meddling in American elections, the Americans can't even keep a secret, can't even keep control of what the two Presidents talk about privately, but more broadly, the Trump administration has, and the President, himself, has said that he would like to try and find a way forward on some of these arms control issues. I mean, these are important issues.
If the new start treaty is not extended when it runs out in 2020, it would be the first time since 1972, I think, that Washington and Moscow do not have some sort of process in place to limit nuclear arms. So, you know, I think it's concerning to a lot of people in the arms control community, because even though they may not like the President's approach to foreign policy, they do think these issues are important.
But, again, the question is, can you set aside all the politics, can you set aside all the destabilizing activities that the Russia is doing and, you know, get in a room and agree on these things?
LEMON: So, Max, let's just say, what if all of this is true? What's Russia trying to achieve here with these proposals? What do they want?
BOOT: Well, broadly speaking, what Putin wants is to have the United States basically recognize an expansion of Russian power. I mean, Putin is invading his neighbors. He is interfering in our elections and European elections. He is sent his military into Syria. He wants Russia to be seen as a great power and he wants nothing more than for Donald Trump to recognize him as a fellow statesman, a fellow superpower which Donald Trump essentially did in Helsinki in the summit.
Now, I commend Bryan for his excellent reporting which brings up at least one of the issues that Putin wanted to discuss. But what I'd really like to know, and what we don't know is, what was Donald Trump saying here? Because, I mean, these are legitimate issues to talk about. Arms control, about Russian interference in our elections. About Russian actions in Ukraine, Syria, et cetera. These are all totally legitimate topics for an American President to discuss with Putin, but what you want is an American President who will stand up for America, Don, who will say, we will not accept this misbehavior and we're in favor of arms control, but by the way, you're violating the intermediate nuclear forces agreement and you need to live up to your prior treaties, if we're going to reach new deals. Now, does anybody here really think that Donald Trump did that with
Vladimir Putin when we saw that shocking submissiveness on the part of Trump in the press conference with Putin where he was accepting his denials, his lies about Russian interference in the U.S. Election? When he said it was an incredible idea to turn over the U.S. Ambassador for questioning by Russians goons. Does anybody imagine that behind closed doors Donald Trump was really standing up for America and sticking it to Putin and telling him, laying down the law? That I found very hard to believe. But we still don't know exactly what he said or what went on.
LEMON: I find it interesting that the Russians, Vladimir Putin is talking about what happened in the meeting. Russian had indication they had in the meeting. It comes out with this report, but even the people around the President, they have no idea.
LEMON: What was said?
BOOT: And probably the way the U.S. Government finds out what happened is by intercepting Russian communications about the meeting.
LEMON: Thank you, Bryan. Thank you, Max.
BENDER: Thank you. I appreciate it.
LEMON: When we come back, we're going to talk to the man President Putin singled out by name who is at the center of the Trump tower meeting. Kremlin critic, Bill Browder, gives us his take on the timing of the just announced Russian sanctions.
[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House slapping Russia with new sanctions today. And I want to talk about this now with Bill Browder, he is a known Putin critic and the author of "Red notice, a true story of high finance murder." Fascinating book. I would suggest that everyone reads that. Everyone should read that book. Bill, thank you so much for joining us.
BILL BROWDER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HERMITAGE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Great to be here.
LEMON: So today, let's talk about these new sanctions that were announced against Russia in response to the poisoning of former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. Russia denies responsibility for that, but do you think that these new sanctions have any effect on Putin's behavior?
BROWDER: Well, I mean, I think first of all, I think that these sanctions are significant mostly, because you now have the United States, the most powerful country in the world, officially recognizing that Russia committed an act of terrorism using chemical weapons in the heart of England. And now there's a certain set of sanctions that are going to roll out from that. I think that is very significant. And the way I understand Putin, and I've known Putin in a lot of
conflict over a long period of time, is that he is a guy who likes to avoid consequences. He likes to do stuff where nothing happens when he does bad stuff. So the fact that there are consequences for this chemical weapons attack against the Skripal's, I think it very much puts Putin on the defensive and makes him think, well, I've got to go do stuff where people and countries aren't going to react and aren't going to respond like this.
LEMON: Bill, there were a lot of shifting stories as you know on this whole Russia, the meeting at Trump tower. The President has now acknowledged the Trump tower meeting was, indeed, to get dirt from Russians on Hillary Clinton. But instead, we're told that all they got was an attorney talking about the Magnitsky Act, also about sanctions. What's your take on this meeting?
[23:20:04] BROWDER: Well, so there were two sides to the meeting. There were the Russians then there was the Trump family. The Russians had something they wanted and the Trump family had something they wanted. The Russians who are working on behalf of Vladimir Putin wanted to have the Magnitsky Act repealed. The Magnitsky Act is named after my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who was killed in a Russian prison for uncovering corruption. And the Magnitsky Act imposes really unpleasant sanctions against Putin and his cronies.
And so they went in there and they said, we want these sanctions repealed. And of course, the Russians don't come to a meeting empty handed. They have to come and offer something that the other side wants and so they were proposing dirt on Hillary Clinton. And so that was the quid pro quo. That was the setup for the meeting and everybody had something they wanted. Now, whether anybody walked away happy or not is another question, but it is clear what the two sides wanted.
LEMON: I've been wanting to ask you this, because, you know, since the Helsinki meeting, you believe that this private meeting in Helsinki between President Trump and President Putin, you think it was actually about you and the Magnitsky Act. Why do you think that?
BROWDER: Well, I think that for starting out after the Magnitsky Act was passed, Putin declared it his single largest foreign policy priority to have it repealed. That was back in 2012. He is been on a mission to get it repealed ever since then. As we just discussed, it showed up as the one thing they asked for in Trump tower. And we've known there's a bunch of other approaches and intentions that they had in Washington and elsewhere to try to get it repealed.
And then it shows up in the press conference. And we also know that in the press conference in Helsinki, that -- I should say before the press conference, they had a two-hour meeting where nobody knows what they discussed. It was pretty obvious to me and everybody around me that this is what they discussed. It may not have been only what day discussed, but surely this is one of the things they discussed.
LEMON: Bill, Putin mentioned you by name in the public part of that meeting offering to allow American investigators to interview the 12 Russian Intelligence Agents indicted by Mueller in exchange for allowing Russians to have access to you. How did you feel when you heard that?
BROWDER: Well, I didn't feel great. At the same time, I didn't feel as if I was going to be handed over to the Russians any time imminently, and as you may recall, after that sort of offer was put out there, the Senate voted 98-0 to reject that offer and so, you know, there's this very strong appetite in the U.S. not to have anything like that happen.
BROWDER: And so I wasn't too nervous that I was going to be handed over any time soon.
LEMON: Well, the President called that, this is a quote, an incredible offer, then he was forced to back track after a huge backlash though. You said that it would have been a death sentence.
BROWDER: Well, what you have to understand is that Vladimir Putin killed my lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky for exposing a massive corruption scheme. He killed him -- I should say, his government killed him by torturing him to death in prison. And they've been trying for the last 8 1/2 years to get me into a Russian prison to do the same thing. So, if I'm handed over, the same thing will happen to me.
LEMON: You say that you have been under Putin's skin for a very long time, right before the Trump/Putin summit, you wrote a piece in "Time" magazine. That piece is called "I've been Putin's number one foreign enemy for a decade, here's what Trump should know about handling him." Your piece was translated, published in Russia and it was downloaded a massive number of times on a Moscow website. What was Putin's reaction to it?
BROWDER: Well, I think that Putin was just going to talk about me privately in the meeting with Trump, and I think that he is such an emotional guy that when he got hold of that article in Russian, we effectively smoked him out. And that is why he mentioned me publicly. And I'm glad that whatever happened in front of the whole world as opposed to between two guys in a private meeting.
LEMON: I just interviewed the gentleman about the Politico reporting tonight. You know, there's no real record of what Trump and Putin actually discussed at the meeting today. But the, Politico published that document leaked from Russian officials outlining the topic that they supposedly talked about. Nuclear weapons, right? You're skeptical about that.
BROWDER: Well, I think the Russians leaked that document just as a way to sort of confuse the conversation. The idea of talking about nuclear weapons is exactly what two nuclear powers should be talking about in a summit like that, not handing over dissidents and critics. That is the appropriate conversation and the fact that nobody knows what happened in that meeting a month later in that secret meeting, and then the Russians leak a document like that looks to me like just a disinformation exercise. Doesn't look like that was the real topic of conversation.
[23:25:10] LEMON: The book is called "Red notice." And I urge everyone either download it or pick up a copy. It's a fascinating, fascinating read. Thank you, Bill Browder. I appreciate your time.
BROWDER: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, some CEO's who quit the President's advisory councils over his good people on both sides comments after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, well, they joined him for dinner last night, right before the one-year anniversary of that violent rally. I have a lot to say about that. Stick around.
[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The Virginia governor and the city of Charlottesville declaring a state of emergency ahead of the anniversary of last year's deadly Unite the Right rally, citing concerns over planned demonstrations of hate. National guard units will be deployed for additional security.
Of course, it was one year ago that torch-carrying Neo-Nazi racists gathered there, chanting racist slogans and terrifying people. Thirty- two-year-old Heather Heyer was killed and dozens were injured by a man who intentionally drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. And in the aftermath, these comments from the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, may business leaders left President Trump's strategic and policy forum and manufacturing advisory council. The groups of business leaders were meant to serve as an informal adviser council to collaborate with the administration.
The president was initially unfazed saying, "For every CEO that drops out of the Manufacturing Council, I have many to take their place. Grandstanders should not have gone on. Jobs!" Well, as the blow-back grew, the vast majority of CEOs on the panel said that they were going to call it quits if it was not disbanded.
And President Trump pulled the old I'm breaking up with you before you leave me routine, tweeting this. "Rather than putting pressure on the business people of the Manufacturing Council and strategy and policy forum, I am ending both. Thank you, all."
Well, that was it for the councils. So it is interesting to see who the president dined with last night. Some of those very same people who so admirably took a stand last year were at Bedminster golf club with the president days before the anniversary of that ugly incident that the president could not unilaterally disavow. So take the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, Alex Gorsky. Last August, he said this. He said, "The president's most recent statements equating those who are motivated by race-based hate with those who stand up against hatred is unacceptable and has changed our decision to participate in the White House Manufacturing Advisory Council." That's what he said then.
And then PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi, who was reportedly instrumental getting other council members to stand united against the president tweeted one year ago this, that she was heartbroken by the violence at the white nationalist rally.
In the wake of a racist violence, Mark Weinberger, the CEO of accounting giant Ernst & Young, said, "Bigotry and hatred have no place in our society. I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the tragic, deplorable acts that took place in Charlottesville."
So we at CNN and our colleagues at CNBC have reached out to ask for a comment from these executives on last night's dinner. Ernst & Young was the only one to get back to us, saying, no comment. Perhaps they believe that over the past year, President Trump has showed some evolution of thought and contrition about what happened in Charlottesville, though I don't think we have seen much evidence of that at all.
They may feel that attending this dinner now, a year later, is the right thing to do for their companies, regardless of their personal feelings about Charlottesville at the time. The White House says that last night's dinner at Bedminster was the chance for the president to hear from a number of business leaders. But I wonder what his takeaway was. We'll talk more about that when we come back.
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: And we're back. President Trump dining with some of the biggest names in corporate America, nearly a year after many of them publicly broke with him over comments following the deadly violence in Charlottesville.
So let's discuss now. CNN Political Commentators, Marc Lamont Hill and Margaret Hoover are both here, also with Rob Astorino, a former Republican candidate for governor in New York. Welcome, everyone. It is good to have you all around the table here. So last year, some of these CEOs, many of them were like cutting ties with this White House council, with the White House. What a difference a year makes.
MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah. It goes to show you politicians and CEOs don't have feelings, they have interests. And it was in their best interest to run away from Donald Trump. It's bad for business to stand next to somebody who supports or seems to be supporting white supremacy. So they ran away.
Everyone knew it was a bad idea to support that march except Donald Trump. And now a year later, they understand it's in their best interest to get close to him again so they're doing it.
LEMON: It's back at the table, Lamont. What's the point of all the outrage?
HILL: Well, I do think there's value in saying I can't be on your council --
HILL: -- if you're doing something this horrific. It doesn't mean I can't do business with you. It doesn't mean we can't negotiate. That's the best case scenario. And more cynical read which is also my read is that they ran away because it was bad for business, but not wink, wink, we're still with you.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, the argument, right, the argument is always if you're not at the table, you can't influence the policies. And apparently, I mean, Donald Trump even waved over one of his staffers and said go write an executive order on immigration, these guys want high-skilled immigration here. Right?
So, I don't know what comes of that. Maybe something. Maybe nothing. You're not going to have that conversation with the president of the United States if you don't show up for dinner.
[23:40:00] LEMON: So, Charlottesville was declared a state of emergency. You know, it's one year anniversary. Heather Heyer died. There is so much indignation around this. How do you think people -- do you think people have moved on? How could they have moved on?
HOOVER: I don't think anybody has moved on from what the president said or what happened there or -- that wasn't -- that was absolutely equating Neo-Nazis and what happened on it was morally unconscionable. And I don't think anybody is distancing themselves from those words. They were morally unconscionable.
But Marc is exactly right. They've got shareholder interests. They've got other competing interests at play. And the president after he said those things, you know, a year has gone by and he hasn't, you know, he's continued to make all sorts of other problems for himself and have other interests.
LEMON: What do you think?
ROB ASTORINO, FORMER COUNTY EXECUTIVE, WESTCHESTER COUNTY, NEW YORK: She's right. I think Margaret is right -- and Marc on this one, because, you know, the CEOs like Indra Nooyi who I know from Westchester, that's where PepsiCo's world headquarters is, you know, everything is global now, right? So PepsiCo is all over the world. And trade and sanctions have an effect on PepsiCo and all those CEOs.
So, if they were to not sit down with the president, take that opportunity, they would be a dereliction of their duty as the CEO of a major company and their number one responsibility is to their company and to their shareholders.
So, it is dangerous, by the way, when companies go out of their zone of what they're suppose to be doing and make public policy statements or take these kind of positions because that can tick off half the country.
HOOVER: Mostly --
LEMON: Do you think these CEOs, though, are effectively telling him that there are no consequences to what you say or your actions at all?
ASTORINO: No, I think they made those statements, you know, by folding the council and making those statements at the time. I think that had an effect. But also when they're getting invited to sit down with the president, they have to do that. I don't care who the president is. I don't care what their personal --
LEMON: You have to go to Bedminster, though? I mean --
HILL: No. That's the thing --
LEMON: That's the thing, you don't have to go --
HILL: You don't have to go. He went to the golf club, right? It wasn't like they went to the White House --
HOOVER: If they were at Martha's Vineyard, they go to Martha's Vineyard. Wherever the president is summering, they go there. When the president invites you, you go to the president's table or you don't. It's not --
ASTORINO: I think --
HOOVER: If that's the calculation, if your calculation is you're looking out for shareholders' interests. And by the way, what's extraordinary about Charlottesville is how many CEOs were going to take a public stand about it.
I mean, CNBC just put out a poll two days ago saying that basically 70 -- there is a 70 percent chance there will be a backlash on brand reputation if you make a statement either affirmatively or negatively about Donald Trump.
LEMON: That's why I said why do you have to go to Bedminster?
LEMON: And why would you have to go to Bedminster to do it? Because you have to think about it. You have to weigh, right? That's what I'm saying. Weighing point against the other.
HILL: Same thing with the pastors.
LEMON: Hold on, before you jump in. You said they don't have to go. We both looked at each other and said, no. If you look at the athletes, many of them did not want to go to this White House. There have been other people who didn't go to White House. HILL: There are celebrities who didn't go who I think were right not to go.
HILL: But I think if you go, you have to go under your terms and your conditions. And I think because they walked away from him, because he's the one in the vulnerable position right now, you're in a position of strength where you can dictate the terms of the engagement.
If I'm the CEO of a corporation, I would say, look, Mr. Trump, I'll meet with you but I'm not going to make it look like we're old buddies who had an under the table deal the whole time. I'm not going to hang out in the gold club like we're friends. We'll meet at the White House.
We'll meet somewhere else where it looks like we're talking brass tacks, we're going straight to business. I'm not going to look like we're hanging out because I think that's actually bad for business. I think being Donald Trump's friend right now is generally bad for business.
HOOVER: It is the summer White House, right? The Oval Office is under construction. That's where they're having their meetings. That's where they're running the country's business. It's really not the same as the White House.
LEMON: Margaret. Hold on. Hold on. It is a private Trump property. It's not like they were at Camp David.
LEMON: It's a private Trump company.
HOOVER: I am not in favor of the president driving business and reputation and brand marketing to his personal businesses while he's in the White House. I --
LEMON: But there is (ph) that, too.
HOOVER: -- problem with that.
ASTORINO: They just didn't get off the 18th hole (ph). I mean, they were invited there in the conference room or the dining room all around a big table to have a discussion. I think the setting is irrelevant. The fact that they're meeting with the president is very important to their companies and to their shareholders and you always should have that dialogue.
When President Obama or President Bush or President Clinton, when they met with CEOs, not every one of those CEOs agreed with the president, but of course they were going to meet with him because they had an interest that they needed to take to the table and talk to the president about.
HILL: That's fascinating. I feel like when it's people we like, we say, oh, we have to meet with them even if we disagree. If it's people we don't like, we say, oh, you can't dignify them with your appearance. I think both parties do it. Lots of people -- lots of presidents.
And some people will say we should meet, some people will say we shouldn't meet. My point is to say, I think both parties do it. I think we have to have a somewhat consistent standard here about what qualifies as a legitimate meeting and what does not.
[23:45:04] I don't have a problem necessarily with those CEOs meeting with him. Again, for me, optics matter. And to say I disagree with you on that one point which is -- I think the setting does matter. I think the setting always matter. In Charlottesville, it will be a very different narrative than if they met in D.C. I mean, it matters.
And I think now these CEOs partly because of this conversation are going to have to go back and explain what they were meeting about, why they were meeting. And yeah, they went on the 18th hole (ph), but I think that -- but appearance matters.
HOOVER: -- exactly your point, they all leaked, right? There were massive stories from all these different CEOs --
LEMON: And they said they did talk about trade --
HOOVER: They talked about trade. They talked about immigration. Go back, all of the stories they written about it, what they get out of it? Why did they do it? There weren't just jamming it out. They had this --
LEMON: Dressed up at Bedminster, a private property of the president, and you -- if you meet someone on their turf in a private setting, it looks like you're being chummy or cozy with them.
ASTORINO: No, but the private setting --
LEMON: It doesn't matter if you support them or not.
ASTORINO: That's his turf.
HILL: That's the people's turf.
ASTORINO: Well, yes, but that's where the president --
HILL: A Trump property feels a little less public.
LEMON: All right. We're going to take a break. When we come back, why Twitter won't ban a conspiracy theorist known to spread dangerous and false information. Are they celebrating free speech or passing the buck? [23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his media outlet InfoWars are now banned from Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify, but not Twitter. In a series of, what else, tweets, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained why, saying InfoWars has not violated the company's rules, and that it is up to journalists who call out Jones for making false claims.
Back with me now are Marc, Margaret, and Rob. OK, so listen, let's talk about this. The very definition of truth and reality come under attack, right, and facts. Conspiracy theories on social media, fake news on all these platforms. Is Twitter -- do you think Twitter is basically saying, you know, he's not violating the policy, but just -- you can say whatever you want? Is that what -- is that good judgment?
HILL: We let Donald Trump do it, right? I mean, I think there's space to let people flash out ideas, to debate and go at it. I personally think that YouTube and other platforms have made the right decision by taking Alex Jones off, because he's violated terms of service and because I think it's dangerous and a private platform has every right to do so.
But also I don't have a problem with Twitter making a different choice and saying, hey, talk all you want. Expose these ideas and let the world engage and debate them. I don't think either approach is wrong. But I want the other companies to reserve the right to be able to do it.
LEMON: It's the job of journalists, he is saying, is he advocating his responsibility to --
HOOVER: He doesn't see himself as a journalist. But I will say Twitter has a pretty spotty past of allowing their platform for the free and open use.
I mean, there were mothers of victims of ISIS who were begging Twitter back in 2013 and 2014, even as recently as 2016, 2017, to not allow terrorists, not allow ISIS fighters to use their platform in order to communicate with each other and, you know, continue their plot to take over the western world and install the caliphate.
And I think there's a pretty fair line to draw there. Don't let ISIS use your platform.
HILL: Alex Jones could be on the other side of that line, right?
HOOVER: Absolutely, absolutely.
HILL: OK. I just want to be clear.
HOOVER: I'm not likening Alex Jones but -- I think what I am just saying is they've had a hard time drawing the line.
HOOVER: And that -- as evidenced.
LEMON: So, Rob, after Dorsey tweeted out a statement, this is Twitter's safety team, they said this, "As we have stated publicly, we strongly believe Twitter should not be the arbiter or truth nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what's true and false."
So, if they can't determine truth, lies or hate speech, how can anyone else trust what we see on that platform?
ASTORINO: Well, I think it's a really dangerous path right now we're heading, and I would prefer to have the Twitter model and just have the wild west on the Internet than have some 25-year-old Berkeley grad sitting there determining what is and what isn't hate speech.
LEMON: It is the wild west on the Internet.
ASTORINO: It is --
LEMON: No one is banning Alex Jones from the Internet.
ASTORINO: Look, I think he is a lunatic. He is an outlier. I have no respect for him or his beliefs. But I would rather him be on the Internet and people make up their own mind --
LEMON: He's on the Internet.
ASTORINO: I'm just saying, not being taken down, then --
LEMON: He's not taken down off the Internet. He's taken down off of private platforms.
ASTORINO: Exact --
LEMON: It's an important distinction. He's not been banned or threatened with jail for violating their terms of service. If you use a service and you violate it, then you can no longer use that service.
ASTORINO: Yes, but what's happening is, it's very subjective on what they determine to be hate speech. And when we start going down that path, it's going to backfire. Look, and the opposite is this, the state of New Jersey now is spending $5 million out of taxpayer dollars to prop up community newspapers. The state is basically running newspapers now? That's just as bad.
HILL: I get it. As somebody on the left, I don't want some 25-year- old Oral Roberts grad --
ASTORINO: Yeah, exactly.
HILL: -- to check my speech, either.
HILL: It's a slippery slope.
HILL: If that is what's at stake. But I think there's a very different issue that I think sometimes gets conflated and that is, to Don's point, this isn't about First Amendment at all and it always becomes a First Amendment right when you hold people accountable for violating terms of service and for doing things that are way beyond the boundaries of what is appropriate in civil speech in a private speech community.
So, yeah, people can say what they want on the Internet. Alex Jones has his own platform. No one is taking his platform. And that's the thing. This is about having a free speech is by having a free platform.
[23:55:01] And people have a right to -- we have a right to say, you can't be on my private platform. And I think that is super important that we can always --
LEMON: Especially when you think about what happened, conspiracy theories, you know, about what happened at Sandy Hook, you know, and what happened --
LEMON: -- the school in Florida.
HOOVER: So, by the way, you know, Twitter makes these distinctions, other Internet platforms have decided not to carry him. And guess what, his app is trending. It's one of the highest trending app.
LEMON: Yeah. To the point that he's not --
HILL: Have at it.
LEMON: First Amendment rights have not been violated.
HOOVER: Not in the least.
HILL: Let him have it. Go to his app.
ASTORINO: You know, I just -- I just don't want me or you or you or you to be a year from now determined by some of these companies to be out of bounds and were taken down and not given a platform because they may not agree with some of our political views or --
LEMON: I don't think this is about politics. This is about outlandish, crazy --
ASTORINO: He's nuts. He's awful.
LEMON: Maybe the lesson is that we should all be more responsible and Alex Jones should be more responsible. And especially considering what happened with the 2016 election, I think these companies need to take more of a responsibility, especially when it comes to people spreading lies.
HILL: But I think we as journalists also have an important job that we're beginning to take even more seriously than we had and we always had, and that is fact-checking.
HILL: Holding people accountable. Putting people's feet to the fire.
LEMON: Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues. Thank you, guys.
[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)