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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Signs Defense Authorization Act; Former White House Employee Declared War with Former Boss; Racism in the White House; Omarosa Manigault Newman's Firing. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 13, 2018 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00] (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: It's a tricky argument. I know I'm going to get some heat. I understand that.

The law will take care of what you do to me and what I do to you. But to make it moral equivalence whether you're coming at me because I'm saying you don't matter in this world as much as I do, those are not equivalent motivation that lead us into confrontation.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Well, sometimes you can't fight people by you know, praising them and being nice to them. You have to fight fire with fire sometimes. Listen, I'm not advocating--

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You should be your best.

LEMON: Right. You should be your best.

CUOMO: Those guys going after cops, going after the media, it's wrong. They did nothing productive.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: They did nothing to make anything better.

LEMON: Yes. Let me just say this, though, you ask why he doesn't call out -- because the white nationalists are winning right now. This helps their cause, this helps their case for the president to be equivocating between, you know, whether it's anti-fa or whatever, fine people on both sides, that actually helps their case.

And they have garnered the spotlight. This gives them energy and a profile they didn't have before.

CUOMO: It's true.

LEMON: And I think it's sad that this president can't see that.

CUOMO: And that's why they're out on line more than I've seen in a long time. But I'll tell you this. There aren't enough of them.

LEMON: Yes. CUOMO: There aren't enough of them.

LEMON: Well, that's so--

CUOMO: It creates an equal opposite. If people who want to fight hate and realize that they have to do something about it, they can't just back and expect it to happen otherwise, not right now, that will matter too much.

LEMON: Yes. There is a great article that you should read by Adam Serwer, I don't know if you've read it, and it's called white nationalists are winning. Adam is going to be on on our 11 o'clock hour.

CUOMO: Yes.

LEMON: Adam is going to talk to us about this.

CUOMO: Yes, great gift.

LEMON: And we're going to have this conversation, similar conversation. Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: I'll be watching.

LEMON: All right. See you.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

And this is day that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about our president, OK? This is how President Trump began his day. Tweeting -- of course, tweeting, right? About Omarosa Manigault- Newman, former assistant to the president and director of communications for the office of public liaison. That was her title.

And not at all coincidentally a former reality show TV star on Donald Trump's apprentice. Well, she was fired from the White House from her job last December and of course is now plugging a book.

The president calls her whacky, vicious, not smart, nasty. So why did he hire her, and why did he keep her in the White House for nearly a year? Simple as the president says, quote, "She only said great things about me."

So there you have it. The secret to success in the Trump White House for anybody who hadn't already guessed is to praise the president. Contrast that to President Trump's own behavior just a few hours later at the signing ceremony at Fort Drum for a National Defense Authorization Act.

He couldn't even bring himself to call the bill by its complete name which is the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We would not be here for today's signing ceremony without the dedicated efforts of the members of Congress who worked so hard to pass the National Defense Authorization Act.

I'd like to recognize Congresswoman Elise Stefanik. I also want to thank Representatives Don Baker, Dan Donovan and Joe Wilson who are with us also.

There's another member of Congress here today who was not only an air force veteran but the first woman ever to fly a fighter jet in combat in U.S. history, and I've gotten to know her very well and she is terrific. Congresswoman Martha McSally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: You heard there. Didn't have one single word to say about the war hero and long time senator whose name is on the bill, Senator John McCain. He's had a lot to say about Senator John McCain in the past.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The way Trump looks at it he's at least better than everyone else in the race beginning with John McCain.

TRUMP: I mean, he was captured.

RATHER: He flew combat mission.

TRUMP: Does being captured make you a hero, I don't know, I'm not sure.

He hit me, he's a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a war hero.

TRUMP: He is a war hero -- he was a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured, OK?

He was desperate to get my endorsement. I gave him the endorsement because he needed it for the primary. He's never had salty language before, you know, John McCain who has probably the dirtiest mouth in all the Senate.

You mean, Senator who voted against us getting a good healthcare.

John McCain was not on the list, so that was a totally unexpected thing, terrible. Honestly terrible.

It's a very sad day for the country when that vote was cast, that final vote was cast. Thumb's down. I remember it well.

We were going in for a routine repeal and replace, and he went thumb downs. Not nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Even just a little while ago the president couldn't resist slamming Senator McCain again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: One of our wonderful senators said thumbs down at 2 o'clock in the morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[22:05:02] LEMON: Disgraceful. President Trump slamming Senator McCain simply because he refused to vote the way the president wanted him to on healthcare? And slamming John McCain's wartime service even though Trump himself got a draft deferment for bone spurs in his heels.

John McCain as I said is a war hero. He's been awarded the Silver Star, the bronze star, the Legion of Merit, a Purple Heart and a distinguished Flying Cross.

This is man who served in the navy for 23 years, who was a prisoner of war for nearly six years in the infamous and brutal North Vietnamese prison known Hanoi Hilton, the Hanoi Hilton.

Who, though, although he was crippled in the crash of his bomber refused to be released before American prisoners who had been held longer, who has been tortured and kept in solitary confinement for more than two years, who bears the scars of that experience to this very day.

This is man who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, the Senate in 1986, who ran for president in 2008, and famously demonstrated that there is a place for honor in American politics at this moment, a moment that's worth remembering today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't trust Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I got it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have read about him and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an Arab. He's not? No?

MCCAIN: No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that's what this campaign is all about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And of course Senator McCain is in the fight of his life right now battling brain cancer. We wish him well.

Yet, President Trump just could not bring himself to even mention the name of John McCain. But the senator predictably took the high road ignoring the president's slide and saying in a statement, quote, "I am humbled that my colleagues in Congress chose to designate this bill in my name. There is no higher calling than to serve a cause greater than self-interest. Through the committee's work I've been privileged to support our men and women in uniform who have dedicated their lives to that noble cause."

Wise words from a courageous man. All Americans owe him a debt of gratitude for his decades of service to this country. And again our thoughts and prayers are with Senator John McCain. We hope that he's doing OK and his family as well.

So let's bring in now CNN's White House Correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, and CNN's Editor-at-Large, Chris Cillizza, and Republican Strategist, Rick Wilson, the author of "Everything Trump Touches Dies."

Good evening, everyone. Good to have you on. Kaitlan, let's start with Omarosa. The president is describing Omarosa as whacky, as a lowlife, as not smart, deranged. Is that -- why was she there if that's the case?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's the question being raised by several White House staffers who initially pushed back on President Trump hiring her in the first place after he was elected, about bringing her on in the White House.

But it was the president, Don, who insisted on bringing her into the West Wing. And the president made clear in his tweet today even when John Kelly came on as chief of staff he too tried to convinced the president to fire Omarosa.

However, you see how long it took. She stayed on for several more months after John Kelly first came into the West Wing. So the president is tweeting these things now that Omarosa is criticizing him in this book.

Some of these claims that White House staffers are very dubious of, but the reason is and the fact of the matter is this is someone the president brought onto the administration, someone the president paid one of the highest salaries you can earn here in the West Wing of taxpayer funded money.

So really it's the president who has to answer for these questions of why he brought in someone who would record his conversations, make these allegations about him that she's making after she left the White House.

LEMON: Chris, the president just tweeted just a short while ago more about Omarosa. He said, "Hey, tweeted, Mark Burnett called to say there are no tapes of the apprentice where used that's a terrible and disgusting word. It's attributed by whacky and deranged Omarosa. I don't have that word in my vocabulary and never have. She made it up." What do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Standard operating procedure for Donald Trump. He wakes up every morning I think with a tabula rasa. Whatever he's said or done about people in the past is totally forgotten.

Kaitlan makes the point that Donald Trump tweeted out that he gotten rid of her fired Omarosa four times. You know, how do yo get fired four times, Don, you get hired four times.

So that's telling I think in and of itself. Donald Trump knew what he was getting. No one could say when Donald Trump brought Omarosa into the White House he wasn't sure what he was getting. I think you're pretty clear on that.

[22:10:03] He has turned on her now because she's stopped saying nice things about him. We this pattern over and over again. He revealed in that tweet earlier today, he said she has always said nice things about me.

It's not that complicated. He likes people who say nice things about him. He doesn't like it when those people stop saying nice things about him. Whether it's Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Australia. Pick Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, he literally pick anyone and that basic standard generally applies up to and including Omarosa.

LEMON: What's -- it shouldn't go unnoticed, Rick, that we're talking about you know, he's comparing being fired on a reality TV show to being fired as an advisor to the president. He hired his reality show villain, right?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right.

LEMON: He should have known.

WILSON: Donald Trump's addicted to that little line about the snake he knew what he was doing, he knew what he was hiring. He wanted the drama, he wanted the reality TV tropes that she was going to bring into the equation.

And look, he is a guy who as Chris pointed out, he is addicted to having his ass kissed. She did it very well for a while, and now that he's off the rails -- suddenly she was a volunteer, a coffee girl, we don't know her. It's the same pattern that always follows even with people who come in with qualifications, dignity and stature to this White House.

They end up, the minute they're off the reservations, you know, they become un-persons. She's going to end up in this war with him where she's unfortunately for him got a little more juice to be in this fight because she's playing by his rules, not political rules.

LEMON: Right.

WILSON: She's playing by reality TV rules if she's going to roll this thing out.

LEMON: Well, Omarosa, Kaitlan, was on MSNBC tonight and said that she'd be willing to share any recordings with the special counsel Robert Mueller. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And yes, we reports a couple of hours ago, Omarosa, do you have any other recordings? You wouldn't share them here. Do you got some?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have plenty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything Mueller would like to see, Mr. Robert Mueller?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: If his office calls again, anything they want. I don't care

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Which should be a great for this investigation by Mueller?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Absolutely. Anything they want I will certainly cooperate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think Trump should be impeached?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: At this point, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Kaitlan, if Mueller's office calls again?

COLLINS: That is the first time seemingly that we have learned that the special counsel did contact Omarosa. Of course, Don, we only have her account and she obviously has some credibility issues here.

The special counsel's office doesn't confirm who they've spoken with. So far throughout this entire process we've only learned that from the people themselves.

But Omarosa does seem to be saying there and that follows after she wrote in her book that she had been contacted by the FBI. Now it's unclear if the recordings that she does have, if the special counsel did contact her again would be of interest to the special counsel.

Much of the conversations she has are largely ones we already knew about. But Don, just to give you a sense of how unusual what of a world we're living in the president is on the top floor of the White House right behind me tweeting that denial that he used that racial slur. I don't think that's ever happened before. It's a presidential first to say that.

And it's just so unusual and it just really speaks to what kind of White House this is and what kind of administration we are witnessing happen here. When the president is having to deny something like that from the top floor of the White House.

CILLIZZA: And Don, just add to the fact that, look, we've talked about this many times. His tweets are him, right? Everything else is a way in which his views are filtered except maybe his public speeches.

But his tweets we know are him. They're a window into how he thinks, what he is thinking about at that moment. If you don't think Donald Trump is either focused on, worried about some combination of Omarosa as credibility challenged as she is, Kaitlan is right, just go and look at his Twitter feed today.

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: From 6.30 in the morning until 10.10 p.m. Eastern he's been tweeting about it pretty consistently. And I think that's in and of itself telling.

LEMON: Yes, and the president--

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: But, Don, one thing to add to that is--

LEMON: Go on.

COLLINS: This is when we always talk about the White House having its own credibility issues when often the spokesperson says something and the president contradicts him or they maintain something and then later we learn that what they said or what the president said wasn't true.

This is one of those times when the White House could have used some credibility. They have this former aide, a top staffer who's making the top salary coming out with these very out there allegations about the president and about staffers inside this White House who are funded by taxpayers.

And this is time when the White House could have said what she's saying is not true or this is not how these events happened, but neither of the parties here have a ton of credibility. A lot of that is something the White House has done to itself here.

LEMON: Yes. And Rick, what is it? What does it say? It starts at the top.

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: But what does it say that two of his -- two people who worked for him felt compelled to tape him. What does this say about him?

[22:15:03] WILSON: Well, his attorney said many, many years ago--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's Michael Cohen and Omarosa.

WILSON: Right. His attorneys said many, many years ago, Kasowitz and other ones, you have to always have two people in the room because he will lie to you and not remember what he said. He will lie to you -- he will lie to his own lawyers trying to keep him out of trouble. And he is -- I'm not -- it's a pathological repeated pattern with this

guy. He can't tell the truth to anyone about anything. Obviously, every day we wake up with the morning crazy tweets. And they're all embedded with some kind of self-referential B.S. about who he is and what -- and what other people have wronged him.

So this beef with her is representative of how he treats everybody, so of course they're all paranoid. Of course they're all worried about things. Of course they're taking out insurance on Trump.

Because, you know, if you're Michael Cohen you're doing some sleazy stuff. You're in the midst of, you know, all the controlling all the girlfriend stories and the pay outs and all that stuff, and so you want to make sure you have some cover.

You're Omarosa, this is because she's playing by the rules of reality TV. She's playing by the rules of being a villain in a professional wrestling reality TV show. And she loves it.

And he, you know, there's a part of Donald Trump, by the way, all these angry tweets, he loves this. He loves this drama. He loves this that we're not talking about the fact that he claims he fired Peter Strzok today.

LEMON: Yes.

WILSON: And opened himself up to a whole new avenue of cast. He loves this.

LEMON: Well, we're going to talk about that as well. Thank you all. I appreciate your insights.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, President Trump claims Omarosa signed a nondisclosure agreement. She says she didn't, but should the White House be in the business of silencing former staffers and using campaign funds to do it?

[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back now. I want to bring in CNN Political Commentator, David Axelrod. He's a former senior adviser to President Obama, and CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni, a columnist for "The New York Times."

Gentlemen, good evening to you. I want to get this in first. So, let's -- I want to play the audio, the recording of the phone conversation that Omarosa had with the president that aired on NBC. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VOICE CLIP)

TRUMP: Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you're thinking about leaving. What happened?

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: General Kelly -- General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave. TRUMP: No, I -- nobody even told me about it.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Wow.

TRUMP: You know they run a big operation, but I didn't know it. I didn't know that.

MANIGAULT-NEWMAN: Yes.

TRUMP: God damn it. I don't love you leaving at all.

(END VOICE CLIP)

LEMON: Frank, did it sound like he really knew nothing about it there?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: How do we know? It's Donald Trump. He could be lying to her. He could also know nothing about it. I mean this is such a strangely run unprofessional White House that anything is believable and nothing is trustworthy. So I don't know how we know.

LEMON: So, David, it's a mess, right?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I guess I always agree with Frank, and I disagree with him on this. I don't think that the chief of staff was going to fire someone who was a personal hire of the president and whose relationship with the president predated his own without letting the president know that he was going to do it.

I don't think -- I don't think if you are the chief of staff you want the president finding about major dismissals that are messy if you remember at the time from cable TV which he watches incessantly.

LEMON: And I also had to note that there was this some blowback and that she was the--

(CROSSTALK)

BRUNI: Well, there's also one of the top--

LEMON: -- highest ranking African-American in the administration, right? As the president's advisor. Go on, Frank. What were you saying?

BRUNI: I was going to say there's also the possibility that John Kelly got her approved and that Donald Trump forgot a few seconds later. There's that possibility too.

AXELROD: Well, that is true. These aren't the kinds of things. It could be Frank, you're right.

But look, the bottom line is the guy doesn't tell the truth on a regular basis. I mean, he remember what he told people about not knowing that Michael Cohen had, you know, made arrangements with, you know, these women and so on. You know, and then it turns out that he was deep in negotiations. He just -- he doesn't feel the need to tell the truth. And therein

lies the big problem. Because everything in a White House or any organization flows from the top.

LEMON: Yes.

AXELROD: And if you have a president who doesn't believe in rules, laws, norms or telling it truth, that gives license to everybody else to misbehave. And we've seen that in the last 24 to 48 hours.

LEMON: David, I want to ask you this because I think it deserves a longer response, right? As I said it's a mess. The White House has denied in the past that they even made people sign nondisclosure agreements or NDAs, but now Trump is claiming on Twitter that Omarosa did sign. And then Kellyanne Conway saying it's perfectly normal. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: It is typical and you know it to sign an NDA--

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well--

CONWAY -- and excuse me, to sign an NDA in anyplace of work and--

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sign them in the West Wing? You sign a nondisclosure?

CONWAY: Yes. We have confidentiality agreements in the West Wing, absolutely we do. And why would I--

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: David, is a nondisclosure agreement standard procedure? Is it legitimately enforceable?

AXELROD: Unheard of until now. And it wasn't standard procedure. Look, most people who serve in the White House serve because they feel a desire to serve the country and because they have deep loyalty and respect for the president.

And so, you know, at least in the White House I served and I suspect in the other White Houses that preceded us, there wasn't a sense that those were necessary wouldn't have crossed anyone's mind. Notwithstanding the fact that they may not be enforceable.

But this is how Donald Trump ran his business, and this goes back to what I said before. This is what he demanded of everyone who was involved with him in his business because he doesn't trust people. He doesn't show them loyalty, and they don't trust him.

LEMON: Yes.

AXELROD: And therefore they don't show him loyalty. It is a den of vipers.

LEMON: Yes, and you see that with the recordings. So, Frank, you call this a crisis of professionalism within the White House. Talk to me about that.

BRUNI: Well, I mean, I think you can look at any number of things. This is not a professionally run White House. We have seen any number of examples of terrible vetting. Let's not forget the whole Dr. Ronnie Jackson fiasco. You know, we've seen examples of improper monitoring as was the case with Rob Porter, remember all of that regarding security clearance him and Jared Kushner. We've seen unfilled positions.

[22:20:13] In various ways this is not a professional White House. And I want to respond to one thing Kellyanne Conway said. She said this is typical in anyplace of work.

The White House is not anyplace of work. This is a public realm. It's not a private (Inaudible). And to have people sign NDAs is really kind of perverse because they're supposed to be answerable to members of Congress when they ask questions, they have oversight, they're supposed to be answerable to federal agencies, they're protected by whistleblower protections.

There are various ways in which we try to make sure that if they have something important to tell people who work in the public realm can tell it. So an NDA runs totally counter to that and it runs counter to the spirit of government.

LEMON: Omarosa says she has more recordings. Are they compelling and can she legally use them? We'll discuss that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:29:56] LEMON: So Omarosa claims that she has more recordings from inside the White House, but she says she is holding back those alleged tapes for now.

David Axelrod, Frank Bruni are both back with me. So, she did say today, David that President Trump advocated taping his enemies. And she's, you know, got more tapes on him. How concerned should the White House -- do you think White House officials are at this point? Should they be concerned?

AXELROD: Well, they should be concerned. But I must say, you know, and I don't consider Omarosa a hero in this story. I mean she's -- the things that she did to get these recordings and the fact that having testified to Trump's character all those many months, for her to come out now and doing what she's doing doesn't impress me very much.

But she's trying to sell a book. And I would think if she had blockbuster videos that she would want the best videos or the best recordings, I should say, out there when the book was rolling out. And, you know, frankly, these recordings only reinforce things that we already know. There's nothing in here, you know, she rolled the can and the flag popped out that said pop on it.

But it wasn't the big canon shot that people expected. So I don't think that she -- you know, my guess is she doesn't have better stuff or she would have used it.

LEMON: Yes, or maybe it is a sequel. Look, it is reality show TV stars and the way they do things as you can see, completely different.

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: I have never been.

LEMON: Yes, I know, right? I feel like I am living in one right now. What about this new tweet though, Frank, of him denying using racial slurs on tapes of The Apprentice, I mean he claims Mark Burnett called him and told him there are no tapes where he used that word. Why would the President need Mark Burnett to call and tell him that? Wouldn't he already know himself?

BRUNI: We talk about the issues with Donald Trump's memory and I also don't know that we can trust that tweet. You know I think the take away from this as David was suggesting isn't going to be any one recording that Omarosa has or any one revelation she has. I think the take away is this is a woman who was working at the apex of American government.

This was a woman, a person whom Trump hired, whom he trusted. This is the kind of person he's attracted to, the kind of person that orbits around him. And, you know, we frequently refer to the Trump and his White Houses as a reality show. I watched this and I think more of science fiction like Frankenstein. He's seeing something he helped create come back to devour him.

LEMON: Yes. David, she's concerned. Saying she's expecting the White House to retaliate. And my question is if she has more recordings, can they legally stop her? Can they, you know, classify them or say that they are privileged in some way? I don't know.

AXELROD: You know, they can try and say it is their property, and they can try and do that. I think it is in practice hard to do, to stop her from discouraging these. But you know, but just building on something Frank said. I actually thought it was more like Jerry Springer than the classic reality TV thing, where you bring in people, they betray each other, and then they throw chairs at each other for the rest of the hour, is more like its been.

But the serious point is I think that the damage to Donald Trump isn't any specific thing that Omarosa is saying. It is this portrait of a White House that is like a Jerry Springer Show. And the kind of strange characters that he brings around him and then entrusts with, you know, authority, the Michael Cohens, the Omarosas, the Paul Manaforts. And I think what's growing is a portrait of a very disturbing pattern

that has now defined our White House, and in some ways is defining the administration to the country and the world. I think that makes people uncomfortable.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your time. When we come back, Kellyanne Conway seemed to have a lot of trouble answering one very simple question. Who is the most prominent African-American in the West Wing? Could it be because the Trump cabinet is the whitest and most male since Ronald Reagan?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:35:00] LEMON: So Omarosa Manigault Newman's White House tenure was controversial at best. And her firing is still causing problems for an administration that clearly has a diversity problem. I want you to listen to --this is Kellyanne Conway struggling to name even one prominent African-American in the West Wing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Omarosa was the most prominent, high level African-American serving in the West Wing on President Trump's staff. Who now is that person? Who is the most prominent high level advisor to the President on the West Wing staff right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: African-American?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say that, well, first of all you're totally not covering the fact that our Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and world renowned...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am asking you about the White House staff. I am asking you about the people the President is with everyday.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the President works with Secretary Carson every day. He's trying to break the back of...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is on the White House staff right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we have Jeron who's done a fabulous job and very involved with Jared Kushner and President Trump on prison reform from the beginning. He worked with Omarosa and others of us...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have an office in the West Wing, Kelly?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, absolutely, the executive office of the President, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right. So let's discuss now. CNN Political Commentators, Ana Navarro, Bakari Sellers, and Steve Cortes all join me. Good evening. So that was a lot. She couldn't even name, Ana, one black person in the West Wing. This lack of diversity in the President's administration, what does it say about Trump himself?

[22:39:52] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That he's not getting good counsel from a diverse group of people. And I almost am thankful for that, because I think I would be embarrassed to think that there would be anybody that is an African-American who has access to the Oval Office constantly. And this guy is still saying things and doing things like tweeting things against you, and against Lebron James, and against Maxine Waters, and against NFL players.

I mean, you know, it just makes absolutely no sense. Look, I was actually in the greenroom when that interview happened at ABC with Jonathan Carl and Mark Schwartz, who used to work for the President was sitting there. And I remember looking up and smiling at him, and saying oh, my god. She doesn't know his last name. It was obvious. Well, I give Kellyanne props.

Girlfriend was grasping at straws and trying to figure out every distraction she could. African-American, African-American, oh yes, we've got one. I remember him. Ben Carson, you know, the guy who thinks slaves are immigrants, the guy who thinks the Egyptian pyramids are grain silos. Yes, him, let's throw him at the wall and see if that spaghetti sticks.

LEMON: Yes. Bakari, the (Inaudible) Ana says she didn't think she could remember his last name. She didn't his last name. That Jeron that references us have a last name. His name is Jeron Smith. He serves as a Special Assistant to the President for Domestic Polity. And we actually reached out to Jeron to invite him on the program so he could tell us more about his work in the White House.

He declined our invitation. But my question is did Kellyanne Conway do him a disservice by apparently not even knowing his full name, not having a better grasp of what he does other than the broad concept of prison reform?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So yes. She did build on this (Inaudible) however, I can actually tell you that Jeron is one of it bright spots in the White House. He's over (Inaudible) realization. He does a lot of things directly talking about the opportunities of the tax bill, et cetera, et cetera. So he actually is someone who is astute on policy, who tries to drill down and not deal in all of the verbiage that the President uses on a daily basis.

I actually know Jeron, and he's doing the best work he can possibly do, even when Kellyanne Conway doesn't know his name. But this goes to a deeper problem in the White House. And Ana hit the nail on the head. It's a lack of diversity. I mean you can practically slap a (Inaudible) miracle whip sign on the side of the White House. I mean there is no diversity on this White House line up at all. And

that just shows when he makes comments about NFL players and about anybody else. He's not getting good counsel. And you said it at the top of the show when we were transitioning from Chris' show to yours. You need that type of diversity so you have diverse thought, so that you can actually have a valued opinion from people who do not look like you, who have actually had various life experiences. Donald Trump doesn't have that.

LEMON: (Inaudible) Jeron Smith, I mean smith, it is such an easy one.

SELLERS: Smith, yes. And he's actually a cool guy.

LEMON: Jeron Smith.

SELLERS: And you know somebody named Jeron is the black guy in the White House.

LEMON: Jeron Smith. So listen, Steve, you know, to Bakari's point. He pointed to the Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, his only black cabinet member. But in fact, cabinet positions, 24 cabinet positions, 16 are occupied by white men. So the President -- isn't he missing out on vital parts -- vital points of view for having so few minorities in high positions? Isn't he missing out on that?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Don, I think he is. And you and I have talked about this off air. And I think that this administration could use more diversity. I don't want quotas, but I think that the administration of the White House staff should look more like America. I think that would be a good thing.

I will also in the White House defense that diversity of thought, though, to me is even more important than diversity appearance. And in terms of diversity of thought, I can tell you first-hand, because while I have never worked for government, I have been involved on a lot of these debates on things like DACA, for example.

There is a massive diversity of opinion. There are some people who wanted DACA eliminated immediately. There are a lot of people like me who wanted DACA done through Congress and made into the law, and an incredibly vigorous debate, everywhere in between on those polarities, and that's true on many, many issues with the White House.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I have got to be honest.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hold on, on Ana. When you hear diversity of thought, right, I mean to some people, especially to people of color, women, OK. What does that mean? Yes, of course, there's diversity of thought, everyone wants that. But don't you think that you should have diversity of ethnicity and background as well?

CORTES: I think we should have all of it, Don. Yes, absolutely. I think the thought is the most important part. And I am telling you that I know first-hand this is President who not only tolerates but welcomes diversity and often conflicting opinions within his staff. But in addition, as I mentioned, I believe that the White House staff and the administration at the highest levels should look more like America.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: I think hope that's something the President works on.

LEMON: He wants people who disagree with him. I mean John McCain disagreed with him and he called him out...

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Of course, he wants people...

(CROSSTALK)

[22:45:08] NAVARRO: What did Donald Trump tweet out today? Today, Donald Trump tweeted out that Omarosa is a whack job who he hired, but who he kept there because she spoke so glowingly of him. I mean I cannot even think of a more telling and revealing -- for once, for once, Donald Trump is saying the truth. He is -- so he's telling us I know this woman. She was unfit.

She's whacky, but I kept her because she went on TV and she spoke so well of me, and she only said good things. So even though others wanted to fire her because she didn't even show up at meetings, I wanted to keep her because she was good to me and she said good things about me. So the only diversity of thought that's allowed in the White House is who bows down the lower to Donald Trump.

LEMON: OK. So Bakari, hold that thought. Everybody, hold that thought. I have got to take a break. We're going to come back and we'll continue discussing. We'll be right back.

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[22:50:00] LEMON: We're back with Ana, Bakari, and Steve. Bakari, you were saying?

SELLERS: So I was saying it's kind of difficult. And this is to defend the White House, which is going to be a very weird position for me to take. But I don't know any qualified, self-respecting, you know, African-Americans who want to go work for this White House at this point. It's very difficult to think that you change a 70-year- old who has been stuck in his ways, who has these elements of bigotry, xenophobia, and racism for a very long period of time.

And so your heart goes out to those who still want to serve their country and attempt to do what's right for their country, and serve this White House, and what they believe to be a better...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: -- black conservatives who would want to go work for this White House, qualified?

SELLERS: I think it is very, very difficult. I mean at this point in time, you're not working for George W. Bush. You're not working for Ronald Reagan. You're working for, you know, the equivalent of what many of us believe to be a George Wallace with the dog whistles that he uses. And so I think that there are some who will -- I hope there are some who will step forward so that we can have that voice.

I don't believe that African-Americans should be on one side or another, but it is a very, very difficult leap for many to make.

NAVARRO: Bakari --

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: For you to compare him to George Wallace is so utterly -- a Democrat, by the way, is so utterly insulting. There is not a scintilla of evidence that this President is a racist. And just because you say it every time you're on CNN doesn't make it true.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: And all he has done is make life better for minorities. And by the way, both blacks and Hispanics are responding to their improved lives with vastly higher approval numbers for this President. So it is not just my opinion. It is the opinion of my community, Hispanics. It's also the opinion of African-Americans -- he's surging in support.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's a bit of hyperbole, but go on.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: It's not hyperbole. Look at the NAACP survey.

SELLERS: But let's just give you a brief history lesson. When you talk about George Wallace being a Democrat (Inaudible) Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act you had a period of time in Brown vs. Board of Education where a number of democrats, including Thurman actually left the Democratic Party in 1948 and went to the Republican Party and parties began to switch.

My comparison of Donald Trump to George Wallace is rooted in Donald Trump's history. Not only do you have bigotry dating back to the fact when he owned casinos and he got sued by casino workers for discriminating, or the fact that he put (Inaudible) from (Inaudible) on housing application, or that he asked for the Central Park five after they were exonerated to be actually -- the death penalty for these individuals, to go to the fact that he actually uses racist tropes daily when talking ability Maxine Waters or Don Lemon.

I mean the list goes on and on and on. And so my comparison between him and George Wallace, it simply states that nothing (Inaudible) to the sun. We've actually seen this type of racism. We've seen this type of bigotry. And yes, he may not have the relationship where (Inaudible) O'Connor like George Wallace did, but the fact is he has a relationship with Jeff Sessions who is pushing back the rights that African-Americans have had.

Civil rights, voting rights, environmental rights, educational rights, the list goes on and on and on. And these approval ratings, these polls that you're throwing out, let's talk about the black unemployment rate that you all like to use all the time. The fact is when Barack Obama took office, it was 16 percent, 16 percent.

When he left office, it was eight. So if you want to me to congratulate Donald Trump for making it go from eight percent to six percent then so be it. But I'm not going to sit here and congratulate Donald Trump for the sun rising everyday. Donald Trump is a bigot. Donald Trump uses racism as political currency. That's a problem we have in this country.

CORTES: You know why you call him a bigot, because you don't want to debate policy. And this is what the left does.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: You call him a bigot. And supporters like me, you relegate us to the sidelines, and you vilify us. Rather than talking about policies, and by the way, under the policies of Barack Obama, under the policies of George W. President Bush, did lives get better for minorities? Were they safer? Were they more secure, more prosperous in their neighborhoods, in their homes, in their workplaces, the answer to all of that is no. Under this President, that's changing.

SELLERS: That's BS.

CORTES: This is not my opinion. This survey is not from some right wing group by the way. The NAACP commissioned this survey. Black approval of President Trump has doubled. Hispanic approval is up to 35 percent, if he continues to do that...

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: None of this is true.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: The reason Bakari calls him a bigot, and I call him a bigot and misogynist and hypocrite and a racist, is because of his tone, it's because of his rhetoric, it's because of (Inaudible), it's because of what he allows around him and legitimizes. It is because he equates neo-Nazis to those protesting against him.

[22:55:08] It is because he calls countries that are predominantly black shit-holes. It is because he calls NFL players who take a knee sons of bitches. It is because he tweets against Don Lemon and against Lebron James and against Maxine Waters, and questions their IQ and their intelligence. It is because he appoints people who check off a box and are African-Americans like Omarosa that don't do policy, and don't really represent the community. And then he calls them whack jobs and questions their intelligence

again. So if you need more evidence of his racism, I would tell you all you need to do is layoff the Kool-Aid and wake up to what are actually happening and the rhetoric.

(CROSSTALK)

CORTES: So when he called Mitt Romney dumb --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: All right, got to go. I have got to run.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: -- and on black people waiting at Starbucks.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: We will be right back. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: Because racist, racist, racist, racism, racism, racism.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I am trying to get to the break. Not happening with these two. OK, guys. Everyone, thank you very much. See you next time. When we come back, why can't Rudy Giuliani get his story --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)