Return to Transcripts main page

CNN TONIGHT

Source Says Trump Is Unsettled By McGahn's 30-Hour Interview With The Special Counsel; Manafort Jury Ends Third Day Without Verdict; President Trump's Campaign To Silence Critics; Team Trump Considered Denying President Obama Access To Intelligence Briefings; One-On-One With Kwame Jackson; Speechwriter Out After CNN Reports He Attended Conference With White Nationalists; FLOTUS Says Social Media Can Be Destructive And Harmful While POTUS Slams Critics On Twitter. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired August 20, 2018 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon, it is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast. Live with all the new developments. The White House grappling with one legal problem after another tonight. The President's legal team unsure exactly of what White House Counsel, Don McGahn told the Special Counsel in some 30 hours of testimony. Under "The Washington Post" reports tonight that McGahn does not believe he implicated Trump in any legal wrong doing. That is according to his attorney.

Not only are the President's attorneys still in the dark about it, sources telling CNN, the President himself is rattled. Remember it was Don McGahn who threatened to quit when President Trump attempted to fire Robert Mueller last June. Plus, sources confirming to CNN, that federal authorities are preparing charges against the president's former longtime attorney, Michael Cohen. The U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York is investigating Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud as well as campaign finance violations related to a hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. Those charges could come by next week.

And today, a jury in Virginia ended its third day of deliberation over the fate of president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort served the Trump campaign for five critical months leading up to the election. He is facing 18 separate counts of bank and tax fraud. And this is just his first trial. He also faces a second trial next month on charges of lying to the FBI, money laundering and foreign lobbying.

I want to bring in now, Nancy Gertner, she is a former federal judge and a Harvard Law professor, also former U.S. attorney Harry Litman, and Clinton White House Counsel, Jack Quinn.

Good evening, everyone, welcome to the program. Harry, here's what the sources are telling CNN, McGahn didn't provide incriminating information about the President and Washington Post has reported that McGahn doesn't believe he implicated Trump in any legal wrongdoing with the Special Counsel investigators. Give me your assessment of this, Harry? HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I just don't understand how they

can say that so confidently. Remember the key piece of evidence that remains is Trump's state of mind. We know the acts he did. We know they would constitute obstruction if done with corrupt motive. McGahn is in the White House, he calls the President King Kong for his occasional volcanic outburst. He is the guy who Trump directs to tell Sessions to recuse before he -- McGahn knew that he couldn't do it.

He is the guy who argues against the Comey firing, I mean he was there shoulder to shoulder, and he doesn't know what Mueller knows. It just seems implausible to me that in 30 hours he doesn't provide some factual material that is really illuminating about the President's state of mind. So, I think it's a little bit overconfident to be saying that at this point.

LEMON: So, the real question is, why would Trump's lawyers not debrief McGahn, Jack, because the White House Counsel, Don McGahn has given 30 hours of interviews to the Special Counsel investigators. Much of which the Trump legal team is in the dark about. Why would they brief him?

JACK QUINN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thirty hours is like a book on tape, isn't it? That is a lot of testimony. I mean, the White House got nothing out of this in return for letting all of these people submit to interviews. You would have thought that they would have at least negotiated, be able to debrief everyone. I understand, by the way, that it was not just Don McGahn who was not asked to provide a debriefing. Apparently none of the witnesses from the White House were debriefed. That is breathtaking. As Don McGahn's lawyer acknowledged. Though he thinks there was nothing incriminating, he doesn't know all of the evidence in the case, and he doesn't know how it all fits together. So what he is saying when he acknowledges that, he doesn't know what incriminating necessarily is.

LEMON: Nancy, I want to bring you in, and ask you -- President Trump says McGahn testified with his approval. He tweeted about that. So McGahn's legal strategy is to be transparent to prove he did nothing wrong. How might that meld with President Trump's legal strategy?

NANCY GERTNER, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: Well, just rolling back for a moment on the question of whether or not McGahn incriminated the President, what's really been stunning in the past couple of days, it has been with the President seems not to understand that McGahn is not his personal lawyer.

[23:05:08] LEMON: Yes.

GERTNER: So, you think about the kind of things that may have been said to McGahn under the misapprehension that he was his personal lawyer. So that was number one. It was also taking place under the rubric at a time, when they didn't think obstruction of justice could possibly be a crime. That was their view then and view now. And then I take Harry's point, that it's almost like McGahn can provide the framework on to which other details can be placed.

You know, what was the nature of the discussions before and after the Comey firing? What about discussions about Flynn. Who set up the meetings with the Russian ambassador shortly after the Comey firing? I mean, there are ways that even if he doesn't directly say ex, ex can be inferred when you put what he is saying next to what other people are saying, and then you really do have to add to that, the failure to debrief is very interesting. Because it suggests that they did not understand what was going on here. And that suggests there may have been admissions that were made, but we really don't know.

LEMON: Hold a second, Nancy, let me ask you, because I asked this question in the last hour, it is kind of what you said, do you think it's finally starting to settle in, that this President is realizing now that Don McGahn is not his personal attorney. Don McGahn represents the office of the presidency.

GERTNER: Well, I think now that we're talking about why it is that McGahn actually had no defense to talking to Mueller. I mean, he could have raised issues, he could have raised executive privilege issues, but they did not. But he actually has no attorney client privilege. Because he is not privileged situation vis-a-vis the president. So, I mean I'm interested in, what came out when the President didn't know that people were listening.

LEMON: Interesting. Go ahead, Jack. Sorry.

QUINN: Well, I was going to say to your last point there, they not only didn't raise executive privilege, they pretty much waived it. I think it is going to be very difficult for them to reel this back in. The other thing I wanted to mention is that, you know, initial reporting in "The New York Times" about McGahn providing testimony, indicated that he was doing so because he was afraid that he was being setup. That speaks volumes, I mean, clearly, somebody who feels like he might be setup thinks that one or more people in the office in which he works, that is to say in the administration has exposure, has legal exposure and he wanted to make sure that he was not the one holding the bag. So --

GERTNER: Which was the motivation for Dean coming forward, wasn't that the motivation for John Dean coming forward? During Watergate?

QUINN: So, I think that says a lot. You know, again, assuming the reporting is accurate. And I have no reason to think it's not.

LEMON: Harry, did you say something was possible or not to possible? What were you saying?

LITMAN: I was agreeing with Jack that there's no way -- they spoke today. This really is the legal gang that couldn't shoot straight from the top. But there some suggestion that now maybe -- first of all, Nancy's is 100 percent right, no attorney client privilege. And executive privilege is a little bit of a hard road to hoe. It could (inaudible) it could be overcome, but now that he said it. The notion that they can expose facto, try to reel back in the testimony I was just agreeing --

LEMON: They can't do it?

(CROSSTALK)

LITMAN: The stuff that is been used is waived, yes.

LEMON: OK. Listen, we're learning that federal prosecutors are preparing criminal charges against Trump's long time attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. They've been investigating possible bank and tax fraud as well as $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. Charges could be brought within the next 10 days. Again that is a reporting, what should Trump be most concerned about? What do you think Nancy?

GERTNER: Well, I mean, what he has to be most concerned about is that Cohen looking down the barrel of serious charges I might add, not brought by the special council this is the southern district of New York. These kinds of charges would continue. If Cohen is looking down the barrel of the gun, what will he do or say vis-a-vis the President. That is what the President has to be concerned about.

LEMON: So, Jack, I want you to check put this little headlines. This is from the last few days. McGahn talks to Mueller's team and White House doesn't know. What he said, Cohen may be charged soon we're expecting a Manafort verdict any day. Are the walls closing in on this President? Do you think?

QUINN: Certainly, if he is reading headlines like that, he must feel like they are.

[23:10:02] For sure, Rudy Giuliani feels like they are, I mean you don't get this kind of excited rhetoric unless, you know, you really have cause for grave concern, I think.

LEMON: All right. Thank you all.

GERTNER: There's also an issue of timing which is -- if Mueller wants something now. In advance of the election. Substantial events of the election.

LEMON: Thank you Nancy, thank you, Jack and Harry, as well. I appreciate it.

When we come back, new developments in the President's campaign to silence his critics by revoking their security clearances. Plus the new report that details the behind the scenes battle when team Trump reportedly considered stripping President Obama's access to intelligence briefings.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump threatening to revoke the security clearances of more former intelligence officials after doing exactly that last week to former CIA director, John Brennan.

[23:15:00] The New Yorker is reporting that since the earliest days of the Trump administration, aids considered former officials under President Obama to be powerful enemies whose clearances should be cancelled. And it reports, as Trump stepped up his public and private attacks on Obama. Some of the new President's advisers thought that he should take the extraordinary step of denying Obama himself access to intelligence briefings that were made available to all of his living predecessors. The President decided against it.

So I want to bring in now CNN Contributor, Garrett Graff, the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror." And David Priess as well, one of the former CIA intelligence officer who signed a letter rebuking President Trump for revoking Brennan's security clearance. He is the author of, "The President's Book of Secrets."

Gentlemen, good evening. Welcome to the program. So, David, you first. Denying President Obama, Intelligence access, that would be unprecedented, right?

DAVID PRIESS, FORMER CIA INTELLIGENCE OFFICER, AUTHOR, PRESIDENT'S BOOK OF SECRETS: Well, it certainly would be strange for this presidency. Because where else have we seen Donald Trump do something that is outside the norm. I mean, come on, this happens on every front on every day, the fact that he would look back at Obama and say, oh, let's cut him out of something. It doesn't surprise me. I hadn't hurt it before, but it doesn't surprise me.

It does help undermine one of the arguments we heard about the letters that have been coming out from former national security officials about the John Brennan revocation of the clearance though. Which is that, it is all about the fact that he violated some aspect of the security agreement.

Because there's been no evidence about that for John Brennan, and there's no evidence that I saw in this story or had heard otherwise that Barack Obama had somehow violated the norms of Presidential behavior or violated what it would take to get a security clearance such that removing the standard practice of providing ex-Presidents with standard intelligence briefings, what would have to be ended. I don't know where that came from other than spite.

LEMON: Let's talk about this New Yorker report. That his team wanted to revoke the security clearances of Obama administration officials, but then, the National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster stopped it. What's the reason, what is the reason former administration staffers usually get to keep their clearances?

PRIESS: In one case, and I think in the report it made clear that these were National Security Council staffers who were essentially held over, staying in some of their jobs as Directors, possibly even senior Directors at the NSC. In that case, that is for continuity of government. That so, you have some people who know what's going on these various issues internationally. So, keeping those people on board with security clearances makes sense.

It's also possible that some of the people were senior officials, like we've been talking about with former CIA Directors that you might bring people back in for consultations, you can always give them classified information on a spot basis, with the right authority, but it's much easier and much more efficient if they retain those security clearances so they can have those conversations more easily.

LEMON: You know, Garrett, President Trump told Reuters tonight that he hasn't given a lot of thought to the idea of revoking Robert Mueller's security clearance. I mean, he didn't rule it out, though. How bad would it look given that the President is under investigation by Mueller's office?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, I -- I can't fathom that that would be something that we would actually see happen. It seems like there would be no clearer way to obstruct justice than to obstruct in an obstruction of justice investigation. Which is exactly what you would be doing if you were trying to, you know, pull Robert Mueller's ability to view classified intelligence as part of a classified counter intelligence investigation that he --

LEMON: But how many times have you said, Garrett, I could never imagine that anything -- I couldn't fathom this would happen, and then it happens.

GRAFF: And as David said, that is been almost the daily story of this presidency, and I think we spend so much time focused on Donald Trump breaking norms, that part of this -- part of what we're losing in this is why other people are breaking those norms, you know, why John Brennan, why Jim Clapper, why Mike Hayden are speaking out in the way that they are. I mean, Admiral William McRaven when he came out last week, asking the President to revoke his security clearance, so that he could be on record as against to the administration, I mean, that was a phrase and a public action I never thought I would see from someone like him.

You know, I've covered John Brennan. I've covered Jim Clapper, these are not men who scare easily, these are not men who cry wolf. The fact that they are out there shouting at the top of their lungs day after day at this point, that this man is a threat to our nation's rule of law, and our Democratic institutions is something that we should be focused on.

[23:20:03] LEMON: Well, David, let's talk a little bit more about that, because former CIA national security agency, Director Michael Hayden, told CNN today, that the relationship between Trump and the intelligence community is dangerously close to being permanently broken. How dangerous is it that the state of relations between the President and the intelligence community, that it's so bad that it's at risk of being permanently broken?

PRIESS: One of the dangers here is that there is the fear -- and I haven't heard this directly from many people, because thankfully most of the people still doing national security currently are putting their heads down and doing their job, trying to protect national security, but the fear that has to be there is, if we start down a road of revoking security clearances, based on political speech, which let's be honest, that is what this is, does that also pertain to the truth to power that intelligence analysts are trained to deliver to policy makers.

If you have to go to the President of the United States and give him a message that you know he doesn't want to hear, because it's inconvenient for his policy. Are they going to hold back, because of fear that they will be punished for giving an uncomfortable truth to the President of the United States? That is the biggest danger, which is it that the very function of a very expensive intelligence community will be undermined completely if this goes down that slippery slope any further.

LEMON: So, Garrett, Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani is daring John Brennan to take President Trump to court. And here is what he is tweeting. He said, to John Brennan, today President Trump granted our request, Jay Sekulow and me, to handle your case. After threatening, if you don't, it would just be like Obama's red lines. Come on, John, you're not a blow hard. I can't believe that anybody -- I mean -- I'm actually reading that from the President's lawyers is beyond, but if Brennan follows --

GRAFF: This isn't some random ambulance chaser he is found off the back of a park bench, this is someone who is one of the nation's most revered federal prosecutors whose entire career is based on the hard work of men and women in the FBI and men and women just like Robert Mueller.

LEMON: Yes. Again the fact that I'm reading that is beyond, who would really have the upper hand here if that indeed happened?

GRAFF: I think John Brennan certainly has the upper hand going into any battle in this situation. I mean, as Steven said, it seems very clear that the President is taking this action based on John Brennan's public first amendment protected speech. And that there is no hint of official misconduct that would lead to the revocation of a security clearance.

PRIESS: One thing that is laughable here, I heard earlier today, that they were saying, well, this would be great for discovery. Maybe that was Trump in one of his tweets saying, oh, sure, if John Brennan wants to sue us, then we're going to find out all kinds of secrets about him. Do you think that somebody who has been under frequent reinvestigation as part of his career for 30 years, with a polygraph and everything that comes with it, how many secrets is John Brennan going to have come up in discovery that are embarrassing, versus how many he will be able to get out of the President in the same process? It's laughable?

LEMON: Maybe some tax returns, who knows.

OK. Thank you. I appreciate it, when we come back, did President Trump use the n word on the apprentice. So Ex-aide Omarosa claims he used the slur in reference to former Apprentice contestant, Kwame Jackson? Guess what, Kwame is here. Next.

[23:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump denies claims by former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman, that he used the n word while taping the Apprentice, a former reality TV show. So I want to talk about this now with Kwame Jackson, who was a runner up on season one of the Apprentice. Good evening. You were actually on with Omarosa, weren't you?

KWAME JACKSON, RUNNER UP SEASON ONE, THE APPRENTICE: I was on.

LEMON: And did you lose because of her?

JACKSON: No, I don't blame her for that, you know, it's her, all her little craziness and things that she does. I've kind a gotten over it in the last 15 years.

(LAUGHTER)

15 years of therapy to work through it.

LEMON: You know, just for transparency, we discuss this, and I know some things you're comfortable talking about, others you're not. I know that you don't want to give a platform to stupidity.

JACKSON: Right.

LEMON: Let us start right off. You said if you had heard him, you're not saying that he didn't, but if you had heard him personally yourself, do that 15 years ago, call someone the n word, use the n word, you would have --

JACKSON: Yes. I would have said meet me outside, you know, I know he is a 70-year-old man and he is the President now, but I mean though, if someone's going to call you that, he is going to call you is that to your face. Then you got to handle that, you know, in an appropriate manner, so for me, it is not so much about whether he used the word or not, it's about whether the word makes a difference, Don. It's about the fact that even if there is a tape that says Kwame Jackson n word, left, right, here in the middle, will America react in any way that it's not reacting before, what I learned from the election is, that racism, bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia are all not disqualifying factors to becoming President of the United States.

That is what broke my heart during the election, in fact that, we stand up and say the pledge of allegiance as kids, there's all these great principles that we're taught as Americans and then you know, you wake up election morning and say, you know, people will look the other way on things that are supposed to be fundamental disqualifiers.

LEMON: So, you are saying it doesn't matter, the tape doesn't matter? If he said it or not, it doesn't matter, do you believe that is what --

JACKSON: I'm saying they're not the Dead Sea Scrolls, you're not going to walk down and say, Oh my God, you know, the word of God has been revealed to me, they're not Al Capone's vault, it's not going to change anything. Especially with his base, with the 31 percent, 32 percent, it's not going to change things.

LEMON: Why is that?

JACKSON: Swing voters, maybe.

LEMON: Why is that? It's a sad state of affairs.

JACKSON: I think it is a sad state of affairs and we have to revisit that as a nation and you know, intrinsically in our history, race has been moving in, this history of slavery, of Jim Crow, of you know, just pernicious behavior against all types of others. And that's something that we never really addressed as a nation.

And for a lot of people, they just want to look the other way for great, you know, economic numbers. They are willing to say, OK, it's great that he's, you know, that way to those people, but, you know, my 401(k) went up, you know, three percent.

LEMON: To me, that -- actually those studies that show that -- that whole thing about, you know, the economy and that there was --

JACKSON: Economic anxiety.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: It's race.

JACKSON: Economic anxiety is what happened in Starbucks.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Economic anxiety. It shows -- that's what happened in Starbucks.

JACKSON: You will not replace us is economic anxiety.

LEMON: That's economic anxiety. So, what's happening is clearly about race, and you said again that it wouldn't make a difference if he did. I'm just wondering what that says about our society and our culture that -- because, you know, there was a state senator on --

JACKSON: Yes.

LEMON: -- who said, it wouldn't make a difference if he used the word because he didn't use it as president or something. It's odd.

JACKSON: And the funny thing is, I talked about this before that. The N-word is not the only litmus test for racism.

LEMON: Right.

JACKSON: It's not standing in someone's yard burning a cross with a hood using the N-word and then bingo, the lights come on, and now you're racist.

LEMON: Yes.

JACKSON: There's data points that lead up to that that we all know in this presidency and his long history.

LEMON: Have you ever heard -- have you heard from any other "Apprentice" contestants, people who work on the show, with the show, the president using -- or Donald Trump because he wasn't president?

JACKSON: I've heard scuttlebutt for a very long time from producers, from other "Apprentice" contestants, that these tapes exist. And, you know, I've done my part to kind of look up those tapes and see what, you know, could come of that. But really, nothing has come of that so far.

LEMON: So, last week, the president tweeted "The Apprentice" producer, Mark, the producer called him to say that there were no tapes with him using the N-word. Do you believe Mark Burnett would called the president telling something that he should already known if he didn't use the word?

JACKSON: I know that Mark Burnett is a big Trump proponent. I think Mark Burnett personally has played the sidelines. I think that there has been lots of opportunities for leadership among my contestants, among producers, among Mark Burnett, for people to step up.

And I know in the long arc of history, when role call the task, like, you know, people who were favoring McCarthyism or people who are favoring, you know, the confederacy, that they're going to look really, really stupid.

LEMON: So you said you've gotten over the last 15 years --

(LAUGHTER)

JACKSON: I think I have.

LEMON: All right. You didn't win "The Apprentice." Trump felt like you should have fired Omarosa from your team.

JACKSON: That was probably true.

LEMON: OK, watch this. Watch this. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Kwame, a couple things bother me, and bother me really bigly. Omarosa lied to you. She deceived you. And not only once. But she lied to you twice. Why didn't you fire her?

JACKSON: At that time, I really didn't know that was an option. I also had a job to get done.

TRUMP: When somebody deceived you, you have to do something. Now, I don't like just moving them over, I like firing them, and you should have fired her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK.

JACKSON: So when the president deceives us, should we do something?

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: You mean fire him?

JACKSON: Should we fire him?

LEMON: He said you should have fired her, but he kept hiring her.

JACKSON: Yes, he did. Over and over on multiple shows. You know, Omarosa has been a fixture in his administration for the last 15 years since "The Apprentice." And, you know, that is something that, you know, I don't look the other way on Omarosa's essentially minstrel behavior, you know, that America has applauded her on as she has basically gone out and done this kind of dance for America.

And so now to come back and say, you know, I've got the goods on Mr. Trump, as one of my friends told me, it takes a crook to catch a crook. And that is how the mafia (ph) thing works.

LEMON: Yes.

JACKSON: And so if her tapes, you know, reveal things about Trump, you know, god bless her, but that does not discount her behavior or advocating for this president that now has gotten us in this condition. It is like celebrating, you know, once again the arsonist now that they've become a fireman.

LEMON: Yes. Do you think this is a rehabilitation tour for her?

JACKSON: Not for me. Not for me. I think that, you know, people -- I know there's scuttle butt that Omarosa could possibly bring down the president and, you know, I'm all for that because I don't think he should be in office. But I also think you should have never helped him become president. You should have never advocate against your own people as minister of African-American affairs.

And I think that to say this is a come to Jesus moment for Omarosa and now she can kind of get back in the fold and get invited to the barbecue again is just not working for me.

LEMON: Do you remember -- I'm sure you remember vividly being on the show, right?

JACKSON: Yes.

LEMON: When you're watching this play out, you're like, this is likely political version of --

JACKSON: Yes. I call it -- I call it America's addiction to junk food. Omarosa is junk food. President Trump is junk food.

[23:34:59] It's like we all like cheeseburgers, we all like fries, but if you eat them every day, guess what happens. You know, you get a president like Trump, you get diabetes, you get all kinds of problems.

I understand that people like the bright shiny object. I understand that people like to see, you know, this whole big show, but at some time we got to go a little vegan, you know, do a little exercise and not just eat junk food.

LEMON: You didn't -- he didn't want to do this initially because he said, I don't want to give a platform to something that is horrible, right? And you want to elevate the conversation by doing what?

JACKSON: For me, this is about taking a stand and saying, America, enough is enough on the junk food. Enough is enough about taking the lowest bar. There is a smart lady we all know that once said, when they go low, we go high. And this is our time to go high.

So this is not about me coming on and criticizing Omarosa or being bitter about something about "The Apprentice." This is about the principles of our nation that are at stake. These are the same principles that I talked about three or four years ago when Donald Trump first started this process, and I warned America about where we were going during this process.

And now we're here again in the midterm elections. We have another chance to take a stand. We have another chance to take the high. We have another chance to come together. And I'm encouraging America to do that, hopefully through my own actions.

LEMON: Boom!

JACKSON: Snap it out. You got to snap it out.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: All right. Thank you, sir.

JACKSON: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

LEMON: When we come back, a Trump speechwriter who spoke at a conference attended by white nationalists is out of the White House, but he says he has no regrets, that's next.

[23:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A speechwriter for President Trump has left the White House after a K-File investigation revealed he attended a conference frequented by white nationalists. Darren Beattie is listed as a speaker for the 2016 H.L. Mencken Club Conference, a small annual conference regularly attended by well-known white nationalists like Richard Spencer.

Let's discuss now. CNN Commentators, Scott Jennings is here, Symone Sanders, and Tara Setmayer. All are here. Hello, everyone. Good evening. Thank you for joining.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good evening.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good evening.

LEMON: Before we talk about this former White House speechwriter, I just want to hear your reaction to my conversation with Kwame Jackson. He says it doesn't matter. I think I did that -- I know I did in one of my takes at the beginning of the show. It doesn't matter. Do you think it matters, Symone?

SANDERS: Don, I guess I agree with Kwame in the sense that I don't need the tape to assess the president's views on people of color. I mean, we have a tape from the White House earlier today. So I guess I -- we don't need the tape.

But I think what we should be concerned with is the type -- what is actually going on in this White House, the policies that are coming out of the administration, the things that Donald Trump is not tweeting about, like the judges, the Kavanaugh nomination down the line.

But I agree with him. We don't need the tape because Donald Trump told us who he was a long time ago.

LEMON: Listen, he did not hold back. He basically said what was happening in the White House, Tara, he said it was a minstrels show, basically just sort of --

SETMAYER: I said that.

LEMON: Go --

SETMAYER: Yes, no, I've made that reference before. I think I also called diamond and silk political minstrels because this is what seems to entertain Donald Trump. I agree that I don't think that the -- if the tape exists and we heard it, that would make a difference in a different way. I think the 2016 campaign, if that had come out after the Access Hollywood tape, that might have taken Trump down.

I think it would have been too much for the country and for Republicans to accept a president who openly said the N-word and made the reference to grabbing women by the genitals. Today and today's climate, I don't think it will make a difference.

I've already heard conservative commentators and others making excuses for this, saying, well, it depends on what context he said it, and no, it shouldn't matter what context he said it in, it's not acceptable at all. So that makes me believe that it's not going to matter to a Trump loyalist even though it's wrong. It just reinforces what we already know that he's a bigot.

LEMON: I think that I know Scott well enough to -- context wouldn't matter. Scott, can I just -- you probably wouldn't --

SETMAYER: Scott is one of the good ones.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Scott, am I right?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, this tape would matter. I mean, I know it's -- everybody is saying it wouldn't. It would matter.

I think it would be painful for millions of Americans, including myself to actually hear the president of the United States say it on tape if its existence is proven, we're speaking in hypothetical, of course, even though it happened before he was president.

But to me, what would actually matter more is how he handled it, how do you go then go to the American people and say, I'm sorry, here's how it happened, here's why I said it. So what would the aftermath be?

Frankly to me, almost would be more important than a tape becoming forward because at that point, the president, who's the president of all of us, would have to explain himself and talk about how he's learned and grown as a person and he's not doing it any more.

SETMAYER: Good luck with that.

LEMON: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

SETMAYER: I mean, Charlottesville is a perfect example of --

LEMON: This is all hypothetical.

SETMAYER: Yes. Yes, that's never happening.

LEMON: Good luck with that. OK, so listen. Let's move on now because I really want to dig in to this fired white house speechwriter. CNN is reporting that he participated in the 2016 conference featuring prominent white nationalist Peter Brimelow.

Also as well as two former writers for The National Review who were both fired for espousing racist views. What does that say about the Trump White House, their vetting process, Symone?

SANDERS: I think it says that their vetting process is lacking. I don't even know if it exists at all.

[23:45:00] I think it does speak -- I don't know if it exists at all. The additional questions I believe this raises, Don, what kind of access did the white nationalist that spoke at this conference or even the folks that maybe don't self-identify as white nationalists but subscribe to a white supremacist ideology?

What type of access did they have to speechwriters in the White House? What type of -- did this influence make it into any of the president's speeches? Has it made it into talking points? Has it made into concrete policy? Have these folks had an audience with other senior advisers of the president?

This is absolutely dangerous. And the fact that the White House didn't know until the K-File did their reporting and asked about it, I think should be concerning to us all.

LEMON: We will continue this --

SETMAYER: Or maybe they did know.

LEMON: We're going to continue this on the other side of the break, hold your thoughts, please, we'll be right back.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back now with Scott, Symone, and Tara. So, when contacted by CNN -- we're going to continue our conversation -- by CNN last week, White House asked to delay the reporting on the speechwriter, Darren Beattie, his participation in the conference for several days, and then late Friday night, told CNN that Beattie no longer works at the White House.

Beattie releasing a statement to CNN, saying this, "In 2016 I attended the Mencken Conference in question and delivered a stand-alone, academic talk titled The Intelligentsia and the Right. I said nothing objectionable and stand by my remarks completely."

So, Tara, we should note that this happened before his time in the White House. But shouldn't anyone wanting to work in politics know to avoid a conference attended by white nationalists?

SETMAYER: And not only that. He didn't apologize for attending this conference who was named after someone who said two things and I want to quote them, the person that was named after Mencken.

He once described Jews as plausibly the most unpleasant race ever head of, and he also called an uneducated black person as being a low cast (ph) man who remain inert and inefficient until 50 generations of him lead (ph) in civilization and even then the superior white race will be 50 generations ahead of him.

This is who the conference was named after. So, this guy went there knowing that the context of this conference is basically a bunch of academics who hide behind academia in order to covet about nationalism and white supremacism. That's what this is. And so the fact that he seems unapologetic about that is problematic.

So now this White House -- let's go now to score card (ph). You had Steve Bannon who is a white nationalist. You had Rob Porter who was a domestic abuser. You have Stephen Miller who is another one that has white nationalist -- white supremacy meaning. Now you have this guy.

What is it about this administration that attracts them? That is the main question. This guy also got his PhD on Martin Heidegger, who is a German philosopher, who is also a member of the Nazi Party. He said all that was highly troublesome, but this guy, you know, is worth scholarly (ph) investigation and study. What is so -- these are the kinds of people this administration is attracting.

LEMON: That's what I want to ask Scott, because The Washington Post is reporting that Beattie, Scott, resisted the push for him to resign -- I mean, then ultimately led to him being fired, but this is supposed to be the best people. This is supposed to be extreme vetting for everyone, I would imagine.

SETMAYER: Extreme, all right.

LEMON: Yes. I mean, do you think he still would be working there if the reporting had not surfaced?

JENNINGS: Obviously, because he was working there until the reporting surfaced. I'm glad the White House took the action they did. It is interesting to hear that he resisted his request for resignation. When you go to work in the White House, one of the things that should be immediately clear to you is it's not about you. It's about the president, it's about the office, it's about the institution.

And so when you do something or if something surfaces that brings great embarrassment to the office or is going to trouble that office, you should have enough self respect and have enough respect for the institution to step down. He obviously didn't want to do that. But the White House obviously forced him out which was the right thing to do.

I would also say that when you go to work on the White House staff, there is some amount of self reflection that you have to do, only you know everything you've done.

And if you're done something in your past or been associated with something that could bring embarrassment to the president, it is your responsibility to alert that to your superiors so that they can make an assessment about whether you should be in proximity to the president.

It sounds like this guy failed on numerous fronts and I am glad he is out of the White House and I am glad the staffers who made the call did what they had to do.

LEMON: Well, I mean, and you think about this person -- this person worked for the White House, right. Last week, remember --

SETMAYER: As a speechwriter.

LEMON: -- right there couldn't name one black person who worked in the West Wing or who worked for the administration. But you have someone who participates in white nationalist conventions or rallies working in the White House.

SETMAYER: And unapologetically, still.

LEMON: I want to talk about the First Lady Melania Trump, spoke out against cyberbullying in an event for her "Be Best" campaign today. Take a listen to this. OK, sorry, it is not there. So, anyway, but then, you know, as she was holding her event, then, let's put up the tweets.

The president attacking the former CIA director, John Brennan. The Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr. Then he called John Dean a rat. Symone, take it away.

SANDERS: You know, some people today tried to paint the first lady as some miraculous troller that sits in the White House and holds Donald Trump accountable with her actions and her words. I just -- I don't think so.

Look, I think that the first lady, if she really likes folks to be best, she should start with her own household. My mother used to always tell me to take care of me and mine before going out of the house telling other people what to do.

[23:55:03] And I think that's what the first lady should do in this instance. I think it's a noble cause. Cyberbullying is a real issue. Bullying is a real issue. We should be encouraging our young people and everyone across the country to be the best version of themselves.

But Melania Trump is married to Donald Trump who has been the bullier in chief from the first day that he strolled down the escalator and announced his run for president by saying some Mexicans were rapists, who took our jobs. I do not understand how she finds it even remotely appropriate or sane or even feasible for her to have the "Be Best" anti-bullying program.

LEMON: All right.

SETMAYER: No credibility in that area, sorry.

LEMON: I've got to go. Thank you, guys. I appreciate you joining me. I will see you next time. That's it for us. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

[24:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)