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CNN TONIGHT

Another Cabinet Member is Out; Trump Considers Abbe Lowell to be in His Team; McGahn's Departure Sends Alarm to Trump; Months Away from Midterm Elections in Florida; Candidate Ron DeSantis Kicked Off His General Election. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 29, 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: All right. I have something to make you optimistic, and you want to hear it.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: OK. All right.

CUOMO: Both of my dogs were recklessly let out of my house tonight.

LEMON: No.

CUOMO: And they escape. A man found them on the street. Took them to PetCo. Somehow found out whose dogs they were. And do you know what? When he called me, he said.

LEMON: He said I watch you on TV. I don't agree with you but--

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: No.

LEMON: OK, what?

CUOMO: No, that's too obvious. I love--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let's get after it.

CUOMO: -- Don Lemon.

LEMON: You're kidding me.

CUOMO: I'm not kidding. He said you were at the Kentucky derby with his daughter. And I thought that man he was going to hurt my dogs. I said, listen, I work with Don. Take it easy. He said he loves Don Lemon. He brought my dogs back to my house.

LEMON: Well, see, you can thank me for that and you can also thank me for your great ratings on CNN. I mean, people are tuning in to watch, to see what, you know, because they love me. You know, I'm just messing with you. Hey, listen, I do have to say something. You made a very good point about anti-fa. Because I've -- you know, I saw the Trump channel and you listen to conservative radio and you read it and you're like, my gosh, Don Lemon is defending and supporting anti-fa.

And they take one smattering of what you say and they leave out a whole thing. And I think you made the point exactly on your program when you were talking to Steve Cortes about anti-fa.

It's wrong. Nobody is supporting anti-fa here.

CUOMO: There's no reason to support anybody who breaks the law.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I'm just saying there's no reason to draw moral equivalency as if everybody who is fighting against hate is the worst part of anti- fa. That's unfair. That's also moral equivalency. Anyway, let me let you get on with the show. Thanks for being you, pal.

LEMON: I know. People love me. One day--

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: I know one guy that does.

LEMON: One day it will be you. Thank you, Chris. I'll see you tomorrow.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Well, you know what, that did not take long. I want you, before I get started I want to keep benefit of the doubt in mind. And I'll tell what benefit of the doubt, keep that in mind. But this didn't take long.

Only a few hours after Ron DeSantis declared victory in Florida's Republican gubernatorial primary, the Trump endorsed candidate said this to Fox News about the Democratic candidate, Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee who happens to be the first African-American nominee for governor of Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Does anybody else hear that dog whistle? It's kind of bullhorn. He actually said monkey this up. Sadly, it's not even surprising anymore when one of President Trump's supporters said something racially insensitive. And if you think that was just a slip of the tongue, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DESANTIS: He is an articulate spokesman for those far left views and he's a charismatic candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Articulate, yes. Popular slur disguised as a compliment articulate as if it's surprising when a person of color speaks well. All right. Gillum tell to CNN this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW GILLUM (D), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE, FLORIDA: I actually believe that Florida and its rich diversity are going to be looking for a governor who is going to bring us together, not divide us, not misogynist, not racist, not bigots.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So the president had a golden opportunity to condemn DeSantis language today. But listen to what happened when Jim Acosta asked him about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did you see what was said about Andrew Gillum down in Florida, with Ron DeSantis--

(CROSSTALK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I didn't hear it.

ACOSTA: -- the candidate you endorsed, he said that it's not time to monkey around with the economy down in Florida.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: No, I didn't hear that.

ACOSTA: DeSantis, may have made a racist comment.

TRUMP: Yes, I didn't hear that, Jim. I mean, I've been actually working on the deal with Canada so I have not heard of it. I tell you what. I know Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis is extraordinary. Harvard, Yale, brilliant. Ran an incredible campaign. Really beat a lot of people that he wasn't supposed to beat because he came into the race and a lot of people didn't know him.

He's an extreme talent and he will make a fantastic governor of Florida. So I think Ron is extraordinary in so many different ways. I haven't heard that at all, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He didn't hear it. Whether you believe that or not, that's really not the point. A true leader would condemn any racist comment, any unseemly comment full stop. But this is the man who launched his campaign with an attack on Mexicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: When Mexico sends it people, they're not sending their best. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Who responded to deadly white supremacist violence in Charlottesville by infamously claiming, they were his words, "very fine people on both sides."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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)

[22:04:59] LEMON: Who has never stopped attacking NFL players protesting what they see as systematic bias against people of color.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag just say get that son (muted) off the field right now, out. He's fired. He's fired!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: This is the president who reportedly still clings to the racist birther lie that President Obama was not born in this country. So on and so on and so on.

So, no. It's not surprising that a Trump supporter would say something racially insensitive. He's just following the president's lead. This is where the whole benefit of the doubt thing comes in that gets me to that. So let me just ask you this. OK? I'm just being honest here.

So whatever, you can write on Twitter, whatever, let me know how you feel. But think about it before you respond. All my life, some five decades, I have witnessed people, mainly white people giving people who say or do racist things the benefit of the doubt, claiming that racism is something from a time gone by, that the person exhibiting the racist behavior is not racist or didn't mean to be racist.

Why is that? Ask yourself, why are people at this critical moment in our existence so willing to overlook so many things, especially racism and expect, demand really that they not be judged or criticized for it.

Why do you give this president the benefit of the doubt over and over and over again about so many things? Infidelity, lying. Racist behavior. Same thing with the supporters. His surrogates, his administration. Same thing with the candidates who model themselves after him.

Why are you so willing to overlook and give the benefit of the doubt to that but not the people who are telling you that your behavior is offensive to them? Why are you purposely ignoring the racist history and present of America? What does that say about you?

And to those who say, well, let's just give Ron DeSantis the benefit of the doubt that he didn't mean it? OK. I say this. Shouldn't someone who is running to be a leader, especially the governor of a state, shouldn't he be more aware? Shouldn't he know better? Shouldn't we expect better of our public servants? And quite frankly, ourselves.

So right now, we're going to get to all of that. But I have some breaking news that I need to get to right now that just came in.

President Trump's allies reportedly more and more worried that he is not prepared for what could be a Democratic takeover of the House in November. That is according to "The Washington Post."

Josh Dawsey, a CNN political analyst and White House supporter for "The Post" who helped break the story joins me now by phone. Josh, thank you for coming in. Now this is late-breaking news. I appreciate it. Thank you for calling in, I should say.

You and your colleagues at the Post spoke to 26 White House officials, advisers, lawyers, strategist close to this administration. One Trump allys saying, quote, "winter is coming." Talk to me about that.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So what I reported tonight in the case is that Don McGahn, the White House counsel left his job. He had been, you know, the obviously the top lawyer in the White House. And the rank of the lawyers in the White House has been pretty significantly 5, 20, 30 percent.

Rudy Giuliani (Inaudible) lawyer (Inaudible) the president is increasingly talking about impeachment. There's suspicion going on to bring Abbe Lowell, the top (Inaudible) lawyer of Trump, lawyer for Jared Kushner and to help represent the president (Inaudible).

And inclusively people around the president, it's unlikely we're going to keep the House of Representatives from the demographic. They're likely trying to impeach you and this is going to be difficult times.

Obviously, there's, you know, 65, 70 days left to go (Inaudible) Anything could happen. And we've seen what President Trump repeatedly think it was going to happen. But there seems to be a growing consensus with, you know, the Michael Cohen verdict that we deal last week, Manafort verdict, Mueller continuing. His lawyers believing that, you know, there may be some challenging times ahead and the president has (Inaudible).

LEMON: Yes. So Abbe Lowell, by the way, Jared Kushner's attorney that he's considering, according to your reporting, bringing in. But let me ask you this, Josh. How much is the president starting to really talk about the possible impeachment, you now, as you note in your piece? He calls it the i-word. DAWSEY: A good bit, Don. And it's not just that he's afraid of being

impeached. In fact, oftentimes it's the opposite. A number of the president's advisers (Inaudible) we don't know if they're accurate yet or not because, you know, we can't read the (Inaudible).

[22:10:04] So, the Democrats may overreach and try to impeach him. It could benefit him.

The president is still not in his mind ready to accept the fact that he's going to lose the House of Representatives. So the people around him that are close to him are pretty universal and resolute that it's a very likely outcome.

And increasingly the president is asking, you know, what not, he is trying to investigate, how many subpoenas would they get. You know, what all in our administration would they really try to make (Inaudible).

And you know, a lot of them in conversations about. That won't be happening even including myself. I mean, again, Rudy Giuliani just denying how the president is, you know, talking about impeachment with his lawyers. The president is talking about (Inaudible) more lawyers. These things are happening increasingly frequently these days.

LEMON: Josh, I appreciate your reporting. Again, thank you for calling in. Thanks so much.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

LEMON: So I want to bring in now CNN Global Affairs Analyst, Max Boot who has been sitting by patiently waiting, as well as Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst. Thank you guys for waiting. I was going to start with you but we have this breaking new.

So let me just get your reaction first to this breaking news that the Washington Post is reporting. Max, you first. That winter is coming. The Trump ally, it's a Trump ally put it. What do you think?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's clearly the case. I think something major changed last week when you had first the president's campaign manager getting convicted on eight felony counts, but more importantly the president's lawyer pleading guilty to eight felony counts and implicating the president himself, in a conspiracy to violate federal law and the president of the United States is basically an unindicted co-conspirator.

And that's just one of the many counts that could be lodged against him in an impeachment inquiry. I mean, the obstruction case I think is going to be very strong and getting stronger all the time because the attempts to intimidate Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller and to denigrate their probe and to try to perhaps even fire the leaders of that investigation.

And there's also the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. I think that's getting stronger. And so, I think it's completely -- it makes sense for the White House to recognize they're in deep trouble.

And the only thing that's really been saving him so far is the fact that Republicans will not do their duty and investigate the White House, but if all of a sudden the Republicans lose control of the House in November, look out. Katy bar the door. All of this stuff is going to come out into the open. It's going to be big trouble.

LEMON: What do you think, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the big number here is 52. Because that's exactly the number of times that the Democrats have asked in the House oversight committee to have subpoenas issued to investigate the very things the Washington Post is talking about.

And 52 separate times they were told no. Remember, the idea of the subpoena power if you're in the House committee in the oversight committee and you're in the minority position, you're not able to actually exert your subpoena authority. You have to rely essentially on the pleasure of the people who are in position of authority. And the majority here are Republicans to do that.

So, 52 separate inquiries would then be able to be looked at from Jared Kushner to security clearances to, of course, collusion and far beyond that, including even what happened in Puerto Rico. All these things could be taken up if they actually reclaim the House.

So the swirling legal storm is not simply about the president's personal relationships with Robert Mueller. It also includes at least 51 other things that he would have to prepare for.

LEMON: Interesting. Max, President Trump tweeting out that the White House Counsel Don McGahn is out after Kavanaugh's confirmation. He was reportedly blindsided by the tweet. Here's the president today. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Any concern about what he said to the Mueller team?

TRUMP: No, never.

(OFF-MIC)

TRUMP: I knew he was going also, you know. I had to approve it. So we didn't claim executive.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: You're aware of what he said?

TRUMP: No, I don't have to be aware. We have -- we do everything straight. We do everything by the book. Don is an excellent guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: We do everything straight. We do everything by the book. I mean, that--

BOOT: I don't know what book that is. The book that only Trump has read, I think.

LEMON: Do you think this has to do with McGahn speaking to with the special counsel for some 30 hours on something the White House only learned about 11 days ago?

BOOT: That could well be the case. I mean, first let me note briefly, that this is kind of typical lack of class on Trump's part. Because in typical behavior, because he's essentially a bully who loves to talk tough on Twitter but shies away from personal confrontation.

And so he doesn't want to get rid of people in person. He fired Rex Tillerson by tweet. He's firing Don McGahn by tweet and we can specualte why that it. And it could well be related to the fact that Don McGahn did speak to the special counsel for 30 hours.

But I think it's also related to the fact that Don McGahn was somebody who has been a break on Trump's more extreme instincts. It's been widely reported that Don McGahn he's stopped Trump from the firing--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: The firewall, right.

BOOT: -- he's the firewall. He's literally a firewall. Because he stopped Trump from firing Jeff Sessions--

[22:15:00] LEMON: Right. Right.

BOOT: -- from firing Robert Mueller, from firing Rod Rosenstein and obviously Trump chased against that. In the pattern of the last year and a half is that he gets rid of anybody who acts as a firewall on him, as a break on him.

He got rid of H.R. McMaster, He got rid of Rex Tillerson. He's getting rid of Don McGahn. He's basically Trump unbound. I mean, this is like trying to put a straitjacket on the Incredible Hulk. You can do it for a minute when he's Bruce Banner. Then he hulks out and Donald Trump is increasingly hulking out and he feels frustrated by aides who try to tell him what not to do.

And so, I think we're entering a very dangerous phase right here where you lose the restraint of Don McGahn and you wonder will Trump go out and fire Jeff Sessions, which is something that he is clearly itching to do. And now he's being encouraged to do by some members of the Senate. And of course, a replacement could get rid of Robert Mueller.

LEMON: Let's talk a little more about this. Let's drill down a little bit more on this, Laura. Because the Senate judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley was surprised by the news.

Here's what he's tweeting. He said to the president, the real Donald Trump. "I hope it's not true McGahn is leaving White House counsel. You can't let that happen." And majority leader Mitch McConnell called it, quote, "sad news for our country."

So, I mean, when you read those comments do you get the sense that there's almost a fear about McGahn leaving among Republicans?

COATES: Not almost. I think there's a sincere fear of what is happening. Let's go back more than 11 days ago when the president essentially has learned that Don McGahn spent over 30 hours with Robert Mueller who has been his Twitter arch nemesis at the very least and has no idea the full extent of what they conversed about.

Let's go back in time when he was also the presidential transition committee's general counsel. I wonder what he could have learned at that point in time or when he oversee -- oversaw the campaign related issue in finance when a part of the Trump campaign.

I wonder if he has information about that now infamous Trump tower meeting or any correspondence or contributions that may have been concealed as reimbursements, et cetera.

I wonder also if he thinks about, as Max was talking about, the fact that Don McGahn has literally been there for almost all of the key moments that everyone has talked about, save James Comey. He's been there as the person that even ex-attorney General Sally Yates came in and said, excuse me, I want you to be aware that Michael Flynn may have lied about the extent of his discussion with Russians and I want to tell you about that.

Don McGahn was the person they went to. He was the person they went to about the recusal of Jeff Sessions and of course, about firing Robert Mueller.

And last summer we reported at CNN that he in fact was the person who was trying to quit, to stop what he thought would be another Saturday night massacre.

This is somebody who Mueller would be keenly interested in speaking with and why Republicans, and in particular, Donald Trump would be very nervous to have this person unleashed.

And remember, Donald Trump and his team could have invoked, although it would have been difficult to have it go into court battles eventually, he could have invoked the privilege. He chose not to. So everything he said was fair game and can be used against him in the court of law and a court of public opinion.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate your time.

COATES: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you. When we come back, Don McGahn and his deputy both leaving the White House counsel office at what just might be the worst possible time. I'm going to ask a man who himself served in that office. What must be going on behind closed doors?

[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Breaking news. President Trump's allies and advisers reportedly fear that he doesn't have a strong enough legal team in place if a blue wave sweeps through Washington.

Let's bring in now CNN's Chief Legal Analyst, Mr. Jeffrey Toobin, the author of "The Nine," and CNN Legal Analyst, Jack Quinn, former White House counsel to President Clinton. So good to have you both on, gentlemen.

Jack, I'm going to start with you. Because the Washington Post is reporting that Trump allies fear that the president isn't prepared for the gathering legal storm that would come if Democrats retake the House.

And you were quoted in this piece that's in the Washington Post, noting that when you served in the White House as White House counsel under Clinton, you had 40 to 60 people in your office. Current White House counsel only has about 25 lawyers. What does that say to you?

JACK QUINN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the thrust of the whole article is that they're not prepared for the oncoming onslaught. Again, a lot of this assumes, of course, that Democrats take control of the House of Representatives.

You know, we lived through something very similar when the Republicans took the House and the Senate in 1994. And Speaker Gingrich in particular instructed the committees and subcommittees to just begin to launch investigations.

You know, I did not much more than -- well, that's not true. The bulk of my work as White House counsel had to do with government investigations. Particularly over on the House side but also on the Senate side.

So you know, look, I think that the president is totally unprepared here. First of all, depressingly, he does not understand and this is part of the tension he had with Don McGahn, the role of the government lawyer.

The president seems to think that his layers, both his personal lawyers and his government lawyers should be his protectors. The government lawyers owe their first obligation to the United States, to its citizens, to the Constitution and the laws of the United States and then last to their boss. Their particular governmental boss.

Private lawyers have a totally different loyalty and that is to their client. When I was White House counsel, President Clinton -- and again, we had a host of investigation, some directed very directly at the president himself and the first lady for that matter.

But you know, the president was incredibly well-represented by David Kendall and Bob Bennett and others and you know, we worked together but it was always clear who had what responsibility.

LEMON: And that the White House counsel worked for the actual office rather than for the president personally. I got to get Jeffrey in here.

QUINN: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: So Jeffrey, talk to me about that. Because Abbe Lowell, who is Jared Kushner's, he is considering Lowell.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Right.

LEMON: Jared Kushner's attorney, the son-in-law.

TOOBIN: Well, you think about what the House of Representatives and the Senate have been like. They have existed to protect the president from investigations for the past two years. There have been no investigations of the White House. That would change on a dime.

[22:25:04] What happens if Jerry Nadler, the congressman from New York becomes the chairman of the judiciary committee and says we want to subpoena the president's tax returns? They could do that. Who is going to represent the president there?

We want to get Michael Cohen to testify before the House of Representatives. We want to see his e-mails. All of that has to be dealt with by the White House counsel's office, at least in part, as well as the president's personal lawyers and they have had absolutely no experience in dealing with this so far because the Republicans have done the opposite of investigating the president.

LEMON: Can we talk about McGahn--

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: If I may.

LEMON: Go on, Jack. Go ahead.

QUINN: Well, I'll go to McGahn. Because, Jeffrey, I mean, as you well know, I mean, one of the complications here is that the president on the one hand is very angry at Don McGahn for the 30 hours he spent purportedly because he was concerned about being set up, so he went in and he gave apparently very detailed interviews to the special counsel's office.

But none of that would have happened or at least not all of it would have happened had they asserted executive privilege. The president, as he said on that tape that led into this segment, waived executive privilege. So he's angry at Don McGahn for something he did.

LEMON: Do you -- do you--

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: That's common.

LEMON: Do you think that with McGahn out, there's a greater chance, Jeffrey, that he might pardon Manafort? TOOBIN: You know, I don't think Don McGahn's presence or absence has

a lot to do with it. He's going to pardon Manafort or not pardon Manafort based on his own sense of whether it helps him. Remember, the president does things based on the influence it will have on him, not because he has sympathy or affection for other people.

LEMON: Let's talk about--

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: But do you think the stage is now set for axing the attorney general?

LEMON: Of course.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, it's -- he's been a dead man walking ever since senators started to abandon him. I don't think it will happen before the election but I think very soon afterwards. Jeff Sessions will be gone. And then the question will be, will the Senate confirm someone if that person doesn't promise to preserve Robert Mueller's independence? I mean, that becomes a gigantic issue.

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: But we have to know who--

LEMON: It's complicated. We have -- I got to move on because I got to get this in, Jack.

QUINN: OK.

LEMON: Because we also want to talk about CNN's original programming.

TOOBIN: Yes.

LEMON: It's RGB. It's an intimate look into the personal life and professional life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even though they had differing points of view, they were dear friends. I'm sure they were taking at each other the whole time. But they kind of enjoyed it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justice Scalia would whisper something to me. All I could do to avoid laughing out loud is sometimes I pinch myself. People sometimes ask me well, what was your favorite Scalia joke? And I said, I know what it is but I can't tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They enjoyed going together. They enjoyed discussing particular operas and of course, they appeared together in an opera.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So RGB as I call it clearly is having a moment right now. You have covered the Supreme Court for years now. You wrote the book about them. Called "The Nine." Why are people so fascinated by her?

TOOBIN: Because she spent the history of women's rights in America. You know, when she started practicing law in the 1960s and '70s. You know, women, married women couldn't get credit cards independent of their husbands, there were advertisements in the newspaper for women's jobs.

I mean, just an inconceivable world. And she brought cases as a lawyer that really started to change the legal protection of women in America. She would be a major figure in American legal history if she had never been a judge at all.

But she did become a judge first in the D.C. circuit, and then 1993 on the Supreme Court and she has had, in many respects, kind of a tough time on the Supreme Court because she's been a liberal in a generally conservative time.

LEMON: It's interesting when were saying that you think about, you said it's an inconceivable world. But that was the world at one point. And it just makes me think about what's happening now.

If you live long enough, people are going to look back and go, my gosh, what was I thinking? I was on the wrong side of that. I, you know, why did I dabble in racism? Why did I do all of this? Why was I complicit?

TOOBIN: You know, the famous Martin Luther King quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." All I can say is I hope he was right. But I'm not totally convinced.

LEMON: I am sure he is looking back now. Because she says when I got out of law school, there wasn't a firm, a law firm in New York that would hire me. The world has changed--

TOOBIN: In a better way. And by the way, this documentary, it's really fun. I mean, it's entertaining. This is not homework. She had a great love story with her husband. Friendship with Justice Scalia. It's really -- it's really an extraordinary piece of work.

LEMON: Original film, RGB, CNN's original film premieres next Monday, Labor Day 9 p.m. Here's at 0 for you.

[22:30:02] We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:30:01] LEMON: So we're now just a little over two months away from what could be the most consequential midterms in years. I want to talk about the state of politics in America with James Fallows. He is a National Correspondent for The Atlantic who is the co-author of "Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey Into the Heart of America" with his wife, Deborah Fallows.

Interesting read. Good evening, thank you for coming in, Sir. So, you know, politics has become increasingly polarized, not only between Republicans and Democrats, but also within the parties themselves. What do you see when you look at the political landscape right now, James?

JAMES FALLOWS, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTIC: Well, as one of the senior members on your commenting crew over the years, you know, I've seen a number of these midterm elections before. And what I actually notice is how much this resembles some other big wave, potential wave elections we've seen before. Would you like me to list some of them?

LEMON: Sure.

FALLOWS: OK. So I have four in mind. One is 1974. That was when Richard Nixon had resigned, was the so-called Watergate Babies election, where the Democrats had huge gains both in the Senate and the House, and people who were on the landscape for a long time like Gary Hart and Patrick Leahy. They made their way into the Senate at that time. So that was one big wave election.

In 94, you had in bill Clinton's term. You had a sort of -- you had the Newt Gingrich contract with America wave election, where the Republicans for the first time since Harry Truman had control of both Houses of the Congress. Lots of people were still on the landscape, including Joe Scarborough came to the Congress then.

[22:35:01] In 2006, you know, after the -- after Katrina and the Iraq war, you had the Democrats take over the House and Senate with Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders got into the Senate then. And then in 2010, you had the sort of tea party revolution against Barack Obama. Would you like to know the conclusion, the pattern I see here, Mr. Lemon?

LEMON: Yeah. There's a reason. There's a method. I won't say madness, but it's just a saying, but go on.

FALLOWS: There's a method to my list. The method is that you see these big Democratic wave elections after Nixon in 74 and after the Iraq war and Katrina in 2006. After something bad has happened, like, you know, a natural disaster or Watergate or something like that. The Republican wave elections seem to come after legislation, after Clinton tried to get through the -- his health care program and after Obama did, after they both had some budget and increase plans.

Which makes me -- depending whether you think this coming election is about scandal or something terrible happening, which has historically fared to Democrats or whether it's about legislation, but that's my historical lesson for the evening.

LEMON: And we are all the better for it. Thank you for teaching us, Professor. Thank you for the lesson, Professor. So -- but it is becoming nearly impossible, though, for a Republican candidate to win a primary election unless they are endorsed by President Trump or become, you know, Trump-like or even, you know, further to the right. But the actually winning a general election, that's another story. What does the GOP do about this dilemma?

FALLOWS: Well, it is, as you say, and Donald Trump certainly has held on to his base, the 38, 40, 42 percent of the public that really believes in him, that is loyal to his version of the Republican Party, and that is enough to win a general election if the Democrats are dispirited, if the people who don't usually turn out in midterms don't turn out, if the various categories of voters who aren't usually mobilized.

So the question is the degree of intensity between that part of the Republican base that Donald Trump's candidates seem to depend on, or can depend on, and the counter veiling force of Democrats in general, of women, of minority, I think minority members who have more there representatives running in these races. So I think that intensity battle is what the Republicans maybe concerned about right now.

LEMON: So you blame the leaders of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell specifically?

FALLOWS: I blame them for what's happening or not happening in the Congress now. Every single senator and member of the House of Representatives took an oath to defend the constitution, not the party. If you defend the party, that's a parliamentary system of government like in England or the Commonwealth countries. We haven't thought of our system being that.

We have thought -- we have this myth that especially individual senators will use their individual leeway to filibuster or hold up proceedings if they think something is going wrong. And I think the fact that Republicans, who two years ago were saying that Donald Trump was unfit and who know he's doing things they stand against, are not doing anything to stop him. That will be noted historically, I think.

LEMON: All right. James Fallows, always appreciate it. Thank you, Sir.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:40:00] Just hours after winning the Republican nomination for Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis kicked off day one of his general election campaign, saying this on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases and bankrupting the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I want to bring in now Bill Kristol, The Weekly Standard Editor-at-Large, and CNN Political Commentators, Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart. So here we go again, Jesus, Jesus. OK, so what do you think, Bakari? I mean good evening, everyone.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Racist comment or figure of speech?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So actually, my largest concern, I mean, he's using a bullhorn. People don't even use dog whistles anymore. This is the party of Trump. It's red meat for the base. But my largest issue was the fact before then, and it's something that we oftentimes have to explain. And it's become exhausting when he says that Andrew Gillum is articulate.

It's something that Joe Biden actually said about Barack Obama. It's a faux pas made that doesn't have any party. And the reason that that is offensive to many is because it does not take some superhero power or special talent for a black person to speak properly. I am hard- pressed to know many times when you're walking down the street and you see a white guy, and you say boy that white kid was articulate.

That just doesn't happen. And so I just think that many times we have these subconscious implicit biases, and DeSantis is proof positive of that. We were talking off air, though, about the fact that 48 percent of Arizona voters voted for Joe Arpaio, who is a lawbreaking racist, or Kelly Ward, who was just -- had some issues with the truth and seemed to be crazy as she was going down further in this campaign. So this party of Trump has issues with sanity and race.

LEMON: OK. So let's -- it's interesting, you know, you said you never see a white kid as articulate. I mean it was -- I was just thinking if we have someone who is not very articulate who happens to be President. You know that didn't escape me.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let me get the comment in and then you can respond. You know after he started to get backlash, his campaign came out with this statement. The statement reads, it says Ron DeSantis was obviously talking about Florida not making the wrong decision to embrace the socialist policies that Andrew Gillum espouses. To characterize it as anything else is absurd.

You know, given the history of monkey being used as a slur against African-Americans, is it really -- African-Americans or black people, is it really absurd, Alice?

[22:45:14] ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. Look. That statement should have been pretty concise, and said I am sorry, bad choice of words, terrible mistake. Let's move on, game on -- excuse me, game on to the primary. That would be the best way to resolve this. That being said, his entire message about the -- that Gillum and the -- his policies are wrong for Florida, socialist agenda, and his tax policies that would increase taxes and hurt Florida completely got lost.

That is a solid message. That is a solid contrast between the primary and the general moving forward. That got lost.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But doesn't that politicize it, Alice, because when you say, like you said full stop. Hey, listen. I am sorry. It was a bad choice of words. I should never have used it. I should have known better, boom, done. Because then when you bring the whole other thing in, it politicizes it and it excuses. It sounds like you're trying to excuse something that you said by adding another layer on top of it. Oh, I know that was bad, but this is worse. That's not a real apology.

STEWART: No. There's no excuse for it. And that being said, that's why my advice would have been go out there, clear the air, make your apology, move on. Pivot and let's get back to politics as usual and go into the primary. But it -- the best answer to this and the best response is to apologize, acknowledge that what you said was insensitive, and move on.

LEMON: And move on. Thank you for that. OK, so...

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Once upon a time, Don, you know, I worked in (Inaudible) in 1976, I worked in the primary campaign in (Inaudible) in New York, last Democrat I worked for, for quite a while there. And as the party moved away from more anti-policies, I would say. But (Inaudible) primary, he won by a percentage point. The next morning, James Buckley, the incumbent Senator had a press conference and he congratulated Pat Moynihan on winning and said he'd looked forward to debating him.

They had differences on the issues. He respected Pat Moynihan. He looked forward to a good election campaign. That's used to be what people did on the morning after a primary victory at or -- your opponent winning the primary victory. And you know that just shows how far we've come. We take it for granted. Of course, you just get out there -- I mean, look Gillum was pretty impressive. He had a pretty impressive campaign. He was outspent massively by, what, three other candidates, I think.

LEMON: Yep.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And he won. And if I were Ron DeSantis, as a matter of clinical calculation, wouldn't it look more gracious. Say you know what. I am looking forward to debating Mr. Gillum on a million issues. I just want to say that was an impressive primary campaign. Congratulations. I look forward to the rest of the campaign.

LEMON: Yeah.

KRISTOL: No. We're in such a crazy partisan hyper political Trumpy, kind of -- not just Trumpy, but I mean political world that you've got to begin the attack the morning after the primary.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, you said it.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And socialist, socialist really? That's a little childish, isn't it? LEMON: The whole thing is just -- the people don't even know when

they're racist. We'll be right back. We'll talk about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:50:00] LEMON: Back now with Bill Kristol, Bakari Sellers, and Alice Stewart. So Bill, you know, Gillum was on with my colleague Chris Cuomo tonight, and he had a chance to respond to that statement from the DeSantis campaign. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking at the whole clip, I think he was clear about what he meant. He understood the dog whistle that he was blowing. And I understand that he intends to speak to a particular part of the base to insight them, but the truth is, is that I think there are a majority of us who disagree with that brand of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Bill, is Gillum right? I mean is -- was that a dog whistle, Bakari says it was a bullhorn. I mean do you think it's going to incite the right wing base?

KRISTOL: I mean if it was it was stupid. What does he have to incite. He's running against a pretty liberal Democrat. The conservative base voter doesn't have (Inaudible) excite them anymore. He's going to be turning out for -- you know (Inaudible) ideological differences. It was idiot. I don't know if it was or it wasn't, honestly, a racially intended or racial slip or just bungling of a term. He wanted to say that...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But as I said in the open, shouldn't you just know better as a thinking person...

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: Yeah, look, whatever. He should just apologize.

(CROSSTALK)

KRISTOL: And I totally agree with what you -- I mean look. Maybe he should know better. I should know better. I would hope I wouldn't say that for example. But if you say it, you say it, I mean he's -- whatever. But he's up late or something, but he should just simply apologize and not muck it up. I very much agree with the point I think you made earlier and others that when you apologize in the next sentence say, but I just want to say the guy is a socialist and I'm going to -- you know.

That just takes away the whole thing. You've got to come out and just say this was wrong. I very much regret that this race may -- I may have inadvertently may have gotten this race off to a very bad start. I want to make clear there is no place for this in our politics. Would that be that hard to do?

LEMON: Yeah, no. Bakari, Florida, at least 25 percent non-white. Do you think it's going to galvanize people of color against DeSantis?

SELLERS: Well, I mean I think people are already excited. I mean they're not just excited in Florida, but they're excited right here in Georgia where I'm tonight for Stacy Abrahms and (Inaudible) excited in Maryland for Benjamin Jealous and Mississippi for Mike Espy. I mean the list goes on and on and on. You have -- and I reject the fact that Andrew Gillum or Stacy Abrahms or any of these individuals are socialists.

I think that that is intellectually dishonest tag that's just cute because of the fact that Donald Trump uses it. In fact, the Republicans have bastardized the term socialist so much, because they beat Barack Obama over the head with it when we had 84 straight months of job growth in this achievement and that achievement. And so people don't even know the term anymore.

[22:54:58] But you do have progressive Democrats who are running. And this isn't your Bernie Sanders progressive per se. But you have a new bold black progressive that we're starting to see, especially in the south. And we're going to see how that transforms the party. We're going to see how that plays out in November. And hopefully, I include myself as one of those. Hopefully, there are electoral successes for us all in the future.

LEMON: All right. So I give you the last word, Ms. Stewart.

STEWART: This clearly is a Bernie Sanders type socialist candidate. And that is the -- those are the kind of policies that Florida can't afford. I worked on Rick Scott's campaign in 2010, and his main motto that got him elected to the Governor of Florida is jobs, jobs, jobs, and the economy. And we cannot afford -- they cannot afford to run the state of Florida with the programs and the tax and spend policies that he's implementing and supporting.

That will not sustain in Florida. And so I -- DeSantis has the right policies. He has the right message that will resonate in Florida just as Donald Trump's message resonated in Florida. He got off on the wrong foot. The problem with Florida with the primaries being so late, you have a short time to get your message out for the general election. It's time to get on the right footing and get out there and push his message.

LEMON: Wouldn't it be great if we adapt the conversation we could have had, rather than talking about someone saying something bigoted? Thank you.

STEWART: Yes.

LEMON: Thank you, all.

STEWART: Thanks, Don.

SELLERS: I appreciate it. LEMON: Michael Cohen's legal future. Don't want to miss it. We'll

talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)