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Trump's Whisperer Resigns; Jared Kushner's Limited Access to Information; Trump Closest Aide Leaves the White House; Trump and Sessions Feud Continues. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 28, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Breaking news tonight out of Washington, we're following multiple huge stories tonight, and we're going to catch you up on everything and it's a lot. So buckle up.

First this Hope Hicks. The fifth White House communications director in a little over a year. The fifth in a little over a year announcing today that she is resigning, joining the parade of people from the Trump administration fleeing for the exits.

Hicks announcing her departure just one day after admitting she told lies, what she characterized as white lies, but lies nonetheless, in the service of President Trump. A source telling CNN's Erin Burnett Trump berated Hicks for admitting she lied and asked her how she could be so stupid.

And there's more news from inside this chaotic White House. Jared Kushner, the president's son in law, his senior adviser reportedly got big loans for his family business after he met with top Wall Street executives at the White House. That's according to the New York Times.

Kushner also described as acting paranoid. A CNN source says Kushner feels everyone is out to get him after losing his top secret security clearance and in the middle of his battle with chief of staff John Kelly.

A White House insider saying the president is increasingly frustrated with all the enemies General Kelly is making.

And there's also the latest crisis of the president's own making. He's public shaming of his own handpicked attorney general. The president tweeting today, "Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the inspector general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse, will take forever. Has no prosecutorial power and already late with recalls on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? Disgraceful."

So to answer the president's questions, the inspector general Michael Horowitz is investigating because that's his job, and none of this is really what the president is steamed about. That's not what he's steamed about. It's not what he's mad about. He continues to blame Jeff Sessions for the Mueller investigation. And

now tonight, we have learned Mueller is looking into exactly why Trump wanted to oust Sessions last summer. And here we go again.

News that on any other night would be our top story. President Trump holds a live televised meeting on guns with republicans and democrats and ends up sounding an awful lot like a democrat. Calling for a ban on bump stocks, strengthening background checks and raising the age of gun purchases from 18 to 21.

Remember when gun advocates loved to say, they still like to say that Obama wants to take away your guns. Now Trump actually does. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take the firearms first, and then go to court. A lot of times by the time you go to court, it takes so long to go to courts, to get the due process procedures, I like taking the guns early.


LEMON: So a recap just on the open of this show. Bombshell resignations, White House in fighting. Guns, all of that and it's only Wednesday.

So let's bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, so let's see. Where do we start. The White House under a barrage of bad headlines tonight. What's the latest?

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Don, certainly a busy day on a variety of fronts here at the White House, as you covered there. I mean, there was this dramatic session in the cabinet room in the White House this afternoon, that seemed to really be the driving story of the day here, if you will, with the president having this session with democrats and republicans sitting down trying to broker a deal on guns.

He said, do not be petrified by the NRA, he said that now is the time to do something. Literally minutes after that meeting broke up, news came from the White House that Hope Hicks, the communications director, one of the closest advisers to the president, said she was resigning, so, of course, that in some ways overshadowed that entire NRA meeting.

Again, this morning, the president going after his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, once again which has become this repeated series of events here, always going after Jeff Sessions, who was, of course, an early supporter, early adviser on the campaign.

So Don, as we end a busy Wednesday here, the White House still pushing guns, but there is this staff shake-up, this resignation that is really different than all the others, we've been through this before, we've been here before, saying this person resigned, that person resigned, Hope Hicks is different, Don. LEMON: Yes. Who has five communications director -- five

communications directors in just over a year. I mean -- I hate to laugh. It's not -- it's laughable, I just cannot -- who could believe this?

ZELENY: Right. But Don, it's even more than that, yesterday the title of communications director, but it is much more than that. Hope Hicks was more than a communications director.

LEMON: Right. She's member of the family.


[22:04:58] ZELENY: She was the Trump whisperer, she understood him, and she in many respects, her voice was not known outside. We see a lot of people on Sundays talk shows, we see them advising presidents and sort of, you know, out here on the lawn giving interviews, this was not Hope Hicks.

But her voice inside was very loud and very clear. She was involved in virtually every big story the president was involved in, every big speech, she travelled with him.

And Don, I'm remembering tonight, thinking back to a trip last July when the president was flying back from Hamburg, Germany, the G-20 back here to Washington, Hope Hicks was on that plane, I was on that plane as a pool reporter after this long foreign trip.

And that was the time -- we didn't know it at the moment, where they were devising the communications strategy for that Trump tower meeting from 2016. Hope Hicks was in the room, as they were talking about, wait, this wasn't about adoptions for Russia, it was about dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So that, I was thinking about that again today, Hope Hicks was present for every station of this situation, which is one of the reasons she spent eight hours yesterday, of course before the House intelligence committee. She spent two days before Bob Mueller's team at the end of last year, so all that builds up to is it why she resigned today? We don't know.

She said she wanted to pursue other opportunities. But Don, I can tell you, there was a ripple effect that was felt here. I was told that people were crying when she was saying that she was leaving. She is a force here in the White House that will be leaving in the coming weeks, and my question, how will the president deal without this aide next to him being caught -- Hope, Hope, for all this variety of things.

LEMON: Without--

ZELENY: So this was a bigger deal than all these other resignations.

LEMON: Without his Trump whisperer again as--

ZELENY: It was and true. LEMON: -- she is called. Thank you. I appreciate that.

I want to bring in Chris Cilizza, CNN politics editor at large, Joshua Green, CNN political analyst and the author of "Devil's Bargain, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the storming of the presidency," and CNN political analyst April Ryan and Ryan Lizza.

So, Chris, you know, it's interesting she talks about, when he talks about her being the Trump whisperer that she's been there for him. She was very low key. I remember inauguration night was the first time that I've ever met her.


LEMON: And really heard, you know, her name besides reading it on a statement from the White House.


LEMON: She was not very visible. You don't know Hope Hicks? No, I don't know Hope Hicks. But you're not buying her resignation, are you?

CILLIZZA: Well, to your first point about her low profile. To go from Anthony Scaramucci to Hope Hicks, literally the biggest contrast in profile you could ever possibly have. But, no, Jeff touched on this, you know, she said she told Maggie Haberman -- or aide told Maggie Haberman in the New York Times that she left because this was the perfect time to leave.

It's the -- I mean, it's the opposite of the perfect time to leave. You just went through the number of stories, Don. That's just today. And really, that's just this afternoon.

LEMON: Yes. Because yesterday, a similar open to the show, there was so much news, it was like four or five stories, either of which could have been the big story or the only other story we cover.

CILLIZZA: And would have been in any other administration. So, to me, her leaving now a day after the testimony in the House intelligence committee a few weeks after the whole security clearance issue with Rob Porter who she was romantically linked.


CILLIZZA: She's leaving at a time, and Jeff noted this, she's leaving at a time when Donald Trump is increasingly isolated, has fewer and fewer of that core group that he started with.

LEMON: Let me ask you this, then why would he berate her after her testimony, because she said she told white lies. And I'd like to say hash tag, that was trending the hash tag white lies matter, because they do really matter.

CILLIZZA: If you lie about little things, you know how that ends.

LEMON: Right. CILLIZZA: I mean, yes. My guess is, because he was upset at her because he is smart enough to understand that it is very hard for a communications person whose job extensively is to deal with the media.


CILLIZZA: To be saying, well, yes, I mean, I tell some things that aren't true. It's nothing substantive.


LEMON: How do we know what to believe?

CILLIZZA: The credibility-wise, you're left in a lurch. My guess is he sense that.

JOSHUA GREEN, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: But he also, I mean, Trump himself adheres to the Roy Kohn standard of always attack, never admit any wrongdoing. Trump himself never admit that he's lied, never apologized, and I think he expects that from his staff too.

LEMON: Yes. April, this is your beat, what are you hearing?

APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, I'm hearing she was forced to resign, that she and General Kelly -- yes, I mean, no surprise. That she and General Kelly have not been seeing eye to eye particularly since this Rob Porter issue, when she wrote that statement about Rob Porter and his leaving and what was going on.

And my sources are telling me that she had -- she delivered a tentative resignation at that time, but they said stay, you know, you have some more things have you to do, you got these hearings, so stay.

[22:09:59] But yesterday was the nail in the coffin, that white lie was the nail in the coffin for this president and for the administration.

So what's next, we don't know, but we do know that this White House is trying to act like everything is OK. We know that everything is not OK. Because they knew this was coming, they purposefully strategically cancelled a briefing today, because they were fearful that we would get information about this, and start talking about it to overshadow the gun issue, the other story. Well, one of the other stories of the day.

So this has been a very interesting day, we have to see how it plays out. But Hope Hicks is leaving. But the president has other people in the administration that he can definitely have as a whisperer.

I mean, I said it before, Kellyanne. Kellyanne, when the president gets in hot water on the Twitter, Kellyanne says, sir, how can I help you? Meaning, how can I help you fix this? So, you know, the president, he likes people one minute, but once they do something, he'll throw them away for a minute. But then they start calling him on his cell phone and they're friends again. But you know, we'll see what happens. (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: How do you fix that?

RYAN: But this one -- this one was a hard blow.

LEMON: How do you fix that because, I mean, one of the people you mentioned, they're others, they're so gap from him, how do you fix something. Sometimes they try to fix it, and they ended -- they end up making it worse, at least Hope Hicks was not enamored by cameras and fame.


RYAN: Right. Especially when you -- yes, especially -- right.

LEMON: She was the perfect communications director. Everyone else who seems to be in those roles, want to be -- they can't -- they never met a green room they didn't like. They never -- the roughest place, the most dangerous place to be was between them and a camera. Even still. So I don't know, you know, how they're going to fix it, because they often end up making--


RYAN: She's now sick of Washington.


RYAN: She's now sick of Washington, because she's been the eye of the storm at least three times.


RYAN: Three times at least.

LEMON: And so young, this is not what she signed up for. She signed up originally to work with Ivanka Trump and her fashion line.


LEMON: Let me bring in Ryan. Ryan, remember the New York Times reporting last year where President Trump lashed out at John Kelly, and Kelly told other White House staff that in his 35 years of military service, he had never been spoken to like that, we have seen this story before, but this time it looks like it's a dramatic consequence.

RYAN LIZZA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I mean, sometimes -- it feels like half of White House reporting is just about who Trump is mad at that day, right. Every senior White House official goes through some cycle of, you know, Trump venting at them, so that was Kelly's time in the barrel.

This job of White House communications director, it's sort of become like the drummer in spinal tap, if you guys remember that movie. People just sort of, leave in sort of unusual circumstances. Some more spectacularly than others.


LEMON: Self-combust.

LIZZA: Scaramucci was probably the most spectacular, he was the shortest and maybe like that -- sort of like the drummer who self- combusted in the movie. Hope lasted a long time, I mean, she was doing this job even when other people had the title.

But at the end of the day, Trump is his own communications director. And that's I think why this job is so impossible to fill in the way that previous presidents have had communications directors. Because he is very difficult to work for in any capacity. But especially when it comes to press and communications, which he thinks he's a master of.

LEMON: Yes, Josh, I want you to look at this graph. This is the president's original inner circle, that went with him from the early days of the campaign to the White House. Actually, there's just a couple from the early days, some of those people are not early. I mean -- anyway, how many are left here? The president is increasingly isolated.

GREEN: Well, if you take away family members, there's not a whole of lot of people left from the early days. And the real shock I think with Hope Hicks leaving. I was speaking to a former White House official today, just after the news broke. He said he was really stunned. As tough as that job is on people, you know, I expected Hope to be the one to turn out the lights on the Trump administration, that she would be there for the full four or eight years.

Now I don't know if that was realistic but I think it speaks to how jarring it was for people who work with her to see her, you know, kind of arbitrarily decide to leave, especially in the middle of all the crisis that are ongoing.

The other issue that came up in my reporting was, look, she's spoken to Mueller, maybe that's a reason she's left. If she has reason to believe that perhaps she is a target of this investigation, maybe now is the time to leave and get some distance from the White House if things are going to go in a bad direction.

LEMON: Hey, Chris, I got to take a break. But quickly.


LEMON: How much of this -- I was sitting in my office and I was watching all of the news channels, right -- Trump TV or state run TV, they're not even reporting this. So, Trump supporters? They don't even know about these stories, it doesn't register, that's the amazing thing.

We cover all of these things every day. The White House imploding behind him, and he's standing there going, nothing to see here. But his supporters probably don't even realize the extent. [22:15:02] CILLIZZA: Yes, there's no question, you now, particularly

when he tweets about, why don't we pay attention to Hillary's crimes, number one. Number two, though, I actually think for people who are consuming news generally.

The top of the show, Don, I would think there's an episode of the Simpsons, where Mr. Burns, the old sort of the decrepit guy -- just stay with me, the old decrepit guy he goes to the doctor and he said, he has a checkup, the doctor comes in and says, you're perfectly fine.

He said I knew it, I was healthy. And the doctor, it's not that, you have every disease known to man, but they're all blocking one another from the top of your body. I sometimes think about that with the new cycle. I don't know if he's doing it on purpose or not.

Some people say, of course, he's doing it on purpose. It's (Inaudible). I don't know if that's true, but I do know that Ben Carson and the stuff going on with the furniture in his office. Jared Kushner, we're talking about Hope Hicks, but the Russia investigation. There's so much, you could literally do--


LEMON: We got--

CILLIZZA: On just the guns.

LEMON: Well, hang on, because you guys are coming back, OK. So, stand by, don't work ahead in the textbook.

CILLIZZA: I used a lot of time there.

LEMON: My gosh. We'll be back, we got to talk about all the stuff that he mentioned. Don't go anywhere.


LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, the bomb shell resignation of Hope Hicks just one day after we learned Jared Kushner's security clearance has been downgraded.

[22:20:00] And that's not the only bombshell coming out of the Trump White House. There's news on Robert Mueller's investigation. Questions about President Trump's feud with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Back with me now, Chris Cillizza, Joshua Green, April Ryan, and Ryan Lizza. Because Chris read ahed in the notebook--

CILLIZZA: I blame myself.

LEMON: .. so I'm going to give this to Ryan. So, Ryan, as we're dissecting all the news about Hope Hicks and really everything that's come out in the last 48 hours. Washington Post reporting that Mueller is examining Trump's apparent efforts to oust Sessions in July, and whether this is a pattern of obstruction of justice. What do you make of this development? LIZZA: Well, I think it's entirely predictable. It's predictable as

the earlier story this week, that foreigners were trying to gain an advantage over Kushner by figuring out what kinds of -- what his weaknesses are with respect to his financial dealings. Just as that it is entirely predictable.

It is predictable that given his financial entanglements, and given the nature of his job, he was inevitably going to meet with officials who then had some business relationship, right?

So sometimes these things are totally innocent. Maybe he met with this guy from Citigroup and then the company got the loan as the Post is reporting, and one had nothing to do with the other. But that is the problem when you don't divest, that is the problem when you have these kinds of financial entanglements.

It is the appearance of frankly, corruption. And that's why we have previous administrations who have been very, very stringent about divesting themselves of these kinds of relationships, and making sure -- or at the very least making sure they don't take a meeting with someone, who might have a financial relationship later on with one of their business interests.

So, entirely predictable. And another sort of nail in the coffin, he's had a very, very difficult month. To me it doesn't -- it's difficult to see how he remains in that job, without a top secret clearance with Mueller breathing down his neck, and with increasing stories about financial entanglements that are making his job very difficult.

LEMON: Josh, I want to read this graph. It's from the Post story. It says, "Behind the scenes, Trump has derisively referred to Sessions as Mr. Magoo, a cartoon character who is elderly, myopic and bumbling. According to people with whom he has spoken. Trump has told associates that he has hired the best lawyers for his entire life, but is stuck with Sessions who is not defending him and is not sufficiently loyal."

What do you make of that comparison the president is feeling like Sessions isn't being sufficiently loyal? It's another loyalty, right?

GREEN: It says to me he doesn't understand the role of the attorney general and the attorney general's relationship to the president. Jeff Sessions job is not to be President Trump's personal lawyer. And I don't think Trump has ever reconciled himself to that fact or wants to.

He sees the job of Jeff Sessions as to, you know, go out there and to defend him. To investigate and attack his enemies. He tweeted just today, why isn't Jeff Sessions having Justice Department lawyers go out and investigate Hillary Clinton? Who hasn't been a political figure in 18 months and isn't going to be one. This is just loyalty is the lens through which he views everything, but especially lawyers.

LEMON: I've got to get to this gun thing, OK? Because today was meant to focus on president's roundtable with lawmakers, focusing on gun control. They even cancelled a briefing to highlight it. But once again, the White House steps all over their own message with

this resignation, do you think this is another self-inflicted wound, April?

RYAN: Yes. But even more so than that, I'm waiting to hear what the NRA has to say, this is the first time in modern years, in the most recent presidents that we've seen, for a republican president to not stand in lockstep with the NRA. It was very strong.

The president said he wanted something stronger than weaker. He was talking about issues of background checks, mental health, he was doubling down again on certifying those who can handle a gun in schools.

I mean, he really went in and the question is, is that -- will the NRA go against this republican president. I mean, you know, they've talked about many years before, with democratic presidents, when they were talking about the gun show loophole issue, and different things. You know, that they're trying to take your guns away.

Well, now, this president, this republican president, who just became republican not long ago, in the last couple of years, is now saying, we need to do something. He even said he had dinner or lunch with members of the NRA about this.

So I mean, yes, this is -- this Hope Hicks issue is a big issue for the moment. But I think this has more tentacles, and a longer battle if you will, to come.

[22:25:00] LEMON: Yes. My mouth dropped when he said, take the guns and then due process. I said, wait a minute, did he just say?


LEMON: I'm going to take your guns away, which he said about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which by the way, Barack Obama never -- there was no legislation, nothing to ever say--


CILLIZZA: Well, he in fact said, I -- Barack Obama said I have no interest in coming to your house and taking your guns away.

LEMON: I was like, what?

RYAN: Yes.

CILLIZZA: You and every republican lawmaker in the room, Don in terms of your jaw dropping. Look, in watching it I couldn't escape the Tuesday immigration open meeting that we saw where Donald Trump essentially said in his own unique way, we can do comprehensive about comprehensive immigration reform.

By Thursday, 48 hours later, that was off the table and they weren't doing anything. I just -- what he says in an open setting, he is not someone-- (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Bingo.

CILLIZZA: -- with a lot of people--

LEMON: He may not -- but he may--

CILLIZZA: He doesn't care that what he says--


RYAN: Wait a minute, but he did say that he--

LEMON: But he says today -- but then he'll say something else on Thursday or Friday. But today, I kept thinking as I'm watching this, honestly, our lawmakers are completely out of touch with what the American people really want.

These kids, many of them, what these kids, a lot of them are older, the younger generation, I think, they're not part of, they don't really sort of get it, and just about how little this president flows about everything. We want something powerful, we want something big, we want something strong. Instead of coming up with details. Because I left not knowing how he felt specifically about anything. I saw this as performance art today.

CILLIZZA: If you need to -- if you need to--


RYAN: On legislation?


CILLIZZA: If you need to understand what the Republican Party's reaction to Donald Trump broadly speaking is. I would urge anyone to go find the video of John Cornyn, the Texas republican senator sitting next to Donald Trump.


CILLIZZA: John Cornyn's face tells it all. He looks like this half the time. Like that -- did I hear that right? I mean, that's just the reality, and that's what Trump -- the great opportunity Trump present -- represented in some ways. The break with the orthodoxy. The break with the ways in which things used to be. The problem is--


LEMON: In words, but not necessarily in policies.

GREEN: The difference is -- the difference when you have a--

RYAN: But wait a minute, Don.

LEMON: Quick, quick, quick. 2 RYAN: Don, he says he wants to deal with bump stocks, he says he wants to deal with bump stocks, he says he's going to write some kind of executive order to deal with bump stocks.

LEMON: That should be dealt with Vegas, but go on.

RYAN: He wants them to deal with everything else. Sure could have. But I'm just saying, you know, I'm not taking up for him, but he says he wants to deal with the issue of bump stocks, he's going to do that right away and the rest of it, the congressional leaders can handle. He didn't understand a lot of the legislation, but he says he wants some action. So we'll see if that happens and how long this bump stocks thing will take.

LEMON: All right. I'm going to get bumped out of here, if you guys don't hold your horses. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

LIZZA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, with all these chaos swirling in the White House how does the administration get anything done? Is their agenda on the line? We're going to ask Mark McKinnon right after this.


[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: We said it before but team Trump proves it over and over, this will -- in this White House, all this chaos, the communications director Hope Hicks, one of the president's closest aides the latest to go through the revolving door one day after telling the congressional committee that she sometimes tells white lies for the president.

Mark McKinnon is here. Let's discuss. He's a former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain who is executive producer of The Circus.

Good to see you sir. So, Mark, on most days, the president sitting down with lawmakers for a televised bipartisan meeting would be front page. Instead the White House is dealing with headlines like "Trump calls Sessions handling of surveillance abuse, allegations disgraceful. Mueller investigation examining Trump's apparent efforts to oust Sessions in July. Jared Kushner's ties to banks under scrutiny. The White House denies Trump berated Hope Hicks."

I mean, look at all this. We have all those headlines up on the screen there. I mean, that's just from the last few hours. How can this White House get anything done?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE CIRCUS: Well, it's dizzying, Don, and as you know, this isn't just today, this is every day. And you talk to your producers this morning as I do every week. And we talk about what we're probably going to talk about tonight. And then sure enough by late afternoon, it's a completely different set of issues.

You know, working in the White House, I call it the human microwave under normal circumstances. And so I just want to echo something that Maggie Haberman just tweeted out, which is that the surprise should not be that anybody is leaving, the surprise is that anybody is staying.

But in this case, Hope Hicks, it is a big deal for everybody because for a lot of reasons. I mean, one is, that she's so close to Trump. two, everybody assumed that she would be there for most of the ride, anyway.

And that she and his former personal assistant Keith Schiller were such security blankets for him, that people are worried what's going to happen in a pretty chaotic White House and executive with them there, what it's going to be like without them there, so Hope Hicks is an interesting person, particularly intriguing to those of us in the communications business as a communications director who, in a couple years of the campaign and more than a year's communications director in some capacity in the White House has been seen on camera once.

Which is -- which I commend. You know, she facilitated, tried to stay out of it, but as we saw in the last couple weeks, she's suddenly in the hot glare of the spotlight. I don't think she like it.

LEMON: Yes. And if you met her, like I said, in the beginning, I only met her once, could not be nicer.


LEMON: But I mean, she was really in the mixer there, in the grinder. But listen, our Pamela Brown has been reporting that the president is made clear he needs Jared and Ivanka to stay on board, since they're the only ones he feels that he can trust.

The president has publicly criticized McMaster, Sessions, Tillerson and reportedly berated Hope Hicks, arguably one of the most loyal foot soldiers. Do you think Trump's loyalty which seem to only extend to his family do you think that's going to hurt him?

MCKINNON: Yes, I think -- I think it already has. And I think -- you know, I'm not -- I'm not one of those who says that nobody connected to a family should work for a president under any circumstances. I think there are circumstances. Although in the Bush administrations, eight years of George W. and four years of George H.W. I'm not aware of a single family member that worked in any capacity.

[22:35:05] There may be something that I'm not aware of. But if they were, certainly low level not a high security, you know, special assistant to the president without portfolio.

The problem with that is that, even though there's no conflict of interest, there's always going to be the appearance of that and we saw that with Jared Kushner today where he gets a couple loans from large corporate interests who have been at the White House in meetings with him. So how could there not be at least the appearance of a conflict.

And when you're president and you're trying to get stuff done you don't even want the appearance of that, so, you know, how there's an agenda now with this kind of chaos for this year, I don't think it's going to be much through the midterms.

LEMON: Yes. Well, the president pointed to John Kelly to deal with the security clearance problem in the wake of Rob Porter. And Kelly probably downgraded Kushner's clearance. Do you think that it's going to end up hurting him with the president?

MCKINNON: I hope not. I mean, I think that a lot of people believe that even those who have become skeptical, that John Kelly's presence is a good presence there. Because he is concerned about those kind of conflicts, although he didn't raise it as early as he should have. But I think he's been -- I think from the beginning he's been concerned about the relationship of the family, with Trump in the White House.


MCKINNON: I think those are the kind of conflicts that he's. As a military guy, he instinctively got, so I think that that's going to be an ongoing problem until it's resolved one way or the other, until their roles are either diminished or exported or Kelly goes.

LEMON: Listen, I always ask you questions that I want to. But I want to know what questions do you have? What's important to you, is there something that we're missing here? Because there's so many stories, what's on your mind tonight?

MCKINNON: Well, I'm -- what's on my mind is ramping up the circus here in a couple weeks with 18 new episodes of season three.

LEMON: That's good.

MCKINNON: And how we're going to cover this. You like that segue?

LEMON: I feel like, shameless self-promotion, but go on.

MCKINNON: Yes. I appreciate that. But it just reminds me that there are so many sort of arrows coming at us every day--


MCKINNON: -- that what we failed to understand, I think it's because it's so scattered shot, and so asymmetric, what is the bigger picture of the Mueller investigation, for example. We don't know, but we get so drawn into all these other things, so my questions are kind of, what's the bigger picture for the presidency, for the executive, for the country long term, and are these guardrails of democracy going to hold up overtime.

LEMON: You can't go live on show time, can you? You may end up having to do that with this season.

MCKINNON: Yes, I mean, we keep changing, the executives see the show Sunday morning and it goes on Sunday night. Often times we're changing stuff late Saturday night--

LEMON: My goodness.

MCKINNON: -- given this administration.


LEMON: When does the new season start again?

MCKINNON: April 15th. Thanks for asking.

LEMON: We'll see you then. Thank you, Mark McKinnon. Always a pleasure. Thank you so much.

When we come back, the president and his attorney general publicly feuding over the Justice Department's inspector general. Why can't they just get along? And who is right? I'm going to speak to a former inspector general for the NSA about all of this next.


LEMON: Tonight sources telling CNN that aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions marking his first year in office, gave him a bulletproof vest as a gag gift. We're learning this as Sessions was pushing back today after the latest of many broadsides from his boos.

The president slamming Sessions in a tweet for asking the Justice Department's inspector general to investigate allegations of surveillance abuses by the FBI. The president claiming the I.G. is an Obama guy, and calling the decision disgraceful.

Sessions responded saying the department will do its work in a fair and impartial manner.

And I want to talk about this now with Joel Brenner, he is a former inspector general for the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush. Mr. Brenner, it's an honor to have you. Thank you so much for coming on.

We're seeing President Trump once again publicly shame his own attorney general. And Jeff Sessions fighting back more than he ever has in the past. First, why do you think Sessions is pushing back so strongly on this one now.

JOEL BRENNER, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, NSA: I think Jeff Sessions knows that his public career at some point is going to be over. He wants to go home to Alabama and be able to look in the mirror, and say to himself, that I kept my integrity in very difficult circumstances.

Jeff Sessions did the right thing. Inspector generals were created for exactly situations like this. We have -- we got them in the civilian part of our government after Watergate, in the late '70s, because the Congress wanted independent officials within the executive branch who could examine the possibility of wrongdoing, alleged wrongdoing.

We've now got serious allegations. I'm not really impressed with their merit, but we have serious allegations, relating to the FBI's behavior before the FISA court. The FBI is part of the Justice Department.

The fact that the president is upset that Sessions is playing by the book is yet another indication that the president is profoundly ignorant and indifferent to the purposes of the institutions of our government. It's astonishing.

LEMON: You're the former NSA inspector general, inspector general, right? I think that's what you're saying this is the right person to investigate this, correct?

BRENNER: Exactly the right sort of person to investigate it, I.G.'s as we call them are in charge of internal investigations and internal program audits in various departments of government. And just about all of our departments of government right now.

[22:44:56] So when Sessions looks at the landscape here and sees the politicization of our intelligence committees on the Hill, especially in the House. He says, I've a mechanism here to resolve this, it's the I.G.

If I do it, in -- as a political appointment of the president, we're not going to get out of this political tangle. He's looking for an official who can do the job in a credible way. And when the president attacks that institution, because the I.G. is not his man, then we're really in difficult straights, when the president is one after another attacking the institutions of American government.

He attacked the courts because he didn't like the ethnic background of a judge. He attacks the intelligence agencies because they present him facts that he doesn't like. He's now attacked the FBI because he can't control the FBI. And he's -- now he's attacking the I.G. because he didn't appoint the guy. That's the actual point. 2

We have institutions in our government that act independently, that's what limited government is about.

LEMON: Yes. And not -- not one of those institutions he attacks quite frequently is the press as well. So he does attack pretty much every established institution we have.

Joel, I've to ask you this before we run out of time. Do you -- do you think that president is trying to force the attorney general to quit rather than fire him, because he's concerned about the optics of it?

BRENNER: That's hard to say. I have to think that the attorney -- that the president's been advised that firing Sessions right now would create a firestorm on the Hill, even among people in his own party. And Sessions, I think realizes that he is a bulwark now between the president and Robert Mueller, who's been another target of the president's attacks. One of the most respected people in public service in our time.

So I think Sessions is -- he's hardly flinching under repeated nasty personal attacks. But I think he's there now to do a job. And we'll just have to see how that plays out. I'm not privy to his private thoughts.

LEMON: Joel Brenner, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

BRENNER: Pleasure.

LEMON: When we come back, much more on Hope Hicks resignation, and the curious timing of it. Plus, the New York Times reporting that Jared Kushner's company received money from businesses after he met with them in the White House. Is there a connection to him losing his security clearance?


LEMON: Our breaking news, White House communications director Hope Hicks announcing a resignation today, the latest in a long, long line of departures from the Trump White House in a little over a year.

Let's discuss with national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, a former senior adviser to the national security adviser under President Obama, and Rick Wilson a republican strategist. Good evening to both of you.

Rick, you've got a little saying that everything Trump touches dies. Is that what happened here with Hope Hicks.

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Absolutely. The rule always applies, the rule always, you know, end up obtaining no matter who they are or what they think their position is or how solid it looks. At some point the compromises and the trouble that Trump brings people ends up destroying their career.

I mean, it's like game show where you get high legal bills, your personal reputation destroyed and other than the lovely parting gift is national headlines about the fact that you've been booted out of the White House. It's a real mess for her. And -- but it's this White House is firing people at a rate that is you know quite astounding. And it doesn't seem to be changing.

And it always comes down to the fact that these folks are defending Trump or helping Trump or trying to push his agenda and they always end up under the wheels of the passing train.

LEMON: Sam, here is what see. You say the timing of the Hope Hicks resignation is the prime example of the Trump administration's crisis strategy. How so?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: It feels like every time the White House is under pressure we always have reporting about Jared Kushner's foreign business conflicts, undisclosed misreported meetings, another shoe drops.

We have Hope Hicks resigning last weekend in the midst of all the scrutiny on Jared Kushner's clearance. All the sudden the Schiff memo comes out Donald Trump launches into a twitter storm. And we talked about that instead of all the policy issues that actually matters.

So it feels like a little bit too much of a cue coincidence. But you know, one point I'll make. Everything that Trump touches dies except Jared Kushner, the least qualified person to be running policy right now in the White House is still there. So I wish that Kushner would be pushed out of the White House and

would resign and we'd have this kind of crisis communications to deal with. Instead he is still there working on this really heavy issues.

LEMON: Interesting. Rick, yesterday is about, I guess 20 breaking news stories ago. But you wrote in the Daily Beast, you said, "The deep state takes out the White House's dark clown prince."

And you really pull no punches talking about Jared Kushner's loss of security clearance and how it's tied to his fortune and more importantly his debts. Now tonight, we're learning he met with top Wall Street execs in the White House who then lent his business money.

WILSON: Sure. I mean, look, in any other human being on earth would be in prison by now because of all this. Jared Kushner is so compromised and so compromisable -- the article I wrote in the Daily Beast yesterday basically ran through the fact that American intelligence was listening in while foreign nations were basically astounded at how easy it would be to bribe and manipulate this guy.

And the fact of the matter is the president -- you know, he is listening to Ivanka saying but daddy keep him here. That's unacceptable for a president to do.

[22:50:01] The nepotism problem would be a problem no matter what. If he didn't have any investments or anything else. But this is a guy who is basically been trying to sell himself and sell his influence in the White House in order to fund 666 Fifth Avenue, this white elephant building his family has invested in New York.

And this is a guy who has -- who was the president has given this vast portfolio of assignments and opportunities to influence American foreign and domestic policy. And the problem is he is utterly corrupt, he doesn't need to be in the White House.

You know, the guy is going to end up spending more time in a federal correctional facility than the White House at the end of the day because it's so obvious how cheaply he was trying to sell himself to anyone who walked in the door.


WILSON: I mean, this is a guy who might as well had a for sale tattooed on his neck.

LEMON: Well, you talked -- did you say it was the Daily Beast you write the piece?


LEMON: Because Sam has a similar article which is in Politico. And Sam you wrote, "Foreign governments are always looking for potential intelligence targets. They look to recent assets that have access to information that they need and influence over policy they look for assets which -- with manipulation points, adding that the final element that makes the perfect foreign intelligence target inexperience." You say, "Jared checks every single box."

VINOGRAD: Most definitely. I mean, whether it was hubris inexperience or Kushner was pursuing some other agenda. He made every national security mistake in the book. He was unprepared for meetings. He reportedly didn't work with the national security councils.

Typically when you go meet with the Chinese you bring a friend, you bring someone to take notes, you bring a translator so that there is other read out of the meeting. And you also did brief everyone when you get out so that there is an official record for the U.S. government and you're not, again, relying on a foreign country to tell everyone what actually happened.

And so, Jared Kushner is not special in many ways. He was a powerful figure that would have been targeted by a foreign intelligence service. But this hubris aspect makes him very different.

LEMON: Hey, Rick, quickly, because I have to get to break. Jared he's among dozens of aides who lost his security clearance. Is this a sign despite the president being mad that actually Kelly is winning the knife fight that's underway now at the White House?

WILSON: It definitely is reducing Jared from a top secret C.I. clearance to Wal-Mart greeter clearance in the space of a couple of days has shown that John Kelly has in control and some hand in this White House. You know, that may not last but he is certainly doing his best to try to eliminate the possibility of Jared, you know, putting up the president's daily brief for sale on the dark web somewhere.

LEMON: House wares on aisle four to the back and the right. Thank you. I appreciate it. When he come back, with Hope Hicks planning to leave the White House, is the president losing all of his inner circle, his most trusted aides? And should he be worried?