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President Trump standing by his wiretapping accusation; Aired 11p-Midnight ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 23:00   ET



[23:00:19] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Words matter, especially for the President.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

President Trump doubling down today on his ludicrous claim that his predecessor spied on him. Joking to German chancellor Angela Merkel they have something in common and that is wiretapping. President also refusing to shoot down on who the claims that first appeared on FOX News that British intelligence did the alleged spying for President Obama. FOX News itself repudiating those claims today.

So, in all the wake of this, who can take the President at his word? Our allies? Our leaders? The American people?

Let's get go back to CNN political commentator Alice Stewart, Charles Blow, Matt Lewis, Symone Sanders, Andre Bauer, also CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali.

It has been a long week. I'm trying to get my so hurt (ph) here.

Everyone, good evening. Happy Friday and happy St. Patrick's Day to you.

Alice, I'm going to start with you because it is the president versus everyone else. It doesn't matter that Republicans and Democrats, that house intelligence committees, they are all saying there is no evidence that Trump tower is wiretapped by the former president. So what is going to convince this President to believe otherwise?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He will not acknowledge that he may be stepped out of bounds on this one. Look. As you say, everyone, House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, all have said there's no there there. We will have a report come out Monday. Comey probably confirming that. Donald Trump truly believes that this happened. They will continue to stand behind what they see as news reports that indicate this happened, whether or not that's the case or not. They will continue to say that.

He is not one of those people that is going to go back. Like the old John Wayne movie, don't apologize because shows a sign of weakness. He is not going to apologize. He is not going to back track because he is dead set on following us through. LEMON: Believe it happened, Symone Sanders, or saving face?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Did it happen? It didn't happened.

LEMON: Does he truly believe it happened or is he is saving face?

SANDERS: You know, I'm not sure what Donald Trump believes. But the fact that he is willing to make not only himself but his entire administration and spokes people look - let them look absolutely ridiculous over these which are seemingly more increasingly look like false claims is really baffling to me. That there are so many more pressing things that Donald Trump can go to the mat for. But he is going to go out on a limb and die on this branch on wiretapping? I don't know why?

LEMON: Matt, listen. And today, you know, he is standing next to key ally in the White House, one of the most powerful women in the world. Plenty of domestic and international issues that Symone said that need attention. And the president is having to fill questions on a controversy of his own making that he created. Is this because he prefers to be in battle mode instead of governing mode?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it could be. And I mean, you know, I'm always trying to, you know - I'm always wrestling with is Donald Trump making colossal mistakes all the time or is it playing some sort of three dimensional chess. Is he distracting us from the, you know, the Obamacare replacement bill that looks to be a disaster with this?

So it's really not clear. I would say, though, I just think in general he does have a philosophy that says attack, counterattack, and never apologize. And if you sort of buy into the argument that that is his lodestar, those are his guiding principles, that is he is being true to them.

LEMON: Yes. Timothy I know you want to get in. You are anxious. What do you want to say?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I want to say that Donald Trump continues to act as if he were an outsider and yet he is at the center of it all. He could ask right now for a list of all FISA warrants, all the wiretaps and he could find out the answer. He could find out and he could declassify it. He could go in front of the American people and say the Obama justice department overreached and I have evidence.

LEMON: But why would he prove himself wrong?

NAFTALI: That's the point. The point is that it didn't matter to him. I think he got mad. I think that morning he woke up, he heard something, and he decided to tweet about it. It made sense to him. And now, it doesn't matter to him whether he is right or not. What's amazing today is that he was willing to continue a myth that affects our closest intelligence ally, the British government. This is unprecedented. I mean, so much happened today. It was easy to miss. The British government came out and said don't take what the White House has said seriously. That's never happened before. Angela Merkel relations, particularly intelligence, are really tight. But this administration cares so little for those traditional relationships that this happened. Amazing.

LEMON: So Andre, you sat here and you and many other people, I'm not picking on you defended the President. So if Comey comes out on Monday and says, you know, from him, we gleaned from that but there is absolutely nothing, what do you do? What does the President do?

[23:05:11] ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, first off, we elected commander in-chief, not apologist in-chief. And the only person in my lifetime as President I can remember apologizing was Richard Nixon. I mean, Obama didn't apologize when he got the You Tube video in Benghazi called an attack on the embassy. He didn't apologize for it even though we know that was incorrect. And so, I do think Donald Trump is missing an opportunity to really talk about things that got him elected. And so I hope it will change the narrative this week and talk about the out of control nature of (INAUDIBLE). I though (INAUDIBLE) did an excellent job in the press conference.

LEMON: Andre, that's a great pivot but you didn't answer my question.

BAUER: I did answer your question. Number one, I think that he has something there. We know the "New York Times" on January 20th said wiretapping data --

LEMON: That's not what "the New York Times" said. Andre, read the story. That's not what it said.

BAUER: It did say that.

LEMON: No, it didn't. You want to read? I have it here. I have it right here as a matter of fact.

BAUER: "New York Times" on January 20th, wiretap data in inquiry.

LEMON: Yes. I have it right here. It said intercepted Russian communications, part of the inquiry into Trump associates. It never said anything about Trump tower. It never said anything about Donald Trump himself. Said nothing about that. It is not what it says. And I have read this before. The only two times that it mentioned wiretapping was in conjunction with Sergey Kislyak which is how Flynn got caught up, because they were monitoring Russian people - Russian ambassador which is normal intelligence. Said nothing about monitoring American citizen.

The second time was only mentioned wiretap twice in here. Second time it was mentioned was with Jeff Sessions. And it says that Jeff Sessions who is at that time a nominee would be the only person in the government authorized to seek foreign intelligence wiretaps on American soil. Wiretapped were mentioned twice. One talking about Sergey Kislyak and the other time saying that the only person who would be able to authorize those in the future would be Jeff Sessions.

This article does not say what you and other Trump surrogates are saying that it said. It doesn't say that.

BAUER: Well, and we know there was FISA requests as well.

LEMON: We don't know that.

BAUER: But again, I wouldn't going to get into that debate with you.

LEMON: We don't know there was FISA request. That's not true, Andre. You are also saying something else that we don't know to be true as well.

BAUER: We still don't know how Russia got involved in the elections or if they did. I know that narrative has been pushed but we have no proof of it.

LEMON: No we don't. That's true. We don't know. And that is true. And that is what everyone has been reporting.

BAUER: But again --

LEMON: Except the intelligence agencies do believe that Russia influenced our election. But still, you didn't answer my question. You have been defending the President, you and others. And the President has been saying that, you know, they believe that there's wiretapping. Sean Spicer has been doing his dance on the podium in the White House press briefing room. On Monday what do you say if Comey comes, if and when, he is believed he is going to come out and say there's nothing there? What do you say?

BAUER: Well maybe he has got another shoe to drop? Maybe he has information. But if he doesn't, I think he needs to focus back on what the American people sent him there. I don't think I would -- if I were him I wouldn't keep acknowledging this. I would keep pushing this narrative. I would talk about the budget. I would focus on issues where this country wants to go with the average person watching this in fixated on wiretapping, been fixated on whether their income is going up, whether their kids are going to get a better education.

SANDERS: Exactly.

LEMON: I think everybody agrees with you on that.

LEMON: And Andre, after the show, call me and tell me which bar you are going to and I'm going to buy a drink because you need it.

Go ahead, Charles Blow. How do you respond to that?

CHARLES BLOW, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First, can I just say I find it absolutely delicious that these very same people who called the "New York Times" the failing "New York Times" and fake news were bending over backwards to try to use the "New York Times" to deflect against this man's lies and deceptions. It's true - I have been chuckling for a week as they have tried to use the "New York Times" as a defense.

Listen, what I find most troubling about this person, this President, who I genuinely feel is abomination as a person, as flawed in character ways. But that not only is his lying pathological but it's unrepentant. That he is incapable of accepting truth when it is presented to him, that he will defend a lie with a bigger lie, and what does that say on all levels of our society and our standing in the world? What does that say to our children who are being taught not to be bullies or not to tell a lie? What does that say to the senior class President at whatever high school or the person studying political science in college about how you conduct business as politician and American President and leader?

What does that say to our people in the field around the world who are soldiers who are confronting other populations of people and looking at them saying what is happening at your home country?

This is really incredibly dangerous. I, you know, it would please me -- nothing would please me more than to have this man no longer be President. But as long as he is, what is the damage that he is doing? And is that damage reversible?

LEMON: And when we come right back, we are going to talk about credibility in the White House and one of our panelists says this is not just spinning, which is why I questioned Andre so much on this that is spreading poison. Who is it? We will discuss right after this.


[23:14:26] LEMON: Back now with my panel. Before I said one person said on this panel said that this was spreading poison. Any idea who it might be?

Yes, Timothy Naftali. So Timothy, you write in new op-ed on on CNN. You say this. You said there is spin and then there is spreading poison. Spicer's encouragement of public delusions of the existence of some super-secret unelected deep state supposedly intent on sabotaging the new President is poisonous. Do you think -- why do you say that?

NAFTALI: Why would I say it?

LEMON: Why do you say it?

NAFTALI: Because he is standing in the White House, behind a podium, and he is speaking for the head of state of the United States, and he is saying to people --

[23:15:05] LEMON: Head of the world, I mean.

NAFTALI: The world didn't elect him. But he is saying to Americans, you know what, we don't really control what our government does. And if you are fearful of black helicopters and uncontrolled, unelected, super-secret state, we are afraid too. That's about as reckless and irresponsible statement as one has ever heard in the White House.

The one thing you want Americans to understand is that we have a constitutional system. And when we elect a President, whether you like him or not, he is in control of at least the executive part of this system.

This administration keeps acting as if their outsiders looking in. They control it. They control the intelligence community. They should know if there are wiretapping. They can know. And what Spicer is doing - what's Sean Spicer was doing is he is perpetuating a myth about the existence of a deep state that conspiracy theorists have talk about but have never been able to prove because it doesn't exist.

LEMON: You have been exposed for several different candidates. And that's part of the job is to defend your candidate, defend the person you work for. And so, what do you think?

STEWART: Sean is doing his job. I think the role Sean having tremendous respect for John. It's a difficult job. He has the face and the voice for the President and he is doing and saying exactly what the President wants him to do and say.

Look. We can't forget the fact Trump has been like this from the day he came down the escalator. He said things that are factually challenged. He has said things that are disparaging. He is (INAUDIBLE) and my friend, Heidi Cruz. The people voted for him anyway because they like his policy. Me, personally, I like his Supreme Court pick.


STEWART: Yes, it was. That being said, the Republican base, the people he is appealing to will stand by him throughout all of this. The biggest concern, though, Charles had mention, what does it say, what does it say? I think the biggest take-away from today was the look on Angela Merkel's face when he talked -- tried to compare the two of them having phones tapped. She - that look on her face without a word said spoke volumes. Because this is another world leader looking at President of the United States knowing what he is saying doesn't hold water. And that is a big concern.

LEMON: Yes. I have to ask you know, but at what point though, at what point does like someone like you, when you are the representative, and I don't know it you - and you have been a spokesperson too, Symone, at what point do you go, I just can't do this anymore.

SANDERS: One time, yes. Well, for me, I will say, look. As spokesperson your credibility is extremely important. And what Sean Spicer has done, and I know Sean, he is a really great guy but what he has done, every day stands up there and desecrates the podium with I don't know, maybe, and oftentimes lies. And that is the most credible podium in the world.

And so, it is sad. And so, you as spokesperson, you have to have a line. There are just -- we all know the line for our personal selves. There are just some things we are not going to do. There are just some things we aren't going to say. And you know, I would never sign up to be spokesperson for anybody like Donald Trump. For those people that do, you have to know your line. You have to be able to get your principal's point across without damaging your credibility. And when reporters in the briefing room are questioning of what you

are saying is true, and comparing to tweets that the President has put out at other people, and you at podium are no longer a very credible source we are in trouble.

LEMON: Yes. Matt, you remember the Republican convention? I remember seeing Sean at CNN grill joking. Because you remember Sean was the "my sparkle pony" guy remember that? Regarding Melania Trump and plagiarism. And he said, listen. It is in my sparkle pony. And I thought that that would be the thing that he would, you know, say, OK, I can't really do that anymore. But, I mean, at what point, when you are a spokesperson, do you say, I can't really continue to spin something that, you know, the intelligence community says is not there? Do you get to that point or do you just continue on fighting for your guy?

LEWIS: Man, I say, what I think it is really tough. I think that, you know, I keep trying to get out, keep pulling me back in, you know. Like once you make the deal with the devil that says OK, we can control this guy, we can -- you know, he is eccentric but we can, you know, we can reign him in. It will be OK. I will get to be press secretary. That's great. You know, how many people that's an awesome job. It is what you dreamed of. I mean, if you're at the RNC doing press, the dream job is to be a White House press secretary. So you have this golden opportunity. But then every day you have to go out and basically -- it's one humiliation after the other. I don't know. I think at this point it is like self-caused. He is like already done this to himself.

LEMON: He is in the bunker now.

LEWIS: Speaking it out for a year probably.

LEMON: He is in the bunker, yes.

LEWIS: I would say -- I would let - I would put something on my calendar and tell my family, you know, -- because that is what -- you also do have to think about your family like, is this -- do you want to be remembered, your family, your kids, is this what you want to be remembered for? I would say, on this date a year from now I will step down and we will go to Hawaii or wherever. I will never do this again.

[23:20:14] LEMON: I can't wait for the book though, Sean. That's probably where, you know, the family will surely have some very easy nights with the proceeds from a book, I'm sure.

So I got to ask you, Andre. It is not just Democrats who are looking for an apology from the President. There is a growing chorus coming from members of your own party, from the president's own party. Here is conservative congressman Tom Cole.


REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I see no indication that that's true. And so, it's not a charge I would have ever made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof then I think the President, you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard.


LEMON: So Andre, I think you can safely assume that the President will not apologize. But will this -- do you think it's going to strain his relationship or his ability to get things done with the folks on Capitol Hill?

BAUER: I don't believe so. I mean, I think he has a clear message. I think that people are still behind him that wanted substantial change in Washington. And I think the folks in Washington are a little concerned about Donald Trump's popularity and him going into her district and uniting folks to say, hey, we want something done back in Washington. I think at the end of the day there will be much more concerned about that than anything else.

LEMON: Charles, he is expended a lot of political capital on this. Do you think it matters so much when you have, you know, Republican house and Republican Senate and you are in the White House, do you think it really matters that much? Because I know, you and others are wondering when as you say responsible Republicans will step forward and not allow this anymore.

BLOW: Well, the number one rule in politics is self-preservation. Love it or - believe it or not, love it or leave it. That's the rule. And so, the moment that Donald Trump's behavior, his words, his actions, start to endanger other Republicans or at least they start to believe that their own survival is in danger by his behavior, his actions and his words, at that moment they will turn on him like a pack of wolves.

That's the way politics works. It is not a pretty game. It is not necessarily even always a principled game. They now believe that they can get something out of him. They believe that if they put something on his desk, he will sign it. They believe that if there's a Supreme Court justice opening in addition to the one that's already open, he will appoint someone who they will approve of.

That's what they are banking on. The moment they feel like their own majorities in the House or in the Senate are in danger, closer we get to the midterms in 2018, if these people keep showing up at these town halls and they start to get nervous, you will see them turn on him. That is the way politics work.

LEMON: OK. I have to go. I have to go. Thank you all. Have a great weekend. I appreciate it.

STEWART: Thank you.


LEMON: Up next, President Trump's words, what he says and what he really means.


[23:26:54] LEMON: President Trump standing by his wiretapping accusation, still without offering any proof.

During his meeting today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he said they have something in common, referring to the revelation a few years back that U.S. intelligence had tapped her phone.

Joining me now is John McWhorter. He is professor of linguistics at Columbia University and the host of the slate podcast lexicon valley. I'm going to have to listen. Congratulations on the podcast.


LEMON: Let's talk about this White House in the way they use and twist words. We have seen that clearly with this wiretapping allegations. We have been over this every night now since March 4th. President Trump tweeted these four tweets where he speaks specifically about wiretapping. Sometimes in quotes John, sometimes not in quotes. So what is going on?

MCWHORTER: Well, you know, this is a man who is isn't in on the contract that we assume that a President would be. We all are in on a contract that small pieces of decorated paper constitute money. Let's just assume. We also assume that somebody who is President of the United States is going to understand that his communications are going to be very carefully examined and that he should communicate very precisely. He should know what he means and be precise about it. That's not what he thinks about it. And so, what you see with Trump's way of speaking is not mania, which is the popular notion. It is actually more (INAUDIBLE). He is not precise.

Human beings, for example, are hard wired to be able to process one, two or three things. Beyond three, human being are not processing six and 42 easily. All of that is artifice. Math is an artifice. In the same way, Trump processes things with the lack of precision that you would expect of somebody who, I'm going to just politely say isn't President of the United States rather than somebody who is unevolved. I'm not going to say that.

What that means that when he says wiretapping, what he meant was that somebody was listening in on him in some capacity and he has vague reason to supposed to so, never mind any of the sources he is using. That's another aspect of what we might call unevolved.

Now, he has some sense because he is a modern human being and a lot of people are paying attention to him. He does have some sense that he might need to qualify the things which he might realize are a little outrageous after he sends the tweet, a little. I don't know how precisely he understands out. So he has this idea that you can put something in quotation marks.

LEMON: OK. Now, irony is nice way of indicating that you didn't actually mean something. That's what quotation marks is supposed to mean. I think his sense of it is more vague. It allows him to get away with having just irrupted with the (INAUDIBLE).

MCWHORTER: But you don't think that is something that he went back. It is see -- I meant wiretapping in quotation marks. So it meant something even though he didn't use it every single time. And specifically he said wiretap my phones at Trump tower. And he said that twice. But then 11 days later, the president offered this defense. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have been reading about things. I read in I think it was January 20th, a "New York Times" article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute. There's a lot of wiretapping being talked about. Don't forget, when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes. That really covers because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact it was in quotes. But that's very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you are going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over next two weeks.


[23:30:46] LEMON: So is he trying to change the meaning of -- examine the language there. Because it doesn't mean it is necessarily he is telling the truth, you know, or he is trying to change what he said. Is he trying to change what he said or he is just not telling the truth?

MCWHORTER: What he is trying to say is what your galolous (ph) uncle might say as in I was just talking. It doesn't mean that it had no content whatsoever. But he means I wasn't being precise. And that is not something that he does. So he felt that he was overheard, that he was surveilled and people ask him, well, what exactly do you mean? Do you think that President Obama ordered, et cetera, et cetera? Well then he has to say, well, it's just in quotation marks. What he means is I wasn't being precise. I was speaking in a very general way.

LEMON: But what is extraordinary is that his words - he is the President of the United States. His words mean a lot and then he has to have people who come up behind him to cover it up or to explain what they think he meant or just to try to fix what he said. Case in point Sean Spicer at press briefing this week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying that the President still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump tower despite the fact that the Senate intelligence committee says they see no indication that it happened?


SPICER: First of all, he stands by it. But again, you are mischaracterizing what happened today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. You're misquoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate intelligence committees are --.

SPICER: I get you're going to cherry pick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're citing Sean Hannity.

SPICER: No, no, no. OK. You also tend to overlook all of the other sources because you want to cherry pick it. No, no, no. But you do. But where was the concern about the "New York Times" reporting. You don't seem to have a concern with that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have done plenty of reporting on all of this.

SPICER: No, no, no. But you want to cherry pick one commentary - one piece of commentary. Mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunez said. He said quote "I think it's possible he's following up on this." So to suggest that is actually -- you're stating unequivocally that you somehow --.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Said if you take the President literally, he's wrong.

SPICER: Right. And I think that we have already clear that up. And he said exactly that. But the president has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance.


LEMON: So we have been trying to make sense of that. Seriously, and I'm not making fun of Sean Spicer. We try to make sense of that for at least 24 hours now. Have you heard of word salad? Is that appropriate in that? I'm serious.

MCWHORTER: That poor, poor man is trying to translate what our 12- year-old President has spewed into something that resembles responsibility political discourse and it's impossible. I mean, basically, what we see is this, and I think extends probably somewhat to Spicer.

Part of the contract that we assume is that the President of the United States understands that some sources are more reliable than others, that there's such things as bias on both sides. But let's face it, we all learn that starting in late elementary school, that takes a certain concentration, the President doesn't have much concentration, and so he is not great with that. But then to the extent that he can't be completely unaware of it. Once he is caught in it, then let's face it, testosterone kicks in. And so, he doesn't want to look bad. And so, you end up playing these kinds of verbal games or the idea is to be able to have the last word. And Don, the tragic thing is that is the nature of political discourse

from this White House. It is just a linguistic sand box. Sadly, it's not more than that.

LEMON: So does it say anything about intelligence? The way he uses language in a way, and I guess anyone use this language?

MCWHORTER: It's funny, Don. Because we are reluctant. I say we as linguists, we as academics to draw any kind of link between articulateness and intelligence. And so, I'm going to say this. Donald Trump is not particularly articulate in a sophisticated way. But then on the other hand he's very articulate in terms of communicating with a crowd, in terms of vernacular charisma. He has got a certain native intelligence there.

But in terms of his sense of how to handle information, in terms of his lack of concern with precision, you can be vernacular and very precise. All you have to do is listen to monologue by Chris Rock to see that. In terms of his primitiveness in basically just indulging in a pissing contest once he's been shown wrong, I would say that, in that one seems to see lesser reasoning power. I don't think that it occurs to him that he might want to step up his game in that when it comes to using language and dealing with what we might call truth conditions.

[23:35:35] LEMON: Well, let's talk about how it affects even, you know, possible legislation. Because we saw this week with the new travel ban that the president's words have major consequences. The federal judge who issued the restraining order against enforcement of key parts of the president's revised ban quoted liberally from President Trump and his supporters in the ruling. This is of March 16th, President Trump I think is on March of 2016. This is when he was candidate. He said I think Islam hates us. And then July of 2016 when he was a candidate. Well, he said people were so upset when I used the word Muslim. And I'm OK with that because I'm talking territory instead of Muslim. It seems like the strongest arguments for blocking the ban have come directly from the President's mouth and from also people in his administration. What do you make of that? The power of language, yes?

MCWHORTER: I just said that I don't think he is going to change but, you know, let me try to be a little sunnier in this. It might be that as time passes, give it maybe a year, a year-and-a-half, as he realized that things he says are going to be segmented and have effects on other people, and sometimes grisly effects.

Just maybe, this is the best case scenario, he will realize that he needs to be more careful in the way he speaks in public and he will hone and articulate vernacular style. It would be interesting if he got a speech writer. This is something I would suggest for the administration, a speech writer who was good at honing and articulate vernacular style so that he can read it from the teleprompter such that maybe he would understand that you can't just run your mouth as President of the United States as opposed to being on a TV show. I would hope he might --. LEMON: Would it help if he had, you know, (INAUDIBLE) our little

helpers here if he had sort of cards when he wanted to get specific things across? And he actually said that and just sort of --

MCWHORTER: He must never be allowed, whenever anything is serious, he must never be allowed to take his eyes away from pre-vetted, printed words. I would think that would be a very good idea. And maybe he would understand that.

LEMON: Here's an example. Take a look at this.


TRUMP: These kinds of options can be a positive alternative to a four year degree. So many people go to college four years, they don't like it, and not necessarily good at it, but they are good at other things like fixing engines and building things. I see it all the time and I have seen it. When I went to school I saw it. I sat next to people that weren't necessarily good students but they could take an engine apart blindfolded. Companies across the country have a chance to develop vocational training programs that will meet their growing needs and to help us achieve greater prosperity.


LEMON: So that was an example of on script and off script. What do you make of the two together?

[23:38:20] MCWHORTER: I would be more comfortable of he would have had a little bit less of the off-script. I mean, he could have these things check. Before, I said pre-vetted (INAUDIBLE). But he really should have it all prepared beforehand. And it doesn't have to not sound like him but he shouldn't improvise.

Just now, I was thinking -- I hadn't seen that clip, what in the world is he about to insult? What in a world is he about to get wrong, please look back down. Many public figure would never have dreamed of speaking off the cuff in that way. Think of Lyndon Johnson. He needs to not take a cue from our modern informality and he could actually perhaps have the occasional moment of a certain kind of eloquence.

LEMON: Because he is playing from his strong side which is what you said. You said Vernacular --

MCWHORTER: He has got Vernacular charisma.

LEMON: Charisma. And so, now he needs to build up his weaker side with more --

MCWHORTER: Truth conditions would work.

LEMON: Being more scripted.

MCWHORTER: It could be in the vernacular.

LEMON: Yes MCWHORTER: And so, he could be himself and yet stop screwing up the

country and world.

LEMON: He would be much more effective communicator and President.

I wonder how much of people's language comes from how they relate to books? And ask you because I want you to take look at this comparison.

This is President Barack Obama and President Trump both talking about books. The first one is Barack Obama. He said it gives me a sense of perspective. I think Toni Morrison's writings, particularly "Song of Solomon" is a book I think of when I imagine people going through hardship, that it's not just pain but there is joy and glory and mystery.

And then President Trump was also asked about reading on the FOX News interview. And he said, in part, this is a quote "well you know, I love to read, actually I'm looking at a book. I'm reading a book. I'm trying to get started. Every time I do about half a page I get a phone call that there's some emergency. This or that the.

What is the difference between the two Presidents?

[23:40:10] MCWHORTER: He doesn't read. He should not pretend that he does. Most human beings don't read. However, the printed word gives you certain things. It give you the extended argument, which is very difficult if it is just talking. The printed word allows you to look at it again. The printed word makes you think more about precision than speech. Printed word is a very important human invention.

Now Barack Obama had the advantage of being a print person. Donald Trump doesn't. But he needs to understand that the virtues that you get from print, that certain reflectiveness, that certain precision is something that he needs to cultivate in a different way.

LEMON: Thank you John McWhorter. Always a pleasure. Appreciate it.

MCWHORTER: Thank you.

LEMON: We'll be right back.


[23:44:49] LEMON: Not quite two months into the Trump administration and we have already seen more crisis than just about anyone could have predicted. Here to discuss now is CNN political analyst David Gregory, author of "How's Your Faith?"

My faith is, you know, it is doing OK, right. David, thank you for asking.

So David, we have been talking a lot about words and language. Let's talk about actions, though. When you look at this week in the White House, how much damage do you think has been done to the President's agenda with all that happened? [23:45:17] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I would start

with worrying about the President's credibility or the credibility of the presidency and America's credibility. And we have to think about this in terms of what the needs are of America as with he move forward.

You have the secretary of state who has been in North Korea - not in North Korea, in the south talking about North Korea and an impending crisis there between the United States and that regime. So when you are sitting upon the world stage in the way America does and you have a President who has tweeted claims that are utterly false and been rebuked for them but stands behind them, credibility suffers, his the presidency's, America's. And when you have to engage support around the world, word of the United States matters. And if it's been undercut then you have to worry about the damage. In terms of agenda, what about political capital? How much political capital is being spent on issue like false claims of wiretapping that could be spent on advancing his own agenda from health care to tax reform and other things?

LEMON: Yes. Very well said. Let's talk about "Finding Jesus" now. It airs this Sunday 9:00 p.m. And this week, it focuses on where Jesus grew up. And as part of our coverage for this series, you went to Nazareth to see all this for yourself. Tell me about it.

GREGORY: You know, it it's so interesting to go to holy land, to go to Israel and to go to the holy sites. I'm a Jew but for Christians as well to engage in that pilgrimage and for me to go on a kind of Christian pilgrimage which I did in support for this terrific series, in search of the historical Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, you have to go to the home, go to a place that is so steeped in history and, of course, steep in faith, for this where the bible tell us the annunciation happened. And it is the kind of place now that is more the teeming city, it doesn't evoke a lot of what the biblical era was like unless you know where to look.


GREGORY (voice over): The city of Nazareth, nestled in the Galilean hills, it is the biggest city and it shores (ph) northern district. Home to almost 70,000 people. It is hard to imagine there is this small first century town where Jesus grew up. Now largely an Arab city, then it was the mostly uninhabited Jewish settlement.

Today's market harkens back to the town's agricultural roots.

GHADA BOULOS, NAZARETH TOUR GUIDE: I grew up here, and I go through the alleyways and feel connected to this place. History of the holy family.

GREGORY: Ghada Boulos, a tour guide with a background in archeology shows us how to find the layers of history stretching back more than 2,000 years beneath this modern city.

At Sisters of Nazareth convent, an underground discovery provides tantalizing clues to the childhood of Jesus. Was this where he spent his early years?

BOULOS: One of the gardeners was cleaning a cistern and they discovered under the convent a unique place with significant findings from the time of Jesus. Some kind of--.

GREGORY: Writings from a seventh century bishop refer to church built on the spot where Jesus is said to have grown up.

BOULOS: Says there's a church where our lord was nourished, grew up, next to water spring where people moved water by means of wheels. They could see signs or tracks in the marble above the spring. (INAUDIBLE) a lot of pieces of (INAUDIBLE) stones and they find also some pieces kept in the mud of (INAUDIBLE).

GREGORY: Along with the underground arches, these discoveries point to ancient church built at this spot, but only in the past ten years have further excavations revealed signs of an actual home here.

BOULOS: It is a home. It is dating to first century. So this in the inside of the house and that's the door.

GREGORY: And discovery of a tomb covered with rolling stone specific to the time of Jesus.

BOULOS: They find the stone closed.

GREGORY: The findings here raised the possibility that this could be where Jesus spent his younger years.

Christian pilgrims come to Nazareth to quietly reflect on the history of Jesus and his family here. And they read the gospels which speak powerfully of divine presence. It is in this ancient city of Nazareth where we come upon when Christianity's most important moments. It is here according to gospel of Luke, that the angel Gabriel comes to speak to Mary. He tells her she will have a son and his name will be Jesus.

The church of the annunciation commemorates where the faithful believe this took place and is visited by pilgrims from all over the world. Catholics believe the tomb inside the church was Mary's home.

[23:50:28] MSGR. JIM LANG, LEAD GROUP ON PILGRIMAGE OF HOLY LAND: When you read the encounter that took place there between Mary and the angel, or just encounter, took place there. You have a sense of God's directing (INAUDIBLE) in the course of human history.

GREGORY: A matter of belief in the city where the pilgrim comes to experience heart of the series there is a distinct sense of place that does do a lot. A lot of questions ancient evidence of holiness.


LEMON: Beautifully done.

David, do you think this series gets us closer to understanding who Jesus was? GREGORY: I think the search for the historical Jesus which is really

at the heart of the series, his master biblical narratives. But there is such a distinct sense of place that connects us to the historical Jesus emphasis does do a lot. There is a lot of questions still. There is a lot of mystery. It is an emphasis on understanding Jesus the man. Jesus of Nazareth, not necessarily Jesus the Christ as what Christians believe is God.

And so, that part I think is so interesting because it begins to unravel and lay out for people what the beginning of his ministry was like and challenges he faced and the kind of examples he would be. And I think that's what is powerful. When you visit a place like Nazareth, is to understand the city, the first century city that lies beneath and brings people closer to the evidence of what their faith really is.

LEMON: I always enjoy watching and I always enjoy having you on.

Thank you, David Gregory. Appreciate that.

That "Finding Jesus," Sunday night 9:00 eastern and pacific. We will be right back.


[23:55:42] LEMON: Tonight, we introduce the first CNN hero of 2017.

After losing her 8-year-old son to leukemia, (INAUDIBLE) transformed her heart break into action. She sees in 21st century technology to keep kids battling life-threatening illnesses connected to their everyday lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really difficult for kids to spend a lot of time in the hospital. They get so disconnected from family and friends and schools. And when we bring them technology, (INAUDIBLE) and be right in the classroom.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can just see the face light right up. It brings them such joy.


LEMON: Well, to watch Leslie's full story, go to And while you are there, if you know someone who deserves to be a CNN hero, please nominate them right now at

That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching.