Return to Transcripts main page


Steve Bannon Demoted, Rick Perry In; President Without Foreign Policy. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 5, 2017 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thank you very much, Van Jones.

President Trump for the first time since taking office facing a number of major crises around the world, so what he's prepared to do about all this?

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

What is the president's foreign policy? He said a chemical attack against civilians in Syria crossed many lines for him but he's refusing to reveal how he'll respond.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other but I'm certainly not going to be telling you.


LEMON: Meanwhile, President Trump demotes top aide Stephen Bannon removing him from a prominent seat on the National Security Council. Tonight, the New York Times says that Bannon threatened to quit over this move. We're going to have the very latest on that.

And if all that wasn't enough, another explosive allegation the president suggesting that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime in requesting names of intelligence communications be unmasked. But he's offering, again, no evidence of any of that. We're going to get to all of that in-depth in a moment.

[22:04:59] First, to note, though, before we get started, with a chemical attack in Syria, a ballistic missile test in North Korea, and an important face-to-face meeting with China's leader looming, the President of the United States thought it was important to defend an embattled cable news host.

Talking about Bill O'Reilly who has been accused and settled multiple sexual harassment cases for millions upon millions of dollars. But let's think about this, if you were Bill O'Reilly, would you really want help from the man who said this?


TRUMP: I got to use some tic-tac just in case I start kissing her. You know, I'm automatically attracted to beautiful -- I just start kissing them. It's like a magnet. I just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.


LEMON: Not too sure that helps either one of them. I'm going to talk to one of the president's closest friends and we're going to hear from women who worked at Fox News.

We'll get to all that in a moment, but first, it's been a mementos events -- mementos event all over the world, inside the White House.

I want to bring in CNN's Fareed Zakaria, the host of Fareed Zakaria GPS, historian Jon Meacham, the author of "American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House," and Robin Wright, the joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson Center.

I mean, it's an interesting term, but this is a world we live in. Fareed, I'm going to start with you. Because we're talking about the president's chief, this is a tremendous day in foreign policy news.

With the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, no longer going to have a prominent seat on the National Security Council. And here's what the New York Times is reporting tonight.

"Mr. Bannon resisted the move even threatening at one point to quit if it went forward, and that's according to a White House official who like others insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Mr. Bannon's camp denied that he had threatened to resign and spend the day spreading the word that the shift was a natural evolution not a signal of any diminution of his outsize influence."

What's your reaction to the reporting particularly considering how heavily criticize that the political operative like Bannon was that was criticized initially for having a seat on the National Security Council.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Well, what does not seem to suggest and let's hope this is an early sign of a shift which is the emergence of professionalism or the return of professionalism in American foreign policy.

Because you know, there's always been this paradox which is Trump's own foreign policy views have been pretty amateurish, emotional, contradictory, during the campaign he said all kinds of strange things about various countries, NATO was obsolete, the Chinese were raping us, he was going to bomb the shit out of ISIS. All these kinds of things.

But then he appointed a very solid team of foreign policy people. McMaster, the National Security Council, eventually, Tillerson at state, Mattis at defense, Kelly at homeland security. So perhaps what is beginning to happen is these guys are finding a way to take control of foreign policy and provide some structure.

You know, you still have the bizarre situation where the president is now having a summit meeting with the Chinese head of state. There still isn't a deputy secretary of state, there still isn't a deputy secretary of defense. There still isn't that deputies committee that actually runs American foreign policy, those are the people who produce all the paperwork for a summit like this. They would produce the accord that would be, you know, signed off.

So, perhaps we're getting some of that because until recently, whether you agreed with it or disagreed with it, the hallmark of Trump's foreign policy was incoherence and amateurishness. There was simply, there was no there, there. There was just a big question mark.

LEMON: I'm glad you mentioned McMaster and I want to ask Jon about this because, Jon, there's so many -- there's so many top people, top- level people with the president, Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, and now this change, it looks like National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster does at least have some influence. Do you see this as a proxy war for the president's ear, possibly?

JON MEACHAM, HISTORIAN & AUTHOR: I think it's a constant war. I think it's a Hobbesian struggle in the White House for the president's ears. And one of the ironies and remarkable realities of our time is that anyone talking on cable television is also in that battle for his ear.

And so it's a remarkable hour. I think Fareed is right, I think it's a wonderful sign if in fact there is a kind of process being imposed. The National Security Council has been around since 1947 officially. It won the Cold War. Not a bad recommendation for a given situation, for a given institution.

And so there's a reason for process, there's a reason that foreign policy is conducted the way it is. Now, the nature of a populist appeal, which is what Trump obviously is selling, is that if this process were so great, if traditional foreign policy elites had it so right, then why is the world in such a mess?


MEACHAM: And that's going to be his emotional reaction to any kind of criticism or even this kind of commentary.

[22:10:02] LEMON: But can a White House function like this, Jon?

MEACHAM: No. Not really. I mean, it never has. I mean, this makes, you know, Ronald Reagan's White House, for instance, had different factions. You had James Baker who was the chief of staff who many on the right, the movement conservatives, thought was a stalking horse for Bush, George H.W. Bush moderate world.

You had right wing republicans leaking against the moderates saying let Reagan be Reagan. The Trump White House makes that world look like Valhalla and a wonderfully coherent tribe of people.

So, you know, the other thing is you have as you pointed out a remarkable series of events over the last 72 hours or so and there's really no sense of what the American response is either to North Korea or to Syria. Or what is our strategy with going into this meeting with China? So you have three question marks on three incredibly important post-Cold War global stories.

LEMON: Yes. And Robin, so much happened at the White House today including, you know, the interview that this came out, the Bannon thing, also in that same interview, the president is saying that former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice committed a crime. He didn't specify what crime, he offered no proof. What's your reaction to that?

ROBIN WRIGHT, JOINT FELLOW, U.S. INSTITUTE OF PEACE AND THE WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR SCHOLARS: Well, I think we're all concerned that he makes these wild accusations trying to divert attention from what the real issues are without any proof and, you know, in some ways insulting someone who had strong credibility as a national security adviser and in the previous administration.

This is, you know, not becoming of a president, but I think what we saw today was really something even more startling, and that was a total flip-flop on one of the biggest issues of our times and that is the Syrian Civil War. It is the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

It is the bloodiest conflict in the world right now. And just yesterday, the White House press secretary said that this was -- it would be silly to consider ousting President Assad given the realities, the political realities on the ground.

And his U.N. ambassador said just a few days ago that Assad was a hindrance but that the administration was not focused on trying to replace him. And the president has done a total flip-flop in the last 24 hours saying that he's changed his views on Assad and Syria and now he finds that he faces the very same complex and messy challenges in coming up with a solution to the Syrian quagmire that his predecessor did, and he finds that, you know, this is going to be -- that he doesn't have the answers.

He doesn't have the staff to deal with it and he doesn't have the specific answers. And he tries to play a game by saying, well, I'm not going to tell you what I am going to do, but that's what he's been saying for a year and a half and the fact is he looks like the emperor without any clothes on.

LEMON: Fareed, I want to -- I want to ask you, can I ask you more about Susan Rice?


LEMON: Because also part of this -- this was a statement from Bannon. Bannon said "Susan Rice operationalized the NSC during the last administration." Mr. Bannon said the statement referring to President Barack Obama's last national security advisor.

"I was put on the NSC with General Flynn to ensure that it was deoperationalized. General McMaster was return to the NSC to its proper function." Mr. Bannon did not explain what he meant by operationalized.

She is a target when it comes to that administration, especially the Breitbart crowd. Then the president today saying she committed a crime with no evidence, offering no proof. What's going on here?

ZAKARIA: Well, it's, you know, it's slander because it's a smear against her. There's no evidence for it whatsoever as you point out. There's, you know, the fact that we're even talking about it is in a sense conceding the, you know, the ground and debating something that is really as far as one can tell made up out of whole cloth.

What she did is routine stuff that every national security adviser does to Mr. Bannon's claim that she operationalized the National Security Advisor -- Council just to explain what that means to people, it means that the president, President Obama took control of foreign policy from the White House rather than letting the State Department do diplomacy and the Defense Department do military policy.

Everybody always complains about that. That has been a complaint that goes back to the days of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon. There's no evidence that Susan Rice did it much more than anybody else did it and in any event, it's not a crime to do it, so you know, it's a strange set of attacks to make on -- one can only assume as Robin says that its main effect is simply diversionary.


ZAKARIA: To get us talking about this when we should be talking about what I think really is this extraordinary triple crisis that the Trump administration faces and on not one of them do we understand what their actual strategy is. Not on North Korea, not on Syria, you know, not on China.

[22:15:00] LEMON: Yes. Robin, I heard you and I heard Jon also wanting to react. And we will do that right after this break. Don't go anywhere.


LEMON: The president facing a number of major crises around the world.

Back now with my panel. We were talking about Susan Rice and claims of unmasking and all of that. Robin, I think you wanted to weigh in on that.

WRIGHT: No, actually I resent the fact that Susan Rice is being brought up when we have so many other crises. The president is at a point that he really needs to deal with the outside world.

He goes into a meeting tomorrow with Xi Jinping. This is critical in dealing with the North Korea crisis. He needs -- Rex Tillerson's about to go out to Russia and this is critical in dealing with the Syrian crisis. And we're talking about Susan Rice. I mean, excuse me, let's focus on the things that really count.


WRIGHT: And a form policy that, frankly, doesn't exist. We have -- we're at a mementos time. The president was right on one thing and that is that the world is a tremendous mess at the moment.

LEMON: And we're going to move -- we're going to move on and talk about what exactly is our foreign policy. But Jon, I want to get you in before we do. What do you say to this?

MEACHAM: Just at the moment, we're living in a world where the Trump presidency is as if Joe McCarthy had a reality show. What McCarthy did in the early 19 1950s, and remember, we're only one person removed from Trump to McCarthy, and that's Roy Cohn. They shared an attorney.

[22:20:00] And the strategy that Cohn/McCarthy strategy during the red baiting in the early '50s was simply announce something. Doesn't have to be true. Just announce it so it's covered and talked about.

And that's the nature of propaganda and that's what we're living in and the other thing that the president is -- one of his tells is when he says there's more on this coming, you always know he's making it up. When he says there's more on this coming. And I think that's as though he wants you to tune in next week for the next episode. And so I think these two cultural tributaries have come together.

LEMON: It's like the tease to a reality show or when I say more on this, right after the break. So, anyway.


LEMON: So listen, there are some very complicated issues happening, you know, around the world, right? And he's at the seat of power in the center of it. What exactly is our foreign policy, to everyone's point on this panel, especially Robin's, what is our foreign policy?

ZAKARIA: This is the very troubling part because Trump has had a series, made a series of statements during the campaign, some of which made some sense, some others didn't. And that in some ways is not so different from candidates who run.

But ever since he's been in the White House, there has been no effort to clarify and instead, what you've had is a series of extraordinarily contradictory approaches. So he was bashing Japan for much of the campaign, you know, people didn't notice as much, but he bashed Japan as much as he bashed China and then the first person he has to Mar-a- Lago is the Japanese prime minister.

And he claims we are the greatest friends and staunchest allies. And the other guy he was bashing a lot was the Chinese president and who's the second guest at Mar-a-Lago? The Chinese president.

On Syria, the Trump's strategy had been we're going to ally with Russia to beat up ISIS and we're going to give Syria to Assad, that was the strategy outlined during the campaign. Michael Flynn talked about it. Then Jim Mattis comes in as Secretary of Defense, said, no, no, no, we don't like the Russians.

So now we don't know what's going on. Then Trump says that yesterday, on Monday, Sean Spicer says, Assad has to stay in power, that's the reality of Syria. Today, Trump says no, I totally changed my mind. Now, if your head isn't spinning on what's Robin...


LEMON: You lost me, actually.

ZAKARIA: ... that's right. On what Robin says is the most consequential foreign policy crisis right now, I mean, can you imagine what the other countries in the area are thinking? They're listing to these series of almost stream of consciousness, incoherent, contradictory rambling statements and trying to figure out what is American foreign policy?

LEMON: Robin, I want to play this and I want you to react to that. This is what President Trump had to say following this toxic chemical attack in Syria and the pictures in which the entire world have been horrified by.


TRUMP: I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. Big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I've been watching it and seeing it and it doesn't get any worse than that.

And I have that flexibility and it's very, very possible, and I will tell you, it's already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. It crossed a lot of lines for me.

When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line. Many, many lines.


LEMON: I know, Robin, what did you say -- I don't...

ZAKARIA: I don't think anyone was surprised by the kind of gas it was. I mean, Assad has used this gas before. He's bombed people before he's been barrel bombing people for five, six years at the least. I mean, it was -- it was horrifying. Those images were horrifying.

But then they've been horrifying for six years. Why yesterday -- why yesterday's imagines changed Donald Trump's view when six years of imagines did not? And how, you know, how does that tell you what to do in Syria? Does that mean he's now going to try to unseat Assad? That's a whole new shift in American policy. And we need to understand it.

LEMON: That's why I want to ask Robin. Robin, I mean, clearly he was affected by it. Who wouldn't when you look at those pictures? But what will that lead to that's the question, right? WRIGHT: The irony is he is responsible for more than a dozen tweets

when President Obama issued a red line in 2013 in which he said it would be horrible to take on Assad, not to do it would be a terrible mistake, and that he should focus on issues in the United States.

And this is the man who faces that same challenge. And as Fareed said, Assad has used chemical weapons repeatedly and more than 400,000 people have died. These are not the first kids to have died. Tens of thousands of children have died and the president came in without a foreign policy, without a foreign policy particularly on Syria.

[22:25:03] And this is where it's -- you know, it's horrifying to think that there is no obvious solution and the idea of a military option when the administration talks about, well, if the world isn't going to do anything, we're going to -- we'll act, we'll do what it takes.

And the fact is there is no military solution. Whether it's on North Korea or whether it's on Syria that involves very complicated international diplomacy. And this is where you have the sense that the president is ill prepared for it, he doesn't have the staff for it.

He hasn't thought it through. He's naive and there are basic questions about who's actually making foreign policy? Is it Rex Tillerson at the State Department who's been almost invisible or is it Jared Kushner who's now in charge of Iraq, Middle East peace, China, Mexico, Canada, as well as innovating the entire U.S. government? There are real serious questions about process as well as substance.

LEMON: Yes. Jon Meacham, couple of folks are saying -- Marco Rubio is saying it, Senator John McCain said earlier that the Assad regime was encouraged by what they were hearing. I mean, do you agree, was Syria emboldened by what they were hearing from the Trump administration less than a week ago?

MEACHAM: Well, I think that unquestionably this is a time of testing for every new president, the Soviet Union did it with Jack Kennedy, this is a familiar pattern. And I think that if you live by bluster, to some extent, you end up paying the price for it.

Trump offered relatively facile criticism of President Obama. Do any of us really think he's thought out Syria's role in the world and the balance of power in the Middle East? I don't, I hope he has but I wouldn't bet my mortgage payment on it.

And so he's -- and I think to Robin's point, I think one of the great questions is not even who's making policy, but what's the connection between what the president says and what that policy is?

There's no evidence in the first 100 days of the presidency or of the campaign that there's necessarily a connection between what comes out of the president's mouth and what ultimately he may -- the administration may propose and I think that's one of the more destabilizing and dispiriting realities at the moment.

LEMON: Go ahead, Fareed. ZAKARIA: I think the point Jon made about bluster is very important.

The response to almost every issue has been bluster. Mike Flynn says to the Iranians, we are putting Iran on notice when they test a missile.

Rex Tillerson says 20 years of engage -- of diplomacy towards North Korea has failed, we're going to go on a different path. Nikki Haley yesterday said if the world doesn't act, we will.

You can't just say stuff like this when you're running the most powerful country in the world. It means something and your credibility will be diminished and eroded and will collapse when, as I think inevitably is going to happen, none of this means anything.

You know, already we have seen that putting Iran on notice meant nothing. Already we have seen that these, you know, these boastful claims that the United States is somehow going to solve all these problems unilaterally if the Chinese don't get onboard, if the Russians don't get onboard, are not going to amount to anything, and then what?

What happens the next time you have to make some kind of a claim, a stake -- you know, the problem is I think the president comes out of a world in which words were very cheap.

But when you're the President of the United States, words matter enormously. The rest of the world listens to them and we're just -- we're, you know, we're spending them like, I don't know, like a drunk at a casino.

LEMON: Thank you, all. Thank you, Robin. Thank you, Jon. Thanks, Fareed. See you guys soon.

When we come right back, I'm going to talk to a close friend of the president about how he was personally affected by those devastating images from Syria and what action he might take.


[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: A chemical weapons attack in Syria and a ballistic missile test in North Korea, that's a lot for Donald Trump to deal with just 76 days into his presidency, so how is he handling it?

I want to welcome in Christopher Ruddy. He's a CEO of NewsMax and NewsMax TV, and he's a close friend to the president. And we always enjoy having him on. Christopher, thanks for joining us. We heard the president say that Syria, the Syria gas attack has changed him. You know him very well. What does he mean? How so?

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, NEWSMAX CEO: Well, I think he's a pretty empathetic guy and he probably sees what he all see, which is the carnage that this chemical attack did and the deaths and he realizes I think that Assad's a bad guy. The question he has had, we all have had is who replaces Assad if you get rid of him? And let's remember, you guys, I was listening to your last segment,

everybody forgets he inherited this situation. A terrible situation there in Syria. President Obama had the chance to retaliate against the use of chemical weapons. I supported President Obama's right to use force then, which he declined to do after saying he would, the red line, all that. And now we have President Trump who has great resolve...


LEMON: But the president said -- the president said...

RUDDY: ... I would not want to be Assad...

LEMON: This current president said the former president should not have used force. He actually tweeted about it.

RUDDY: Well, I'm not sure exactly what he said at the time but I do think now he's saying that he would -- this is the second use, I know that...


LEMON: He encouraged President Obama on Twitter at the time not to go into Syria at the -- a red line.

RUDDY: So I can tell you at the time that I supported the use of force. I can't tell you what President Trump said or didn't say at the time. I'm not -- I'm not aware of that tweet. But if he did, I'm sure he had some justification why he shouldn't have done it. Some people felt he should have gotten...


RUDDY: We have it up on the screen just for you, Christopher, again. And I'll let you finish.


LEMON: "President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your powder for another and more important day." that's what he said.

[22:35:00] RUDDY: Well, even -- you know what's really good, President Trump changes his mind which you guys don't think he ever does. And if he sees facts can have him change his mind about things. I think we'll see this where, you know, he's been very strongly critical of China. I think he's going to offer some olive branches probably to them to try to win them over.

I, you know, he's been very friendly to Putin, but he's not been naive about Putin. So I think -- I think we have somebody who's being deliberate. He's not being -- some of the language I heard in the last segment like the world is in crisis, collapsing, you know, I just don't get that sense and you have our allies like Jordan and...


LEMON: Well, but you said you don't get the sense that the world is in crisis, Christopher?

RUDDY: ... Saudi Arabia.

LEMON: I'm sorry for the delay. But you said you don't -- you don't feel that the world is in crisis?

RUDDY: It's not in any more crisis than what Barack Obama left.


LEMON: But he's saying he inherited mess.


LEMON: So, is that...

RUDDY: That Obama -- yes.


RUDDY: Obama inherited a mess. But I don't think the whole world is in crisis right now. We have a crisis with North Korea that's escalating and we have the Syria situation, but it's not -- it's not a global conflict.

LEMON: OK. I want to talk about this Russian investigation. The president first accused Barack Obama of tapping his phones and that was discredited. Totally discredited by the FBI.

Now in a New York Times interview he's accusing the former National Security Adviser, Susan Rice of committing a crime of some sort without a shred of evidence there. Why is he making these unsubstantiated charges as, when he's the president of the United States?

RUDDY: Right. Well, you know, I would question your first assertion which is that the FBI totally discredited. They said they were not aware of any surveillance. We now know that certain members of the Trump campaign and their associates were surveilled and that there were intercepts and we now know that the national...


LEMON: Christopher, that's just simply not true.

RUDDY: President Obama unmasked.

LEMON: They're simply not true. They were -- they were collateral or foreign agents were being surveilled and they were incidental in that collection which is a normal process in the collection -- normal process when you're surveilling foreign agents.

RUDDY: So, Don -- Don, you make -- I'm sure you make as I do, foreign phone calls. OK? So Under federal law, the NSA and other people can intercept those calls without a legal warrant as far as I understand.

Now, that's fine. There's nothing wrong. That's an incidental surveillance of your conversation. If the national security adviser says get me every phone call that Don Lemon made that we incidentally collected, that is a targeting. And in this case, I think there's that...


LEMON: That's not how it works, Christopher. That's not how it works.

RUDDY: Well.

LEMON: The national security adviser cannot do that. And by the way, if it was a phone call and they surveilled and they wanted to get all the information about me, I don't care because I'm not doing anything that would -- is unreasonable or illegal. So go ahead. Look at my phone calls if you're the national security adviser.

RUDDY: No, you don't have a right to just look at every American's phone call. You have to have a reason to do it. And to go out...


LEMON: But that's not what happened. But that's not what happened.

RUDDY: But Susan Rice...


LEMON: But Christopher, let me finish.

RUDDY: ... that Susan Rice is not denying that she...

LEMON: That is a talking point that is being spread by people who don't understand how the surveillance process works. The national security adviser can't call up someone and say I want all the phone calls on Christopher Ruddy or Don Lemon. It doesn't work that way.

RUDDY: They obtained, apparently, intercepted phone communications and surveillance of Trump associates. They were masked...


LEMON: How do you know that?

RUDDY: ... and they didn't know who they were. Well, we already know that Susan Rice is not denying that she asked for those documents to be unmasked. So it's pretty clear that -- and the White House -- we know that there have been press reports that there was an unmasking. She hasn't denied that she asked for the unmasking. She just said I didn't conduct...


LEMON: But she hasn't confirmed, either, that she did ask for them as well.

RUDDY: Well, so then why are you saying that it's not true?

LEMON: So you're looking on a lot of assumptions...


RUDDY: But why are saying it's not true.

LEMON: Because there's no evidence.

RUDDY: She's not denying it.

LEMON: There's no evidence and there is no proof.

RUDDY: there's, you know...


LEMON: Someone can say, you know, Don Lemon went to McDonald's today and then should there be an investigation? I didn't. But you can make that assertion and then say that there should be an investigation, but that doesn't mean that it's true just because someone says it is.

RUDDY: Don, that's exactly -- that's exactly the point, isn't it? And a number of people denied that they ordered the wiretapping of Donald Trump's campaign but Susan Rice won't deny this. So it makes you a little -- it makes you wonder.

We do know that Clapper said on Meet the Press several weeks ago that they found no evidence after looking at all of these intercepts of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

[22:40:00] But meanwhile, we do know that classified top-secret conversations with the President of the United States, Donald Trump, with world leaders, were leaked illegally...


LEMON: No, we don't know that.

RUDDY: ... within hours.

LEMON: We don't know that.

RUDDY: Absolutely.

LEMON: And the reason that we're reporting is because there are several intelligence agencies and the FBI is investigating if there was possible collusion. That is the truth, but the other part is not true.


LEMON: We don't actually know that...


RUDDY: You're obviously not reading the Washington Post.

LEMON: I am reading.

RUDDY: They leaked...

LEMON: Yes. Christopher, I cover this every single night.

RUDDY: They leaked the conversation with the pressing on...


LEMON: I also read -- hang on. Hang on. I'll let you finish. I read, I've been reading that and I also have been reading information about exactly what it takes to intercept foreign agents and also exactly what hoops you have to jump through in order to unmask someone which we don't have evidence that it actually happened or that she ordered the unmasking or asked for the unmasking which she can order.


RUDDY: I think there should be -- I think there should be an investigation. You know, when somebody revealed the name of Valerie Plame, there was hysteria in the media. There were calls for an investigation. There was eventually a special prosecutor. People were charged with crimes.

We now have a serious allegation that people were unmasked that were Trump associates and that may have been improper...


LEMON: Listen, I'm not saying that anything should or not should not be investigating. But I think it is important that -- no, no, no.


RUDDY: OK. Cool, I'm with you.

LEMON: But I think it's important that the American people are informed exactly about what is going on, in order for someone to be unmasked which we're going to do, by way, at the top of the hour, we're going to explain exactly what it takes in order to do that.

RUDDY: I agree.

LEMON: But I'm not saying anything should investigate or not. But we shouldn't just -- we shouldn't just put talking points out there or put information out there that has not been proven or just an assertion because someone said it or because someone is trying to make the president's initial tweet which was not factual trying to make it factual. We shouldn't do that, Christopher, that's doing a disservice to the American public.

RUDDY: Do you agree, Don, do you agree when the president's private conversation with the Mexican president and the Australian prime minister classified documents were leaked? Within several hours of his conversation.

LEMON: What if that's Mexico or Australia who leaked.


RUDDY: Do you agree that that was a violation of law?

LEMON: You're assuming that someone with a high-ranking position in the United States leaked that. And some of those calls, those calls are actually...


RUDDY: Don, come on.

LEMON: ... there's actually -- they're actually...

RUDDY: Don, please.

LEMON: ... memos of the calls. Buy you're assuming that someone in the United States did that.

RUDDY: Don, are you -- are you drinking Kool-Aid tonight?



RUDDY: I mean, come on, really. You think the Mexicans and the Australians leaked the conversations?

LEMON: I never really drink Kool-Aid, Chris.

LEMON: To the Washington

LEMON: Well, I don't know who leak it. I'm not making assertions. But here's the difference. Here's the difference. I'm not making...


RUDDY: I mean, to think, come on.

LEMON: I'm not making an assumption about anyone leaking it, I'm not saying who leaked it. You're making an assumption that someone leaked it for a political purpose.

RUDDY: Well, the press reports indicated that they were U.S. transcriptions of that.


RUDDY: So, I mean, think that's very serious, but again, CNN doesn't discuss that serious violation. I personally think all of these things, they should be investigated, but it's missing the big point. You know, the president is doing a lot of good things. You know, he's been focusing on jobs. I think that's a big part of this meeting with China. Nobody ever talks about this. He's the first president to make jobs a priority.

LEMON: With all due respect, he doesn't really talk about...


RUDDY: Even before he was inaugurated.

LEMON: He talks about other things a lot more, Christopher, come on, be honest, than he talks about jobs. And that's really why he was elected.

RUDDY: You have not been at the White House lately.

LEMON: Well, he should come outside of the White House.

RUDDY: You're saying you are reading the newspapers. A day hasn't gone by, Don, he hasn't had a meeting at the White House to announce some jobs program, jobs creation.

LEMON: A day doesn't go by, Christopher, that he doesn't talk -- make some assertion with no proof or say something or tweet something that is wildly just outrageous as well.

You don't think that people are going to pay attention to outrageous tweets or outrageous assertions with no -- with no fact?

And here's the thing, if you're the president of the United States and you actually believe that the former -- the former intelligence director of national intelligence, what have you, or security adviser, excuse me, if you actually think that she committed a crime, you have the disposal of every intelligence agency at your fingertips, wouldn't you quietly, a quiet power is much more assertive than making wild accusations. Wouldn't you ask them to bring all of the information and then have it investigated and then have that person...


RUDDY: Good question.

LEMON: ... prosecuted.

RUDDY: To ask the president. I don't speak for him. I don't speak for him. I do think -- I like the fact that he tweets and communicates directly. I would like to see...


LEMON: Well, his supporters don't like it. It shows that they wish he would stop.

RUDDY: Well, I think it would be good if there was a better process for those tweets and that a couple of eyeballs looked at them before they went out. I wouldn't go so far as say they're unsubstantiated yet.

But I do think that it would be better for the messaging, an dI think as the administration settles in, we give him a little time to settle in. I think you'll see a more of a process around that. I hope so.

[22:45:04] But I do think -- I like the fact that he communicates with 25 million Americans and can bypass CNN or NewsMax or Fox News or whoever he wants to.


LEMON: I don't think people -- I think people -- most people feel the same way that you do. I think people like that the commander in chief or the president is communicating with the American people.

I just think as you said the process is different and that making outrageous claims, even people -- even his staunchest supporters are saying, OK, Mr. President, enough of that already, you're the leader of the free world, it's time for you to act like it.

RUDDY: No surprise he's a guy that speaks his mind, he's always been that way. And it's going to be, you know, difficult, I think for him to fit into the traditional box.


LEMON: Hey, Christopher, I got to go.

RUDDY: I think he's learning just like you and me.

LEMON: I think people listen. Christopher and I know each other. So we're going back and forth. This isn't, you know, there's no tension between us. This is how we do as they say, as the kids say.

So, listen, I want to ask you about this. I think this is important. This is in the New York Times today. The president commented on Bill O'Reilly, sexual harassment accusations here. He said "I think he's a person I know well, he is a good person, I think he shouldn't have settled. Personally I think he shouldn't have settled because you should have taken it all the way. I don't think Bill did anything wrong."

So, you know, you're talking about -- he talks about jobs but he's defending Bill O'Reilly, he's defending himself after he says he's going to grab a woman's genitals on that Access Hollywood tape, he defended Roger Ailes and continues to take his advice after his sexual harassment scandal. Ailes was then fired.

I mean, do you understand why a lot of women and men frankly believe that he has issues when it comes to women?

RUDDY: Well, I think the president is a very loyal guy. Bill O'Reilly's been a friend of his, has backed him, supported him and given him a fair forum which he doesn't necessarily get at other networks. I think he's probably very appreciative of that and he's also been the victim of some false allegations. People have said some rather incredible, unbelievable and outrageous,

to steal a word from you, things about President Trump that I think are false. So, I think he has some sympathy there.

I do think with the situation with Bill O'Reilly that it's a serious allegation. You have over $13 million has been paid in settlements, some people might call it hush money, to these women. And I think it needs to be more investigated, and I think Fox needs for their own news credibility to be more candid and forthright about the situation there.

LEMON: Any final thoughts? Because I want to make sure that you got your say, Christopher Ruddy because we love having you on. Any final, your parting words, any parting words as they say?

RUDDY: Well, I, again, we are not even at the 100-day mark for the president. This is a man who is not naturally a politician. He has great political instincts and I think the public is giving him a little more latitude and slack than people like you or other folks from the other networks.


RUDDY: And I think that we should give him an opportunity. Let's give him six months before we maybe come to some fair judgment about how the first part of his administration is going.


RUDDY: And I also think we should focus on some of the good things.

LEMON: Fair point.

RUDDY: Like jobs.

LEMON: Fair point. So you know, I'm not -- you said then I'm giving him -- I'm not judging him. I'm just questioning. That's what I do, I ask questions. So, and you do a good job at answering. Thank you, Chris Ruddy. I appreciate it. See you soon. All right.

RUDDY: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come right back, Jared Kushner's role in his father-in- law's administration is getting bigger and bigger but can he get anything done?


LEMON: So we don't often hear from Jared Kushner but it's become clear early in the Trump administration that he definitely has the president's ear.

Let's discuss now with Frank Bruni, columnist from the New York Times. So good to have you on. And your column today was fascinating. Because here's what you say, in part, you call Jared Kushner a man of steel, that's what it is called. You talked about the superman-ish amount of responsibility Jared

Kushner has been given, he's a senior advisor to the president and he is in charge of several key agendas for the administration including Mideast peace, U.S.-Mexico relations, U.S.-China talks, innovation and criminal justice reform, criminal justice reform. You say you see this as ridiculous. So, why do you think President Trump has given Jared Kushner so much responsibility?

FRANK BRUNI, NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST: Because I don't think President Trump is serious about governing, I don't think he understands how the government works. You don't just take someone whom you believe to be kind of charm as he does his son-in-law and say you're in charge of this, you're in charge of that.

He almost seems to feel like government is force of personality. But meanwhile, you get key positions that aren't filled in defense, key positions aren't filled in the Department of State, Rex Tillerson still doesn't seem to have found his footing.

Jared Kushner is not the answer to all of this. Actually running the government the way it's supposed to be run is the answer to this.

LEMON: What qualifications should Jared Kushner actually have?

BRUNI: Well, that's a really great question. So, I mean, you know, I know many people who have had dealings with him over time. They say he's a very intelligent guy, a guy with considerable charm.

But this is a 36-year-old man who has not a stitch of government experience, who has not a stitch or diplomatic experience, and while that doesn't mean he doesn't have a fresh perspective that might, you know, have value to it, it does suggest that saying he's the first person who is going to be able to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is the epitome of ideological thinking.

LEMON: Yes. Yes, for someone who has no experience.

BRUNI: That's right.

LEMON: No political experience and no governing experience. So you wrote in the piece that President Trump's support of Kushner and the example. And you said earlier of important loyalty, how important loyalty and family are to him. Perhaps having, you know, key family members or people around him maybe that gives him some sort of comfort but do you think Americans are at risk when the key people who are like Jared Kushner and even Ivanka have no experience in governing or politics.

BRUNI: I think you want a couple of people around you who are totally fresh eyes. And so, Donald Trump, the premium he places on fresh perspectives on...


LEMON: Steve Bannon (Ph). BRUNI: ... private sector experience, I mean, some of it that's fine, but private sector experience in this administration is fetishized to a ridiculous extent.

You need a mix of people with fresh ideas and people who know how the government works.

[22:55:00] And what we've seen so far is we've seen botched executive orders that the courts challenged and stopped. We've seen a failed attempt at health care legislation.

I mean, these are things that suggest that what Trump needs isn't fresh eyes from the private sector but what he needs is people who know how the levers of the powers of Washington work.

LEMON: Right. And that maybe he's the fresh eye.

BRUNI: Right, he's the fresh eyes he needs the hands.

LEMON: Exactly. And so my question is, what do you the -- the people who are experienced at working in government what's their reaction to having someone as green as a Jared Kushner.

BRUNI: I think almost everyone else in the administration is looking at Jared Kushner and saying how can I make him work for me. He has the president's ear, he has this ridiculously large portfolio. At the very least I want to bend him to my purposes.

And as we sit here now, the story that's evolving and that the people are trying to get to the bottom of it whether Jared Kushner in fact had the main role in displacing or diminishing Steve Bannon.

LEMON: Did you -- did you get to see the Gayle King's interview with Ivanka Trump as part of it?

BRUNI: I did, yes.

LEMON: What did you think of it? She talks -- she said, basically said that, you know, when I disagree with my dad and I let him know but when I need to get on board I get on board and do it.

BRUNI: I completely respect that. I mean, I don't expect Ivanka or Jared Kushner to come out and say wow. He just said the craziest thing. I don't believe it. Although I do think that sometimes do leak that to reporters.

What the issue I take with Jared and Ivanka is they helped this man get elected and now behind the scenes they tell everyone you are lucky to have us here we can minimize the damage, if damage was the concern why were they working so hard to elect him.

LEMON: You heard about these Hollywood publicists that they hire to run the communications for the Office of American Innovations, his name is Josh Raphael, he had recently been heading -- been heading up, excuse me. Thank you. My lips word -- heading communications for Blumhouse Productions and prior to that he represented Kushner's company, one of Kushner's company. So, what do you say, why do you hire someone...


BRUNI: This is more of that magical thinking, if a person is known by us and trusted by us and has done dynamic things in the private sector, well, that's the answer for government. We got too many of those people in the Trump administration. Now we don't have enough people who are hard-headed realist and who know how to get things done, you know, in a very practical, and particular and methodical way.

LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate having you on.

BRUNI: Sure.

LEMON: We'll be right back.


LEMON: President Trump making an explosive allegation against a former top aide to President Barack Obama.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

The president suggesting former National Security Advisor Susan Rice may have committed a crime and requesting that names of intelligence communications be unmask. But here's -- he's offering no evidence about this.

[22:59:56] And Fox News host Bill O'Reilly under fire, dozens of sponsors leaving his top rated show, can he survive allegations of sexual harassment.