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President Trump contradicting his own White House; Attorneys general across the country looking for a special counsel to oversee the Russian investigation; Photos of President Trump with Russian diplomats released; Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired May 11, 2017 - 23:00   ET



[23:01:24] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news. President Trump at odds with his own White House.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

The President saying he was going to fire James Comey with or without the recommendation from the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. For those keeping score at home, that comes after vice President Pence, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders had all insisted the President fired Comey only after Rosenstein commented it.

Plus, the Kremlin trolling the White House with these pictures of that awkwardly timed meeting between President Trump, foreign minister Serge Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But the President tells NBC News what, me, worry?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But when I spoke with Putin, he asked me whether or not I would see Lavrov. Now, should I say, no, I'm not going to see him?


LEMON: Let's get right to CNN's senior political commentator David Axelrod and Michael Isikoff who is a chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo! News.

So good to have all of you on.

I want to ask you, as you watched that interview on NBC News with Lester Holt, was there anything that changed your mind or clarified to you the position in the White House in firing James Comey?


LEMON: Why are you laughing, too, David? DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, you know,

that was an absurd -- these last -- even in the pantheon of Donald Trump stuff, this last 48 hours was really extraordinary. I can't help but think, as someone who worked in the White House, that the worst job on the planet is to be a surrogate or spokesperson for Donald Trump. Because invariably, you get out there on the ledge or on the branch, and the branch gets cut off behind you. He sent people out there to tell a story yesterday and then he went on national television and said, that really wasn't true.

LEMON: He contradicted his own staff. I mean, Michael, why are you laughing as well? This is a serious question.

ISIKOFF: It isn't funny. And you know, look, we still don't know whether any federal crimes were committed in relation to the Russian meddling by anybody in the Trump orbit. But if there was a playbook for how to act guilty, Donald Trump is taking every page from that playbook. He has told the story today that contradicts about his firing of the guy in charge of the investigation. That contradicts what his own people had said. That is almost certainly going to be contradicted by the people involved. You know, we haven't yet heard Jim Comey's account of his conversations with Donald Trump.

LEMON: We have heard an account from people who have spoken to him, "The New York Times."

ISIKOFF: Yes. And there isn't anybody who thinks that Jim Comey's account is going to match what the President has just said. And he surely knows that. And Jim Comey is going to be placed under oath and he will testify about his conversation.

LEMON: Let's talk a little bit about that conversation. This is "The New York Times" reporting about the dinner President Trump had with Jim Comey. And this was shortly after the inauguration. They write in part quote "as they ate, the President and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump's rallies. The President then turned the conversation, can you imagine talking to press, President then turn the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead Mr. Comey has recounted to others. He told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that he was not reliable in the conventional political sense."

So I have to ask you, David Axelrod, Jake Tapper is also reporting on this loyalty factor, what does that tell you about what Trump's approach is to this investigation, in the earliest days of his presidency?

[23:05:14] AXELROD: Well, look, I think it speaks more broadly to Trump's approach to institutions generally. He thinks that everyone in the government should be subservient to him. That everyone should owe their loyalty to him. That's not the way our democracy works. It is certainly not the way the FBI was set up to work. There's a reason FBI directors were given ten-year terms.

And so, his -- he just fundamentally misunderstands what his own authorities are, and what the role of others are in all of this. And, you know, it is shocking, given what -- even what had taken place to that point that Donald Trump would have that conversation with Jim Comey. And clearly, he felt that the FBI director should not be surfacing stuff that was damaging to him. That's not the way -- no one in a democracy, in our democracy is above the law. Presidents have tested that in the past and our democracy has held. He doesn't seem to appreciate that principle.

LEMON: Here's what I want to ask you. That conversation, again, shortly after the inauguration. Sally Yates met with White House counsel a, Don McGahn and said that Michael Flynn was compromised. All right? And this is for you, Michael. Michael Flynn was compromised. And that was on January 26th. And then January 27th is the date that the President supposedly had this dinner with James Comey, and then asked him to pledge his loyalty.


LEMON: Is that fishy to you?

ISIKOFF: Well, first of all, I mean, what's fishy is it took like what, 18 days from Sally Yates' warning to the firing of Michael Flynn. The Rosenstein memo, the Sessions letter, and the President's firing of Comey are all dated the same day, May 9th. So that was the first tell that the initial account that the President was simply responding to the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein was suspicious. It didn't make sense. That you would fire the FBI director, you know, the same day you get a memo and a letter just like that, no further discussion, with no further explanation, or accounting.

But I mean, you just put on top of that. I mean, the conduct cited in the Rosenstein memo is the very conduct that both then candidate Trump and then senator Sessions had praised at the time. Senator Sessions had said Jim Comey had no choice but to write that October 28th letter informing the Congress about the revisiting of the Hillary Clinton investigation.

LEMON: And then he cites that as a reason.

AXELROD: Don - yes, but I get the point you are making, which is, was Trump alerted to the fact that something was happening here, and was he trying to recruit Comey to be loyal rather than stir the pot on some of the growing concerns he had about this investigation.

I want to make a separate point based on what Michael said which is, the 18-day gap, because the interesting thing about it is, there is no reason to believe that had the "Washington Post" not surfaced the fact of this Sally Yates meeting with the White House counsel 18 days earlier, or however when the story surfaced, whether Michael Flynn would have been fired. And you know, the President is rabid and he talked about it again in the interview about leaks. Had there not been a leak, Michael Flynn might yet be the national security advisor to the President.

LEMON: But that was also part of the reporting, too, that he was frustrated that this investigation wasn't centering on leaks and centering on Russia and possible collusion.


LEMON: Which was just ridiculous.

AXELROD: But the leak was exactly -- what I'm saying is, I'm not sure that it was only the leak that provoked the White House to finally get rid of Flynn when they should have fired him as soon as Sally Yates reported on that -- on the information that she had.

ISIKOFF: And just to add to that, the idea that the President, or anybody in the White House would be pressuring the FBI about particular investigations, such as leak investigations, why aren't you investigating these leaks, is a violation of every rule and established practice about how the White House shouldn't be interfering in particular criminal investigations.

I mean, that's the way things had been understood for many, many years now. And there have been, you know, White House regulations that affirm this justice department regulations that affirm this. So you know, that in and of itself, the very fact that the President was saying, why aren't you doing these leak investigations, is questionable on its face.

[23:10:41] LEMON: Inappropriate.


LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. Don't miss David Axelrod "the Axe Files" with special guest California governor Jerry Brown. CNN special at Saturday night at 9:00 eastern. Make sure you tune in.

When we come back, the President described as White-hot with anger, even yelling at the TV about Comey. Is his mood affecting his presidency?


[23:15:06] LEMON: President Trump contradicting his own White House, lashing out at cable news coverage and even reigniting an old twitter feud tonight.

I want to bring in CNN presidential historians Timothy Naftali and Douglas Brinkley, the author of "Rightful Heritage, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the land of America" and senior political analyst David Gergen.

Tim, I have to ask you this, because it's been an incredibly tumultuous 48 hours. I'm not being facetious. Do you think this White House and the President think the American people, or at least the media just fell off the turnip truck?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I mean, obviously, like a lot of us, we have been thinking about this, too.

First of all, I don't think that Donald Trump is afraid of the media. You know, Richard Nixon, and David Gergen can tell us more about that, I guess, but Richard Nixon was careful about lying. I mean, he lied. But he had other people lie for him. His worst lies in the White House were actually initially statements. He didn't even say them. By the end of the administration he starts to lie to the American people directly. He said I'm not a crook.

LEMON: But that's even worse, lying to the media, OK, fine. But he is lying to the American people and the White House.

NAFTALI: You know, when Mike Isikoff was mentioning the fact that the chronology has changed about how Comey was fired, why Comey was fired. I don't think the President cares that he has been contradicting himself. I don't think -- normally, if a leader would worry that people would say, sir, we can't believe you. Why can't you explain these inconsistencies? I don't think Donald Trump cares.

Now, I also wonder if Donald Trump is capable of holding, you know, to one particular chronology if it's not getting the reaction he wants.

LEMON: I don't know if -- I think he cares. Do we have the quote from "Politico?" If you can get that up and I will ask -- because he says, this is according to "Politico," Trump did the lengthy interview with Holt, Lester Holt of NBC, even though some of his staff believed it was a bad idea and gave his answers off the cuff. One person who spoke to him said he had been fixated on news coverage and believed his press team was failing him and that he needed to take the situation into his own hands. Was that a good idea for him to do, Douglas Brinkley?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No, of course not. Donald Trump's obsessive about watching cable TV. All he does is quarterback it, TIVO it and it's caused him nothing but trouble. But he can't help himself. In a way he is like a character in (INAUDIBLE) crime and punishment.

Only Donald Trump knows where the guilt is on all of this. That the hound dogs are after him. In his mind, that is the media. So he tries to obfuscate, destroy, lie, whatever he can to get people off his scent, including firing the head of the FBI.

So where we are at now is Donald Trump's worried about what does, I think, lieutenant general Mike Flynn know. And will Flynn do an immunity agreement, or plead guilty to a small misdemeanor. But will he talk, will he say I got marching orders from Donald Trump to deal with Assad (ph). To just communicate with Russia on WikiLeaks.

If there is something like that, that is the end of the Trump presidency. So you have to imagine living in Donald Trump's skin. Every day now, he is in fear that the bottom may drop out on him. He behaves like a guilty man trying to get away with a crime. And the press for him is the enemy because they are the ones that are relentless.

LEMON: David Gergen, I want to ask you this. Whether you think that there -- have you ever seen a presidency that has had or president that had such a credibility problem? And I will preface it by reading something our colleague here on CNN, Charles Blow, wrote this new piece in "The New York Times" about the Trump administration contradictions surrounding James Comey. The firing there.

He says, this is in part, truth be told, the incessant lying by this President and the elaborate apparatus he has built in the White House to bend reality to meet those lies means that nothing they say is to be believed anyway. But this is of a different nature. This says to America, I'm going to tell you a lie that is so outrageous, that you will want to believe that some part of it is true to preserve your faith in truth, democracy and mankind.

What do you think of that?


Listen, Don, we have had examples of presidents lying to the public on a consistent basis now for at least a generation. Lyndon Johnson lied to us about the Vietnam War. It was said that Lyndon Johnson. He didn't have a credibility gap. He had a canyon. And then along came Richard Nixon, he lied to us about the Vietnam War as well, that Cambodia for example. But also lied about Watergate and it brought him down. It brought - the lying helped to bring Lyndon Johnson down.

And now we face in Donald Trump someone who is I think is a fabulist. And over the last 48 hours we have witnessed one of the most remarkable episodes in American public life. And that is an administration that invented a cover story about why the President fired James Comey. They blamed it on the justice department. They brought us the recommendation. We went along with it. It was just about the emails. That entire cover story has unraveled in 48 hours. And now we are left with an administration that is searching for new ways to explain things.

I mean, what's different about this administration from Johnson and Nixon is this is a very incompetent group of liars in the White House today. But I do think it's equally dangerous to the public. And the question is, in the Johnson case, and in the Nixon case, the public rose up and smoked them and they were chased out of office by their political friends as well as their enemies. Will this happen again now. Or is the country going to say -- simply say this is Donald Trump.

[23:21:02] LEMON: I think the country is so divided along political lines, and I think Charles Blow is right in the plant part where he says, this says to America I'm going to tell you a lie that is so outrageous that you will want to believe that part of it is true to preserve your faith in truth, democracy and mankind. I think some people want to believe what he says has credibility so that they will --

GERGEN: That's right.

LEMON: I think he is right. They are reaching. I talk to people and listen -- when something -- when there is no basis in truth at all, they will make an excuse for this President. And I think it's interesting you called him a fabulist, not fabulous. Meaning, he makes up tales. When he said that James Comey was a show boater in the interview. Watch this.


TRUMP: Look, he-a showboat. He is a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil, you know that, I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago. It was in virtual turmoil. Less than a year ago. It hasn't recovered from that.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Monday you met with the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

TRUMP: Right.

HOLT: Did you ask for a recommendation?

TRUMP: What I did is I was going to fire Comey. My decision. It was not --

HOLT: You had made the decision before they came on?

TRUMP: I was going to fire Comey. There's no good time to do it, by the way.

HOLT: Because in your letter you said, I accepted their recommendations.

TRUMP: I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.



NAFTALI: Yes. Well, you know, I don't know whether he would be able to keep a long cover story, you know. We are going to find out. But Donald Trump is a salesman. And he is trying to sell a product. And when he does and can't sell it one way, he will find another way to sell it.

What's really key here is this issue of his expectation of personal loyalty. You know, when you are in the federal government, you pledge allegiance to the constitution. That the oath is to the constitution, not to the President. I don't think Donald Trump understands that. And Donald Trump is sharing with the public his limited understanding of our democracy. Comey was doing exactly the right thing by making clear to him that he is loyal to the constitution.

LEMON: I think it's interesting, I mean, Timothy and I were talking on the break, I have read the larger piece in "Time" magazine, not the one where he criticizes the cable news anchors, but the larger piece where he talked about his phone, the scrambler he is splitting, and he talks about the majesty of the White House and what it is like, Douglas Brinkley. And again, I don't mean to be facetious about this, but almost as if he has never gone to the White House. Maybe he hasn't, you can take a tour. Or he has never seen photographs of the White House that show the majesty of the White House. It's like everything is just happening for him right now. He is learning about all of this right now.

BRINKLEY: It's sad to say that that's true. He has a zero knowledge of America's past, Don. He was all about now, now, now making money. He has admitted that he doesn't read books on history. He has an attention deficit disorder. He has to get his history, or anything like McNuggets.

But more than that, when we are constantly calling lies, it's just who Donald Trump is as a person. And I think, Don, that he is counting on fatigue. Reporters are going to get tired. The public is going to tune out. You know, it is little like the old coyote in the old, you know, Warner Brothers cartoon, beep, beep, you know, the road runner goes and the coyote can't get him. He sees that he is going to out- FOX us by just hanging in there. If you tell ten lies a day, or I think, you know, the first 100 days he had something like 485 documented lies. How do you stop somebody who keeps doing that unless you break it with the law?

LEMON: What he doesn't understand that reporters go into war zones, go into Syria, they are, you know, they come in contact with terrorists in some very dangerous situations. They are not going to be afraid of doing a story about the President, or get tired of doing a story about the President. I mean, this is what we do, David?

[23:25:17] GERGEN: That's right. Don, yes, a couple of things here, Don, I think are in play right now. First of all, given the last 48 hours, and given in particular not only the White House had done a cover story, but we had an attorney general who had recused himself, who had promised the Senate upon his nomination that he would no longer be involved -- he would not have anything to do with the Russian investigation as attorney general, and here he is in the oval office with the President early in the week planning this out.

Now, people have to focus on that. It does seems to me he has broken the terms of that, unless there's something here we don't understand. And so it would be good to hear from him. But the other broader question, Don, is not only about who Donald Trump is, the question becomes, who are we as Americans?


GERGEN: What values do we hold? Are we willing to accept a White House that has such an utter contempt for the rule of law? That is willing to sort of -- that pales for children, and tell us those tales, watch them fall apart and pay no attention and just keep moving, as Doug Brinkley was just arguing.

You know, I think this goes basically to our values as a people. It's not only about the President, it's about us as American citizens, and what we expect out of our leaders.

LEMON: That's going to have to be the last word. I'm sorry.

Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

When we comeback attorneys general across the country looking for a special counsel to oversee the Russian investigation. We are going to talk to two of them.


[23:30:43] LEMON: President Trump saying there was no collusion with Russia, calling it a made-up story. But attorneys general across the country are calling for a special prosecutor to take over the investigation.

Let's discuss now with Karl Racine. He is the attorney general of the District of Columbia. And Douglas Chin, attorney general of Hawaii.

Gentlemen, good evening. Thank you so much for coming on.

Karl, I'm going to start with you. You are both among 20 state and district attorneys general who have signed a letter asking Rod Rosenstein to appoint an independent special counsel to investigate Russian attempts to meddle into the U.S. election, the presidential election. Why did you sign on to this letter?

KARL RACINE, THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, the simple reason is that we are concerned that the investigation of the Russian meddling and whether there was any collusion on the part of the Trump campaign needs to have an independent prosecutor. A prosecutor who was not partisan. A prosecutor who was not political. That's the only way we are going oh get to the bottom of this. That is the only way we are going to be able to restore confidence in the American people about the legal process and the rule of law.

I can tell you that I had occasion to work in the Clinton White House at a time when there were seven independent counsel and one special counsel. All courageously appointed by the then attorney general Janet Reno. It was quite uncomfortable for us in the White House. But she did the right thing. Because she needed to make sure that those investigations were run and managed by people that the President could not fire.

LEMON: Douglas, the group is led -- this group is led by Massachusetts attorney general Mauera Healy. She said President Trump firing of FBI director James Comey during the ongoing investigation. She said it was a violation of public trust. How does this violate public trust?

DOUGLAS CHIN, HAWAII ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, I think the number one thing that people expect is they expect that the people who are in law enforcement are going to be fair and impartial. Look, I have been a prosecutor for more than 15 years. And the number one rule in any sort of investigation that is successful is for people to feel like whatever is the result of that, came about from an investigation that was fair and impartial. And I think that's the reason why we are asking for an independent counsel and really, expecting that. Because I think the public expects that.

Look, we just had so many different stories that we have just heard in the last 48 hours, having to do with the FBI director's firing. And it all ties into just the allegations and the investigation of Russian meddling. LEMON: People don't know what to believe because there have been so

many stories. So let me just ask you, let's just get right to the central question here. Do you think he was trying to impede or stop the investigation?

RACINE: Well, there's no doubt that the motivation was to take out the lead investigator. And in our experience, I can tell you that the potential subject, or at least somebody who is material to an investigation does not have the opportunity to fire or remove the investigator.

This is basic investigation, rule of law 101. And unfortunately, the President doesn't seem to understand that we are a country of laws that relies on a check and balance. And candidly, Don, as you have seen, unfortunately we are not seeing much courage out of the Republican Party in Washington. They know that eventually there will be a special counsel. I urge them to act honestly and courageously tonight and go ahead and do what's right.

LEMON: AG Chin, you have gone up against President Trump before on the travel ban. Why is it important for you to stand up again with this?

CHIN: Sure. You know, I think that this is obviously, I think what we can all see is it's been a rather incredible several weeks that we have all been living through. And when you see what happens, like what would happen here in the last days with the FBI director's firing, this is something that really cuts against just what we all have understood. The United States to be all about. What you have is you have the person being investigated, getting rid of the person who was investigating him. And I think the result of that is that no one's going to believe what is the results of what this allegations -- what these allegations are all about, until we have someone who is fair and someone who is independent, and impartial, able to look at this and give us a result that we can all believe in.

[23:35:38] LEMON: Let me ask you, because during the travel ban you said, it is always in the public's interest to protect constitutional rights. Do you think we are on the verge of a constitutional crisis?

CHIN: Well, you know, I think a lot of people have said that. And I think the reason why they do say that, and I think it's very credible, is that what you have is you have the executive, the chief executive making calls that are going into the other branches of government and violating them. And I think that that's when you do have questions of, you know, are we even following our constitution anymore. And you know, for us as state attorneys general, I think it's our responsibility to say something about that because that's what the public is expecting. They want us to be living under the American values that we have all come to believe and respect.

RACINE: And if I could add, Don.


RACINE: The principle is pretty simple. No one is above the law. And what we have right now, and we are seeing it live every single day, every single moment, with every changed story, with every false narrative, that the President of the United States sadly is acting as if he is above the law. When the President of the United States consistently acts as if he's above the law, we are in crisis mode.

LEMON: Karl Racine and Douglas Chin, thank you, gentlemen.

Thank you.

CHIN: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, these photos taken and tweeted out by Russia infuriating the White House. Why they say they feel tricked.


[23:41:12] LEMON: The White House is not happy about these photos of President Trump with Russian diplomats. Photos taken by Russian state news media photographer and posted by Russia's news agency.

Here to discuss, Matthew Murray, Obama administration deputy assistant commerce secretary for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. And freelance journalist Liz Wahl, a Russian media expert. And former KGB spy, Jack Barsky, the author of "Deep Undercover."

Good evening.

Matthew, you first. So White House officials apparently caught off- guard, infuriated that the Russians tweeted out photos of President Trump smiling and shaking hands with the Russian foreign minister Lavrov, and Russian ambassador Kislyak that we heard so much about, complaining that the Russians tricked them, and that they lie. What are your thoughts on this?

MATTHEW MURRAY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION DEPUTY ASSISTANT COMMERCE SECRETARY FOR EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA: Well, you know, due to the firing of Comey, the timing of this visit and the planning of it was always going to be a bit awkward. And I think the whole series of events highlights the fact that the Trump administration is paralyzed on foreign policy towards Russia. They should have anticipated, for example, that the Russians would certainly want to highlight the importance of this visit back home. The administration clearly underestimated how important it is for Putin to have this strong connection with the United States. That it confers legitimacy on him at home and that it's very important to his domestic politics.

And so, you know, here we are, Trump is in his home court. It is a visit to the White House. It is standard operating procedure to invite a foreign minister over after he has met with the secretary of state. President Putin had just done a similar courtesy for our secretary of state, who was in Moscow last April. And they should have had an announcement. They should have had something they could say, that represented diplomatic progress on Syria, on Ukraine, on North Korea, something of that nature, Don, and been able to say, you know, this is a win. We are working with Russia on national security issues. And all this other poor symbolism and planning would have been much less important.

LEMON: And Liz, I want to ask you. And President Trump posted the following on twitter. He said Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a democrat excuse, in capital letters by the way, for losing the election. If the Russians are laughing, it's certainly at our expense, is it not?

LIZ WAHL, A RUSSIAN MEDIA EXPERT: Well, if the Russians are laughing, it probably has something to do with their meddling in our elections and the huge payoff they have apparently received from their meddling in our election.

As we know from our U.S. intelligence agencies, that Russia had meddled in our elections with the attempt to defeat Hillary Clinton, and to get Trump elected. And, well, they have gotten more than they bargained for. And today was the ultimate propaganda victory for the Kremlin. They got into the oval office which there hasn't been a high-level meeting like that, I think since 2013, because of the isolation, because of the wars in Ukraine and the backing -- Russia's backing of Assad in Syria, and the alleged war crimes there. And so here they had meddled in our elections, and then they have these glowing photos with Trump grinning with both the foreign minister and ambassador Kislyak who was at the center of the investigations. And the U.S. media was not allowed in. Only Russian media was allowed in.

LEMON: You can't write this. I mean, at this particular time it's really unfathomable.

Jack, that is why I have to ask you because when these photographs came out yesterday, you know, I got a text from a friend who works in government, who is a military person who said, I wonder how many bugs they dropped in the oval office. I mean, because there was a lot of uproar that a Russian photographer was allowed into the oval office in the first place. The administration is saying that this photographer went through the same screening that a U.S. press photographer would. But I mean, former intelligence officials feel that there was potentially a breach in the security here. Do you think the oval office was compromised yesterday?

[23:45:23] JACK BARSKY, AUTHOR, FORMER KGB SPY: Sure, to some extent. I'm shaking my head at the incompetence of the staff, the Trump staff. They are supposed to like protect the integrity of the White House. And that's when I spoke to -- before we came on and said the wheels are coming off. It's mind-boggling.

Now, when I heard about this, you know, when I saw these photographs, I did a little bit of research. You know, we have history here. Roosevelt was played by Stalin. There's some very happy pictures with Roosevelt and Stalin. Kennedy was played by Khrushchev. American Presidents historically have underestimated the cleverness of the Russians. And they are very clever. That is what I know. We are much -- we are somewhat naive when it comes to dealing with the Russians. They are not playing by the same rules. They don't play by any rules at this point.

LEMON: Well, the Russia - I mean, the White House is not taking responsibility for this. They are saying that basically, you know, they were tricked by this. But my question is, what kind of information could the Russians glean from a trip to the oval office?

WAHL: Are you asking me?


BARSKY: You know, you want to go into James Bond territory, there's always a chance that somebody actually drops something. You know, plants a bug in some way. Other than that, you know, there's nothing there. I think it's more about the propaganda victory and having all the happy faces.

LEMON: All right. Stick around, panel. Much more to discuss when we come right back. We will be right back.


[23:50:49] LEMON: President Trump had a simple explanation tonight for a meeting with Sergey Lavrov, Putin asked him to.

Back now with my panel.

So, Liz, in response to the criticism about the meeting beef been discuss with the Russians President Trump had this to say in the NBC interview.


TRUMP: I have to speak with Putin also. It's called Russia. But when I spoke with Putin he asked me whether or not I would see Lavrov. Now what should I say no I'm not going to see him. I said I will see him.


LEMON: So this whole Russia thing is going on. The Comey thing is going, the Michael Flynn thing is going on. You know, Carter Page and on and on and on. He is the President of the United States. He can do what he wants. Does he have to act on Putin's request?

WAHL: He can do what he wants. And he acted apparently on Putin's request and did meet with Lavrov. But what's interesting is what happened when he had met with Lavrov. We saw the photos there that we only saw thanks to Russian media since our media was blocked out the media he dubs fake news that's which that's another parallel that we have to draw between Trump and who end -- they are both modern day pioneers of fake news, real fake news as in is news not based in fact.

LEMON: Well, the news certainly faked him out yesterday because they got the pictures.

WAHL: And he seemed shocked. He said Russia lies. Have you been paying attention to foreign policy and/or you know the meddling in our election or any ever that? I mean it's - it is really -- it's really quite remarkable. LEMON: Well, Jack, I want to ask you. Why is he so concerned about,

you know, what Putin has to say? I have got to meet with Putin. I have got to do whatever. He doesn't have to meet with anyone in the oval office.

BARSKY: No, I agree. And you know, from early on in the campaign you know there is a -- there is a level of cluelessness naive and probably a lot of arrogance thinking that, you know, I know everything about what's going on. This is astounding coming from the President of the United States. Just to not understand that he is playing chess with a queen down because -- and you know apparently he doesn't listen to his own folks. That's why I was saying earlier on the wheels are coming off. I'm getting a little bit concerned. And I'm being very - I'm taking very low key approach to this.

LEMON: No, why are you concerned>?

BARSKY: Well, as I said -- this is our, you know, this is our leader who doesn't seem to really know what's going on. And you know I'm not blaming him for the -- for the security lapse in the White House. However, why didn't he fire those people? Because you know if you are being duped by an adversary and you have people who were in charge of you know in -- he is so good at saying you're fired, why didn't he fire those people.

LEMON: Yes. Matthew I have to ask you. And I want to talk -- let's talk more now about the investigation, the Senate. There was intelligence hearing today. The FBI director -- acting FBI director Andrew McCabe's testimony. What are the main takeaways? Where do you think we stand on this investigation now that Comey has been fired?

MURRAY: Well, Andrew McCabe made some very reassuring comments today during the hearing about how they will continue this investigation uninterrupted, that he seems they have adequate resources to do it. And that they will pursue a vigorous and independent type of investigation.

In the meantime there as a White House statement today which sort of cast a little bit of ambiguity on that because what they said was that one of the reason -- he felt that as a result of having fired the FBI director somehow that would hasten the conclusion of this investigation. That kind of strips away some of the pretense around this decision. And seems to indicate that the White House thinks there is some quick way of expediting it and get going done. And that would obviously -- that doesn't reflect the reality that this investigation is going to continue to take some time.

So McCabe's statement on the hill was reassuring. And he -- there was a great colloquy with members of the Senate intelligence committee who all said, well, please inform the FBI officials who are conducting this investigation that they cannot be fired. That they will not be fired. And that we have their backs.

And then beyond that, senators Warner and Burr also had a press conference today stating that they continue -- they plan to continue with their Senate investigation. They met separately with Rod Rosenstein to discuss the logistics of that. And they also issued the first subpoena yesterday. And they are gearing up to have a series of closed door hearings. So I think the investigations are on track, both the FBI and the Senate and even the house.

[23:55:59] LEMON: Yes. Shall we have confidence in that, Liz, you think we can - you have worked for RTV. And I'm wondering, you know, if -- how the Russians are looking at this even in our own country and our people. Quickly and then I got to go.

WAHL: I think how the Russians are looking at this is that right now they are laughing just the way that Sergey Lavrov laughed at our own press when he said, was Comey fired? But apparently, reportedly Trump fired Comey because he did not like there was so much focus on Russia. So if he wanted to go away that has back fired because the focus is ultra-focus now process. And it's great to see that everybody has awoken.

LEMON: Here we are. We may have been covering other stories tonight but now we're covering Russia 24/7.

Thank you all. Have a good night. That's it for us. Thank you for watching us. I will see you back here tomorrow.