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Trump Brags about 'His Guy' Who Body-Slammed a Reporter; Top White House Members Fight Over Border Crossings; Jared Kushner Urging President Trump Not to be Pressured; Possible Murder of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi; Nikki Haley Announcing Her Resignation as U.N. Ambassador. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 18, 2018 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: They're going to have to answer for how they feel about what President Trump says. And this was her first sampling of how she'll do that tonight.

Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now. How do you think she did? You're a funny guy.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: I've got nothing but the utmost respect for Nikki Haley. I think she is a fantastically professional all the time and I loved it when she said I don't get confused. Remember? I think--


CUOMO: Sure, I remember that.

LEMON: I like her chutzpah. But it's the Al Smith dinner, and we have to have a sense of humor. You talked about some serious stuff. OK. You can debate whether or not she did it while she was in office or not. That is fine to do that. That's legitimate. But when you're doing those things you've got to be funny.

CUOMO: Sure.

LEMON: And I thought she was funny.

CUOMO: What was her best joke you that heard there?

LEMON: I don't even remember what she said there. I thought she -- I thought it was funny--


CUOMO: Mine was--

LEMON: I thought it was Elizabeth Warren. I thought that was pretty funny.

CUOMO: yes. That was the best one.

LEMON: And if you're going to talk about it. You saw what the former congressman, what was his name, Chaffetz, on Twitter when he tweeted the terrible thing, he was at Disney World or Disneyland with his kids and there was a picture of a Native American or at least a carving, a sculpture, a statue and he was standing there saying look, I'm at Disneyland -- or Disney World, I forget which one, with Elizabeth Warren. It wasn't funny.

But in that setting, I thought the joke was appropriate and funny. And listen, we've got to stop being so P.C. or we're going to kill comedy. You've got to understand -- you got to, listen, you don't want to insult people just because you -- you don't want to be racist or sexist or -- you've got to know some boundaries. But we can't kill comedy. And comedy is not about being politically correct.

CUOMO: It's often about the opposite.

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: I mean, imagine what George Carlin would be saying today about things, may he rest in peace. Look, with P.C. I think what matters more than what you say is what you do.


CUOMO: That's always been the big contradiction is that people say all the same things and I'll call you African-American but I don't work for equality and for your right and social justice. Then what the hell, it doesn't matter what I call you.

Her test is going to be though, Don.


CUOMO: You remember the one time she said I don't get confused or whatever it was--


CUOMO: -- because it was the only time. And even at the Al Smith dinner tonight she didn't make any jokes about Trump.


CUOMO: And that's something she's going to have to answer for at some point.

LEMON: Well, I think now what we're going to see, I think she was very smart and very strategic about how she navigated the Trump administration because she is, I think the only one so far who's come out unscathed and I think she may come out looking better than when she went in.

CUOMO: Her numbers are very good.

LEMON: She definitely built her resume, built up her resume. Now she has experience--


CUOMO: Yes. Big credential.

LEMON: Big huge credential. And I think she got out probably in the right time. She got out before the midterm elections because if Republicans do badly then she won't have to deal with that. Plus, she gets the headline. If she had -- if she had resigned after the midterm elections or, you know, shortly after that, the headline would still be the midterm elections and not Nikki Haley. So, I think she got out in time.

But anyway, I have nothing but respect for her. I thought she was funny. And you know what? People may think this is sexist. I thought she looked great. I don't know if we still have a video of her. But I actually thought she looked really pretty.

CUOMO: I think it's still OK to say that.

LEMON: I know. I worry sometimes. Can you say that in this era? Like I say people at work and I say can I say hey, nice dress, you look beautiful. Because you never know, I'm just asking.


CUOMO: You never say that to me.

LEMON: Well, because your dresses are never nice and you never look beautiful.

CUOMO: Fair point.

LEMON: But seriously, I think she looks fantastic. She sounded fantastic. And I think that was a good look for her, meaning overall, everything.

CUOMO: I think she checks a lot of boxes.


CUOMO: I really do. And I think in a great irony at a time where she's working for an administration where the motto is, make America great again, I don't care what anybody says, I think it's inherently reductive and I think inherently a dog whistle to a time when things were not great.


CUOMO: She stands apart. She represents diversity, women empowerment. She represented a strength. She represented an evenness.


CUOMO: And she went at it pretty much straightaway, not overtly partisan.

LEMON: She's going to the lion's den. A lot of people won't do that. She'll actually come on, what's consider the line, she'll actually come on CNN, come on another network--


CUOMO: And in fact, if she were a Democrat she'd probably be at or near the top of the list for them right now.


CUOMO: Funny how the fates work.

LEMON: I never even thought about that. So, did you -- you saw the president's reality, right?

CUOMO: I did.

LEMON: Did you see what he said about Gianforte?

CUOMO: No. What did he say?

LEMON: He was saying -- he pretty much, I'm paraphrasing here, he called him out as something good -- that was the guy that body slammed the reporter.

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: Saying I was overseas on a trip and I heard that you body- slammed someone, you don't want to mess with this guy. We're going to play it in this hour. You'll see.

CUOMO: He's all about strength. Unless he's dealing with somebody who's strong.

LEMON: You dressed like me again.

CUOMO: No, I didn't.

LEMON: Yes, you did.

CUOMO: This suit is blue, plays great.

LEMON: I've got a new friend for you. I'll introduce him to you and the audience tomorrow. And we'll figure out a name for him. I'm giving it away a little bit.

[22:05:01] CUOMO: Are you?

LEMON: Well, yes.

CUOMO: Well, no, you're not giving it away because people will be surprised to hear you have a friend other than me. I love you, buddy. People are going to love your new friend.

LEMON: Yes. OK. We'll see. We'll talk tomorrow. We'll figure it out.

CUOMO: All right.

LEMON: Thank you. This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

You know, with everything that's going on in the White House, top aides in a screaming match over immigration, the administration trying to dodge world outrage over Jamal Khashoggi, it's no surprise that President Trump got out of Washington and headed to his happy place tonight, which is the campaign trail. You know this president loves a campaign rally in a place where it's still 2016, where he's surrounded by adoring MAGA hat-wearing fans. Where he's winning so much they're getting tired of winning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is winning. Because we are finally putting America first again. It's America first.


LEMON: But back here in the real world, things are a little different. A lot different. Can you believe it was just last week that President Trump did his victory lap after getting Justice Brett Kavanaugh confirmed? That was just last week.

Since then the outrage over the disappearance and likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has exploded. Leaving the White House desperately trying to avoid blaming the Saudis. But that didn't stop the president from making what may be the most inappropriate joke ever. Joking about, I just mentioned this, Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, who assaulted a reporter during his campaign last May.


TRUMP: Any guy that can do a body slam, he's my candidate.


TRUMP: He's my guy. I shouldn't say this, but there's nothing to be embarrassed about. So, I was in Rome with a lot of the leaders from other countries talking about all sorts of things. And I heard about it. And we endorsed Greg very early. But I had heard that he body- slammed a reporter.



LEMON: So, you heard the president. He's joking about an assault on a reporter. In the face of world outrage about what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.

But there's more. The deficit, at $779 billion now, the highest it's been since 2012. And the president's signature campaign promise, stopping immigration along our southern border, falling apart. Border crossings are actually up. A record 16,685 family members arrested in September. Up 80 percent from July, 80 percent. That as a migrant caravan fueling instability in Honduras makes its

way north. Sources telling CNN that's why the screaming match blew up today between John Kelly and John Bolton. They also say Trump is incensed about the rising levels of migrants.


TRUMP: Remember, it's going to be an election of the caravan. You know what I'm talking about. As you know, I'm willing to send the military to defend our southern border if necessary.


TRUMP: All because of the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or to change the laws.


LEMON: So, you heard that. The president falsely claiming that Democrats are to blame for illegal immigration. And threatening today to deploy the military to shut down the border. Even though the Posse Comitatus Act forbids, forbids using the military for suburban duties on military bases.

The president is tougher on immigrants than he is on Saudi Arabia. With the Saudis he's leading from behind. Actually, leading from behind would be a step up. It's no kind of leadership at all to give the Saudis a few more days to investigate what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.


MIKE POMPEO, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that.


LEMON: And what kind of immigration is run by the very people you suspect of being involved in the crime?


[22:10:03] TRUMP: We're waiting for some investigations and waiting for the results, and we'll have them very soon.


LEMON: So, sources are telling CNN that Jared Kushner, advising the president to go slowly, has also reminded him that the U.S. partners with less than savory regimes around the world, not just the Saudis. That kind of what aboutism is not leadership. But this president wants you to see him as a leader, a leader who can carry the entire GOP on his coattails. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm not on the ticket, but Congress is on the ticket. And I try and tell my people, that's the same thing as me. In a sense. That's the same thing. Think of it as the same thing as me.


LEMON: Yet, he also says this.


TRUMP: So let's say we have a really bad time in three weeks. If they don't go out and vote, they have themselves to blame.


LEMON: Heads I win, tails you lose. If the GOP goes down to defeat in the midterms, this president won't take the blame. He never does. He has no problem doing a 180, calling Christine Blasey Ford credible, then mocking her in of course a campaign rally.

Admitting and apologizing for joking about sexual assault on that Access Hollywood tape, then telling his confidants he doesn't think that it was his voice, insisting there were very fine people on both sides of the deadly riot in Charlottesville and then one day after saying racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.

There's one thing that matters to this president, and that is winning. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Jim Acosta is with the president tonight in Montana. He joins us now. Jim, good evening to you. The president at his favorite place at a campaign rally, and he's going all in on immigration. What's the latest?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. I mean, it was pretty typical Donald Trump when it comes to pulling out the red meat for this crowd in Montana. But Don, there were times during his speech when (Inaudible) and that was essentially on this issue of the caravan of migrants coming up from Central America. (Inaudible).

The president at one point painting those migrants as criminals even though many of them, as you know, Don, are trying to escape crime in their home countries. Here's more of what the president had to say.

LEMON: So, Jim -- Jim, I have to ask you about that comment the president made about Congressman Greg Gianforte's body slamming skills. I mean, that was really in remarkably poor taste with the apparent murder of the journalist in the Middle East.

ACOSTA: That's right, Don. I mean, obviously right now the whole world is demanding answers from the Saudi government to explain exactly what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. It sounds like he was brutally murdered in the most gruesome possible fashion.

And here you have the president at one point during his speech he was praising Greg Gianforte, the Montana congressman who body-slammed Ben Jacobs with the Guardian newspaper. Gianforte actually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in that case.

And you have the president of the United States even in this investigation while he's claiming the administration is claiming that they're going to get serious with the Saudis about all of this, joking that Greg Gianforte is his kind of guy, saying anybody who can body slam somebody is my kind of guy.

And Don, he not only did this once. He came back to this joke, this bit later on in the rally when he was handicapping the 2020 field going through the various Democrats he might be up against and he recalled when Joe Biden said he would like to take Donald Trump behind a school building or something like that and have a fistfight.

The president at one point saying that he would take down Biden faster than Greg would, referring to Greg Gianforte. So not just once but twice tonight the president is making jokes about assaulting reporters while the whole world is demanding answers about the murder of a journalist who died in the most gruesome and vicious way possible.

And Don, also we should point out, the president time and again was going after Democrats accusing them of being part of a mob, of being part of an angry mob. I have to tell you, Don, when the president made that joke about Greg Gianforte assaulting Ben Jacobs, I looked over to the crowd. There was one gentleman, a Trump supporter in the crowd, who was doing pro wrestling moves, doing body slam type gestures in the crowd.

So, the crowd was obviously eating this stuff up, and people wonder whether or not there's a cause and effect, whether or not the president's rhetoric, you know, plants seeds of violence in his own supporters, in his own crowds. I think it was pretty evident there that the crowd was loving every minute of this when the president was talking about assaulting, joking about assaulting reporters at this rally tonight, Don.

[22:15:04] LEMON: An embarrassing performance tonight by the president with those jokes and people cheering him on. Sad. Thank you, Jim Acosta. I appreciate it.

The president campaigning tonight after his top aides got into a screaming match over immigration. CNN's Kaitlan Collins has the details for us next.


LEMON: A heated shouting match in the West Wing between two of the president's top officials. The Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser John Bolton. The fight apparently over border crossings.

Kaitlan Collins has the reporting for us in Washington. Kaitlan, good evening to you. So, talk to me about this dramatic shouting match. How ugly did it get?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Don, it got pretty ugly. This is of course a pretty bitter divided West Wing. It's not unusual to see an argument. But an argument of this kind is pretty unusual. They were yelling at each other right outside the Oval Office. It was a shouting match. Profanity-laced. To where it started their West Wing colleagues to where now it is this public reporting that they got into such an argument.

Now it started with President Trump involved. They were talking about this recent surge in border crossings. And Don, we know this has infuriated President Trump because he's been tweeting about it, threatening to shut down the border.

But it was between Kelly and Bolton that it got the ugliest. They were arguing about it, and Kelly was set off because Bolton made a remark about the DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, criticizing her and saying essentially that she needs to start doing her job over at DHS.

[22:20:01] Of course, Don, that didn't sit well with John Kelly, who considers Nielsen to be his protege essentially. She was at DHS when he was the DHS secretary. He brought her over to the West Wing when he was chief of staff. And then he was the one who persuaded President Trump to nominate her to leave DHS. So that was all going on.

President Trump actually sided with John Bolton on that remark. I'm told that only added to John Kelly's anger here. And people walked away from this argument thinking there was a significant chance that John Kelly could resign over something like this. That's how angry he was.

Now, he's threatened to resign in the past. People have seen that as an empty threat. When he got in arguments with President Trump. But Don, I'm told by sources inside the White House that this was a really unusual fight and they've never seen it be so heated between John Bolton and John Kelly before.

LEMON: So Kaitlan, let me get this straight. The president was present for part of it but later denied knowing about it?

COLLINS: That's right. He was there at the beginning because he sided with John Bolton. That was a pretty big part of this argument. But then when the president was asked about it by reporters later on he denied knowing anything about some kind of shouting match between John Kelly and John Bolton.

But Don, you've been in the West Wing before. It's than big of a place although it seems like to on TV. It's actually quite small. If you're yelling you could probably hear it from the briefing room. So, certainly something that a lot of staffers knew about. It startled a lot of people.

Where it goes from here and whether or not John Kelly makes a decision about resigning is still to be determined but it does lay bare the power dynamic in the West Wing and it shows that John Bolton certainly does not think he answers to the chief of staff here. LEMON: Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much. I appreciate it. I want

to bring in David Axelrod now, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

So, listen, you've been there before. Good evening to you, David. You know it. Things get heated here in the newsroom. People, you know, have arguments or whatever. But what did you think when you heard about this fight between Bolton and Kelly over a surge in border crossings?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a few things. First of all, yes. I mean, in fairness these things happen in White Houses. They've happened in our -- they happened in our White House. So it's not unusual. It's a high-pressured place to work. You're dealing with very, very challenging issues. And from time to time these kinds of things erupt.

It is unusual for the chief of staff to have another member of the presidential staff erupt in public like that against him. But you know, John Kelly has suffered, you know, a series of indignities in this job. And he continues to stay there.

Secretary Nielsen has been dressed down by the president at cabinet meetings. And the chief of staff has stayed in his job. So I don't know that this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. But it is unusual for there to be this sort of open and public defiance to a chief of staff in the corridor of the West Wing.

LEMON: Especially to the point they said it was so bad that aides thought that one of them might resign. That's a big fight right there.

AXELROD: Yes. Yes. Although we'll see what happens.


LEMON: So is this, I want to--

AXELROD: I would take Kelly -- if it devolved into a fight, I would take Kelly in that fight. But we'll see.

LEMON: Yes. So, listen, I've got to ask you. Because you know, remember Olivia Nuzzi was in the West Wing last week and she said they put on this big display about how great they got along and how wonderful it was. I'm wondering if this is just another example that sort of flies in the face of Trump saying that his White House is a well-oiled machine. Remember he's trying to get that point to Olivia Nuzzi in New York magazine last week.

AXELROD: Yes. Right. Look, his White House runs like Trump operations run. He's the hub. Everyone else is sort of a sideshow to him. He likes conflict. He foments conflict. He brings people in with conflicting views. And it hasn't been harmonious from the beginning and it's not harmonious now.

You know, those who are close to him argue that yes, his methods are unconventional but he gets results anyway. And that's what matters. But at end of the day you do pay a price if there's incoherence in a White House. There are going to be situations that arise that require some level of coordination and cooperation. And if people are at loggerheads with each other and issuing conflicting kinds of orders and directives you're going to run into a problem down the line here.

LEMON: Yes. I hope you saw the president's rally because we're going to discuss it right after this break, David.



LEMON: We're back now with Mr. David Axelrod. So, David, the president was drumming up his base in Montana tonight and he talked a whole lot about immigration, this new caravan coming from Central America. He said this. Watch.


TRUMP: It's my problem, I caused it. Because I have created such an incredible economy. I have created so many jobs. I've made this country with you so great that everybody wants to come in. So, they're all pouring in, or trying to. So, with the worst laws in the world we're doing a hell of a job.


LEMON: My gosh. He says they're coming in because of his great economy. That is some really great spin.

AXELROD: Well, look, I think the economy -- the American economy has been a lure for people coming here. Along with what's going on back in their countries and the violence that they're fleeing in their own countries and the deprivation they're fleeing in their own countries.

The fact of the matter is, though, I mean, we've created -- we've created a lot of jobs in the last couple years but fewer jobs than in the two years previous under the Obama administration. So that doesn't explain everything.

[22:30:04] The thing is that they obviously don't have an answer for this and that's why there was this fight outside the Oval Office. He doesn't really have a policy for it. And I am not sure he -- at this moment despite all the reporting, I think he likes having the issue.

He thinks immigration is a provocative issue for his base. He's totally focused on winning these midterm elections. So you know this sort of dust-up over immigration right now I think serves his purposes. This is red meat for his base.

LEMON: Yeah. I have got to bring this up to you, David. The President congratulated Montana Congressman, Greg Gianforte, for being a tough cookie, for body-slamming a reporter last year. Remember that? So let's be clear, though. Gianforte pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for assaulting Guardian Reporter, Ben Jacobs. Here's the assault the President is talking about. Watch this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the CBO score. As you know, you've been waiting to make your decision about healthcare until we saw the bill and it just came out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll talk to you about that later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. But there's not going to be time. I'm just curious.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Speak with Shane please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sick and tired of you guys. The last time you came in here you did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with Guardian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, and you just broke my glasses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The last guy did the same damn thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just body slammed me and broke my glasses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get the hell out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'd like me to get the hell out of here? I'd also like to call the police. Can I get you guys' names?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you got to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just body slammed me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got to leave.


LEMON: Yeah. I guess congratulations for that -- Jesus. I mean the Guardian tonight is issuing a statement, David, responding to the President's comments (Inaudible) in the aftermath of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It runs the risk of an inviting other assaults on journalists, both here and across the world, where they often face far greater threats.

He doesn't understand that the world is watching. Does he -- he's not reading the moment here. Maybe reading the room there, but he's not reading the world, how the world is reacting.

AXELROD: No. He's -- no, he's reading his base, Don. That room in his view reflects his base.

LEMON: Right.

AXELROD: He thinks has brought into his sort of rhetoric about the media, and appreciates strength in his estimation that represents strength. This is -- he's focused on one thing. He's focused on ginning up the base for the midterm elections, and he thinks that this helps him. They gave him affirmation for it in his room. Here's the irony of it. A lot of his speech was devoted to talking about the Democratic mob.

And then exults a physical in a kind of Roman coliseum environment. So, you know, the incongruity of it is kind of mind-boggling. But he is about one thing between now and November 6th, doing everything he possibly can to bring out his base. He's concerned about turnout and he wants to turn it up. And he doesn't really care what the world thinks. He doesn't care what you or what I think.

All he cares about is getting those numbers up, and he'll do whatever he needs to do that.

LEMON: David Axelrod, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.

AXELROD: All right.

LEMON: Sources telling CNN that Jared Kushner is urging the President not to be pressured into a quick decision over what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. By this Kushner strategy the one the President should really be following?


[22:35:00] LEMON: More than two weeks after Jamal Khashoggi went missing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, President Trump said today that it certainly looks like he's dead. But he says he's still waiting for the results of the investigations by Turkey and Saudi Arabia. I want to bring in now Frank Bruni and Kirsten Powers.

Good evening to both of you. So Frank, here's President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier today. Watch this.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that, so that we too have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP (R), UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We are waiting for some investigations and waiting for the results. And we'll have them very soon. And I think we'll be making a statement, a very strong statement. But we're waiting for the results.


LEMON: So he has conceded tonight that Khashoggi is dead but still no action for two weeks now. So what is he really waiting for?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean he's calling this an investigation, right? But it's sort of laughable because this is an investigation being done by the people whom we know are responsible for this, about what they did. And I think it's pretty clear, if you followed events the last couple of days. And if you listen carefully, what he and Mike Pompeo are saying, this isn't an investigation.

This is an opportunity for the Saudis to create a narrative that takes the blame off of the Crown Prince, that comes up with some other fall person, and that the U.S. likes because it maybe enables them to go forward with a relationship with Saudi Arabia. Obviously, means a great deal to Donald Trump and to his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

LEMON: With his statement there, Kirsten, I mean Frank was very blunt about how he feels about the situation. A number of lawmakers have spoken up as well as the news media. But where is the public's outrage? Where is the talk of America as a champion of human rights?

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, "USA TODAY": Well, I think it's a little hard to do that considering that we have had a relationship with Saudi Arabia for a long time, and they are one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. So this is obviously a horrific thing that happened, but there are a lot of horrific things that happen on a regular basis in Saudi Arabia.

[22:39:59] And we're not even getting into the war in Yemen. So we have tolerated a lot of bad behavior from our allies, not just Saudi Arabia, other places. China comes to mind. And because of economic relationships and with Saudi Arabia, because of the relationship that we have with them in the Middle East, which is actually pretty critical because of where they're located.

So I think it's hard for people -- I should say it should be hard for people. It's not. There are people who are acting like all of the sudden they've just discovered that Saudi Arabia, you know, has a horrible human rights position.

LEMON: Yeah. I have got to ask about this, though, because I have got to ask about these 11 Democratic senators sending a letter to the President, demanding that he disclose information about his business ties with Saudi Arabia. That is a problem with his lack of transparency when it comes to his financial interests, right, Kirsten?


LEMON: A very simple yes, right?

POWERS: Yes. I mean, look, I don't -- I think that there's -- I think one of the main problems we're having with the Saudi Arabia situation is that Jared has become so invested in this, and so...


LEMON: And reportedly reminding the President and the people who are trying to deal with this that we deal with some shady characters and people who have human rights abuses all over the world. But go on.

POWERS: Right. And that this will blow over. And -- but the only reason that he would be so interested in this is because there are financial benefits to his family. That is what motivates this -- everything that they do. And I think that there should be, you know, the highest suspicion around this. LEMON: So same question to you. But just -- Jared has zero foreign

policy experience -- had before entering the White House. Should he be the person that in this presidency, giving him the advice, some of which I just mentioned and what Kirsten just mentioned?

BRUNI: Absolutely not. I mean most of the things that Jared Kushner has been tasked with in this administration or he's tasked himself to do are things he has no experience with. He's got a bigger ego than he has a resume. And part of what I think people find disturbing or what I find disturbing here is the closeness of the relationship that he formed with the Crown Prince, and whether that's kind of clouding everybody's judgment right now.

Whether what he's trying to do is not only save perhaps business interests and financial interests, but whether he's trying to kind of preserve his ego and salvage his reputation here, because a lot of people are rightly looking at the enthusiasm he showed for the Saudi Arabian Kingdom and for the Crown Prince, and saying where did that come from and did it go too far and why was he so deep in?

LEMON: Let me just -- this is what you write in your column. You say what does he have to say about the Saudis and Khashoggi, nothing. He has his usual moral laryngitis. He's integral when there's the hope of credible and invisible when there is the certainty of blame.

BRUNI: A hundred percent. Ever since this administration began, we get these orchestrated whispers from the people who represent, sometimes publicists, but sometimes just allies, Jared and Ivanka telling us when they want to -- how integral they are and what a positive influence they are. Then something like this happens. And what do you hear from the Jared allies, what do you hear from Jared himself?

You hear absolutely nothing. Suddenly, they vacate the situation when it doesn't make them look good. And I -- it offends me.

LEMON: Yeah. Kirsten, the President keeps saying that Khashoggi wasn't American, that it didn't happen on American soil. Do you think he's trying to take the focus off the horror of what the Saudis allegedly did?

POWERS: Yeah. They seem to be looking for a way to protect the Saudis from this. And I think it is, again, because Jared is so invested and because the President is so focused on this arms deal that we have with them, which actually started in the Obama administration. But it's still a lot of money. And so I think he is looking for ways around this, and also because honestly I don't think he really cares that much about what happened or about any kind of human rights abuses.

And I certainly don't think he cares very much about a journalist being killed, to be honest with you. So I think he is looking for a way to try to make it OK. But how would that make it any better? I don't understand. I guess in his world, the fact that you're just a resident and not a citizen somehow has some bearing on something. But I don't see it. LEMON: Kirsten, Frank, don't go anywhere. I want both of you to stay

with me. Just a week after resigning from her job as U.N. Ambassador, Nikki Haley is back in the spotlight, and she's got jokes.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I learned that the U.N. has 193 member nations, 180 which are mad at us on any given day. And the most important thing I learned is that with all of our differences, there is still one thing that unites all 193 countries. At one point, every single one of them was paying Paul Manafort.



[22:45:00] LEMON: From Ambassador to stand-up comedian. Last week, Nikki Haley was in the Oval Office announcing her resignation as America's Ambassador to the U.N. Well, tonight, she cracked jokes at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual charity event right here in New York City, featuring prominent politicians.


HALEY: Everyone in Washington called me with advice about this speech. They all said the same thing. Do not, under any circumstances, make any jokes about the President, so good night, everybody.


LEMON: Back with me, Frank Bruni and Kirsten Powers. So Kirsten, for the most part, Haley avoided taking digs at the President, making digs at the President. But she did take a joke that took the Democrats on as well as her boss. Watch this.


[22:50:03] Haley: Two years ago, President Trump was here and he made some waves with his remarks. Apparently, no one here could have predicted that. So last year, last year you went with Paul Ryan, who is a boy scout. And that's fine, but a little boring. So this year, you wanted to spice things up again, right? I get it. You wanted an Indian woman.

But Elizabeth Warren failed her DNA test. Actually, when the President found out that I was Indian-American, he asked me if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren.


LEMON: Now, she was funny. Trump wasn't funny when he went. I don't remember if Ryan was funny. I don't remember. What are your thoughts, Kirsten?

POWERS: Yeah. I mean she was funny. I don't think, you know, she's not a standup comedienne. I think, you know, as you noted earlier, she looked stunning. And you are allowed to say that, Don, you know? You don't have to worry about that. I think she's obviously very charismatic. You can tell me anytime. Yeah, and I think she's -- yeah. She was fine.

LEMON: Yeah, fine, all right. Do you think there's an expiration date on jokes about Warren's DNA test? Do you think we're going to hear Republicans cracking jokes about that for a while now?

BRUNI: I don't think it'll go on for months. But it has a couple more weeks in it. What I thought was so interesting about that, though, was what you said. She took swipes both at Republicans and Democrats.

LEMON: Yeah.

BRUNI: I think that's very considered. Nikki Haley has shown herself to be one of the smoothest, deftest political operators that I have seen in a long time. And she's been performing one of the most fascinating balancing acts in politics over the last two years. And I think that act continued. It was a comedy act. It was also a balancing act.

LEMON: Yeah. I want to play another joke that Haley sounds like she's going to joke about the President but then it takes another turn. Watch this.


HALEY: The President got really mad at Bob Woodward's book, really mad. The book compared him to a fifth grader. A lot of Democrats seized on that. Until they realized they got beat by a fifth grader.


LEMON: So Kirsten, she walks right up to the line, right, but veers away. Is she worried about a headline that might annoy the President?

POWERS: Yeah, yeah, no. I mean that was funny. And I think she has been somebody who has been able to navigate working with Donald Trump. And, you know, a lot of people that sort of -- everything he touches dies doesn't really apply to her, right? She's been able to get in and out of this administration untarnished.

And I would even say, you know, in a better position than she was probably when she went in, at least with experience that she didn't have, which has not been the case for a lot of people who have come out of this administration scathed.

LEMON: Yeah. You mentioned that you think she's one of the deftest political players that you have seen. What do you think about her decision to avoid taking on the President directly, though, Frank?

BRUNI: It continues as tradition. She does not want to be welded to his side, but she realized that the last thing in the world she wants is to be attacked on Twitter by Donald Trump, to have him going after her, because when Donald Trump decides to after you, he goes after you all guns blazing. She's deft. She left this celebration after two years because she realized she needed these two years to punch the foreign policy hole in her ticket, right, to have a better resume for whatever comes next.

But every month you stay in the Donald Trump administration is another month when something terrible can happen. It's another month when your reputation can end up in tatters. So I think she saw two year mark coming in. She said I have done enough time to pad my resume, and I can get out before anything horrible happens to me.

LEMON: Yeah. I just kept thinking it is bad joke. Her new name is most deft, most deft, most deft.

BRUNI: I am putting a T on the end of it.

LEMON: Not Mos Def, but most deft. So I've got to ask you. So after, you know all these jokes about -- that Ambassador Haley made, she made a serious point how Americans need to come together. Here it is.


HALEY: In the last two years, I have seen true evil. We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil. They're just our opponents. We are blessed with a political system that allows us to resolve our differences peacefully. In the end, we must recognize that we are all Americans. And we are stronger and healthier when we are united.


LEMON: Well, what do you think, because I am wondering if that advice is for the President, Kirsten, because he's the one who has called Democrats evil?

[22:54:53] POWERS: Yeah. I don't know. This struck me as sort of the typical political pablum. OK, so maybe there are very few people who are actually pure evil. But there's actually quite a bit of evils that are happening in this country right now, in my opinion. I mean I think racism is evil. I think misogyny is evil. And I am seeing a lot of that in this country.

And I don't think there is anything wrong with saying that. And to sort of say, oh, because we can resolve all our differences without violence, that somehow our differences aren't serious and profound and go well beyond politics, I think it's more about morality and what you think is decent. I just don't think it's an accurate -- I think it might have been accurate at another time in our history. I don't think it's accurate right now.

LEMON: Last word, Frank.

BRUNI: I think Nikki Haley was talking about the tone of so much of our political debate. And in that sense, I appreciate what she said. I think it was meant for the President. But he would have to hear really subtly to hear that. That's not the way he hears.

LEMON: Thank you, both. I appreciate your time. Fareed Zakaria is going to join me next.


LEMON: This is CNN TONIGHT. I am Don Lemon. Pressure building as more and more evidence points to the Saudis involvement in what happened to Jamal Khashoggi.