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President Trump Upset with "Nuts" Democrats; Jeff Bezos Versus National Enquirer; Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D-TX); Matt Whitaker to Testify Tomorrow in Front of House Judiciary Committee; Senator Thomas Norman Pushing Back After Pictures of Blackface Emerge; Jeff Bezos Accusing National Enquirer of Blackmail and Extortion. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 7, 2019 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts right now. I feel like I got to change the toss to you because we keep talking. So when I come to you, it's kind of weird, like I introduced you. It's kind of weird, like I introduced you.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Well, you did introduce me.
CUOMO: And I'm happy to. I love you and you're great.
LEMON: The show actually starts right now, and people -- I love talking to you and people love hearing it, because they know it's authentic. Kind of. It's -- at least my part of it.
CUOMO: You don't -- that hurts. Right in my little heart.
LEMON: No, OK, let's talk about this.
LEMON: Can you imagine, can you imagine if as many people under -- in the entire Obama administration, had been caught lying to prosecutors, going to jail, lying to federal -- to the FBI, so many investigations would not divest of his business, had an affair with a porn star, lied about the payment, can you -- what -- what do you think Republicans would have done?
CUOMO: I don't even want to think about it, because look at what they did when he had none of that stuff. You know what I mean? Look at the amount of heat that President Obama had to take and he was scandal free. So, I don't even --
LEMON: No, no, no, no, he was not scandal free.
CUOMO: What'd they have? LEMON: And I've got to be careful, because I'm wearing a light suit.
He wore that tan suit, remember? And I mean --
CUOMO: That was --
LEMON: Who does that. How dare he?
CUOMO: Now you know what, I can't believe it. That's why I wear a black suit.
CUOMO: I was so messed up by that, I'll never wear a light suit again. I don't know how you do it.
LEMON: I know. I'm surprised he wasn't impeached for that.
CUOMO: I'm sure they were trying. Do you remember that, you know, look, and look, that's the hypocrisy of it?
CUOMO: And for this president, of all people, you know, to say, nobody ever did this to Obama. You did the birther thing. The most bigoted, obvious, expressly ugly type of harassment that could be thought of, that would have never worked on any white man.
CUOMO: And they knew it and he knew it.
LEMON: I'm glad you said it, because if I said that, my gosh, Don Lemon is a racist.
CUOMO: Well, how would it work? How are you going to scare somebody about where a white guy comes from?
CUOMO: Where does he come from that's going to work to engender that kind of fear? France. You know. But the only thing worse than having a black guy in that situation is a black Muslim. That would have been the only thing. When Barack Hussein Obama, when I remember when I heard his full name, I said, wow. This man is truly ambitious.
Because he played to two of the biggest boxes of xenophobia in our country and they went after him on exactly that basis. And he survived, because it was B.S. But why did he have to go through it. And how dare this president say, don't come after me, for these legitimate questions --
CUOMO: -- when he did all of that illegitimate stuff. LEMON: And by the way, I always thought that was odd, that in a
country that is built on religious freedom, and you know, we had the -- remember all the court battles about religious freedom, we've got to protect religious freedom, religious freedom. What if he was Muslim? What's wrong with being Muslim? In a country --
CUOMO: What's wrong with it? Nothing.
CUOMO: What's scary about it? To a lot of people that the president courts --
CUOMO: -- a lot.
CUOMO: I mean, how many times have you heard the president say, Islam hates us.
CUOMO: A billion people. You know, Islam's a problem, Islam's a problem, there's something wrong with those people.
CUOMO: But I've got a lot of friends who are Muslims, he'll say.
LEMON: You know what he did though --
CUOMO: They must be loving that.
LEMON: You know, the first big con, I think, before -- when -- that's how he got into political life was the whole thing about, you know, the former president not being born, being born in Africa.
LEMON: And he would say, I have investigators over there, you won't believe what they're --
CUOMO: The best people.
LEMON: The best people, and they're digging up stuff.
CUOMO: In Hawaii. I have the best people.
LEMON: And all of a sudden, what happened?
CUOMO: I'll tell you what.
LEMON: There's no evidence, nothing happened. He never talked about his investigators.
LEMON: He came up one day --
CUOMO: And I'll you what, if I had to bet money -- if I had to bet money --
LEMON: I almost said something bad. He didn't find any --
CUOMO: If I had to bet money -- not only he obviously didn't find anything.
CUOMO: I don't think he had anyone.
LEMON: Of course not.
CUOMO: I would love to see proof. I would -- I'll tell you what, I'll give you a bunch of time on my show. If you worked for President Trump in Hawaii as an investigator, finding credible pieces of information that fueled the speculation, please contact me. Come on the show, and we'll discuss it, even though it has no business being discussed, because I don't think you exist.
LEMON: Can we do it right here in this whole thing and we both can talk to him because I want to see the evidence.
CUOMO: Yes. We'll do it on your set. It's much nicer.
LEMON: There is a -- yes, I know you're saying that and you're serious, but that is -- that's never going to happen. But I do have to say --
CUOMO: That's what I'm betting on.
LEMON: I do have to say, you know, history is a really, really harsh judge when people do the wrong thing, when people are hypocritical in that way.
[22:04:54] And listen, a lot of folks are hypocritical, but this particular thing with this president and, you know, not divesting of his businesses, lying about the former president, even after he became president, saying, well, you know, President Obama tapped my wires.
None of that is true. And it's just -- I am shocked, I am shocked by people who I thought were really smart, really intelligent people who fall for this or who are the favorite word of the last two years, complicit.
CUOMO: Well, look, you know, one thing that you have to remember is being the president of the United States is a very, very powerful and persuasive position. And when the president of the United States -- I don't care what you lead into the person who's there, when the president of the United States says something, declaratively, people are going to believe it, Don, whether they voted for him or not.
LEMON: Not anymore.
CUOMO: I think, look, I think he's certainly eroded the integrity and the trust of the position, but it's still going to have reach. And that's why we spent so much time checking this.
How often do people say to you, I don't understand why you go after this stuff? Just ignore it. I can't ignore it, because when it goes out there, it takes root with people on the radio show that I do at Sirius, I get calls about this all the time.
Well, you know, look, I mean, everybody knows that the Clintons, that they were really deep in bed with the Russians, too. I had to hear it from a congressman tonight. But you know, they say it and then people believe it. So, you have to check it and we have to do it more now than I've ever had to do --
CUOMO: -- ever covering politics.
LEMON: You can show people evidence; empirical evidence and they still don't believe it. I don't know if it's --
CUOMO: What's the expression? A lie makes it halfway around the world --
LEMON: Before the truth gets out of bed.
CUOMO: That's it. A lie makes it halfway around the world before the truth even gets out of bed.
LEMON: But you are, you are the truth, my friend.
CUOMO: What do you need?
LEMON: That's true.
CUOMO: What do you need?
LEMON: I want you to pay me back.
CUOMO: What's wrong?
LEMON: I want you to pay me the money back that you owe me. That's it.
CUOMO: I've never even seen your wallet. I've seen Tim's wallet, your nephew, but I've never ever seen your wallet.
LEMON: You talking about the Cuomo?
CUOMO: I do have a niece who looks a heck of a lot like.
LEMON: Well, we'll talk about that off line.
CUOMO: Right now, right now my daughter is watching your show and she's going, why does he make fun of Don? Don's so much better looking and better.
LEMON: Because you're jealous. And I got to go.
CUOMO: See you, bud. I'll be watching at home.
LEMON: See you. Thank you. Nice work.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
Man, oh, man, we have a lot of big stories for you tonight. From the many, many investigations, many of them swirling around this president to the Bezos bombshell and what he says was an attempt by the National Enquirer to extort him.
And why Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, the owner of "The Washington Post" believes that the relationship between the Enquirer, the White House, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could be at the root of this story. It's very interesting. So, we've got a lot more on that in just a moment. So, stay tuned.
But if it's true that the Mueller investigation is getting closer to wrapping up and signs seem to be pointing that way, that doesn't mean the president's worries about the investigations are over, far from it. Let me explain. There are so many investigations, so many triggers for a presidential meltdown.
There's the acting Attorney General, Matt Whitaker, now agreeing to testify, agreeing to do it tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee. That is after a back and forth battle with the chairman, Jerry Nadler, who threatened to subpoena Whitaker.
But will the acting A.G. answer questions about his conversations with the president about the Mueller investigation? Stay tuned for that, as well.
Then there is the news that the House intel chairman, Adam Schiff, has hired former National Security Council officials to help with oversight of the Trump White House. That has got the president furious. Blasting Schiff for what he calls stealing people who work at the White House. Not to mention he claims that Democrats are going "nuts, nuts," in
quotes, for no particular reason, and of course, this ever-popular witch hunt refrain.
Schiff needling him with the quote, "If the president is worried about our hiring and any former administration people, maybe he should work on being a better employer." Ouch. And it sure seems like Speaker Nancy Pelosi has got the president's number.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I always think that whatever the president says about us, he's projecting his own unruliness. He's a projector. And that's what it's about. We will not surrender our constitutional responsibility for oversight. That would make us delinquent in our duties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, maybe there should be a trigger warning for the president with all of the investigations swirling around him because he sure sounds triggered.
An hour after his original tirade, a still-steaming Trump tweeted this, "presidential harassment," in all caps, "it should never be allowed to happen again."
[22:10:00] Presidential harassment? OK. So, we talked a bit about this. Let's go there through again, in detail.
This is from a man who literally spent years harassing President Obama with racist, that racist birther lie that he wasn't born in the country. Right? He doesn't work hard, he's always on the golf course. He's on the golf course way more than President Obama, ever, takes more vacations, spent more money with the Secret Service, leading from behind, remember all that?
And there's more. The House Democrats today beginning what promises to be a long, brutal fight to try to get the president's tax returns, a fight that Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi seems ready for.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: I think overwhelmingly, the public wants to see the president's tax returns. And so, they want to know the truth. They want to know the facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, there's also the revelation today, in a court filing in New York that prosecutors are still investigating campaign finance crimes admitted to by Michael Cohen, the president's former keeper of secrets.
And speaking of investigations, there's the biggest bombshell of the night. Turns out the National Enquirer may still be playing dirty tricks on President Trump's enemies, really dirty tricks.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who's become one of the president's favorite targets as the owner of "The Washington Post", is accusing the Enquirer's publisher of trying to extort him with threats to release his intimate photos.
Photos including what's described as Bezos in a below-the-belt selfie, another in a bathroom wearing only a towel. You get the idea. A whole lot of people, maybe most people who knuckle under to the threat of this kind of embarrassment, right, would be embarrassing, but Bezos, what is frankly a boss move, in a boss move that pretty much only the wealthiest man in the entire world could make, publishing threatening e-mails.
He published them, from officials at AMI, the parent company of the Enquirer, publishing them online where anybody can read them in their entirety. Including the description of all of those photos I told you about.
Here's what he said. Bezos saying, "Any personal embarrassment AMI could cause me takes a backseat because there's a much more important matter involved here. If, in my position, I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can?"
Truth. And according to Bezos, there is a Saudi connection here. AMI Chief Executive David Pecker reportedly brought a guest with ties to Saudi royalty to a dinner at the White House in 2017, later publishing a glossy magazine saluting the brutally repressive kingdom.
Bezos writes, "It's unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience Washington Post news coverage will wrongly conclude I am their enemy. President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, the post's essential and unrelenting coverage of its journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles."
All of this after David Pecker made an immunity deal with federal prosecutors in August for providing information about the hush money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign. And let's not forget, there's one very big fan of the Enquirer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've always said, why didn't the National Enquirer get the Pulitzer Prize for Edwards and O.J. Simpson and all of these things?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: All of this is -- I know, right? My guess is right. There's always a tweet and a sound bite --
MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Every sound bite. LEMON: -- for every, everything. All of this is much bigger than the battle between Jeff Bezos and the National Enquirer. The question tonight, is what will it mean for the president?
Lots more on the Bezos bombshell, we're going to dig into it. You've seen him. Frank Bruni is here, Jeffrey Toobin, and Max Boot, next.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our explosive breaking news. Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon and the owner of "The Washington Post" accusing the publisher of the National Enquirer of trying to extort and blackmail him with a threat to publish compromising photos of him.
I want to bring in now Frank Bruni, Jeffrey Toobin, and Max Boot. Max is the author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right." Good evening.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Hi.
LEMON: How are you? You could not -- You can't believe this story, can you?
TOOBIN: You know, I mean, I have -- it's interesting -- Bezos published on Medium.com. It's interesting he didn't publish this in "The Washington Post". He published it on this independent web site and I had to read it a couple of times even to understand what was going on. Because it's complicated.
LEMON: It is complicated.
TOOBIN: Because what happened here, is that "The Washington Post" is investigating how Bezos's photos and texts leaked to the National Enquirer. And the National Enquirer is upset about that and they are saying to Bezos, in your investigation you have to say that we did not act out of political motivation --
LEMON: Political -- right.
TOOBIN: -- or we're going to publish these photos.
LEMON: Yes. Political force. It says, politically -- politically motivated or influence by political force is what it said.
LEMON: So, they're wanting --
TOOBIN: And as far as, you know, certainly base on the history of the National Enquirer in the Trump era that would be a lie if they publish that.
TOOBIN: And "The Washington Post" is going to publish a lie to keep these photographs out of circulation. So, I mean, it's really just astonishing --
TOOBIN: -- that they would even ask for this.
LEMON: And the things that, you know, that the National Enquirer is under investigation for doing and is accused of doing to catch and kill stories and on and on is just rally unbelievable.
[22:19:54] Let's stick to this particular story, though. Because, Frank, Bezos post of the e-mail at AMI, and I read that he, you know, that he said, that he put on there exactly what the photos were, and he described them, unredacted, that the list of lewd photos that they have, right? Nine images in the list.
They say, "A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand while wearing his wedding ring. He's wearing either tight black cargo shorts and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment. Another one, a full-length body selfie of Mr. Bezos wearing just a pair of tight black boxer briefs or trunks with his phone in his left hand while wearing his wedding ring."
FRANK BRUNI, COLUMNIST, ""THE NEW YORK TIMES"": So, we've gone from AMI to TMI.
LEMON: Thank you.
BRUNI: Whoever wrote the -- whoever wrote this, this is clearly a frustrated poet, right?
LEMON: The goal -- the goal, Frank is to --
BRUNI: In other regions, manhood, yes.
LEMON: It's to embarrass --
LEMON: It's to embarrass him. Does this seem like the National Enquirer is going after one of the president's enemies?
BRUNI: Well, I mean, that's the big question. And it's hard not to conclude that when what they want him to do is release a statement saying that it's not politically motivated.
They want him, what are the terms under which they will not publish this information in which they were trying to extort him with is him saying there's no political dimension to this, right?
But I think he's done something interesting by getting out ahead of it. You're reading all of that. We have all of that language courtesy of Jeff Bezos, right? So, the question is now that the shock values is somewhat diminished.
Now that we've been told exactly what these images were looked like, has he lessened the possibility that they put out there. Has he lessened the impact they have?
LEMON: I think he has.
BRUNI: Yes. So, I think that's part of -- this is something else really, really important that they don't want to suicide of.
BRUNI: Which is, he has given has another glimpse of the morals that the lack of morals that the company that our president keeps, right? Even though he and David Pecker are apparently estranged now because of all that happened with federal prosecutors. There's a long, long alliance overtime between AMI, Donald Trump, David Pecker, the National Enquirer. Donald Trump's friends behave this way. These are the kind of tactics --
LEMON: But these are the kind of characters he associates with.
BOOT: And what came to mind for me was in some ways this kind of reminding me of Paul Manafort, who for decades was this influence peddler doing all this kinds of sleazy stuff and it took Donald Trump coming into the White House before Paul Manafort finally got the kind of attention he deserved from criminal prosecutors.
And it seems like the same thing is going on with the National Enquirer, they've been up to these tricks obviously for a long time, and now it's coming out into the open because of their association with the president.
BRUNI: And Donald Trump crowed about his friendship with him and his alliance with him over time even as they were up to all of this stuff.
TOOBIN: And there's a Saudi angle to this as well.
LEMON: That's what I want to talk about. Can I read that part and then we get you to respond to it. OK. So, in the Medium post he mentions the connections between the White House and Saudi Arabia and AMI. He either directly mentions or implies it, OK? And here's the instance.
He says, "Mr. Pecker and his company have also been investigated for various actions they have taken on behalf of the Saudi government and sometimes Mr. Pecker mixes it all together."
And then this is from quote from "The New York Times". OK? "The New York Times" says, "After Mr. Trump became president, he rewarded Mr. Pecker's loyalty with a White House dinner to which the media executive brought a guest with important ties to the royals in Saudi Arabia. At the time, Mr. Pecker was pursuing business there while also hunting for financial -- for financing and acquisitions."
TOOBIN: You know, I've written a lot about David Pecker. I wrote a profile of him in the New Yorker. And he's in the print business. And like a lot of people in the print business, he's been struggling. And he needs money, he needs investors. And where do you go for money and for investors? You go to Saudi Arabia.
So, you have this set of allies, you have the president, you have the Saudi government, and you have Pecker and on the other side, you have Bezos whose newspaper has been totally outspoken in outrage over the murder of their colleague, Khashoggi.
LEMON: Jamal Khashoggi. Right.
TOOBIN: And, you know, that's another sinister aspect to all of this, that AMI and the National Enquirer are carrying water for the Saudi government as well as the White House.
BOOT: Yes. I thought --
LEMON: Let me read this, because I want you to respond. It has to do with what he says. This is what he read -- this is what Bezos wrote about this. He tried to -- he's connecting all of this. Right? This is, Max, this issue with "The Washington Post" I want you to respond. Right.
"It's unavoidable that certain powerful people who experience "The Washington Post" news coverage will wrongfully conclude I am their enemy. President Trump is one of those people, obvious by his many tweets. Also, the Post's essential and unrelenting coverage of the murder of its columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, is undoubtedly unpopular in certain circles." He is connecting all of this.
[22:24:52] BOOT: Right. And we don't know what the details are, and that still remains to emerge. But it's obvious why both the Saudi crowned prince and President Trump would have a vendetta against Jeff Bezos, because they wrongly blame him for the fair and accurate coverage of "The Washington Post" and they don't like what they're reading, which is the truth.
Now what's really nefarious here is not just the Saudi connection, but the way that President Trump is trying to leverage this scandal to attack the independent media. Because remember what he tweeted after the story initially broke in the National Enquirer? He said, hopefully the paper will soon be placed in better and more responsible hands.
This is the M.O. of Putin, this is the M.O. of Erdogan, which is to put so much heat on people they perceive to be hostile media owners that they force them to sell those media organizations into friendly hands, perhaps into the hands of somebody like David Pecker.
I mean, this is why it's so incredibly essential that Adam Schiff yesterday announced there are going to be all of these investigations in the House intelligence committee into looking into president Trump's relationships with these various entities, because we've got to get to the bottom of this.
BRUNI: It's also why it's so important that Bezos has responded the way he did.
BRUNI: You know, not to cave into the demands, but actually go public and say, I won't do this.
LEMON: If in my position, I can't stand up to this kind of extortion, how many people can.
BRUNI: And he has that great phrase, instead, I'm going to turn over the log and see what crawls out. Crawl being a good word in this case.
LEMON: I want you guys to listen to this. This was from former National Enquirer editor Jerry George who brought up the Saudi connection to our Erin Burnett. This is in December of last year. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JERRY GEORGE, FORMER L.A. BUREAU CHIEF, NATIONAL ENQUIRER: Well, you know, American Media put out a Saudi special, a tourism special earlier this year, seemingly out of left field. It was for Walmart. And it was a glossy -- it wasn't the terrain for as usual with the Enquirer.
And then shortly after that, the Enquirer bought up, swallowed up its competitor, Bauer Publications. So, the money came from somewhere. I think it's suspicious and a lot of people do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Why does this connection keep coming up?
TOOBIN: Because pecker needs money and the Saudis have money. And that glossy magazine was really bizarre. I mean, I don't think you have to know a lot about the National Enquirer to know that a glossy magazine about tourism in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi royal family was not exactly in their wheel house.
I mean, this came very much out of the blue. And it suggests an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Saudis, which they would do in return for money. And we'll see if that's what happens.
LEMON: AMI has -- they have an agreement with federal prosecutors, right? TOOBIN: This is another complexity. In connection with the money that
was given to Karen McDougal, the catch and kill money, the $150,000 that the Enquirer paid for her silence. Michael Cohen has pled guilty in connection with this, but the Enquirer and David Pecker, they got a non-prosecution agreement.
However, that agreement requires them no to commit anymore crimes. And there is a real question here. I don't know the answer. I'm just saying, it's a question of whether the behavior here was really extortion and blackmail, in a criminal sense, which could lead both the state of New York and federal prosecutors to tear up that agreement and expose Pecker and the Enquirer to serious liability.
LEMON: We're just getting some information, Jeffrey, coming across the Wired here, since you're our legal expert, asking about your reaction to the piece breaking news tonight. Supreme Court ruling Chief Justice Roberts siding at least for now, five to four with the court's liberals on an abortion question.
TOOBIN: Yes, you know, just to -- in 2016, the Supreme Court said that a requirement in Texas that said doctors have to be -- have to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in order to perform abortions was unconstitutional. That was an undue burden on abortion.
Louisiana passed essentially the identical law and an appeals court -- and the question is, is that law constitutional? Five justices in a preliminary ruling, the four liberals, Sotomayor, Kagan, Ginsburg and Breyer, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, stopped the application of the law for the time being.
Brett Kavanaugh, who, remember, said he had a big, open mind about abortion during the confirmation hearings wrote an opinion saying, no, that law should be allowed to go into effect, joined by Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.
The interesting part of the ruling is that at least for the short- term, Chief Justice Roberts, who has been against abortion rights in the past joined with the more liberal members.
LEMON: Very interesting. That's our final thought there. Thank you. What a -- did you guys ever --
TOOBIN: It's only 10.29.
TOOBIN: There could be lots more news.
LEMON: What -- I said I'm going to start by saying, what in the world is going on? That's all I have to do every night.
BOOT: I feel like we're living in an Allen Drury novel. I mean, it's like, what's going to happen tomorrow?
[22:29:59] BRUNI: The world's richest man just released a long blog post about his genitalia, that's the world we're living in --
BRUNI: Because --
TOOBIN: Excuse me, his man --
BRUNI: I'm sorry, his semi-erect manhood.
LEMON: Manhood. Because someone is accused -- he's accusing someone of trying to extort him.
BRUNI: No, yeah.
LEMON: Because of the president of the United States.
BRUNI: Jacqueline Susann didn't write novels like this.
TOOBIN: It was too low-brow.
LEMON: Or neither did Jackie Collins, may she rest in peace. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.
Tonight, the acting attorney general is confirming that he'll testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is a member of that committee, and she'll tell me what to expect right after this.
LEMON: The Justice Department confirming tonight that acting attorney general Matt Whitaker will testify tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee. He threatened not to appear if the committee subpoenaed him for refusing to answer certain questions. But the committee chairman says a subpoena won't be necessary as long as Whitaker cooperates.
So joining me now is Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat who sits on the committee, always outspoken and we're glad you here. Thank you for joining us.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Thank you for having me.
LEMON: First, I have to get your reaction to this, just really incredible story about Amazon's Jeff Bezos claiming extortion and blackmail for political reasons for the National Enquirer's parent company. Does this seem like the owner, who is David Pecker, is still doing Donald Trump's dirty work?
[22:34:49] JACKSON LEE: I might say that this is probably capital letters on deja vu. I was stunned by the reporting, but obviously this is the same individual who was the -- take care man during the Trump campaign. And that is, of course, for Ms. Dougal (ph), for Stormy Daniels, who innocently thought they were going to have big headlines in the Enquirer. But actually through Michael Cohen's activities, they were going to be snuffed out by the Enquirer and Mr. Pecker.
Here we go again with his acting on behalf as an agent of the administration, an agent of Donald Trump in squashing or intimidating a person who happens to be owner of "The Washington Post", who has been very outspoken, and rightly so on the fact that they lost a resident journalist who lost his life in a vicious way by those from Saudi Arabia.
And here we are with the owner being attacked. For whatever personal reasons it is, I happen to believe that it's a pretty tautly (ph) situation. But why is AMI, and why is Mr. Pecker and the Enquirer, why are they involved in this incident at all.
LEMON: Exactly. Yes.
JACKSON LEE: It's sad. And I guess that's why we in the United States Congress, the House of Representatives for the first time since this administration have done a vigorously investigate things that the American people should know.
LEMON: Let me ask you some questions about that. Let's talk about that and let's talk about the first thing that's going to happen tomorrow. The Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, says he's going to voluntarily testify tomorrow. What happens if he doesn't answer your questions about his communications with the president?
JACKSON LEE: Well, as we indicated, and it should be very clear why we issued the authority to issue a subpoena today. The American people should realize that we wrote letters and we indicated, please let us know if you have executive privilege, concerns, over the thrust or the structure of the question, which obviously is about Mueller's investigations, his appointment, the removal of Sessions and a number of other things.
We said if there is executive privilege that may be claimed, let us know 48 hours before the hearing. We heard nothing. So in order to be the diligent and regular order members of Congress that should be occurring at this time, we had a vote to give the authority to issue a subpoena.
So now, here's where we are. We've asked Mr. Whitaker to come. He has now agreed to come. And our response has been that we will take your refusal to answer some questions on a case-by-case basis, and we will attempt to negotiate right there or we'll negotiate thereafter.
But Don, you should know there has been no oversight over the Justice Department since November 2017. There has been no hearing that had the attorney general of the United States over the most powerful law firm in the nation that happened under Republican leadership. We're just not going to do that. The American people voted a new Congress in, a new House in to give answers, to discern whether or not we are acting in the course of law and in compliance with the law.
LEMON: And elections do have consequences. And I am sure you'll agree with that. I've got to ask you while we're here. We got a short time left and I got two things that I want to ask you. I want to get your take on what's happening in Virginia. Top three officials, all Democrats embroiled in scandal, two over blackface, one accused of sexual assault. Do they all need to go? What's your take on this?
JACKSON LEE: Well, you've heard the rising cry that they all need to go. Right now, they have not gone. And here's what I would say. I think there are two points. I think the obvious has already been said. My point would be can they heal the state. Can they govern the state? What we're seeing is just a series of dominos of blackface, a horrible, horrific, and ugly period in our life. I don't know if many people even understand that.
Is this a teaching moment or a teachable moment? But in the course of a teachable moment, their job and their task is to discern how they can best serve that state. And I hope that they'll make the right decision.
LEMON: And what about the lieutenant governor?
JACKSON LEE: He has indicated his position. Certainly, his accusers indicated hers. I think all respect should be given to her and all respect should be given to how you best resolve this. And I hope they can best resolve it. He needs to make a decision on whether or not he can govern as the attorney general as well.
But all dignity and respect and honor to someone who believes that this has happened should be given.
LEMON: But at this point, you're not calling for him to step down?
JACKSON LEE: I have -- there have been a chorus of those to call for him to step down. I am not from Virginia. What I would simply say is I think the matter has to be resolved and the truth has to come out.
LEMON: OK. I have to ask you about this. Someone that you know, and sadly, the former Congressman, John Dingell, he died at the age of 92, the longest serving member of Congress in history. His wife, Debbie Dingell, is a Congresswoman now. Give me your thoughts tonight?
[22:40:04] JACKSON LEE: I mourn the passing of John Dingell. I had the wonderful privilege of serving with him for a good number of years. That's what seniority and tenure allows. But I what I will say most of all he had the biggest heart. He was engaged in civil rights before it was popular. Even though he came from a northern state, it was very difficult.
He voted for the 1965 Voting Rights Act, 64 Civil Rights Act, but he also was here for Medicare. And his fight and his last great stand was presiding over the final vote on the Affordable Care Act. He fought for Americans to have healthcare. He was part of the designing of Medicaid, which has obviously saved so many lives. So John Dingell was a great American, a great man, and certainly a great congressperson, and a great legacy because his family had been involved in the United States Congress. If I recall correctly, he was actually a page, his father was a member of the United States Congress, and he truly upheld this institution with great love.
We love his wife. She is now a great congresswoman. But John will be missed because he is one of those old warriors, those real fighters, who did not acknowledge any shame for being a great liberal, for wanting more people to be empowered, and entitlements to be fair and just, and to help people in their time of need.
LEMON: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, always a pleasure. Thank you.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you so very much.
LEMON: We'll be right back.
LEMON: Two of Virginia's top three Democrats are embroiled in scandals involving blackface. And now, a Virginia Republican is facing a racist controversy of his own. Virginia Senate Republican Leader Thomas Norman is pushing back after it was revealed that a 1968 college yearbook he edited contains photos of people in blackface as well as racial slurs. He says he's not in any of the photos and he is not quoted as saying anything racist.
In a statement, Norman says this. "The use of blackface is abhorrent in our society and I emphatically condemn it. As one of 7 working on a 359-page yearbook, I cannot endorse or associate myself with every photo, entry, or word on each page."
[22:45:03] This, as Virginia's governor and attorney general are trying to hold on to their jobs, hoping this scandal will pass. And here's the thing, America is not new to scandals about blackface. It's only been a few decades since blackface has come to be seen as socially unacceptable. It has been used to demean and rob black people of dignity, and it's a part of American history. blackface started in the northern United States in the minstrel shows of the mid-19th century.
The white performers darkened their skin with polish and cork, mimicking southern slaves, portraying them as lazy, as ignorant, as prone to crime. You don't need to be an expert to know that those stereotypes haunt black people in America to this very day.
Back in 1830, Thomas Dartmouth Rice developed the first popular blackface character, a happy-go-lucky plantation slave. That character's name was Jim Crow. That name was later used to describe the system of laws that treated African-Americans as second-class citizens all across the south.
And after the civil war, as Jim Crow laws took hold and the KKK used violence to keep African-Americans disenfranchised and in fear, minstrel shows exploded in popularity, even black performers put on blackface. In many cases, it was the only way that they could find work, that they could make money.
America's first feature-length movie, Birth of a Nation, depicted the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and its villains were black men, played by white actors in blackface. Al Jolson put on blackface in America's first film with sound, the Jazz Singer. Actors like Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, all performed in blackface.
But even as America grew more sensitive to what blackface meant and what it meant to African-Americans, people kept using blackface. Remember that Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring, admitted to putting on blackface in 1980. That photo of Governor Northam's yearbook page, right? That was 1984. Actor Ted Danson put on blackface and used the n-word at a Friar's Club roast with his then- girlfriend, Whoopi Goldberg. That was 1993.
The photo of former Florida Secretary of State, Michael Ertel, who apologized and resigned after a photo emerged of him in blackface dressed up like what he thought was a Katrina victim. That was 2005. And fashion house, Gucci, apologizing now for selling a turtleneck sweater that pulls up over the face with oversized lips over the mouth.
Make no mistake. That is blackface. It was pulled from the brand's site yesterday, just yesterday. America's not new to this controversy. But why does it keep happening? A lot to discuss, David Swerdlick, Wes Lowery, here to talk about it. We're going to dig in, next.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: You just heard about the long disgraceful history of blackface in America. But after all this time, why can't we put on end to it?
Let's discuss now, David Swerdlick and Wes Lowery. Gentlemen, good evening, thank you so much. You know the history of blackface shows just how hurtful it is. What will it take for people to get it, David?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think incidents like this are going to get people a little closer to getting it. But I think that even if people stop putting on blackface or if we ever get past this point where people wear blackface with Halloween costumes or at frat parties, what we ultimately have to get to is this idea that some people think it's funny to look at other people as two- dimensional, as second-class citizens, as less worthy of dignity and respect as themselves, which is what allows them to put on blackface and think that it's funny or think that it's somehow appropriate.
LEMON: Yeah. I got to ask you this question -- I had a tip (ph) to one of my friends. I don't want to mention because I didn't ask if I could give her a shout-out on this. But you know, some people say that, you know, it's just all dressing up, costumes. My friend texted me today and said, why are we considered costumes, Don? Can you answer that, Wes? WESLEY LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Of course. I mean, I think that -- and I do think it is truth. There are many Americans who have a genuine ignorance, right? I think that it's one of our major issues nationally is that we have a collective ignorance of our own history. There are folks who do not understand why this is so offensive. They don't necessarily understand the history that's evoking.
But then again, there are many other folks who do understand it, right? When you look at some of those photos, those aren't photos of someone darkening themselves to portray a celebrity. In the case of the Ralph Northam photo, that was a black man next to a member of the Klan. They were mocking potentially a lynching, right?
And so I do think that we have a real collective, both amnesia, but also a desire to not tell ourselves the truth about our own history, and an insensitivity, an ignorance and insensitivity to the perils and the stereotypes that have been layered on so many of us.
LEMON: Yeah. You know this was a little surprising because the former FBI Director, James Comey, wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post" about blackface. And he says blackface and our elected leaders' involvement with it is an important subject and our country must confront that part of our racist past. Those who did it or lied about it shouldn't hold office. Past actions matter. But our president -- our president is filled with gigantic bronze embodiments of that same racism.
He goes on to say that Virginia lawmakers should remove confederate statues that still stand today. What do you think, David?
[22:55:02] SWERDLICK: So, it was a strong op-ed. It was written almost like someone who was thinking about running for governor or senator, quite frankly. And I think he made a strong case against blackface, against racism, both personal and institutional, and also against monuments.
What it underscored for me, in addition to learning a little bit of history, was that part of what we faced the last few days with the elected leaders in Virginia is, is that even if personally they've changed or they say they've changed or they've apologized or moved on, it's when you have things like confederate statues that are at issue in Virginia's cities and towns. How can these elected leaders be seen as neutral brokers to resolve these issues, to lead people through resolving these issues, when they have this in their past?
LEMON: Yeah. I wish I had more time. Wes, I wanted to get you in. But one thing I think we'll agree on is this isn't the last time that we'll be talking about it. Thank you, gentlemen, I appreciate you coming on. We'll have you both back.
LOWERY: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: We have got more coming up on our bombshell breaking news tonight, Jeff Bezos accusing the National Enquirer's publisher of blackmail and extortion. I am going to ask the Enquirer's former LA Bureau Chief what he thinks of all of this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)