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Former Acting A.G. Denies SDNY Conversations with the President; President Trump Admits to Nothing; Donald Trump Asking Whitaker to Put a Trump Supporter in Charge of the SDNY Investigation; Interview with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Former Head of FBI Saying Trump Could be a Russian Asset. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You get those answers. Assuming the president new pal in the DOJ will allow you to learn the answers and many other questions will be will be answered as well.

That's all for us. Thanks for watching. Let's get right to "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Can you explain to me, what does lasagna of lies mean?

CUOMO: When you make a lasagna --


LEMON: you throw everything in it?

CUOMO: -- you start with one layer of pasta.


CUOMO: Then you have the meat, then you have ricotta, then you have some more cheese, then you have some sauce, and then there's another layer of pasta, and then there's more meat, and then there's more ricotta, and then some more cheese and then you have some more sauce. And you build it more and more and more. And that is the lasagna of lies that we are dealing with on this probe. Do you understand?

LEMON: Everybody --


CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I want some matzo balls, but you go ahead.

LEMON: Carl Bernstein is saying, it's like a matzo ball of lies. It's all -- what say you when --


CUOMO: It's a gulag of lies. JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I like Chinese food.

LEMON: I say from the south, Chris, it's a gumbo of lies.

CUOMO: It's a gumbo.

LEMON: It's a jumbo -- no, it's a jambalaya of lies.

CUOMO: L-i-e, dash a. Don has got the vapors.

LEMON: I do have the vapors tonight. It is funny. So, let's talk about this. There is this bombshell report. And I think you are -- you're on to something. Why, then, why keep going back at it? Why keep going back at it.

If there is absolutely nothing there in terms of collusion and in terms of obstruction in terms of -- let's just say, any impropriety.

CUOMO: Right. Look, I mean, --


LEMON: Why take so much action?

CUOMO: And Jeffrey and Carl are the perfect guests to talk about this with. But they're going to rely as a political defense on the two C's, credibility and criminality. They're going to say, you can't believe any of these other people.

And I think they're hurt doing that with this particular president. I think it's going to be hard to show that he's more credible than other people who are going to come up in the mix. And the second one is going to be, but none of it is a crime.


CUOMO: There are no crimes.

LEMON: I don't disagree with that.

CUOMO: But I don't know that that's going to be enough --


CUOMO: -- for political analysis because a felony is not the level of acceptable political behavior. Anything that's not a felony is fine. I don't buy that.

LEMON: Well, I just remember you were on the morning and you would say at night, I think that people expect on either end of the spectrum too much from this will Mueller report, right?

CUOMO: Yes, I do.

LEMON: They expect too much. One group thinks that the president is going to be led out of the White House in handcuffs and is going to end up in an orange jumpsuit and the other says, it's going to be all roses and flowers and, you know, everything is going to smell like Glade air freshener and it's going to be great.

And everyone, it's going to be none of that. It's going to be somewhere in the middle and people should just brace themselves. If you love him, vote for him in 2020. If you don't like him, vote him out in 2020 and then there that he's gone and he'll have to deal with the rest. Do you think I'm wrong on that?

CUOMO: I don't. Look, I mean, we could both be wrong. There could be some real earth-shattering things. I just don't know why Mueller wouldn't have acted on them before now. Maybe there will be another wave of action by him. You know, we keep hearing these whispers, that it's closer to the end than the beginning.

But, so, putting aside that surprise, I think that you don't have a massive prosecution of the president coming up here. I don't even know if it's possible. But that doesn't mean that this could not be crippling to him politically.

LEMON: Agreed. Identify I've got to run, but I think --


CUOMO: Yes, you've got better guests. Don't waste your time on me.

LEMON: No, no, I'm not. But I'm just saying I think you're right when you said, you know, when you talk to Kellyanne, you said, listen to credibility and trying to call people liars. That is not a good option for you to say.

CUOMO: You know what? I'd love your guys take on if you want to work into a conservation tonight. I was shocked that Kellyanne said at the end, I don't know that we're going to see a report, I don't know. I don't know.


CUOMO: She wasn't exactly right in terms of her analysis of why there's one not required, but that's a very frightening proposition.


CUOMO: We're going to be in a real jam, my friend --


CUOMO: -- if we don't get what happened in that Mueller probe. That will not be good for this country.

LEMON: You've got to watch more. We talk about that.

CUOMO: I'm just -- he just said it. I watch you too much.


LEMON: Thanks, Chris. I'll see you soon. Got lot to get to. See you tomorrow night.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Thank you so much for tuning in. Here is our big story tonight. We have new revelations about the lengths President Trump reportedly went to, trying to stop one of the investigations threatening his presidency.

Here's what "The New York Times" is reporting, that he called then- Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, the man he hand-picked for the job, by the way, the man whose main qualifications seemed to be his criticism of the Mueller investigation.

He called Whitaker late last year to ask whether a Trump supporter could take charge of the Michael Cohen investigation in the Southern District of New York. The president denies it.


[22:05:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation into your former personal attorney, Michael Cohen?



LEMON: Took him a minute to answer, didn't it? So, let's face it. It's no coincidence that the president reportedly wanted to try to put Geoffrey Berman in charge of the Southern District of New York, of the investigation of hush money payments during the campaign.

Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, had recused himself, which was the right thing to do. Why? Because Berman contributed to Trump's campaign. He served on the transition team. And he is a former partner of Rudy Giuliani, all good reasons to recuse himself.

But essentially, the president wanted Berman to un-recuse himself. And we know how he feels about recusals. Ask former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he'll tell you. Where is he now? So, while the president was saying this in public --


TRUMP: It's a total witch hunt. I've been saying it for a long time. It's a witch hunt. That's all it is.

Witch hunt. Witch hunt. Witch hunt. Witch hunt.

So far, this thing has been a total witch hunt. And it doesn't implicate me in any way.


LEMON: So, he's saying that in public and the Times reports that behind closed doors, he was trying to take action to tamp down the investigations. Whitaker, in his testimony before Congress earlier this month, said this.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: At no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation.


LEMON: Excuse me. He said he never provided any promises or commitments, which leaves a whole lot of gray area for having conversations with the president. Whitaker then went to -- went on to dance around questions about the content of those conversations.


REP. VAL DEMINGS (D), FLORIDA: Mr. Lieu asked you if you ever communicated with President Trump about investigations in the Southern District of New York. Instead of answering, you referred him back to your statement. Referred him back to what was written for you.

But all you said is that you didn't -- in your statement, that you didn't make any promises or commitments to President Trump. I want to know whether you talked to President Trump at all about the Southern District of New York's case involving Michael Cohen.

WHITAKER: Congresswoman, as I've mentioned several times today, I am not going to discuss my private conversations with the president of the United States.


LEMON: Dancing around the questions. Hat tip to CNN Legal Analyst, Elie Honig, who points out that three of this president's key -- three of this president's key picks -- think about this -- William Barr for Attorney General, Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and Matthew Whitaker for acting A.G. Why were they chosen?

They were all chosen after they argued against investigations of the president. Sure, Matt Whitaker claimed that he didn't talk to anyone in the White House about the Mueller investigation.


WHITAKER: Congresswoman, just to be clear, you're asking me whether or not I talked with anybody essentially in the president's circle or at the White House about my views of the special counsel's investigations?


WHITAKER: When I was a private citizen and not at the Department of Justice? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Correct.

WHITAKER: No, I did not.


LEMON: OK, look, I have pointed this out before, if you watch this show. And I think it's -- it bears repeating, so pay close attention.

Whitaker didn't have to talk to the president about Mueller, at least not in person or on the phone or whatever. You know how he got his messages across? Right here on the live TV. Right here on this show.


WHITAKER: I can see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces a budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.


LEMON: That was July 2017. Just two months later, Whitaker was named chief of staff to then-A.G. Jeff Sessions, later taking on the job of acting A.G. when Sessions was fired by the president. So, it sure sounds like the president got the message.

And then there's Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote in 2009, "We should not burden a sitting president with civil suits, criminal investigations, or criminal prosecutions."

And don't forget William Barr, wrote a lengthy memo arguing against prosecuting the president for obstruction of justice, which sure didn't hurt his chances of getting the job of attorney general.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Some have said on both sides of the aisle that it looked like a job application, so that's what I want you to refer to.

[22:10:05] WILLIAM BARR, THEN-U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: That's ludicrous. If I wanted the job and was going after the job, there are many more direct ways of me bringing myself to the president's attention than writing an 18-page legal memorandum.


LEMON: It kind of, worked, though. Barr is now attorney general. Just the way the president wanted it. So here is the question tonight.

If you had nothing to hide, would you try to put an ally in charge of the investigation of your former fixer and keeper of secrets? If you had nothing to hide, would you stack the deck of the Justice Department and the Supreme Court with people who had argued against investigating you? Would you do all of it if you had nothing to hide? Now, the question is, what is the president hiding? What is he trying

to hide? This exchange from Anderson Cooper's interview with Andrew McCabe might make you wonder.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation and I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.


LEMON: Let's talk about it. Carl Bernstein is here, Jeffrey Toobin, Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" joins us too, next.


LEMON: So tonight, in an extraordinary interview, the former acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, telling Anderson Cooper, it's possible that President Trump is a Russian asset.

[22:15:01] I want to talk about this now with Carl Bernstein, Jeffrey Toobin, and joining us by phone now is Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times". Good evening, everyone.

This is extraordinary, Jeff. The acting director, former director of -- Andrew McCabe, just spoke to Anderson. Let's play it and then I'm going to get your response. Here it is.


COOPER: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible. I think that's why we started our investigation and I'm really anxious to see where Director Mueller concludes that.


LEMON: So, I mean, we're talking about a sitting president of the United States. If there's any thought or anything that this president is a Russian asset, why wait for a Mueller report?

TOOBIN: Well, he did what he could. I mean, McCabe started this investigation and remember, when he started this investigation, Michael Cohen had not yet talked about the fact that he was negotiating with the Russians during the campaign over Trump Tower Moscow at the same time he was praising -- the candidate was praising Vladimir Putin.

I mean, the argument that -- or the possibility that the president -- the president was a Russian asset has only gotten greater in recent -- over the past two years, than when -- than when McCabe first made that -- opened that investigation, which is even more chilling, when you think about it.

LEMON: Yes, before we move on to Maggie's reporting, Carl, I want to get your reaction to what McCabe is saying. Because Kellyanne Conway responded, telling Chris Cuomo that McCabe is a known liar. But the president's actions over the last two years --

BERNSTEIN: Let's take -- you've got three things going at once. First of all, Kellyanne Conway talking about a known liar is its own dynamic. And what McCabe lied about was talking to the press. An FBI person talking to the press in a way, incidentally, that damaged Hillary Clinton and helped Donald Trump.

So -- and I'm going to be the last person here to denigrate FBI people, given my experience with deep throat, et cetera, for talking to people in the press.


BERNSTEIN: But more important, this extraordinary thing that McCabe said tonight on the air, he's not the only one at the highest levels of intelligence and counterintelligence in this country to have said it.

John Brennan, the former CIA director, has also said it.

LEMON: Right.

BERNSTEIN: Director Clapper has also indicated in same direction. The real question, and we can see certainly that the president's actions as a candidate and as president indicate that he has enabled himself one way or another to be manipulated by the Russians and by Putin.

Whether that is witting, half-witting, or unwitting, we don't know. But his actions would indicate that his conduct, it's one of the reasons that Mattis decided that the President of the United States is a danger to the national security of the United States.

That McMaster decided the President of the United States is a danger to the national security of the United States. All of this is a matrix that tells us how extraordinary this is, both in regard to the competence of the President of the United States and to whether he's capable of serving in such a way as to represent the real interests of the United States of America.

LEMON: Maggie, I want to turn to your reporting now. I've been reading it and it's really unbelievable. The president calls his acting A.G., Matthew Whitaker, back in November to request the Southern District of New York attorney and Trump ally Geoffrey Berman to really un-recuse himself from the Michael Cohen investigation.

It's another example of the president attempting to get a perceived loyalist in charge of an investigation that involves himself. Walk us through what happened.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. And that's exactly right, Don. I mean, this is part of a pattern that we saw, you know, certainly in 2017, where he tried repeatedly to have Jeff Sessions un-recuse from the Russia probe, and the probe into possible campaign collusion with Russian officials.

So, as we understand it, and according to multiple people (Inaudible) around the time that Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, and remember what he lied to Congress about was the duration of time that the Trump Tower Moscow project was going on. He initially suggested that it ended in January. In his courtroom statements, he said it went to June.

Around this time, the president asked Whitaker if it was possible for Geoff Berman, who is the prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, to un-recuse from the case. Berman had recused because of some, I think, some matter involving his former law firm and this was decided by DOJ ethics officials.

As far as we know it's not clear what Whitaker did after that, but certainly Geoff Berman did not get in charge of that case again, so it did not clear that Whitaker did a whole lot.

[22:20:01] But again, even the fact of asking fits a pattern that we have seen with the president over and over. His lawyers would say, look, he's allowed to ask questions. That's what he's entitled to do. He's entitled to, you know, to raise questions sort of in defense of himself, as long as it doesn't cross a different line. Other people may have a different interpretation of it.

LEMON: So, listen, CNN previously reported that the president expressed anger to Whitaker about the Cohen investigation. Why did the president ultimately sour on Whitaker?

HABERMAN: So, the president ultimately -- everybody starts out at a certain (Inaudible)when the president first appoints them to something and you can only go downhill from there, particularly if he doesn't see you on television.

He became frustrated. I don't think that he has turned on Whitaker. Whitaker is allowed to remain at DOJ right now, I'm not sure how long he'll be there, but he is still working there despite not being the acting attorney general anymore.

But it became clear that Whitaker was not getting done what he hoped he could get done, and we had heard from multiple people around the president that they had believed there was more he could have been doing to try to keep the southern district in line.

The Southern District of New York is known as the sovereign district of New York, because it is fiercely independent, historically from the DOJ. And we're seeing that again now. Again, we have all said this many, many times, that the Southern District of New York investigation poses a far greater threat to the president than the Mueller probe does.

LEMON: Yes. You believe that too, Jeffrey?

TOOBIN: I'm not sure. I think the Mueller probe presents a great threat, too. But I think Maggie's extraordinary reporting does establish that the president is very concerned about the southern district probe and went to the -- you know, incredibly inappropriate step of asking -- of asking Whitaker to change the leadership of that probe. Whitaker, whether out of morality or practicality or for whatever reason, didn't apparently -- clearly, going to do that.


LEMON: I was just going to say, so it's not exactly clear what he did. But here's the quote. He said, but he does tell associates that prosecutors in New York needed, quote, "adult supervision." It's not exactly legalese. What does that mean?

TOOBIN: You know, I'm not entirely sure what it means. I think he was trying to mollify the president and say, well, we need to -- we need to stay on top of things without actually telling him that he was changing leadership. Is that right, Maggie? What does that phrase mean to you?


TOOBIN: I was a little puzzled by that.

HABERMAN: No, that's exactly what it meant to me. I think it was basically having other conversations with other officials at DOJ. I think there was frustration that the southern district were doing things that were beyond DOJ's control.

And I think part of this as Jeffrey correctly said was about appeasing a deeply frustrated and often mercurial president who was, as Jeffrey also said, very animated by this probe in the southern district, which, remember, is the one that is threatening to go into his business, into his company, it's now into the inaugural committee.

They are -- his lawyer has basically gone to war, Rudy Giuliani, with the Southern District of New York, an office Giuliani used to lead. So, he knows very well how prosecutors take it when they get essentially the stakes raised as the president's lawyers have done.

I think that there is a desire by SDNY to run a fine-toothed comb for everything Trump related and the chances that you find something are relatively high.

LEMON: Go ahead, Carl.

HABERMAN: Well, it's a terrific story that the Times and Maggie have done, from two points. One, it's a wide-angle lens story in which the Times has pulled out, pulled back and looked at the landscape of the last couple of years.

At one overt and covert suggestion and attempt at obstruction by the President of the United States. And then it leads with this most recent rather astonishing heavy, ham-handed attempt to manipulate again the investigation.

I think we need to start looking, though, at well, what is the effect of this in terms of where are we going? Because Donald Trump does not fear impeachment. He has told people, impeachment might work to his favor, actually, because, unless the Senate of the United States is willing to convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors, as it was in the case of Richard Nixon willing to convict, he can continue to lay this on Democrats, lay it on the press, lay it on fake news.

And he's having considerable success in doing it. The fact that 35, 40 percent of the country consistently has gone with him and the Republican Party in Washington has not turned against his obvious obstructionism, demeaning of a legitimate investigation, tells us an awful lot about what's happening here, and his rallies.

[22:25:08] His rallies in which he is calling the press, you know, enemy of the people, in which he is inciting his people to go after those who are conducting these investigations as illegitimate, that we really have a situation in which we're dealing with a demagogue.


HABERMAN: And we've never had a demagogue-in-chief before.

LEMON: I've got to tell you, though, all good things come to an end, and sometimes it's just term limits. But all of that goodwill, that will come to an end, trust me. I'm older than you, I know more.


LEMON: We'll be right back. We're going to keep discussing with this group. Don't go anywhere.


LEMON: We're back now with Carl Bernstein, Jeffrey Toobin and Maggie Haberman. Let's continue our conversation now. Maggie, I'm going to go to you first.

Talk to me about this. President Trump has asked his advisers whether Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein was intentionally misleading the president, about what?

HABERMAN: The president has told advisers that Rod Rosenstein had told him that the SDNY investigation in terms of Cohen had nothing to do with the president.

Now, whether that was true, whether Rod Rosenstein thought that was true, initially, it strained credulity a bit, because, you know, things related to the payoff involving women connected to President Trump were mentioned in the search warrant of Michael Cohen's home and office and hotel room but maybe it changed, maybe that was true at the time.

[22:30:05] But regardless, that was something that the president -- in the president's mind and he has mentioned it to advisors on multiple occasions.

It's funny when -- the times I did an interview with the president a couple weeks ago and I asked him something. I don't remember what my exact question was, but he said, "Rod told me I am not a target of the Mueller probe." And then I asked him about the SDNY probe that he was sure about that. I think actually was getting at that point (ph). I don't think he has been told that he wasn't a target of Mueller. I do think that he had some indication from Rosenstein early on that the Cohen probe had nothing to do with him. The president took that to heart.

LEMON: Jeffrey, Attorney General William Barr was confirmed just last week. Do you think that he looks into this, the actions that the president was taking?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: No. I don't think he's going to get involved in this. I think he feel like -- and I think correctly this -- as Maggie pointed out, when you asked her earlier that -- what makes this story so significant is that it's a pattern. It's this constant effort to obstruct the Mueller investigation. Now, it appears also to obstruct the Southern District investigation.

But all of that is under the purview of Mueller. I mean Mueller is investigating obstruction of justice. And I think Barr correctly will leave this whole issue to Mueller, to reach the conclusions that he reaches. But I don't think he's going to get within 10 miles of it, until he gets the report, which you will have to decide what to do with.

LEMON: So let's talk about all of these things. Because you've got, you know, you've got the Southern District, you've got Mueller, and you've got Michael Cohen. Why do you think he's so upset about Michael Cohen with the special counsel, with the SDNY, with the attorney general? Why is he so upset about that?

TOOBIN: Because he's got something to hide. I mean because he's being investigated for things he doesn't want investigated. I mean that seems pretty self-evident to me.


LEMON: Because we were saying, what is potentially more harmful to the president?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think you can say that one is more harmful than another. He is enveloped --


BERNSTEIN: He is enveloped by investigation. But certainly, the special prosecutor in the Southern District together, are going at both financial and the Russian "collusion" aspect of this, as well as it involves his businesses in Russia. That is a big problem for this president of the United States. Because among other things, he's got extraordinary conflicts of interest in Russia, with Russians, that make subject to possible manipulation by Russians who -- or Putin.

And that's part of the story that we're going to find out about -- or we'll be told no, there's nothing there. LEMON: When I got the -- you know, the hat tip I said in the open to

Elie -- CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig, who pointed out that the last three of this president's key picks, William Barr as a Attorney General, Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court, and Matthew Whitaker for A.G. all were chosen because they issued -- because they gave arguments against an investigation.

TOOBIN: It is an interesting observation. Brett Kavanaugh, it was a law review article, so it was a little more abstract. But it was about, you know, how negative investigations can be on the ability of a president to do his job. But, you know, as you showed on the air, the only reason that Whitaker was hired by the administration was because he was on our air. He was a contributor here attacking Mueller.

LEMON: And the person who was on air with him that night said in the green room that he told him the whole plan was to come on air to talk to him, according to the person who was...


BERNSTEIN: Well, Whitaker is an extraordinarily unfit person to be attorney general or the acting attorney general of the United States. Barr, who's been criticized by a lot of Democrats and some expectation that they have that somehow he's going to bite the bullet for Trump. You know I've followed him for a long time. I have trouble believing that in the last public act of his life, that he's going to take one for the president who's involved in this stuff.

That rather, it's in his interests to see that the truth comes out here. And I would be very surprised if he doesn't allow that to happen.

LEMON: Maggie Haberman, I am sure, you know, I am guessing that there's no surprise to you that the president denied your report?

HABERMAN: Well, it's funny. Look at the two statements that were issued. I just want to point out that we went to the White House several days ago, and asked for repeated efforts to get comment, they decided not to comment, as they often do after being told the significant pieces are reported in it. And then they choose not to engage then (ph) the president's comments after.

[22:34:54] This is something that they do a lot in order to frame it that they're hearing for the first time. But it was interesting, the president denied it, but his initial denial was, no, you know, I don't know who told you that, which is essentially -- I mean, it literally was a version of that's not true. You know, where'd you hear it?

And then he called it fake news, which is what he does everything. I think he said, no, I didn't. And that was the end of it. He did not get into this in depth. The denial from the DOJ, which I think was a denial from Whitaker himself, did not say they didn't have conversations. He said that there were no promises or concessions made or something to that effect about the investigation. But it did not say that they did not discuss this. And so I think

that we've seen the president deny things that were true far more vociferously than he did this. You know people can make of that what they will, but we will stand by the reporting, regardless.

LEMON: Maggie, I appreciate it. Thank you very much. Thank you, Carl. Thank you, Jeffrey. It's a lot. Jeffrey, before we go, how many more bombshell reports do we need like Maggie's? Because every week, there's a bombshell report.

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I mean in a curious way, it almost helps the president that there are so many bad stories that come out about him. It's very hard to keep up with them. I do this for a living and I have a hard time keeping up.

LEMON: People get lost at how unprecedented this is and how beyond the norms of just not even normal politics.

TOOBIN: That's not to discourage this great reporting by "The New York Times", but it is hard to absorb it all.

LEMON: Yeah. Thank you all. I appreciate it. Matthew Whitaker's testimony to the House Judiciary Committee is under even more scrutiny tonight after the bombshell New York Times report. A member of that committee is here, Congressman Eric Swalwell is next.


LEMON: The report that President Trump asked Matthew Whitaker if he could put a Trump supporter in charge of the SDNY investigation has a lot of Democrats demanding to know whether Whitaker told the truth in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman Eric Swalwell is on the committee and he joins me now, so good to have you here.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Yeah, Don. Thank you very much.

LEMON: What do you think of this New York Times report?

SWALWELL: Well, I never thought the acting attorney general was worthy of being taken at his word and that we should test his accounts, you know, that he gave us, because it was contradicted by "The New York Times" and other press reporting. And now, this story today shows that we need to get him back in. We probably need to hear from other witnesses and subpoena other documents.

LEMON: If these allegations are true, is that obstruction?

SWALWELL: Oh, I mean gee. Obstruction was like, you know, 10 exits ago with, you know, most of these characters. Yeah, I mean it's really -- what can we do to intervene and make sure that, you know, the rule of law, which is the long pole in our tent of democracy still stands. I mean at this point, Don, like, we have to just make sure that rule of law is standing, and how do you interdict LEMON: So let me ask you. Do you have -- do you believe or do you

have evidence that Whitaker shared information with the Mueller investigation with the president?

SWALWELL: No. But we asked him, you know, had he done that, and he said no. But there were other instances where it didn't appear that he was very truthful with us. So that's why I think bringing him in under oath. This was a voluntary interview. Bringing him in, you know, under oath, under subpoena, and then being able to, you know, confront him. And as he tries to say, oh, I can't answer this because of executive privilege.

Well, then we need to start pressing those privileges and maybe it will have to be litigated. But we shouldn't -- if we don't bring him back, I think the administration will just try and steamroll us through the rest of the two years on other witnesses we need to hear from.

LEMON: You're not saying perjury, right? Do you think he perjured himself?

SWALWELL: Well, I am not taking him at his word, I am not. Because there are still too many lingering questions, and his account is contradicted by press reporting.

LEMON: And you want him to come back.


LEMON: You want him to come back. OK, so you're on the House Judiciary Committee. He testified earlier in the month, very contentious. Some of it right here.


REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Did the president lash out at you after Michael Cohen's guilty plea for lying to Congress about a Trump organization project to build a tower in Moscow?

MATTHEW WHITAKER, THEN ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The president specifically tweeted that he had not lashed out.

CICILLINE: Do you -- I am asking you, Mr. Whitaker. Did the president lash out at you? Not asking what he tweeted. I don't have a lot of confidence in the voracity of his tweets. I am asking you under oath.

WHITAKER: Congressman, that is based on an unsubstantiated --

CICILLINE: Sir, answer the question, yes or no. Did the president lash out to you about Mr. Cohen's guilty plea?

WHITAKER: No, he did not --

CICILLINE: Have you spoken to the president, Mr. Whitaker, about the Mueller investigation? WHITAKER: Congressman, as I have previously testified, I had -- did

not talk to the president about the Mueller investigation.

CICILLINE: Have you ever spoken to the president or parts of his legal team about information that you've learned in your capacity as acting attorney general related to the Mueller investigation or any other criminal investigation involving the president?

WHITAKER: Congressman, while I have specifically been saying that I am not going to comment about my conversations with the president or his senior staff, I have been also been very clear that the president has not instructed me to do anything --

CICILLINE: So that wasn't my question. My question was have you had conversations about what you learned? That's a yes or a no.


LEMON: All of that -- by the way, all of this stems from CNN -- this explosive reporting that we got, that he lashed out after these revelations from Michael Cohen. Watching that now, what do you think?

SWALWELL: Well, again, we're not asking these questions because of palace intrigue. I mean, of course, we expect that there's going to be discord in any office. We're asking that question, because if the president lashed out after Michael Cohen is arrested and he's trying to put in a different investigator to oversee that investigation, he's abusing his power.

[22:44:53] So, you know, we have to make sure that, you know, the people know the stakes here, that this isn't just some interest in a fight between two people. But what "The New York Times" reporting shows, with multiple witnesses now and the McCabe book out, from McCabe to Comey to Cohen, it doesn't matter what the vantage point is.

When you look at the scene of this crime, it's pretty clear that the president is an obstructer. He's someone who tampers with witnesses. He's someone who's not honest with the American people. It doesn't matter who the perspective comes from, they all tell the same thing.

LEMON: Why not just answer yes or no? Why not just say no, he didn't.

SWALWELL: Someone who had nothing to hide would say no, or it would ring of truth if it didn't happen. He would say, no. That wasn't --

LEMON: No, that never happened. According to a justice official, Whitaker, his new role is he is in the associate attorney general's office at the Justice Department.

SWALWELL: Sounds like a no-show job, right?

LEMON: I don't know what it is, but what kind of role do you think he will play there?

SWALWELL: Well, he's not immune from congressional subpoenas. So we're going to hear from him. It doesn't matter what he does. He's not escaping responsibility on this.

LEMON: Yeah. Not -- when -- are you going to decide anything?

SWALWELL: Well, Don, I was just in Iowa before we went on air. You were giving me grief about my shoe game, because I didn't wear snow boots, and they're all messed up. I feel like I let you down tonight.

LEMON: OK. That means you're not going to answer?

SWALWELL: Yeah, not going to answer.

LEMON: Thank you, Congressman. The big question tonight is do the president's actions rise to the level of impeachment. Someone who knows a lot about that is here next to discuss. John Dean weighs in next.


LEMON: So the president did ask Matthew Whitaker if he could put a Trump supporter in charge of the SDNY investigation. Is that an impeachable offense? President Richard Nixon faced impeachment for obstructing and impeding the investigation into the Watergate break in, but he resigned before there was a trial. And my next guest saw it all up close and personal.

John Dean joins me now, John, good evening to you. Thank you so much for joining us. Do you see Nixon Watergate comparisons in what the president was reportedly trying to do here?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Everyday, I see comparisons. These are presidents that are not -- have no real hesitation whatsoever -- excuse me -- of abusing their powers and using their powers in an abusive way. And that's what we're seeing with Trump.

He -- the difference is Nixon understood how the machinery of government works. He understood the presidency. Donald Trump really doesn't. He's sort of learning as he goes along. And I just think he's going to get more dangerous as he proceeds.

LEMON: So, you have Flynn (ph), the Russia investigation and now seemingly trying to influence the SDNY Michael Cohen probe. Are we beyond Watergate territory right now?

DEAN: We are beyond Watergate because of what's at stake here. Richard Nixon was never suspected as somebody who might be an agent of the Russians or the Chinese or anybody else. Nixon was clearly anti- communist. That's the reason he could go to China when nobody else could without severe criticism. And he was always considered a patriot.

So his problem wasn't that he was in anyway suspect of being a Manchurian candidate. He was anything but that, while this president certainly is suspected of that.

LEMON: When president asks his then acting A.G. whether U.S. attorney and Trump supporter Geoffrey Berman, someone he appointed, could unrecuse himself from an investigation that involves the president. Again, that's according to "The New York Times". Is that obstruction?

DEAN: It's -- you know the obstruction law itself, the federal statute, the criminal statute is very broad. It deals with endeavors, even having the intent to do it. When you get in the area of impeachment, it's just what is politically considered obstruction. So there's a big difference. And Nixon did lots of things that tried to impede investigations.

That Trump is nudging into that area when he's calling the Southern District as saying, hey, can't we get our right man in charge here.

LEMON: Can you think of any reason, any benign reason why the president would want Geoffrey Berman to be in charge of the Cohen investigation after he already recused himself?

DEAN: Well, the obvious answer is he had personally interviewed Berman. He's one of Rudy's law partners. He is well-respected as a prosecutor. But apparently, Trump has the feeling that those who are loyal to him may not even have to be told what to do but will do the right thing, like Whitaker -- as evidenced, you know, somebody who's ready to jump on a grenade for the president. And I don't think the president told him that, but he just understood that was his job.

LEMON: Do you know any examples -- can you give me or give the audience any examples where an official who's already recused himself from an investigation decides to -- I am going to change my mind. I am going to reverse that and now I want to be part of that investigation?

DEAN: I can't, at the prosecutorial level. I have in the back of my head that that's happened at the Supreme Court, where somebody is unrecused after being recused. But it is very rare. It is not the norm. And there are reasons that people recuse themselves. There are conflicts or personal involvement. They can't be dispassionate in dispensing justice. And to unrecuse somebody, even to ask them, could be considered an endeavor to obstruct justice in the broader sense of the word.

[22:54:49] LEMON: So how is the pattern of trying to interfere considered, because this is not an isolated incident. President Trump wanted Sessions to unrecuse himself, too, remember?

DEAN: That's exactly right. And very specifically, on the Russia investigation, as anything that seems to be targeting Trump. He wants to be sure that he has somebody that he thinks will be disposed favorably towards him running that investigation. But Don, that's not going to work, because the rank and file people in the Department of Justice, in the U.S. attorneys offices, they're going to balk if they see a corrupted investigation being stamped down from the top.

You know, that's a very -- you know they'll only take so much. And if they see misconduct, they're going to speak out. There are going to be a lot of whistleblowers if this stuff starts happening.

LEMON: Hey, John, I have got 10 seconds left. Why do you say that Roger Stone should be in jail? DEAN: Because he violated his bail. And he made a threatening charge

against the judge, very simple.

LEMON: Who does that? Roger Stone. Thank you so much, John Dean. I appreciate it. The former acting head of the FBI telling CNN that he thinks the president could possibly be a Russian asset. More from the stunning interview next.