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U.S. President Could be a Russian Asset; Alleged Attack Choreographed by Victim; Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett, But Don't Know When That Will Happen; White House Pivots to Offense in Mueller Investigation; Roger Stone Ordered Back to Court. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired February 19, 2019 - 23:00   ET



[23:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

Extraordinary words tonight from Andrew McCabe. Andrew McCabe is the former acting director of the FBI, telling CNN that it is possible that Donald Trump, the President of the United States is a Russian asset. We're going to discuss that incredible statement in just a moment.

And President Trump denying an explosive report that he tried to interfere in the SDNY investigation into his former lawyer Michael Cohen. "The New York Times" reporting that Trump asked former acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker to put a Trump supporting U.S. attorney in charge of the investigation into Cohen's activities.

Next month Cohen starts a three-year prison term for campaign financial violations and lying to Congress.

So let's discuss now with Shimon Prokupecz is here, Susan Glasser, and Max Boot. Max is the author of "The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right."

So why don't we start with Max.

Max, I want to know -- let's listen to what Andrew McCabe, the former acting head of the FBI said to Anderson tonight. Watch this.


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

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: 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: Max, that's such a stunning statement. MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it is and flies in the

face of Trump's mantra, which is no collusion, no collusion. And here's the former acting FBI director saying that the president himself could potentially be a Russian asset, which was something that we've also heard from former directors of the CIA.

I mean this is unprecedented in American history but it's something you have to take seriously because, in fact, there has been more evidence of collusion that's come out just in the last few weeks.

For example, we know more about Paul Manafort's meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik who's suspected of ties with Russian intelligence. They met in August of 2015, talked about a peace plan for Ukraine. Manafort apparently shared polling data from the Trump campaign.

We know from the indictment of Roger Stone that he was directed by somebody very senior in the Trump campaign to contact WikiLeaks. And apparently there was cooperation between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks in terms of the dissemination of their stolen DNC documents.

And of course, the fact we're seeing more evidence of obstruction is itself a kind of collusion because by obstructing the Russia investigation President Trump is effectively protecting the Russians and protecting them from having their machinations in the 2016 election exposed.

LEMON: Shimon, you have covered this investigation from, really from the very beginning. Andy McCabe has serious credibility issues. How should we weigh his claim?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, first of all, he's not seeing what the current intelligence is. He hasn't seen what the evidence is really before Mueller that has been there since Andy McCabe left the FBI.

So, I don't know what he's basing that on. I did find like you, Don, pretty extraordinary for him to make such a claim. It is something obviously the FBI has been investigating.

But to this point, really, nothing has come out to indicate that the president in any way has directed any of this, that he directed Paul Manafort to have these conversations with Konstantin Kilimnik and others, whether Roger Stone what he was involved in, that the president somehow directed him.

And this keeps being, I think somewhat kind of the problem in this entire investigation. It's that we have not seen all of the evidence obviously yet. It does appear that this is winding down. It does appear that things are coming to an end here.

And you would think that if there was this pressing urgent national security matter, we would hope that the FBI would put it forward, that Mueller would put it forward, that the Department of Justice would put it forward. And thus far they have not. And I think that's what's important here. Because, and I think you made this reference, Don, you know, that a lot of people are expecting for a Mueller report to answer a lot of questions. And it just may not answer all the questions that people want. And so, I think we all need to be prepared for that.

LEMON: We may not have the conclusion, come to the conclusion that everyone thinks it's going to come to.

Susan, let me bring you in now because the other big news is a question of whether the president through the acting attorney general attempted to obstruct the investigation at the SDNY. Give me your reaction to this.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, first of all, the question of obstruction seems to be the thread that runs through all of these many investigations of President Trump since he was elected.

[23:04:59] There have been so many different strands and subplots and new themes that have unfolded. And at every turn along the way what you've seen is very credible allegations that are now being investigated as well, that President Trump and his team did everything in their power to shut down those investigations.

And to me, that's the thread that runs through whether it's the Mueller investigation or the Southern District of New York. So, in that sense, it's one of those shocking but not surprising Trump era developments that we seem to have.

And just quickly on this point, as far as the Mueller investigation goes, you know, I think it's important to remember, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation of the President of the United States to see whether he was a national security threat to the country because he might be compromised in some way by Russia.

This was an amazing bombshell report when we first learned of this FBI counterintelligence investigation some months ago.

Now to me the significance of Andrew McCabe is that he's emerging and publicly confirming this counterintelligence investigation. It's a name and a face, it's not just an anonymous source. We now have a public discussion with a named former senior official of the U.S. government admitting that the FBI chose to open an investigation, whether the President of the United States is a compromised figure to our national security.

This in and of itself is I think one of the most extraordinary developments we've seen since the Trump presidency began.

LEMON: Shimon, you've also reported on Trump talking to Whitaker about this case. Explain how the report fits together.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so obviously this is coming before "The New York Times" story today, which as you said talked about Trump asking Whitaker, you know, how come Geoff Berman who's running the Southern District of New York was not overseeing the Michael Cohen case. Geoffrey Berman had to recuse himself and so his deputy has been

overseeing the case. Well, you know, there was also conversation what our reporting has showed between the president and Whitaker about the investigations that are ongoing in the Southern District of New York. The president was unhappy in the direction some of them were going.

He was unhappy with the Michael Cohen pleading guilty, but then he was more unhappy about the fact that the Department of Justice out of the Southern District of New York implicated him in those crimes of the hush payments, the money that went to the women who accused him of having an affair.

So, all of that culminated into perhaps more than one conversation. It's not entirely clear. And the president just voiced his displeasure at the fact that these investigations are ongoing.

We're told at no time did the president tell Whitaker or direct Whitaker to end any of these investigations. But just the mere fact I think it's important to note that he's having these conversations with Whitaker, highly inappropriate. Not criminal as far as we know, but extremely inappropriate and it's just something that you just don't do as president of the United States.

LEMON: Well, I'm wondering does this reporting add new evidence to Robert Mueller's obstruction case. Does this help him at all with obstruction?

PROKUPECZ: I mean, politically it may add to some things, but here's the thing. Robert Mueller's investigation and it would certainly seem the obstruction part is probably relatively over. And if there would be anything new it would probably be up to the members of Congress or perhaps the Southern District of New York to investigate. It is their case.

Mueller as you recall moved that case. Michael Cohen, the hush money payments, that was referred to the Southern District of New York. So, it's perhaps the Southern District of New York could look into something like this. But I don't see Mueller at all taking this on.

I do think also that the Department of Justice under William Barr is really going to try to move forward from all of this and try to kind of start anew. And if, you know, there may be new issues that they need to explore.

That may happen down the line. But I think anything that has happened before William Barr got there, I think they're going to try to move fast.

LEMON: Susan, you know Trump has been trying to interfere with the Russia investigation since the beginning of his presidency when he asked Comey to let Michael Flynn go, remember that? And according to this report he's still doing it. What does this pattern say to you?

GLASSER: Well, look, first of all, in all of our previous experience with impeachments, right, every single one of them has featured an element of obstruction that was of course one of the most crucial articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.

And certainly, if Congress ever chooses to go forward with charges against President Trump you can expect that obstruction will be in one of the articles that they pursue.

And, you know, interestingly, last week we had news, I think, from Capitol Hill suggesting that the House Intelligence Committee now controlled by Democrats, the House Judiciary Committee now controlled by Democrats is not going to be waiting for the results of the Mueller investigation, both to pursue its own investigations and to move forward regardless of what happens.

[23:10:03] It's still not entirely clear, of course, what the mechanism is by which the Mueller findings would be transmitted. As Shimon pointed out we don't know what the status of the Southern District of New York's investigation of potential new obstructions like that in "The New York Times" report today, would that also flow into these investigations?

So, I think you have Democrats on Capitol Hill who aren't just going to be able to dismiss these things just because there's no easy answer to what to do about a presidential pattern and practice of trying to obstruct and shutdown all of the investigations against him, as far as I can tell.

At some point, Congress is likely going to be forced to grapple with whether that rises to the level of something that is impeachable. I just think that although it's become a little bit political conventional wisdom in Washington that somehow this may all go away just because some new devastating allegation is not produced, I think that fails to reckon with the seriousness of the allegations and the credible evidence that's already been amassed especially on the obstruction side.

Remember, what we already know publicly in many ways is more serious and more documented than the allegations that led to the House judiciary committee to vote to impeach Richard Nixon.

LEMON: So, it has been, Max, over two years. Why does this president still think he can manipulate the legal system? Is it because he's having success doing it?


BOOT: I mean, it has been two years, Don, and he's still in office. He hasn't been impeached so I think there's a sense of impunity on his part because he's gotten away with it for so long. So, he thinks he can get away with it forever. And he's actually done things like firing Comey, like firing Sessions.

So, he's getting rid of the people that have been so threatening and alarming to him including Andy McCabe, now Rod Rosenstein is about to leave.

So, from his very narrow present-day perspective, Trump can credibly say to himself that he is beating his adversaries. But what he doesn't seem to get is that in the course of trying to stay in office he is presiding -- he is creating more evidence of obstruction of justice and wrongdoing as Susan just said.

Just this weekend, I mean, leave aside this blockbuster "The New York Times" scoop about how he was trying to get Rudy Giuliani's former law partner who is now the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, to take over this investigation, the hush money payments and basically to make it go away.

I mean, just leave that aside and just look at what he was tweeting this weekend, where he was saying that the investigators ought to be in prison, that it's a witch hunt, that Rod Rosenstein is guilty of treason and plotting a coup.

I mean, this is obstruction in plain sight. This is the kind of stuff that we had to wait for the secret tapes of the White House to come out to find out about Richard Nixon.

Donald Trump is doing this in plain sight. I mean, I don't know what else we could possibly need to show that he is guilty of obstruction of justice. Now, to be sure he's not being successful on obstructing justice but neither was Richard Nixon and Nixon was still impeached for it.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate your time.

Andrew McCabe said President Trump's actions made the FBI fear he was a threat to national security. We're going to ask the former DNI James Clapper if he thinks that's still the case.


LEMON: Tonight, the former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe telling CNN it is possible that President Trump is a Russian asset.

Here to discuss is the former Director of National Intelligence and that is Mr. James Clapper. Director, I appreciate you joining us.


LEMON: Do you agree with Andrew McCabe it's possible that the President of the United States, the president is a Russian asset?

CLAPPER: Well, the way -- I completely agree with the way Andy characterized, that it is a possibility. And I would add to that caveat, that whether witting or unwitting.

And that a really painful thing to say, but I believe the FBI was institutionally obligated to do what it did, and that is to investigate and to initiate an investigation. And if you go back the long view here of the behavior of candidate Trump and then President Trump in his deference to the Russians, and specifically particularly his personal deference to Putin and his execration about the e-mails in July of '16.

And then all of these developments culminating in the firing of Director Comey, which he acknowledged was because of the Russia investigation, so, yes, I do agree it's amazing and stunning and depressing as that is.

LEMON: Yes. McCabe also described why he decided to open a counterintelligence investigation into the president. Take a listen to this.


MCCABE: Based on the information that we had, we thought that a potential threat to national security might exist. That being that the President of the United States may have attempted to obstruct justice in his efforts to thwart and impede our investigation of Russian influence.

And if he had done so, why? Why would any American president try to stop the FBI from investigating what the Russians might have done to our election? So that's the responsibility that we had at the time.


LEMON: Will you please explain what kind of information could have led the FBI to that conclusion?

CLAPPER: Well, again, I kind of briefly touched on it. And I think what Andy was referring to in that clip was obstruction. And, you know, the common theme here among all the convictions that have already been levied is lying in one degree or another about connection with the Russians.

[23:20:07] And so -- and then, you know, the president himself, I think, contributed to that by to me, most prominently the firing of Jim Comey. And this -- and I think that was kind of the crowning blow for the FBI and for Andy specifically because, you know, that investigation was investigated the very next day.

LEMON: Yes. Listen McCabe says that he briefed the bipartisan gang of eight in 2016 and this is to launch a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump. He says no one on the committee objected. Not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds and not based on the facts. What does that say to you?

CLAPPER: Well, first, I thought that was a pretty stunning statement that he had done that and was, by the way, exactly the appropriate thing to do was to brief the gang of eight.

And if there was no -- of course this is not something he's making up because it's easily verifiable. And the fact that nobody pushed back, particularly the Republicans among the gang of eight is I think quite -- quite interesting and important.

LEMON: So --

CLAPPER: I think that's one thing I hadn't thought of, and I think it was entirely appropriate that he did that. LEMON: So, the president has called McCabe a liar. He says his

conduct was akin to treason. McCabe was fired last March after the inspector general concluded that he misled investigators about his role authorizing the release of information to the media. Does he lack credibility?

CLAPPER: Well, truth in advertising here, Don, I know Andy going back to when he was head of what's called the Washington field office and got to know him then. He and I testified at several of the endless congressional hearings about Benghazi.

And I always found Andy to be incredible professional, dedicated and honest. And so, I can't comment. I just don't know about this issue about whether or not he leaked or acquiesced in leaking to the media.

To me, it seems a little strange and completely out of character with, if it's true with the Andy McCabe that I know. I just -- my sense here is there's more to this than meets the eye and more than he probably can say, can talk about publicly now. I find him credible, bottom line.

LEMON: I need to get your reaction to this explosive "New York Times" report that President Trump reportedly tried to meddle into the SDNY investigation into his own actions. Again, he asks if someone could un-recuse himself. How many times have we seen him trying to put his fingers on the scales?

CLAPPER: Well, unfortunately, this has, you know, become, you know, an all too familiar pattern, where he's clearly paranoid about all these investigations.

And the number of times that he's attacked the Mueller investigation publicly, you know, not aware of what he's done privately, and then his behavior here as reported by "The New York Times", unfortunately comports with, you know, his trying to tamper with and tamp down any investigation on him.

And I think as others have indicated the Southern District of New York investigations, and there's a whole family of them in New York, could turn out to be at least as troublesome as the Mueller investigation might be.

LEMON: Thank you, director. I appreciate your time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Chicago police want to question Jussie Smollett about his investigation -- his allegation, I should say, that he was attacked. As law enforcement sources tell CNN they believe he orchestrated the attack himself. All the details next.


LEMON: Chicago detectives want to speak to actor Jussie Smollett. But it's not clear when or if that will happen. They want to ask him additional questions about the attack he reported on January 29. At the time Smollett told authorities two men attacked him, they put a

rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him. But now there are more questions about his account than answers.

Smollett is denying that he orchestrated the attack.

Nick Watt is here to lay out the facts of what we know about the investigation right now. Nick, good evening to you. So, let's talk about this. Police say they spoke -- police spoke with two men connected to the alleged attack again today. Who are they, and what do police want to know?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Don, what police, prosecutors, the media, frankly, everyone wants to know is, were these two men in fact in cahoots with Jussie Smollett? Did he hire them to attack him? Did he orchestrate and choreograph this entire thing?

Now these two men they are brothers. Their names are Abel and Ola Osundairo. They are body builders, they are known to Jussie Smollett. One of them we know is friends with Smollett on Facebook. At least one of them we know appeared on the show Empire with Jussie Smollett.

Now these two men are the two men who were seen in that security camera video, two men on the street near where the attack happened. They were arrested last week and questioned. They were suspects. Then they were released on Friday night, the police telling us that new evidence have come to light during the day.

They were released then were back today in a courthouse speaking to police and to prosecutors. Now, we do not know exactly what was said, but we can presume that the police are trying to get to the bottom of this.

Was Jussie Smollett in fact attacked by two strangers, or was he involved? Did he, for some as yet unknown reason orchestrated this attack on himself?

[23:30:01] LEMON: Has Jussie, Nick, has Jussie or anyone else on his team said anything about talking to police?

WATT: Well, I mean, the police are very, very eager to talk to Jussie Smollett. They have said that to us on a number of occasions. A representative for Smollett says that his lawyers are keeping a continuing dialogue open with the police. We heard he was supposed to talk to police yesterday. That was a rumor. His rep said that was never going to happen. It's unclear when this will ever happen.

But, you know, he is absolutely refuting this claim that he was in on this. In fact, his lawyers released a statement on Saturday, and they said that, you know, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals that he's familiar with.

He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his attack. He is saying -- he has said on "Good Morning America," he has said through his lawyers that is not what happened at all. It could not be further from the truth.

LEMON: Let's talk about this and other element here. Days before the attack on Smollett, a letter containing white powder was sent to him at the "Empire" set in Chicago. CNN has obtained an image of that letter. What do you know about this?

WATT: That letter arrived about a week before the attack. It was addressed to Jussie Smollett. Rather than having a return address, it had MAGA written up on the top there. The way Jussie described it in his interview with Robin Roberts in GMA was he said that it was a stick figure with a gun pointing at it.

Now, you mentioned there was some white powder in there. That has been determined to be a crushed-up aspirin. But the U.S. Postal Service today did confirm that they are working with Chicago Police Department and the FBI to figure out who sent that letter. So that is a major strand right now, Don, in this investigation. Is this connected to the attack? Who sent it?

LEMON: OK. And I'm wondering if this is connected because there's new information about another case involving Jussie in 2007. What are you learning about that?

WATT: I mean, listen, it's hard to say this is connected at all, but we have discovered that back in 2007 in Los Angeles, so this was 11, 12 years ago, Jussie Smollett was a man in his mid-20s, he was pulled over for a DUI and apparently gave the police officer a false name.

Now, he pleaded no contest to that charge and also to DUI and to driving without a license and was given two years of probation. Was that connected? Does that make him more likely to be involved in some sort of weird scheme at this point in his life? No. I mean, we can't say that for sure.

So, there is no way that the story ends well. Listen, either Jussie Smollett has made this entire thing up which is terrible and bizarre and we would want to know why, or in 2019, in a major American city, a black man really was attacked by two strangers shouting homophobic and racist epithets at him and putting a noose around his neck in a mock lynching. Either way, Don, this story doesn't end well.

LEMON: Both scenarios are awful and people just want answers at this point. It's all anyone is talking about, and it doesn't seem to be coming to an end any time soon. Nick Watt, thank you. I appreciate your time.

While we witness the White House's almost daily PR offensive against the Russia investigation, we now are getting a clear look at their legal strategy. How it's shifted from cooperation to relentless attacks. That's next.


LEMON: The president facing questions over an explosive New York Times report that he asked Matthew Whitaker if a Trump supporter could oversee the SDNY investigation of Michael Cohen. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Mr. President, did you ask Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation into your former personal attorney Michael Cohen?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, not at all. I don't know who gave you that.


LEMON: Well, "The Times" describes a pattern of actions that could open up the president to accusations of obstruction of justice. Let's discuss now. Juliette Kayyem is here, Asha Rangappa, Renato Mariotti.

Good evening to all of you. Good to see you.

Juliette, I'm going to start with you. The president denies the accusations. You saw him there. It took him a while. But "The New York Times" describes his behavior as a more sustained and more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement than previously known. But does it amount to obstruction of justice?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It certainly looks like it. I mean, from the reporting, it's certainly that he tried to at least undermine the law enforcement efforts that were investigating a variety of actions either by Trump or by the Russians because they're different, the New York case versus the Mueller case.

I will say, though, this focus on obstruction of justice is really -- we can't forget that obstruction of justice is about a substantive matter. McCabe actually makes that clear in his book when he tells a story of when Donald Trump sort of rejected the Intelligence Community's assessment and says, 'I believe Putin,' when it came to North Korea.

And so what we have to do is look at these obstruction charges in light of the substantive concern that the president is -- you know, believes in Putin, lies about his meetings with Putin, doesn't let staff in with his meetings with Putin, lies about the Trump Tower, you know, undermines his Intelligence Community, all of these things that are substantive about the president and whether he's compromised, then make the obstruction of justice, make a lot of sense.

[23:40:05] Because if you're Donald Trump, of course you're going to obstruct this investigation because you believe Putin. I mean, to me it's just all clear at that stage.

LEMON: So, apparently jump on a grenade was supposedly his job. That is what Whitaker told associates. That's according to "The New York Times". What does that -- where did he get that idea? What does that mean, Asha?


ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't know. I mean, I assume that means that he was going to protect the president at all costs, but apparently he wasn't able to do it in this case. Don, let's just go back about Geoffrey Berman and understand his appointment at the Southern District of New York.

He was an interim appointment in January of 2018, which means that Trump had 120 days to choose someone else to be actually Senate- confirmed. And if he did it, the judges in the Southern District of New York would choose the person to oversee that office and they chose Berman.

So basically Berman is not fireable. Trump cannot fire him. The Southern District of New York judges appointing him there happened around the same time that Cohen's office, his personal attorney's office, was raided. So in many ways, he has kind of check made it (ph) himself. He can't fire this person. Berman is recused. He can't un- recuse because it's based on a conflict of interest.

So now he's expecting this former acting attorney general to come in and save the day and make this happen. And that's just not how the Department of Justice works, and even Whitaker who was willing to jump on a grenade apparently couldn't do it.

LEMON: So, Renato, here's how the Times puts it. They say the president's brazen public behavior might be his best defense. What do you think?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, i think that what has happened so far and what I keep seeing, Don, is that the president of the United States keeps obstructing justice in plain view, and it has gotten to the point where it's not even news to people anymore. No one cares, no one bats an eye. It's become expected.

And I have to say in the court of law that wouldn't matter. If you do something openly, it's just as much of a crime as if you do it in secret. But what I will say in the court of public opinion is, I get people and this is something maybe where Juliette and I have slightly different perspective. Forget the substantive crime here. Obstruction of justice is a crime.

And, you know, we spend a lot of time on television talking about what might be proven, what Mueller might find. Looking merely at the evidence in front of us, this collection of evidence and the statements by the president, it's clear that he's obstructing justice.

I think I could prove that beyond a reasonable doubt given all the evidence that there is publicly including his own statements. That should be shocking. That should be astonishing to people. People should be concerned. And what do we have? We have Republican senators and Republican congressmen doing nothing.

It's not even news anymore when the president of the United States calls someone a traitor, calls for law enforcement to be locked up. That's just another day. It's just a Monday in this country right now. That's a disgrace. It should be a concern.

LEMON: Yeah. "The Times" also -- KAYYEM: Can I just --

LEMON: Go on, Juliette.

KAYYEM: It's not that the obstruction of justice is insignificant. I absolutely believe that and believe if only that existed, that's enough. What is of concern is our focus of obstruction of justice may mask what I think would be the sort of high crimes and misdemeanor which is one word, Helsinki, right?

The notion and I think pretty provable at this stage that the president's allegiances are in question. And that is what -- that's why the obstruction of justice charges while important really are about this greater issue, which is the president continually supporting Putin in everything from the, you know, assessments to North Korea to of course that moment that none of us can forget when jaws were dropping at Langley, the Helsinki press conference, when it looked like our president was compromised. I mean, there's just no question about it.

LEMON: Yeah. Asha, something else is in "The New York Times", this happened in the summer of 2017. "One of Mr. Trump's -- allegedly -- one of Mr. Trump's lawyers also reached out that summer to the lawyers for two of his former aides -- Paul Manafort and Mr. Flynn -- to discuss possible pardons. The discussions raised questions about whether the president was willing to offer pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the Mueller investigation."

Talk to me about that, Asha.

RANGAPPA: I think this goes to exactly what Renato just said. Dangling a pardon is obstruction. The president has broad pardon power. He can actually pardon someone, he can do the act. But to hold it out there as an incentive for someone to behave in a certain way, give testimony in a certain way, cooperate or not cooperate, it's almost like a form of bribery, using your power to try to get a personal gain.

[23:45:06] So again, I think that this is incredibly problematic. One thing I'll just add just to add some -- or just to give a bigger picture to what Juliette and Renato were saying because I know from being on Twitter that people are incredibly demoralized by the president's rhetoric and just what we're seeing and the fact there's no action, I just want to also point out that there are few countries on this planet, maybe none other, where the president can be investigated in the way that the FBI and the Department of Justice are doing now and that they have done in the past.

And all of these efforts that we are hearing about with Trump have not worked. The investigations continue. They keep growing, 199 charges, 37 defendants, all these convictions, his personal lawyer going to jail and his campaign manager.

So I think that we should also -- while we should be concerned with this, be heartened with the rule of law in this country and that people who work even in this administration, the FBI director, the deputy attorney general, Geoffrey Berman, the appointee who recused himself in the southern district, do actually believe in these principles, and I think that in the end they will prevail.

LEMON: All right. Stand by, everyone. I want you to stay with me. The judge overseeing Roger Stone's case is ordering him back to court. Why he's in even more trouble tonight.


LEMON: And we're back. Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ordered Trump confidant Roger Stone back to court on Thursday after a post on his Instagram that showed a picture of the judge with crosshairs in the background. Stone insists he didn't mean to threaten her and blames an unnamed social media volunteer. But the post could jeopardize the lenient gag order he received from her last week and might even cost him his bail money.

Back with me now are Juliette Kayyem, Asha Rangappa, Renato Mariotti. Even as I was telling that, I could not believe that someone would actually do that considering how much legal jeopardy he is in. Asha, how do you think the judge in Stone's case is going to react to this Instagram post? Jail?

RANGAPPA: You know, I don't know. The legal watchers have noted that if she takes strong action, then there could be a basis to suggest that she can't be impartial in the case. And then, you know, to have her removed and that could be like a legal strategy for him. I don't know how likely that is. This was a really heinous post.

I mean, this shows incredible -- not just disrespect, it is a threat against a federal official. It's a felony to threaten a federal judge. And so I would think that she has to do something and address it. But I'm not sure exactly how strong of a stance that she will take given potential implications in terms of his defense.

LEMON: OK, so, Renato, here's what a friend of the show, Harry Litman, wrote about Stone's gag order and latest dust-up with the judge. OK? It said that "Jackson's order made it clear that what he couldn't do was conduct a public campaign against his trial on the courthouse steps, as he did when he left the court following his preliminary appearance, flashing the Nixon 'V' for victory sign and trashing special counsel Robert S. Mueller's probe. Those displays garner wider press coverage and cast the court itself in a political light."

Is that exactly what Stone did with this Instagram post, do you think?

MARIOTTI: Well, sure. I mean, part of what Litman is getting at there is that the judge has a broader discretion to regulate Stone's behavior on the courthouse steps than she does when he's over this private Instagram. But as to this action, look, the bottom line is what he did on the courthouse steps was stupid. That was dumb and this is dumber. It is dumb when someone --

LEMON: And dumber.

MARIOTTI: -- holds your freedom in your -- there you go. When someone holds your freedom in their hands, as Judge Jackson does for Roger Stone, you do not want to take shots at that person. You do not want to incite violence against that person. You don't want to piss that person off. That's exactly what Roger Stone did.

What I would expect the judge to do is call everyone in together, get them in there, scare Stone, make Stone think that something's going to happen. Maybe she could tighten up his conditions of release, his bond. I don't think she'll revoke his bond. It's possible she could.

But look, the bottom line is there's a reason that Stone filed this silly notice of apology the next day. It's because his lawyers were freaking out and that's what I would be doing if that was my client. And he's going to be begging for her forgiveness as well he should.

LEMON: It strikes me just in the moment, Juliette, that --


LEMON: -- all of these people who have been caught up in this have basically been doing whatever they wanted to do forever and no one has ever called them on it, so they think that they're above the law and they don't have to answer to anyone.

KAYYEM: I think that's right. Dumb and dumber is one way to put it. I should probably say for full disclosure I'm married to a federal judge, and I don't talk about his cases. I don't even talk about the judiciary as an institution but I can talk about the marshals. They are a serious security group. They take these kinds of threats very seriously. An independent and free judiciary is what makes us a free country.

[23:54:58] And I've been on your show talking about my fears about some of the stuff that Trump and his team do. We call it sarcastic terrorism. It is not that they want a bad -- they want a particular bad thing to happen, violence to happen. This is what the president does when it comes to the media.

It's just that they unleash this hate toward an institution whether it's the judiciary or the press that becomes uncontrollable. We did see an attack against a BBC reporter last week. So, it is stupid of Roger Stone. The marshals also don't view it as stupid. Let me just tell you this. This I can tell you. They don't have a sense of humor. And neither do I on this, you know.

LEMON: Yeah. Oh, boy. What a day. And it's Tuesday. Feels like Monday because it was a holiday. I need to smile. I'm going to go back and look at the little girl dancing to Beyonce eating the corn dog. Did you guys see that?


LEMON: That will make me smile.


LEMON: Go check it out. Just Google --

KAYYEM: I was watching the dog with the two eggs.


KAYYEM: That was a good one.

MARIOTTI: Oh, that was a good one.


LEMON: Go Google little girl, corn dog, Beyonce. It will give you life.


LEMON: Good night, guys. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.