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Paul Manafort's Lawyers Working to Lessen His Sentence; All Eyes and Ears on Michael Cohen; Univision Crews Detained in Venezuela; Ex-National Security Officials Denounce Trump's Emergency Declaration; Trump Falsely Accuses Spike Lee of 'Racist Hit'; "Green Book's" Upset Best Picture Oscar Win; Kareem's Cause. Aired 11-12a ET

Aired February 25, 2019 - 23:00   ET




Here is our breaking news. Paul Manafort's lawyers are trying to get him a lighter sentence tonight in D.C. district court. They argue that Trump's former campaign chairman wouldn't have been prosecuted as harshly for his crimes if Robert Mueller hadn't been appointed special counsel.

Manafort's team is also pointing out in their sentencing memo that Mueller hasn't charged him with any illegal coordination with Russian officials in 2016.

Also, tonight, the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, just hours away from the first of three days of testimony on Capitol Hill. After years of loyalty to Trump, Cohen is now cooperating with Mueller after being sentenced to three years in prison for crimes including some that according to prosecutors were committed in coordination with and at the direction of Donald Trump.

Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings says Cohen's public testimony could be a turning point in our country's history. Well, we'll see if he's right.

Let's bring in now Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, good evening to you. What are Manafort's attorneys saying in the memo?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, essentially, Don, what they're saying is that he's being vilified, that he's being treated unfairly, that since Robert Mueller took over this case he's been treated harshly.

They go on to say as you said, almost trolling the special counsel's office saying that there's been no collusion, he's not charged with any kind of collusion, there's no evidence of Russian collusion against Paul Manafort. It's exactly what you've been saying.

Look, they are asking for leniency. They're asking the judge to consider some of his history. Some of his family, some of his friends have written letters to support him. But I think the main thing is how they're going about this is that they're saying is what he's charged with is it's not about the murder case, it's not about drug cartels, this isn't something so serious that would warrant the kind of treatment he's been getting.

And certainly, the fact, I think one of the most important things is how they're saying there's no evidence of Russian collusion here.

LEMON: Yes. Let's talk about Michael Cohen now, OK? He's going to spend the next three days testifying on the Hill tomorrow. What do you think he's going to be asked about?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So the big day really -- you know, he starts his tour on the Hill tomorrow and then we're going to go into Wednesday when we see him publicly for the first time testifying and really it's going to be about how much does Michael Cohen want to talk about, how much dirty laundry of Donald Trump does he want to air and how much are the members of Congress going to allow him?

Look, the Department of Justice has cleared him to testify on a whole host of issues, from financial dealings with the president to business records to tax issues, to the Trump hotel here in Washington, D.C. to the Trump organization, the foundation.

You know, this is a man who's been by the president's side for so many years and knows a lot of information. It's just really a question of how much does Michael Cohen want to divulge and also in the end how believable is he?

You know, he claims he's going to bring in documents, he has other information, but I think it's going to come down to his credibility and how much does everyone believe what he's saying.

LEMON: Well, let's talk a little more, then. Because he has said, Cohen has said that the president doesn't tell the truth, that he doesn't want to be -- he, meaning Cohen doesn't want to be the villain of the story. Should team Trump be worried, Shimon?

PROKUPECZ: Certainly, they should be worried because he's already implicated the president in a crime in New York out of the Southern District of New York. They found him credible. They found what he said was truthful. They included it in court documents. They used it to build their case against Michael Cohen.

The special counsel has believed Michael Cohen in certain respects of their investigation. So certainly, he has that to back what he's saying up. Whether or not the public believes it in the end, obviously we're going to wait and see. He does have credibility issues.

But members of Congress nonetheless feel the need he needs to come forward. It could be a very bad day for the president no doubt.


PROKUPECZ: Again, it's all about how much dirty laundry, right? I mean, what else does he really have to bring at this point? He knows a lot. And the Southern District of New York has relied on him for a lot of their information. Certainly, as it relates to the hush money payments and other things they're now investigating.

LEMON: Shimon, thank you, sir. I appreciate it. Elie Honig and Phil Mudd are here.

Good evening, gentlemen. So, Eli, Michael Cohen heads to the Hill, first three days of testimony. Here's what you said in an op-ed. You said, "it will crackle with the human drama, high stakes and political intrigue of a John Grisham novel." We're going to see that in public on Wednesday?

[23:04:54] ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we are. And like a John Grisham novel your characters are going to have so many dimensions to them. Michael Cohen, he's not a saint. He's a sinner. He's got some serious baggage. He's been convicted of crimes.

But what's his incentive now? I think his incentive now is to tell the truth. He has no reason to lie. And the big question will be, is he corroborated? But look, he's going to be an open book. A decades' worth of being side by side with Donald Trump and he apparently is set to testify to it all. If I was lucky enough to get a chance to question him, I would start with the crimes that Michael Cohen --


LEMON: But you said you have five questions, right?

HONIG: I have five.

LEMON: You said five questions.


LEMON: So which ones are most significant?

HONIG: So, I'd start with the hush money payments which Shimon mentioned.

LEMON: Right.

HONIG: That he was convicted of that, he said in court and DOJ back him that he did it with and at the direction of the president. I then go to his false testimony to the Senate about the Moscow project.

LEMON: Right.

HONIG: And again, if you look at the plea documents there, DOJ said he did this in coordination with others.

LEMON: And at the direction of or something --

HONIG: Who are they? Right? Now, is it the president? We don't know. We had the BuzzFeed story that was then sort of rebutted. But who? Somebody. Right? I go to the inaugural. Next. He made a recording of one of the people

involved in the inauguration. Those are three sort of rock solid areas. Then I'd go fishing a little bit.


HONIG: I'd ask him did anyone ever float the possibility of a pardon to you? Did anyone on the president's team ever float to anyone on your team the possibility of hey, if he stays quiet maybe he can get a pardon?

And the last question a little bit of a trick question. When he went into my old office the southern district to cooperate, he refused to answer certain questions and that's why the southern district said he was not a full cooperator. I'd say what questions did they ask you that you wouldn't answer? Who, what were you hiding? Who were you protecting?

LEMON: All right. Interesting. So, I wrote all those down.

HONIG: That was five.

LEMON: That was five. That was five. You weren't like -- what's his name?

HONIG: Rick Perry.

LEMON: Rick Perry. I can't remember. Now he's heading that department, the Department of Education. Unbelievable. As I always said, you can't write this.

Phil, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee says that topics Cohen that he's expected to discuss, they will include this. The president's business practices. Hush money payments. Potential and actual conflicts of interest. And his compliance with tax laws. His testimony could be very damaging for the president. And these are some of the topics that Elie just hone in on.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that's right. I can't beat a lawyer on what I would ask a witness, but I look at the topics. I'd just put him in a couple categories. Did you see anything illegal in business practices that preceded the election campaign? Did you see anything potentially, I should say, potentially illegal during the campaign?

And then, you know, some peripheral questions as Elie was suggesting about things specifically like what was happening during the inaugural period.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of this, Don, is the fact this is going to relate to an investigation that endures after the Mueller investigation. I would argue that it's going to go on into the next electoral cycle.

So, as you're watching what he's saying, anticipate that in addition to the illegal stuff all the shameful stuff he talks about, about people who may hold positions of power right now may lead to legal action that goes well into next year. I think that's one of the stories here. It's not just law. It's politics.

LEMON: Elie, Michael Cohen worked with the president and his family for years. I'm wondering if maybe the children should be worried because, you know, they work, they're there in the business with their father alongside him.

HONIG: The Trump Org is in the crosshairs here. That hush money -- those hush money payments went through the Trump org. And if you look back through the documents one thing that I still have my eye on and we still don't know is the checks that they cut to silence those women were authorized by executive one and executive two of the Trump organization. We don't know exactly who that is.

But that would be high up on my list of questions for Michael Cohen, who's executive one, who's executive two. So, yes, the family has got some cause for concern here.

LEMON: So, I wonder with Democrats in charge do you think it's going to be different than when Cohen testified in 2017? Phil?

MUDD: I think it will be. I think it will be more aggressive, I think it will be longer. I mean, if I were Democrats, I'd be a bit cautious because Cohen has already obviously got an issue related to credibility.

If you start hammering him during the couple of days, I don't think he's going to be a terrific witness. I do think he's going to be fascinating. But if Democrats go too far after him, I'm going to look at this as a viewer and as a former FBI guy and say be careful about undercutting him further.

One final comment on that. For everybody who says he's not reliable, if he says something different during these days than what he told federal prosecutors under Mueller they're going to come after him. He has a great incentive to speak the truth during these days.

LEMON: Do you think that credibility and him pleading guilty to certain things, do you think that's going to matter on Wednesday?

HONIG: Yes, he's got credibility problems, there's no question. And I agree with Phil. Look, from the Republicans you're going to see a standard sort of --


HONIG: -- defense lawyer cross-examine. You've been convicted of crimes, you've lied, why should anyone trust you now? Standard fare. And if can be effective.

If I was advising Democrats, I would say you do not need to embrace this guy. He's no saint. Right? Just stick with what can be proven. Stick with what's in the tapes. Stick with what's in the documents.

LEMON: Yes. HONIG: It doesn't matter if people like this guy. You don't need to like him. It's just can he be believed?

[23:10:00] LEMON: But he previously postponed his testimony --


LEMON: -- by what he thought were perceived threats by the president and by the president's attorney Rudy Giuliani. Do you think that's going to affect his testimony?

HONIG: I don't know. I mean, you can't send him out there if you're his lawyer unless he's really ready to go. Right? They made some threats that I think were over the line against his family, his father-in-law.


HONIG: But if I'm his lawyer I don't let him step out in front of the world --


HONIG: -- with all those cameras unless he's really ready to go.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen.

HONIG: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: By the way, I couldn't remember. Secretary of energy. See? Thank you, guys. Have a good night. Good to see you.

Will the American people see the long-awaited Mueller report? Rod Rosenstein may have given us a clue today. That's next.


LEMON: So, Democrats are pushing back against comments by Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein that seemed to hint at whether the Mueller report will be made public.

Let's discuss now with two former federal prosecutors, Kim Wehle and Jon Sale.

Good evening. Good to see you both. Thank you for coming on.

[23:15:02] Jon, I'm going to start with you. This is what Rosenstein said today. Listen to this.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a knee-jerk reaction to suggest that we should be transparent about what we do in government, but there are a lot of reasons not to be transparent about what we do in government. My view is the Department of Justice is best served when people are

confident that we're going to operate when we're investigating American citizens in particular, we're going to do it with appropriate sensitivity to the rights of uncharged people.

If we aren't prepared to prove our case beyond reasonable doubt in court then we have no business making allegations against American citizens.


LEMON: So, Jon, we're expecting the Mueller report to be delivered soon. Do you get an indication from that that he's speaking about the president? Is he speaking in generalities? Is he sending us a signal?

JON SALE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: With all due respect to Mr. Rosenstein he's on his way out and there is a new sheriff in town. And I think what we have to look at what is Attorney General Barr going to do.

I watched his confirmation hearings with great interest and he won me over. I think that he is going to do just what he said. He's going to be in terms of the summary he sends to the Congress, he's going to be as transparent as possible. But subject to the rules and the law if he didn't do that, he'd be putting himself above the law.

So, I think he's got some tough decisions to make. But the most interesting thing I thought Mr. Barr said in his confirmation hearings was he would not be bullied. And I thought when I heard it that was the message to the president, that he's not going to cover it up, but by the same token it's a message to Congressmen like Adam Schiff that he's not afraid of being subpoenaed.

I think he's going to do what he thinks is right and he's going to have allegiance to the rule of law and the Constitution.

LEMON: Point taken about Barr, you know, on the way in, Rosenstein on the way out. But Kim, can we stick with, let's talk about Rosenstein. I want to do that because you've worked with him. What do you think he's doing here?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, it's hard to say out of context. I would guess that that is not a statement about the Mueller report or about whether the Mueller report, if there is one, that could be made public because there are questions regarding the regulations if that would be made public.

I think what he's saying actually is consistent with the view that no one is above the law and that is that the Justice Department is not a political entity, that they don't call balls and strikes based on whether someone is popular or not with a person in power.

And when he talks about regular citizens, my guess is he's saying listen, typically in the Justice Department if they make a decision not to prosecute that is not made public and that is the guideline that governs this particular document. The distinction is, however, that typically a regular person could be

indicted if there's a crime. Under DOJ policy that is not the case for the president of the United States.

And knowing Rod Rosenstein, I would be surprised if he would be comfortable with the idea that hey, you can't indict a sitting president but you also cannot share information relating to possible impeachment with Congress. That would be a checkmate, no way to hold a president accountable.

And I would think in the circumstance involving the president if he cannot be indicted there has to be another way that the constitutional structure could hold him accountable for potential wrongdoing. And I think Rod Rosenstein would agree with that principle.

LEMON: OK. So, Jon, Adam Schiff, you mentioned Schiff in your previous comments, he's a chair of the house in intelligence committee. He is calling it a double standard. The vice chair of the Senate intel committee Senator Mark Warner says Mueller's records about the president's conduct must be made available. Are Democrats getting ready for a battle over this report, do you think?

SALE: Well, if there is a battle and if they do issue a subpoena all that - how do they fight such a battle? They go to court. And you know, that would not be a bad thing because there are so many competing interests.

But if the attorney general decides there's no precedent, it's not like a court case, he may or may not follow what's been done in other instances. He's got to strike that balance. And I'm repeating but I feel this strongly. I think this man is going to do what he thinks is right.

He has no -- he has nowhere to go. He has no political aspirations. He's taken a job at this point in his life where I don't think he wants to be part of a cover-up.

LEMON: Let me ask you about Barr, Kim, because at his confirmation hearing Attorney General Barr talked about withholding information on uncharged individuals. Right? So, you heard -- we know that.

Rosenstein is saying something that is similar. You said context is everything here. You didn't think he was talking directly about the president. Is it really possible that we could go through the last two years, all of the questions, all of the charges and not get any real answer or a real answer as to what Robert Mueller found?

WEHLE: I think that is conceivable in reading the actual regulation. So, the regulations are different from what governed under Whitewater, which is an actual statute. That statute is now gone. Regulations were created.

[23:19:59] And frankly, I think maybe they weren't crafted in a way that had this particular situation in mind. Because what people want to know is if there is information related to wrongdoing on the part of the president of the United States. With respect to other players, if they're not indicted, other people

that are not sitting presidents that are not arguably protected by article 2, I think Rod Rosenstein and Mr. Barr would agree that is kept private.

The question -- or kept confidential. The question is what about the information relating to the president of the United States? And under the regulations there's no clear mechanism for turning that over to the public.

So, Mr. Barr does have a tremendous amount of power in this moment to determine whether the separation of powers under the Constitution is actually going to function. And if it goes to the court, to the federal courts, there would be a battle and I believe ultimately there would have to be lever whereby someone who has access to information. It doesn't just go in a black hole for no light to shine on because every exit is closed. That can't be right under the Constitution.

LEMON: So, Jon, the president's son, Don Junior, weighed in on the Mueller investigation this morning. Watch this.


DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: They put incredible pressure on regular guys that couldn't afford million dollars in legal fees and got them to slip up and say something incorrectly. You know, they pretended they were their friends. They got them. And that's all that happened.

There are no actual crimes. There's only things that people did in past lives, you know, in 2006 before we even thought we'd ever get into this crazy world. You know, and that's what it is.


LEMON: So -- you know, where do I begin? We're talking about 37 people and entities who are charged, that are charged. Seven people pleading guilty. Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen charged with or pleaded guilty to lying to Congress or the FBI about the Russia-related matters. Those aren't actual crimes?

SALE: Sure, they're crimes. By calling them process crimes is inappropriate. They go to the very heart of the criminal justice system. But you know, Representative Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts who's a critic of the president, he said if the Mueller investigation shows no collusion with Russians, he would be happy.

A special counsel, I was part of the Watergate prosecution, if they do a thorough investigation and it determines the president was not involved, they have not failed.

On the other hand, if the president was involved, certainly as a citizen I would want to know it. It's just a balancing act. And just to come back to Mr. Barr he has great discretion.

LEMON: Jon, Kim, thank you. I appreciate it. SALE: Thank you.

WEHLE: Thank you.

LEMON: Univision Anchor, Jorge Ramos and his crew were detained tonight while interviewing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. They've since been released and I'm going to speak to the former U.S. ambassador who helped get them out of custody.


LEMON: Here's our breaking news tonight. Univision Anchor, Jorge Ramos and his news crew have been released after being detained while conducting an interview with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

My next guest was instrumental in Ramos's release. Joining me now, the former United States Ambassador to Panama, John Feeley. Also, a consultant to Univision.

Thank you so much for joining us, sir. I appreciate that.

As I said, you played a role in coordinating the release of Jorge Ramos and his news crew. What can you tell us about that?

JOHN FEELEY, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO PANAMA: I sure can. And it's a pleasure, Don. I played a very bit role. The people who played the real role were the people of the Department of State.

Here's what happened. I got a call at about seven o'clock tonight from my colleagues at Univision. They informed me that Jorge Ramos and a group of five technicians supporting him had been granted authorization to have an interview with Nicolas Maduro.

During the interview Jorge Ramos asked him some very hard questions and characterized him as a murderer and as a dictator. Maduro didn't like that. He immediately ended the interview and Jorge Ramos and his team were manhandled by the praetorian guard that he has there in Miraflores. Their equipment was confiscated. All of their telephones were taken away. And they were held against their will for over two hours and 50 minutes inside Miraflores palace.

I got the call this happened. What I did was basically what I used to do when I was a department officer. I called the State Department operations center which immediately put me in touch with our embassy in Caracas and with the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Kim Breier, apprised them of that, suggested to Kim that she put out a tweet so Maduro knew the eyes of the world were watching.

That's about the sum total of my engagement, but it was really -- I think that tweet and others who put out their own communication that we watch and we know when they're messing with Americans.

LEMON: And now they're safe, which is good. But I'm wondering, are you concerned about the tensions between the United States and Venezuela escalating? FEELEY: I'm enormously concerned. Everybody should be concerned. What

we have in Venezuela is not a socialist, is not a communist. We have a good old-fashioned mafioso thug who has systematically abused his people for the last five, six years, who has taken the richest country according to resources. Right? The world's largest proven oil reserves. And turned it into the poorest.

Nine out of ten Venezuelans live in poverty. So yes, I am concerned, but I am also heartened, Don. I'm heartened by the fact the Trump administration is working multilaterally. What Vice President Pence did today in Bogota with the Lima group was stand with all of these democracies in insisting that the humanitarian aid enter and in committing to the legitimate president, Juan Guaido, that the international community, the United States, we're not about to leave the Venezuelans behind.

LEMON: Let's talk about the southern border and this national emergency. You joined dozens of other senior-level national security experts to publicly take on the president over this emergency declaration to get his border wall.

And here's part 69 statement that you signed on to. It says, "we are aware of no emergency that remotely justifies such a step. The president's actions are at odds with the overwhelming evidence in the public record including the administration's own data and estimate."

[23:30:05] So, why did you feel compelled to confront him with this letter?

FEELY: I'm a private citizen now, Don. I felt compelled to do this because I, studying the facts, and I know that there are alternate facts in this world, but the facts along the southern border are part of our nation and Mexico that I know well from my diplomatic experience is not experiencing a humanitarian or -- I'm sorry, is not experiencing a national security crisis.

It is experiencing a humanitarian crisis and that is the product of this administration's policies, zero tolerance, metering people in to have asylum claims heard, et cetera. So I felt it was my obligation as a private citizen to lend my voice to what I think is a very powerful statement.

LEMON: So let me ask you about this, and because as you said, it doesn't show. I just want to put this up because these numbers show the overall trend for people coming over. That overall trend is down. So tomorrow the Democratic-controlled House is expected to overwhelmingly pass a bill that would block the president's wall. After that it will head to the Republican-controlled Senate.

This is what the president tweeted about it. He said, "I hope our great Republican senators don't get led down the path of weak and ineffective border security." Are you hoping that your letter might influence enough Republican senators to send that bill to the president's desk?

FEELY: That is certainly the hope. I have to say, as my dad used to say, how big is that hope? Well, slim to none and slim just left town. I don't think it's going to have that much of an effect there, but I do think that this joint declaration of facts on the ground will have an effect in a number of the court cases.

There are currently five, I believe, that have been started. And quite possibly, it may convince some very good, thoughtful Republicans to take a look at the facts as reported by the administration's own Department of Homeland Security and recognize that there is no national existential security crisis at the southern border. What there is is a bad policy.

LEMON: Ambassador Feely, thank you for your time.

FEELY: It's always a pleasure, Don.

LEMON: President Trump lashing out at Director Spike Lee, accusing him of a so-called racist hit during his Oscar speech, except the speech was not in any way racist. We'll talk about it next.


LEMON: So President Trump lashed out at Director Spike Lee on Twitter, seemingly reacting to Lee's acceptance speech for the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Here's what he said. He said, "Be nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your president, who has done more for African-Americans, criminal justice reform, lowest unemployment numbers in history, tax cuts, et cetera, than almost any other pres." Except Spike Lee, didn't say anything racist. He said this.


SPIKE LEE, FILM DIRECTOR: The 2020 presidential election is around the corner.


LEE: Let's all mobilize. Let's all be on the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate. Let's do the right thing!


LEE: You know I had to get that in there.


LEMON: That's not a racist attack on the president. All Spike said was that there is a choice in the 2020 election and that choice is between love and hate. If the president sees that as racist, as a racist hit despite it not being one, what does that say about him? After all, President Trump is the one who said this about Nazis marching in Charlottesville.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.


LEMON: And he said this about peaceful protests by black NFL players.


TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired!


LEMON: Are you feeling the love? And we have talked many times on this show about the president's notion that he's done more for African-Americans than any other president. A good economy or new prison and sentencing reform laws will not solve all of the problems that people of color face across our country today. Those aren't fixes to the systematic racism that has embedded itself in generations of American life.

Maybe if President Trump watched Spike Lee's movie, "BlacKkKlansman," he'd get a glimpse of what has happened in this country. The movie tells the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first African-American detective in Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Police Force in the 1970s. It chronicles how Stallworth managed to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. And it ends with the images of Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017, and Trump's statement about how there were very fine people on both sides.

The now Oscar-winning movie ends with a reminder that racism in our country is still real and that the KKK and that hate come with -- it has festered for way too long. The movie could actually be a reminder to this president, a reminder that hate exists. Remember, on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump was asked if he condemned the former KKK grand wizard David Duke and other white supremacists. This is what he said.


[23:40:00] TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don't know. I mean, I don't know. Did he endorse me or what's going on? Because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.


LEMON: I wonder what he has learned since then. Let's discuss now. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is here. I'm so glad to have him and Kierna Mayo as well. Thank you both for joining us. This is an important topic to discuss here. Lots I want to talk to you about, Kareem. Let's start with this. The president thinks that Spike Lee's call for love over hate was a racist attack on him. What would make him think that?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA HALL OF FAMER: I think he sees enemies everywhere he looks, so he probably is trying to make a case for that being an attack on him. I think that Spike is trying to get people out to vote and to express whatever it is that they feel is their political statement.

LEMON: Kierna, Spike was pretty reserved for what he said. I mean, coming from Spike Lee, he could have gone much harder. That was reserved.

KIERNA MAYO, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, EBONY MAGAZINE: That was my first thought. I was, like, wow, Spike is tucking it in.

LEMON: Right.

MAYO: You're used to Spike really kind of coming at you a little more clearly than that even. Look, this is a president who knows he's on the wrong side of history. So, you've hit the dog. In other words, he's barking because he knows that he exemplifies all that Spike and his courageous film are really standing against. David Duke actually makes a cameo in Spike's film, if the president needs to make himself familiar with who David Duke is.

LEMON: Well, but David Duke also, there is also him talking about David Duke in an interview, you know, way prior.

MAYO: Of course. I'm being facetious. He absolutely knows who David Duke is. He did before that moment.

LEMON: During the campaign, Kareem, Trump used to ask black voters, remember, what do you have to lose? Does he understand that his policies and the economy haven't solved racism?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think he -- I think what he's reacting to is the fact that his own history with regard to rental units in Queens where they refused to rent to black applicants, I think that's something that he knows is a shadow on anything that he has to say. And he and his dad paid fines without admitting any guilt, they paid fines and were told to rectify the situation. Things like that that really gives the lie to so many of the things that he has to say.

LEMON: Yeah. Do you think he believes that? Do you that he somehow solved racism and this is the best time ever for African-Americans and he doesn't see how --

MAYO: I do.

LEMON: -- how the economy has only improved about --

MAYO: I don't even think he really -- this may be out there. But I don't really think that the president sees black people as fully human. I don't think he sees us as having agency, intelligence, as noted by his comment about Spike. He wishes he could read. There's always some subtle suggestion that black people need to catch up, keep up, and if it were not for his graciousness, if it were not for his attentiveness, his loving kindness, we would be in a hell of a place.

But you know, clearly most African-Americans, I think, are offended by most of the president's language, by most of his conversation, and certainly by the -- every night, every clip just leaves most African- Americans feeling this is a person who actively hates me. This is a person who hates people who look like me. And despite these individual one-off wins, I think we're clear that the legacy of Donald Trump and the future of Donald Trump are one and the same. He is racist.

LEMON: Yeah. I want to ask you, Kareem, because people look to you for this as a figure of authority and power in this country, someone who knows the history of this country. This is a big ask. If you could offer this president some advice, what would you say to him, especially in regards to all he has said, what he believes about this, and Spike Lee?

ABDUL-JABBAR: I don't think it's appropriate to ask the president for anything because he has his mind set on what he wants to do and that seems to be what we're going to get from him, his agenda. And if we're not with that, I think we'll be ignored. That seems to be the process so far. I don't think that's going to change.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, I want to talk to you about an op-ed that you wrote and other things, so stick with me, both of you.

[23:45:02] We've got to talk about Green Book's controversial win at the Oscars and why people are divided about whether it was real enough. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a great piece on that. We're going to talk about that next.


LEMON: So, the backlash continues over Oscar's Best Picture winner "Green Book." It is the story of an Italian-American driver for an elite black musician as they travel through the Deep South in the 1960s. Many critics slammed the film for a dated and one-sided portrayal of race relations for advancing the so-called white savior narrative. So back with me now, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kierna Mayo. So this is an interesting topic.

[23:50:00] Let's talk about this because, Kareem, a lot of people have criticized this movie and its message on race. You have a piece that is out in the Hollywood Reporter, Why the 'Green Book' Controversies Don't Matter. Explain the controversies and why you think it's overblown.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think it's overblown because it's a movie that's supposed to be entertainment and it's not a documentary. It's not supposed to be so factually accurate that, you know, and that being the standard for what they were doing. I think it really conveys the heart of the accurate story, and it gives us an opportunity to talk about something that we really need to talk about right now.

So, I'm glad it's out there. I'm glad it got the attention that it did. It's no different from the stories that they did about how the Klan was infiltrated and exposed by FBI agents. All of those movies, they weren't 100 percent factually accurate, but they conveyed what did happen, and it showed the bravery of the FBI and, you know, how black Americans also were involved in -- so intimately in winning the civil rights movement.

LEMON: What do you say, Kierna?

MAYO: Well, it's an honor to be sharing space with you gentlemen and certainly with Mr. Abdul-Jabbar --

LEMON: But you don't necessarily agree.

MAYO: -- but I do not necessarily agree. There is something that he wrote that I have to quote here. He says, film is more effective from Tony's point of view because the audience that be most changed by watching it is the white audience.

So, I guess that's what I take issue with it and I think that is what a lot of black critics are taking issue with. This idea that once again, we are centering the white audience, this idea that somehow we can't have any kind of progressive conversation about race either in a modern or historical context without deferring to the white lens.

This heroism that happens with this character only happens in the imagination of the white male creator. And so, it's not so much a question of historical accuracy. I think even Spike's film takes liberties in terms of what had happened in the past, with regard to what they were covering. But it's highly problematic, I believe, for us to keep visiting these same tropes, this same idea that a black man has to somehow deliver you from racism. It's not our job and it's not our responsibility.

LEMON: I want to give you a chance to respond because you also write about that. You explain sort of what she's talking about, you have an explanation for it. Go on, what do you say?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Oh, I think that both sides -- there are two sides to that. She's talking about the white person, you know, that is enlightened so much. But you know, I had experiences like that that I had, let's say, with my college coach John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches that ever stepped on the court.

He didn't understand intimately what black people have to go through on the daily basis until we lived together for three seasons and it was enlightening for him. So, I think that does happen and there's an exchange there. It's not just one-sided. And I think the movie tried, as far as I could see, to convey that.

LEMON: Yeah. So listen, I've got to get to this for time purposes because I think it's really important. I've got one more thing that I really want to ask you about and it's very exciting, that you are auctioning off some of your own sports memorabilia like your championship rings, signed jerseys for really, really great cause.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Yeah. LEMON: Can you tell us about that?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, my foundation works with the L.A. Unified School District and we send kids to camp for four nights and five days to study STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math subjects hands on with people provided by the L.A. Unified School District. And it really opens kids' minds up to the possibilities of great jobs in the 21st century. And it gives, as I say, a shot that can't be blocked, like my sky hook.

So, we are working with We hope to do a great job with the auction because a good part of the proceeds are going to enable me to keep my foundation going and keep the buses running, and, you know, deal with the backlog.

[23:55:05] We have about a five or six-year waiting list of schools wanting to participate. I'm very happy with the success so far and I want to keep it going.

LEMON: You help out a lot of people with that as we can see. And when does the auction start, do you know?

ABDUL-JABBAR: The auction has gone on most of this month. It ends March 2nd.

LEMON: Ah, awesome. Thank you so much.


LEMON: I got you. That's what I'm going to next. Thank you very much. I appreciate both of you joining us this evening. To bid on special items from Kareem's career and to help a great cause, visit There it is on the bottom of your screen. Thank you so much, everyone. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.