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CNN TONIGHT

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D) California Was Interviewed About His Take On Bob Mueller's Report; President Trump Attacks McCain Seven Months After Senator's Death; What The White House Is Saying, And Won't Say, About White Nationalism; The Republican National Committee Is Under Fire For A Tweet About Beto O'Rourke; New Zealand Grieving After Gunman Opens Fire At Two Mosques, Killing 50 People. Aired 11- 12a ET

Aired March 18, 2019 - 23:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

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

Robert Mueller's report on the Russia investigation hotly anticipated on Capitol Hill and at the White House. And it could come any day now.

Tonight, multiple sources telling CNN that White House lawyers expect to have an opportunity to review Mueller's findings before Attorney General Bill Barr submits them to Congress.

Sources saying attorneys want an opportunity to claim executive privilege over information drawn from documents and interviews with White House officials.

That sure to set up a political battle with congressional Democrats and it could also lead to the perception that President Trump is trying to keep information from the American public.

There's lots to discuss. So, joining me now, Shimon Prokupecz, Renato Mariotti, and Garrett Graff. Garrett is the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."

It's good to have all of you on, gentlemen. Thank you so much. Shimon, let's talk to -- let's get to the details here. How significant is it that White House lawyers are preparing to review Mueller's findings before Congress or the public even gets the chance to see it?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, it certainly could be significant in the sense of the perception in the way that people view that the White House is getting a heads up on this. Members of Congress certainly would have an issue with that as well.

The way, you know, it really should be working is whenever the Department of Justice decides that they want to make portions of this report public, it should just go straight to Congress and should go to the public at the same time.

Whether or not the White House gets any heads up, whether or not the White House gets to review it, the perception of it certainly could be problematic for the Department of Justice, which, you know, right now is trying to kind of stay -- stay away from getting in the middle of any kind of political fight.

They know they're about to take on a lot once Mueller is done and the report is submitted to him. Bill Barr is going to have to ultimately decide, the attorney general, how much he's going to release. We don't expect it to be the full report, certainly not initially.

But then if the White House starts intervening and starts meddling in that, it's certainly going to create problems politically for everyone involved.

LEMON: I can only imagine. Renato, you know, this is really about whether A.G. Barr decides to give Congress and maybe make public not the full report. If the White House claims executive privilege, can that be challenged in court?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And I'd expect there to be a very lengthy legal challenge. And, frankly, I think that's a loser for the Trump administration no matter how that goes.

In other words, if the courts say that Trump and his attorneys can review this in advance and keep information from Congress, well, Congress is -- I think that will set off their suspicions. They're going to want to know what did Trump and his administration think was so damaging that they didn't want Congress to know or concerned enough that they were going to fight to keep it from Congress?

So, I would expect Congress to conduct its own investigation. Perhaps haul in Mueller and try to find out the information anyway. So, to me, this is a real loser of a move politically. It also legally, it's bizarre because usually when you disclose information, in this case to Mueller, usually that waives privilege.

There is some really bizarre unusual legal arguments being made by Trump's team just to assert privilege. So, it will be interesting to see how those will hold up in court.

LEMON: Garrett, you say this is another, yet another example of the Trump administration acting like they're guilty. Is this approach doing them more harm than good, do you think?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, I think it's notable how little of the president's public defense for this entire two-year period has been "I did nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide, I welcome a full airing of all of the relevant facts," which is something you have virtually never heard from the president on Twitter or his TV lawyers or his legal team.

That this is a situation yet again where the Trump White House immediately is defaulting to trying to hide information before they even know what the information is. Which is why, by the why, I don't think we necessarily need to be all that worried about this.

This is surely something that Bob Mueller has been thinking about, and I really believe that Mueller is not going to be tripped up in the final moments of this investigation by the White House getting to review it with executive privilege.

[23:05:03] If there is information that Bob Mueller thinks is material to the public's understanding of this investigation, it will get out and he has surely had time and legal thought to think through how to do that.

That's one of the reasons I've really believe that we're going to see one more big round of indictments prior to a report coming out. That he's not going to hinge everything on a report that he doesn't know what of that might ever be made public.

If it's in a court document, if it's in a court filing, he controls when it gets made public and what gets made public.

LEMON: And remember, Renato, during Barr's confirmation hearings, remember he said that he was friends with Robert Mueller and that he'd still be friends after it was over. Do you think he would sort of water down Mueller's investigation this way?

MARIOTTI: I would suspect he may because he has such an expansive view of executive power, potentially of executive privilege. I mean, I am skeptical if, for example, there is information in there that the White House wants to protect even if Congress might consider it relevant to impeachment.

I think Barr might be willing to do that. I mean, here's a man who felt so strongly about views that the Justice Department was taking regarding whether our president could be charged with obstruction of justice that he wrote a 19-page single-spaced memo to provide to Trump's attorneys and to officials at the Justice Department.

That strikes me as somebody who has very strong views on that subject, so I wouldn't be surprised if he took aggressive views, and that ultimately may create some problems for the administration.

LEMON: Shimon, back to you now because there is another big development tomorrow that we're going to see. We're going to see the search warrant and other documents related to the FBI raids on Michael Cohen. What are you going to be looking for?

PROKUPECZ: The affidavit is going to be the big thing in the release tomorrow. These are being released because the media had asked the judge, you know, CNN and other media outlets filed a motion with the judge asking for this information to be released. The judge said today that this is going to be released. There will be some redactions.

But the key here is the affidavit. What did the government use to support to get these search warrants? Remember, the way in which they did this, it's really not something that the FBI does often. They don't go in and raid the offices of attorneys, especially someone who is the attorney of the president, the personal attorney.

So, I think the affidavit is going to be key here because it maybe gives us a better explanation as to why the FBI went in the way they went in. Remember, they were concerned that someone was going to destroy evidence, so perhaps we'll learn more about that. But it's going to be all about their sort of -- the gathering of

information that they put forth to the judge to try and get these search warrants. We already know a lot of the information that was in the search warrants, but it's going to be the affidavit that's going to be the key here.

LEMON: Interesting. Garrett, do you think these documents, do you think they might shed some light on other ongoing investigations involving the president?

GRAFF: Well, they will certainly give some context to what initially interested investigators, whether that was ultimately this campaign finance violation that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to last August or other cases related to his tax fraud, bank fraud, taxi medallion fraud, we don't really know.

But, again, you know, this is a great example, an important example of how Bob Mueller hasn't found nothing. That even if at the end of this, you know, he closes shop tomorrow and heads home, that he has already exposed that the Trump campaign in 2016 was the most criminal presidential campaign in American history.

There was a stunning amount of aggressive widespread and extensive criminality by many of the senior executives around the Trump throughout that 2016 campaign, and that's something that would not have come to light at this point without the Mueller investigation.

LEMON: Renato, you know, Michael Cohen is heading to prison in may but he continues to cooperate in the ongoing investigations. Do you think he's still a valuable resource to prosecutors?

MARIOTTI: Absolutely. Anyone who had that much contact, not only with President Trump but with a lot of the people around him on a pretty regular basis is going to be valuable.

He understands on so many different levels. He understands how the Trump Organization works. He was, I'm sure, familiar with some of the inaugural -- inauguration activities. That's an ongoing investigation.

He obviously was communicating with a lot of the other individuals who have been investigating in this suit. So, I would expect him to continue to be of aid to them. It appeared from his Congressional testimony he said that he was helpful, not only working with the Justice Department but also with state prosecutors as well.

[23:10:01] LEMON: Shimon, as if there wasn't enough news, we're learning another prosecutor's leaving the special counsel's office, another sign that Mueller could submit his report any day now?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so this prosecutor, Zainab Ahmad, you know, I've actually known her for quite some time. She used to be a prosecutor in Brooklyn. She's done a lot of counterterrorism work, well-regarded. She's been with Mueller since the beginning. She's been with Andrew Weissman, who is another prosecutor that's leaving.

The thing is with her that she was really focused on Flynn, Michael Flynn. She was involved in that investigation. She was involved in other parts of it. There is this mystery grand jury that's ongoing that's now -- they're arguing over some documents that the Mueller team wants.

She's involved in that as well. What Peter Carr, the spokesperson from the special counsel's office, said is that she's going to continue to handle matters even though she no longer will be with the special counsel's office. She's going back to the Department of Justice. Her detail at the special counsel's office is over, essentially. She's done there.

So whatever it is that she's been working on, she's going to take with her, which I think is an important point because what that tells us is that even when Mueller is done, whenever that may be, it could be soon, it could be in a week, it could be longer, there are parts of this investigation that are going to continue and that are going to live on by people like this prosecutor.

And that's something that, you know, I think it's important for people to understand. That even if Mueller is done, that does not mean that parts of this investigation do not live on. There could be many parts of this investigation that are going to live on for quite some time.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you. I appreciate it.

If the White House exerts executive privilege over Mueller's findings, what will Congress do? Congressman Eric Swalwell will answer that next.

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: New tonight, White House lawyers say they expect to see Robert Mueller's findings before a report goes to Congress. They want the opportunity to claim executive privilege, a claim that would set up a political battle over the perception that President Trump is trying to shield information from the public.

Let's discuss now. Congressman Eric Swalwell is here. He serves on the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Good evening to you. Thank you for coming on.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Of course.

LEMON: So, Bill Barr, the attorney general he is going to have an opportunity to review this, decide if it comes out. Do you think the White House is going to claim executive privilege?

SWALWELL: I do. But they don't sound like a team that has nothing to hide. Only someone who has something to hide would be so interested in prescreening what the outcome is.

If the president truly was interested in transparency and did nothing wrong in his businesses as a candidate and at transition and leading the administration, then you would say, hey, you know what? This is all nonsense. I cooperated. Here you go. But that's not -- he knows. He -- because he has a guilty conscience,

he has tried to obstruct. So, I suspect we're going to have to litigate this.

LEMON: Our reporting is -- CNN's reporting is that Mueller's, the confidential report to the attorney general is expected any day now. So, he's going to have a lot of discretion in deciding what he's going to share, what he's not going to share, even with lawmakers.

What are you -- what are you going to do and Democrats, others in your committee, whatever, to ensure that the American public learn about whatever the findings are in Mueller's investigation in the report?

SWALWELL: You know, I spent the last two years with many of my colleagues going across the country as people marched in the streets, went to town halls, and went to the ballot box to make sure that we could see this report.

So, I'm going to fight like hell to make sure we see this report, whether it's organizing again, whether it's using my lungs, you know, whether it's outmaneuvering with our minds. The American people are going to see this report.

If we had not won the house, I wouldn't say that so confidently to you, but the American people will see every word of this report.

LEMON: One senior official told CNN that they're going to do everything to work with the Democrats, right? But they said that they want it to be fair. They want it to be fair. Do you expect the White House to cooperate?

SWALWELL: No.

LEMON: At all?

(CROSSTALK)

SWALWELL: No, no. We have to --

LEMON: Do you think that's just lip service?

SWALWELL: We have to be realistic. They've not cooperated on a single thing as it relates to what Russia did to attack our elections. And they have shown no interest in protecting us from future attacks.

And so, no, I'm fully prepared for them not to cooperate. I do expect Republicans, though, in Congress to cooperate. They just went on record last week, 420 of us to zero saying that we want to see every single word of the Mueller report. So, they're on record now.

So, you know, I expect them to keep their word. And right now, I'm not going to hit them over the head with that because, you know, I think they should do what's right.

LEMON: You're on the judiciary committee.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: The Chairman of the Judiciary Committee is Jerry Nadler. He says he's received "tens of thousands of documents," that's a quote, from as many -- from many of the 81 individuals and entities contacted as part of the investigation into President Trump and his inner circle. Do you know anything about that and what can you tell us?

SWALWELL: So, right. We're looking at abuse of power. We're looking at corrupt practices by the president and we're looking at obstruction of justice. You know, 81, I mean, when I heard that, I thought, that's it?

It seems like there's a lot more, you know, folks out there, but, you know, I do believe that seeking voluntary information first is the way we should go about this. Ideally, they turn over the documents.

If they don't, then we have subpoena power that we didn't have before, but I do believe that we've seen already in daylight, broad daylight obstruction of justice, abuse of power and a corrupt presidency, and these documents will affirm that.

LEMON: All right. That's from your work on the Judiciary Committee. You're on the House Intel Committee as well.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: Chairman Adam Schiff asking the FBI to investigate Cindy Yang.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: Cindy Yang once owned that massage parlor that New England Patriots Bob Kraft was caught up in, charged with soliciting prostitution. She has some previous relationship with the president of the United States. What is behind this request from Schiff?

[23:19:52] SWALWELL: Well, it's just to make sure that, you know, we don't have any individual who potentially could be connected, you know, to the Chinese government who is drawing themselves close to the Trump Organization.

Now, let's just all admit the Trump team has priors, right? They've done this with the Russians. They allowed the Russians to come in in a way that no presidential campaign or transition ever would allow.

They've done this with the Saudis where they've allowed us to get close to the Saudis to the point where we can't call them out for killing a U.S. resident, U.S. journalist on NATO ally's soil. So, they've got priors that should concern us. I can't say more than that right now, other than like we have reason to look.

LEMON: Yes. So, you joined me the night before Beto O'Rourke jumped in. Now he's raised 6.1 --

(CROSSTALK)

SWALWELL: Yes. Good for Beto. LEMON: -- 6.1, that's a lot of money.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: Six point one million dollars.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: And in 24 hours. You've suggested that you might get into the race. There are lots of --

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: -- there is a crowded field.

SWALWELL: I said by the end of the month.

LEMON: Yes. There is a crowded field out there. They're all -- the American people is getting to know them. Do you want to be part of the crowd that the American people are getting to know?

SWALWELL: Yes. I do have deep interest in leading this country because I know why people work hard and what they expect it to add up to. I saw my parents do that. But I see that the promise of America that when you work hard you do better for yourself and dream for your kids, it's not reaching every block of every neighborhood, it's not reaching every floor of every building.

It's something that I lived and something that I continue to live today as a father of two kids paying off my student loan debt. And I see that generationally I could bring optimism and inventiveness to a Washington that needs it.

And Don, I've been in these fights for the last seven years as our democracy has been on the line. The country knows that I have stood firm to face the threats from the outside and the attacks on the inside with the rule of law and they would have someone who could continue to do that.

LEMON: So, you said by the end of the month. We're just, you know, a little over the halfway -- at the halfway mark, so soon.

SWALWELL: Yes. We're getting there, very soon.

LEMON: I keep pushing you.

SWALWELL: Yes.

LEMON: Like I don't know. I got to run. Thank you, Congressman.

SWALWELL: Of course. Thanks, Don.

LEMON: I appreciate it.

SWALWELL: Of course. LEMON: The president attacking an American war hero, Senator John McCain, just months after McCain passed away. One of McCain's closest friends responds next.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump attacking the late Senator John McCain who died in August. Trump griping on Twitter about McCain's no vote for the Obamacare repeal bill and claiming that McCain was last in his class at the navy academy, which actually is not true.

Trump also falsely suggested that McCain was responsible for spreading the Russia dossier to the media, but according to court documents, a McCain associate and former State Department diplomat received copies of the dossier in 2016 and shared it with a reporter at BuzzFeed.

So why does the president keep going after John McCain? Here with me now to discuss is Grant Woods. He's a former Arizona attorney general who was a very good friend of the late Senator John McCain's. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Woods. I really appreciate it for coming on and talking about it.

GRANT WOODS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL, ARIZONA: Thanks for having me on, Don. Yes.

LEMON: So, the president --

(CROSSTALK)

WOODS: Yes, absolutely.

LEMON: -- attacked John McCain on Twitter again. Why is he still so obsessed with attacking a war hero who passed away seven months ago?

WOODS: Well, that's a good question, you know? I think all of us could probably, you know, we could spend the rest of our lives trying to psychoanalyze this guy and it's probably not worth the time, frankly. But obviously, the president does not understand that people who are your opponents, people who are in the opposite political party or opponents in your own party are not your enemies, that at the end of the day we're all Americans.

And, you know, we don't get too many heroes in this world and in this country and everybody knows John McCain was an American hero. He was one of our very best.

And so, it doesn't reflect on John McCain to have him continually attacked like this, it reflects on Donald Trump. It demeans not McCain, it demeans the presidency and it demeans Donald Trump.

LEMON: I was surprised because John McCain wrote about the dossier in his book and said for all the critics he didn't, you know, they can go to you know what. But he shared it with the FBI. Which was probably what he was supposed to do, is share it with law enforcement --

WOODS: Sure. LEMON: -- if someone sends you information like that.

WOODS: That's what happened. He got the information and he read it and it's pretty explosive. He immediately delivered it to the FBI and said this is for you all to deal with. That's what -- that's what a statesman does. That's what a good American does. And that's what John McCain did.

LEMON: That's what an ethical person should do and would do. So his daughter, Meghan, responded to the president on The View today. Check it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGHAN MCCAIN, CO-HOST, ABC: He spends his weekend obsessing over great men because he knows it and I know it and all of you know it, he will never be a great man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MCCAIN: My father was his kryptonite in life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MCCAIN: He's his kryptonite in death. I just thought your life is spent on your weekends not with your family --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MCCAIN: -- not with your friends but obsessing, obsessing over great men you could never live up to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

MCCAIN: That tells you everything you need to know about his pathetic life right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I thought that was a very classy response. I thought it was right on. And I just can't imagine having to respond to attacks after your loved one has died, the attacks by the president of the United States. It's very unfair to the family. It's awful.

WOODS: It is unfair to the family, but, you know, it's a measure of the man and it's a measure of Cindy McCain that they have -- they have great kids and their kids can handle this.

[23:30:04] You know, I've known them -- I've known Meghan since she was a baby and all of the kids, and they're all fantastic. So, I think that's a measure of them as parents and John as a man. Look, people like us who got to be around and in government at a time when John McCain was around and in government, we were the lucky ones.

And we know how heroic he was. And, Don, to me, he was -- he was heroic the first day I met him, the first day he stepped into the United States Senate, and he was heroic in the last week that he was in the Senate when he went and gave the speech trying to get everybody to come together as Americans to solve problems and when he had the guts to walk on to that Senate floor and save health care for millions of Americans by giving them the thumbs down. That was heroic. He shouldn't have even been there.

I spent the weekend with him up at the cabin that weekend before when he flew out to Washington on Monday and it was pretty clear he was going to go to Mayo on Monday morning and the doctors were going to tell him don't fly, don't do it. He just had brain surgery. You could die en route. John McCain didn't flinch for a second. He was saying, well, we'll see what they say. When we talked on the side, it was like, yeah, I'm going.

LEMON: Yeah.

WOODS: I need to be there. I need to go. I have a duty to go. So, hey, john McCain is a hero. Donald Trump won't be there after a period of time.

LEMON: Yeah. He was heroic in how he fought cancer. He fought it up until the very end. I got to ask you about -- listen, judging from -- I watched Meghan today and people called John McCain -- Lindsey Graham, John McCain's best friend, I'm not so sure about that, you know, judging from her reaction, maybe I'm reading something into it, but he seemingly tweeted a response to Trump's attack saying, "Nothing about John McCain's service will ever be changed or diminished."

He didn't call the president out by name. It seemed like a tepid response to me, very disappointing response. Are you disappointed by that?

WOODS: You know, Don, I don't know. I think Senator Graham has a lot of positive qualities and certainly he and John had a lot of great times together and did a lot of good things together. I've been disappointed by a lot of things Senator Graham has done, cozying up to President Trump so much and trying to be his best friend all of a sudden.

It seems to me he's showing that, unfortunately, he's not that different than most politicians in that the top five most important things in their lives are to be re-elected and to be re-elected and to be re-elected. I mean, that's what it's all about. But one thing I learned a long time, I learned in politics and I've learned in life, you don't walk past an old friend to try to make a new friend, and I think Senator Graham at some point in his life will reflect on that and realize that he shouldn't have done that.

That you can try to do your best to make a good situation out of this presidency as best you can, try to influence the president positively, but when it comes down to your close friend, a person who meant so much to you and who is an American hero, you draw the line there and you stand up for your friend and you stand up strongly for your friend, as all Americans really should do and most of them do.

LEMON: Grant Woods, thank you. Our regards to the McCain family as well, OK?

WOODS: OK. Thank you, Don. Thanks for having this segment on and thanks for letting us talk about our friend and our hero, John McCain.

LEMON: Absolutely. Come back any time. The White House chief of staff is insisting that President Trump is not a white supremacist. We're going to discuss what they're saying and won't say about white nationalism, next.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, publicly insisting that President Trump is not a white supremacist. Let's discuss. Karen Finney is here, Scott Jennings, Mehdi Hasan.

Good evening, one and all. I appreciate you being here.

Mehdi, I'm going to start with you. The chief of staff forced to defend the president after critics called him out on his rhetoric in the wake of the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that. To simply ask the question every time something like this happens overseas or even domestically to say, oh, my goodness, it must somehow be the president's fault speaks to a politicization of everything that I think is undermining sort of the institutions that we have in the country today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: How many times do I have to say this? Do we have to say this? I mean, it can't be good, seriously, when you're trying to convince people the president is not a white supremacist. I know you disagree with Mr. Mulvaney on this, Mehdi.

MEHDI HASAN, COLUMNIST, "THE INTERCEPT": I do disagree with him because, you know, I understand why White House staff and the conservatives get very upset when Trump is linked to white nationalist. It is a pretty big thing to say. On the other hand, they also like to say that facts don't care about your feelings.

Well, here are facts. Donald Trump during the election campaign, Don, he re-tweeted a guy whose literal Twitter handle was white genocide. He was endorsed by white nationalists like the KKK and David Duke, who he only belatedly reluctantly disavowed. He appointed a white nationalist as a delegate in California.

After becoming president, he appointed as his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who proudly bragged that Breitbart was the platform of the alt-right. He appointed Sebastian Gorka, who was accused of having ties to a Hungarian Nazi group. He retweeted British neo-Nazis. He called Nazis in Charlottesville "very fine people." His national economic adviser hosted a white nationalist at his birthday party the other day. Last year, he had to suck (ph) a speechwriter for going to a white nationalist --

LEMON: Mehdi, I only have so much --

HASAN: -- conference.

(LAUGHTER)

[23:40:01] LEMON: This is only an hour show.

HASAN: Here is my point. I can go on all night. Here's my point, Don. It doesn't matter whether Mick Mulvaney or you and me think he's -- we can debate whether he's a white nationalist or not. The point is that the white nationalists think he's a white nationalist.

LEMON: So, Scott, given that, you just heard what Mehdi just said. If you -- give him the benefit of the doubt if you want, but a lot of his rhetoric is welcomed by white nationalists. He uses a lot of the same terminology, a lot of the same rhetoric. If he doesn't want to give them any comfort, any encouragement, why not just stop it and stop retweeting things that are, you know, from white nationalists and on and on? Go on.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the president is not a white nationalist. Don, you and I have talked about this many times. I think he has fallen short in his language on many occasions. But I don't think that falling short on your language or on your rhetoric automatically connects you to the actions of some person who commits some evil atrocity in another country which some people have tried to make that connection.

So, look, I think that this whole issue is going to keep coming up because there are people who want to continue to feed this narrative. As long as there are, there are going to be people like Mick Mulvaney who are going to go out and defend the president. We're going to have rinse and repeat. I don't see this cycle ending before the end of this presidency because folks are going to want to believe it. Folks are going to want to defend it. Neither side is going to give an inch.

LEMON: Karen, I want to bring you in here because the president downplays white nationalism, saying he doesn't think it's a rising global threat which contradicts the FBI's statistics, by the way.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right.

LEMON: Why can't he unequivocally condemn white nationalism in all forms, do you think?

FINNEY: Well because, number one, he is someone who has espoused racist beliefs and ideologies since his early days. Remember back in real estate working with his father when, you know, the applications from African-Americans got a "C" for "colored" on them, right? And the Central Park Five and -- so the history goes on and on and on.

And so the thing that he could do as president would be to -- how -- think about how do you use the bully pulpit? How do you use the power of the presidency not just to say and acknowledge that white nationalism is on the rise, but that also we don't support white nationalists in this country? That we believe that that is a form of -- in this country, domestic terrorism?

We know it is actually now growing form of terrorism around the globe. And how could he use the Department of Justice or other tools of government to make it clear and make a stand against white nationalism, white supremacy or as, you know, was Steve King who kind of said, when did all these words become, you know, so bad? Well, they've always been bad. It's always been wrong. It's never been good to use the presidency to mainstream racist ideology.

LEMON: Yeah. Mehdi, criminology experts widely agree that manifestos like the gunman's should not be widely publicized or evenly elevated. White House senior counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway urged everyone to read the entire thing. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Unlike most mass shootings, this man came with pre-receipts, if you will. He put out a 70-page manifesto, and I guess everybody scoured it, searched for Donald Trump's name, and there it is, one time. But he also said he aligns closely with the ideology of China. He said he's not a conservative, he's not a Nazi. I think he referred to himself as an eco-naturalist or an eco-fascist. But people should read the entire -- it in its entirety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Mehdi, is the administration more concerned with avoiding blame and acknowledging and responding to the facts from the FBI and other agencies and responding directly to the gunman's words?

HASAN: Yeah. They know this is an issue. They see the statistics more than you and I do, Don. I'm sure they see much worse statistics than we do. They know, for example, you know, the 50 percent increase in white nationalist groups in 2018, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, massive increase in hate crimes on their watch.

And yeah, rather than dealing with that, Mick Mulvaney was asked on the Fox News yesterday, why doesn't the president give a speech or an address where he denounces this stuff once and for all? And he could not answer that question. That is a problem, Don. That is a real issue.

And just to respond to what Scott said earlier about, you know, this being two sides arguing it out, let's be real here. If ISIS had blown up something up during the Obama presidency and put out a manifesto where they said that Obama was a symbol of renewed ISIS identity, we would all be losing our minds and not just Fox News.

FINNEY: Can we also -- Don, we should point out that, remember, so much of Donald Trump's election, I mean, put all the Russian meddling and all that aside for a moment, it was based on the premise of dividing America, right?

Those people, he talked about the Muslim ban. He talked about, you know, Mexican-Americans, derogatory language. He has built his presidency -- we know -- I mean there have been multiple studies that have shown that one of the largest indicators of people who voted for Donald Trump was a fear of change.

[23:44:59] That didn't just mean they were afraid that their kids wouldn't have the same future that they did. They were afraid that "those people" were taking away opportunity, and Donald Trump played right into it. Now that we're approaching 2020, what did the president spend his first veto on? What does he spend his time on? Building a wall.

Why? To keep out brown people because we know that 2020, that is again how he wants to run his election which is again, catering to this base, this small base. I think it's really important that we acknowledge that the vast majority of Americans do not support white nationalists.

LEMON: OK.

FINNEY: Do not support white supremacists.

LEMON: Scott, I have to ask you about that. Do you think -- every single person was saying don't share it, you know, the information in the manifesto, the video, all of it. Do you think that Kellyanne Conway should be encouraging people to read the manifesto of this murderer?

JENNINGS: I knew we were going to talk about this so I actually called Kellyanne Conway and talked to her on the phone about it tonight before the show, Don. We had a good chat about it. She was trying to make point. She told me that a lot of people had been bringing up to her that Donald Trump's name was mentioned in it, so she was trying to respond to that.

I don't think she was trying to tell people go read it word for word, she was pointing out that the guy who wrote it had thrown in a lot of different things, memes, trolls, what have you to try to get us all to talk about it, fight about it and do what we're doing right now. So, I talked to her about it. No, I don't believe she was trying to get people to read it.

LEMON: Does she regret it?

JENNINGS: She was pointing out that he was trying to get us to fight about what we're fighting about right now and bring more attention to it, frankly, which we're also doing.

LEMON: Did she regret saying what she said and bringing more attention to it?

JENNINGS: No. She told me that she had been repeatedly asked about it and she was trying to make the point that this guy has said a lot of different things about China, about being an eco-fascist, about Donald Trump, about this, that and the other. So she was thinking that people had been cherry picking the Donald Trump part and ignoring the other parts to drive an agenda.

HASAN: But --

FINNEY: But imagine --

JENNINGS: That's what she was responding to.

HASAN: But imagine if it was Obama's name in a manifesto from ISIS. Are you telling me that Kellyanne Conway --

JENNINGS: Actually, I don't have to imagine this. You know why? Because a guy -- I don't have to imagine it because a guy went to the congressional baseball practice and shot up a bunch of Republican congressmen, an admitted viewer of a liberal network and an admitted supporter of Bernie Sanders.

HASAN: And Bernie Sanders took to the floor of the Senate and denounced it within minutes.

JENNINGS: -- for that guy's actions.

(CROSSTALK)

JENNINGS: It's not right to blame a politician for a crazy person.

LEMON: One at a time. Go ahead, Mehdi. Mehdi, start over. What did you say?

HASAN: Bernie Sanders took to the floor of the Senate that morning and denounced him. I've not heard Donald Trump -- as I said to you, Don, last week when we discussed this. I heard Donald Trump call ISIS terrorists scum, losers, evil, they are. I never hear him say that about white nationalists.

And it is not just one guy. The guy in Charlottesville is a Trump fan. The guy in Quebec City is a Trump fan, Google it 800 times. There is a chain here. Trump has to come out and say fine, all these people are fans of mine, but I love them. They are evil. He doesn't do it.

LEMON: Hold that thought right after the break. We'll be right back.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So the Republican National Committee is under fire tonight for a tweet about Beto O'Rourke. Back with me are Karen Finney, Scott Jennings, Mehdi Hasan. So Karen, on St. Patrick's Day, the Republican Party sent out a tweet mocking Beto O'Rourke's Irish heritage, using his mug shot from a 1998 drunk driving arrest and saying, "On this St. Patrick's Day, a special message from noted Irishman Robert Francis O'Rourke." The tweet promotes offensive Irish stereotypes.

FINNEY: Yup.

LEMON: Why would anyone think that this is a good idea, especially coming from Republican National Committee?

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY: I have no idea. I have to tell you, you know, I am actually part Irish so I have to take up for Irish people.

LEMON: Finney, who --

FINNEY: What can I say?

LEMON: Who would have thought?

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEY: Actually it's a true fact. I mean, you know, again, any time you're using racist tropes to promote any kind of message or as a way to attack an opponent, it's just uncalled for and it's unnecessary. There's plenty of things they could have attacked Beto O'Rourke for, although I bet you they were regretting that today or even more afraid of him today, the $6 million man with the fundraising number that he announced, so they better be afraid of him.

LEMON: Scott --

FINNEY: But it's just unnecessary.

LEMON: Scott, a number of Republicans condemned the tweet. Michigan Republican Representative Justin Amash said, "Do better, GOP. Be better." Do you agree? Does the GOP need to do better?

JENNINGS: Yeah, I think the tweet was amateur hour, frankly. Look, the subject matter is relevant. I'm sure it will be discussed by Democrats and Republicans in the campaign, but the tweet itself was not the right way to go about injecting it into the campaign. So, I wouldn't have done it and don't recommend it for the future.

LEMON: This is Beto O'Rourke responding to the GOP's tweet yesterday, Mehdi. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: I take from that that people want us focused on the big picture, on our goals. They want us to be defined, not by this pettiness or the personal attacks we see in ones like the ad you just described. They want us to be defined by our ambitions, our aspirations, the work that we're willing to do to pull this very deeply divided country together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Pretty standard response. He responded similarly when the president attacked him, criticized him on his arm movement. He said that American voters aren't interested in personal attacks. What do you think, Mehdi?

HASAN: Sadly, American voters are interested in personal attacks. Hence, we have Donald Trump in the White House. Look, these personal attacks are ironic because, of course, George Bush was arrested for driving under the influence. Dick Cheney, I think, was arrested twice. Matt Gates, the rising star of the Congressional Republican Party was arrest for driving under the influence not in 1998 as Beto was but in 2008. It's not just a racist tweet. It is a pretty hypocritical tweet.

[23:55:00] But it shows what the modern Republican Party has become. This is the party of Trump. Lock, stock, and barrel. They imitate the president's tweets. They copy his racist, crude behavior. I don't believe Michael Steele or even Reince Priebus of RNC would put out a tweet like this.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate your time. Have a good night. See you soon.

HASAN: You too, Don.

LEMON: Before we leave you tonight, people in New Zealand are still trying to come to grips with the mass shooting at two mosques on Friday which killed 50 worshippers, injured dozens. Prime minister saying the nation is united in grief. One way New Zealanders are paying tribute to the victims is through Haka. The Haka is a traditional chant and dance once used in war but now performed to mark celebrations and remembrances. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And in the wake of the mass shooting, New Zealand is already moving to reform its gun laws. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

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