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War Of Words Blazing Over At Social Media; President Trump Attacks The Late Senator John McCain; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein Wants To Be A Heat Shield Of Mueller's Report; Almost 20 Pages Of Omissions Related To The Hush Money Payment Made By Donald Trump; Senator Warren Calling For An End Of The Electoral College; An Eight-Point Jump For California Senator Kamala Harris. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 19, 2019 - 22:00   ET




We've got big news tonight on the Mueller investigation to tell you about. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, intends to stay at the Justice Department longer than he planned. Until the Mueller report drops.

A source is telling CNN that Rosenstein wants to stick around so he can be the, quote, "heat shield," or take the punches if there's fallout from the report. We're going to have more on that in just a moment. A lot more on that in just a moment to tell you about.

But tonight, we've also got to talk about all the president's enemies, OK? Well, his perceived enemies, at least, anybody who doesn't knuckle under and give him exactly what he wants, anybody who stands for something, like John McCain.

President Trump just, he won't let it go. Went won't let go of his grudge against the late senator and war hero, by the way, who died of brain cancer in late August. But the president doubled down again today after blaming McCain with blatantly false race tweets over the weekend.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very unhappy that he didn't repeal and replace Obamacare, as you know. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare for years. And then he got to a vote and he said, thumbs down.

And our country would have saved a trillion dollars and we would have had great health care. So, he campaigned. He told us hours before that he was going to repeal and replace. And for some time, I think I understand the reason, he ended up going thumbs up.

And frankly, had we even known that, I think we would have gotten the vote, because we could have gotten somebody else. So, I think that's disgraceful. Plus, there were other things. I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be.


LEMON: Just let it go, man. The reason I say that is because, I need to remind you, the senator's no vote on repealing Obamacare was in July of 2017. that was two and a half years ago. The president still can't let go of it. Even after the senator's death.

And in response to his accusation that McCain misled him about his vote, a former McCain aide today said the president is lying. It's also clear this was never all about Obamacare. Donald Trump made no secret of his hatred for John McCain. Who can forget this during the campaign?


TRUMP: He's not a war hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a war hero.

TRUMP: He's a war hero --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five and a half years in a --

TRUMP: He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured.


LEMON: Yes, I should say it's almost two years ago, not two and a half years ago. But listen, all of that is bad enough. But we also know, when this president speaks or when the president tweets, people listen.

The senator's widow, Cindy McCain, posting an attack from someone on Facebook Messenger, a brutal hate-filled attack on her husband. Mrs. McCain tweeting sarcastically, "I want to make sure all of you could see how kind and loving a stranger can be." So, we're blurring the worst expletive from that message.

But what's left is pretty disgusting. Take a look at your screen. And I warn you, it's just as difficult to listen to as it is for me to read it. I wish we didn't have to talk about this kind of thing, but Mrs. McCain is right. This kind of hatred needs to be called out openly.

The message, and this is a quote. "Your husband was a traitorous piece of warmongering shit and I'm glad he's dead. Hope your Mrs. Piggy- looking daughter chokes to death on the next burger she stuffs down her fat neck, too." C-word. Disgusting. Pure hatred for a man and for his family.

So, let me just take this opportunity right now to apologize to the McCain family, to send support to Mrs. McCain and to Meghan and to their entire family. They should not have to deal with this.

We don't know anything about the woman who posted that, but I think we can all agree that it is unacceptable.

That as the president took aim at another enemy today, George Conway, after Kellyanne Conway's husband tweeted the definition of narcissistic personality disorder, suggesting that the president shows the symptoms.

Trump's response, quote, "A total loser," while retweeting the claim that Conway was angry because Trump refused to give him a job, not to mention the claim that the president doesn't know Conway.

Well, George Conway shot down all of that in an interview with ""The Washington Post"" today and offered quite an explanation for why he's been tweeting about Trump.

[22:05:02] And here's the quote. "The mendacity, the incompetence is just maddening to watch. The tweeting is just the way to get it out of the way so I can get it off my chest and move on with my life that day. That's basically it. Frankly, it's so I don't end up screaming at her about it."

Her meaning his wife, counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Yikes, the president went on to spin a new conspiracy theory today, claiming with no evidence that social media censors conservatives.


TRUMP: It seems to be if they're conservative, if they're Republicans, if they're in a certain group, there's discrimination, and big discrimination.

So, something is happening with those groups of folks that are running Facebook and Google and Twitter. And I do think we have to get to the bottom of it. It's very fair. It's collusive and it's very, very fair to say that we have to -- we have to do something about it.

And if we don't, you know, the incredible thing is that we can win an election and we have such a stacked deck. And that includes networks, frankly. You look at what's happening with the networks. You look at what's happening with different shows and it's hard to believe we win.


LEMON: Imagine that his campaign manager says they're going to use social media, it's going to be their biggest way that they're going to win the election. The guy's always on Twitter.

It's hard to believe that this president, the president of the United States who communicates with millions of people anytime he feels like I want feels like it thinks like he is being censored or discriminating -- discriminated against?

You know who else might agree with President Trump? Brazil's president? President Trump and Bolsonaro, bonding today over their attacks on the media.


JAIR BOLSONARO, PRESIDENT OF BRAZIL (through translator): May I say that Brazil and the United States stand side by side in their efforts to ensure liberties and respect to traditional family lifestyles, with respect to God, our creator, against the gender ideology or the politically correct attitudes, and against fake news.


LEMON: So, this is the guy the president is palling around with. Let me tell you. You heard him there, talking about traditional family lifestyles and gender ideologies.

He's also known for saying, this was in 2013, that he would rather have a son who's an addict than a son who is gay, and saying he was quote, "proud to be homophobic."

You also heard him there railing against politically correct attitudes and against news he doesn't like. But none of that dimmed President Trump's enthusiasm for the man known as a Trump of the tropics.

You know how the president loves a good nickname? What he doesn't love, anybody who crosses him. But attacks on his perceived enemies, like John McCain, are the shiny objects designed to deflect and distract you from, let me see. What could it be?

Yes, the Mueller investigation, the SDNY investigation, the multiple congressional investigations, all of the president's investigations. Wonder what he doesn't want you to know? Think about that.

Let's discuss now. Frank Bruni is here. Laura Coates, and Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The Truth About Trump."

Good evening. How are you, guys? We have a lot to talk about. I just want to say, why can't he just let this go with John McCain? It is really just underneath the dignity of any human being. It's vile.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this is the complaint of a fraudster relating to an authentic American hero. So McCain is the genuine article. He's a man who achieved at the highest levels by playing by the rules, by treating people well, by being decent and dignified.

Donald Trump is an undignified wretched man. And this is the kind of thing that a wretched man will say about a man of grace.


D'ANTONIO: He resents him.

LEMON: I just wanted to get that out of the way. We're going to talk much more about that throughout the show.

Hey, Laura, let's start with the news that we're learning about Rod Rosenstein. He's denouncing on longer than planned to act as a, quote, "a heat shield if there's fallout from the Mueller report." Who's he trying to protect? Is he trying to protect someone?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think he's trying to protect the integrity of the investigation.

Remember, when you heard Rod Rosenstein speak about the investigation, even when he's giving press conferences that go along with the release of different indictments.

He has said, listen, the American people should feel secure and confident in the integrity of the investigation, that there's evidentiary support for what they are saying, and that this is exactly the counterargument for a witch hunt.

I think he wants to be there as the mainstay, the consistent name being look at to say, somebody who was there all along who had a direct hand, by the way, in having Robert Mueller there, you don't leave and fly the coupe when the pressure will now be on under the spotlight.

[22:10:00] I think he is trying to have that responsibility and the personal accountability. And frankly, it makes sense for the American people to have him there.


FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He's flagging something very important when he says that. He's telling us all what we know, which is, there's going to be a furious pitched public relations battle when this report comes out.

Donald Trump and his henchmen have spent the last year telling us, trying to delegitimize what the Mueller investigation is doing, what Robert -- you know, saying Robert Mueller is not to be trusted.

I think Rod Rosenstein is saying, I'm going to stick around, because there's going to be a fight over the legitimacy and the credibility of this report and I don't want to leave it to others.

LEMON: But even beyond Mueller, he appointed Mueller. Beyond that, a lot of other major figures here in the Russia investigation. McCabe, Sessions, Comey, they're all gone.

COATES: Right.

LEMON: Its kind of makes sense, Frank, for him to see it through. Don't you agree?

BRUNI: That's right because as you just said a lot of the people who started out are gone and they're not in the position to do this. We'll hear from them. We'll hear from them on shows like this and I think they'll defend the work that the department has done and that they did.

But we also know that the White House is going to go after this report, all guns blazing. They don't care if we -- they don't care if some Americans lose faith in certain institutions. We've seen that since the beginning of this presidency. They care only about the political survival of Donald Trump, and that's what's going to guide their reaction to the report.

COATES: But I do wonder if he is going to try to take the heat as in the report will so favorable, perhaps to the president of the United States that that will give a backlash.

LEMON: Right.

COATES: Or that will be that it will actually have to take the heat on behalf and the attack coming from Donald Trump. That's going to be the curious point here.

LEMON: I'd say it's going to be both.

COATES: It might be both.


LEMON: Because people are going to see it this is like a Rorschach test.


COATES: No one is going to be happy.

LEMON: People are going to see in it what they want. This president, Michael, has attacked Rod Rosenstein many times. He's attacked the Department of Justice many times. Him staying, does that give the president and the Republicans a target of things if this report doesn't go their way?

D'ANTONIO: Well, of course, it does. But I think you're right that people will see in the report what they want to see. And they're going to see in Rosenstein's decision what they want to see.

Remember, he's the person who wrote the memo about firing James Comey. And the president sure wanted a memo that would justify firing James Comey. So, in some ways, I think he's insulated himself from attacks. He's given one to one side and one to another side. I think he's tried to be an honest broker in all of this. And he hasn't been wildly wrong about any of it.

So, you know, this is a guy who may have the most credibility of anybody in this process.

LEMON: Yes. Of course, everyone's wondering, well, what's going to come out of this is impeachment, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But Nancy Pelosi, Frank, this is for you, once again talking about Trump and impeachment. Here's what she told the USA Today earlier today.

She said, "You're wasting your time unless the evidence is so conclusive that the Republicans will understand otherwise, it is a gift to the president. We take our eye off the ball." Do you think she's right?


BRUNI: I think she's a 100 --

LEMON: It's a gift to the --

BRUNI: I think she's a 100 percent right. I think Nancy Pelosi has been right on this from the beginning. She's sticking with what she has always said.

What she's saying is that the ball, the eye on the ball is getting Trump out of office, he's limiting his time in the White House, he's making sure that it's one term, one and done. And she's saying that impeachment may actually get in the way of that. That you can't guess the political repercussions of impeachment. It may actually help him.

And so, she's saying, let's go with what is probably the surer bet, less injurious to the country. Let us put all of our energy in the campaign of 2020 and let the voters get him out of office. Then there will be fewer questions about the legitimacy of it and the nation will be in better shape if it happens at the ballot box.

LEMON: There's a caveat, she did leave herself a way out or some wiggle room here, she said, "unless the evidence is so conclusive that the Republicans will understand."

So, there could be something that's so, maybe she thinks devastating in the Mueller report or the SDNY report that causes that to happen?

COATES: The key of that statement is, that makes the Republicans understand. Because she knows that impeachment is a political process. It's also a popularity contest.

Because unless he is a less popular president of the United States, the Republicans will not want to re-hash what happened with Newt Gingrich or in the Clinton years.

They are very well aware that the popularity, if it's a popular president, and they undergo impeachment, it will inure the benefit of the person who's actually the incumbent. They don't want that to happen. Now it's (inaudible).

If you're the Republicans, unless there's something that says that the American people believe overwhelmingly that he should be less popular and therefore open the door for impeachment, Pelosi is right on the political front, why it would be a dramatic waste of time, particularly because we're talking about 2020 in the election cycle, really in the sights of many people right now.

And so, perhaps a political process and solution if there is one for somebody who is not seen as a legitimate president should be to vote him out as opposed to impeaching him. LEMON: But you saw the people, I interviewed people from her party

who are now saying impeach, impeach, impeach, we need to start it now because there's definitely something wrong. So, you know, you think she's doing the smart thing. She's still going against --


BRUNI: Yes. But impeach doesn't mean getting him out.

LEMON: Right.

BRUNI: Everyone keeps on forgetting, impeachment only kicks it to the Senate where he has to be convicted. And I think Nancy Pelosi, who is one of the best vote countering in the history of Congress, is looking over at the Senate and saying based on current conditions --


[22:15:03] LEMON: An indictment --

BRUNI: -- they wouldn't get him out.

LEMON: Yes. Bill Clinton was impeached and stayed in office.

BRUNI: Exactly.

COATES: He became more popular.

LEMON: He became more popular.

OK. Stick around, everyone. We had lots to talk about. I want to talk about the president's never-ending grudge match with Senator John McCain and why one of the late senator's aides says the president is lying.


LEMON: So, as we talked about at the top of the show, the president doubling down on his feud with John McCain today, nearly seven months after the senator's death, telling reporters that he was never a fan and never will be.

Back now with Frank Bruni, Laura Coates, and Michael D'Antonio. It's almost too hard to believe, don't you think? Why can't he just let this go?

BRUNI: I mean, I think Michael alluded to it earlier. I think he is extremely threatened by John McCain, even in death. I mean, let's back up for a second and say, two years into this presidency, I still can't believe that we're talking about the president's attacks on a dead war hero.

Whatever happened to don't speak ill of the dead. I think John McCain from the very beginning has threatened Donald Trump, because he has all of these attributes and he represents all of these things that Donald Trump deep inside knows he is not. John McCain served in Vietnam and was a prisoner of war and never

broke over years of torture and other things. Donald Trump had bone spurs, right? John McCain was a creature of convictions many of which never wavered. Donald Trump is a creature of ideological and political convenience.

[22:19:57] I also think one of the things people are forgetting to mention and remember is in McCain's final years, he gave a couple of speeches in which he really was very, very kind of harsh, I think appropriately so, about Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and their sort of like an ethno-nationalism.

And I think Donald Trump knew that happened, I think he felt demeaned by it, it was meant to demean him, and I think he carries grudges.

LEMON: I think, listen, you didn't have to agree with John McCain politically to know that he was a classy man and he deserved, you know, all that everything that comes along with being a war hero for what happened during Vietnam. And so, I just think that, you know, it's --

D'ANTONIO: You've got to remember that he considered HIV his Vietnam. This is Donald Trump.


D'ANTONIO: And he was a pretend soldier at a military academy when John McCain was a real fighter pilot. So, I mean, this is just a crazy comparison.

LEMON: Bone spurs.

D'ANTONIO: And I think Trump understands it.

LEMON: Yes. Bone spurs. So --

COATES: Just go back to the funeral. Don't you remember how John McCain's funeral and how Donald Trump was approaching it, the idea of them not having the handshakes, the idea that all the former presidents and first ladies were there to show their particular commitment and adoration for John McCain in the way that the media covered it.

It was -- if you're looking at Donald Trump, I bet he wonders, as everyone wonders about their own mortality, but he wonders looking ahead, what his legacy will be. It will not be the same as what John McCain had that day. that must get under his skin.

LEMON: I got to read this. So, the president lashed out at someone else today, George Conway, calling him a total loser. We know he's the husband of Kellyanne Conway. He says it is a badge of honor, all right, to be attacked by the president.

Here's what he told "The Washington Post" about why he criticize the president. He said, "The mendacity, the incompetence, it's just maddening to watch." You say that this fight, Frank, illustrates a larger fight with Republicans?

BRUNI: Well, yes. Now one of the -- there are many fascinating things about this but one of the things that's fascinating is Kellyanne and George Conway perfectly illustrate the two forks in the Republican Party and the conservative party.

There are people like Kellyanne who have surrendered completely, even though much of what Trump does completely violates what was supposed to their principles.

And then there are the George Conway's who are not only not surrendering, but are enraged by what Donald Trump has done to the name of conservatism and what he's doing to the country.

And when he says he's kind of tweet this out and vent his anger, you know, so he can go on with his day, I think he's speaking for a great many Americans.

LEMON: I lot of people feel that way. But can you imagine having that? Imagine how many people feel about this president, but then you go home at night to the person who's actually working for and advising the president who happens to be your spouse.


D'ANTONIO: What goes on in that house? You know, this is --


D'ANTONIO: I think one of the worst things in this whole episode is Brad Parscale and the president both calling him Mr. Kellyanne Conway.


D'ANTONIO: So, this is a sexist trope. And it's also, let's emasculate this fellow by what? Calling him the worst thing in the world. A woman.


D'ANTONIO: Don't you think that there are millions of American women who recognize what that was? And millions of men whose wives are accomplished and active and respect them, too. It just proved that they're stuck in some ancient era where they don't offer respect for anybody.

BRUNI: Meet the Flintstones.

D'ANTONIO: It's unbelievable.

LEMON: All right. So, ""The Washington Post"," Kelly told ""The Washington Post"" that president calling him a total loser, Laura, this is for you, "is a perfect example of the point I was trying to make. He can't concern himself with affairs of state. He's more concerned about what people say about him and waging little battles with everyone and everything." Does this sound like the president to you?

COATES: Yes, and also, the lack of priorities. Remember, this is somebody who's been punching and lashing out auto weekend long when you have international issues, including massacres at an allied country.

You have decisions and things that are happening here domestically that need attention. And the president of the United States doesn't need to be concerned with those things. He's more concerned with who doesn't like him and his popularity.

But I think there is a method to what is an obvious madness. And that is, remember, if impeachment is tied to popularity, he's got to remain popular. If he's losing mouthpieces on Fox News like Judge Jeanine Pirro, who are able to be his staunch advocates, as his actual White House counselors are.

If he's losing that particular battle as well, he has to use the one form he has left, this multi-million number of followers that he has. I think that's the method. But it does not at all behoove somebody who's supposed to be the president of the United States, who frankly has a sword of Damocles in the Mueller probe coming at him every single day. I'm not sure why he's focused on George Conway. It must be escapism.

LEMON: I think it's an important if we can get it in quickly because I have to move on. But according to "The Washington Post", Kellyanne Conway told people that she and the president think her husband is jealous of her and that she has been kept at a prominent place in the administration, so the president can protect her.

[22:24:55] D'ANTONIO: Wow. I mean, this -- you know, this proves that Kellyanne is just as distorted in her thinking as the president. Who talks this way? I really don't think normal people have this conversation.

So, we now have a president who also is now the notorious individual number one, who should be worried about what came out in the papers that were released related to Michael Cohen today. And individual one junior, his son, is also threatened by this.

LEMON: Notorious you said, right?

D'ANTONIO: Well --

LEMON: The notorious BIC, birther in chief.

D'ANTONIO: It's unbelievable. And I think Laura is -- Laura is right. This is him distracting himself.

LEMON: Whatever happened to, look, honey, when you get home tonight, you've got to stop it. You're causing problems at work. Just don't do it anymore. I don't know. That's crazy.

COATES: that's not how it works in my house.

LEMON: Interesting.


LEMON: Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

Robert Mueller has been investigating Michael Cohen for a lot longer than we knew, all right? So, what does that tell us and how worried should the president be? That's next.


LEMON: Two big developments in the Russia investigation. A report tonight there's the news that Rod Rosenstein will be staying on at the Justice Department longer than expected.

A source telling CNN, he wants to be a heat shield if there's fallout over the Mueller report.

Also, today, hundreds of pages of search warrant documents for Michael Cohen released, showing that Cohen was an early target of Mueller's investigation.

Prosecutors looking at years of Cohen's e-mails and other data from the time he worked for Trump.

Let's discuss. The former acting solicitor general is here, Neal Katyal. Thank you so much for joining us, sir. I really appreciate it. I want to ask you --


[22:29:59] LEMON: -- about the deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein because you wrote the special counsel regulations. Rosenstein had been planning to leave the DOJ mid-March, but now a source is telling CNN that he's going to stick around until the Mueller report drops, saying he wants to be the heat shield, as I said. If there's fallout from this report, what does that say to you about the reaction that we'll see when Mueller finishes his report?

KATYAL: Well, it's very hard to note, Don. I mean you -- Rod Rosenstein is one of the few people in this administration who is competent, and who is pretty much, you know, like someone who actually doesn't break laws and is not himself under criminal investigations. So he's already a distinguished man in that regard.

And the idea that he's staying, I think, could mean reactions, you know, he's worried about reactions on either side. I don't think it tells us one thing or the other. I do think, though, that the other thing you pointed to today about the release of the Michael Cohen documents really does underscore something that I think some of us have been trying to say, which is there are a bunch of different investigations going on.

Mueller began his investigation by focusing on Russia and conspiracy, and whether or not there was an obstruction of justice when Comey was fired. That's different from the Southern District investigation going on than campaign finance, fraud, and things like that.

LEMON: Neal, I want to put this up because -- listen. There are almost 20 pages of redactions related to the hush money payment made on behalf of President Trump. Look at that there. How worried should the president be about this? By the way, this is a massive document dump today. But go on.

KATYAL: Yeah. I think the president should be -- I think the legal term is freaking out. You know, there is very, very -- you know I think these documents show is that the investigation is ongoing. That's why there are all of these redactions. And remember, back in November, these prosecutors in the Southern District of New York said individual number one, which we all know now is Donald Trump, ordered the commission of federal felonies, these campaign finance violations.

So you put these two things together, and boy, that looks really bad. And it looks really bad for Trump apart from the Mueller report. The Mueller report is not likely to get into any of this stuff. That's a separate investigation.

LEMON: Yeah. I want to put a timeline up of the investigation into Michael Cohen. Put it on the screen now. You can see that Mueller was appointed Special Counsel. This was in May of 2017. And we're learning in these docs, that just two months later he had already begun targeting Michael Cohen. They really focused in on him almost instantaneously, didn't they?

KATYAL: Yeah, exactly. And I am so glad you made that point, Don, because it's two months later. Remember, Mueller's mandate from Rosenstein is only to investigate Russia and obstruction of justice from the firing of Comey. And somehow, Michael Cohen gets on their radar really quickly, and they even get a search warrant just two months in to the Mueller investigation, asking for access to his G- mail and the like.

So it's possible that federal investigators for months were monitoring Michael Cohen's transmissions and stuff before anything about the raid on his apartment and the like.

LEMON: Yeah. So when you look at how much Mueller had, I mean Cohen's e-mails going back to the same month that Trump declared he was running for president. Mueller is tracking Cohen's phone even calls before the FBI conducted multiple raids. Investigators also used a device caused a trigger fish, Neal, to figure out which hotel room he was in.

The links that they went to, what does this say for others being investigated, someone like Roger Stone?

KATYAL: Yeah, it shows really the thoroughness and professionalism of both Mueller and the Southern District's separate investigations. And, you know, you might remember when Michael Cohen's office was raided. President Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, freaked out, calling them storm troopers, saying this was lawless and the like. And anyone reading the documents today I think, comes away thinking, god, how irresponsible was it of the president and Giuliani to say those things.

Because here you've got just, you know, page after page of thorough information debunking that. And the idea that our president, who's in charge of standing up for law enforcement, would say such things is totally outrageous.

LEMON: Neal, thank you for your time. See you soon.

KATYAL: Thank you.

LEMON: Elizabeth Warren is calling for an end to the Electoral College. And she's not the only 2020 candidate talking about it. We're going to take a look at why elections were set up this way to begin with, and if it's actually working the way it's supposed to. That's next.


LEMON: Twenty-twenty Democratic hopefuls are talking about the Electoral College. Some want a discussion about the process, but others want it eliminated.


ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My view is that every vote matters. That means get rid of the Electoral College.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One thing I believe is that in an American presidential election, the person who gets the most votes ought to be the person who wins.

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would try to get one person, one vote and get rid of the Electoral College.

CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, there are things about the Electoral College I just don't like and think are undemocratic.

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You had an election in 2016 where the loser got 3 million more votes than the victor. It puts some states out of play altogether.


LEMON: So look, it is pretty unlikely that the Electoral College is going anywhere before the 2020 election. But questions about whether or not the system is fair, those questions are heating up with the election looming. So here to discuss is Vann Newkirk and Matt Lewis.

Good evening to both of you, so good to have you on. This is a very important conversation, so thank you for joining us.

[22:39:50] Vann, Democrats have won the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections, going back to 2000. Democrats have lost the presidency three times. But those are the rules, and they have been since the founders. Are the Democrats wrong to try to change that? VANN NEWKIRK, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": I think if you look at

the Democrats' argument, which is that the popular vote for several elections now, they've gone out and won most of the people in this country and haven't won the presidency. That's a valid argument. And I think if you brought that argument back to the founders, to the framers, and said you would have a country in which the popular vote would multiple times in a row be lost and probably will be more and more in the future, be won rather, and then lose the presidency.

I think that's an argument for changing the system. Currently, you see right now the system incentivizes campaigning in a couple of small states and going after the swings and doing the same stops in the same places and not listening people like black voters in the Mississippi delta or in the Alabama black belt. So you have all of these places that get enormous amount of attention, you know, they determine the presidency.


LEMON: This is what the president -- the president tweeted out about the Electoral College. And I'm going to ready both parts of this tweet. He says campaigning for the popular vote is much easier and different than campaigning for the Electoral College. It's like training for the 100-yard dash versus a marathon. The brilliance of the Electoral College is that you must go to many states to win.

With the popular vote, you go to just the large states, the cities would end up running the country. Smaller states and the entire Midwest would end up losing all power. And we can't let that happen. I used to like the idea of the popular vote, but now I realize the Electoral College is far better for the USA. It sounds like he had some help, in my opinion, writing that. But doesn't he have a point, Vann?

NEWKIRK: So I want to give you some numbers, some real numbers? Four of the most urban states in this country are Texas, Nevada, Utah, and Florida. Those are Republican states. It's not that necessarily I think the Electoral College speaks for rural voters. It speaks for people in the Midwest. It speaks for some folks in Wyoming and Montana, where they have really small populations.

It doesn't speak to rural people in Georgia, rural black folks in Georgia and Florida and Alabama and Mississippi. And it doesn't speak for rural Californians who tend to be conservative. And so I don't think that argument really holds water. And I think if you look at how state-wide candidates already campaign in places, they don't have Electoral College in Senate races, and they campaign across all the states.

LEMON: OK. So Matt, I want to bring you in now. Because instead of setting up a presidential election system through direct democracy, the nation's founders established the Electoral College, in part to ensure the entire nation has a more equal say in choosing of a national president. Do you think this -- the process is still equal?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the founders actually never wanted a direct democracy. They actually specifically feared a direct democracy for a couple of reasons. One, they looked to Greece and had seen how direct democracy actually didn't work. They created a republic. And the vision of the Electoral College isn't just to give smaller states a buy-in, a reason to join the union.

It was also to basically stop demagogues who might be swept into office by the emotions and the support of the American public. And the founders did not trust the average person. So it was a kind of an elite system, if you read --


LEMON: Doesn't sound like it worked in this case.

LEWIS: If you read Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68, he essentially wanted each state to have prominent members who would vet -- who would be voting for electors. They would be vetting the candidate. And I think they might have stopped if that system actually were still in place. One could imagine a scenario where they would have actually stopped Donald Trump in 2016.

LEMON: That's what I said. It actually -- it didn't work in this case. Listen. Matt, I want to ask you ask about this, because I think Vann brings up a good point. And this is a -- I am reading -- I am quoting from an article from -- talking about the founders. They wanted a government to ensure the wellbeing of citizens while protecting against tyranny of the majority, otherwise known as mob rule.

To do this, they limited direct democracy by banning many residents from voting, women, slaves, which means people of color, having state legislators elect senators, and by creating the Electoral College to elect our president. Only one of these limitations, the Electoral College, remains and it is time to abolish it. My question is, is that a fair point? That's the only one that remains, Matt. And it did limit women, people of color.

LEWIS: Right. I think the Electoral College is a good thing that we should keep. You know part of the reason that I have been critical of Donald Trump is the erosion of norms and institutions. For example, I opposed his emergency order. And I think it's interesting to me that Democrats now, rather than trying to be the party that's standing up for norms and institutions, they're talking about things like packing the Supreme Court and now getting rid of the Electoral College.

[22:45:15] There have been actually five times in history when the person who won the presidency didn't win the popular vote. This is how the founders intended. And by the way, Alexander Hamilton, who a lot of us are fans of now, driving around listening to his -- to the Hamilton musical soundtrack, was probably the biggest proponent of the Electoral College.

As a conservative, I am hesitant to change something fundamental. And by the way, the last point I would make is that the Electoral College wasn't -- it wasn't like it was going to be the popular vote and then the Electoral College was the compromise. The original -- the Virginia plan, the original idea was for Congress to actually pick the president. This was a liberal, Democratic alternative.

LEMON: That was a long time ago, though, Matt. I have got to get Vann in. And I am really overtime here. So listen, isn't there a danger here? Remember what happened with Harry Reid and the nuclear, you know, option and now all of a sudden Democrats are on the bad end of that.

NEWKIRK: Yeah. I mean I think right now Democrats are juggling a bunch of different, big ideas, as to how to change the shape of democracy and policy. And they basically realize if they win all three, they win the House, the Senate, and the presidency in 2020, they have got about four years to really make the change they want until another election comes along. And they have to think big. And I think this is one of those big ideas. We'll see how it works out.

LEMON: I appreciate it. I think the big thing here is the Electoral College to sure look at that, but gerrymandering is something that really needs to be looked at. Thank you, both. I appreciate your time.

LEWIS: Thank you.

LEMON: We'll be right back.


LEMON: A new 2020 CNN poll shows an eight point jump in support for California Senator Kamala Harris, putting her in double digit territory in the race for the Democratic nomination. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the poll right there. Check that out. OK, so Joe Biden leads the poll followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. There's no doubt the race is starting to heat up.

And let's talk about it. Van Jones is here and Alice Stewart, so good to see both of you. So Van, let's talk about this, a huge jump for Kamala Harris. So what do you think of the momentum?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think she's catching fire, and I think it makes sense. You know when she first came out she had the most disciplined rollout of all the candidates, even to this date. But she got kind of like this counter-fire online by people saying, you know, well, she was bad (Inaudible) she's bad on criminal justice and all sorts of stuff.

And I think it artificially lowered her national appeal. I think she's just kind of finally shaken that stuff off. And the reality is, you know, a lot of people who like a Hillary Clinton, who like a strong woman, could like her. A lot of people who like a Barack Obama could like her. And so I think she's kind of nationally now starting to gather, I think, that coalition around her that's going to make her very hard to stop.

LEMON: I don't think -- I think you're right. Hold on, Alice. I don't think that's a bad thing. Get it out of the way, address it, move on, she's gone through the fire, and now she can take on -- and that's what happens when you run for president.

JONES: When you run for president, you have good days and bad days, but she weathered the storm.

LEMON: Yeah. I think -- yeah. I think again, you know, got it out of the way early. There's going to be more to come. What did you have to say, Alice?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I agree completely with what Van said. I think she did a tremendous job in the CNN town hall. She was able to answer some of the questions that were looming out there about her past, with her job that she's had in the past with regard to the legal community. But she had the power to connect (Inaudible) right on the policy and she was very personable.

And those are three key things that you have to do. And in the poll that came out, she has risen in key demographics in the (Inaudible) with regard to women, minorities, and self-identified liberals. So these are key. But it's very early in the game. Keep in mind. We're 595 days out from the election. This time in the 2016 election --


LEMON: Scott Walker.

STEWART: -- the leaders on the Republican side -- Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were tie for the lead.


STEWART: And let's just say it didn't end so well them.


LEMON: And just --


LEMON: -- until July of 2015.


LEMON: Listen, for the interest of time, I have got to move on, because I want to talk about Joe Biden. Joe Biden is at the top of the poll. He hasn't announced yet. But people close to him, multiple people are saying that the announcement is imminent. He is an entity, a known entity. If he announces, Van, will his numbers go up or is he at a ceiling?

JONES: I think his numbers go up initially. I think a lot of people, you know, they miss the Obama days. They love Joe Biden for being such a loyal and strong soldier for Obama, and a good friend. And I think he'll be rewarded with a bounce. And then, you know, you've got a lot of people that will start trying to nibble at him. You know, what about this gap? What about this gap? I mean the guy has been in office since, you

know, Moses. So there's a lot of stuff to kick at. But I think that you're going to see a real enthusiasm for Joe Biden.

LEMON: I think the best Joe Biden moment was when he mistakenly almost announced his candidacy.


LEMON: People, like, that's just Joe. Let's talk about another poll, 57 percent of self-identified Republicans. I want you to respond to this, Alice, because I think it's important. Fifty seven percent of self-identified Republicans said that they are extremely enthusiastic about voting for a president outnumbering 46 among Democrats.

[22:55:07] Is that because they know exactly who their candidate is and the Democrats rights now have no idea?

STEWART: That's a big part of it right now. And, you know, there's a lot of enthusiasm in the Republican Party behind Donald Trump. He's got 90 percent approval rating amongst Republicans. So yes, certainly, that motivates people. But also nothing like a kick in the rear in the mid-term elections to motivate Republicans, and that made them realize look.

We have to get engaged. We have to get motivated. We have to get people out to the polls, or we're not only in fear of losing more strength in the House and Senate, but potentially in the White House. So Republicans are motivated. They're energized. They're ready to go out there and not just put a vote in there for Donald Trump, but certainly down ballot.

And the fact that right now the Democrats are so far to the left and continue to move further to the left, that right there shows that's not the direction that Republicans want to go in. So that's certainly getting them energized.

LEMON: So anybody want to make any predictions on the Democratic side?


STEWART: My money's on Joe Biden.

LEMON: Your money's on Biden.

JONES: Duke. I am for Duke.


LEMON: I am Duke.


LEMON: I am saying that there's going to be -- President Trump is going to run against a Democrat in 2020. That's what I say. A Republican is going to run against a Democrat.

JONES: Other than that, no comment.

LEMON: Thank you, both.

STEWART: Democrats need to find someone a little more moderating voice, I would say, like Joe Biden.


STEWART: We're talking about right now.

LEMON: Got to go. We shall see. Thank you, both. Hey, don't miss Van Jones' Show Saturday night, 7:00 Eastern, only here on CNN. It's called "THE VAN JONES SHOW," by the way. We'll be right back.