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Rep. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) Rhode Island Was Interviewed About A Bipartisan Vote To Release The Whole Mueller Report; Democrats Turn Their Focus To A.G. Barr; Leave The Dead Man Alone; Graham Encouraged McCain To Turn Trump-Russia Dossier Over To FBI; Pelosi Tells Leadership Team To Focus On Their Agenda, Not Mueller; Father Of A Child Murdered In Sandy Hook Massacre Dies From Apparent Suicide. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired March 25, 2019 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
President Trump declaring victory tonight after the attorney general, Attorney General Bill Barr's letter summarizing the Mueller report stated that the investigation did not establish that Trump or his campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.
Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction. Barr quotes him saying, "While this report does not conclude that president that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Here's what the president's attorney Jay Sekulow just said to Chris about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY SEKULOW, MEMBER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: Does a prosecutor exonerate?
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: No.
SEKULOW: I don't even know why the word --
CUOMO: I don't know why it's in there either.
SEKULOW: He said, this part we do know, that it raised difficult questions of law and fact.
CUOM: Yes. That's why we had him in the chart.
SEKULOW: You're an attorney. You prosecuted cases. Here's the problem. When you have difficult questions of law and difficult facts, guess what you don't do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, the White House still has not received the full Mueller report. But the president's other attorney Rudy Giuliani says the public should see it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: I would like to see every single thing come out because I believe that every single thing can be rebutted. I think this obstruction theory is garbage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Well, I'm with Rudy Giuliani on that one, on one thing. We should all see Mueller full report. Because what we have now is just the attorney general's presentation of the report, which leaves many questions quite frankly unanswered.
But the Democrats on the campaign trail likely won't be talking about Russia. They'll be talking about this breaking news.
Tonight, the Trump administration is telling a federal appeals court that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down. This is a major reversal from the Justice Department that could impact millions of Americans. We'll have more on that just a little bit later on in the show.
But let's discuss now much of this with Juliette Kayyem, Philip Mudd, and Renato Mariotti.
Good to have all of you on. Thank you so much.
Phil, give me your reaction to what you just heard from the president's attorneys.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I look at this and I say I don't understand why we set the bar like this, Don. I mean, there's a question about law. I don't think that the special counsel had a question about the facts in the case, that is, Robert Mueller.
I served four and a half years with him. I suspect he looked at the facts on obstruction and said I could determine whether or not to bring a charge. I think instead he said there are bigger issues to play here in terms of who can bring a charge against the president. I think he's punting it not because of the facts but because of the process.
But the bigger question we should spend just a moment on is the White House saying we succeeded here. I mean, we succeeded, this is a victory when you have to go to fourth grade civics class and say success in America is a kid saying I got a d, mom, and I didn't get an f.
I mean, your personal attorney, your national security adviser, the guy who led your campaign, the deputy in your campaign all lied. You lied on Air Force One. And we're supposed to walk away saying this is a victory for America, this judgment?
How about occasionally we say what do we tell a fourth-grader? That this is what we want you to do in school? That lying is OK unless it passes a line to say you can be charged with a violation of the law? I don't get it, Don.
LEMON: Renato, when you carefully look at the attorney general's letter, it's important to remember that this is his interpretation of the Mueller report. Not Mueller's. What issues does that raise to you?
RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think the biggest concern I have is that he took it upon himself to reach his own conclusion about obstruction of justice. Mueller spent almost two years looking at this. He interviewed 500 witnesses, issued over 2,600 subpoenas, and for whatever reason he decided that it was better for him not to reach a conclusion on that. He wanted to leave that to the American people.
It's very bizarre that Barr in a short period of time without looking at the underlying evidence reached a conclusion. It strikes me as a major lack of judgment. And it suggests --
LEMON: But they --
MARIOTTI: -- that he already admits there's not --
LEMON: But they were notified about three weeks before, at least Barr was, and they're saying at that time White House and the president didn't know about it, but that the Mueller team notified them that they wouldn't be making any sort of decision on that charge.
LEMON: On obstruction.
MARIOTTI: Yes. And yet when you read the letter, Don, what Barr says is that he talked to certain officials at the Justice Department and he read the report.
[23:04:59] He doesn't talk about going to the underlying evidence, looking at the testimony that was given, for example, reading the underlying reports that the FBI generated.
You know, that, to me if you're grappling with a difficult issue like that you want to get into the evidence. And frankly, you know, Barr should have known that as the guy who wrote that 19-page single-spaced memo expressing his views on obstruction before he became attorney general, no one would accept his judgment on its face about obstruction.
He should have had the humility to do what Robert Mueller was not willing to do, which is punt that to the American people.
LEMON: OK. So, Juliette, listen, it's a four-page letter. In this four-page letter Barr uses very few quotes from Robert Mueller actually. How do you think this letter would have been received if it only used verbatim quotes from the report?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Much better. I'm sort of surprised at how politically poorly I think in some ways Barr has done this. If the -- the headline would have been that the president did not collude with the Russians whether we got the whole report or not.
And so now the debate has shifted from sort of that seemingly good news, and I agree with Phil, the bar is really low, but the seemingly good news, to really a question of access to the report, which we -- if we got it on Sunday night, I don't think the headline would be very different, right?
I'm a little bit worried, just picking up on what both of them said, that we're getting really focused on the obstruction of justice decision by Barr. We already know significant stuff coming out of this report that Barr actually admits including the Russian attempts to -- or not attempts, Russian influence in the campaign that aided Trump.
And I think we should really focus on that piece. I actually think the obstruction of justice debate is keeping us from the core substance of what even the Barr letter says, which to me may not be criminal but certainly is, and I'm trying to find a word for it, sort of unbecoming of a president and his campaign. Whether it's impeachable is a political debate.
LEMON: So, this -- Phil, this is what Barr wrote about obstruction of justice. He said, "A determination was made without regard to and is not based on the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president."
But you know, Barr is speaking for himself and Rod Rosenstein in this letter and not Mueller. How significant is that, do you think?
MUDD: I think it's hugely significant. You've got to anticipate we keep talking about the document that Robert Mueller as a public servant eventually is going to go and speak his own words before the Congress. I suspect that will be in an open hearing.
I mean, I served under Mueller for four and a half years. He's not going to punt a problem. If he's looking at the facts, he's going to make a determination of the facts. That's what he's done in decades as a prosecutor.
I looked at this, and when I first saw it, Don, my first view is director Mueller when I knew him, now Special Counsel Mueller, knew that people would immediately pick up on the fact that he chose not to make a decision on obstruction. That meant that people would start to debate it and the Congress would pick it up.
He must have anticipated that. He did not anticipate that because he couldn't make a decision based on the facts. There's got to be something else in terms of his questions about the process here and the Congress has to hear him speak. Forget about the document. I want to hear what he says.
LEMON: So, this key line, Renato, is from Mueller's report. "The investigation did not establish -- did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
But there's got to be more on that, right? What do you think Barr is leaving out here?
MARIOTTI: Well, it's a good question. If you notice, the first letter is bracketed. So, it suggests that it's the second half of a sentence. It's bizarre that Barr didn't quote the complete sentence. It's unclear why he didn't.
But given what he did with the rest of the letter, you might wonder whether or not there's some qualifier there like although, you know, x, y, z, maybe although there's substantial evidence of something or another the investigation did not establish.
So, you know, I really think that Barr, instead of looking at this as a partisan -- a win or lose Republican-Democrat thing really could have been looking at his role in history here. This is arguably the most important investigation in American history, certainly in my lifetime. And for Mr. Barr to not just lay it out there for everyone I think is -- it speaks poorly for him and how he'll be remembered in history.
LEMON: So, Juliette, you said you didn't want to -- you thought we were focusing a lot on this obstruction thing. But I'm just wondering, what does it say to you? Does it mean that Mueller didn't have sufficient evidence?
[23:09:54] KAYYEM: Or that because of the rule that he clearly was defining himself under you that cannot indict a sitting president that the obstruction of -- that without the underlying crime you couldn't -- this is Barr's excuse, or explanation.
You would not go forward given that it was 49-51, say, with the obstruction of justice charges on their own, right?
And so, in other words, standing alone he's not going to do the obstruction of justice. I don't think it's fair -- we're not doing it but, Mueller punted this decision.
I think Mueller basically said this is a close call, there's no underlying crime that I was charged, that I with a very specific mandate, I was charged with that would justify a second prosecution for obstruction of justice.
And therefore, that will be the determination for the Department of Justice or the House to determine whether we move forward with this. I think it's -- I don't think he punted it. I think he actually said without the underlying crime we're not going to move forward on our own.
And I think what's important here, and this is just having to do with the release of the report at this stage, even if we can argue that certain pieces will not be released, where we are right now as a country's unsustainable.
And so, Barr, if he wants to redeem himself, and there's a question about whether, you know, whether he was just trying to give a summary, whatever, has got to get that report out, you know, by the end of this week. This is not sustainable as a democracy. And someone will start to release that report.
There's no question in my mind at this stage. Because you cannot have a democracy like this where we don't see the underlying accusations that may fall short of a crime but are once again unbecoming of a president of the United States and his campaign.
LEMON: Juliette, Phil, Renato, thank you very much. I appreciate your time.
KAYYEM: Thank you.
LEMON: I want to bring in now Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who's on the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thank you very much for joining us. Today Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer tried to bring to a vote the unanimous House resolution that would make the Mueller report public. But Leader McConnell objected. Why won't McConnell allow a vote on this?
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D) RHODE ISLAND: I do not know. I think maybe it would put some of his Republicans in a bad position. That's usually the reason that he blocks things. But that doesn't make much sense. The president saying that this should be transparent. With the House having voted unanimously to clear it. So hard to tell.
LEMON: You've made it clear all along that you want the full Mueller report to be public. What in your estimation -- what is your estimation of Barr, the memo that Barr sent to Congress? Do you trust his interpretation of Mueller's report?
WHITEHOUSE: I don't because I haven't seen the report and it leaves such huge questions unanswered. The two biggest unanswered questions are first, what was the scope of the Mueller report? What was the scope of his investigation? Did he look at Trump's tax returns? Did he look at this weird change in the Ukraine platform at the Republican convention?
And then the second is what led to this very peculiar hand-off from Mueller who took the job with the intention of removing these decisions from the political people and punted it to the top political person at the department, the obstruction decision. So we need -- there's some basic framing questions that we need answered in order to get into more detailed questions.
LEMON: Wasn't that essentially the special counsel's job, is to determine these things, but then he ended up punting it back to --
WHITEHOUSE: Yes. LEMON: -- the attorney general, or to the attorney general at least?
WHITEHOUSE: Correct. That's the entire reason you have a special counsel, so that a law enforcement decision would be made outside of politics.
And here you have the guy charged to making that decision pushing it back to the attorney general, who is not only the top political appointee at the department but also somebody who had voiced a lot of opinion about obstruction of justice charges against the president to begin with.
WHITEHOUSE: Not exactly a clean slate.
LEMON: Today the attorney general told Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of your committee, your committee judiciary, that he is willing to testify. What do you most want to ask him?
WHITEHOUSE: I want to get the story of what conversation there was back and forth between him and Mueller that led to this peculiar situation with the obstruction charge. And I want to have Mueller there to describe the scope of his investigation because if there were big chunks, like was there personal or financial kompromat developed against Trump, if that was not part of Mueller's investigation then we need to know that.
Because I think we're inclined to accept the stuff that Mueller actually investigated and made a decision on, but if he didn't, then obviously he's entitled to no deference in areas he didn't look at.
LEMON: So, you want Mueller -- you want Mueller to testify. And how do you plan about going --
WHITEHOUSE: I'd like to see the three of them side by side. Mueller, Rosenstein, who's been the steady through thread on this, and Barr.
[23:15:02] LEMON: All together?
WHITEHOUSE: All together.
LEMON: Publicly. The president is claiming a complete exoneration from this report, saying that he wants to see some investigations of his own. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country.
And hopefully people that people that have done such harm to our country -- we've gone through a period of really bad things happening. Those people will certainly be looked at. I've been looking at them for a long time, and I'm saying why haven't they been looked at?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, what do you think he's talking about? And what do you make of his demeanor?
WHITEHOUSE: I think he's talking about the FBI people and the national security people who started off this investigation when the concerns first came to light that he may have been compromised and that there may be ongoing Russian interference with the campaign.
As it turned out, what Mueller proved is they were right. There was ongoing Russian interference with the campaign. So, it's hard to fault him for that. But I think he's a vengeful person. I don't think he can tell the difference between himself and the United States.
So, I think when he's talking about, they've done a lot of harm to our country, what he really means is they've done a lot of harm to me. And as far as I'm concerned, you know, bring it on. I think he has a lot more to lose from a thorough and open investigation into what took place and led up to this investigation than he does to gain from it.
So, my guess is that people in the White House are saying you might want to dial that back a little bit because we don't know what we're going to turn over if we start turning over these rocks. A lot of the stuff that's going to come out from those rocks I think is going to look really bad for Donald Trump.
LEMON: Senator Whitehouse, thank you for your time.
WHITEHOUSE: Of course.
LEMON: The president is wasting no time attacking his perceived enemies in the wake of what we've learned about Mueller's findings. But will that help him in 2020?
[23:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: President Trump is taking aim at his perceived enemies in the wake of William Barr's summary of Robert Mueller's findings, stating the investigation did not establish that Trump or his campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.
Mueller did not reach a conclusion on obstruction. Barr quotes - quotes from Mueller saying this. "While this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Which hasn't stopped the president from falsely claiming he was totally exonerated.
Joining me now to discuss, Frank Bruni and Michael D'Antonio, the author of "The Truth About Trump." Not surprising that he says he's completely exonerated -- good evening, by the way.
But I mean, he seems to be emboldened. And you heard him, Frank, where he is, you know, cast the investigation what he says as evil, as people doing evil and treasonous things saying that they should be looked at. It is the start of a vendetta.
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Treason, he loves that word. It is the start of a vendetta. As with all things Donald Trump is overreacting. I mean, we have to see this in the context of this is a guy who exaggerates the height of his building, exaggerates the size of his crowd, says there's a popular vote that he would have won, et cetera.
He is always, take the truth or non-truth and stretching it as far as it goes, and that's what he's doing here. He's telling people this report completely exonerated me, I have been utterly victimized, every bit of persecution I claimed is correct and now I'm waiting for my apology.
LEMON: But isn't it the start of a vendetta because it's not like he hasn't been attacking everybody.
BRUNI: Well, no, and that's a good point. People say will this make him even angrier, will this make him act more boldly? I don't see how you get any angrier on Twitter than Donald Trump has been. I don't see how you lash out at your enemies any more aggressively than he's done. So, he's just going to stay the course here.
LEMON: Yes. We'll figure it out. I want you to listen to this. This is a -- he spoke to the press today about the investigation. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It lasted a long time. We're glad it's over. It's a 100 percent the way it should have been. I wish it could have gone a lot sooner, a lot quicker.
We can never let this happen to another president again. I can tell you that. I say it very strongly. Very few people I know could have handled it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, --
MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But I can.
LEMON: But don't you think he's been under a lot of pressure and now that it's lifted somewhat -- look, the full report is not out. But how do you think he's going to behave? Moving forward.
D'ANTONIO: Of course, he's been under a lot of pressure. And I think that what's surprising to me is to listen to how sort of low energy he was. This was low energy Jeb but Donald Trump's version of it. Very withdrawn, very quiet. He's talking about how he hopes other presidents don't go through this. What he really wants to say is you SOBs, you put me through this. And
he's skipping past the fact that he's the one who started this whole mess. He's the guy who begged Russia to find more e-mails. He's the guy who then fired Comey and explained to everybody it was because of Trump and this Russia thing.
Well, this is provocative. Just as his comments about treason and how these people should be looked into. These are the provocative kinds of things a serious person doesn't say because he understands the effect that they have on the country.
LEMON: So. OK. Here's the opportunity now to reset, move the country forward, maybe recalibrating a little bit. Any chance of that?
BRUNI: I think there's very little chance of that. But it's funny you say that. Because I was thinking before we sat down wouldn't it, if we were to fantasize about leadership and what a president, what a great president would do, wouldn't it be amazing if he said you know what, these partisan battles, these partisan investigations, this back and forth, it's gone on too long, let us do something to show that Republicans and Democrats even in the wake of this can work together.
Let's do a big infrastructure bill, one that's actually is kind of written in a sensible fashion. Wouldn't that be an amazing healing moment for the country? But he's just going to tell you who owes him an apology, who should lose their jobs, and woe is me.
[23:25:04] LEMON: Yes.
D'ANTONIO: Well, and he's had opportunities for these healing moments before.
LEMON: And it didn't happen.
LEMON: Stand by. We got a lot. I want both of you to stay with me. Senator Lindsey Graham now says that he encouraged John McCain to turn over the infamous Trump Russia dossier to the FBI. Graham admitting this only after the president has repeatedly assailed his good friend. Why didn't he speak up sooner?
LEMON: President Trump has attacked John McCain, a war hero and a man who devoted his life to his country, over and over and over. He doubled, tripled and quadrupled down on those attacks last week, blaming McCain for turning over the infamous Russia dossier to the FBI, fanning the flames of the Russia investigation.
Well, we learned today that it was Senator Lindsey Graham who was one of McCain's closest friends, who encouraged McCain to give the dossier to the FBI. Why didn't he just say so a long time ago? The senator is now saying this.
[23:29:53] He says, "I told the president it was not John McCain. I know because John McCain showed me the dossier and I told him the only thing I knew to do with it, it could be a bunch of garbage, it could be true, who knows? Turn it over to somebody whose job it is to find these things out and McCain acted appropriately."
John McCain did act appropriately. But why didn't Lindsey Graham defend him sooner?
Back with me now are Frank Bruni and Michael D'Antonio. OK, so, you mean to tell me, Frank, all the while Trump is attacking John McCain for supposedly spreading this dossier when it was actually Lindsey Graham who was the one who told him to turn it over to the FBI.
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And Lindsey is finally telling us this now.
LEMON: Why didn't he do it sooner?
BRUNI: Because he is so afraid of not being in Trump's favor. Lindsey Graham wants nothing more in this world than to be as relevant as possible. And very tellingly right around the time John McCain stopped being in Washington because he was battling brain cancer and then he died, all that while, Lindsey Graham replaced him with Donald Trump and began to sing Donald Trump's praises.
And if you go back to the campaign, if you go back to right around this time when he's telling John McCain to turn over the dossier, Lindsey Graham was singing a very different tune about Donald Trump, was skeptical as anyone should be about him as a president, and that's the timing here.
LEMON: Let's listen to what you just said. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Every time I turn around, I'm being asked about Donald Trump saying one dumb thing after another and I'm tired of it. He's a jackass.
Donald Trump is a political car wreck. We're all looking right now but we'll move on.
He is basically selling fear and prejudice.
I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: What happened?
D'ANTONIO: Who's the car wreck now? You know, who is the guy who's not only finally after Donald Trump has tested out picking on John McCain and failed, and make no mistake that's what the president was doing last week when he raised this whole issue of McCain again, he was testing it, is this somebody I can beat up on?
D'ANTONIO: And he proved that no, I can't beat up on this guy. So now Lindsey Graham is going to come forward? Where was he when his friend was alive and really deserved the support that McCain didn't get?
LEMON: So Senator Graham also said that Trump asked him if McCain really was his friend and Graham says he replied "yeah" and "he really was my friend." What does that tell you about both men here?
D'ANTONIO: Well, Trump has never had a friend of that sort in his life. And I think Lindsey Grahm is a pretty poor friend, if he's waiting this long to come to the defense of a deceased comrade who he supposedly loves. What took him so long? This is political opportunism.
BRUNI: I don't think Donald Trump understands friendship. I think it mystifies him, and this was a great opportunity for Lindsey Graham to educate him on what friendship is by rising really, really fully to McCain's defense.
LEMON: Having said that, this was his response last week and people thought it was pretty week. He said just a couple of tweets praising McCain for his service -- there it is up there if you can put it up -- for his service to the country. No mention of the president's attack. But now he says, you know, he's very direct that, you know, Trump this week and I was his friend and I gave him that, you know, I told him to give the dossier over.
BRUNI: I was very direct with Trump privately and I'm telling you all several days later. What Lindsey Graham has not done in the last week or in a very long time is said Donald Trump, stop this, you're besmirching an American hero who is now dead. We don't pick fights with dead people and we don't try to drag down American hero. Stop it, Donald Trump.
LEMON: How much of that is about being re-elected?
D'ANTONIO: It's all about that. Donald Trump is a miserable human being. Lindsey Graham is a miserable friend. And so now we all know the truth about these men. Let's move on.
LEMON: Thank you both. Appreciate it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying it's time for Democrats to move on from Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation and focus on their agenda. With elections coming up in 2020, is she right?
[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Tonight, sources are telling CNN that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants her caucus to move past the Russia investigation now that Mueller's report has been filed. And tonight, well, the news about the Trump administration wanting to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act is exactly the kind of thing Democrats will want to talk about. So let's discuss now. Former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent is here as well as Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama.
Gentlemen, thank you. Good to see both of you. Charlie --
DAN PFEIFFER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: The results of the Mueller report, a gift to President Trump for the 2020 election?
CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Don, I think it's certainly a political victory for the president. I mean, I think we still have to read this report. I'm relieved that, you know, the country knows its commander in chief and his campaign did not conspire criminally with the Russians. I mean, I'm pleased about that.
But at the same time, I think the Democrats have been given a gift today in terms of the president's pronouncement on health care. If I were the Democrats, I'd pivot to issues that people really care about. They did great on health care in the 2018 election, and I think they should probably turn to that now, talk about the emergency declaration, America's standing in the world. They've got plenty of issues to talk about.
LEMON: Yeah. I think that's a good question because today the Trump administration as we know said that the entire Affordable Care Act should be struck down, not just its protections for pre-existing conditions. Millions of people would lose their health care. Is this what every Democrat on the trail, do you think, will be talking about tomorrow and not Russia, Dan?
PFEIFFER: I think it's what every Democrat has been talking about on the trail the whole time.
[23:39:56] There has been a limited focus on Russia among Democrats on the trail, especially from our voters. It's how we won in '18. It's how we're going to win in '20. The conversation around Russia has been largely happening -- it's an important story but it's largely happening in the media, on Twitter, et cetera. It's not the issues that motivate Democratic voters. I don't know any smart Democrat who thought Russia was how we are going to win this election in 2020.
LEMON: So unfortunately politics right now, I mean, it's all about the base on both sides. Does either side have a political advantage there when it comes to how their base feels? Dan, you first.
PFEIFFER: I think for Democrats, we have a larger base than the Republicans do. But because of the way the Electoral College is laid out, we have to do two things. We have to turn out our base and persuade voters in the middle. What motivates our base is not Russia. It's not impeachment. It is not these things.
I mean, they are important stories. It's worth noting the president still remains under multiple criminal investigations for things other than the very specific narrow thing in which Robert Mueller apparently cleared him. It is the same issues that worked in 2018. It is the fact that Donald Trump wants to take away your health care in order to pay for a massive tax cut for the wealthy, by cutting your Medicare all that.
We know what the bread and butter issues are. We just have to execute in a campaign and not chase the president down the rabbit holes of his Twitter account.
LEMON: Charlie, Dan says, listen, Democrats for the most part are not focusing on Russia, they're focusing on health care and other issues. But Republicans have argued that Democrats went all in on Russia to try to negate the results of the election in 2016, because they were afraid that they won't be able to defeat the president in 2020 or try to get him out of office before that. Do you agree with that?
DENT: Well, I do agree that Democrats really focused their campaigns in 2018, not so much on Russia or even impeachment but on health care, pocketbook issues. I thought that was a very smart strategy for them to do so. But this presidential election, I think, is really going to be won in the center. Which party, Democrat or Republican, can do a better job of talking to the center of the country which feels terribly underrepresented, I think, in Congress right now?
I think both political parties are well represented in Congress and I can make a case that fringe elements of the bases do in certain respect pull a lot of members to the extremes more than they like. But the center of the country is looking for a champion right now. And so really the question is which party, which candidate is going to be able to win them over in 2020?
LEMON: Dan, you know, look, the Trump campaign acted quickly, raising money off the Mueller news. They sent a text message to supporters saying no collusion and complete exoneration. Dems raised millions off a lie. Now we fight back. Is a lack of evidence of collusion now a great political opportunity to use a weapon against the Democrats?
PFEIFFER: Well, as you know, Don, Donald Trump never tweeted, "no collusion," until after the Mueller report was finished.
PFEIFFER: So he was going to say the same thing the whole time. I think -- I understand that Trump is going to do what he is going to do. It's sort of funny listening to the conversation as if this was some sort of major political game changer. You would think from listening to Twitter today that not only is Trump going to win in 2020 but he's already won, that it's over. That is absurd. We are a long way away from this election. Very little has changed.
And this president still, before we hand him a halo and angel wings, we should remember this president stilt has been implicated in multiple felonies in the Southern District of New York. His transition, his business, his inauguration, his foundation all remain subject to multiple criminal investigations. And he has more criminal exposure currently, even after the Mueller investigation was done, than every American president, Richard Nixon included, combined. He is not in the clear here. There is a long way to go.
LEMON: Yeah. Charlie, quickly, so how does what he said play in Peoria?
DENT: I think what Dan said is correct. The president still has some legal jeopardy here, the Southern District of New York and all these other investigations are ongoing. We still haven't read the Mueller report.
LEMON: But will it matter at the polling place is what I'm asking.
DENT: Well, I think what's going to matter at the polling place is the president's conduct in office. I mean, I think the public has become tired and exhausted of the daily drama and chaos and never ending anarchy. And I think that is an issue that is going to drag the president down quite a bit when you get beyond the other substantive policy issues of what people want to discuss. It's just the general tone and conduct in office that I think will be very damaging.
LEMON: Thank you, gents. Appreciate it. I want to remind you that I'll be moderating a town hall with Democratic presidential candidate and senator, Cory Booker. That is Wednesday night, 10:00 p.m., right here on CNN. We'll be right back.
[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The father of one of the children murdered in the Sandy Hook School massacre has died of an apparent suicide. Jeremy Richman's death is the third apparent suicide in the past week related to school massacres.
Sydney Aiello, a 2018 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, died by suicide just last week. She survived the attack on Valentine's Day 2018 that killed 17 people at the school in Parkland. And police say a second student from that school died in an apparent suicide this weekend.
I want to talk about this now with Sandy Phillips. Sandy's 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the massacre at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, and that is when I got to know Sandy.
Sandy, thank you so much for joining us. I'm so sorry that I have to talk to you again when something this awful has happened. You know what it feels like to lose a child and what happens to a family and a community in the wake of a mass shooting.
[23:50:03] Sadly now, there are many families in your same shoes. Is there enough support to go around?
SANDY PHILLIPS, MOTHER OF AURORA THEATER SHOOTING VICTIM: No, there is not enough support to go around for us. The ongoing need and the ongoing trauma lasts a lifetime, and there is just not enough support. There are many people that pooh-pooh the idea of even getting therapy right after the fact and we know that trauma therapy is incredibly important to these people and it really does help them maneuver through the grief and maneuver through the rest of their lives.
So, we know how important that is, but there's just not enough available and there's not enough resources. A lot of these people can't afford to keep going to therapy every week, even though they need to.
LEMON: I know that you have said before, Sandy, that these wounds don't heal, right? And you just said that you think it lasts a lifetime, right?
LEMON: So talk to me about your personal experience with something like survivor's guilt. How does it weigh on people who live through such horrible trauma?
PHILLIPS: Well, I will tell you that every mass shooting that we have gone to, we have responded to 10 mass shootings since our own, and so we know the people from these shootings, and we have lost people from Columbine, we have lost people from Aurora, we have lost people from Parkland, and we have lost people from Sandy Hook to suicide.
Some of those shootings happened almost 20 years ago. Columbine was 20 years ago this year. Sandy Hook will be seven years this coming December. Our shooting will be seven years this July. So, we do know that this takes its toll over your entire lifetime, and you always struggle with it in one way or another.
We are lucky enough to have a survivor family that we depend on and look out for, but we have to go deeper and we have to do more. There are just not enough funds available. The larger organizations and the gun violence prevention arena don't do enough when it comes to services and taking care of the survivor base. So, it is something that is lacking and something that needs to be addressed. As much as we all try, there's just not enough funds for it.
LEMON: After the recent Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, it took lawmakers there three days, three days to ban assault rifles and high- capacity magazines. There have been 32 school shootings since Parkland and barely any progress has been made on Capitol Hill. That's got to be frustrating to you.
PHILLIPS: Of course it is. This is something that we could address and should address and must address. And we saw New Zealand do it in a matter of days and we haven't done it in a matter of decades although we are trying desperately to do so. But we have to get money out of politics and special interests out of politics.
The American people know that this has to be addressed and they want it addressed. Ninety percent of people agree with expanded background checks, the easiest of things to do that would help to save lives, and yet we can't get the government, the people at the federal level to say no to the NRA and other gun industry people, lobbyists. They can't say no to them for some reason.
PHILLIPS: It is unacceptable and American people are rising up.
LEMON: I want to ask you about, because you mentioned, you know, preventive measures after something that's happening currently. After the 2017 school shooting -- shooting, I should say, in Las Vegas, President Trump did promise to outlaw bump stocks tomorrow, a federal ban on bump stocks. It could go into effect unless a court intervenes. Slow progress, but is it progress, Sandy?
PHILLIPS: It is a small piece of the pie. We'll welcome it. We will take it. But I for one and many of the other smaller organizations are tired of asking for a little slice of the pie when we deserve the entire pie. So we're not asking for the little stuff anymore and the low-hanging fruit as we were told when we first got into the movement.
We are asking for the moon, and we're not going to settle until we get it. It is too late for too many people and we can't let it continue. We won't let it continue and we won't let the suicides continue because of it.
LEMON: I want to talk about your organization. Your organization is called "Survivors Empowered." It tries to empower survivors of violence by telling their stories and trying to make positive change. What is your message for viewers who might be watching this and thinking what can I do? How can I help?
PHILLIPS: Get involved. It is not hard. It is not hard to get involved.
[23:55:00] There are plenty of organizations besides ours out there, although we welcome anyone to help us with our movement and our -- the things that we want to achieve. We have three basic things that we want to do in the next five years.
So -- but there are lots of organizations on the ground. I urge them to please, if they want to get involved, get involved. Get involved in the grassroots arena in your communities, in your city, in your state. That's where the difference lies and that's where the people that are on the ground really need the support.
LEMON: Sandy Phillips, thank you so much.
PHILLIPS: Thank you for having me on, Don.
LEMON: Here is an important phone number for you. It is a national suicide prevention lifeline. That number is 1-800-273-8255. Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.