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Massive Fire Damaged Century-Old Notre Dame Cathedral; A.G. Bill Barr Will Release His Redacted Version of the Mueller Report. Aired 11-12p ET

Aired April 15, 2019 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

It is early Tuesday morning in Paris and the people of that city are waking up to sadness, shock and devastation. Their beloved Notre Dame Cathedral is in ruins right now. A catastrophic fire engulfing the historic building which is more than 800 -- it was more than 800 years old. Flames causing the cathedral's roof and its iconic spire to collapse.

Fortunately, though, firefighters saved its two world famous bell towers.

Notre Dame burned for many hours. But officials in Paris now say the fire is under control.

President of France went to the scene himself as the flames reached into the sky, calling Notre Dame the cathedral of all French people and vowing that it will be rebuilt.

I want to show you this photograph. This is the inside of the devastated cathedral tonight. Look at that.

And despite all that devastation the mayor of Paris says that important religious relics and major works of art were saved.

Let's bring in now Nic Robertson, he joins me from Paris, and also, retired FDNY Deputy Fire Chief Jim Bullock is here in New York with me. Thank you so much, gentleman for joining us.

Nic, the cathedral suffered colossal damage in the words of one official. What can you tell us at this early hour in Paris?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, we can see that there's still an inspection, quite intense inspection going on of those structures that we're told the twin towers that are safe. If you look at them over my shoulder, you have the huge arch doorway then above that a level of ancient stonework and above that a series of what look like quite slender pillars or columns and then above that the towers themselves.

All of this, all of this it appears as if the French fire fighters are going -- going over very, very carefully. We see them up on ladders, on hydraulic lifts using flashlights to look at the outside of the building. And we can see lights coming from inside the building as well and that seems to give the impression that the firefighters are in there inspecting the inside of the building.

An involuntary start to the fire, that's how the chief prosecutor here in Paris describes the beginning of his investigation, if you will. He believes it was started involuntary. This was not a malicious act, Don.

LEMON: All right, Nic. I want to bring in Jim now. A lot of people are asking tonight what about -- what was it about Notre Dame that made this fire spread so quickly and it's probably just simple, it's wood, right?

JIM BULLOCK, RETIRED DUPUTY FIRE CHIEF, FDNY: Yes. It's old wood that is dry and burns fast.


BULLOCK: And there's a lot of old wood in that building.

LEMON: You said to me during the break you wouldn't believe how much wood is in there, just how porous it is, over 800 years drying as well.

BULLOCK: Yes. It's a -- besides the wood of the ceiling, there's all the fuse and everything. Everything in it is a lot of wood and that burns fast.

LEMON: Yes. How could, you know, it's such a treasure. Something like Notre Dame, why would it be so vulnerable to a tragedy like this? It makes us wonder if a lot of our beloved architectural structures, similar to that if they are vulnerable as well.

BULLOCK: Churches have their own problems and especially large cathedrals. There's a lot of open airspace but once the fire gets started, there's a lot of air to feed the fire and with the high amount of combustibles in the ceiling, that's where the fire started and now it's in the ceiling. It's hard to get up there, it's maybe 300 feet up in the air.

LEMON: Yes. And you know, we talked about water, right? Water, possibly or probably do more damage then, because if they had the possibility of saving something, the water, if you had poured water on it like from a helicopter, what would that have done?

BULLOCK: Well, water would not -- the painting would be affected by the water but it's only going to be the water running down the walls. But you needed to get a lot of water up on top and get into the roof area.

[23:04:59] And the problem is that roof area is not an area where a lot of people go to at times so there's no access up there. There's no special stairs. Very few I put it that way. LEMON: You know, what I'm wondering is, because you know, they said

that they saved a lot of the architectural relics, right? And the art. So, as we were -- obviously they knew about the fire before most of us saw it happening on television.

So, were they scrambling do you think getting some of those relics out of the bottom of that building because if the roof is building, were they just in a mad dash do you think to get that out?

BULLOCK: That's what I heard. That there were some people that while removing some of the artifacts that they can and one of the things who is -- the fact that it's under renovation, they took it out so it wouldn't be damage during the renovation. So, there might be less than we thought that would be in there.

LEMON: Nic, do you have any knowledge of that?

ROBERTSON: Some of the pictures that we've seen emerging of the relics that have saved tonight seemed to indicate to me that they were wrapped up in protective material, which you know, you would be surprised at given the speed of the fire, the speed and the difficult conditions that people would have been working in to recover them.

So, it does give us a sense here that because of the renovation work, some of these items were already sort of wrapped up, set aside. Perhaps there were deeper spaces within the basement of the church where the cathedral where things could be held more readily. You didn't have to spend so long hauling them -- hauling them out.

But you know, precisely how some of these things were saved, we just don't know at the moment, Don. What I had been reading about this cathedral, it did have a water tank on the roof. We're not clear how large that water tank was but part of the reason for that water tank was as a fire suppressant system clearly inadequate in the situation.

A forest of wood is how the roof has been described. And you know, we're listening here to how this old wood would burn quickly, so much wood, and perhaps not enough water stored up there. But also looking in the river behind me here, you can see one of the river vessels that the fire crews here operate. It's got three hoses right now in the river feeding water or helping feed water into the firefighters who are closer to the building. Don.

LEMON: Look, I just want to put this. Chief, among some of these things that the relics are and artifacts of the crown of thorns. That picture that we saw from Getty was that a new image of the crown of thorns? Do we know? Was that today? Yes, it is. It was not today, not today, OK.

Because people will be looking to see that especially during this time of Easter. I want to thank Jim Bullock and Nic Robertson. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

BULLOCK: Thank you. You're welcome.

LEMON: Thank you so much. Joining me now by phone is Cathy Widawska. She lives in Paris and

witnessed the Notre Dame fire. Cathy, thank you so much for joining us. You've lived there for 14 years. How are you dealing with seeing this kind of destruction to a cultural treasure?

CATHY WIDAWSKA, WITNESS TO NOTRE DAME FIRE: It's very, very heart breaking. Hello, everyone. Sorry.

Yes, it's a very hard day today. We see this Notre Dame on fire. Yes, it's very important monument, building for Paris but for all over the world for our culture. So, yes, it's really heart breaking.

LEMON: Yes. Yes, you said for all over the world, but it's especially loved by Parisians, by the folks in Paris.

WIDAWSKA: Yes. True. Not about the church, but it's more really like the monument item. It's the identity of people here, you know, it's like -- it's the heart of Paris, the heart and soul of Paris. I don't know (Inaudible) as well. So, it's really very hard to see.

LEMON: Can you, Cathy, please tell me about the moment when you first realize what was going on with Notre Dame.

WIDAWSKA: I was walking on the street, the main street (Inaudible) just near the Hotel De Ville which is the city hall of Paris. And I just saw, you know, the little smoke coming from the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral. But I didn't realize it was yet that it was Notre Dame Cathedral. I thought it maybe -- it was the building behind and it was just a little smoke.

So, I thought maybe there was some problem, you know, of the renovation. But I would never think that it will -- it will be such a huge fire after.

[23:10:03] So, yes. It just took think 15, 15 minutes, 15, 20 minutes when we would see more like flames already. The fire, it was flames and after -- yes. It begins very -- it was a very aggressive fire, you know.


WIDAWSKA: So, the -- when the iconic fire on the top just collapsed, it was very hard to see because they realize everyone who was standing that it's very, very serious, and it really damage the cathedral. So, yes.

LEMON: Yes. It's very emotional. Very emotional. Listen, I understand, Cathy, that you are very concerned that it could have been a terror attack.

WIDAWSKA: Yes. That's what I thought in the beginning, you know. I was just thinking something happened right now but everyone here is kind of sensitive after all the attack we had, so it can be maybe the terror attack.

So, yes, it was much more, you know, everyone was terrifying. Because we didn't know what was really happening. So yes, so for a moment we don't think so it's a -- they don't think it's a terror attack. So, we will see.

LEMON: What was the mood from people in the area as they watched this cathedral burn, Cathy?

WIDAWSKA: Everyone -- everyone was very sad and the people started crying. It was very emotional moment, you know. It was like -- it was like losing someone, someone you know very well like your -- Id don't -- yes. It was -- you have seen on the faces of people it was like fear and the sadness, sadness because they knew that something is happening very, very bad, you know.

LEMON: Listen, I know it's been an emotional time for you, but we thank you for joining us. Thanks so much, Cathy.

WIDAWSKA: You're welcome.

LEMON: French President Emmanuel Macron has promised to rebuild Notre Dame. But in the wake of all this devastation, how long could that take?


LEMON: More on our breaking news now. The iconic Notre Dame Cathedral ravaged by fire. The world watching as the cathedral spire collapse. Hundreds of firefighters battling the flames. Two world famous bell towers were saved. But so much was lost.

Tom Foreman is in the virtual studio with that. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, some 400 firefighters tried to respond this fire but with rush hour traffic and even nine different bridges coming into this island in the middle of the River Seine, it was still very hard. And the height of the building did not help either.

Remember, it looked like this started near the base of that central spire and then went up at the highest point there. That's a football field above the ground, and of course much of the ceiling fell in as well.

So, what was underneath all of this? Just one of the most visited attractions in the world. About 13 million a year come to see this soaring open space as these intricate wooden carvings in places like the choir and in various stalls along the side. Also, the organ here is a huge attraction. It was last refurbished in 1730, but it was older than that.

One of the most revered musical instruments in the world, more than 8,000 pipes. We don't know what has happened to that and the rose windows, another big attraction. Some of the finest stained glass you'll see.

Everything here is completely steep in history. Remember, this is where Napoleon became an emperor, where Joan of Arc began her path towards becoming a saint. And so many other things have happened here as well.

So, there are documents here and there are architectural plans and paintings and drawings that go back for centuries until not just the story of this cathedral, but in some ways the story of Paris as well, including this remarkable relic. For true believers out there, it's called the Crown of Thorns.

It is believed by them to be the crown worn by Jesus on his way to crucifixion. Certainly, very important during this Easter time. We don't really know what's happened to an awful lot of this. But there is positive news we do know that more than a dozen priceless statues were removed as part of the current renovation just last week. Don?

LEMON: Tom Foreman, thank you very much. Joining me now on the phone is Amicie Pelissie. She is the president of Cathovoice France. Amicie, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Catholics observing Holy Week. Easter Sunday just days away. How is the city of Paris coping with this tragic fire?

AMICIE PELISSIE, PRESIDENT, CATHOVOICE FRANCE: I think the general feeling is a mixture of sadness and shock about (Inaudible) it says. I mean, a sign to them it's something that you only see once in a century or not at all.

When I heard the news, I was -- I'm not in Paris but I was at mass elsewhere. And initially thought it was a hoax because it's just too much for the beginning of Holy Week. But I think it will take more than one week to adjust to what we've seen.

And some of the images from last night images were really apocalyptic images. And I think it's something that was very much in the hopes and prayers, as Catholics, this Holy Week of Parisian Catholics but not of Parisian, of everyone, and probably not just French people but everyone.

LEMON: Yes. If you've heard the reports the one especially before yours, Amicie, the officials are saying that some of the major relics were saved from the fire including the Crown of Thorns and the tunic of Saint Louis.

[23:20:06] What can you tell us about these items?

PELISSIE: These are -- there are priceless items. So, I'm doing my Ph.D. on Saint Louis so I know a lot of that. His lifetime and how big those relics are. The Crown of Thorns was actually bought by Saint Louis in the 1230s. It was bought by some of the emperor in Constantine, in modern day Istanbul in Turkey.

And basically, the emperor just needs to touch so he sold one of his most precious treasures to the French king, bought it and had it brought back from in triumph. It was -- the relic was paraded through France for weeks and weeks on end and all the contemporary historians in (Inaudible) they mentioned it.

It was initially displayed in Notre Dame. And they need to have a separate building, the Sainte-Chapelle, the Holy Chapel where it was stored until last year. It was brought back to Notre Dame in March 2018. So, it's kind of a paradox when you see what happened to Notre Dame.

And also, those relics used to be displayed every Holy Week for people to pray and to generate. So, this is obviously not going to happen this year at least not in Notre Dame.

But knowing that this has been saved, along with the Blessed Sacrament, which is a piece of bread where Catholics viewed Christ from the live at mass is a huge relief for us and sort of a sign of hope in the midst of this tragedy. And I think we owe this a lot to the courage of the firefighters who are still fighting against the fire after more than 10 hours of drama.

LEMON: Well said. And I think it does give some degree of comfort that knowing those items have been saved. Amicie, thank you. I appreciate your time.

PELISSIE: Thank you.

LEMON: A redacted version of Robert Mueller's report is expected to be released Thursday. But has Attorney General Barr's letter already set the narrative for the president's base and how will the rest of America react to the report.


LEMON: The Attorney General, William Barr, is expected to release Robert Mueller's long-awaited report this Thursday. Administration official say they're betting the report won't change public opinion that much because the top line conclusions of Barr and Mueller are already known.

Well, of course, that was exactly the point of the attorney general's March 24th letter. Get out ahead of the report. Make people think they already know what it's going to say.

So, let's discuss now. Philip Bump is here, Frank Bruni, and Garrett Graff. Garrett is the author of "Mueller's War" released this month on Scribd, right. Good evening. Thank you all for joining us. Hope my mouth continues to work. It's Monday and I'm already having trouble.

Frank, you know, it's been three weeks since Barr released his summary memo. And regardless of what we learned on Thursday, I'm just wondering and we talked about this a little bit before. Has Barr already set the narrative here?

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he has. I think the administration officials who believed that they aren't a lot to fear are correct because most Americans aren't paying the sort of granular attention to details that the three of us are. They're not tuning into this hourly or daily and they'll happily take an overview or summary over a nearly 400-page of largely redacted report. So.

LEMON: And they are going to say, wait, I thought the president was exonerated. he said it. BRUNI: I thought this was it. And on top of that, most Americans have their partisan believes intrenched already. So we're talking about a very small number of people whose opinion is maybe movable here and I think a lot of those people have sort of checked out. They got the summary. They feel they know the end of the story and they've moved on.

LEMON: So, as we, again, as we have talked about this, I think the consensus was from a lot of folks, and as I said I thought it was going to be when the initial report came out, regardless of what it was, it would be a political Rorschach test, right.

BRUNI: That's right.

LEMON: So I'm just wondering if Trump's team, as you say, has excelled in manipulating public opinion about this investigation regardless of whatever happened with Mueller's investigation

BRUNI: A hundred percent. I mean, we often, I think correctly on shows like this and conversations like this we talk about how bumbling Trump and his team can be when it comes to matters of governance and policy.

The one thing that Trump is brilliant at and some of the people around him too, is they understand how manipulable public opinion is and they get to the work of manipulating it. And he long ago began preparing for these weeks for this moment. He long ago began conditioning those people who are listening into believing that this investigation was flawed that it was politically biased and that they could choose should they want to not to believe the results of it.

LEMON: Do you think they actually believe that or they just one of them -- they're saying it just because they want to be -- I don't know.


LEMON: -- contrarian. I mean, do people actually believe that?

BUMP: Some do. But I think the people who believe that are people who have confidence in Donald Trump. I mean, quite frankly, the polling shows that there are a lot of people who are still skeptical about what the Mueller report may say. Obviously, just weeks since we haven't seen the report.

CBS News, though, shortly after Barr release his letter, they did a survey and about a third of the people who said no, he's exonerated, let's move on. About another third were saying, you know what, we haven't actually seen anything yet. I'm withholding judgement here.

And then something like a quarter a little bit more than that were saying no, I don't think he's been exonerated at all. So, it's certainly it's the case that along with a lot of the other patterns we see in Trump world which is that Trump makes an assertion. He's fancied it up that most of the rest of America is skeptical. Like we always talk about Donald Trump lies all the time. Why don't people understand that he's a liar. And they do. They have seen this before he actually won the election. The same pattern holds here. He said that thing he said no collusion since May 2017. And most Americans don't take him at his word for that. you're right, though where most people --


BRUNI: They do.

BUMP: Yes, or exactly they do.

BRUNI: I don't think it's a full third of the people who are reserving judgment. I think they want to say they are reserving judgment because they're too embarrassed to say that either they don't care or they've moved on. I think it's much smaller.

[23:30:01] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: But I think the astute assessment is -- we really don't know. We don't know what's in the report. And so until we do, I don't think you should make up your mind about it. But there's certainly evidence that, you know, someone is -- there is something that's not in the up and up.

BRUNI: I'm laughing because we may not know on Thursday. I think we're going to be disappointed yet again.

LEMON: Oh, there's Garrett! Garret is here.


LEMON: Garrett, we don't mean to talk amongst ourselves. You questioned why Barr is acting in good faith. Why do you do that?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think we've seen Barr -- whatever idea that we had that Barr was operating in good faith over this last month as he took office, I think, has sort of slowly dwindled away. You know, the sort of stumbling of his multiple letters, which sort of in and of themselves are pretty unconvincing that he's acting in good faith.

And then last week when we saw him on Capitol Hill, you know, he was not speaking as someone who is actually trying to gain transparency. You know, he's making clear that he is not going to go to the courts to try to pry loose this grand jury testimony as was done in Watergate and Whitewater before, and is operating under the narrowest interpretations of what he's trying to offer to us as the public.

LEMON: Yeah. Incredibly, this is the first time that Barr has been criticized for giving us his own conclusions on a controversial legal finding. He did the same thing back in 1989 when he was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel. Tell us more about that, Philip. What do you know about that?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure. So, NYU law professor named Ryan Goodman who is the co-editor-in-chief of this blog, Just Security, wrote a great piece walking through what happened in 1989.

Essentially what happened was this. Barr at that time was the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. He through his office issued a finding, which essentially said that the FBI was allowed to go into foreign countries and without the governments of those countries permission basically detain people and arrest people. That was seen as a justification to arrest Manuel Noriega in Panama.

So when this -- when this came out, when it came to light of this opinion he'd been offered, Congress wants to see it. What Barr said was that he would instead of giving them the full document, would give them a summary of the principal conclusions, which is almost exactly what he said in the first Mueller letter as well.

Essentially what happened is -- that was in 1989. In 1991, we finally got to see the entire opinion from the OLC. And what that opinion said was, among other things, one of the things that he'd left out of his summary principal conclusions was the fact that the Office of Legal Counsel was authorizing the president of the United States to violate the U.N. charter, which is a massive deal, according to Goodman who I spoke with earlier today, and was something that one would assume would be one of the principal conclusions that you shared with Congress.

LEMON: So he missed --

BUMP: Goodman's assessment is yes, essentially, that he was not being forthright when he spoke with Congress about that, and that obviously served as a giant red flag for Goodman and others that he may do the same thing here.

LEMON: Shocking Barr is a political operative. You didn't know that from -- one of the reasons he got the job for what he wrote about, you know, the special counsel, and then what he also said during his confirmation.

BRUNI: I was going to say, Donald Trump has made some really terrible and curious cabinet picks, but from a position of self-interest, he seems to have gotten it right with William Barr.


LEMON: Garrett, listen. CNN and New York Times both reported earlier this month that some of the people on Mueller's team felt that Barr and this is a quote. That he failed to adequately portray the findings of the inquiry. If it turns out that that is the case and that his letter is misleading, then what?

GRAFF: Well, I think we have to wait and see what the report actually says and know how misleading it actually ends up being. I think almost certainly what we're going to find is that there was a large gap between what Barr said were the criminal conclusions and the political conclusions that presumably Bob Mueller's team brought. You know, that there's sort of potentially lots of evidence of behavior that is politically troubling, not the type of things that we want presidential candidates to be involved in. Remember, you know, this is a report, a summary that Barr has handed out where he couldn't even quote a complete sentence out of the report as part of exonerating the president, that even that phrase where he says that the president did not rise to the level of a prosecutable case of obstruction does not exonerate him So this is clearly a report that is much more damming politically than what we have been led to believe criminally.

LEMON: Thank you all. We know the president has done a 180 again. At first, you know, he said bad things about Mueller, then he acted rightfully, and then he said oh, no, he's awful again.


LEMON: So, we don't know. All right, we'll be right back. Stand by, everybody.


LEMON: 2020 Democrats and the Congressional Black Caucus are defending Minnesota Congressman Ilhan Omar after the president posted a video combining footage of 9/11 terrorist attacks and Ilhan Omar's comments about September 11th. We're not going to air that video because it has clear Islamophobic connotations, but I want to play for you what Ilhan said just last month at a California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations known as CAIR.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen.

[23:39:59] And frankly, I'm tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it.


OMAR: CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.


LEMON: For the record, CAIR was actually founded in 1994. Critics accuse the congressman of dismissing the seriousness of September 11 attacks. Controversy escalated when the president tweeted out a video mixing footage of 9/11 with her comments, with the caption we will never forget, a common refrain about 9/11 that also refers to the holocaust. The White House insisted the president's tweet was not an incitement of violence.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly the president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone. But the president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman for her not only one time but history of anti-Semitic comments.


LEMON: So in a statement, Omar said she is facing an increase in death threats since the president posted the video and added, "Violent rhetoric and all forms of hate speech have no place in our society, much less from our country's commander in chief."

Well, that didn't stop the president from continuing his attacks on Omar. In a tweet today, he called Omar "out of control." So why is the president so focused on a freshman congresswoman? Ilhan Omar is no stranger to controversy. She made comments that echo anti-Semitic tropes. And just last week, she accused White House advisor Stephen Miller, who is Jewish, of being a white nationalist.

But there is another reason the president is targeting Ilhan Omar. The president is using Omar to revive the same Islamophobic tropes that he used throughout the 2016 campaign. This is the man who suggested falsely that President Obama was a Muslim. This is the man who made up an absolute lie about seeing Muslims cheering after the collapse of the Twin Towers.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down, and I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.


LEMON: No evidence of that whatsoever. Then just weeks after that outrages claim, his proposal to stop Muslims from entering the United States.


TRUMP: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.


LEMON: Months later, he made this false and bigoted statement about Muslims.


TRUMP: I think Islam hates us. There's something -- there's something there that -- there's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it. There is an unbelievable hatred of us.


LEMON: President even fought with a gold star family insinuating that the mother of a fallen Muslim veteran didn't speak at the DNC because she wasn't allowed to.


TRUMP: If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably -- maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.


LEMON: Not to mention his threat to monitor mosques to create a database of Muslim in the U.S. I could go on and on. You heard the press secretary say that this is about calling out anti-Semitism. But this is the same president who said this about white supremacist violence in Charlottesville.


TRUMP: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group -- excuse me, excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.


LEMON: Some of those very fine people were chanting this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!


LEMON: And the president looks the other way when it comes to members of his own party. Take Congressman Steve King, for example, who told The New York Times, "White nationalists, white supremacists, Western civilization - how did that language become offensive?"

There were other comments as well. Congress stripped King of his committee assignments but this is what the president had to say about him.


TRUMP: I don't - I haven't been following it. I really haven't been following it.


LEMON: So, where is the outrage? The president's outrage is selected. Let's go back to Congresswoman Omar. Ilhan Omar represents a number of firsts for America. She is one of the two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, the first Somalia-American congresswoman, the first congresswoman to wear a hijab, a symbol of the Muslim faith.

All this makes her a target for a president who is all too happy to stoke fear of Muslims for political gain. The president is treating Omar just like he's always treated Muslims. Lots to talk about.

[23:45:01] Wajahat Ali, Alice Stewart, and Max Boot, next.


LEMON: Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar says she's experienced an increase in death threats since the president posted a video combining comments she made with footage of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Let's bring in Wajahat Ali, Alice Stewart, and also Max Boot. Good evening to all of you. Wajahat, you said that these attacks on the congresswoman, Congresswoman Omar, the president is being true to form. What do you mean by that?

WAJAHAT ALI, OP-ED WRITER, NEW YORK TIMES: He's true to form. This is who he is. He incites hate and fear and violence against people of color, against immigrants, against those who are refugees, and especially against Muslims.

[23:49:58] I appreciate that you actually connected the dots, Don, before the break and showed his rich history of Islamophobia. It's there. He's racist. He is not racially charged. He doesn't have racial trip ups. This is who he is. And he wants to deflect.

We have the Mueller report, redacted, coming out. The president allegedly tried to bribe an official which is illegal last week to shut down the border, and he thinks, you know what, this will be a good distraction and I'm going to rile up my base. What I'm going to do is incite hate against a congresswoman who just a little bit over a week ago has received a death threat. The man was charged and the man is a Trump supporter.

After this happened, Don, what did Donald Trump do? A day later, he incited hate against her again in a speech. What does he do? He takes this vile video, which I'm so grateful you did not share, which is the worst Islamophobic trope.

As a Muslim, let me say this. In the last 18 years, there has been a collective responsibility placed upon innocent American-Muslim citizens, making us seemed guilty for the violent actions of 19 terrorists. We're always guilty by virtue of our religion and we're always deemed suspects and threats.

And no matter what we do, Don, we're never seen as equal citizens. We're never seen as innocent. And we always have to defend ourselves and engage (INAUDIBLE). It's ridiculous. And that's why -- this is Donald Trump being true to form.

LEMON: All right. I have to get my other guests in. So let me bring Alice in. Alice, 9/11 is a whole lot more than some people did something. If you want to criticize a congresswoman on that, I think that is fair, OK? You know, maybe she should have couched it differently. But do you think the president's attacks are about more than what she said?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The president's attacks are all on what she said, not just in that situation, but in the past. I mean, 9/11 is the worst terror attack in the world and she calls it, as you said, something that someone did. And in addition to that, she has repeatedly made anti-Semitic comments, saying that people that support Israel are only doing it for the Benjamins. She'd spoken out against the Jewish people.

And look, the reality is, simply because she has a soft spot for terrorists and a blind spot for our relationship to Israel doesn't mean that everyone needs to keep their mouth shut about it. It is not just the president's responsibility --

ALI: Shameful, Alice.

STEWART: -- but is legitimate -- but is legitimate for him to speak out because the Democrats were not --

LEMON: Let her finish.

STEWART: Listen, I have joined you many times in denouncing this president's hateful comments and I have said exactly what you have said. I don't understand why you and other Democrats cannot condemn this hateful language that the congresswoman is using. It makes absolutely no sense and they are not standing up to her and allowing her to continue to do so.

LEMON: Please respond, but I have to get Max in. Go ahead, Wajahat.

ALI: Which is why it's so shameful -- which is why it's so shameful that today, you've completely done a 180 and supported Donald Trump's Islamophobia and bigotry. You know this is hateful. You know this is wrong. You've seen the video. You know it's taken out of context.

You know she was telling American-Muslims to stand up and be citizens and reject Islamophobia, and the irony is America and you included, are putting Islamophobia on her. You know she has death threats. It's disgusting, Alice, because I expected more from you of all people.

STEWART: Look, it's hard to take something out on context when we played it from start to finish. We heard the words out from her mouth, so it's just disingenuous to say that it was taken out of context. And those comments --

ALI: Watch the video.

STEWART: -- need to be condemned by Democrats across the board.

LEMON: Max, weigh in. What do you think here?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: My view, Don, is that Donald Trump does not have a health care plan, he does not have an immigration plan, but he does have a plan for demonizing Democrats and making them out to be some kind of anti-American socialistic, anti- Israel party. And sadly, I think all too many Democrats are cooperating with Donald Trump's strategy.

You see that with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling herself a socialist. You see that with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, attacking Israel supporters, engaging in classis anti-Semitic tropes. In this particular case, I don't think that she was justifying or defending 9/11, but she was certainly describing it in a way that is very peculiarly, saying some people did something. That is not the right way to describe one of the worst days in American history.

And of course, Donald Trump jumped all over it with his long history of Islamophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry which we've been talking about on this program. And of course, he is politicizing 9/11, which should be a sacred day in our history. It's disgusting the way he's trying to use it for political advantage.

But sadly, I feel that he will derive political advantage from it and Democrats are kind of caught between a rock and a hard place because they cannot abandon Ilhan Omar, because then they will be seen to be giving in to bigotry. But the more they defend Ilhan Omar, the more they play into Donald Trump's hands and let her define the party which is not what they want to do going into 2020.

LEMON: Is she giving him ammo?

BOOT: Yes, she is giving him ammo.

ALI: It's really sad.

BOOT: I think it's not just her, I think it's Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, Don, and others.

[23:55:00] That's why, I think, Nancy Pelosi, who is very smart and shoot here, is trying to separate the rest of the party from a few of these freshman members. She was just quoted, for example, today saying, "I am not a socialist."

Very few people in the Democratic Party are socialists. This is not what the party is about. But that is how Donald Trump is trying to redefine the Democratic Party and some of these members are playing into his hands.

LEMON: The research actually shows that most Democrats are moderate Democrats and not socialist.

BOOT: Right, exactly.

LEMON: Listen, here is what The New York Times is reporting, that Trump has privately said his language about Muslims has been received well among his base. His advisers and friends acknowledge that, in effect, he is trying to recreate some of the same conditions of the 2016 campaign. What do you think of that?

ALI: That's exactly why he's doing it, and I'm just really saddened to hear my fellow panelists today. I mean, you can criticize Ilhan Omar all you want about her comments and about policies, but this is a moment where we have a president with a rich history of demonizing immigrants, refugees, Muslims.

We know with his campaign trail, wherever he goes, violence uptick follows and violence, and you guys are sitting here rationalizing, kind of (INAUDIBLE) and saying, you know, she did say some comments, so I guess --

BOOT: Come on, Wajahat. Come on --

ALI: You know what? Go ahead.

BOOT: I have been --

ALI: Villainize her.

BOOT: You cannot accuse me of being --

ALI: It's shameful. Max, I wanted you to have -- I want a moral stance here. Let me just finish. This is a moral opening of leadership here. We can stand up against Donald Trump and his use of hate and fear against Ilhan Omar. And side by side, Max and Alice, you can criticize her all you want, but this is a mother, this is a woman, and this is a congresswoman. And we have death threats against her and Donald Trump has doubled down on it.

LEMON: Wajahat, we are running out of time.

ALI: As Don just said, if he's doing it, he's doing it, and she gets hurt. What are you guys going to say?

BOOT: I've spent years denouncing Donald Trump's bigotry and hatred and I denounce his use of 9/11 as a political attack, too. I think what he's doing is very wrong. But I also think that what Ilhan Omar is doing is wrong, and she has not apologized for some of her anti- Semitic outbursts. I think she is a very unfortunate symbol for the Democratic Party, which is what Donald Trump is trying to make her out to be.

STEWART: And not only she did not apologize, the Democrats allowed her to continue to engage in this anti-Semitic behavior. Waj, you are doing just the same and that's really unfortunate.

ALI: Shameful. This is shameful.

LEMON: I've got to go. Thank you all. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.