Return to Transcripts main page


Trump White House Fearing the Release of Redacted Mueller Report; the Charred Remains of Notre Dame Cathedral; Felicity Huffman's College Admissions Scandal. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 16, 2019 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: And my hope is in this tragedy we see opportunity. We see signs. We look at how we came together, a sense of collective purpose, donations, do-gooders, simply people showing compassion. These are the signs I'm talking about.

Hearts and minds of a collective soul of goodwill. I haven't seen it burn this bright, and the cause of repairing and restoring beauty. Crowds like this these most days are fueled by anger and opposition, but not here.

This is about what remains and the signs that show us it is worth coming together and we are stronger together. And hopefully she will be back with us soon.

That's our show for tonight. I'm running late. Let me get it to D. Lemon right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Yes, you are running late, but that's OK. Listen, I think --

CUOMO: Sorry.

LEMON: No, no, no. Don't worry about that. Come on. I've got two hours. So, listen, you did a really good job of explaining, educating people about what you call Our Lady, about the Notre Dame Cathedral.

And I think Catholics, I'm sure your family is very proud of you and I think you should be. You did a very good job with that, so I commend you for that.

I want to ask you something. Because you've been down at the border and talked about something that could be a fundamental change to our immigration system and people seeking asylum in this country. OK.

This is what The New York Times is reporting and CNN has matched the reporting the Trump administration on Tuesday took another drastic step to discourage migrants from seeking asylum, issuing an order that could keep thousands of them in jail indefinitely while they wait for resolution of their asylum.

Basically, what the Attorney General William Barr has done he is trying to make good on the president's promise to end catch and release. So, he has told judges that they don't have to grant bail or let people go even if they had met the requirements for asylum that they are to be -- to continue to be detained. It wouldn't take place for about 90 days now, but it's sure to be fought in court. There you go. What do you think?

CUOMO: Circumstances going to dictate the constitutionality of the measure. If they are found to have sufficiency in their early pleading stage, their early hearing stage, then holding them differently than the law currently allows is going to be problematic.

Obviously if somebody is detained illegally, then you have much more discretion in terms of detaining them. The problem, though, however, Don, is not to be faked out by this move because their problem is capacity.

They're letting people go not out of any sense of compassion or humanity. They're doing it because they have to. And you can tell the judges whatever they want. They don't have any places to keep them.

So, this is a so this is a little bit of a distraction to show harshness when they don't have any solution to the real problem, which is accommodating the flow.


CUOMO: He's got nothing for that. But he's going to have constitutional problems with this. You're going to have habeas corpus problems. You are going to have problems with due process. You're going to have problems.

LEMON: Yes. One immigration attorney said, and this is a quote. "Basically, if you pass the initial asylum screening, you can now be indefinitely detained." And she called the decision horrible news that could affect thousands of migrants apprehended at the border and people who come here and do what is legal, seek asylum.

CUOMO: Right. I think he's going to have a very hard time supporting it, but that just shows you he will take a step, and this A.G. will do it for him, even though legally it's suspect.


CUOMO: Because they like the political message. It's not what an A.G. is supposed to be in the business of. They often are, and it seems that way again.

LEMON: Well, it's interesting that the A.G. is coming out with this just hours before the Mueller report is supposed to come out in full, minus a redaction, so we shall see.

CUOMO: The Mueller report there releasing on the eve of the holy weekend of the year --


CUOMO: -- for Catholics and Christians, and Jews have Passover, and that's just happened to be when they put it out.

LEMON: What are you trying to say that this is like a document dump?

CUOMO: Dirty pool, D. Lemon.


CUOMO: Dirty pool.

LEMON: Yes. So, we'll be following the story that you just spoke about. You are the attorney. I wanted to ask you. You've been at the border. You've been covering what the president refers to as the brown menace. You refer to it as a brown menace. I want to get your response to that, Christopher Cuomo.

CUOMO: Glad to be on the record, D. Lemon. I'll be watching.

LEMON: See you. We have a lot to cover. I'll talk to you later. Nice show.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

And we are really getting down to the wire. We're going to follow the report that we just talked about, but we're getting to the wire when it comes to the Mueller report. Because in a few hours, as few as 36 hours, people across the country and around the world will finally see what is actually in the Mueller report, at least as much of it as the attorney general will let us see.

But no matter how much is redacted, no matter how much is redacted of those 300 or 400 pages, we are bound to know a lot more come Thursday than we do right now.

And that's got a lot of people on team Trump, current and former aides, by the way, really worried tonight about what they said to Mueller and how much of it could or will become public.

[22:04:55] Some of them are telling CNN that they are dreading Thursday, not looking forward to it at all, dreading what they fear will be a credible account of chaos inside the White House. You know it's not going to be sources said, this is going to be Robert Mueller's report telling him this is going to account for actual people inside the White House with names.

Even those who defended the president fear that anything they said about his temper or his work habits, it could set him off.

Think about that for a minute. I want you to imagine being one of those Trump aides who said something about the boss, something that he wouldn't like, said it under the penalty of perjury, right? You had to tell the truth. So, the president can't explain it all away as a gossip, as gossip or lies.

And imagine the whole world, president included, about to hear what you said. You'd be a bit nervous, too, he's not just a regular boss but the president of the United States, I think you would be a bit nervous about that. So, one Republican source is telling CNN, quote, "they cooperated, they had to tell the truth. He is going to go bonkers." That's a quote. You know Anthony Scaramucci. He was a White House director of communications for all of 10, 11, around 10 days? He says this with, you know, you would have to call it an uncharacteristic understatement.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are likely paragraphs that are probably are going to look not great for him or people in the administration or people in the transition.


LEMON: He also said to The Hill or wrote in The Hill that the press wasn't the enemy of the people, interesting, Anthony Scaramucci.

On Thursday when we finally get the redacted report, we're going to find out just how much was left out of the Barr letter. The president's nemesis, or one of them, anyway, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi weighed in today in a conversation with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.


NANCY PELOSI, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It isn't up to the attorney general who has said basically that the president is above the law and the rest, so he's there to redact whatever he wants.

Well, let's just see what he puts forth. You can't make a judgment about something that you haven't seen yet. And so, we look forward to seeing it.


LEMON: Well, everybody, we're all counting the hours until we can read for ourselves, read the report on Thursday for ourselves. You know at least one person who won't be reading it. Want to guess who that is? One official tells CNN, President Trump, who famously prefers one-page summaries with visual aids, not expected to read every page himself.

The president's legal team will brief him once they've read everything, but I think it's a safe bet the president will be watching it all unfold on cable TV, cable news.

Many West Wing officials say they'll read the report themselves. Though some said that they would wait until after they had left the office, which sounds like a good plan, doesn't it?

CNN has learned that Trump's personal lawyers have been working on their counter report base on what they have seen in the attorney general's March 24th letter, a letter that was written to get out ahead of this report. And make people think that they already know what it's going to say. Even though Barr only quoted 101 words from Mueller's report out of a 300 to 400-page report.

Many people think the president has already been exonerated. The president has been shouting it from the rooftops for three weeks now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever. It was a complete and total exoneration.

The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better.

The finding was very, very strong. No illusion, no obstruction.

The special counsel completed its report and found no collusion, and no obstruction. I could have told you that two and a half years ago, total exoneration.

A beautiful conclusion. I haven't seen the report. There was no collusion at all. There never was.

They said no obstruction. So, there's no collusion. There's no obstruction.


LEMON: So, the fact remains, facts are really important around here, that Mueller did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. The special counsel did not reach a conclusion on obstruction.

And Barr quotes him, saying, "White this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

[22:10:04] It's the exact opposite of what the president is saying. The president is reportedly all, what me, worry? Harking back to the attorney general's letter that he claims exonerated him. While at the same time telling us what he really thinks in the same way he always does. The Twitter.

Starting the day by tweeting, "no collision, no obstruction." And at it again for a few hours with an assist from is BFF at Fox News.

So here we are, some 36 hours away from getting the Mueller report. Some 36 hours with what's likely going to be a whole lot of redactions. But will we also get answers to a whole lot of questions?

Questions like, who was named in the report? What do they tell Mueller? What about the context of those few quotes from Mueller, 101 words in the Barr letter? Will we learn anything new on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia? What more will we learn about Mueller's decision not to make a decision on whether the president obstructed justice?

We may not get all the answers. Probably won't get all the answers. In roughly 36 hours we'll certainly know a lot more and one of the people around to will guide us through exactly what to expect from the Mueller report. They know. He knows. He's a former U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York. Preet Bharara is here, next.


LEMON: The Mueller report is finally coming. And as few as 36 hours while we know there will be redactions in it, we could get answers to a lot of questions that we've been asking since the start of the Russia investigation.

Let's bring in now the former U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, who is the author of "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crimes, Punishment and the Rule of Law."

Thank you, sir, for joining us.


LEMON: I appreciate it. You're a prosecutor for a long time.


LEMON: What do you going to be looking for?



BHARARA: Facts. Not spin, not inuendo, but facts. And I think we've seen from prior submission made by Bob Mueller whether sentencing memoranda or criminal complaints or indictments, that they're right in a fairly plain way and they set forth what they think is true without a lot of embellishment and it's hard to argue with it.

And so, I'm looking to see what facts are set forth, which facts are new without editorializing, in particular in the area of obstruction.

LEMON: Will we get that, do you think, with the redactions?

BHARARA: Yes. I don't know. I keep thinking that a lot of the redactions would fall into the first section of the report.

LEMON: Right.

BHARARA: It's about collusions, so to speak, and conspiracy because that kind of evidence and that kind of material relates to the grand jury, I think a little bit more. There might be more classified information there because you're talking about consorting between the Russian government, Russian officials, and potentially folks on the American side.

But on obstruction section, my sense is a lot of that evidence was obtained voluntarily through voluntary interviews and things that happened publicly, and so there shouldn't be classified information that's related to obstruction, and so we should see a fuller version of that.

LEMON: So, the people who, as you said voluntarily were interviewed and even those who testified, the grand jury, should they be worried about that becoming public?

BHARARA: It depends on what they said.


BHARARA: There have been reports, right, over the last day or two suggesting that the people who were cooperative with the special counsel, who in fact were told by the administration lawyers to be cooperative with the special counsel are worried that their words may come back to haunt them if they paint the president in a bad light, which is not how it's supposed to work.

You're supposed to go and you're supposed to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. And it's unclear to me how much the attorney general is going to want to protect the source of that information. Even if they don't use the names, sometimes it's very obvious in the same way that individual 1 in the Michael Cohen plea was obvious that it was the president of the United States. It might be obvious who Don McGahn is in the document.

LEMON: So, you know the narrative that has been said, no collusion, no obstruction.


LEMON: You know it, right? But the president has denied any wrongdoing. He lied about, you know, aspects of knowing about the Trump tower meeting. He lied about why he fired Comey. Do you think we're going to find out about that?

BHARARA: I think we'll find out a bunch. I mean, you know, as I was saying right before we came on air, there are sort of, you know, two things that are going on here. One is the legal ramifications. I don't know if those will change at all. It depends on what Congress decides to do because obviously Bob Mueller has decided his investigation is over.

No crime, as far as he sees, with respect to conspiracy. He couldn't make a decision because it was too close to question on obstruction. But Bob Mueller is done with respect to his investigation. And so, will the legal issues change? Probably not.

But from the perspective of the core public opinion and congressional opinion, if there are new allegations that we have not been familiar with over the last couple of years and have not been normalized about things that the president did that show his state of mind and show that he was intending to trying to obstruct or stop the Russia investigation.

Conversations between him and Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, conversations between him and maybe the former attorney general or the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, that show that the president really, really, really wanted to end the investigation that we have not heard before, I think that gives momentum to an abuse of power allegation.

LEMON: So, they have not -- are you surprised they haven't claimed executive privilege? Is it possible that they still will?

BHARARA: Yes. I don't know that they haven't yet. I mean, Bill Barr said in a way that is, I guess, a little bit promising that he wasn't going to submit information to the White House and let the White House make a determination about executive privilege, that the White House was deferring to Bill Barr.

He was -- the last I saw he was ambiguous on whether or not that meant he wasn't going to be claiming executive privilege or that he himself was going to be deciding as opposed to the president and the White House deciding whether or not there is executive privilege.

LEMON: Thank you for talking about the news. Let's talk about your book.


LEMON: OK. So, you write in your book, you said, "It's very hard for the FBI or the Justice Department to show convincingly the purity of the decision not to charge Hillary Clinton, especially to people who don't like her and who sniff the vague scent of corruption. If Robert Mueller and others decide not to charge or decline to make a referral on President Trump it will be very difficult to show the purity of that decision too, even if it is pure."

[22:20:07] What do you mean by that, Preet?

BHARARA: I forgot I wrote that.


BHARARA: That's before we knew about the Mueller report and no conclusion about criminality.

Look, it's very hard generally in life to assess a decision not to do something, right? You know, I chose not to take that job, I chose not to marry that person. How can you judge years later whether or not that was a decision? That's true in sort of any decision when you did not go down that path. It's especially hard in prosecutorial decisions.

On the one hand, if you decide to charge someone, in our system it's an open court, as I write about in the book, and you can assess the quality of the charge, you can assess the quality of the evidence. Reporters like you are allowed to go into the courtroom. There is a transcript that's prepared, it's not done in secret, and so everyone can have an opinion, and actually, you know, an opinion based on facts and evidence and exposure to the process.

On the other hand, if you choose not to bring a case because of the general, you know, policy and the fairness of not, you know, attacking somebody when you've decided to make a decision not to charge them, in a politically charged environment especially, it's hard to prove to a subset of the population who does not have faith that decisions are made on the grounds of evidence, but based on politics, it's hard to convince them that it was a good faith decision.

This is the kind of thing that got Jim Comey in a lot of trouble with a lot of people. I think he was operating from a good faith view that he wanted to defend the FBI and his institution from the allegation that the decision about Hillary Clinton and not prosecuting her was made in good faith and was based on the law and based on the merits.

But he heard and saw a lot of people saying, well, I don't believe that, I don't buy that, and he wanted to explain. And I understand the impulse to explain, but it's hard to explain to people who have their minds made up in advance.

LEMON: All right. More from your book. You don't mention the president in your book but you do write in one passage. I'm going to read this. You said, "Attacks on prosecutors by the prosecuted are par for the course, but there are limits dangerous when breached. When leaders of nations, whether the president of Turkey, Russia or the United States join the attacks, hurl the invective, demonize the justice seekers, it jeopardizes justice and threatens to destroy any remaining faith in it. And it may not be a big jump from the mere rhetoric to radical abuse of power."

So, we've seen this president who has repeatedly attack institutions and including the DOJ, he does it with the press as well, DOJ Mueller investigation. Are we at a tipping point, do you think here in America?

BHARARA: No for a tipping point, but we're definitely going down some slope. And I don't want to say Armageddon is coming, but I think reasonable, smart people who are Republicans and Democrats and independents are concerned about the degree to which this invective is being launched against people who have the temerity to investigate things that, by the way, were decided to be investigated by the president's own hand-picked people, like Rod Rosenstein.

So, you know, as I said in the quote that you read, it's powerful. Look, I got attacked all the time because people don't like to be investigated, people don't like to be prosecuted. And I get that.

There is an order of magnitude of difference when the person who is saying those things and crying witch hunt and undermining the motivations and the intelligence and the patriotism of the prosecutors and the investigators is the person with the largest megaphone on earth, whoever the president of the United States happens to be.

And he decided to use that megaphone to attack people who were conducting an investigation that was ordained by your own people. There's a swath of folks in the United States of America who will believe what's being said. And it's irresponsible, I don't know if we're at a tipping point, but we're definitely not in a good place.

LEMON: Seven and a half years, you were the U.S. attorney general for the southern district.


LEMON: For seven and a half years. So now they are doing an extensive investigation on the president's business, also his inaugural committee. They've interviewed people like Keith Schiller, like Hope Hicks, people who are close to the president. Schiller was his bodyguard, Hope Hicks obviously was an assistant of some sort, a press person.

So, does this, do you think that this presents a bigger danger to the president than the Mueller investigation has more exposure here?

BHARARA: I don't know what the facts are. He has more exposure in the sense that the Mueller investigation, even though some people thought it crossed red lines and the president was always upset about the end of that investigation, it was circumscribed. It was really about issues relating to interference in the election and potential involvement of the Trump campaign, and then other things arising of that investigation one of which was obstruction.

The Southern District of New York kind of like Congress does not have any circumscription about what it can look at. It can look at inaugural committee, it can look at money laundering, it can look at financial transactions, it can look at campaign finance abuse, as is the case with the Michael Cohen case that they're overseeing.

[22:24:54] So in a sense that if the president has done wrong in some of these other aspects of his life, like the Trump organization or the inaugural committee or something else, then the Southern District of New York is free to look at all those things.

I still think they have the constraint that a lot of people don't like and understandably --

LEMON: From the DOJ.

BHARARA: -- from the DOJ about not being able to prosecute and indict a sitting president. But that does not mean that they can't investigate people including those who are related to the president and associated with the president in his businesses and otherwise, or in his administration up to and including the president himself. Whether or not they can take action on the president is a separate matter.

LEMON: So, what do they do, then?

BHARARA: They can wait --


LEMON: If they find wrongdoing? Assuming that --


BHARARA: Yes. If they find compelling wrongdoing, that they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt, if it was an ordinary citizen, not that you're ordinary, but if it was Don Lemon --


BHARARA: -- and they though we have proof beyond a reasonable doubt and it's a serious crime and the interests of justice support bringing the case but it happens to be against the president with, you know, with respect to him there's this policy, I guess they have a couple of choices.

They can wait. They could, I guess. And now we're seeing this, it looks like Bob Mueller did something like this. They can make a referral to Congress. I think there is an argument that you can make the indictment under seal. That's pretty extraordinary -- and wait until a later point when the policy and practice doesn't matter anymore. That's a pretty extraordinary thing.

LEMON: When he's out of office.

BHARARA: Yes, to tell to stop this statute of limitations from running. They could do all of those things. All of those things are very extraordinary.


BHARARA: And I think they would need to be very, very thoughtful about it, very, very apolitical about it, which I think they are, and it would have to be something that is very strong and very clear and very provable.

LEMON: One more thing I want to ask you. So, when this report comes out, redacted or otherwise, do you think it will be sort of a political Rorschach test, everyone is going to see in there what they want to see, even if there's things that are not so favorable in there for the president of the United States?

BHARARA: Yes. I think the battle lines are drawn. You know, we already see what the president's allies have said about the document, some of which are not borne out even by the couple of sentences or parts of sentences that were quoted in the Barr letter. Such as, you know, the evidence doesn't exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction.

And so, you know that it's a politically charged event, and the allies of the president are going to cherry-pick those things that they like and are favorable to them. And then quite frankly, people who have a kneejerk, you know, dislike to the president are going to probably do something similar. I'm not equating to both sides. You got to be careful about that.

But people are going to see in the document what they want to see. I'd like everyone to take sort of take a deep breath --

LEMON: Right.

BHARARA: -- and look at the whole thing and consider notwithstanding the spin of various sides, how damaging it is to the president and whether or not it's something that in the ordinary course, if you didn't have all the spin, you didn't have all this defining deviance down, you didn't have all these terrible things that in other administrations would fell the president of the United States, you know, literally would not be able to survive.

One or two or five or seven of the scandals, that you think, if this arose with respect to a Democratic president or Republican president or independent president on its own, would this be something that you would want Congress to look at and to investigate and to maybe hold the president accountable on? I think that's the test.

LEMON: So, it's obviously a good book. It's doing very well.

BHARARA: It is. Thank you.

LEMON: It's a bestseller. Congratulations. Thank you, Preet.

BHARARA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: I really appreciate it. The book is called "Doing Justice: A Prosecutor's Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law." Make sure you pick it up and read it.

Current and former White House staffers are dreading the release of Robert Mueller's report and the potential wrath of the president along with it. We'll tell you why. That's next.


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: So, tonight, sources telling CNN some current and former officials in the Trump White House are dreading the release of the redacted Mueller report on Thursday. They say they're afraid of it, that it could prove embarrassing, and they fear Trump's reaction if their testimony is revealed.

I want to discuss now. Susan Glasser is here, Elie Honig, good evening to both of you. Thank you so much. We have a lot of ground to cover here, so let's talk about it. Less than 36 hours away. So a lot of people are very worried, Elie, tonight about how the president's going to react when he hears about their testimony. What type of problematic or damaging information might be -- might come out?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So Don, let's start with this. We know that Mueller's report is approximately 400 pages. And just for a little bit of a real world reference point, I went back and checked. The Harper Classics version of To Kill A Mockingbird is just about 400 pages long. So if you think about when you read that in high school or college, that's how much information we're about to get.

A lot of it is going to be damaging for the people around Donald Trump in his administration and in his campaign. First of all, the people who had contacts with Russians, and there were over a dozen of them. We know that those people had contacts with Russians. Many of them then lied about it. Now, look, we know that Robert Mueller concluded there wasn't enough or the right type of evidence to prove a conspiracy crime beyond a reasonable doubt. But that does not mean nothing bad happened. And so, I am very interested to see what Robert Mueller has to say about those Russian contacts and the subsequent lies.

LEMON: Susan, just think how this president reacts every time there is a tell-all book -- like a tell-all books comes out. He lashes out. And we have this long list of people mentioned in the Mueller investigation. We have current and former officials, others in Trump's orbit, who had in-person interviews. So look at that. That's a big list, people who submitted written testimony. What are you expecting to see from the president?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, there is a very telling quote in a CNN story about this very issue today, Don. It says according to a Republican source, "he's going to go bonkers." You know, it's a safe prediction. As you pointed out, we've had some experience with, you know, various books and insider reports from the White House.

What's interesting about it is it usually tends to be not the release of a book or a publication itself, but the news coverage around it that tends to trigger the president. He already seems like he's moved into, you know, 24-hour-a-day pundit mode, pronouncing (ph) about the Notre Dame fires, you know, as if he's watching TV, preemptively getting ready for whatever is going to come out.

You know, that reporting today has already suggested -- it's so damning, the picture, right, of the president that is painted by his own advisers and aides in these stories. We're not expecting the president to read this report about himself, but we know he'll be very alarmed based on the television coverage of it, for example.

[22:34:55] And so to an extent obviously, it depends on what is deemed new news in here. That list of witnesses you put up is very impressive and long. These are people who are close to the president, many of whom still work with him everyday. I remember when the Bill Clinton report, the Starr report, came out. And again, we actually had access in that report and its annexes to the unfiltered grand jury testimony.

And it was the people surrounding President Clinton who gave this testimony. It was the White House stewards who produced some of the most embarrassing information. They are compelled under penalty of law to testify. The same will be through, and of course, it's not alleged sex acts in the Oval Office that we're talking about, so --

LEMON: Yes. And compelled to do it under the risk of perjury, right, if they didn't tell the truth. Elie, let's look at the former White House counsel, Don McGahn. Remember, he sat down with Mueller for 30 plus hours. There was never a full debriefing with Trump's legal team. And CNN reported last year that Trump was unsettled by all of this, and we may now learn why.

HONIG: Yeah, Don. So Don McGahn spent 30 hours with Robert Mueller. That's a long time. I've spent a lot of time with cooperating witnesses. I've spent 30 hours but only with sort of the most important ones with the most relevant information. And I do think people ought to be concerned about Don McGahn, because he had inner, inner circle access to the president through the White House.

He was in the room when the key decisions were made. It's been reported already that he was the person who had to talk the president out of trying to fire Robert Mueller. And so, I think when we're looking at the obstruction question, which we know ended up being very close to a crime, so close that Robert Mueller decided not to decide. We're going to be looking at his intent.

And I think someone like Don McGahn can say here is what the conversation was in the West Wing, in the Oval Office. Here's what the intent was behind, for example, trying to fire Robert Mueller.

And one other thing about the reporting that people are concerned the president may go bonkers. If he wants to yell and scream and throw things, go ahead, but he needs to be careful, because it is a federal crime, witness retaliation to take action against somebody, retaliating against them for being a witness.

And so if the president starts firing people or otherwise taking significant action against people because they spoke to Robert Mueller, that in itself could be a federal crime.

LEMON: It is, Susan, it is stunning. I mean it bears repeating that it's really incredible to think that what these aides, what these people are fearing, is essentially retribution for telling the truth.

GLASSER: Well, look, I mean first of all, excellent point about witness retaliation. You know, presidents have always been placed for a long time in uncomfortable situations like this. President Trump, it seems to me, one of the ways in which accountability has often eluded Donald Trump is because in fact he's been so transparent and saying things publicly that others in private might consider to be, you know, a terrible wrongdoing.

And in this particular case, on the obstruction charge, that's going to be, I think, one of the most important things we learn on Thursday. Is there new evidence or is it largely a potential act of wrongdoing in the part of the president that already exists in plain view?

It is always been my view that this has one of the ways in which Donald Trump has really changed our political system, is getting us accept things like the firing of the FBI director, the firing of the attorney general, where he has publicly stated a motive that in any other previous context would be seen as outrageously improper and absolutely something that Congress would be forced to take up.

We've already baked that in to the stock market price, if you will, of Donald Trump on Thursday. So are we going to find out new information that changes that? You know, are people really so enamored (ph) that reading the facts as we already know them to be laid out in stark and unrelenting detail doesn't do anything or affect our political process? It's an important moment either way. (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's interesting because -- yeah, because what's already out there is damning enough. And still, some people aren't moved by it. That's a very good point, Susan. Susan, Elie, thank you. I appreciate your time.

HONIG: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: New details on how the fire spread throughout Notre Dame, including why it took 23 minutes from the time the first fire alarm went off, until officials actually found the fire. That's next.


LEMON: In Paris, investigators sifting through the charred rubble in Notre Dame Cathedral. I'm wondering of potential weaknesses in the remain -- in what remains of the building. While it's structurally sound overall, pictures show gaping holes in the roof where the ancient vaulted ceiling collapsed into the knave, prosecutors say the cause of the fire like accidental.

CNN's Nic Robertson live for us in Paris. Nic, hello to you, thank you so much for joining us. Today, investigators got their first good look at the damage caused by this fire. It raged for nine hours. What do we know about how it spread so quickly?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, what we know is that a fire alarm went off inside the cathedral about 6:20. And it was heard by the security officials within the cathedral, and they executed their policy, which was to evacuate the building. So they got everyone out of the building but no hint of a fire.

Then 23 minutes later, 6:43, the alarm went off again. And that's when they saw the fire, the first indication they saw the fire. So it does seem as if those 23 minutes, while valuable to save lives, weren't perhaps used as well as they could have been to try to figure out where the root of the fire was and what was causing the alarm to be triggered.

[22:45:01] We don't know if they chose to completely ignore that first alarm or only go searching diligently after the second alarm. Undoubtedly, that's the sort of question investigators will be asking. But it does seem that at least the fire alarm system in the building itself was working. What it wasn't able to do, it seems, was actually pinpoint where everything was going wrong, Don.

LEMON: And it seems that they may have gotten a luck break, Nic, because many of the artifacts were out because they were renovating the building, and also as the fire was going or before they -- there were even signs of fire and when it spread to the roof, they were busy inside trying to get some of those artifacts out.

ROBERTSON: Yeah. Some of the artifacts were literally saved by a human chain of people that were formed to get them out of the building, even while the fire was underway. There are cases, we know, of the chaplain who is the fire services chaplain, Chaplain Jean Marc Fournier, went in with the police and helped the police rescue the Crown of Thorns and other of the sort of holy sacraments that are held within the cathedral. So he took them out.

And this is a fire service chaplain who served time in Afghanistan, but also here in Paris on the streets helping the dying and injured during the terror attacks in 2015. So this is a priest going well above and beyond the call of his duty regularly, but on this occasion saving -- helping save the holy relics from the cathedral.

LEMON: Nic Robertson has been covering this yesterday since it happened. Thank you very much for your report this evening here in the U.S. Donations have been pouring in to help rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral. But yesterday's fires also causing a spike in donations where the three black churches in Louisiana that were destroyed by arson just a few weeks ago.

A crowd-funding campaign for the small churches received nearly $500,000 thousand after social media users pointed out that the Notre Dame had been pledged hundreds of millions of dollars. But the Louisiana churches, well, they were still struggling. We'll tweet out the donation site and also go on Twitter and look up Yashar Aliz (ph) account who was very instrumental in starting this. We'll be right back.


LEMON: A source with knowledge of the investigation into the college admissions scandal saying tonight that prosecutors plan to seek a sentence of 4 to 10 months behind bars for actress Felicity Huffman.

Last week, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud. Let's discuss now with attorneys Joe Tacopina and Areva Martin. Areva is the author of Make it Rain. Hello to both of you. Areva, does a punishment of -- between 4 and 10 months in prison fit Felicity Huffman's crime?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's in the lower end of the sentencing guidelines. One thing the prosecutors, Don, have been pretty clear about in this case is they were going to ask for jail time for anyone that was convicted or who took a plea deal in this case. You know, she paid allegedly $15,000, which is a lot less money than some of the other targets or other defendants in the case who were in the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars.

I think the punishment does fit the crime. I think there's some sense though that these people, Felicity, Lorie, these high profile people shouldn't serve any jail time. I am not of that frame of mind. I look at the teachers, the educators in the Atlanta teaching scandal. I've said this before on this program. Some of those teachers got seven years in prison.

They were charged with RICO charges for their -- you know, the conduct they engaged in with respect to changing standardized test scores for students in the Atlanta public school. So I think jail time and accountability is really important in this case, because this case was not victimless. A lot of people were hurt in this college scam.

LEMON: Especially the students who worked really hard.


MARTIN: Especially the students who worked hard and should have gotten into these schools.

LEMON: Felicity Huffman did mention in her apology -- she wrote a seemingly sincere public apology letterer, taking responsibility for her actions, Joe. Yet, did that seem to make a difference for prosecutors --

JOE TACOPINA, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It will. It absolutely will.

LEMON: But -- I want to read it because Areva said it's on the low end of the spectrum. Maybe it did.

TACOPINA: Well, no. It's -- the plea deal was worked out before she put out her statement, right? So the sentencing guidelines, look, this is a federal case. The federal case driven by the full sentencing guidelines, they're not mandatory, but it's the range the judge has to consider. It's the right range for this level of crime. And it's not like the prosecutors decided let's be lenient on her, because she's an actress and we all know her. I mean that's what the --


LEMON: You think she should go to prison?

TACOPINA: I don't think she's going to go to prison. Four to 10 months is the range. The judge can depart from that based on mitigating circumstances.

LEMON: Before we run out of time, I want to ask you about actress, Lori Loughlin, Areva. Her husband, Mossimo Giannulli, and some 17 others are doing the exact opposite, entering not guilty pleas. Is that a better choice?

MARTIN: Well, they are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty in a court of law. They have taken the position that they're going to fight this, at least for now. Now, they can change their minds, and they may work out some plea deal along the way before this case actually goes to trial. But what we're hearing, Don, is that they're not accepting that they did anything wrong, unlike Felicity, we're not hearing any statements from them or any of their representatives, suggesting that they have acknowledged the gravity of the acts that they engaged in.

I don't know if it's, you know, denial or delusion. But they've decided to fight, and that's their right to do so.

[22:54:55] TACOPINA: Well, it could be -- you're right. It could be denial. It could delusion, or it could be -- I am innocent. And, you know, we've all seem to have convicted everyone in this case. I mean everyone thinks everyone is guilty, and it's just a matter of sentencing. They are presumed innocent. And we don't know all the facts in this case. She might come forward and say I was duped.

LEMON: Yeah.

TACOPINA: And maybe it's going to stay.

LEMON: Let me ask you something real quick. Some children of the parents facing charges in this scandal, they received letters from federal prosecutors warning them that they could be targets in a criminal probe. What's the purpose of sending those letters?

TACOPINA: To threaten them. I mean no other reason than to threaten them. And I find it very distasteful. I mean look, these kids are hurt, and they're hurt enough. I mean these kids will never be normal again. And these parents are quite frankly despicable acts are to blame. To announce they are threatening 18 year old kids who were influenced by their parents' decisions, I think, not the right thing to do.

LEMON: Do you think anything will happen to them, Areva?

MARTIN: Well, I hope that Joe is right, that these are 18 year old kids. But the reality is, is some of these kids maybe a lot older, and some of these kids may not be kids. They maybe adults, and they maybe adults who were complicit and involved in, you know, complete knowledge of what their parents were involved in. So I don't want to assume that the prosecutors are going after innocent kids.

I would hope that if they are sending target letters to these adults, these graduates, they they're doing so because they have some evidence to support what they're doing.


LEMON: We're out of time.

MARTIN: If these were adults that were engaged in the criminal acts of their parents, why should they get a pass?

TACOPINA: She said it in the beginning --

LEMON: We'll be right back. We'll be right back.

TACOPINA: -- if it was real evidence.

LEMON: Thank you both.