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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Democrats Split After Bernie Sanders Backs Voting Rights For Felons; Trump Tells Washington Post He Opposes Current & Former White House Aides Testifying Before Congress; Kushner: Mueller Probe "More Harmful" Than Russian Meddling. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 23, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: --back in 1987. It was complications from black lung disease. His name was Lee Hipshire. Tomorrow, you're going to meet the man's son to whom the image and its inclusion in the report were a complete shock. I hope you watch.

The news continues. Want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: Thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

The 2020 race has changed over just the past 24 hours, more Democratic candidates pushing for impeachment proceedings.

We have Democrats of great portfolio assembled. They've helped shape some of the biggest political machines their party has had. Did they see a winner on the stage last night? And did they see the same winner? We'll see about that.

And Jared Kushner weighing in on Mueller and what the real threat is to our democracy. This was a Wow! moment. And we're going to take it up in The Great Debate.

Plus, President Trump says no, no to his aides testifying to Congress, no to turning over his taxes, but what does the law say? What is his ability to say no - no?

A brand new interview. And we're going to test it with a very capable guest, a former Attorney General, who knows the law, who knows the current Attorney General very well. What does he make of all this?

What do you say? Let's get after it.

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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CUOMO: To impeach or not to impeach, that is a question. So, why all the waffling, the hand wringing? Some Democrats, all in, other Democrats, all over the map. Why? Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Accountability has to come from the Congress. And the tool that we are given for that accountability is the impeachment process.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If for the next year, year and a half, going right into the heart of the election, all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump, and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The impeachment proceedings are up to the House. They are going to have to make that decision.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm also going to leave it to the House and Senate to figure that out because my role in the process is trying to relegate Trumpism to the dustbin of history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: So, what do you see there? A range, right? What's the consideration? Is impeachment, holding this President accountable, is that the winning issue? If so, why vacillating? If not, then why the vacillating?

Let's take what happened on that stage to three Democratic powerhouses. Symone Sanders, she was with Bernie Sanders, no name relation, Dan Pfeiffer knows the Obama Administration very well, Paul Begala of Clinton fame.

Great to have you here. Thank you very much. Let's start with a quick roll call starting with Symone. Whom do you think fared best on the stage last night, Symone?

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER BERNIE SANDERS 2016 CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I think Kamala Harris did a great job, as did Elizabeth Warren, and also (ph) Bernie Sanders.

CUOMO: One name please. One name.

S. SANDERS: Oh, you know what? I - I - I - I liked a lot of folks last night, Chris.

CUOMO: Best means one.

S. SANDERS: Everyone had different strengths.

CUOMO: All right, Pfeiffer, do better--

S. SANDERS: Look, they had different strengths.

CUOMO: Dan, do better than that. Give me one name. Who popped to you?

DANIEL PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA FOR STRATEGY AND COMMUNICATIONS: I was going to give those two exact names. But because you called her on it, I would go with Elizabeth Warren.

CUOMO: Strong. Begala?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT CLINTON, POLITICAL CONSULTANT, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I thought that guy Cuomo looked pretty good. I don't know if he's running.

CUOMO: The creepy guy?

PFEIFFER: Come on.

BEGALA: If he's announced yet but because (ph)--

CUOMO: The--

BEGALA: No, I'm totally uncommitted.

CUOMO: --the guy creeping around?

BEGALA: I am completely uncommitted. So, I - I liked seeing them all get on the track. But this is the beginning, not the end.

CUOMO: All right, so, Symone, why - why? I'm not trying to simplify it. I'm trying to say you guys have to pick a winner, right? And, you know, your party has had problems with this in the past. You have to fall in love with your candidate.

BEGALA: Yes.

CUOMO: And in that romanticism, you often miss pragmatism. So, when you look on that stage, you didn't say Bernie Sanders. But on that stage last night, if you look at the polls, he is right now your best chance to win. How large is that a factor?

S. SANDERS: I'd like to note I said Senator Sanders was my third choice. Look, I think it's still very early, Chris. And I - I caution folks.

CUOMO: It is.

S. SANDERS: Because the polls will and do change. And the majority of Americans are not even tuned in. I think it's amazing so many people watched the CNN Town Hall. But this was a test run for, I think, the debate stage.

And I think we saw a lot of folks that had policy prescriptions. But then you had folks like Mayor Pete that said, you know, policy is going to come later, and that's not going to fly when we get to the debates.

And so, this is the pre-trial run. But come the debates in June, folks need to be ready to rumble.

CUOMO: Right. Look, we get where Buttigieg is. He's young. There's going to be more of a pressure on him to see how he puts together solutions. But he's also right, Dan. Early on, you can establish who you are before you establish what you are in terms of policy. But it has a half-life.

The reason they watched the Town Hall last night is because your people are desperate. They are worried this is an existential crisis for them. They really want to replace this President. What does that mean in terms of the decisions your party needs to make and soon, Dan?

PFEIFFER: Well I don't think it means we have to make a decision soon. I think that would be the absolute worst decision--

[21:05:00] CUOMO: No. Not about who? About what? Where you're going to focus?

PFEIFFER: I - I think we have to let it play itself out. Symone is right. It's early. We don't know what - what it's going to take to beat Trump.

And we're all sort of been thrown for a loop because this guy that no one thought was going to win, won. And so, we're questioning everything we have. The best thing to do is let it play itself out. Let's see who can do.

From my perspective, we need to find a candidate who can simultaneously do two things.

One, fire up the Democratic base because there is no path to victory without that, but also be someone who can persuade folks in the middle because the only way to construct a 270 vote - a 270 electoral vote coalition is to do those things - do those two things simultaneously.

CUOMO: Correct.

PFEIFFER: I saw a number of candidates on the stage who seem like they could do that last night.

CUOMO: All right, and look, that was just a slice. There are other people. The big Majaaf (ph) isn't even in yet, the former Vice President Joe Biden. We expect that on Thursday. What that will mean? What it won't mean? It'll have to play out.

But Mister - Brother Begala, let's let people into the alchemy here a little bit. Full disclosure, I grew up at the knee of a beautiful man, who is now gone, named Drew Zambelli, an amazing pollster. You knew him, Paul. He's now gone.

So, I know that you know and all of you know that you guys have been polling like crazy for months. You've been looking at this President's stuck in the middle of mediocrity with his numbers.

BEGALA: Right.

CUOMO: And those are the numbers of your people there now. But you've been thinking about how to beat him for many months. What do you see?

BEGALA: Well what I see is - is what Symone and - and Pfeiffer are getting at, which is you got to fire up the base. And the base is more excited than it's ever been. The base helped deliver the biggest landslide the Democrats have had in the midterms since Watergate.

Second, you do have to reach out to those moderate suburbanites, right? They'll be alienated if they believe the party's gone too far left.

You have to able to - there's a third piece so I think Pfeiffer left out. I want to peel off some - some of the Trump voters and win them back. And - and I think Mayor Pete makes a claim to that being from Indianapolis, I think Senator Klobuchar from the Midwest.

Interestingly, Bernie Sanders last night seemed to be going right for a bunch of those former Trump voters. Democrats can win back some of those Trump voters.

Mr. Trump has led his party into a box canyon. If he leads - loses only 1 percent of the support he has from the White working-class, he's not going to make it up with women and people of color.

So, I want to - I want to do all three. I want to motivate the base, reach out to the swing, and also win back some of those Trump voters, who I think were conned, and I think they're getting pretty tired of the con.

CUOMO: The people of color he seems to focus on most, Symone, are those who are red-faced with rage about people they see as others in our society. But how much can they get them?

But you know what? You made a good point, you and Dan Pfeiffer. You never know what's going to pop.

Let's look at last night. Everybody's heavy on healthcare. They're really marginalizing the President, except for a couple of prepared lines. They're talking about Green Deal. They're talking about healthcare.

But what resonates? What gets the most buzz? Something nobody saw coming. This.

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B. SANDERS: I think the right to vote is inherent to our democracy. Yes, even for terrible people.

CUOMO: This being like you're writing an opposition ad against you by saying you think the Boston Marathon bomber should vote, not after he pays his debt to society, but while he's in jail. You sure about that?

B. SANDERS: Well, Chris, I think I have written many 30-second opposition ads throughout my life.

(CROWD LAUGHTER) B. SANDERS: And this will be just another one.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: People who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?

HARRIS: I think we should have that conversation.

BUTTIGIEG: While incarcerated?

COOPER: Yes.

BUTTIGIEG: No, I don't think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: That was in real time, Symone. Bernie believes this - Senator Sanders. Even while you are in prison, he doesn't believe there is an ability to take away someone's right as a citizen.

Now, the law disagrees with him, the Supreme Court disagrees with him. But that popped last night. Everybody got asked about it.

And, oh - you know, they ran away one more than the next. Closest he got was Kamala saying, "Yes, we could talk about it." That's what I tell my kids when I'm going to tell them "No." It's just about when I'm going to say no.

So, what did that mean last night, Symone?

S. SANDERS: Look, I think it meant a couple of things.

One, that Senator Sanders is staunchly rooted in what he believes and what he thinks is a - is - is a good policy and a good proposal regardless of how it plays politically. That's something that people appreciate about Senator Sanders.

But as a strategist, and someone that previously worked for him, that's also something that I know his aides are like, "Come on, Bernie!"

But, I - look, I think - I think the way the question was posed was interesting. You know, there is something to be said. And I think there's --there's real criticism to go around for Senator Harris and her "We should have that conversation," because she said it a lot last night.

But we should have a conversation about the way in which we treat incarcerated people in this country.

CUOMO: True.

S. SANDERS: And if we're - if we're acknowledging that the criminal justice system is inherently a system that disproportionately jails and locks up Black and Brown people in this country--

CUOMO: True. S. SANDERS: --drug felonies, for example--

CUOMO: True.

S. SANDERS: --we also have to acknowledge that that means Black and Brown people are--

CUOMO: Right.

S. SANDERS: --disproportionately affected when their voting rights are taken away.

CUOMO: True.

[21:10:00] S. SANDERS: So, there's a nuance here that was not present on that stage last night, Chris.

CUOMO: That's the point.

S. SANDERS: And I think folks were scared of the question.

CUOMO: That's the point. Symone Sanders is beating me down if we're debating right now because she's got facts on her side.

But then, I cover up, and I come with this, Dan. She wants the worst felons in the world, who attack your babies, and try to blow us up to vote, while they're in jail, before they've even served. These people are crazy. What do you do with that?

PFEIFFER: Well, first, I would say I agree with Bernie Sanders. I think he is right and he gets credit for standing there and saying that because Bernie's only going to win if he - if he stays as Bernie. And that's what's gotten him this far.

There - but there's a reason Pete Buttigieg ran as far away from as he possibly could, which is there - there's - there are political ramifications to it.

The problem for Democrats is we can't think about this in normal politics. Donald Trump will accuse every single Democrat of Bernie Sanders' position, whoever the nominee is, whether they ran away from it or ran towards it.

And so, we're here at our best if we just stay - if we just say what we believe because Donald Trump's going to lie about our position no matter what. There's no fact-checker there's no - that's going to change that position, so say what you believe, and you will be a better candidate. And that's the Bernie's credit there.

CUOMO: There is another school of Democratic thought though and it is perfect because I need to end this segment, and I end it on the man who was one of the masters of it.

Bill Clinton knew how to move to the middle and find positions that offended the least number of people, giving him the best chance of being popular and pragmatic. He would have never said the worst of the felons can vote while they're still in prison because he knows the law, he knows the impact.

How big a deal is it moving to an extreme position?

BEGALA: I - I think it's going to give voters the sense that those voters those - those Democrats who are for this position, for people incarcerated, felons, still voting, they're going to say "What the hell? Do these people not share my life and my values?"

We - we - well I - I think formerly incarcerated people have got to have their rights back. They've earned that by paying their debt. But when you're incarcerated, you lose lots of rights. You lose a lot of your First Amendment free speech rights.

You obviously use - lose your right to free assembly. You've lost your right to freedom. And you're going to lose your right to vote, I think, if - if you're incarcerated. I think that's fine.

But problem with this is not only that I think - I think Bernie's wrong. That's just my opinion.

It's that he could be sending a message to the voters we need that rather than focusing on the things he usually talks about, healthcare, minimum wage, a - decent working conditions, clean water, fighting climate, homophobia, gay rights, equal rights, he's focusing on something pretty - pretty far removed from the - the real lives of real people.

And Democrats always win when they talk about economic issues, middle- class issues. And that's, I think, where Mayor Pete - that's why Mayor Pete right away said, "No, I'm not going near this," because I think what voters want is that for the Democrats to make their lives a little bit better.

CUOMO: Right. Also, Mayor Pete had the advantage of not having to go first. You know, he got to see how Kamala Harris dealt with it out there (ph).

S. SANDERS: And also, not having any policy, OK?

CUOMO: Well it's - it's true.

S. SANDERS: Chris, look, I'm just saying.

BEGALA: No--

S. SANDERS: A woman, a person of color, heck, even Joe Biden couldn't have stood up on that stage and said what Mayor Pete said last night. So, I think his - the media infatuation and the people's infatuation with Mayor Pete is slowly running out of time.

CUOMO: It's - but that's part of the unknowns. Which apple is the media going to polish? It was Kamala Harris for a while. It was Beto for a while. It was Warren for a while. Joe Biden's coming. Now, it's Mayor Pete.

There are a lot of things you just can't predict. You guys are right about that. This conversation is to be continued. Thank you very much to all three of you.

All right, the Administration, big news today, they had until the end of business to turn over the President's taxes, OK? They refused. But the law is clear. And what are they trying to hide?

A man who got hold of one of the President's old returns is here next, and he teaches the law on situations like this.

Later, a former Attorney General will weigh in on another human shield for the President in his cabinet, the current Attorney General.

All coming up, stay with us.

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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[21:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

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CUOMO: The Treasury Secretary says tonight "No POTUS taxes. We need more time." If asked, the IRS shall turn over the taxes. That's the law. Where's the discretion?

My next guest knows more about the President's taxes and the law than many.

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TEXT: ONE ON ONE.

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CUOMO: David Cay Johnston, good to have you on PRIME TIME once again.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, SYRACUSE LAW PROFESSOR, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, "IT'S EVEN WORSE THAN YOU THINK" & "THE MAKING OF DONALD TRUMP" AUTHOR: Good to be here.

CUOMO: Can you defend this? "I'm the Treasury Secretary. Yes, I got - I got a process that I had to think about it. It takes time. There - there's a procedure here."

JOHNSTON: Well what they're doing right now, Chris, is being very careful not to violate the law. Charles Rettig, the IRS Commissioner who's a tax lawyer sent a letter saying they referred this to the Justice Department.

Of course, the IRS has its own legal shop. It's called the Chief Counsel. But all they're doing is trying to avoid directly violating the law, which would subject them to the risk of criminal prosecution and prison.

CUOMO: How do you not violate the law if you don't do what the law says?

JOHNSTON: Well they can play this game for a while but not very long. And Charles Rettig would like to go back to his law practice after he's Commissioner. He doesn't want to risk either his law license or jail. So, at some point, he's going to have to fish or cut bait.

The Trump Administration clearly, however, is saying on every front, "We are not subject to oversight by Congress." They actually argue in legal paper that Congress' oversight function is only limited to writing new laws, which is ridiculous.

CUOMO: That is ridiculous.

JOHNSTON: And what you're seeing is a dictator in the making.

CUOMO: So, what is their legitimate ground for saying, we talked about taxes, "No, you can't have Don McGahn. No, you can't have Kline," the guy, former official, both McGahn and Kline who did security clearances, "You can't have them. Executive privilege, Executive immunity," how far does that go?

JOHNSTON: They haven't argued Executive privilege yet. And in McGahn's case, they allowed him to testify to Mueller. So, any notion that he has some kind of privilege is completely gone. This is just brazen "We are not going to comply."

And, you know, as Tony Schwartz who wrote for Donald The Art of the Deal, and I and some others have been saying for a long time, Donald doesn't know what's in the Constitution. He thinks he's a dictator. And he is moving to turn this country into a Trump dictatorship.

He said just the other day, "Well when I'm President 14 years from now," and the fact - you may - some people take it as a joke, he's saying that because he's thinking about "How do I make it happen?"

CUOMO: Well, look, I mean maybe. But certainly, he's exposing people to liability here right now, probably not him.

JOHNSTON: Yes.

CUOMO: But as we saw during the Mueller probe rationale, if you had done what he said, you might have been indicted. Don McGahn is going to say, "Well I can't talk to you." He will be the one who will be availed of that subpoena penalty like Kline, like maybe Mnuchin, eventually.

JOHNSTON: Well, remember, we had two Attorney Generals go to prison from Nixon and Watergate. And we'll see at some point, Charles Rettig, the IRS Commissioner, Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, Don McGahn and others are going to have to make a choice. Are they going to risk losing their licenses and their living and

going to prison? Or are they going to comply? And this is going to be a real test. How much are people willing to go to jail for an unindicted felon in the Michael Cohen case?

Michael Cohen, remember, is going to jail for crimes he did at the direction of Individual One, who the Mueller report tells us is Donald Trump. So, the Justice Department has concluded Donald Trump committed crimes, but they won't indict him because he's a sitting President.

CUOMO: But they can indict other people. David Cay Johnston, thank you for laying out what the law is, and what the stakes are. To be continued. Appreciate it.

[21:20:00] All right, so the President won't give his tax returns. Tonight, again, there is this reporting from the Washington Post that this is not a one-off. The President is opposed to any White House aides, past or present, testifying before Congress on the Mueller report.

Does he have that right? You heard what David Cay Johnston says. What is this going to mean for the Democrats demanding answers?

Great Debate, next.

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TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

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CUOMO: All right, new tonight, the President says he does not want his current and former aides testifying to Congress. He told the Washington Post he thinks it's unnecessary after the Mueller report.

That is the start of tonight's Great Debate with Angela Rye and Steve Cortes.

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TEXT: THE GREAT DEBATE.

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CUOMO: Let's kind of wear multiple hats here because this is a little bit about the law and a little bit about politics. So, we're going to play to both, OK? So, we'll start with the prosecution here. Angela Rye, the assertion will be Executive privilege. That's why. The President may say he doesn't like it. But that will be the legal reason. Does it stand up?

ANGELA RYE, ATTORNEY, IMPACT STRATEGIES PRINCIPAL & CEO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, NPR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: It doesn't stand up, specifically about Don McGahn, who you just referenced in the last block.

Don McGahn technically waived Executive privilege--

CUOMO: Yes.

RYE: --when he testified or at least talked to and spoke with and cooperated with the investigation of Robert Mueller. So, I think that makes it very, very difficult.

The other challenge that we have is despite Donald Trump's inability to understand how government works, there are three branches of government. There is the Executive branch. There's the judicial branch. And there's the Legislative branch.

And the Legislative branch has responsibilities. He wants them to be satisfied with the Mueller investigation. But that's not their obligation. Their obligation is to engage in their own investigations and to engage in fact-finding.

CUOMO: All right.

RYE: There are House rules that govern that committee jurisdiction. And that is what these three committees are trying to do.

CUOMO: Now, Steve, unlike the tax thing, tax is a little bit uncharted waters, all right? That law that is on the books--

STEVE CORTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP HISPANIC ADVISORY COUNCIL HEAD, MARKET EXPERT, AUTHOR: Right.

CUOMO: --since the 1920s hasn't been tested, certainly not in this situation. So, we'll see what happens there.

The argument would be "Shouldn't use the Treasury Secretary as your personal proxy. Go take it up in court the way they are with the accountants' side of that subpoena." Fine!

[21:25:00] Executive privilege, different. We saw during the Clinton impeachment hearings, they had a lot of people assert Executive privilege. They lost in almost all of those challenges.

McGahn, that waiving of the privilege is going to be salient. Do you believe this is going to be on firm legal ground?

CORTES: Right.

CUOMO: Or is this going to be about politics?

CORTES: I think it'll more be about politics.

But, you know, I'm glad you mentioned the - the Clinton Administration because I think it's important for critics of the President, every time that there's a move by this White House or by the President they - that they don't like, they act as though it's totally unprecedented, as if this has never happened before.

Well the Legislative and Executive branch have tousled over oversight since the days of George Washington. I would remind you, for instance, the last administration, the first - the first cabinet member ever, Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress over exactly these kinds of issues of oversight.

So, this is a very natural tension between the two branches of government. If it gets to be bad enough, the courts decide. Now, I think that the Trump administration personally has good grounds here. But the courts will decide if it comes to that.

CUOMO: The pol - the political optic is, Steve, is this. Why you got something to hide? Why you have something to hide?

CORTES: Right.

CUOMO: If there's nothing there, let them speak.

CORTES: Sure.

CUOMO: Same with the taxes, same with all of it. You say there's nothing there. Why do you keep hiding?

CORTES: Right. Well - and - and, well, they're hardly hiding. They complied completely with the Mueller investigation--

CUOMO: No, they didn't.

CORTES: --when they did not have to. They - the - yes, they did. There could have been many time they--

CUOMO: POTUS in the chair would have been the true dare.

CORTES: No.

CUOMO: Someone put it as a rhyme--

CORTES: No. They--

CUOMO: --that always makes me remember it.

CORTES: Chris, you and I - you and I have been over this ground many times. There were very valid reasons to not have the President be interrogated, by the way, by his own inferior of his own Justice Department. There were many--

CUOMO: Clinton did it.

RYE: Inferior! CORTES: --legal and just--

RYE: Interesting!

CORTES: --logical reasons for--

CUOMO: Clinton did it.

CORTES: No. Clinton did it on - Clinton did it under duress. He did not volunteer to do it. That's not correct. He did it because he was going to be forced to.

CUOMO: Well, he did it. He did it and they--

RYE: You know what, Chris?

CUOMO: --they quashed the subpoena.

CORTES: And he did it in a negotiated fashion.

CUOMO: Let's get Angela back in. Go ahead.

CORTES: He--

RYE: What's so fascinating about this is we would love to know if all of the answers were satisfied in the Mueller investigation's conclusion in their report. But the problem is we can't see it. We don't know what's all there because so much of it has been redacted so.

CUOMO: And Mueller said many of the answers were inadequate. One out of every three about was non-responsive.

RYE: And - and so, to the point, you know, again, like it's fascinating to me that people, including Steve, would continue to act like some of the things this President does, many of the things this President does aren't unprecedented. They absolutely are.

And the fact is that he is willing to hedge his bets on going to court because now the Supreme Court, as we all know, is very much so Conservatively-stacked, so he's hedging his bets on that, and not having to comply.

CUOMO: Now. All right, so let's see. There is the--

CORTES: OK. But why is the Supreme Court--

CUOMO: Hold on, Steve. I want to - I want to--

CORTES: It's because he won--

CUOMO: I want to pivot to something else that makes the same point, OK? But it's a more obvious demonstration of the politics involved here, OK? There is law here. We'll see. It is not unusual for the Executive and Legislative. What is unusual is for an Executive branch, for the Executive administration here to ignore the obvious. But we saw that today with Jared Kushner.

Listen to this.

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JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You look at, you know, what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads and try to sow dissent and do it, and it's a terrible thing. But I think the investigations and - and all of the - the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.

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CUOMO: Well I'll tell you what. If discretion were part of the calculus in getting a security clearance--

RYE: Man!

CUOMO: --we'd totally understand, Steve, why Kushner had such a hard time with Klein and these other guys who look into whether or not you're worthy of what they want to give you.

I mean you would never argue what he just did that they were just a few ads.

CORTES: Chris.

CUOMO: You would never argue that. Never, not on this show.

CORTES: Chris, I would - I would certainly argue that - that Jared Kushner is exactly correct. Look, the Russians spent a total of - they spent - they--

CUOMO: Oh, even right after Easter.

RYE: I'm sorry. I thought he was going to say something different.

CUOMO: Rebirth and Renewal.

CORTES: They spent--

CUOMO: Oh!

CORTES: They - they spent a total of a $100,000 on Facebook ads.

RYE: Wow!

CORTES: And look, by the way, at the amount of time that the media and the Democrats have spent on this canard over the last two years? Do you know how much the campaign spent? $81 million on Facebook ads in a - in a Presidential campaign with billions of dollars in total spending. What this is really about, trying to blame the Russians--

RYE: This is so sad.

CORTES: --is trying to create a scapegoat. And, quite frankly, I have not heard sore losers blame a scapegoat this badly since Steve Bartman was blamed for the 2003 Cubs meltdown in the playoffs.

Voters in Wisconsin did not have their minds changed by the Russians. They had - they were persuaded by a powerful candidate.

CUOMO: If that's how you feel--

RYE: Can we - can we--

CUOMO: --why grossly, grossly underplay Russia's efforts that are spelled out in great and un-redacted detail largely in the Mueller report?

RYE: Right.

CUOMO: Anyone who looks at it, Steve, is going to say, "That's poppycock." They did tons of stuff. They had a reach that was extraordinary by Facebook's own reckoning. Angela Rye, get in.

RYE: I was just about to say, Chris, tag me in, here's the bottom line.

[21:30:00] When we get to a point where that we say, "You know, I'm not going to really engage in this conversation about whether or not that impact they intended to have was indeed felt," the bottom line is Russia interfered with the election. Full stop!

It doesn't matter the size of the--

CUOMO: They stole emails.

RYE: Yes. It doesn't matter the size of the contribution. It doesn't matter the - the cost of the campaign. The fact that you don't even understand that they literally bought off low-level activists that were targeted in my community is a problem, so we - we can't just calculate this by the amount they spent on Facebook ads, Steve.

CORTES: No--

RYE: It's far bigger than that.

And I think once we get to the point where we can justify this type of cyber warfare by saying it wasn't that significant, Donald Trump spent way more money or Hillary Clinton spent way more money, whoa, you're just wrong. You're wrong.

CORTES: No, no, I'm not justifying any foreign - I'm not justifying any foreign interference. And, by the way, there was foreign interference--

RYE: Oh, I missed that. It sounded like it.

CORTES: --from quite a few countries in our - in our election--

CUOMO: No. Then how come everybody in the Intel community and Mueller mentions Russia?

CORTES: --including the Ukraine.

RYE: Missed that. I missed that. I could have swore.

CORTES: Including - including the Ukraine--

RYE: We should run that back. I could have swore he said that.

CORTES: --including the Ukraine trying to directly intervene on Hillary Clinton's behalf. So, we know there was foreign interference.

CUOMO: Oh.

RYE: What did they do, Steve?

CORTES: It's always completely unwelcome and inappropriate. My point is Jared Kushner's exactly--

RYE: Yes, please make the point.

CORTES: --right when he says the reaction - the reaction to the interference was far, far worse than the actual initial crime of Russian interference in our election.

CUOMO: Listen. To have a White House official--

CORTES: It was irrational. It was not remotely proportionate.

CUOMO: --to have a White House official, let alone a President that believes that our government looking for the truth in a situation is a bigger problem than what they're investigating--

RYE: That's insane.

CUOMO: --says everything.

CORTES: No.

CUOMO: But I got to leave it there. Angela, Steve, thank you for making the arguments. The - the audience can--

RYE: Thank you.

CORTES: Thank you.

CUOMO: --suss it out. Rebirth and Renewal. All right, Angela Rye, Steve Cortes.

Looming behind this President's potential legal exposure on Russian interference is the Attorney General. We have a very special guest tonight, worked with this A.G., knows him well, a former Attorney General himself.

Can he make the case that this is by-the-book Bill and not really no- holds Barr? We'll get after it.

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CUOMO: All right, two big stories are upon us, and we have the perfect guest for both. Former Attorney General Mike Mukasey.

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CUOMO: It's good to have you back on PRIME TIME.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Good to be back.

CUOMO: Two things.

One, can you imagine, when you were working for the President, being told to do something where you had to make the decision of saying, "This is so crazy what I'm being asked to do that I have to find a way not to do it to save my own skin, let alone his?"

MUKASEY: I think I was asked that during my confirmation process. And what I said is it would pose a difficult, but not a complex issue. That is, you don't do it. You say that why you won't do it. And if you can't follow through, you resign.

CUOMO: What do you think of what we've been learning here that it was finessed differently in this Administration that the President, let's say with Don McGahn, would say "Do this," and he would have to come up with an ultimatum, in his case, you know, "I'll resign"--

MUKASEY: Right.

CUOMO: --or whatever he put it. That's one way to deal with it. Other guys just didn't do it. And Mueller said in his report, "Lucky for them. Had they, they may have been indicted."

MUKASEY: They found ways to avoid it. And the President didn't press it all that hard. I think what we find is spasmodic and intermittent and ineffectual attempts by him to affect the course of the investigation. No doubt. But it doesn't happen. And--

CUOMO: McGahn, he called twice.

MUKASEY: OK. Called twice.

CUOMO: What do you see in that?

MUKASEY: But McGahn held his job.

CUOMO: Right. But what do you see in that in terms of the intentionality of the President? What it bespeaks to in terms of intent?

MUKASEY: OK. I - it's - it's hard for me to read his mind. I don't--

CUOMO: Ah! Love when you guys say that.

MUKASEY: --I don't - I don't read minds, right. And if - yes--

CUOMO: You only say that when you don't like what you're asked.

MUKASEY: --and if I - and if I did read minds, I don't think--

CUOMO: Yes.

MUKASEY: --I'd start with his. But - but, consider this. He's being investigated for a crime that didn't happen, and that he certainly didn't commit.

CUOMO: Who says it didn't happen? Russian interference happened.

MUKASEY: Russian interference happened, for sure. But cooperation and conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians did not happen. And that was the--

CUOMO: "To a criminal level, no," says Mr. Mueller.

MUKASEY: To any level.

CUOMO: I don't know about any level. But to criminal level, I'll give you.

MUKASEY: I do.

CUOMO: I'll give you.

MUKASEY: OK. And he - and he - there's an investigation going on, not for a month or six months, but for two years - close to two years.

CUOMO: Yes.

MUKASEY: And his administration is laboring under the shadow of that investigation, and people alleging that it happened, there are going to be indictments and so on and so forth. Did he - did he break under that pressure? Apparently.

CUOMO: He goes - Mr. Mueller goes farther than saying he broke, right? He outlines, I'd say - let's say five of the 10 of the instances--

MUKASEY: OK. Right.

CUOMO: --of potential obstruction--

MUKASEY: Right.

CUOMO: --seemed to have an evidentiary basis behind them that Mueller found impressive.

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: Five, I would dismiss out of hand. People will criticize me for that, but for the purpose of this discussion.

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: So, when you say no crime, Mueller couldn't decide on that one, gave it to your friend, the Attorney General, he decided it.

MUKASEY: Right. Which is his job.

CUOMO: It is whose job?

MUKASEY: The Attorney General's job.

CUOMO: To do what?

MUKASEY: I mean it was Mueller's job initially to decide it.

CUOMO: That's right.

MUKASEY: And he punted.

CUOMO: But who says - well, you know, I said that too, by the way, Mike. Maybe I got it from you. I said Mueller punted. This was his job. He's supposed to make a decision--

MUKASEY: Right.

CUOMO: --to prosecute or not.

But the finesse position, I'm giving more way to now, that he knows what his job is, and he sees this as difficult because of the OLC opinion. He can't indict this President, so he's leaving it to Congress--

MUKASEY: That's not the--

CUOMO: --not the A.G.

MUKASEY: That's not the only - no. That's--

CUOMO: Nowhere in the report does he ask the A.G. to do it.

MUKASEY: Number one, that's not the only reason he saw it as difficult.

CUOMO: I didn't say the only. But--

MUKASEY: OK. Right.

CUOMO: --it does seem to be predominant in his thinking.

MUKASEY: But secondly, the Justice Department doesn't conduct investigations for the purpose of referring things to Congress. They conduct criminal investigations with two possible results. Either you charge or you don't charge.

We don't need Robert Mueller or whoever wrote that section of the report to tell us that Congress has the power to conduct impeachment hearings. We all learned that in eighth grade civics.

And if we didn't, we saw it during the Clinton administration. We know that Congress has that power.

CUOMO: But this is a Special Counsel. And it was put together by Rosenstein because he wanted it separate from the DOJ because of what he saw as potential conflicts.

MUKASEY: It's not separate from the DOJ.

CUOMO: I know.

MUKASEY: It's within the DOJ.

CUOMO: But, as a mechanism, separate. I know it's under the DOJ. I understand how the guidelines are written. I understand why they were written because we didn't like what the Independent Counsel was.

MUKASEY: It's not just the guidelines. We have three branches of government.

CUOMO: I understand.

MUKASEY: This is within the Executive.

CUOMO: I understand.

MUKASEY: We don't sprout a new branch of government.

[21:40:00] CUOMO: Right. But what you friend did is not just by the book. He took it on himself to decide this rule. He didn't have to do that.

MUKASEY: Of course, he had to do it.

CUOMO: Why?

MUKASEY: Who was going to decide whether to indict or not? CUOMO: Congress, as a political matter. Leave it to them.

MUKASEY: They decide whether to impeach or not.

CUOMO: And, Mike, you're skipping--

MUKASEY: They don't decide--

CUOMO: --you're skipping the big point, which you taught me about very early on.

MUKASEY: That is the big point.

CUOMO: They can't indict him. That is the opinion from the OLC. So, there was nothing to decide on that level. It is--

MUKASEY: So--

CUOMO: --purely political. It always would be.

MUKASEY: Congress doesn't indict. Congress can impeach.

CUOMO: I know. I'm using - I'm using it as just a, you know, a metaphor here. We know you can't--

MUKASEY: But you - you're misleading a lot of people.

CUOMO: No. Because we know the OLC--

MUKASEY: You have a big audience.

CUOMO: We know the - we know the OLC says--

MUKASEY: Getting smaller by the minute now, but it's bigger.

CUOMO: --you can't - you can't indict, right? We know they say that. Mueller knows it. He lays it out in the piece.

MUKASEY: He also says--

CUOMO: So, the only type of action would be Congressional.

MUKASEY: No. No.

CUOMO: That's what I'm saying.

MUKASEY: He also says - no. He can file a sealed indictment. He can say, I mean, he - he could say that there should be an indictment in these circumstances, but he - the only reason he can't is because of the OLC opinion.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: He didn't say that.

CUOMO: No, he didn't say that about a sealed indictment although he did go out of his way to say, "Hey, I want to be fair to the President too. He can't even respond to this because of the OLC opinion."

So, he, I would suggest, referred it to Congress. People should read, read, you decide for yourself. But Mr. Barr--

MUKASEY: Right.

CUOMO: --decided to end this. He didn't have to.

MUKASEY: He did.

CUOMO: That's not in the book. He could have left it alone. You can't indict a sitting President. He didn't need to tell us that.

MUKASEY: He needed to say whether an indictment was warranted or not. And he said it.

CUOMO: But you - you can't have one. So, why did he need to tell us that?

MUKASEY: Because Mueller left it dangling out there. And in the circumstance where you have evidence going one way, and evidence going another way, you don't indict.

CUOMO: Except you can't indict, Mike. And I don't know why you're ignoring that. It's on page one of the second part of this report. He says "We take our guidance from the OLC, the Department of Justice guideline on our jurisdiction with respect to indicting a sitting President."

They can't do it. A.G. Barr didn't need to do it for that reason. He needed to do it to protect the President. That's why he did it.

MUKASEY: Protect the President from what?

CUOMO: That's why he wrote the summary--

MUKASEY: From - from--

CUOMO: From--

MUKASEY: Because - when he couldn't be indicted?

CUOMO: From criticism and the open question and giving Congress that kind of momentum? That's why he did it.

MUKASEY: Oh, come on.

CUOMO: That's why he did it. That's why he wrote the letter the way he did. That's why he gave the press conference the way he did.

MUKASEY: He wrote - look - let's--

CUOMO: That's why he misled us to what that report would look like the way he did.

MUKASEY: You done? CUOMO: Yes, Sir.

MUKASEY: OK, good.

CUOMO: Respond, please.

MUKASEY: Let's start with the letter because that was what came first.

That letter came at a time when, no criticism of you, but your network with devoting days of people sitting around and talking about a report that they didn't - whose content they didn't know that they hadn't seen, in essence, panels of people, sitting around a table inhaling their own exhaust, and getting high on it, and trying to make your viewers--

CUOMO: Since when does the A.G. respond to that?

MUKASEY: Wait a second. The country was in a state of absolute hysteria. You had a countdown clock in the corner of not one, but several networks--

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: --about the release of the report, the release of the report.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: He did the responsible thing.

CUOMO: A misleading letter about what's there?

MUKASEY: No. It's not - wasn't misleading at all.

CUOMO: How not?

MUKASEY: It summarize - it summarized the bottom line of that report, which was that there was no collusion, and that the - the Special Counsel had found that he could not indict, but could not vindicate the President. He put that language right in the letter, not withstand--

CUOMO: He did put the letter about exoneration in there.

MUKASEY: Could not exonerate. I'm sorry. Not vindicate.

CUOMO: It's OK.

MUKASEY: Yes, could not exonerate when it is in fact not the job of any counsel, or of anybody else to exonerate. God does that. Even juries that return acquittals don't come back and say innocent. They say "Not guilty."

CUOMO: That's a 100 percent true.

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: And well let's - let's do this.

MUKASEY: But the - the Special Counsel said he couldn't exonerate.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: And Barr put that in his letter.

CUOMO: That's right.

MUKASEY: He then--

CUOMO: That's a fair point.

MUKASEY: OK. He then went through the report with Bob Mueller to decide on what had to be redacted and what didn't. It's a detailed process. And that letter - that - that - that report runs for 400 hundred pages. That's not child's play. Not only did he do that. He put in the reason for each of the redactions. That takes--

CUOMO: As a general category. It takes some time but Mueller's the one doing that.

MUKASEY: Takes a lot of time.

CUOMO: But I'm not talking about this just the speed of the process. I think it could have been done earlier. I'm just talking about the disposition towards the process. But this story is also not over. We'll have to see how it's carried through forward.

I want to end on good news. The good news is I now have--

MUKASEY: It's not over in part because there's stuff in there that ought to be followed from the other direction. We just have this got started.

CUOMO: Well, look, that seems to be every bit of the political intention right now is to investigate the investigators. We'll have to parse that part either.

MUKASEY: It's not investigate - just - no, it's not just investigate the investigators. There are - there's a - this - this report begins with a misstatement suggesting that the investigation started in July of 2016 when the FBI opened its file.

That's the kind of half-truth that's peculiarly designed to irritate anybody who knows the other half. And we're going to find out the other half.

CUOMO: Why? What do you believe the other half-truth is?

MUKASEY: The other half - they - they say this started in July of 2016 with Papadopoulos.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: It didn't. [21:45:00] CUOMO: When do you think it started?

MUKASEY: When do I think it started?

CUOMO: Yes.

MUKASEY: February or March.

CUOMO: Why?

MUKASEY: Because there was a meeting of the - the National Security Council at which Carter Page was discussed.

CUOMO: Right.

MUKASEY: And, in fact, when they went for a FISA warrant, and that's why this doesn't hold together, they went for a warrant not on Papadopoulos, but on Carter Page.

CUOMO: And it wasn't the first time they'd looked a Page. They've been looking at him for years--

MUKASEY: It wasn't the first they'd looked--

CUOMO: --before this election.

MUKASEY: Correct. And who was never charged with a crime?

CUOMO: Carter Page.

MUKASEY: Thank you very much.

CUOMO: Well but we have - we don't want them charging people if there's no criminal activity there.

MUKASEY: Correct.

CUOMO: We just want them laying out the facts.

MUKASEY: But in order to get a - a FISA warrant, they had to suggest that Carter Page had committed or was committing a crime.

CUOMO: Well they got more than one on him, right? They got several. So when they open up those documents--

MUKASEY: On Carter Page?

CUOMO: Yes. They had - they got it re-issued two or three different times.

MUKASEY: Yes. Suggesting each time that Carter Page was up to criminal activity--

CUOMO: All right.

MUKASEY: --and concealing things about the-- CUOMO: Well we got to see - we have to see--

MUKASEY: --source of the information.

CUOMO: --we have to see that document and then we can make those judgments. It is good to have you back to--

MUKASEY: OK.

CUOMO: --do exactly that.

MUKASEY: Good to be with you. Thank you.

CUOMO: Mike Mukasey, always a pleasure, always a pleasure.

All right, now, we talked earlier in this show, we need to go back to it. You never know what's going to pop in politics. Last night, they came there to talk healthcare and taxes and college, and why they're better than Trump, but they never knew what would touch a nerve most, until it did.

We have it. And then we'll take it to D. Lemon, next.

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CUOMO: Top 2020 Democratic hopefuls have been following Bernie Sanders' lead on many progressive policy - policy stances. But, last night, Senator Sanders said that people in prison, even terrorists like the Boston bomber, have the right to vote while they're in prison.

D. Lemon, what's your take?

[21:50:00] LEMON: I was stunned as you could see - you could see on - on our faces, and the responses.

Listen, I'm glad we asked the question. I'm glad you asked the question first to Bernie, and then we talked to the other candidates, the subsequent candidates who came on, and it's - it's interesting.

I think - I think you were right that it's going to be a campaign for those who said either "Yes, they should be able to vote," even the - the most awful people among us, or we should have a conversation about it. I think it's going to be an issue. CUOMO: Senator Kamala Harris said that she has now revised her opinion, and saying, "Those who are in prison, no."

LEMON: No.

CUOMO: They don't get the vote.

LEMON: No. Well, last night, that's not what she said.

CUOMO: Yes.

LEMON: But she - she is - listen, she can revise her position and change her mind or maybe she just didn't get it out last night. But I think that is going to be an issue. And I think it's - it's - it's a real - it's an interesting subject or question to debate.

But I think most people in America feel like once you've paid your debt to society, maybe you should have the opportunity to go out and vote, and at least exercise your Constitutional rights.

But if you're in prison, if you have created - committed a crime, like the Boston Marathon bombings, or if you just - you've assaulted or abused a child, I don't think Americans would - most Americans would want people like that to vote.

CUOMO: You know what it frames?

It frames the proposition for voters as these people are way out there in the Democratic Party. Wow, have they gone far Left? And this is after an entire evening of, you know, "Here's how I can do it. Here's how I can pay for it."

LEMON: Very big issues.

CUOMO: But this is the one they remember.

LEMON: Very big issues, issues on immigration, issues on race, issues on criminal justice reform, and this is - this is the one thing that - that really got the headline. And also, the Mueller report, and what Democrats should do about impeaching or not impeaching this President.

I got to tell you. I have a guest who's coming on that everyone wants to stay tuned to - to watch. He is a staunch Republican. He is a professor. He was on the Trump Transition Team and was also on several other Republican Transition Teams.

He says the Mueller report laid it out for him, and he has signed on to a letter with the Adviser to the President, Kellyanne Conway's husband saying that the Mueller report shows high crimes and misdemeanors, and now it's time for Congress to do their job, and you know what that means.

CUOMO: That will be worth watching. That's what I know.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I'll talk to you in a second.

LEMON: See you.

CUOMO: All right, President took to Twitter in a big way today, not nothing - not something new. He wound up attacking everybody that he thinks threatens him in one way or another, including me.

I'm not taking on the President. I don't believe in that. But there are a couple of good points that he raised. But they raise an even better question that he can't seem to answer.

The argument, next.

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CUOMO: All right, first, thank you. So many of you let me know that this President mentioned me in a tweet attacking me today as part of his media attack. And thank you for what you said, supporting what we're trying to build here, appreciate it deeply.

Second, whether to respond? In general, no. Why add to the noise? There can be power in restraint and virtue certainly in not feeding pointless invective.

However, there are two arguments that I believe are instructive and what we saw from the President today, all right? And they are keeping or in keeping with the reason for this season, Rebirth and Renewal. I'm big on that, I'm trying anyway, and clearly, we need it in our government.

So, first argument. I accept the criticism about my show, leveled by this President. I would suggest he not mention me by name if his intention is to show that I'm not relevant, but still he has a point.

The struggle is real. We see the need to grow and do even better. And we bust our bottoms to do just that. Again, we see what does and does not work. We address it. And we try to grow as a result to be as useful as we can to as many people as we can.

Why do I repeat the point? For my critics, deaf ears. And he does seem deaf to this rationale. I argue that this President should consider his own criticism. Why?

He is mired in the mud of minority approval. And he has a tailwind economy from the past President, Obama, a market-juicing tax cut, record unemployment, thank God no one has succeeded in hurting us horribly. He has a media that is totally attentive. He had both houses of Congress to start with.

And he still isn't at 50 percent. Look at it. I don't think any other modern President could boast more good fortune and they were all in the same range. More impressive? Almost all had spikes over 50 percent.

Not this President. Look at the numbers. Why? His mouth and his moral judgments.

Days like today, attacking everyone, flouting law, not leading, not making anything great, let alone again. He was sent to Washington to drain the swamp. We now have 400-plus pages of the dirtiest most foul if not felonious, political waters we've ever seen, certainly in recent history.

How can he win this way? Look at the midterms. Democrats are working where they were weak. And their party and those in the middle are almost certain to come out in the next election. What is our President doing to expand his base?

The vision will never multiply support. He can't even keep staff. The big challenge evidently, the true Achilles' heel for this President is whether he can get past his mouth, see his flaws, and find ways to do better.

Most administrations obsess on this. His seems completely blind, deaf, and dumb to it. Can he keep middling below 50 percent? If so, this line may wind up as flat as is his eventual political heartbeat, because in politics, numbers don't lie, not for me, not for him.

So, while he can very easily tell other people what is wrong with them, it's so obvious to him, he has thus shown an inability to do it for himself. Even worse, he consistently doubles down on dumb moves that divide and act to his own detriment, again and again.

Remember the graph. With all the good fortune he's had, middling can't win that way.

Thank you for watching. CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON starts right now.