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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump And Joe Biden Hold Dueling Campaign Events In The Hawkeye State; Press Is Not The Enemy Of The People; Kim Jong-un's Half-Brother Was A CIA Informant?; Baseless Claims Against Joe Biden; Battle Over Citizenship Question To The Upcoming 2020 Census; Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Oversight Committee's Forthcoming Vote To Hold The A.G. In Contempt Over Documents Regarding The 2020 Census. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 11, 2019 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

The importance of Iowa in 2020 brought home tonight really. Both President Trump and Joe Biden who was leading his Democratic rivals in the polls holding dueling campaign events in the Hawkeye state. The president talking up the strength of economy, job growth, low unemployment.

Biden playing up his role as democratic front runner ignoring his rivals and going after Trump instead, slamming his trade wars that he says are crushing America's farmers including those in Iowa. Both men taking pot shots at each other.

So what does that say about how Trump views or fears Biden, even though he is not the Democratic nominee? We're quite away from that maybe but it seems like it's playing out right now.

I want to bring in Jim Acosta, Ryan Lizza, and Mark McKinnon.

Good to have all of you on this evening. Jim, let's start with you because Joe Biden is calling Trump an existential threat to the United States. Trump is calling Joe Biden dumb and weak. Is this the one on one fight that they both want?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think so. I think this is a sign of things to come and I think the Trump campaign understands and Joe Biden understands the way to cut into the president's chances for reelection is it to go to the heart of his base and that is to go to places like Iowa, go back to those blue wall states that Trump took down in 2016.

And when Joe Biden talks about Trump being an existential threat to the United States, you know, he is, he's trying to hit Trump where it hurts and we saw this at the beginning of Joe Biden's launch, when he dropped Charlottesville right from the get go.

I talked to a Trump adviser just a little while ago preparing for the segment, who said no, we're not worried about Joe Biden. We've got Joe Biden. It's just fine. I usually believe my sources. I'm not going to believe this one tonight. They are very worried about Joe Biden because they can do the math and they know without those blue wall states they can't win reelection.

LEMON: So, Mark, I want you to take a listen to what Trump said about Biden earlier today and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I heard Biden, who's a loser. I mean, Joe never got more than 1 percent except Obama took him off the trash hip and now it looks like he's failing.

Now I have to tell you, he's a different guy. He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be. So I don't know. I think he's the weakest mentally and I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So it Joe Biden is three years -- three and a half years older than Trump so it's not that much. But anyway, I digress. We'll talk about that.

We know that Trump's advisors, Mark, they don't want him elevating Biden, constantly calling him out. Do you think the president is just not listening to them? I mean, tonight in Iowa it seems like he did. Or perhaps that he does want Biden to be his opponent next November.

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, SHOWTIME"S "THE CIRCUS": Well, Trump likes to hit what's right in front of him and right now Joe Biden was the candidate who's right in front of him and poses the greatest threat.

But for Biden, Biden is like a giant helium balloon and Trump is just pumping in the gas keeping him afloat. Trump is the best thing happening for Biden right now. Because you know, his -- the reason that Biden is doing well as he's perceive as a front runner, perceive as the guy who can beat Trump.

But it's very interesting to note that in Iowa over the last few months Biden has actually dropped a third of his support and when you add up the support for Elizabeth Warren and people who are considering Elizabeth Warren, she's actually tied with Biden.

So, this is great for Joe Biden in Iowa. Remember, just yesterday we had 19 Democratic candidates. Nobody got a story out of that yesterday and today Joe Biden is wall to wall, thanks to Donald Trump.

LEMON: Yes. Ryan, here's what -- this is John Harris of Politico. This is hs take on attacking Biden. OK? He says "Trump mocks his leading opponents because that's what he's always done, giving no more thought than a shark does about whether he prefers to bite first in a swimmer's thigh or torso." Can he operate any other way? Can he help himself? RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He can't. As you know,

as usually the case with Trump, you know, psychological analysis might be more relevant than political analysis. And I think a lot of Trump's obsession with Biden is that he is the Democrat who is talking about Trump the most.

And the fact that he's talking about Trump the most means that Trump is paying attention because he pays attention to people who talk about him and so he feels the need to respond, not really understanding politically that he is playing right into Biden's kind of sit on the lead frontrunner strategy.

I was talking to a Trump advisor about three weeks ago when this all sort of was taking off who told me the night before he was on the phone with Trump saying Mr. President, don't elevate Joe Biden.

[23:05:03] He's the strongest candidate in the Democratic field. Then every time you talk about him you help him against his opponents. That advice obviously has not taken because, you know, Trump can't help himself.

LEMON: Yes. Mark, I want you to take a listen what Biden said in Iowa tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to clearly and fully reject for our own safety sake his view of the presidency. Quote, "I have complete power." No, you don't, Donald Trump.

(APPLAUSE)

BIDEN: Quote from Donald Trump. "I have absolute power." No, you don't, Donald Trump. Or "only I can fix it. Fix yourself first, Donald Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Mark, listen. Here's what the poll show. Biden is a clear front runner, as you just mentioned. He has slipped just a little bit since last month. But is it a smart strategy to focus solely on Trump?

MCKINNON: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, that's how he gets trashed and that's what voters want to hear. But this election is going to be all about Trump. It's going to be a referendum on Trump unless Trump can make it a choice between a socialist Democrat as he like to portray it and his agenda.

So, yes, that's absolutely -- and look at what all the other candidates are doing by the way. Biden has been taking on Trump, other candidates who hadn't been taking -- getting much traction now are doing the same thing. And they are discovering like Kamala Harris is that when you take on Trump you get headlines, you get traction.

By the way, as you kind of referred to earlier, Don, I think it's really telling that Donald Trump all they could talk about earlier today when he left the White House was Joe Biden. But by the time he got to Iowa it's pretty clear that his aides and others that had gotten to him said don't do it. That's what's giving him all the heat. So, the advisers get it.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, Jim, I'm wondering if Biden, he is, I know the answer to this question.

ACOSTA: Yes.

LEMON: He is sending the message that it's inevitable.

ACOSTA: Right.

LEMON: And I bet the people who were the primary voters there in Iowa, they were hoping that he reaches that status.

ACOSTA: Yes. And when Hillary Clinton ran that campaign in 2008 it didn't work out so well. So, you know, beware of running as the inevitable candidate. I think Joe Biden in many ways is the candidate in the Democratic Party needed in 2016.

I talk about this a little bit in my book. He had that ability back then and he still does today to talk to Trump voters in ways that other Democratic Party candidates could not and even Barack Obama could not. And I think that puts Joe Biden I think in the driver seat at this point. The question is whether or not Biden can keep this momentum going.

It's such a long way to go and there are so many other candidates in this field. You can see others having the ability to rise up and take this away from him.

LEMON: Let's put that poll back up what you were talking about. The one that we just had up, Danny, if you will. Thank you. That shows -- Look at that. There is --

ACOSTA: Yes. And what happens to this field if Joe Biden somehow goes away? I mean it's just going to be an incredible contest if that were to take place. But at this point he's kind of running a Rose Garden campaign.

You know, up until today we hadn't been seeing him as much. He sent out this press releases, Don. I get this press releases from the Biden campaign. They look like White House press releases. The former vice president does not have any scheduled events today, it will say, and that sort of thing. And they're kind of running that sort of campaign at this point.

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: How -- I wonder how the other folks go about it. Do you have any idea how they feel about it, Ryan? Are they like, wait a minute, what about us?

LIZZA: Yes. I'm here in Iowa covering Biden and working out a piece about him and been talking to some of the other campaigns and the main sense of frustration, frustration that they can't break through.

I mean, look at our segment tonight. It's all about Biden and Trump. The more it's about Biden and Trump the more it benefits Biden.

And look, Biden's strategy is not rocket science. The most popular person in the Democratic Party is Barack Obama. So every other sentence in a Biden speech, you know, subject, verb, Barack Obama was great. And the most unpopular (Inaudible) in the Democratic Party --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: We had played a sound bite earlier and --

LIZZA: -- is Donald Trump.

LEMON: I played a sound bite earlier and I said you're going to hear a lot more of that when he was talking about it. Listen, he handled himself with dignity. He was talking about Barack Obama.

LIZZA: Well.

LEMON: That's all part of his strategy now.

LIZZA: Yes. Absolutely. Look, what did they do tonight? He's got -- look, he's got smart people running his campaign. These guys have been around awhile. What did they do tonight? The news of his speech tonight here in Davenport was that while all the Democrats last weekend were at that cattle call getting five minutes a piece to talk to the Democratic activists in Iowa and Biden was getting a little bit of heat for not being there.

Biden reveal tonight not only was he at his granddaughter's graduation but that his granddaughter's best friend is Obama's daughter and that the Obamas and the Bidens hung out together and had this wonderful, you know, families meeting together.

[23:10:00] He just kind of casually dropped that in his speech and said, you know, please don't criticize me for hanging without the Obamas. So he's going to play that card until, you know, until he can't play it anymore. It's a very powerful card in Democratic politics.

LEMON: Mark, I was just sensing the other candidates were like, damn it.

So listen, a lot of people seem to think that Democrats need -- this is for you, Mark.

LIZZA: Exactly

LEMON: Democrats need to nominate a white man like Biden to beat Trump. Keith Boykin points out that two people in the history of the U.S. who got the most votes for president happen to be a black man and a white woman. Does he have a pint there? Do Democrats need to rethink who they actually think is electable? MCKINNON: Absolutely. And again, I think that we're talking about

Biden being the frontrunner. And if you had to trade places, you'd have to be the frontrunner. But I'd hated to be the advisor in that campaign right now because it's just going to be fingernails hanging on. It's going to be a slow slide and can he hang on.

He peeks the day he announces, I think and he's lost a third of his support in Iowa already and we're a year and a half out. Elizabeth Warren, as I mentioned earlier when you add up her support for people who say they'd vote for her or be a second choice or consider her, she's tied with Biden right now.

So, yes, all the heat in the Democratic primary is toward women, diversity, color, younger voters. Man, I just, if I were advising a campaign Biden is not the one where I'd want to be.

LEMON: Wow. All right. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate it. Jim is going to hang around. Jim, I want to get to your new book "The Enemy of the People."

ACOSTA: Sure.

LEMON: A wonder where you got that name from. "A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America." And by the way, I've been looking at your interviews. I saw your piece on CBS Sunday morning and I thought that was fantastic. And I appreciate the way that you have conducted yourself throughout all this.

I do not have enough energy sometimes to get in here. Where did you find the time to write this book? I mean, I know how -- I understand how tough it is right now to do what we do as journalists and it can be even dangerous at times. Why do this?

ACOSTA: You know, it was funny. By the time I finish writing this book I didn't want to stop writing because I wanted to keep following this thing that we've been watching. It's been a remarkable political story.

But Don, I mean, we saw this happening during the campaign. You and I watched this campaign. The president referring to the press as the disgusting news media, the dishonest news media and so on. And we thought when he came into the Oval Office a lot of pundits thought that he would change and become more presidential and cut that stuff out.

He's doubled down on that rhetoric and he's escalated it. He's called us the enemy of the people and he's called us fake news. Some of his supporters have absorbed that hostility and then directed at us in ways that have made us feel endangered as journalists and as news anchors covering this presidency.

And I just wanted to write something that said to the American people you know what, folks, we got to think deeply about this. Do we really want to live in a country and hand of -- remember our parents used to say I want to hand off to you guys a better country than the one I had growing up. That's what you and I grew up with. Our parents and grandparents saying that sort of thing. And I think

we're at one of those points right now in this country. Do we want to hand off to the next generation a country where it's OK for the president of the United States to refer to journalists or any segment of the American population as the enemy of the people?

And we saw Joe Biden earlier today saying, you know, the president demonizes the press because he wants to run roughshod over us so he can control the narrative.

LEMON: Well, what did other presidents understand about the press that this president doesn't because this certainly feels different. Listen, I'm not there, I'm not a political reporter. I just sit here sort of 30,000 feet and analyze basically what you guys go through every day. What did --

ACOSTA: Well, if you go back -- and I recently talked to a group up in Massachusetts and I looked at John Kennedy's speech to an association of newspaper editors back in the early 1960s. And John F, Kennedy said, you know, listen, sometimes the press chases the bright shiny objects. He put it in those exact terms but he says it's sometimes up to the press to inform, insight and even anger public opinion is the way he talked about it.

John F. Kennedy understood that there are times when we have to tell painful truths and painful truths that might get the public irate about what's happening in the world today. I think what the president fails to understand is that we're not here to do a commercial for him. We're not part of the Trump organization.

We're here to do the news for the American people and just like the folks who work at that White House need to keep in mind that they work on behalf of the American people, they don't serve the president, they don't serve just the man who is in office right now. They serve the presidency in the United States of America.

And I see journalists and you and I, Don, in that same regard. We're here to work on behalf of the American people. One of the things I talk about in this book. You know, the Washington Post fact checker recently laid out that the president has made 10,000, approximately false or misleading statements during the first two years of his presidency. Can you imagine --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: If we weren't.

ACOSTA: Yes.

[23:15:02] LEMON: If we didn't fact check it.

ACOSTA: If we didn't fact check it what would be our sense of reality in the truth right now if we didn't do that sort of thing.

And so, we have to be here on that -- you know, on patrol, on the watch to make sure that this president, any president is held accountable.

And you know, there are consequences to that. The president, his team, his supporters out there, they've gotten very upset with us and that's led to all sorts of negative things.

LEMON: Yes.

ACOSTA: And you know, what I hope that folks with will keep in mind when they read the book and take a look at it is that we are all on the same team, we are all Americans.

LEMON: Yes.

ACOSTA: And you know --

LEMON: We forget that sometimes because of all of this and because of all the negativity, and I believe coming from the administration that we actually forget what a great country we live in because it's being bogged down in so much negativity.

ACOSTA: Yes.

LEMON: I do have to say today, for all those people who say, you know, the press CNN hates Trump. And CNN is -- you know, loves the Democrats. I watched Manu Raju with Nancy Pelosi who clearly did not want to answer Manu's questions today.

ACOSTA: That's right.

LEMON: Even in her body language and you know what, he persisted and he asked her the tough questions anyway. So, if any one, a Democrat or Republican regardless who it is, if you hold a position of power, we the journalists at CNN are going to question you about it whether you like it or not.

ACOSTA: That's right. We're here to hold their feet to the fire and just because we are pro-truth doesn't mean we're are anti-Trump. And you know, as I write throughout this book and I try to close it out on a hopeful note, we are not the enemy of the people. We are defenders of the people. And we want to defend the people because we're devoted to the people.

You and I, don, our families, our parents, our kids, our loved ones, we all think about all of those folks when we come into the office and do this job on a daily basis. We're not here to spin things or, you know, color things a certain way. We're here to give the people reliable accurate information on a daily basis. That's why we all come to work every day.

LEMON: Yes.

ACOSTA: We get a high out of it.

LEMON: Yes.

ACOSTA: And I just want to make sure we can keep this going as a country.

LEMON: Yes. Well, listen, you continue to work and I hope your stamina is better than mine.

ACOSTA: I'll do my best.

LEMON: Thank you so much. Jim Acosta. The book is called "The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America." I appreciate you.

ACOSTA: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. I can't wait to finish this up.

ACOSTA: Thanks for what you do, too.

LEMON: President Trump once again demonstrating his fondness for strong men and dictators praising what he called a beautiful letter he got from Kim Jong-un. That story next.

[23:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump says he has a new beautiful letter from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. That, as "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Kim's half-brother, the one he is believed to have had killed was a CIA informant.

So joining me now to discuss is Matthew Rosenberg and Juliette Kayyem.

Good evening to both of you. Juliette, you first. This is the president announcing his new letter from Kim Jong-un. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un and I think the relationship is very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the only question I have why is he so obsessed with these letters from a North Korean dictator?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: So I think I've begun to think that Donald Trump's views, his role in history, his historic moment is going to be if he can get a breakthrough with North Korea. So all other things do not matter to him in the sense that all other data points that, you know, Kim is violating any agreement, that these letters mean absolutely nothing, that he's a horrible human being with massive human rights abuses. None of that matters to Donald Trump.

And if you can look at -- if you can understand that, then everything Donald Trump does vis-a- vis North Korea, then it makes sense. Otherwise, none of this makes sense. I mean, the letters don't makes sense. The idea that he would throw our intelligence agency doesn't make sense. I think Donald Trump has a notion of what his, you know, what his

legacy will be and it includes getting Kim to agree to something that gives him -- you know, puts him on route to the Nobel Peace prize.

LEMON: Yes. Very good assessment. It was only a year ago, Matthew, but I want you -- do you remember how excited -- look at this giant letter -- how excited he look at that giant letter from Kim. I mean, has North Korea really changed for the better since the two became -- it has been called pen pals?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We have no evidence that it changed. The letter had this kind of goofy sweepstakes kind of feel to it like he just won a prize, you know. Just as Trump was saying that, you know, things are going forward, things are working.

His own national security advisor said, John Bolton said they were not, going back in (Inaudible). They were not adhering to any kind of the agreements they had made. So we don't have any evidence that North Korea has changed in any significant way.

And I think as Juliette said, the president is determined that he's got to get a deal here. That that's what he wants his legacy to be. So never mind that this is a murderous dictator. I'm going to praise him, send him beautiful letters, you know, and that's going to be a thing.

LEMON: Just before the president, Juliette announced his new letter Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said this. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You will not see me exchanging love letters on White House letter head with a brutal dictator who starves and murders his own people.

(APPLAUSE)

LEMON: Is Trump's relationship with Kim fair game for criticism in this 2020 race?

KAYYEM: Absolutely. Because, I mean, it shows that -- I think essentially Trump's weakness. Whenever Trump gets with a powerful man, someone who is a dictator, you know, we -- he folds. He completely folds and maybe he admires them or he likes what they are able to do.

But, you know, for Trump, there is no United States interest. There's only Trump's interests. Maybe it's because I went through prom season with the kids but it's like, you know, Kim is like the quarterback that the girl wants to have him take her to prom.

[23:25:01] Forget the fact he's a jerk and ignores her and abusive and everything. You know, she really wants that so she's going to ignore all data points that suggest otherwise. It is completely fair game because it shows how weak and -- Trump is essentially a coward with these guys more than anything else

LEMON: Matthew, there's this new reporting from the Wall Street Journal. OK? It says that Kim Jong-un's brother, Kim Jong-nam who lived in exile met with American CIA agents. I mean, CNN cannot confirm this reporting, but this is what the president had to say about it. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices. That's for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So he's saying that he wouldn't use the Kim family as an asset. Is that how CIA operates?

ROSENBERG: I mean, yes. I would think that if you're the CIA and you can get a member of Kim Jong-un's family as one of your assets. You're going to work as hard as you can.

Look, I understand that the president should be trying to oversee the CIA. You know, we're not going to pretend the CIA is full of angels. However, it is truly odd that the president would promise a dictator of a state that is an adversary, it's not a friend of the U.S. as far as we know, that I'm going to put your family off limits, I'm going to put spying on parts of your family and part of your regime off limits.

You know, we might do that with allies. But even then, you know, we got caught in 2013 having spied on Angela Merkel's cell phone. And Germany is a pretty close ally. So essentially we're willing to do that but we're not willing to try and turn and use Kim Jong-un's inner circle as assets. It's a pretty strange tact for an American president to take.

LEMON: Yes. Matthew, Juliette, thank you. I appreciate it.

The president and his favorite network going on the attack, peddling baseless conspiracy theories about Joe Biden's health just like they did to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

[23:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: It looks like President Trump is pretty rattled by Joe Biden. Even though Biden is not a Democratic nominee, Trump is already attacking him the same way he went after Hillary Clinton in 2016, making baseless claims about Biden's health, and he's getting assistance or an assist, I should say, from his allies at Fox News. CNN's Brian Stelter takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The country is sick of the division.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While Joe Biden is taking direct aim at President Trump, the media outlets that promote Trump's so-called "strength" are hitting back, portraying Biden as weak, sometimes sinking down into the gutter as they do it, and Trump has been watching.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He looks different than he you used to. He acts different than he used to. He's even slower than he used to be.

STELTER (voice-over): So where is all this coming from?

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS HOST: We have two years to talk about this.

STELTER (voice-over): As The Daily Beast put it this week, "Here we go. Fox News stars pushing rumors about Joe Biden's health." There is a big page in the right-wing media playbook devoted to this. The idea is the cast opponents as unhealthy, as secretly sick. Nancy Pelosi was a recent target with cheaply-made videos implying she was drunk or disoriented.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The video is sexist trash.

STELTER (voice-over): It's a playbook Hillary Clinton knows all too well.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: People see that something seemed a little off.

STELTER (voice-over): Sean Hannity and his friends use misleading stories and photos to smear Clinton in 2016.

HANNITY (voice-over): Is there a possibly she had a ministroke, a TIA, what do you think?

STELTER (voice-over): Now, Trump's boosters are going after Biden.

HANNITY: The Democrats' crazy train has yet another passenger because there he is, wow, crazy Uncle Joe Biden.

STELTER (voice-over): Crazy, they say, and too old, even though he's only four years older than Trump. And there's also this.

LISA MONTGOMERY, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK HOST: It's people having a few drinks at bar and whispering, well, you know, there's something wrong with the former vice president.

STELTER (voice-over): Fox host Kennedy saying Democratic operatives are the ones spreading rumors.

MONTGOMERY: And that's what they're actively doing right now.

STELTER (voice-over): And she is passing them along to millions of viewers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on --

MONTGOMERY: Do you want me to say? Do you want me to say what I have heard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, don't do it.

STELTER (voice-over): Still she dropped all the necessary hints.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He looks healthy to me.

STELTER (voice-over): Is this a preview of what's to come?

TRUMP (voice-over): He's not the brightest light bulb in the group.

STELTER (voice-over): Insults, rumors, distorted videos. What's actually sick is the ugly underbelly of American politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Wow! You just heard some loud dog whistles there. We got a lot to talk about. Brian Stelter is here along with Joe Trippi, Tara Setmayer as well, and we'll get into it, next.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump taking a page out of his 2016 playbook and trying to sow doubt about the physical and mental fitness of Joe Biden to be president, exactly what he did to the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and aiding and abetting the president's baseless claims, Fox News.

Joining me now to discuss, Brian Stelter, Joe Trippi, Tara Setmayer.

Hello, one and all. I appreciate you coming on.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good evening.

LEMON: Brian, this isn't really a story about Joe Biden's health. This is a story about how right-wing media Fox News and on and on, they work to amplify this president's attacks against his political foes.

STELTER: Yes, and it is startlingly effective at times. Look at President Trump today talking about Biden exactly the same way, claiming that he has lost a step or something. I think what we see here is the right-wing media echo chamber in full effect. Biden's campaign didn't really want to comment on this at all, but they came out and said, look, this is baseless, these are smears.

There's obviously no evidence that Biden has got a health problem that he is hiding, but that has been the claim in the right-wing echo system. Not every day, not all the time on Fox, but just enough to start to sow doubt and it gets straight to the president and then spreads everywhere.

LEMON: Yes. A federal indictment unsealed by the special counsel shows an exchange between long-time Trump ally Roger Stone, conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi --

STELTER: Oh, yes. LEMON: -- and the quote is, "would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke." I mean, this is August of 2016. That happened shortly after --

STELTER: That's right.

LEMON: -- those rumors began percolating on some very fringe right- wing websites.

[23:40:02] And how does that make its way all the way up to Fox News?

STELTER: Partly it's through these right-wing websites that are read by Fox News hosts, then people on Fox repeat them, then it reaches the president, and on and on it goes. Oftentimes what we see here is a game of "I'm rubber, you're glue."

When concerns are expressed about the president's age or his mental well-being, he turns around and says the same thing about his critics. He said that about Hillary Clinton. We've seen that recently about Nancy Pelosi where Trump allies have attacked Nancy Pelosi. And now, it's involving Biden. It's kind of like that school yard childhood game of "I know you are but what am I" and we see it all the time with President Trump.

LEMON: Joe, you said the president thinks his attacks worked for him with Clinton but may not work against Biden. Why not?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a mistake. I think Joe Biden wants to make this entire race about who is more fit to be president. And so to go down this road is -- I think is a mistake. It may have worked in 2016, but I think most of the nation has seen this playbook played out too many times.

And I also think when you get to fitness, I'm not talking just about fitness to be the president of the United States, which I think Biden wants to be compared with Trump in that vein, but also how fit are you when you sit in the office watching cable news all day, eating cheeseburgers and French fries. And Biden is not that guy. He is an exact opposite. And I think he wants that kind of comparison.

I think his strategy of coming in late was smart. I think the strategy of not engaging day to day with events every day has worked for him up until now. That's going to change. It has to because in Iowa, he's got to work hard to win it and he's got to be there. So this is going to play out over time, but I think the comparison is not going to work to President Trump's advantage.

LEMON: Let's bring Tara in. Tara, I'm sure you don't want to weigh in on any of this.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I can see your face there. I mean, Trump recently called himself young and vibrant. OK, they're both in their mid-70s. Trump's birthday is Friday. He is turning 73. Biden is 76. That's three years. That's like three and a half years apart, right, if you really look at it specifically.

How should a candidate respond to this attack because on one hand, engaging seems to give it oxygen, but then what if ignore it? Joe is saying Joe Biden wants this. Go on.

SETMAYER: Well, Joe Biden basically made light of it today. I think he handled it quite well. He was like, come on. He was like, look at us. The question answers itself. There is nothing wrong with Joe Biden. I have people who work with Joe Biden for many years who are close to me that said that they were actually impressed with how spry he is.

So this idea of spreading rumors about Joe Biden not being up to the task or there's something wrong with him, it's just projection from Trump. We all know that Trump doesn't have the stamina. We all know that he disappears for day or two at a time with nothing on his public schedule. He is sitting in the Oval Office or in the residence obsessing over cable news and tweeting about it when he should be doing other things like running the country.

We already know this. He doesn't exercise other than playing golf which, by the way, we're up to $103 million in taxpayer spent on Donald Trump golfing, mostly at his own resorts. So to me, it is just -- it is asinine comparison. Everybody can look at Donald Trump and see that he's in poor health.

Well, George Conway being one of the most open critics, Kellyanne Conway's husband, who talks all the time about that fact that Trump should be examined, there's something wrong with him, and that he's a malignant narcissist and losing cognitive ability, we can see that.

So I think that what Joe Biden has been doing so far is working. He needs to stay above the fray and he needs to continue to call out what Donald Trump does when he does these things and acts like a child, like he did when he was in Iowa. It was like, for goodness sake, you're president of the United States, fix yourself first.

LEMON: Yeah. Brian, is it fair game because, you know, what she's saying, because these things have often been said about the president?

STELTER: I was thinking about it when Tara was saying that. Certainly there are a lot of opinions about the president's well-being, about his fitness, particularly his mental fitness. Others are saying it's hypocritical to be concerned about Biden being challenged when there are a lot of critics of Trump. I think here is the difference.

There are hundreds of psychiatrists that have raised concerns about President Trump. They have written books about this. They have written essays about this. It's very much a controversy that exists within the medical community about whether they can diagnose Trump from afar. It's a hot topic. It's very different than just a random host on Fox News spreading a BS rumor about Biden.

I think that's the difference. With Trump, you even got a husband of a top White House aide raising questions about Trump's health. With Biden, it's just coming out of thin air. I think that's the difference right now.

[23:45:00] SETMAYER: And it's so irresponsible of Fox News, what they're doing. This is something that has been very difficult for me as a Republican and watching these people --

LEMON: Yeah.

SETMAYER: -- who used to be people I respected. Just completely the intellectual dishonesty --

LEMON: Tara --

SETMAYER: -- that they are engaging in with this stuff is dangerous.

LEMON: I got to --

SETMAYER: They should be ashamed of themselves.

LEMON: I got to go. Joe, I'm out of time, but I'll give you the last word. What do you say?

TRIPPI: Again, I just think getting into a fight about who is more fit to be president is a big mistake for Donald Trump given the number of issues out there about him and how the American people have gotten to know him a lot better than they have in 2016.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.

[23:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The battle over adding a citizenship question to the upcoming 2020 census takes a spotlight to Capitol Hill. The House Oversight Committee is investigating the issue and is expecting to take a vote on whether to hold the commerce secretary and the attorney general in contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas to turn over documents.

I want to talk more about this with Congressman Ro Khanna, a California Democrat who is a member of the Oversight Committee. Congressman, it is a pleasure to have you. The Oversight Chairman, Elijah Cummings, put out a statement, a letter tonight giving Barr a 9:00 p.m. deadline to hand over the document in order to postpone the vote. Do you know if he met that deadline?

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): He has not. We haven't received the document, so we're going to have the vote tomorrow to hold Bill Barr in civil and criminal contempt.

LEMON: And that's it. So, a vote and then you'll see what happens after that?

KHANNA: We'll see what happens after. Our hope is that this will incentivize him to hand over the documents. I mean, the Judiciary Committee voted to hold him in contempt, and as you know, Don, he didn't want that vote on the full floor. So, before that vote, he handed over a lot of the -- or has agreed to hand over a lot of the evidence underlying the Mueller report. Bill Barr doesn't want to be held in criminal contempt. That's obvious. And so our hope is that maybe this will finally get him to the table to hand over some of the documents on the census.

LEMON: Secretary Ross is getting the same offer, to postpone for the documents. Do have an update on that request?

KHANNA: He hasn't met them. And let's be clear about what these documents are. These are e-mails that Secretary Ross has said talking about the census that he's not willing to hand over. Now, they claim they've handed over 17,000 pages. The point is they haven't handed over the relative documents of their conversations about the census. If he's going to do that, he deserves to be held in contempt.

LEMON: Congressman, the chairman was responding to a DOJ letter about the upcoming vote which says, "The attorney general is now compelled to request that the president invoke executive privilege with respect to the materials subject to the subpoena to the attorney general and a subpoena to the secretary of the Department of Commerce." But it sounds like the chairman is standing his ground.

KHANNA: He is, and that's so disingenuous. They've been invoking executive privilege since the beginning. They haven't been handing over any of the documents. These are documents about memos to the Justice Department concerning the census. So, they are just stonewalling and we will have a vote on criminal contempt if they continue down this road in the full House.

LEMON: What happens if the White House attempts to assert executive privilege?

KHANNA: Well, you can't exert executive privilege for fraud or illegal conduct. And it would go to a court and a court would find that some of these things, A, don't qualify as sensitive national security secrets, and B, involve the violation of constitutional and other laws, and so we would get to see the documents. Of course, they would succeed in delaying it and that's their strategy.

LEMON: The House passed a resolution today approving Chairman Nadler going to court to enforce the subpoenas against Don McGahn and A.G. Barr. Are you confident the courts will force the administration's hand?

KHANNA: I am. I mean, I think any fair-minded court will look at this and say, there is a clear exception for the executive privilege when you have issues of fraud, when you have issues of obstruction, and that testimony is relevant, and these are not issues that are deeply secure or national security.

Obviously, they waved those executive privileges when they allowed Don McGahn to speak to Mueller in the first place. So, why would they now apply suddenly?

LEMON: I want to play some of what Speaker Pelosi said when asked about impeachment earlier. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's not off the table. My obligation is to do whatever we do in the most effective way possible. I believe in the committee's system and it will bubble up from there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Do you think the committee investigations are enough for now?

KHANNA: I do. And look, we're being effective. People have criticized the speaker, but we just had a big win. The attorney general buckled. He's now going to give us the underlying evidence that we would need in any hearings. Tomorrow, we're going to vote to hold Bill Barr in contempt if he doesn't give us the census documents.

So, we're making progress, the committees are being aggressive, and I think it's building a case for the American people and for our own caucus.

LEMON: Don Jr. will be back on the Hill tomorrow testifying in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. What questions do you think they need to have answered?

KHANNA: I want to know if his testimony was consistent. He told the Senate committee earlier that he had only given information about the Russian meeting to Paul Manafort and to one other individual.

Rick Gates told Mueller, no, actually, Donald Trump Jr. had told a lot of people in the campaign that the Russians may be able to assist. So there seems to be a contradiction. We need to understand whether that contradiction existed.

[23:55:00] And then Michael Cohen has contradicted a lot of Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony. So he has a lot of explaining to do about whether his previous statements were accurate.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you.

KHANNA: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: And thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)