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Sarah Sanders Soon To Leave Her Post; FEC Chair Gave A Warning Shot To All Candidates; Federal Watchdog Says Kellyanne Conway Violated Hatch Act Multiple Times And Should Be Removed From Government; Bernie Sanders Firmly Number Two Behind Joe Biden. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 13, 2019 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: The definition of dereliction of duty is knowing that something is going to happen and it's going to be bad, and doing nothing to stop it and that's where we are.

Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: And that is where we are. Imagine, just imagine, think about this, you have got the counsel to the president accused of violating the Hatch Act, you have a press secretary who's leaving, who admitted that she lied to the special counsel, hasn't had a press briefing in 94 days.

You have the president of the United States saying it's OK, inviting foreign actors into our election, yes, I would look at it but also saying -- well, couching that, yes, well I would maybe call the FBI but who actually calls the FBI. I've never done it in my life.

It's amazing. I've got Philip Bump here who, for "The Washington Post" wrote one of the first fact-checks on the whole idea that the president is saying well, this is the same as the dossier for the Christopher Steele dossier. It's not the same thing. And the facts --


CUOMO: No, it's not, doesn't fit the felony.

LEMON: The facts bear that up.

CUOMO: It's the facts, it's the analysis, it's clear. Look, you're not going to move the needle by saying but Clinton. That is only to assure the base. The trick for the Democrats is how do you show you're better?

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: What do you do? What I don't understand is not making the most of missed opportunities. Impeach or don't impeach. Figure out what you want to do. Do it out of conscience and out of duty not out of fear of consequence. But just do it.

And, yes, there is a rush to do it because people are frustrated by this. So, there's that. But why aren't you jumping on the opportunity to do something at the border for those kids? Why aren't you pushing, pushing, pushing saying we want to help the election, the Republicans won't do it.

Why not make more issues of things that show that you are better if you want change? I don't get it.

LEMON: I think that because of the conflation of these two things, trying to muddy the waters, that a lot of people, a lot of the American people are confused and maybe it's too nuanced for them, people who are trying to deal with daily lives and pay the bills and get the kids off to school and worry about health care.

Maybe it's too nuanced for them and they don't understand that these two things are completely different. You know --


CUOMO: I think it's pretty understandable. It's just they're going with the --

LEMON: I don't --

CUOMO: -- if you repeat it, it's true model.

LEMON: Well.

CUOMO: Just keep saying it, keep saying it, and eventually they'll believe it.

LEMON: I don't know. I just think that we are -- I think it's a duty. We have a duty as the press, as you were saying, their duty is to do -- you know, what you just said. But I think our duty is to get people to understand the difference and no matter what the political actors say, what the apologists say, we have to continue to call it out and tell them, no, there is a distinct difference.

CUOMO: A hundred percent.

LEMON: And you said, but Clinton should not work for you in this particular instance.

CUOMO: A hundred percent.


CUOMO: And look, its only works if you want to believe it.


CUOMO: You know, because it is a clearly different dynamic. I had Andrew McCabe said it tonight, I don't believe him, he was some kind of a deep stake, fine.


CUOMO: We laid it out in the facts first of showing you what the statute is. Yes, but you know, the law could go either way. We debated it with Kayleigh McEnany and Jen Krueger (Ph) and then we did the closing on it.


CUOMO: People should be able to get this, this farce should be put away.

LEMON: I can't get rid of you. I don't mean now. You make a cameo in the beginning of my show. So, stick around. Make sure you watch that.

CUOMO: Well, I'm sure it's the best part. And you know I'm just teasing you calling you captain ugly. You're good looking. Your looks are not your problem.

LEMON: No, no. I wanted to -- I tried to clarify that. Because I didn't want people to think you meant Nancy Pelosi.

CUOMO: No. They know I meant you.

LEMON: You're talking --

CUOMO: Takes one on no one. See you.

CUOMO: If I were as good looking as you, I'd be famous. I'll talk to you later.

LEMON: See you, Chris. Thank you very much. We got a lot of ground to cover tonight.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us.

Let's face it, this is the anything goes White House. If you had any doubt in your mind about that, the events of the past 24 hours have proved it beyond any doubt, shadow of a doubt.

This is our breaking news tonight. The chair of the Federal Election Commission blasting the president of the United States for his staggering comment that he'd be open to taking dirt on his political opponents from foreign powers.

Her name is Ellen Weintraub, tweeting tonight "I would not have thought that I needed to say this." And then going on to say in a statement, quote, "Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept or receive information -- receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. It is illegal."

She may not have thought that she had to say it but as far as this president is concerned anything goes, let me remind you what he said.



OK. Let's put yourself in a position, you're a congressman, somebody comes up and says hey, I have information on your opponent, do you call the FBI? I don' think --


STEPHANOPOULOS: If it's coming from Russia, you do.

TRUMP: I'll tell you what. I've seen a lot of things in my life, I don't think in my whole life I've ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don't -- You don't call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office. You do whatever you --


STEPHANOPOULOS: Al gore got a stolen briefing book, he called the FBI.

TRUMP: Well, that's different, a stolen briefing book. This isn't a -- this is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. Let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.


LEMON: That's different. How is that different? The FBI director is wrong. A senior GOP source tells CNN that was, quote, "really, really bad." And said if he were to actually do it, it would be impeachable.

That as the president defends -- his defenders resort to what aboutism, pointing the finger at the Steele dossier, even though that is not remotely comparable to the president saying he is open to taking political dirt from a foreign government.

So, in this anything goes White House it is apparently all OK. And then there's this, Sarah Sanders, quitting as White House press secretary. You might not even notice if she -- if I hadn't told you, right? Would you have noticed?

Because after all today was the 94th day in a row with no press briefing. Think about that. Ninety-four days, no press briefing.

And make no mistake. That is entirely because this anything goes administration; this anything goes president doesn't want anybody to answer questions from the press. Doesn't want the American people to know the truth if it doesn't serve him.

So, Sarah Sanders lied again and again and again. Not my opinion. Those are the facts. She lied when she said President Trump has never encouraged violence. You've seen him do it, you've heard him.

She lied when she said multiple news outlets had reported that President Barack Obama ordered wiretaps on Trump. Not true. She was even caught red handed by Robert Mueller himself, admitting that her claim that the rank and file at the FBI had lost confidence in James Comey. She said it was a quote, this is a quote. "A slip of the tongue, and not founded on anything." You know what that means, right? In other words, a lie.

So, in this anything goes White House lying is fine. And apparently, breaking the law also fine. The White House defying the recommendation today that Kellyanne Conway be fired for violating the Hatch Act.

That is the act that bars federal employees from engaging in partisan politics while serving in their official roles. Now she is certainly not the first (Inaudible), but she may be the most blatant.

The official in charge of the federal watchdog agency, his name is Henry Kerner, who was appointed by the way by President Trump, he tells the Washington Post that his recommendation that Conway be fired is unprecedented.

And then he goes on to say this. "You know what else is unprecedented, Kellyanne Conway's behavior in interview after interview she uses her official capacity to disparage announced candidates, which is not allowed." He also called Conway's -- Conway a repeat offender for slamming Democrats running to oppose President Trump in 2020.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I've yet to see presidential timber. I just see a bunch of presidential woodchips, Amy Klobuchar, you can change the a to an o, and get Omy.

Elizabeth Warren spent decades. Folks, decades, appropriating somebody else's heritage and ethnicity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And she has gotten in trouble beating that --

CONWAY: And she's been lying about it. Kirsten Gillibrand, this weekend in her 50s, apparently was the first time she's ever eaten fried chicken and she waited for the cameras to roll. I mean, this is just silly stuff.


CONWAY: Because she has no mission and (Inaudible) --



CONWAY: -- to be held to account for the Obama/Biden legacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does presidential -- my question --

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: This isn't the first time. She also slammed then candidate,

now Alabama Senator, Doug Jones on two different occasions back in 2017, prompting this exchange with our own Chris Cuomo.


CONWAY: I won't go there.

CUOMO: You've got to be careful about the Hatch Act.

CONWAY: Therefore, you have to find something -- they are going to have find something relevant and important to do today to make themselves feel better.

CUOMO: You have to be careful about observing the rules of ethics there.

CONWAY: But, Chris, let me tell you -- let me tell you what --


LEMON: That was good advice from Chris, really good advice. Too bad Kellyanne didn't listen. You think she'll see the error of her ways? Just listen to this. This was just two weeks ago.


[22:10:00] CONWAY: If you're trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it's not going to work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not trying to silence you. The Office of Special Counsel said you violated.



CONWAY: Let me know when the jail sentence starts.


LEMON: Like I said defiance, anything goes, anything goes. Sarah Sanders lies, Kellyanne Conway, blatantly ignoring the law. And the President of the United States flat out telling foreign powers he'd be open to accepting illegal dirt on his political rivals.

He's hanging out an open for business sign for Russia. And let's not forget, according to him, he's meeting with Vladimir Putin in two weeks. And the president's strategy is to do all of this out loud, in plain sight, he's done it again and again.


TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it.

And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign this time around if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on an opponent, should they accept it or should they call the FBI.

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, I think I'd want to hear it.


LEMON: It happens so often. You may say to yourself that's just Trump being Trump. You could but you'd be making a dangerous mistake.


SEN. JIM INHOFE (R-OK): That's the president for you and you can pick it apart and say that everyone else is going to -- you know, you can draw all kinds of extreme problems with it but again that's the president and he does react. And he isn't like everybody else.

To tell yourself that, you know what, you've got to ignore what you've seen with your own eyes and what you've heard with your own ears and that's exactly what this president wants you to do. Ignore the facts.


TRUMP: And just remember what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.


LEMON: That's the reason that you should have press briefings, to tell Americans the truth. And that's why it is so important for Robert Mueller to testify, to speak the truth. Right out loud for every American to hear it.

I told you that the chair of the Federal Election Commission is blasting the president for his staggering comment that he'd be open to taking dirt on his political opponents from foreign powers. I'm going to ask the former general counsel of the FEC just how unprecedented that statement is. Next.


LEMON: President Trump's stunning comment that he'd accept dirt on political opponents from foreign powers, slammed by the chair of the Federal Election Commission tonight. With a statement including this, and I'm quoting. "Let me make something 100 percent clear to the American public, and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election." OK? Let's discuss now, Frank Bruni is here, Philip Bump and Larry Noble.

Larry, is the former FEC general counsel.

So glad to have all of you on. Thank you very much. Good evening to you.

Larry, as the general counsel for the FEC please tell me how unprecedented is it for the FEC chair to issue a rebuke of the president like this?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I've never seen it before. You know, the FEC usually has a lower profile. Now, Chairwoman Weintraub is a serious commissioner, she takes the law very seriously but we've never seen a statement like this about a president, about activity that's taken place, about warning the president that this activity is illegal.

But she was up against a very difficult situation. The foreign national ban is one of the most important bans in the act, the Federal Election campaign Act. It's one of only two provisions of the act that applies to all elections, federal, state and local.

So, the idea that someone doesn't know it is frightening, the idea that a president doesn't know it is frightening or doesn't it. And I think she was reacting to that and she took the unprecedented step of issuing a statement warning him.

LEMON: Before I get to my other guest, when you saw that clip with George Stephanopoulos, did your jaw dropped, what did you think?

NOBLE: My jaw dropped. I was amazed. I thought I'd been looking at the Mueller report and that particular section dealing with the meeting in Trump tower in 2016. And Mueller did not -- decided not to indict anybody on that for basically two reasons.

One, he thought they may not have known what the law was, and two, he had this issue about what the value was that Russia offered. But I thought that everybody at least at that point would accept the idea that that was illegal to do, to accept the information from Russia or to accept from a foreign national.

The fact that the president then said that no, he might accept it and everybody does it and he basically threw everybody in Congress under the bus by saying they will do it. I was stunned by that. I thought that was outrageous.

LEMON: Frank Bruni, you know, the president is doubling down and his GOP allies are privately cringing at the president's comments. And that is the keyword here, of course, right, privately. Because rarely does he get a rebuke from his Republican colleagues.

I just want you to listen though. This is from the morning show with Brian Kilmeade and Fox' Judge Napolitano. What they had to say about it. This is on Fox. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: Put it this way, nothing in this

world, you don't want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they're going to want something back and everybody knows that, it's the president because there is no free lunch.

If someone gives you information then they're going to want influence. I think the president has got to clarify that.

[22:19:56] ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SENIOR JUDICIAL ANALYST: There is no wiggle room with respect to dirt, with respect to opposition research because the Federal Election Commission has already decided in other cases that that is a, quote, "a thing of value," the phrase a "thing of value" --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money or a thing of value.

NAPOLITANO: Correct, comes from the statute which prohibits receipt of money or a thing of value from a foreign national, whether the person is working for a foreign government or not.


LEMON: First clip from the morning show second one from Shepherd Smith's show. They're being more forceful than Republicans on Capitol Hill.

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they are, because Republicans on Capitol Hill made a decision long ago that they were going to surrender to Donald Trump and they were never going to cross him for fear that he would undermine them or go on the attack against them.

This is what you're hearing there when they're talking, this is really very simple and the president understands it full well. You do not let a foreign power meddle in an election but the president believes that anything that helps him is OK. If it's good for Trump it's fine.

I mean, this is -- we're seeing a magnitude of amorality in this president that is just stunning. I keep on watching this stuff, Don, at the way he's willing to put himself ahead of the country, himself ahead of any sort of ethics.

And I wonder -- I wish I had a nanny cam on his upbringing. I want to know how you raise a human being like Donald Trump. Because it is just astonishing that the president of the United States just sat there and told somebody, yes, a foreign government, meddling, that's fine. That's fine, I'd listen. Yes, I wouldn't call the FBI. Who cares? This is just -- this is beyond imagination to me.

LEMON: Well, Senator Lindsey Graham, Philip, admonished the president saying that it would be a mistake. But then comes in the what aboutism that we're talking about, this what aboutism with the Steele dossier, watch this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it's a mistake. I think it's a mistake of law. I don't want to send a signal to encourage this. And I hope my Democrat colleagues will be equally offended by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016, where a foreign agent was paid for by a political party to gather opposition research, all those things are wrong.


LEMON: So, this comparison to the Steele dossier, I want you to explain why that's wrong, no matter how loud someone says it or no matter how forceful or they seem like they know what they're talking about --


LEMON: -- it is a bogus comparison.

BUMP: In August I wrote about this when President Trump was making the similar comparison very publicly. I actually spoke with Mr. Noble, which I always appreciate his help.

But the upshot is this. The difference is between hiring someone to do something and having someone offer you something. Right? So, what the DNC's attorneys did, this law firm that's working for the DNC and the Clinton campaign, they hired a firm to go out and find out what President Trump had been doing in Russia. That firm then --


LEMON: Wasn't this first though from the Washington Beacon or the Free Beacon?

BUMP: The Free Beacon had hired them to do something similar.


BUMP: So, this firm that Fusion GPS hires Christopher Steele who has deep roots in Russian intelligence, he worked for the British intelligence agency, he goes to his Russian contacts starts cobbling together this dossier which is raw information that he then provided back.

That was, however, a political institution, using federally regulated money to hire someone to do something. And keep in mind when the FEC weighs in here what they're weighing in on is how you are accepting money and how you are spending money. That's what they're trying to regulate

Outside of all that is something like the Trump tower meeting where Russia, you know, apparently according to the initial e-mail, under the auspices of the Russian government wanting to help President Trump says, hey, we've got something for you.

That's where you get into this. They are giving you a thing of value. They're not paying for it. The Trump's team didn't say, OK, well, we need to compensate the attorney's flight into New York City using regulated funds. They didn't say anything along those lines.

This is a different type of transaction then what happened with Christopher Steele. The only reason that Lindsey Graham and other Trump defenders are raising Christopher Steele is because they think that the more they talk about the Steele dossier the more they can cast aspersions on the Mueller probe and the Russia investigation broadly and that's why they're trying to insinuate that there is something wrong there. Because then that they think poisons the tree of the Mueller probe.

LEMON: You actually referenced Noble in your report.

BUMP: Right.

LEMON: You said paying a foreign national fair market value for opposition research is generally not illegal, Noble wrote. It is considered a commercial transaction, which is not a contribution.

The Clinton campaign has paid Fusion GPS directly, it is a campaign expenditure, not a campaign contribution, since it's not a contribution the FEC allows it. Larry, you want to talk more about that?

NOBLE: Right. Well, Phil has it exactly right. The problem here is receiving something from the foreign government that is of value. The reason that we have bans on contributions and contribution limits for individuals is because the Congress has long recognized and the courts have upheld it that contributions can buy influence.

And Mueller in his report, even though he decides that he's not going to indict anybody for this makes a note that a contribution like this, something of value from a foreign government is especially dangerous because contributions leave you beholden to the giver and you don't want your president beholden to a foreign government.

[22:25:01] So the problem isn't that you used a foreign national to get this information and then paid them because you're not beholden to them. You've used them, you used their service. The problem is when they give you something for free. Because then you feel in some way that you owe them something and they did it for a reason.

They didn't do it because they thought it was, you know, it was just good government. They did it because they wanted to get in the good graces of President Trump and also because they wanted him to win the election. They gave him an illegal foreign contribution and that's the bottom line.

LEMON: I've got to run, Frank, but oppo research, the new locker room talk it seems.

BRUNI: Maybe, indeed. yes. Listen, really simply one situation is a foreign government trying to put its thumb on the scale and the other situation is a contract with someone who happens to be a foreigner. Not anything alike. LEMON: I appreciate the explanation. Thank you, everyone.

Sarah Sanders is out at the White House. Does this mean there will be press briefings again? Does this mean there's going to be press briefings again? And will the next press secretary be any different?


LEMON: Sarah Sanders leaving the White House. Here's what President Trump said about his press secretary today.


[22:30:03] TRUMP: She's done an incredible job. We've been through a lot together. She is a special person, a very, very fine woman. She has been so great. She has such heart. She's strong but with great, great heart. And I want to thank you for an outstanding job.


TRUMP: And thank you.


LEMON: Well, the president sure had a lot of glowing things to say about Sarah Sanders, but let's remember her resignation comes on the 94th straight day without a White House briefing, the longest stretch in more than two decades. So here to discuss all of this, two White House reporters, April Ryan and Michael Bender, I'm -- it's so good to have you on.

Everyone wants to know. How do you do your job if you don't have a press briefing in 94 days? But I digress. Let's start from where we are now. Michael, Sarah Sanders has been a very controversial press secretary, but you call her a crucial player in the Trump administration. Why is that?

MICHAEL BENDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, she's been there from basically the very start. She was on the campaign for almost the entirety of it. Once her father, the former governor of Arkansas, dropped out she was advising Trump pretty quickly there and then joined him in the White House and has been in this job for, you know, for quite a while, serving under Sean Spicer to start and then taking over that job once he left.

She's been one of only two staffers to be on every single foreign trip with the president. She's in the room. She's in the Oval Office. She's in the room when decisions are being made, which is, you know, as we know, that group of people is getting smaller and smaller. That circle is getting smaller and smaller. So she's been there for quite a while.

She's, you know, had a lot of input into these decisions along the way. And, you know, like Trump in the Oval Office, Don, Sarah has changed the press briefing room in fundamental ways. You know, this White House is now offering the public fewer windows into their decision-making process. And that is going to be going to be part of her legacy for a long time.

But I will -- I also just have to add here really quickly, you know, sort of state your unpopular opinion tonight. A lot of the press corps likes Sarah Sanders. You know, I understand your point about no press briefings. But for a lot of us who aren't on television and don't need sound bites, I would go to her after the briefing, before the briefing.

She still takes those meetings. She's in the room. She's making -- she understands why these decisions are being made. And she is a -- behind closed doors. She's an honest broker, to say what is happening, what is not happening. Those are good details, Mike. Those are bad details, and has been a pretty helpful, you know, a guide through the Trump White House over the last year.

LEMON: Well, listen, my question wasn't whether people liked her or not or whether she was, you know, an honest broker behind the scenes. I think there's a reason that there is a briefing room there with cameras is that in this day and age, especially with technology.

BENDER: For sure, absolutely.

LEMON: Deserve -- the American people deserve to see whose salary they're paying for and deserve to see the answers and hear the answers from them on television. But April, listen. You know, Sanders -- Michael talked about her legacy at the White House. Let's be honest. As Press Secretary it will likely be lies and essentially no briefings. Here's a reminder of just some of them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.

SANDERS: Everybody acts like President Trump is the one that came up with this idea and just threw it out there. He's -- there are multiple news outlets that have reported this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's your response to these rank and file FBI agents who disagree with your contention that they lost faith in Director Comey?

SANDERS: We've heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things. The president, in no way, form, or fashion, has ever promoted or encouraged violence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sixteen women accused the president of sexually harassing them. The president called these accusations fake news. Is the official White House position that all these women are lying?

SANDERS: We've been clear on that from the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You were asked about whether the president now about this payment his long time lawyer made to Stormy Daniels.

SANDERS: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president, and he's denied all of these allegations.


LEMON: And that was some of the lies. You know, Michael said that she has fundamentally changed the role of the press secretary. Do you think that she did permanent damage to the role of White House press secretary, April?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Permanent damage is absolutely right. I'm going to be a polar opposite to Michael, forgive me, but I am. You know, prior to Sarah becoming press secretary, I used to be able to go in her office and she would give you details. But once you get in that room and you start making personal attacks when you don't like the legitimate questions, there's a problem.

[22:34:58] In that sound bite that you just played, that was part of what she said to the Mueller investigation team about how she lied to the American public. You could not trust her. I said it earlier. I'll say it again. I've even tweeted it. She suffers from liabetes. The American deserved better. They did not trust what she said. This is a place, the people's house, where everything comes from water peace, and everything in between.

And if you can't trust what she says, you can't trust her. Bottom line, Sarah Huckabee Sanders has definitely changed that White House briefing room. I have been in that White House for 22 years, seen various press secretaries from Clinton until now. This press -- these last two, Sean and Sarah, the two S', S squared, have been the worst press secretaries in my tenure at the White House.

And I would say basically anywhere else. And not only that, people talk about McCarthyism. What those two did, particularly Sarah, if you can't trust what comes out of that White House, who can you trust? It's about what happens to people.

LEMON: Yeah. That's got to be the last word. Our time is short. We will no doubt discuss this further. Thank you both. Thank you, Michael. Thank you, April. We'll be right back.


LEMON: In a stunning rebuke, a federal watchdog says Kellyanne Conway violated the Hatch Act multiple times and should be removed from government. Here's part of what the official in charge of that agency. His name is Henry Kerner, by the way. He was appointed by President Trump. Here's what he said. He said Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions.

Her actions thus erode the principal foundations of our Democratic system, the rule of law. Let's discuss now. Walter Shaub is here and Rick Wilson.

Gentlemen, good evening.

Mr. Shaub, let's talk about this. I think that, you know, we can all agree that Kellyanne Conway won't be fired. And I imagine that this counsel, a Trump appointee, knows that too. But still, he is taking a stand.

WALTER SHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, there was a story recently where the New York Times called something an existential question. But this is an existential question for the agency that enforces the Hatch Act, the office of Special Counsel, which of course, isn't related to Mueller. They have a top White House official scoffing at the law and saying publicly that he -- you know, saying words that signal that she's not going to comply with it.

Like, when does my jail sentence start? If they can't see her disciplined, how can they continue firing career federal employees, which they do? Just last year they forced somebody out of ICE, and that person is now banned from working for the government for five years. So there's a new standard under the Trump administration, that the higher up you are and the more authority you have, the less responsibility you have and the less you have to comply with the law.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, Rick, Walter talked about how dismissive she has been from the very beginning.


LEMON: I just want to play a clip from an appearance with Chris Cuomo. Watch this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Anytime I expressed a feeling about a candidate, people who want to make themselves relevant, get air time and Twitter time. So I won't go there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to be careful about the Hatch Act.


CONWAY: They're going to have to find something relevant and important to do today to make themselves feel better. Let me tell you what...



LEMON: So she knew what she was doing but is flaunting the norms here and laws. That's part of the ethos really at the White House, no?

WILSON: Well, Don, laws are for the little people. And I think as Walt can say after many, many years of watching this sort of ethical comings and goings, there's always been a sort of normative behavior that says you don't go out as a government official and engage in direct partisan politics. It's just one of these things that helped build a little confidence that our government was there to serve the people regardless of the political wins of the day. But Donald Trump both encourages lawlessness, models lawlessness and

has an attorney general who protects him from his own lawlessness. So I think you're going to see Kellyanne will get away with this. She will be rewarded for this. Trump looks at this as a good thing, because they want to have this message that they're immune from the law. There's no legal sanction that applies to them.

I mean look. If she can avoid the Hatch Act, which is black letter law, it's not a debatable question. It's not a free speech matter. It is black letter law. If she can avoid that, why couldn't she just take an envelope full of cash from somebody? Why couldn't take, you know, a free vacation from somebody? Why couldn't she accept a bribe from somebody? If the laws don't apply, let's just tear it all up.

LEMON: Walter, this is the White House's response, OK, in part. It says the office of Special Counsel's OSC unprecedented action against Kellyanne Conway are deeply flawed and violate her constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Others of all political views have objected to the OSC's unclear and unevenly applied rules, which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees.

They're trying to make a free speech issue out of this. Is there any merit to that argument?

SHAUB: No, not at all. The Supreme Court has upheld the Hatch Act on two occasions. And generally across the board, federal employees are found to have less right to free speech in the workplace as opposed in their private lives than other people. The federal government in that context is acting as employer, not as government. But (Inaudible) knows this.

[22:44:46] And what's disturbing about his response is he concludes it with what I read to be a threat, because he tells the head of the office of Special Counsel, Henry Kerner, who acted courageously today, by the way, that he needs to either rescind the opinion or appear for a meeting and produce the internal workings, the investigative work papers of his agency.

So that Cipollone can review whether they're being impartial with the implication, I think, that he'll be fired if he doesn't prove to them to their satisfaction, which he can't because they've already drawn the conclusion that nothing should ever happen to Kellyanne Conway.

LEMON: Listen. Gentlemen, sorry, our time is short. I appreciate that. Others have been found in violation, but they said because of her trampling over it more than one time or in the fashion that she has, that this was different and they felt that they had to issue this particular statement. Thank you, both. I appreciate your time.

Bernie Sanders is trailing Joe Biden in the polls but a lot of his positions, well, they've gone main stream. I'm going to ask one of his senior advisers how Sanders' team sees the state of the race, next.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: So let's just be honest. Here's what the polls show that Bernie Sanders is firmly in the number two spot behind Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic nomination. But 2020, it is a long way off. And the debates don't begin until later this month. So Senator Sanders is trying to differentiate himself in a crowded field, and he's also repeating his call for opening an impeachment inquiry against this president, President Trump.

Let's talk about it now. Jeff Weaver is here. He's a Sanders campaign senior adviser. And we're so grateful that you're here. Thank you, sir. So let's talk about this. I want to play what the senator said when asked about the president's comments last night. Here it is.


BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have a president who neither understands the Constitution of the United States or respects the Constitution. Somebody who does not believe in the separation of powers and somebody who thinks he's above the law. I mean, that is why I believe the House should begin impeachment inquiries on Trump.


LEMON: So impeachment is popular with some Democrats. But, you know, the latest CNN poll shows -- we have it up there, Jeff, less than half of voters support it. Is the senator out of touch with the country on this or is he leading?

JEFF WEAVER, SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER BERNIE SANDERS' CAMPAIGN: Well, on many issues, as you know, for years he's been leading on Medicare for all, and $15 minimum wage and a lot of others. Look, the senator has been clear that is the House has a constitutional responsibility to investigate violations by the president and his administration. And there is nothing wrong.

And I don't think the American people object to the House of Representatives doing an inquiry into the conduct of this administration. And then that inquiry will lead where it leads. But you can't -- to get to that conclusion to have the inquiry itself.

LEMON: So the senator gave a speech on Wednesday night where he defended Democratic socialism. Let's listen to it.


SANDERS: I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word socialism as a slur. They may hate Democratic socialism because it benefits working people. But they absolutely love corporate socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.


LEMON: But then, Jeff, President Trump got plenty of applause for this line at his latest State of the Union. Watch.


TRUMP: Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.


LEMON: So clearly, the senator knows he's got to weigh the balance there on what people actually think socialism is, and, you know, the president getting an applause line. Is socialism still a dirty word in U.S. politics? Is it a dirty word?

WEAVER: Well, look. Bernie Sanders, I think, laid out yesterday what he means by that term and why he describes himself in that way. You know, he talked about the unfinished business of the new deal, about moving to an era where people are not just guaranteed political and civil rights but they're guaranteed fundamental economic rights. FDR, you know, President Roosevelt, at the end of his time, four terms in office, laid this out in his last State of the Union address.

It has been repeated, rearticulated by other great American leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That's the direction we have got to go. Bernie Sanders is the only person in this race who has clearly said that there are certain economic rights that all people should be entitled to in order to have a quality life in our society.

LEMON: So, you know, listen, he's up there. He's solid number two. You know the other folks are going to go after him. He's taking flak from Democrats, 2020 candidate John Hickenlooper responded to Senator Sanders in his own speech today. Let's listen to this.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats must say loudly and clearly that we are not socialists. If we do not, we will end up helping to reelect the worst president in this country's history.


LEMON: And you know Hickenlooper is not the only critic of socialism. What's your response?

WEAVER: Look, you know, what Hickenlooper has said represents a view that is best characterized over the last few decades of decades of corporatetism, compromise, collaboration, and capitulation. And it's exactly those kinds of views which created the garden which the seeds of Trumpism and other kinds of right wing authoritarianism have prospered.

You know, you've talked about it many times on your show, obviously the extent to which Trump and other right wing demagogues are trying to do divide this country up or trying to target marginalized communities. And this is a worldwide phenomenon not unlike what this world faced back in the 1920s and 1930s. And what America did at that time under the leadership of President Roosevelt, it moved in a different direction as Europe fell into darkness.

[22:55:07] The United States under Roosevelt led the way with the new deal to democratize the economy and to make sure we had shared prosperity. It wasn't perfect. Obviously, there were a lot of problems. We had more shared prosperity in this country and cut the legs out of right wing authoritarianism here. People should remember. You know, we all think about Charlottesville and Nazis marching in Charlottesville, which is repulsive.

But in 1939 there were 20,000 Nazis in Madison Square Garden holding a rally and it was the leadership, progressive leadership. Roosevelt represented the progressive wing in the party, moved us in a different direction. And that's the kind of leadership we need today not only to help the United States get through Trumpism. You know, Trump is the representative of that right wing authoritarian worldwide movement here, but to defeat that movement again around the world.

LEMON: Hey, Jeff, I'm over time here. But I promised you before that you were going to give your thoughts on the state of the race. Elizabeth Warren is rising in the polls. You concerned about that.

WEAVER: No, look. You know, this race is very early, as you know. I mean we in politics and in the media watch these things on a day by day basis. You know, as you look across past elections, you know, candidates rise. Candidates fall. Most voters are not really engaged in the process right now. They won't be until the fall. And this is always a very fluid period in these elections when voters initially are kicking the tires on various candidates.

So I think you're going to see a lot of shifting in the race. You know, if these kinds of early polling was right, we'd have you know, President Lieberman, President Giuliani, President Scott Walker, you know, and none of those people are present.

LEMON: Point taken. Thank you, Jeff Weaver, always appreciate your time. Appreciate it.

WEAVER: Thank you.

LEMON: Well, Fareed Zakaria interviewed Nancy Pelosi. That's next.