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President Trump Taking Back His Outrageous Statements; Kellyanne Conway Keeps Her Job Department; Of Justice Releases Legal Opinion Supporting Treasury Refusal To Turn Over Trump Tax Returns; Treasury Department Was Well Underway With Putting Harriet Tubman On $20 Bill Before Trump Administration Delay. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 22:00   ET




Lots of news on that explosive interview, you know the one I'm talking about, the president saying that he'd be open to taking dirt on his political opponents from foreign powers. Yes, that one, outrage spreading, ever since the story broke.

And now White House officials, well they're privately acknowledging what's been pretty obvious from the very beginning, that the president answered the questions from George Stephanopoulos poorly.

But there's more. A source close to the White House tells CNN there was frustration with Sarah Sanders' handling of the ABC interviews. The source saying, quote, "the clips from the last few days have been tough" and calling the interview an issue for Sanders but going on to say the decision to give the interview was ultimately the president.

That as he is apparently not done trying to clean up the mess he made. Listen to what he said to Fox News today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I had dinner with the queen. I met with the prime minister of the U.K. I was with the head of France. I was with all these nations, and I constantly am, constantly talking to them.

And, you know, that puts us in a -- we have many, many conversations and I'm just thinking, gee, if they say we don't like your opponent, am I supposed to put the president of France, am I supposed to report him to the FBI?


LEMON: That makes absolutely no sense. And let me tell you why. Because the president is comparing meetings with world leaders to taking dirt on your political rivals from foreigners. When obviously there is no comparison.

Absolutely no one would suggest that the president of the United States can't have conversations with foreign leaders without reporting them to the FBI. Nobody's saying that at all. It's not what this is about.

Does anybody really think the president of France or the Queen of England would turn to the president, President Trump, during a dinner and say, hey, Mr. President, want some dirt on Joe Biden? No. Does the president even think that? No, of course he doesn't.

He is resorting to his old tactic of distracting and deflecting from something he doesn't want you to pay attention to, something that he screwed up. He wants to distract you from the fact that he said this.


TRUMP: I have information on your opponent. Do you call the FBI? I don't think --


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CHIEF ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: If it's coming from Russia, that's what you do.

TRUMP: I'll tell you what. I've seen a lot of things over 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 --


STEPHANOPOULOS: Al Gore got a stolen briefing book; he called the FBI.

TRUMP: Well, that's different, a stolen briefing book. This isn't -- 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: It's really unbelievable. I mean, every time I see it. I know you feel the same way. And he said this too.


STEPHANOPOULOS: In your campaign this time, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on opponents, 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.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it if I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.

But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with opppo research, let's call the FBI, the FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. But you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it, they always have. And that's the way it is. It's called oppo research.


LEMON: That was not oppo research what he was talking about. OK? So, compare that to the president trying to backtrack today.


TRUMP: Of course, you have to look at it because if you don't look at it, you're not going to know if it's bad. How are you going to know if it's bad? But of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general, or somebody like that.


LEMON: And this.


TRUMP: If I don't listen, you're not going to know. Now, if I thought anything was incorrect or badly stated I'd report it to the attorney general, the FBI, I'd report it to law enforcement, absolutely.


LEMON: And this.


TRUMP: I don't think anybody would present me with anything then because they know how much I love this country.


LEMON: Look, the president is still all over the place. You can see he just keeps digging. He's all over the place. But to be absolutely clear you don't have to listen to the details of exactly what kind of dirt a foreign country is offering.

[22:05:04] What you can and what you should do is just refuse to take any information on your rivals from a foreign power. That's what the law says, period.

Well, there's more tonight from the president's interview. Did you hear this? President Trump denying he told his former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, insisting to ABC's George Stephanopoulos McGahn just, was just trying to make himself look good.


STEPHANOPOULOS: He lays out a lot of evidence, including the episode where you ask your White House counsel Don McGahn, you tell him, Mueller has to go. You call him twice --


STEPHANOPOULOS: -- and say Mueller has to go, call me when it's done.

TRUMP: I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller. Do what --


STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not what he says.

TRUMP: Excuse -- I don't care what he says. It doesn't matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would Don McGahn lie --


TRUMP: But we had a business --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would he lie under oath? Why would he lie under oath to Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer, or, or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted, Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And has to go.

TRUMP: I never -- I didn't say that.


LEMON: OK. So, Don McGahn lied to make himself look like a good lawyer, or he didn't lie. He believed what he said. But anyway, I didn't say I wanted to fire Mueller.

But that is not all here. Lies came up again when the president said he refused to testify to Mueller under oath because he didn't want to get caught in a lie.


STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you answer these questions to me now why not answer them to Robert Mueller under oath? TRUMP: Because they were looking to get us for lies for slight

misstatements. I looked at what happened to people, and it was very unfair. Very, very unfair. Very unfair. I gave them 1.5 million pages of documents. Right? I gave them 400 or 500 witnesses. I let Don McGahn testify. I let him -- he was the White House counsel. I let him --


STEPHANOPOULOS: But you knew he was doing an interview. You didn't answer questions on obstruction.

TRUMP: No, wait a minute, wait a minute. I did answer questions, I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not on obstruction.

TRUMP: I don't know about this. I don't know. I answered a lot of questions. They gave me questions, I answered them in writing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Not on obstruction.

TRUMP: Look, George, you're being a little wise guy, OK, which is, you know, typical for you, just so you understand, very simple, it's very simple, there was no crime, there was no collusion.


LEMON: Sorry. OK. Lots to unpack there. You heard the president said -- say he thinks Mueller was trying to catch him in a lie. But the best way to avoid that is obviously to tell the truth.

Then there's all the obfuscation about 1.5 million pages of documents, 400 or 500 witnesses when the point is why the president refused to answer questions on obstruction. Why did he refuse to answer questions on obstruction?

That's when this president resorts to a petty insult and then insists there was no crime and no collusion, even though we all heard Robert Mueller say this.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL, RUSSIA PROBE: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so.


LEMON: And there is news tonight from the Justice Department as well to tell you about, the DOJ to absolutely no one's surprise releasing a legal opinion supporting treasury's refusal to hand over the president's tax returns to the chairman of the house, ways and means committee, even though the tax code makes it very clear that chairman Richard Neal has the authority to request them. Like I said, no surprise since the Attorney General William Barr has

been giving the president pretty much everything he wants. You've got to wonder whether they think that we won't notice any of this.

But it's hard not to notice this, that this is the anything goes White House. There's the president's refusing to fire Kellyanne Conway after a government watchdog recommended, she be removed for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act, the person the president actually appointed. That's the act that bars federal employees from engaging in politics while serving in their official roles. But the president sounds like he's OK with that.


TRUMP: No, I'm not going to fire -- I think she's a terrific person, she is a tremendous spokesperson. She's been loyal, she's been -- she's just a great person. I would certainly not think. Based on what I saw yesterday, how could you do that? They have tried to take away her speech. And I think you're entitled to free speech in this country.


[22:10:03] LEMON: No one is trying to take away Kellyanne Conway's free speech. Just trying to keep her from being a partisan on the job. But for the president it's all about your loyalty to him, not right and wrong.

We've been talking a lot about some of the outrageous things the president has said. But this, this is just plain awkward, OK. I want you to listen to the president's answer about whether he'll endorse vice president -- listen closely, whether he's going to endorse Vice President Mike Pence for president in 2024.


TRUMP: Well, it's far to -- look, I love mike, we're running again but, you know, we're talking about a long time so you can't put me in that position but I certainly would give it very strong consideration.


LEMON: Twenty-twenty-four is a long way off, though, I mean, it really is and no president would endorse anybody this far out but still, that's still kind of awkward, right?

Speaking of awkward, things went to a strange place today as the president was defending his planned new paint job for Air Force One. The Boeing 747 has had the same color since JFK was president. First Lady Jackie Kennedy had a hand in the design but President Trump thinks it is time for an update.


TRUMP: I like the concept of red, white and blue and the classic and I think it's going to look much better, actually. You know, the baby blue doesn't fit with us and people get used to something, but, and it was Jackie O, and that's good but we have our own Jackie O today, it's called Melania, Melania. We'll call it Melania T.


LEMON: OK. Sorry. So, let's take a look at the president's planned paint job on the left. Where have I seen that before? It's all just facts we're pointing out here. It's kind of hard to believe sometimes that I'm actually having to report this with a straight face.

A lot to talk about tonight including the president's inner circle, saying that explosive interview with ABC never should have happened but whose fault is it? We're going to dig in all of that with Max Boot, Douglas Brinkley, Jennifer Rodgers and that's next.


LEMON: Tonight, sources at the White House telling CNN that President Trump handled the ABC News interview poorly when he said that he'd accept dirt on political rivals from foreign governments. But they say they don't think the fallout will be significant, that Trump supporters likely don't care.

But it sounds like the knives are out inside the White House for Sarah Sanders, the departing press secretary, she's being blamed for giving ABC access to the president.

So, discuss all of this now. Max Boot, Douglas Brinkley, and Jennifer Rodgers are here. So, listen, let's just talk about the -- everything that I discussed in the open of this show. Not meant to be humorous, straight news.

But when you read it and you hear the answers that they give, it's -- you can see why the late-night shows, it's so easy for them, I would imagine. I'm sure they will tell me it's not that easy. But the material just writes itself. Max?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No, I think that's right, Don. I mean, believe me, two and a half years ago if you told me that Donald Trump was going to become president of the United States and he would act like this I would say, wow, this is the craziest thing you could possibly imagine. This is fantasy, science fiction, it will never happen.

But it has happened and it keeps happening. And you know, there are still days when I wake up when I say I can't believe Donald Trump is president of the United States. And he's acting like this. But at some level we have to accept it and this is the truth and this has become our new reality and we get acclimated to any new reality.

And you know, I just hope that after Trump is gone from office this is not going to be a permanent norm. I hope this will be seen as an aberration rather than as the new way that presidents are supposed to conduct themselves.

LEMON: How can people, even his supporters, look at the interviews especially the one he gave to ABC News and listen to the answers and say, that's OK, how can any rational person listen to that and say, that's fine?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think Trump supporters think every once in a while, he goes to crazy town. I mean, that was just a kaleidoscope of weirdness we just saw here, the ABC interview was a bad idea, having George Stephanopoulos hover of his desk was a bad idea, the optics were bad.

And Trump let loose, it's like a hog running out of the tunnel going in 50 different directions. He has no discipline. As much as some people say he's a master of Twitter and of the media, it shows utterly idiotic judgment on display here.

LEMON: I've got my hand up. Why was it a bad idea for him to do an interview where he is challenged? Why is that a bad idea?

BRINKLEY: Because he's not contained. And the best thing -- when Trump did well on his trip to Europe it was at Normandy when he had a teleprompter and somebody directs, if somebody leaves the shop and lets him to opt to his own devices, utter chaos reigns.

And now they have to pull it all back and try to apologize for the White House, hoping the next news cycle will just move on and people will forget about this whole dirt on his opponents' foray.

LEMON: And people are inundated and many times they do that. Jennifer, I want to bring you in. Before -- but before I do that, I just want to play what the president said a couple of days ago and what he said today, OK? Watch this.


TRUMP: You don't 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.

Of course, you have to look at it. If you don't look at it, you're not going to know if it's bad. How do you know if it's bad? But of course, you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.


LEMON: Jennifer, does that count as a walk back? What is that?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't know what that is, Don. I mean, it's clearly illegal to take any help at all from any foreigner, not just a foreign government but a foreign person. Right? The founding fathers didn't want foreigners to interfere in our elections. Congress doesn't want that. Nobody wants that. Except for the president.

LEMON: And that includes our president.

RODGERS: It should include our president.


RODGERS: So, you know, he knows it's illegal. He knows if he looked at the Mueller report that Don Jr. came pretty close to being indicted for taking help or trying to take help from Russians for the election. So, he knows that it's wrong. He's been told it's wrong and yet he still wants to say, well, I should listen, I need to decide for myself.

[22:20:01] No, all you need to do is say I'm not interested, hang up the phone, call the FBI, I was approached by someone, he said he was a Russian, he said he had help for me, I hung up the phone and you're done. That's all he has to do.

LEMON: Is he laying the groundwork for Don Jr.'s defense, is this really about the defense of his son?

RODGERS: I don't think so. Because I think that ship has sailed. I think that Don Jr. is not going to be indicted. I think he's literally just laying the groundwork for what might happen in 2020, which maybe he gets information, I don't think that he -- that it would happen in the same way it happened last time but what it may -- what may happen is he may say, come out and say hey, everyone I have something to tell you, I was approached by someone. We did the right thing.

When they told us that Elizabeth Warren was actually born in Canada we called the FBI. So, in one breath says he both says he did the right thing this time and yet still gets out whatever the information is. That's what I see.

LEMON: So, if Max comes to me and says hey, Don, I've got these stolen diamond rings and you want to take a look at them, and I'm like, yes, I'll take a look at them but before I call the FBI. I mean, that's not -- you should say, no, Max, I don't want your stolen stuff and get out of here, right.

I mean, it's -- I know it may be a weird comparison. But I'm trying to figure out what is the comparison to get people to understand that this is so egregious, why this is so egregious.

RODGERS: Yes, I mean, taking help from a foreign entity in an election is inherently illegal, period. That's it. So, you shouldn't even listen to what that help is. It's not like let me show you a ring, it may or may not be stolen or whatever. It's just, it's illegal. Period. He needs to put the kibosh and move on. That's what he couldn't say that he would do.


BRINKLEY: You know, Don, but the Mueller investigation in Trump's mind may not really be over. He knows what he knows and what he did.

LEMON: What he did. BRINKLEY: It's like an inoculation.

LEMON: He says no collusion but he knows that he did --


BRINKLEY: And so, this is kind of a cover strategy.


BOOT: He says no collusion in 2016 but I'd love to collude in 2020.


LEMON: I mean, there you go. He just said I didn't collude in 2016, but 2020, let's collude.

BOOT: Exactly.

LEMON: I might collude. I've got to ask you, though, because, you know, they were supposed to vote today to help secure election integrity, right, and make sure that it is illegal to consort with a foreign power, and Mitch McConnell blocked it. What happened to the walk back? What happened to standing up for the rule of law?

BOOT: You know, this is so shameful, Don, I cannot believe that Republicans can look at themselves in the mirror while they are doing this. They are blocking bills to secure our elections from foreign interference.

Now, what conceivable rationale could they possibly have for blocking something that is so obviously in the national interest? The only possible rationale I can think of are, two. One is they don't want to incur Donald Trump's wrath because they know that he does not want to admit there was any interference so he doesn't want to do anything to counter future interference.

But two, the more nefarious explanation which Jennifer was getting at is, maybe they're hoping there will be interference in 2020 and the Russians will help them out again as they helped in 2016.

But either way they are putting their party's interest above the national interests. This is so shameful, this is so awful, I just cannot believe the Republican Party is doing this.

LEMON: Yes. So, the Republican Party is saying -- and Trump, abide by what's in the thing, Robert Mueller didn't find any of this stuff, that the report, I guess, you know, is solid.

But then where Mueller says that -- you know, where Mueller said he never tried to fire Mueller -- I'm sorry. Where Trump says he never tried to fire Mueller that was in the Mueller report and he's saying that never happened.

BOOT: Right.

LEMON: So then -- what is that?

BRINKLEY: It's a fantasy driven ego that he's terrified about Mueller still. I mean, anybody who is a normal president once he got the report he got when the Mueller report came out would start just not talking about it. All he has to say is I'm done, I'm not talking about Mueller anymore.

But he keeps creating this own web of disaster. It's like he's his own worst enemy all the time. But when does it catch up to him? We know the base doesn't leave him but are people getting fatigued.

And my fear that I would have if I were Donald Trump is people are getting tired of the act. If you're a celebrity on a TV show this two, three years of Donald Trump seems like 20 years. It's so much drama every day, and he puts so many sound bites out there. There may start becoming people that feel we already have the Trump era. We're ready for something now. That's the Democratic opening.

RODGERS: Well, here's the other thing that may happen from that. You know, we're in this big battle about Don McGahn testifying. Right? One of the things that the White House is saying this is a redo of the Mueller report, been there, done that, he testified for 30 hours. You know, nobody needs his testimony.

Well, now we need his testimony. Guess why? The president came out and said his testimony was false. Just flat out said that and so that gives more ammunition for the House to say we need to Don McGahn. The president says he's a liar. Let's find out.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.


[22:25:00] LEMON: Up next, the Justice Department sides with the president on refusing to release tax returns. Well, Democrats what will they do now?


LEMON: The Justice Department releasing a legal opinion today supporting the treasury secretary's refusal to turn over six years of President Trump's tax returns to House -- the house ways and means committee.

Let's talk about this now with Evan Perez and Elie Honig.

So good to have both of you on. Evan, I'm going to start with you. So, we had this legal opinion. What is the DOJ arguing here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, the Justice Department is arguing that Richard Neal, the chairman of the House and Ways and Means Committee and the Democrats are essentially lying when they say that they need access to the president's six years of the president's personal and business tax returns in order to perhaps look at passing a law about auditing a president. Let me read from the opinion that Steve Engle released today. It says

in part, quote, "The committee's stated purpose in the April 3rd letter blinks reality. It's pretextual. No one could reasonably believe that the committee seeks six years of the president's tax returns because of newly discovered interest in legislating on the presidential audit process."

[22:30:08] They -- Steve Engle goes on to mentioned that comments made by Neal as well as Speaker Pelosi seems to indicate that what they really want to do is release the taxes -- the president's taxes publicly and that is the reason why they're asking for it.

LEMON: Elie, Democrats will no doubt take this to court. And will they win is the question?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They absolutely should. This analysis by DOJ is just garbage. It doesn't even stand up to the base -- most basic scrutiny, because you have a statute. We have a law that says very specifically that the IRS shall furnish tax returns to the Ways and Means Committee upon request.

This whole other thing that DOJ laid out that Evan just talked about, this idea that there must be a legitimate legislative purpose that is something DOJ made up and threw on top of the law and then even if there had to be a legitimate legislative purpose, guess who that is up to? That is up to Congress. It's not for DOJ to say we don't believe you. If that is the case then DOJ will take over the legislative function from Congress. So, I think Congress is going to prevail if they take this to court.

LEMON: OK. Elie, another question for you, the office of legal counsel, their argument is 33 pages, OK, but then you look at the tax code, at least on this, is written, and it's very plainly written here, it is upon written request from the chairman of the committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request. I mean, I'm not a lawyer.


LEMON: But it seems pretty clear.

HONIG: You don't even have to be. It's common sense. Look, DOJ could have written a 330 page opinion, but none of it overcomes those two words you said, shall furnish. That is obligatory, that is mandatory, that is not optional. There's plenty of ways that our laws says when something is optional, they could have said, may furnish or within their discretion.

LEMON: It says shall.

HONIG: It says shall furnish. And that's why see DOJ turning itself and twisting itself into a legal and logical pretzel, and shocker, guess how they come out exactly where Donald Trump would want them to come out, it's William Barr's DOJ in action.

LEMON: Evan, Chairman Neal, how is Chairman Neal approach this?

PEREZ: Well, you know, so far, he hasn't gone the route as some of the other committees is some of this similar fights. In he's case he hasn't held Steve Mnuchin in contempt of Congress. We don't know whether he is going to go that route. But, you know, obviously there's a court fight ahead, but as Elie was pointing out, you know, the word shall there is pretty plain and so the only argument that the Justice Department has really, Don.

You know, they even acknowledge what exactly what you just said, that the language of the law says shall and so the acknowledge of that is there, but what they've turned to instead is to say Congress is lying, that the Democrats are lying. That what they really want to do is release these taxes publicly which they say is not a legitimate purpose. So, look, I think the courts are going to decide and I think, Elie is right that this is very likely to turn out the way of what the Democrats are arguing.

LEMON: Listen, Elie, can we go back a little bit to something that you were saying. I want to dig a little deeper, because you said this is William Barr's Justice Department doing what he wants them to do, which is what the president wants him to do. William Barr's acting more like a private law firm for the president and not the Attorney General of the United States.

HONIG: He really is. And it's a shame to see one of the hallmarks of DOJ over the years, over administrations of both parties is this sense of independence and integrity. And what I think you see here is DOJ, in this opinion it looks to me like they started with the conclusion. Where do we want to end up? And some poor staffer probably got this assignment and he knew darn well where he was supposed to end up and then he has to twist and torture the law and come up with this bizarre reading to try to reach that conclusion.

We've seen Bill Barr do it over and over again with every aspect of the Mueller report to constantly sort of give his blessing to kosher whatever Donald Trump wants to do.

LEMON: Evan, if this ends up before the Supreme Court, I mean, that could take a long time. I'm wondering, though, if that is the goal to run out the clock here.

PEREZ: Look, I think that that is -- that is what the president -- if you're the president and his legal team I think that is what you're banking on because it does take a long time, normally. Now, the Supreme Court could expedite this, you know, once it gets to them, but there's no guarantee that they'll do that and so you're right they could be running out the clock and then by the time this is over, by the time this comes out, you know, the election is already upon us or even past us.

LEMON: Yes, gentlemen, thank you, I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks.

LEMON: So remember when the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the new Harriet Tubman $20 bill wouldn't be ready until 2028, because of technical issues. Turns out that may not be entirely true.


LEMON: So here's what the "New York Times" is reporting, that the Treasury Department was well under way with the Obama era plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. So why did the Secretary Steve Mnuchin say it couldn't be unveiled until 2028, we're going to discuss that now with Adam Serwer and David Swerdlick. OK. We'll get back to them.

Before we get to them. Let me tell you the story of what just happened with this Harriet Tubman $20 bill. Because it's not as he said because Harriet Tubman is a former slave abolitionist and conductor on the Underground Railroad. It was set to become the first African-American on U.S. currency in 2020. So why isn't that happening?

Well, according to "The New York Times" the treasury secretary, as I said Steven Mnuchin delayed and possibly derailed the process of putting Tubman on the 20. So, the president, President Trump wouldn't put the kibosh (ph) on it all together and create more controversy that is according to past and present White House officials.

[22:40:04] Wow, so let's take a step back. To when this all started. It was in 2014. When a Massachusetts fifth grader wrote a letter to President Obama suggesting a woman be put on the U.S. currency and offered a list of possible names including Harriet Tubman, OK.

Then in April of 2016 Obama's Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, remember jack Lew? Officially announced a historic move that Harriet Tubman would bump Andrew Jackson from the front of the $20 bill. According to Lew, the decision was driven by thousands of Americans who reached out to the Obama administration and so Lew wrote this in an open letter. Here's what he said.

He said, I have been particularly struck by the many comments and reactions from children for whom Harriet Tubman is not just a historical figure, but a role model for leadership and participation in our democracy. President Obama talked about the new bill in a joke at his final White House correspondent's dinner speech. Watch this.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This material works well, I'm going to use it at Goldman Sachs next year. Earn me some serious Tubman's.


LEMON: Well, then presidential -- the president has a sense of humor, right. Then presidential candidate Donald Trump was against the move to replace Andrew Jackson with Tubman on the 20. Here's what he said on the Today Show, just days after the Obama administration's announcement.


Andrew Jackson and see if we can maybe come up with another denomination, maybe we do the $2 bill or we do another bill. I don't like seeing it. Yes, I think its pure political correctness.


LEMON: OK. So Harriet Tubman, the American hero, who risked her life to free slaves should get the $2 bill that hasn't been printed in years and Andrew Jackson the owner of slaves who was known for policies that led to the deaths of countless Native Americans should stay on the 20. I guess that is not surprising considering Trump is known to be a fan of Jackson. He praises him in interviews and on Twitter.

He even added a portrait of Jackson to the Oval Office when he became president. So how did the Trump administration punt the Tubman bill? When Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared before the House Financial Services Committee last month he blamed the Tubman bill delay on security and technical reasons.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: The primary reason we've looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues. Based upon this the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028, the $10 bill and the $50 bill will come out with new features beforehand. So, the answer is it is my responsibility now to focus on what is the issue of counterfeiting and the security features. The ultimate decision on the redesign will most likely be another secretaries down the road.


LEMON: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley asked the Secretary if this was all about President Trump. If it came down to Trump?


REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): Donald Trump said that the move to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill was pure political correctness and he in fact suggested putting her on a $2 bill. So do you agree that nearly a year of collecting response from across the country can simply be reduced to political correctness?

MNUCHIN: I think that right now I am focused on the security features of the U.S. currency --


LEMON: So Mnuchin says this is all about security features, but according to "The New York Times" the new $20 bill was already being worked on before Trump took office. Check out this image of the new bill that the "Times" got from a former Treasury Department official.

The design was produced in late 2016. The Treasury Department says the image obtained by the "Times" contained no security features and you can't develop a design until security features are finalized, but a former Director of the bureau of engraving and printing tells the "Times" that this can't be true.

He says the security features of a new bill are embedded in the imagery and they normally would be created simultaneously. Which means Mnuchin gave the American people a misleading excuse. I wonder why that would be. What does it say about this administration that it went through all of this to avoid giving an African-American hero a symbol of the fight against slavery, even a token acknowledgment?

I'll discuss that now. There they are. Or next, I should say with Adam Serwer and David Swerdlick.


LEMON: "New York Times" reporting the Treasury Department was well under way with an Obama era plan to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. So, why did Secretary Mnuchin say it couldn't be unveiled until 2028? Let's discuss now with Adam Serwer and David Swerdlick.

Thank you gentlemen for joining us and thank you at, you know, we gave that explainer. I hope everyone got it.

So, Adam, you say the fact that the Trump administration put so much effort into preventing a wholly ornamental gesture against white supremacy tells you a lot about where they're coming from. Explain that.

ADAM SERWER, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: Look, I mean, this is -- you know, putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill doesn't solve the wealth gap, it doesn't fix health disparities between black Americans and white Americans, it doesn't end police brutality.

[22:50:02] It doesn't adjust mass incarceration, it's a wholly symbolic thing saying that, you know, Harriet Tubman is at the level of our founding fathers in terms of being one of the most significant Americans who ever lived and shaping the course of the country.

So to say, you know, actually we're just not going to put her on the $20 bill anymore and also mislead the public about the reasons why you are not doing that, I just think is extraordinary. Because it's a not as though this is something that cost the Trump administration anything in terms of major ideological priorities. It's just something entirely symbolic that they decided, no, we're not even going to do that.

LEMON: David, why do you think the Trump administration cared so much about blocking Tubman on the $20 bill?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So, a couple of things, Don. I agree with everything that Adam said, and I would only add to that, that this is -- even though this is only ornamental and symbolic, this is exactly the kind of person who should be on currency. If you'll forgive the play on words. She literally was money. She led people from slavery to freedom. She served in the union army. This is a bonafide American hero, like Adam was saying, equivalent to like a founding father. She is like the black woman Paul Revere.

So the idea the Trump administration is balking at this for kind of cooked up reasons, according to this "New York Times" report, suggests that this is just something they don't want to do, because and if you look that last two and a half years, someone like Harriet Tubman, an African-American woman who doesn't fit a mold like an Andrew Jackson is not who President Trump wants to elevate to currency on his watch.

The other reason I think that is going on here is that this is a small example, but another example of wanting to efface the record of President Obama. If Obama did it, they don't want to do it. They got rid of TPP, they got rid of the Iran deal, they got rid of decorum in the White House. They're not going to do Harriet Tubman.

LEMON: Listen, Adam, I know you don't have a monitor. I don't know if you could see where you are, David I know that you can. And I just I want to put up this copy of what the "New York Times" obtained of the Tubman build design. Listen I have other questions about that, but when I saw that, as a person of color, it just went like, wow, we don't have any black people on money.


LEMON: And I mean, it actually means something. You know, it's -- you guys say it's symbolic. I understand what you're saying, but I think, you know, it has huge meaning, Adam. Do you disagree with that?

SERWER: I would not disagree that symbolic things can have an incredible amount of value. What I mean is that even the symbolic thing has reached too far. It's sort of incredible when you think about it that the Trump administration, you know, went out of its way to prevent a gun-toting Republican from being placed on money.

LEMON: Interesting.

SWERDLICK: I mean Don, you know, yes, he did. It's symbolic, but the symbolism is part of the thing. And this is something that Adam has written about and people should read everything Adam writes.

That part of the Trump project is undoing some of the symbolism, because, you know when Trump -- you played the clip before the break, said this is pure political correctness. Another way to interpret this is that what he is saying is that political correctness by another name is, people like us, here we are three black guys on TV want recognition for our role in the American projects and the American struggle, but at least in this case they are unwilling to do that.

LEMON: Yes. Here's what -- this is what Congressman Ayanna Pressley who questioned Mnuchin on the Tubman bill on the Hill last month, tweeted out about the Times reporting. She says, turns out the redesign of the Tubman 20 was well underway and yet Steve Mnuchin says it will be at least a decade before it goes into circulation. Nice try, Mr. Secretary. We see right through you and we won't back down. What can Congress do if anything, David?

SWERDLICK: Look, I think Congress can continue to pursue this in hearings. They've already had to pull teeth to get cabinet secretaries to come before Congress or come back before Congress. I think it going to be tough to push this one through, because the administration has I guess sort of, you know, cleverly, in their own way, not cancelled the Tubman bill, just said for all these sort of, you know, maybe questionable reasons that it's going to be delayed past Trump's tenure, whether that is two more years or six more years.

And so, you know, it's going to be hard for Congress, I think with everything else they have on the plate to dig in on something like this just in term of the level of priority. But it's a shame, Harriet Tubman, a bonafide American hero, it should be a no brainer that someone like her is honored in this way.

[22:55:00] LEMON: Listen, David, Adam, I saw you shaking your -- nodding your head when David mentioned that this was an Obama-era decision and they wanted to undo that or roll that back. Do you agree with that?

SERWER: Yes. I do agree with him and I think it's worth mentioning that the president -- the current occupant of the Oval Office is a great admirer of Jackson and that's not really surprised Jackson and a lot of contempt for the other two equal branches of government that I think is reflected in the way that this president approaches the presidency.

And so, I think it's not surprising that he would balk at removing a figure who is historically controversial for his racism, for his treatment of Native Americans, for, you know he's contempt for the separation of powers. That Trump would not want to remove someone who he considerers his sort of totem inspiration from the $20 bill in order to make way for this woman who represents what I think is an entirely different political tradition within the American tapestry.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you -- hey, listen, Adam. You may get mad at me, but Adam is going to have a great weekend, because your wife has been deployed -- explain to our viewers -- your wife has been deployed for four months.

SWERDLICK: She has been deployed for four months in Afghanistan. She is finally back and it's very exciting.

LEMON: We are very happy for you. You guys have a great weekend and we thank her for her service and we thank you for your service as well, because the families of our men and women in uniform also serve when they have to go on tour. So, you guys have a great weekend. Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Don.

SERWER: Thank you.