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CNN TONIGHT

Hope Hicks Guarded With Lawyers; U.S. Calculates Its Counterstrike On Iran; NYT: Trump Approves Military Strikes On Iran, But Abruptly Pulls Back; Police Departments Take Action After Watchdog Group Compiles Offensive Facebook Posts By Officers. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 20, 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 House Judiciary Committee releasing the transcript of its closed- door interview with President Trump's former communications director, Hope Hicks. An interview where Democrats say Trump administration lawyers blocked Hicks from answering 155 different questions.

Hicks was accompanied by two private lawyers, three lawyers from the White House, and one from the Justice Department. She did not answer any questions about her time in the White House but did talk about her time with the Trump campaign and also talk about those hush money payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, as well as WikiLeaks and Trump's comments about Russia and Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

So, let's discuss now. Sara Murray is here, John Dean, Patrick Healy as well.

Good evening to all of you. Sara, you first. Give me some big takeaways from this testimony.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, Don, as you pointed out, of course, what's notable is all the stuff that she didn't answer, and the White House's claim of absolute immunity, which the Congress was pretty sure is not a real thing. But that will be for the court to decide.

But some of the revelations she did share, you know, she was asked a number of times about WikiLeaks and about how the campaign sort of was trying to deal with these revelations that were going to come out. And she basically said we didn't have any inside information into WikiLeaks. We were just keeping track of what was going on publicly.

And you know, there was really no strategy other than to look for things that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton, their opponent, and then try to play those up and you know, make life more difficult for Hillary Clinton.

She also said that at the time of the Trump Tower meeting, you know, we've talked a lot about this. It was happening in the summer of 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., other campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer. She said she had no knowledge of that meeting at the time. She didn't find out about it until June of 2017. That matched up with what she told the special counsel's team.

But, you know, there were not a ton of big revelations, Don, because of how much she refused to talk about and how much she was blocked from talking about by the White House.

LEMON: Yes. John, let's talk about that. Because according to Democrats on the committee, attorneys from the Trump administration blocked Hicks from answering, as I said, 155 questions. Did they really have the right to do that?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's interesting whether they did or did not. They were invited to the hearing, which they would otherwise not really have had the ability to come to.

In a deposition before the House committee, you're allowed to bring one attorney typically, but not an army, and she had an army with her. So, on behalf of the White House, every time they said object, she didn't respond. She knew, took the cue instantly, and never went over the line. It was kind of fascinating.

And the breadth full privilege, though, was what got out of hand. At one point, Congressman Ted Lieu, a member of the committee, asked her some very, very, very light questions about her job, like what was the weather the day she took the job. And they didn't object to that. He was baiting them. But then he asked, where was your office? They objected. So that's how absurd it got.

LEMON: You know, Patrick, Hicks was surrounded by her private lawyers, lawyers from the White House, another lawyer from the Justice Department. Chairman Nadler noted how it's not typical to have a lawyer from the Justice Department in a hearing like this. This is unprecedented.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's very, very strange, but this is what -- this is what the Trump administration expects of the people who work for President Trump. It's total loyalty. It is a willingness to keep all of his secrets, and it's certainly no place for an aide to be giving any kind of information to Democrats.

You know, President Trump looks at this committee very much as a hostile committee, and the degree to which he and through Hope Hicks' bevy of lawyers can just irritate and get under the skin of longtime arch nemesis like Jerry Nadler, the president likes that.

[23:05:03] The bottom line is he didn't want any information given up to this committee, and he wants the appearance of, well, we're giving some measure of cooperation, but there's no there there. That is the president's takeaway from this that he can keep saying over and over again.

LEMON: You know, Sara, Hicks did talk about her time on the campaign, telling committee members she was not aware of Trump's hush money arrangements. What did she say?

MURRAY: That's right. I mean, because you know, you remember how closely she was with Donald Trump during the campaign, when he was making these hush money payments to women and he was working with Michael Cohen to do so. She said she had no knowledge of this as it was happening.

Remember, she actually put out a statement saying that Donald Trump had no relationship with Karen McDougal, who was the Playboy playmate. She told members of Congress that she was directed to make that statement and that she had no knowledge of any of these payments, Don.

LEMON: Interesting. John, so Hicks was asked about Trump ordering the former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to urge Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation. And this is the transcript says, quote, -- I get my glasses -- it says, "Chairman Nadler, sitting here today, do you find it concerning that the president today -- that the president asked Mr. Lewandowski to deliver a message to the attorney general?

Ms. Hicks, concerning would not be the word I would use to describe how I view that. Chairman Nadler, well, in any way problematic? Ms. Hicks, I'd view it as odd." Was it odd, or was it obstruction, John?

DEAN: What was -- what was odd was the way the question came about. Nadler was weaving his way through a bunch of objections, and as soon as she responded with her answer that she found it odd, her lawyers objected to her explaining what she meant by odd.

LEMON: Yes.

DEAN: I think what she was trying to convey is how odd the campaign was, Don. I think if they just came forward and testified, they really didn't know what they were doing. It was a branding operation, and they were hopeful of winning, but they had no real organization, they'd have been better off just telling that flat-out truth.

LEMON: Yes.

HEALY: I would add to John's good point, that part of what's odd, knowing Hope Hicks and Corey Lewandowski, having covered them for a couple of years, the idea that President Trump was suggesting to Corey Lewandowski, a former campaign manager who he threw overboard during the campaign, that he would be the one to go to Jeff Sessions, you know, the attorney general, to suggest un-recusing as if that's something that's sort of normally done here.

I mean, Hope knows Corey quite well, and the notion that the president was going to send Corey to deliver a message to Jeff, it was odd. I mean it was odd.

LEMON: It was very odd. OK. So, listen, in her testimony, Hicks said that this comment from the president during the July 2016 -- remember, Russia, it was a joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The Mueller report says, by the way, that within approximately five hours of Trump's statement, GRU officers targeted Clinton's personal office for the first time. Did Russia take this as a joke?

HEALY: Well, that's -- I mean a and b, you know. There you have it. You know, in terms of President Trump getting up there and making those words, and as you said, the GRU acting five hours later. But this is one of the fundamental challenges in the Mueller report is that he lays out dots but he doesn't necessarily connect them.

You know, the sort of scrupulousness around that is what it is. He leaves it for the American voters, the American people to decide. I will say there was one important point though, in that with Hope Hicks' testimony where she talked about intent.

She used the word intent, and she said that she thought it was the intent of President Trump to be making a joke there. I think sort of over and over again, in the questions that she did answer, she was trying to get at this idea that, you know, what the effect of what he did and what he was saying, you know, may be in some dispute, that the intent that he had was not to, you know, cause foreign interference in an election.

LEMON: Yes. Well, I don't know. Who knows? John, let me move on here. John, you know, we didn't see the testimony play out on TV. Will it move the needle anything what she had to say? Any way at all?

DEAN: You know, I don't think it's going to move the needle in public education at all because it was not testified. She's obviously would have been a very attractive witness to have on television.

[23:09:56] And to see her lawyers dodging all those questions and forcing her not to answer would have sent the message that you really get when you read the transcript is that this is a cover-up, and we're watching them keep the Congress out of the White House business.

The minority on the staff says, none of this is necessary because it's all been covered in the Mueller report. And then they really don't ask any questions. They just moan about the fact that the proceeding is going on. They do try to elicit no information. So, this is -- the big message is that this is a cover-up in progress.

LEMON: John, Patrick, Sara, thank you. I appreciate it.

Up next, breaking news on the escalating tensions with Iran. ""The New York Times"" is reporting that the president approved military strikes against Iran and then canceled them.

Nicholas Kristof with ""The New York Times"" joins me next.

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So, here's the breaking news on CNN. "The New York Times" is reporting this, that President Trump approved military strikes on Iran but then abruptly pulled back tonight. This after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone with a missile.

Nicholas Kristof from "The New York Times" joins us now. Nicholas, thank you very much. You wrote about this, what you called a collision course, right? Trump and Iran may be on a collision course that could get scarier. It appears at this point that it was, it could have gotten a lot scarier tonight, but the president back the off.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, we don't know whether he backed off. We know that the strikes were not carried out, and it may be that he changed his mind. Perhaps at the behest of the Pentagon. It may also be that, you know, that there was cloud cover, that the logistics weren't right, that they miss their night window to hit -- it's now morning in Iran, so maybe they missed their window. This may still be happening.

So, you know, we don't know that he has changed his mind, and the real risk is here of enormous escalation that just keeps on going.

LEMON: This is a quote. "Officials said that the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets like radar and missile batteries. The operation was underway in its early stages when it was called off," a senior administration official said. "Planes were in the air and ships were in position but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down," the official said. What does that tell you, Nick?

KRISTOF: You know, I think we really don't know what ended it, and the -- you know, what we do know is that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton were urging this kind of military strike, that there were a lot of reservations in the Pentagon about the way this could slip out of control and escalate.

And so, I would like to think that people in the Pentagon got through to President Trump. And President Trump has clearly had some concerns about the possibility that this would escalate. He spoke about the possibility this might be an accident, so I'd like to think that he'd change his mind.

But, you know, this may be just a delay. And if so, we should be deeply alarmed about how this -- you know, after 18 years of war in that region, we should be -- we should understand the limitations of the military toolbox to achieve our objectives.

LEMON: Yes. Again, Nicholas' article is Trump and Iran may be on a collision course, and it could get scarier. And that possibility could have possibly played out tonight, or still could play out as Nicholas points out. We need to get more reporting on this and see, again, where we stand and how this all plays out.

Listen, I want to bring in -- standby, Nick. I want to bring in now Colonel Cedric Leighton, who joins me on the phone. Now Iran knows that possible strikes are coming. How do they respond now, Colonel?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, that's a really good question, Don, because the element of surprise is obviously gone, and what Iran may do is they may try to disperse some of their forces around the country. They may try to, you know, perhaps even attack other elements of the U.S.

So, there are all kinds of things that could happen. You know, we could see another attempt to shoot down another drone. We could see some attacks perhaps against some of the bases on the other side of the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. Those are all possibilities.

I would hope it would not get to that point, but the U.S. has to be very careful in this case, and we also have to make sure that our force protection efforts in the region are at a very high level at this point.

LEMON: Listen, I'm sure you heard my conversation with Nicholas Kristof, colonel. Nick is saying -- he's talking about the possible reasons the strike may have been called off. Maybe it's postponed. Again, not sure. I think there's more reporting to be done. What do you think the reason would be?

LEIGHTON: Well, there could be several things. I think Nick pointed out some really good ones such as the idea of their perhaps being a weather issue. Perhaps things weren't quite in place.

When we went into Iraq in 2003, we had months of preparation before we did anything, and of course there's nothing like that in this particular case. So, you know, not that we couldn't do stuff against Iran, but there may be a situation, whether it's weather dependent or operationally, something that's contingent on operational issues that may have limited things.

I think those are good suppositions in this case, but, you know, what we're also looking at here is the possibility that it could be in essence of feint, you know, saying to the Iranians look what we can do. We're not going to do it yet.

[23:20:00] But there are some things that we can do to you and because of that, we have some significant issues that we want to deal with you on. This may be a ploy to get them to the table, but that may also be wishful thinking on my part at this point.

LEMON: I just want to read more from the article. Again, "The New York Times" is reporting, and this is our headline. "Trump approves strike on Iran but then abruptly pulls back". It says as late as 7 p.m. on Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike.

After intense discussions and debate at the White House among the president's top national security officials and congressional leaders, according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

Officials said the president had initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets like radar and missile batteries. What can you tell us about those targets, colonel, and then I'll bring you in, Nick.

LEIGHTON: So, radars are very important because, of course, that's how Iran or any other country will look at things around their periphery. They're going to see, you know, what's out there. They're going to determine whether a drone or an aircraft is flying against its territory.

You know, when you look at missile batteries, of course you're looking at the type of weapons system that was used to go after the global hawk that was shot down. So, this would have been, you know, an attack that would be kind of going after, proportionally going after the types of things that we would be interested in eliminating things that caused the damage to the drone that shot it down.

And that would be, you know, the first thing that you do. Other elements that they could have gone after would have been command and control modes, things of that nature but that would be a much higher level of escalation. And it sounds like (Inaudible) want to go to that level.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Colonel Cedric Leighton. We appreciate that. Nicholas, I want to bring you in. I've been talking about your piece. Again, the piece is titled "Trump and Iran May be on a Collision Course, and It Could Get Scarier." And you write, "both say they don't want a war, but each feeds off the other, and both have behaved recklessly in ways that increased the risk of conflict."

How did the shooting down of this drone escalate to the situation that we have right now with Iran?

KRISTOF: Well, I mean a great deal depends on where the drone was. And Iran insists that the drone was over Iranian airspace, that they collected pieces of it in Iranian waters. If that is true, then they are in a much better position.

The U.S. insists that it was in international airspace and that would be an enormous provocation. So, you know, the basic thing we have to establish is the location of that drone. And, you know, the fact that the drone was shot down may also play into the reasons for the delay.

Indeed, as the article suggests, one of the first things we would do is go after the air defense systems that Iran has. And the U.S. military was surprised that this drone was shot down.

This was -- this demonstrated a capacity on the part of Iran that somewhat surprised us, and that may have made us a little more -- a little more careful, a little more prudent about this attack, and especially the fact that we may have missed the night window to get them.

I will be apprehensive in our afternoon, which will be the middle of the night Iran time, to see whether this was a delay rather than, you know, a real more substantial pullback.

LEMON: Or calling it off. So, again, before this came out that the president approved these strikes in Iran, but then abruptly pulls back again, that's "The New York Times" headline, he had this to say. Listen to what the president had to say earlier about Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How will you respond, Mr. President? How will you respond?

TRUMP: You'll find out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you willing to go war with Iran?

TRUMP: You'll find out. You'll find out. Obviously -- obviously -- you know, we're not going to be talking too much about it. You're going to find out. They made a very big mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And a few minutes later, the president said this. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn't have been doing what they did. I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know. I think it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK. So, it seems to be mixed messaging. What do you think? Does that seem like mixed messaging to you? What do you think he's trying to accomplish?

KRISTOF: It was. I mean, you know, I think President Trump genuinely does not want a war. I'm afraid he's being painted into a corner by his own rhetoric, by his own actions, and at the end of the day, I'm afraid that the White House is living in something of a fantasy world.

I mean they thought that their policy of pulling out of the nuclear accord, of maximum pressure on Iran, was going to lead Iran to somehow surrender and completely give up its nuclear program.

[23:24:59] No expert on Iran thought that, and I fear that they may think that strikes on Iran's air defense systems will again lead Iran to simply say uncle, and that's not going to happen. Iran will retaliate. It can respond in all kinds of ways in Iraq, in Syria, in the Strait of Hormuz, in Lebanon and Israel, in other places around the world.

It can affect the supply of oil, the price of oil. There are many -- it has its own toolbox. They're going to be asymmetrical, and we have to understand that Iran has a vote in how this plays out.

LEMON: We are always grateful to have Nicholas Kristof on this program, but especially tonight, the timing of this and having you booked on this program really paid off for us and the viewer. And we thank you.

Nicholas Kristof has a fantastic piece in "The New York Times". Trump and Iran maybe on a collision course and it could get scarier as we are seeing it play out now. And the headline from "The New York Times" tonight, "Trump approves

strikes on Iran but then abruptly pulls back." As we're getting more information on this, we'll bring it to you. We'll be right back. Thank you, Nicholas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:30:00] LEMON: Once again, the breaking news tonight. "The New York Times" is reporting that President Trump approved military strikes on Iran but then abruptly pulled back. This after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone with a missile over the Strait of Hormuz.

Joining me now is Rick Wilson. Rick, thank you so much. I know that you've been on this breaking news. What's your reaction to it?

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, look, I think that we are right now in a situation where a lot of people made the guns of August a comparison. We may well stumble into war because neither side here is in a situation where they are confident of the other's moves and there's set of structures where we know where red lines are.

I think the president tonight launching a strike and then pulling it back probably gave the Iranians an awful lot of intelligence about our capabilities in the area, but, you know, his behavior is always so random and always so impulsive that I wonder if this was a strategic blunder or some stroke of insight that he didn't want to kick off a full-scale war with Iran.

LEMON: Yeah. Earlier today, a senior White House official told CNN that there is a Bolton versus Trump debate on how to proceed on Iran, and Trump definitely does not want a conflict. Do you think the president is sticking with his gut?

WILSON: Well, look, I think President Bolton very much wants a war with Iran, and whether or not Donald Trump does or not is going to be one of those things that his famous gut will lead him to it one way or the other. He will either decide that there's a benefit to his image in it or not.

And I think that's unfortunately the sort of president we have right now, where he is really going to look at it through his own prism, whereas Bolton is looking at it through an ideological and a perspective built up over a long period of time where he views Iran as a central malefactor in the Middle East. And, look, there's no one excusing the behavior of the Iranians in this equation right now.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

WILSON: But there are a lot of options short of full-scale war with Iran that I think could be addressed before we get to that point. You know, we've always had a long, slow run-up to these things for a reason, and that's to give the other side time to capitulate.

LEMON: But the president said that he didn't want to get into a conflict with Iran, that he was elected to get out of wars. WILSON: Well, let's see, though. He's nominated John Bolton as his national security adviser, and when you buy that package, you know what you bought, and you bought a guy who is deeply committed right now to some sort of situation with Iran that, while he may say he wants them to just give up their nuclear program and to change their government, these are things that are probably not in the portfolio right now of things they're going to be willing to do short of conflict.

So, you know, the president has to decide -- President Trump has to decide if John Bolton is going to run the foreign policy of the U.S. or if he is.

LEMON: Yeah. Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill were calling for a measured response to the drone being shot down, some sort of strategic response. Do you expect a measured response from the White House going forward?

WILSON: Well, look, I rarely expect the best out of this White House. But, you know, at least someone tonight got to Donald Trump and said, hey, wait a minute, what you've got on deck here this evening, whatever it was -- and we know that from "The New York Times" reporting and other reporting now, there were aircraft in the air, there were support aircraft in the air and strike aircraft in the air.

We don't know -- at least what I've read at this point, you know, what the configuration of those forces was. But at some point someone said to the president, this is too much, and he said, hold on, let's pull it back. But, again, I think these are hard things to spin up. It takes a long time to spin up a strike package like this, and it's a very serious question as to what he was going to do with it and now what the Iranians know about it.

LEMON: OK. Rick, I want you to stand by because I need to get to someone on the phone.

WILSON: Sure.

LEMON: Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Rick Wilson, stand by.

General Hertling, thank you so much. Give me your reaction to this news that "The New York Times" is reporting that the president approved strikes on Iran, but then abruptly pulled back.

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST (via telephone): It was an interesting piece, Don. What struck me was the part of the article that you just noted, that the strike was ready to go and in fact it was spun up and was pulled back.

[23:35:01] I actually think the military advisers, probably the chairman and potentially the commander of central command, were the ones that were persuading caution, and the rationale behind that is, certainly when you spin up a strike with Tomahawk missiles, sea- launched missiles, even aircraft, you can give a guarantee of what percentage will hit the target and what the target effects will be. What you can't guarantee as a military leader is what will be the reaction.

In the past, the president has used Tomahawk strikes in Syria twice, and I think he saw no reaction from the Syrian government when he did that. And I think the military leaders probably told him, this is a different ball game, these guys are not only going to react vehemently to the United States striking them, but you also have an economic situation where they could strike other nations' ships within the straits or within the gulf.

When that came forward, I think there was perhaps a little bit of pull back and saying, hey, we're trying to get allies involved in this, we're trying to get alliance support which is tenuous at best based on some of the things Mr. Trump has done in NATO. And I think the problem was he saw and realized some of the challenges that might occur if other nations are drawn into this because of a unilateral strike by the United States.

LEMON: This is how close "The New York Times" report that this was going off because they were saying as late as 7:00 p.m. Thursday, military and diplomatic officials were expecting a strike after an intense discussion and debate at the White House among the president's top national security officials and congressional leaders. That is according to multiple senior administration officials involved in or briefed on the deliberations.

And it says, "Officials said that the president initially approved attacks on a handful of Iranian targets like radar and missile batteries. The operation was under way in its early stages when it was called off, a senior administration official said. Planes were in the air, ships were in position, but no missiles had been fired when word came to stand down, the official said."

How significant is that this is all going on while we have changes at the top of the Defense Department, general?

HERTLING (via telephone): Yeah, it's significant. I can't explain how confusing this might be to the military forces on the ground that are spinning these things up. And kudos for the commanders at sea and in the air that were able to turn it around at a moment's notice. It shows their adaptability.

But truthfully, Don, I think this also leads to the fact that the president does not have a strategy in terms of what he wants to accomplish. And just a unilateral strike, even though it might be a proportional response to a shoot-down of a drone, where does it lead?

And I think some of the military commanders were forcing that issue of saying, when you're about to use force and you don't know where it's going to take you, if it spins out of the control and you don't have an end state in mind, it's going to escalate very quickly.

The quote from the guns of August, about what occurred in the First World War, was when a German general was asked, how did they get there? How did they stumble in the war? The general said, "I'm not really sure." That's one of the kinds of things that provide a warning for us today when we use action unilaterally without building alliances and having a clear end state.

LEMON: General, stand by. I want to bring Rick back in. Rick, you know, I just asked the general that question. How significant is it that we are now in this position that this is all going on when we have changes at the top of the Defense Department?

WILSON: Well, Don, I think the combatant commanders and the theater commanders here are all very, very competent people and they're able to execute on these things. But there has been a sense of instability at the Defense Department.

Since General Mattis departed as sec def -- you know, we had Patrick Shanahan as the acting and we've had the chaos of Shanahan's departure this week -- there have been a lot of other questions about whether or not the appointee structure at the Pentagon has been adequate to reflect administration policy or if folks are sort of drifting a little bit.

And I think it's always a concern when you have, you know, the president sort of playing run and gun with this kind of very sensitive situation that can easily escalate out of control. And if you're not listening to the commanders -- and thankfully it seemed like he listen to the commanders tonight. I think General Hertling made a good point that it sounds like he listened to the joint chiefs and the theater (ph) commanders who said, maybe this isn't the right package.

[23:39:57] But it's very difficult with a man like this president, who is so impulsive and is so disinterested as a general rule in reading intelligence briefings and understanding sort of the nuances of some of these things to have a lot of confidence that he doesn't wake up on the wrong side of the bed tomorrow morning and go, OK, hit them after all.

LEMON: Yeah.

WILSON: So it's a great concern, I think, because if you want to hit them, you've got to do it effectively, and it's got to be something that matters and it causes their behavior to change and not just a feel-good boom-boom.

LEMON: Yeah. General Hertling, I just want to read something else from "The New York Times", this talk about the consternation that has been going on within the White House and within the administration. Trump national security advisers were split about whether to respond militarily.

Senior administration officials said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, the national security adviser, Gina Haspel, CIA director, had favored a military response, but top Pentagon officials cautioned that such an action could result in a spiraling escalation with risks for American forces in the region.

There was a push-pull feel in the White House whether -- or in the administration whether they should do it tonight. It seems that cooler heads prevailed, at least if you're looking at the initial reports tonight. We don't know exactly what's behind it. But, again, there was lots of consternation in the administration, and now they seem to have erred, at least now from this reporting, on the side of caution?

HERTLING (via telephone): Yeah. And truthfully, Don, that's something that occurs at ann strategic decision level of when you're mitigating risks, where you're attempting to understand what the risks might be based on the processes of war-gaming and determining what your objectives are.

You know, the story of the two different sides advising President Obama during the raid on Osama bin Laden is fascinating. It seemed like they had the same kind of back-and-forth with two sides pairing up against each other. Should we go or should we not? That's normal in any kind of decision-making body.

The difference is, I think, in this White House, as I've said before, they have not seen this kind of requirement to make a decision, and the processes for national security aren't aligned. It seems to be a little bit more scattershot, if you will, where they pull people together for arbitrary decision-making at the last minute, and there's not a process to really look at the intentions of the action, what the risks are, what the rewards are, what the courses of action could potentially be, and how you execute those kinds of things.

Those kinds of things are normal, but the practiced decision-making and how you key it up for the decision maker, in this case President Trump, is critically important. And as Rick just said, he's not interested in intelligence. He sometimes isn't interested in the expert opinion, and that will cause problems when you have these kinds of very difficult strategic decisions to make.

LEMON: Right.

HERTLING (via telephone): As you said, in this case, it appeared that someone got through to him and made him realize that the risks would probably be much greater than the rewards in what Iran might do, which no one really knows.

LEMON: I've got to go. General, thank you very much. I appreciate that. Listen, as you know, this is a big topic on the campaign trail. Senator Elizabeth Warren just tweeting, "Donald Trump promised to bring our troops home. Instead, he has pulled out of a deal that was working and instigated another unnecessary conflict. There is no justification for further escalating this crisis. We need to step back from the brink of war."

I would imagine other Democratic hopefuls for 2020 will be weighing in as well. We'll be right back with more on our breaking news.

[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Philadelphia police officials are placing dozens of officers on administrative duty as it investigates allegations of racist or offensive posts on Facebook. A watchdog group is compiling screen shots of thousands of officers nationwide, allegedly making hateful and racist remarks. Law enforcement agencies around the country are also conducting investigations. More now from CNN's Brynn Gingras.

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RICHARD ROSS, JR. COMMISSIONER, PHILADELPHIA POLICE DEPARTMENT: It really makes me sick because we are in a position to know better.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Philadelphia's police commissioner placing 72 officers on administrative duty amid allegations they posted racist and offensive content on social media.

ROSS: Because of the nature and the gravity and the absolute disgusting nature of what someone commented on, it impacts policing and your ability to police.

GINGRAS (voice-over): The move follows a recent report from the Plain View Project, an advocacy group that analyze thousands of posts it says came from the Facebook accounts of current and former police officers. The project looked at eight jurisdictions nationwide ranging from big cities to rural areas, creating what they call a geographic snapshot of American policing. What they found is disturbing.

According to the group, a Dallas officer commented about a video of a black man being arrested, "This expletive got me dying." Another from a Phoenix officer says, "It's a good day for a chokehold."

The group also points out these similar posts by officers in three cities, showing a meme with a confederate flag, saying, "This does not offend me, but this does," referring to a picture of two men wearing saggy pants. Some posts refer to African-Americans as animals or rabid, while others are Islamophobic or promote violence.

[23:50:03] Philadelphia's district attorney says he may have to bench officers from testifying on certain cases because of what they posted online.

LARRY KRASNER, PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: If you have someone who is expressing very Islamophobic sentiments or really, really anti- women sentiments in a particular case, it may be necessary to give that to the deference, and, frankly, it may destroy that witness on the stand.

GINGRAS (voice-over): The St. Louis circuit attorney is facing the same situation. Twenty-two officers identified as making offensive posts can't be called as witnesses. It's unclear how many cases that impacts. Internal investigations are under way in Dallas and Lake County, Florida.

Meanwhile, the York, Pennsylvania Police Department finished its review and says it's not taking any action against their officers listed in the report because they determined the posts were not made when the officers were employed by the department.

Brynn Gingras, CNN, Philadelphia.

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LEMON: Wow. Brynn, thank you. Emily Baker-White launched the Plain View Project two years ago. We're going to talk about why and all of this next.

[23:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Police departments nationwide are investigating officers who post racist messages on social media. Emily Baker-White, the attorney who launched the watchdog group Plain View Project two years ago, joins me now. You started all of this. What is going on here?

EMILY BAKER-WHITE, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PLAIN VIEW PROJECT: So, I first came across troubling Facebook posts by police officers when I was working as an attorney at the federal defender's office in Philadelphia. I was tasked with investigating and writing up a police brutality claim. And in doing so, I came across the police -- several police officers' public Facebook profiles, profiles that were available to anyone. I looked through those profiles and found several troubling memes and posts.

The one that really gripped me was a picture of a police dog bearing its teeth, raring to go after something. It was being restrained by an officer. And over that picture was a caption that said, "I hope you run. He likes fast food."

LEMON: Oh, my gosh.

BAKER-WHITE: And --

LEMON: So you launched this and started this nationwide?

BAKER-WHITE: So that meme -- I think especially because it was a meme, it didn't appear to be something the officer had made himself.

LEMON: Right.

BAKER-WHITE: Made me ask how much more of this is there out there? Is there a conversation going on in Facebook between officers where this type of stuff is being shared?

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, it is fascinating to watch this and unbelievable to see it. I commend you for your work and I thank you. Our time is short because of the breaking news, but thank you so much, Emily Baker. I really appreciate it.

BAKER-WHITE: Absolutely.

LEMON: Thank you. And thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

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