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CNN TONIGHT

Protests In Puerto Rico Got Wild; Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) Is Interviewed About What They're Going To Ask Robert Mueller On Wednesday; DOJ Reminds Mueller To Stay Within His Report; Trump Brags About His New Wall; "Washington Examiner:" Trump Has Not Built A Single Mile Of New Border Fence After 30 Months In Office; The 2020 Presidential Race; Al Franken Regrets Resigning From The Senate Over Allegations Of Sexual Misconduct. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 22, 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 countdown has begun to Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress. The former special counsel is set to answer questions from members of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees beginning Wednesday morning. Millions of Americans will be watching so what about President Trump?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I'm not going to be watching. Probably, maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I won't be watching Mueller because it can take all those bites out of the apple.

We had no collusion, no obstruction, we had no nothing. We had a total no collusion finding. The Democrats were devastated by it. They went crazy. They have gone off the deep end. They're not doing anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Mueller is a reluctant witness and a top DOJ official says Mueller's testimony must remain within the boundaries of his public report because matters within the scope of the Russia investigation are covered by executive privilege.

Let's go big picture on what all of this means. What is all of this? Sabrina Siddiqui is here, Ryan Lizza, and Michael D'Antonio. Michael is the author of "The Truth About Trump."

It's so good to have you all on. Happy Monday evening. So, Ryan, you first.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Don.

LEMON: President Trump fighting a scorch earth battle, earth battle on race long awaited Mueller testimony will refocus people on whether he obstructed justice. How big of a week is this for this president? LIZZA: I think it's pretty big. It's pretty big for the Democrats,

too. So much has happened since this report came out, and the Democrats are frankly being divided about what to do with this report, right?

They have been divided about whether this report should just clearly lead to the beginning of a process that leads to impeachment, or if they should frankly, you know, move onto the general election campaign and make the case against Trump and make sure he's defeated next year.

And so, I think, you know, by the end of this week, we're going to have a much clearer picture about which direction the Democrats go and how they prosecute the case against Trump. Do they make such a dramatic presentation out of the raw material of the Mueller Report with the author himself that impeachment suddenly becomes a much more real live possibility for the American people, or does -- do people move on and does it not have the impact that a lot of people think it should.

LEMON: All right. Well, that's a perfect transition, Sabrina. Is this judgment day for the Democrats? I mean, what do they have to prove at these hearings?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think if you take a step back, most of the public perception around the Mueller Report has thus far been shaped by that initial letter from Attorney General William Barr that was at a minimum misleading in terms of how it characterized Mueller's findings, largely absolving the president of wrongdoing. When, when you take a close look at the report, they outlined a least 10 instances in which the president potentially sought to obstruct justice.

So, this is really the first time that Robert Mueller will himself publicly address the findings in his report in great detail. He only gave that one brief public statement thus far where he said that they can neither charge the president with a crime nor they could exonerate him.

So it does have the potential to kind of refocus the attention on the Russia investigation, as well as potentially even shift public opinion, and more importantly, I think to Ryan's point, it really will set the stage for what and where Democrats go from here.

By and large, they've been stymied in their efforts to subpoena witnesses and documents where the Russia investigation because of the administration has been stonewalling those requests. They are now hearing from the most authoritative person, which is the man who oversaw this investigation over the last two years. And I do think depending of course on what he says, you might see a steady flurry of Democrats come out in favor of at a minimum, a formal impeachment inquiry.

LEMON: Michael, you heard President Trump say that he might watch just a little bit of Mueller's testimony. You know how much he watches television.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, you know --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Do you think he's going to watch more than just a little bit?

D'ANTONIO: He'll totally going to watch every split second of it. He'll be there ahead of time with his Coke in his hand and ready to buzz for another one because he's going to be very focused on this.

This is -- this is drama and he is a dramatist. It's all about the attention focused on him. I actually think he's exhilarated by this. He loves risk. He loves getting himself painted into a corner and then doing a magical escape.

[23:04:59] So this is excitement. This is everybody focused on Donald Trump and what could be better for him.

LEMON: But you said he loves this. Does he love the fight -- do you think he's going to go into full distraction mode?

D'ANTONIO: Yes. He loves the fight. I think that he also doesn't give a damn, pardon me, about the American public.

LEMON: It's all right. It's 11 o'clock. You're fine.

D'ANTONIO: I know. He does not care one whit --

LEMON: Yes.

D'ANTONIO: -- about what he's doing to the country just as he hasn't cared what he's done to the country with his racism. He really is all about defending himself, the job of the president now is defending himself not running the United States of America.

LEMON: You know, Ryan, you know, speaking of sort of shaping the fight that he wants, it's been said that he doesn't want to fight Nancy Pelosi because he would rather fight the squad, right?

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: He has attacked Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez falsely claiming that she called Americans garbage. White House advisor Stephen Miller tried to back that up on Fox News. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: What she's saying is there is a debate in the Democratic Party in which some people want to improve in her mind 10 percent from garbage, which maybe we'll say is Obamacare where she wants to do say Medicare for All what she views is being, I guess 70 percent better than garbage. Her point is, we're starting at garbage, someone go a little better than garbage --

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: I understand that. I understand that. But she's talking about -- she's talking about policy.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: No, no, she's saying her starting point.

WALLACE: She's not talking about the country and the people.

MILLER: She is saying --

WALLACE: Is garbage such a horrible word?

MILLER: She's saying that America in her view right now is garbage. But the more --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: No, no, then I want to put something up on that regard because I want to put up a tweet from Donald Trump from 2014. He wrote, "The United States under President Obama has truly become the gang that couldn't shoot straight. Everything he touches turns to garbage." And Stephen, that isn't AOC. That's Donald J. Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER: Throughout this interview, Chris, you're continuing to conflate Donald Trump's criticisms of President Obama versus AOC's deep and systemic criticisms of the country itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I can't believe he said that with a straight face. But listen, he's having to do back flips, back flips to defend the president's false statement. I mean, and he's being called out on his hypocrisy, do you think?

RYAN: Kudos to Wallace for having that tweet in his back pocket like that. It was a great moment. And look, I mean, by this standard any politician who criticizes any aspect of American policy or culture is somehow, you know, anti-American.

It's just completely absurd politicians every single day on both sides talk about things that are wrong in this country. We could go through, you know, 20 more examples of Trump doing that. Right?

Remember the time we talked about America being, you know, not so innocent when it comes to murdering people, comparing us to Vladimir Putin. So, it's absurd to say that she's anti-American because she used that word.

LEMON: Yes.

LIZZA: But look, when you go out on TV and you work in the White House, you go out on TV you have to defend, you know, the rule there as you defend Trump no matter how silly it makes you look.

LEMON: Yes. Even if it -- even when it looks like well, it's OK for him to, you know, speak ill of the country and, you know, call it American carnage or whatever but it's not OK for four women of color to be critical of their country, which is the main focus point.

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: And look, I think it's fine to be critical of the country. That's not what you say in this example. The garbage -- what she was referring to --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's not what she said.

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: Well, she didn't say that. She said, she was talking, she was actually talking about policies. She's actually talking about Democratic policies. So, she wasn't even criticizing him to, you know --

LIZZA: Absolutely.

LEMON: -- to the larger extent but he also, they have also been saying this phrase, Sabrina, let me play -- I'm going to play this sound bite from Stephen Miller and then I'll get this point in. This is over the president's racist attacks. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLER: I think the term racist, Chris, has become a label that is too often deployed by the left Democrats in this country simply to try to silence and punish and suppress people they disagree with, speech that they don't want to hear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, he says Democrats are trying to silence the president by calling him a racist, but today, the president escalated his attacks on the squad calling them racists. OK. He wants to keep this going and he's completely undermining everyone who went out on television to try to defend him, but go on.

SIDDIQUI: Well, he absolutely wants to keep this going. If you just look at his actions over the course of the past week, it's very clear that this is calculated on the president's part, and it is intentional.

He initially began this fight with this squad by saying that these four congresswomen of color should go back to where they came from, and there was no other interpretation of that, but then to believe that it was a time old trope against people of color suggesting that they somehow were foreign or un-American.

[23:10:01] And, you know, it escalated when he singled them out one by one in his rally last week in North Carolina which elicited those "send her back" chants against Ilhan Omar, a former -- someone who came here as a Somali refugee and who is a naturalized U.S. citizen.

You know, for a moment, the president seemed to disavow those chants but since then he has defended the people who is shouting "send her back" as patriots and he's gone back to now turning this around on the so-called squad. And I think he doesn't want to debate these women on the merits of policy.

LEMON: Sabrina, let me ask --

(CROSSTALK)

SIDDIQUI: He wants to frame this is as us versus them argument and that's going to be the strategy going into 2020.

LEMON: This is a quote from the president on Friday. He said, "The first lady thinks it is horrible what they said about Israel and horrible what they have said about our country, these congresswomen, they call our country and our people garbage. They can't -- they can't be anti-Semitic. They can't talk about evil Jews which is what they say evil Jews."

Again, he said that on Friday. None of the congresswomen have ever uttered the phrase evil Jews. Omar tweeted in 2012 that Israel committed evil doings but she never called anyone evil Jews. Why is he turning it into that? Is that a talking point? What is going on, because he's not the only one who says that.

SIDDIQUI: Look, what the president and Republicans have done is they have seized on Ilhan Omar's criticisms of U.S. policy in Israel. Now earlier this year, Ilhan Omar did apologized when she made certain comments about the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby that did perpetuate to stereotypes.

LEMON: Yes.

SIDDIQUI: And she apologized for those comments but what happened is since then Republican have kind of sought to weaponize her identity by, you know, criticizing her and labeling her as anti-Semitic any time she has even opened her mouth about U.S.-Israel, U.S.-Israel relationship. So, I think what you see is --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Sabrina, everyone, I'm sorry to have to cut you off.

SIDDIQUI: -- recognizing an opportunity here to make her the foil for Trump and his supporters.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I've got to get to breaking news. Thank you all. Sorry, our time is short. I got to get back to that breaking news now.

LIZZA: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: I want to get back to Puerto Rico have deployed tear gas -- deployed gas, i should say into a crowd of protesters demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh back now live for us. We lost the shot with him. A few things heated up there just moments ago. Nick, what's happening now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, absolute chaos and pandemonium. You join me on the streets where there were relatively peaceful protests for much of the day. There was a more angrier rump at the front. They threw water bottles at police as you can see head dressed head to toe heads in protective gear, not very vulnerable.

And after an hour or so of that, the police eventually fired tear gas at the protesters. Now that predictively caused them to scatter like we saw on Wednesday. An extraordinary scene frankly and the police in their numbers here in hundreds I would say.

You can see this unit, the lesser protective gear they are wearing and others have gone chasing part of the protestors down separate parts of the streets here. You can see down this particular street, some of the struggling protesters too and it seems like some firemen trying to come to somebody's aid in one of the nearby houses.

But also, down this second street, if I ask my cameraman Jose (Ph) to turn a bit to his left here down here, the remainder of the protest is right at the end of that street there.

Now let me wind you back to the beginning of today. Nine a.m., hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans on the streets, on the expressway leading into San Juan blocking it down, putting into gridlock demanding the immediate resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Well that was peaceful. That was festive. That was frankly an extraordinary message from the ground swell that's risen up against the governor telling him to leave now.

He, during that, gave an interview in which he said again I'm not going anywhere right now. I'm not running for reelection. "I'm sorry" he said in a kind of filtering way, and that actually seemed to have added more fuel here.

But there was, as this protest moved into San Juan feeling that the possible weight of numbers could eventually bring trouble. You can hear a police helicopter I think or perhaps a news helicopter moving over us now.

But as the evening went by, we just slowly saw the crowd increasingly angry. The makeup at times had more young men than it did earlier on. There were more masks I saw people wearing that's obviously because they knew that tear gas was a possibility I would imagine, but also, some say potentially to hide their identity.

And after an hour or so, in which water bottles and other projectiles were thrown at the police and we also saw fireworks used in the crowd. I didn't see any fired at the police immediately although there was an altercation later where other things appeared.

And here we are. More fireworks being fired down the end of the street here it seems. More tear gas, I should say, and that's causing that crowd I referenced earlier on to scatter.

Now we don't know about injuries here. We know the police are here in much greater numbers, we know that protesters are pouring better prepared than they were when this happened on Wednesday, but this is certainly not what Puerto Rico wanted to see.

[23:14:59] At most, Puerto Ricans I think want change and they want it peacefully. And another night where this sort of thing happens in old San Juan, exactly the same pattern frankly that we saw on Wednesday. That where I think many feels concerned about the volatile days ahead particularly given Governor Rossello's desire not to leave power or heed the voices on the streets here. Don?

LEMON: Nick Paton Walsh reporting live from old San Juan, Puerto Rico where protests had broken out and police are breaking them up now. We'll keep an eye on it. Thank you, Nick.

With Mueller's testimony just days away, I'm going to talk to one of the congressmen who will be asking him questions. Congressman Denny Heck joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, I told you about the DOJ letter to Robert Mueller instructing the former special counsel that his testimony, quote, must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege."

Here to discuss, Congressman Denny Heck who sits on the House intelligence committee. Congressman, good to see you. You're going to be -- you'll have the opportunity to question --

(CROSSTALK)

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Good to see you.

LEMON: -- the former special counsel on Wednesday. What do you make of the DOJ's letter?

(CROSSTALK)

[23:20:03] HECK: The day after tomorrow. Well, on one hand it's part of, it seems to me the continuing effort on the part of Attorney General Barr to cover up everything here. Starting with his letter that he issued when the report had been issued that was completely misleading and has been borne out to have been completely misleading every day since.

And secondly, it's not clear to me what authority he has over whatever it is that director Mueller may or may not say. Now look, we know that director Mueller is a reluctant witness that he said and the only time he's appeared before the public is eight-minute press conference that he thought the report should stand for itself, and indicated that he would only speak within the four corners of the report, but you know, the thing is you never know until they get there.

Frankly, from a personal standpoint, I'm not expecting any especially dramatic revelation or bombshell but you don't know until you had the opportunity to actually engage in the conversation.

LEMON: I wonder why they felt it necessary to send that letter if they stood behind what was in the report.

HECK: Yes. Well, I think the motivation is clear. The pattern has been set very firmly from day one, which is Attorney General Barr is not interested in the truth coming out in its entirety and in full cover. And again, they've been engaged in cover up from day one.

LEMON: If Mueller refuses to say anything beyond the contents of his report, do you -- what value, do you think that has value in a televised testimony?

HECK: So, one of my colleagues said on your very network this morning that more people had actually seen the movie the "Godfather" than he read the book. I don't think that many Americans have read the Mueller Report and I think way more Americans are going to actually see parts or all of his testimony on Wednesday.

And in and of itself even if all he's doing is answering yes, no questions or citing his report, I think it has the potential to have an impact on the way people perceive this.

And then again, as I said earlier, there is always the possibility that he will say something. If you look back however, over the many dozens of times that he testified when he was the director of the department of federal -- when he was the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he tends to be fairly taciturn. He doesn't like to be very forthcoming and go on and on about things, so I'm expecting pretty much for him to stay in character in that regard.

LEMON: So, earlier, we spoke to your colleague Congresswoman Karen Bass. Karen Bass sits on the House Judiciary Committee. That committee's focus is obstruction of justice while the intelligence committee will focus on Russian election interference. Can you give us an idea of what you'd like Robert Mueller to give more details about?

HECK: So, as you indicated, the judiciary committee will focus on section two which details the 10 different instances of obstruction of justice. We'll focus on section one which deals with the counter intelligence matters.

And of course, I think however that what most Americans are looking forward to hearing director Mueller answer is the question did you say anywhere in the report that there was neither any collusion nor obstruction, which of course he didn't say and in fact, he said quite the opposite.

That's the main question I think that will come out as a result of this conversation. But I think in the main, we're going to want to better understand all these people on behalf of the Trump campaign, I think 17 by last count if I recall correctly who had dozens and dozens of meeting with either Russian cutouts or Russian operatives to get a better sense of what he thought that was about if it is at all possible to get him to enumerate that.

But in terms of my questions, I think I'm ninth out of the 13 Democrats and here is another way that people should view this. Democrat, there are nine Republicans and 13 Democrats, we have therefore if I do my math correctly at five minutes a piece, 75 minutes and every second of that is gold.

And so we're going to have to be making sure that we make the best use of our time to get the most information and what it is I'll be able to ask is the ninth member of that 13-member questioning will depend of course on what the eight people who went before me have asked.

So, it's not possible to say with entire certainty what it is I'll be able to ask because --

LEMON: Got you.

HECK: -- I won't know what is asked before me and how he's responded.

LEMON: Sounds like there is a strategy behind all of it. Thank you very much. I appreciate that, Congressman Heck.

HECK: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Not a single new mile of border wall was under construction as of last month despite the president's claims. We're going to tell you the facts about the wall, next.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump thinks he should be getting credit for replacing old fencing on our southern border. Here's what he tweeted this evening. He said "When he ripped down and totally replaced a badly broken and dilapidated barrier on the southern border, something which cannot be, do the job, the fake news media gives us zero credit for building a new wall. We have replaced many miles of old barrier with powerful new walls."

OK. Let's dig into the facts with Daniel Dale. So, Daniel, building new wall when you're replacing old fencing. What is actually happening on the ground? This tweet is -- this tweet is flat out false.

DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Well, what is happening is that as the tweet sort of implicitly acknowledges, the president has not built entirely new miles of wall.

[23:30:00] So, no additional parts of the border have been covered by wall or even fencing during his presidency. What has happened is about 50 miles where there was already fencing or other kinds of barriers have had their fencing upgraded. And for most of the Trump's presidency, he is simply asserted that

that is his wall, like we're building a wall, it's going up very fast. And people like me, fact checkers, have said, no, you're just replacing fencing. Now, he starts to make an explicit argument that that replacement fencing should be counted by people like you and I as his wall.

LEMON: So, he's saying that he deserves credit for steel bollard fencing yet -- I mean, he promised -- that's not what he promised during the campaign. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to build a wall and it's going to be impenetrable. It will be a real wall. It's not going to be a little wall. It's going to be a big, beautiful wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are the walls going to be made out of?

TRUMP: I'll tell you what it's going to be made up. It's going to be made of hardened concrete.

Concrete plank, precast, boom, bing, done, keep going.

Wall are easy.

Brick as concrete, going very high.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So is he -- I mean, it's a flagrant moving of the goalpost or moving of the -- I don't know, fence post?

DALE: It is a moving of some kind of post, Don. I mean, some of this is subjective like, you know, you can argue the wall, you know, doesn't have to be concrete to be a wall. You can have a hole or two in it and still be a wall. But Trump certainly didn't campaign on replacing fencing like his supporters at rallies were not chanting replace that fence. And so, you know, this attempt to define wall as replacement fencing is certainly a shifting of the definitions here.

LEMON: You point out that this tweet seems like it could be in response to a piece from the Washington Examiner, "Trump has not built a single mile of new border fence after 30 months in office."

And here is what they write, OK? This is the Washington Examiner which you -- I'm sure know is pretty friendly to the president. "While the funding was meant both to replace outdated walls and to place barriers where there previously had been none, the government has only completed the replacement projects. The projects to secure areas with no fence are still in the works."

So, is there any plan to actually build new portions of the wall in the works right now?

DALE: So there are some plans in the works. For example, the Customs and Border Protection says that they are close to beginning construction on a 13-mile stretch in Texas, in the RGV Valley. But that project faces legal challenges and the preconstruction activities portion of this construction project seems to be dragging on. So in short, yes, there are plans, but we don't know when it will actually happen.

LEMON: So just the facts, no new wall has been built?

DALE: No new wall, no.

LEMON: Daniel Dale. Thank you, sir.

DALE: Thank you.

LEMON: The president seems to be all in on his reelection strategy of dividing Americans, but what should Democrats do in 2020? That's the question for David Swerdlick, Joe Trippi, next.

[23:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Democrats with eyes on 2020 walking a fine line between calling out the president's racism and focusing on their own messaging. Let's discuss now. David Swerdlick and Joe Trippi are both here.

Gentlemen, good evening. David, so, the president's approval rating. Let's talk about that. It's been remarkably stable throughout his presidency, hovering around 40 percent.

His strategy to win the second term seems too pronged, divide on race, get voters to dislike the democratic nominee more than they dislike him. How is he doing?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, that 44 percent that you just showed on the screen is essentially where he was on inauguration day. So I think if you're in the White House, that's telling you on the one hand, you've got your base locked in, you don't have to worry about them. And on the other hand, we've seen the president's antics over the last two and a half years to where they probably understand that they are not going to be able to grab that much more of the electorate.

So, doubling down on the base holds them in place and maybe also if you're them, depresses turnout amongst your opponents or Democrats or undecided, and that's seems to be the strategy that is in play now. You know, Joe is the expert in terms of running campaigns, so I really want to know what he has to say about it.

LEMON: Yeah. I want to know about that and also about the Democrats, too, because Democrats are walking a fine line between not letting the president's racist comments and tweets go unchecked, but they got to stay on their message and they got to get their own agenda out. So, go on.

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not a binary thing. We got to do two things. We got to -- we got to take him on these racially divisive comments, chaos he creates. We got to call it out. But more importantly, I think, in terms of -- you know, is to do what Democrats did in 2018, and that was to appeal to moderate Republicans and independents with real policies that move the country forward.

There was -- you know, what's happening is as there are three groups in the Republican Party, young Republicans, suburban Republican women and college-educated Republicans, that they figured out who this guy is and they really aren't comfortable staying in the party. They are looking to come across -- many of them voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives.

The candidates that were able to appeal to those people at the same time energized the democratic base in their districts are those Democrats that won a majority of the swing districts in 2018. That's what we have to do as we find our way to a nominee for 2020. Hopefully a nominee who can do both of those things.

LEMON: Do both. OK, so, David --

SWERDLICK: Yeah.

LEMON: -- the Democrats feel that they have a moral imperative to confront Trump on his racism, right?

[23:40:01] You heard --

SWERDLICK: They do have a moral imperative and so the Republicans. They just have sort of abandoned it at this point.

LEMON: So, how do they take that fight to a president who thinks that this is a winning issue for him?

SWERDLICK: Yes. So I think Joe just articulated the problem. You need a candidate who both appeals to the middle -- both can be a strong moral leader and not alienate the democratic base or the persuadable people in the middle. I think the challenge for Democrats right now is that the candidates who are the most appealing to moderates like say Vice President Biden are not the candidates with the energy or who have so far run strong campaigns, right?

Vice President Biden is leading in polls and the real clear average, he has 28. He's at 40 percent among African-American voters in the last poll way ahead of all the other candidates. So, he's got that lead locked in. The problem is that he didn't perform well in the last debate. The pressure is on him next week for the CNN debate.

And on the campaign trail, frankly, I think he's been a little sloppy whereas you have people like Senator Warren who are further to the left, don't appeal to those moderates who are not on Twitter, but they are campaigning with more energy and with more precision.

LEMON: Joe, I wonder if this is going to be -- maybe your answers are going to be a do both answer again. What is going to win for the Democrats against Trump? Is it a focus on issues or is it an entirely -- is this an entirely referendum on Trump?

TRIPPI: Well, it's going to be a referendum on Trump, but I think -- look, this has got to be -- the right candidate is going to be somebody who can appeal to the American ideal. Not that we have always gotten there but appeal to the better instincts of the American people, at the same have policies that impact them at the kitchen table, health care, the jobs, the economy, and all those things.

The problem is as everybody is putting their plans out there like Medicare for All, a lot of these moderate voters are going to feel cross pressure. They don't like Trump but they are not sure they want their national private health insurance cut or taken away. So it's going to be -- that's the fight that's going on in the primaries right now. Who is going to be the nominee may really decide the answers to that question, Don.

If it's somebody who is out there with Medicare for All, ending private insurance, this could end up being a base versus base election. And let me tell you, we've had seven of those in the last since 1992. Democrats have won the popular vote in six of those seven.

Republicans only won the popular vote one time, but that also base versus base could be a prescription for another we win the popular vote, but we lose some of these swing states by just thousands of votes when we could have gone out, reached out to the moderate Republicans that are ready to leave the party and join us.

LEMON: David, if you have a quick answer, The New York Times has a piece out about some voters in key upper Midwest states like Michigan, that they are fine with the president's racist attack on "The Squad." But even those who aren't, that they support him over Democrats whom they say are moving further to the left than they are comfortable with. How do Democrats broaden out to meet these voters?

SWERDLICK: Yes. So, I mean, there are some voters who have reacted to this and said, look, you know, they think Democrats have cried racism. I don't agree with this. But so many times they would say that now that the president says something that's blatantly racist, it's not moving the needle for them.

To me, the -- and because the president has a good economy, Don, I think you have a lot of voters who are willing to roll the dice and say, let's keep going with him. Here is to me the low-hanging fruit for Democrats to counter act that. Run on Obama's record. This day, July 22nd, 2011, the exact same day in Obama's presidency, the stock market was up 59 percent, but do you hear any Democrats saying that? No. I don't know why.

LEMON: Yeah.

SWERDLICK: I think part of it is because they have convinced themselves that the Obama years weren't that great, but I think that's an easy win for whichever Democrat takes it.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

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LEMON: Former Minnesota Senator Al Franken who resigned his seat a year and a half ago due to allegations of sexual misconduct now tells The New Yorker that he regrets his decision to step down.

Jane Mayer who writes this in the magazine says, "A remarkable number of Franken's Senate colleagues have regrets about their own roles in his fall. Seven current and former U.S. senators who demanded Franken's resignation in 2017 told me that they have been wrong to do so. Such admissions are unusual in an institution whose members rarely concede mistakes. Patrick Leahy, the veteran Democrat from Vermont, said that his decision to seek Franken's resignation without first getting all the facts was 'one of the biggest mistakes I've made' in 45 years in the Senate."

So, let's discuss now. I want to talk about this with Hilary Rosen and Kirsten Powers. Good evening to both of you. Hilary, I'm going to start with you. Seven current and former senators have since expressed regret for also calling for Franken's resignation while trying to take the moral high ground. Did the Democrats jump the gun, you think?

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I thought that the story was really well reported and very good. I encourage people to read it. But three quick things stood out to me. One is that Al Franken still in essence doesn't take responsibility for voluntarily resigning. He made that decision.

[23:49:53] The second thing was he has let Kirsten Gillibrand, the senator from New York, take the blame for him leaving the Senate for the last year, so much so that it hurt her presidential campaign, but yet this story smartly reports that actually it was Chuck Schumer that tipped the scale and threatened him the most.

And finally, it is just frustrating because clearly this was a set up with Leeann Tweeden, the principal accuser against Al Franken. It was a political hit job and it went all the way from Sean Hannity to others. There were some other women in the story who -- you know, one in particular who stood by her accusation originally. So, it's complicated. So, I don't think the issue really is whether senators asked him to resign or not. I think the issue is, what were the facts, the due process --

LEMON: But did you think Democrats --

ROSEN: -- with here and where do you go with something like that when facts turn out to be not what people assume?

LEMON: OK. Kirsten, we currently have a sitting president who has multiple credible accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment against him. Where are the calls from Republicans for an investigation or for him to resign?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There aren't any. But I don't think that that means that the Democrats should hold themselves to the low, low standards that the Republicans have held up for Donald Trump.

That said, I think that, you know, I originally had written a column about AL Franken saying that I thought he should resign and I later on wrote a column a couple months ago saying that I had rethought that and that I didn't think that he shouldn't have been pushed into resigning.

Now, if he decided to resign on his own, that would be one thing, but I think that there should have been time for an investigation and there also should have been some sort of sense of proportion. It's not saying that what he did wasn't bad. It was, if in fact he did it.

But it wasn't the same thing as say what a Harvey Weinstein did. That really was the moment that we were in when this happened. We were in the height of "Me Too." There was a situation in Alabama with Roy Moore. I think there was a real sense for Democrats that you needed to keep the high moral ground.

LEMON: So do you think the times have changed now?

POWERS: Not so much I think that the times have changed, I think that people just have realized that, well, first of all, the idea of having a moral high ground kind of doesn't make sense in this climate precisely because of what you just said.

It doesn't make any difference what Democrats do, whether they were to ask him to resign or not ask him to resign, the Republicans are going to behave exactly the same way. It is going to make absolutely no difference.

LEMON: Do you think, Hilary, I mean, given what you both have said, given what Kirsten just said, do you think that in this climate, this political climate, Democrats are playing with an outdated set of rules?

ROSEN: I just don't think I will ever feel that people should hold themselves to a high moral standard and that actually people in public life should hold themselves to a higher moral standard. And, you know, Kirsten's point is right. We shouldn't lower ourselves to Trump, but we also shouldn't ignore that if we have our own standards, we have to live by them. People are kind of conflating due process with consequences here.

LEMON: Right.

ROSEN: Think what this article shows is that due process was short circuited. Now, Franken himself short circuited it. He could have availed himself despite Chuck Schumer, despite the women of the Senate calling for his resignation. He could have insisted on the ethics investigation and stayed. Many senators have been under a lot of pressure to resign and have stayed anyway.

LEMON: Yeah. I got to ask you. Listen, Hilary talked about this a little bit, Kirsten. One thing that Jane Mayers's piece lays out in great detail is Tweeden's political leanings, including siding with birthers and (INAUDIBLE), her friendship with him. She also points out how the drudge report was tipped off after the story, before they gave Franken a chance to respond. Was an investigation warranted here and how much do you think it was -- Hilary said she thought it was a political hit job. Did you not say that, Hilary?

ROSEN: I did.

LEMON: Yeah. Kirsten, what do you think?

POWERS: I have a lot of respect for Jane Mayer, but what I don't necessarily agree with is the story almost entirely focuses on that situation, and Al Franken even says in the article, this is what ended my career. That's actually not what happened. If that had been the only thing that had come out, I don't think that he would have been under pressure to resign.

What happened was you had women coming out, a total of eight women coming out and saying that they had been groped and it was the drip, drip, drip of stories that I think that the Democrats start to feel was problematic especially when your stance is that you should believe women when they tell stories about being harassed.

And so that is what caused the problem for him. I don't think this one woman -- and by the way, some of those women were women who had supported him. One of the incidents happened at the fundraiser.

ROSEN: Actually, Kirsten is right.

[23:54:59] In the story, actually he says and this former Senate staffer says that that was the story that ended up putting the, you know, the straw that broke the camel's back, not the Tweeden --

LEMON: It wasn't the Tweeden thing.

ROSEN: That woman stands by her story today actually.

LEMON: That's all we have time for. Thank you, Hilary. Thank you, Kirsten. I appreciate it.

ROSEN: OK.

POWERS: Thank you.

LEMON: Thanks. And thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

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