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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Slamming Democrats In His Rally; Faith Leaders At Washington's National Cathedral Call Out President Trump's Racist Rhetoric; Democrats Went Against Each Other's Record; Saoirse Kennedy Hill Died At 22; National Cathedral Leaders Condemn President Trump's Racism; Senator Kamala Harris Defends Her Record As A Prosecutor; The Atlantic Unearths Recording Of Reagan's Racist Comments Made To Nixon. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 1, 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.

President Trump firing up his base tonight at a rally in Cincinnati, talking up the economy, bashing Democrats and claiming falsely that they went -- they want open borders. He also talked about the democratic presidential debates here on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And the Democrats spent more time attacking Barack Obama than they did attacking me practically.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Trump also launching an attack on America's inner cities they are terrible places run exclusively by Democrats. It is a clear reference to the broad size he has launched against Baltimore and Congressman Elijah Cummings.

So, let's get the big picture. Mark McKinnon is here. Joe Trippi as well. Good to see you gentlemen, thank you so much. Joe, let's talk about you.

Tonight, Joe Biden is -- let's talk to you, not about you. Joe Biden is tweeting this. It was -- "I was surprised at all of the attacks on President Obama's at the Dem debate. The Obama-Biden administration passed Obamacare and led the world on combating climate change and saved our economy from the brink of disaster. He was a great president. We don't say that enough."

What's the strategy in Democrats attacking his legacy?

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Joe Biden is leading among African-Americans, well over 50 percent of their votes right now in all the polls. Largely because he was Barack Obama's vice president. And Barack Obama's popularity is bar none in the Democrat party. So, to force, I mean, to actually force Joe Biden to defend Barack

Obama doesn't seem like a really smart strategy to me.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But Joe, let me ask you this.

TRIPPI: There are already ways to go at Joe Biden if --

LEMON: How do they -- how do they attack Joe Biden's record without attacking -- because he was a part of the Obama administration. I mean, you know, and if they do want to attack his record, it's kind of a back handed attack on the Obama administration. Are they damned if they do and damned if they don't?

TRIPPI: To some degree, yes. But I think there's other -- there are other ways. I mean, a generational, that we need new ideas, and a move forward that way without coming at him as a direct attack that goes to the president, Obama, is a mistake.

And furthermore, the other thing that didn't happen was, yes, you can go after, you may want to go after him on immigration, but the fact is, whatever flaws or mistakes were made in the Obama administration, by President Obama or Joe Biden pale, I mean pale lightyears --

LEMON: OK.

TRIPPI: -- from what's going on with this administration, they didn't make that case.

LEMON: OK. Mark, I want to bring you in. By the way, good to see you. I haven't seen you in a long time.

The former president himself warned about Democrats and the circular firing squad, it was back in April. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One of the things I do worry about sometimes is a certain kind of rigidity, are we say, I'm sorry, this is how it's going to be. And then we start sometimes creating what is called a circular firing squad. Where you are shooting at your allies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He's saying about litmus tests, you know, this is the way I want it, my way, my way is the best way. Do you think President Obama ever thought that this firing squad that he talked about that would be aiming in his direction?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, SHOWTIME'S "THE CIRCUS": That he would be on the guillotine? No. But smart analysis there from a guy who won the presidency twice.

You know, the debates were really good, and good job that you did on it, Don, and your cohorts there. I think we learned a lot about the field. And what we learned about was who might likely be the nominee or who are the top tier any way and how they might win the nomination.

What we didn't learn so much was they might beat Donald Trump. As Joe was saying, you know, you've noted, they spent a lot of time talking about people's records from 20 years ago in the Obama administration as opposed to policies that will affect people 20 years from now in the current president.

[23:05:05] So I think there was wasted opportunity there. But it does say where the physics of the Democratic are. They're very progressive, they're -- and you're right. Their litmus tests.

And I was disappointed that Joe Biden wasn't more forceful in his defense of Barack Obama. I mean, go ahead and defend those policies at the time.

Yes, OK, he deported some people. There were people who were here illegally and most of them had criminal orders. That's what -- that's what most of the general electorate wants to hear anyway. So be careful about what you do in the primary, you still got to win the general election.

LEMON: Mark, do you think he wants to say those things, and he is just -- there are too many people in his head, too many people saying do this, you got to do this, you got to be more progressive, you got to seem younger, you got to, you know, appeal to the young people on Twitter and this sort of woke crowd.

Do you think there's, because, you know, I was up there on the stage, and he didn't seem like the old Joe Biden that would just come after you, you know, sort of rapid fire.

MCKINNON: I think it's a great point, Don, not just for him, but others on the stage as well. This progressive dynamic going on and people are afraid of it. Not only Vice President Biden, but Kamala Harris was too. Talking about her policies at the time.

And I think people remember and recognize that 20 years ago was a different time. Crime was the big factor. The crime bill, we understood at the time. We didn't understand the ultimate consequences that we do better today. But I understood then why they did that then. And they should defend what they did more aggressively.

LEMON: Well, as someone who lived during that time, I understand. Listen, that is from, from every, from -- Joe, listen, from most of the majority of the Democratic Party and I consider my mother to be part of that sort of the embodiment of that.

She will say, those days were different. We lived through those times and people are looking at 20 -- looking at those times through a 2019 lens, and the times have changed even from four years ago or eight years ago.

This is a different time. And a lot of the people weren't even adults then and they are trying to appeal to these people, the young people and they do want the energy from the young people but they just didn't live through it from experience and they are judging many of the candidate -- a number of the candidates up there over things that happened when they don't understand what it was like then.

TRIPPI: Well, that's absolutely right. But that is one of the reasons that I think Joe Biden is doing so well with older voters. They have lived through it, across the board, whites, African-Americans, everybody. They lived older, above 45 group in the polls all show, really big support for him. Strong support and strong favorable.

And I think it's because they do have a context. They do remember those times. They grew and evolved with him. They saw the mistakes that were made and they saw where the country went and they know what role he played.

I think, underneath, when you get under 45, and they don't have that context, that vote is up for grabs. And I think, that's what you sort of see this, a lot of the sparring that's going on --

LEMON: Yes.

TRIPPI: -- and maybe, even Joe Biden's reluctance to engage --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But I'm not just talking about Joe Biden, I'm talking about other candidates as well. And just, you know, I think there is this fear, Mark, from the candidates as you said, to, that they are afraid that they are not going to appeal to the minority of the party, but the most vocal people in the party, who don't necessarily -- it would be great if they did, that young people go out and vote, who don't necessarily go out and vote.

But Mark, listen, let's talk about Elizabeth Warren. You say Elizabeth Warren thrive and that her message is a lot like President Trump. What do you mean by that?

MCKINNON: Yes, she thrived, Biden barely survived, Booker arrived and Harris took a little bit of a dive. But I think that Warren --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Wait, say that again. Say that again. That's a good analogy.

MCKINNON: Warren thrive, Biden survived --

LEMON: Yes.

MCKINNON: -- barely, Booker arrived and Harris took a bit of a dive.

LEMON: Yes.

MCKINNON: Warren I just, I'm looking at her as a political consultant from some of these were a lot of candidates. She has become a really good candidate. She's gotten better and better and better. She stumbled out of the blocks but she's recovered. It's like she is running a marathon. She has a lot of energy. She's got a lot of energy, she's got a lot of -- she's got a clear, concise message. And most importantly, she's got a good narrative.

And what I mean by that is, you know, there's a conventional wisdom that all the Republicans, including and especially Donald Trump would love to take on -- Would love to take on Elizabeth Warren.

Well, the fact is that think about what her message is really at its core and that is the diagnosis is the system is rigged and you are getting screwed. That's exactly what Donald Trump said. She just has a different cure and a different cause for the same problem.

So, there's going to be a lot of people economically depressed, blue collar people out there in America, who are understood Trump's narrative, which was very much like that. He just blamed immigrants and had a different cure, building a wall.

She's got a different approach and a lot of people out there say, you know what? His approach didn't work. Maybe hers will.

[23:10:00] LEMON: So, I got to tell you, Mark, I know some folks.

TRIPPI: Yes.

LEMON: Hold on, Joe, I'm going to let you in a second.

I know people who have gone and done 180 on her who said, I would never vote for her. I don't think she is, you know, got what it takes. And now, and objectively to most political consultants or whatever, they will tell you she is running the most disciplined campaign out of the entire group.

Joe, go ahead, get in, sorry.

TRIPPI: Yes, I was going to say, that I think she has been running the most disciplined campaign and has shown the most growth. I agree with Mark on that.

And I think the other thing that's going on is she is the candidate I think, who is doing the better job of directly connecting with her supporters. And in that is something that Trump did as well.

I mean, she is doing that very effectively. And the style of her campaign, and the way, where she is coming from. Comes from completely different -- she has values. We, you know, I agree with Mark. They are very -- she is coming at it from the same place, but with completely different value structure.

LEMON: Yes.

TRIPPI: And I think, and she is connecting in a way that other candidates aren't. She is going to continue to grow, I think.

LEMON: Thank you, Joe. Thank you, Mark. See you guys soon. I appreciate it.

MCKINNON: Thank you.

LEMON: We got -- we got some breaking news that I need to tell you about.

The granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy died today. Twenty-two-year-old Saoirse Kennedy Hill was the daughter of Courtney Kennedy Hill.

The Kennedy family put out a statement saying this. "Our hearts are shattered are shattered by the loss of our beloved Saoirse. Her life was filled with hope, promise and love, she cared deeply about friends and family, especially her mother Courtney and her father Paul, her stepdaughter Stephanie, and her grandmother Ethel who said the world is a little less beautiful today."

Emergency crews were called to the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port today. That's according to the fire department. It was unclear why the emergency call was made. We'll continue to update you on the story as we get more information. We'll be right back.

[23:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So tonight, there's new legal trouble for the Trump Organization. The Manhattan district attorney is ordering a subpoena against the president's family's business and American Media Inc as part of an investigation into hush money payment to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The D.A. wants to look at communications between the Trump Organization and representatives for the two women.

Joining me to discuss, John Dean, Olivia Nuzzi, and Michael D'Antonio. Michael is the author of "The Truth About Trump." Gentlemen, good evening to you. What's the D.A. looking for, John?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not clear, other than that he might suspect that the records of the company have not been properly kept as a result of the payment, and that's the point that Michael Cohen made when he was testifying before the House. He said that he was paid by the organization, by Weisselberg and either Don, Jr., or Eric. He wasn't sure which signature was on the check. And so, that's what obviously they are looking at, how was that accounted for.

LEMON: Yes. This all comes after federal prosecutors announced just a few weeks ago that they had closed their investigation into the same payments. Why would state prosecutors now take it up?

DEAN: That question back to me again?

LEMON: Yes. To you, John, sorry.

DEAN: Happy to take it. Happy to take it. You know, there are probably multiple reasons. One, is this office, Cyrus Vance's office has been known in the past to be soft on the Trump family. His daughter and his son were once in the clutches of that office and got a pass. So, that might be one reason they are looking.

But, the crime that, best on the reporting I've seen so far, it's only a misdemeanor, Don, they have to show that they misaccounted for, or covered up another crime. And it's not clear under the New York law if the federal crime would count as that crime.

So, there's some gray areas here. And I think, it's early, but it's obviously an investigation that is not dead and is ongoing.

LEMON: So, Michael, an attorney for the Trump Organization put out the statement, and it says, this is a political hit job, it's just a harassment of the family, his family, and his business. Using subpoenas and leaks as weapons. We will respond as appropriate."

How will the Trump team fight this, you think?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you just saw one example. They are going to trash Cyrus Vance. But what's ironic about all of this, is that the Trump family lawyers in the case in 2012, it was Marc Kasowitz, talked about how wonderful Vance was and what a man of integrity he was, because he let Ivanka and Donald Jr off on a different case.

Now in that instance, there were a lot of people in New York and in legal circles who thought that the Trumps got away with a lot. You know, this was an instance where they had lied, and issued fraudulent statements about sales of real estate at Trump-Soho development.

So, this goes back a long way. When the guy is in your favor, he is a wonderful man of integrity. When, somehow, he is now doing his job, he is a horrible person who is on a political vendetta.

You know, there is politics involved with this, that's for sure. And they will fight it politically as well as legally.

LEMON: Olivia, I think in the introduction, I said good evening, gentlemen. It's been a long week. Ladies -- lady and gentlemen. So, Olivia --

(CROSSTALK)

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Thanks for bringing it up again, Don.

LEMON: Yes. Is this investigation politically motivated? I mean, let's not forget Michael Cohen is sitting in prison right now as a result of his role in this transaction.

NUZZI: Right. I was going to reach out to him for comment but then I remember that he was in prison and I couldn't do that.

[23:19:59] I don't think that we could say it's politically motivated. That is what the attorney for the Trump Organization is saying. I think he called it a political hit job. And that is certainly what the president is going to say, if this comes up or if he brings it up in front of the press or his supporters in the coming weeks and months.

But I think that as we go into 2020, every little development, any subpoena, anything that looks like he continues to be under investigation as he is from various entities, I think could be very negative. I think on the one hand he may think that it helps him in some

perverse way, because he likes to be a victim, he likes to claim persecution. But on the other hand, I think voters may be looking more seriously at every drip, drip that comes out of these inquiries.

LEMON: John Dean, the New York Times is reporting that this investigation is going to focus on the $130,000 payment that Michael Cohen made to Stormy Daniels. I mean, President Trump denied the affair with her, but then his attorneys admitted to approving $130,000 hush payment. If it comes out that an executive falsified a record, can the president just deny knowledge of it?

DEAN: Well, this president? Yes. He would deny knowledge of anything and everything that would taint him.

But, if I recall correctly, Rudy Giuliani when he first looked at those records said they were legal -- were legal fees that were being paid to Michael Cohen. Now if that's the case, that's probably a false report. And that might be one of the reasons they're looking into this.

So, I don't think Trump can totally walk away from this. Particularly since he signed one of the checks personally from the Oval Office, we know that from Michael Cohen's testimony.

LEMON: Michael, what could this spell for other Trump associates if, you know, if a false business claim is discovered here?

D'ANTONIO: Well, this is a potential Pandora's Box. Because the Manhattan D.A. can go in looking for certain records and then in the process discover much more.

And this is an organization. The Trump Organization that is rife with misdirection, misleading statements. I imagine that there are applications for loans that may be questionable. Applications for insurance where the estimates of the value of a property were misstated.

And this puts all of the executives in Trump Tower at some peril. So, you can -- I can imagine Rhona Graff going in and testifying or Weisselberg or Alan Garten.

This is not a good thing for anybody in the Trump orbit. And it revised this whole smarmy element of Trump's background with National Enquirer, you know, payoffs to women. This from a man who said he could do anything that he wanted to women and get away with it. Well, apparently, he can't.

LEMON: Yes. Olivia, will the president use this investigation do you think as politically, as a way to rile up his base? Well, his attorneys are already saying that, it's a political hit job. Right?

NUZZI: Right. Yes, I think if history told us anything, is that he will use anything that he can to try to rile up his base, and like I said, to try and claim victimhood. He, whether it's with the press or with Robert Mueller. He likes to do that. He does it consistently. He likes to have an enemy. I think he feels energized when he has someone that he feels like he is fighting against.

And I think, that has been one of the most difficult things for him since 2016 ended and why it hasn't really ended. He brings it up all the time. It's that when Hillary Clinton was no longer his enemy, it was like, he was in search constantly of a new enemy. And so, anything that he can use to claim that he is being persecuted, he will use certainly try and use it.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate you time.

NUZZI: Thank you.

LEMON: Have we no decency? That's what faith leaders at Washington's National Cathedral are asking the country? They are calling out the president's racist rhetoric and asking America to do the same. I'm going to speak to one of those leaders next.

[23:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Faith leaders at Washington's National Cathedral issuing a rebuke, condemning what they call the president's violent, dehumanizing words.

Their statement is titled "Have we no decency? A response to President Trump." The Reverend Canon Kelly Brown Douglas is one of the authors and she joins me now. Reverend, thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining me.

CANON KELLY BROWN DOUGLAS, CANON THEOLOGIAN, WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL: Well, thank you for having me.

LEMON: This is a -- I can't wait to have this discussion. Because -- we'll talk about it. Let's talk about your letter. A scathing assessment of the president's rhetoric.

And you write, "We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society." What led you to publish this.

DOUGLAS: Yes, you know, it seems to me, Don, that we have seen as we have said, over the last couple of years, a steady stream of this abusive, hurtful, racist rhetoric and language. The last couple of weeks or so, there seems to have been an escalation of this.

And so, that we are attacking nations. We are attacking leaders. We are attacking an American city. We are attacking people. And so, what are we going to say, enough is enough? When does it cross a threshold?

It crossed that threshold for me, for a couple of reasons when we see the language that came out on Saturday.

[23:30:01] First of all, I responded as a mother. I have a son that lives in Baltimore. He is not a rodent. He is a human being. And so, I say, I have a responsibility to say something as a mother about that. And I'm a faith leader at the Washington National Cathedral. This is a place that has center for people in this country in times of grief, in times of crisis, in times of celebration. We have to set an example to a higher standard.

And so, it's time for us to not only expect more from the leaders of our nations but to expect more from ourselves. And if we don't want to continue to see a steady stream of this kind of dehumanizing violent language, then we have to say something about it.

LEMON: Is it frustrating -- it is frustrating, I know, to watch this happen. But is it frustrating to you for -- I can only think that people are doing it purposefully to ignore the racism or pretend that it is not there to say that it does not exist or that it is some sort of opinion that it is racist when you have all the evidence there. It's no longer an opinion.

Is that frustrating to you? I'm sure that from this, people are calling you racist or saying the president is not racist, he is just bringing up issues. Speak to that.

BROWN DOUGLAS: Yeah, well, first of all, words and actions speak for themselves.

LEMON: Right.

BROWN DOUGLAS: So, I don't, and we don't have to be the ones to accuse anybody of being anything. We let their words and we let their actions speak for themselves. So, that question has been answered. We are not responsible in one way for what others do, but we are responsible for what we do.

And we also have to be clear, whether or not we are calling this a political strategy, whether or not we are calling it whatever, words are violent. Words matter. And violent words create and lead to violent actions.

LEMON: Let me read this, and then you continue on. You said, "When such violent dehumanizing words come from the president of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color sub-human 'infestation' in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation."

You're worried that the president's words will lead to violence. Are you just -- what do you mean by being violent?

BROWN DOUGLAS: Well, anything that dehumanizes another human being, whether their words, their actions, systems and structures, Don, those things are violent. And so anything that would in any way, shape or form, deny another person their sacred dignity, that's violent.

LEMON: How did we get here?

BROWN DOUGLAS: That's --

LEMON: How did we get to this point where people are just openly deny racism or feel emboldened to be racists, don't have to hide it anymore? How did we get here?

BROWN DOUGLAS: Well, you know what? I think that, first of all, one thing that we have to understand is this is a narrative that is deeply embedded within our country and within our nation's history. And so when we don't talk about it, as you have just suggested --

LEMON: Yeah.

BROWN DOUGLAS: -- when we don't face the truth of who we are, that's how we get here.

LEMON: I want to get your reaction to this before we run out of time. This is North Carolina billboard paid for by gun shop owner, refers to the four congressmen of color as a biblical four horseman of the apocalypse and calls them idiots. What is your response?

BROWN DOUGLAS: Well, listen, we can't fall down to the lowest bar. And so my response is that we have to continue to elevate the discourse, elevate the conversation, and we have to remind people that every single solitary human being who has breath or has ever had breath is a sacred child of God and ought to be treated as such.

And this is what I live by and what we try to live by, that which you would not want withheld from yourself, you don't withhold from another. And so if you want to be treated and respected as the sacred human being that you are, then don't withhold that from another.

LEMON: Thank you, reverend. We need to hear that. America needs to hear that right now. I really appreciate you coming in.

BROWN DOUGLAS: Thank you.

LEMON: Senator Kamala Harris is defending herself today after attacks on her record as prosecutor.

[23:35:02] Her response is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Kamala Harris was challenged in the CNN debate last night on her record as a long-time prosecutor in California, put on the defensive by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. CNN's Kyung Lah has more.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, the blistering attacks towards Kamala Harris came from Joe Biden and another candidate polling at about one percent, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAH (voice-over): Kamala Harris returned to the trail. This former prosecutor is defending her past.

[23:40:01] SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People want to know that the next commander in chief has actually been in the business of prioritizing their safety. I have done that my entire career. They absolutely want public safety, so I'm not going to shy away from that record at all.

LEMON (voice-over): Senator Kamala Harris!

LAH (voice-over): Her career as a prosecutor is her central pitch to voters.

HARRIS: What we need is someone who is going to be on that debate stage with Donald Trump and defeat him by being able to prosecute the case against four more years.

LAH (voice-over): An opening for attack from Representative Tulsi Gabbard.

REP. TULSI GABBARD (D-HI) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm deeply concerned about this record.

LAH (voice-over): Serving up a slew of attacks, Gabbard zeroed-in on one part of Harris's record as San Francisco's district attorney.

GABBARD: She fought to keep --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Thank you, congresswoman.

GABBARD: -- cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.

HARRIS: I am Kamala Harris.

LAH (voice-over): It is true. In 2004, Harris advocated for higher bail amounts for gun-related crimes. She had just been elected district attorney. May 2004 audio, first reported by conservative website, the Free Beacon, captures Harris talking about her priorities namely increasing what those arrested pay for bail in San Francisco, on par with nearby counties.

HARRIS (voice-over): We are going to change bail schedule in San Francisco. People come to San Francisco to commit crimes because it's cheaper to do it. You know, we have to do something about that.

Well, welcome.

LAH (voice-over): The Harris campaign says as a prosecutor, she acted to protect the public from rising gun crimes, the job of district attorney. Fast forward, 15 years, a new job, a new time, and new priorities.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I tell you what, she is the best.

LAH (voice-over): Now, a California senator. She introduced bipartisan legislation to change the cash bail system, citing its disproportionate impact on the poor and people of color. Harris struck back at Gabbard's attack. HARRIS: There are certainly inaccuracies about my record. There is no question about that. You know, from a person who has been an apologist for Assad, who is by all accounts a murderer of his own people, an accusation by someone who refuses to call him a war criminal --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: Gabbard had indeed met with Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in 2017, and that was after he had already used chemical weapons against his own people. At a CNN town hall last March, she declined to call him a war criminal and it was only after she was pressed repeatedly on CNN that she said she would not dispute that Assad is indeed a war criminal and a torturer. Don?

LEMON: Kyung Lah, thank you very much for that. Are those questions about Kamala Harris's record as a prosecutor, are they fair game? We are going to dig into that with Keith Boykin and David Swerdlick, next.

[23:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Sen. Kamala Harris is facing a challenge last night at CNN's democratic presidential debate from Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who criticized her record as a prosecutor in California.

I want to talk about this now with Keith Boykin and David Swerdlick.

Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you so much.

Keith, Senator Harris got some pointed criticism from Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman Gabbard, over her record as a former prosecutor. You said that Harris needed to be ready for this kind of scrutiny. Was she?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that she was. I think that she had to know this was coming. This had been telegraphed by Tulsi Gabbard's campaign for several days prior to the debates. And so going into it, I was expecting her to have a better, quicker, sharper response. I don't think she had that.

And I think, you know, she makes a good point as she did afterwards, that Tulsi Gabbard is really non-figure in the campaign. She is at one percent in the polls. But she is going to have to answer those questions from people like Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg or Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders who are in higher percentages in the polls.

So she has got to have a better, more effective answer. She has got to be able to say, this is my record as a prosecutor. Yes, we put people in jail. Yes, we did things that incarcerate people. But we also locked up bad people. We locked up rapists, drug dealers, murderers, and people who were terrorizing African-American communities and people of color communities.

She has got to make the case where being a prosecutor is actually a good thing and not just a bad thing.

LEMON: Well, I mean, you know, David, I want to know what you think about how congresswoman responded to -- to how the senator responded to the congresswoman's attack. Why not just address her and then pivot to something else and say, I'm not really concerned about her? If she indeed thinks it's a one percent, she is not a concern, just kind of say that in some way and then just pivot to the right, the people on the right like Biden and so on?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, Don. I agree with Keith on both counts. I agree that Senator Harris is lucky this attack came from someone like Congresswoman Gabbard who is not really a serious presidential candidate.

And it think that she should have been prepared for this attack though to come from somebody because she is a career prosecutor and so her record as a prosecutor is what is going to be scrutinized by your presidential primary opponents.

I think the big picture problem for Senator Harris is that she is a moderate trying to play a progressive on TV. If you go back six months, it seemed like this primary was really going to go left, and so a lot of the candidates who were sort of kind of liberal but not super progressive were trying to figure out how they could get to the left on some things.

And so she was downplaying her record as a prosecutor even though everybody thinks it will be an asset in a general election. Now that the ultimate moderate, Vice President Biden, has a huge lead in this campaign, it doesn't look as like it was as good of a play, and I think that the senator just needs to explain what she did, who she is, maybe her positions changed, explain why, and move forward.

[23:50:01] LEMON: I want to move on now and talk about some just released audio of then California governor, Ronald Reagan, who later became president. He used a racial slur when speaking with then President Richard Nixon about African countries. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Yeah.

REAGAN (voice-over): To see those, those monkeys from those African countries - damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!

(LAUGHTER)

NIXON: The tail wags the dog there, doesn't it?

REAGAN: Yeah.

NIXON: Tail wags the dog.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Keith, your thoughts on the recording.

BOYKIN: Well, two things. First, I think this is important for people to see because a lot of us who were around in the '80s under Ronald Reagan's administration knew he was a racist, knew that because of his policy on apartheid, refusal in post sanctions on South Africa, knew that because of his "Welfare Queen" campaign in 1976, knew that because of his 1980 campaign which started in Neshoba County, Mississippi and started talking about states' rights, knew that in the 1960s because he passed legislation as governor of California to basically outlaw the Black Panthers from carrying weapons.

This guy has a long history of racism. And so when black people were complaining about that in 1980s, everyone said, oh, we were overreacting.

LEMON: Republicans or Conservatives will say, you know, the left always throws that racism word around for every single Republican and Ronald Reagan is not deserving of that.

BOYKIN: This is exactly the problem because the term "racism" has been so circumscribed that we only think you're racist if you wear a Klan's robe or you use the N-word. Here, we have Ronald Reagan using "monkey" word which is equivalent to the N-word. But before that, people weren't willing to believe that he was a racist when all the evidences would suggest that he was.

LEMON: David, put this in context for us in terms of Ronald Reagan's presidency and those other presidents, if you will. Just weigh in on this, please.

SWERDLICK: Yeah. So, look, Ronald Reagan, whether we know what is in his heart or not, he was seen as, and I think it's fair to say, that he governed with interests antithetical to the interests of the black electorate, going all the way back to when he was governor of California and had these various standoffs with the Black Panther Party.

He was part of the same sort of hard right strand of the Republican Party, along with Barry Goldwater, that caused people like Jackie Robinson, one of the best-known black Conservatives at the time, black Republicans at the time, to leave the Republican Party.

In terms of this quote, though, I think this is the kind of thing that clearly Governor Reagan -- President Reagan wouldn't have said out in the open. But guess what? A wise man once told me, you know how every racist joke starts? It starts with this.

LEMON: Hmm.

SWERDLICK: Looking over your shoulder to see if anybody is looking.

LEMON: And then whispering, sometimes whispering it.

SWERDLICK: Right, exactly. What two obviously white men, both Californians, both Republicans, speaking in what they thought was private, said something that they, of course, wouldn't have said in public, but was, of course, racist and ugly.

LEMON: Listen, I want to read what Patti Davis, Reagan's daughter, said to The Washington Post. She had been on the show a number of times. The piece was called, "The Ronald Reagan who raised me would want forgiveness for his "monkeys" remark."

She writes this. "The words he used in this conversation with Nixon cannot be interpreted as anything but ugliness. That's what makes this so painful. Legacies are complicated, though, and for people to be judged fairly, the landscape of a lifetime has to be looked at."

Do you think this is going to affect the legacy of Ronald Reagan, Keith Boykin?

BOYKIN: I think it will for some people. He's old enough. He's dead now. His presidency is so far past in history that it's hard for people to sort of examine this and to really care.

LEMON: He is the gold standard of republican presidents.

BOYKIN: He is but the Republicans have a long history. They've been playing the race card, as they say, for 50, 60 years now going back to 1964 when Barry Goldwater, as David mentioned, ran a racist campaign. He voted against the Civil Rights Act in 1964. He became the Republican nominee a week or two later. And that was the end of the party of Lincoln.

And so you have that history that goes even beyond that. People can be both a racist and be a good person. You can be a good father and still be a racist.

People like Dwight Eisenhower, who by all accounts was a good person, he also made very negative comments about the Brown versus Board of Education decision. He told the Supreme Court basically not to allow black people to be integrated in the schools because he didn't want the people -- the people didn't want an overgrown Negros sitting in the classroom next to their little white children.

LEMON: Yeah.

BOYKIN: That's part of the racism of America's presidential history that we don't talk about.

LEMON: David, I have to run, but just quickly, if you can tell me, do you agree with Patti Davis saying that legacies are complicated and you should judge someone in the lifetime of their work and not just to one or two comments?

SWERDLICK: For disclosure, I worked with her on a story once. She was a very nice person. She sounds sincere to me. I thought this article was OK from the perspective of a daughter.

[23:55:01] I don't think she said anything that I would point the finger at. But the one thing, at the very end, she says this was -- and I wrote it down. She said that this will always be an aberration. She didn't excuse it, but said it was an aberration.

But the problem with that is, as Keith pointed out, when you have this legacy of Reagan perpetuating the "Welfare Queen" stereotype, et cetera, it is harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. I give Patti Davis the benefit of the doubt. President Reagan, I don't know.

LEMON: Gentlemen, thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)