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CNN TONIGHT

G7 Summit Could Be Held In Trump's Doral Resort; Admission Or Slip Of The Tongue From Mick Mulvaney Shocks Everyone; Jokes Heard From The Most Overrated General; Turkey Refutes Trump-Pence Claims Of Ceasefire In Syria, Says It's Only A Pause; General Mattis Jokes About Donald Trump At Al Smith Dinner. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 17, 2019 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: So be on the lookout for answers. Thank you for watching. "CNN TONIGHT" with D. Lemon starts right now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: You said that Mulvaney was strong and wrong and the press. I think he was strong and right. Then he had to come back and eat some crow.

CUOMO: That's the wrong part.

LEMON: That's the wrong part right there. So, maybe you got me, maybe you meant wrong on the back end because he definitely said it. You played the sound --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: He said it.

LEMON: He said it. Where's my research here?

CUOMO: He said it.

LEMON: You play the sound bite, where he says no question about it.

CUOMO: Yes, no question about it.

LEMON: No question about it. And then the reporter, I'm going to talk about this in just a moment, but the reporter said to him, to be clear, and then he goes on to say, we do it all the time with foreign policy.

CUOMO: Don't be so naive.

LEMON: Get over it.

CUOMO: Yes.

LEMON: And then now, really --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: What happened was he went back to the White House --

LEMON: What had happened was, that's what we're saying.

CUOMO: Yes, what had happened was he went back there and somebody was, like, this saying it's a quid pro quo is not good.

LEMON: It's not good.

CUOMO: Because they're going to say it was still for personal favor.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: And then the president heard about it and said, fix it.

LEMON: Yes. Can I just tell you a couple things about Doral, and then I got to go. Because I got some -- I got something everybody want to watch. It is new. And it's from the former defense secretary. You're not to believe what he's saying about the president and it's all on tape, Chris.

Just before we go, let me say a couple things about Doral. OK? Doral was his biggest moneymaker. Right? Trump listen in federal disclosures he says biggest moneymaker. Minutes says, though, but revenues -- let's see.

In 2015, club revenues fell from 92 to $75 million, 18 percent drop. The resort is still profitable. Its net operating income shrank from $13.8 million to $4.3 million. Someone may want to pump some money into that.

The resort's kitchen has seen its problems including flying insects, in addition of 20, 25 -- 20 to 25 live roaches on the wall in the base, towards in the floor, near food prep areas, it didn't help at several foods at the buffet were supposed to be cold, including cheese, fish, pork, eggs, were served at temperatures more than 20 degrees too warm.

At the sports bar, numerous violations on high-priority issues, among them an employee who didn't wash their hands before they began to prepare food. So, international officials, you have been warned. And CNN is broadcast internationally, don't say I didn't tell you so.

CUOMO: He'll find a lot of international employees, too, because he hires all those undocumented workers that he pretends he doesn't know anything about. Look, it just looks bad.

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: And the irony he wants to go after Biden for something that, you know, I've argued before looks bad but he doesn't live anywhere near the standards that he's trying to hold others too.

LEMON: Yes. And by the way, all of that is according to the Washington Post, I should say, that was a Washington Post reporting that I was reading about Doral. Listen, every restaurant has its share of problems. But the president goes around touting Doral all the time saying how perfect and wonderful it is. So, I just want to give a little fact check there.

CUOMO: Look, nobody has ever accused him of being too close with the truth. But the problem is it's just not ethical and he knows it.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: Where h should.

LEMON: I got to get to Mattis. trust me. Stick around. You're going to want to listen to this, brother. Listen to it on satellite radio.

CUOMO: The Al Smith dinner.

LEMON: The Al -- boy, boy, did he joke. It's supposed to be tongue in cheek. I don't think this president is going to like it. See you, brother. Have a good one.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

There is a lot happening tonight. Stay tuned because moments ago the former Defense Secretary General James Mattis speaking at the annual Al Smith dinner right here in New York responding to President Trump calling the world's most overrated general, him the world's most overrated general, saying this. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: I do stand before you, as was noted here really having achieved greatness. I mean, I'm not just an overrated general. I am the greatest, the world's most, overrated.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTIS: And this been no small part, I will tell you, I owe New York. I owe New York to this because Senator Schumer, have I thanked you for bringing my name up in a rather contentious meeting in Washington where this grew out of.

So, I would just tell you too that I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress. I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Boy, the tea is good tonight. There's a lot more where that came from. Trust me. As they say, trust, you want to watch.

The Al Smith dinner, by the way, is a lighthearted roast but there's a very serious point and there's a lot at stake here. We're going to bring you much more on General Mattis' remarks tonight. And you've got to hear what this military man who has been restrained so far in his comments about his commander in chief, you have to hear what he has to say about the president he served.

[22:05:02] It is simply stunning what we Americans are witnessing. From him and really with all that is going on, especially with this president and his administration. Just -- I mean, can you even think about what the lead story was on Monday? And now you have this today. You got the gaslighting. You got the lies. The half-truths. Misinformation. Misleading statements. Walk backs. All in one day.

All coming to a head today. Three important stories. The impeachment inquiry, of course. Trump withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria. So, Turkey could attack its mortal enemy. The Kurds. And where to hold the next G7 meeting. At a Trump property, perhaps?

Maybe I should have said four big stories because now we got the Mattis story. That's another one. But let's start with the brazen admission by Mick Mulvaney, Mick Mulvaney is the acting White House chief of staff. So, his admission was that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Four hundred million dollars in military aid in return for digging up dirt on Joe Biden. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, let's be clear, what we just described is a quid pro quo. It is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We do -- we do that all the time with foreign policy. We were holding up money at the same time for what was it, the Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Did you hear that? He admitted it. OK. Local influence is one thing. But getting a foreign power involved in trying to tarnish a domestic political opponent is quite another.

Listen, this is -- this is really stunning. Today was really stunning. It -- folks at the White House were freaking out as he was doing this, but I digress. We'll talk more about that. Despite, you know, what Mulvaney is admitting here, this is what President Trump has been saying over and over and over and over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There was no quid pro quo, and there was never any quid pro quo.

You take a look at that call, it was perfect. I didn't do it. There was no quid pro quo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And, yet, we Americans, come on, we're not stupid. You're not stupid at home. Are you? We're not stupid. Right, guys? We're not stupid. We saw for ourselves what transpired. The Trump White House released the rough transcript of the

controversial July 25th phone call between President Trump and Ukraine's president where Mr. Trump said, and I quote, "I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it."

The president referring to that debunked conspiracy theory that he won't let go of. That it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked into the DNC server before the 2016 election and leaked e-mails. That it was Ukraine that did that, it wasn't Russia.

The transcript also shows, at least that's what he says, the transcript also shows that the president brought up the Bidens.

Quote, "The other thing there's -- the other thing, comma, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that. If you can look into it, it sounds horrible to me." End quote.

And despite President Trump insisting there was never a quid pro quo, means you do a favor for me, I'll do a favor for you, or I'm not going to give you what you need. This is what he said out in the open in broad daylight at the White House just two weeks ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly.

TRUMP: Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Remember that, and then everybody's like, the president was joking. Didn't sound like he was joking. And tonight, to muddy the waters even more, Mick Mulvaney is now backtracking what he said this afternoon.

And he says, "Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump."

There's that word, witch hunt. They love that word. President Trump, "let me be clear, there was never -- there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election."

[22:10:06]

OK. So, back to me here, thank you. Thanks, Jamie. So, let's play that again. OK? Because he's saying there was never any connection, none of that, right? As -- and the media was misconstruing his words. Because of a witch hunt. Taking them out of context. So, we should play the words, right? So, I want you to pay close attention to before he answers to the reporter's question and then his answer. Go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's be clear, we just described is a quid pro quo, it is funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MULVANEY: We do -- we do that all the time with foreign policy. We were holding up money at the same time for what was it, the Northern Triangle countries. We were holding up aid at the Northern Triangle countries so that they would change their policies on immigration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, he's saying it's about the 2016 election, which was about Ukraine and which was about Joe Biden. We do it all the time, he says, get over it. It was about Hillary Clinton. OK.

So, well, sources are telling CNN that staffers inside the White House, whatever he meant, we weren't the only ones, meaning the media and people at home. Staffers inside the White House were stunned by Mulvaney's comments. That they're, quote, "not helpful," and the president reportedly not happy with them tonight.

OK. There is one thing, and then there's a matter of that ceasefire. The Trump administration says it has reached with Turkey. Getting it to stop its military action against the Kurds in northern Syria. Well, President Trump calls it an amazing outcome, but a top Turkish official says that it's not a ceasefire. It's a pause in operation.

It was the president's unilateral decision, by the way, to withdraw U.S. forces from that region that effectively gave Turkey a green light to attack the Kurds. Turkey considers them, the Kurds, terrorists. While the United States has always considered them to be allies. This is what the president said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: President Erdogan's decision didn't surprise me because he's wanted to do that for a long time. He's been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time, as you know. Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area.

You have to say it, nobody wants to say it, we're making the Kurds look like they're angels. We paid a lot of money to the Kurds. Tremendous amounts of money. We've given them massive fortunes and you know what, it's wonderful. They fought with us, but we paid a lot for them to fight with us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The blowback from Capitol Hill for President Trump's decision to withdraw forces has been strong and nonstop, especially from Republicans. Trump's ally, Senator Lindsey Graham, called it a disaster saying the president will have blood on his hands.

The commander of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces accused the president of selling out the Kurds and leaving them to be slaughtered.

So, Trump sends Vice President Mike Pence to Turkey do work out a deal but it's a deal that appears to give Turkey everything they wanted. No matter, the president's portraying himself as a white knight, the savior.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This was something that they've been trying to get for 10 years. You would have lost millions and millions of lives. They couldn't get it without a little rough love, as I called it.

This is an incredible outcome. This outcome is something they've been trying to get for 10 years. Everybody. And they couldn't get it. Other administrations, and they never would have been able to get it unless you went somewhat unconventional. I guess I'm an unconventional person. I took a lot of heat from a lot of people, even some of the people if my own party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He backed himself into a corner and needed to undo what he did. But spin it that a ceasefire is his doing? It needs to be pointed out that the Kurds suffered a lot of casualties at the hands of Turkey due to the president's decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

And another story. A question of conflicts of interest for President Trump, which he always denies. Mick Mulvaney announcing today that the 2020 G7 summit which the United States is hosting will be held at Trump's Doral resort in Florida.

[22:15:04]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY: It's not the only place. It's the best place. We thought of the 12 places that we looked at, and you'd recognize the names of them if we told you what they were, that this was by far and away the best choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What role did the president play in selecting Doral, including getting it on the initial list of 10 of 12 places in the first place?

MULVANEY: Yes, I think that's a fair question. We sat around one night, we were back in the dining room, going over it with a couple of our vast team, we had the list, and he goes, what about Doral?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Back in the dining room. And the president suggested Doral. That's a no brainer for his staff. It's basically an order. At this year's G7, Trump made it clear to his staff that he wants to hold the next summit at Doral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: They went to places all over the country, and they came back and they said, this is where we'd like to be. And it's not about me. It's about getting the right location.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: We all know how the Trump White House works. If the president suggested his Doral Resort, the message is, make it happen. And who cares what anyone says. Mulvaney asked if the president will benefit financially.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY: There's no issue here on him profiting from this in any way, shape, or form.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He was asked, I should say. He didn't ask. So, he claims the president doesn't stand to make any money. That may or may not be the case. I don't know.

But President Trump and his sons always claim that they are not benefitting from Trump occupying the Oval Office. Yet they've been hammering Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, claiming corruption. That it looks bad. Right? That Hunter Biden made tons of money while his father was vice president.

By the way, there's no evidence the Bidens have done anything wrong. That didn't stop Mulvaney from making this a laughable comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY: What's the difference between this and what we're talking about, the Bidens? Well, first of all, there's no profit here. Clearly, there's profit to the Bidens. And second of all, if there's one difference you look at between the Trump family and the Biden family, Trump family made their money before they went into politics. That's a big difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And the point -- yes, the double speaks. The misinformation. The outright lies. Let me just say, and that's the difference that they made it before. But isn't the whole thing they said about the Bidens that, it just looks bad. It looks like a conflict of interest.

Holding the G7 at one of your resorts, that doesn't look bad? That's not a conflict of interest? Come on, man. They want us to believe all of it. Do you?

Tonight, a source saying that President Trump is not happy with Mick Mulvaney. Mick Mulvaney saying there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. Lot to talk about. Jamie Gangel is here, Frank Bruni as well.

Also, ahead, more of former Defense Secretary James Mattis at the Al Smith dinner here in New York tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTIS: No, Lincoln went on, he was not the foreign aggressor we must fear. It was corrosion from within. The wrought, the viciousness, the lassitude, the ignorance.

Anarchy is one potential consequence of all of this, another is the rise of an ambitious leader unfettered by conscience or precedent or decency who make themselves supreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Told you. Much more of his address coming up.

[22:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The White House in damage control mode tonight after the acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney publicly admitted to a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Sources telling CNN that President Trump is not happy with Mulvaney's performance and Mulvaney himself is walking back his comments now.

Let's discuss, Jamie Gangel is here, Frank Bruni here as well.

So Frank, Mulvaney admit into a quid pro quo with Ukraine. I mean, he's on the tape admitting it. The president is crowing about the deal that gives Turkey everything it wants after betraying our allies, the Kurds.

You say, shudder to think what's next. But I just want to say just to be clear, right, because we've all -- he didn't necessarily admit to a quid pro quo with the Bidens, so to speak.

FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.

LEMON: But admitting to holding back aid to Ukraine until they investigated the DNC server in the 2016 election.

BRUNI: Yes, the quid pro quo that he was admitting to was about the sort of conspiracy theory about Ukraine hacking the Democratic server and not Russia.

LEMON: Right. Because it can get confusing. In the beginning, I didn't want people to get confused.

BRUNI: Right, but first of all, it contradicts Trump saying there's no quid pro quo, which is a statement he made that encompassed more than just the Biden situation.

LEMON: Right.

BRUNI: But also, if you're talking about something to Trump's political advantage. Advancing that conspiracy theory, getting Ukraine to advance it, is to his political advantage in 2020 because it takes certain questions off the table about 2016. So, it's still a very bad thing.

And now we're in this hall of mirror, where Mick Mulvaney comes out later in the day and says we misconstrued him. You played the clip twice. And thank you for doing that.

LEMON: Yes.

BRUNI: There's no misconstruing here. Mick Mulvaney just kind of owned what happened and bought, I guess, that was the page the White House was moving toward him, was told, no, it's not, now he has this ridiculous statement out. We're living in this hall of mirrors.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: He told the truth.

LEMON: Yes.

BRUNI: Yes.

GANGEL: And then said get over it.

(CROSSTALK)

BRUNI: But I think -- I think he told it for a reason.

LEMON: So, that was, those were the driving factors. Did he also mention to me in past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money.

BRUNI: Yes, it's an admission.

LEMON: But how did we misconstrue that?

GANGEL: No, we didn't.

LEMON: OK.

[22:24:59]

GANGEL: We didn't misconstrue it. Look, this was bizarre. This was brazen. On a scale of one to 10, I give him a spinal tap 11 for how bad this is.

I do wonder why he did it. Is Trump flip-flop on things catching in the White House? Or are they concerned there's a paper trail that's going to show that this is out there?

BRUNI: I think you hit it on -- later, it's the same thing with the transcript. This is all coming out. So, they can no longer say it didn't happen or it didn't happen the way people are now in front of House committees testifying that it happened. So, their new tactic is this really isn't so bad, get over it.

GANGEL: It's OK.

BRUNI: Elections have consequences. This is the prerogative of a president. Mulvaney also said everybody does stuff like this, foreign policy --

LEMON: No.

BRUNI: But that's what -- so he was -- he was on a new talking point that apparently the White House now doesn't like later in the day, which is whatever happened here, it's no big deal. Other administrations do it, get over it.

LEMON: So, I understand, you have some new reporting here. This is happening after the president had that disastrous meeting yesterday with -- at the White House.

GANGEL: Nancy Pelosi.

LEMON: With Nancy Pelosi.

GANGEL: The meltdown.

LEMON: And other Republicans.

GANGEL: Right.

LEMON: But sources are saying that Republicans left that meeting shaken?

GANGEL: Not only shaken, they were alarmed. Not just about the Syria policy, which they've been objecting to, but they were alarmed about his demeanor and his behavior.

And I'm going to read this because I want to get it exactly right. I was told everyone left the meeting completely shaken. Shell shocked. He is not in control of himself. It is all yelling and screaming. I've never seen anything like it. No one in the room has ever seen anything like it.

We have heard unhinged, erratic, from former White House insiders. This the first time I have heard from people who meet with him regularly that they were truly shaken by his demeanor.

LEMON: Yes. And as Frank, Frank, I understand, you told the producers earlier, and you've been saying this all along on the air, you think his drama and rage is only going to get worse.

BRUNI: Yes, fasten your seat belts.

LEMON: Thank you, both. I appreciate it.

GANGEL: yes.

LEMON: The White House says they made a deal with Turkey for a ceasefire in Syria, but turns out Turkey doesn't exactly agree with that. Did the United States get outmaneuvered by Turkey? We'll get an expert take, next.

[22:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump calls it a great day for civilization in the wake of the ceasefire negotiated between Turkey and the U.S. regarding Syria, but a senior Turkish official says they got everything day wanted out of the deal with Vice President Pence.

So let's discuss now, Robin Wright's here, she is a contributing writer for the New Yorker. Robin, I appreciate so much you joining us on this very important evening, news evening here. So, Trump is out there calling this an incredible outcome, a deal no other president could get. While people who understand this issue and know this region are in utter disbelief that he is doing that. Explain what really happened.

ROBIN WRIGHT, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: Well, Turkey's been masterfully playing the United States for years. Remember, this is the country that allowed thousands of ISIS fighters to slip across the border to fight in Syria and Iraq and it was only because United States was forced to turn to the Kurds to help fight ISIS that we ended up there.

The Turks have been playing President Trump for months trying to get the U.S. to use its influence to pull back the Syrian Kurds from the border and they did that. In August, the Kurds pulled back several miles from the border, pull back their troops, destroy their positions and all that while, Turkey was building up forces and war material on the border because it intended to invade.

And so, this is where the deal is in many ways duplicitous. It's only for five days. It calls for the Kurds to pull back basically 20 miles all across the border.

LEMON: Let me get this question in so the viewers can understand. Because I think that's where you are going. Because Trump and Pence are calling this a ceasefire. But a Turkish official is calling this a pause, Robin. I mean, you spoke with the Syrian Democratic forces general. What did he say and where does this agreement leave the Kurds and exactly what is this, a pause, ceasefire, what? Go on, please.

WRIGHT: The Turks say this is just a pause for five days and the Syrian Kurds claim that this is just a partial withdrawal from a small part of the area in conflict. So, the two sides have very different interpretations of what this means. And of course, it only lasts for five days until President Erdogan goes to meet President Putin in Sochi, Russia.

So there's a lot of skepticism about what President Erdogan really -- how he is gaming this, what he intends to get out of this, how long he's committed to it and what he expects the United States to pull off.

LEMON: Robin, I want you to listen to what the president said today and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So you have a 22-mile strip that for many, many years Turkey in all fairness they had a legitimate problem with it. They had terrorists, they had a lot of people in there that they couldn't have. They suffered a lot of loss of lives also and they had to have it cleaned out, but once you start that, it gets to be to a point where a tremendous amount of bad things can happen.

So, a process started and we started to negotiate. What Turkey is getting now is they're not going to have to kill millions of people, and millions of people aren't going to have to kill them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: The president of the United States toeing the Turkish line here and saying cleaned out. What does that mean, cleaned out?

[22:35:06]

WRIGHT: Well, I think it was astonishing that he talked about the Turks not having to kill millions of people.

LEMON: Kill anybody. People having to kill them. Yes, go on.

WRIGHT: Which is genocide, ethnic cleansing, any way you look at it. And, you know, the president really doesn't understand what's happening on the border. There have been tensions in the past between, because the Syrian Turks have supported the Turkish Kurds.

And there's been in the past there was tension, there was an insurgency, but since the U.S. troops have been there for five years, there haven't been any major attacks by the Kurds on Turkey. And so this is, you know, the -- Erdogan really is in political trouble at home and in some ways he is wagging the dog.

LEMON: Robin Wright, always appreciate it. Thank you so much.

WRIGHT: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: At the Al Smith dinner tonight, General James Mattis not holding back on his former boss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY GENERAL: I'd earn my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: You got to hear what else he said, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:40:00]

LEMON: The Former Defense Secretary, James Mattis, the keynote speaker tonight at the annual Al Smith Dinner here in New York. He starts out making light in a sense of being insulted by President Trump at the White House meeting yesterday, but ends with somber patriotism. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTIS: I do stand before you, as was noted here, really having achieved greatness. I mean, I'm not just an overrated general, I am the greatest, the world's most, overrated.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

And this been no small part -- I will tell you, I owe New York. I owe New York for this because, Senator Schumer, have I thanked you for bringing my name up in a rather contentious meeting in Washington where this grew out of? So I would just tell you, too, that I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress.

(LAUGHTER)

So, I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

And, frankly, that sounds pretty good to me. And you do have to admit that between me and Meryl, at least we've had some victories.

(LAUGHTER)

And some of you were kind during the reception and asked me, you know, if this bothered me to have been rated this way based on what Donald Trump said. I said, of course, not. I'd earned my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

So, not in the least put out by it, and I think the only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn't think is overrated is who you pointed out, Martin, that is Colonel Sanders. But none of this can diminish the honor that I feel tonight of being here among all of you wonderful folks in this great all-American City.

I started working in Washington, D.C, that I realized how easy I had it overseas in a combat zone. Now, this won't be news to anyone in this room, but we're going through a tough highly partisan time here in our country. And I've never been much for partisanship. I've always believed in bipartisanship and the greatness of our country lies in teamwork.

And my record on bipartisanship is clear, after all, I've reportedly been fired by presidents of both parties. I will stand on that record.

(LAUGHTER)

As many of you know, Donald Trump nicknamed me mad dog, but these days I've turned over a kinder, gentler leaf. And I like to think of myself as less of a mad dog and more of an emotional support animal, and that is really great because now the airlines let me fly for free.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

It's been a year since I left the administration. The recovery process is going well. The counselor says I'll graduate soon. A year is -- according to White House time -- about 9,000 hours of executive time or 1,800 holes of golf.

(LAUGHTER)

And that is given me some time to reflect and to think about what our country and where -- about our country and where it's going, so I turn to history for we've been through tough times in the past in our country and often in history, I have found the way forward.

It's tempting, this evening, to look back exactly a century to 1919, the year that Alfred Emanuel Smith first took office as governor of New York. His nomination as the Democratic Party's candidate for president, the first Roman Catholic to be nominated for that office by a major party, still wait nine years ahead.

It was in many ways a troubled time. Anti-immigrant fervor ran high. Political corruption made national headlines. The glitz of the jazz age was real, yet working and living conditions for much of the American population were abysmal. The country was enjoying an economic boom, but a storm was on the horizon. No, Lincoln went on, it was not the foreign aggressor we must fear.

It was corrosion from within. The rot, the viciousness, the lassitude, the ignorance. Anarchy is one potential consequence of all this. Another is the rise of an ambitious leader, unfettered by conscience or precedent or decency who would make themselves supreme. If destruction be our lot, Lincoln warned, we must, ourselves, be its author and finisher.

[22:45:04]

I think often of Abraham Lincoln Lyceum's speech because it embodies both our greatest hopes and our darkest fears. Today, in our own time, we need only look around us. For decades, our political conduct has been woeful and a source of national paralysis. We have supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt. We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We have brushed aside the possibility the persons with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right.

We owe a debt to all who have fought for liberty including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet. Among them, the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies. The phrase --

(APPLAUSE)

-- And I would note that the phrase, all who have fought for liberty also include the generations of ordinary citizens who have embodied our national ideals and passed them down. In Springfield, Lincoln invoked biblical language to describe how the power of this common spirit protects our nation. He said as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, your eminence, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, with malice for none and charity for all, let us restore trust in one another. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So here's a question. Do General Mattis' comments signal a new willingness to speak out about the president? We'll dig into what he said, next.

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[22:50:00]

LEMON: So why don't we now talk about what we heard tonight from General Mattis at the Al Smith Dinner here in New York. I want to bring in Philip Bump, and Catherine Rampell. Good evening to both of you. Philip, General Mattis has been very quiet since he left office. Were you surprised that he is willing to put himself out there tonight and take on the president in this way?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: I'm not surprised from the standpoint that it's the dinner where you do this, right. I mean, he is the guest, so he can (inaudible). But I think it's sort of incongruous for him to get up there and take this sort of sly jabs at Trump. Which again is the nature of the event. Without having said anything publicly.

He then goes on to say all the stuff by bipartisanship and to even make this comment about the people who are serving with the Kurds. This is the first time (inaudible) that we have heard him say anything about the situation. Or he could have a very powerful voice. You know, I think it's a reminder that Donald Trump is both this really effective fortification around himself.

And part of that fortification is Republican politicians who are worried about an energized Republican base, but part of it too is members of the establishment who out of tradition don't say things that are critical of someone who they have critiques about. They don't say those things publicly. Mattis would have dipped his toe in the water here, but it just seemed sort of disingenuous to take those sort of initial steps without having spent the last year seeing the things that he is actually concern about.

LEMON: Well, actually while he was there saying, right? That's being part of it. So, Catherine, listen, in a serious moment he referenced threats to democracy throughout history coming from corrosion within. What he called the rot, the viciousness, the ignorance. And he talk about the possible consequence being the rise of an ambitious leader, unfettered by conscious, precedence or decency, who would make himself supreme? What do you make of those -- let me, I mean, listen, this was supposed to be funny, but that was very serious. What do you make of that?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: I think what's especially damming here is that these are -- in any of the context, this would be relatively (inaudible), platitudes about patriotism and leadership and the need to get along and you know, to be morally upstanding citizens who respect one another.

In other context, nobody would read that as an indictment of the sitting president, right? And I think that what's so damming about these comments. It was the same kind of thing that we heard at the funerals for John McCain, for George H.W. Bush. People would get up on stage at the podium at those events and say again relatively platitudes, about leadership and about, you know, a great society.

And people heard that as a-ha, they must be talking about how Trump is none of those things. So, I think that is what's significant here. That basically almost anything he could have said praising the qualities he would seek in a leader or in a society, could have been heard as an indictment of his former boss.

LEMON: Yes, but this is, usually that when people are saying that they don't say the presidents name. They haven't said the president's name, right. He said, the president's name tonight. There's no doubt that in most of what he said, he is talking directly about the president. Is he sending a message though?

BUMP: I think there's little doubt that he is expressing to the world that he is willing to go beyond boundaries which had previously constrained him. that said, if he is really worried about the rise of partisanship in the United States, if he is really worried about the ways in which this president has eroded the existing norm, that he is taking these initial steps within this tightly constrained space of this dinner and making these jokes, I think is not signal of real boldness on his part.

LEMON: But Catherine, he is saying, you know you mentioned he said, his recovery process is going well for the year that he's is been gone. I think everybody can identify with that swipe.

RAMPELL: I wish we were all in the stage of the recovery process at this point, but' ask the news cycle keeps on churning. Largely driven by whatever insane and or potential criminal thing the president has done.

[22:55:10]

I will say that I felt like those jabs that he took at the president. The ones about bone spurs and Meryl Streep, they felt relative gentle to me. Doesn't mean that Trump will hear him that way. And I agree with Phil, that the more significant thing that Mattis could be doing right now, would be speaking out about what he actually saw, witnessed, was in the room for maybe even participated in, in his role as Secretary of Defense.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate your time.

As the White House does damage control over revelations on Ukraine and the crisis in Syria. Do they have a problem with the truth? I'm going to discuss now, or later. After this, with James Clapper.

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