Return to Transcripts main page

CNN TONIGHT

Questions Loom On Why Choose Trump's Doral Resort For The Next G7 Summit; Wrong Move By The White House Chief Of Staff; General James Mattis Not Messing Around; General Mattis Responds To Trump At Al Smith Dinner; Remembering Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings; Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) Is Interviewed About Elijah Cummings. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 17, 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.

A lot going on tonight and we're going to look at five big developments in this hour ahead for you.

The acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitting that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine but trying to walk back those remarks tonight.

President Trump is said to be unhappy with Mulvaney's remarks today. How will Mulvaney's words impact the expanding impeachment inquiry? Well, we'll dig into that.

President Trump will hold a 2020 G7 summit at his Doral Resort in Florida. The White House claims that there is no conflict of interest.

And former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a key note speaker tonight at the annual Al Smith dinner here in New York had a lot to say and even joked about President Trump.

We have a lot to get to tonight. James Clapper is the former director of national intelligence, and he joins us now. Director, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate that.

Listen, Mick Mulvaney conceded that there was a quid pro quo. Only to come out later denying what we all heard him say. The White House has a huge truth problem, don't you think?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, they have. Well, this is another example, Don, of what some months ago the RAND Corporation and I think aptly and correctly characterize as a bad case of truth decay that we have in this country.

And this started the very first day of the administration with Sean Spicer lying about the size of the crowd in the mall. And you know, that is continued. It just gotten more brazen and more frequent. And this assault on the truth is a bad thing for our democracy or any democracy.

LEMON: Yes. Well, it started officially as an administration but it started long before with Donald Trump and his whole, you know, conspiracy theory about the former president. The lie about where he was born.

CLAPPER: Right.

LEMON: I mean, that's probably the origin of it, you know, when it comes to politics. In his businesses it goes back much longer than that reported.

Director Clapper, let me just ask you about what Mick Mulvaney said life from the briefing room. I want to play it and then I'll ask you about it.

(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. And I have news for everybody. get over it. There's going to be political influence in foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: get over it? There's going to be political influence in foreign policy. What do you -- we do it all the time. What do you think?

CLAPPER: Well, there's a big difference here between, you know, striving for a policy and versus grinding an individual political ax against your prime opponent in the next election. And of course, they fail to make that distinction.

And of course, this is, you know, it's almost Orwellian, Don, where black is white, up is down. Right is left. And this business of trying to impose another an alternative reality. Alternative facts. And then of course to acknowledge it and then have to turn around and walk it back is this is what happens when you get -- when you're drowning in the sea of lies.

LEMON: And as you call it the truth decay. This truth problem extends to what we heard from the president on Syria. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The Kurds are very happy. Turkey is very happy. The United States is very happy. And you know what, civilization is happy. It's a great thing for civilization.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: I mean, what on earth is he talking about? He's puffing himself up. He's claiming the Kurds are happy and this a great day for civilization when it was his rash decision that got us here. A place where Turkey is getting everything it wants.

CLAPPER: Well, this is frankly what's disturbing about president Trump. He has this own reality bubble which bears little resemblance to ground truth. And this was a horrible, reckless, irresponsible and ignorant decision and with predictable results.

[23:04:59]

And Erdogan has played President Trump just the same in the same manner that Kim Jong-un is playing President Trump. And Trump thinks, you know, he's on top of the world. And it's just the opposite.

LEMON: Let's talk about General Mattis who's at the annual Al Smith dinner tonight. A funny event. But here he is with a quote from Lincoln. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, FORMER U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: 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 had make themselves supreme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Listen. That was a quote from Lincoln. But it seems to be a clear message for today. And is there any doubt who he's talking about as far as you're concern?

CLAPPER: Absolutely not. Knowing Jim, as I do, I thought unlike many of the previous segments I thought this was a very significant coming out for Jim Mattis. The occasion called for humor. And I thought he, you know, threw some real jabs at President Trump. And a serious comment the Lincoln quote was clearly directly towards the current situation we find ourselves in as a country and specifically at the present.

So, I thought this was a very significant event and I think we're probably going to hear more from Jim Mattis and I hope we do.

LEMON: If he thought that this was the best venue. Because, listen, you know him better than all of us. Knowing him as you do, do you think that it was, that this was the right venue, that it's significant that he did it this way and with humor?

CLAPPER: Yes. Well -- it was a natural fit for him. I think he felt comfortable doing it this way. You can -- people might take issue with it that he hasn't come out with some bold statement before. But I think this was his kind of putting his toe in the public water, so to speak. And I think it was done in a venue that he was comfortable making the points the way he made them.

So, again, I, for my part, just me personally speaking, I thought it was pretty significant.

LEMON: Well, it's interesting at the White House correspondent dinner when President Obama criticized him, Donald Trump, jokingly. Many have said it led him to run for president and that's part of his disdain for this president. So, the fact that General Mattis --

(CROSSTALK)

CLAPPER: You know I was there --

LEMON: -- is speaking out at the event that was meant for humor I think is pretty significant as well. Go on. Sorry.

CLAPPER: No, I was just going to say I was there at that White House correspondent's dinner in 2011. I was about three tables away from then Mr. Trump. And the whole room was breaking out in laughter except for one person who was sitting there obviously seething.

So, these events, White House correspondent's dinner, Al Smith, and what said and what happens at those things can be quite significant.

LEMON: Let's see how he takes this particular bit of humor. Thank you. I appreciate it, director.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Sources tell us the president wasn't happy with his acting chief of staff today. What happened between Mick Mulvaney admitting there was a quid pro quo between the president and Ukraine. And his statement then trying to walk that back.

[23:10:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney confirming the president's decision to stall aid to Ukraine was tied to Trump's desire form them to investigate a conspiracy theory about a DNC server. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY: That he did also mentioned to me in past that the corruption related to the DNC server. Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. That's why we held up the money. If we look back to what happened in 2016 certainly it was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. Then that is absolutely appropriate.

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.

MULVANEY: We do -- we do that all the time with foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He said it.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, YAHOO NEWS: Yes.

LEMON: The Trump adviser telling the Washington Post he literally said the thing that president and everyone else said did not happen. Hours later Mulvaney attempted to walk it back. Saying there was never any condition on the flow of aid related to the matter of the DNC server.

Let's bring in Elliot Williams, Susan Hennessey, and Michael Isikoff. Michael is the author of "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and Election of Donald Trump." Good evening to all you. This is when I said he said it you shook your head.

ISIKOFF: Yes. I mean, look that's evidence. That's evidence.

LEMON: He said it.

ISIKOFF: He's quoting the president there. You know, in the later statement that he is trying to walk it back he's making a general statement there was no quid pro quo. But what he said there was actual evidence.

You know, you do have to wonder at this point, why Schiff and the Democrats are going through these hoops and these hearings. The White House is giving them the testament -- you know, the evidence they need. They gave them the transcript, in which you have Trump's words after he --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You don't watch this show a lot. Do you?

ISIKOFF: You have.

LEMON: You have.

ISIKOFF: I mean, and there you've got Mulvaney confirming that there was a quid pro quo. Now there was, you know, there was a little bit of a nuisance there. He's talking only about the phrase --

LEMON: Yes, yes, yes.

ISIKOFF: -- cooperating with the Justice Department investigation not the Biden matter.

LEMON: But Biden was mentioned on the call.

[23:15:01]

ISIKOFF: Right.

LEMON: And on the transcript. So, I mean, look, they're related.

ISIKOFF: Right. And also, the other point is, there's no indication that the Justice Department is investigating --

LEMON: Right.

ISIKOFF: -- what happened to the server.

LEMON: That's the point.

ISIKOFF: The FBI knows exactly what happened in terms of the Russian hack. They've confirmed it multiple times. The Mueller investigation confirmed it at the CIA.

LEMON: Yes

ISIKOFF: The intelligence community confirmed it. So, this whole idea that this is needed as part of the Justice Department investigation just doesn't hold.

LEMON: We're hogging the conversation. We got to let Susan and Elie -- and Elliot. Susan, listen, you say that this is a moment of truth for Republicans. Explain why you see it that way.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it is. I think the way to understand what happened today is that this was a full-on confession. And Mick Mulvaney accidently told the truth. And so, you know, really this is a moment for Republicans to decide whether or not this is tolerable or acceptable.

Essentially what the White House has acknowledged here is the absolute worst manifestation of facts, an actual quid pro quo involving the holding of congressionally authorized military aid, you know, to a partner to sort of stave off Russian aggression in exchange for essentially political favors to the president of the United States.

This is the very thing that Republicans have spent the past few weeks saying that would be terrible if it happened. But it didn't happen in this case. So, I really do think that this is a little bit of a dare from the White House of telling Republicans we're not really going to deny this. We're going to go on record and saying yes, that's exactly what happened and in the words of Mick Mulvaney, get over it.

And so I really do think that this is a moment which Republicans have to decide whether or not they want to stand for basic fundamental foundational principles in the United States, you know, what their oath of office means or whether or not they think it's acceptable to allow the president to continue to get away with this type of behavior.

LEMON: I wonder though, if it was a trial balloon. Right? To see -- we'll see how this flies. And then -- Elliot, you're shaking your head. Did you think that too?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER OBAMA: Well, in a way to some extent. And one of two things happened today -- (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Meaning admitting it and see how it goes over with the public --

WILLIAMS: Yes.

LEMON: -- or how it lands with the media and the public and then we'll go from there. Sorry. Go on.

WILLIAMS: OK. So, number one, either admit it and see how it lands in the public. Right? So, you have the White House chief of staff admitting to impeachable conduct. OK. It's a strategy. It's a bizarre one but it's a strategy nonetheless.

LEMON: I don't know.

WILLIAMS: Or he just made a mistake and was ill prepared. And he was one of the most senior people in government. Frankly, the single job that is most essential to the proper functioning of the White House, the White House chief of staff, ill prepared. Either way, it's a pretty -- you know, it's indicative of what looks like just an utter lack of strategy and preparation on the White House in what they're facing.

They just are not coherent and they just don't seem to understand what they're saying. You know, if we can go back on the point Susan made about Republicans, the other thing that's grafted on top of this here, is that this is about the spending of money that Congress has appropriated.

This is something that Congress and congressional Republicans ought to be up in arms about. The president has in effect and admitted to it today usurping their authority. They decided how they are going to spend money on foreign aid and the president, by (Inaudible), in effect decided that they were not going to do so.

Why Republicans are not taking the pitch forks right now to the president of the United States for insulting them as a co-equal branch of government, it should be beyond all of us. I'm not going to sing the schoolhouse rock three ring government here. But this is just not how the branches of government ought to be interacting and Republicans are failing --

LEMON: Come on.

WILLIAMS: -- in their core duty.

LEMON: I can only do the I'm just a bill. The other one I can't even remember what it is.

Listen, so to your point earlier, Michael, about, you know, admitting it in the open.

ISIKOFF: Right. LEMON: In the transcript released by the White House President Trump tells President Zelensky. "The other thing, there's a lot of talk about Biden's son. That Biden stopped the prosecution a lot of people want to find out about that. So, whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. Right?

But then he said, you know, I need you to do me a favor, though. Right? OK. There's also the text between diplomats Bill Taylor and Gordon Sondland.

Bill Taylor, "As I said on the phone, I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." Gordon Sondland then writes back. "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intention. The president has been crystal clear no quid pro quos of any kind."

So, but that was hours. He is saying --

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF: Four and a half hours later, yes.

LEMON: -- in testimony he talked to the president. The president said quid pro quo and that's why --

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF: He said no quid pro quo.

LEMON: Said no quid pro quo and that's why he said --

ISIKOFF: Multiple times.

LEMON: Right. And that's why he said what he said. He was basically parroting the president.

ISIKOFF: Right.

LEMON: Are we getting too fixated on the quid pro quo aspect of this? The intent there was crystal clear.

[23:20:02]

ISIKOFF: Look, I think that the reason the White House lawyers and the Trump's legal team freaked out about Mulvaney's press conference is because they are trying, they want to deny the quid pro quo claim. I mean, that's -- that's you know, getting pretty close to the impeachable offense that, you know, it probably goes over the line for an impeachable offense if it is a -- if it's a clear quid pro quo.

LEMON: Yes.

ISIKOFF: So Mulvaney was trying to make this distinction like I said before between the cooperating with a Justice Department investigation and the Biden thing. The Biden thing there's no conceivable excuse for the president's comments asking for that.

LEMON: Yes.

ISIKOFF: They can possibly construct an excuse for cooperating with the Justice Department investigation. If the Justice -- if there really is a Justice Department investigation into the Ukrainian server. Absolutely no indication of that.

LEMON: Last word. Thank you. I appreciate it.

The White House announcing the next G7, well, it's going to take place at a Trump resort. Is the president using his office to prop up his business? The Washington Post reporting the Trump organization said it was honored to have been chosen by its owner, the president, for this event. We're going to talk about the White House's decision, next.

[23:25:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So, the White House announcing that President Trump will host the 2020 G7 summit at his Doral Resort in Miami. Is the president using his office for his own personal financial gain?

I want to discuss now with Richard Painter, the former White House ethics lawyer, and David Cay Johnston, the author of "It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing to America." Gentlemen, thank you. So good to have you both on.

Richard, I'm going to start with you. The president is not supposed to profit off the presidency. It is actually written into the Constitution. But choosing his own resort for a major international conference, I mean, don't you think it's a brazen act of self-dealing. How does he keep getting away with this stuff?

RICHARD PAINTER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER: He gets away with this because the United States Congress wants to let him get away with it. It's about time they crack down and hold him accountable. Because this is not only self-dealing. This is a violation of the emolument clause of the Constitution. Where it specifically provides that a person holding a position of trust with the United States government cannot accept any profits and benefits from foreign governments.

And we have had him violating the emoluments clause since day one. And now he's going out and openly asking foreign governments to subsidize his resort in connection with the G7. He's got his hand out to foreign governments and if this Congress puts up with that they are to blame as well. This is unacceptable.

LEMON: And think about though, David, the hypocrisy of all of this where they're saying well, it doesn't look right that, you know, Hunter Biden was on a board and his dad was vice president in Ukraine when his dad was doing business in Ukraine and so he was too. So, it doesn't look right.

And then you have this happening. And the former chief of staff said that the president won't profit from this -- or I should say the acting chief of staff, Mulvaney. He said the president won't profit from it at all. Listen to this and then you can answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MULVANEY: He's not making money off of this, just like he's not making any money from working here. And if you think it's going to help his brand, that's great. But I would suggest that he probably doesn't need much help promoting his brand. So, we put the profit went aside and deal with the perfect place.

And who was here for the last time was at Camp David. Was that the perfect place? In fact, I understand the folks who participated in it hated it. And thought it was miserable place to have the G7.

I would simply ask you all to consider the possibility that Donald's -- Donald Trump's brand is probably strong enough as it is and doesn't anymore help on that. This is not like -- it's the most recognizable name in the English language and probably around the world right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: My gosh. I mean, hundreds of people -- it's laughable. Right? Hundreds of people go to these G7 meetings.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Don, if --

LEMON: Go on.

JOHNSTON: Don, if any contracting officer of the government had steered business to himself, we would frog march them out of the building, indict them and after they were convicted the judge would give then a prison sentence.

This is absolutely improper, as Richard said. And by the way, let's stop talking about profits. The emoluments clause is not about profit. It's revenue. Any money he gets. And Trump's Doral is in trouble. Documents that the Washington Post got that were filed in an effort to lower property taxes show that business has fallen off severely. They are running $10 million below where they expect to be for revenues.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hey, David, let me read some of that.

JOHNSTON: And experts have said --

LEMON: Let me read some of that and you can go on.

JOHNSTON: Yes.

LEMON: Because first I want to say that there's global attention, right, that's part that's going to be paid. So that will help. And then he -- there's going to be renovation that have to be done, right, for that and who is going to pay for that. They probably be billed and charged. And then as you said over all, from 2015 to 2017 the club's revenue

fell from $92 million to $72 million, that's an 18 percent drop. And again, this is a report from the Washington Post on May 15th of this year. The resort is still profitable. Its net operating in income shrank from 13.8 million to 4.3 million during that period. The documents show. Sorry to cut you off but I want to give you some facts to back at what you're saying.

JOHNSTON: No, no. I'm glad you did that. And it goes right to the heart of the fact that Donald Trump's business empire is not doing well. And this is a way to steer going to.

And by the way, if Donald really had $10 billion or even only 1.4 billion, he claims in his latest filing with the government, why doesn't he just invite all these people to come for free?

[23:30:05]

I mean, after all, a couple of million dollars to an actual billionaire is nothing. Because Donald Trump is a conman whose economics are all smoking mirrors and he desperately needs the cash.

LEMON: Richard, the president is the one that first suggested the Doral at the last G7 in France. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In Doral, we have a series of magnificent buildings. We call them bungalows. They each hold from 50 to 70, very luxurious rooms with magnificent views. We have incredible conference rooms and incredible restaurants. Having it at that particular place because of the way it is set up, each country can have their own villa or their own bungalow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I guess he thinks that Doral is the only resort in the country that does that. Of the many, many, many, numerous resorts around the country, do they ever have a real possibility of winning this bid after the president said this?

PAINTER: Of course not. Donald Trump wants to hold this at his resort to advertise his resort. Mulvaney is a liar. He lied about the Ukraine matter. He lied about the quid pro co quo. He takes that back. And now he's lying about this.

The fact of the matter is that they are using the United States government to promote the Trump resort. And we have the president of the United States, Mulvaney and everyone else who is working for him lying to cover it up, and this is unacceptable.

LEMON: Richard Painter, David Cay Johnston, thank you both, gentlemen. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The former defense secretary, James Mattis, is 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 VIDEOTAPE)

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

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTIS: And this in 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 --

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: -- 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 and overrated actress.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: So I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: 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)

MATTIS: And some of you were kind during the reception and asking 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 earned my spurs on the battlefield, Martin, as you pointed out, and Donald Trump earned his spurs in the letter from a doctor.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: So I'm 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's Colonel Sanders.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: 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. It wasn't until I started working in Washington D.C. that I realize how easy I had it overseas in a combat zone.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: 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.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: I will stand on that record.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: 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 les of a 'mad dog' and more of an emotional support animal.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTIS: And that's really great because now the airlines let me fly for free.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTIS: It's been a year since I left the administration. The recovery process is going well. The counsellor 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)

MATTIS: And that's 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 way nine years ahead.

[23:40:01]

MATTIS: 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. I think often of Abraham Lincoln's speech because it embodies both our greatest hopes and our darkest fears.

Today, in our time, we need to only look around us. For decades, our political conduct has been woeful and a source of national paralysis. We have so planted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt. We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise. We have brushed aside the possibility the person 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.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTIS: And I would note that the phrase 'all who have fought for liberty' also includes the generation 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: I want to bring in now CNN Political Commentator, David Swerdlick.

David, good evening to you.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hi, Don.

LEMON: So our guests tonight have been divided on General Mattis taking on --

SWERDLICK: Right.

LEMON: -- President Trump in this way and in this setting. What do you think?

SWERDLICK: So, you know, I'm kind of mixed on it, Don. On the one hand, you know, there was that line right there at the end where he said, you know -- he referred to our Kurdish allies. That was a clear statement that he as a general, as a former secretary of defense, sees the Kurds as our special operators, brothers in arms.

And it's a comment on what's going on right now with our troops pulling back and with Turkey, a formal NATO ally but a country that's clearly working against our interest in the Middle East, attacking those brothers in arms.

On the other hand, I thought a lot of that was platitude. General Mattis is in a position where he could speak out and tell the American people what he really thinks about President Trump's performance in office, some of his inability to take advice from generals, from other leaders.

And, you know, it's obviously a light occasion. He is supposed to be telling jokes. It is the Al Smith Dinner. But I don't think he has taken this moment to really say what he thinks.

LEMON: Do you think this opens the door for further critique? I mean, up to now, he has mainly said that his resignation letter speaks for itself.

SWERDLICK: In some ways it did. He resigned around that time when President Trump first signalled that he was going to pull out of Syria, and, you know, there were concerns about that policy leading us to sort of allow the resurgence of ISIS.

It was clear in that message that he didn't agree with that policy. But I don't think he has been full throated again about the fact that general -- excuse me, President Trump talks about loving the generals and listening to the generals. And at the same time, he doesn't seem to listen to generals, foreign policy experts or really anybody in Washington who understands Middle East.

LEMON: David Swerdlick, thank you. I appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Longtime Congressman Elijah Cummings passed away today at the age of 68. We're going to take a look at his legacy, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The nation is mourning the unexpected loss of Congressman Elijah Cummings, the longtime Democrat from Maryland. His office says he passed away early this morning in the hospital after suffering complications from longstanding health challenges. Cummings spent more than two decades in Congress.

Joining me now is his colleague, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. I'm so sorry for your loss. You're doing OK?

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D-GA): I'm doing OK. Thank you so much.

LEMON: He was a towering figure, congressman. Talk to me about -- really about the loss his death leaves for the Congress and for the country.

LEWIS: In the passing of our colleague, Elijah Cummings, we have lost a peaceful warrior for the American people.

[23:50:00]

LEWIS: He was a man of peace, a man that sought justice. He never gave up. He never gave in. He kept the faith. And every day that he came to attend meeting (ph), came to the floor of the House to speak, he was speaking not just for the people of his district in Maryland, but he was speaking on behalf of the American people.

LEMON: He's from the generation that you are, of civil rights leaders, like you, right? Can you tell us about how those roots, fighting for justice, how that shaped him and his life's work?

LEWIS: Well, his family came from South Carolina and they moved to Baltimore seeking a better way, a better life. But he was grounded in the church.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

LEWIS: And I think he was deeply influenced by his attending church and listening to his mother and his father and one of the preachers. And he could preach. He could inspire people to stand up. He would always say we are better than that. We are better than that.

He saw goodness in all human beings. And it didn't matter if you were black or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American. He was just a good human being.

LEMON: Yeah. I want to talk to you more about him. Listen, coming from sharecroppers (ph), then ended (ph) up going to law school, started out practicing law, served 14 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. And then in 1996, he was elected to Congress in a special election with a message of unity. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): Our world would be a much better world and a much better place if we would only concentrate on the things we have in common instead of concentrating on our differences. It's easy to find differences. Very easy. We need to take more time to find common ground. And so, my mission is one that comes out of a vision that was created long, long ago. It is a mission and a vision to empower people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I'm just going to piggyback off what you said. His mission in Washington was clear. Empower people who might not have a voice and focus on what we have in common.

LEWIS: I think it's what he tried to do and tried to preach every single day during his service in the Congress. His witness will be deeply missed in the Congress and throughout America. He travelled around the nation trying to help people.

LEMON: He was passionate about what this country stands for. This is what he said earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: When we're dancing with the angels, the question we'll be asked, in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact? Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Congressman, everyone was riveted by that moment. He was so central to the matter before the country right now, regarding impeachment. What path forward, to you, do you think that he would want you to take or the Congress to take or lawmakers in Washington or the country to take?

LEWIS: He would love to see us continue where he left off. To stand up, speak up, and speak out. Be bold, be courageous, and find a way to make a way out of no way.

LEMON: Just last night, hours before he died, Congressman Cummings signed two subpoenas for documents related to helping immigrants with severe health issues remain in the U.S. And one aide said that he felt so strongly about the children that he was going to fight until the very end. It was an incredible final act.

LEWIS: Well, Elijah never, ever liked the way we were treating little children. Taking little babies, young, young children from their mothers and from their fathers and putting them in cages, he thought that was wrong.

I think that came out of his religion, growing up. When Jesus said, suffering little children, come unto me and I will give you rest.

LEMON: Well, he is resting.

[23:55:00]

And he will be missed. A national treasure gone today. Congressman Lewis, thank you, sir. Again, we're sorry about the loss of your dear friend.

LEWIS: Thank you, sir.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK