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CNN TONIGHT

World No Longer Trusts The United States?; White House Official Could Fuel The Impeachment Inquiry; Mike Pompeo Annoyed By The Media; Big News Developments Or Not?; Are Dems Losing The 2020 Messaging Battle?; Representative Katie Hill Is Under Ethics Investigation. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 24, 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.

There is a lot going on tonight. And we're going to catch you up on five big headlines. All the president's men with problems.

His acting chief of staff could be on the way out. His secretary of state facing questions about whether his reputation has been ruined by their dealings in Ukraine.

And there's more. The former Defense Secretary, William Cohen is warning world leaders are telling him they quote, "no longer trust the United States."

Is America's global standing hanging in the balance? And as this is all happening is the White House pulling stunts to keep Americans from noticing. We'll go through some of the moves this week. And tell you if it is news or not.

Plus, Democratic anxiety. Do 2020 candidates have what it takes on Trump, both in their messaging and how they're delivering it?

Plus, freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill is facing an ethics investigation after affair of allegations surface.

But we're going to start with our breaking news.

Sources are telling are CNN a White House official is expected to back up key parts of that damming testimony we heard from the top diplomat in Ukraine earlier this week.

Joining me now is Elliot Williams, Samantha Carpenter, and Garrett Graff. Good evening to all of you. Elliot, you first. Tim Morrison, a top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council set to testify next week. If he corroborates William Taylor's testimony what is the impact?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER OBAMA: The impact is profound and huge because I believe he is the first White House official to testify here. We have heard from State Department people. We heard from a Defense Department official today. But this is the first time this actually reached the White House.

And it's almost like, the layers of an onion keep getting peeled back. A few days ago, we had the president implicated for the first time. Obviously, there was the initial call memo a few weeks back.

But for the first time a witness pointed directly at the president being involved too. And so, it will be significant that a White House staffer is going to speak up here.

LEMON: So, Amanda, listen, Morrison listened directly to that July 25 phone call between the president and the president of Ukraine. Taylor said in his opening statement that Morrison told him the call could have been better. Will we learn more than what is in that transcript do you think?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's hard to tell. At least we'll have more context. But what we're really witnessing taking place in the White House and the executive branch is a war between Donald Trump's inner circle and the professionals on the outer circle.

I mean, all of these people are working for the same man in many respects but they have such different approaches to the job. His inner circle values loyalty and a willingness to defend him at all costs above anything else. And yet they were working alongside other people who viewed their fidelity to the Constitution and their ability to form the job as they should as more important.

And so, this is playing out. And the professionals have much better documentation and arguments than the loyalists do.

LEMON: Garrett, I've to ask you. You know, Morris -- Morrison is a current White House official at the National Security Council. Will he be able do you think to shed more light on how the transcript of the call was moved into that highly secure server or possible attempts to try to cover it up?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Likely yes. And remember too that John Bolton is sitting out there as an aggrieved former national security adviser who Trump has been complaining about vociferously in all sorts of forms. And it is unlikely to be interested in particularly holding water for the Trump White House any longer.

And so, you know, that once you pierce that White House you might actually find more people willing to testify and cooperate than you might think.

LEMON: Elliott, I want to get to some more breaking news tonight. Here's what a source is telling CNN. Attorney General William Barr's investigation into the origins of Trump Russia probe is now a criminal investigation. What's going on here? I mean, this gives Barr even more power, right?

WILLIAMS: It gives Barr even more power, and again, what this is about is using the apparatus of the Justice Department to pursue the personal projects and the vendettas of the President of the United States.

From the earliest days, number one, of William Barr before his tenure when he was in effect auditioning for the role of attorney. From the early stage of the president's administration what he has done is treated the Justice Department in effect as his stooges to carry out some of these pet projects.

[23:05:04]

If it's asking Jeff Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton, for instance. Jeff Sessions is the former attorney general. And so, what this is -- what this does do is empower the attorney general of the United States to start bringing criminal charges for a matter that -- again, everything -- there are certain -- there reasons to investigate to at least look into this.

But now where we are is empowering the attorney general to start bringing charges to mollify and satisfy the president of the United States. And again, it just gets back to how the president regards law enforcement the FBI and the Justice Department more broadly.

LEMON: Amanda, I see you want to get in. Go ahead.

CARPENTER: Yes. I just I feel like we never get to the brunt of what this whole conspiracy theory is really about. The purpose of investigating this alleged DNC hacking as having roots in Ukraine is to take the heat off Russia for what it did in the election. You cannot trace it back.

We know what happened. We had the whole entire Mueller investigation. Other congressional reports pointing the finger at Russia. And so, I mean, this is really just a complete misuse of taxpayer money to go chase down something that we already know not to be true because Trump somehow wants to appease the Russians yet again.

LEMON: Go ahead, Garrett, you want to get in as well.

GRAFF: Yes. And I think the other thing that's worth pointing out is that we have no evidence whatsoever that a crime was actually committed by the FBI in opening up this original Russia investigation to begin with. That there is no obvious crime that is being investigated.

The reporting tonight even says that. That no one is actually sure what the criminal investigation is actually targeting.

This is an investigation that we know more about than almost any FBI investigation --

CARPENTER: Yes.

GRAFF: -- in history already. That inspector generals have already gone after. That other investigators have gone after. That the FBI has looked at. And we -- there's no evidence that there's actually an underlying crime.

LEMON: Interesting. Now conspiracy theories that are rising to the level of legitimate investigation.

Mike Pompeo. I want you to listen to him during a local interview in Wichita. Clearly irritated to dismissing and evading questions. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have testimony from respected diplomats. Has that damaged your image and your leadership in the agency?

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think about that stuff. You all talk about this noise an awful lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill Taylor told Congress this week that he sent you a cable on August 29th expressing his misgivings in the delay of military aid to Ukraine. What did you do with that cable?

POMPEO: I'm not going to talk about the inquiry this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What good really is the word of the U.S. in light of the president's treatment of the Kurds. Is that undercut U.S. credibility?

POMPEO: Yes. The whole predicate of your questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He sounds like, Graff, and I want to bring this to you, but he sounds like the ballplayer a couple years ago who had to do the post- game interviews and he said I'm just here so I won't get fined was this answer to every single question. The title of your piece in Wire says it all. Pompeo was riding high until the Ukraine mess exploded. You say he is in retreat. Why?

GRAFF: Well, Mike Pompeo, you know, amid all of the figures at the Trump administration is one of the few who has lasted and actually sort of gotten stronger politically over that time.

And we know over the course of this year he's sort of neutered and removed and out lasted every rival in the foreign policy realm as an adviser to the Trump White House and was sort of clearly using this year to set himself up to go run for a Kansas Senate seat that is open next year.

And potentially, sort of prepare himself to be the heir apparent to Donald Trump in 2024. And I think you've sort of seen Pompeo emerge at the center of this scandal and sort of the person who if he wasn't actively involved in this, should have been actively involved in it.

And I think he's sort of been greatly diminished over these last six weeks and his political future as he was back in Kansas today for the fourth time doing those interviews. You know you sort of wonder if he's wondering whether he's made the right bet.

LEMON: Elliot, listen, The Washington Post is reporting that in August the Trump administration delayed restoring trade privileges to Ukraine after John Bolton warned the president wouldn't want to take action benefitting Ukraine. Does this suggest that the pressure campaign went beyond with holding military aid?

WILLIAMS: We have every reason to believe that it does. And that's why we really need to hear from all of these senior officials to really get to the bottom of frankly this rogue foreign policy run by Mayor Giuliani. If we have a moment, we'll talk about him in the segment.

[23:09:57]

But you know, this rogue foreign policy outside of the secretary of state -- Garrett's wonderful piece in Wired talks about this today as well. So, we need to hear from him.

And frankly, John Bolton is another individual who has more of an incentive now to speak now that he's not a government official. But these are all people that number one, the American people need to hear from.

Number two, and I think we are likely to hear from at some point. At a certain point the stonewalling -- it's always so much they can stone wall. I mean, it's -- watching the Pompeo segment at the Wichita interview for a moment ago, it was interesting because I'm not sure if we're seeing the same Mike Pompeo from Benghazi that had no trouble dragging the names of federal employees through the mud. That suddenly has nothing to say anymore.

And so, I just look forward to the next several weeks to hearing answers like this very question cleared up, Don.

LEMON: How many more people, I'm going to ask you, Amanda, because -- and then I'll get quickly to both of you please. How much further can Republicans go with this, Amanda?

CARPENTER: In terms of defending the president on Ukraine --

LEMON: Yes.

CARPENTER: -- or promoting his conspiracy theory that we should investigate Ukraine? You know, the downfall of Mike Pompeo I really think began with this Ukraine stuff.

If you go back when he first became CIA director. There was a new story in Politico that just made my jaw drop. And it said that at the request of the president he took a meeting with a conspiracy theorist who is claiming that the DNC hacking was conducted from Ukraine.

I thought at that time Mike Pompeo is too smart to believe this. And I actually still think that he is. But the problem is that he accommodated it.

LEMON: Yes.

CARPENTER: He took a meeting to satisfy the president. And this whole thing has ripped out of control. It's going take down Rudy Giuliani. We're going to waste all this money sending --

LEMON: OK.

CARPENTER: -- Bill Barr on a wild goose chase. And that's why you can just never give this stuff oxygen in the first place.

LEMON: Garrett, you can blame Amanda for the 10 seconds that you have, but you said that you say there aren't many people left willing to debase themselves for the president.

GRAFF: Yes. This is sort of what I think we're seeing is that this circle is shrinking. And that a lot of people are going to be staring down this question of do you want the legal bills to fight this on the personal side or do you want to sort of throw yourself on the mercy of Congress.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

In the wake of the president's chaotic foreign policy are world leaders losing trust in the United States? A former defense secretary says yes. We're going to dig into that next.

[23:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The president's pressure campaign on Ukraine giving a green light to Turkey in Syria. In the wake of the president's foreign policy chaos former Defense Secretary William Cohen telling CNN that world leaders no longer trust the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: You have the people in the Middle East looking to Russia or China. People in the Indo-Pacific region are now questioning whether the United States can be relied upon.

And when you talk about Ukraine and you see our action there and you see the action taking place of pulling our troops out in an impetuous way in Syria. Then all of the other countries and say we can't trust you.

And I've been getting calls from a number of leaders around the world, a number of ambassadors saying we no longer trust the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Joining me now to discuss, Susan Glasser and Wajahat Ali. That was all part of the CNN citizen program today which is fascinating. It's online if you really want to see it.

But you heard what he said. I'm so glad that both of you can join us.

Susan, we have been focused quite a bit on the domestic implications of the president's behavior, but the former defense secretary is sounding the alarm about what it means internationally and it's not good.

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Look, there's been dramatic events I think in the last couple of weeks that have underscore the volatility and really the geopolitical risk that Donald Trump poses, both in terms of the unfolding Ukraine scandal and also in terms of his decision around Syria.

Both of those events I think really suggest that Donald Trump is not the kind of ally and partner you would want. First of all, in Ukraine what does he done? He's held hostage congressionally approved military aid to a beleaguer country that is literally under attack from Russia. OK, so that's number one.

Number two, on Syria he decided in hasty way without even consulting with own advisers of his own military to withdraw American support for its allies who've fought alongside for years in a way that literally Russia was the very next day occupying American bases.

Imagine what kind of reaction that's gotten in Israel, to take one example. America's partners and allies are saying you know, this is not the kind of partnership we're hoping for from Donald Trump.

LEMON: Interesting. The president tweeting today, Wajahat, quote, "I appreciate that the Kurds -- what the Kurds have done. Perhaps it is time for the Kurds to start heading to the oil region."

WAJAHAT ALI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. It's great. Let's do forced relocation.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: What's that about?

ALI: Yes, let's do forced relocation of Kurds to an area which is hostile. Force them to move away from their home. These allies who have lost over 11,000 people fighting ISIS, killing more than 50,000 ISIS soldiers. We completely -- and by we, I mean, Donald Trump betrayed them.

And after that wonderful, perfect October 9th letter to Erdogan, which Erdogan threw in the trash reportedly. Erdogan invaded Syria, killed Kurds, helped second lease of life to ISIS, and now the Kurdish allies are betrayed.

So, if you are an ally of the United States of American, Don Lemon, wouldn't you look at this behavior and say why should we ever trust you? Why should we trust Donald Trump who invited President Abe of Japan to Mar-a-Lago? Remember this in 2017, and openly shared classified information and there were Mar-a-Lago guests taking photos of it.

And then he invited the Russian ambassador and Russian foreign minister to the White House after he fired James Comey and casually betrayed the Israeli intelligence. Giving away highly confidential information about the Israeli operation. And then I just want to remind people because people forget, he also declassified information by tweeting out a classified photo of Iran's nuclear -- Iranian launch site.

[23:20:07]

So if you're an ally and think about it, if you've seen Donald Trump do this and attack the E.U. and attack all of the post-World War II alliances and NATO, why would you trust Donald Trump with any information? How does this help make America great again? That's the question.

LEMON: What a memory you have and you're going through them, like, yes. I forgot --

ALI: I keep receipts.

LEMON: I've forgotten about that one. let's talk about a new poll, Susan. It shows that over two-thirds of Americans think that it is likely that -- it's likely, I should say, that ISIS will reemerge in Syria after the U.S. withdrawal.

You have said that you think President Trump is the biggest source of geopolitical instability in the world right now. Does that make us less safe? Obviously, it does.

GLASSER: Well, look, that's right. So, you know, there are many associated spin-off crisis with Donald Trump. But the biggest crisis of course is if the world no longer can count on the country that as flawed as it is has been the only guarantor and the leading super- power of the entire 30-year post-Cold War era. And I think that's what coming into question.

This is something that began before Donald Trump became president but has been dramatically accelerated by President Trump in a way that actually causes instability and risk in the world to go up over all.

Now as far as ISIS goes. You've seen a really fascinating theme where Donald Trump seems to have conflated himself with our troops on the ground. I don't know if you've notice but again and again this week he said, I am the one who personally destroyed ISIS.

He has used this pronoun over and over again. It's really odd almost. And unfortunately, what that means for the United States is that Trump has taken ownership over whatever it is that comes next.

And I think he was warned that there were consequences of unleashing potentially a new way of dangerous terrorists, the possibility of prison breaks. His own defense secretary in fact has said that at least 100 ISIS prisoners have escaped as a result of this Turkish military incursion.

Donald Trump doesn't seem to have reckoned with the potential consequences and the fact that people will blame him if ISIS comes back which many people fear is a consequence of this hasty decision. LEMON: Well, listen, he seems, Wajahat, he seems convinced that this

is a political win for him. But I mean, he is facing bipartisan backlash.

In that same poll that I just read to Susan it shows that 50 percent of Americans disapprove of his decisions to pull -- his decision to pull troops from Syria. And 75 percent say that they are concerned about the situation. So, is this the win that he thinks it is?

ALI: Yes. Susan and I are actually talking about this in the green room. Susan, I hope you don't mind we're sharing this. But we were talking about Trump's recent self-owns.

You know, he claims these are perfect brilliant phone calls but he releases the transcript with Zelensky that has him dead to rights with quid pro quo. Right? He talks about that Syria -- the Syria withdrawal as a perfect win but you see a massive rebuke in the House. A vote from 354 to six who were Republicans themselves are saying, wait a minute, this was a mistake and Kurdish allies are being killed and we have given a second lease of life to ISIS.

You see him literally doing a text book example of violating the emoluments clause by openly saying by the way, I'm going to host the G7 at Doral. Whoops, my bad. I take it back.

And then you're seeing kind of a cognitive decline irrational self- destructive acts by a person who I think feels cornered and really believes that he can abuse his power.

Because, again, I said last time on your show. He thought that releasing the transcript with the phone call between him and President Zelensky was a win for him. He thought that was a win for him. Not evidence of quid pro quo, which is going to land him in the massive trouble.

And he also thought by releasing the letter that he wrote to Erdogan that would be a win for him. Not revealing him to be completely weak, impotent, and you know, making these false threats about don't be a tough guy. I'll blow up your economy. But hey, I'll call you later.

So, this is really troubling territory where a president thinks that the self-owns which itself are self-destructive are actually wins. And it gives an insight to his mind. He thinks he can get away with it because he thinks he can abuse his power.

Page 13 of Ambassador Taylor's brilliant opening summery personified the mindset of the president. Gordon Sondland said he's a businessman who thinks that allies owe him something.

LEMON: Yes.

ALI: That sounds like a dictator.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it.

The White House is making a lot of headlines this week. But are they trying to distract from all of the damming details coming out of the impeachment inquiry? We're going to talk you through what they're doing and you decide if it's news or not.

[23:25:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: There are lots of challenges covering the news in the Trump era especially with the impeachment inquiry heating up. Take the congressman storming the secure deposition yesterday. Or Lindsey Graham's resolution today condemning Democrats for the impeachment process. Are these big news developments attempts to distract or deflect or both? You got to ask yourself. Is it news or not?

Here's to discuss, the guy who knows that. That will be Brian Stelter, Catherine Rampell, and Philip Bump both here as well.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Philip Bump knows.

LEMON: Yes.

STELTER: I really don't know anything.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm in the dark here, so what can I say?

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

Listen, Senator Graham introduce this resolution blasting Democrats for their handling of the impeachment inquiry. He wants them to have a vote. It's all about process. It's not about facts in this case. Is this news or not, Philip?

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON POST: It's certainly news when a senator stands up and introduces --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But is it a big news or not?

BUMP: Well, I mean, again, I think a lot of the things in the impeachment inquiry are by necessity big news. Right? It's an impeachment of a president.

[23:30:02]

I think in this case though, it is important to contextualize it as being Lindsey Graham, who is a stalwart ally of the president, echoing the rhetoric that he is hearing from the White House and from Donald Trump's allies and at the same time making a case, which is not a particularly robust case.

I spoke this evening with someone who is talking about the fact that if we go back to the Constitution, all these arguments about due process which only apply in the Senate part of this anyway, it is not even part of what it says in the Constitution about impeachment. So it is clearly a political argument that is being made. But then again, it's a political process.

LEMON: I'm laughing because you look like you're sitting at the kids' table --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: -- because your chair is so low.

RAMPELL: He is sitting next to me.

BUMP: Yeah.

RAMPELL: So, everybody has to be taken down to my level.

BUMP: All television, Don.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: OK. Catherine, we got to put this up. CNN dug up an old clip of then Congressman Graham. This is during Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998. In it, he defends Republicans for conducting depositions like the ones that Democrats are holding now. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think it's a very smart thing to do, to depose these people and find out what they've got to say and not drag this thing out unnecessarily.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: It's a smart thing to do but only when the shoe is on the other foot. I mean, shall we -- can we point to this? Is this hypocrisy?

RAMPELL: Obviously it's hypocrisy. I mean, how can it not be hypocrisy? But I think to get to your initial question about are these kinds of stories news or are they distractions, I think the answer is yes, right? I mean, it's like if your house is burning down and someone comes and lights your car on fire, is that a distraction or is that an emergency? It's both. It's both.

I mean, that's the whole goal here. It's like Trump and his allies kind of hacked the system. They distract -- they tried to distract us from one set of terrible and disgusting things by introducing a new set of terrible and disgusting things for us to talk about.

LEMON: All right. This is shiny object. Is there any raw news value in this White House, Brian, urging all federal agencies to cancel the subscriptions to The New York Times and The Washington Post? Another shiny object, what do you think?

STELTER: The only news value is it shows that the government siloing itself off from real valuable information at the expense of, of course, making government run effectively. If you're not reading the major papers, including (INAUDIBLE) of The Washington Post, (INAUDIBLE) of The Washington Post, my former paper, The New York Times, you're not getting a full view of the world.

So yes, it is a problem. Yes, it is newsworthy. But it's also a stunt by the president, and I suspect these federal agencies mostly won't follow through with the idea.

LEMON: Well, if -- I mean, they're going to get the paper at home like getting on a personal devices.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMPELL: They can get a free subscription with the (INAUDIBLE) e-mail address.

LEMON: There you go.

STELTER: That's what it deserves. It deserves 30 seconds. Note it. Note the absurdity. And then move on. There is so much about this impeachment inquiry that is real and serious. And the process questions are interesting for a few days at a time. But I think the focus always does go back to the substance as it should.

LEMON: OK.

STELTER: That's ultimately where it lands.

LEMON: All right. So that was about 20 more seconds than we wanted to spend on it.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren -- am I saying that right? Tomi Lahren tweeted out a signed note she received from President Trump. On the note, tweets from all types of people, all positive, the president's performance at a rally. Are they operating in a bubble to soothe the president's ego? Philip, that's to you.

BUMP: Yeah. I mean, it was really -- it's a fascinating thing.

STELTER: I'm glad she shared this.

BUMP: Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent. I mean, in a well-manicured nails. I mean, it is a fascinating glimpse into it. We have heard these reports about how Donald Trump gets his folder placed on his desk of these positive news clips. That was something that came out early in his presidency.

I think we're seeing what that looks like. Someone printed out a list of tweets about his rallies, including from Republican Party, if that's where you have to go to get positive comments about your rally. It's not really a great sign.

But the fact that someone printed that out and then he took the time to write this thing down and put it in a fancy envelope, it's fascinating. It is a fascinating glimpse at how Donald Trump looks at how he is perceived in the world in addition to spending most of his time watching Fox News. I think there is certainly an alarming aspect to it. Is it something he spent a lot of time on? No, but it's definitely (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: Is this worth talking about, the president's language this week? As we know, he said -- he called the impeachment inquiry lynching. He called people human scum. We know he has a pattern of hateful language, started before his presidency. What do you think, Catherine?

RAMPELL: Look, I do think this is par for the course. We did see this going back several years or more than several years at that point but certainly he has entered the political fray. Whether it's significant, I don't know. I mean, I think it is significant in the sense that Donald Trump had declared this week a National Character Counts Week.

STELTER: Oh, that's right.

RAMPELL: Yeah. Which maybe he meant character counts like how many characters are there in a tweet. I don't know. But certainly if we want to play the old song about how Trump is a hypocrite, this plays into that. But whether or not that's more significant than selling out U.S. domestic interest, you know --

LEMON: All right.

RAMPELL: -- for political dirt, I don't know.

[23:35:02]

LEMON: Yesterday's big power play, Republican House members storming the skiff, right, and bringing phones in reportedly to secure, trying to damage the -- trying to take away from Bill Taylor's damaging testimony. Cover this?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Does it encourage them to keep -- to cover the --

STELTER: I think it was overplayed because, frankly, the Republican House members and what they think is a lot less interesting than what the Republican senators think. At this point, it is pretty clear the president will be impeached in the House.

Let's talk about the Senate. Let's prepare for the trial. I want to know what all of these Republican senators are thinking at any given time. Most of them are very quiet.

LEMON: Yeah.

STELTER: Most of them are trying to avoid having to answer questions. That's where the focus should be. That is where our focus should be. What are they going to do?

LEMON: I don't think they are aware of the optics. I mean, they thought probably it will be really cool but then when you look at it, it didn't really look like America.

STELTER: It didn't look like America and some of them were allowed inside anyway.

LEMON: So --

STELTER: It was a stunt. I'm glad it's over.

LEMON: Thank you all. Thank you, experts.

STELTER: Happy Character Counts Week, everybody.

RAMPELL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RAMPELL: National Character Counts Week.

BUMP: If you celebrate.

LEMON: Be best. We'll be right back.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: As the march to the 2020 election continues, President Trump may have the advantage over the Democratic hopefuls when it comes to messaging. As Democrats attack each other in their quest for the nomination, the president and his team focus on winning battleground states in the general election.

Joining me now to discuss are Joshua Green and Matt Lewis.

Gentlemen, good evening. It is good to see you. Matt, I'm going to start with you. How are Democrats doing in the messaging battle against President Trump? Should they simplify their message to I will do whatever it takes to get President Trump out of office?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Are you talking about impeachment or in the presidential race?

LEMON: I guess in the presidential race.

LEWIS: So I think Democrats --

LEMON: Some of them are involved. The senators would be involved in the impeachment but I mean in the election.

LEWIS: Yeah.

LEMON: Yeah.

LEWIS: You know, I think that this election is about Donald Trump. I don't think you can really have a message that's not about Donald Trump. I mean, I don't think that Joe Biden can like be the hope and change candidate. I think it's about Donald Trump.

And so fundamentally, you know, you can't compete with him. He's going to get the attention. You just have to give into that. And so then it becomes about disqualifying Donald Trump. The good news is I think there's a lot to work with there.

LEMON: That's a really good debate answer. No matter what they ask. I'm the one whatever it takes to beat Donald Trump. What are you going to do with health care? Whatever it takes to beat Donald Trump. Go on.

LEWIS: There's some expression that I am seeing on Twitter now. Anybody who goes blue or -- maybe Josh knows what it is -- it's like the blue wave thing. Basically whoever can beat Donald Trump, I think, Democrats will be excited about. I will tell you personally, I think the worst thing they can do is nominate Elizabeth Warren because I think that's a huge mistake but maybe you disagree.

LEMON: It's not for me. I'm just -- you know.

LEWIS: Maybe Josh. I don't know.

LEMON: Yeah, that's for Josh. That's for the Democrats to decide for themselves. Josh, many strategists and campaign experts who come on this show say that one of the biggest concerns is how far behind Democrats are on digital ad spending. You have done a lot of reporting about how central the --

JOSHUA GREEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

LEMON: -- Trump campaign thinks that this was their 2016 victory. Explain what happened then and what the concern is now.

GREEN: Well, what happened last time around is everybody took Trump as a joke. He couldn't get real Republican consultants because they thought he was a clown. And so he turned to Facebook, he turned to the internet, he turned to web marketing techniques, and it worked. It got his name out. It got his fundraising out. It got his base activated.

I'm surprised Democrats haven't done more online this cycle. I thought they would learn from Trump's example, poured money in digital spending which Trump and Republican have continued to do. And yet by and large, they haven't kept up.

He has vastly outspent the Democrats who, as Matt said, are busy fighting their own primary battles and have other short-term concerns. But big picture looking ahead to 2020, Democrats are behind on this.

LEMON: Yeah. Look at the numbers. The Trump campaign spent $13.5 million on Facebook alone this year. Matt, this is for you. The closest Democrat behind that is Tom Steyer, $8.9 million. But he's a billionaire known for spending big on digital ads. He's not considered a top candidate. So there is a significant gap between Trump and the top Democrats. Do you think those numbers going to even out once Democrats moved past the primary?

LEWIS: A little bit. You know, as Josh was saying, Democrats are focused on each other and Donald Trump has the advantage of incumbency. They did this before. It worked. He has smart people working for him. They're unconventional, as Josh was saying. But that can be an advantage.

But I think the big key here, it goes back to the last thing, is that Donald Trump is a brand and he's a persona. I think it's not just that he's spending more money on the internet, on digital marketing and on Facebook. It's that he is a more compelling brand. I think that is what works. If you have a divisive message, it is more likely to take off.

[23:45:00]

LEWIS: It is more likely to get shared. The algorithms favor that. Donald Trump is a very clear brand. He knows exactly who he is. He's not afraid to say incendiary things. And so I think it is not just the money. I think he is built better to actually perform well in this media.

LEMON: Josh --

GREEN: I'd go further than that.

LEMON: Josh, I want to get this in. I got to get this in. I got to get this in because --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: -- accuracy and the role of social media. Mark Zuckerberg got grilled by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about the vetting process for political ads Facebook permits. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal? If you're not fact-checking political advertisements -- I'm just trying to understand the bounds here. What is fair game?

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FOUNDER AND CEO, FACEBOOK: Congresswoman, I don't know the answer to that off the top of my head. I think --

OCASIO-CORTEZ: So you don't know if I'll be able to do that?

ZUCKERBERG: I think probably.

OCASIO-CORTEZ: Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?

ZUCKERBERG: Well, congresswoman, I think lying is bad. I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie that would be bad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREEN: And this is the other reason why Trump and Republicans have an advantage on social media. Trump is a politician who relies on misinformation. He blatantly lies sometimes. And Facebook has said if you're a politician and you're buying ads that contain false information, we're fine with it.

LEMON: Wow! Thank you both. I appreciate it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:50:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The House Committee on Ethics opening an investigation into allegations that Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill of California engaged in an improper relationship with a congressional staffer in possible violation of House rules. A relationship she has denied. However, in a separate statement to constituents release yesterday, Hill admitted to having an inappropriate relationship with a campaign staffer before entering Congress for which she apologized. Kyung Lah has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Hi, how are you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than a year after her inauguration --

(On camera): From Congresswoman-elect to dropping the elects (ph).

HILL: It feels good. Excited to get to work.

LAH (voice-over): Freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill is firing back as damaging headlines and explicit personal photos were leaked. In a newly released letter, Hill's lawyers demand a British tabloid cease and desist the publication of abusive and spurious images.

It is just the latest attempt to contain a crisis unfolding on two fronts. First, the House Ethics Committee announced an investigation into claims that Hill had an improper relationship with a male member of her congressional staff, a violation of House rules. In a statement, Hill called the accusation absolutely false and a smear campaign. The staffer has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

HILL: I've identified as bisexual since I was a teenager --

LAH (voice-over): But then Hill, who campaigned to become the first elected bisexual to Congress, said she did have a relationship with a woman on her campaign staff, which would not be subject to congressional rules. In a letter to her supporters, Hill writes, "I know that even a consensual relationship with a subordinate is inappropriate, but I still allowed it to happen despite my better judgment. For that, I apologize."

Hill wrote the public letter after a conservative blog published the first explicit photo late last week writing, "I am going through a divorce from an abusive husband who seems determined to try to humiliate me." Hill's estranged husband did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

Hill was part of the surge of women running for office in 2018, a first-time candidate.

HILL: Hi, it's Katie Hill. We can really use your help.

LAH (voice-over): The millennial outraced the incumbent by millions, promising change. She flipped California's 25th congressional district, Republican-held since the early '90s. CNN travelled with Hill as she made her trip to Washington.

HILL: We are regular middle class people. We're young. We look like and speak like the people that we're there to represent. I just think that's different from what it's historically been like.

LAH (voice-over): The 116th Congress is younger, more racially diverse, and more female.

(APPLAUSE)

LAH (voice-over): A record-setting 127 women serving in Congress, part of the midterm response to the election of Donald Trump.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Kyung Lah joins me now. Kyung, Representative Hill is getting support from a surprising conservative.

LAH: Yes, Representative Matt Gaetz. This is very unique if you know anything about him, if you've heard him speak in public settings, especially on House Committee hearings. He is somebody who is known as a conservative, very outspoken.

But what's notable here is that he put out two tweets and he is supporting Representative Katie Hill, who is a progressive, a moderate progressive, but still a progressive, someone who is an identifies proudly as being bisexual. They do both serve on the Armed Services Committee.

You can see these tweets here. What he's saying is that, we disagree on substance, but that he finds her to be well prepared, focused and thoughtful. That he thinks that she is being targeted, that this is revenge porn, and the reason she is being targeted is for being different. It is certainly a remarkable sign of bipartisanship in incredibly unusual circumstances.

[23:55:02]

LEMON: Very interesting. And we will follow. Thank you, Kyung. I appreciate that.

LAH: You bet.

LEMON: And thank you for watching. Our coverage continues. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)