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CNN TONIGHT

Former White House Official Files a Lawsuit; House Investigators Given Access to Mueller's Underacted Material; President Trump Playing the Victim Again; President Trump Compares Impeachment with Broken Criminal Justice System at HBCU; Mitch Landrieu's Push to Unite the South; CNN Heroes: A Bionic Recovery. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 25, 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.

A judge granting House impeachment investigators access to Robert Mueller's grand jury material after a bombshell week in their investigation.

That, as Charles Kupperman who served until last month as deputy national security adviser at the White House is filing a lawsuit asking a federal judge to rule on whether he has to testify before House investigators.

Speaking of that investigation, the president today playing the victim comparing impeachment to how African-Americans are treated by the criminal justice system that while he was speaking at a historically black college.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll never let up on our efforts to ensure that our justice system is fair for every single American. And I have my own experience. You know that. You see what's going on with the witch hunt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And by the way, I should add, only 10 students were invited to hear this speech and they didn't all attend. I'm going to talk with a deputy assistant to the president about all of this in just a few minutes.

And a new report is out on changing voter demographics ahead of the next -- of next year's election. And those changes could spell trouble for Trump. Plus, a former New Orleans Mayor, Mitch Landrieu launching a new program to fight racial division. He tells me his plan to unite the south. We're going to get to all of that this hour.

But I want to start with a very busy week in the impeachment inquiry. CNN's Alex Marquardt tells us the president is facing more pressure than ever. Alex?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Don. It really has been a rollercoaster of a week in this impeachment inquiry. And as we close out this week, there's really no sign of this process slowing down.

We are getting a much better sense of the pressure that President Trump was under to release that aid money to Ukraine and how he finally relented. This as Democrats leading the inquiry are zeroing in on more witnesses to fill in the gaps in this Ukraine saga.

New details tonight at the center of the House impeachment inquiry. And the president's efforts to hold up hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine.

Multiple sources telling CNN that after the funds had been frozen over the summer it was suddenly on September 11 that the president finally relented. The abrupt move was triggered by a phone call with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman who pressured the president to release the aid because of a fiscal deadline that was looming.

This was a day after National Security Adviser John Bolton was pushed out. And two days after U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland told the president that concerns were being raised that his actions amounted to quid pro quo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There was no quid pro quo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: John Bolton may soon have his say. A source tells CNN that lawyers for the former national security adviser are in talks with the three committees leading the inquiry about Bolton being deposed.

Sources tell CNN that a former top deputy of Bolton's testified that Bolton called the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, a hand grenade who is going to blow everybody up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Rudy is a great gentleman. He's been a great crime fighter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: As the impeachment inquiry heats up President Trump is ramping up his deflections. Now alleging that the inquiry is part of deep state conspiracy to remove him from office at all cost. The White House's defense that there was no quid pro quo in Trump's

phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky seemingly undercut this week after damming closed-door testimony from the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor.

According to his opening statement, Taylor testified that he, quote, "became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular informal channel of U.S. policymaking."

Taylor testified that Ambassador Gordon Sondland told him that President Trump had held up the hundreds of millions of dollars in aid until Ukraine agreed to launch investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.

[23:05:03]

Taylor testifying, he was told that President Trump did insist that President Zelensky go to a microphone and say he's opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference.

President Trump is dismissing that testimony. Slamming Taylor as political enemy and saying his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a mistake in appointing Taylor who is a well-respected career foreign service professional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Mike Pompeo -- everybody makes mistakes. He's a never-Trumper. His lawyers, the head of the never-Trumper.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Republicans standing by the president are arguing that Taylor's testimony was merely a secondhand account.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): A lot of sort of the hearsay. And that hearsay but in the sense that it was passed on. It wasn't a direct conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Republicans also blasting the inquiry process that the House is undertaking behind closed doors. Even though almost 50 Republican members across the three committees are deposing the witnesses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to try to go in there and we're going to try to figure out what's going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MARQUARDT: House Republicans held their own symbolic protest this

week, two dozen members pushing their way into the secure room where the House Intelligence Committee meets to deal with very sensitive, often highly classified information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): What is happening here is now fair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: This, while President Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani is searching for his own defense lawyer as prosecutors in New York investigate his business dealings in Ukraine and try to unravel Giuliani's connection to these two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two of Giuliani's associates who were charged with campaign finance related charges, both pleading not guilty on Wednesday.

Next week, all eyes will be on the testimony of Tim Morrison, the national security official who will be the first person who is on that infamous July 25th phone call to testify. And we've just learned about three more subpoenas issued to Trump administration officials. They are from the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget. You can be sure, Don, they will not be the last.

LEMON: Alex, thank you so much. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now Catherine Rampell and Mark McKinnon. Where do we start? Good evening. Where -- I mean, what a crazy week, guys.

Republicans are trying to stop the bleeding, right? The administration -- the Democrats are trying to figure out what the articles of impeachment will look like. I have been seeing you, you know, in footage of what's happening in D.C. What is the most important thing we learned this week do you think, Mark?

MARK MCKINNON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the most important thing, Don, is that the deep state struck back in a big way. Bill Taylor is really an unimpeachable witness even though the White House and Republicans are trying to suggest that he's some radical.

This guy was a Vietnam veteran appointed by my old boss, George W. Bush, Republican, brought back into the service by Mike Pompeo, the president's secretary of state. So, this guy, they're trying to impeach the witness because they don't have the facts.

LEMON: But I thought he's a never-Trumper.

MCKINNON: That's what -- well, that's what the president said today. Now he's a never-Trumper which I think nobody have suggested other than the president. And the problem is that, you know, the Republicans are saying that they, you know, that this is -- and they don't have the facts so they're attacking the process.

LEMON: Yes.

MCKINNON: And by the way, if this has been out in the open, I think it would have been much worse for the president this week.

LEMON: That's -- so, you -- last night you stole my -- last night I said careful what you wish for because. I mean, think about it. This about the testimony if we had heard all of that on television. Do you think that was a mistake from Democrats? Do you think it's smart that they're doing this?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, no. I think that they should have a process here. This is how the things work. They have testimony within a secure location so that it can be a little bit more candid so it's not about the grand standing. And in case there's classified material, you know, they can redact it after the fact.

And then afterward, once they've gathered all the facts there will be open hearings. And I think that's totally appropriate. The Republicans are claiming, of course, that Democrats are dragging their feet. But in fact, if Republicans want the process to speed up, they could just encourage the White House to stop stonewalling. Right? I mean, that would speed things along a little bit faster.

LEMON: That's my question to you. Because The Washington Post is reporting tonight that the president is frustrated with his inability to block witnesses. I mean, is this the stonewall strategy do you think that it's falling apart.

MCKINNON: No question that it has. And as I said, there's been a whole -- a full stream now of people who have been asked by the White House not to testify who are testifying. And they'll have defied, all the people from the State Department have defied the White House.

So, the story is bad and getting worse. And you know, the worst -- the worst witness yet maybe yet to come which is John Bolton who I think is like a great white shark circling the White House and he is just waiting to bite back.

LEMON: Talk more about that.

MCKINNON: Well, I know John Bolton from the Bush White House. He's a lifetime Republican but the toughest bureaucratic in fighter there is. And he knows everything about everything including this president. And he was not treated well on his way out. And I guarantee you this will be some John Bolton pay back.

[23:10:00]

RAMPELL: And I think it's worth pointing out that --

LEMON: Wow.

RAMPELL: -- one of the White House -- or the White -- first White House aide who has agreed to defy instructions not to cooperate - Morrison who is testifying apparently next week is a Bolton guy.

And so, this will be an interesting barometer to see what he says. It looks like he may corroborate a lot of the more damming material that Taylor has alleged at this point. He's also known to be, you know, a loyal party guy. So, I don't want to elevate expectations too much. But it will be an interesting barometer if it looks like he's turning on Trump. Then that could mean that --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You talk of Bolton?

RAMPELL: I'm talking about Morrison.

LEMON: Morrison. Got it.

RAMPELL: Who was brought in by Bolton? So, I think this is an interesting barometer for whether Bolton himself could be the next shooting rod.

LEMON: As I was trying to get this breaking news I didn't -- sorry, I was listening but with one ear and trying to read with the other because I want to ask you about Charles Kupperman. I don't know if you saw the new reporting out from The New York Times.

He's a deputy -- the former deputy National Security adviser filing a lawsuit asking a federal judge to rule on whether he is obligated or obliged to testify in the impeachment inquiry. On Monday, Kupperman's lawyer also represents Bolton.

So, what does that mean for a possible testimony from Bolton himself and then over all, what do you think of this strategy?

RAMPELL: I think it would be useful obviously to have some legal cover particularly since the White House is alleging all sorts of executive privilege and other rights to block people from coming forward, documents from being released, whether they are documents and people who work within the White House or otherwise.

So, yes. It could be potentially quite useful to have some sort of precedent to say hey, this is B.S. And I could imagine that Kupperman might be soliciting this kind of judicial ruling precisely for that for that outcome. And yes, you could imagine that Bolton, again, is testing the waters here or at least watching closely what will happen.

LEMON: What did you call him, a big what? Shark?

MCKINNON: A big white shark.

LEMON: A big white shark. It is a circus.

MCKINNON: They're going to need a bigger boat.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, this is a clip from -- speaking of the circus -- from your upcoming episode of your show, The Circus, where Steve Bannon was asked about the impeachment inquiry and Bill Taylor's testimony. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I was in the SCIF, I had the pleasure of being with brother -- with brother Schiff and know how they rolled in there. Here's what I would like to do.

I'd like to have Taylor at a committee desk in both sides asking questions and national TV cameras on it. That's all I'm asking for. You're cherry-picking certain elements to this, OK, and tying together a vast conspiracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCKINNON: Well, so he was like the rest of the Republicans. He didn't have the facts. He went after the process. But more tellingly in CNN show Sunday night, the interesting thing is that Bannon is often candid and will tell you the truth at surprising times.

And he told the truth about Taylor when John Holloman (Ph) asked him whether or not the attacks on him from the White House were legit. And Steve Bannon said that dog won't hunt. Because he believes that Taylor is an unimpeachable witness.

LEMON: Really?

MCKINNON: Yes. So, he defended Taylor.

LEMON: Well, I can't wait to see the circus on Sunday night at -- on Showtime --

MCKINNON: Showtime, eight o'clock.

LEMON: Eight o'clock.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it. And be sure to watch Erin Burnett, she's going to a special the White House in crisis, the impeachment inquiry. That's also on Sunday night starting at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. So, you can watch both of them, right?

MCKINNON: Kick it.

LEMON: Kick it. Thank you. Speaking at a historically black college, this president comparing the experiences of African-Americans facing unfair treatment in the criminal justice system to his experience of the impeachment inquiry. I'm going to speak to a White House staffer, next.

[23:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The president spoke today at a historically black Benedict College. He was supposed to focus on the administration sentencing reform initiative, but instead, he complained about the impeachment inquiry and compared it to the unfair treatment of African-Americans that they are facing at the criminal justice system. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: But as we make tremendous strides to deliver greater economic promise to all our citizens, we'll never let up on our efforts to ensure that our justice system is fair for every single American.

And I have my own experience. You know what. You see what's going on with the witch hunt. It's a terrible thing that's going on in the country. No crimes.

But in America, you are innocent until proven guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, joining me now is Ja'Ron Smith, he is the deputy assistant to the president. Ja'Ron, we appreciate you being here. Thank you so much.

JA'RON SMITH, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for having me, Don.

LEMON: Listen, I want to talk about the administration's initiative. It is very important. But we have to talk the news of the day. The president's message is what's garnering attention right now. I'm sure you're aware of that.

Him comparing impeachment, the impeachment experience to the treatment of blacks in the criminal justice system. Can you see why people find that insulting?

SMITH: No. Because at the end of day we have had an unfair criminal justice system and the president is seeing the effects of it on him personally. And so that's -- there's some truth to that.

LEMON: OK. The question is though, why even inject politics into it? Because who, you know, there are people who have spent years in prison, even decades in prison. Some of them were killed and others essentially their lives were taken away from them.

He's not in prison. He hasn't been convicted. He hasn't been impeached. It's an inquiry. Don't you -- you don't understand how it can be seen as insensitive and insulting?

SMITH: I don't think it's insulting that the president freed 3,000 people from prison. Three thousand people that wouldn't have been free without the president's leadership. I think it's him understanding the true problem with America that we have a broken criminal justice system.

LEMON: The president -- you understand the president is a free man, though. He's not in prison.

SMITH: Well, you know, it starts when people make accusations about things that aren't true. And too many times in our society we have black men that get accused offend doing things they haven't done.

[23:20:02] And so, empathy is the key. And that's what led to us having his leadership on criminal justice reform. And he's used his leadership to bring the country together to, you know, revitalize and free some people from prison.

LEMON: OK.

SMITH: To make the system fair.

LEMON: All right. I understand that. So, listen, I didn't want to go here. But the -- OK. So, the president says innocent until proven guilty, which is essentially what he is saying about this country.

SMITH: Sure.

LEMON: But he once called for the death penalty during the Central Park Five case. Full page newspaper ad. Those men were coerced into admitting the crime and then later they were exonerated with DNA evidence. He never apologized; he's admitted he was wrong. Do you see how his understanding of the justice system maybe flawed?

SMITH: Well, I can only talk about what the president is today. And right now, he led our country to the biggest criminal justice reform we've had in decades. We now have a prison system that focuses on everyone's individual backgrounds, socioeconomic and give them the skills they need to reduce the recidivism risk.

LEMON: So, local news is reporting that many of the students didn't want the president there. I'm sure you're aware of the report. There were 200. There were also protests. There were 200 people invited. Only 10 of those were students. Seven of them came.

"The Times" is reporting that more than half of the seats were reserved for guests and allies of the administration including many black supporters who came in from out of state. The state newspaper reports that the students were told to say in their dorms while the president was on campus.

Why did you pack the audience with supporters? Isn't part of the job to make his case to everyone including people who don't support him?

SMITH: So, the president was invited by the 2020 bipartisan senator and they were in charge of inviting the guests. And they told us to bring some people who were benefitted from the Criminal Justice Reform Act. And so that's what we did.

And so, there was plenty of a huge percentage of the audience that were people invited by 2020 and the university decided to invite 10 students.

LEMON: OK. Let's talk policy now. Let's talk about the First Step Act which focused -- focuses primarily on sentencing and recidivism.

SMITH: Sure.

LEMON: But what about policing what about court fines taking on the bail bond industry, ending cash bail. What is the Trump administration doing on those fronts, Ja'Ron?

SMITH: Sure. I think it's always openness to those issues. But we can't do it in a vacuum. We have to continue to work with Congress. And so, if Congress makes a movement in those areas I think the president is open to looking to it, looking into them.

But right now, our focus is on second chance hiring. So, we have to create an ecosystem out there that's empowering people. That's why opportunity zones are important because many of these people ended up in a criminal justice reform because of the lack criminal justice system because of the lack of opportunity. And we're focusing on providing ladders for people all around the country.

LEMON: It's almost a year after the First Step Act was passed. It applies exclusively, as you know, to federal prison. State prison holds a vast majority of prisoners in this country. Is the administration working on that?

SMITH: Yes. I mean, we're looking to show some leadership. You know, the last time that they did criminal justice reform 30 years ago and created mandatory minimums under the Clinton administration, they -- the state started to do mandatory minimums. And now we're seeing the states doing quite the opposite that are working on smart on crime, policies.

And so, we're continuing to engage with those state leaders and doing things that are going to make communities safer and fairer for all Americans.

LEMON: Well, speaking of being fair, because there is some concern. I know that the director of Bureau of Prisons told lawmakers at a hearing last week that the agency was fine-tuning the system.

Part of the First Step Act includes the use of an algorithm to determine what programs would be best for rehabilitating inmates. Critics say that the just -- that the system actually reinforces racial bias by taking education level, past arrest records into consideration. Do you see that as a problem?

SMITH: No.

LEMON: Is that part of the fine- tuning?

SMITH: I think that one of the biggest reforms that we worked on a bipartisan manner for the legislation was dynamics going for the risky needs assessment system. And so, there's a lot of work that needs to be done. And the risk and needs assessment system is going to be finalized, at least the first part of it.

But you see in the past we haven't done a lot of great work on evidence-based research when it comes to recidivism reduction. And so, it is going to take time. But we're committed to making sure we do something that's very fair and accounts for socioeconomic factors. Because at the end of the day we know the system has been unfair and the point of the First Step Act was to create a fairer system. LEMON: Yes. Before I let you go, two things. The president comparing

the impeachment inquiry to lynching. What do you think about that as a black member of the administration?

SMITH: Well, what I will say is that I've gotten to know the president very closely over the last three years. I was one of his first hires. And coming from a single parent household in inner city Cleveland, Ohio, he's allowed me to share my experience. And he ran fighting for the forgotten Americans.

[23:25:01]

And my position as he allowed us to usher in policies to help HBCUs, help our prison, return the citizens, and also deal with economic empowerment of our inner cities.

And so, I think we need to focus on the action and the work that the president is doing and leave the rhetoric -- leave the rhetoric alone.

LEMON: All right. And you mean apply to the president as well. Does that apply to all of us?

SMITH: That applies to everyone. I mean, some of those statements have been made in the past as it refers to this witch hunt that he's been doing with.

LEMON: But that doesn't apply to the president comparing it to a lynching?

SMITH: I think at the end of the end we have to focus on the policy, you know, that's the real news, Don. At the end of the day the communities that I come from people have never taken the time to actually deal with the issues of the people. And that's what the president is doing. I think people need to pay more attention to that because that's what really going to empower the least of these in our country.

LEMON: Ja'Ron Smith, we appreciate you coming on. You're welcome back any time. Thank you so much.

SMITH: Thank you so much, Don. Many blessings.

LEMON: And we've got much more on the president's speech at Benedict College. And is his road to reelection getting narrower? How a shrinking Trump base might change the 2020 race, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: President Trump is comparing the experiences of people of color facing unfair treatment in the criminal justice system to his experience in the impeachment inquiry as a new poll shows low support among black voters. Joining me now are Tara Setmayer, Bakari Sellers, and Ron Brownstein. Hello, one and all.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Greetings.

LEMON: You watch the last segment?

SETMAYER: We did.

LEMON: OK. So, listen, I appreciate you coming on to talk policy. I welcome anyone to come on the show to talk policy. He is defending the president for comparing his impeachment experience to black people in the criminal justice system. Tara, you first, what's your reaction?

SETMAYER: He could have done without that part of it. You know, Ja'Ron has done really excellent work there in the White House in really tough conditions. I've known Ja'Ron a long time, and I know that he -- his heart is really there to do the work that he is doing and to help people, especially in the black community. But --

LEMON: It's a good initiative.

SETMAYER: It is. It is. Actually, the criminal justice reform that the president signed is one of the very few good things he has actually done in this administration. I guess having Kim Kardashian come and ask you to do it helps things move along. But, you know -- and Ja'Ron's work on opportunity zones and things --

LEMON: There are a lot of people --

SETMAYER: -- no, I know, but I'm seeing that got his attention.

LEMON: His attention.

SETMAYER: And so, you know, opportunity zones and money for HBCU. Ja'Ron has really been doing that singlehandedly and those are good things. But then when it comes to let's being -- to being honest about the president and his behavior, some of those things look like they're just it's -- those are token initiatives so that he can say, look what I have done for black folks.

And then he goes on and insults us by using terms like "lynching," going after Elijah Cummings in Baltimore, the comments he made about "The Squad," he has never apologized for the "Central Park Five," the litany of things that he has done that are racially insensitive or flat-out racist, he has never apologized for.

So it doesn't -- it looks disingenuous when he goes and then, you know, we are supposed to give him credit for this, and then people are supposed to defend the indefensible. It's not. Impeachment is not anything compared to what these people go through in the criminal justice system. It's not always all about him.

LEMON: And for some of the dim-witted folks out there who may be watching the critics I am talking about and who don't understand nuance, she said token initiative. She was not -- SETMAYER: Right.

LEMON: -- calling anyone --

SETMAYER: No.

LEMON: Because --

SETMAYER: Yes, because people freak out about it. I am talking about the initiatives.

LEMON: Right. So, Ron, President Trump said this today about his support from black people. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I am hearing that more and more African-Americans are supporting our republican policy agenda because they see the results that we are delivering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: He offers no evidence for that support, Ron. His latest approval rating with black voters is only 10 percent. CNN poll from last month says that only nine percent of black voters approve the president's handling of race relations. The needle is not moving.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. You know, look, I mean, the economy is the argument that he'll want to make and there may be, I think, a slice of an audience among Black men in particular that could be a substantial gender gap between black men and black women.

I mean, his standing among African-American women is as low as you can go. But among men, there may be a piece that's economic overall though. No, it's not. There's no real movement toward him.

And in fact, you know, this is the challenge, so I guess we'll talk about, that he faces is that the groups that he is relying on the most, you know, the non-college white voters, particularly the men where he has the most support, they are shrinking and they have been shrinking for a long time. He's has not been able to reverse that long-term pattern.

And the group where he faces the most resistance, which is different kinds of minority groups as well as college-educated whites, they are the ones that have been growing in the electorate, and all of that kind of comes to ahead again in 2020.

LEMON: Bakari, tonight, Senator Kamala Harris is pulling out of that justice forum that Trump attended today. She says she can't attend in good faith because Trump received an award. Do you think this is fair? What do you think?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a little bit more than that. I think the backdrop of Donald Trump being able to tout his achievements while having the history that he has is troublesome to most, and I anticipate more people following her lead.

But even more importantly, I want to highlight something that's bigger than this. I want to highlight something that is bigger than Donald Trump. The president of Benedict College, Roslyn Artis, has been an amazing HBCU president. She is leading this college in the future.

[23:34:58]

SELLERS: This event was an event that was supposed to be a bipartisan event, whatever it boiled down to be. And I think that there are many people who have concerns, valid concerns about the direction that this country is going in and whether or not Donald Trump going on that stage with the backdrop of an HBCU is perverting that or not.

I think that Kamala Harris is leading the way and saying that we should do more. So I know that Steve Benjamin and Kamala Harris are having their own event. I will be a part of that tomorrow. They're pulling out of that and other people will follow.

But HBCUs have to continue to be -- historically black colleges and universities have to continue to be the place in which African- Americans can have issues that directly affect their communities discussed and talked about.

And so I'm happy that still tomorrow at Benedict, you still will have this discussion of ideas. However, the Donald Trump drama will not be a part of it.

I want to mention one thing before we move on. Many of us know Ja'Ron and I have a great deal of respect for Ja'Ron and everything that he has done. Any ounce of success that comes out of this White House -- and I used ounce to small ounce of success -- is because of Ja'Ron and the work that he does.

SETMAYER: That's true.

SELLERS: I know that many people will look at him and want to label him this or label him that. But one of the things we have to do in our politics is take out this personal visceral attacks and simply just deal with things as they come in.

So I just want Ja'Ron to know that the things that he's doing in the White House, I would not be doing them, Tara would not be doing them, it's yeoman's work, and I'm going to get in so much trouble for this. I know Twitter (ph) is going to go crazy.

LEMON: Don't worry about it.

SELLERS: We have to begin to -- I know but we have to at least have respect for our brothers and sisters who are on the other side trying to do good work.

SETMAYER: It's difficult in a White House like this. He is in an impossible situation. I think where the problem comes in is when you have to -- when you feel you need to defend the indefensible which was a couple of things that he said. It wasn't necessary. Unfortunately, those kinds of defenses hurt his credibility and the great work that he's doing. I think that's the concern.

It is like when you see things that are wrong and obviously wrong, don't defend those. In this administration, you can't be honest about what you see right in front of your face or else he risks losing his job. You know, that would be a loss for everyone because he has done good work.

SELLERS: And also -- let me just say this. I'm sorry.

BROWNSTEIN: Go ahead, Bakari. I'm going to say real quick --

SELLERS: I was going to say -- OK.

BROWNSTEIN: -- the racial --

LEMON: Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: In addition to kind of the racial, you know kind of coding and signaling and the president's use of terms like lynching or comparing himself to African-American defendants in the criminal justice system, there's also a broader argument that he's always making. That he is the victim.

SETMAYER: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: And also by extension that his voters are the victims. They're the victims of contemptuous elites who disdain them. They are the victims of immigrants who are coming to take their jobs or kind of rob them.

In fact, the annual poll by Public Religion Research Institute out last week -- the American value survey comes out once a year -- two- thirds of Trump supporters say discrimination against whites is as big a problem in the country as discrimination against minorities. That is kind of an important cornerstone of his argument, that you are the ones --

LEMON: Quickly, Ron --

BROWNSTEIN: -- who are really facing unfairness in our society.

LEMON: I will give you the last part. Trump's biggest base projected to decline by more than two percent --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

LEMON: -- in 2016, while non-white voters will increase. I have 10 seconds left. How will that transfer to in terms of votes coming out?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, just changing the electorate alone without change in preference or turnout will probably mean another point in the popular vote for Democrats. It possibly could tilt Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin back to the Democrats. There is no guarantee but it does make Trump's path narrower because he is, as I said, relying on bigger margins from groups that are shrinking and facing bigger resistance from groups that are growing.

SELLERS: Don --

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. I got to run. I got to go. I'm sorry. I got to run, Bakari. We'll be right back.

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[23:40:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: America seems more divided by race now. But an initiative launching today aims to do something about it by combatting the legacy of slavery and segregation in America and uniting the south through social and racial justice.

It is called "E Pluribus Unum" and it is led by former mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, and he joins me now. Mayor, thank you so much. We are going to talk all about this really important and fantastic initiative in just a moment.

But I just like to get your reaction to President Trump's remarks today at a criminal justice forum, trying to showcase what his administration has done to help minorities yet a lot of people think he is the most divisive voice in the country right now on race. What do you think?

MITCH LANDRIEU, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: Well, there is no question that he has thrown a lot of smoke and fire on the issue of race from the time he came down the steps, you know, talking about the fact that Muslims are terrorists and Mexicans are rapists and he talked about, you know, countries a certain way, you know, and the false equivalency in Charlottesville.

I think one of the things he has done is kind of moved us into a bad space of judging people based on race, color, creed, sexual orientation, et cetera, you know it.

LEMON: Yes.

LANDRIEU: And although I am, you know, happy that he participated in criminal justice reform, that initiative having been incubated across the country for many, many years, it doesn't really make up for what we really know is in his heart and in his mind.

[23:45:08]

LANDRIEU: The country, especially today when Elijah Cummings was laid to rest, you saw eloquent eulogies by President Clinton and President Obama and what the nation looks like when it comes to getting to mourn somebody that was a great leader.

Even though maybe some of the folks in that audience didn't always agree with Congressman Cummings, they knew that he was a patriot and that he tried to bring people together. That's really the ethos of out of many we are one. LEMON: Let's listen to President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There's nothing weak about looking out for others.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: There's nothing -- there's nothing weak about being honorable. You're not a sucker to have integrity --

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: -- and to treat others with respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Mayor, is that the kind of message that this country needs to hear right now?

LANDRIEU: Well, I think there's no question about it. I mean, you're seeing an ex-president, you know, talk about great virtue and talk about what strength really is. We're at a confusing time where they're calling people traitors who are actually patriots, who are under the protection of the Constitution or dissenting, redressing the grievances against the government as the Constitution allows us to do.

But most importantly, what he is showing is that you can be hard on the problem and soft on the people. Just because you disagree with somebody politically doesn't mean that you have to excoriate them. You don't have to judge people by race, creed, color, sexual orientation, who you love, who you agree with.

We were supposed to do things in this country based on merit. And so "E Pluribus Unum" is an effort to really kind of dig into that and start calling the country back into common purpose, that great aspiration about forming a more perfect union.

LEMON: You spent a year going to communities all through the south speaking to hundreds of people and 13 states. What struck you the most in talking to those people?

LANDRIEU: Well, the first point is we took time to go really, really, really deep down and get on the ground and listen to what people had to say. As you said, we went to 13 different states. We went to 28 different communities. We did interviews with people, maybe over 800 people that were half-hour and 45 minutes long, listening to them talk about what they were yearning for, what they wanted for, what they needed, what hurt them, what gave them joy.

There were a couple of takeaways that were really interesting. First of all, the white folks that participated in this exercise as a general rule did not have a deep grip on what institution racism was.

LEMON: Let me put some of the stats up for you. That is going to back up what you're saying.

LANDRIEU: Sure.

LEMON: You polled, mayor, 1,800 people for the report. And in one question -- I think that's where you're going -- you asked if the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation has made it harder for black people to get ahead in America, and broken down by race. Eighty- three percent of African-Americans said a resounding yes, while 62 percent of whites said no. Did that result surprise you? That is what you're talking about. Go ahead.

LANDRIEU: Yes. That is part of what I'm talking about. The whites also see racism as an individual act of aggression against a person of another color that they might engage in as opposed to African- Americans who they recognize that that is racism but they are much more baked into institutions that have not given them the benefit of the doubt, that have not allowed them to build generational wealth, that treat them very, very differently.

And so criminal justice reform quite frankly is one of the pieces of those but African-Americans and whites see the problem differently. That's a negative consequence. One of the good things is that everybody, African-Americans, white Latinos believe that diversity is strength, not a weakness.

That surprised me a little bit because of the assault that is being front right now in the United States where people are saying diversity is not strength, that it's a weakness.

LEMON: I think it's fascinating. You also found that culture and sporting events are opportunities for people to connect, which we know from the south, the great LSU football and the Saints as well.

LANDRIEU: Oh, yes.

LEMON: It's called "Divided by Design" and it is Mayor Mitch Landrieu's undertaking, his project, and it's fantastic. Thank you, mayor. I really appreciate it.

LANDRIEU: Thank you very much, Don. I appreciate the time.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

[23:50:00]

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LEMON: Here's a good news update for you from someone we met last year whose life has been changed by top 10 CNN Hero, Amanda Boxtel. Her organization, Bridging Bionics, provides free low cost cutting edge therapy to people with mobility impairments. Here's Anderson Cooper.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Three years ago, Nate White injured his spine in a kayaking accident and was told he'd never walk again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You want to try to stack it?

COOPER (voice-over): But his hard work and determination along with Amanda's incredible help has paid off.

NATE WHITE, INJURED SPINE IN ACCIDENT: I'm a robot.

COOPER (voice-over): A year ago, he did this. And now just three years after his accident, he's doing this.

WHITE: Amanda always believed that I was going to be walking again.

AMANDA BOXTEL, CNN HERO: He's living the miracle of what we all aspire for.

[23:54:58]

BOXTEL: This is the power of technology that everybody should have access to. That's my goal.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Wow, really amazing, just one example of the work of our top 10 CNN heroes. And next week, meet this year's extraordinary group. The 2019 top 10 CNN Heroes will be revealed Wednesday. Find out who will get this year's honor. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.

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