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Don Lemon Tonight

Dems Demand Copies of any Recordings; Trump to Cancel WH briefings; FBI Director Interviews; Rosenstein Sees No Need for Special Prosecutor; WH Won't Rule Out That Trump is Recording Calls. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired May 12, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's it for us. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts right now. Have a great weekend.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Did the president of the United States threaten the ousted head of the FBI? This is "CNN Tonight." I'm Don Lemon. The White House insists President Trump's tweet is not a threat but judge for yourself. Here it is. "James Comey, better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." Democrats on Capitol Hill demanding any copies of recordings, if in fact they exist.

The president also saying because he's so active, a lot of things are happening, don't count on White House aides to give out 100 percent accurate information. A lot to get to tonight. I want to begin now with CNN's White House correspondent Sara Murray. Sara, good evening to you. First question. This has been an extraordinary week. What's the mood tonight at the White House?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there certainly is a sense here that this is far from the president's best week since taking office. You know, we know in their struggles to explain why the president decided to fire James Comey and in just sort of his trigger decision where he kept so few people in the loop, there was sort of a sense of demoralization among some of the staffers here in the White House.

They feel like in some ways it was a learning experience about the risks and rewards about a president who makes such snap decisions. We've also learned that the vice president according to a source is a little bit rattled even by the events that went down this week.

Now we know the president offered some private reassurances to some of his staffers today. That may have left them a little bit more buoyed going into the weekend, but certainly a lot of people here were very happy to know that it was Friday, Don.

LEMON: Very happy it's Friday, a lot of people are as a matter of fact. I mentioned a little bit at the top of the show here, but fill us in on what happened this morning. MURRAY: This is really a sort of a shocking and surprising morning, even for this president, Don, because we saw the president take to Twitter to offer this very thinly veiled threat toward his newly ousted FBI director. He tweeted "James Comey better hope that there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

And of course, Sean Spicer was asked about this in the briefing. The president was asked about this in an interview. And they refused to explain what tapes he might be referring to or whether the president may be secretly taping conversations that are occurring in this White House, Don.

LEMON: Okay. So, what else did the president say in his Twitter tirade besides that?

MURRAY: Well, Don, as you know, when he tweets once, there are usually more tweets to come.

LEMON: Yeah.

MURRAY: And they are certainly were this morning. He was trying to explain why we've seen these conflicting stories from White House officials and from the president about how he came to the decision to fire Jammes Comey. You remember a number of officials said that he was taking the recommendation of Department of Justice officials and then Trump came out and said, no, it was my decision, I knew I wanted to fire him and I did it.

So, Trump said on Twitter "as a very active president with lots of things happening, it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy. Maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future press briefings and hand out written responses for the sake of accuracy."

Of course, we also know the president threatened to cancel these White House briefings altogether and to just hold his own press conferences in a couple of weeks, Don.

LEMON: A distraction, by the way, probably to move into something else. We are going to discuss it a little bit later on. Before I let you go, someone is being interviewed for the FBI director tomorrow. What do you know?

MURRAY: That's right. We know the White House has started to turn to who they will replace James Comey with. It's obviously going to be a very controversial decision whenever they do make it. The president is expected to meet with four different candidates tomorrow. Among them is Andrew McCabe, who is of course right now the acting director.

We also see Senator John Cornyn, who is a Texas Republican. He has a better chance of getting confirmed because he is already a sitting senator. Alice Fisher, who is a lawyer, a partner at a law firm here. And Judge Michael Garcia. So this is just sort of the first round of candidates that the president will be meeting with to consider for this job. Like I said, Don, you can bet that this is going to be a very controversial decision whenever the president does make it and certainly something Democrats are going to have a lot of consternation about.

LEMON: Thank you, Sara, I appreciate it. I want to bring in now CNN's Fareed Zakaria, host of Fareed Zakaria GPS. Mentioned that you are here and the president is tweeting about possibly canceling briefings. What do you think?

FAREED ZAKARIA, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR, HOST OF FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Well, he's not going to cancel briefings. This president -- I mean, in some ways, the president I think almost the metric by which he judges himself is, is he dominating the airwaves? There is this constant search to dominate the airwaves. I think it was Doug Brinkley who once said on reality TV, the person who wins is the guy or girl who has the camera focused on them all the time.

[22:05:00] As president, it is not difficult to dominate the airwaves. The metric really should be are you getting anything done? And I would point out again to all his supporters, how has this week been for you? Got any jobs back in rural Michigan, rural Pennsylvania? Brought back any -- you know, how is that infrastructure investment going? Where are the taxes going? Where is the health care reform going? None of that happens, but he does dominate the airwaves.

LEMON: Yeah. Can you imagine him not being on the news?

ZAKARIA: Imagine if rather than him counseling the briefings, the press was to just decide for one day, we're not going to cover Donald Trump, I think he would have a mental breakdown.

LEMON: Yeah, it's a distraction, right? Is he trying to move us on to something else, you think?

ZAKARIA: I think at this point, no. Well, it's a distraction, but it's a fairly desperate effort to change the subject when -- but this is entirely of his own making.

LEMON: Let's talk about the president launching veiled threats at the former director of the FBI. Can this now be an impartial investigation? How can it be?

ZAKARIA: You know, by any normal standard this would be considered a total breach of political decorum, of constitutional decorum, the president of the United States not just threatening the director of the FBI, but it seems as though from multiple versions he was asking the director of the FBI in private dinners to, A, give him assurances that he, the president, was not a target of an investigation.

B, they were having some kind of weird conversation about almost a quid pro quo, about staying on as FBI director in return for some assurances. All of this -- I mean, one doesn't know where to begin detailing the impropriety. As far as the taping and the threat, look, as you know, Don, as I've said for a long time, to people who think that Donald Trump actually is taping, that tweet is like so much of what he does. It's nonsense.

It's what I've called bullshit. Does anyone really think that Donald Trump is actually taping? No. You know, this is not Richard Nixon. There's a great line in history from Karl Marx who says history repeats itself. The first time is tragedy, the second time is farce. This is the farcical version of Watergate where the guy says, "I've got a tape" and actually he's got nothing in his hands.

LEMON: When I first saw it, it was like, oh, come on, I can't believe people would take that seriously, but I guess they do. We shall see. Stranger things have happened with this president. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, saying today about the need for a special prosecutor. He doesn't think that there should be a need for a special prosecutor. Is that correct?

ZAKARIA: He says that -- I mean, the problem is I'm not a fan of an independent council or special prosecutor because they do kind of take on a life of their own. But if there ever were a circumstance where the Department of Justice seems unable to pursue the investigation impartially, this is it.

Here you have an attorney general who essentially lied under oath to the senate, you have a president who has now fired three Department of Justice officials, apparently for investigating him.

In that circumstance it seems to me if you don't have some kind of special prosecutor or an independent bipartisan commission, I can't imagine that the public would feel that this was an independent inquiry and the public would be right.

LEMON: I have so much to talk to you about. Usually it's like what are you going to talk to Fareed about? Like one or two things. But life comes at you fast.

ZAKARIA: My favorite one this week was, it's small but unnoticed one, but I just think it's priceless. In an interview with the "Economist," the president said that he had invented the term "priming the pump."


ZAKARIA: And he looks at the people of the "Economist" and says, have you ever heard this term because I just came up with it two days ago? Now, this is to my point of how (inaudible) Donald Trump. So First of all, if he had come up with it two days ago, how could the people at the "Economist" have ever heard of it before?

Secondly, of course, the term was invented in 1916 and has been used -- liberty, hundreds and thousands of times. And third, I mean, if he had invented the term three days ago, which is liberty, where he says, how come he was using it throughout the campaign?

LEMON: Yeah. But this goes to the truth and the respect for the truth because there were so many things that have said. So many things that are happening. I think people don't know what to believe right now. Is there respect -- obviously, that is not a respect for the truth right now. ZAKARIA: No, I think that's what I mean sometimes when I said that filters through which you have to understand him, the filter that goes through his mind when he's saying this frankly nonsense is not true or untrue, it's performance art. It's sort of -- he's just saying stuff. So he -- at that moment he thought it makes sense for him to say "I invented the term priming the pump" and he then moves on.

LEMON: Yeah.


LEMON: Also, there's conflicting reports about who invited whom to the White House. Even the former director of national intelligence believes that it was the White House who invited...

[22:10:00] ZAKARIA: Let me put it this way. In all the times I have looked at these issues, I've never heard of somebody being able to invite himself to dinner at the White House.

LEMON: The White House.

ZAKARIA: The president invites you to dinner at the White House. You don't get to invite yourself to the White House.

LEMON: You have a piece in "The Washington Post" entitled "The Comey Firing Reminds Us of a Bigger Danger." You said, "there is just one real check on the president, impeachment, and it is political, not legal. Since Trump's own party controls both chambers of congress, there has been little resistance to him there.

One might have hoped for more, and perhaps we will see it. So far, it appears that the Republican Party is losing any resemblance to a traditional western political party, instead simply turning into something more commonly found in the developing world, a platform to support the ego, appetites, and interests of one man and his family." What do you want the Republicans to do?

ZAKARIA: I think it's actually quite sad because the party has surrendered itself to a person who is not really a Republican. This is not somebody who believes in the Republican Party's ideas who has supported the Republican Party historically. And instead of really drawing some lines and saying, look, of course, okay, you won the primary, someone who is not really a Republican.

Instead of really drawing some lines and saying, look, of course, you won the primary, that's the system that works, you get to be president but on issues of this kind of violations of constitutional tradition, on things like, you know, his business practices, I think more Republicans should criticize him. They should say, no, it's not okay to say, I can do whatever I want because I'm president.

You know, the presidency has always been somewhat above the law, that's how it's designed because we have these three branches of government. But ever since George Washington, there has been a very strong sense that because of that, the president has to self-police. So the president voluntarily either as candidate or president does a lot of things you don't have to do legally. And I would like to see the Republican Party hold its president to the standards that they would hold any other president.

LEMON: Yeah. That's interesting because an informed electorate should know that, right?

ZAKARIA: Right now, the saddest thing about where the country is, is that Trump is at about 40 percent in approval ratings. But, as you know, that masks the fact that among Republicans, he remains at about 80 percent. In fact, he has the second highest ratings for any Republican at this point in the presidency.

Among Democrats, he's at 8 percent. Among independents at 33. So you see that polarization in the country, which means that, you know, 30 percent of Republicans thought he should fire Comey one month ago, 60 percent now think it was the right thing. So when their team does it, it's right.

LEMON: Okay, yeah. Fareed, thank you, I appreciate it. Make sure you watch Fareed Zakaria GPS Sunday 10:00 a.m. and then 1:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN. Again, our thanks to Fareed Zakaria. When we come back, Democratic lawmakers demanding any potential White House tapes to be released. I'll speak to one congressman.


LEMON: The president suggesting he recorded his conversations with ousting FBI Director James Comey and now lawmakers are demanding those tapes if they exist. Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. Thank you for joining us, congressman. You released a statement requesting copies of all recordings in possession of the White House because you say, "these White House tapes could accelerate current investigations as previous tapes have aided past inquiries." Explain that.

RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE FOR ILLINOIS'S 8TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Well, you know, as you all saw this morning on those tweets, the president referred to some tapes of conversations.

And so we have been asking for documents and evidence related to any number of subjects in the oversight committee investigation of the Trump White House's ties to Russia, including anything related to the hiring and firing of General Flynn.

And now, we want to know if those tapes exist and if they do to hand them over because we need to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.

LEMON: I just want to say though that if the recordings do exist, they would be Presidential Recordings Act, and we can put up there, which requires that any recorded conversations at the White House be archived, unless the president gets special permission to not submit them to the U.S. archives. I mean, listen, President Trump wouldn't be the first one to do this. Bill Clinton did it. It's not out of the ordinary, but you just want to know if they exist because it wouldn't be unprecedented.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It wouldn't be unprecedented and, you know, if they do exist, we're asking them to be turned over. You know, at the press conference today, Mr. Spicer was asked pointblank, do these tapes exist? And he refused to deny it. So, I have to believe that we need to pursue this and get to the bottom of exactly what information is out there regarding the various questions in this whole Russia controversy.

LEMON: Yeah, so listen, you have repeatedly called for a special prosecutor but the actor director, FBI Director Andrew McCabe, says that they have adequate resources for the Russia investigation. Do you have a lack of confidence in their work?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: It is not that we have a lack of confidence, but I think that we should take this whole thing out of the political process. I've called for a 9/11 style independent commission to investigate this whole controversy. I think that we got to put country over party and make sure that partisan politics does not infect the process by which we investigate this particular matter.

That being said, if that doesn't happen, then we have to do our job on the oversight committee and that's why I'm pressing as quickly as possible to continue with this investigation, get to the bottom of what's going on, figure out most of all have any of our national security secrets been compromised, and how do we protect ourselves because we know that the Russians have been hacking elections. They have been trying to destabilize democracies around the world and we have to protect ourselves right now.

LEMON: But can't the president clean up this mess by appointing a strong, independent, and a well-regarded nominee to lead the FBI?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I think that would be a start. We need somebody who can restore dignity, trust and integrity to that particular position and confidence that the FBI remains independent. What really was disturbing -- a number of things were disturbing across the last 72 hours in connection with the Jim Comey firing. But as you might have heard, he was administered some kind of loyalty oath.

[22:20:00] A personal loyalty oath to Donald Trump. And, you know, we need the next FBI director to first of all pledge loyalty to the constitution and the laws of this country, not to any individual and not to the president because we're a nation of laws after all, not of men.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you for your time, I appreciate it.


LEMON: I' want to bring in now former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who served in the House of Judiciary Committee during Watergate and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, the author of "Conservatives Without Conscience." Good evening to both of you. Thank you for joining our show. John, to you first.

The president insinuated he has recordings, it was an insinuation, recordings of these conversations with Comey, but he asked about it later, when asked about it later, he said, he can't talk about it. Senator Dianne Feinstein is calling on the White House to preserve any taped conversations between the president and James Comey. Do you think the president is taping dinner conversations?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I don't know. Nobody knows for certain. Mr. Trump's word is hard to rely on. What I first flashed in my mind when I saw his tweet was that he had somehow used his smartphone and laid it on the table and maybe had the recording device working and that would capture the conversation. I don't think they've installed - formal equipment. That White House leaks so badly that something like that probably would already be on the street.

LEMON: I want to ask you, Elizabeth, let's put aside whether these tapes do exist or not, okay, because the president tweeted this. He said, "he better hope there are no tapes." Many see this as a threat. Is the president trying to intimidate, you think, potential witnesses?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: It's hard to know what this president is doing. The fact of the matter is that I would be very surprised if Mr. Comey walking into this situation might not have thought that there were tapes and so was extremely careful about what he said. I'm sure he was extremely careful.

LEMON: The reporting says that if there are tapes, he's not concerned about it. He doesn't believe there's a tape, but if there are tapes, he is not concerned about it.

HOLTZMAN: Well, I mean, why would the president talk about if there are tapes? He knows whether there is a tape. Why is he playing this game? Playing a game with Comey, playing a game with the media, playing game with congress, to the American people. If he has got the tape, he can say, you know, Mr. Comey, you're lying, here's the tape. But he's not doing that. Either he doesn't have the tape or the tape doesn't prove what he said.

LEMON: You know Washington. Why don't...

HOLTZMAN: During Watergate.

LEMON: This is a different time. People talk about Republicans then standing up. Why are they not doing it now?

HOLTZMAN: Let's put it this way. During Watergate and I'm sure John Dean will remember this too. Some of the Republicans started out as partisan strongly for Nixon. Howard Baker is a good example. He was the leading Republican on the Senate Watergate Committee, special select committee.

He started out saying, I want to know what the president knew and when he knew it, and he was doing that as a challenge to the witnesses because he said president didn't know it and he wasn't involved. But when the facts came out, Howard Baker saw the truth and changed his position. That was the difference because in the end, many Republicans put the country above party and above the president.

LEMON: John, what do you say to that?

DEAN: I certainly agree with the congresswoman. What happened on her committee, for example, is there was a solid Republican vote against that slowly eroded. By the time the last tape came out, all of the members who had not voted for a bill of impeachment joined and said they would have or did do so. It never got to the house floor so it never was really tested fully by the party but certainly at the committee level it was bipartisan.

LEMON: You have said, I mean, obviously saying this is Nixonian. Many people have said this is Nixonian, right? Because...

HOLTZMAN: Well, a lot of similarities.

LEMON: Because of -- now because of the recordings. I don't even realize if the president realized that people were going to compare that to Nixon because of the recordings. You say recordings are a double edge sword. Why do you say that?

HOLTZMAN: Double edge? I think recordings -- the president will know if there are recordings and he should just have said, I have a recording and he proves Comey's lying. He didn't say that.

LEMON: John, did the president obstruct justice by firing the guy who asked for more money to carry out this investigation related to him?

DEAN: I don't believe technically he has done so. It could be a part of (inaudible) impeachment as with Nixon's interference with the FBI. The obstruction statutes really focused on court proceedings and only if the FBI is working in relationship of a grand jury can there really be an obstruction. So I think you have a technical issue here that if they ever get to impeachment, they would say he interfered with the investigation.

LEMON: All right.

[22:25:00] Stick with me, everyone. When we come back, how Comey's dismissal could affect the Russian investigation.


LEMON: We're back now. The original reason given for James Comey's firing was his handling of the Clinton email scandal, but President Trump himself contradicted that. Back with me now, Elizabeth Holtzman and John Dean. I want to talk a bit more about this Watergate comparison because the Trump's surrogates sort of (inaudible) themselves. Many conservative (inaudible) themselves saying, wait a minute, it's already comparison to Watergate, that's too much. You say it is fair, Elizabeth.

HOLTZMAN: Oh, yes, no question about it. The two things that strike me right away, Watergate involved this break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters. That was the burglary. That was covered up. What was the purpose of the burglary? Somehow to interfere with the presidential election that was taking place in 1972.

Here we're talking about possible collusion with the Russians over what? Breaking in to Hillary Clinton's campaign, internet, and DNC information, her campaign staff. So to interfere

[22:30:00] with the election, presidential election 2016. So we have break-ins related to presidential election in Watergate and now.

LEMON: You had firings.

HOLTZMAN: And then you have the firings, in Watergate, the special prosecutor Archibald Cox wanted tapes, White House tapes that was going to prove whether Nixon knew about the cover up, orchestrated the cover-up. Actually, whether what John Dean said was true or not, the tapes would prove it. Nixon said he can't investigate me. I'm the president. I'm above the law. I'm stopping this. Well, he fired Cox and that brought -- it started the whole impeachment process. We have the same thing now.

LEMON: Is there another comparison?

HOLTZMAN: Aside from that, it's enough. Stopping the FBI investigation, thinking somehow that if he fires Comey that the investigation will stop. It will not stop.

LEMON: Yes. Go ahead John, what do you make of that?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, she left out a couple. We might also have an inoperative press room with what happened with the people that were left hanging out to dry after the president had his Lester Holt interview, so that's another one. I think that the broad comparisons are certainly there. There's been a certain Nixonian style about the way he's done things.

They're kind of crude and authoritarian. So, there are some similarities. It's not a, you know, history never repeats itself exactly and, you know, I just wake up every morning and think we've gone into another universe. I mean, I really don't understand Washington under Donald Trump. It is just a very, very baffling place because every day is new chaos.

LEMON: Can I talk to you about -- I want to know about the timing of this -- Sally Yates told a White House counsel Michael Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI and President Trump asked Comey reportedly, allegedly for a loyalty, sort of gave him a loyalty test the very next day, invited him to dinner. I mean, what do you think about that conversation and about the timing?

HOLTZMAN: Timing is very suspect but, you know, asking somebody to pledge loyalty to you -- I was district attorney in Brooklyn, New York. The D.A. That's the kind of thing the mafia ask people to do, is pledge loyalty. It's not the kind of thing the president of the United States does to the FBI director. The FBI director can't be loyal to the president. The FBI director has to be loyal to the constitution and the American people, as John Dean said.

LEMON: John, how concerned are you that the president will demand loyalty from the next FBI director?

DEAN: Well, there's a real possibility. I'm told this is one of his business operating procedures, where he asks people if they could be loyal and indeed extract nondisclosure agreements out of them as well. He didn't go that far with Comey.

But I think that it will be very telling his selection for the FBI director. That agency just does not need to be ruffled further and it will demoralize it if indeed he doesn't give them a really stellar appointee.

LEMON: "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting the Treasury Department unit is focusing on money laundering and can share financial records with the Senate Intelligence Committee to aid in the investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and a former Trump adviser Paul Manafort's bank records are being sought in the probe. What do you think of this, John?

DEAN: Well, it's unusual that indeed they have the right and the power to do that. It's a committee that -- this is their area of expertise. We known that they -- certainly the minority members are expressing concerns about some of Trump's business dealings and this is a way to get at it.

He's refusing to turn over his tax returns so this is kind of a back door into some of his businesses. And I think that they are going to at least fight their best fight to kind of get this information.

LEMON: Go ahead, Elizabeth.

HOLTZMAN: Look, if there was nothing there, President Trump has said there's nothing there, it's all a hoax, no collusion with Russia. If there were nothing there, why doesn't he make a clean breast of it right now, give open his tax returns to public scrutiny, tell everybody who works with him to turn over the information and cooperate fully and help the FBI instead of obstructing it. Then we could get the truth, it would be over, done with.

If he's right there's no collusion, great. If he's wrong then we need to know it because we can't have a president who is colluding with a foreign government to undermine our democracy. That would be the most dangerous thing of all.

LEMON: Speaking of handing over everything, you know, taxes, people were concerned that. He hasn't released his taxes. President Trump's lawyers released a letter saying that his taxes do not show any income it is from Russian sources except for two -- I just want to get in then, you can add two exceptions here -- $12.2 million made in the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow 2013, $95 million for a house sold to a Russian billionaire. Follow the money. What do you make of this?

[22:35:02] HOLTZMAN: Well, I just think again that Watergate and President Nixon saying, "I've turned over everything you to." But of course whatever he turned over was expurgated and deleted and so forth. A lawyer's letter saying what's in the tax returns is really worthless. You need to see the tax return.

So it's just a joke. It's a perpetuation of obfuscation and cover up. If he's got nothing to hide, make it open to the American people. Why are we playing these games now?

LEMON: John Dean, you've said on the show many times follow the money.

DEAN: Indeed. That's a line that came out of "All The President's Men," it was never in the book but the screenwriter came up with a very appropriate investigative guideline and I think with Mr. Trump and, as Elizabeth says, if he had nothing to hide, he's certainly throwing every wrong signal since the very outset of all these issues. He's done nothing but obfuscate and try to distract us.

LEMON: Thank you both. Have a good weekend. I appreciate you coming on.

HOLTZMAN: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, what is the president's definition of the truth? Because lately it just seems like we're just getting alternative facts.


LEMON: After a week of lies and contradictions coming from the White House, an important question, does this president care about the truth? He's been lying to the American people since before he became president. On November 27th he tweeted this, "In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."

There's no truth to that. And then there was this tweet on March 4th -- "Terrible. Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism." There's no evidence to back that up. And on March 20th, President Trump tweeted, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence electoral process." This is of course the exact opposite of what the now former FBI director Jim Comey testified that day. Here are some of the other lies.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never seen before. So that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.

And all across Europe, you've seen what happened in Paris and Nice. It's gotten to the point where it'd not even being reported.

I made a speech, I looked out. The field was, it looked like it a million, a million and a half people. It went all the way back to the Washington Monument.


LEMON: Here to discuss, CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, Michael Higginbotham, professor of constitutional law at the University of Baltimore and then CNN contributor Michael D'Antonio, he's the author of "The Truth About Trump." So, welcome everyone. Douglas Brinkley, you first. There are multiple lies of contradictions coming from the White House this week. Have we ever seen a president with such disregard for the truth?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: No. I don't really know many human beings that have such a disregard for the truth. The problem is here's the old saying back the sign of kind of insanity is when you believe your own B.S. He may believe that he's telling the truth and that's the part that's got everybody very, very confused all the time. I mean he must feel there's an advantage for this sort of we used to call tug-of-war that's it's like the tug-of-truth.

And so, it sort of forces everybody to wake up and try to like say you said this wrong, this wrong and it kind of starts becoming a collective insanity going --.

LEMON: Is this a kind of flood the zone with lies or misinformation and --

BRINKLEY: I think so. I think he just has --

LEMON: -- propaganda campaign?

BRINKLEY: -- yes, I mean, when you're a hyper salesperson, you know, the car is the most beautiful, the shiniest, the biggest, the best, and you spend decade after decade doing it and it gets you to the White House. He has shown no ability to reform himself because he doesn't understand his words matter more than ever not that he's president.

LEMON: There is a this condo is the best condo and that view, you could see all the way to Staten Island, that sort of thing when, you know, there's a building in front of you and you're like if you -- but if you look around there --

BRINKLEY: Yes, I know.

LEMON: -- the other thing. Michael Higginbotham, I want to get to you now. President Trump told "The Economist" in an interview published yesterday that he invented the phrase "priming the pump." He said he just invented it a couple of days ago but I mean, Merriam Webster which we all refer to, the gold standard said the phrase has been used to refer to government investment expenditures since the early 1930's. Does this president think he can get away with telling his own version of the truth and if he says it, then we're going to believe it and we just fell off the turnip truck?

MICHAEL HIGGIINBOTHAM, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: Unfortunately, he does, and he seems like, you know, the boy who cried wolf. He just keeps, you know, he just keeps saying these things and people keep accepting it. At least Trump supporters keep accepting it. So, I think he'll probably keep doing it as long as some Americans continue to accept it.

But he doesn't seem to value the truth. He doesn't seem to value veracity and it's trickling down to his spokespersons and press secretaries. I mean, they're doing the same thing. You see them, every time you see them on, they're misleading, they're mischaracterizing, they're talking about alternative facts and those are simply lies. And really the American people deserve more. They deserve better. It doesn't have to be perfect but they deserve better.

LEMON: Since you brought up spokespeople, spokespersons, I want to -- I won't forget about you Michael D'Antonio but I want to go back to Douglas because you said something interesting earlier. I thought no one is considering how history is going to record them, right, because you want to be recorded this way. Do you want to go down this way as -- do you think they think history will be kind to them?

BRINKLEY: I think they don't care about history, the Trump crowd. If they do, it can be their alternative history. If you're able to make up that Andrew Jackson could have kept us, you know, out of the Civil War and you forget that about slavery, you feel you can write your own history. This is the sort of thing the

[22:45:00] alternative right has been doing and we think about it as journalism but there's an alternative right history.

In that history, Joe McCarthy is a hero, even though he pulled out names of communists that didn't even exist, even though he smeared the State Department. The alternative right loves McCarthy. This is the crowd that Donald Trump associates himself with, the nativist, kind of hard right, in many ways bigoted view of America.

LEMON: He's so Joe McCarthy. I mean, who would want to, you know, have that sort of history? So Michael D'Antonio, you say the truth has never been profitable for Donald Trump. What do you mean by that?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he's never dealt in facts or truth in his business life or his salesman's life and that's really what his existence has been about since the 1970s. If you're not holding yourself to a fact-based narrative as you're selling a piece of real estate or a stake or Trump university, if you're willing to call it Trump University, you're demonstrating that fact is not your realm. And its very hard for a person at age 70 to now say, oh, I'm going to hue closely to the facts.

Actually I've observed over the years that what seems to have guided Donald Trump and now it seems to be President Trump is what is legal, you know, the criminality is that thing that he wants to avoid and what can I get away with. Now the trouble is when you're a president, there are hundreds if not thousands of people checking every word and it becomes very uncomfortable for him.

LEMON: I want to ask you, I'm just getting this as some new reporting in from the "New York Times" and Maggie Haberman, and it says about, the piece is called in part "Mr. Trump's four decade career in real estate, casinos and entertainment has given him a sense associates say that a tacit agreement exists between him and the people who work for him in exchange for the wealth, fame and power he conveys to them, they agree to absorb incoming fire directed at him. With Mr. Trump, it's pretty simple, once he makes up his mind on something, that's it," said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump political adviser who remains close to the president's team. So, you either work for him or you quit, Numberg added."

I'm just reading this. This is just coming in to CNN so bear with me. Does this sound like the Donald Trump, the Donald Trump that you have studied?

D'ANTONIO: Well, very much so. He wants people around him who are loyal to him and to his personality and to his endeavors. If you have a moral code or a commitment to the facts and it somehow differs with what he's presenting, you have to go with the Trump line or you're out. Now, I think people when they got to work for him understand that this is the condition. You know, you accept higher pay than you normally would get elsewhere, more responsibility, a little bit of glamour, but you have to subsume whatever values you may have acquired along the way in life and give it up for this organization.

And I think that's the problem people in the White House have. They've got some commitment, I imagine, to the American people and to getting things right, but at the same time they're working for a person who is very demanding, very domineering and shifts positions on an hourly basis.

LEMON: Yes. If we can put that article, just put the beginning of that article back up. I just want to put the title up. At least the title online is "Looking Like a Liar or a Fool: What It Means to Work for Trump." We'll be right back with our conversation.


LEMON: I'm back now with my panel. The president, you guys know the president tweeted today that he may get rid of press briefings and then he said this to Fox News.


JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Are you moving so quickly that your communications department cannot keep up with you?

TRUMP: Yes, that's true.

PIRRO: So, what do we do about that because --

TRUMP: We don't have press conferences and we do --

PIRRO: You don't mean that.

TRUMP: We'll just don't have them, unless I have them every two weeks and I do it myself. We don't have them. I think it's a good idea. First of all, you have a level of hostility that's incredible and it's very unfair. Sarah Huckabee is a lovely, young woman. You know Sean Spicer. He is a wonderful human being. He's a nice man.

PIRRO: Is he your press secretary today and tomorrow?

TRUMP: Yes --

PIRRO: Will he be tomorrow?

TRUMP: Well he's doing a good job but he gets beat up.

PIRRO: Will he be there tomorrow?

TRUMP: Well he's been there from the beginning.


LEMON: That wasn't really a ringing endorsement of Sean Spicer. I know a lot of really nice people who are, who I like, but they may not necessarily be cut out or good at their jobs, what does that have to do with spinning or not telling the truth, Douglas Brinkley?

BRINKLEY: Well, it doesn't. Everybody knows Spicer has been horrible as a press secretary. I mean, he should have -- his first day, he had to lie about the size of the crowd, and brought out like a phony photo-shopped deal. He just can't get any traction, so I think Donald Trump's pretty frustrated with what's going on because he can't answer questions. He seems out of his league.

I mean, look at Josh Ernest the last time as press secretary for Obama. No drama. Things went smoothly. Things went cool. With Spicer, every day something goes just goes off the rails so, he may feel that he needs to become his own press person, Donald Trump. In the end he might run the whole White House by himself because I think people don't want to be -- anybody who gets too close to Trump, seems to shrink.

LEMON: Michael Higginbotham, do you think all o those people believe what they're saying, just in the bunker?

HIGGINBTHAM: I don't think they believe what they're saying. I think, you know, they're taking their direction from the president and

[22:55:00] they're going to basically say whatever the president wants them to say. To me, it's a real problem. Limiting the press is not good. We have, you know, at our core American democracy is a robust press. And so, you know, eliminating the daily press briefings or having a lack of credibility on the part of your spokespersons and press secretaries is really detrimental to our American democracy and I think we need to do a better job.

LEMON: Real quickly here Michael D'Antonio. I'm going to read this because this is from Corey Lewandowski, his 2016 campaign manager. This is in that report tonight to "The New York Times." It says, "Mr. Trump's 2016 campaign manager, until he fired him, repeatedly groused to friends that he was forced to absorb all the criticism for the campaign's practice of confining reporters at rallies in small pens. Mr. Trump, he told two people close to him, had ordered him to do it -- but placed the blame on Mr. Lewandowski when reporters complained about it." What does that say -- but he's been really loyal to this president. What does that say to you?

D'ANTONIO: Well it tells me that he has been beat up over the process of both promoting the candidate and then backing the president. And the loyalty really doesn't run both ways. He likes to say that it will but it runs toward you in the form of your paycheck, but he's going to throw you under the bus if that's convenient. And I think that's what Lewandowski is speaking to.

LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it.

When we come back the Russian investigation moving forward despite Comey's dismissal. We'll tell you what's ahead.