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Don Lemon Tonight

President's Enemies' List. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired July 26, 2017 - 22:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Time to hand things over to Don Lemon, CNN Tonight starts now.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: President Trump is not done trashing his own attorney general and a lot of people in Washington are worried. If it could happen to Jeff Sessions, could it happen to them?

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Welcome, by the way, to the age of vendetta politics. Even if you're loyal, even if you're just doing your job, ask the beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Ask the president's other targets including republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, and republican Senator Dean Heller, Lisa Murkowski, don't even mention the special counsel Robert Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey or acting FBI director Andrew McCabe.

Every one of them has gotten on the wrong side of this president, a man who definitely doesn't forget. And now there are rumblings that even some conservatives are turning against the president.

So the question tonight is, is vendetta politics a winning or a losing strategy?

Let's discuss now. CNN's chief political correspondent is Dana Bash, she's here, White House reporter Kaitlan Collins, and political analyst Patrick Healy of the New York Times.

Good evening to all of you. Dana, I'm going to start with you. The president continues his attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions today, the acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, as I mentioned, also singling out Lisa Murkowski as we said there as well for her no vote on health care. What do you make of these swipes? Is this vendetta politics as they say?

DANA BASH, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I don't know if it's actually vendetta politics, forgive me, because that would suggest that there is some form of good politics in what he's doing, and there just isn't. There just isn't.

I mean, this is personal, particularly when it comes to Jeff Sessions. I think you can put Jeff Sessions in one category and everybody else in another. I mean, Lisa Murkowski, going after her is not unlike him going after Dean Heller or anybody else who, you know, votes the wrong way.

But going after your attorney general the way he has day in and day out, not just a regular attorney general, a guy who was the first to endorse him in the Senate when everybody thought that Jeff Sessions was out of his mind.

LEMON: Put his political clout on the line.

BASH: Put his political clout on the line, he gave President Trump, then-candidate Trump legitimacy with the conservative base which was no small thing for this former democrat from Manhattan to come to be invited down to Alabama to be introduced to the conservative base with one of their heroes, Jeff Sessions.

And not just that, Sessions was on the plane with the candidate, was very close with him. I mean, we saw it day in and day out. And for him and I think from Trump's perspective, that is why he feels so upset and so betrayed. Because they were so close, that he doesn't understand why Sessions didn't tell him that if he's going to be attorney general, he's going to have to recuse himself for all things Russia.

Right or wrong, that is why the president is so upset and will not stop, despite White House aides trying every single day to get him to put the phone down, stop tweeting, stop talking about it, don't talk to the New York Times about it, enough.

LEMON: Yes. Patrick is like, why are you looking at me? The attorney general actually had to do his job and follow the law and recuse himself, which is interesting. What would have him do otherwise?

I'm just wondering because remember on the campaign trail, he attacked every one of his opponents.


LEMON: It did work. I'm wondering though, if it works in governing because republicans really they likes Jeff Sessions. They are defending Jeff Sessions. Is this working?

HEALY: No. I mean, during the campaign the strategy was divide and conquer. You know the President Trump, then-candidate Trump was playing to a very specific base that he was trying to grow, and like Dana said he was getting to kind of legitimacy from Jeff Sessions with the hard right.

Remember, his endorsement, Jeff Sessions' endorsement in February 2016 only came, you know, a couple weeks into the primaries. Donald Trump had shown strengths in South Carolina, but he still hadn't really proven that he was one of them. And a lot of those voters who loved Jeff Sessions listened to hard right radio.

You know, they had sort of heard that message for a long time, and they were still trying to accept, you know, Donald Trump. But that's the thing, right now he still sees a lot of these cabinet secretaries, he sees the people who work for him essentially as people who work for him. They serve him, they don't necessarily serve the Constitution, they don't serve...


LEMON: So they serve the people.

HEALY: Correct.

LEMON: The chief law enforcement officer...

HEALY: Absolutely.

LEMON: ... for the people, not for the president. It's interesting because the president said, he saw my crowd sizes, I had 30, 40,000 people and so then he came on board. Jeff Sessions didn't need that. He won -- he won the states...


HEALY: This is how -- this is how he punishes.

BASH: Yes.

[22:04:58] HEALY: This is how Donald Trump has punished people, you know, throughout his career. He expects people to deliver a result for him. There probably, in his mind, could not have been a bigger result than Jeff Sessions as attorney general somehow shutting down this Russia investigation that so galled him as the president and then instead recuses himself.

LEMON: Kaitlan, I haven't forgotten you. But Dana, just really quickly, hold on a second here. Just really quickly, when -- this is a difference here. Because democrats aren't necessarily on board with Jeff Sessions, but they do think that Jeff Sessions...


BASH: They are now.

LEMON: Well, they're on board.

BASH: Not with his policies.

LEMON: They didn't want him to be attorney general.

BASH: Yes.

LEMON: But they're on board with this is wrong.

BASH: Yes.

LEMON: He doesn't work for as president. He should not be treated this way. That's an important distinction, I think. BASH: It is. But I think even more important than the democrats

being, you know, saying, Mr. President, you're wrong, the republicans are.

LEMON: The republicans are.

BASH: And we haven't seen a lot of republican pushback against this president and certainly haven't seen it the way that we're seeing this pushback because they are the ones who have to confirm a new attorney general, they are the ones who are saying, no, no, don't even try to do what's called a recess appointment because we're not going to have your back on this.

LEMON: And that's a report in the New York Times in this article stating, "The White House thinks Trump will let Sessions stay for now. We'll see. We'll see."

BASH: We'll see.

LEMON: Hey, Kaitlan, the latest tweet from the president this morning, "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation but got his dollars, $700,000 for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp."

Aside from that charge against Andrew McCabe being completely wrong, what's incredible about all of this is that Jeff Sessions was at the White House today and didn't meet with the president.

KAITLAN COLLINS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Yes, that's exactly right, Don. Jeff Sessions is at the White House for what DOJ said was a routine meeting this morning. And Donald Trump wasn't in the West Wing yet, his schedule hasn't got started yet. He didn't have anything until 10.30.

But it's astounding that these two men were in the same building, and instead of going and speaking to him directly and airing his frustrations with Jeff Sessions directly, Donald Trump is choosing to tweet about them.

And I'd like to point out, going back to that tweet that stretches the facts a little bit. Donald Trump interviewed McCabe to be the FBI director back in May. And when he interviewed him...


LEMON: Yes. You stole my follow-up question.

COLLINS: And when he interviewed him he did not air these concerns at all about him.


COLLINS: He thought he was substantive enough to potentially be the next FBI director. And then the last I'd like to point out that the only reason that McCabe is in this position is because Donald Trump fired the FBI Director James Comey.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, and again, that was completely wrong. The money that was given it wasn't $770,000. It was nearly $675,000 to Jill McCabe who unsuccessfully ran for Virginia State Senate seat in 2015. That money came frm Virginia Democratic Party, which was a common good in Virginia, and the latter, it was a political action committee of the democratic Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who was a long-time friend and Hillary Clinton supporter.

And by the way, he wasn't made -- he wasn't put in charge of the FBI -- he wasn't in charge of the FBI when that happened. So his tweet is completely wrong, the information is wrong.

BASH: Yes. And I'm not defending it, I'm just kind of going to try to explain to you, is that this McCabe issue has been a very big issue in conservative media, on conservative radio, on web sites, that the notion of this guy being in the FBI and his wife being a democratic candidate. And that, and so...


LEMON: But it should be based on fact.

BASH: ... he was aware of it. It should be. It should be.

LEMON: It should be based on fact.

BASH: It should be.


BASH: But that's a conversation we've had many times.

LEMON: OK. So, Dana, talk to me about the reports of about a recess appointment of Jeff Sessions. Would all hell break loose if that happened? What are you hearing about that?

BASH: Yes. So Ted Barrett and I have reporting today, our congressional producer, about the fact that the president has been urged by some people around him to consider, as they're trying to figure out what to do, let's just say Jeff Sessions quits or the president finally gets up the nerve to fire him, what's next? What do you do? How do you put somebody else in there? Who can you possibly put in there?

LEMON: Who would want to take the job?

BASH: And you know, to have a confirmation process is one thing, particularly if the president wants to try to find somebody who will come in and get rid of Bob Mueller, or at least shrink the scope of his investigation, which is actually allowed.

You know, the reason why Bob Mueller, the special counsel, has the latitude that he has is because he was afforded that by the deputy attorney general. So, the idea that is being floated is for the president to find somebody to put in while Congress is in recess, and that person by law could stay through the end of the Congress. There is one catch, though. Two catches, actually.

[22:09:57] One is for eight to ten years, the Senate hasn't gone into recess for exactly this issue, for exactly this reason, to try to prevent the president of the opposite party from putting somebody in during the recess.

And secondly, there is no appetite that we can find among his fellow republicans to take this leap for him.


BASH: Which would be a pretty big deal, to put somebody in there, especially if it would be somebody who might dismantle the independent probe that's going on about Russia.

HEALY: And to his integrity, I think, it would instantly be questioned by at least half the country, I mean, the degree to which someone comes in and is willing to accept a recess appointment, it instantly raises questions like, have they taken a loyalty oath to President Trump, not as president but almost as, you know, as a man. In the United States we don't do loyalty oaths from the Oval Office, but what kind of person is willing to take that job?

LEMON: Patrick, I want to ask you, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the president's relationship with Sessions. Because remember I said, he was at the White House but he didn't meet with the president. Here is what she said.


SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's obviously disappointed. But also he wants the attorney general to continue to focus on the things that the attorney general does. He wants him to lead the Department of Justice. He wants to do that strongly. He wants him to focus on things like immigration, leaks and a number of other issues, and I think that's what his focus is at this point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he is so frustrated and so disappointed in him, why doesn't he just ask him to resign or fire him, why did he continue to just tweet about him instead?

SANDERS: Look, you can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job.


LEMON: He can be disappointed but still wants him to do the job.

HEALY: Yes, we just heard a lot...


LEMON: Hey Patrick, I'm very disappointed in you, and by the way, I still want you to come on the show. HEALY: Thank you, Don. I'll be here tomorrow night. You know, we

heard a lot from Sarah Huckabee Sanders there that we have not read in President Trump's tweets. You know, these are issues like immigration that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions had common cause on a year ago, you know, supposedly they still do.

A border wall, going after sanctuary cities, you know, ultimately new policy on undocumented immigrants. But you're not hearing that. You're hearing he's weak, you're hearing, you know, what's our beleaguered attorney general.

I mean, these adjectives, Sarah Huckabee Sanders can get up there and sort of, you know, say all what she wants from the podium, but we all know that Donald Trump's tweets are the most authentic expression of what the president believes and feels.

LEMON: Hey, Kaitlan...


BASH: Sure. I mean, I was going to say, I think what she said today is the most authentic expression of what his entire White House staff wants him to know.

HEALY: Would like him -- right.

BASH: Yes.

LEMON: Well, it's very interesting, because in this alternative reality that we're living in, the president says what he wants. He contradicts the people who are up there. He'll say, you know, he'll say what he wants on Twitter, and then she'll get up there and she'll say, well, he still has confidence that he can still do the job. It's just bizarre because he says what he wants and then they say, try to fix it, but it doesn't -- does it matter? Does it even matter?

COLLINS: Well, that's a great question. They also complained that reporters don't talk enough about policy in these briefings and they've justified...


LEMON: And they couldn't answer policy questions today.

COLLINS: They justified taking him off camera because they said reporters just want to be YouTube stars. But when Sarah Sanders was pressed on policy questions today, on a major policy as the president laid out in a series of tweets this morning, Sarah Sanders became irritated, and the president essentially did not think through the specifics of this policy change, and she was annoyed with reporters and threatened to stop the briefing if there were more questions on this policy change.

And the White House often says that the president is his own best messenger and that Twitter is the way for him to reach out directly to his base and his supporters without going through the media. But when the president tweets things like he did this morning, he doesn't have to take questions from reporters, he doesn't have to clarify and he doesn't have to offer specifics like our service members who are overseas right now and are the transgender going to be sent home. The White House couldn't answer that question today.

LEMON: Does it matter, it go back to my question. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

When we come back, what's really behind, happening behind the scenes? What's really behind the attacks on Jeff Sessions? Can he win the war against his own attorney general?


LEMON: Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the White House today but not for a meeting with the president who was busy lobbying against -- lobbying another attack at his attorney general.

Here to discuss, CNN legal commentator Matthew Whitaker, executive director of the Foundation of Accountability and Civic Trust, and CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, and former federal prosecutor -- a former federal prosecutor, Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant to the Justice Department.

Hello, all of you. Thank you so much for coming on.




LEMON: Mr. Whitaker, I'm going to start with you. By all appearances, the president, it looks like he is trying to force his Attorney General Jeff Sessions out of his job. But Sessions has made it clear he said he's not going anywhere unless he's fired. What do you think the president is trying to accomplish with his repeated attacks on the attorney general?

WHITAKER: Well, it's clear the president is trying to put enough pressure on Jeff Sessions so that Jeff does what the president, I believe, would think would be honorable and that is resign. And I don't think Jeff Sessions, who is currently in his dream job as attorney general, is going to do that.

And really, I think what ultimately the president is going to start doing is putting pressure on Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of this investigation, is acting attorney general, and really try to get Rod to maybe even cut the budget of Bob Mueller and do something a little more stage crafty than the blunt instrument of firing the attorney general and trying to replace him.

LEMON: Michael, many people say if the president were to get rid of Sessions, that would be a step toward getting rid of the special counsel Robert Mueller as well. Do you think that's the end game here for him? ZELDIN: Well, it's clear that the president is very upset with the

Mueller investigation and that he seems unable to go forward with what is probably sage legal counsel, which is to let Mueller investigate and exonerate him. He just can't get over that. And so he keeps doing these things in an effort to undermine the Mueller investigation, which I think is only empowering Mueller and giving him more support on the Hill.

Legally speaking, Rosenstein has some authority over the Mueller investigation, but it's not day-to-day supervision. He can't control this investigation in that way. The code of federal regulations that govern this makes that explicitly clear.

[22:20:00] He has given Mueller a mandate. It's not the broadest mandate. It says the relationship between Russia and the campaign and matters that arise out of it, which is what I think any U.S. attorney or United States attorney would believe to be a prudent mandate. So, I just don't understand from a legal standpoint what the president's end objective is because it's not accomplishable.

LEMON: That's why we have Laura Coates here.

COATES: Where are you going with this, Don?

LEMON: Do you want to answer that question for us? Walk us through exactly what would happen and who would take charge if President Trump himself was able to replace Sessions.

COATES: Let's play this out fully and that's why you know it's quite nonsensical what the President of the United States is attempting to do. If he tries to fire Jeff Sessions, he'll be replaced by the next in line, who of course is Rod Rosenstein, who already oversees Robert Mueller as special counsel of the Russia criminal probe.

So noting would change in terms of the oversight there. And the special counsel role is still protected in many way by Congress. Which means that he can only be fired for due cause. And those due cause concerns are enumerated, and frankly, although the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, could try to outweigh or overrule a decision that Mueller makes, he has to ask Congress for permission to do so and justify in front of them.

And if Robert Mueller is fired for any reason, and it's not for due cause, Congress could have a full hearing to figure out whether or not there was a substantial basis to do so.

So the president's kneejerk reaction, I think vitriol that he is spewing towards Jeff Sessions, really accomplishes nothing in the grand scheme of things. Not to mention the fact that for him to try to replace him, which I don't take the risk as we talked, probably not going to happen, or have somebody who is willing, ready and able and interested frankly, to take the role of Jeff Sessions.

Which frankly, I think that the ranks are narrowing as the days go on. If the person who has been so loyal to Trump cannot get the respect any more than Rodney Dangerfield, why would anyone else want to take that role?

LEMON: Interesting way of putting it. So, all right. With all that said, Laura, is there a scenario, OK, where the president could fire Sessions, appoint a replacement who could then fire Mueller?

COATES: Well, yes, that is absolutely possible if all the things contingency plans fall into place, you can fire Mueller. But here's what happens, Don. You invite an allegation, which I think is far more substantial of obstruction to justice.

The president has been quite clear about his motivation for why he has dismayed and disappointed with Jeff Sessions. And it all has to do with his personal microscope overhead about the Russia criminal probe.

And so, yes, could he get a lucky to do his bidding? Absolutely. Will he have the backing of the Senate who is quite loyal to Jeff Sessions and he's trying to investigate a probe whether or not by someone who is trying to be a minion of Russia? Then he'll have that battle as well.

But in the universe of Donald Trump anything is possible, but so are impeachment proceedings and criminal allegations.

LEMON: Will you...

ZELDIN: Don, may I add something to that?

LEMON: Yes, go ahead.

ZELDIN: Because it's not completely clear to me that Mueller can be fired even if he gets a new recess appointment to attorney general without there being a showing of misconduct, conflict of interest or good cause. That is what the regulations provide.

And I don't think you can do -- you can't fire him outside of the regulations. It wouldn't be an appropriate firing. The way he would have to do it, and I've written about this in an opinion piece for, is he really would have to change the regulations that govern the appointment of Mueller, and once those regulations are changed, that is, get rid of the good cause shown part of them, then he could fire him.


ZELDIN: So he has to go change regulations and then fire, and as Laura said, that, I think, would be seen by Congress as an abusive action.

LEMON: Yes, Laura, you did say that it have to show cause, right? Is that right? He's got to show...


COATES: Absolutely. And you know, and the final arbiter is Congress. And it all comes to unlike Jim Comey and unlike Michael Flynn, they were not members of Congress who had a conservative following and support.

LEMON: Got it.


LEMON: Go ahead, Matt.

WHITAKER: And that's why those same code of federal regulations govern the budget of the special counsel and that is well within the purview of the attorney general. So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced, it would recess appointment and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigations grinds to almost a halt.

LEMON: To dwindle his resources.


LEMON: But Matt, what do you think the concern level is for Sessions, the concern level for Muller? Because in order to fire Sessions, they would have to go through all the hoops and do everything that they said. Do you think Mueller is concerned right now?

WHITAKER: I don't. First of all, Bob Mueller was the FBI director when I was U.S. attorney. I have a lot of respect for him and I would be surprised, you know, if he is ultimately worried at all about this.

[22:24:57] And in fact, I don't even think he pays attention to what's going on in the daily back and forth about whether or not Jeff Sessions has the confidence of the president. Bob Mueller is going to continue to do his investigation. He continues to staff up. You know, they're talking to people, and they're doing their job, which you would expect.

LEMON: Fascinating conversation. Always appreciate having you on. Thank you, guys. I appreciate it.

COATES: Thank you.

WHITAKER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: When we come back, one of Jeff Sessions' former colleagues on the judiciary committee joins me. I'll ask her what she thinks of the president's attacks on the attorney general.


LEMON: The president using his Twitter feed to criticize Attorney General Jeff Sessions again today.

Joining me now is Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota democrat who is a member of the judiciary committee.

Good evening. Good to see you.

AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Thanks, Don. LEMON: I want to ask you about the Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He was your colleague on the Senate judiciary committee up until just a few months ago. Should the president fire him or should Sessions just resign after, rather than just continue these public attacks?

KLOBUCHAR: No, the president should not fire him and for one simple reason. Someone should not be fired for following the law. Now, I vehemently disagree with Jeff Sessions on a lot of things, the immigration, the voting rights and some of his positions.

[22:30:04] But the truth is that he simply recused himself from matters dealing with Russia because of his own past dealings with the Russian ambassador and others. And he has simply allowed a fair process to go forward by having his deputy, pretty normal, oversee a special counsel who is going to look into all of what went on in the last year with Russia trying to influence our election.

And the president simply can't fire him over that and I don't think the Senate is going to allow a recess appointment. There's plenty of ways to block that.

And then my favorite moment of the evening was Chuck Grassley and his inimitable way of sending out a tweet saying, "A.G. hearing, no way." Kind of putting his own stake down in his Iowa farmland there. Breakdown in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. And he said no.

And so, I don't see how this proceeds. Obviously the president can do what he wants in some ways, but this would create a crisis, and the republicans are drawing a line in the sand as well as the democrats.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: That said, let's talk healthcare now, shall we, senator? It was republican no votes that defeated another GOP healthcare vote today. The Senate rejected a, for repeal. The republicans now have this skinny repeal bill in the works, and it would repeal the individual employer mandate, the tax on medical device makers, but it would keep the Medicaid expansion and subsidies and keep preexisting condition protections. Do you think that plan could potentially get through the Senate?

KLOBUCHAR: They would have to -- if it did, it would be with one more tie-breaking vote by the vice president, and I'm hopeful that that -- they won't get to that point. But let's talk about this.

You know, skinny budget sounds like something kind of nice, like you want to be skinny, but in fact the Congressional Budget Office just today came out with the numbers, that this is not a skinny proposal, it's a skin and bones proposal because that's how it would leave a lot of Americans. Sixteen million people would lose their health insurance, 20 percent hike in premiums, and so those are real numbers coming out of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

And my hope is that they will join our call to work with us on some truly bipartisan solutions, like strengthening the exchanges and reducing those costs as well as reducing the costs of prescription drugs. LEMON: Why would they just push -- just sort of kick the can down the

road with the skinny version and then -- you know, because ultimately they're going to have to do it all. Is this just sort of, you know, to show something over here and then do something behind the scenes?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, as you know, there have been so many iterations of this. A and b, options a and b from the House, then you come over to the Senate with plans c and d, and then plan e the full repeal, and now we're at f. You can't get a lower grade than that.

LEMON: Do people actually know what they're voting on?

KLOBUCHAR: Not right now, and that was one of the things that was really interesting that happened today. As democrats stood and said, you know what? We will talk about amendments, but only when we see what this plan is. When we see what this plan is, then we will start proposing amendments.

Because they actually don't have it together yet. They keep voting on different things. And to me, all of this chaos when we're dealing with one-sixth of the American economy simply means that they should pull back, take up our offer to work together.

There are some things bipartisan bills that have been around for a while that would help the states listen to a lot of the governors on both the democratic and republican side, and come up with some things that actually improve the Affordable Care Act instead of causing this chaos.

LEMON: Can I just read something this is a tweet from the president because he singled out your colleague from Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski, over voting no on the healthcare bill. He said, "Senator Lisa Murkowski of the great State of Alaska really let the republicans and our country down yesterday. Too bad." Is this, do you think this a vendetta politics and is this helping or hurting him or the country?

KLOBUCHAR: I don't think it helps him or the country to go after someone like Lisa Murkowski. She's one strong woman. She's an athlete. She's a skier. She hunts, she fishes and she can take anything.

In fact, if you remember, she was booted out of her own party for a short period of time and ran as an independent. And people in her state had to learn how to spell Murkowski exactly right in order to vote for her, and they did it with wristwatches and other things and bands around their arm, and they went in and they voted her in again.

And that's the kind of popularity she has in her state. So I know she's up for taking this on and she's simply trying to do what's right for the people of her state. Her governor and legislature came together and did something called reinsurance. Minnesota is doing the same thing, to make the exchanges more affordable, and that's something we should be looking at in the national level.

[22:35:01] Senator Kaine and Carper have a bill, and Susan Collins the republican has been involved in this issue before. That's an exactly the kind of thing we should come together and Lisa is trying to push her colleagues toward.

LEMON: Senator Klobuchar, thank you so much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Great to be on, Don.

LEMON: I want to give you an update now. This is on Congressman Steve Scalise. He has been discharged from MedStar Washington Hospital Center six weeks after he was shot at a congressional baseball practice.

A spokesman for the congressman says he has an intensive period of inpatient rehab ahead of him and says, quote, "He is very glad to be in this new stage of the process and is very focused on his continued healing and recovery."

Congressman Scalise, the republican House majority whip, was critically injured when a gunman opened fire on the GOP baseball team as they were practicing for a charity game on June 14. The gunman was killed in the shootout with the officers. We'll be right back.


[22:39:57] LEMON: President Trump may have finally crossed the line with his attacks on Jeff Sessions, and some of the conservative media are not happy about it.

Breitbart news, former home of chief strategist Steve Bannon, taking Sessions' side against Trump, and they're not the only ones. I want you to listen to Rush Limbaugh and then Tucker Carlson.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: It's also kind of a bit discomforting unseemingly for Trump to go after such a loyal supporter this way, especially when Sessions made it obvious he's not going to resign.

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, FOX NEWS: Don't shoot the friendlies. Sessions is the closest ally Trump has in this administration.


LEMON: So let's discuss now with CNN political commentator Matt Lewis is here, CNN contributor Salena Zito, and syndicated talk radio host John Fredericks. John, we haven't seen in you a while. We thought you didn't love us anymore. But now you're back. They always come back.


LEMON: So, Salena, your reaction to the conservative media pushing back against President Trump, what do you think?

SALENA ZITO, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, I think it's appropriate. Well, I think even more importantly. Tonight, Chuck Grassley totally put the kibosh on anything happening, right? Because he said there is not going to be any judicial confirmations for a very long time. So that pretty much sets Sessions in there and made his job more secure than ever.

From what I understand, Sessions has no plans on leaving, anyway. I think what we've missed about this sort of whole thing is that for Trump, the bottom line, this has been about sort of weakness and being wounded. And that's how he views Sessions.

I think it's -- I think it's great that people -- I've heard from both parties standing up for Sessions. He is a classic law and order guy. This is what the republicans have wanted. That's why you see so many sort of a variety of different republicans coming to stand up for him, and you also see democrats standing up for him, too.

Not maybe particularly because they care for how he views the world, but because they know he's a stand-up guy and he has been a loyal guy. And he did the right thing by recusing himself.

LEMON: And also, you know, as I was speaking with Dana Bash earlier, they're putting country above party and that's an important thing, especially during this time.

ZITO: Yes.

LEMON: So, John, what do you think? Is the right turning on President Trump?

FREDERICKS: Well, number one, it's great to see CNN defending Jeff Sessions. I never thought I would see that in my lifetime, so that's kind of interesting.

But look, Jeff Sessions, Rex Tillerson and all these secretaries and those appointed in the agencies and the White House of the West Wing, they all serve at the pleasure of the president.


FREDERICKS: And he appointed them. They have to serve him.


LEMON: But listen, I don't -- CNN is not defending Jeff Sessions. I mean, maybe people on CNN are defending Jeff Sessions, but I mean, that's -- if they think something is wrong, the difference here, is that, if they think this man is being wronged, people are going to stand up for him and it's about time that people do that. It doesn't matter if you're a democrat or republican.

FREDERICKS: Well, Don, let's get your big boy pants on and get rid of these crybaby diapers. At the end of the day, Jeff Sessions is a politician.

LEMON: And by me, you mean he understood you. You don't mean me personally, I'm sure.

FREDERICKS: No, of course not, Don.

LEMON: OK. FREDERICKS: Let's get this straight. Let's -- Jeff Sessions is an elected official to the Senate before he was attorney general. He's a United States politician. He's in the arena. He's in the fray. All of a sudden we're all upset because the president is criticizing him in a public format.

Look, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Trump said this. If I knew you were going to recuse yourself and leave me naked and vulnerable here, I never would have appointed you attorney general.

Secondly, I don't particularly like the job you're doing in some of these areas. So he chose to criticize the attorney general in a public format. Now, look, that's his style. You might not like the style, people in the Senate might not like the style, but this is Trump's style.

The bottom line is Jeff Sessions has either got to respond to the president, step up, do what he's asking or get out. It's very simple.

LEMON: Matt.

FREDERICKS: There is no ball and chain there. The door is open, he can get out.


LEMON: OK. Let some other folks get in. Matt, take it away.

MATT LEWIS, COMMENTATOR, CNN: All right. I'm going to put the conservative media angle to this. And I think a couple of things. One obviously the conservative media, you've got National Review is part of the conservative media, you've Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart, Ann Coulter and you've got like the Alex Jones. So, you know, it means different things. But I do think it's interesting...


LEMON: Can we -- let's put some of the headlines up.


LEMON: The headlines from the president's most ardent supporters. The Judge Report, they've been covering the investigation in Russia election meddling. Some surprising headlines, the e-mail and the Russian's past, DNC dirt during Junior meeting, so go on.

LEWIS: So, I consider myself to a certain be a part of conservative media as a center right, as a center right journalist who have a conservative world view, I'm for pro-life, I'm pro-taxes, I mean, you know, that kind of thing. But it is interesting to me that these conservative outlets that we're talking about and figures didn't, they didn't really care when Donald Trump said bad things about John McCain, he said he wasn't war hero.

[22:45:04] LEMON: He wasn't a hero. LEWIS: They didn't care when he attacked -- when Donald Trump attacked Megyn Kelly. It's now that all of a sudden that they care, and it's not because -- it's not because they want to prevent Mueller from being fired, you know, if Sessions -- it's because they like Jeff Sessions, because Sessions is one of them.

But I think part of it's not just that they want to protect Jeff Sessions as somebody who agrees with them on immigration and the war on drugs and all that stuff, but it's also because I think they see him as a surrogate for themselves.

If Donald Trump is willing to stand up and not listen and attack Jeff Sessions, then he'll do the same thing to Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge and Ann Coulter. So I think the surrogate representing what Donald Trump might get around to doing to them next.

LEMON: Yes. We're going to put our big boy pants on and we're going to come back right after this and continue to discuss.


LEMON: The president drawing huge crowds to his rallies this week, but his support is dropping even in some states that voted for him in November.

Back now with my panel, Salena Zito. John Fredericks, and Matt Lewis.

[22:49:58] John, you first. You say President Trump isn't losing support, but here's a new Gallup poll that shows President Trump is underwater in 31 states nationwide, including 11 states that voted for him in November. States like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania who were key to his victory. Even Indiana and Texas, as well as swing states like Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina.

The Gallup poll already found that President Trump has a record low 39 percent approval rating across the country. So what's your reaction to these numbers?

FREDERICKS: Well, Don, two things. Number one, the media. The legacy media has been bashing Donald Trump nonstop 24/7 for six months. So obviously there's going to be some decline there. Now the other thing is these are the same polls that showed Hillary Clinton winning that showed Hillary Clinton winning all these states that said that Trump couldn't win.

So you got to take these polls with a grain of salt. They backfired on Election Day. They backfired during the election and they're going to backfire again. If Donald Trump gets the economy going, get to 3 percent growth, get tax reform in, get our jobs going and stay out of these wars and get our troops home, he's going to get reelected again, regardless right now of what the public opinion surveys have said because they've been discredited in this past election from basically April through November, don.

LEMON: And Matt, I wish I'd bet with you in the commercial break when I said I know how John Fredericks is going to answer this question. Was I right?

LEWIS: You nailed that one.

LEMON: Yes, go on. What do you think?

LEWIS: Look, I do agree with something he said there. I think, look, if Donald Trump could still win reelection. He could turn things around. The economy is doing pretty good and there are a lot of people around America who love Donald Trump. And 90 percent of my family would vote for Donald Trump for reelection today. And so, I do think it's important that we keep in mind...


LEMON: You think these numbers are concerning, though, too, especially if you are looking at numbers...


LEWIS: I would, look, I think that if I were -- if I were -- I think it's always safe to assume that you're in trouble. And not to -- so if I'm advising Donald Trump I say take this really seriously. I would also say, I think we are in an era where it would be very hard for anybody even they weren't sending out crazy tweets to really be popular. I think if Hillary Clinton were president, she would be facing some similar struggles.

LEMON: Salena, you were at President Trump's rally in Ohio last night, you spoke to his supporters and you write in the New York Post, "Six months after Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States, he received a hero's welcome in this town, but despite that big rally, Gallup says he has a 47 percent approval in Ohio, 48 percent disapproved." What's your reaction?

ZITO: Well, you know, I mean, I take the polls with a grain of salt in that I don't doubt their validity. I'm sure that they're right. And Matt is right with, you know, with the constant news all the time and sort of the constant chaos all the time. That's going to impact people.

I think you see a lot of people moving over to don't know how they feel. But also polls are sort of geographical, right? You know, you have to literally get into those counties that are important, whether this is fair or not, that are important to how you win elections. Not only in midterms but also in presidential.

At the rally yesterday, what I found was interesting of course, the people attending that voted for him, it's only six months in. They had a different world view. They view him in a different way. And they're happy. You know, it was like going to a tailgate party without the beer.

I mean, there are people all over the streets. They were walking around. There's music.

(CROSSTALK) LEMON: I'm sure there were some beer somewhere there.

ZITO: I'm sure there's beer somewhere. Nobody offered me any beer. But what I found, I found about six or seven people who did not vote in the last election but have found him. I always find this interesting. Found him more compelling, more interesting and they wanted to go see because they have started to like him and I find that amazing.

I found that in several counties across the country where I've gone and interviewed people who didn't vote in the last election and actually like him more now. I don't know if it's because he takes on the status quo, I don't know because he's different. But he does tend to make people give him a second look that were undecided before the last election.

LEMON: Matt, some have suggested that the president's tweets, right, that his tweets today, and you talked about that, but this one today about transgender troops in the military was a political decision. Do you think this was a play to the religion right which is key, a key part of his base?

LEWIS: I definitely think so. And I think that some of them might have to do with the last segment we had, where you have conservative media, conservative politicians who are expressing concern about the attacks on Jeff Sessions. They love Jeff Sessions. He's seen as a movement conservative. He's seen as a hard core conservative.

[22:54:59] And it does seem, you know -- so these tweets about the transgender military issue, to me seemed apropos about nothing and the only thing that makes sense is that he put it out there to sort of pacify the exact same people who are all of a sudden not happy with him for the first time.

LEMON: Yes. So, and listen. And you mentioned conservatives. I have to say that some conservatives are speaking out against this whole transgender thing.

Senator John McCain's statement today saying, "We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and he's able to meet the standards, should have the opportunity to do so and should be treated as the patriots they are." And lot of conservatives are hitting back. What does this GOP blowback tell you, John Fredericks?

FREDERICKS: Well, let me, Don, if I may first respond to what Salena said earlier. The Trump...


LEMON: You have 30 seconds to do it.

FREDERICKS: I'll do it. They're concerned about three things, three w's. War, wall, work. You get those three things, he gets reelected and he gets out of these wars.

LEMON: And then John McCain and transgender and the conservatives?

FREDERICKS: Transgender is this. Donald Trump is a pro-gay rights, pro-gay marriage republican. First one ever to do that took the issue off the table. He made a cold...


LEMON: What about transgender people?

FREDERICKS: He made a cold, calculating business decision that had nothing to do with the social impact or politics because his generals told him this is not working for us.

I've had people that called on my show that are on active duty who said this was a pending disaster for them serving in the military in the listening area that I have. So he made a cold business decision based on what his generals are telling him. Had nothing to do with the social issues or the religious rights or anything else.


LEMON: But you didn't really answer my question.

FREDERICKS: Pro-gay rights republican.

LEMON: Because you realized transgender people aren't -- yes. But transgender people aren't necessarily gay. That's the point. Do you understand that?

FREDERICKS: Yes, I do understand that. But he is pro-LGBT, no question about it. First one ever he took that off the table. He made a calculated business decision.


LEMON: OK, I have to go.

FREDERICKS: Nothing to do with the social aspect.

LEMON: But by doing this, it does not show that he is pro-LGBT, at least the T part because many see it as discrimination against transgender people. Thank you, all. I appreciate it.

When we come back, the president as shooting off a series of tweets that everyone is spinning but will he fire his attorney general? Who will be the last man standing?


LEMON: The White House in turmoil tonight and it's all the president's own making.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

President Trump so far ignoring pleas to make peace with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and that's got his staff nervously looking over their shoulders.

Plus, remember when candidate Trump said this?


[23:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign...