Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

President Biden Says Trump Should Not Receive Classified Intelligence Briefing; Raise in Minimum Wage Not Likely Part of COVID Bill; Major Security Breach at Joint Base Andrews; Justice Department Looking Into Proud Boys; Fox Business Suddenly Cancels Lou Dobbs Tonight; Study Finds Capitol Rioters are a New Kind of Extremist; New Details on What Axios Describes as the Craziest Meeting of the Trump Presidency; The Film "The United States Versus Billie Holiday" Premieres This Month. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired February 05, 2021 - 23:00   ET




NORAH O'DONNELL, ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: Should former President Trump still receive intelligence briefings?

BIDEN: I think not.

O'DONNELL: Why not?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of this erratic behavior related to the insurrection.

NORAH O'DONNELL, ANCHOR, CBS NEWS: I mean, you've called him an existential threat. You've called him dangerous. You've called him reckless.

BIDEN: Yes, I have. And I believe it.

O'DONNELL: What's your worst fear if he continues to get these intelligence briefings?

BIDEN: I'd rather not speculate out loud. I just think that there's no need for him to have that intelligence briefing. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all other than the fact he might slip and say something?


DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Well, Biden also revealing tonight that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, one of his key campaign positions will likely not be part of his COVID relief plan. And a major security breach at Joint Base Andrews, where the presidential air fleet is house. Tonight, a comprehensive investigation ordered to find out what went wrong.

Joining me now is CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood and former CIA officer David Preiss. David, good to see you. I haven't seen you in a while. John, of course good to see you. I see all the time, by the way, David is the author of the president's book of secrets.

Let's start with John Harwood. So, John, President Biden says that Trump should no longer receive those classified intelligence briefings citing his erratic behavior, unrelated to the insurrection. This is a big deal.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big deal, Don, in the sense that no other ex-president has been denied this information. But it's a completely normal deal when you think about how Donald Trump is different from every other previous ex-president. Is he discreet with classified information? No. He wasn't as president.

Is he capable of providing wise advice that Joe Biden or any other policy maker would value based on that information? No. Is there something suspicious about his relationship Vladimir Putin and Russia? Yes. Does anyone doubt that Donald Trump is capable of taking classified information and using it to benefit himself politically, financially or in some other way? No, nobody doubts that he might do that.

And all those are reasons that I think Joe Biden was not wanting to say out loud, but those are all reasons not to provide him those briefings.

LEMON: David, what do you think? Should the former president have this kind of access?

DAVID PREISS, FORMER CIA OFFICER: In general a former president should have this kind of access because it is useful to the current president to be able to reach out to somebody who has been in the same seat that they've been in, having to make the same major decisions on life and death, going to war, major negotiations with foreign leaders. For all those reasons, it's good to have a reservoir of a handful of people who can give you advice based on what it was like, even if they disagree with you politically.

But that's in general. And Donald Trump does not fit into the general pattern of what a former president behaves like because he doesn't fit into the pattern, like John said, of what a president behaved like. So, in this case, Biden has logic on his side to say I'm not going to be using Donald Trump the way that many presidents used, for example, Richard Nixon, as someone who can give me advice and let me bounce off ideas about Russia and China in particular.

If Biden isn't going to use Trump like that, there really is no excuse for this custom, this tradition of intelligence briefings to continue for Donald Trump.

LEMON: Yes, I think you said that there were no logical reasons why Trump should have access. You wrote a book on what these classified briefings are like, what kind of damage could be done if this information was exploited. PREISS: Well, the good news is that even if you had an ex-president

who went completely off the reservation and was getting the briefings, they are not getting the crown jewels. They're no longer getting the president's daily brief, the top-level intelligence document that has all the secrets the current president wants and needs to see.

They are getting less sensitive briefings than that. But let's not kid ourselves. These ex-presidents -- if the current president allows them to do get classified information if they want to see it. By definition classified information is information that if revealed would do damage to the national security of the United States.

That might be revealing some kind of intelligence collection, revealing some kind of vulnerability in the United States or revealing a source or a method of intelligence collection that would prevent us from getting the next information about a military threat or a terrorist attack against the United States. If that information gets in the wrong hands, gets in the hands of our adversaries, that's a bad day for America.

LEMON: John, the president also made news tonight on COVID relief and minimum wage. Take a listen to this.


BARTIMORO: You also want to raise the minimum wage to $15. Is that something you would be willing to negotiate on in order to get Republican support?


BIDEN: Well, apparently that's not going to occur because of the rules of the United States Senate.

BARTIMORO: So, you're saying the minimum wage won't be in this one?

BIDEN: My guess is it will not be in it. But I do think that we should have a minimum wage stand by itself, $15 an hour and work your way up to the 15. It doesn't have to be boom. And all the economics show if you do that, the whole economy rises.


LEMON: So, this is significant. What does this mean for negotiations?

HARWOOD: Well, I think the absence of the minimum wage from the package, if that's what happens, will make it easier for Joe Manchin to take one example, the most conservative Democrat among the 50 -- they need all 50 to pass this bill -- make it easier for him to vote for it.

I did think it was odd that the president used that venue to make that statement. They put it in the bill. Bernie Sanders in the Senate has been making the argument, wants to make the argument that it can pass muster under the parliamentarians ruling about what's appropriate in reconciliation. Many other people expected that it would be thrown out. The House

budget chairman John Yarmuth had predicted that it would be thrown out. But I'm not sure why, if you're going to include it and if you're going make the attempt, why would the president be forecasting its demise at this point?

But again, I do think that the fact that this change is likely to be made in the bill, that is, it coming out as well as the adjustment in the targeting of those checks that are going to go to families so that people with higher income won't get them, those will make the bill more appealing to more people that Democrats need to pass. And I think that's the sum and substance of what it means.

LEMON: John, David, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

So, I want to bring in now CNN senior justice correspondent Mr. Evan Perez. Evan, good to see you. Thanks for joining. You're getting new information about a major breach of security at Joint Base Andrews. A man was actually able to gain access to the plane. What in the world?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an intrusion at Joint Base Andrews, Don that this man was able to get not only through security, past security, was able to get on to an aircraft, a C-40. And this is an aircraft that belongs to the 89th air lift wing. This is the group that takes care of some of the planes that you see the president, the vice president, members of the cabinet fly on.

Now this is not one of the planes that is used for Air Force One, but obviously it raised a lot of security concerns. The Air force says now they're going to investigate this. This man was booked and given a summons and handed over to local authorities. But obviously this is going to have some major repercussions for the air force to understand exactly what happened.

LEMON: Well, it should. And tonight, the Justice Department is revealing that they are looking into the Proud Boys and the danger they pose to the country. What are you hearing about this?

PEREZ: Well, yes, this is a guy by the name of Ethan Nordean. And he called himself the sergeant at arms of the Proud Boys chapter in Seattle. And in a memo to the judge asking for him to remain in jail while they await to bring him here to D.C. to face these charges, Don, which includes by the way conspiracy, which is a very serious charge, the prosecutors say that releasing the defendant to rejoin the fold, their fold and plan their next attack poses a potentially catastrophic risk of danger to the community.

Now, that's some very strong language from prosecutors. And what they're describing is this -- some of the things that they found in their searches. And they found preparations. They found a lot of -- some of their communications equipment that allegedly these men were using to try to communicate during the Capitol attack.

And so, what prosecutors are asking is keep them in jail because there's a lot of serious things that we're still looking into and more charges could be coming. LEMON: Evan, thank you. Have a great weekend. I appreciate it. Bye-


PEREZ: Thank you. Thanks.

LEMON: Fox Business suddenly cancelling its highest rated show, Lou Dobbs, one of the former president's biggest boosters, he's out. We're going to tell you how it went down next.



LEMON: So, Fox Business cancelling Lou Dobbs tonight, its highest rated program, that as Fox faces a $2.7 billion lawsuit from Smartmatic, a voting technology company. The lawsuit asserts that Dobbs as well as Maria Bartiromo and Jeanine Pirro defamed Smartmatic while perpetuating President Trump's lies about election fraud. Also named in the suit, pro-Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell.

Joining me to discuss, CNN's chief media correspondent and the host of the liable sources, Brian Stelter. Brian, good evening. Brian, this is big. What do you know? Why did this go down? How did it go down?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently Fox was thinking about doing this, pulling the plug on Dobbs' show before the Smartmatic lawsuit. But you have to look at this and say two plus two equals four. There's a lawsuit filed against Fox naming Dobbs and the next day of his show is cancelled. You know, one thing does connect to another.

Dobbs has been known for his extreme content on the air. I think management decided enough is enough. But that raises the question what about others like Janine Pirro and Maria Bartiromo who were also named in the same lawsuits. Don, I'm told Janine Pirro will be on the air tomorrow night, no other immediate changes at the network. Dobbs, however --- maybe he is the sacrificial lamb of (inaudible).

LEMON: Interesting. And Maria Bartiromo still over at Fox Business as well.

STELTER: That's right. That's right.


LEMON: And she has a show on Sunday, I believe that, you know that airs.

STELTER: And she will be on -- that's right, yes.

LEMON: Go on. She's going to be on as well.

STELTER: And so that's the curious thing about this. It seems like they are cutting Dobbs off and, in some ways, admitting to some problems with his content. But Fox has been moving further and further to the right in many ways in recent weeks in months. They are chasing their audience in much the same with the GOP is struggling to figure out what to do with Marjorie Taylor Greene. Fox News is radicalizing its viewers. It's moving right along with them. It's a very similar phenomenon.

LEMON: Well, I think that they radicalize their viewers so much with believe in the Trump stuff that when they had to say, you know, when they had to finally level with their viewers that the election, that Joe Biden has actually won, and so on and so forth, that the viewers needed purer stuff.

And so they went on to another place. Because they should not have been surprised that they made their viewers believe this garbage, and then the viewers were upset. When it turned out not to be true. What is Fox saying about this?

STELTER: Well, they are saying they will vigorously defend themselves in this lawsuit from Smartmatic. They say that they are proud of the election coverage. And they say that they were planning on making changes to the programming even before Election Day. So that is a claim from Fox.

Look, the lawsuit is a very big deal. And dominion is another voting technology company that may also sue in the coming days or weeks. So, there are legal problems on multiple fronts here, Fox is very exposed, as our other channels like Newsmax and One American News.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, you said two plus two equals four, I think in this case two plus two equals $2.7 billion. And that is the concern right now for them. So, Brian, listen, the opinion shows on Fox have been as you mentioned, they've been leaning into defending their loony right-wing conspiracies. How is it working out for them now?

STELTER: I think Fox News is in a very weird situation. Fox has not been in the position for 20 plus years. Fox News is number three in the ratings race. Now, I'm not here bragging about CNN, it's not just about CNN, MSNBC is also a head of Fox. Fox has found itself in the wilderness right now in a way it's never been before. Staffers of the network say to me we are lost, we don't know what to do, we are trying to claw our audience back.

I think, Don, it speaks to the anger that some Trump's fans feel toward the media. They don't want to hear any of the news about Biden. It also speaks to this broader problem about radicalization. And what happens, as you said, when people want to have a purer form of what they're getting. A lot of people look at Fox News as a gateway drug.

And when that high is not high enough anymore you go off the Newsmax, you go to One American News, you go off to fringe QAnon websites. I hate to say it. That is part of the dynamic of what is going on in a right-wing media today. And that is actually hurting Fox News right now.

LEMON: Brian Stelter, host of reliable sources, I will be watching as I do every Sunday. Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. We're investigating the people who storm the Capitol. Their ages,

their backgrounds, where they come from, and more. So, make sure you stay with us.



LEMON: The former Capitol police chief saying in a newly disclosed letter the entire intelligence community seems to have missed the warning signs of the Capitol riot, even as thousands of social media posts suggested the rioters saw the Capitol as a target. To prevent more attacks like the one we saw on January 6, it is critical that we understand the profile of the insurrectionists among us. I should say.

So, the next guest, my next guest, has been working to do just that. He's name is Robert Pape, and he is a political science professor at the University of Chicago and coauthor of peace in the Atlantic this weekend, it is titled Capitol rioters aren't like other extremists. And he joins me now. It's a fascinating article. Thank you, Robert. I appreciate it.

You and your team, you looked at 193 suspects charged with being inside the Capitol or breaking through barriers to get on the grounds and compared it to the data on recent arrests on right-wing extremists -- of right-wing extremist. And you found this is -- take a look at your screen now -- the vast majority of suspects in the riot have no ties to far-right militias, white supremacists gangs and the like. So, what does that tell you about the people involved in the insurrection?

ROBERT PAPE, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: That tells us that we're dealing with a new mass movement with violence at its core that's not easily reducible to the usual suspects. Yes, 10 percent are members of militia groups or gangs like the Proud Boys. But that means 90 percent are not.

Yes, 8 percent are followers of QAnon. But that means over 90 percent are not. We need a fine-grained understanding because the usual suspects just won't do it in this case. The striking thing that we're learning is that 40 percent of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, I mean those who went into the Capitol, those 800, are business owners and white collar -- have white collar occupations. That's stunning.

In all the work I've done on political violence in my 30 years, we don't have a category in our other demographic studies for business owner. Here we have 13 percent. Perhaps most striking of all, Don, 57 percent come from counties that Biden won.



PAPE: Now, to be clear, these are Trump supporters, but Biden won large urban counties. And so, in Chicago, Biden wins 65 percent. Well, that means 35 percent vote for Trump. Well, that's 750,000 people. That's a lot of people. LEMON: Well, listen --

PAPE: And that's what we're seeing.

LEMON: I'm actually not surprised by that because the people who live, I would imagine, among the Biden supporters are probably more upset because they have to deal with him. If you live in a Red County, you can go commiserate with your buddies and talk about how the election was stolen. You don't necessarily have that outlet and every day you're confronted with people who supported the other side.

That's not surprising to me. But also, you're not going to believe that it's not surprising to me that it's business owners as well. And I'm wondering if it's -- if this sort of shows that there is a new group among us who are -- who have become radicalized by rhetoric, by sitting at home during the pandemic, by having more exposure to the internet and conspiracy theories and so on.

PAPE: We already have made substantial progress with our team of 20 researchers at the University of Chicago. We have now a pretty good understanding of what's going on. What that tells us, Don, is some of our path solutions just won't work.

So, it won't be enough to just simply round up the militant right-wing gangs because that's only 10 percent of what we see. It's not going to be enough to go focus and target QAnon. In fact, the 8 percent in Capitol Hill, that compares to 17 percent in society as a whole in America who support QAnon.

What we need to understand is our usual solutions here such as let's solve the employment problem, give them jobs. Well, there are only 9 percent unemployed in this pool, so this isn't going to work. The average age is over 40. So, what we see here is another solution is usually well, they'll just kind of grow up and grow out of it.

Well, these are folks in their 40s and 50s. They have kids and so this is not going to work. What we need to do is actually pause a bit on reaching for the quick solution, do more work to thicken our understanding of who we're dealing with in this new mass movement so that we can create true viable solutions that will work for America as opposed to looking for the quick solution.


PAPE: This will not be done, Don, and over in just the next few weeks. This is a problem that is going to go on for years, and we need to really take it seriously.

LEMON: I think you're right. And I'm just wondering because, listen, I know you said it's surprising but it's actually not surprising that the people, most of them, have jobs, that most of them are not affiliated with a group but they do feel some sort of similarity to that group, that maybe if they're not -- even though they're not connected to a white supremacist group, they're still in the crowd with those white supremacists. People who are wearing Camp Auschwitz t-shirts and all of the racist

paraphernalia that was found on the ground. It's not actually surprising because as we know, many people did not want to say that they supported Trump because it wasn't -- you know, that they would be deemed as outcasts or -- do you understand what I'm saying. So, in a way it's not surprising

PAPE: Well, that's right, but what we're seeing in this new mass movement is a collection of a wide variety of mainstream people in America. They are pro-Trump, but this is a mass movement with violence at its core that's reached into the mainstream. And that really needs to give us pause and give us reason to truly sink resources into understanding more about who this group is, is crucial for the future of Americans.

LEMON: I agree. I wish we had more time. Bring this man back, producers. We want to talk to him more. This is fascinating. Thank you so much, Robert. You be well.

PAPE: Thank you.

LEMON: So, it was one of the last meetings of the Trump administration and it might just be the most insane. We're going inside an hours-long meeting filled with shouting conspiracies and even threats of a physical fight, that's next.




LEMON: We are getting new details about just how far the former president was willing to go in his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump couldn't accept his loss and was fighting the results with a legal team of conspiracy theorists.

Jonathan Swan of Axios is reporting about how it all unraveled in what he's calling the craziest meeting of the Trump presidency. We're talking about seven hours of screaming, cursing, and a standoff that almost got violent.


LEMON: Here's what Swan writes. He says the hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy.

Jonathan Swan joins me now. Jonathan, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Fascinating piece, so again, thank you so much. So you have been covering Trump for years. But you say this December 18th meeting was by far the darkest and most demented you have ever reported on. Set the scene for us as to what happened and who were the players here. JONATHAN SWAN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Yeah, this was a

very deranged meeting. And really, I've covered a lot of deranged meetings, but this one, I think, takes the cake. This is December 18th, it's a Friday evening, and the day has consisted of a long series of Oval Office meetings, but there was one last meeting that wasn't on Donald Trump's official schedule.

And so, the White House lawyer, a senior adviser to the White House, Eric Herschmann, is sitting in the outer Oval Office and in wanders Sidney Powell, who I'm sure your viewers are familiar with. She's the female lawyer who has been propagating this false conspiracy theory that the Venezuelans and the Chinese and all sorts of other communists hijacked the election by --

LEMON: The kraken lawyer.

SWAN: -- hacking into voting machines. Yes, the kraken -- she's the head of the elite kraken strike force. So, her, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser for Donald Trump, Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of, and another less well known lawyer named Emily Newman, they strolled past Herschmann into the Oval Office and they sit down in front of the resolute desk with Donald Trump.

So, Herschmann slips in behind and sits in this yellow chair closest to the door. And that sets of this -- it was about three hours in the Oval Office and then they head up to the residence. It was a meeting in which multiple White House officials joined, including the White House counsel and the staff secretary. Others piled in on the conference call.

And the basic argument from Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn and the team was to the president was to say that your team, these officials sitting back there, they're all liars, they don't have your back, they're not fighting for you. Listen to us. We've got this plan.

And they didn't use the words martial law in that meeting, but what they were proposing was to suspend the normal laws governing this country and to invoke emergency national security powers to use potentially the U.S. armed forces or other parts of the U.S. government to go around the country seizing voting machines. I mean, this has already been debunked.

And they had other ideas, you know, rerunning the election, all sorts of other things. And Trump is sitting there watching this whole thing play out. It actually got to the point where it almost became a physical fight. Michael Flynn -- remember, former three star general, rose to the top of the military --

LEMON: Right.

SWAN: -- he's on his feet, turning around from the resolute desk, yelling at the White House staff, berating them. And at one point, one of the senior advisers, Eric Herschmann, said to Flynn, if you want to come over here, come over here, if you don't, sit down.

LEMON: And he sat down.

SWAN: He actually sat down.

LEMON: He sat down. At one point, wasn't it -- do you even know who I am, and one of the people answered the wrong name? You know --

SWAN: Yes.

LEMON: Yeah. It's crazy.

SWAN: Yes. There was this other -- which is truly nuts, yeah.

LEMON: Yeah. So, I want to talk about this because a legal team had been making these crazy claims of election fraud for weeks. They had already lost dozens of court cases, as you mentioned, that had been debunked. But just to remind our viewers, just to remind them, this is some of what they were saying about Dominion voting systems, and then we'll talk.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: We use largely Venezuelan voting machine, in essence, to count our vote. We let this happen. We're going to become Venezuela. We cannot allow these crooks because that's what they are to steal an election for the American people.

SIDNEY POWELL, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP (voice-over): Dominion was created to reward is what I would call election insurance. That's why Hugo Chavez had it created in the first place.

(On camera): The machines were easily accessible to hackers. There's a video on the net that will explain to you how a kid with a cell phone can hack one of these voting machines.


LEMON: So, Jonathan, this is all garbage, right? I mean, now, some of these players are being sued. But inside the White House that night, the scenes were even more insane. Powell is telling the president about this global scheme to fix the election.

SWAN: Right.

LEMON: What did she say and how did the White House lawyers respond to that?


SWAN: Well, she was waving around these affidavits, which were complete garbage. And, you know, she had lost 60 cases in court, right? So, the White House staff secretary, Derek Lyons, pointed out to her and said, you haven't won a single case, everything you show falls over when you're actually asked to provide the evidence.

And then she goes on this rant about how, well, the reason we -- you know, we didn't get a fair hearing because all of the judges are corrupt. So, Herschmann says, all the judges, like, even the ones we appointed?

LEMON: Yeah.

SWAN: Because remember, a lot of these judges -- President Trump basically refilled the federal judiciary with Trump-appointed judges, many of them incredibly conservative Republican-appointed judges. And they threw these cases out, too.

So it was this Bizarro World conversation where -- I just think it's really important for people to understand this is not like some corner of the internet where QAnon devotees are having these kinds of conversations.

This is in front of the president of the United States at the resolute desk. These documents were on the resolute desk, these documents alleging that Venezuela or China and the CIA was in on it. I mean, we're talking about some of the cookiest materials that have ever reached the resolute desk in recent American history.

LEMON: And when they told her, you haven't won a case, you know, it's been 60 cases --

SWAN: Right.

LEMON: -- wouldn't address that but just say the judges were corrupt and then pivot on to some other crazy conspiracy theory. You have some great detail. You mentioned the overstock CEO, His name is Patrick Byrne, wearing a hoodie and a net gator scarfing down pigs in a blanket. He had never even met Trump before. Jonathan, why was he even there?

SWAN: I mean, lord knows. I guess he became friendly with Michael Flynn and he was all in on this idea of this Venezuelan voting machine, incredibly complex conspiracy. These conspiracy theorists all found each other.

And, you know, it is sort of -- again, if you wrote this in some kind of a screenplay, it would just be thrown out because it's just too over the top. He's there up in Trump's living room. So, they repair up to the living room. We're now getting close to midnight, by the way. They've been yelling at each other for hours on end.

They repair up to the living room. They're sitting on armchairs. And Byrne in his hoodie is scarfing down pigs in a blanket and these little meatballs on tooth picks, you know, trying to engineer a military coup.

And so they're having this conversation and there's all sorts of back and forth. But at one point, Byrne, who's never met Trump, he says, you and I, we're entrepreneurs and sometimes you need to do things more creatively. He's trying to sort of talk to Trump as a peer.

Again, it just really -- you wouldn't believe this stuff if you saw it in fiction, but it actually happened.

LEMON: Well, they went upstairs. The president actually left and went to his private dining room. And then eventually, they went upstairs --

SWAN: Yeah.

LEMON: -- because it was going so long. I guess they followed him up there. I'm not sure. So, I'm wondering how Trump was responding in all this because you write at one point, he said, these guys are at least offering me a chance. They're saying they have the evidence. Why not try this? No matter how outlandish it was, he kept saying why not try this? What does that say about the former president's state of mind? Did he really think that this sort of fever dream that he had, that he could steal the election could work?

SWAN: It's hard to know what he believed was true or false. I've recorded other scenes where Trump had been receiving calls from Sidney Powell, would put her on mute in the Oval Office, and would mock her in front of the staff there, which the sort of thing he tends to do, saying she's crazy and whatever. But at the same time, he entrusts her at one point with his legal strategy. So, you know, he --

LEMON: Didn't he say -- sorry to cut you off. Didn't he say at one point, well, --

SWAN: Yeah.

LEMON: -- even no matter how outrageous what she was saying, her ideas were -- at least she is fighting for me.

SWAN: At least she is fighting for me. Just to understand Trump's state of mind at this point, basically he's so desperate at this point to overturn the election, and he's infuriated because his professional staff is refusing to tell him what he wants to hear, which is, you know, Mr. President, there is this clear path to victory, you can still overturn this election.

So, by default, the only people left to listen to were the conspiracy theorists because they were only people willing to give him this outlandish preposterous theory that there was still a way to overturn the election. So, that was the crew that he gravitated towards as January 20 approached.

LEMON: Yeah. It's so fascinating because it seems to be his state of mind now.


LEMON: As we know, Jonathan, his whole legal team quitting and he had to come up with a new one because they wouldn't go along with these crazy conspiracy theories, as well.

Jonathan Swan, great reporting, as usual. Thank you. Please come back.

SWAN: Thanks for having me.

LEMON: Thank you. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Later this month, we're going to see the release of the new movie "The United States Versus Billie Holiday." The film explores her tragic life and tells the story of how the federal government went after Holiday for singing the song "Strange Fruit" about the lynching of Black Americans.


LEMON: Here is a clip from the film.


UNKNOWN: Why don't you ever sing "Strange Fruit?"

UNKNOWN: "Strange Fruit." I got to be pretty high to sing that one.

UNKNOWN: I've never heard you singing it.

UNKNOWN: It's a song about important things, you know? Things that are going on in the country. So many people don't care about those things. Most of all, it's just about love.

UNKNOWN: Love is important, too, right?

UNKNOWN: You know, one day, I'm gonna quit drinking, and get off this stuff, too. Go to one of those hospitals like the movie stars.


LEMON: It is a fantastic film. "The United States Versus Billie Holiday" is directed by the one and only Lee Daniels, and he joins me now.

Lee, it's so good to see you. I got to see it in advance, thanks to you, and it is fantastic. I'm so happy that you're here to talk about it. Before we talk about that, I just want to get --


LEMON: -- I just want to get from you what is happening in the country. We are five days in the black. It is Black History Month and we are still dealing with the aftermath of an insurrection, during which we saw white supremacist symbols in and around the nation's capital building. What did you think when you saw what was happening on January 6?

DANIELS: I can't believe that I was shocked, but I was shocked.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

DANIELS: I still was shocked. It goes right back to my film. Who thought that nooses would be around in 2021?

LEMON: Yeah. It's --

DANIELS: You can't write a script like this. You cannot write a script, Don. You cannot write a script like we are seeing, what we are seeing now in the Capitol and the country.

LEMON: You are the person who would know. What do you think, though, because I know, Lee, that you're very outspoken about this? Your films, what you do on television, your work, your art deals with race, much of it deals with race.

What you do think -- were you surprised seeing these folks handle the way they were? Can you imagine if they were Black Lives Matter protesters?

DANIELS: We would have been locked up. We would have been shot at. We would have been -- I can't even imagine what would have happened.

LEMON: Yeah.

DANIELS: And it really is a statement about -- a statement on where we are in America.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

DANIELS: It's a dark time right now.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, let's talk about how we got here, because there is a through-line to all of this. Let us bring in the film now.

DANIELS: Where is the through -- oh, yeah, the through-line.

LEMON: The through-line is race and that's what we're talking about. Now the country hasn't really dealt with significantly. "The United States Versus Billie Holiday" is the name of the film. She was targeted by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, ordered not to sing her song "Strange Fruit," which is about lynching, the lynching of Black Americans in the south, but refused to stop singing it.

Tell me more about how "Strange Fruit" fits into your film about the legacy that the song has created.

DANIELS: First of all, I did not know that -- I did not know that she -- when you think of Billie Holiday, you think of a jazz singer, you really think of -- you don't think of a civil rights leader.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

DANIELS: She was singing this song at a time when it was not cool to sing it. The government asked her very nicely to stop. She refused. And she said, no, I will keep singing the song. They arrested her for singing the song.

They couldn't arrest her for free speech, so they planned to -- even though she was a drug addict, she was trying to stop doing drugs, and they planted drugs on her. They berated her and crucified her until she died.

Even on her deathbed, they were planting drugs on her, because she refused to stop singing a song about lynching, lynchings that were happening around America. LEMON: What was the inspiration? Had you been wanting to do this for

a long time? Listen, there was so -- we had the summer of George Floyd, we had Black Lives Matter, we had Breonna Taylor, right? I know you started the film long before that.

DANIELS: This was way before that.

LEMON: Yeah, this was way before that, but it's just we have so much going on in society now. I'm just wondering because it also deals with -- one second -- it also deals addiction and how we have evolved with that, as well. Go on, Lee, sorry.

DANIELS: I think that, you know, when I saw a "Lady Sings the Blues," "Lady Sings the Blues" really was exciting. I don't know if you remember that movie, but with Billy Dee Williams --

LEMON: Diana Ross.

DANIELS: -- and Diana Ross and -- right. Really, I've never seen two black people on screen like that. I was a teenager. I saw a beautiful black people in love. But that wasn't the real story.


DANIELS: That wasn't the story of Billie Holiday. It was the story that I think America needed. Black people needed to see a couple like that in love for the first time up on the big screen.

So when Suzan-Lori Parks wrote this incredible script about the government taking her down because of that song, I realized I had to tell that story because she was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. I think there wasn't a civil right movement until she sang that song. She kicked off the civil rights movement.

Also, she was an addict, and I am a recovering addict, so I understand what that is like. I understand what she was as an artist. I understand that. There is such a stigma that is attached to addiction. It was time for me to just release that demon into the public that was inside of me, too, to talk about what I was feeling. So a lot of things that she is feeling or felt are the same feelings that I feel.

LEMON: Listen, I thank you for your artistry, I thank you for your friendship, and I thank you for your courage to speak out in these times. You continue to do it and really much appreciated it, brother.

DANIELS: And Don, you keep doing what you're doing. You are -- you're killing it here and you are touching many Americans every night.

LEMON: Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.


LEMON: And you can watch "United States Versus Billie Holiday" on February 26th. It's on Hulu. Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.