Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

Top U.S. Officials Meet With President Zelenskyy; Ukraine Reports Heavy Fighting And Attacks; Elon Musk To Buy Twitter In $44 Billion Deal; Mark Meadow's Text Messages Reveal Trump's Inner Circle Communications Before And After January 6; Johnny Depp Wraps Defamation Testimony. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired April 25, 2022 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is DON LEMON TONIGHT. The U.S. officials -- top U.S. officials meeting with Ukraine's president in Kyiv. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying Russia is already failing and the hope is to see their military -- quote -- "weakened." But the fighting hasn't stopped. Russia is shelling five train stations in central and western Ukraine today. We're live on the ground there in Ukraine.

Plus, Twitter takeover. The richest man in the world buying Twitter for $44 billion. But what's Elon Musk going to do with it?

An exclusive, CNN obtaining more than 2,000 text messages sent to and from Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows detailing the ways Trump's inner circle wanted to overturn the election.

I want to get straight to CNN's Jim Sciutto with the very latest from the ground in Ukraine.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the highest-level visit to Ukraine since the invasion. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the risky journey to visit Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in the capital, Kyiv. There, the U.S. promised the return of diplomats to Ukraine and new military aid.

President Biden also finally announced a nominee for ambassador to Ukraine, the current ambassador to Slovakia, Bridget Brink.

ANTONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene. And our support for Ukraine going forward will continue. It will continue until we see final success.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Following this visit, Austin made the administration's most aggressive comments toward Russia so far, saying it intends to see Russia -- quote -- "weakened."

LLOYD AUSTIN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We want to see Russia weakened to a degree that it can't do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. So, it has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly, and we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Austin and Blinken, as well as other world leaders, travelled in and out of Ukraine by train. Within hours of their departure, Russia struck train lines in west and central Ukraine five times.

The focus of the Russian military offensive, however, remains in the east and the south. The Ukrainian officials say the Ukrainian forces are bracing for a new push in the Kherson region.

IHOR KOLYKHAIEV, MAYOR OF KHERSON (through translator): I am seeing in the last three days that there is a lot of troop movement in the city of Kherson. The Russian troops are changing their deployment and the deployment of their checkpoints, and there has also been quite an increase in troops.

According to the mayor of Odessa, Russian missiles killed eight people there over the weekend, just as the country was celebrating the orthodox easter holiday. Among the dead, said Ukrainian president, a mother and her baby.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): Among those killed was a three-month-old baby girl. How did she threaten Russia? It seems that killing children is just a new national idea of the Russian federation.

SCIUTTO (voice-over): In Mariupol, there is still no safe way out for civilians from the Azovstal steel plant, the last bastion of Ukrainian resistance in the city. Ukrainian officials continue to accuse Russia of forcibly deporting Mariupol residents, telling CNN that Putin is trying to depopulated Eastern Ukraine.

TYMOFIY MYLOVANOV, ZELENSKYY ADMINISTRATION ADVISER: Russia is sending a message not only to us --


MYLOVANOV: -- but also to other countries around Russia and to the rest of the world, surrender or be erased.

SCIUTTO (on camera): Russian forces have repeatedly targeted Ukrainian railways. The chairman of Ukraine State Railway System says that Russia has systematically destroyed railway infrastructure. The intention, in part, to go after the supply lines that the U.S. and NATO have used to supply weapons to Ukrainian forces. But U.S. and NATO officials said those supply lines remain open. Don?


LEMON: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

I want to bring in now CNN's Isa Soares in Lviv for us. Isa, good to see you. Russian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is speaking out about the intense fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine.


LEMON: What is his message tonight?

SOARES: Good evening to you, Don. Well, his message tonight is very much one of defiance, I think, is fair to say, as well as resolved, as this war, of course, enters its third month. It's just astounding to think we're in month three here.

President Zelenskyy speaking, as he normally does in nightly address, said Ukraine's victory is inevitable, but he said there was no simple answer as to the question of when they will defeat the Russians as when this war would end.

He did take, as he often does, Don, in his addresses, time to opportunity to really praise the courage as well as wisdom of Ukraine's fighters, those in the frontline, who not only, I may add, you know, pushing back against Russians but also turning their backs on Russia's occupying force.


This is the case in Kherson that Jim Sciutto mentioned just a few minutes ago, which is being occupied for weeks now by Russian forces, forces who are trying to hold an independence referendum on what they're calling the Kherson's people's republic. But Ukrainians are standing strong and defiant in the face of this aggression. Have a listen to what President Zelenskyy had to say.


ZELENSKYY (through translator): The lessons of history are well- known. If you're going to build a millennial right, you lose. If you're going to destroy the neighbors, you lose. If you want to restore the old empire, you lose. And if you go against the Ukrainians, you lose.


SOARES: Incredibly strong words there from President Zelenskyy as Russia, of course, continues an offensive not just in the east, not just in the west, Don, but also here in the west, in Lviv, where those train stations were hit about 35 miles or so from my position. Don?

LEMON: Goodness. The situation in Mariupol is getting more horrific by the days. So, what are you -- what are you learning about the women and children who have been stuck in the basement of a steel-making complex for the last two months?

SOARES: Yeah. The situation there, Don, is so incredibly dire. It really begs belief. We know holed up inside that Azovstal steel plant -- and it's a vast steel plant, by the way. It accounts for about 25% of the city of Mariupol. We know there are about 1,000 women, children, soldiers, including wounded soldiers, and it's just staggering.

We know from the CEO of the company who owns the steel plant that they are even surprised they still have food and water in the shelter because before the war started, Don, they were stocked with enough supply, according to the CEO, for about two or three weeks. So, they must be quickly running out of that.

Now, they've been inside for one and a half month. One can't even imagine, not just the impact it's having on their health, but also their mental health. And they got to the point now, they're so desperate to get out, because they've been completely bombarded and shelled and pummeled by Russian forces and on a daily basis. Have a listen to one woman's plea.


UNKNOWN (through translator): My city is completely destroyed. There is not a single place that's intact. Everything is bombed out. The children here are crying all the time. They want to play. They want to live. We can't even go outside. We have children who haven't been outside. They haven't even seen daylight for weeks. Children are not going outside. We have, maximum, a week's worth of water. Food, too. In a week's time, I don't know where -- what will happen to us.


SOARES: And this, Don, is just inside the Azovstal steel plant in the city of Mariupol itself. There are about 100,000 people who haven't been able to get out because there's been no humanitarian corridor for the past several days. So, incredibly dire situation that many are telling us has become the humanitarian catastrophe. Don?

LEMON: Isa Soares, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

I want to turn now to CNN military analyst and retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Colonel, good evening to you. We are learning tonight that Russian troops have taken control of the Kherson City Council. It has been weeks since they occupied that city. What does this tell you about the state of the fight?

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, RETIRED AIR FORCE COLONEL: So, Don, good evening. This is a typical way in which the Russians do business. So, this is Kherson. We'll take a look at the big map of Ukraine first. Right here, this is the city that we're talking about and it is right on the edge of Russian control versus Ukrainian control right here.

Now, if we go into a detailed look right here, Kherson is right here and (INAUDIBLE). But what the Russians are trying to do is they're trying to establish the same kind of governmental structure that they established up here in the Donbas region.

So, this is their idea. Not only are they physically trying to control this area to make that famous land bridge, but they're also trying to set up government structures in here, the so-called peoples' republics, that are designed to take over this area and have a government in place that replaces the Ukrainian governmental institutions that have existed up until this point.

LEMON: The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is warning -- frightening, though -- about the risk of nuclear war -- of a nuclear war. He said it cannot be underestimated. If Russia was really going to do -- going to use nuclear weapons, how might that happen? What would they even target?

LEIGHTON: So, there are several things they could target, Don. One of the usual uses of nuclear weapons, of tactical nuclear weapons, at least in the planning manuals, is to go after critical infrastructure.


You got to ask yourself the question, what critical infrastructure is actually going to be remaining in many of these places? So, what could happen is tactical nukes potentially -- this is a big, big if -- could be used perhaps to take out institutions in Kyiv, the capital. Perhaps, they would go after institutions in Dnipro or Kharkiv, but that would be a little too close to the Russian border and I doubt that they would use them there.

But the main idea would be to take out either institutions of the government or military institutions, perhaps the Air Force headquarters in Vinnytsia. Those kinds of things might be possible targets for them, but it would definitely be overkill. It would not be proportional force as would be required under the international laws of war.

LEMON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, you know, visiting there, and he says that he -- the U.S. wants Russia weakened. When you look at the situation on the ground right now, do you see that happening? How do you see it happen?

LEIGHTON: Well, there are several ways it could happen, Don. What we're looking at here is basically a slow-bleed of the Russian forces. So, the Russians are coming in this way, in through Izyum right here. In fact -- let me erase this and then bring it back up so it's clearer.

This is Izyum. The Russians are reportedly controlling this area. They're moving in this direction. So, they're moving toward the south, south west. They are also trying to come up here. What they want to do, though, is they want to get rid of the siege at Mariupol, take over the remaining areas, the Azovstal steel plant that we just talked about. Those areas right there are in the area that they're looking at.

But one more thing they're doing here, so they got this and if they control all these areas, then the other thing that they want to do is go towards Odessa. And from there, we already have an indication in Moldova that in Transnistria, what they're doing is creating a sort of false flag situation where what they have is explosions that have gone on today that are -- were created under suspicious circumstances.

And if they create an event here, several events here, what they can do is potentially use the tumult here to create a situation where they control this area which would be the port of Odessa. So, that is what the Russians want to do.

In order to bleed them dry though, so they don't this kind of thing, the Ukrainians are going to have to make sure that they maintain their forces in this area and they're going to have high mobility -- high mobility so they move their forces around very quickly to counter every single Russian advance that is happening in this region and this region in the south.

LEMON: Defense Secretary Austin also said that Ukraine can win with the right equipment and the right support. What kind of equipment is he talking about?

LEIGHTON: Several possibilities here, but one of the key things, of course, would be howitzers like this U.S. Army model right here that is part of the mix that the administration is sending over to Ukraine. The howitzers -- the 120 howitzers that they moved forward into this area will be key to going after tanks. So, that's item number one.

Speaking of tanks, there's a T-72 tank, the eastern European members of NATO, those that have these Soviet-made tanks, moving them into Ukraine. They're getting theirs replaced by American-made tanks and other European-made tanks. They can be used in a tank-on-tank situation in the eastern part of the country. With that said, there is, of course, the armed drone. This is an example of one, the Switchblade-600.

There's another one. This is the Phoenix Ghost drone that is designed to be very similar. The Phoenix Ghost is created by the U.S. Air Force to be similar to the Switchblade drone. These are kamikaze drones which means that they explode on impact.

They have a command in control node, an antiarmor warhead that can go after hardened targets as well as softer targets like those radar pieces there. They are controlled individually, and they can also can go in and distinguish between a friendly target as well as an unfriendly target. So that's the key element there with these drones.

Finally, for mobility purposes and for gunshot purposes, they can use helicopters. This is primarily a transport helicopter, an MI-17, but this would be the type of weapon system that would be very useful for the Ukrainians at the present time.

LEMON: All right. Colonel, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Don.

LEMON: Weapons are only part of the equation here. What else does Ukraine need to push back Putin's forces?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BLINKEN: We don't know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene.





LEMON: A nuclear warning from Russia tonight. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying nuclear deterrents is the country's principal position. But going on to say, I wouldn't want these risks to be artificially inflated now. But the danger is serious., it is real, it cannot be underestimated.

So, I want to bring in now PJ Crowley, the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for public affairs. Good to see you. This is quite frightening. I mean -- hello to you.

Lavrov says that Russia is trying to lower the risk of nuclear war. So, why bring it up?

PJ CROWLEY, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Very good question, Don. I mean, Sergey Lavrov is a very skilled diplomat.


He no doubt understands that a first use of nuclear weapons by Russia in this conflict would mean disaster for his country. If that's his message, yeah, he needs to tell that to his boss.

LEMON: Yeah. True that. So, Lavrov's comment comes days after Russia tested its nuclear -- intercontinental ballistic missile. What does it say about how Russia sees this war going? Does Putin understand that it's going badly for him?

CROWLEY: Also, a very good question. I think we've had some questions about the level of real intelligence that, you know, he has received. You know, that said, he did recently change not only commanders but command structure. So, I think he has a sense that Russia needs to up its game if it's going to succeed.

LEMON: The U.S. and NATO are pouring weapons into Ukraine. What else do they need to weaken Russia? I mean, Secretary Austin said, you know, they need to weaken Russia and strengthen Ukraine's hand. Perhaps, ahead of the future negotiations. So, how do they do it?

CROWLEY: I think, yeah, there's an element of addition and subtraction in that equation. Certainly, the sanctions on technology going to Russia will help limit Russia's ability to rearm whenever, you know, this phase of the conflict ends. But I think most of that equation will be on the side of addition to Ukraine. Obviously, we're seeing that in real time in terms of the increased defensive capability that Ukraine is exhibiting on the battlefield.

But beyond that, we have to be talking about protection. It's an issue that Secretary Austin and the military heads of command in Europe will be talking about in just a few hours in Europe. And one of the issues they'll broach is what kind of security guarantees, you know, can you give to Ukraine going forward.

LEMON: The U.S. also plans to resume its diplomatic presence in Kyiv. What do you think about diplomats returning? Is it a vote of confidence in Ukraine?

CROWLEY: I think it's a recognition that the nature of the battle has changed. It has moved east. It doesn't mean that the threat is gone as we've seen with, you know, missile attacks here and there, you know, still around Kyiv, still around, you know, Lviv, but clearly, you know, reopening or reestablishing diplomatic presence.

I think in the short term, diplomats will come across the border from where they've been situated in Poland and perhaps in a couple of weeks' time be able to reopen, you know, the embassy in Kyiv. You know, very important as you consider what's happening on the ground. You know, counsellor activity being able to help Ukrainian citizens get out of the country if they can, but also beginning to assess what will Ukraine's needs be to rebuild, you know, once this phase of the conflict ends.

LEMON: You know, this got overshadowed because -- largely by the war but there's another big event in Europe over the weekend. That's France's presidential election. Emmanuel Macron won a second term, beating out the far-right candidate, Marine Le Pen.

She was a big supporter of Putin prior to the war and known for not being too fond of the E.U. and NATO. How much did all of this play into her downfall?

CROWLEY: I think French citizens recognized that in the middle of a war, it may not be the best move to change, you know, your commander in chief. And certainly, from a U.S. standpoint, it is very much a bullet dodged. And one of the key elements in the U.S. strategy, the NATO strategy is NATO unity. As you said, Don, you know, she was going to revisit the question of, you know, French participation in the NATO command structure, so this had the potential to fracture the alliance at a very inopportune moment.

LEMON: You note that Putin quickly congratulated Macron following his reelection. Why? What is his motive here? And you're laughing. Why? What's going on?


CROWLEY: Well, yeah, he probably would have been delighted had Le Pen won. But Macron and Putin have had serious conversations, you know, with the departure of Angela Merkel, who played a leadership role in trying to maintain a relationship, you know, with Vladimir Putin in many respects.

You know, that now falls to Emmanuel Macron, and I would expect that perhaps, you know, following up on the U.N. secretary general's meeting this week with Putin, that Macron will once again try to reestablish contact with Putin and talk him into a ceasefire in some sort of negotiation.


LEMON: It was interesting because Marine Le Pen was polling a lot higher than the folks who actually showed up to vote for her. But Macron's margin of victory was wider than anticipated. But the far- right support for Le Pen was substantial. Do you read anything into these results?

CROWLEY: I think it kind of mirrors what we just experienced last year. And at least, you know, for a moment, you know, for the United States last year, for France this year, you know, there was a kind of a sober recognition that you need a tested leader. And I think there was a major decision by the French. You know, people and everyone is breathing a sigh of relief.

LEMON: Yeah. Thank you. It is good to see you. Be well, PJ.

CROWLEY: All right, Don. Take care.

LEMON: Thank you. The world's richest man, Elon Musk, purchasing Twitter today for reported $44 billion. He says it's all about free speech. But is it?




LEMON: New tonight, Twitter says it has agreed to sell itself to billionaire Elon Musk in a $44 billion-deal to take the company private. The world's richest man, Tesla and SpaceX famed, signaling a new era for the platform. Musk tweeting out a statement -- and I quote here -- "Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated."

So, let's debate this or just talk about it. Kara Swisher is here. She is "New York Times" opinion contributing writer --


LEMON: -- and host of the "Sway" podcast. Kara, good to see you.

SWISHER: Indeed.

LEMON: Is it about to go down?

SWISHER: Good to see you, Don. It is. You know, there could be -- there could be a breakup still. Something could happen. The shares of Tesla could go down. They got some time. I'm sure there's a big (INAUDIBLE) here. I doubt there's going to be another bid going in here. But certainly, there are things that Congress can do, congressional people, SCC. There are all kinds of possibilities, but it looks like it's a done deal at this point.

LEMON: When you read -- he said it's the bedrock of our democracy, free speech, bedrock of our democracy, Twitter is the digital town square. Is this really about free speech? What does it mean when it comes to social media in our society here? That is a big question, I know.

SWISHER: It's a little bit P.R. It sounds good. It's something that matters to him, for sure. He's definitely a user of Twitter and he is an enthusiastic user of Twitter. I think that's his thing here. He's talking about the idea of freeing everyone to say what they want as if they can't already. I don't think Elon has been censored in any way. He says what he wants all the time and, in fact, often.

And so, I think one of the issues is he had some problems with the de- platforming of a bunch of different people, including Donald Trump, and he felt like in order for it to be a functioning democracy, people who disagree with each other should be able to debate out in the open.

And one of the things he's talking about is transparency of the algorithms, people being identified, you know, and then down to editing tweets and things like that, but that's just more product issues.

So, he's trying to refresh Twitter and possibly figure out a new way to moderate it but in a different way by making it more open and more transparent. And we'll see. It hasn't worked so far at the other way, so he's trying a different one.

LEMON: I don't think anyone disagrees it should be a free and open debate or platform, but I mean, should it be necessarily a font for misinformation and -- or to, you know, to say things about people that just aren't true?

SWISHER: Apparently, yes, according to Elon Musk. Yeah, I think so. That's what he's saying. He's a free speech maximalist. Now, a lot of people -- you know, it's very difficult to moderate, as you've seen. You know, people sort of have these fights over it. The left and right are arguing over it. You know, the right talks about censorship and shadow banning, which there's been no real proof of yet. Maybe Elon will unveil it in some fashion.

But, I mean, one of the things is that what has happened is when anybody gets to say what they want, anybody gets to say what they want, and that can lead to some really ugly situations, especially on digital media where people feel a little bit more unfettered and maybe a little addicted to it.

LEMON: And anonymous.

SWISHER: And anonymous.

LEMON: For hate speech. Do you think he thinks that hate speech should be free to be blasted over Twitter? Do you think that -- do you think we're going to go there?

SWISHER: I don't know his rules. I don't know his rules. They seem to be headed in that direction. Twitter had a bunch of rules, many of which they didn't enforce at all. And I think that was one of the issues, is Twitter had a lot of rules and it was very arbitrary, very difficult.

You know, millions of posts are being done at any one time and same thing over at YouTube or at Facebook, et cetera. And it is a very difficult issue, content moderation. And some people think there should be more and some people think there should be less. So, we'll see. This is the last guy, the one who thinks, you know, all speech needs to be free.

LEMON: You mentioned the de-platforming of people. And you also mentioned the former president and whether, you know, President Trump could be allowed back on the site, even though he says that he doesn't want to be on the site.

SWISHER: Yeah, I know, right, yeah.

LEMON: He said he will be using his own platform, right?

SWISHER: Uh-hmm.

LEMON: So far, that platform has been a bust. What do you think is going to happen?

SWISHER: That platform is a bust. I'd stick a fork in it right at this point at which what I'm saying. I mean, I think he's not going to be able to resist it, especially if he runs for president and becomes president. He loves Twitter. It has really helped him politically. Whether you like him or not, it helped him and it certainly gotten his word out.


He gets to say in the news, which he likes even more than Elon Musk likes being in the news.

I think, yes, he will -- if -- he would put him back on the platform. He would lift the permanent ban. I think Twitter would have had to face this issue anyway.

LEMON: Right.

SWISHER: There will be a lot of pressure not to do that if he was a candidate for presidency for the GOP and if he won. So, I think Twitter would face this issue with or without Elon and it would have been very difficult to resist, you know, putting him back on the platform. Maybe with caveats in terms of behavior.

And Elon's solution is something that sounds like, you're dealing with a toddler which is time-outs, which maybe in this case you really are dealing with a toddler from an internet point of view. So, I don't know. Time-outs works for me with kids. It doesn't work at all, for any parent knows that, but whatever.

LEMON: If you're going to have this, you know, sort of where it's the out in open range for free speech where everybody can say whatever they want, then one hardly has any space to complain about being canceled. Right? Because we know free speech isn't free.


LEMON: You say something and people don't like them, you get in trouble for it. So --


LEMON: -- what, then, do you think about one of the richest -- not one -- the richest man in the world, one of the wealthiest people out there, who is going to have control of a social media site? I mean, you know, just a few super wealthy people get to control a lot of our media platforms out there.

SWISHER: Mm-hmm. Yes, Don, I've been saying this for years. I don't know what to say. It is just -- you know, is it different than Jeff Bezos owning "The Washington Post"? Probably because there are reporters there who can resist this. Obviously, he hasn't medaled a lot in that publication. That is more traditional. Billionaires have owned publication and networks for years and years and years.

By the way, the owners of Twitter used to be the Saudis. One of the owners of Twitter, big owners, was the Saudis. So, that is not ideal in some sense. I don't think they meddled necessarily although there was some spying going on a few years ago by some people there.

I think it is -- you know, it is. It's this coalition of -- coalescing of power among the powerful and that they own these things. Now, Twitter, as much as we talk about it, because you like it, I like it, the media likes it, politicians like it, the chattering class likes it, the right likes it, the chattering class of the right likes it, it's not that big. What's big is Twitter. And TikTok is growing and more innovative.

So, I'm not so sure making a big deal of this is a big deal because unless he makes it bigger, unless it grows more, unless it makes more money -- by the way, he is in big trouble if it doesn't make more money, financially speaking.

And so, I don't know if it's as big a deal as it is to people in our little -- not just us, but all kinds of people who use Twitter actively, whether it is, you know, Ben Shapiro or you or anybody else. It is just -- it's a playground for people who like it and it's not for the rest of the world.

LEMON: Always a pleasure. Kara Swisher --

SWISHER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: -- host of the podcast "Sway." Thank you.


SWISHER: Nice singing.

LEMON: Thank you.


LEMON: And now, our CNN exclusive, thousands of newly released texts from the former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and a judge holds the former president in contempt of court. We are going to discuss both stories. That is next.




LEMON: So, tonight, major exclusive, CNN obtaining more than 2,000 text messages that Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff, sent or received before and after January 6th, the insurrection on that day. They reveal a treasure trove of information about the communications between members of the former president's inner circle and how they wanted to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

A lot to discuss. CNN senior legal analyst is Mr. Elie Honig. He is also a former federal prosecutor. He also joins us now live. Elie, good to see you. Let's talk about this because these are texts to Trump's chief of staff. Everyone went through Meadows. So, just look at these texts on the day of the insurrection.

Mick Mulvaney tells Mark Meadows, Trump needs to stop this now. Can I do anything to help? Congressman William Timmons says, the president needs to see stop this ASAP. Reince Priebus -- quote -- "Tell them to go home," in all caps.

What does this say about these folks that are telling Meadows to get Trump to stop the insurrection? Does it insinuate that they thought that he had the power to over -- to tell people what to do?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Don, there are truth in those texts. The beauty of texts as evidence is you can't run from them later. You can try to change your story later, but you said what you said, you did what you did, it's in writing at the time of the events.

And the consistent theme that comes through these texts is everybody around the president understood that the rioters were there for Donald Trump. Everybody understood that it was really bad, despite subsequent efforts, to try to spin this. And everybody understood that only Donald Trump had the power, the authority, the ability to call off the rioters.

So, yeah, the party line has definitely changed since then, but those texts show us exactly what those people were doing and saying and thinking on January 6th.

LEMON: Watch this video every time, haven't seen it in a while, but how embarrassing for our country. Even the president's son was going through Meadows. I mean, Don, Jr. texted Meadows.


He's got to condemn this S-H-I-T as soon as possible. The Capitol police tweet is not enough. This is -- this his -- he said -- he did it wrong. I guess he was typing quickly. This is one you go to the mattress on. They will try to "F" his entire legacy on this it gets worse.

So, what does it say to you about Mark Meadows, his role in all of this, as Trump's own son has to go through Mark Meadows? I mean, he provided these texts to the January 6 Committee.

HONIG: Yeah, Mark Meadows is mission control here. He's the point guard. Everything runs through Mark Meadows. And I think it's worth remembering, Mark Meadows is not cooperating with the committee. We know of these texts because he started to cooperate, then something happened. He got cold feet. He stopped. And since then, he has had no consequences.

Let's remember, he has been held -- Mark Meadows has been held in contempt by the committee. They sent that contempt referral over to DOJ over four months ago. DOJ has not done a thing with it.

So, unless something changes, Mark Meadows, who is really at the fulcrum of all of this, is going to get away without ever testifying.

LEMON (on camera): I want you to look at this text. This is from Marjorie Taylor Greene. And she texts Meadows, in our private chat with only members, several are saying the only way to save our republic is for Trump to call for martial law. I don't know on those things. I just wanted you to tell him. They stole this election. We all know. They will destroy our country next. Please tell him to declassify as much as possible so we can go after Biden and anyone else.

I -- look -- it's not funny. I mean, it's just -- it's just delusional. She's calling for martial law. But last week, when she was asked under oath if she had ever discussed any of this about martial law, this is what she said.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Did you advocate to President Trump to impose martial law as a way to remain in power?


UNKNOWN (voice-over): So, you're not denying you did it. You just don't remember.

TAYLOR GREENE: I don't remember.


LEMON: So, now, she is facing, you know, that attempt to block her from the ballot based on civil war-era law, traitors not being allowed to run for office. I mean, do you think this is going to have any effect on the trial?

HONIG: Well, I think it's completely unbelievable that she would not remember this. The problem with the "I don't recall" that we kept hearing from Marjorie Taylor Greene is it's really hard to prove that she did recall it. It's sort of the ultimate cop-out.

But let's remember here, Don. I mean, this is a member of Congress telling -- going through somebody and telling the president that other members of Congress -- and I would like you to seriously consider martial law, M-A-R-T-I-A-L law, meaning we get rid of the laws and the president and the military essentially take over. I mean, that is the stuff of despites. That is the antithesis of everything our democracy is about.

LEMON: Let me ask you about New York State judge holding Trump in contempt of court for not turning over documents to the state's attorney general. He has been ordered to pay $10,000 a day until he complies with the subpoena. Do you think this is going to get to cop- up (ph) these documents?

HONIG: Well, Don, this is actually a real consequence. I know they are rare when it comes to Donald Trump. But you really can't mess around with a contempt order. Really, Donald Trump only has a few options. One, he can pay $10,000 a day in perpetuity. And even for rich or I guess reportedly rich people, that adds up at $70,000 a week. That's $300,000 a month. That's $3.5 million a year.

He can pay forever. I doubt he'll do that. He can turn over the documents that he is required to do. That's what most people do. He can convince the judge that he has done a search and actually doesn't have any documents. I find it really hard to believe that Donald Trump has no financial documents relating to Donald Trump. Or he can win his appeal, he's going to appeal. It's very unlikely he wins that appeal. It is really hard to overturn a contempt order.

So, he's in a tough spot here. He is not going to be able to delay and foot drag and sort of worm his way out of this.

LEMON: Elie Honig, thank you very much, sir. I appreciate it.

HONIG: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Johnny Depp wrapping up testimony in his $50 million defamation suit against Amber Heard. Hear what he said, next.




LEMON: Johnny Depp wrapping up his testimony today in his $50 million defamation case against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, getting defensive over vulgar text messages about her and his drug use and drinking.


UNKNOWN (voice-over): Ms. Heard wasn't the only one who had a problem with your drinking, correct?

JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: Sir, if anyone had a problem with my drinking at any time in my life, it was me. The only person that I have ever abused in my life is myself.


LEMON: Depp is suing Heard over a 2018 op-ed she wrote for "The Washington Post," where she described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. Depp wasn't named in the article, but he claims it cost him lucrative work.

The defense reading negative headlines about Depp today, trying to prove his career tanked long before the op-ed.


BENJAMIN ROTTENBORN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: "The Daily Mail," Vodka for breakfast, 72-hour drug binges. Where did it all go wrong for Johnny Depp? After a string of flops and a ton of bad press, Johnny Depp's star power looks as wobbly as Jack Sparrow on a plank. Did I read that right?

DEPP: You read that very, very well.


ROTTENBORN: The next one, "Hollywood Reporter," May 27th.


LEMON (on camera): Depp also downplaying emails suggesting he cut off his own finger. He's now saying that happened after Heard threw a bottle at him.


DEPP: It's my way of dealing with a painful situation where I resort to humor. There is no reason in the world why I literally would cut my

own finger off to ruin this beautiful opportunity that I was given at 12 to learn how to play the guitar.


LEMON (on camera): The trial is expected to last just a few more weeks. Amber Heard hasn't testified yet.

Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.