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A Condolence Call Painted With Mud and Politics; Chief of Staff Kelly Defended Trump. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired October 19, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
It has been an extraordinary day to be an American. To sit back and watch true patriotism unfolds. Real patriotism, not the symbols of patriotism that some have been using to divide us. Like whether someone stands or kneels at a ball game.
I'm talking about real patriotism, the real patriots to whom we owe an incalculable debt of gratitude and that's our gold star families whose loved ones made the ultimate sacrifice.
General John Kelly is one of them. His 29-year-old son was killed fighting for our country in 2010 in Helmand province in Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Understand these tens of thousands of American kids mostly doing the nation's bidding all around the world. They don't have to be in uniform.
You know, when I was a kid every man in my life was a veteran. World War II, Korea and there was a draft. These young people today they don't do it for any other reason than their selfness -- sense of selfless devotion to this great nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Absolutely. And you could hear a pin drop in that room when he said that. And who could or would argue with a gold star family about that loss and that devotion?
So how did we get here? That's also important. Why did the president's chief of staff even have to stand at that podium today? Where did all these claims of politicizing this controversy come from?
The entire thing started with the man Kelly works for, and that's Donald Trump, the commander in chief. But that was never mentioned during the press conference today.
General Kelly attacked Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson for listening to the phone call to the widow and then for later answering a reporter's question about that phone call.
Never mind that he and other members of the Trump administration listened in on the call on the president's end. Never mind that it was a reporter's question that elicited President Trump's initial brag about calling gold star families in the first place. But in this White House you must always counter punch, always be on the attack. So.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLY: And the congresswoman stood up and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building.
Now, she took care of her constituents because she got the money and she just called out President Obama and on that phone call he gave the money, the $20 million to build a building and she sat down. We were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Empty barrel. In that same press conference Kelly lamented that he felt women were no longer held as sacred in our society.
Perhaps he should look across the resolute desk at his boss, grabbing by the P word, blood coming out of her wherever, Rosie O'Donnell is a fat pig, Ms. Venezuela is Ms. Piggy, Ms. Housekeeping. I could go on, but I don't have all night and I have to get to the show.
What I'm trying to convey is that this isn't about Kelly but about his boss, who didn't have to send Kelly out there to defend his bad behavior. One of three generals he sent out today to cleanup his mess and vouch for his behavior in the wake of Niger. Kelly, Mattis, McMaster. All Trump had to say was, I'm sorry, full stop.
And if he need to go on if he needs to say something else, he could have said that that was not my intention and I am deeply sorry. He could have called her again personally, the widow. He could have called the congresswoman to explain himself. He could have put class above one upmanship. He could have put patriotism above personal grievance.
But outside the briefing room we all got another lesson in patriotism today and I think I know who the subject was intended to be here. A lesson from two men who were once on opposite sides of a lot of issues, two former presidents speaking out for this country's real value.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times it could seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism. Forgotten the dynamism that immigration has always brought to America.
[22:04:52] BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The goodness and decency and hard work and responsibility and sacrifice that's on display by the American people every single day in their communities, all across this great country, all across this great state, people of every walk of life, it doesn't matter whether they're white or black or Hispanic or Asian or Native American, whether they're disabled, whether they are gay or straight, there are people all across this country that want to do things better, that want to work together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: In America many people claim the mantel of patriotism, but some are willing to die for it to protect us. And some speak out to protect it and to protect us from degradation of our values.
Now, let's begin our program. I want to bring in now CNN's Chris Cillizza, our politics editor at large, Jim Sciutto, CNN's chief national security correspondent, and April Ryan, CNN political analyst. Good evening to all of you.
As I started, I said what a day to be an American to witness all of this in just one afternoon. April, I'm going to start with you because you were in the room for this. General Kelly expressed disgust at Congresswoman Frederica Wilson listening in on the condolence call from the president and then he talked about the media.
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KELY: It stuns me that a member of congress would listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So she talked to the media about it, I should say. What is your take on the general being stunned that it became political, April?
APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, first, I wasn't in the room. I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, but I watch from my hotel room in real time. And as you know, Don, I have been in conversation with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who said the reason why she heard it is because the master sergeant had the call on speaker phone for all in that car to hear, to include family members, the late Sergeant La David Johnson, his widow, the congresswoman herself, her staffer, as well as the master sergeant.
And she was in there as well as other people who listened to it. She even said she heard what the president had to say, and she wanted to say something, but the master sergeant said no. She was very upset with his words.
When General Kelly made that statement, he did not deny those were the words that the president used. So we do know that the president did use those words. Now, the questions are what happened?
Frederica Wilson has given her take on what she's heard from intelligence officials on Capitol Hill as to what has happened. But the question is, is that accurate as well what the White House say that's accurate too?
LEMON: But, if you listen to General Kelly's words he basically confirmed what the congresswoman said, right, because he said that...
RYAN: Right, yes, he did.
LEMON: ... he said that the congresswoman lied about the phone call. And he tweeted "Democratic congresswoman totally fabricated that. I said what I said to the wife of a soldier who died in action and I have proof. Sad." Didn't General Kelly contradict that tweet?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: He did.
RYAN: Yes, he did.
LEMON: Go ahead, Chris.
CILLIZZA: Yes. Sorry, sorry, April. Yes, he did. I think what you saw General Kelly doing was sort of a very powerful way of political cleanup, which was to say here is what Donald Trump said, which was what Frederica -- Congresswoman Frederica Wilson said he said...
LEMON: This is what he meant.
CILLIZZA: ... but here's what he meant.
CILLIZZA: Right. And so that's where you, and here is the origin of what he said, which is General Dunford, who is the commandant of the Marine Corps, also said his best friend, had told him something similar when he lost his son. So, he was trying to sort of show us the genesis of that phrase he knew what he was getting into.
LEMON: But Jim, here is the thing with that.
CILLIZZA: To explain it.
LEMON: I understand that. And listen, I have the utmost respect for General Kelly, but General Dunford was saying to General Kelly, who is a military man to a military man about a military man, and that is a different context than telling a 24-year-old civilian woman, who is with child and two, one of them standing by her side or about to stand by her side at a casket. The context is important. And that is important. And sometimes people
just don't know what they don't know. And I understand if a military man said that.
I would -- I'm sure someone would understand it, but when you're speaking to a civilian, I don't think that that's the right way to hear that -- I don't think that she wanted to hear that in that moment, Jim.
JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, listen, can any of us imagine a more difficult conversation to have to have?
[22:09:56] SCIUTTO: We can't. So to find the right words, it's virtually impossible to get it right. Now, so set that aside for a moment. Because I can't imagine having made that call. I watched General Kelly today, a gold star father himself. I've got two sons. The idea of losing a child is just the most heartbreaking thing to imagine.
The idea of speaking to someone who lost a child, not quite as heartbreaking, but God knows difficult. So, I would set that aside for a moment in the moment how difficult that call is.
The trouble is that call was burst out into public, right. First by the president to some degree because the president brought it up, right, in defense of himself, because he was asked by my colleague, our colleague Sara Murray, and this is how it started why some two weeks after the attack the president hasn't said anything about these soldiers. That's where this started and then the president got into it and you know, then we have a bunch of back and forth over that.
So the president put it out into the public. The congresswoman did as well. Let's be honest. She was there in the car with them presumably it looks like by the family's choice. Our understanding is that she knew the fallen soldier and the family before. So it's not like she was an eavesdropper, right. She was not...
LEMON: No, she's an interloper.
LEMON: And he was part of her mentoring program. For how long to that purpose that she's part of the family. And listen, Jim, I understand.
SCIUTTO: You know where I'm getting at. I mean, the point being that, you know, it's a difficult conversation under any circumstances.
LEMON: It is a very...
SCIUTTO: It burst out into the public.
LEMON: ... difficult conversation, Jim.
SCIUTTO: It burst into the public and it became -- and the president has his part in this. It became a political football, right, a battling point.
LEMON: Well, that's - the point is it's a difficult conversation, and if you say something and if it offends someone, you say I am sorry, that was not my intention in that moment.
LEMON: I'm not sure what I could have said or what I should even say to you in this moment. I can't imagine what you're going through.
LEMON: He could have done that personally.
SCIUTTO: I got you.
LEMON: I mean, he is the commander in chief. Listen, I take it that the congresswoman that she put it out there as well that she has some degree of responsibility. Whatever you feel about that. She is not the commander in chief. She is not the president of the United States. She does not have to be the consoler in chief.
And so the President of the United States should always take the high road and if he did not intend to say it, if that wasn't his intention, tell that to the widow. Don't make up for some mistake that you've made by bringing everybody else into it.
CILLIZZA: And don't tweet, by the way.
CILLIZZA: Don't tweet something about fabrication. I mean, that this is...
LEMON: And don't send out General Kelly who has lost his son sadly, you know, in Afghanistan in 2010, don't send him out there to cleanup your mess. Take responsibility. And we would be talking about it all.
CILLIZZA: That's enough of it, Don. I think that's the central pivot point, which is I think you could explain this as Donald Trump, as Jim mentioned, was trying to do something that's extremely difficult.
LEMON: Right, I agree.
CILLIZZA: And something he doesn't do and had never done before -- you know, he hasn't done it a lot in his life. It's not something he's done. He's a businessman, he had never done this.
You are dealing with a widow who is struggling with grief. You can understand the possibility that miscommunication, what he said and what she heard.
CILLIZZA: What he meant and what she took it to be weren't right. Fine. The problem is the constant doubling down, the attacking, the saying this congresswoman, whether it's General Kelly and the empty barrel stuff which I felt totally out of place...
RYAN: He's trying to discredit her. He's trying to discredit her for telling the truth.
CILLIZZA: Right. Or just the whole idea like it's fabricated, just say, you know what? I can never understand this sort of grief. I did the best that I could. I wanted to call if what I said wasn't how it was received, I deeply regret that. There's no harm done there and we're not talking...
LEMON: End of the story and we would not be talking about it and the story would be over. But stick around. I've got -- you guys are going to come back.
LEMON: Stick around, everyone. When we come back, there are even more contradictions in General Kelly's defense of the president today. We're going to cover as many of them as we can.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House Chief of Staff John Kelly wading into the middle of a massive political battle today with his defense of President Trump's call to a gold star widow who lost her husband in a deadly raid in Niger.
Back now with my panel. April, you were saying?
RYAN: I was saying, you know, this is about discrediting a congresswoman who told the truth. There were several pieces of that statement today from General Kelly that really stood out to me. One, the fact that he said that he had to go to Arlington National Cemetery and walk around for an hour and a half.
That really hit me hard because his son is there. His son -- he is a member of the gold star families now, unfortunately. But we thank him for his service and his son as well.
But at the same time, this congresswoman who told the truth, who did not -- she was not an interloper. She was not doing it secretly. She was in the car when the master sergeant played it.
But here is another piece that I think that the White House is upset about why they're trying to discredit her, because she has information that they don't necessarily want out right now. She's getting information Intel that they have not put out and this Boko Haram issue is real.
I called a retired general who has vast knowledge as it relates to that part of the world and the U.S. efforts with Niger. This general, this retired general said to me, look, this is not a unique effort. We have trained before as well as advised the Niger military when it comes to Boko Haram.
Boko Haram and ISIS are linked. So she is giving information that they don't want out. They want to control the narrative. And they're trying to discredit. And this is what I don't understand.
SCIUTTO: Don, April makes a great point here, because beyond the issue of the call, right, there are four dead American troops here on an operation where the Intel told them it was unlikely they would make enemy contact when in fact they had 50 ISIS-linked militants attack them where regardless of whether the Pentagon -- and they are uncomfortable with the phrase left behind, they want to say separated from his unit.
RYAN: He was left behind.
SCIUTTO: Regardless, for 48 hours they didn't know where he was. They found his dead body 48 hours later. Why is that? Why did those evacuation, the evacuation planes take off without him?
[22:20:00] Secretary Mattis said don't blame the troops on the ground. I have no intention of doing that. But it's reasonable to ask the Pentagon questions as to why that happened? Why was there no U.S. air cover?
A French plane came 30 minutes into that fire fight with no ability to fire on the ground. It flew over to disperse the troops, scare them away. Couldn't fire. Then it was a French aircraft that evacuated them and a private contractor that took out the dead body. There were no U.S. military aircraft that could get there in time.
Why? Those are very reasonable questions to be asking 15 days after this happened, uncomfortable questions for the Pentagon and for the commander in chief. They're not answering them now.
LEMON: Do you think -- do you think, Chris, that that may be part of the reason that it was such a slow response, that they didn't want to touch it, that...
CILLIZZA: I mean, look, I'll add to what Jim said. The simple answer, Don, is I don't know why the response took as long as it did and obviously when you take the time that you took and then you have this he said, she said, she said back and forth, back and forth with the president saying the congresswoman lied. It winds up not being true. All of that is not.
If you're going to wait awhile, you want it to be seamless when you decide to say what you say. I'll add, though, to Jim's point, and look, John McCain is out there saying there's more -- there's more to this story.
CILLIZZA: And I'm willing to subpoena people to find out what it is. You know, you can say what you want about John McCain, but he's a conservative republican from Arizona who is in the same party as the president.
I mean, this is not, you know, Chuck Schumer trying to score -- you know, do a political -- this is a belief that there is more there. And, you know, you heard -- it doesn't get as much attention because of all the other things General Kelly said, but he did acknowledge that they're trying to figure out what exactly happened.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, not to cut you guys off, but I want to get to this because this is important. It just came out tonight.
Congresswoman Wilson's office just released a statement. And it says, "The congresswoman has decided to not make any further comment on this issue. The focus needs to be on helping a grieving widow and family heal and should not be on her or Donald Trump. She has nothing else to add but stands by the statement issued last night.
In addition, it is imperative that an investigation be conducted to help us understand the circumstances that led to the ambush that caused the death of Sergeant Johnson and his fellow soldiers."
She's been calling for that all along. And Jim, as he just said, I think that is what John McCain and many others want as well.
SCIUTTO: Well, that's not an empty barrel, right? I mean, that's a congresswoman with constituents that include someone who was killed in this action asking a very reasonable question. Why did he die and why did his fellow soldiers die, and we don't have those answers yet. The families have a right to know, but the public has a right to know.
LEMON: Yes. April, it's not the last we've heard of it. Do you think they'll address it in the briefing?
RYAN: I'm sure they will. But the question is also there's another question, was the soldier left behind and was there a transmitting device that the congresswoman said was on the soldier that was emitting signals when he was found?
So there's so many questions about intelligence, about the vehicles were not armored, about weaponry, about fire power. There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. The nation wants to know. Soldier's lives were lost and that is indeed the focus. If you can find answers you can prevent possibly other type of situation like this down the road.
LEMON: And she did yesterday call it. She said that this was, this administration are Donald Trump's Benghazi. So we'll see. Thank you all. I appreciate it.
When we come back, what exactly happened in Niger and where else are American forces that may surprise you. We're going to talk to the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Michael Hayden.
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The Defense Secretary James Mattis saying the U.S. military does not leave troops behind, but not giving any new details on why the body of Sergeant La David Johnson was not recovered for nearly 48 hours after the attack in Niger that left four soldiers dead.
I want to bring in now CNN national security analyst, General Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency. Good evening, sir.
MICHAEL HAYDEN, FORMER CIA & NSA DIRECTOR: Good evening.
LEMON: What a day.
LEMON: As I said, at first I have to ask you about General Kelly's speech. We've used the word unprecedented so many times in the last two years. What did you make of today?
HAYDEN: I was frankly very impressed with his speech. And Don, let me qualify that immediately. I think it was unfortunate the personal attack on Congresswoman Wilson, but if you take that out of the speech and let it stand on its own with what remains, I think it was a magnificent statement.
And, Don, the more I listen to it and read it and re-read it and reflected, I began to interpret it less as a defense of the president and more as a defense of the 1 percent of America who defend the other 99 percent of America.
And General Kelly's expression of the grief all of us who have been part of that 1 percent have when the other 99 percent are now taking their bitter personal political quarrels and imposing it on the most sacred rituals of the 1 percent who defend us. I actually think that was the core of the speech, not the defense of the president.
LEMON: But do you think in his remarks did he defend the president saying, you know, he knew what he signed up for? When the general -- I understood when the general was saying it.
LEMON: But my -- what I think it is, is a military man speaking to -- he's talking about Dunford, speaking to a military man about another military man and they may understand it in that context. HAYDEN: I think so.
LEMON: But it's different for a 24-year-old widow.
HAYDEN: Of course. And first of all, you know, we need to have a little sympathy and empathy for President Trump.
[22:29:59] HAYDEN: For those of us who have never made that kind of call, and unfortunately, I have had to make that kind of call, but for those who haven't don't be quick to jump to judgment here. This is very, very difficult. And I think the president is looking for some assistance. And John told him what Joe Dunford told him when Dunford personally as commandant of the Marine Corps went to General Kelly's quarters and told him that his son had died. And here I think he knew what he had signed up for was General Dunford's way of telling General Kelly, John, I know you're going to grieve about this, but you shouldn't feel guilty about this.
Robert wasn't there because of you. Robert chose to be there on his own. Which is a perfectly appropriate thing for one marine to say to another marine, but it doesn't work at all when the president tried to say it to this young 24-year-old widow.
DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Let me make this clear and I think you're right. And I tried to do it with Jim Sciutto, is that this is a very difficult conversation that no one wants to have. But if in that moment you don't say the right thing, the appropriate immediate response is to apologize immediately.
HAYDEN: Look, that's all correct. And in terms of politicizing this, I actually think the congresswoman, she was not the intended recipient of the president's message, and so I would never have made that public. But she did.
HAYDEN: But then, the president then counter punches and you know, Don, sooner or later will the president just take a punch and act presidential rather than mixing it up? But after he did that, after that happened, he pulled General Kelly's family into this.
He trashed his predecessors quite inaccurately about what it was they did in these circumstances. And then finally, it appears that he lied about what he did or didn't say to that young woman.
HAYDEN: And so he bears some responsibility for politicizing this as well, even though he has my sympathy for the original task.
LEMON: Right. Absolutely. And you said taking a punch, but turning the other cheek.
HAYDEN: Yes. LEMON: and it's interesting he just spoke at the value voter's summit. Turning the other cheek is probably something that's very highly regarded among that crowd.
But I have to ask you. General Kelly also took questions today and he tacked about U.S. troops in Africa. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: So why were they there? They're there working with partners, locals Africa -- all across Africa in this case, Niger, working with partners, teaching them how to be better soldiers, teaching them how to respect human rights, teaching them how to fight ISIS so that we don't have to send our soldiers and marines there in their thousands. That's what they were doing there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: General Hayden, can you please expand on the intelligence and military operations that are going on in Africa.
HAYDEN: Yes. Actually, what General Kelly expressed there, Don, is the most efficient and effective use of American Special Forces that there is, this long-term presence with allied nations to build capacity, to build respect for the rule of law, to build partnerships between ourselves and them, enabling them to do the things that if we didn't help them prepare for, we'd have to one day go and do ourselves.
So right now press accounts put about 800 G.I.'s in Niger and I do know we've got a footprint in a variety of African countries. Frankly, Don, that's why we created Africa command about a decade or so ago, because we knew we were going to have to have this foreign internal defense present in Africa. It's a great idea. It makes Americans safe.
But General Mattis was very clear today, there's a reason we don't ask the Peace Corps to do this. It's inherently dangerous. So we do send armed American soldiers to do this task.
LEMON: General, your insights are always welcome here and we appreciate it. Thank you so much.
HAYDEN: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come back, former Presidents Bush and Obama both are taking aim at President Trump today, though not by name. Why they warn America must return to the values that made this country great.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Two former presidents from opposing parties speaking out today with one common theme, not so subtle jabs at the current president. Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama making rare appearances.
So let's discuss now with CNN's special correspondent Jamie Gangel is here. Our senior political analyst David Gergen here as well, and CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, the author of "Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America."
So much to talk about. Extraordinary times we're living in. But let's talk about the two former presidents, Jamie. President Obama just wrapped up a campaign speech on behalf of a democratic candidate for governor in Virginia. Take a listen to what he said about politics today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we've got politics infecting our communities.
Instead of looking for ways to work together and get things done in a practical way, we've got folks who are deliberately trying to make folks angry, to demonize people who have different ideas, to get the base all riled up because it provides a short-term tactical advantage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And former President Bush earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: They may not have mentioned President Trump by name, but their intentions were clear, I think. What's your reaction to the two presidents coming out?
JAMIE GANGEL, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: I think it's interesting because the day was a coincidence. This speech by George Bush was planned a year ago. They have very different styles when they speak, don't they?
GANGEL: And the moments of campaign, one is very formal.
LEMON: Each comforting. But each comforting.
[22:39:57] GANGEL: But here is the thing both were addressing. They may not have said as you said Donald Trump's name, but this was about our country being torn apart. And very notable, because George Bush has avoided talking about Donald Trump. For eight years he didn't say anything critical about Barack Obama. But it was very clear what he was talking about today. LEMON: He's very clear what both of them were talking about today.
Douglas, former presidents usually stay on the sidelines and here, you know, we've never seen this before.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, CNN: They both have been trying hard to stay on the sidelines. I mean, George W. Bush has been living a very quiet post presidency down in Dallas. He did write a best-selling memoir. He does do the wounded warriors. But I think enough is enough.
I mean, Bush's speech today I thought was very brave. It was clearly aimed at Donald Trump. He denounced the emboldening of bigotry in the United States. And Barack Obama has signed a very healthy big book advance. He's kind of waiting to get his memoir published.
He wants to have the decorum of not attacking a sitting president, but he's being goodie into action by Donald Trump constantly invoking him in erroneous ways. Usually Obama's team goes back at Trump, but today you saw Barack Obama in full campaign swing mode in New Jersey and Virginia.
LEMON: Doing it himself.
LEMON: So, David, President Bush's remarks seemed like a point by point take down of President Trump. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The American dream of upward mobility seems out of reach for some who feel left behind in a changing economy. Discontent deepened and sharpened, partisan conflicts. Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So President Bush had to have known, David Gergen, what an impact his words would have. What do you think his motivations were for speaking out now?
DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, he had a conference that had been long scheduled, that's clear, but I also think what we saw today were two men who have held the presidency are deeply worried about the directions in which their success or is taking the country, and they're speaking -- they're speaking their conscience to power in effect.
They're trying to say President Trump, please don't take us down this path of division which is so deeply bothering Obama and George W. Bush's case, a fellow republican after all, even though there have been family tensions with his brother Jeb, you know, running the -- facing a lot of nasty attacks by Trump and the Bush family being pretty angry about what happened in 2016. Nonetheless, they've held their piece most of the time about the
general direction and here George W. Bush has broken that peace. This is very, very unusual for two former presidents to break for the president. There's a fraternity of people who serve in that office. They form their own fraternity. They tend to be respectful of each other. They try to be supportive of each other.
But when two of them break ranks as they did today, there's great significance to that in terms of how much concern and worry they have deep down.
LEMON: Very strong words, both of them said today about white supremacy after the break.
[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Back now with my panel. Jamie Gangel is here, David Gergen, and David Brinkley So both Presidents Bush and Obama spoke about bigotry and hate today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Our identity as a nation unlike many other nations is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood. We've become the heirs of Martin Luther King Jr. by recognizing one another not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
This means that people of every race, religion, ethnicity can be fully and equally American. It means that bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.
OBAMA: We saw what happened in Charlottesville, but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville when the bigots gathering of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out. That's how we rise. We don't -- we don't rise up by repeating the -- we rise up by learning from the past.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Charlottesville, Jamie was a turning -- that was a bridge too far for both of these presidents.
GANGEL: Absolutely. I just want to slightly disagree with what David Gergen said earlier when he mentioned Jeb. No question that was a difficult campaign. But I don't think that this is about Jeb Bush or bad feelings about that at all.
But George W. Bush did not vote for Donald Trump. This goes back a long way. He said during the campaign he thought he might be the last republican president. So there has been no love lost for a long time. I think there have been a number of inflexion points that led to today. I think Charlottesville was one of them.
Remember, he and his father put out a joint tweet that day. I think national security is an inflexion point. I think that being presidential is an inflexion point in the Bush family. Words matter. Tweets matter.
GANGEL: And I think that there were a lot of things that led to today.
LEMON: Yes. And it wasn't necessarily the campaign. David, I want you to respond, but when is it -- when is the inflexion point the one where they actually speak out and say OK, this is enough and start naming him by name?
GERGEN: If you're asking as to this David, Don.
[22:49:58] GERGEN: I think Charlottesville is probably the turning point. It's hard to say. You'd have to talk to them individually. But what's very clear today is that Barack Obama and George W. Bush are closer to each other than either one of them is Donald Trump.
They both represent values that are very different from the president's, they represent a view of globalization is actually a good thing overtime. It presents its own challenges. Immigration is a good thing. Division in the county is a bad thing. And racism in the country is deeply worrying us.
I do think that George W. Bush his family and the values that his family represents going all the way back to his grandfather President Bush, you know, are just totally a variant and I think that is part of what moves him. I don't think it's the only thing, Jamie, that moves him. I don't think he spoke up today because of that.
But I don't think you can erase that from his mindset. He's been predisposed for a long time as has his whole family to just really intensely dislike what Donald Trump represents. And I think he brought that to the table today. I think he is also a man who is worried about what his party stands for.
GERGEN: But mostly he's worried about where the country is going.
LEMON: Douglas, do you think it was a coincidence that they both spoke out. I know that the speech was planned, for Bush it was planned for a long time and then, you know, President Obama is on the campaign trail for, you know, governor, for someone running for governor. But do you think it was coordinated or is it coincidence that they have the same topic?
BRINKLEY: It's not coordinated but they're clearly surfing the same wave and John McCain gave a similar speech just few days ago. The key thing to understand 43 is God. He mentioned it twice in the speech. He ended this whole speech by saying we shall overcome. George W. Bush said the lowest moment of his presidency was during hurricane Katrina when people thought he was racist, that he wasn't responding quickly enough to African-Americans imperil in New Orleans. This is the President George W. Bush. Look what he did in Africa with AIDS and tried to combat that.
There's not a racist bone in Bush 43's body and so the way Donald Trump behave that Charlottesville infuriated him.
Barack Obama today he realized he could have won a third term. What an order. I mean, he spell binding and we haven't heard from him for a while. So I think the combo of this three, really the three speeches, McCain, Obama, and Bush are same as starting to pull the country away from the Trump White House and promote a kind of old-fashioned civic decency, as Bush called it we need better civic learning in this country so we are not ripping at each other's throats.
LEMON: So, you know, Paul Ryan has had his differences with this president but he roasted him tonight. And we'll discuss that when we come right back.
[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
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PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Enough with the applause, all right, you sound like the cabinet when Donald Trump walks in the room.
Every morning, I wake up in my office and scroll Twitter to see which tweets that I will have to pretend that I did not see later on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: That was Paul Ryan tonight roasting the president at the Al Smith dinner in New York, a traditionally light-hearted affair.
Back now with my panel. What do you think, Jamie?
GANGEL: I thought it was funny. I like the line about the cabinet clapping when he -- when he came into the room.
LEMON: Yes. But the tweet thing. Let's listen to a little bit more of Paul Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: My primary opponent in 2016 was endorsed by Sarah Palin. I'm really not that mad about it because Sarah and I actually have a lot in common. We both lost for vice president. We both debated Joe Biden. And given the current investigations, I too, can see Russia from the House.
By the way, I do really appreciate these laughs, I usually don't get laughs like this except when I'm actually debating Joe Biden, so very much appreciate that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: David Gergen, what do you think?
GERGEN: I think it's good to bring a little levity. We've been so down and so depressed and so many people are anxious and worried and that sort of thing. We should poke more fun at ourselves.
LEMON: Yes. Very simply stated and I agree with you. Especially today, seriously, today was a tough day for a lot of people. And you now, America we have the utmost respect for our gold star families and in many ways they are being drag through this. But also I think, Douglas Brinkley, is that we're highlighting them in some way, at least I would hope that we are so that people can -- and putting forward the sacrifices that these families make.
So, it's been a tough day and it's nice to have a little bit of levity. I think David is right.
BRINKLEY: There's no question about it. The gold star families are American's heroes. So we all love, we all care about them. That's probably why it got so controversial here. We thought that Donald Trump was slighting a mother of army Sergeant La David T. Johnson and that's why we were all upset.
But I do think any kind of humor was better than Trump's humor of today when he said I was a ten in ten, out of ten in Puerto Rico, in a country that is till crippled right now without electricity, sanitation problems. We could always do better in a situation at Puerto Rico. But he's trying -- his sense of humor is grandiosity of oneself. So what Pau Ryan did was to me, refreshing after hearing Trump do the ten in ten today.
LEMON: Where he gets in trouble is that he has to compare to someone else, he compared it to how, you know, the former presidents called the gold star families and then he compared this to Katrina. It's always the comparison to someone else to get him out of trouble that gets him into more trouble.
BRINKLEY: With not one ounce of humility. He's never been able to be humble for a minute or to just let things alone. He is living by a Roy Cohn counter punching, art of the deal stuff that he never deviates from that script.
[23:00:04] He doesn't have the empathy and that is the problem.
LEMON: Yes. That's got to be the last word. Thank you all. I appreciate it. I'll see you next time.