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CNN TONIGHT

Intertwined Stories of the Russia-Trump Collusion Confused People; Republican Party in its New Image. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired October 25, 2017 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: CNN Tonight starts now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news on the Russia investigation.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Remember when candidate Trump said this about Hillary Clinton's e- mails?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, maybe somebody was listening. We're learning now that last summer at right about the same time WikiLeaks' Julian Assange was contacted by Cambrige Analytica, a company linked to the Trump campaign seeking access to e-mails from Clinton's private server.

That's according to four sources familiar with the outreach. Assange tweeting today "I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica prior to November of last year and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks."

Those 33,000 e-mails deleted from Clinton's private server, they never materialized. But President Trump says today the real scandal is a revelation that Hillary Clinton's campaign and the DNC helped to pay for that infamous dossier on Trump on Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think it's a disgrace. It's just really a very -- it's a very sad, it's a very sad commentary on politics of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I want to bring in now CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, and political commentator Matt Lewis. Good evening to all of you. Welcome to the program. Mr. Sciutto, you

first. We are learning tonight that Cambridge Analytica, a firm that was central to the data operation of the Trump campaign reached out to WikiLeaks early in the campaign seeking access to Hillary Clinton's private e-mails. How significant is this and what do we know right now?

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, at a minimum an attempt at collaboration like this raises questions about the willingness of people associated with the Trump campaign. Their willingness to work with WikiLeaks for political gain.

A reminder that Cambridge Analytica was hired in the summer of 2016 as part of the Trump campaign's three-pronged data operation. It was led by Brad Parscale overseen by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Now, we should be clear that no one from the Trump campaign was copied on this e-mail. The sources said that Assange, as you referenced there, confirmed the exchange on Twitter Wednesday, but again, in that confirmation he at least claimed that it was rejected by WikiLeaks.

LEMON: Matt, I want to bring you in now. The Trump campaign responded tonight saying they just took the data the RNC paid for and gave them. And here's what they said. "Once President Trump secured the nomination in 2016, one of the most important decisions we made was to partner with the Republican National Committee on data analytics. We were proud to have worked with the RNC and its data experts and relied on them as our main source for data analytics. Any claims that voter data from any other source played a key role in the victory are false."

There are a few problems with the statement, but here is a big one right here. One that Jim Sciutto pointed out. Jared Kushner who led the data operation told Forbes magazine just one week ago after the election, he said, "We spent a lot of time figuring out how to build a bridge between the Trump campaign and the RNC so that we could analyze the resources they had available. We used some of our best practices and some of their best practices. We kept both data operations going simultaneously and a lot shared between them."

So, the man who took credit for the data operation in the front page of Forbes magazine, the Forbes magazine article says the data that the Trump and the RNC data operations were both going simultaneously. How can team Trump now say that they relied on the RNC only?

MATT LEWIS, COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, you're right. And my colleague Betsy Woodruff at the Daily Beast who broke this story in her report, she has other examples of how this argument seems to be contradicted by other reporting.

LEMON: We're going to talk to her next live in our next hour, just so you know. But I said one week ago but it's actually one week after the election. I just wanted to correct myself. Go ahead, Matt.

LEWIS: Let's just assume for a second though, that the Trump people are a 100 percent right. It's still interesting -- it would still be interesting because here you have a company, Cambridge Analytica, which was Steve Bannon, who was a senior adviser to Donald Trump, on the campaign and also in the White House, sits on the board of that company, and of course, essentially was run by the Mercers, who are huge donors to the Donald Trump campaign.

Sort of huge donors behind a lot of what's considered the alt-right, the nationalist movement within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

LEMON: So, Matt, as you're speaking about this, I just want everybody at home, look at your screen. Matt, explain what you're talking about. I mean, this is a graphic explaining what you're talking about here.

[22:05:04] LEWIS: Right. I think that, you know, anybody who is a news junky by now probably knows who the Mercers are. But if anybody out there is watching and they don't know who they are and they should. Robert Mercer was a big hedge fund guy. You know, billionaires, basically.

His daughter Rebecca is now very actively involved. They fund Milo Yiannopoulos, for example. And Steve Bannon, Breitbart, a lot of Steve Bannon's projects, this is very interrelated. It's very incestuous.

And so even if the Trump campaign, which seems unlikely, but let's just assume that their argument that they had nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica after the summer, that they were only using the data provided to them by the RNC, even if that were true, you still have this untangling alliances at high, high, high levels of the Trump campaign.

LEMON: Yes. And $6 million, Nia. I mean, we have learned that the FEC records -- through the FEC records that Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytics or Analytica nearly $6 million over the last six months of 2016. That's a lot of money.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN: Yes. And you see that kind of major expenditure in September for that company and you've heard from some people who worked in the Trump campaign, they have a -- they're saying essentially that they're not really sure that that figure is accurate on that spreadsheet from the FEC.

So it's interesting. I mean, you had this whole pattern with Cambridge Analytica on the one hand sort of saying that this data meant so much or these ideas that somehow they had a special secret sauce and they could get -- they had psychological profiles of 200 million U.S. citizens.

That was something that was discredited and they eventually backed off of it and now you have the Trump campaign who at one point was taunting these companies and their secret sauce and how valuable they were on Election Day.

Now you have this distancing. And we've seen this pattern before, right? Whether it was Paul Manafort, this idea that he was only a small part of the campaign. Even Steve Bannon, a small part of the campaign. LEMON: Yes.

HENDERSON: Once things start to look not so good. So that's I think what we have here. And I think we'll see what happens here just in terms of more reporting about this -- about this company, Cambridge Analytica. And you had Matt there talk about it. It is connected to the Mercer family. It did helped Ted Cruz's campaign at one point. He then sort of backed away from the company.

So, you know, I think if you listen to what democrats on the Hill have been saying is they have investigated all this possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. A lot of their focus has been on Cambridge Analytica and some of the data. And if that was sort of the locus for any of the collusion that might have happened.

LEMON: Yes. They both came on late, didn't spend that much time. Had periphery roles with the campaign. So, Jim, the White House understands but he wants to keep the focus on the news about Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign, paying for part of the dossier. Watch this and then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I think it's very sad what they've done with this fake dossier. It was made up and I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money. And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The democrats always denied it. And now only because it's going to come out in a court case they said, yes, they did it. They admitted it. And they're embarrassed by it. But I think it's a disgrace. It's just really -- it's a very -- it's a very sad commentary on politics of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Does it matter much who paid for what information, Jim Sciutto?

SCIUTTO: Well, the fact is from the beginning, for instance, when we first reported that the intelligence chief briefed then president- elect Donald Trump and President Obama in January on the existence of this dossier and provided them a synopsis that we reported then and repeatedly since that it was funded by democrats, donors tied to -- supporting Hillary Clinton and prior to that by republicans who were opposed to Donald Trump. This is more specific that that money tied directly to the campaign.

LEMON: And they should have been more transparent about it. But go ahead.

SCIUTTO: No question. Absolutely. They should have been more transparent. But at the dossier itself, this idea propagated by the president and others that it is a fake dossier, that's just not true.

The intelligence community has in fact corroborated portions of the dossier, specifically that communications and meetings documented in that dossier between Trump associates and Russians, including Russians known to U.S. intelligence did in fact, take place at the times and at the places as described in the dossier, and they demonstrated how substantial they view that dossier by the fact that they briefed the president-elect and the president in January.

[22:09:54] And one more thing that we just report earlier this month, that in fact they intentionally took it out of a public assessment of Russian interference in the election, released in January, because they did not want to reveal what they had corroborated and how they had corroborated it.

So, there's substance there that interest both Hill investigators, the special counsel and the intelligence community. It is not in their view a fake dossier despite what the president claims.

LEMON: That's what we have been saying over, something that we've learned over the last year or so. Sources and methods they didn't want to reveal that, Jim, that's correct, right.

SCIUTTO: Sources and methods and also, I think, led on what they found to be substantial and what they found not to be substantial. We should note that the dossier did include salacious details which CNN has never reported. And that's something that really the intelligence community has in touch just like we have in touch. But it's the more substantial parts of that documenting contacts between Trump associates and Russians, that in fact the intelligence community is very interested in.

LEMON: I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you very much all of you. See you soon. When we come back, two men who have worked on the inside of winning presidential campaign. I'm going to ask them what they think of all of this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Here is our breaking news tonight. WikiLeaks' Julian Assange contacted last summer by Cambridge Analytica, a company linked to the Trump campaign seeking access to e-mails from Hillary Clinton's private server. That is according to four sources familiar with the outreach.

Let's discuss now with CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod is here. And Mark McKinnon, the executive producer of The Circus and the former adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain.

[22:14:59] Good evening, gentlemen. Good to have you on. Mark, you first. Jared Kushner was in charge of Trump's -- the Trump campaign digital operations. Steve Bannon was on the board of Cambridge Analytica with a big financial interest.

The Trump campaign was actively using data from Cambridge Analytica to drive where Trump went, yet the campaign claims they relied on the RNC for help. Does that seem plausible to you? They only relied on the RNC, they said.

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE CIRCUS: Well, it's plausible. I mean, that often happens in a general election campaign. You turn over a lot of the operation, particularly those that require a lot of resources to the national committee. So it's plausible and yet we hear differing stories.

All of this just makes me think that there's so many pieces being revealed every day every hour, and there's so much confusion that I'm looking forward to some sort of resolution from the federal investigators that were really -- if there's a puzzle to be put together, we certainly can't figure it out because there's so many pieces. But if there's a glue that puts it together, I look forward to finding out what that is.

LEMON: So you said plausible. What does that mean about probability? Plausible but not probable or plausible but probable?

MCKINNON: Well, when you have conflicting stories that suggests that maybe there is some probability to it.

LEMON: Yes. David, let me bring you in now. What do you think of the WikiLeaks connection, U.S. intelligence has linked Julian Assange to Russian -- Russia intelligence. Does it concern you that Cambridge Analytica was reaching out to him?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes. Well, I think one of the questions that has to be answered and one that's been rattling around in my mind is on this -- on another aspect of the operation that the Russians ran this social media operation.

How did they know where to target and which voters to target and what the profile of the voter was that they were targeting? These are generally functions that are informed by analytics of the sort that Cambridge Analytica does and did for the Trump campaign.

And I think one of the things that the prosecutors are probably trying to discern is did the Russians have any help in identifying their targets, which would be one more arrow pointing back at Cambridge Analytica. I don't know if the answer is yes, but that's certainly a plausible path to follow.

LEMON: David, Hillary...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: I think that's a...

LEMON: Go ahead, Mark.

MCKINNON: ... that's a great point, Don, just to echo what David was saying which is, you know, the fact that the Russians had social media presence is not that big of a deal or that surprising, although maybe still problematic.

What should get our attention or investigators' attention is to what David was talking about, the targeting. How would they know where specifically to target? You know, this is very specific, very deep dive targeting information that only campaigns would have. So the question is if they were doing that, how did they get that information? LEMON: Let's talk more about this dossier. Hillary Clinton, David,

said tonight that she didn't know anything about the dossier until BuzzFeed published it. Why wouldn't she know about that?

AXELROD: I don't know. I mean, it may be that the campaign wanted to protect her from some of their -- you know, some of the deep opposition research...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Does that happen with candidates, they protect the candidate from that?

AXELROD: That happens. That happened sometimes. That could happen sometimes. You know, I do think that it was a mistake for those who knew that there was a link between the DNC and the Clinton campaign and the funding of this project, not to come forward on that sooner because that's not information that's not going to be disclosed.

In this, under this kind of intense scrutiny it's going to be disclosed. And the truth is that in presidential campaigns, and Mark was a masterful strategist in two presidential campaigns and he knows this.

There is, there are ongoing opposition research projects of varying intensity. And so it's not that unusual that there would be this kind of a project going on. But it's made to look much more sinister as it were by the fact that people didn't simply say, yes, we invested in that as did some republican candidates.

LEMON: Yes. Initially by a republican. So, Mark, listening to the Trump campaign is now using this dossier story and the fact that Hillary Clinton and her campaign helped paid for it to debunk the contents of the dossier, some which have been substantiated. Do you think that's going to work?

MCKINNON: Well, it's been a pretty good 24 hours for President Trump. And this is, you can tell that he's actually giddy about this. I mean, he's excited about anything that kind of deflect or confuse or deter the message about Trump associates being aligned with the Russians.

[22:19:57] And so, the fact that this was generated, potentially, by democratic opposition, paid for by democratic opposition research paid for democrats is helpful. I mean, it helps to deflect the notion that there was this complicit.

And it's classic Donald Trump just waving a sparkly object which is -- which the democrats have now handed to him by denying it and now having to admit it. That looks great for Donald Trump because he, this is what he's been saying all along, he says it proves what I said.

So, you know, again, this is all kind of just chatter and flout some jet some until we get the real results of the investigation. But just talking with David it's not that unusual that candidate would not know about this. This is often stuff that, you know, is done way down the chain and often on purpose it's kept away from the candidate so that they have some deniability about it, at least that they knew about it.

By the way, I'm also curious, why are these opposition reports only called dossiers when the Russians and Brits involved. We never call them dossiers here in America, they're just reports or memos.

LEMON: Yes. Well, I mean, opposition there's nothing unusual about opposition research. That's how it works. What is unfortunate for...

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: It would be unusual if you don't do it, Don.

LEMON: Right.

MCKINNON: It's kind of malpractice if a campaign -- and you do it on your opponents and you do it on yourself.

LEMON: Yes. What's unfortunate for Hillary Clinton for her campaign and for democrats is that they weren't transparent about it. Well, democrats were transparent about it. We reported that democrats were paying for and people who were associated with the campaign or close to the campaign but not specifically Hillary Clinton and not specifically the campaign. We're reporting on that earlier in the year.

So David and Mark, I want you to stay with me. When we come right back, is senator Jeff Flake's retirement a sign of the gop, is it now a party of Trump?

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: It sounds like President Trump won't be sorry to see Jeff Flake to leave the Senate. Listen to what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He was against me from before he ever knew me. He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn't win. And I don't blame him for leaving. I think he did the right thing for himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So back with me now David Axelrod and Mark McKinnon. David, tonight, Hillary Clinton says she's worried for republicans. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, (D) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are a lot of things that I worry about. This is actually on my list of what I worry about. The Republican Party is imploding. It is becoming a far right captive party to ideological, religious, and commercial interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Does that ring true? And are the democrats in any position to take advantage?

AXELROD: Well, I do think it rings true. I certainly think it is the party of Donald Trump now. There's no -- there's no if, ands or buts. But the only people in the Republican Party, the only office holders who appear to be willing to speak out against him are either people who are retiring or fighting mortal illnesses. And that's a reflection of his extraordinary popularity among republicans, which sits around 80 percent.

And remember, the first rule of most politicians is to get themselves re-elected. There's an awful lot of fear in the Republican Party and in the republican base about taking Trump on. So for those establishment republicans who want to survive, they seem to be more and more to be making the decision that it's better to join than fight. And that will continue that way unless and until that base erodes.

LEMON: Yes. I want to get to your response on this, Mark, but let me just read this quote to you. It's from the New York Times op-ed writer David Leonhardt. He said he made a cutting observation about the Republican Party today in the wake of Jeff Flake's announcement. Saying that, "It is no room for Flake, but it is room for a man who isn't sure if gay people should be executed."

I mean, he's talking about Roy Moore in Alabama, a candidate for Senate who once talked about whether gay should be punished by death. So where do you see this party headed?

MCKINNON: Well, it's headed in exactly the direction that Donald Trump wants it to and Steve Bannon wants it to, which is to get more Roy Moore's in there.

I've been saying for a long time that the Republican Party is -- I mean, it's really been since the Tea Party days that there is a civil war going on within the Republican Party in a search for its identity. And it is as an example of what happened today -- and by the way, one of the biggest news events of today was the speaker of the house in Texas, Joe Straus, who has been a true and strong and compassionate conservative stepped down.

And he's just another example of the people who have been sort of establishment progressive republicans who are basically waving the right flag and saying this is not the Republican Party that I -- that I voted for, that I got elected to be representing, so I'm leaving.

So, it's interesting I think as we look to 2020 and beyond because I think there's going to be -- we've become a tribal nation. We've divided into tribes. We're not just two big parties anymore. The Democratic Party is splintering, the Republican Party is splintering. So it's a Trump party now, but that Trump party doesn't look anything like the Republican Party that I ran with George W. Bush in 2000 not so long ago.

LEMON: Do you think in 2020 that we may be looking at a Trump ticket, you know, a conservative, you know, candidate somewhere plus Trump and then a democratic candidate? Is it, are we heading in that direction.

MCKINNON: I think what's almost certainly going to happen is that Trump will run for re-election barring some other intervening event because he wants to be a winner and it matters to him that he gets that second affirmation of his presidency.

But I think there will be enough disaffected establishment republicans that they will go run somebody like a John Kasich or somebody as an independent and that will coalesce the establishment republicans who aren't happy with the direction of the Republican Party. And it may not be enough to get elected, but it may be enough to deny Trump a second term and throw it to the democrats.

LEMON: David.

AXELROD: Or it may -- or an alternative theory is that it may deny the democrat a victory because enough people who would have voted for the democratic candidate versus Trump might find that third party pleasing.

[22:30:09] I think there's a lot, a lot of water under the -- to go under the bridge between now and then we'll see where it all leads. But on the subject of Roy Moore, you know, John Cornyn the number two republican in the Senate today endorsed Moore, one of the first to really come forward and do that among the establishment republicans.

One of the problems with the Republican Party is that may play fine in the base, but anywhere where there is any kind of a swing district, House district or states that are competitive, Roy Moore now will become the emblem of the Republican Party and they will have to wear it and that's going to be very tough for them.

So, you know, I think that there is -- Mark says there's a civil war going on in the Republican Party. It seems to me the civil war is over and that the Trump forces have won that civil war. But the question is where does that leave them in the long run? They can rule those domains that are dominated by the republican base, but where there's any kind of a swing district or state that is closely contested, it becomes problematic.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. Enjoy Colorado, by the way, Mark. It looks beautiful. I like that big roaring...

(CROSSTALK)

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE CIRCUS: I always do.

LEMON: Big roaring fire behind you. I'm a bit jealous. When we come back, the president saying he didn't specifically authorize the operation in Niger that got four U.S. servicemen killed. So, what exactly happened before the deadly ambush and who is responsible?

CNN went to Niger to try to find answers, and we're going to take you there right after this break.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump saying today he leaves it up to his generals to call the shots in Niger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a dangerous business. I have to say, it's a dangerous business. So what? No, I didn't, not specifically. But I have generals that are great generals. These are great fighters. These are warriors. I gave them authority to do what's right so that we win. That's the authority they have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: But even the most senior generals can't say exactly what went wrong on the ground in Niger leaving four American servicemen dead.

Here with me with the latest is CNN's national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, and senior international correspondent Arwa Damon in Niger. Hello to both of you.

Jim, I'm going to start with you. There's still so many questions that we have yet to learn the answers for about this ambush. Bring us up- to-date on what happened and how did the soldiers come under attack?

JIM SCIUTTO, CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Let's have a look at the setting first. Niger here, right in the center of a region with increased Jihadi activity all along the borders here. Just keep in mind this fact. Today there is some 6,000 U.S. troops across Africa in 53 different place.

Just gives you a sense of where those troops are spread out. Let's take a closer look at Niger. Niger, there are 800 U.S. troops today. Now, the bulk of them are here building a drone base near this town of Agadez. This particular unit, though, was coming out of the capital, Niamey.

This is what happened. They were going up towards the border to look at, they were told, to look for intelligence on a known ISIS leader operating in this area here. They went to the camp. The leader, as they knew before they went there, was no longer there. They were just gathering intelligence.

As they were heading back to the capital they stopped in a village of Tongo Tongo to get supplies, replenish their supplies and it was as they were leaving there that they came under what was really a sophisticated ambush.

There were mortars, there were heavy machine guns, there were RPGs. That takes some time, that take some planning and it's their strong suspicions -- in fact, I spoke to a defense official today who said it's highly probable that some villagers here, one village or some of them tipped off ISIS fighters in the region that there was a U.S. presence there and then that allowed them to be ambushed as they left the town, Don.

LEMON: Wow. Let's go now to Niger. Arwa, you're on the ground there. What is it like? What's the situation on the ground?

ARWA DAMON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it's a lot tenser for sure than we were last here about three, four months ago when we did actually visit the U.S. drone base here in Niamey as well as the one out in Agadez that is under construction.

People when you speak to them here will echo what they were saying to us in the past in that they in and of themselves are very concerned about security and stability in Niger. Bearing in mind, though, that the area where this ambush took place, yes, it's not one where previous U.S. military elements have come under attack, but it is an area where the Nigerians regularly do come under attack.

In fact, just this past weekend, 13 gens d'armes, members of the military police, the Nigerian military police were killed when their forces were ambushed.

LEMON: Are authorities in Niger speaking out about this ambush, Arwa? What are they saying?

DAMON: They're not saying much at this stage. They're still launching their own investigation into what transpired. And of course, they are looking beyond just this one ambush that took place into a series of other attacks that have happened against their own forces.

They really are -- the U.S. military also likes to emphasize in the lead. So they are the ones who are out there on a regular basis trying to somehow control this phenomenally porous border that exist between Niger and Mali. And they're also well aware of the fact that the details continue to morph.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was traditionally the terrorists into today that was in both Mali and Algeria. Now we're seeing more and more off shoots of breaking away, setting up their own entities, pledging allegiance to ISIS.

ISIS also, of course, wanting to extend its tentacles especially in this region that does provide quite fertile ground as well as we know the way that ISIS does operate. They do take advantage of vulnerable populations and there are plenty of them in this specially volatile area.

[22:40:01] LEMON: Jim Sciutto, back to you in Washington now, you heard President Trump talking about whether he authorized the mission. What do you make of this response? Is he absolving himself of responsibility for the loss of the four shoulders?

SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. You may remember a raid some months ago in Yemen where a U.S. special operator was killed and at the time the president took criticism for using the phrase they lost him. They, meaning the military commanders are not saying I, as commander in chief accept ultimate responsibility.

Here perhaps not quite as much separation. The president is factual when he's saying that he did not approve of this particular raid. And it is true that the president has loosened up the sort of chain of command for some of these raids, allowing the commanders on the ground, whether in Africa, Afghanistan, or elsewhere to make those decisions. That's true.

But it does still seem putting some separation between himself and this. Although he did go on to say that these are dangerous missions. They're there for a reason. They're facing danger in carrying out what he described as a very important mission. So perhaps not the same separation he tried to establish with that Yemen raid some months ago, but perhaps some separation nonetheless.

LEMON: Jim Sciutto and Arwa Damon, thank you. And when we come back, the president again insisting he was nice to gold star widow Myeshia Johnson and knew her husband's name. It was in front of him on a chart, he says, the whole time. Why can't he just let the Johnson story go?

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump disputing gold star widow Myeshia john's account of their condolence call again today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I can only say this. I was really nice to her. I respect her. I respect her family. I certainly respect La David, who, by the way I called La David right from the beginning. Just so you understand. They put a chart in front, La David. It says La David Johnson. So I called right from the beginning. There's no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Here to discuss CNN political commentators, Angela Rye, Scott Jennings, Bakari Sellers, and Bryan Lanza. So Angela, I'm going to start with you. Let's talk about the president's refusal to let this Johnson story go. Still talking about it. What possible good could this do for him or for Myeshia Johnson or her family?

ANGELA RYE, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, Don, I think church people say it best. There's no earthly good that can come out of this. And I think you really hit the nail on the head on Monday with your show opening where you attempted to reason with Donald Trump and you also attempted to speak on behalf of the country to Myeshia Johnson because you knew that this was going to spiral out of control.

There's a commander in chief in the White House that cannot let my argument go no matter how petty, regardless of how emotional and even if someone has lost a loved one in this very, very tragic way.

So this is to be expected. He's not doing anything other than what we've seen him do time and time again. He's all the way down in the weeds on this argument, and we've yet to see what he has to accomplish in nine months of him being president.

LEMON: Scott, you say it's not -- it's not in a nature, his nature to give in to these things. But, I mean, this is really the right time -- is it the right time to brag about his intelligence and his memory?

SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: No. I mean, it's not. You know, you asked why he can't let it go. I mean, he keeps getting asked about it, so, you know, it's not like he's proactively bringing this up. I think yesterday at the White House he got asked about it a couple of times and he didn't answer the question, which was the right posture.

I also think here we're forgetting. I think the president had the proper intent. He intended to call and express his condolences and to give thanks to this family for their sacrifice on behalf of a grateful nation. I don't think anyone is questioning the president's intent.

There's an answer here that would be a great off ramp which you could give every time which is I apologize if anything I said was taken the wrong way. All I intended to do was to express my condolences. You have our thanks and please call me if I can be of any service. That's a great answer. It would probably cause the questions to abate.

But until they give that answer he's probably going to keep getting questioned on it by the press corps.

LEMON: Well, let's talk about memory. Because remember when he asked about his affirment on bone spurs, he said, you know, which foot was and he goes, it's in the record. He couldn't really remember which foot. But he claims that one of the greatest memories of all time. And we crunched the numbers.

This is according to legal documents, OK? In 2016 Donald Trump told lawyers I don't remember at least five times. In 2015 he said I don't remember at least 22 times. And in 2012 he said I don't remember at least 21 times that we know of while being deposed for a Trump University lawsuit. And all three of these depositions were under oath. I'm just wondering, you know, is this great memory selective good memory? Could it come back to haunt him?

RYE: Who's that to?

LEMON: That's for Scott.

JENNINGS: I don't know about the president's memory but I will say this.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I don't remember, but go on.

JENNINGS: I will say this. Clearly he was trying to do the right thing. Clearly this phone call went wrong in the eyes of the only person that matters, and that's the widow of this soldier.

And so, there's an off ramp here that can signal the president's condolences, can signal that we're all grateful for their sacrifice and that would be a good outcome for everybody but we haven't gotten to that answer yet. I hope they do get to that answer because it would be good for the White House to get to it, and frankly, it's what's best for the family so that this issue can go away and they can grieve.

LEMON: Bakari, this is the first time that President Trump has claimed to have an excellent memory that conflicts with the facts. And you say he is completely tone deaf. Explain that.

BAKARI SELLERS, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, not only is he tone deaf but he's empathy devoid. And part reason why you were able to go back and look at these depositions where he was saying that he doesn't know, he doesn't remember is because we have a president who has an extremely high dose of psychopathy.

And what that leads to is instances where he can just flat out lie and not even apologize during moments in which he should have empathy.

[22:50:01] I actually agree that the president of the United States actually had great intent in calling La David's wife, widow, and saying that we are deeply apologetic but deeply for his service on behalf of a grateful nation.

The problem is what the White House should do, now that they know they have in the words of I believe it was Corker and daycare, someone needs to actually call this woman to the White House, come in, sit the president down, and just let him look her in the face and apologize and actually show some level of empathy.

But he's unwilling to do that. He can't do that, and the reason he can't is because he's a sociopath. And that's why we keep getting in these situations that seem to be easy to get out of. But the president refuses -- I mean, he gets in his own way and it's upsetting because this does not have to be the narrative.

LEMON: Bryan, the latest Quinnipiac poll shows only 56 percent of people say President Trump is not honest, 40 percent he is honest. How can the president govern with a credibility if he doesn't tell the truth or apologize for falsehoods.

BRYAN LANZA, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: You know, I would say listen, regarding La David's wife, I think when the president made that phone call we can now go back to his intent. We've now heard samples of how he's made these other phone calls to these other families and we know they've been very empathetic.

So, for Bakari to say he's devoid of empathy is just, you know, inaccurate on the facts that are currently existing. You know, as sort of we talk some of these other areas where, you know, what is the right offer (Ph) here, I think what's important at least for the president to discuss and to get across is that La David was important to him, is important to him, and he's going to continue to be important to him.

But this needs to be a private moment. You know, if the widow was put off by something that the president said, it surely wasn't malice on the president's side. But I think the mistake here that took place was congresswoman stepping in and distorting what actually took place.

I think this moment should have been very private. If it was -- if it was impacted than she sobbed even further than she was then I think the president should have a follow-up conversation and sort of explain to her what La David means to us and what his legacy is going represent because I'm sure the president believes it.

But for the media to sort of nitpick and try to get involved in this very personal thing, I think that leads to the problems that we exist today.

LEMON: The only problem with that, Bryan, is that the chief of staff confirmed that that's what he said.

LANZA: The chief of staff also confirmed empathy which is what the congresswoman said didn't exist. So there's two different stories here and if we're going to put credibility on the chief of staff, which we do for many other purposes, we have to give it to him these circumstances as well.

SELLERS: The problem is the only person who can judge whether or not the president was empathetic or not is La David's widow. And regardless of whatever you say or whatever evidence you want to put forth. If you're having a conversation with someone and you come off like a proverbial ass then the person receiving that is the one who can judge how they feel about that.

So you can say that he was empathetic in that moment. And I will actually give you credit and Donald Trump credit that he went into that moment with great intent. What he came out with was an epic failure. And what we need to do instead of blaming Congresswoman Wilson or blaming La David's widow or blaming anyone else is actually hold the president to a standard where we say, hey, you need to just do one thing that normal people without psychopathy do, apologize.

LEMON: All right. Stay with me, everyone. We have a lot more to talk about.

When we come back, the president bragging about his own intellect today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: People don't understand, I went to an Ivy League college, I was a nice student, I did very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's discuss that next.

[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump says he thinks the press makes him seem like less of a nice guy than he really is.

My panel is back. Here's President Trump addressing his public image earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am. You know, people don't understand. I went to an Ivy League college, I was a nice student, I did very well. I'm a very intelligent person. You know, the fact is, I think, I really believe, I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I'm sorry. To cap it off, he spoke to himself in the third person. Bakari.

RYE: All right.

LEMON: Once again, sorry. Once again, it's the press's fault. Bakari.

RYE: Bakari, lightning round.

SELLERS: No, no, no. I completely -- I completely understand. I completely understand what Donald Trump is going through. Because everybody on Twitter, I mean, half the people on Twitter they have a different image of me but I'm an incredibly smart person. I went to a historically black college university and I was a very, very nice student, Don, so I think I understand what Donald Trump is talking about.

LEMON: All right. Well, listen, let's remember some of the -- seriously, though, let's remember some of the -- he says it's the press's fault, but then is he I guess criticizing us for putting his own words on television? Because these are some of the nice things that he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Would I approve waterboarding you bet your ass I would approve it. You bet your ass.

But it's political (muted). So you understand? I would bomb the (muted) out of them.

They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists.

This guy, lying Ted Cruz.

(APPLAUSE)

I mean, nobody likes him. There's a guy totally disruptive throwing punches. We're not allowed to punch back anymore. I like to punch him in the face, I tell you.

I don't know what I said. I don't remember.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Bryan, nice and intelligent and it's the media's fault for the perception of him? LANZA: Yes. I would say this. I think the media does a job of trying

to sort of portray Trump and his voters as less than smart, less than sophisticated. And so when he sort of pushes back at those things he's defending himself and he's also defending the voters.

Let's talk about what he just did this past November. Nobody else has done that in American history. We spent less money. We don't come from any establishment political party per se, it's sort of this independent movement that come forward that manifested in the Republican Party. That wasn't on accident. That wasn't because Donald Trump did not...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Bryan, Bryan, I understand what you're doing, but he -- he could have said that today when asked he's the one that brought it up saying that his perception...

RYE: Right.

LEMON: He didn't bring all those things up that you're saying. That's not what he's talking about. He's talking about his perception and how the press treats him. He feels, after, again, we're just putting his own words on television and a lot of what he said is live.

(CROSSTALK)

LANZA: That's what you should do. But like I said when he's out there defending himself and defending his voters, that's what he's doing. The media is trying to portray this image of Trump and his voters as something less than sophisticated and that's not the media's job.

(CROSSTALK)

[23:00:04] LEMON: Using his words.

LANZA: The media's job (Inaudible) So, when he's out there defending, he's defending, by the way, he's defending the electoral majority that brought him into the presidency.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So, we shouldn't put his own words back on TV?