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CNN TONIGHT

GOP Working Overtime on Passing Tax Cut Bill; Trump Wants Russia Probe to Stop. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired November 30, 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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[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: ... investigation. President Trump reportedly urged senior Senate republicans to end their investigation into Russia's interference in the election, that is according to the New York Times. More on that in a moment. I promise you we will get to it.

Plus this, drama on the Senate floor with members reportedly furious with Senator Bob Corker for publicly throwing a monkey wrench into plans for a vote on the GOP tax plan. A plan that would add more than $1 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. Something Corker opposes. Now the GOP scrambling on the bill they've staked everything on. That comes on the day the White House said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was pretty definitive yesterday when he said, you would pay more and his wealthy friends would pay more, so what was he referring to?

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, like I just said, I believe his reference was to a lot of the deductions that may no longer exist that are in the current policy right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the president insists he and his wealthy friends would pay more under the GOP plan, even though expert after expert have said the 1 percent would be the big winners here.

You know what would answer that question pretty definitively? A look at the president's tax returns. All of this as the president of the United States is trying to force out his own secretary of state, while saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's here. Rex is here.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Well, maybe not for long. A source telling CNN the president not only wants Rex Tillerson out, he wants to publicly shame the nation's top diplomat. While we're right in the middle of the most dangerous crisis in years with North Korea and Kim Jong-un, who the president persists on calling little rocket man.

And then there's the president's re-tweeting of those hateful and unverified anti-Muslim videos. The White House incredibly spinning that as, and I quote here, "evaluating the conversation on the terror threat," while admitting that the president didn't have any idea that he was re-tweeting content from a notorious far-right political group.

Now, some might say all of this leads to the question about the president's fitness, but not Lindsey Graham, who said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: You know what concerns me about the American press is this endless, endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of kook, not fit to be president. He did win, by the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: I'm not going to try to get into the mind of Donald Trump, because I don't think there's a whole lot of space there. I think he's a kook. I think he's crazy. I think he's unfit for office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's get right to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty live for us on Capitol Hill with more on our breaking news. Sunlen, good evening to you. We saw some drama play out on the Senate floor tonight over the GOP tax bill. Talk to me about what's going on.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: There certainly was a lot of drama tonight, Don. And I can tell you behind the scenes, right now republican leaders up here on Capitol Hill are still scrambling, essentially to salvage their tax bill.

Earlier this evening, there was a moment of high drama on the Senate floor where you saw a Bob Corker, Senator Bob Corker, really surrounded by republican leadership when the vote was being held. There was a lot of debate, a lot of discussion. Certainly, a moment of intrigue.

We now know what was going on at that moment was the Senate parliamentarian was telling them essentially killing this idea about a deficit trigger. That's so important, because that was something that was seen as getting Bob Corker onboard, onboard with the bill, the deficit trigger, of course, a trigger that would raise taxes automatically if the growth projections were not met. Bob Corker was OK with this bill, as long as there was a deficit

trigger. That, essentially, got killed tonight. That set off a scramble, because republican leaders are facing the very real potential that Bob Corker and potentially others, like Ron Johnson, could bail on this bill at such a late hour. So as of now, the scramble is still on and they are still working of ways to move forward.

LEMON: Yes, it's going to be a long night. A long week and a long couple weeks for them. Sunlen, what is the way forward here? Do we know what is going to happen?

SERFATY: It is very, very unclear. People are still working up here late on Capitol Hill. There's still a frenzy of activity up here, where they're trying to look through different proposals. How they can satisfy deficit hawks like Bob Corker through other proposals.

That's all to say they are still writing this bill, essentially, a bill that they potentially could be voting on tomorrow. So, certainly , a lot of concern here. Will people be able to read specifics of what changes are made in this bill at this very late hour. And at this late hour, Don, those changes simply aren't known.

LEMON: Thank you, Sunlen Serfaty, get some sleep. We're going to be needing you for the next -- over the next hours here.

I want to bring in now Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large, also CNN political analyst, Kirsten Powers, and political commentator, Scott Jennings. I just -- I'm having sort of flashbacks to the repeal and replace votes that we, you know, Kirsten and Chris and Scott, we've been on the air for so many hours, late into the wee hours, and I'm wondering if this is going to be the case perhaps tonight or perhaps tomorrow.

[22:05:10] So Chris, I'm going to start with you. Good evening, by the way.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: Sure. Good to see you.

LEMON: GOPs now view Senators Corker and Flake as a package deal here. Is there any coincidence that the two GOP senators who are throwing a grenade into the tax plan, are the guys who have been publicly feuding with the president?

CILLIZZA: Well, I'm publicly on the record as saying, there are no coincidences in politics, Don, so I'm going to say, no, it is not a coincidence. Look, I do, however, think that both Corker and Flake have been longtime, particularly in the case of Flake, this goes all the way pack to the House, longtime deficit hawks, concerned about growing the deficit, what it will do.

That was the core of the Republican Party, up until Donald Trump won the nomination, then won the presidency. You've seen a lot of shifting of that, but the truth of the matter, that sort of watching the deficit, making sure it doesn't balloon out of control, government spending, curtailing government spending, that was at the core of the modern Republican Party.

I think Corker, Flake, even McCain are more emboldened, more willing to go against Trump, but I will make one point. Even if they lose Corker and Flake. Now, they don't have a solution, as Sunlen noted, but even if they lose Corker and Flake, they still are OK with McCain, Murkowski and Collins onboard.

Not a guaranteed, anytime you move one little thing in a build this complex, it has butterfly wings, it has a lot of other effects, but this is not as dire as health care in that they have a few people dialed in that they simply never had on health care.

LEMON: Yes. Kirsten, listen, it wasn't too long ago. Do you remember this tweet from the president? He said, "Senator Jeff Flake who is unelectable in the great state of Arizona, quit race, anemic polls, was caught purposely on mic, he says mike but mic is actually m-i-c, saying bad things about your favorite president. He'll be a no on tax cuts, because his political career, anyway, is toast."

I mean, listen, a lot of people thought the president was shooting himself in the foot with that tweet before there was even a vote. Are we seeing payback tonight?

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I don't -- you know, I do tend to think that this is more about the substance, that there is a real issue and there was a score that came out that was upsetting to Corker and Flake, showing that this was not -- that this was going to add to the deficit. So there actually was something that happened that changed things.

LEMON: And $1 trillion.

POWERS: Yes, so I think that, so it's not just completely out of the blue. It's not like they're just trying to make trouble for the president. I think that they have a real substantive complaint here.

The question is, why is this such a surprise? I mean, we kind of get back to wire -- we're getting right up to the wire with this bill and then they're discovering new things about it. And the process is just so deeply flawed, the way we saw with health care, where these things really should be more thought out. They shouldn't be rushed through the way that they have, and I don't think the senators really necessarily understand what they're voting on.

LEMON: So I just want to get a response from you, Scott, regarding this particular issue. You still think the votes are there, right?

SCOTT JENNINGS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I do. I still feel like it's more likely than not that they get this deal done. And one of the issues here is that failure is simply not an option for the Republican Party. As you pointed out...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Can I ask you, Scott? Should they -- should they wait? JENNINGS: ... they get us to the line of repeal and replace.

LEMON: Because if they don't do it now, I think the thing that Corker is fighting over, or what he, you know, sort of put on hold here or pause, was that they would have to wait three days before presenting it again or voting on this again. Is that a bad idea for them to do, as sort to figure this out, sort of trying to do it at the last second here?

JENNINGS: Well, they have to figure something out because of this procedural issue. But you know, I used to be in business with a guy, and he used to say, time kills all deals. And every time you go by that you're not, you know, getting to a deal is a day that you're closer to something dying on the vine.

And so I like the concept of them working into the night, as the reporter said, and trying to find an answer here. And here's another thing, every day the Republican Party waits to cut taxes is a day that we don't get the economic growth we think we're going to get out of a big tax cut.

So we can lose two and still pass this bill. One of the answers here may just simply be a small stair step increase in the corporate rate from 20 up to, you know, a couple of points higher. But they've got to find an answer. Because, Don, as you pointed out, we were on the air together the night that the repeal and replace bill died and that was extraordinarily deflating to the president and to the party.

So failure on this, I mean, it would really change everything that we know about the way that the Republican Party and the government operates in Washington right now, because this failure will not be accepted by republican grassroots around the country in my opinion.

LEMON: Chris, change of subject here. And I need to get this in.

CILLIZZA: Sure.

LEMON: The New York Times now reporting that President Trump over the summer repeatedly tried to urge Senate republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the chairman of the intelligence committee, Richard Burr, to end their Russia investigation. Is this appropriate?

[22:10:10] CILLIZZA: So, I was struck by the piece and in particular the fact that Richard Burr, who is a very sort of establishment republican, not someone who's been hypercritical of the president, was willing to go on the record with the New York Times and say, yes, we had these conversations. He said he would like things wrapped up.

That's important. Because Burr has a lot of options and one of which, that he most likely usually takes, is not to talk at all. So that's meaningful. And I think it's important, because Burr is trying to send a signal there.

Now, that said, what the republican response here will be is, this is a president who's never done this before. No, it is not super appropriate for him to involve himself in this, but it is not is illegal for him to do so.

Burr has said in this New York Times piece, no, I was not influenced unduly, I didn't feel pressured. Again, Donald Trump operates in a lot of gray area, politically speaking. You never know if he's doing it purposefully, is he blundering into it? I don't have the ability to go into his head and figure that out, but he often does this.

Look, I'll give you another one that you didn't ask about, Don. Donald Trump is doing a rally in Pensacola, Florida, four days before the Alabama special election.

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Pensacola has a lot of crossover into...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, that's a bait and switch. Or I don't know if you can call it that, because...

CILLIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: ... or a sleight of hand, because...

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA: He could choose anywhere else.

LEMON: ....it's actually Alabama viewing in from Florida.

CILLIZZA: Right, this is that same gray area. He could choose a lot of different places in the country to do a rally.

LEMON: Yes.

CILLIZZA: Doing one 25 miles away from Alabama in a media market that reaches just under 20 percent of Alabama voters.

LEMON: And that Alabama news media will cover throughout the state.

CILLIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: So listen, I've got to ask you, Kirsten, I was getting back to this Russia thing, you know, as Chris is saying, some of the officials reportedly say that the president just wasn't familiar with how it works as a political newcomer, how long -- how long are they going -- excuse me -- to keep using that excuse?

Because there is a collective here of a number of those where, just new, they don't know, they're bumbling around. I mean, he has plenty -- he's had plenty of time to learn. Does he care? That's the question?

POWERS: I mean, it's like he didn't just fall off the turnip truck from Manhattan, right? I mean, he lived in a -- he lived in a...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: In Manhattan would be the kale truck.

CILLIZZA: Circles of truck in Manhattan.

POWERS: You know, they're acting like he is, you know, like he's never been exposed to sort of the big world, city ways or something. And that's not actually true and I think the average viewer of law and order probably knows that you're not supposed to do this. This is not a complicated issue.

When you're being investigated, you're not supposed to try and sway the people that are investigating you. I just don't think that it's something that Donald Trump doesn't know. He knows it. He has to know it. And if for some reason he didn't know it in the beginning, surely he knows it by now.

LEMON: Hey, Scott, CNN's Sara Murray learning tonight the president has been stewing in recent days, he's still annoyed with Jeff Sessions scrambling that the only reason that the White House has to deal with the messy Alabama race is because sessions took the job of attorney general, only for him to recuse himself from that Russia investigation that is looming, that we're talking about right now.

Do you think this is why we're seeing all of these strange tweets and re-tweets and swipes at the news media?

JENNINGS: I don't know. I've felt like that sort of the string of events we've seen lately is being caused by something that he knows that we don't know, that's causing him to have some, you know, discomfort with the world around him right now.

And so that worries me, obviously, as a republican, and someone who wants to see the president succeed for the country. So, I just -- we can't really know what that is right now.

Regarding this Russia story tonight, I mean, I think one thing that should be noted, is the republican senators who talked to the president kind of gave him the stiff arm a little bit and said, OK, thanks, and they went about their work and are continuing the investigation, which is exactly what they should do.

So, while I think the note about him going to the senators is interesting, it should definitely be discussed. They did the right thing and are continuing to look into an issue that a lot of republicans do believe has to be completed, because most people that I know have accepted, there was Russian meddling in the election.

CILLIZZA: There's just -- I just -- I'll agree with what Scott said. The one thing I'll say is there's just a lot of instances of envelope pushing and sort of occupying this gray area. You know, once, twice, 15 times, you start to wonder if it's not intentional.

LEMON: Fifteen?

CILLIZZA: I know. I was underselling. LEMON: Yes. Thank you. I appreciate it.

When we come back, the president suffering very little political blowback for what many consider reckless words and behavior. What's to stop him now? And why might it just be the beginning here?

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You can page right out of the Trump political playbook. Take the credit when you win, dodge the blame when you lose. And for a president who has been emboldened by a lack of consequences, it has led to some pretty erratic behavior. But what will happen if he gets some big wins under his belt?

Let's discuss that now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod is here, and Mark McKinnon, he is the executive producer of Showtime's the Circus. Before I get to that, I just -- I have some breaking news.

Breaking news at the top of the show is that the president had pressed top republicans to end the Senate Russia inquiry. That is according to the New York Times is reporting that, Jonathan Martin, Maggie Haberman, and Alexander Burns.

The White House is responding to that, gentlemen, and I want to get your response. Here's what they say. It says, "The White House has been cooperative with the Senate intelligence committee -- committee's inquiry and the president is at no point has attempted to apply undue influence on committee members. He has reiterated what he has long said publicly, there is no evidence of collusion and these investigations must be -- must come to a fair and appropriate completion."

It's interesting, he said, he said, there is no evidence of collusion. He didn't say there was no collusion. What do you think of that, David Axelrod?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: You know, he has been saying -- but he's been pushing for some time for these hearings to come to an end, so, the fact that he had privacy conversations about it adds a little coloration to this.

The committee seems resistant to that notion. And you know, we should keep in mind, every Donald Trump sees this entire thing through his own prism, understandably.

[22:20:01] The fact is, the Russians, they invaded our democracy. They were seriously, seriously involved in tampering with the election process. You know, we know that they hacked. Everybody seems to agree on that. You know, we know all of these things. And there are big implications of this, now and in the future.

And so this committee has an obligation not just to get to the bottom of what Trump's role was in this, but get to the bottom of what the Russians did and what we need to do to keep them from doing it again. And they would be remiss, they would be derelict in their duty if they were to yield to any kind of pressure from the White House to stop now.

LEMON: Is that a direct -- Mark McKinnon, if you -- the report that says that, you know, the president pressed top republicans to end Senate/Russia -- the Senate Russia inquiry, and that is, again, according to the New York Times. But in this statement that I read, they directly pushing back on this? Did you see that as a direct pushback?

MARK MCKINNON, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, THE CIRCUS: Well, yes, I think so. To David's point, I think the republicans and anybody on the committee sees this as a much broader mandate.

And the problem is that the more they're learning, the deeper the problem gets. And the wider the range of the scope of the problem is when you look at the impact, not just on, you know, what they may have done this election, but in any election, maybe not just here, but elsewhere.

So, I think what's happening is that the committee is not -- they may not be tying things up. In fact, the net may be expanding as they get more information about Facebook and everything else.

But I certainly understand the president's desire. I mean, it's hard to be governing the president of the country under any circumstances, much less an inquiry hanging over your head. And obviously he would like to get that resolved as quickly as possible, but the committee has an obligation to do due diligence.

LEMON: And he probably believes it maybe this is at least part of the reason that he hasn't had any legislative accomplishments. I don't know if that is true, but he probably believes that.

So, David, speaking of that, if he doesn't get a tax deal, he can blame the democrats or obstructionist republicans, but if he wins, he will surely take credit for -- the president has gone, you know, head to head with a number of political adversaries and he's really come out a winner. Why shouldn't he feel emboldened to do things that others may see as politically reckless?

AXELROD: Do you think that he has been timid, Don, about doing things that are politically reckless? I don't think -- I don't know what emboldened looks like. He has -- you know, he's been doing the kind of things that we've seen for quite some time, and he's pretty much where he's been, which is sort of mired in the kind of mid-to-high 30s in polls with his base sticking with him.

He doesn't grow his base. Hit doesn't shrink particularly, but it's not a great place to be. It doesn't seem to impact on him. I don't know what he responds to. I do wonder whether some of the things in the last week that have seemed particularly strange are a result of some of the hoof beats of these investigations, you know, louder in his ears is.

But, by and large, you know, now, on the tax thing, I have a particular view on this, which is, it's a little bit like Roy Moore. The republicans may win the Roy Moore race in Alabama. I suspect they will, but I'm not sure that's a gift they want.

This tax bill is something that the -- you know, the republican donors, big corporate donors, wealthy donors want. I think politically, it's a gift to democratic ad makers in 2018, because it so plays to the stereotype of the Republican Party, as a party that creators to the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, so.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And who elected...

AXELROD: Bob Corker and others who are...

LEMON: ... someone who was accused of, right?

AXELROD: Yes, exactly. Well, under -- yes, I know. I mean, he's -- this bill helps -- does not help the people who Donald Trump -- who Donald Trump drew his greatest support from. But I think that there's so much in here, you know, whether it's repealing tax breaks for graduate students or repealing tax breaks for people who have big medical expenses or taking away state and local tax deductions and so on, while you're giving away, you know, special breaks for people who have planes and huge billions of dollars of -- trillions over -- for the wealthy and corporate interests.

LEMON: Well, to David's -- to David's point, Mark, is this careful for republicans and for the president careful what you ask or wish for concerning taxes and Roy Moore?

MCKINNON: I agree with David completely, because I was thinking about this as a former ad guy, which David is, as well. And I can see that the senators and the president is looking at this very short-term lens, which is, we just have to have a victory. And a lot of these guys may be facing primary opponents.

AXELROD: Right.

MCKINNON: And they want to be able to get out there and say, we've done something. And they're going end to up defending a bad bill.

[22:24:58] But the long-term, as a strategist, I look at this and I just think, so wait a minute, we rush through a bill just to get something done. And we're going to be republicans defending a tax bill that adds $1 trillion to the deficit as republicans? That's a big problem in the long-term.

LEMON: The president is reportedly saying that a government shutdown could be in his political interests. Is that true? We'll talk about that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Does President Trump actually think a government shutdown could benefit him?

Back with me now, David Axelrod and Mark McKinnon. Apparently, that's what he thinks, Mark, because the Washington Post reported the president thinks that things get stalled on taxes. A government shutdown it could be good for his best interests politically.

If the government shuts down, let's be -- it would affect social security payments, the CDC's ability to respond to an outbreak could be slowed. I mean, how do you see the president spinning this as a victory? I guess he could try.

[22:30:02] MCKINNON: But not spinnable. There's no history to support that. A government shutdown equals one thing, it says, we can't govern and the republicans are in power.. There's no upside to a government shutdown for the party in power. Zero.

LEMON: And what do you think, David?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I totally agree with that. You know, the last time a government shutdown actually benefited someone politically was when republicans shut down the government when Bill Clinton was president, because he refused a deal that would have cut Medicare and that turned out to be a political disaster for the republicans.

But in this case, the president, as Mark points out, the president has both Houses of Congress. Beyond that, the issue in which he is apparently willing to make his stand is on the status of these 800,000 DACA children of immigrants.

The polling is pretty clear on this. Large numbers of Americans think that those kids should be held harmless in some way, for the fact that they were brought here, not of their own volition, but by their parent's, and they shouldn't be punished for that.

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: Yes, that just makes it worse.

AXELROD: And you know, remember, Mark, the president made a deal with or seemed to make a deal in principle with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. According to the reporting of the Post, he's aggravated now because he said he looked like a chump in that deal. I would note that in the same week that he cut that deal, it was the last time that he actually hit 40 in the rolling Gallup poll numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

MCKINNON: It's a good point.

AXELROD: Because I think it was one time he went beyond his base. I'm sorry?

MCKINNON: That's what people want a president to do.

LEMON: Mark, let me ask you. Let me this caveat before I ask you a question. I know you want to respond. Before yu respond to the question, I should say. If President Trump uses funding for his proposed border wall as a

bargaining chip in budget talks, and then it doesn't go through, what stops him from blaming it on democrats for obstruction and saying democrats are weak on immigration?

MCKINNON: Well, I think he'll try, but I think if there's an underlying government shutdown with that, I mean, he's shown, as David just suggested, an unwillingness to negotiate and deal.

And as we know before the meeting yesterday, he tweeted out and attacked Pelosi and Schumer before the meeting they were going to have to negotiate to basically say that there was no reason to have the meeting.

I'd like to throw a question to David, if I could, which is on topic of the president and the end of the year. David, if we stipulate that the president gets some credit for the economy at some point, we're a year now into the Trump presidency and the economy's going pretty strong. Does he start to get some credit for this at some point?

LEMON: Quick answer, please, David.

AXELROD: I think that's what he's betting on and that's going to determine just what happens in the fall of 2018. He's hoping that he gets some propulsion out of that.

LEMON: Yes, thank you, guys. I'm out of time. I appreciate having both of you on. Nice fireplace there, by the way, McKinnon, warm and fuzzy. We like that. Don't miss this week's edition of the Axe Files, by the way. David Axelrod sits down with actor and author and American icon Tom Hanks. He has a lot to say about politics, the press, and the sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and Washington. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM HANKS, ACTOR: In a lot of ways, we all left town and joined the circus. And the circus is glamorous in a lot of ways. And there is camaraderie and there is, you know, there is sex and there's attraction and boyfriends and girlfriends and there's flirting and that's always been part of -- there's on-set affairs. There's no law against that.

AXELROD: Right. But this goes far beyond.

(CROSSTALK)

HANKS: This goes much farther beyond that, because it ends up being a swaying of influence and it becomes part of the marketplace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: You can see more Saturday night, 7 Eastern in the Axe Files right here on CNN and tune in at 7 p.m. Eastern.

When we come back, it is often what happens when a relationship runs its course. One person can't muster the guts to break it off with the other while hoping the other will do it. What happens when one of them is secretary of state and the other is president of the United States? I'm going to ask a former deputy secretary of state what he thinks.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Tonight, a source telling CNN that the White House wanted reports for a possible replacement for Rex Tillerson to get out. The reason, to service a public shaming of the secretary of state.

Let's discuss now with CNN global affairs analyst, Tony Blinken is here. He served as former deputy secretary of state. He has a new piece in the New York Times, you should read it. It's fascinating. It's titled, how Rex Tillerson did so much damage in so little time. Good evening, sir. Thank you for coming on.

TONY BLINKEN, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, CNN: Hi, Don, good to be with you.

LEMON: A source is telling CNN that the White House is trying to publicly humiliate Tillerson. Why do that? Why not just fire him?

BLINKEN: You know, it's funny. The president who made his reputation on firing people on the apprentice doesn't seem to like to do it in real life. So it seems like they're trying to send a very strong signal to Secretary Tillerson to leave of his own volition by shaming him.

It's really unfortunate. I mean, for whatever he's done, and I've got a lot of concerns about what he's done to the department during his tenure, it's not a real good way to do things.

LEMON: Yes. More importantly, what effect does a public shaming of Tillerson have on his ability to do his job, effectively?

BLINKEN: Look, Don, that ability was already compromised. What we've seen time and again over the last year is the secretary advancing a particular policy position on a given issue, and the president coming out within hours or even minutes and tweeting exactly the opposite.

And that's made it very difficult for Tillerson to go around the world and represent the United States and be taken seriously.

[22:39:59] His credibility has been shot by a president who constantly undermines him. So this was going to have to come to an end. And now, apparently, it is.

LEMON: That's the secretary of state's job, present the -- present America to the rest of the world. So then the bigger picture here, let's talk about the U.S. reputation around the world. Do you think it has diminished since the beginning of this administration?

BLINKEN: Well, don't take my word for it. There was a very extensive survey by Pew about two weeks ago, that showed that the drop-off in American credibility around the world from Obama to Trump is dramatic across the board. Forty, 50, 60 points among most of our key partners and allies. Now, there are a few countries where it's up. Russia, Saudi Arabia, you think are two of them.

LEMON: Interesting. And case in point, the outrage from our closest ally, Great Britain, after the president re-tweeted three violent videos from Britain First, which is a far-right, anti-Muslim extremist group. First Prime Minister Theresa May responded. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm very clear that re-tweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do. Britain First is a hateful organization. It seeks to spread division and mistrust among our communities. It stands in fundamental opposition to the values that we share as a nation, values of respect, tolerance, and dare I say, just common British decency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And then London's mayor, who, by the way, Mr. Blinken, is Muslim, and he said, "Many Brits who love America and Americans will see this as a betrayal of the special relationship between our two countries. It beggars belief that the president of our closest ally doesn't see that his support of this extremist group actively undermines the values of tolerance and diversity that makes Britain so great."

Other leaders demands Trump's invitation to visit be rescinded. Can the relationship make it through you think a Trump relation, administration?

BLINKEN: Well, it will make it through, but he's not making it easy. Look, it takes real effort to pick a fight with our closest ally and partner, and he's done that several times with Prime Minister May, despite her best efforts to have a strong relationship.

And today's example is really, really unfortunate. Because, as you've said, he's legitimatized basically a neo-Nazi group in the U.K. That's made life more difficult for Theresa May. It's going to alienate partners around the world, including in the Arab and Muslim world who we need actually to be with us in the fight against terrorism, and it risk inciting people here in the United States to go after their fellow citizens who happen to be Muslim.

You know, Don, it would be one thing if the president was going after all violent extremists of whatever persuasion, some of whom, a small number of whom, happen to be Muslim, but instead, he's going after all Muslims, and -- including some, a number who happen to be violent extremists.

So, this is sending exactly the wrong message. And unfortunately, what we're seeing is kind of a normalization of incitement and of hate groups, just as we've seen a normalization of not telling the truth.

LEMON: Can you remember any of our allies, especially Britain, our closest, responding like this to a U.S. president, something like that? BLINKEN: No, It's pretty -- it's hard to think of another example.

And again, you know, we have enough challenges around the world and enough adversaries. We don't need to be picking fights with our closest friends.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you very much, Tony Blinken. I appreciate it.

BLINKEN: Good to be with you, Don. Thanks.

LEMON: When we come back, a new report from the New York Times about the president putting pressure on senators to end the Russia investigation. We're going to bring you all the details. That's next.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news tonight is a new report that says that President Trump tried to pressure Senate republicans to end the intelligence committee's Russia investigation. That is according to the New York Times.

I want to discuss that now with CNN national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennessey, and John Flannery, former federal prosecutor for the southern district of New York. Good evening to both of you.

JOHN FLANNERY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Good evening.

LEMON: John, what do you make of the new reporting tonight, the president repeatedly pressured the top Senate republicans to end the Russia investigation, the White House is pushing back on that, but is trying to influence a senator like that cross any sort of legal line?

FLANNERY: Sure. Well, yes, he's a thug. He's been a thug. I mean, we saw it with Yates, we saw it with Comey. It shouldn't surprise us, he does everything he can to shut down the investigation that will reveal what he did.

And the thing with Flynn that's probably made him more nervous than ever, and apparently even silenced Sessions to decide whether or not he would say that the president hindered the elevation involving Russia.

LEMON: Susan, could that be considered an attempt to obstruct justice?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: So we don't know. It sort of enough about this specific -- it's probably not enough just based on what was reporting to say it's an obstruction of justice attempt. That said, this is clearly part of a pattern.

You know, from Burr to Blunt to Pompeo, Admiral Rogers, the head of the NSA, all the way to James Comey, you know, Trump has had this really inappropriate contacts and he's had a lot of pushback against those. So sort of the excuse now, you know, he's new to this and he doesn't understand how immensely inappropriate this stuff is, that doesn't -- it doesn't hold up. And it does start to sort of corroborate the notion that, hey, this

isn't just a political neophyte, you know, who doesn't understand that this isn't the way you go about things, but instead there is some kind of obstructive intent behind what he's doing.

LEMON: Do you read anything into their response, John that, "the White House has been cooperative with the Senate intelligence committee's inquiry and the president at no point has admitted -- or attempted, I should say, to apply undue influence on committee members. He has reiterated what he has long said publicly, there is no evidence of collusion and these investigations must come to a fair and appropriate completion."

I'm reading it off my phone here, so. I don't have my glasses.

(CROSSTALK)

FLANNERY: Well, he may be the only one in America who doesn't see what everybody else sees. I mean, there's such a trail by now of associated meetings with Russians for quid pro quos, this hiding what did happen, and then admitting that it happened.

[22:49:59] And you know, his pattern seems to be less like a president, and more like the thugs that he associated with in organized crime in New York. And the tactics that he picked up from Roy Cohn are evident and so visible to the public that it's like you have to be from another planet or never seen this kind of thing to believe that anything that he's doing is innocent.

LEMON: Yes.

FLANNERY: You're pressuring people to cut out of an investigation, when they're making disclosures to the public that implicate him in a conspiracy.

I don't think very many people believe what they hear from the White House, and we have a Pinocchio president on all other issues, so why do we think the one that he's the center of the investigation, he's going to be any better?

LEMON: Hey, Susan, I want to ask you about BlackWater founder, Eric Prince, a meeting with the House intelligence committee and being grilled on his meeting with a Russian investment banker earlier this year.

CNN reported the meeting was an attempt to potentially set up a backdoor channel between Russia and the Trump administration. Prince denies that. What's your read on this situation?

HENNESSEY: All right. So Prince has said and now under oath before the intelligence committee that he wasn't acting as sort of on behalf of the campaign. He wasn't -- he didn't go out to have that particular communication on their behalf.

You know, that said, it's yet another person who's sort of closely related or somewhat closely related to the Trump world. Having these contacts, not disclosing them until months and weeks later. You know, the interesting thing here is that it might not be whether or not Eric Prince had, you know, intended to set up a back channel, but whether or not there were lots and lots of Russian actors who were trying to find, you know, ways into the Trump campaign and to the Trump world.

And that it's possible to sort of look at this as potentially significant, even if Prince is telling the truth, you know, because it's yet another example of some of those contacts that we've seen emerge with Michael Flynn, with Jared Kushner and with others.

LEMON: Stay with me. We're going to talk about Adam Schiff and whether he believes Jeff Sessions, potentially hindered the Russia investigation. We'll be right back.

[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back now with Susan Hennessey and John Flannery. John, Attorney General Jeff Sessions voluntarily appeared before the House intelligence committee today as part of their Russia investigation. Here's what the democrat's ranking member had to say about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADAM SCHIFF, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: I asked the attorney general whether he was ever instructed by the president to take any action that he believed would hinder the Russia investigation. And he declined to answer the question.

There is no privilege basis to decline to answer a question like that. If the president did not instruct him to take an action that would hinder the investigation, he would say so. If the president did instruct him to hinder the investigation in any way, in my view, that would be a potentially criminal act, and certainly not covered by any privilege.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So Sessions has used the excuse of privileged conversations before when testifying about Russia, but is that something he's even allowed to do?

FLANNERY: I don't think so. And one of the reasons is because they, when they did the Comey thing, which is what this is about, they released letters, so in other words, whatever conversation they were having was leading toward a disclosure of something.

On top of it, what the congressman was talking about is that if you're trying to use a privilege to conceal a crime, which obstruction would be, then the privilege takes flight, because the privilege is supposed to protect the confidential -- recognized confidential exchange of information.

And so we don't recognize that you can use a privilege ever to obstruct justice. And we wouldn't be in a position to prove it, had we not had a series of letters between -- drafts from the president to the attorney general to the assistant attorney general. And then a week later, we have Mr. Trump saying on the air that it was

not about that anyhow. He just wanted to get rid of the Russia investigation, which is a theme that we're talking about this evening again, because he's trying to intimidate the Senate to back off the investigation.

LEMON: Susan, what do you make of Adam Schiff's assertion that if Trump hadn't asked Sessions to hinder the Russia investigation, Sessions would just say so. Is that a fair assumption?

HENNESSEY: It's not entirely clear. It's possible that Sessions is just asserting a broad executive privilege saying, look, I'm not going to talk about my communications with the president, sort of in a general sense. He has released a statement through the Department of Justice that he referred to again tonight, saying that the president never asked him to do anything improper or illegal.

So that would certainly cover, you know, obstructing the investigation. The question, is why is Sessions playing it cute before the committee. You know, if that's is a statement he's willing to put out through DOJ, you know, why wouldn't he just tell that to Congressman Schiff and others?

LEMON: John, do you want to respond?

FLANNERY: Yes. Well, he voluntarily appeared to be mute. I mean, that's a very interesting voluntariness. I want to come and answer your questions, but I'm going to answer the ones that otherwise some might construe as the Fifth Amendment. Or I'm going to sort of say it's the executive privilege and I don't want to talk about it.

You could say, yes, he did want to hinder the investigation, but it wasn't criminal because he thought the investigation should be over and Comey was an inappropriate person to lead it. None of those, in my opinion, hunt. They're all nonsense. And they're sort of the weak cover-up of a bad criminal who sits in the West Wing.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, John Flannery and thank you, Susan Hennessey. I appreciate it.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you for joining us. Just before 11 p.m. here on the East Coast. We're live with some breaking news for you.

A not-guilty verdict tonight in the death of Kate Steinle, shot by an undocumented immigrant as she walked on San Francisco's Pier 14. Her killing was a major theme of the Trump campaign and a rallying cry for tougher immigration policy.

[23:00:06] And the president is tweeting tonight, tweeting, "A disgraceful verdict in the Kate Steinle case. No one the people of our country is so angry with illegal immigration."