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CNN TONIGHT

Speculation on Michael Flynn's Guilty Plea Looms Big; RNC Sour Grapes to Roy Moore. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 4, 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: He went on to tell reporters, quote, "Once in Glacier National Park, I saw two porcupines making love. I'm assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They produced something, it has to be done carefully. That's what we're doing now."

You can decide for yourself whether your government at work is more like porcupine population or a herpes infection. But a creative analogy is always welcome in Washington. And certainly on the Ridiculist.

Thanks for watching 360. Time to turn it over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

What did the president know and when did he know it? We're learning more about that. A source telling CNN that President Trump was told sometime in January that General Michael Flynn, his then-national security adviser, misled the FBI. And that leads to questions about the president's shifting defense of Flynn, and about whether the president of the United States tried to obstruct justice.

So let's just take a look at the timeline here. Starting with January 24th, four days after Donald Trump's inauguration, Flynn talks to the FBI about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, then he told the FBI he did not discuss sanctions.

Now in his plea agreement, he admits that it was a lie. He asked Russia not to retaliate against sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. January 26th, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns White House counsel, Don McGahn, that Flynn was lying about calls with Kislyak.

We now know that after some point after that conversation, McGahn told President Trump he believed Flynn lied to the FBI and to Vice President Pence.

February 13th, Flynn is forced to resign but the president continues to defend him. Just three days later blaming Flynn's resignation on his lies to the vice president, never mentioning the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He didn't tell the vice president of the United States the facts and then he didn't remember and that just wasn't acceptable to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Now the vice president -- now the president, I should say, tweeting this this weekend. "I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the vice president and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide."

The president's personal attorney telling CNN he wrote that tweet, a claim that has raised some eyebrows from skeptics given the president's seemingly endless tweeting.

Then on May 9th, President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, saying it was because of his handling of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. But on June 8th, Comey testified on Capitol Hill telling the Senate intelligence committee Trump said this about Flynn in a private Oval Office meeting on February 14th.

And this is a quote. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go. To letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Then on May 10th, just one day after Comey's firing, the president meets with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office and reportedly tells them, quote, "I just fired head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job and faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."

One day later, the president tells NBC's Lester Holt this about Flynn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the democrats for having lost an election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Since then, we have learned that the president pressured Senate republicans to end their Russia investigation this summer. His former campaign manager Paul Manafort is under house arrest. His attorney general had to recuse himself from all of this after questions about his own testimony under oath.

His former national security adviser Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Kislyak. And President Trump has continued to wage war on the press for what he calls fake news on Russia.

And if you think the White House doesn't have obstruction on its mind, there is this. The president's personal attorney in an interview with Axios saying the president, quote, "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution's article 2 and has every right to express his view of any case."

So here we are. Let's get right to CNN contributor John Dean, a former Nixon White House counsel, and Robert Ray, a former Whitewater independent counsel. It's a lot to keep up with it, isn't it?

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL & SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: It is.

LEMON: Every day.

RAY: It gets worse.

LEMON: It gets worse. It seems like on a Monday, it's a fire hose and then it just continues to dribble throughout the week. Do you believe there's evidence, John Dean, that the president has obstructed justice?

JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, I think that we're accumulating a state of mind that could, indeed lead to a charge of obstruction.

[22:05:02] Technically, he can't be indicted for it because he is president. It could lead to an impeachment, though. They're building the facts. We don't have all the facts, Don, but what we do have certainly indicates he doesn't want an investigation to go forward.

LEMON: Wasn't a -- there was an obstruction of justice with Clinton but that's because Clinton lied during a deposition, lied under oath.

DEAN: His perjury was used as an obstruction count as well.

LEMON: Obstruction count.

DEAN: Same with Nixon. Nixon was charged with obstruction as well although it never got to the vote of the House.

LEMON: So, Robert, the president's lawyer claiming that the president cannot obstruct justice. Is he grasping at straws or is he right?

RAY: Partly he's grasping straws because even in the Nixon era the president of the United States in fact, can obstruct justice and President Nixon did as John Dean well knows, there was a slush fund that was in existence. There was a conspiracy within the White House to use that slush fund to silence and alter testimony of witnesses. That's, you know, prime example of obstruction of justice.

I think what, though, John Dowd and the White House, what they're saying, what they mean is that the president's decision to fire the director of the FBI, James Comey, which he's entirely permitted to do and has complete power to do under article 2 of the Constitution, cannot itself be an act of obstruction of justice.

And the analogy would be to the Nixon era, nobody during the Nixon era claimed that Richard Nixon was without authority to fire the special prosecutor, Archibald Cox and nobody during that time claimed that that firing constituted obstruction of justice in a criminal context.

You can argue about whether or not that's an abuse of power, an abuse of process. That was the basis of an article of impeachment for obstruction, and I think John Dean is correct, you know, that would be something that Congress, if it saw fit to do so, could consider in connection with President Trump as to whether those actions, abuse of process, the firing of the FBI director, would constitute impeachment, an impeachable offense.

LEMON: I'm glad you mentioned the Congress because the Senate, which is part of Congress, the entire institution. The Intel chair, Richard Burr, says he doesn't agree with the theory that the president cannot be indicted for obstruction of justice. So whether he can be or not, that's whether he can be charged, has that been tested in the courts or is this more about an impeachable offense rather than -- is that a real concern?

DEAB: It has not been tested. It really started in 1973 when the Justice Department was going after Vice President Agnew who said I can't be indicted, I can only be impeached. The office of legal counsel turned around and said, no, Mr. Vice president, you can be indicted, it's the president who can't be indicted.

And then, again, in 2000, they renewed that policy that the president could not be indicted. So it's a position of the department that some lawyers argue with. And think that...

(CROSSTALK)

RAY: And I'm well familiar with that, I mean, that's the office of legal counsel memorandum within the Department of Justice. I'm in part asked for that memorandum in connection with the question about whether or not Bill Clinton was subject to prosecution while he was in office. The answer from the Department of Justice was no.

But, you know, once having left office or having been removed from office by impeachment, the president thereafter is subject to prosecution according to law that's according to the Constitution.

LEMON: I'm wondering if what we're hearing from the president's attorney, especially you, reminds you of this. Watch. This is Richard Nixon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a sense, you're saying is that there are certain situations, the Houston panel, that part of it, was one of them, where the president can decide that it's in the best interest of the nation or something and do something illegal.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DEAN: That is familiar. LEMON: I mean, it sounds like that's what he's saying, right?

RAY: It's also emphatically wrong. I mean, it's wrong.

If you bought that principle, you would buy into the principle that the president is above the law.

LEMON: Yes.

RAY: And the president is not above the law. Now, the president is a special, you know, feature in office within the constitutional structure, and so there are things that, you know, apply and don't apply to the president by virtue of his office, but what it doesn't mean, it doesn't mean that the president cannot obstruct justice. He can obstruct justice just like anybody else.

DEAB: When you...

RAY: He's subject to prosecution just like anybody else. Just not, while he's president.

DEAN: When you take that conversation in full context, he's really talking about national security.

LEMON: Right.

DEAN: And that's where the president does have his maximum latitude where he, indeed can do things that might be against the statute and he might argue in the interest of national security I can't obey that statute.

LEMON: So this is one of those whether or not grammatical things. Because it's not, there is not whether or not, it's just whether someone can do it, this one, we're talking the vernacular, right, whether or not. And my grammar teacher what he always say, there was whether or not, Don, it's just whether.

RAY: Right.

[22:09:59] LEMON: And so, if we're writing, and you're a legal person, and you say someone pleaded or pled, if you're a legal scholar, you say pleaded, right?

RAY: Right.

LEMON: And so the president's attorney is saying that he wrote that. And wrote pled. And that's what many people are picking up on. Do you believe the president's attorney wrote that tweet and wrote pled in a tweet instead of pleaded?

DEAN: Well, I've been on an airplane all day today so I don't know where it's come out with Mr. Dowd, whether he's taking credit and authorship, or whether the president is taking authorship now. It's very unusual for a legal scholar or lawyer to write pled. Highly unusual.

LEMON: Yes. They're saying it is Dowd.

RAY: I don't know. I mean, all I can make out of that of course, is that efforts were made after it was done, whether it was a mistake or what exactly happened to try to distance the president from that comment.

LEMON: Does it matter?

RAY: Well, I don't think it matters at all. I mean, I think they're thinking, seem to have been that they wanted to distance the president from what could be construed as an admission, but frankly, what difference does it make?

LEMON: Does it -- right.

RAY: I mean, when you think about it, it's absolutely clear to me, I didn't need a roadmap to figure out that as soon as Sally Yates informed the White House counsel Don McGahn of the fact that Flynn had lied, the first thing that McGahn did, because he's a lawyer and has a client, he went to his client to inform his client, the president, that Michael Flynn had lied. There's no -- that Michael Flynn had lied. There's no question that happened.

LEMON: What does that mean, then? What is the president saying in that tweet or Dowd, whoever wrote it? Because it doesn't matter, it's coming from the president's Twitter account and obviously if the president had not been informed, Dowd would not have written the tweet. So.

DEAN: These play out on two levels. They play out on a public relations and political level, and they play out on a legal level. Dowd may have jumped into this thinking I can protect him legally, realizing also he's got himself in a real P.R. mess.

RAY: And the P.R. mess I think was partly occasioned by the fact that the White House's story from the beginning is that the reason that Flynn was fired is because he lied to the Vice President, to Mike Pence. And, you know, I think that that came afterwards. They didn't go have Pence go to Flynn until they had already had the problem presented by Sally Yates that Flynn had lied to the FBI.

They weren't going to take Sally Yates' word for it, they were going to find out for themselves and that's why they sent the vice president to Flynn to find out what the facts were.

LEMON: If I wrote this when -- took script writing in college, my professor would send it back and say, well, this would never happen because this doesn't make sense and that doesn't make sense. It is really an unbelievable story. And if you wrote it, you wouldn't...

(CROSSTALK)

RAY: Well, that's why you opened with that very long, you know, leading question to which there's an answer like how do you explain this?

LEMON: How do you explain this? Stick around, both of you.

When we come back, what about Vice President Pence? What about him? Why the man who headed the transition team may have been in the dark about their many contacts with Russia.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back and we're learning more and more about contacts between team Trump and Russians from Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn, from Jared Kushner to Donald Trump, Jr. But what about the vice president, Michael Pence?

Well, back with me now, John Dean and Robert Ray. Let's discuss that, John, because I want to ask you about the Pence factor. We now know that it was Jared Kushner, he was the very senior member of the transition team who directed Flynn to contact the Russian ambassador. But the vice president led that transition team. Shouldn't he have known about all of these contacts? How could he not know about these contacts?

DEAN: Well, you would think under normal circumstances, that would be the case. I understand that transition was much like the campaign, and it was pure chaos. So it's entirely possible that he didn't know, that each person was doing their own thing and they were not necessarily following guidance and direction. So we just don't have the facts on this. So I can't speculate either way.

LEMON: Does that let him off the hook, if he didn't know, if he was not in control of his team? Robert?

RAY: Well, I mean, I guess the question is what are we talking about here? I mean, it's conceivable to me, first of all, you don't know, speculating that he should have known because of his position to a prosecutor, of course, is meaningless. He either can prove he knew or, you know, you can't.

As far as contacts with Russian officials are concerned, again, I think as John mentioned before, it's more of a political issue than it is necessarily a legal issue. I mean, where is this going exactly? Is the question whether there was a conspiracy to violate the Logan Act? Is that what we're talking about?

You know, I'm not -- and, of course, there's no, you know, what does collusion mean? Collusion as to what? There's no federal collusion statute. Again, it still comes down to, I think, whether there would ever be proof of an approach to Russian officials during the course of the campaign somewhere along the general thrust of...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: Or approached by the Russians.

RAY: Or approached by the Russians. This is what we can do for you, in exchange for that, this is what we're asking you to do once we take office.

LEMON: OK, I understand what you're saying.

RAY: So that's a different question.

LEMON: How do we -- let's talk the way people talk at home.

RAY: Sure.

LEMON: Why all the lying then? Why all the people saying there was no contacts with Russia, I didn't do this, then, wait, I didn't recall. Why, even -- K.T. McFarland who is Flynn's former national security adviser. Whether she lied to Congress is not, that's a question.

Because this is what she told Senator Cory Booker in written testimony. "Senator Booker asked, did you ever discuss any of General Flynn's contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak directly with General Flynn?" McFarland writes "I'm not aware of any of the issues or events as described above." That contradicts Flynn's plea account, we learned they did discuss what to communicate with the Russian ambassador, so could K.T. McFarland be in legal jeopardy here?

RAY: Potentially for false statements.

LEMON: False statements.

RAY: Perjury before the Congress. That's possible.

LEMON: OK. So then the question is, why then? That's what...

RAY: Because it was a political hot potato at that time. I mean, all the discussion and talk throughout the end of the campaign with regard to, you know, the Russian contacts and the release of e-mails that the Russians apparently had access to. It was politically advantageous for the Trump campaign to claim that they had no contact whatsoever with regard to Russian government officials.

DEAN: But, Don, understand, also, it's the political mistakes that have driven the criminal problems.

LEMON: Well, that's what I was going to ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

RAY: Especially if you lie about it. Right?

LEMON: It's after the campaign, politically, why does it matter? You've already won the presidency. You're in the White House. It's very tough to take a sitting president out of the White House. Why don't you just say...

(CROSSTALK)

[22:20:02] RAY: Yes, but forget what we just lived through, you lived through a campaign in which Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and there were serious efforts underway in the transition leading up to the inauguration to attempt to undermine the public's acceptance of the fact that Donald Trump just won the election... (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You're not excusing they're lying under oath.

RAY: No, no. I'm not at all.

LEMON: Because if you look at the very same people, these very same people who potentially have lied...

RAY: Right.

LEMON: ... those are the people who were hitting Bill Clinton for lying under oath.

RAY: Sure.

LEMON: They should have -- I'm just saying they should have known better.

RAY: It's not an excuse. With you asked for an explanation as to why they would do it.

LEMON: What do you mean by that?

DEAN: Well, he doesn't seem to have even a good newspaper knowledge of what happened during his lifetime at the White House. He doesn't study history. He doesn't read any books about it. All these mistakes have been made in the past. He should be alert to them. I'm sure his staff and lawyers are and whether they're getting through or not is not clear.

LEMON: Well, some say history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes.

RAY: Well, that's a mistake we're all -- that's a mistake they're all -- we're all -- but all human beings are subject or potentially subject to. Yes, we have been through this drill now several times before. Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater. You know, now this.

LEMON: Take us inside the White House. OK? So you just had General Flynn who flipped. The torrent of tweets from the president, the comments about what did he say, Hillary Clinton lied to the FBI. He doesn't know if that's true. Do you think he's read the transcripts from...

(CROSSTALK)

DEAN: I don't think he...

LEMON: So he doesn't know. And according to the FBI, Comey saying Hillary Clinton didn't lie.

DEAN: Right.

LEMON: At least that's -- so what is the strategy here? What is going on inside the White House right now?

DEAN: Well, I think...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Why make up such a tale?

DEAN: I think that Ty Cobb is trying to do as best he can. They've made him the sole counsel in charge of the White House. The White House counsel's office is not really dealing with Russia.

So you've got Cobb who's trying to give at least the appearance of cooperation and try to get this thing over. I assume he knows the facts and he doesn't seem particularly worried about them.

LEMON: You think he's well served by his lawyers, the president, his counsel?

DEAN: Do I think -- I -- his outside counsel has gotten themselves in a mess today, Dowd. That's not very good service. His White House counsel's undercutting him. Saying he did know about the FBI through the Yates. So they're not going to cover up for him. They've got to come through with the truth.

RAY: Right. And the lesson of history is to the extent that you do cover up because it's politically advantageous, you run yourself squarely within a criminal legal problem, legal jeopardy.

And that, you know, that's the mistake that, you know, all White House staffers are subject to and that is you think you're doing service to the country and to the benefit of the president by, you know, advancing the president's agenda and doing what is politically expedient, you do that, however, before, you know, FBI agents in the form of an interview or before a grand jury or before Congress in testimony under oath.

And you just put yourself into a major, you know, legal jeopardy and that's potentially a problem.

LEMON: You think he's trying to figure out a way to fire Mueller?

DEAN: Not yet. I think he's trying to see how it plays out. He doesn't know. Mueller's run a very tight shop, and I think it's going to go on for a while.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your time.

RAY: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, could Paul Manafort lose his bail deal? We're going to tell you why prosecutors say he violated his gag order.

And a shocking election about-face. The RNC now says it will support Roy Moore, weeks after cutting all ties with the candidate accused of being a child molester.

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: Paul Manafort under fire tonight by special counsel Robert Mueller. His team says that Manafort while on bail last month was ghost writing an op-ed piece with a Russian who has ties to Russian intelligence.

I want to talk about this now with CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem and Chris Swecker, the former FBI assistant director for the criminal investigative division.

It's -- I couldn't believe it when I read that news, Chris. I mean, it's really unbelievable. This news about Paul Manafort, he was working on this editorial as recently as last Thursday while his lawyers were trying to work out his bail. Does Manafort not understand the kind of trouble he's in? What's going on here?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Yes, I'm losing track of the number of unforced errors in this case by various members of the Trump team. And look, it pains me to say this, I've been saying this for a while, that I have not seen any real evidence of a broader conspiracy, shall we say, but I'm starting to see the building blocks of that very thing. Including the building blocks of potential obstruction. I mean, these statements -- he's a lawyer's nightmare of a client.

LEMON: Juliette, why are you shaking your head?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: I think that's right. I mean, it's so inexplicable what Manafort did. Just to remind people, the bail conditions say that you really can't talk to the media, this is the not going to be argued before the media and they are interpreting his attempt to have this editorial which depends Manafort, he's ghost writing it defend himself as a violation of that. That shows Manafort is, one, really, he's ghost writing it to defend himself as a violation of that.

That shows Manafort is, one, really not smart. Two, just is not getting it, like not getting, you know, what is going on around him. Or, three, the sort of, you know, I guess I would say, you know, maybe he is more willing to satisfy the Russians than he is to worry about a prosecution, which goes to his long ties to the Russians.

[22:29:59] And we don't know yet. We don't know how Mueller knew about this editorial. That, to me, is sort of an amazing question. How did -- the editorial wasn't published and it has questions about whether Mueller is like Santa Claus, you know, that he knows who's naughty and who's nice.

LEMON: Knows when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.

KAYYEM: Yes.

LEMON: Chris, I should follow it up, I just saw -- my bad. I was remiss. You say you haven't seen evidence of a broader conspiracy but you're starting to see the building blocks. Can you explain a little bit more to me what you mean by that?

CHRIS SWECKER, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: I see some significance in the Flynn plea and what he pled to, because if this were the end of the line -- first of all, you know, it's right out of the play book to flip the middlemen, flip people like Flynn if you're trying to get someone to provide the context beyond the paper and the e-mails in a conspiracy case.

So they could have -- they could have had him plead FARA or some other minor violation, some disclosure issue on an SF-86. Instead they had him plea to lying and -- to the FBI. Ordinarily that would taint a witness. Unless you're trying to build a case for in which lying is part of the case. It's either an overt act and a conspiracy or i's actual obstruction.

So, you know, ordinarily, I'd say that's a tainted witness, but in this case, I see -- I see something bigger and broader developing here. Something with the Papadopoulos plea which links the pre- election time period with the post-election time period with Flynn.

So there's a lot going on behind the scenes and I also see the FBI dangling bait in front of the president almost on a daily basis, and he just can't seem to not take it.

LEMON: Could there have been -- listen, this has not reached its conclusion by any means, but...

KAYYEM: Right.

LEMON: .... could you -- you know, the old saying is you cannot plead ignorance of the law. So if you stumbled into breaking the law without knowing it, are you still subject to the ramifications of it? Whether you made -- I just didn't know that I was providing information to the Russians, I was doing it unwittingly. What do you say to that, Juliette?

KAYYEM: I mean, absolutely. I mean, look, they're going to be pleading, we're the new kids, we didn't know what was going on. And it depends on what's being charged. If there's intent -- if there's an intent requirement in the charge, it, you know, maybe they will challenge that on intent and say we didn't have the intent to delude, collude or whatever it is.

But obstruction of justice charges are different. In other words, even if they unknowingly were, you know, to completely manipulated by the Russians which I think is actually the only thing...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's possible, right?

KAYYEM: ... that we can say at this stage.

LEMON: Right.

KAYYEM: Right. I mean, at this stage they were duped, right, and they were suckers and they took all these meetings. The obstruction case would -- is separate from that. In other words, once they realize that, I got duped, if they keep lying to investigators, they're in trouble for separate reasons.

So that's why when Robert in the previous panel was saying, well maybe politics was motivating this, right, they were just nervous about admitting it, it still does not justify an obstruction case or anything else. And we're giving them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't know what they were doing. As you know, I've been on enough, I feel like they knew exactly what they were doing.

LEMON: Yes. As I've been saying, everything that you predicted has happened almost in the exact timeframe that you have predicted it.

Chris, I have to ask you about this, because also tonight we're learning more about the FBI agent removed from Mueller's investigation after sending anti-Trump messages.

A source is telling CNN that Peter Strzok softened key language in Comey, James Comey's draft describing Clinton's actions in handling classified materials. They say that, sources saying that the record shows he changed the description from grossly negligent to extremely careless. How damaging is this news to the FBI if at all? Is it damaging?

SWECKER: Yes, I think it is damaging because he's now firmly a defense witness, for anyone that's charged relating to the Russia investigation. And it just casts a cloud over much of the Clinton investigation, in my opinion. The e-mail investigation. And he -- he would love to have all those texts back.

You know, I think he has showed his hand. The inspector general called that to the attention of Director Mueller who has a zero tolerance for that sort of thing and rightfully sent him packing. But he was a very key agent in so many different things and unfortunately, it pains me to say this because I love the bureau, served for 25 years, I just -- I see some disarray that is left over from the Comey era.

LEMON: OK. Thank you, both. I've got to run.

When we come back, after weeks of tiptoeing around it, the president is now all in on Roy Moore and the Alabama Senate race.

Plus, after pulling the plug on funding weeks ago, the RNC now reversing course just moments ago to say they'll fund his campaign.

[22:35:02] Why the change of heart, and what does it mean for the GOP? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news tonight. The Republican National Committee getting back into the Alabama Senate race saying it will transfer money to the state Republican Party. This move follows President Trump's full endorsement today of GOP candidate Roy Moore. Tweeting that he wants Moore to win in Alabama because he needs his vote on legislation involving crime, illegal immigration, the border wall, the 2nd Amendment, and other issues. I'm telling you, you just can't keep up. But let's bring in now CNN

political commentators Bakari Sellers, Ed Martin, and Tara Setmayer, a former communications director for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher. Hello, Tara.

ED MARTIN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Good evening.

LEMON: What? What? Why that face? I was about to ask you a question. You should have seen the look on your face. Why?

[22:39:59] TARA SETMAYER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR TO CONGRESSMAN DANA ROHRABACHER: Because -- well, from the tweet, number one, but also because it was announced tonight that the RNC is actually going back to financially supporting Roy Moore.

I'm watching the Republican Party destroy itself. This is outrageous. I cannot think of a time when the republicans, who the party I have loved, worked for, supported for 20-plus years of my life, when they've ever been so morally bankrupt.

You know, it reminds me of a quote by Benjamin Franklin that says only a virtuous people can enjoy are capable of freedom and adds as a nation becomes more corrupt and vicious, they're in more in need of masters. That is exactly what's happening today.

The tribalism that we are seeing within the party, what's happening in Alabama, the fact that the national party now is backing this incredibly accused child molester is despicable.

LEMON: You're wearing -- you're wearing an earpiece, right?

SETMAYER: Yes, I am.

LEMON: Do you hear the -- that's Ed Martin.

SETMAYER: Of course. I heard his sigh. I mean, you know.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: It's amazing. It's amazing.

LEMON: She's talking about you, Ed. She's talking about you.

MARTIN: It's amazing. Well, listen, I got a couple observations, Don. I sat on the RNC for two-plus years. I want to say this about the RNC. They have not covered themselves if glory here. I think that they quit early with no good reason, no real reason, and now they came back and the reason they're back, Don, though, let's be clear, the reason they're back is not because they care, it's because it's a cover your tail exercise.

Because if Roy Moore wins, they need to claim that they were part of it. And if he loses a close race, they need to not have to tell their donors why he lost.

But I just got to offer this, to everybody that does this, the guy was accused of something. And I've said over and over again that we have no reason to disbelieve the women, either. I don't know them. But the idea that five weeks before an election, you can go on national TV and call someone a child molester based on accusations is as breathtaking in insult and slur as anything you can say.

LEMON: Hold on, Tara.

SETMAYER: OK.

LEMON: What if it's true, how do you feel about that?

MARTIN: Well, if it's true, if we find out it's true, the guy should be wrung out and run out of office. But we don't know it's true.

SETMAYER: How much more evidence do you need?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: And by the way...

SETMAYER: How much evidence do you need? First of all, Roy Moore is a liar.

MARTIN: There's no evidence, Tara. There is no evidence.

SETMAYER: He's a liar. He lied about taking money.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: He has -- he has a 50-year career.

SETMAYER: Let's go -- let's go over this. Let's look at Roy Moore.

MARTIN: No, you hate Moore.

SETMAYER: He lied about taking over a million dollars from a foundation that he claims that he didn't take money from that was supposed to be small salary. It was over $1 million. He lied about that.

He lied about not knowing any of these accusers whatsoever, yet two of them have handwritten notes from him, one in a yearbook, and one in a scrapbook which came out today in the Washington Post. And the woman that came out and showed her scrapbook that had contemporaneous written in notes about him being at her high school graduation, and sending her a card, she said that she initially was uncomfortable with what the other women were saying. She couldn't believe that he would do that. Until she saw that he lied about not knowing her because he dated her in public. She was 17, he was 34.

MARTIN: Tara.

SETMAYER: He also called a high school girl in her trigonometry class. He's claiming he doesn't know all these girls and have over 30 to 40 contemporaneous witnesses that also corroborated these women's stories. So what -- I mean, what more do you need?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Here's what -- let me just read this.

MARTIN: No, Don. Don, no, Don...

LEMON: Hold on, I'm going to let you respond, Ed. I am. I just want to -- I just want to, as Tara was saying.

MARTIN: OK.

LEMON: This is the last paragraph in the Washington Post. she said, and she talks about the tape where he was speaking...

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: At a rally.

LEMON: At a rally. This is the last line. It says 34 minutes and 56 seconds into the video he says unequivocally I did not know any of them, Gibson said. In that moment, it changed my perspective. I knew he was a liar. She initially supported him. That's her thoughts.

MARTIN: Yes, look, Don, what I'm saying to Tara, and she can go on a rant, and she can list all these things and the Washington Post is...

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Those are facts, they're not a rant.

MARTIN: Listen, Don, if you're going to let her interrupt bother talking...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You're talking. Go ahead. Go, go, go.

MARTIN: Well, look, I mean, here's the facts. The facts are that six weeks before an election, when most of the people on all sides of the aisle didn't want Roy Moore, these rolled out and I have said over and over again that we ought to honor the people accusing him, but the fact is that there's lots of discrepancies in the accusation.

SETMAYER: No, no, there's not.

MARTIN: And to stand -- and to go on -- to go on to national TV and call someone a child molester is absolutely despicable to do. And here you can dislike his politics, you can dislike his answers, and the people of Alabama are going to vote, and the point is, there have been lots of people that have accusations and worse, admissions. Think of Ted Kennedy.

LEMON: OK.

MARTIN: Think of... (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Hold on, Tara. I got to get to the break. Before I get to the break...

BAKARI SELLERS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Don, I'm here, too, Don.

LEMON: I know, Bakari. Bakari, you and I are going to sit in the next room and eat popcorn and let them fight it out. I promise you'll get a lot of time in the next block.

But I just want you to think about this. Are we supposed to believe Bill Clinton's accusers, Bill Cosby's accusers, Al Franken's accusers...

SETMAYER: Harry Weinstein.

[22:45:00] LEMON: Harvey Weinstein's accusers. John Conyers accusers. All of these accusers, that republicans who are now saying the same thing that you're saying, Ed, they come on and say throw them out, we're supposed to believe all these people, get rid of them, liberal Hollywood, all of that. But we're not supposed to believe the accusers of Roy Moore.

MARTIN: You've not heard me say that, Don.

LEMON: Why is that?

MARTIN: You've not heard me say it once.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: We'll discuss, we'll discuss when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So I'm back now with the group. And we're discussing what's happening down in Alabama. So, Ed, we're not supposed to believe any of those people. We're supposed to believe...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: No, I have...

LEMON: ... any of them.

MARTIN: I have said there's a difference over and over again, Don, on your show and everywhere else on CNN, that if somebody admits to it like Al Franken admitted to it, Conyers admitted to it, the FBI agent has now admitted to misconduct, then there ought to be a standard, but if someone denies it, whether it's Donald Trump, or Roy Moore, we shouldn't -- I'm not saying Roy Moore should be only believed but five or six...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, that's what you're saying.

MARTIN: No, it's not.

LEMON: That's what you're saying. The Access Hollywood -- the Access Hollywood tape was a couple weeks before the election.

MARTIN: Right.

LEMON: The president admitted to it and apologized for it.

MARTIN: Right.

LEMON: So well, then your -- what's the difference?

MARTIn: Well...

LEMON: It was true. It turned out to be true.

[22:50:01] MARTN: He admitted it.

LEMON: But it turned out to be true. He had -- no, it was on tape. He couldn't -- the reason I'm asking you, here's why this upsets me, OK, and this is no secret too, except for new people who are watching.

That I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and it is tough.

MARTIN: Right.

LEMON: Who no one, Ed, no one, no matter how old you are, wants to come out and admit that publicly. It is just not something that is done especially when you're talking about something that happens at that young an age. And that is what's so upsetting to so many people.

And here you are sitting here on CNN twisting yourself into a pretzel...

MARTIN: No.

LEMON: ... to try to defend something that is indefensible. Not one person wants to come out and say that. Not two, not three, not four, not five, certainly not 12 women.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Wait a second. Wait second.

SETMAYER: What's the benefit of these women. They get hate mails.

MARTIN: Wait a second, Don.

SETMAYER: They're not getting any financial benefit or anything out of this either. I mean, you know, intent...

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Don, I mean, please, Don, if you're going to say that to me on national television, at least give me a chance to say something back. I mean, I have never said that we shouldn't when someone alleges, especially childhood abuse, and there's one of the claims that as a 14-year-old, I have never said we shouldn't honor that and investigate it. It should be done.

But what I've said is when the litany of things rolls out a lot of them by non-minors, the question is, who do you believe. I don't disbelieve the women.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: My God.

MARTIN: I'm just saying that the people of Alabama get to vote on who they want and will see what happens.

SELLERS: Hey, Don.

LEMON: OK.

MARTIN: And to call someone a child molester is really outrageous.

LEMON: Ed, OK, go on, Bakari.

SELELRS: Hey, Don.

LEMON: Go ahead. Sorry you didn't get the chance to talk.

SELELRS: Thank you for letting me join the conversation. You know, I think that multiple women in Alabama actually were minors. In fact, you had the instance where he was banned from the mall, you had the 14-year-old, you had the 17-year-old. You've had the instances before.

But this remind me of, I think it was 1983 with Governor Edwards down in your home state, Don, of Louisiana...

LEMON: Yes.

SELLERS: ... who said I couldn't lose an election if I was caught with a -- unless I was caught with a live girl or dead boy. I mean, what we're seeing now is we're seeing the, as Tara said, we're seeing the decay of the Republican Party. And what's more troublesome for me is the hypocrisy. That's where -- that's what gets me.

I mean, you have a party -- and I'm not going to debate this right now, but you have a party who cares so much about a child in the womb, however they're willing to put someone who has these types of serious charges -- I mean, Ivanka Trump said it best, there's no place for anyone who preys on children, I guess except the United States Senate.

So, that's first. And second, you have Donald Trump the hypocrisy again of saying that he wanted a law and order candidate. You have someone here who is accused of one of the most, if not the most serious crimes we have.

The fact that republicans want to put -- and we are in a place now where we have to decide what type of America we want to be, but we have gone back into our tribalism, we've gone back into our respective corners and republicans literally want to put someone who many people believe has valid accusations of pedophilia against him in the United States Senate.

LEMON: Yes. I mean, as awful as it sounds for him to say that, it is even more awful for the people who are involved personally in that, Ed. I hope you understand.

SETMAYER: And Roy Moore was thrown out twice for not upholding the law. And he's supposed to be a judge, yet, he's a law and order candidate.

LEMON: Yes.

SETMAYER: He was unfit before these accusations.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I've got to go. Hey, look, you guys will come back. But Billy Bush is talking. We're going to talk about that. We'll be right back.

[22:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right, back now with everyone. So the whole Roy Moore thing now comes as Billy Bush, who was with President Trump on that Access Hollywood bus and on that tape confirms that Donald Trump did say those words about assaulting women.

And Bush writes this is in the New York Times. He said "along with Donald Trump and me, there was several other guys present on the bus at the time. And every single one of us assumed we were listening to a crass standup act." And then he goes onto talk about the president.

It's -- listen, Donald Trump is President of the United States. Billy Bush does not have a job. There are higher standards for a morning cable host, a third of -- whatever Billy Bush did. I respect Billy Bush a lot, his career and what he did. But why was Billy Bush fired and why does Donald Trump become president of the United States, Bakari? What's happening here? Because you know, the president denies it, saying it wasn't him on that tape. It didn't sound like him, that's what he said.

(CROSSTALK)

SELERS: But I mean, that's a legitimate question because you have Harvey Weinstein, you have Matt Lauer. I mean, the list goes on and on and on, and we were talking about Roy Moore and Donald Trump, these individuals have to pay consequences, they are paying consequences, they should pay consequences and the only people that go without paying consequences are Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

So, yes. We have a problem in this country. I think Al Franken needs to resign, I think john Conyers needs to resign, I think that Donald Trump needs to resign, and I don't think that Roy Moore belong in the United States Senate. I can feed that to everybody out of the same spoon.

But with that being said, although we have moral decay going on in our country under the Trump administration, the Republican Party needs to look at itself. But even more specifically and people are going to get mad at me for saying this, but white Evangelicals need to look themselves in the mirror and say what do we stand for? Those are the people that call themselves Christians but they aren't really Christ like.

LEMON: Don't preach. I'll give you gun. Why? Tell us why. It's true.

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Because it hit the...

SELLERS: Because - no, no, no. It's enabling. When you have individuals who go out on a limb every Sunday morning and they preach the gospel of Christ but then they turn a blind eye to someone like Roy Moore or someone like Donald Trump for tax cuts, I don't -- I mean, listen, I'm not someone who...

(CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: Well, even worse, Bakari. They're not turning a blind eye, they're hiding behind scripture. Let's not forget what happened a couple of weeks ago with the Roy Moore situation.

SELLERS: Well, that's true.

SETMAYER: They were actually trying to use biblical scripture to hide behind his nonsense.

LEMON: But don't you know that is how people hid behind racism and slavery and Jim Crow and homophobia. So, Bakari, you have a point. And I say to the segment I mean it.

[23:00:03] Thank you for saying it, brother. Bye. That's it. See you next time. All of you.