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Trump New York Times Interview; Trump and GOP Leaders to Meet at Camp David in January; Trump tells NYT it would fall without him. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 28, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

The breaking news is on the Russia investigation. The president says he believes special counsel Robert Mueller will treat him fairly. But he says the investigation, quote, makes the country look very bad.

That's according to to The New York Times which also reports president insisted, a stunning 16 times, there has been no collusion discovered by Mueller's investigation.

But the president also returned to a familiar theme, complaining that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself and pointedly saying, quote, Holder protected President Obama.

A lot to get to, but I want to start with Michael Shear, who helped break the story for The New York Times. He is also a CNN political analyst, and he joins us now via Skype. Michael, I'm so glad that you could join us for the story that is in The New York Times this evening.

Your colleague, Michael Smith (ph), landed an impromptu interview with the president today and the big headline, he believes the special counsel will treat him fairly in the Russia investigation.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, no, that's right. It was about a half an hour interview and totally impromptu down at the president's golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida. But there was a lot there.

The thing that struck us most was the comments that the president made about the Russia investigation, notably that he thought Bob Mueller was going to be fair to him, which really undercuts and undermines that argument that many of his party have been making for the last several weeks, that they've been attempting to discredit and undermine Mueller's investigation, calling it partisan.

So this kind of goes against that, but at the same time, as you've said, the president repeated a lot of the complaints and criticisms that he's had about the investigation and in fact at one point said that made a reference to the Justice Department and said that he thought he could do whatever he wants with the Justice Department, although for the moment, he's not doing that. LEMON: OK. A lot -- a lot to get through in this article. Let me read this part of it again. It says, it makes the country look very bad and it puts the country in a very bad position. So the sooner it's worked out, the better it is for the country.

And then again, he reiterated 16 times that there has been no collusion, at least that's what he believes.

SHEAR: Right. I mean, so the bit about what it looks like for the country came after Mike asked him a question about timing and whether or not he was concerned that the investigation wasn't concluding more quickly, that you'll remember that the president's aids had reported to him, they thought the investigation would end first by Thanksgiving and then by the end of this year.

It's clearly not ending that quickly. And so Mike said, does that concern you? And what the president said was, no, it doesn't concern me, except that it's really bad for the country. And he sort of repeated that in a bunch of different ways, saying that he thought that the longer this goes on, the worst it is for the country.

LEMON: Let's talk a little bit more about what you just said. I'm going to read the quote here. It says, I have absolute -- I have the absolute or I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department, but for purposes of hopefully thinking I'm going to be treated fairly, I've stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

And that's a quote from the piece from the president. Talk to me more about that. What was this in response to? Do you know?

SHEAR: Yes. So, Mike had been discussing the Russia investigation and that naturally turns as it often does with the president. The president sort of made it turn to the e-mail and inquiry involving Hillary Clinton.

And so at one point, Mike said to the president, you know, you have control over the Justice Department, right? Are you going to order them to renew the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails? The president's answer which you just read is entirely verbatim of what he said following that question.

And it seemed to sort of skip over the part about Hillary Clinton and really focused more on the part about the Justice Department and whether or not he controls it. Because as you read, it's really not a reference that we can determine anyway to the Hillary Clinton e-mails.

It's really more reference back to Russia, back to this question about whether or not Bob Muler is going to be fair to him. And he does, you know, indicate this belief that I think he and a lot of his supporters have which is that, you know, they believe that he has the control that ultimately the Justice Department reports to him, and that it's up to him whether the investigation, you know, continues or ends.

LEMON: How did Jeff Sessions come up and then how did he sort of turn it into former Attorney General Eric Holder? SHEAR: I believe, you know, I don't have this entirely committed to memory, but I believe the question was put to him about Jeff Sessions

[22:05:00] and he, you know, and he said again, you know, I wish he hadn't recused himself. And then Mike asked him a question, I think, following that about loyalty, does that call into question his loyalty or something? And his response was, you know, to bring up Mr. Holder and say, you know, let me tell you about Mr. Holder and basically he didn't directly answer the question of loyalty.

In fact, he said, look, I don't want to deal with loyalty, but he went on to suggest that Eric Holder, unlike -- I mean, left unstated but clearly unlike Jeff Sessions was his point, that Eric Holder had protected President Obama during what the president and Republicans like to call scandals involving that White House.

He raised the IRS, you know, controversy surrounding the IRS and gun running and the issues on the border with guns that, you know, both of which were sort of scandals on Capitol Hill. And he suggested that Mr. Holder had protected President Obama in a way that clearly he doesn't think that Jeff Sessions has protected him.

LEMON: He's talking about fast and furious. Nothing came much of that. But I thought it was fascinating too, Michael, before I let you go, that he gave the interview. He gave the interview in the grill room at Trump International Golf Course after he ate lunch with his playing partners, including his son Eric and golfer Jim Herman.

No aids were present for the interview and the president sat alone with The New York Times reporter at a large round table at the club. Members sat and ate lunch nearby. People came back, including his friend -- back and forth including his friend Chris Ruddy as well. So I thought it was interesting that there were no aids there.

SHEAR: No aids. And if you look at story and we actually have I think a partial transcript up as well now on the site. There's lots of other tidbits, some of which are, you know, just kind of funny little moments.

There was one in which he said, he was talking about the tax bill and he took issue with reports that maybe he doesn't have as much detail knowledge about the tax bill and other legislation that's gone --

LEMON: I have the quote here, it says, Mr. Trump disputed reports that suggested that he does not have a detailed understanding of a legislation saying, I know the details of taxes better than anybody, better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.

SHEAR: Yes. It was that kind of interview. He wasn't containing himself. There wasn't an aid there to stop him and so he just sort of went on a lot of different topics. It was really an interesting interview.

LEMON: Michael, fascinating. Thank you, sir. I appreciate your time.

SHEAR: Sure, happy to do it.

LEMON: And by the way, Chris Ruddy is supposed to join us a little bit here on CNN. We hope that he will get to us as well. I know that he is very busy this holiday season, but he has promised to check in with us and give us some insight on this interview and what's happening at Mar-a-Lago as well.

I want to bring you now Chris Cillizza, CNN politics editor-at-large, senior political commentator David Swerdlick, and CNN political analyst April Ryan. Hello to all of you. Fascinating, don't you think? Chris, what do you think?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, OK, first of all, Michael Shear, a former colleague of mine, wonderful guy, great reporter. That out of the way. Donald Trump -- OK, he says lots of things and I know you went through some of it, but let me just make this point.

This is evidence yet again that Donald Trump does not hate the media. Donald Trump loves the media. He saw reporters down there, spoke with them for 30 minutes, no staff. Staff was unaware he was doing it. Donald Trump consumes more media, craves the attention of the media, craves the approval of the media more so than any modern president, fact, the end.

LEMON: Yes. He loves the media, but it's sort of a political ploy, well, to pretend that he doesn't like the media because it works with his base.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

LEMON: We all know is New York -- he also pretends that he was his own press person. He loves the media. So, listen, what do you make of this impromptu interview with the Times? He thinks that counsel, David, the special counsel will treat him fairly. Are you surprised to hear that?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not totally. I agree with Chris that the president likes the media and in this case, he is trying to use the media, in this case The New York Times, to have his cake and eat it too. He said over and over again in the interview, there was no collusion, no collusion, no collusion, and at the same time, Mueller will be fair.

He is not worried about it. He is sitting there having lunch down in Florida. He wants to be seen as both not worried about it, but also still push this narrative that there's nothing to see here and that this investigation by Mueller has no point to it.

Even though it was earlier this year that he was saying, I have nothing to do with it. No one in my circle had nothing to do with Russia. And that narrative has proved to be not true.

LEMON: Yes. April, Cillizza is right to this. What do you make of the fact that the president brought up 16 times? Sixteen times that there was, quote, no collusion? [22:10:00] APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: The president wants to believe and feels that there is no collusion. He really hopes that there's no collusion. He even went to Alan Dershowitz, talking about -- Alan Dershowitz, who is a liberal Democrat, and how he says there's no collusion.

But, you know, collusion is hard to prove. But obstruction of justice is something different. And that's on the table as well. So the collusion issue, he may have a piece there, but those issues of obstruction --

LEMON: April, hold on, you brought up something that is very important because his supporters, Trump TV over on the other cable channel and the president -- they keep talking about collusion, collusion, collusion, this investigation is not just about collusion. Go on, sorry to interrupt you.

RYAN: No, no, no, you make a point, too. It's about the possibility of obstruction of justice. So collusion, he may have a point there, that's a good piece, but there are other factors and it's getting very close. So we have to wait and see. The hope of this president is that it could end today, is the fact that, you know, maybe all the indictments are over.

But in reality, it looks like there's more to come. And we just have to wait and see. And it's not necessarily about collusion. If it is found to be in fact something that was definite, something that was strategically done, that's a different issue.

But when it comes to obstruction of justice, that's easier to prove than the issue of collusion. I want to say something, I want to totally disagree with the panel. The president likes reporters who he likes. The president has a relationship, it seems, with The New York Times. He has been giving them these off the record or on the record interviews over the last couple of months. You know, Maggie Haberman, you know, Glenn Thrush, others.

And this is just along that line. He likes The New York Times. That's his hometown paper. For whatever reason, they chastise The New York Times in the briefing room, but they're the first one that the president will go to and have these great conversations with.

LEMON: He knows the paper of record.

RYAN: But when it comes to the press as a whole --

LEMON: He knows the paper of record.

RYAN: Right.

LEMON: Listen, I understand what you're saying --


SWERDLICK: He's a New Yorker who sees them as legitimate. He doesn't want to admit it, but he sees the Times as --

LEMON: The one he criticizes the most are the ones he respects the most because they're institutions and they're brands and he respects them. He wants to be liked by those --

RYAN: Well, he criticized, they criticized me, I haven't had an interview yet.

LEMON: He respects you the most.

RYAN: He criticized me and I haven't had an interview.

LEMON: It's because he respects you and there are some other things. We can talk about that later.

RYAN: OK. I'm glad to hear that.

LEMON: Hey, let me guys ask you about this.


LEMON: Mr. Trump repeated his assertion that Democrats invented the Russia allegations as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election. He said that everybody knows his associates did not collude with the Russians, even as he insisted that the real stories are about Democrats who worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign, Chris.

CILLIZZA: OK. Few things. Number one, this, the reason that we have a special counsel, Don, is because the deputy attorney general in the Trump Justice Department, Rod Rosenstein, decided that one was required given the circumstances. Bob Mueller was a Republican who was appointed by George W. Bush, a Republican president, as head of the FBI.

It's just -- it's difficult to say, well, the president on one hand has a point because there's just no evidence here that Democrats are the ones at the heart of this. I think what he is pinning it on is what we have learned that Hillary Clinton through an attorney named Marc Elias and the DNC funded this dossier by Christopher Steele, this anti-Trump dossier by Christopher Steele, former British spy.

But that is not the only piece of this investigation by a long shot. It is not the reason --

LEMON: It's not even mentioned that any of the indictments that have been handed down, it's not even mentioned in there.

CILLIZZA: No, again, to conflate that dossier, which the Justice Department has confirmed parts of and has not other parts. To say that that's the entire special counsel investigation is just misleading at best.

LEMON: Yes, so then why do you think he says -- why do you think he says he could do what he wants with the Justice Department but because he wants to be treated fairly, he is staying out of it. Why do you think, David? What's -- but then he hones in that he wants to be treated fairly.

SWERDLICK: Don, I think, again, throughout all of this, the president likes to keep his options open. He wants to be seen as calm, cool and collected sitting down in Florida. At the same time, throws that line out there to say, look, at any time, I could pull the plug on this.

He can't go directly but he can get rid of Rob Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, then get rid of Mueller that way. He has the power because the Justice Department ultimately reports through him. I also agree with Chris that the president is sort of flooding the zone when it comes to Democrats and Russia.

He says, John Podesta's brother, he says Fusion GPS, he says this, he says that, but he doesn't present a theory of the case as to what Democrats and Russia would have been working on together. And that's why I think it's been so thin and that's why

[22:15:00] it hasn't gained the transaction I think that it otherwise would have. That question has not been answered by the president or any other Republicans who have brought this up.

LEMON: April, the president also talks about Roy Moore and says that he never really wanted to support him, saying he knew he would lose in the general. And he had to do it because he's the head of the Republican Party. Is he making excuses for being a two-time loser in Alabama because he did stomp for Roy Moore, he endorsed him, he supported him, he campaigned for him?

RYAN: Yes, he's making excuses, but this president walked away from what he considered a loser right away. It was that night and, Don, we were on air together. The president said, you know, he sent his congratulations to Doug Jones right away and left Moore.

And Moore had -- he and the president hadn't even talked and the president, at that time, didn't even know that Roy Moore wasn't going to concede. So this president is trying to pick up the pieces, looking towards 2018. You know, he is saying the right things, but this president did go in full throttle for Roy Moore.

There was such a bright blaring red hot spotlight on the issue of sexual misconduct, alleged sexual misconduct, and even according to the president, the president was still all in, but once Roy Moore lost, and it might have actually been one of the best things for the president, because once Roy Moore lost, it took that spotlight right off of the president and off of Roy Moore and --

LEMON: And the sexual harassment allegations.

RYAN: Yes. So --

LEMON: I've got to run, April.

RYAN: -- this Roy Moore thing I believe -- OK.

LEMON: You can finish your thought. I mean, come on now. I'm not that mean. RYAN: OK. No, you're not. You're a good guy --

SWERDLICK: Hey, Don, can I make one point?

RYAN: I think this is just an albatross around the president's neck that he's glad he's off.

LEMON: All right. Quick, David.

SWERDLICK: I was just going to say the night Trump now wants to claim Luther Strange. The night he was supposed to be down in Alabama endorsing Strange was the night he brought up the controversial with the NFL players. That was the headline. The endorsement of Strange was buried --

RYAN: That's right.

SWERDLICK: -- behind Strange. It was a lukewarm endorsement --

CILLIZZA: Don't forget, he deleted the Luther Strange --

LEMON: Distractions, distractions, distractions. By the way, Roy Moore still hasn't conceded even though they certified the election today. And he won't for the other person.

RYAN: It's done. It's over. It's a wrap. It's done. Toast.

LEMON: How embarrassing. Happy new year to you all.

SWERDLICK: Happy new year, Don.

CILLIZZA: Happy new year, Don.

RYAN: It's over.


LEMON: When we come back, why President Trump claims The New York Times would fail without him.


LEMON: Breaking news tonight, President Trump says he believes he'll be treated fairly by Robert Mueller, but he also says he thinks the Russia investigation makes the country, his words, look very bad.

Here to discuss, CNN presidential historians, Douglas Brinkley and Timothy Naftali. Also Washington Post contributor Sally Quinn, author of "Finding Magic." Hello. Good to see you. Good to see all of you. Sally is dressed for the season.

Anyway, so listen, I want to get your reaction to what might be President Trump's last interview of the year. The New York Times published it just a short time ago. So, Sally, first, what stood out to you? Sally, can you hear me?


LEMON: She can't hear me. So, Tim, I'll ask you, what stood out to you?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: What stood out to me? Well, my sense was he was trying to show off. He was in the middle of a restaurant, at a cafe, at the club. What stood out to me, first of all, is that the basic themes that the president has provided us.

He doesn't believe there is a reality behind the hacking issue. For him, it's all about collusion, which he didn't commit, and the whole issue was created as a hoax by the Democrats who are sore losers. He is pushing this idea that he's tried to be bipartisan, but that Democrats like the senator from West Virginia wouldn't do his part.

So, it's the same -- it's the same story. He is just providing us with an alternative reality to try to explain away everything that people criticized him for. In the end, Alabama wasn't his fault. It's the mistake of the local GOP. He wasn't supportive of Moore. He knew Moore would lose. It's that same -- it's that same story over and over again.


NAFTALI: And sadly, we hoped he would stop, at some point he would realize there was a reality beyond the rhetoric, but he hasn't so far.

LEMON: Douglas, I want to bring you in on part of the interview before I get your reaction. I know the details of taxes better than anybody, better than the greatest CPA. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most.

He also told The New York Times he knows more about the big bills debated in Congress than any president that's ever been in office. That's not been the impression of many who worked on those bills. Correct?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, of course not, and that's more Donald Trump (INAUDIBLE). You know, patting himself on the back. He gets bored when he is at Mar-a-Lago when the press is swirling outside there, and he's been very angry at The Washington Post the last months, in fact all of 2017, the Post investigative journalists have been stunning.

So he tends to be a little more favorable oddly to The New York Times once in a while. But my takeaway from what's important here is he's obsessed with Mueller. Here he is on the holiday, he should be taking a break from it but he keeps trying to say, I didn't collude, I didn't collude over and over again.

He never mentions obstruction of justice because he's going to be charged with that. The record is pretty clear that justice was obstructed. So I think it's just showing him it'd be a bit in a panicked zone right now but trying to act cool and collected.

LEMON: I think, Douglas, I think you're right. I think most people woke up on Christmas morning surprised that the president was talking about the Russia investigation instead of just, you know, enjoying the season and sending out well wishes to the country, not only the country, but the world.

Sally, let me bring you in here now. The president also goes on to say the following, another reason that I am going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank

[22:25:00] if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times but the failed New York Times.


LEMON: By the way, the last time we, the cable people and newspapers, have had these sort of ratings was during when Barack Obama took office and they were even higher then. So that's a reality here. So he, of course, said that directly to The New York Times reporter though, what's your thoughts on that?

QUINN: Well, I think he ain't whistling dixie. I think he's absolutely right. I mean, look at us right now, here we are, just talking about Donald Trump. I mean, you know, everybody was having a nice set of pre-new year's eve rest and suddenly he's out there talking about collusion and I can do anything I want with the Justice Department.

And if that's not speaking softly and carrying a big stick, I don't know what it is, because it's of course Mueller's going to treat me fairly, because there's no collusion. However, I can do anything I want with the Justice Department.

So, I mean, I think -- you know, he's definitely great copy for newspapers, he's great on television. And I think he may not be wrong that, you know, people are going to tune out less when you have this incredible entertainment show. And I think one of the reasons that it's so entertaining --


QUINN: -- is because he changes his mind all the time. And if you look at what he goes through, I mean, and this one week of the sort of anti-Mueller craziness and then Mueller's going to treat me fairly and then the Russians.

You know, he talks to Tillerson, don't mess, don't even try to talk to the North Koreans and then Tillerson says oh, no, the new way we're going to deal with them is to talk to the North Koreans.

And, you know, and then it's Jerusalem and then, you know, we love, you know, we may or may not do something with the Iranians. I mean, everything he says, he changes his mind all the time. And so, you're just kind of constantly trying to keep up. Wait a minute, he said that, wait a minute. And it's fascinating and riveting.

LEMON: There's a whole different thing. He says the reason I'm going to win another four years is because the newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because without me, their ratings are going to go down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed not be the failing New York Times but the failed New York Times.

Timothy, it's interesting because I think people, listen, there is only so much of a side show that people want to witness and see, and I think many people have had their fill of it. And I don't think that the media would go out of business if there were no Donald Trump. Maybe the ratings would be different, but I doubt that The New York Times would go out of business if Donald Trump was not in office.

NAFTALI: Don, the way in which the president said this, tells you so much about him. He is convinced the world is rigged. What he said in that interview was the media won't let me lose. Six months before the election, they're going to start to say nice things because they need me.

So, the world view he shared with us is a completely conspiratorial world view. And that's what I found most interesting about that comment. By the way, the other thing he said that we just have to mention is that he is the world's best CPA.

Apparently, he understands taxes better than the best CPA in the country. So, what was amazing was the hyperbole. He just kept producing this incredible sense of self. And at one point, you have to ask, is this all a show or does he believe it?


NAFTALI: And I don't know.

LEMON: Douglas, if he knows better --

QUINN: Can I say something about that?

LEMON: Yes, quickly, because I got to get to Douglas.

QUINN: OK, but I do think that he says things that he believes one minute and then changes his mind. I think that happens all the time. I don't think he believes anything all the time.

LEMON: If he knows better than the CPAs and perhaps, Douglas Brinkley, you might be able to explain his tax returns to us.

BRINKLEY: Yes, why doesn't he open his own taxes? You know, he hides his taxes. It's ridiculous that he hasn't released them. And this notion that he's vastly entertaining on the media needs him, he's suppressing with a 35 percent approval rating, two-thirds of the country are giving his show a big thumb's down.

The New York Times has been in existence since 1851. It's going to continue to be a great newspaper. Donald Trump will be long gone. And I think many times readers are kind of have Trump fatigued.

They're not excited to wake up tomorrow and read more about Donald Trump. The Times covers him because they have to. But the idea that all of these media outlets would go down the tubes without him is obviously a self-aggrandizement.

LEMON: Yes. As I always say, the president comes with term limits, journalism does not. Thank you, panel. I appreciate it. Happy new year to you.

When we come back, we're going to talk to one of President Trump's close friends who was in the room with the president during his impromptu interview today.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Here is our breaking news tonight. President Trump saying, he believes Robert Mueller will treat him fairly in his investigation insisting over and over 16 times that no collusion has been discovered.

That is according to a new interview with the New York Times. It took place at the Trump international golf club with some of the president's friends stopping by.

Joining me now on the phone, one of those friends who joins us here regularly on this program, Christopher Ruddy. He is the CEO of Newsmax. Happy holidays to you, Chris. I hope you had great Christmas.

You were at Mar-a-Lago with the president. You were part of this interview with the New York Times, just briefly they mentioned you. He had some surprising things to say about the Mueller investigation.


LEMON: Can you hear me, Chris? OK. I don't think we have, Chris. Do we not? All right. We'll work to get, Chris, back. Let's bring the panel in -- Let's bring the panel now.

We've got Ben Ferguson and Tara Setmayer here with me. So we weren't going to talk about what, Chris, said. But look, why don't we talk about this interview in the New York Times. The president saying, Tara, that he believes that Robert Mueller will treat him fairly.

[22:35:00] And it's sort of the opposite of what has been said, especially by his supporters and what has been said on the Fox channel on the other cable channel. What do you think?

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I find that to be very interesting. I almost wonder if he's doing that to project that -- I think another guest said something similar, to from project that everything's fine, that he has it under control.

I do find that interesting because once again, you have all of these Republicans, committee chairman, you know, surrogates, everybody's now, this has been a concerted effort for the last few weeks to try to undermine the FBI, the investigation, Mueller...

LEMON: It's even different than what the president has said himself. SETMAYER: Exactly. It was different than what he's tweeted. I just

think that he -- when he's in an unfiltered moment by himself with no aides, there's no -- there's no telling where his mind is because, what did they say?

The last person he spoke to or you know, what he watched on Fox and Friends that day. I think it's just a way of him trying to project that, you know, everything is fine. I have it under control, but we all know that this is a real thing.

This is a real investigation. There's nothing fake about any of it. And I think that those that have been out there going against Mueller who used to say that Mueller was beyond reproach in his respectability, now those folks are probably going -- what are we doing now because the president's off message.

LEMON: Well, most of them have said that he was respected until...


LEMON: ... this particularly...

SETMAYER: Conveniently until he got their guy.

LEMON: Ben, I've got to -- OK, Ben, you're going to have to stand by. Chris, are you there?

RUDDY: Sure.

LEMON: I thought you hung up on me, Chris. How are you? Happy holidays to you. I hope you had a great Christmas. I understand that he...

RUDDY: Merry Christmas to you.

LEMON: You spent part of it at Mar-a-Lago with the president. Thank you very much. So again, you were part of this interview, although briefly you just mentioned you came up and spoke with the president as others were speaking to the president.

The president apparently saying to the New York Times that he has -- he thinks that Mueller will treat him fairly. He is sure he is going to get a fair shake. What do you think of that?

RUDDY: Look, the president has said all along that he's not guilty of any crime. He's been cooperating fully with the Mueller investigation. They've been -- you know, the president could have exercised the executive privilege many, many times like he had done with the White House.

They have not. They've been working closely and trying to cooperate. There's never been any indication, then two indictments and the two plead agreements that there's any evidence of wrong doing by the campaign itself.

President Trump -- there is no evidence of collusion. So I think that the interview today with Michael Schmidt. Michael, was a guest at Mar-a-Lago today as I introduced him to the president.

And the president said hey, let's do an interview. And he sat with, Michael, for a half hour and gave him his take on the world. And it's very typical of the president, he just speaks his mind and tells you what he think.

LEMON: So, Chris, let me ask you. Given everything that you said, that's according to the president he believes that there is no collusion. He believes that there is -- you know, that they had found nothing, OK? The president does that -- saying that.

So if that is all so, if I give you that, then why continue to attack the investigation and Mueller, and not just the president, but also the president's supporters, the folks over on the Trump channel, over on the other cable station. Why do that then if there's nothing there.

RUDDY: So it's not the president who says there's been nothing with him and Russia. It's that we now know this investigation by Mueller has gone on, it actually started before he was appointed. It's over a year now and they have found no evidence in the indictments of the plea agreements with Russian collusion.

We know there's been a House investigation and a Senate investigation with Republicans and Democrats. So far, neither committee has revealed anything with collusion with the Russians.

LEMON: Do you realize the investigation -- the scope of the investigation goes beyond collusion, right?

RUDDY: Yeah, but look, CNN and MSNBC have made a case the president colluded with the Russians, the campaign colluded with the Russians, the...


LEMON: I cannot speak for MSNBC, but CNN has not made a case -- but, Chris, hold on, I cannot speak for MSNBC, but CNN has not made the case that the president colluded. CNN is just reporting what is out there and what should be reported on. We have not made the case for or against collusion. But go on.

RUDDY: Of course you have.

LEMON: In your belief, but we have not.

RUDDY: There's no evidence yet and most of the merits that have come out of all different criticisms of him, and he said look, bring it. Is there something -- you know, the truth is I think Robert Mueller is an American hero.

This guy kept America safe after 9/11, he's the FBI director for more than ten years, did an incredible job, but there are questions about the investigation.

[22:40:00] Legitimate questions like number of the prosecutors openly supported President Obama and Hillary and her campaign. When you see the jurisdiction of this investigation, Don, I think you'll agree what suppose to examine the Russian involvement in the Trump campaign.

And that none of the indictments of the plea agreement have anything to do with that. You have start wondering, are these guys being indicted because they committed a crime or because they are friends and supporters of the president? And I'm...

LEMON: So you're saying Michael Flynn did not lie to the FBI? Michael Flynn didn't lie to the FBI, Chris?

RUDDY: Michael Flynn admitted in a plea agreement that he lied to the FBI, but jurisdiction of the Mueller investigation was collusion and conspiracy between Trump and the Russians in the election.

LEMON: It's also obstruction and scope goes beyond collusion though, Chris.


LEMON: Chris, you have to be honest with the viewer in you're going to be on, the scope of the investigation is not just collusion. It's also Russia hacking or Russia influencing our election.

It also can probably include obstruction of justice. It can include money crimes. And any other thing that Robert Mueller comes across as he is investigating Russia's influence into our election. It is not just collusion. You must be honest with the American public.

RUDDY: No, but the point is that I've been watching your show this past six months.

LEMON: Thank you.

RUDDY: I don't think that the president colluded with the Russians, yet there's no evidence of it.

LEMON: We have never said -- I have never said the president colluded with the Russians. We have always said there may be no collusion found, Chris. Chris, now, listen, that is a flat out lie. That's a flat out lie. We have never said the president colluded.

RUDDY: Give me one piece of evidence that the president for his campaign colluded...

LEMON: I'm not -- I'm not an investigator. I'm not an investigator and I have never made that assertions. So...

RUDDY: Can you give me one?

LEMON: You're posing -- you're posing a question that should be posed to someone else.

RUDDY: Hello?

LEMON: Yeah, are you there -- I'm sorry, go on. Can you hear me? RUDDY: Yes, I can hear you.

LEMON: OK. Sorry, go on. So, I've never said that and I've never heard anyone on CNN say that there was evidence of collusion. As a matter of fact, I always hear people preface by saying there may be no collusion, whatever comes in this investigation...

RUDDY: My god, I watch your network. You talk about impeachable offenses all day long on there.

LEMON: What's wrong with talking about impeachable offenses?

RUDDY: I think Donald Trump could be criticized. I've known him for a long time. He's open to this. It's just when you say something that's not true that he committed a crime or someone in his family committed a crime, or these other individuals involving things that there is no evidence of it, that's where I think you start saying well is this a politically motivated investigation?


LEMON: Well, Chris, you must be watching a different channel because no one has ever said anyone in the president's family or the president has committed a crime. We have people on who discuss the possibility of people committing a crime.

But no one has emphatically said on CNN that the president has committed a crime, nor anyone in his family. So if you're saying that we must tell the truth, then you must as well. And the president, speaking of telling the truth, has a history of not telling the truth.

As a matter of fact, he made statements yesterday that were completely not truthful saying he signed more legislation than any president in history. And that is wrong. He signed the least since Eisenhower.

RUDDY: Don, the average GDP growth during the Obama years was 1.5 percent. Donald Trump's already moving the economy over 3 percent GDP growth...

LEMON: And if you talk to any economist, Chris, again, the truth, this all started under President Barack Obama, and he is reaping the rewards of an economy that started long before he became president.

RUDDY: I think you're going to see what this tax bill a major, major growth of GDP across the country. Businesses are going to invest like crazy. I think -- and you know what, the bottom line is the result.

Is he going to bring more jobs, grow the economy, strengthen our military and national security? And I think like in the New York Times report today by Michael Schmidt, I would encourage people to read that report.

I mean, this is a president that's very hyper focused on North Korea with that, pointed out that for over 25 years, no president has tackled or willing to tackle it, and he said it threatened a long- time... (CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Chris...

RUDDY: ... of our nation and we can't allow these guys to get ballistic missiles, nuclear -- thermal nuclear weapons...

LEMON: Chris, listen, thank you. I got to run. I have to get to the break. But I hope you're right. I hope you're right when it comes to what's going to happen with the GDP.

I hope you're right when it comes to what's going to happen overseas, and with North Korea. But again, those are all projections into the future. We're talking about things that have already...

[22:45:00] RUDDY: Don, keep an open mind.

LEMON: Absolutely, and you as well.

RUDDY: I know you...

LEMON: I would say -- I would say also projection is a serious thing. You should -- you should take your own words to heart. Keep an open mind and don't run away from the truth as well. Thank you, happy New Year to you. Appreciate you coming on. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Our breaking news tonight, the Russia investigation. The president saying that that he believes Robert Mueller will treat him fairly in an investigation. Back with me now, my political commentator, Tara Setmayer, Bakari Sellers, and Ben Ferguson. Well, that was a chat!

SETMAYER: It was, indeed.

LEMON: It's always interesting when, Chris Ruddy, comes on. But you know, this interview in The New York Times, Bakari, I always find it interesting, because many times supporters come on and they don't really have their facts straight.

And you have to tell them and then they -- they, you know, accuse you of make things up when the facts are just the facts. What did you think of that?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, it is Donald Trump. It is Donald Trump is the purest sense and Christopher Ruddy is one of those Donald Trump sycophants that comes on air and just says what Donald Trump wants him to say.

I mean, the facts are these, how many people did Barack Obama have charged with a crime? Zero. How many people were indicted when Barack Obama was president of the United States? Zero. How many people pled guilty to a crime? Zero.

[22:50:00] The fact is, anybody can come on TV and tout the president, and tout his ethics, and tout his morals, and everything else. But he's had four individuals -- four individuals, two of which have actually already pled guilty.

One of which was his national security adviser. They have pled guilty to crimes. And the national security adviser has pled guilty to a crime while he was in the White House. And Paul Manafort, who's been indicted was the chairman of the president's campaign.

Those are facts. And if, Christopher Ruddy, wants to come on here and say this has nothing to do with the president -- this has nothing to do with the president while he was running for office or while he's been in the White House, then he's a bald-faced liar.

The fact is, we are still investigating a meeting that happened with the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., and people are asking, why did this meeting occur? It happened because of adoptions. That's BS, Don. We know why it happened. It happened because they thought that they could get information from the Russians.

LEMON: I've got to get, Ben, in. Go ahead, Ben.

BEN FERGUSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, look, and I want to say this, because I think that this is -- you know, what, Bakari, just said there, I think sums up the election a year ago perfectly.

There are a lot of people that feel like that there was special treatment that was given to people that worked for Barack Obama and things that they did that they would have been indicted for if they were Republicans.

For example, when you clearly have top-secret information on a laptop that you have on a server in the basement of your house and then you send those top-secret classified documents to people that aren't even cleared to see them. And then you forward them to your husband, who by the way is in jail by the name of Anthony Weiner. If that was a Republican...

SELLERS: What does that have to do with what we're talking about, Ben? Ben, what are you talking about?


SELLERS: The FBI already investigated that. There have been a million theories on it. It's water under the bridge. But why...

LEMON: No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

FERGUSON: It's water under the bridge for you.

LEMON: No! We'll be right back. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Back now with my panel. So, Ben, if you're not going to hijack the panel and talk about things that are relevant, if you then, you can go on and talk about it, but I don't want to hear things about -- listen, I don't want to hear about Benghazi. I don't want to hear about uranium. I don't want to hear about it has been litigated...

FERGUSON: Of course, because it doesn't fit the narrative.

LEMON: No, it doesn't. Listen...

SETMAYER: Because it's irrelevant, now, Ben, she lost!

LEMON: It's irrelevant!

[22:55:00] If you're going to talk about it, Ben...

FERGUSON: I didn't say anything when, Bakari, was talking earlier and you had no problem because you agreed with it all, Don.


LEMON: It's not because I agreed with it all, it's because he's talking about things that have to do with now, not some bull from the past that has been litigated over and over, and is not relevant anymore because every time -- oh, but her e-mails. Oh, but her uranium.

FERGUSON: Because you don't like what I'm saying.

LEMON: No. It's not that I don't like what you are saying...

FERGUSON: I didn't even say the word uranium, Don!

LEMON: It's not...

FERGUSON: I never said anything about uranium. That's you saying that.

LEMON: you go back to -- you go back to the same....

FERGUSON: No, it's not!

LEMON: So let's stop...

FERGUSON: If you listen to somebody instead of assuming what they're going to say, you might learn something.

LEMON: Let's stop right here. Let's get back on track and let's talk about The New York Times interview that we were discussing instead of going back in time, in a time machine, and talking about something and someone who was not president anymore.

So again, he says that he believes -- Tara, that he believes that he could be treated fairly in an investigation. Yet, over and over, and over again, he has said that he believes that it is tainted.

He says in this interview that he believes it was made up, invented by the Democrats, these Russia allegations, as a hoax and a ruse and as an excuse for losing an election.

SETMAYER: Yet our intelligence agencies have unanimously agreed that the Russians did, in fact, meddle in our election. Donald Trump has it stuck in his craw that it somehow undermines legitimacy of his election if he acknowledges what the Russians did.

This is something to the chagrin of even his national security folks, everyone, they don't like the fact he continues to call this a hoax, because it's not a hoax.

And it makes our intelligence community's job that much more difficult, because they need to implement policy to make sure this doesn't happen again. That's the real problem here. The fact that he...

LEMON: And no one is doing anything about it.

SETMAYER: Well, I don't know. I mean, I believe that there are good men and women that are trying to do their jobs, despite the president's continually stepping on their throats and belittling them in public.

But, this is -- his obsession with this is pathological. And he's done a lot of other things in this interview, like, he knows the tax bill greater than CPAs and all these things.


LEMON: I know foreign policy better than the generals.


LEMON: Thank you, all. I appreciate it. I'm going to see you New Year's Eve with Andy and Anderson. So, let's have some fun. Let's see what I do this year.

SETMAYER: Happy New Year!

LEMON: Happy New Year. Good night, everybody. Thanks for watching.