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Interview with Michael Moore; Biden, Intel Chief Confirm Briefing of Unsubstantiated Claims Against Trump; Trump and the GOP- Controlled Congress; Obama Surprises Biden With Medal of Freedom; Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired January 12, 2017 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
[23:00:19] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to breaking news, multiple U.S. officials telling FBI director James Comey and President-elect Trump had a one-on-one conversation at last week's briefing.
This is CNN TONIGHT, I am Don Lemon.
During that conversation Comey briefed Trump on the two-page synopsis of unsubstantiated claims that Russia may have compromising information on him. And in the midst of this tumultuous transition a review announced today of the handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.
And meanwhile President Obama leaves his vice president speechless. Well, not for long. A surprise Presidential Medal of Freedom for Joe Biden in the final days of the Obama administration. You have to see it.
But let's get right to Academy Award-winning director, Michael Moore, back with me now. And we're going to talk about what I just mentioned in the open. The Justice Department announcing it's launching a probe into the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server. What do you think they'll find here? And is it too little too late?
MICHAEL MOORE, ACADEMY AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR: Well, we don't know what they'll find, obviously. I don't know. All my contacts within the FBI are dried up. Did you hear what I just said?
LEMON: Go on.
MOORE: All right. I'm still on the air. OK. Good.
LEMON: Yes. You're on the air.
MOORE: Listen. Obviously, this had a huge impact in the final week of the election. It's not the only thing, though, and so I'm glad there is this investigation. But I don't -- I think that Democrats are doing themselves a disservice if they just focus on the Comey thing and not on all the other reasons this happened. This is -- it's really -- it's disgraceful, if I could use a Donald Trump word, that twice in 16 years the Democrats have won the popular vote and somehow lost the electoral college. That this -- they would let this happen again, that nobody did the math, nobody thought this out, everybody knew what the law was, that Hillary Clinton didn't go to Wisconsin for, what, seven months? You know, this sort of thing.
LEMON: It's her own fault. Then it's Democrats' own fault and you said in a major way. But I want you to look at this.
MOORE: Yes, but -- but yes, this had something to do with it, though.
LEMON: Yes. All right. Good. Let's talk about that. These are the polls. And these are CNN Poll of Polls which means it's a number of different polls.
LEMON: A snap shot of where the race stood nationally.
MOORE: Yes. Yes.
LEMON: On February 28th, the day James Comey released his letter on the Hillary Clinton -- October, excuse me. October 28th, released his letter on the Hillary Clinton investigation, Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump by six points. 47-41. On November 5th, including polls taken after the Comey's letter dropped, her lead was cut by half to just three points. Democrats say Comey was the major or a major factor in Hillary Clinton's loss. Do you agree with that?
MOORE: Yes. I think it was a factor. What you just showed there, she went down one point. He went up.
LEMON: It was just three points. But go on.
MOORE: Right. But I'm saying that the -- here's what I think here. I don't think people all of a sudden decided we're going to vote for Hillary, I'm now going to vote for Trump. I think what it did was it depressed the vote for Hillary and a lot of people just threw their hands up and said, I'm not voting, I'm staying home, and it energized certain people who maybe felt -- weren't that excited about Trump, but said, OK, I've heard enough of this, I can't -- I don't want another eight years of Clinton-rama, so, you know, I'm going to go out and vote for Trump.
LEMON: Is it going to matter? Because -- is it too little -- is it too late to have another probe into this?
LEMON: Because after January 20th, can he just shut it down?
MOORE: Well, he could. What would that look like for him? No, it's not too late. LEMON: Nobody cares.
MOORE: It doesn't matter? The American people care. I mean, if they don't, and if people who voted for Hillary don't rise up and raise a ruckus over this, and if it turns out that there is something funny going on here, that the people within the FBI knew that Comey was -- I mean, the fact that he would release that information, not the fact that there were this other information about the Russian hacking and this other stuff, it really -- if you are an outside observer of this, you would say he was playing on a certain side, in favor of them.
And everybody should be outraged by this and not sit back and take it. But of course liberals and Democrats are very used to going oh, jeez, we lost. Not the other side.
MOORE: If he'd won by three million popular votes, believe you me, you and I would be having a different discussion tonight.
LEMON: Because -- you think he cares because he does things -- he does what he wants to do. He's going to do it. And he has said, I don't want to hurt her. That's what I'm saying. Do you think he cares?
LEMON: He may just say, you know what, it doesn't really matter right now.
MOORE: But he cares what people think about him. He cares deeply of what people think.
MOORE: I mean, there is a terrorist incident in Europe and five hours later he's tweeting about that Alec Baldwin and "Saturday Night Live."
[23:05:05] LEMON: OK.
MOORE: He cares a lot about it.
LEMON: And you've been talking about accountability here from the American people. I want to play this. This is just another moment. It's from the press conference yesterday with Donald Trump.
LEMON: Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters. OK. They're the only ones. But no, I don't think so. I won. I mean, I became president. No, I don't think they cared at all. I don't think they cared at all. (END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Is that -- you know, do you think people care at all about accountability? He said he's -- you know, he's winning and this is sort of his --
MOORE: It's just about winning for America.
LEMON: I don't have to release my tax.
MOORE: Right. It's just about winning. I won, people don't care. Right? That's his opinion of us. His fellow Americans. We don't care about accountability, we don't care about honesty. We don't care about the fake news that he started in 2011 by making up this -- remember, he had intelligence, he had sources, remember this? He was quoting some nefarious, un-attributable source that he had that he knew Obama was not an American citizen.
He started this whole thing. And if he thinks we don't care, I think he's in for a big surprise. Because the majority of Americans did not want him. Not just the three million difference between Hillary and him. There's another seven million that voted Green and Libertarian. They also said they didn't want Donald J. Trump as their president. That's over 10 million people who voted that didn't want him as president.
He should care. If he doesn't care he should care. He should care deeply. And I'm glad that you and other journalists are not going to stop doing your job, stay on the story. It's an important story. And this whole thing -- watching Anderson last night on this network was just beautiful. It was like -- and Kellyanne, what's happened to her? I don't -- I mean, it's just amazing. But -- Anderson would not let up.
That is the job here at CNN and all the other networks. You cannot let up. The American people are pretty upset at how Trump got into this and was not at the beginning treated in the way he should have been treated. Got to say things. Got to phone in to shows from bed. And would you ever let me be on your show from bed?
LEMON: Depends on what you -- if you're running for president I might let you.
MOORE: First of all, get that thought out off your head. But second of all --
LEMON: If you're running for president I might let you do it.
MOORE: Really? Don't.
MOORE: If I ever run for president, don't ever let me phone in from bed. Don, Don, how's it going, Don? You know. I'm in my gold-plated bed. No. This is -- this is the media fell down on the job at the beginning, not doing it now. This is important that everybody does their jobs.
LEMON: Listen, I agree with you and I think it's important to say that, and as you know -- I know it's going to be hard for people to believe because they just don't. I'm not a partisan person. I'm neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I don't believe -- I'm registered as an independent. I'm -- you know, not registered with either one. I think they're all politicians, right? And they all work for us and they all do what they have to do to be politicians.
And I understand people like Kellyanne Conway and other folks, when they come on here, it's their job to spin. It's not their job to lie to the American people but it's their job to spin. And that part is very frustrating. But also I have to push back and tell you that if Hillary Clinton had called from bed from Chappaqua or from wherever she was running to be the leader of the free world into this show, and she wanted some air time to talk about issues that were important to the American people, I would have taken her call and put her on as well.
MOORE: With a doctor's note. With a doctor -- she had pneumonia and she was in bed. With proof.
LEMON: And we asked every single one of them to do it and they said. And you know who said yes? Donald J. Trump. And so that's not his fault.
LEMON: That others were not on the air when he was.
MOORE: Right, but he -- yes. But if you're running for president, you should have to show up. How do you conduct an interview with somebody --
LEMON: I don't disagree with you.
MOORE: You don't disagree.
LEMON: I don't disagree.
MOORE: No. And by the way, let's remember the historic night. If I was teaching journalism, I would pull up the tape, I can't remember the date but I was watching you, it was 10:45 p.m. and you were in a -- I don't want to call it a brawl. But you were doing your job as a journalist and Kellyanne Conway did not like what you were doing.
LEMON: I know exactly what it was.
MOORE: She -- you know what I'm talking about?
LEMON: It was the night he gave a speech in -- I think it was in Minnesota or Minneapolis, or somewhere, he gave a speech on race. MOORE: OK.
LEMON: And she proceeded to tell me that the speech was not about race and not about African-Americans.
LEMON: But what she didn't tell us and --
LEMON: This is the first time I'm saying on the air. Said she was invested in that speech and probably had written some of it, and the next day she was going to be the campaign manager. So she --
MOORE: She knew that while --
LEMON: She knew that while sitting here but we didn't know that.
MOORE: Wow. Wow. Because she got up, like she had been somehow --
[23:10:01] MOORE: Maligned by you.
LEMON: Yes. Of course --
MOORE: And in fact you were doing --
LEMON: That's not true.
MOORE: You were doing your job and the next morning, she's the campaign manager.
MOORE: And I thought wow, that was an interesting --
LEMON: People at home don't know that, though. Well, they do now.
MOORE: Well, they do now because --
MOORE: Because I was on here as your confessor.
MOORE: And you were able to --
LEMON: I'm just telling the truth. The truth and the truth. Yes.
MOORE: Well, more of that. Right? Because as they said, I don't know if you knew but it said the media and different people knew about this story, the unsubstantiated story.
MOORE: Everybody that's been around town for a long time.
LEMON: But what happens is, when people come on, and I'm not just saying her but anyone, for anyone whether it's Democrat, Republican or whatever, and when they come on, and they don't tell the American people the truth and they continue to sidestep questions, it doesn't help the audience or the viewer to even have them on because it's continued -- it's just more misinformation and it doesn't help. So it doesn't behoove anyone to even have them on anymore I think. That's what I feel about it.
MOORE: Wow, so what are you going do now?
LEMON: Go on. Just continue to do what I do.
MOORE: No. I mean, in terms of these guests that come on and they just come on and they look you straight in the eye, and you know they know what they're saying isn't really the truth?
LEMON: And we tell them that's not the truth. That's all we can do.
MOORE: You have to do that.
MOORE: You have to say that.
LEMON: Thank you.
MOORE: Thank you.
LEMON: You're getting me in trouble but I like it.
MOORE: No, no. I'd get you in more trouble if you have 30 more seconds because I'd like to say something on Donald Trump's behalf, in favor of him. Can I have the 30 seconds?
LEMON: Yes. Go ahead.
MOORE: OK. The unsubstantiated report which we are not going to discuss here on CNN because, you know, I too been a victim of Buzzfeed so I get why you didn't link to them. And -- but the story that everybody is wondering about, I'm not going to discuss it here but Trump, I mean, they're not talking about it. It's maybe even more salacious in some ways that it's been is portrayed as a sex story, it's not a sex story. If anything, it is a story about --
LEMON: Wait, we don't want to go into the details of this.
MOORE: I'm not going to go into any details.
MOORE: I'm just saying that it's something of a 12-year-old prankster would do, would come up with an idea. If it's even true. LEMON: Yes.
MOORE: And I -- to his favor, to his -- to be respectful of him as a human being, nothing should be reported about Donald Trump that isn't true.
LEMON: Yes. I agree.
MOORE: And the only reason that CNN reported the existence of this story is because we need to know if the person who's going to sit in the Oval Office could potentially, potentially be blackmailed or for them to have something unhandled.
LEMON: That's why the intelligence people did what they did.
MOORE: And that's why you did what you did.
LEMON: And we didn't -- with no different reporting that what WikiLeaks. We reported about WikiLeaks but not the specifics of what they were saying. And then now look at where WikiLeaks, and if we had not reported on WikiLeaks, look at where we would have been in our duty as journalists. Thank you.
MOORE: And in the same way that you reported for five years, Trump repeating over and over again that our president was an American citizen.
LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it
MOORE: God bless you. Please be well.
LEMON: We'll be right back.
[23:16:45] LEMON: Our breaking news, multiple officials say FBI Director James Comey briefed Donald Trump one-on-one last week on the two-page synopsis of unsubstantiated claims that Russia may have compromising information on him.
Here to discuss, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the author of "Electile Dysfunction: A Guide for Unaroused Voters," as well as many other. He is a very prolific author.
Thank you both for joining us. And so is Jeffrey, by the way. What's your new book?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: "American Heiress."
LEMON: "American Heiress."
TOOBIN: But I am always Alan Dershowitz's student. That's my chief claim to fame.
LEMON: OK, so then we'll start with you, Jeffery. Vice President Joe Biden confirms to CNN that CNN's reporting that he and President Barack Obama were briefed by intelligence chiefs on claims that Russia had compromising information about Donald Trump. Biden says intelligence leaders felt obligated to tell Obama because they were planning on informing Trump and sources tell CNN and FBI Director James Comey also verbally briefed Trump on the two-page document. What do you make of this?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean -- I mean, it's a fact in the world that they were briefed and this is a developing story and I don't know where it is going to go. I mean, I just -- you know, we at CNN have been very careful to report, you know, what we know, which is that this briefing took place but what we don't know is what the nature of the relationship between Russia and Donald Trump is. It remains perhaps the greatest American mystery at the moment.
LEMON: Mm-hmm. Alan, what do you make of this?
ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, "ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION: A GUIDE FOR UNAROUSED VOTERS": Well, I don't think it's true. On its face it seems totally, totally false, the idea that Donald Trump was not a stupid man would go into a hotel room in Moscow and do something that he could be videotaped and blackmailed for --
LEMON: Well, Alan, we're not talking about the specifics --
DERSHOWITZ: I know we're not talking about that. But we're talking about the fact that there was a hotel. I don't think it's true. And I don't think it should have been reported. I think yes, they should have told him about it, had him give him evidence that it didn't happen which apparently he did, and it's not something that I think newsworthy at this point. I think newspapers have to be careful about reporting undocumented, unproven and likely false allegations at this time.
LEMON: Alan, here's General James Mattis and Mike Pompeo, nominated for the Department of Defense and CIA speaking highly of the intelligence community at their confirmation hearing today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: Senator, I can tell you that in my many years of involvement in the military, I had a close relationship with the Intelligence Community, I can evaluate their effectiveness at times on a daily basis and I have very, very high degree of confidence in our Intelligence Community.
REP. MIKE POMPEO (R), CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: I have great confidence in the men and women that work out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So do you think Trump's Cabinet appointees may improve his relationship with the Intelligence Community?
DERSHOWITZ: I do. I think so. And I think he's going to learn to appreciate both the Intelligence Community and their fallibility. They make mistakes but they are decent people. And I don't think they try intentionally to skew the evidence one way or another. But remember they're relying on sources, many of whom are unreliable, some of whom are double agents.
[23:20:04] It's a very tough game out there, intelligence. And you have to appreciate the efforts that they are undertaking. But you also have to do it with skepticism. John Kennedy learned that lesson very hard of the Bay of Pigs and stopped really giving as much credibility to intelligence. And I think a president has to be both respectful and skeptical at the same time.
LEMON: And --
TOOBIN: And if I can just add one thing.
LEMON: Yes, go ahead.
TOOBIN: When you look back to major intelligence failures in American history, it is usually the politicians who are cooking the books, who are trying to spew the intelligence towards their political agenda. This obviously was a very big deal in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
The intelligence professionals themselves tend to be more cautious and less certain whereas the politicians are the ones who tend to push the intelligence beyond where the facts lead.
LEMON: And Jeffrey, the Justice Department -- I want to move on and talk about something in this department. Inspector general is launching an investigation into how the FBI handled involving matter of Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server. What do we know about this? And how -- well, how is this going to work?
TOOBIN: Well, this is I think a very important and valuable function for an inspector general. What inspect general do is they investigate possible wrongdoing within their own departments. Here you have James Comey violating these longest established standards of the Justice Department to make these bombshell announcements on the eve of the election.
He said he had a justification. It's a very controversial thing. This is something that an inspector general should investigate. It is not going to change the outcome of the election, but I think for historical purposes, for the purposes of government ethics, this is government that inspector general should investigate.
LEMON: Alan, here's I think -- I want to play some -- you can respond, but I just want to play what Hillary Clinton's campaign manager -- I guess former campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN earlier tonight and then you can respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBBY MOOK, HILLARY CLINTON FORMER CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The leaks that were coming left and right from the FBI were so slanted against Hillary Clinton. Director Comey also claimed that he needed to send that letter to the Hill because he was worried it would leak out. Well, we can't punish candidates because of the bad behavior, the improper and unprofessional behavior of bureaucrats. It's just unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Alan, in your response, why investigate this now at this point just days before President Trump is sworn it?
DERSHOWITZ: Well, it won't happen days before he's sworn in. It will take weeks and perhaps months. Of course the president could stop it by firing the inspector general. I don't think he's going to do that. And Democrats ought to be of two minds about this. On the one hand, obviously, they want to be able to argue that this may have had an impact on the election. By the way, the inspector general won't say that. All they'll say at most is that it has the potential of having an impact on the election.
But second, I think the last thing, particularly, liberal Democrats want to do is see President Trump to be able to put this person in as head of the FBI. I think Comey, for all of his faults, really does have a very good reputation for being balanced and objective. I think the report may finally conclude that it was lower-ranking, rogue agents who were leaking these material and who forced Comey's hands because they threatened to leak these facts unless he made a disclosure which he tried to make in a balanced way. It didn't turn out to be balanced, it turned out to potentially have a major impact on the election. But I think we're going to get a report that will be nuance and will distinguish between Comey on the one hand and perhaps some rogue agents on the other hand.
LEMON: Final thoughts on this, Jeffrey. Go ahead.
TOOBIN: I just think this is a important moment to let the chips fall where they may. This is a very important moment in American history. It needs to be investigated. The facts should be aired out and if they help Comey, if they hurt Comey, I mean, I don't think the political fallout is what matters, is this is a part of history that we should know something about.
LEMON: Thank you. Always interesting when we have you on. Thank you, gentlemen. Appreciate it.
When we come right back, a Republican president, majorities in the House and the Senate. Are Republicans ready for the power they now have in Washington?
[23:28:14] LEMON: President-elect Donald Trump takes office in eight days and he appears to have a good working relationship so far with Republicans who control in Congress. Will that last, though? Here to discuss CNN Politics executive editor Mark Preston, political commentator Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," and Richard Painter who was chief White House ethics lawyer under George Bush.
Gentlemen, I appreciate you coming on.
Mark Preston, I'm going to start with you first because you're there tonight, at that town hall that CNN just had with Speaker Ryan. He had an uneasy relationship during the election season with the president-elect but he is on board now. Tell us what he said about working with this new administration.
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Well, a couple of things, Don. He was -- he was very honest about his relationship with Donald Trump, acknowledging that he was the target of those Donald Trump tweets where, as we all know so well, when Donald Trump doesn't like what he sees, he goes after and attacks you pretty viciously. And Paul Ryan said that he was used to that during the campaign.
You know, he did say that he has been having several conversations with Donald Trump when it comes to such issues such as entitlement reform, how they're going to repeal replace Obamacare. But there were some differences, though, Don, when it comes to the issue of a deportation force. Something that Donald Trump talked about on the campaign trail. Paul Ryan said that that's not going to happen.
When the issue of Russia was discussed tonight, he went directly at Vladimir Putin. He described Russia as a global menace. He said that Russia does not share our interest and in fact they violate their neighbors. Now we don't hear this type of rhetoric from Donald Trump.
And on the issue of intelligence, because I talked it was interesting, he walked a very fine line. He tried to tell, you know, the audience here that, in fact, as time goes on, Donald Trump will begin to start to understand these intelligence officials that are providing him with this information.
[23:30:12] However, he did come back and said he was not supportive of the idea that this unsubstantiated report was added into his intelligence briefing and given to Donald Trump the other day. So he certainly showed -- Paul Ryan certainly showed, Don, that there were going to be differences with Donald Trump but clearly is willing to work this him certainly in the days ahead.
LEMON: And the GOP of course. Let's talk about them working with -- you know, working in Washington with president-elect. The GOP -- this is to Ryan. The GOP had a nickname, the party of no. Now they have full power to say yes to anything they want moving forward. Were they expected that -- you know, expecting to have that and are they ready?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, no, I mean, like anyone else, they're expecting that Hillary Clinton would win. Nobody expected Trump to win, right? And -- but I think that the accommodation that Republicans have made to Trump which I think has surprised some of us, you know, even his fiercest critics on the Hill have -- are basically silent in the face of, you know, some of the more outrageous things that went on this week. And there's -- you know, there is a reason for that. I don't think a lot of Republicans see Trump as malleable on the big issues and flexible maybe is a nicer word. And he's going to be a pen that will sign into law a lot of
legislation that has been bottled up on the Republican docket for the last eight years with Obama as president. So I do see following up to what Mark said about Paul Ryan's appearance tonight, you are seeing with Trump's nominees and you're seeing with Republicans in Congress trying to hem in Trump on some of his more outrageous proposals during the campaign, right?
So whether it is torture or even parts of building the wall or the deportation force or his sort of very kind words towards Putin, you are seeing both Republicans and Trump's own nominee saying well, that was really just campaign rhetoric, we don't agree with that. That's not going to be what the Trump administration is all about. So, you know -- obviously, Trump will have some input on that but you do see a little bit more of the White House and Republicans reverting to a more traditional conservative agenda and Trump's agenda not looking as quite as different as it did in the campaign.
LEMON: Yes. Richard, you have been open about the ethics concerns that you have about the president-elect and his conflicts of interest. Do you believe that the Republicans in Congress share your concerns or will the president-elect be given free rein?
RICHARD PAINTER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE ETHICS LAWYER FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, what I have seen today is that the United States House of Representatives' Oversight Committee is swinging into action to defend the president-elect against the concerns of the Office of Government Ethics. The chairman of the committee wrote a letter to the director of the Office of Government Ethics, starting an investigation of OGE, the United States House of Representatives investigating of OGE, alleging that OGE is politicizing the process merely because OGE is taking the possession that the president should divest his businesses, which is exactly the position that I and many other Republicans as well as Democrats have taken and the Office of Government Ethics taking that position.
And now the House of Representatives' Oversight Committee has also made a veil threat to pull the appropriation for the Office of Government Ethics. So they could get shut down next year by the House the Office of Government Ethics is doing its job and insisting that all officials in this administration including the president be free of conflicts of interests. And I think that's most disturbing that that has happened.
PAINTER: And this is the same committee that posted Jim Comey's letter up there on the Internet a week before the election and hoped to hand the election to President-elect Trump. It's a very politicized committee and I think it has zero credibility at this point, the House Oversight Committee.
LEMON: The House Oversight Committee, the chairman, you mentioned, that's Jason Chaffetz. Mark, do you have a response to this?
PAINTER: Yes. PRESTON: I mean look, this is a very tricky issue right now for
Republicans on many fronts because at the time when we're facing so many very important issues right now with the nation whether it's domestic or certainly the foreign threats and you have a Congress right now dealing with these ethics issues right now, it seems a little bit silly and in fact Paul Ryan tried to prevent his caucus from defunding the Office of Congressional Ethics as their first issue right out of the gate but yet was almost powerless to do so. In the end, they decided not to do it and they stepped back.
[23:35:10] I got to tell you what, it's not very smart specifically when you have Donald Trump coming in right now who has all his own ethics questions and talking about draining the swamp in Washington, Don.
LIZZA: And Don, can I just --
LEMON: Yes. Go ahead.
LIZZA: Because this is one where I, you know, have pretty strong opinions. I mean, there are a lot of news this week and I think this has gotten a little buried. But you have this guy who runs the Office of Government Ethics. This is a sleepy agency that in most presidencies you never heard about, right? What this guy does is he works with nominees to make sure that they comply with all the complicated ethic laws. And a lot of his job is going to very wealthy people who were asked to join the government and saying, look, Mr. Rich person, you could join the Obama or Trump administration, you have to sell all those assets because it's going to create a big conflicts of interest. Right?
So this guy from day one, the director, has been trying to tell Donald Trump and the people around Trump, Mr. President, these are the things you need to do so your administration is not swallowed by conflicts of interests. And we know from FOIAs and some of the things the director said yesterday that they just wouldn't listen.
And we had an extraordinary event yesterday. Donald Trump laid out his plan to allegedly avoid conflicts of interests and the director of the Office of Government Ethics looked at it and said, this is wrong. He can't do this and went public. This guy -- the director of that office never speaks to the press, never goes public. He felt so strongly about it he went to Brookings -- you know, a think tank here in Washington and did a press conference and said, nothing in this plan prevents conflicts of interests.
LIZZA: So I have been covering Washington a long time. I have never seen a public servant go before the cameras and call out the guy who's going to be his boss in a few days the way that the director did yesterday.
LEMON: Yes. And I think that's something that we in the media need to pay more attention to and of course we'll be following here on CNN. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. LIZZA: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: Up next, in his final days in office, President Barack Obama surprises Vice President Joe Biden with a very high honor. Biden was so surprised and moved he had to turn away to compose himself.
[23:41:21] LEMON: A high honor today and a big surprise for Vice President Joe Biden. Let's discuss now with Carlos Watson, he's the founder and CEO of OZY, a daily digital news magazine. Also CNN political commentators Kayleigh McEnany, contributor the "Hill," David Swerdlick, assistant editor at the "Washington Post," and Symone Sanders, former press secretary for Bernie Sanders.
I'm so glad to have all of you.
Carlos, at the White House today President Barack Obama surprised the vice president with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For the final time as president, I am pleased to award our nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
OBAMA: And for the first and only time in my presidency, I will bestow this medal with additional level of veneration, an honor my three most recent successors reserved for only three others, Pope John II, President Ronald Reagan and General Colin Powell.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction to my brother, Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CARLOS WATSON, FOUNDER AND CEO, OZY: A lot of love. Your eyes --
LEMON: It's -- you know when you have a friend, someone who is a friend and something like that happens, when a friend gets married or they get an honor, can you imagine? They're best buds and being able to do that, and you can see that was completely genuine.
Do you know of another relationship like that between a president and a vice president?
WATSON: You know, it's hard for me to think about one that was that close. Certainly you saw Cheney and W go in their different ways including even after it. Clinton and Gore, good, but of course Clinton didn't campaign. So it was a special one subsequently, as you said, personally.
I was with the vice president a couple of months ago. And he teared up even though he was talking about running within then candidates Senator Obama. And so you know there has been a lot of love, a lot of big decisions, even the decision to go after Osama, the raid, bailing out Detroit, healthcare, a lot more. He's got a lot of admiration. They just like each other.
LEMON: Yes. Did you have to call me out, that I was tearing up?
WATSON: You know what --
LEMON: They started on a wide shot not to show that, but I mean, you can't help it, didn't you? Did you when you first saw it?
WATSON: You know what, I love that kind of relationship.
WATSON: And no matter where you stand politically, everyone is going to miss the class of the Obamas.
LEMON: Yes, Symone, you called me out. And you have -- listen, regardless of where you are on -- you know, where your politics are, you can tell that was a genuine moment. He said -- he said he didn't deserve it but that just speaks to the kind of person that Joe Biden is.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is and I mean, everybody loves, you know, quote-unquote, "Uncle Joe." Joe Biden is one of those guys that you feel like you can sit down and have a beer with, you can tell your hopes and dreams to so it was a well-deserved honor and I thought --
LEMON: Did you tear up?
SANDERS: I cried like a baby when I saw it. I was on an Uber on my home and I was -- in the back of the Uber.
[23:45:01] So it was well deserved. He was very surprised and it's just an honor. We're -- I'm definitely going to miss the Obamas.
LEMON: I know Kayleigh McEnany is very emotional. I'm sure she cried as well. What did you think, Kayleigh?
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I didn't cry but what I will say is, you know, that is a special relationship. And I hope that President-elect Trump and Mike Pence are able to maintain a relationship like that because not every pair has that. We look back at the Clinton days and there was some friction between Al Gore and Hillary Clinton and some power struggles. And you never got that sense with Joe Biden and Barack Obama. They were definitely an enviable pair and we would be lucky to have a vice president and president who have a similar closeness in the White House in the coming four to eight years.
LEMON: Well said. Well said. David, of course, you know, the elephant in the room, what many people were wondering, watching, what would have -- what could have been if Joe Biden had been up to the emotional and physical job of running for, you know, the White House after losing his son Beau to cancer.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Don, I am one of those who thinks that both Vice President Biden and/or Senator Elizabeth Warren would have given President-elect Trump a better run for their money than Secretary Clinton. But just to talk about Biden for a minute in that nice moment, take it back to 2007. Biden was the guy who said about Obama, you know, when they were running against each other in the presidential primary, you know, he was the first African-American bright, clean, articulate guy. You know, he got in trouble for it.
Not only did Obama say, look, we're Senate colleague, let it roll, let's move on. A year later, he looks around and says, I want this guy to be my vice president. In some ways to me, Biden is like the first black vice president. He rode -- look, he rode shotguns with Obama through some tumultuous times and it ends up today with Obama giving him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction. And as everybody else has said, these guys are best friends.
WATSON: He's a very generous, nice, consistent, and David is feeling good, you know, MLK day just riding around the corner.
LEMON: OK. By the time I say we'll be right back, this will already be on the blog that will be written about.
LEMON: We will be right back.
[23:51:02] LEMON: We are back now with Carlos Watson, Kayleigh McEnany, David Swerdlick, Symone Sanders talking about the first black vice president of the United States according to David, which is --
LEMON: Joe Biden. But I also -- I want to talk about this family because we also saw the First Lady Michelle Obama, she was on Jimmy Fallon last night. And of course there was President Obama's farewell speech in Chicago this week.
This president and his family are really leaving office quite popular with American people and with a unique place in American history. Isn't that at odds with this bitter partisanship that we have been seeing, David Swerdlick?
SWERDLICK: No, I don't necessarily think so. Look, I mean, you know, we could sit here and have a really, you know, in-depth discussion about everything that is going on in our world politically right now, but in terms of the way people perceive the Obama family, whether or not they were perceived this way at the start of President Obama's tenure. I think most of -- the vast majority of Americans, even people that didn't vote for President Obama, that don't agree with him on issues, see this family as -- you know, I want to use the word regal.
You know, upstanding, so emblematic of American values, of the spirit of a generous inclusive nation. You know, President Obama and Mrs. Obama are just, you know, handsome warm people. You know -- you know, people are going to come at me on Twitter and say, you know, I'm too glowing about President Obama. But again, I'm not talking about the politics. These people represent some very high ideals in terms of what people aspire to and look up to in this country.
LEMON: It's hard for people to separate sometimes the politics from the truth of the partisanship. They can't see it, you know, because they are too close to it. Do you agree with that -- what he said, Kayleigh?
MCENANY: I do. I think sometimes it's important to put aside your partisan affiliation and just to try to see the good in the other side. And something that I will always admire about the Obamas is their marriage. As a person who's a Christian in this country and cares about marriage and cares about family units and stability, I look at them and I admire them because to go through eight years of scrutiny and tense media scrutiny, ups and downs of the White House, for that family to stick together is an example.
It's an example that I think we on the right can look at and praise and say that is the family unit that we hope all family units look like in this country, specifically their commitment to one another.
LEMON: I want to -- let me ask you this. Because eight years ago, remember when Barbara and Jenna Bush wrote a letter to Malia and Sasha Obama welcoming them to the White House. I don't know if you guys remember that. Now they have written yet another letter about life after the White House for them. And I just want to read you some bit of it. OK, Symone? So pay close attention to this.
It says, "Now you're about to join another rarified club, one of the former first children, a position you didn't seek and one with no guidelines. But you have so much to look forward to. You will be writing the story of your lives beyond the shadow of your famous parents, yet you will always carry with you the experiences of the past eight years.
"You have lived through the unbelievable pressure of the White House. You have listened to harsh criticism of your parents by people who had never even met them. You stood by as other precious -- as other precious parents were reduced to headlines. You sit by as your -- excuse me -- precious parents were reduced to headlines. Your parents who put you first and who not only showed you but gave you the world. As always, they will be rooting for you as you begin your next chapter. And so will we."
Those are very, very kind words, Symone. That's an example of putting partisanship aside and just being human.
SANDERS: I absolutely agree. And I've had the opportunity to meet Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hagar and they are just absolutely lovely people. The time that I met them at a luncheon they talked about writing the first letter to the Obama girls and why they did it. They talked about such a special club. And there are no guidelines.
[23:55:01] There is no roadmaps for this. And they want to help as many people as they can who understand their experiences. So I think this is a good lesson for America really of getting back to the human aspect of our politics and remembering we are all just people. We have shared similar experiences regardless of color, creed, or background.
LEMON: Yes. And this is where -- Carlos, we were talking a bit about this, about race, when people say that race is worse in this country. And you look at this as an example. I mean, this is, you know, obviously something that's very special, right? This is rarified as the Bush girls put it as a first family. I don't buy it when people say race relations are worse than they were eight years ago. I think that they are actually better than they were eight years ago.
WATSON: Yes, I agree with you. I think there is no doubt about it. You and I both grew up in different parts of the south at a time when it wouldn't have been imaginable that there would be not just a black president but a black family in the White House. Thankfully Mrs. Obama's mother was with them for a good bit of time. That was part of the overall narrative across not just one term but two terms. So very healthy, very good in that. Now are there clearly problems?
WATSON: Black Lives Matter and others have pointed things that we need to talk about and don't always talk about well. I think they have -- one interesting question for me, Don, will be, will President Obama jump back in the political arena sooner than most ex-presidents given the potential repeal of something he cares so much about, Obamacare?
WATSON: Which for him is not just a political point but is a moral point.
LEMON: Yes. A fascinating conversation. I appreciate it. Thank you all. Thank you for putting up with my cold.
SANDERS: Thanks, Don.
LEMON: The only one who wasn't afraid of me, you know, getting them sick was Carlos. So --
WATSON: The strong one.
LEMON: Kayleigh left down because of it. Thank you, guys. Have a good one.
MCENANY: Thank you. LEMON: That's it for us tonight. Thanks for watching. I'll see you
right back here tomorrow.