Return to Transcripts main page
Surprise Action from President Obama; Preparing for Inauguration; A Tweeting President; Betsy DeVos Grilled by Senate. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired January 17, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Shock waves on Capitol Hill and all around the world after President Obama's surprise commutation of the sentence of Chelsea Manning, convicting of stealing and leaking secret military intelligence.
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon here in Washington. Thanks for joining us.
Barack Obama's move coming in the final hours of his presidency. We'll hear from him tomorrow. But meanwhile, inaugural celebrations begins for the next president. Tonight, at a gala dinner in Washington, Donald Trump talking up his new administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very proud of everybody, the cabinet members we have put together, the team, I think the likes of which has ever been assembled before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: But I want to begin with our breaking news coverage with CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, good evening to you. President Obama decided to commute Chelsea Manning's sentence, she was the army private who gave sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks. What can you tell us about this development?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, this announcement came as shock to the intelligence and the national security apparatus of the United States. There was a lot of consternation about this simply because of the recent history with WikiLeaks.
As you know Chelsea Manning's leaks of 750,000 documents really launched WikiLeaks into what we now know what it is. And given the fact that in the recent in the 2016 election, the Obama administration has made a big deal of the that WikiLeaks served as an essentially as an arm of the Russian intelligence services which stole documents from democrats and then released them through WikiLeaks to harm the campaign of Hillary Clinton.
A lot of people were surprised by this decision to essentially shorten her sentence. She was supposed to serve 35 years, which was deemed harsh sentence, but she served under seven years of that. And so, the reaction certainly from the national security officials that I've talked to have been certainly a little bit of consternation and disappointment.
And you hear from republican critics of the president who used terms like treason, stab in the back to the troops, shameful. So, there's a lot of reaction to the president's announcement.
LEMON: That last week WikiLeaks tweeted this out, it said, "If Obama grants Manning clemency, Assange will agree to extradition despite clearly clear unconstitutionality of DOJ case. What is WikiLeaks saying now, Evan?
PEREZ: Not so fast, Don. I think what happened is I think even the folks at WikiLeaks are surprised at this decision. Look, the -- certainly the WikiLeaks is declaring victory, that's one of the things that they've tweeted tonight. But Assange is now saying that essentially through his lawyers is saying that they want to know what the Justice Department intended -- intention is.
As you know there's not been any public charges against Assange, he's been stuck in the Ecuadorian embassy since 2012. Repeatedly he has said that one reason he's there is because he believes that the United States wants to extradite him to bring him to be on trial here in the United States.
As you know, he's there partly because he's facing -- he's facing these unrelated sexual assault charges in Sweden. So, tonight, though, we're hearing from Assange's lawyers that they want to know what the Justice Department intends to do? Have they decided to drop the case? Do they want to bring charges against Assange? That is what they want. They want clarity from the Justice Department and United States government.
LEMON: Evan Perez, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you very much. I want to bring in now CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN politics executive editor, Mark Preston, political analyst Abby Philip, and senior political analyst David Gergen.
Good evening to all of you panel. I'm going to start with you, David, this decision is upsetting lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. You heard Evan's reporting. The estimation from the intelligence community is saying what do you make of the president, why did the president do this?
DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we'll know shortly because he'll be addressing the country tomorrow. And I think the fact that they released it today was done with knowledge that they have a press conference tomorrow. So he clearly expects to get this question first and I think he'll explain it.
I think part of the answer will be that Chelsea Manning acknowledged the crime and served seven years, which is longer than would be normal under these circumstances. And certainly the 35 years was harsh.
But beyond that, I don't know what his thinking was on this. And I think it's positive that this didn't come at midnight on Thursday night so he can explain his decision to the country and the world.
LEMON: Which has happened before. And we have to keep in mind, Gloria, that it is commutation, not a pardon.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
LEMON: To what David was just saying. But you have new reporting on how he came to this.
BORGER: Well, a little bit of insight from people familiar with the president's thinking about why he did this. That they do believe, as David was pointing out, fundamental difference between Snowden and Chelsea Manning.
[22:05:01] Because Snowden dodged blame, fled the country, et cetera. Manning fessed up, served time, was tried and sentenced. I also think that another part of their thinking was that Manning had served. And that the term of 35 years was without historical precedent, quite extreme.
And another factor in this was that Manning is a transgender in a male prison and there's a humanitarian side to all of this. You might ask as I did why didn't you move Chelsea Manning to another prison then? And I think we'll get the answer from the president...
BORGER: ... on that tomorrow. We know that the intelligence community was aghast at this. We know that lots of people at highest levels of the Defense Department were aghast at this because they believe it sets a bad precedent. From the White House point of view they say it doesn't set a precedent if you consider the distinction between the two men material which they say is.
Snowden and Manning need to be considered separately in their point of view. It's quite controversial.
BORGER: And a hard case for the president to make.
LEMON: Let's talk about the political ramifications of this. Democrats and republicans are reacting. What...
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Well, more so republicans, I think. I mean, we haven't heard a whole lot of outcry from democrats yet because they didn't put him in difficult position in many ways. Because they don't want to look sympathetic to somebody who might be considered by many people in this country to be a traitor.
But let's just take this down the road, you know, a few months. For the republicans that are -- that are outraged by this, and it's fine for them to be outraged, I think that's fine and angry in what we heard so far. They've got to be careful what they say right now.
Because remember, Wikiweaks is the same organization that helped undermine according to our intelligence community, undermine the Democratic National Committee, that came in and tried to tinker with and certainly influence our election. So...
LEMON: Which leads us to Russia which -- right.
PRESTON: Well, which leads to Russia and the idea that they have many republicans have passively expressed outrage over the interference of Russia in this election, I think they got to be a little careful.
LEMON: Abby, speaking of that, WikiLeaks is claiming a victory tonight. I wonder what this means for the president-elect. He spoke favorably with WikiLeaks during the campaign, pointing to the stolen Clinton campaign documents that they posted to.
ABBY PHILIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And Trump has seemed to express this idea that WikiLeaks is on our side as long as they're revealing information that is helpful to the public to evaluate their situation evaluate their political choices.
That's a tricky place to be because WikiLeaks, we don't really know who is behind it WikiLeaks. I mean, we know Assange is behind WikiLeaks, there are some implications that Julian Assange also has connections to Russia, but you know, we don't know who these people behind the Twitter account, behind the various web sites.
And Trump's determination that they are on our side as long as they are revealing information about Hillary Clinton is only works so long as WikiLeaks isn't coming after him or coming other another republicans.
LEMON: Yes. What's good for the goose, right? He will tell you it's good because you know, it helped him out. David, I want you to weigh in but I want to talk to you about this, if you can. President Barack Obama also pardoned General James Cartwright for lying to the FBI, leaking information to the reporters, bringing today's rounds of presidential clemencies for this president to 1597, 1597. That' outpacing his predecessors. What do you make of that so far?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think this is as important as his action on Chelsea Manning is the fact that how many people he's commuted or pardoned, who have been non-violent drug offenders.
GERGEN: There are remarkable number. He didn't go all the way as far as his proponents would have gone but I think he established a marker here. He's going to have more commutations and pardons than Reagan, Clinton and the two Bushes combined. So, he's used his clemency power enormously. I do think at the same time, as you can say, she got 35 years too
harsh, when you cut the 35 years prison sentence to just one fifth of that, many people are going to think that's too lenient. You know, she was -- she was, as Mark said in the eyes of many Americans a traitor.
She was -- you know, there was -- there was contempt to what she and Snowden have done at the Defense Department and among the national security people because I think that damaged our national security. S, I think you do have to keep that into mind.
LEMON: Both of you reacted when he said non-violent offenders. Why is that?
AXELROD: I mean, I think this was -- this was this was a strong statement that people who are non-violent offenders should not be filling our prisons.
[22:09:58] AXELROD: We'd be better off as a matter of policy to divert them and work with them to get on with their lives. And some of them have served sentences that were disproportionate to the crime that they committed. So, this wasn't -- this was a policy statement on the part of the president and he's used commutation power to make that statement.
PHILIP: And that, by the way, is bipartisan opinion.
PHILIP: That that there needs to be something done about the sentences which for a long time were disproportionately affecting people of color.
LEMON: Rand Paul has been...
PHILIP: People like Rand Paul. And even other non-libertarian republicans are ready to move forward with stuff like this. And the think tank community in Washington there's a huge movement to do away with the large prison population, in part because it is extremely expensive.
AXELROD: This is one that unites the Koch brothers and the left.
LEMON: I've got to...
BORGER: Can I -- can I say one more thing about Chelsea Manning?
GERGEN: I'm not sure Donald Trump is in there.
BORGER: Chelsea Manning in a way gave birth to WikiLeaks.
BORGER: And this is going to be difficult for the president to explain to the American people. And we're going to hear the constitutional lawyer tomorrow explain this about, you know, how the person who essentially gave birth to WikiLeaks is somebody who should get seven years out of 35 year sentence and Snowden needs to be where he is.
And we understand the differences between them, but a traitor is a traitor. And I think that the president is going to -- is going to have to explain that to the American public.
LEMON: And there are some who believe that he put that -- she put the troops' life in danger.
LEMON: And also that some died because of the information she leaked.
BORGER: And of course the president thought about all this.
LEMON: All right, everyone
AXELROD: The first 15 minutes of questions in this press conference.
LEMON: I got to get to a break. Stick with me, everyone. Donald Trump is still three days away from taking office but a new world order already taking shape. Many American allies are nervous. We're going to talk about that next.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Donald Trump is not president just yet, but a new world order already taking shape as we come to you live from Washington tonight.
And we're back with David Axelrod, Gloria Borger, Mark Preston, Abby Philip, and David Gergen. OK. So, welcome, panel. Welcome back, audience. I want to ask you about these things. Donald Trump -- and he is, you know...
BORGER: He doesn't like them.
LEMON: He doesn't like them because he's coming in to the lowest approval numbers. In recent president, 40 percent for Bush, and 61 percent, so -- 40 percent for Trump and 61 for Bush. Are you surprised by that? BORGER: Well, what's surprising is that Bush in 2001 after Bush/Gore
and a contested election that went on 36 days and was decided by the Supreme Court...
LEMON: Still had 61 percent.
BORGER: Still had 61 percent. And Donald Trump has said he doesn't trust those numbers. And if I were Donald Trump I think I would say the same thing given what happened during the election. But when you look at other numbers in our poll...
LEMON: The jobs numbers.
BORGER: ... people may not think that the transition is going so well but they do have high expectations for him.
BORGER: Seventy one percent believe that he's going to create better jobs for people who need those jobs. Sixty one percent say he's going to negotiate great trade deals. So, he does have those high expectations.
LEMON: Would he argue, though, those numbers do you think. He probably would.
BORGER: No. But we didn't -- he didn't tweet about that. But those numbers mean that like many presidents, and you remember from President Obama, had such high expectations when he came into office.
AXELROD: When I saw your 84 percent or something going in.
BORGER: Exactly. That he is going to have some living up to do to those expectations.
AXELROD: You know, one thing we should do though, I know he's at celebrating as he should be but we should make the point that the polls were actually not wrong. The fact is the polls predicted that Hillary Clinton would win nationally in the range that she won.
AXELROD: That some of the state polling was wrong. But we shouldn't propagate this notion at all that polling was wrong.
LEMON: I've been saying that since the election. I'm glad you said that. Because the people have been saying, the polling, its polling. If you look at the national numbers and you look at the popular vote, the polling is pretty close.
BORGER: And it changes.
PRESTON: And we just acknowledge too that Donald Trump is the most transparent candidate in the sense that if he doesn't like the poll, he's got the terrible poll. If the polls are good, then he likes the poll.
PRESTON: And to Gloria's point about good numbers out of these polls -- this poll. Our CNN poll matches up against ever other poll we've seen come out, which about four or five of them are highly respected in the past few days. In addition to that, there's a number that totally surprised me out of that polled on. Nearly 9 out of 10 republicans have a favorable view right now of Donald Trump.
PRESTON: To me that is shocking. I was -- I would not think it would be that...
LEMON: Do you remember what the polling was before? Because he became -- because it was -- it was fairly low?
GERGEN: He was higher when he got elected than it is today.
GERGEN: I think let's go back to David's point about when Obama came in, he was held almost double this level of support and there was enormous sense of good will and also because he seems to have more powerfully got more things done I think early on. Don't you think it's going to be harder to govern?
LEMON: Before you answer that -- pardon me, I just want to tell people what's up on the screen. This is Donald Trump his motorcade and contingency at the Reagan Airport, Donald Trump boarding at Reagan Airport heading back to New York City. It's the -- it's called the chairman's global dinner tonight not far from the White House, the first of the inaugural celebrations to be held over the next few days. And there you see Donald Trump ascending the stairs there.
AXELROD: You're going to see that. Seeing a lot in the next four days.
LEMON: He is on his plane by the way. Did you notice that, instead of...
PRESTON: Well, this is one of the last times. BORGER: You know what, he's going to have to live here. And Washington is a great place to live.
LEMON: You know what, someone who lives in New York, yes, he's going to have to live here. So, yes. Stop with the traffic.
BORGER: Right. Not such bad digs over at the White House.
LEMON: Yes. Go ahead. I'm sorry...
GERGEN: I wanted to ask David about governing, his prospects for governing being at 40 versus an 80, how much more difficult does it make to go.
AXELROD: Well, it does make it more difficult although, you know, he does have control of both chambers. He doesn't have the margins in the Senate that Obama had but rules have changed as well.
[22:20:01] So, it gives him a little bit of more latitude there. I think the most important point to make here is he could have used this transition period to reach out beyond his base. Instead, he speaks to his base repeatedly. And so, he -- and he has a base of about in the 40 percent range. If he wants to grow as a president and grow his authority, he needs to find a way to reach beyond those people who already support him.
LEMON: Let's talk -- can we talk about the new world order beyond just this base in the United States? Because here is what the New York Times how they put it. They say, "The Germans are angry, the Chinese are downright furious, leaders of NATO are nervous, while their counterparts at the European Union are alarmed. No one knows exactly where he's headed except at the one country he's not criticizing is Russia and its President Vladimir V. Putin."
BORGER: That's true.
AXELROD: I think the word order -- there's a new world. The question is whether there's going to be order.
AXELROD: And this is incredible because we haven't even reached the presidency yet. So, this is a lot of work to be -- to have done during the transition to royal the waters away.
BORGER: But you know what, I don't think we should be surprised by any of the things Donald Trump has said. This is distilled, unmodified Donald Trump. What did he say during the campaign? He said he wants to end this trade deals. He said, you know, he wants to...
LEMON: Drain the swamp?
BORGER: Change the immigration. But he didn't NATO. Didn't like NATO. I think what has been surprising to people is the fact that he hasn't given Barack Obama any space to finish his term. That he started criticizing foreign leaders from afar before he enters the Oval Office. And I think just people abroad are wondering what is he going to do next? And does he understand the impact of his -- of his words?
LEMON: One final question, David, what do you think of what she said, that he, as president-elect before he's decided to enter the world, insert himself into the world stage, into world affairs before he's even elected.
GERGEN: I don't think we should be surprised. I think we should be shocked. I don't think any president-elect in my memory has done as much damage to American foreign policy in the expectations of other countries as he has. This is serious stuff.
When you royal -- when you go after Angela Merkel, who is our best friend and strongest ally in Europe, you make cozy with all the populist movements that are trying to destabilize Europe, and tear done the anti-establishment. He crossways with Theresa May in Britain and he's got the Chinese furious.
The only people who is taking this is he's got two friends out there right now. He's strengthened his relationship with one to Putin and the other is Netanyahu, it's very, very hard to find anybody else.
So, I think this has been really, really important week and symbolically just to make a last point, it was symbolically it was really interesting how President Xi of China stepped forward into the vacuum today at world economic forum in Davos to assert that no longer is America the leader, no longer is Europe, but China under his leadership is going to be the champion for free trade and they are going to be the champion for climate change. That is remarkable.
LEMON: Very interesting. And we'll be here -- we'll be here telling it to the world, recording it for history.
LEMON: Thank you, everyone. And I want to remind our viewers. I'll tell our viewers that tomorrow night at 9 p.m. CNN is airing a new documentary, it's called "The End" inside the last days of Obama, the Obama White House. And in this clip we're going to hear from Press Secretary Josh Ernest opening up about the days following the 2016 election. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the White House where reporters are gathered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are all waiting to find out what will be said -- what will be said publicly.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The first couple of days immediately after the election, you know, other than the statement that the president delivered in the Rose Garden, I was basically the only democrat in the country who was out publicly answering questions. And that's the nature of the job.
I know it's been less than 24 hours, but obviously the Trump message resonated with the majority of the voters there. What happened last night?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president feel that the results were some sort of rejection of him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is now real. Surely the president must have some real concerns right now.
EARNEST: Listen, I want to be real clear about this. The election is over.
Those briefings were difficult for me and my staff. This isn't just a job, this isn't job a 9 to 5 gig to pay the mortgage. A lot of this work is something that people feel called to do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what are you suggesting.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you know, (Inaudible) that was made over the last eight years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[22:25:01] LEMON: So, it would be interesting to see what the incoming administration's relationship with the press is going to be like. CNN Films presents "The End: Inside the Last Days of the Obama White House" tomorrow night at 9 Eastern right here on CNN.
And straight ahead, grilling Donald Trump's cabinet picks. Are any in danger of not being confirmed? That's next.
LEMON: Three days to go until Donald Trump becomes president. Some of his cabinet nominees are facing tough confirmation hearings.
Let's discuss now with CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley is here, Jon Meacham, the historian and author of "Destiny and Power," and Richard Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and former chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush.
Douglas, I want to start with you first. What's your reaction to the president commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I was a little bit surprised. It kind of came out of nowhere. She's seen as sort of one of the masterminds of WikiLeaks. The timing when WikiLeaks in the news so much, it just didn't seem to me like something that he would do. But President Obama is very careful and articulate; he looked at this case and decided to do it.
[22:30:00] I was looking whether he'd do something controversial like Leonard Peltier who was the Native American activist that everybody wanted in the left, wanted Bill Clinton to pardon.
BRINKLEY: But that seems to be not going anywhere. And this is the big pardon that's usually one, this is the one hitting right now. But if you remember Mark Rich when Bill Clinton pardoned him it created a lot of havoc in the last minute.
LEMON: Yes, a lot of havoc. But there is still -- there is still time.
BRINKLEY: There is still time.
LEMON: Do you think we'll see more?
BRINKLEY: I think there will be more, whether it will be a high profile one like this. This is going to dominate the press, the presser tomorrow the president is going to have.
LEMON: Jon, do you think we'll see more?
MEACHAM: I'm not sure. Obviously, I think he wants very much to go out with grace and decorum, so I would imagine dropping something at the very last minute that might run into Thursday and Friday is probably unlikely. But that's just a guess.
LEMON: Are you surprised by this one?
MEACHAM: I was. And I think I agree with Doug, I think, you know, this was kind of the opening shot in what has become the -- this new reality for us. And of leaks, of the e-mails, hacking part of the public sphere, almost instantaneously. And I think, but as Doug says, the president obviously thinks of -- thinks these things through and wanted -- wanted to do it.
LEMON: Let's move on now and talk about the incoming administration, the fate of some of Donald Trump's biggest cabinet picks such as Tom Price and Betsy DeVos up in the air. Do you think, Jon Meacham is anyone in danger of not being confirmed?
MEACHAM: You know, just watching it from afar it looks as though, perhaps there are questions about the secretary of state and the question of whether it will come out of the committee, depending on what Senator Rubio does.
I noticed today that the secretary of education nominee had a rough hearing with Senator Franken, and obviously the questions about Price are probably the most dramatic. LEMON: Yes. And you mentioned Betsy DeVos. This is Trump's pick for
education secretary, getting grilled at her confirmation hearing earlier today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: My question is, and I don't mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party that you would be sitting here today?
BETSY DEVOS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION NOMINEE: Senator, as matter of fact I do think that there would be that possibility, I've work very hard on behalf of parents and children for the last almost 30 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Richard, Bernie Sanders pulling no punches there. DeVos admitted her family donated up to $200 million to republicans over the years. Does this look bad given Trump's promise to drain the swamp?
RICHARD PAINTER, LAW PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, it looks like we have a lot of very rich people going into this administration. They've given a lot of money to politicians, they're very influential people. Do they reflect America? Do they reflect the people who voted for Donald Trump? I don't think so.
The concern here is whether we have a secretary of education who knows much at all about public education and the needs of public schools in America. Whether she is just going to focus on private and for-profit education in which she may have a financial interest. So, they need to look very carefully at her financial conflicts of interest going forward.
The same with all the other cabinet nominees. We have a billionaire who is going to be nominated -- who has been nominated for secretary of commerce, he's going to have conflicts of interest going into the job. As ethics agreement just released today reflects that.
And then of course, we have Congressman Price, who apparently was stock jobbing while serving on key congressional committees. I think there are some very serious concerns about his stock trades that need to be addressed by the Senate before they confirm him. So, I am very concerned about quite of few of these nominees.
LEMON: Douglas Brinkley, you said, and he mentioned Tom Price, Richard did. You said that shows a complete an extreme lack of judgment. Why do you say that?
LEMON: Yes. Hold on. Douglas first.
BRINKLEY: Well, I think that, you know, Price is -- looked like he might be the one that's in trouble right now. That if he can't escape this ethical issue that he has, he might be the one that the democrats hone in on. Because after all trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act is what is getting under the skin of Sanders and others. And I think -- I think that's the only one, the only one that might still be controversial at this point.
LEMON: Richard, you wanted to weigh in on that, do you think it shows an extreme lack of judgment as well?
[22:35:04] PAINTER: Well, it's criminal offense, it's insider trading, if you purchase or sell securities while in possession of material non-public information that you learned from your job, whether it's the United States government, on Wall Street or anywhere else. Congress emphasized that again in the Stock Act a number of years ago.
So, I'm amazed that we have congressman who is buying and selling health care company stocks before introducing bills that affect those very same companies. And then the latest excuse I'm hearing is that well, his broker bought it without him knowing.
If that's the story, I'm wondering why a congressman who was set a discretionary count let his broker and selling health care companies stock while he is introducing legislation that affects health care companies.
I mean, this could be, I'm not saying it is criminal insider trading but it looks terrible to have this kind of thing going on by member of Congress, much less a cabinet nominee.
LEMON: Yes. You want to say something, Doug?
BRINKLEY: The democrats need to get one of Trump's picks and it looks like circling on Price right now.
LEMON: All right. This is what, and speaking of that, here is Chuck Schumer what he said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) UNITED STATES SENATOR: This is very, very troubling. This is not some broad legislation, cut all Medicare and affects some large company like Johnson and Johnson. This is a very narrow specific company that dealt with implants, hip and knee. And the legislation specifically affects implants. He puts it in a week after he buys the stock? That cries out for an investigation.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: By the House ethics committee?
SCHUMER: By the House ethics committee or who knows? I mean, if he knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Jon Meacham, it plays out as Chuck Schumer is saying, it doesn't sound good. What's your reaction?
MEACHAM: Well, as we were saying, the democrats would like to get some scalp here. And if Congressman Price is that, it would give them something in what is otherwise the most dismal of weeks for them in a dark season. But you know, it's very rare for a nominee to go all the way to the floor and lose, 1989 John Tower did.
Usually they make the political choice and pull them beforehand. But it will be an interesting test, too. And I think this is in some ways even more interesting, of Trump's tolerance, Trump's capacity to read the political patterns and react to them. Or does he stubbornly insist that this is his nominee and pushes forward?
LEMON: All right. Everyone stay with me. Up next, Trump's Twitter storms, are we looking at four years of tweets from the next president of the United States?
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Donald Trump has held one press conference as president-elect. But he's tweeting up a storm. Are we looking at a Twitter presidency?
Back with me now, Douglas Brinkley, Jon Meacham, and Richard Painter. I think probably the initial answer to that is, probably yes but don't know.
So, Richard, I'll ask you this question. I'll put it this way. He's a -- he had his first press conference last week as president-elect. It was his first one in 167 days. We all know he spends lots of time holed up in Trump Tower, yet he reaches millions of people through his constant flow of tweets. Is this the new way the White House is going to communicate with the public?
PAINTER: I have no idea what they were going to do. But I didn't call it a press conference, the reporters were just getting chewed out for asking questions. And if that's the way it's going to be, I guess the way -- that's the way President Trump wants to do business. Just tweet out there, and then bring the reporters in and give them a lecture and take a couple of soft ball questions and send them all home.
But the bottom line is the American people are going to expect a president who addresses their concerns and who is willing to answer tough questions. Because there is going to be a lot of tough questions facing him when he's the president. And this is not a partisan issue.
We do not want people coming into government who were simply going to enrich themselves, we shouldn't have members of Congress engaging in insider trading, I don't care if they're democrats or republicans. And we need a president who is going to be free of his own financial conflicts of interest.
And by the way, if president is going to be on Twitter, I think the Office of Government Ethics has every business to be on Twitter as well, and they should be hauling the head of the Office of Government Ethics into Congress and chewing him out for his expressing his opinion, which I haven't agreed with about the beef for the president's divestiture.
So, Twitter is not my favorite form of communication but if that's the way people want to do it and so be it. It's the substance that counts.
LEMON: Yes. Here is how, Douglas, -- Douglas, this is Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker write in the Washington Post, he said, "Trump seems most comfortable communicating at a slight remove, with a stage or a screen, television, Twitter phone serving as the intermediary between him are the pubic, such tools are both his mega phone and his shield allowing him to blast out of message undiluted with little risk." DO you agree with that?
BRINKLEY: I agree with that to a agree, but I think there's a risk every time Donald Trump gets in front of a microphone. I mean, he's just kind of -- you really can't know what to expect. And I think we're seeing the death of the press conference as we know it.
That's been kind of a sacred bit in American presidential history in the 20th and 21st century. I think Donald Trump is going to add more people to the conference, but make perhaps movement to the side and really just try to beat up on the so-called establishment press and use Twitter and re-tweets to get his message across.
[22:45:00] LEMON: So, why, I mean, to Richard's point, he didn't see this as press conference. He said it was just him beating up on the press. He is so aggressive with people. He says -- he says it like he means it, right, but then he won't take a tough question. He gets upset with a tough question.
BRINKLEY: I don't know the origins of it but you know, he may have been -- he's used the press when it works in his advantage, very acidulously. You know, whenever you interview him, he has every magazine cover of every time Donald Trump's been anywhere, he worships press coverage when it's positive, turns a little bit negative and he wants to eviscerate people.
But I think it's about being a kind of almost dictatorial in trying to browbeat journalism into the ground. We see that in third world countries or places around, we're just not used to it in the United States.
LEMON: Hey, Jon Meacham, I want you to listen to this because this is Donald Trump in a recent interview just now on Fox talking about his use of Twitter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press, and it's my only way that I can counteract. Like I'm going to be close to 50 million people, including Facebook and Instagram and different things, I'm going to be very close to 50 million people.
So, when people misrepresent me because the press is very dishonest, unbelievably dishonest. And when people misrepresent me, I have at least a way of saying it's a false statement. Now if the press were honest, which it's not, I would absolutely not use Twitter. I wouldn't have to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: It's interesting because he's sitting in interview with the press, Jon
LEMON: To get that message out there. What he means is that the press puts his words out and I guess you know, it's dishonest the way we do it, we just play his own words back on television. Do you think he says he doesn't like to tweet? Do you think he's going to continue to tweet?
MEACHAM: I suspect so. If I were betting. Because I think one of the things we've learned in the transition is that and throughout the campaign, if you're Donald Trump and all these unconventional things you're doing has led you to first win the nomination, then become president, you're not going to change.
So, there's nothing -- there's nothing we all complain and worry about what -- when he goes beyond the bounds, beyond the buoys in tweeting, whether it's attacking Congressman Lewis or deciding to weigh in on Arnold Schwarzenegger. But to some extent conversations like ours or it's a little bit like the old Charlie Brown TV specials, we're like the grown-ups whose voices nobody can understand while everyone else is talking.
Yes, we're wonk (Ph) and Trump is talking to this remarkable base of support that he has. You know, every great -- Doug knows this, every great political leader has mastered the means of communication of their time.
MEACHAM: So, Jefferson and Lincoln wrote well and quickly. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill understood the radio, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan understand television, Bill Clinton understood cable television early on.
And what one of the reasons Donald Trump is going to become the 45th President of the United States in three days is because he mastered social media and reality television. And that's where a lot of the country is.
LEMON: Yes. And here's food for thought as we go to the break here. Barack Obama held 16 press conferences when he was president-elect to announce his cabinet nominees. Bill Clinton held 17. George W. Bush held 14, and Donald Trump has held one. We'll be right back.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news tonight. With three days to go in his administration, Barack Obama commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning, a former soldier convicted of stealing and leaking classified documents.
I want to discuss with Jonathan Chait, he is the author of "Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied his Critics and Created a Legacy that will Prevail."
Good evening to you. Thanks for coming on. I want to start with tonight's breaking news. The president commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence. What's your reaction to that, Jonathan?
JONATHAN CHAIT, "AUDACITY" AUTHOR: Well, he's clearly running through the finish line, as he said he is going to use every last day and every last minute to enact as much change as he can. And president has done a lot in eight years as president. And we can focus on it day to day but you almost have to pull back and really remember how much he's actually done in his two terms. It's a lot.
LEMON: You said a legacy that will prevail.
LEMON: And as you know now many in Washington are trying to dismantle his signature legislation, which is the Affordable Care Act. Your book on the president on his legacy was always supposed to come out today.
LEMON: But be honest, how much of your book did you have to change on November 9th?
CHAIT: I added material. I didn't really have to change that much. I know everyone jumped to the conclusion that Donald Trump was going to wipe away what Barack Obama did, but I think the reason they jumped to that conclusion is that they made the mistake that I wrote the book to correct, which is they thought Obama didn't do very much.
So, they thought he didn't get that much done so that's why it would be easy for Trump to stop it. But he got a lot done, and change was broad and deep and so that's my argument, is that it will be really hard for Trump to uproot it.
And we're seeing it with the Affordable Care Act. There demonstrations on its behalf that offend. Republicans still don't have a plan to replace it. They're afraid of the chaos, the wreck, people depend on it, not just patients who get the care but also the people who sell it to them, doctors and hospitals and insurers. So, the republicans don't know what to do about this law.
LEMON: Tomorrow is the president -- Jonathan, the president's last press conference.
LEMON: What do you think he's going to talk about? And more than that, what do you think are some of his biggest achievements?
CHAIT: Economic rescue, which is the stimulus, the bank rescue plan and the auto bailout which saved the Midwest. Obamacare, which you mentioned, climate culminating in the Paris climate accord, the first international agreement to limit climate change.
[22:55:01] Dodd-Frank, which completely restructured Wall Street, education reform, tax changes. Raising taxes on the rich and cutting them on people on the middle and at the bottom. Those are -- those are the big headlines one and I think there's plenty more as well.
LEMON: Why do you think a misreading and misrepresentation of Obama's achievements helped lay the groundwork for Donald Trump's win?
CHAIT: You know, I think liberals tend to have a bit of a hard time being in power. We tend to get very excited. I'm a liberal. We tend to get very excited and agitated when things are being taken away that's why people are rallying for the Affordable Care Act now but they never rally for it when Obama seemed to have it all under control.
They don't like to be in charge. They don't like to rally behind a leader. That's more of a conservative thing. So, liberals have complained about every democratic president.
The same way going back to Roosevelt. So, there's a lot of these complaints about Obama and even the people who liked him, always not, well, he's not just getting things down, he's not speaking out enough or republicans are blocking him. And that's the misrepresentation I really want to correct.
LEMON: So, what's your advice to democrats now?
CHAIT: I think they should really use Barack Obama as a model for a successful presidency. They should embrace him the way the republicans embrace Reagan, maybe not to the cult-like extremes that they sometimes took it but really say, this is a president who got it right, this is a president who changed the country for the better. We should listen to his voice and we should defend his achievements.
LEMON: Explain Jonathan why you think President Obama is in such unique position once he leaves office this Friday?
CHAIT: Right. We haven't had a president like this who is young, who is popular, hasn't had a scandal, doesn't have a successor who is protecting his legacy, isn't dead. He's young, he's there. And the person who is succeeding him is trying to get rid of his achievements but he's much more popular than the person who is coming after him.
We've not had anyone like that. Even Bill Clinton, who was still fairly popular but he had been sort of disgraced by scandal by the end of his term and everyone wanted him to go away. Ronald Reagan was old and other presidents were not very popular. So, Obama was really the most popular and trusted politician in America, so he's really got a unique chance to speak out when these important issues come up.
LEMON: Jonathan Chait, much appreciated it. Thank you so much.
CHAIT: Thank you. LEMON: Straight ahead the next hour, President Obama's stunning
decision tonight commuting the 35-year prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking thousands of pages of secret government documents.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)