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Secret Coming out to Light; Investigators All Eyes to Paul Manafort; Another Monster Hurricane Heading to the U.S. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 18, 2017 - 22:00   ET



[22:00:00] ALLISON CHINCHAR, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: And you can see it pushes it a little bit closer to the U.S. It's all because of this high. Where that high pressure system ends up, if it stays in place, Anderson.


CHINCHAR: It will spin clockwise and stay in the Atlantic. If it goes to the west...


CHINCHAR: ... it would actually push Maria into the states.

COOPER: Allison Chinchar, thanks very much. I've got to wrap it here. Thanks for watching. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts now.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: CNN exclusive, news on the Russia investigation. And this is big.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us.

CNN has learned that government investigators wire-tapped former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election. What were they looking for? And what does it all mean for the Mueller investigation? We are digging deep tonight.

Also, the New York Times reporting tonight that prosecutors told Manafort they planned to indict him. That as President Trump makes his U.N. debut surrounded by world leaders who are already worried about the relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

So it's hard to imagine a worst time for two Trump lawyers to be overheard in a popular D.C. steak house talking about the Russia investigation and documents in a safe overheard by a surprised New York Times reporter. Aren't lawyers supposed to keep you out of trouble?

Plus, hurricane Maria getting stronger. The storm a category 5 of winds of 160 miles an hour making landfall in Dominica tonight and taking aim at Puerto Rico. We're going to have the latest on Maria's path.

As we keep an eye on that huge storm barreling through the Caribbean I want to get right to CNN's exclusive sources -- exclusive reports. Sources saying U.S. investigators wire-tapped former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort under a secret court order before and after the election.

CNN's Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Paul -- and Pamela Brown, I should say, broke the story of why the government was listening to someone so close to the president. Pamela joins me now. Pamela, good evening to you. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, Don, sources tell our team that the FBI got permission from the secret surveillance court to monitor Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman both before and after the election as you mentioned, and this is an extraordinary step for the FBI to do surveillance of a high-ranking campaign official.

Of course, Manafort is now at the center of the Russia meddling probe. And we're told that there are intercepted communications, Don, that did raise concerns among investigators, about whether Manafort was encouraging Russians to help the campaign. Some sources told us though, though others cautioned that intelligence was not conclusive special counsel Robert Mueller seen has been provided all of these communications so it part of the ongoing investigation into Paul Manafort. Don?

LEMON: So what do you mean by encouraging, Pamela?

BROWN: Well, to be clear here and transparent, there's a lot we don't know about exactly what was said, but we are told that the FBI has communications between suspected Russian operatives relaying what they claimed were discussions with Manafort, as well as communications involving Manafort himself.

Now, none of this has amounted to what people would consider a smoking gun in this investigation. There is still more work being done to determine whether there is a criminal violation here.

We did not get a comment from Paul Manafort's spokesman, but Manafort has previously denied that he ever knowingly communicated with Russian intelligence operatives during the election. And he's also denied helping Russia undermine U.S. interests, Don.

LEMON: So Pamela, they've monitored him two separate times, correct?

BROWN: Right. So we have learned that the secret order began actually in 2014 after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation. That investigation centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party.

Our sources say that surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources, and then the FBI restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year. Now, the second warrant, Don, was part of the FBI's efforts to

investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. It's unclear when that new warrant started, but we have learned that as part of the warrant, earlier this year the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Paul Manafort. Of course, that's in addition to that raid last July at his home when the FBI executed that no knock warrant, Don.

LEMON: Do we -- do we know, Pamela, whether President Trump, the president himself spoke to Manafort while he was under surveillance?

BROWN: So it's actually pretty interesting because we've told by sources that there were conversations between the president and Paul Manafort even earlier this year in the same time frame that the FBI was listening to Manafort's phones. So it's certainly possible that those conversations were collected, were swept up.

LEMON: So was the president right that he was wire-tapped?

[22:05:01] BROWN: Well, that certainly raises the question. The Justice Department has publicly denied the president's own lines were wire-tapped. As you'll recall he tweeted out months ago that President Obama had his wires tapped. The Justice Department has come out and said that's not true.

But what is possible, Don, is that he was picked up on the Manafort surveillance and we should note that Manafort does have a residence in Trump Tower. But it is not clear if the FBI did surveillance on him there, Don.

LEMON: Great reporting. Thank you very much, Pamela Brown. I appreciate that. I want to bring in now CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, CNN political analyst Mark Preston, senior political commentator and former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, and national security and legal analyst, Susan Hennesey.

Boy, we have a lot to discuss. Mark, I'm going to start with you. Manafort was wire-tapped before and after the election. There's a chance that President Trump's conversation with Paul Manafort could have been recorded. We don't know for sure, but that is extremely significant.

MARK PRESTON, POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR, CNN: Extremely significant and extraordinary in many ways. Don, when you look at how things have transpired over the past few months, we never thought that one could be one upped so to speak. We never thought we'd actually see empirical evidence. Evidence from Donald Trump, Jr. in an e-mail, in a written e-mail acknowledging that he wanted to get the goods on Hillary Clinton from Russian operatives.

We never thought that we would hear that Paul Manafort was continuing to talk to President Trump after he was in office and was only stopped from doing so when President Trump's lawyer and Manafort's lawyer told them that they needed to stop talking.

And of course, as you said, who knows what was said during these conversation. Let us not jump to conclusions that there was any talk about Russia, but you have to wonder if there was, what does that mean? In addition to President Trump, who else was Paul Manafort speaking to, Don. I'm sure there are a lot of people out there tonight wondering if they're caught on those tapes.

LEMON: Absolutely. And they should be wondering that. Susan, the FBI restarted surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended until 2017. Of course, getting a FISA warrant is not easy to do. What does that tell you about this investigation?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: At the outset of obtaining a FISA warrant means that the government was able to prove to a fiscal judge that they had probable cause that Paul Manafort was the agent of a foreign power. The definition can encompass a lot of different activities, but typically it does indicate there's some evidence here of there being criminal wrongdoing.

LEMON: So considering the surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, it means when they got the FISA warrant again, they must have learned something new, right, something that would -- that rises to that level that you just started.

HENNESSEY: Right. So it does appear as though obviously there are connections here. That there are really two separate investigations. One is a previous investigation related to Mr. Manafort's contacts and work on behalf of the Ukrainian government. That warrant was concluded for lack of evidence after a period of time.

Then there's some gap and then the warrant was restarted in relation to the investigation between the Trump campaign and contacts with Russian officials. So it does sound like there are two investigations, but obviously Paul Manafort's connections to either Russian officials or Ukrainian officials sympathetic to Russian interests are sort of connective tie here.

LEMON: Laura, there's also New York Times reporting that federal investigators picked Manafort's locks on an early morning raid. But here is the kicker and let me read this.

It says, "The special counsel Robert Mueller S. Mueller III then followed the house search with a warrant, hit warratnt. His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him said two people close to the investigation." What do you make of that?

LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, it's likely that the people who were doing the investigation or who were carrying out the search warrant had some indication as to the amount or the weight of the evidence that they were going to find.

But it's very important as your last guest was talking about, the idea you cannot conflate two very separate investigations. It may be that he has a possible indict with respect to what happened with his Ukrainian ties or what's happening of course that he's already being looked at by the New York attorney general for his different financial dealings, et cetera. So there's may be an indication of a threat that was not founded in

the collusion-based criminal probe, something different. But either way what you're seeing here is a clear indication that not only are the walls narrowing in and closing in on Paul Manafort, but there's not only a FIA court but now evidence that is being taken and possibly used in furtherance of pursuing criminal charges.

We're way beyond the idea of speculation at this point and trying to define that nebulous from a collusion and we're trying to narrow in on potential criminal charges. And Paul Manafort has an overlap with not one, but two FISA warrants and now with threat of the word indictment.

LEMON: Yes. Interesting. Big picture here, Rick, how do you suppose President Trump is going to react to all of this especially considering he falsely accused the former president of wiretapping him before?

[22:09:56] RICK SANTORUM, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Well, I mean, I think he's probably going to say see, they were wiretapping me, see, they did have potential wire taps in Trump Tower. That being my guess to president...


LEMON: But there's no evidence that they were wiretapping him. Paul Manafort has a...

SANTORUM: There's some indirect vindication of what he said earlier. Look, this is -- this is a serious matter and something that the president and his team should be concerned about. I mean, depending on what the nature of this potential indictment is, whether it implicates Manafort in some activity in the campaign or something outside the campaign, I don't think we know that yet, but it certainly has to be a concern to them.

And from my perspective, you know, best left alone and focused on the things at hand, which is what he's doing at the U.N. And hopefully trying to get a healthcare bill passed here and other things that would not add to the story, if I were them.

LEMON: Hey, Mark, is this vindication, because his own Justice Department came out just a couple weeks ago saying that there was no evidence. And wouldn't his Justice Department know about this as well? Wouldn't they have this?

PRESTON: Well, they would. And I think Rick is absolutely right. I mean, what we probably will hear from President Trump is that he has been vindicated, that he was wire-tapped. When, in fact, what he would be doing by saying so is that he'd be clouding the facts. He would be distorting the facts to try to fit the narrative for him to push back.

And we should note that will probably work with his base. His base has been very loyal to him. They think that not only is official Washington out to get him, the republican establishment is out to get him. And of course, us in the media are out to get him. So, I would suspect that that's what we will hear from him, but it doesn't make it correct, Don.

LEMON: Susan, I want to get your reaction to this part of CNN's reporting that some of the intelligence collected includes communication that sparked concerns that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign. Two of three sources on that caution that evidence isn't conclusive. What's your read there?

HENNESSEY: Well, look, anytime that you're getting information from a single intercept it's hard to sort of say that that's conclusive evidence. All you can say is that two people said something.

So we heard Pam earlier say that some of the communications in question are between Manafort himself and other people. Obviously that's going to be more indicative. But some of the most potentially significant things might be what other people said about their communications with Manafort.

We always want investigators to go slowly, to not sort of get ahead of the evidence, and so I really think that that is an indication of the current investigative team is being careful here. They don't want to jump to conclusions. They're saying that there might be something here.

LEMON: What do you make of this not conclusive, Laura?

COATES: Well, you're right, that it's not conclusive. You can't really predict what all the charges, the scope of the investigation is. Remember, Mueller has a very special charge, and he is able to go through different rabbit holes with the consent of his authority.

But the issue here more specifically is whether or not what they're pursuing in terms of Manafort is leading at some conclusion -- concluding whether there's a criminal probe that is justified about the Russian collusion investigation and to that we don't have the answer.

What we do have is further evidence that Manafort is somebody who is a key piece of the puzzle and he has a lot of different pressures on him right now, including a possible indictment that could lead to him cooperating with the special Mueller -- special counsel Mueller and his team, which will inert to the benefit of the Justice Department, but not the president of the United States if he's involved.

LEMON: We have a lot to talk about, every one. So stay with me. When we come back, more bad news for the president. Two Trump lawyers spilling the beans about the Russia investigation at a popular D.C. steak house, overheard by a reporter for the New York Times. Talk about loose lips.

Plus, hurricane Maria, an extremely dangerous category 5 storm hits Dominica tonight. We'll show you where it's headed next.


So, there's more big news to report tonight on the Russia investigation and this is something nobody saw coming. Back with me, Laura Coates, Mark Preston, Rick Santorum, and Susan

Hennessey. If you had told me this, Susan, I would not have believed it. If someone had told me I'd say that is absolutely not true if there wasn't photo evidence.

More news on this Russia investigation. President Trump's lawyers Ty Cobb and John Dowd were overheard chatting in a Washington steak house by a New York Times reporter. The president's legal team is clashing on how much to cooperate with special counsel Mueller. Can you believe this, an open conversation right next for the Times Washington bureau?

HENNESSEY: All right. So it is shocking. And there's sort of two parts to it. One is the substance of the conversation they were having which isn't actually all that surprising. In past, in any investigations involving the president there's going to be questions about the scope of executive privilege. There's going to be potentially disagreements about how much you might want to cooperate with investigators versus wanting to assert that privilege.

So the fact that there were some clashes, that's not necessarily so significant. What is incredibly significant is, one that these lawyers saw fit to have this conversation sort of in public in the first place. I mean, it really is shockingly bad judgment.

The second is that it appears that the sort of the conflicts here aren't just about whether or not special counsel Mueller can get access to these documents, but actually it appears as though there are factions of Trump's own lawyers that are withholding documents from other portions of his defense. And so that itself raises some sort of questions about the coordination and cohesion of his own team.

LEMON: Rick, your face is speaking a thousand words there. What do you -- you're not -- you don't think it's a big deal?

SANTORUM: Well, no. I mean, I think it's sort of legal malpractice to be having these types of discussions in a Washington restaurant. I mean, that's just -- I'm flummoxed by the amateurness -- amateurishness of the folks involved here. So that's been my -- that's my reaction.


SANTORUM: I think it is a legitimate conversation to have, how much cooperation you have with -- and the whole issue of privilege, but to have it in a restaurant in Washington, D.C. is stunningly stupid.

LEMON: It is stunning. I mean, when I saw that story coming, I felt something like, there is no way this is true and then I saw the photo evidence and I said well, it's absolutely true.

So, Laura, you can't write this stuff. And I'm going to read just a little bit more from the article. It says, "Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed a McGahn spy and saying Mr. McGahn had a couple document locked in a safe that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to." [22:20:00] A couple of documents locked in a safe. I mean, we don't

know what those documents are, but certainly Mueller and the congressional probes, they're going to want to try to find out now.

COATES: Absolutely. And everyone knows when you're even trying to be a law student in law school, you would know about the rules of discovery and about trying to comply and about attorney-client privilege.

And yes, it's true that you have the idea that you're going to wrestle with just how much information the president and his inner circle are going to have to turn over, but what you should all be shocked about is not only the form of malpractice that Rick alluded to but the idea that there seems to be this misperception that the office of the White House counsel, which is the Counsel of the Office of the President, not the president himself, and his own personal team are at odds with how to comply with directives and other obligations.

And that's surprising because it alludes to the fact that the president of the United States may in fact be one of the people who is the target of an investigation, because he is trying to withhold perhaps information that is necessary in the investigation. And that should speak volumes to a lot of people.

Now, it's inconclusive whether or not that's in fact what's happening and what these documents are, but what it's showing to you is this level of hubris that's between the president's personal counsel that seems to think that they are above reproach and certainly above having to even hand over documents to the special counsel or anybody else.

LEMON: Mark, I mean, it's stunning. When you and I see each other in the building and we're having a conversation, we kind of go -- we kind of look over our shoulder even in a secure building like the CNN center.

I mean, to imagine or the Time Warner center, to imagine these men having this conversation about the highest office of the land and things that are just top secret is just -- it's unfathomable. It's shocking. Do you -- I mean, and you know this place, right?

PRESTON: I do know this place very well. You know, I'm one of these people who has these conversations all the time all around town. But to your point, you certainly keep it at a decibel level that can only be heard by the person you're speaking with. What amazes me is not that they were having this conversation. I mean, I think you would expect they would have a conversation.

LEMON: Absolutely.

PRESTON: But at a level -- at a level though, where the person -- which if you look at that picture, there was pretty good distance between those tables. That they could hear so clearly what was being said that the New York Times reporter can hear what was being said is amazing. I mean, it is absolutely amazing.

And is malpractice, again, Rick Santorum is right about that. It is legal malpractice that they would be doing this, especially given the subject matter. This isn't some politicking or talking smack, so to speak, about colleagues, you know, in a congressional office...


LEMON: These documents, legal documents hidden in a safe...

PRESTON: Correct.

LEMON: ... that's part of a very crucial investigation. So what does Mueller do now, Rick Santorum? What does he do?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, you know, that's another piece of evidence that's out there that leads him down another rabbit hole, whether that rabbit hole has a rabbit in it or not, I don't know, but whether there's, you know, some sort of obstruction as a result of this claim, I don't know. It just -- I mean, let's just put it this way...


LEMON: I think what he does is...

SANTORUM: ... the president is not being well served. That's all I would say.

LEMON: I think what he does is he is going to, he wants to seek the documents. And I think that, I mean, we can all agree that's what he's going to do next, correct.


LEMON: Yes, absolutely. OK. So listen, the New York Times is reporting that some White House officials are concerned that colleagues might be wearing wires to record conversations for Mueller. I mean, this goes far beyond palace intrigue, doesn't is it, Susan.

HENNESSEY: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it would be unprecedented to have sort of investigation that used that particular investigative tool which is something that the FBI does use in the course of its own investigation. You know, it raises real questions about whether or not you really could even do that.

It also just speaks to the general level of paranoia among Trump's state of, right. They don't trust each other. They worry that, you know, people are going to be recording their conversations. They're worried about potentially people cooperating, cooperating earlier than they are.

So I do think that it speaks to just sort of the depths of how much this investigation sort of controls the thinking in the White House. And it really is a rather surprising thing for, you know, for these attorneys to be concerned about.

LEMON: Fascinating.


LEMON: Go ahead, Laura.

COATES: If I could just say, you know, one of the things that is so important to think about is the type of chaos that that is breeding within the administration or within the circles who may be part of the investigation. Chaos breeds cooperation.

If you're a prosecutor trying to get an answer information from unique sources that you would not be able to get otherwise then you want that sort of paranoia to fester in the minds of everybody. So you'll have an opportunity for people to come forward with investigation, and the first in time is often the first person to get the best deal or to get the best immunity action.

So, you have that chaos breeding exactly what the prosecutors in this case, the special counsel, wants to accomplish. The paranoia will serve the prosecutor very well.

[22:25:00] LEMON: Thank you all. I appreciate it. And speaking of chaos, when we come back, White House staffers at odds as to the Russia investigation heats. Is it paranoia or do they have good reason to be worried?

Plus, hurricane Maria makes landfall on Dominica and takes aim at Puerto Rico. We'll have the latest for you.


LEMON: Our CNN exclusive tonight, sources saying government investigators wire tapped Paul Manafort before and after the election.

Let's discuss now. CNN contributor John Dean, the former Nixon White House counsel is here and the author of "Conservatives Without Conscience," also here, former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti. Thank you so much, gentlemen for joining us.

John, I'm going to start with you. Let me get -- I want to get your reaction to CNN's new reporting that the FBI wire-tapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders, surveillance that continued until this year when Manafort was still taking -- was still talking to, I should say, the president. They also raided a storage facility of his. What are the implications of all of this?

JOHN DEAN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, it certainly is a very aggressive investigation, much more so than is the norm for special prosecutors, certainly historically.

[22:30:04] They must see something because to get a warrant, which they've done on three occasions with Manafort, they have to show probable cause that there is a, not only is he a foreign agent, but there's likely an espionage or similar crime. So this is a pretty high standard. So that's why I say, you know, they have some evidence and they're being very aggressive in going after it and they're not hiding that fact at all.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Just a short while ago, the New York Times reported some of the aggressive tactics special counsel Robert Mueller is using in his investigation. Here is a part of what they said about the raid on Manafort's home in July.

They said, "Federal agents bearing a search warrant picked the lock -- picked the lock on his front door and raided his Virginia home. They took binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files looking for evidence that Mr. Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman set up secret offshore bank accounts. They even photographed the expensive suits in his closet."

"Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III then followed the house search with a warning. His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him said two people close to the investigation."

Is he likely going to indict Manafort or is he trying to flip him to get him to divulge information about others?


LEMON: This is for John.


DEAN: Federal prosecutors do not use that term lightly. It sounds like this was -- we don't know if this was the investigators who were saying they were likely to indict or the prosecutors themselves who were saying that. If so, he probably received a target letter. That might be what they're referring to at this point. And if they've sent him a target letter it's very likely they will indict him unless he decides to cooperate.

LEMON: Yes, Renato, go ahead.

MARIOTTI: Yes. What I would, I have a very similar answer. But what I would say is that this indicates both to me. It certainly indicates, as John said, that Mueller is intending to indict Manafort, but the fact that he is telegraphing that to Manafort in an aggressive way is something that is fairly commonly done in my experience when you are trying to flip someone.

And so, really one thing that I took from that New York Times story is that -- is that Mueller is trying very aggressively to flip Manafort.

LEMON: OK. Let's talk -- I want to ask you more about other New York Times reporting, OK, specifically the comment by Ty Cobb, the president's attorney specifically brought in to -- brought in to a deal with the questions about Russia.

He said that the White House counsel Don McGahn has a couple documents locked in a safe. What kind of information would McGahn have in a safe that he wouldn't be sharing with the rest of the legal team?

MARIOTTI: Well, I would tell you my first thought was something from an earlier New York Times piece where they talked about how Don McGahn saw an early draft of a letter that Steven Miller wrote at the direction of the president about why he wanted to fire James Comey.

And what the New York Times has said in that earlier story is that McGahn had deleted parts of that letter, had edited that letter and had comments that he put in that letter with his advice. That would be extraordinarily important evidence for Mueller because it would tell Mueller what advice the president was getting from the White House counsel before he fired Comey.

So that would be very important to the obstruction case. I would imagine that, you know, Mr. McGahn might want to keep that from others to try to minimize the extent to which, you know, knowledge of that came out if he was going to try to, you know, assert some sort of privilege.

So, but I will say, the enact that you have one lawyer on a team that is keeping information from other lawyers is very unusual. Both when I worked in the government and when I worked now in private practice, you typically have information sharing amongst people on a team, and that suggests a lot of distrust and division within the Trump team.

LEMON: What are the chances that this could be some sort of Matlock shucks moment to get Mueller to bring stuff into the investigation or into evidence that would might necessarily -- not necessarily be so that could work out for the president and for the Trump administration? I mean, because it just seems, so unbelievable that these guys would be sitting there, you know, in earshot of a New York Times reporter.

MARIOTTI: I've got to tell you, I, you know, after all of the recent stunts that Mr. Cobb has pulled, I am starting to lose disbelief in his ability to make errors. I mean, this is the same guy that was e- mailing with a reporter at 1.30 in the morning and asking her if she's on drugs. He's the same guy who was e-mailing with a prankster that literally had an e-mail address that included prankster in the e-mail address and revealing, you know, his analysis of the case.

[22:34:54] So, I don't know. I think actually, you know, what they did was unethical in terms of not maintaining confidentiality in that -- in that restaurant, but it would be more unethical and more problematic if they were trying to leak to the New York Times through deception. So, I hope for their sake that they didn't do something that stupid.

LEMON: OK. I had to ask. So John, if you're Robert Mueller, how do you get what's in the safe?

DEAN: Well, first of all, just a slight correction. I don't, I think that was Dowd that did the e-mailing and not Ty Cobb.

One of the things you've got here are three lawyers with different status. Cobb and McGahn both have the same status. Their client is not Donald Trump. It's the Office of the President. Whereas, Dowd, his client is the president. He has a privilege. That's clear. It's not so clear that the others have a privilege. So I think if you're Mueller what you do is you go after those other

two and test that privilege if you want to see what's in that safe. Just that simple.

LEMON: All right, gentlemen. Thank you. I appreciate it.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

LEMON: When we come back, no laughing matter. Sean Spicer yuck it up at the Emmy's, joking about lying from the White House podium. Our newest contributor, Mr. Frank Bruni weighs in next.

Plus hurricane Maria slams into the island of Dominica and takes aim at Puerto Rico. We're going to go there live.


LEMON: Two lawyers for President Trump talking about the Russia investigation loudly and openly in a public setting, not exactly what you'd expect from attorneys for the president.

I want to welcome our newest CNN contributor, Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist for the New York Times. Congratulations. Welcome, sir.

FRANK BRUNI, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Thank you. Good to be here.

LEMON: So you're a former White House reporter.


You worked for the New York Times.


LEMON: So I have to get your reaction to your colleague Ken Vogel overhearing White House -- is that your reaction?

BRUNI: No. I mean, it's like so much with the Trump administration and everything around it. You can't make this up, you know. And you all, I think earlier today had a great graphic showing exactly where BLT steak was in relation to the New York Times bureau and the White House.

These two lawyers for Donald Trump weren't just having that conversation in any old restaurant with no expectation that somebody like a reporter might be nearby listening. They were having that conversation in the real crossroads of D.C. where many, many politicians go through there all the time, many journalists were sitting there all the time, particularly journalists for the New York Times because it's close enough to the Times to virtually be a cafeteria to the newspaper.

LEMON: He took this picture at BLT steak where you can see them, you know, just sort right behind him or in front of them. I mean, they were like at the next table. You see them jamming. It's -- OK. BRUNI: Yes. And they're so aware of their surroundings that a reporter is clearly eaves -- or not clearly but a reporter is eavesdropping on them. I'm sure there was some body language involved in that. He's taking their photo and they are completely oblivious to it. It's hard to believe.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, you can't blame the reporter because any reporter would do their job and do exactly what he did.

BRUNI: Blame him? I think it's a great act of enterprise.

LEMON: Absolutely. So speaking of the Russia investigation, in an interview today with NPR, Hillary Clinton refused to rule out contesting the election of Russian collusion is proven by the special counsel Robert Mueller. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you completely rule out questioning the legitimacy of this election if we learn that the Russian interference in the election is even deeper than we know now?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not going to rule it out.

CLINTON: No, I wouldn't rule it out.


LEMON: So NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers and then FBI Director Comey said there was no evidence that any votes were changed by Russia, no evidence that they had. The election was, you know, 10 months ago. Should Hillary Clinton accept she lost and move on?

BRUNI: Well, you know, it's funny. I just spent the weekend reading her book from cover to cover. I hadn't gotten to it yet and to read that book is to conclude that she has accepted that. And in that interview that you just had the quotes from, she said she doesn't think there is a mechanism. If people began to doubt the legitimacy of the election, she doesn't think there's a mechanism by which it could be overturned.

So I think she's accepted that she's never going to be president. What's interesting is she's still sifting through what she believes are the main reasons why.

LEMON: Yes. And it's such a conundrum, speaking -- I've been doing several panels and there are many people who say absolutely. Most people say absolutely she has the right to, you know, to talk about what happened, but a lot of people just aren't ready for it, they aren't ready to relive it. It's so interesting to get peoples' perspective about the book and how

much Hillary Clinton should be talking and should she be out there or not. I find it fascinating and I like hearing people what they have to say about it.

BRUNI: I think this election was uniquely painful for people.


BRUNI: And for a lot of us, I include myself in this group, you know, Donald Trump has no business being president and he won the presidency in the ugliest way imaginable and he's governing in an awfully ugly way. And so it's hard, you know, to revisit how that happened, to be reminded that we had an alternative. I had misgivings about Secretary Clinton, but there's no doubt in my mind that we'd be better served by her as president than by Donald Trump.

LEMON: All right. Let's talk about some of the tactics that's being used by this administration, and I want to do it through the lens of Sean Spicer. And let's talk about it through the lens of his cameo at the Emmy's. Watch this and then we'll talk.


STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Unfortunately, at this point we have no way of knowing how big our audience is. I mean, is there anyone who can say how big the audience is? Sean, do you know?


MELISSA MCCARTHY, COMEDIAN: This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmy's, period, both in person and around the world.

COLBERT: Wow. That really soothes my fragile ego. I can understand why you'd want one of these guys around. Melissa McCarthy, everybody. Give it up.



[22:45:06] LEMON: You addressed it in New York Times writing in part, "It was bad news, a ringing stinging confirmation that fame truly is its own reward and celebrity really does Trump everything and redeem everyone. The message of Spicer's presence was not only that we can all laugh at his service in sycophancy in the Trump administration but that he is welcome to laugh with us."

Listen, you know, I think -- I have a great sense of humor like everyone else, but a lot of people did not find it funny especially journalists considering that we have been demonized and saying, you know, we were lying instead of Sean Spicer.

BRUNI: I didn't find it funny at all. To bring him out on the stage like that was in a sense to celebrate and to validate him. I mean, this is a guy who out of the Trump administration now is trying to rack up big speaking fees. Fine. You know, trying to kind of build the post-White House career for himself.

Hollywood has helped -- supposedly liberal Hollywood is helping him do that. It's important to remember here, Sean Spicer was not just any press secretary to any president. He was the mouthpiece of a president who we've documented this exhaustively at the New York Times lies at a rate that no other president, certainly no other modern president ever has.

This is a president who as you just mentioned demonizes the news media and this is a president who wages an assault on the very idea of truth. And I find it astounding that Hollywood and that Stephen Colbert of all people, would sort of welcome a man to the stage just another celebrity. You know, he's famous like the rest of us and the source of that fame doesn't matter.

LEMON: I was surprised that reportedly that it was Stephen Colbert's idea especially considering the flip, because it was Fallon who was leading in the ratings.


LEMON: People saw the hair tossing of Donald Trump as sort of normalizing him and the people who didn't like his audience, I should just say that. And then it flips. Stephen Colbert who was struggling in the ratings started going after Donald Trump, became number one and this is his idea to bring Sean Spicer on and normalize him as they say.

BRUNI: Like Ken Vogel's observation of the two Trump lawyers at BLT steak, it sort of devise belief. Yes, it really does. Your own Brian Stelter had a really good piece on this on your web site, you know, why is the Emmy's, why is Hollywood helping Sean Spicer rebrand himself? I have that same question.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you, Frank Bruni. Always a pleasure.

BRUNI: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: I'll see you soon.

Up next, the very latest on the path of hurricane Maria and now a powerful and dangerous category 5 storm and making landfall tonight on Dominica.


LEMON: Hurricane Maria, a powerful category 5 storm makes landfall tonight on the island of Dominica.

Let's go right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri at the CNN weather center. Pedram, here we go again. Maria is now a category 5 hurricane just making landfall. What can you tell us about the storm's path at this hour?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, METEOROLOGIST, CNN: You know, it doesn't look good. It doesn't look good for Puerto Rico, in particular. And of course, at this hour as you said crossing Dominica, home to about 75,000 people and coming at shore as a category 5. When you think about that of course, and we know Barbuda was impacted by hurricane Irma about a week and a half ago or so, home to about 2,000 on that island.

So, some 30 plus times the population increase there as you work your way down towards the area it's impacting right now. But look at this incredible growth of the storm system from going 80 miles per hour as a weak category 1 hurricane yesterday at 8 p.m. up to 160 miles per hour, essentially doubling its wind speed within 24 hours.

And again, entering an area here where certainly conducive to maintain the intensity depending on how it interacts with Dominica. But here's the track. We think somewhere around eastern Puerto Rico Wednesday around say 12, 1, 2 p.m. into the afternoon hours this storm can move ashore as a category 5.

Beyond that it works its way towards the Turks and Caicos into Thursday and Friday. And then that right turn is expected as it head north paralleling the Bahamas. But you think about that. A category 5 in Puerto Rico, that has not happened since 1928. That 1928 storm that made landfall as a cat 5 was also 161 miles per hour.

The last time even a category 4 occurred in Puerto Rico was some 80 years ago. So it tells you the rarity that significance of the storm system for a lot of people here over the next 24 hours.

And we're watching a couple scenario here play out, Don, with scenario one essentially being a massive area of high pressure just east of Bermuda which can guide the storm and parallel of the eastern sea board, and potentially bring it and pull it back away from the United States.

Scenario two, is this high pressure shift and nudges a little to the west, it can essentially create a little more resistance for the storm and force it to take the path of least resistance, which would be pushing very close to the eastern United States, potentially impacting portions across the east coast.

So, again, we're going to watch this carefully and break down exactly what the models have right now. The European and the American, very good agreement here, Don, that we'll move right shore over Puerto Rico by mid-week.

And then beyond this, you notice the European, which has been very reliable with recent storms, picks this up, unfortunately, skirts it offshore. The American is not there yet. It is beginning to trend that way, Don, but it is something we're going to follow course of going late into late this week.

LEMON: Absolutely, Pedram. And Pedram will have a new update for us at the top of the hour. And we'll check back in a few minutes and see how Maria changes. Thank you, sir.

Just ahead, we'll go live to Puerto Rico preparing for what could be a direct hit from hurricane Maria.


LEMON: Our breaking news, powerful hurricane Maria. Category 5 storms -- storm making landfall in Dominica. That says the governor of Puerto Rico warns residents tonight that the storm is likely to cause catastrophic damage to the island.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is in San Juan for us. Leyla, hello to you. Category 5, this major hurricane expected to make landfall in Puerto Rico. The last time this happened was 1928. What's it like there now? How are people preparing tonight, Leyla?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: You know, as we were out and about even on the southern part of the island today where it's really expected to take quite a hit, people were really taking to these warnings, really out and about in the stores. There were lines for water, people trying to get their hands on generators which pretty much seems impossible here right now.

Even though there was no school, lot of businesses who are already closing down. There was quite a bit of traffic as people were out and about just trying to make last minute preparations for hurricane Maria, which was a little bit different.

I've got to tell you, Don, a little bit different from what we saw during Irma. Certainly there were preparations underway. But I made sure to ask all the people I sort of talked to on the streets today, if this was different, and there seems to be an understanding that yes, this is different.

And remember, I was talking to people before it became a category 5. People here really understanding that because we are expecting direct landfall and because it has been as you mentioned a decade, they really fear the devastation, the destruction that could be ahead with Maria.

LEMON: Leyla, Puerto Rico took in a lot of evacuees during hurricane Irma. Are those people still in shelters tonight even as we speak?