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CNN TONIGHT

McMaster Could be Next to Hope Hicks; Trump to Take Away Guns Without Due Process; Ivanka Trump's Properties Under Investigation; No Replacement yet for Hope Hicks; Putin Brags Russia's Nukes. Aired 10- 11p ET

Aired March 1, 2018 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[22:00:15] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Breaking news. A CNN exclusive. Sources saying that U.S. counter intelligence officials are investigating one of Ivanka Trump's international business deals having to do with the Trump international hotel and tower in Vancouver, Canada. We're going to break that down more in just a moment.

It is the latest bombshell in the growing state of chaos inside the Trump White House. For a president who prides himself on hiring only the best people, he sure has a hard time keeping them.

Word tonight of yet another potential departure. CNN just learning that national security advisor General H.R. McMaster could be out by month's end. Long reported tensions between the general and his boss spilling out a couple weeks ago with Trump calling him out for not defending him vigorously enough about the Russia investigation.

The administration is experiencing record turnover and struggling to attract talent. This is a president who routinely name calls, publicly shames and belittles his own staff with the exception of his daughter and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

And speaking of Kushner, press secretary Sarah Sanders doing clean-up duty for many of the P.R. messes, who think Jared's jobs what she says is not on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Jared still a valued member of the administration and he's going to continue to focus on the work that he's been doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, this is in spite of losing his top secret security clearance and facing new questions about his real estate business. But when Sanders was asked if Attorney General Jeff Sessions whom the president called out over his decisions investigating alleged abuses by the FBI was going to be fixed, she wasn't as -- going to be fired, I should say, she wasn't as certain. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: Not that I know of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, what about a replacement for outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks? One of Trump's closest aides.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: The decision on that hasn't been made. I don't have a personnel announcement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: And then there is Trump's embattled chief of staff John Kelly who left his job as secretary of homeland security to go to the White House. Well, Kelly saying things are good inside the West Wing, that they're doing the lord's work, but then saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The last thing I wanted to do is walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of homeland security. But I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, what is going on at the White House? It's not a joke. It's nothing to joke about. But the work of the country needs to be done. Someone needs to be in charge. President Trump, who famously says he likes to operate in chaos, is indeed sowing confusion.

And yesterday at a round table on gun legislation, he bewildered both republicans and democrats and demonstrated a lack of basic understanding how the legislative process works.

Well, today, he suggested the death penalty for drug dealers could help with the upload epidemic. He also says he's imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, surprising his staff and infuriating his party and running the risk of starting a trade war, and causing the Dow Jones to drop more than 400 points.

And the list goes on. We have a lot to talk about so let's get straight to our political correspondents Sara Murray standing by. So we have more breaking news. Let's get right to CNN's chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, talk to me about the breaking news. You cover this White House every single day.

JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes.

LEMON: It's in chaos right now.

ACOSTA: I think that's fair, Don. You know, when the wheels come off, what else comes off next? The doors and the windshield perhaps. It's been that kind of weak over here. I think you have to separate the palace intrigue turmoil from the policy turmoil because we've had both of those this week at the White House.

And the latest example is the tariffs issue that you just mentioned. But I want to talk just very quickly, Don, about this issue of gun control. As you know the president had this remarkable meeting yesterday over here at the White House with lawmakers from both sides and it was during that meeting when the president sort of rattled conservatives, rattled the NRA when he said it was OK with him to confiscate guns from people who are mentally ill without going through due process.

That, of course, is something that would send shock waves through the NRA on any day. And you would have never heard something like that from Barack Obama when he was president. Well, this is just happening tonight.

The NRA putting out a tweet this evening, Don, in just the last hour saying that they had a meeting with the president over here at the White House. We can show this tweet. That's Chris Cox with the NRA. He is the executive director of the lobbying arm of the NRA and he says, "I had a great meeting tonight with the president and vice-president. We want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. The president and vice-president support the second amendment, support strong due process and don't want gun control."

[22:05:00] That last sentence there is very important, Don. The NRA apparently got assurances from the president tonight that he supports strong due process because, you know, that is obviously the kind of language that the president was using yesterday sounding very receptive to broad far reaching gun control measures.

At one point, you know, saying Dianne Feinstein should put her legislation, combine it with other pieces of legislation. That greatly unnerved not just republicans, but the National Rifle Association. It sounds like they came over here tonight to help the White House do some clean-up.

LEMON: Yes. So they had the meeting. And Cox as you were talk -- as you mentioned, his official title is executive director of the NRA institute for legislate action, the NRA's lobbying wing as you said.

ACOSTA: Yes.

LEMON: He was also part, Jim, of the lunch with the president on Sunday along with Wayne LaPierre and third official.

ACOSTA: That's right.

LEMON: So there is so much to talk about. We'll dig into that a little bit later on in the show tonight. But CNN is now reporting, Jim, that H.R. McMaster could leave the White House by the end of the month and I'm guessing the White House is pushing back on that?

ACOSTA: They are pushing back on that. There was a quote from one spokesman over here that the president is referring to some of these reports as fake news.

Now, of course, Don, as you and I have talked about frequently on your program, when the president describes something as fake news, more often than not it's not fake news.

And we're hearing from our sources Jim Sciutto, Barbara Starr and others here at CNN, hearing that McMaster could be out by the end of the month. Jim Sciutto and I are also hearing that plans may be in the works for H.R. McMaster to join the think tank, the Hoover Institution, which is based here in Washington and out at Stanford, and that that may be the landing spot for H.R. McMaster after he leaves the White House.

No plans have been finalized or anything like that, but that is something that is being discussed at the moment. And so, in addition to having Jared Kushner's security clearance downgraded from top secret to secret, the communications director Hope Hicks, long-time aide and confidant of President Trump departing the White House, now you have the national security advisor and his name being floated out there as possibly leaving the White House in the coming weeks.

Don, that is -- that is a level of turmoil and chaos that any White House would really sort of buckle under and it's kind of amazing that it's only Thursday at this point. You would expect most of this news to sort of dump over top of us on a Friday evening. But it's been happening just on a daily basis all week long.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Jim, as you were speaking, I want to tell you the president now confirming the meeting tonight, tweeting out "good" and then great in parenthesis "meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA." Things are changing when it comes, I would imagine, some of the things that we heard in the meeting just yesterday, and maybe some of those listening sessions last week.

ACOSTA: And, Don, just very quickly, this is interesting because you'll recall in January when the president had that immigration meeting over at the White House, it happened on a Tuesday. He said, I'll take the heat. Throw all the bills together, I'll sign a bill that will, you know, give the DACA DREAMers their protection and do all these other things.

And then by Thursday he had changed his mind because the far-right and conservative activists and so on had essentially changed his mind over the course of two days. And so it's interesting, almost the same pattern emerging here, Don, with the issue of gun control.

The president having this meeting getting people on both sides of the aisle, optimistic that you can have some movement on gun control. The NRA comes in on a Wednesday, on a Thursday night, I should say, and it sounds like the president may be moving back in their direction away from strong gun control measures and certainly, away from some of the talk that really rattled conservatives yesterday, Don.

LEMON: Who was it, Lindsey Graham that said there was a Tuesday Trump and then a Thursday Trump?

ACOSTA: That's exactly, maybe the same pattern emerging here, Don.

LEMON: yes. Thank you, Jim Acosta, at the White House. I appreciate that. I want to bring Sara in now. Sara, let's turn to your reporting on Ivanka Trump. U.S. counter intelligence officials are investigating one of her international business deals having to do with the Trump international hotel and tower in Vancouver, Canada. What is this about? Why is this deal attracting such scrutiny?

SARA MURRAY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Well, it's an interesting one because it's not entirely clear what it is about this deal that attracted investigator's interest.

Look, Ivanka Trump was the point person on this and it works in very similar ways, a lot of these Trump organization deals do. The Trump organization doesn't actually buy the building, but they strike up this licensing and branding deal.

In this case, the developer happens to be a member of one of the wealthiest families in Malaysia. This particular property, which is a hotel as well as a condo unit, has like many Trump properties attracted a number of foreign buyers.

But it's also interesting because it's one of the few Trump branded properties that opened since Donald Trump became president. So, this one opened in February of 2017.

Now, as part of this sort of security clearance process, the background check process, it's not unusual for the FBI, for counter intelligence to look at your foreign contacts, to look at your foreign business deals. And that could be part of what's raising their concern in this case.

[22:09:58] You know, they're always looking for any instance where there could be something that a foreign agent could potentially use against you that could make you compromised, that could make you vulnerable.

And obviously we've seen this has been an issue for Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner. We know from the Washington Post report earlier this week that there are a number of different countries including China that were talking about different ways that Jared Kushner could be compromised because of his business deals.

So, that's another potential reason that this could have raised some red flags with counter intelligence officials.

LEMON: Does this have any impact do you think, on the Mueller investigation? 2

MURRAY: It's a great question. We don't have a good window into that. You know, we know counter intelligence is looking at this and anything that comes up that has cause for a concern or that they think could be pertinent to the special counsel's investigation, they would share that information.

But as of right now Ivanka Trump is in this sort of rare position of being someone who is very close to the president. Obviously his first- born daughter but also a trusted confidant and has really been spared not just from Bob Mueller's investigation, but really any of these Russia probes.

She hasn't been called in for an interview with Bob Mueller. She said that in an interview with NBC News. And she hasn't been called to testify in front of any of the committees that are looking into this either. So, she really has managed to dodge the glare of the Russia investigation.

LEMON: OK. All right, thank you very much. I appreciate that, Sara Murray. And now I want to bring in CNN political analysts Ryan Lizza and Kirsten and CNN political commentator Matt Lewis.

Good evening to all of you. There is so much news to cover. I wanted to talk about, you know, Ivanka Trump, about McMaster and on and on. But then just now we heard about this NRA meeting.

Kirsten, I'm curious to know what you think about this NRA saying they met with the president tonight, they want -- you know, they're very strong about the second amendment. They don't want gun control. And the president confirming that he met with them not only tonight, but also on Sunday as well.

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, I think, look, he's definitely got himself into trouble making this comment about basically taking away people's guns, people who are mentally ill without using due process. That was something I think was quite jarring to people who are supporters of gun rights.

And frankly, I would say to most people. This is not the kind of thing that you usually hear people saying. And it doesn't really help the cause of gun control because this is sort of people worst fear is that people's guns will be taken away with no process.

And so, Trump has had to sort of walk this back and do a lot of reassurance. But I think it says a lot about what he thinks I think on this issue. He actually is personally for gun control. He's not a real pro-gun person per se. And I think what he said was actually how he really feels.

LEMON: Matt, it sounds like she's saying -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- lip service, not going to do anything about it. And that's the discussion yesterday and today has been the president will often say things and he appeals to people, but when it comes to actually doing it he doesn't really do it.

MATT LEWIS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Yes, I think that's about right. We've seen this -- we've seen this before. This is now a pattern. It seems like, you know, there's a couple patterns. One is the pattern of Donald Trump coming out and having these meetings and saying he's going to do something, and then not doing it.

And then we have another pattern which is school shootings or mass shootings and a lot of attention, media attention demands for action. And then a few days, a few weeks pass, and nothing happens. I am of the opinion that the NRA should now be -- if you really want

to defend the second amendment, I think that the time to sort of batten down the hatches and say, look, we're not going to do anything. We don't -- you know, this is a slippery slope. I think those days are over, you know.

Why not do something? You know, Marco Rubio just yesterday had a pretty moderate approach. He was not going for anything radical, but it's just things like raising the age to say, like 21. I don't know if that was part of it or not that Rubio laid out to get a rifle.

I don't even know if that's gun control. It's already for pistols, for handguns 21. So, do something. I think that not only would that be the right thing to do, you know, sort of morally or ethically, but I think it actually would do more to defend the second amendment than having this like we're not going to do anything stance.

LEMON: Ryan, we had this discussion last night on I think -- someone on the panel said it was great television. But it wasn't necessarily -- didn't result in any policy changes nor did anyone think it would.

RYAN LIZZA, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Look, I actually give the White House a lot of credit for broadcasting that. It wasn't nearly as canned as most political events are. Most of the senators and congressmen were pretty candid about where they stood. I think you got a genuine sense of what Trump's gut is on all the relevant issues.

LEMON: But in the context of the NRA thing tonight, the meeting...

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Where were the cameras at that meeting, right?

LEMON: Right.

LIZZA: And look, the thing that we are all getting used to and grappling with is when the president says something, we are used to believing that it matters and we are used to believing that the president's words on policy are what the White House position is on any given issue, and that there is a well thought out process before the president speaks.

[22:15:04] That's how most modern presidents and most modern White Houses have operated. It does not work that way with Trump. What he says doesn't really matter when it comes to what the final policy of the White House or his party will be. It's just what pops into his mind at that given -- at that moment. There is sort of no unventilated thought from this president.

And I think that's the -- that's the thing that, you know, over the last year and a few months that we've really had to struggle with understanding is such a major change in a president.

His policy pronouncements don't actually set policy for his party. That is set by the interest groups on an issue like gun control and by the republican leadership in Congress. And we all know that a session like tonight with the NRA in the Oval Office is to walk Trump through all of the stumbles he had in that open meeting.

LEMON: Yes.

LIZZA: Particularly with the due process where he just said if someone complains that someone's crazy, you go in and grab their gun and let the courts look at it later.

LEMON: Yes. And it's kind of a bait and switch. I guess some would think it is. But again, they hadn't decided on any policy. It was just them discussing what they would do and learning how the president felt about it.

I want to move on and I want to talk about other issues.

POWERS: But Don, yes.

LEMON: Go ahead, Kirsten, quickly if you can.

POWERS: I was just going to say I'm not sure it's a bait and switch necessarily. I think that he has views that are not in line with conservative orthodoxy and so he says things and I think these are really his feelings. Whether it's about immigration, DACA, gun control.

LEMON: Got it.

POWERS: And then he runs into the buzz saw of politics.

LEMON: Yes.

POWERS: And finds out actually that's never going to happen.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: The problem -- the problem is his views -- not only are his views not in line with conservatism. They're not in line with the Constitution. We talk about depriving due process.

LEMON: Yes.

POWERS: Right.

LEWIS: Not just conservatives. Any civil libertarian should be outraged. Now there is the idea of course about the gun violence restraining orders which I think he sort of took the idea and blew it up.

LEMON: OK. Well, I got to get to the break. So we'll talk about the other stuff after this break. So, stick around everyone.

LIZZA: Sorry.

2LEMON: That's OK. When we come back, more on the chaos engulfing the White House including President Trump's continued attacks on Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Will he join the long list of officials to leave the administration? We'll talk about that next. [22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Adding to the growing sense of chaos inside the Trump White House, the chief of staff jokingly saying that God punished him and Trump continue to attacks on his own attorney general.

Back with me Ryan Lizza, Kirsten Powers, and Matt Lewis. I want to play this moment. This is from the president. This is a year ago. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos, chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: OK. So, that's a fine tuned machine, but then that was, you know, a month into his presidency and he was disputing reports of chaos then. This is a year later.

And I just want to say that, you know, the president -- hearing about the president wanted to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The - Gary Cohn said that he would leave the White House if that would happen.

Maggie Haberman is confirming that tonight saying, the previous Mr. Trump's chief economic adviser Gary D. Cohn warned the chief of staff John F. Kelly that he might resign if the president went ahead with the plan according to people briefed on the discussion.

Mr. Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president had lobbied fiercely against the measures. What do you say to that, Kirsten Powers?

POWERS: I mean, wasn't this one of the main things that the president -- that Donald Trump ran on to become president, was his anti-trade position? It's a little strange to me someone will come into this administration and be shocked that he would do something that's anti- trade.

LEMON: Listen, the president was also reportedly fuming and indignant, Ryan, after his Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly pushed back against Trump's Twitter attack.

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: It's pretty incredible to think about that. The president again publicly called out his attorney general, and he expects his -- Sessions -- he expects Sessions to sit there and do nothing.

LIZZA: Yes. You know, whenever I see that clip that you played to set this up of the fine-tuned machine, I think of that Leslie Nielsen movie where he's standing in front of a building that's just exploded and people are jumping out of the windows and he's saying nothing to see here, everything is fine. LEMON: Moving along, right?

LIZZA: You know, there's -- you know, we're fortunate that we're not involved in any sort of major, major crisis internationally despite what's going on in North Korea and Syria and certainly some hot spots. But we're fortunate that this president hasn't been tested with a major, major confrontation the way that other presidents have in their early administration.

Because I can't think in 20 years of covering the White House, I can't think of a time when the White House was as dysfunctional and at a staff level that was so chaotic with reports of top economic advisors, top national security advisors, the chief of staff, and the top communications aide all, you know, all either in disarray or talking about leaving.

And you know, thank God the economy is humming along and we're doing OK in a lot of other ways because this is not a great system for dealing with a really serious crisis. And you know, we talk about this internal palace intrigue all the time, and the reason it matters is, you know, when it hits the fan, you want the president to be served by a competent staff and that is just not happening right now.

LEMON: Yes. Matt, look, this is a -- we can put up the Wall Street Journal saying that Trump's tariff folly, his tax on aluminum and steel will hurt the economy and his voters. Also saying that Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his presidency on Thursday by announcing that he's going to impose these tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. What do you think -- I mean, this is Wall Street Journal, a conservative paper.

[22:25:00] LEWIS: Yes, I don't know how much this is going to end up mattering. We don't even really know what the executive order is going to be. He just sort of prematurely announced it. But, you know, right now this looks to me like, there's several problems.

Number one obviously it's attacks on American consumers. I think it's picking winners and losers so it goes -- you know, if you're a conservative, a free marketer, it certainly goes against that. I mean, if you're in the steel business, that's great.

What if you're Boeing, what if you're G.M., your prices are going to go up. You're going to pass that along to the consumer. You know, this is just not -- we talked about the economy is humming. Why would you now introduce something new that has the potential to mess that up?

There is also the chance this could really offend our allies. Canada I believe is our number one, the number one supplier here. I don't know if there's going to be a carve out, if Canada is going to be excluded, but this has a potential to create some bad blood with some of our allies.

So, I just don't see the upside to doing this, other than it's like Donald Trump has wanted to do this. This is consistent with his populist, you know, vibe. But, you know, again, I guess if you're his top economic advisor and you think this is a disaster and he doesn't take your advice, maybe you should hit the brakes.

LEMON: We're talking about so many people who are leaving. I have to ask you, Ryan.

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: Do you see when we're talking about Hope Hicks last night leaving her job, and it seems like it can't be said enough. Her departure means that we could be in for even a bumpier ride.

LIZZA: Yes, look, I think that -- I mean, on the one hand, you know, I used to say this a lot during the campaign when he had a lot of staff turmoil. At the end of the day, the problem with the Trump universe is Donald Trump.

The issues always go back to him and his management style, and that's the reason for the turmoil in all of the enterprises that he's run. So, you know, we can exaggerate the importance of any single staffer, but, you know, her reputation, most reporting shows that she was very important in occasionally preventing, you know, bad things from happening, and sanding down some of his worst impulses.

And that, you know, she played a sort of critical role in that White House. I don't think any -- you know, nobody is irreplaceable in a White House. I think the problems in this White House run a whole lot deeper.

LEMON: And who wants to have the possibility of that many legal bills? By the way, Ryan, you were on the panel last night.

LIZZA: Yes.

LEMON: I said something last night that was an attempt to make a broader point about Fox News and how they downplay bad news about the administration. I think you understood it. Most people understood it. It was saying that -- I think it was a bad example about Hope Hicks, but there was a broader context if you watched the entire show about how Fox hadn't covered -- they hadn't covered it at all, but how they broadly downplay big stories and important news for this White House.

POWERS: But Don.

LIZZA: Just one second, Kirsten. I just turned into a little bit of a kerfuffle today. And what I understood you to be saying, Don, is not that Fox did not report that Hope Hicks was resigning. Of course, they did. But that it was a major, major story that every news station was covering extremely aggressively and putting it into context and that Fox was, frankly -- this is true -- downplaying it. Anyway, that's the way I understood what you were saying.

LEMON: Yes. It wasn't particularly this, but they had covered it, though. So, I mean, that was a bad example and so apologies for that. But go ahead, Kirsten, what did you want to say?

POWERS: I was going to say I actually think Hope Hicks is irreplaceable. Most people are not irreplaceable. But she is somebody who is -- you know, anybody who has dealt with her, I mean, she is just sort of the sanity in the middle of a lot of chaos, and she's extremely competent, extremely professional separate from how she manages the president.

I think she's somebody reporters feel like when I worked with her in the past she's reliable and she's professional and very straightforward. And that is something that just really is lacking in this White House.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So who can do that now?

POWERS: And they need...

LEMON: Is there anyone in line in the chain?

POWERS: Yes. I don't think so. I don't think so. And I think that she -- you know, I think and then you add in the role that she played with the president, which she's just Trump whisperer, she knows how to manage him, she knows how to sort of protect other people from him when he's getting angry and those kinds of things. I just don't know. The closest I can think of it's like Huma Abedin to Hillary Clinton. It's that kind of relation...

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: Yes. But look at what Huma Abedin did to Hillary Clinton.

POWERS: These people are not replaceable.

LEWIS: Look at what happened with Huma Abedin. And I would say to Hope Picks. I mean, she maybe be very confident but she hasn't had a good couple of months or weeks here. The relationship with Rob Porter, trying to protect him, not a good look. And then yesterday saying, you know, she might have told some white lies. If this is as good as it gets, if she's irreplaceable.

(CROSSTALK)

[22:29:59] POWERS: Well, I think the white lies thing honestly is getting a little not appropriately covered. I mean, she was talking about specifically -- she said specifically, she might tell a white lie and I think all of us here have told this kind of white lies if you're working for somebody, somebody says is he available, and she says no.

She was very specific. She wasn't saying and she was telling, she's said I'm not telling white lies about Russia. And then the only -- Abedin, what did she do to Hillary? It's not her fault what her husband did. What do you even talking about.

MATT LEWIS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: It didn't work out so well.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: Thank you all. I appreciate it. When we come back, I'll ask a congressman on the justice committee how problematic he thinks presidents -- the president's accelerating attacks on his own attorney general are. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Now word yet from the White House about a replacement for Hope Hicks as communications director. She resigned yesterday one day after testifying before the House intel committee and admitting to lawmakers that she sometimes tells, you know, what amounts to white lies for the president.

Joining me now is Congressman David Cicilline, a Rhode Island democrat who is member of the judiciary committee. Thank you so much for joining us.

DAVID CICILLINE, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: My pleasure.

LEMON: It's a pleasure to have you in the studio. So sources are saying that the special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at statements she gave right after the 2016 election denying any contacts with the Russians and the Trump campaign.

[22:35:07] Everything you know and how important -- how important do you think Hope Hicks is to the Russia investigation?

CICILLINE: Well, I don't think we know the answer to that, but we know for sure that she has worked for the president for a very long time, a close confidant in his inner circle and someone who has now left, resigned, sort of quickly.

So, I think it's hard to know what role she played, but she certainly would be aware of a lot of the president's contacts and a lot of the meetings and the conversations. So, you know, we'll have to see. But I think her departure is probably very troubling for the president.

LEMON: The special counsel also reportedly investigating this president's efforts to drive the attorney general from his job, if that is an effort to obstruct the Russia investigation. What is your tell on that?

CICILLINE: Well, look, I think there is no question the president has been in a feud with his own attorney general for the last nine months. I think this is definitely an effort to undermine him, to undermine the investigation, to undermine his decision to recuse himself in the hopes that he might ultimately drive Jeff Sessions out so that he can appoint a new attorney general who can either fire or restrict the investigation of Mr. Mueller.

So, I think the other thing is, you know, this is another example where the president is demonstrating very clearly that rather than truth telling and honesty and integrity and rule of law, it's personal loyalty that's the most important thing to him.

This is about his disappointment that the attorney general wasn't personally loyal which of course means the president doesn't fundamentally understand that the attorney general takes an oath to the Constitution and to apply the rule of law and to safeguard our democratic institutions, not to be personally loyal to the President of the United States.

LEMON: You say all of this, but then in the larger scheme none of it seems to matter. It just keeps continuing and continuing the chaos.

CICILLINE: I think there is tremendous chaos, but I think the one thing is very clear is that Robert Mueller and his team are doing their investigation. They are proceeding aggressively. I think they're seeing significant progress. I think the president is becoming increasingly concerned about that progress.

And I think so long as we protect the integrity of that investigation, make sure that Robert Mueller is free from political interference, that he has the resources he needs to do his job, and this should be of concern to everyone.

We need to get to the bottom of this. We need to let these professionals do their work. And the president has attempted in a million different ways to stop the investigation, to slow it down, to impede it. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

LEMON: OK, then so what about Jeff Sessions, right, because in the most recent attacks on Sessions, calling him disgraceful for relying on an independent inspector general to investigate potential FISA abuse rather than the Justice Department lawyers.

CICILLINE: Well, I think the attorney general made a statement today reasserting his intention to protect the rule of law and attesting to his integrity.

The unfortunate thing is we need the attorney general to speak up when the president attacks the Department of Justice and the FBI as well. It seems like when he's attacked personally he's quick to come to his own defense.

We need him to defend the rule of law and these important institutions and the brave men and women in the FBI and the brave men and women in our Justice Department. It would be useful if he was a more personal a defender of those institutions.

LEMON: I want to you take a look at this and look at all the comments from this president that he made about his attorney general in the past. How can he effectively -- how can he work effectively when he doesn't appear to have the support of the president? Idiot, beleaguered, very weak, very disappointed with him. He did a terrible thing, disgraceful?

CICILLINE: Well, I mean, I think in part you have to consider the source of those criticisms. This is an attorney general who recused himself for an investigation that resulted in the appointment of a special counsel who has indicted a number of individuals, charged a number of individuals, who is leading a very serious investigation of the president's campaign and potential collusion with the Russians as well as obstruction of justice.

I think, you know, it's clear that the president is unhappy about that. He ought to be unhappy about it. But it's important that this investigation continue. And I think, you know, Jeff Sessions will be tested.

The question is will he hold firm and continue to ensure that the Department of Justice is permit today do its work and the special counsel is protected, and whether he'll continue to stand up to the president and stay in that position.

I think what the president hopes is that Jeff Sessions will leave, that he can appoint a new attorney general that will not be required to recuse him or herself, and that he can then manage to either close down the investigation or even fire Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller with a new attorney general.

So, I never thought I'd find myself defending or hoping to protect Jeff Sessions because we have a strong disagreement with his management of the Justice Department and a lot of policy areas, but I think in this context we cannot allow the president to interfere in any way with this ongoing investigation. Which I think is what he's trying to do.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you for coming in. We appreciate your time.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

LEMON: Thanks so much. When we come back, Vladimir Putin says he has a lot of new weapons and they're battle ready.

[22:40:01] Should the U.S. be worried that he is advertising the new nukes by showing one targeting Florida? I'm going to ask General Michael Hayden, a former director of both the CIA and National Security Agency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: In a speech before parliament today, Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia is armed with an invincible nuclear capable missile. He then turned to a video demonstration showing a potential missile trajectory.

It appears to be heading right towards Florida where President Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate is. Putin suggesting his nuclear war heads would leave NATO defenses completely useless. It is a claim he was asked about tonight on NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Every single weapons system discussed today, easily surpasses and avoids an antimissile defense system.

MEGYN KELLY, HOST, NBC NEWS: But you've tested it?

PUTIN (through translator): The test was excellent. Some of them still have to be fine tuned and worked on. Others are already available to the troops and already are battle ready.

KELLY: For the record right now, do you have a workable ICBM that's powered by nukes that you've tested successfully?

[22:45:02] PUTIN (through translator): All of those tests were successful. It's just each of these weapons system is at a different stage of readiness. One of them is already on combat duty. It's with troops.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Let's discuss now with CNN national security analyst General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA. General, welcome.

MICHAEL HAYDEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Thank you.

LEMON: He says, I'm quoting here, "they're invincible." Invincible new weapons are battle ready. Is he just flexing his muscle or is he actually putting the west on notice?

HAYDEN: So, this is important. I guess my overall counsel, Don, will be let's not hyperventilate over this. What we know for sure is he's got a video game with mediocre graphics that he showed to his parliament today.

He's got some weapons that I think our department of defense knew he was developing, all right. And some of them may be as he suggested further along than others. But I don't think any of them, even if they were fully operational, changes the strategic equation, the strategic balance between us and the Russians.

We've got to respond, we're going to have to spend money. We probably shouldn't have to spend to keep the nuclear balance where it should be. But fundamentally, he said, I've got weapons that evade American defenses. He had weapons that evade American defenses. We have no in fact a defense against traditional defense against Russian ICBMs. What missiles we have are designed for the accidental launch.

LEMON: This is animation by the way that you were talking about.

HAYDEN: Yes. The accidental launch or the limited attack from a country like Iran or the North Koreans. It's never designed to protect us from the Russians.

LEMON: Today the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about her reaction to Putin's rhetoric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Russia has been developing destabilizing weapons over a decade in direct violation of its treaty obligations. President Trump understands the threat facing America and our allies in this century and he is determined to protect our homeland and preserve peace through strength.

U.S. defense capabilities are, and will remain second to none. And now because of the new defense budget of $700 billion, our military will be far stronger than ever. As the president's nuclear posture review made clear, America is

moving forward to modernize our nuclear arsenal and ensure our capabilities are unmatched.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: She's saying $700 billion, that's the answer. Is that the message?

HAYDEN: Yes. There's a lot in that message, all right. And she talked about our defenses second to none. You need to use the word defense in a fairly generic way.

This is not about preventing an attack, defending against an attack. What she talked about at the end of her statement was investing in our own weapons and that's back to the concept earlier, Don, you want to maintain the strategic balance so the Russians never have an incentive to use their weapons.

LEMON: General Hayden, I want you to stick around. We have much more to talk about. When we come back, sources telling CNN that the Trump administration could preemptively strike North Korea if they build a nuclear missile capable of hitting the United States. We'll discuss that next.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: I'm back now with General Michael Hayden. I want to -- I want to talk to you before we get to North Korea, let's talk about things happening at the White House. H.R. McMaster saying that could be out maybe by the end of the month or at least sometime soon. What do you make of that reporting?

HAYDEN: So, I mean, this is like a sine wave reporting from the White House.

LEMON: Right.

HAYDEN: This occurs about every three or four weeks. I do think the relationship between H.R. and the president is not what you would want it to be with a national security adviser.

Look, Don, unless you hired a Kissinger or Brzezinski or Scowcroft, the national security adviser is a process guy. He's in that job to impose discipline and methodology and order on the president's decision making.

And we have a president here who is not comfortable with any of those virtues. So I fear even if H.R. would have moved on and someone else would be brought in you have the same president and the same task. Order, discipline, methodology. And you still have the same friction points.

LEMON: You tell me nothing -- there is one person who would have to change or at least. HAYDEN: Yes. I mean, look, put it in the most positive sense

possible. The president is instinctive, spontaneous and prone to action. The job of the national security adviser is to fight those instincts in any president.

LEMON: Do you worry the turnover affects national security, especially now concerning the tariffs now? And does that -- does it all affect national security?

HAYDEN: The tariff decision is I think really revealing. Number one is does affect national security. But number two, back to the process question. Based on reporting that looks pretty solid, there isn't anybody in the president's economic or security circles who thought this was a good idea.

In fact, there is some reporting that they had thought -- they pulled the president back from the ledge and that he wouldn't do this. And he goes out food in that meeting and makes this announcement.

So what's the purpose of the national security structure? What's the purpose of the federal bureaucracy, of the systems that are designed to inform the president's decision making if they don't inform the president's decision making.

LEMON: And if he won't take their advice.

HAYDEN: Yes.

LEMON: That's what they're there for.

HAYDEN: It is. Look, the president is the president. You carry Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, you got to make the big decisions. But we have seen a consistent pattern here where the dynamic appears to be the president blurts out something he wants to do on instinct. And the national security process is to pull him back from that ledge over time. Sometimes the magic works. Today it didn't.

LEMON: So, you know, they know what they sign up for. And listen, all of this, especially the generals and these people who are patriots and they're doing this out of love for country.

HAYDEN: Yes.

LEMON: But don't they know when you say I know more than the generals they know what they're getting into.

HAYDEN: They had to know what they were signing up for. And therefore we owe them an even deeper debt of gratitude. Because, you now, in some ways they are putting their personal reputations at risk by staying at their post.

[22:55:02] And you know, so my instincts are guys, why are you doing this? Just leave. And then the next...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I'm glad they're there.

HAYDEN: And the next instance I get that thought, my God, what will we do if they do leave.

LEMON: Right. And if they weren't there.

I want to talk to you about the reporting that the Trump administration is considering military action against North Korea if Kim Jong-un's regime builds a nuclear missile capable of hitting the U.S. What's your reaction to that?

HAYDEN: So my reaction to first order is, is I hope that's designed as a threat to make the North Koreans pause before they go out and attempt to demonstrate.

And look, Mike Pompeo, the director of CIA, he said they are so close to this capability that he really doesn't want to be in the business of telling you when they get across the finish line, because they are so close. The dimensions here are so small.

So I hope that's just kind of a shot across the bow warning the North Koreans if they expect to have this dialogue that see seem to have been maneuvering for during the Olympics that they can't do this stuff.

But if it's meant to be the course of action, I do have serious concerns that we would take a preemptive strike against the capacity, not a threat, but a capacity of the North Koreans.

LEMON: Always a pleasure.

HAYDEN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. I appreciate it.

When we come back, a whole lot of chaos and upheaval in the White House. We're going to break down everything you need to know about the Trump administration and how it's being run and what it could mean for the country. Do we have that much time?

[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)