Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump On Op-Ed Writer; White House Has A List Of 12 Op-Ed Suspects; Senator Kamala Harris Had Fiery Exchanges With Kavanaugh; Donald Trump's Sliding Approval Ratings Could Turn Into A Potential Democratic Wave; White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders Tells People To Call "The New York Times" To Ask Who Wrote That Scathing Anonymous Op-Ed. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired September 6, 2018 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. It is 11:00 p.m. here on the East Coast live will the breaking news for you tonight and we are learning that this White House has a list of 12 prime suspects in the resistance op-ed investigation. President Trump ranted about it in his rally tonight in Montana saying, nobody knows who the hell he is or she and the list of officials who say it wasn't me, growing. More than two dozen or counting. That as a Trump rally, Trump ally, excuse me, Senator Rand Paul suggested using a polygraph to out the anonymous staffer.

So let's bring in now Mark McKinnon. He is the executive producer of "The Circus" on Showtime and a former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain, and also CNN Contributor, Frank Bruni of "The New York Times."

Good evening gentlemen, I appreciate it, I appreciate you coming in. Boy, what times we're living in.

So the President angrily suggesting tonight in this interview with Fox News, right. Saying that this person who wrote this op-ed is guilty of treason, but yet and still you say that this is a high point. Why do you say that, Frank?

FRANK BRUNI, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, can I just talk about the treason?

LEMON: Sure.

BRUNI: I think there is something so ironic and ridiculous. This president, whenever anybody undermines him challenges, says it is treason. So what did he commit when he was doing the whole birther thing with Obama? Isn't that the very definition of treason as Donald Trump defines it?

LEMON: What do you say?

MARK MCKINNON, CO-HOST, SHOWTIME "THE CIRCUS": Well, I think what's happening here that is interesting is that we're going from the content and it's shifting very quickly to the anonymity of the source. And I actually want to ask Frank about this.

BRUNI: Oh-oh.


MCKINNON: What kind of debate is there at "The Times" about this?

BRUNI: To be honest, this was really, really closely held, you know, piece of information that was a close in making a decision.


BRUNI: I can't speak for "The Times".

MCKINNON: Can you speak for yourself?

BRUNI: I mean, I think reasonable people can differ on what happened here, but I do think that the White House, Sarah Sanders in particular is engaged in a lot of deflection and misdirection. They are trying to make the story a media ethics, a media maleficent story and I find that kind of outrageous when the content of this op-ed, I mean, totally directly echoing the Woodwork book is about a completely unstable President that can't be trusted.

LEMON: Despite what you hear.

BRUNI: Ture. But it would have been so much powerful if the person stood up and said, you know what, said exactly the same thing --

LEMON: Listen, I a7gree with you.

BRUNI: But what they are saying by being anonymous is unreplaceable thing. Nobody else can do what I am going to do. Therefore I have to stay.

LEMON: I agree with you. You worked and I'm not sure what your stand and practice are and you're vetting process, right? I know that we have a stringent one and I can only imagine that "The New York Times" is a very stringent one and I would imagine that the people who are in charge of their op- ed, op-ed editor, pushed this person to go forward, but the content, this is me speaking, the content was so great that they said we got to do it if you won't come forward, we got to do this. That says a lot gut.

BRUNI: I guarantee you that is the case and to illustrate how closely held this was, I was in the Newsroom and I don't go in every day when this op-ed dropped. No one knew it was coming. I mean, literally everyone was rushing around saying did you read what we just published? We had published it. So there were several people obviously who are involved in the vetting, making sure the source was real. Who are involved in the editing? They were so good at keeping this a secret that we in the Newsroom had no idea it was coming in until there was on our Web site.

LEMON: Let me ask you this. Because this goes along to what you are saying now. So much scrutiny has been placed on the identity of the person. Sarah Sanders today at the White House, you know, talking about saying that urging people to call "The New York Times" and give their opinion or what have you. So what do you think about that? I mean, is that --

MCKINNON: Well, you know, I mean, I think that administration is successfully shifting the narrative from the content to the fact that this person didn't -- wasn't -- wouldn't stand up and say --

LEMON: You're 100 percent right.

MCKINNON: I'll stand on principle and I feel so strong about this that I am going to say it publicly and leave. So, and I think they are having success with them.

BRUNI: I don't think they are successful. I think they are trying to shift the narrative. I think this is so explosive and again, because it's a piece of the Woodwork book. I don't think they are successfully doing it.

MCKINNON: But that news is just kind of building on other news and the thing that struck me when this first happened, particularly because there was a nod with McCain in it.

[23:05:00] I remember thinking last week, is this whole week, last week and all the accolades and the discussion about ideals and nobility, and what have you in public service and serving (inaudible), so, I thought maybe this will inspire other McCain's to step up.

BRUNI: Do you think that will happen?

MCKINNON: Well, I am wondering. I think maybe this inspired somebody to do that, but if it was binged on McCain, probably McCain said, I'm John McCain and I am out of here.

LEMON: Listen. That is the perfect transition. But I just have to -- I'll ask you about that later, because I know you are the White House, so let me ask you about that later. But I think this is important because it seems clear that the writer of this op-ed was influenced by the passing of John McCain. We also knew this person reached out to "The Times" via an intermediary over the weekend and it is also very specific reference to McCain calling him a load star and it made me reflect on the moment of unity at this funeral. And I want you to listen. This is George W. Bush, what he said about him. Watch this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDETN OF THE UNITED STATES: He respected the dignity and inherit in every life that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators. Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power, could not abide bigots and swaggering deputes (ph). At various point throughout his long career John confronted policies and practices that he believe were unworthy of this country. To the face of those in authority, John McCain would insist we're better than this. America is better than this.


LEMON: And there is this from President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking and bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage. It's a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact, is born in fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.


LEMON: So let's now compare that to the words from President Trump tonight.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You like to use the impeach word, impeach Trump. Maxine Waters, we will impeach him. But he didn't do anything wrong, it does not matter, we will impeach him. We will impeach, but say, how do you impeach somebody that is doing a great job? That hasn't done anything wrong? Our economy is good. How do you do it? How do you do it?


LEMON: Does this speak to how far we've fallen?

MCKINNON: Yes, just reminds me the fundamental message of the Bush election campaign in 1999 was running to restore honor and integrity to the White House and I can't help but think about that and the core of that editorial was really about moral character, right. That you couldn't forgive everything that he wants us to forgive if there is no moral compass at the core of the man in the office.

LEMON: Do you think the McCain funeral, I was moved watching it. I watched it at home just like everyone else and I said my goodness, as I sat there with my mother and my boyfriend, this is what Presidents sound like. This is America. What is happening, when you hear someone every night at a rally kind a snarling at people saying everything that is wrong with America and that America is not great, what --



LEMON: Do you think that sparked this?

BRUNI: I think it's a strong possibility, because it wasn't just that one day. It was for an entire week we were talking about what public service really looks like, you know, we are talking about the prism of McCain. I think there was something very shaming about those days in terms of what we have in the White House now and what McCain embodied and the values that we are talking about and I think it is going to get interesting, because you just played a clip from Obama.

He is getting a big award tomorrow, he is going to make a speech and it's the beginning of a period when you look at the schedule, he is going to be out talking a lot more than he has since he left the presidency. It is going to lend an interesting dynamic to the mid- terms and I think it is going to really get under Trump's skin because he hates being compared.

LEMON: Before you respond, I just want to play again what the President said tonight and we'll discuss.


TRUMP: The latest active resistance is the op-ed published in the failing "New York Times" by an anonymous, anonymous, gutless coward. You just look. He was -- nobody knows who the hell he is or she. Although they put, he. But probably that is a little disguise. That means it is, she. But for the sake of our national security, "The New York Times" should publish his name at once. I think their reporter should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good scoop.



[23:10:10] That would be a good scoop. Unelected deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself.


LEMON: Go on. It sounds like also he thinks it could be a woman. But go on, what do you think?

MCKINNON: Well, again, you have confirmed to me the timing of the intersection with your newspaper that it was this weekend. So I was wondering last week, if there would be a lasting McCain effect or we just kind of forget about it. This is clearly a McCain effect that is going on right now.

LEMON: It is.

MCKINNON: Yes, I do. And the thing I think is interesting about what the president saying, this notion that, you know, he is attacking the deep state, well, it's not the deep state. It's his state. It's the shallow state. I mean, and the one thing I do --

BRUNI: It's the near state.

MCKINNON: By the way, I would have published the piece and I do hope that at the end when and if we ever discover who this is, it is really is a truly high-ranking official with some standing.

LEMON: You would have published it without being anonymous? MCKINNON: I would have published it anonymously, no, I am just

saying. I would have done it too, but it better be somebody high up there.

BRUNI: I feel confident because I think, I work with smart people and they know if it comes out who it is --


BRUNI: I mean, I think the bigger question is did this official undermine himself or herself by doing that? That is what I still find so (inaudible) is did they actually, they say they are trying to contain him, limit the damage, by provoking him in this fashion, have they done the exact opposite of what they say they are trying to do in the White House?

LEMON: That will push him further into --

BRUNI: I mean, aren't -- as we sit here, aren't you worried that he is going to explode in some fashion very soon? Aren't you worried that he is going to feel so belittled and insecure that he is going to make some defiant show of strength and there will be (inaudible)?

MCKINNON: Yes, this is like the heaviest jab yet.

LEMON: I'm interested because you're not there every day. You were at the White House but not every day, you there today. What was it like after --?

MCKINNON: I mean first of all, I mean, I just had a meeting with Sarah Sanders to kind of go over fall scheduling stuff for our show. So it was not a very important so I was shocked that the meeting -- that it wasn't canceled and it turns out it was late but, you know, 15 minutes into being late, I realized she was like putting out her statement so I got it and like I said, surprised it wasn't canceled, but when I went into her office, it was just like another day at the ranch, you know.

And I kind of mentioned, I said listen, this has got another -- I mean, you know, drama consists of interesting characters, conflict and surprise and you get that every single day and she kind of gave me one of these and said well, but we didn't see this one coming.

You know. This one was -- so you got a sense this was a little -- a lot of this goes on all the time, but this one is a little different.

LEMON: The circus premieres in September. This September 16th on Show Time. I almost said anonymous. September 16th. I have to say, I've been -- I was on vacation for the McCain -- or was off and wishing that I was at work that day so badly, because it was such a stark contrast to what's happening now and I think people -- there was hope.

MCKINNON: Reminded us of what politics can be.

BRUNI: Can be, yes. And hopefully will be again. LEMON: Do you think it will be again?

BRUNI: I'm a prisoner of hope.


MCKINNON: Thank you, Cory Booker.


BRUNI: I'm going to go with that, too, because thinking the opposite is just too depressing.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate your time.

When we come back, why Senator Rand Paul says the President should use a lie detector on his staff.


LEMON: Breaking news, the New York Times reporting that the White House has a list of a dozen suspect that they think could be behind the scathing amount of op-ed. Republican Senator Rand Paul is suggesting another way to find out who wrote it.


SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: I think it's not unprecedented for people with security clearances to be asked to whether or not they are revealing things against the law under oath and also by a lie detector. We use a lie detector test routinely, for CIA agents and FBI agents. I think, if you have a security clearance in the White House, I think it would be acceptable to use a lie detector test and ask people whether or not they are talking to the media against the policy of the White House. This could be very dangerous if the person who is talking to the media actually is revealing national security secrets. So I think yes, we need to get to the bottom of it.


LEMON: A lie detector, Mr. Libertarian? Government shouldn't be in our lives. Is it really time for polygraphs. Here to discuss, CNN Commentator and Analyst and former CIA Counter-Terrorism Official, Philip Mud and CNN National Security Analyst, former Department of Homeland Security official, Juliette Kayyem.

There is a reason I said that. I wasn't just being snarky, it's the truth about, and he is a libertarian. Government should be in our lives. Is this a matter for law enforcement, you know, a polygraph into the west wing, Phil?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Absolutely. That dude needs to move to Colorado, because he is smoking reefer. I mean, what is he talking about? I did multiple polygraphs over the years at CIA. I did one special interest polygraph that is a polygraph because there was a specific leak and that case it was a leak about information related to CIA operations overseas. If you're going to ask law enforcement in this case, the FBI to administer a polygraph, my question would be what law was violated?

Because someone released information that is embarrassing to the White House, that doesn't mean they released classified information. If the President wants a polygraph, he is going to have to hire a private firm, because I don't see what crime was committed here.

LEMON: Treason, he said. He said it is treasonous.

MUDD: So what. It's not a violation of federal law if you release something embarrassing to the President. Federal law means classified information. I didn't see anything classified. That is not to say it wasn't wrong. You can judge that as we talked about for 48 hours on CNN. The question is whether it's a violation of law and the answer is, it is not.

LEMON: Juliette, the sources telling CNN, the White House aides that they are analyzing keywords and language to figure out who wrote it. I mean, but you say this person used certain words as a deflection. Why do you think that?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think for a variety of reasons and one it's sort of satisfies every theory of who it might be. At one stage he hears and talks about trade and being upset about that, then talks about the great tax cuts so maybe an economic person and then they are talking about Russia and the dual track of national security. So maybe it's a national security person. Then they use the word load star.

So, maybe it is someone from the Vice President office. So, I think that the person was sophisticated enough that they didn't leave enough trails. I just want to say one other thing just in your intro or your question to me, this search is on taxpayer dollars. We have a lot of people in the White House right now focused on something that is embarrassing not focused on the substance of what was being said. Just to remind people this witch hunt or whatever it is going to be is on our dime and so, you know, whatever is going to happen, whether they narrow down the 12 people to one, this is what our government resources are being spent on.

[23:20:13] LEMON: Well, since you mentioned the language, let's go there because many are taking a rare look at the word, the load star because when talking about Senator John McCain, that was a word calling him a load star, one person that used that many times is the Vice President Mike Pence. Watch this.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENTIAL OF THE UNITED STATES: It seems to me, Mr. Speaker that the load star -- who continues to be the load star -- and that is going to continue to be a load star.

Jack's load star.

Must again be our load star. Vigilance and resolve will be our load star.

It really was the load star.


LEMON: So, Pence had probably denied writing the op-ed, so, what do you make of the use of this word. You think it's a deflection still, right? Juliette?

KAYYEM: Yes, I do. I think it's just too obvious. The person who wrote it knew the term would be utilized or sort of cross referenced against Pence. So, you know, it may be that the person is in Vice President's office, we just simply don't know at this stage. And just a couple of things, you know, part of this is, you know, it's been over 24 hours and the person is not known. So I think there was some level of sophistication in terms of how they contacted "The New York Times" through an (inaudible), how they were.

I highly doubt they used a personal or even a professional computer. They were clearly -- they might have been talking in encrypted or communicating that way. This is someone sophisticated who all in this talk about whether they should come out, this is someone who for good or bad reasons does not want to come out, but 24 hours is a long time to root out someone in your inner circle and the fact we haven't heard who it might be, I think is telling. One final thing, I don't believe a word of anyone who is denying that it was them.


KAYYEM: This White House lies and they now have -- they now have to be -- they have to suffer the consequences of their consistent lying, which is we don't believe them when they try to --

LEMON: Because of the lack of credibility. Because of that. She mentioned it. Phil, this is for you. This is a growing list of officials who are denying writing the piece, but I mean, they -- do they -- does that really mean anything? You don't really see any push, any strong push back to office claims of a resistance campaign within the administration.

MUDD: I think that is right. I mean, I would be cautious if I were denying this. First obviously in "The New York Times" knows who spoke about this, but the individual who did this has maybe in my judgement one or two shots that is the initial shot across the bow happened within the past 48 hours. I don't think you can do this more than once or twice without having people like me, say, why don't you leave the White House?

Furthermore, I don't think you can do this without somebody around you. Eventually suspecting what you are doing. I don't think the White House can determine who did this by an investigation looking at phone and e-mails. I do think the person will be identified either because they eventually say I can no longer serve in the White House or because they talk to someone around them who identifies the individual. Don, we are going to know who this is and I would wager 60 or 90 days. This is not going to be that long. I don't think we are going to have to figure this out forever.

LEMON: Really? Do you think it is going to be that? Juliette, do you think it will be that soon?

KAYYEM: That is a long time. I would think if they are consistent trying to find who this person is or this person self-identifies, I think that is about right. But make no mistake about it, this is someone that did not want to get caught. I mean, if you hear like the Daily, "The New York Times" podcast this morning, they have the editor on explaining the process. This was very, very careful. And so if the person may want to come out, but it's not going to be easy to find them.

LEMON: The calls are coming from inside the house for those of you old enough --

KAYYEM: And we're paying for them. We're paying for them.

LEMON: And Mr. President, I know you like to watch. It's always the person you least expect and that is not an alternative fact. We'll be right back.


LEMON: Day three of Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing marked by fiery exchanges between Senate Democrats and Kavanaugh and Democratic Senator Cory Booker releasing pages of documents about the Supreme Court nominee once deemed confidential.

So, let us discuss now. CNN Political Commentator, Keith Boykin, Alice Stewart. They are both here. Good evening. Keith, I want you to hear, this is Senator Booker justification and releasing confidential documents pertaining to Kavanaugh's comments on racial profiling. Watch this.


SEN CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: I understand the personality comes with potential ousting from the senate. And if Senator (inaudible) believes that I violated Senate rules, I openly invite and accept the consequences on my team releasing that email right now. This is about the closest I'll ever have in my life to an, I am Spartacus moment.


LEMON: So, listen, that is dramatic stuff. Senator Grassley, the chairman of the committee, Bill Burke, the lawyer overseeing the release of the documents both say they were cleared for release very early this morning. So, Keith you first, what do you make of this?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's a reflection of just how -- what a sham this whole process is, it's not transparent. There is tens of thousands of pages of documents that have not even been released, they are still being withheld. The national archives says it will take until October before they can go through these documents and the Republicans are determined to ram this through to have some sort of hearing for Kavanaugh before we even get a chance to review his whole record.

[23:30:01] That's what -- that's the point that Cory Booker was making. We need to see these records. The public has a right to see the records. And the information in these records is nothing that's a national security threat, there's no personal information, it's perfectly legitimate information that the American people have a right to know.

LEMON: So, Alice, this is what Thom Tillis had something to say about Booker's Spartacus moment. The Dems have moved to release the documents. Here is what he said. Watch this.


SEN. THOM TILLIS (R), FLORIDA: I don't expect somebody to check their e-mails at 3:15 or 3:30, maybe some of you do. But certainly in the six hours between the time that e-mail hits your e-mail box and the theatrics that happened in this chamber today, you could have actually found out that you don't have to be Spartacus, you don't have to interact with civil disobedience, you got what you wanted.


LEMON: It's interesting because it sounds -- he's making the argument for the other side who is saying we didn't get enough time to read the documents because he's saying I know you don't check your e-mails. We don't whatever. But none of the other Democratic senators seem to know the documents that have already been released, so were they justified in making this a battle about transparency?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, first of all, let's be really clear on what Cory Booker was trying to do is trying to make a spectacle of himself, and trying to make this about him, try to grandstand. And this was a huge swing and a miss on his part because not only did he receive an e-mail that the classification status had been lifted on the documents that he was requesting, he had specifically been told that the classification had been lifted. And there was no need for him to engage in history that he did.

And Senator Grassley has provided every single time a Democrat on the judiciary committee has requested certain types of information and the classification lifted and keep in mind, that status is just to help expedite the process of producing these documents. He has granted every single request that has come his way and the Democrats are trying to make it seem like they are being withheld information. And that is simply not the case.

BOYKIN: Alice -- but Alice, Senator Grassley isn't entirely the person making the decision. It's Bush's own vetting lawyer who is making the decision, which is a huge conflict of interest in the first place. And the idea that the only reason he made the decision was because Cory Booker pressured him to release these documents.

LEMON: A lot of the Republican senators didn't seem to know in all fairness, Alice, that they had been released, as well.

BOYKIN: John Cornyn clearly didn't know.

STEWART: And the key here is that, as I said, this classification status, putting this on there and lifting it is a way to produce the documents in a more rapid fashion, given the way they are archived. And it's technical, but it's a way to help get them the information faster. And look, they've received as much information, as much documentation as the last five Supreme Court nominees combined.

BOYKIN: That's not true, that's not true.

STEWART: It is true, it is true.

BOYKIN: Alice, I'm disappointed to hear you say that. You know, there are 42,000 pages of documents that were dumped on their desk the night before the hearings began. What is the rush? There were still tens of thousands of papers from Brett Kavanaugh as White House Counsel that have not been released. The American public deserves to have the full record before the senate makes the decision about someone who have a lifetime tenure on the U.S. Supreme Court.

LEMON: OK, we have lots to talk about. But I just want to get this in before we run out of time. Because Senator Kamala Harris had said a number of fiery exchanges with Kavanaugh. Here is just a sample.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Have you discussed Mueller or his investigation with anyone Kasowitz, Benson, and Torres, the law firm founded by Marc Kasowitz, President Trump's personal lawyer?

BRETT KAVANAUGH, U.S. CIRCUIT JUDGE: I need to know the -- I'm not sure I know everyone who works at that law firm.

HARRIS: I don't think you need to. I think you need to know who you talk with. Who did you talk to?

KAVANAUGH: I would like to know the person you're thinking of because what if...

HARRIS: I think you're thinking of someone and you don't want to tell us. The question is you and whether you were part of a conversation...

KAVANAUGH: The answer.

HARRIS: ... regarding Special Counsel Mueller's investigation.

KAVANAUGH: The answer is no.

HARRIS: Thank you. And it would have been great if you could have said that last night. Thank you.

My question is whether the Obergefell case was correctly decided in your opinion.

KAVANAUGH: Senator, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in a series of five cases Romer versus Evans. HARRIS: If we could just talk about Obergefell, that would be great.

Do you believe Obergefell was correctly decided?

KAVANAUGH: So each of the justices have declined as a matter of judicial independence. Each of them to answer questions in that line of cases.

HARRIS: So you will not answer that question?


LEMON: OK. I'll get answers from both of you, quickly. I don't have a lot of time. Does Senator Harris has already opposed confirming Kavanaugh, do you think she's making her case voting no in these moments? First Keith and then Alice.

[23:35:01] BOYKIN: Yes, I think that obviously Judge Kavanaugh is being very evasive in answering the questions. He's evasive in answering questions about the Mueller probe, whether Kavanaugh had any conversations with anybody at Trump's lawyer's firm, and whether Trump -- whether Kavanaugh had any conversations also with anybody at the Trump White House about the Mueller probe, which I think is a shocking disclosure.

And in the last comment from Kamala Harris, she's talking about the same-sex marriage case, which is now relatively set into law. And he won't even make a comment whether he thinks that was correctly settled or correctly decided. He's clearly trying to avoid answering questions and that shows the evasiveness.

LEMON: I do want to hear from you, Alice. But let me play you what the president said about those moments, what he said tonight. And then, I'll get your take.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Washington Democrats put John Tester in charge of electing extreme liberals. I mean, I'm talking about serious liberals, many of whom you're watching attacking Judge Kavanaugh and looking like fools, frankly. Looking like fools.

And one of them will most likely be a candidate to run against your favorite of all-time president, me.


LEMON: Alice, what do you think?

STEWART: Well, clearly, they are trying to abort Kavanaugh and that's not going to happen, so they are trying to abort the process. Look, they were trying to make this political and they're trying to pin him in a corner, and he wasn't going to let that happen. Look, clearly, we had Harris and Booker trying to audition for 20-20, and this isn't the time or place for it. They need to recognize the fact he will be confirmed and they might as well go ahead and get on board, because he will be a good solid justice. BOYKIN: What will Republicans do when they denied Merrick Garland a

hearing for an entire year when President Obama nominated him? That was the most politicized process I've seen in the history of this country.

LEMON: I got to go. Thank you both, I appreciate it.

When we come back, the presidential poll numbers, the investigations, the West Wing chaos, what the bad headlines today mean for the fast- approaching midterms.


[23:41:35] LEMON: With just two months to go until the midterms, could the president's sliding approval ratings turn a potential Democratic wave into a tsunami? Let's discuss now, CNN Politics Senior Writer, Harry Enten and CNN Political Analyst, Nathan Gonzales.

Gentlemen, good evening. So let's put this up, Harry, because in a trio of polls, they have the president's approval rating sort of in the high 30s right here, right? I mean, that's down from what this pollster had the last time that they asked voters if they approve of this president. Do you think that's an ominous sign for Republicans or we shouldn't read too much into that?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: I would say it's an ominous sign. I mean, increasingly so, people's choices in midterm elections align with how they feel about the president. So the lower his approval rating goes, the higher the Democratic percentage of the Congressional vote should go. And so, if the president approval's rating is falling, it's good news for Democrats.

LEMON: Yeah. Nathan, the ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that Democrats with a 14-point lead in the generic ballot which asks whether the voters prefer Republican or Democratic nominee in their districts. We're still two months away from Election Day, right, can Republicans turn that around, you think?

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, not only two months from election day, but two months from right now at this time in the evening we might know who is going to be in control of the next Congress. But specifically to the polling, to the national generic ballot, I mean, those are not good numbers for Republicans. But I think what might be encouraging to Republicans is that this is not a national election. You know, the states that are going to decide the fight for the senate are considerably more Republican than nationally, and even the states that are going to decide the house are a little bit more Republican than what those numbers are showing nationally.

I mean, what I spend most of my day focused on is trying to look at state by state and district by district polling and the president, both the generic ballot and the president's job approval rating, is not as bad as what those national numbers are showing.

LEMON: Yeah. OK. So, again, that's what I said. Should we be reading too much into it? Harry, this from the USA Today-Suffolk University Poll that shows 58 percent of voters say that they want to elect a congress that stands up to Trump compared to 34 percent that say they would rather have a Congress that mostly cooperates with him. Is this midterm all about this president?

ENTEN: I mean, it's not all about it, but midterms tend to be referendums on the president, going all the way back to say 1930. This is why presidents when they have low approval ratings, their party tends to do poorly in midterm elections. And so, when you look at those numbers, what it suggests to me is a lot of Congressional Republicans want to say, you know what, we're going to run and we're going to be our own candidate. We're going to localize these elections. But the fact of the matter is, that's going to be very, very difficult to do because people are voting for how they feel about the president as that number indicates.

LEMON: Well, Harry, we talked a lot about the house, but what about the senate? Because this is an NBC News-Marist Poll of the senate race in Tennessee, it shows a Democrat Phil Bredesen up 48 to 46 against Republican Marsha Blackburn. Bredesen, I mean, he's a former governor of Tennessee, and 6 percent of the most likely voters have a favorable impression of him. Should Democrats be a happy about the state of this race?

ENTEN: I would be absolutely thrilled if I were Democrat. This is a state Donald Trump won by 26 percent. There should be no way that Phil Bredesen is up there. But he has held a consistent, a small but consistent lead. And if they can win in Tennessee, that opens the possibility they could take back the senate. Now, Democrats certainly have a tougher map in the senate than they do in the house. But if they can win in Tennessee, then, hey, we'll see what happens.

[23:45:07] LEMON: Nathan, the op-ed of the New York Times, the Woodward book, other stories raising questions about the president's fitness for office, do you think that factors into the race?

GONZALES: I mean, I think that a lot of people, a lot of voters made up their mind about the president. I mean, Democrats, President Trump is the energy and momentum and enthusiasm behind the Democratic Party right now. I don't know that there is much more that can drive -- you know, that can drive that energy further. I guess for independence if this is -- if the op-ed pushing someone on the fence you know over to supporting a Democratic to be that check on the president, I guess it could matter. But the president -- it's shocking that the president is a polarizing figure and he does looms large over these elections.

But what I think is remarkable is that when I meet with these Democratic congressional candidates, they don't talk about the president. Usually in our interviews, if someone brings up the president, it's me. They are focused -- laser focused on the Republican incumbents and what votes they took or what they may have done wrong. And so, they are capitalizing on that energy, but making an individual case against the Republican.

LEMON: Nathan, Harry, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

When we come back, Sarah Sanders wants president's supporters to call "The New York Times" and complain about that op-ed. She wants this so much that she posted the phone number on Twitter. Is there an ethics problem here?


[23:50:45] LEMON: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders telling people to call the New York Times opinion desk if they want to know who wrote that scathing anonymous op-ed. She even tweeted out the Times' phone number, calling the newspaper quote, complicit in this deceitful act.

Here to discuss, CNN Contributor and former White House Ethics Czar, Norm Eisen, also the former U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic, and the author of the late -- excuse me, the last, let me get this right, it's important, "The Last Palace: Europe's Turbulent Century in Five Lives and One Legendary House." And I have the book right here. Welcome, Norm Eisen.

NORM EISEN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thank you. Thank you, Don.

LEMON: So, listen, you served as White House special counsel in 2009 and 2011. You were known as President Obama's Ethics Czar. Was writing anonymous in your Times' op-ed, do you it was the ethical thing to do?

EISEN: Don, I strongly believe that it was the ethical thing to do. I tweeted that out, I read the thing, and I immediately tweeted out a thank you letter to anonymous before I had time to think about it.

LEMON: Yeah.

EISEN: A lot of people disagree. There was a very vigorous debate in the green room tonight about it. But I'm standing by my man or woman, anonymous, because what they're doing is in the best tradition of the people I write about in the last palace that you were kind enough to hold up. Over a century, I trace five people, all of them, Don, at one point or another, found themselves dealing with an unjust instruction, order or person in government. And they had to ask, do I do the right thing or do I follow the law or an order, even if it's wrong? It even had a German general who had to make that choice. Thankfully, he made the same choice as anonymous, do the right thing. So I think it's deeply ethical.

LEMON: OK. So you mentioned what you tweeted. Here's what Sarah Sanders tweeted. For those of you asking for the identity of the anonymous coward, she says -- it's longer. But then, she directed them to call the opinion desk of the failing New York Times, it's a quote. And she gave out the phone number. Is this a misuse of her position?

EISEN: It is a gross misuse of her position. We have an ethics rule about this, misuse, abuse of position. And it's in 5-CFR-26-35. And the idea of it is, you can't use -- it's a big problem. The Trump administration has violated this rule again and again. You can't use your public office to benefit a private party or to hurt a private party because the government has so much power. They can abuse it in so many different ways. And Sarah Sanders did that, Don. It's not just an ethics problem. It's

a First Amendment problem because she's clogged the phone lines over there at "The New York Times." She's instructed people to using her government pulpit, to interfere with the operations of a private business and a media outlet. The First Amendment prohibits that. So I think we have a very serious legal and constitutional problem here, yet again.

LEMON: Norm, you say that the Kavanaugh hearings should be put on hold for now. And you co-authored a report that was published in Brookings. And it's called Unresolved Recusal Issues Require a Pause in the Kavanaugh Hearings. But Kavanaugh said he won't commit to doing that. Is that the end of it? Could he be forced to do it or is it purely on him?

EISEN: Well, Don, it's an unprecedented situation. I co-authored that report with America's most preeminent constitutional scholar, Larry Tribe, and with a Republican retired federal appellate judge, Tim Lewis. And we all agree, this is not a closed question. Kavanaugh must recuse. His patron has put him on there, President Trump, while he is a named subject in a criminal investigation. And he's picked the single judge, as far as we know, who has the most extreme views that a president cannot be prosecuted, virtually above the law. Well, Kavanaugh denies it. The Constitution doesn't allow that.

[22:55:12] LEMON: It's a broken process. We can't get the documents we need to evaluate the man, 40,000 -- over 40,000 dropped. Yes, the hearing should be paused. But it's not over, Don, because this is the constitution. If Kavanaugh goes on there and he won't recuse, then that is going to be a major public fight.

LEMON: Norm, I'm running out of time. I want to get your book in, right. Because you were inspired to write this book when you were the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic. In 20 seconds or less, can you tell me about what inspired you?

EISEN: Don, what I discovered -- when I moved into that house was a swastika under a table in the American ambassador's house.


EISEN: And that swastika led me on a journey through the past century, five incredible people, four of whom lived before me in that house. And one of whom, the most remarkable story of all, my Czechoslovakia Jewish mother survived the holocaust, sent me back to live in a house that was once occupied by the Nazis and to fight for American values today.

LEMON: All right.

EISEN: She was my best adviser, Don, as I did that.

LEMON: Norm Eisen, "Last Palace." Thank you, Sir. I appreciate your time.

EISEN: Thank you, Don. LEMON: Good luck with the book. All right. Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.