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CNN TONIGHT

You're not Invited; DOJ Probe to Investigate Trump's White House; Trump's Priorities. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 22:00   ET

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


[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Hey, thanks for watching. I hope you have a great weekend. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN tonight starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Beat the press. The White House pushes back hard on CNN's exclusive reporting denying any wrongdoing and asking the FBI to speak out against reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.

This is CNN Tonight. As we look at live pictures from the White House, I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us.

The administration confirming it did speak to the FBI about those communications with Russians but took the unprecedented step of blocking CNN and other major news organizations from a White House press briefing.

We have a whole lot to get to tonight. And we're going to begin with CNN's justice correspondent Evan Perez, White House correspondent Sara Murray, and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz, the author of 'Electile Dysfuntion, a Guide for Unaroused Voters."

I'm going to start with you, Evan. Because such great reporting from our team in Washington and we appreciate it. The American people do as well. You are part of the team that broke this story last night. What's the latest?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, today was a day where the White House is on the defensive. They wanted to make the point that they did nothing wrong in these contacts between the White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and the deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe.

If you recall this all began last week after CNN and New York Times reported that there were these contacts between people connected to the Trump campaign and people in Russia, people who were known to be -- known by the U.S. intelligence services and who may or were suspected of being perhaps agents of the Russian government.

And of course those contacts were all happening while Russians were trying to interfere in the U.S. election. So, after that report happened, according to the White House today, they said that Andy McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, approached Reince Priebus and said something to the effect that the New York Times story in particular was quote, "B.S."

So, they say that is only after that contact from the deputy director of the FBI that Reince Priebus asked for the FBI to try to intervene, to try to refute the stories. Because according to them they were getting crushed.

It was their way of explaining these contacts which as we described last night, go counter to the rules that are supposed to reduce the contacts and the communications between the White House and the FBI, Don.

LEMON: And Evan, just to be clear here, there were multiple conversations between the White House and FBI.

PEREZ: That's right. One of the things that they were focusing on is the fact that they say Andrew McCabe, the deputy Director of the FBI, reached out, that he was the one that initiated the contact. But after that initial contact they kept calling the FBI, trying to, in essence, pressure the FBI to try to refute these stories.

And it didn't stop there, Don with the director -- with the deputy director of the FBI. They also had contact with the Director of the FBI, James Comey, and they were burning up the phones here in Washington, calling the intelligence agencies, trying to get their help to try to refute these stories.

They were trying to get essentially these people to talk to journalists at least on background to tell them to say that the stories were false.

LEMON: Interesting. Sara, to you now, you have new reporting tonight about frustration emerging from the White House specifically about Evan's reporting. What can you tell us?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. Even though we've seen the White House tried to downplay this today to insist that these communications between Reince Priebus and FBI officials were nothing wrong, that they were perfectly fine, they were allowed.

We are hearing from a source close to the president that there is some consternation within the White House, a little bit of heartburn about these conversations. The source told me that this is a distraction for the president at time when he really doesn't need one, when he was hoping to focus on his own agenda items, and certainly when he's grown frustrated with the negative coverage of this White House, particularly as it pertains to staff.

And there's a certain irony, Don, in all of this of course, because the White House has been using a lot of senior administration officials, a lot of officials on background to push back on this reporting and it comes at a time when the president himself has said sources should be on the record. Listen to what he said at CPAC today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm against the people

that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there.

(APPLAUSE)

Let their name be put out. A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being. Let them say it to my face.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: Department of you just can't make this up. Just this morning, the White House held a briefing with some senior administration officials that refused to be named on the record. They would only go on background.

[22:05:00] LEMON: Boy. So, Alan, listen, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put out a statement today. And she says, let me read this. "The Trump White House has been caught trying to pressure the FBI into undermining a vital national security investigation which is in violation of the Department of Justice rules and which may also be illegal." Illegal? Alan?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No. I think so. I think what we have is a political not illegal problem which, let's take the big picture. The President of the United States is the executive. FBI is part of the execute. Congress has no power to tell the president how to run the executive.

He is free to make whatever decisions he wants within the executive. But the Justice Department and FBI have regulations that have been on the books for a long time. These practices violate those regulations. They are wrong and they should be condemned. But I don't think in the end there is going to be an illegal issue.

This is not Nixon calling the CIA and telling them to fabricate a cover story. This is using the president trying to get good press and using the FBI in that matter. We should discourage it, we should condemn it but this will not end up in the court of law.

LEMON: Alan, what do you think would happen if this happened under a Hillary Clinton White House?

DERSHOWITZ: Boy, we'd get so much pushback. But you know, hypocrisy is the name of the game. This president is un -- you know, hypocrisy is the homage that vies pays to virtue. There's none of that in this administration.

They are prepared to say one thing and do the other, they are prepared to be completely hypocritical and Republican Party and many Americans seem to let them get away with it. So, you know, they're not losing the political battle within their base, although his, obviously his numbers are going down.

But we ought analyze this and attack it from a political perspective. Look, we need reform here. We're one of the only countries in the world where prosecution is done by the executive branch. In England, in Israel there are separate in dependent prosecutorial offices that are not answerable to the president.

We ought to be moving in that direction. But right now we have a unitarian executive and the president gets to make the rules.

LEMON: Sara, in a desperate and sad and a petty attempt probably to change the narrative or to -- I don't know, get back at some news network. CNN and others were blocked from attending the White House media briefing today. You weren't on the list. What happened?

MURAY: Well, it was certainly a bizarre instance, Don. Because normally if the White House press secretary is going to have a briefing, he holds it in briefing room it's on camera. Today it's an off-camera gaggle and they decided a couple of news outlets, CNN, the New York Times, Politico, BuzzFeed, among others were not welcome.

The thing that made this odd, was they were just kind of cherry picking it seems the outlets they did not want to attend. So, every other major television networks was allowed in, but CNN was not. There were other major newspapers that were allowed in but the New York Times was not.

Meanwhile, there were some smaller outlets that are more conservative leaning and have given the president more favorable coverage that were allowed. So, this is certainly not standard operating procedure for a White House under democrats or under republican presidents.

I reached out to the White House today to ask them about sort of why they made this decision to choose certain outlets to allow in and to block others and they have not answered that question.

LEMON: Of course they didn't. Evan, you caught my attention earlier and I said right on because I heard you talking to Wolf about bright shiny objects. Tell us what you think is happening here?

PEREZ: Well, you know, Son, what happened today including what happened to Sara today where they tried to block CNN and other news outlets is they wanted to change the subject. And one of the things they did was throwing Andy McCabe the number two official there at the FBI under the bus.

And they know that the FBI is not commenting, is not going to be able to defend themselves, certainly the number two official there is not going to be able to defend himself. And so what they tried to do today I think was certainly change the subject and then make people focus on those things.

And in so doing what they do actually was draw more attention to the reporting. They certainly drew more attention to New York Times and CNN reporting from last week. Now you have other news outlets that have now confirmed 90 percent -- 95 percent of the story. And so now you have additional stories coming out.

The president I'm sure is watching. As we know he likes to say unflattering things about your program but we know he watches it. I certainly when we wrapped up here last night with you, Don, we heard again from the White House to try to get additional information into our story. So we know they watch.

And so the president ought to know that what his White House press office is doing is drawing only more negative attention to these stories. Certainly that's what happened today.

LEMON: Alan, want to weigh in? Because they are weighing even more attention to a story that may not have gotten this much.

DERSHOWITZ: But it really doesn't seem to matter to them. He is appealing to his base. The speech today clearly was an attempt to appeal to his base. And he's perfectly prepared to say I don't like sourceless information, they make up sources and then have background--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But, Alan, he himself has been a background sources.

[22:09:57] DERSHOWITZ: Of course, he is use the fake name.

LEMON: Many of the people who are -- who are speaking out against background sources are background sources. And my -- what I would say to this White House and to Reince Priebus and to the president, have you ever been a background source or an off-the-record source? And if haven't, then fine, say so. But, if you have, why don't you reveal the stories that you have been background sources and then we can check them to see if they pan out.

DERSHOWITZ: You know, Newsweek magazine some years when Oliver North was a background source and then he denied he was the background source, they broke the confidentiality and they released the fact that was Oliver North who said it. It was a lot of criticism and controversy.

But when the president says publicly that he doesn't believe in background sources I think it's appropriate to reveal when he himself was a background source. I'm not sure not sure that this hypocrisy hurts him with his base but it may hurt him with other thinking Americans.

LEMON: I wonder if we should release the other anonymous sources to the White House and release the confidentiality as well. Maybe we can do that now that they're saying that background sources, you know, are not worth the paper they're written on or the television set that they're played on.

DERSHOWITZ: It's worth thinking about.

LEMON: Yes. Thank you. Just ahead, congressional democrats calling for an investigation into the conversations between White House officials and the FBI. Is that likely to happen? We're going to talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The Trump administration arguing that White House officials acted appropriately in conversations with the White House.

I want to bring in now CNN's political analyst Kirsten Powers, the columnist for USA Today, CNN presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley, the author of "Rightful Heritage, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America," and republican strategist, Ron Nehring, he's a former national spokesman for Ted Cruz for president.

[22:15:03] Good evening to all of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Douglas Brinkley, I want to start with you. I want to first get your reaction to Evan Perez's reporting. The White House is denying any wrongdoing and asking the FBI to speak out against reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. What do you think?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, I said a long time ago, I think that Donald Trump is either legal or illegal. And I think you just had Alan Dershowitz saying this isn't going to courts or anything, it's uncomfortable moment but it will get, it will blow away.

But one does notice that Russia seems to not disappear as a story. People are still scratching their heads trying to understand what's going on between the Trump administration and Russia. I would recommend the White House decide a move forward meeting with Putin as quickly as possible. Maybe late spring or something, just to start getting clarity on what is this relationship, and why Russia has been dominating our national conversation for the past year.

LEMON: Ron, the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi asking for an investigation, she wants a DOJ probe. Should that happen?

RON NEHRING, FORMER TED CRUZ'S NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, that's part of Nancy Pelosi's job as the minority leader to call for an investigation, you know, for literally everything.

You know, I worked closely with Reince Priebus, he was the Wisconsin Republican Party chairman when I was the California chairman we worked closely together on the RNC. Reince Priebus is an honest guy doing a, you know, doing a tough job. And if there were any contacts that, you know, crossed the line, you know, by someone's definition, I'm sure he was innocent one and not one which is deliberately, you know, designed to cross any lines or any established policies.

This is a new team. Most of the people who were in the White House right are now people who, you know, served in government capacity before, and so I think we should really balance, you know, look at these type of things from a balanced perspective.

Nancy Pelosi is going to call for an investigation every time, you know, someone -- you know, does even the most minor thing. And that's her job and we understand that. But we should not be doing that.

LEMON: OK. A couple of things there. You said Nancy Pelosi is going to call for investigation for any old thing and then the other thing you said is that--

(CROSSTALK)

NEHRING: She will.

LEMON: -- we should cut them some slack. I mean, can you do that when charged with running the free world, Kirsten, and is this -- is this any other thing?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you obviously can cut people on the White House slack. I don't think people should be out to get them necessarily and I don't think that that's going on here. I do think there is a difference between the original story, which is the White House reaching out to the FBI and asking them to do something.

And the White House's version of the story is much less alarming if it really was that the FBI came to them, said this and then they said, well, can you do anything about it. It's inappropriate and it's improper but I don't think that is probably as alarming as the other example which more like strong arming.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Kirsten, before you move on with the other one -- before you move one.

POWERS: Yes.

LEMON: But what did you say it was not our intention to influence the FBI and, you know, had we known this was inappropriate, what have you, then we would have done something differently but the FBI reached out to us.

POWERS: Yes.

LEMON: You now, my bad. Not necessarily in that, in those terms.

POWERS: Yes. That's not really how this White House operates unfortunately. So, yes. If the response was a little different, if they are less defensive, if less accusatory in terms of again, going after the media. I do agree that if it was just a simple, you know, misunderstanding that, you know, Reince Priebus didn't know he shouldn't be doing this -- it's a really hard to believe that he doesn't know that he shouldn't be doing this.

All that said, I do think that it was as they reported, it's less concerning than what was originally reported.

LEMON: OK.

POWERS: We just don't know which one was.

LEMON: So, Ron, I have to ask you this, because you know, democrats and republicans were like, my gosh, what are they thinking? Do you remember during the 2016 campaign they had a field day, republicans did, when Bill Clinton and then Attorney General Loretta Lynch chatted on a tarmac while Hillary Clinton was under FBI investigation over an e-mail server.

Do you think different rules apply here? Because I think across the board everyone said, you know, democrats said what are they thinking, they are hurting her, he should never have done this. Republicans said that there was some sort of collusion. No one said that it was a good thing. Are there different rules here now that it's this White House?

NEHRING: No, I think that what you see is in both cases this is generated a distraction. Loretta Lynch later admitted that it was a mistake for her to sit down with Bill Clinton in that meeting because of the optics--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But this White House is not admitting a mistake with this.

NEHRING: I'm sorry?

LEMON: This White House is not admitting a mistake with speaking to contacts with Russia or contacts with the FBI.

NEHRING: Well, but it's cheerily a distraction, right. So what we see here for every -- for every minute that we're focused on this, it's not advancing any of the good policy proposals that the president has.

[22:20:03] You know, we're talking about this inside the beltway, you know, issue. And that's not what the American people are primarily focused on.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I don't mean to cut you off. You mean it's distraction from the media or distraction from the White House? Because the White House they created the story.

NEHRING: Right. And they need to stop doing that. Because the president has good solid policy proposals that he needs to spend his time advocating on behalf of. And instead we're going down a cul-de- sac vis-a-vis, the war with the media and so on.

And there are lots of good points that the president should manage to be making for good solid policy proposals that he has. But for as long as his distractions continue, just as, you know, the Clinton campaign was distracted by the Loretta Lynch/Bill Clinton meeting.

You know, we have similar distractions being created here, and that unfortunately is not advancing conservative public policy which is where the focus needs to be.

So, on the communication side this needs to be tightened up. And everyone who is working for the president needs to serve his interest in advancing his ideas and not generating any distractions from that. And that's difficult thing to do as we can see. LEMON: Douglas Brinkley, the president is focused on leaks and

tweeted this. He said, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers that have permeated our government for a long time. They can't even find the leakers without -- within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. Find now." What's your reaction to that Douglas Brinkley?

BRINKLEY: It's very unusual for a president to keep beating up the U.S. government. I mean, it's basically saying the FBI doesn't even know how to do their job. How are they are going to solve major crimes that they can't stop a leak it creates.

He previously trashed the CIA and then tried to make up with them. One could go on and on. It seemed to be attack on the government. And next week he's gets to talk before a joint session of Congress, President Trump. And I hope there can be a unifying message, something uplifting about what we're doing right in the United States.

But I'm afraid he is at heart a movement person and he wants to see the Trump revolution take over. And so he doesn't mind taking swipes at the FBI. Obviously, there are leaks going on but why make a big deal of telling everybody how dysfunctional everything in Washington is all the time. It's disheartening for people that work in the bureaucracy of D.C., people that work for the federal agencies.

LEMON: Yes. It doesn't -- and it's -- it's no good for him either because the buck stops with him. Kirsten, quickly. I have to get to the break. I'm sorry.

POWERS: It also it doesn't make any sense. Because he claims that everything that we're reading in the newspaper isn't true, that is all fake news. On the other hand, people need to be, you know, ferreted it out because they're leaking classified important information. I mean. which is it?

LEMON: Your guess -- you know what it is, come on, Kirsten. All right. Everybody stay with me.

Up next, President Trump vowing to replace Obamacare. But is that what Americans want?

[22:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump talking about his administration's priorities during an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference today, CPAC.

Back with me now, Kirsten Powers, Douglas Brinkley, and Ron Nehring. Douglas, you know, we have also in the White House blocking CNN and other reporters and outlets from a media briefing today. It comes as the president continues -- I don't want to spend this much time on the story because I think it's a distraction to away from our really good reporting. But I do want to talk about it because I think it's important enough so people know what's going on.

So he continues to attack the news media today at CPAC. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are fighting the fake news. It's fake. Phony, fake.

(CROWD CHEERING)

A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people and they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make them up when there are none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Douglas, blocking and attacking the media, why do you think this is happening?

BRINKLEY: Because Donald Trump just got a lot of cheers and it's something that's unifying, you know, the Trump coalition. For a long time if you listen to right-wing talk radio, I mean, Rush Limbaugh and the rest they've just been hammering on the mainstream media, Sara Palin, it's the lame stream media.

Donald Trump tracked with it in 2016 to a degree and he's decided to carry it over into his presidency. And it's important for Trump to be able to paint CNN, New York Times, L.A., Politico, Associated Press and others as being kind of tools of the Democratic Party or tools of the left. And create a new divide in America.

We have the red/blue divide that create a big media divide. Conservative media versus liberal media. And so, there's a -- it's an unusual attempt. I mean, we saw Nixon and Agnew try to do that and failed, but we see him again, you know, he could have spoken about anything in front of CPAC and he chose to go to that fake news route.

And it does create distractions. When he has a bad day or something that a story he doesn't like coming out, just take the initiative, be wolverine fierce and rip at the press. And he seems to be feeling he's getting mileage out of it, I'm not convinced he is.

LEMON: Yes. It reminds me of my nieces who used to tell my dad, "Papa, you've told me that story already," right you've hears at so many times before. This is really a bright shiny object, Kirsten, right?

POWERS: Well, you know, a little bit. But I actually think it's less about distraction and more about delegitimizing the media so that he's not held accountable, so he ultimately doesn't have to answer questions, doesn't have to, you know, respond to bad stories, he can just dismiss them with, you know, this is the fake media, they're out to get me.

This is just a very broad strategy of ultimately completely delegitimize an institution that holds him accountable, the same way we've seen go after the judiciary, which is the other institution that is there to hold him accountable because Congress doesn't going to do it at this Congress right now. [22:30:04] LEMON: But Ron, don't you think that I mean, it's wishful

thinking. It's never going to happen. Maybe for not even his entire base, for a small amount in his base who may believe that.

But otherwise, I mean, he is really speaking to a shrinking number of people who don't necessarily think that the media is the enemy of the American people.

RON NEHRING, FORMER TED CRUZ'S NATIONAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I think two things, one is that Donald Trump is clearly continuing to solidify his base. That base which is represented by the thousands of people who were from CPAC are firmly behind President Trump.

And many of those activists, if not a strong majority, have a skepticism towards the mainstream media.

However, the most important message that I think the White House needs to be conveying is making case for the policy proposals they need to get through Congress. Very soon that window is going to be closing by which they could get major legislation through, you're going to have the budget dominate the agenda, you're going to the midterms come up real soon.

At this point eight years ago, the stimulus package was, had been already passed, and likewise we have an opportunity to move forward. Tax reform requires Congress to enact legislation, repeal of Obamacare, meaningful reform is strengthening our southern border so it's safe clean and modern.

This all require access from Congress. And that's where the message has to be aimed, so that he can have momentum going forward, so that republican members of Congress will firmly have his back and he can get these major signature accomplishments done before the midterms come in. And then everything is going to, you know, slowdown in 2018.

LEMON: All right.

NEHRING: This is an opportunity that he really needs to really seize.

LEMON: So let's get back on message here and stop talking about the distraction or delegitimizing the media because let's talk about what's important. Let's talk about Obamacare, replacing and repealing. The president spoke on Obamacare today. Take a listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We also inherited a failed health care law that threatens our medical system with absolute and total catastrophe. Now I've been watching and nobody says it but Obamacare doesn't work folks.

I mean, I could say, I could talk, it doesn't work. And now people are starting to develop little -- but the people that you're watching, they're not you. And the bottom line, we're changing it. We're going to make it much better. We're going to make it less expensive. We're going to make it much better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So Ron, here's the reality of it, if he talk to republicans and even Trump supporters, who they won't say it on camera but as soon as the cameras go off and they, you know, get up from their seats they'll say not it's going to be as easy to replace or repeal Obamacare, maybe they should just sort of tweak it and try to fix what's wrong with it.

The president keeps talking about it. They're also concerned about the lack of legislation coming from the republican Senate and the republican Congress. Not much has come yet. And there's also pushback across the country, opposition across the country at this GOP town halls. Are republicans still in full steam ahead on this issue?

NEHRING: You know, I can lose count of how many democratic elected officials have lost their re-election attempts since Obamacare was passed. This thing is a turkey. And in terms of at ballot box, I love having this issue that republicans can campaign on.

But now republicans have to govern. And if we have the presidency, the House and Senate, and a big margin in the House and we cannot repeal Obamacare after campaigning on it cycle after cycle after cycle since it was enacted, that we don't deserve to be the majority in Congress.

Now incumbent with that, is that we have to put forward reforms that will improve the healthcare system. But anyone who says that we should, well, we should leave Obamaca there with this kind of tweak and so one and so forth, what a terrible message that we send.

That would sends the message that republicans are only in interested in it as campaign issue and not really interested in health care as a governing issue. There are lots of good republican ideas that will improve the health care sector and bring down costs, increase access and the like.

Those ideas have to put forward and republicans need to take ownership. There's no question that those two things have to happen.

LEMON: OK. I want to get your reaction to this because we have some developing news happening right now.

The New York Times is reporting tonight that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster breaking with the president and not calling terrorists radical Islamists and signaling a more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

We heard for so long for so many years, Douglas, while the former president was in office you've got to call it what it is, and now McMaster is not calling it what it is according to the president's supporters. What do you make of this?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It doesn't surprise me. Because we've spoken before, Don, in your show when McMaster was chosen. He's a real strategist of the globe of the first order. He's beloved by armed forces.

[22:35:01] And there's danger of trying to inflame, you know, people of the Islamic faith around the world. So, you've got, we have a professional now in the White House. And I think history is going to show the flushing of General Flynn, when he had to leave and the replacement of McMaster was a decisive moment in early Trump history.

Because now you really have a foreign policy establishment team in place. And Donald Trump in some way is an island with Steve Bannon and amongst his own administration, meaning, Mattis -- meaning, you know, McMaster are going to working together to be careful not to say things that are inflammatory to either our allies or enemies and not to overstate the threat of Islamic terrorist.

LEMON: Yes. That may, that may be red meat saying Islamic terrorism, Kirsten, to your base and to some, but I think maybe this as it's showing, McMaster, at least according to New York Times is thinking that that's not helpful when it comes to fighting terrorism.

POWERS: Right. But this is on the right. This has been the sort of drum beat for as long as I can remember frankly. That President Obama, he doesn't understand the fight we're up against because he can't even properly name it, right. This is always been the argument and it's not even a far right argument, it's actually just an argument you hear constantly from anybody who is right of center basically.

And it's something that, you know, President Obama in his administration has explained that they found that it was alienating, that they heard from Muslim allies that it was alienating that it wasn't helping in any way to, you know, advance our interest in the region.

And so now you have somebody who I think is a real thinker. And it's going to be interesting to see -- and who has real on the ground experience with this. And it's going to be interesting to see how President Trump responds to that. Because he has been one of those people out there saying that if you can't call it that, then you obviously don't understand the problem.

LEMON: Ron, how is it going to play among the base and among Trump supporters?

NEHRING: The base of the Republican Party the base of the conservative movement is firmly behind, you know, Donald Trump. I don't think that this one story is going to impact that whatsoever.

I do think however, that this was a very strong choice and I think that you have an understanding now at the leadership of the National Security Council that people like the king of Jordan and president of Egypt and the like, these are our allies. These are people who have problems within their own country with radicals and terrorism and the like.

And we have to make sure that we're working together with those people and not making it easier for ISIS to recruit and justifying any of their propaganda. I think that this is -- I agree with my colleague, that this will be seen as very, very sharp move in terms of the new national security adviser. LEMON: All right. Thank you all. And the news that we are reporting

now is that the New York Times reporting now that the National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster is breaking with the president, not calling terrorists radical Islamists and signaling a more moderate approach to the Islamic world.

Coming up, President Trump touting his American first mantra at the CPAC gathering. We're going to talk more about that next.

[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump taking a victory lap today with the conservative audience, touting his America first mantra.

Here to discuss, former Congressman Jack Kingston, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, senior political contributor, Maria Cardona, Karine Jean-Pierre, national spokeswoman for MoveOn.org, and former HUD Deputy Chief of Staff, Shermichael Singleton who was fired last week over op-ed piece that he wrote during the campaign in which he was critical of then-candidate Donald Trump. And he's been everywhere since he's been on this show and he's going to be a star. We are going to make you into a star.

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, FORMER HUD DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: I want to get your reaction, all of you. The New York Times reporting tonight that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster breaking with the president and not calling terrorists radical Islamists and signaling a more moderate approach to the Islamic world. Maria, what's your reaction to that?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't know yet, Don, is the president going to listen to him? I mean, what we have seen recently is that people have gotten whiplash and have this confused syndrome because the president says one thing and then his cabinet secretaries and advisers are out all over or across the globe saying something else, trying to do cleanup.

We saw it with the DHS Secretary Kelly saying there will be no military operation, after Donald Trump said there will be a military operation rounding up the undocumented immigrants.

LEMON: OK.

CARDONA: So who knows?

LEMON: All right.

CARDONA: I mean, the President of the United States is the one who sets policy, doesn't it -- doesn't he?

LEMON: OK. Shermichael, what do you make of this?

SINGLETON: You know, Don, I think it's a delicate balance. I mean, as you saw under the Obama administration, there's a reason that we changed the terms. Perception is everything as we're attempting to win over the hearts of those in the Middle East as we continue to combat terrorism. So, I hope the president will take direction, and listen on this issue.

LEMON: Karen?

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, MOVEON.ORG NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: I think -- I think that's right. But the perception is that the secretary, as the secretary of state and DHS actually are not actually speaking for the president, they're speaking for themselves.

Leaders, we've heard world leaders have said, hey, they can come and talk to us but it's not, we don't -- they don't represent the president. And so, that is the problem. Yes, you know, I'm glad -- I'm glad the new NSA person was able to say, hey, this is where we should go, we should not be a target here. But on the other side of things, we know that the president that's what he wants to do.

CARDONA: Right.

LEMON: OK. Jack Kingston, Mr. Kingston, I really want to hear from you on this.

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: You know, I think confusion to the enemy. I think actually it's a brilliant strategy to keep the enemies a little bit confused. Wondering what's going on.

LEMON: So, General McMaster is and I don't--

(CROSSTALK)

KINGSTON: I'm saying confusion to our enemies overseas.

LEMON: Overseas.

KINGSTON: Who are saying what are they saying? Because right now the world is waiting to see what is the Trump administration going to do, what campaign promises they are going to follow through on.

[22:45:05] For example, repeatedly during the campaign he spoke against the nuclear treaty with Iran, and yet, during his confirmation hearing said this, Mattis said, well, we signed it, can't back out. We got to keep our word, we've got European allies we've signed on. So, there's that kind of temperament. You same things that--

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: There's a lot of that going on but specifically though, on this. Because Jack, as you know on the campaign trail, you heard this, you got to call it what it is, we can't fight it unless we call it what it is. You have to let the American people know what it is. It was almost like the build the wall thing. And now he's saying he's not going to do it.

KINGSTON: Well, I still think Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence will say radical Jihadists, Islamic Jihadists, I think that is still going to be out there. LEMON: OK.

CARDONA: There you go.

LEMON: You just confirmed.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: That's right. She answered your question.

LEMON: OK. Confirmed your point.

Shermichael, to you now, President Trump gave quite a speech at CPAC today. What was your reaction to that?

SINGLETON: You know, I had hoped the tone of the speech, Don, would have been a little different. I understand that the president has to appease his base, I completely get it. But at this point the president if the president of all Americans and at some point I think there should be the expectation that the president reaches out to individuals that did not vote for him.

Let's keep in mind there are factions within the Republican Party that have not completely go on board with the president. And so in this speech I have hoped that he would have begun the process of bridging that divide.

LEMON: This moment stuck out to me. And I like to see what you all think about it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: But I'm here today to tell you what this movement means to the future of the Republican Party and for the future of America.

First we need to define what this great, great, unprecedented movement is, and what it actually represents. The core conviction of our movement is that we are a nation that put and will put its own citizens first. For too long we've traded away our jobs to other countries. So terrible. We've defended other nation's borders while leaving ours wide open. Anybody can come in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Nationalism by anyone's account. Does it sound, Karine, like the president is channeling Steve Bannon there?

JEAN-PIERRE: Well the thing that I found really odd is CPAC used to be a place of ideas. Right? And while I don't agree with any of the ideas, at least you can go there and you get, you know, some real policies that the conservative movement truly believed in. And all we heard was attacks.

This nationalist, really right-wing speech and it just continues. And what he's doing is he's not reaching to the people who didn't vote for him, he's just doubling down on the same folks who supported him. And it's incredibly troubling from every speech, every town hall,

every tweet, it is the same thing. And in a time when we are so divided he continues to be the divider in chief.

LEMON: I'm sure Jack Kingston with everything you just said, but you won't get to hear from him until the other side of the break.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Back with Jack Kingston, Maria Cardona, Karine Jean-Pierre, and Shermichael Singleton. And Jack, you were going to agree with everything Karine said.

KINGSTON: Absolutely.

LEMON: It's not the -- it's not the -- this was not the message that--

KINGSTON: Well, let me just say, take everything Karine said, look in the mirror, flip it over, and that's my position.

LEMON: I think this the message conservatives were looking for?

KINGSTON: I think it was. Remember, one. Remember, this was Ted Cruz's home court last year. He won the straw poll and Trump came in third place. Now what he was saying is you know what, this is us and we're together. And this is a moment. And then he went on to say I'm fighting for you.

But one thing that I think that Karine and all democrats should pay attention to, he said some very profound, he said the GOP will also become the party of the American worker. And I think so much of this election was about the rust belt worker out there who doesn't have the factory in his home town anymore.

And if you listen to what he talked about pipelines and building things and getting economy moving again, that was a -- that was a pretty strong message to people who are not necessarily traditionally republican.

LEMON: Is the president redefining the Republican Party? Because remember, I mean, last year he was not invited. A lot of people there did not like him, and I'm wondering if, you know, all of a sudden he's caught on because he won, and so that's important to republicans? Or do the people there who were so were opposed to him just simply not have any background or this -- I mean, backbone or this is just how politics work, Shermichael?

SINGLETON: Look, Don, I don't think that what you're witnessing is a paradigm shift within the Republican Party. I will however say that this is very interesting and perhaps a temporary political phenomenon.

Republicans will coalesce around the president, they will give him the opportunity and we will support I think by and large. But I think I would have to disagree with Jack, there are quite a few republicans, notable republicans, and moderate republicans who not completely got on board with the president or the president's agenda. And you looked at various reports where reporters were speaking with

attendees at CPAC asking them whether or not the president was a conservative, and many of them couldn't answer that question. And that's very revealing.

CARDONA: I think -- I think part of this, Don, is it's not so much that he has converted the Republican Party. I think he has coped the Republican Party. And I think a lot of them, you know, are pretending to be happy warriors but probably feel more like hostages.

And I think for one reason or another they feel like they can't go up against this president. Some of them might have their own agendas. For example, Paul Ryan is happy that he's there even though we know, you know, there is no love lost there, but he wants his legislative agenda passed.

[22:54:57] And so, there is a republican president in the White House, at republican in name, who he knows will sign whatever they pass in the house.

LEMON: Jack, you're going to be next. But I just want to put this out first before you respond. He may have been hit by, you know, hit at a CPAC today with his approval ratings continue to drop--

CARDONA: Yes.

LEMON: -- from the last month. Quinnipiac University poll found 38 percent of American voters approve of his job performance, 55 percent disapprove.

KINGSTON: I will never say word fake news but remember one of the examples he actually brought up was the polling that was never right during the election and Quinnipiac was one of the ones that was never right.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Never right--

CARDONA: Wait.

KINGSTON: The L.A. Times story that was right, and the Remington poll was always right.

LEMON: Yes.

KINGSTON: But let me say this, in terms of the agenda, he talked about immigration security, he talked about repealing and replacing Obamacare.

LEMON: Yes.

KINGSTON: He talked about being tougher on trade, he talked about getting -- taking -- job killing regulations off, he talked about building pipelines, he talked about peace through strength. Those are all republican bedrock principles. LEMON: Yes.

KINGSTON: So, I don't see any discomfort at this point with the conservatives are the conservative movement in the Republican Party.

LEMON: Listen, we're going to talk about this next hour but I wanted to talk about the United Talent Agency they have held this big rally today, united voices with some very big people.

And you have this on top of all the rallies that are happening around the country here. They happened to donate $250,000 to the American Civil Liberties Union and the International Rescue Committee.

We're going to discuss that and more with our panel the next hour. We will be right back.

[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)