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CNN TONIGHT

General Michael Flynn Offering to Break His Silence. Aired 11:00-12:00mn ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 23:00   ET

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


[23:00:02] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, General Michael Flynn offering to break his silence. This is CNN TONIGHT.

I'm Don Lemon.

President Trump's former national security adviser who was fired for lying about his context with the Russian ambassador, now willing to be interviewed by the FBI and congressional official investigating Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia, but only if he is given immunity from prosecution.

Flynn's attorney in a statement saying quote "no reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution."

CNN's senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny has more - Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Don, tonight we are learning that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is offering to testify before the house and Senate intelligence committees and perhaps even the FBI in exchange for some type of immunity.

We have a statement from his lawyer tonight. It says this. It says, General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit.

Some very interesting words there, General Flynn certainly has a story to tell. Now, of course, the whole point of this are the conversations that General Flynn had with any Russian operatives. Now, that ultimately led to his firing some 24 days into the White House administration because he was not upfront about all those conversations. He misled the vice President and others.

Now, the question here is, will the house and Senate committees take him up on this? The Senate committee had no comment this evening. The House committee said nothing has been offered on that at this point. But there will be a real fight here. Some people will certainly want him to testify should they invite him in open session without any types of limitations here on immunity.

But Don, it certainly raises the question, general Flynn has been gone from this White House for almost two months or so, but his shadow hangs over this administration. The Russia investigation hangs over this entire administration. It's not quite -- it might be a bit too early to say they are paralyzed by it, but it is getting close to that point in terms of their agenda. Their approval rating and other things.

So the White House tonight has no comment on the offer from General Flynn. They certainly will be asking about it again tomorrow.

LEMON: Absolutely. Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much. I appreciate that.

Now I want to bring in CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson, Matthew Murray, the co-founder of anti-corruption NGO in Russia and deputy assistant commerce secretary for the Obama administration. Also, joining us, CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates.

Matthew, thank you for joining us. Laura, Nia, welcome back. I appreciate you guys staying here this evening, coming on this evening.

Your reaction to tonight's breaking news, Nia, the news that attorney general, the former attorney general Michael Flynn, excuse me, I should say national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that this in a statement that on behalf of Flynn, general Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit. No reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution. What do you think?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, I mean, the two phrases that stick out to me from that statement are General Flynn has a story to tell and that last word, prosecution. Prosecution, of course, brings to mind whether or not that story he has to tell involves any criminal activity that he engaged in or anyone else engaged in.

I imagine this is going to be something that's very troubling for this White House. This is a White House that keeps getting sort of knocked back on its heels, hasn't been able to get out front of this Russia investigation. Has never been able to really give a credible explanation to what has gone on here other than to say, you know, this is basically conspiracy theory from Democrats who were still hurting from Hillary Clinton's loss in November 2016.

So we will have to wait to see what Sean Spicer says tomorrow at that press briefing. Obviously tonight they haven't said anything. And one of the things we have seen, I think, over these last weeks since Flynn has been out of this White House, is this effort to really separate this White House from General Flynn. At first, he was kind of a man who was wrongly maligned by the press, and an honorable man this White House really didn't want to let go.

And then if you listen to Spicer over the last week or so in talking about Flynn, some point he referred to Michael Flynn as a volunteer from the campaign. So I mean, you see them trying to have some distance between Flynn and other figures whose names have come up in this Russia investigation. LEMON: It's not --

HENDERSON: But my goodness, they got some trouble on their hands now.

LEMON: It's not as bad as they did with Manafort by saying that he had a tangential role and limited and whatever.

HENDERSON: yes.

LEMON: They haven't gone that far yet. But still, trying to separate themselves.

Laura, can you explain to us exactly how immunity works and why would Flynn do this?

[23:05:02] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, immunity, there's basically two kinds of immunity. There is one that says anything that you testify against, you're not going to be able to be prosecuted for. The other one says whatever you tell us we cannot prosecute you based on that unless we have some independent knowledge of the information you gave us. So obviously, everyone wants the former where you against transactional immunity for everything you have. Either way, it goes to the department of justice.

But immunity is really a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you have to convince the prosecutor that it's worthwhile to give it to you. Meaning, whatever you tell me, I have to actually already not know from somebody else, and two, that you are not the biggest fish I'm going after.

The second thing is, well, here's how it works in the courtroom. A prosecutor who gives immunity is going to say, look, he's got nothing to lie about. He has no criminal, you know, noose waiting for him. He has no (INAUDIBLE).

On the flip side, the defense will say, well, there's no sense of why he would tell the truth or why he be forced to if he has immunity. And that's why Mark Warner and other people want to have general Flynn testify without the conditions because it actually boosts the credibility to say, listen, I'm here of my own accord. I don't risk a criminal action. I don't fear one, for whatever reason, and therefore, I can truly be credible and forthcoming.

And of course, it's very interesting here because you want to look at the motivation of what General Flynn is doing. His letter suggests vindication personally. But also remember, there was a law that was pass in this administration that anybody who works for the Trump administration could not lobby on behalf of a foreign government ever again. And that was his primary source of income prior to do it.

Of course, he is looking and saying I got a story, I can't do anything else, and that's going to factor into a prosecutor saying, are you credible? And what's your motivation?

LEMON: Interesting. Matthew, the first line of this statement of General Flynn's

statement, reads, he certainly has a story to tell. I mean, talk about a tease. What does this mean to you?

MATTHEW MURRAY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EUROPE, THE MIDDLE EAST, AND AFRICA: You know, that's the -- that's really unfortunate. And I think the best thing about this story is the way the Senate has responded to date. In other words, they have said, just hold on here. We will hear your testimony when we are good and ready, when we have laid a foundation for asking you the right questions, where we have sufficient evidence to be able to say, you know, this is what we need to establish with you, the predicates. And in other words, I think the statement seems to be playing games a little bit with the idea that there are real facts here that need to be established.

And it's very important for all of us to remember that we are still in the middle of this new conflict with Russia in which we are -- it's not just an information war. It's a war against information. And every time a player or a figure in this conflict steps in and sort of tries to manipulate either the procedures or the facts, they are demonstrating that this is not a -- they are not taking it seriously and that is when Russia wins in its aims.

LEMON: Matthew, what stuck out to you as you watched the hearings today?

MURRAY: Well, I thought it was a great moment. I think we established a (INAUDIBLE) if you will in new conflict with Russia because both Senators Warner and Senators Burr established that they were going to conduct a thorough bipartisan and credible investigation. That they were going to focus on what exactly happened. What was new and different about Russia's active measures toward the United States in 2015 and 2016?

Russia's been conducting this type of political warfare against the United States for decades. And so what is it exactly that they did, how effective was it, how sophisticated was it? One of the most interesting findings today, Don, was that they demonstrate -- they showed that when typically when we and our cyber defensive mode detect that there's some cyber offense going on against one of our systems, and the Russians know that we know, they will typically back off. They will try to disappear.

And in the 2015-2016 scenario, they did not do that. So they were clearly more brazen. They were ready to up the stakes. And there's all sorts of evidence that they were more sophisticated in terms of how they timed the information, who they targeted and when they went after certain -- those targets.

LEMON: Yes.

MURRAY: And so now, we have a serious investigation under way in the Senate. They are going to try to establish the facts and equally important, they are going to try to help us understand how to respond. Some of the best discussion today, Don, was around what it is we need

to do to have a whole of government response that provides a suite of options that includes diplomacy, our own cyber response, what kinds of sanctions and what other kinds of steps we need to take to make sure that Russia pays the cost for past behavior and then --

[23:10:24] LEMON: To stop them.

MURRAY: And deter in the future.

LEMON: Should be deterred in the future, right.

Nia, I would show you pictures of the White House but the lights are off. What do you think they're thinking tonight inside that --?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, it's going to be hard for them to dismiss this as fake news or a hoax as we have seen them do already. You know, typically we have seen, I think, from this White House attempts to distract, right, you know, Donald Trump will tweet something as he did today about the failing "The New York Times," and kind of raising the idea of changing the libel laws. And then you see we dedicate time to that.

LEMON: No, not anymore.

HENDERSON: That seems to have run its course.

LEMON: That's over.

MURRAY: Yes. That mean, that doesn't work anymore. That is sort of a hiding place and a way to distract, just doesn't work anymore. So, you know, I mean, I imagine that Spicer and Bannon and Priebus and Kellyanne Conway and all of the President's advisers are trying to figure out how to talk about this tomorrow because this is going to be topic number one from Spicer who has seemed all over the place in many of his briefings so far. I mean, sometimes you need like a roadmap or PowerPoint presentation to figure out where he is going on how he is sort of twisting in all of these stories.

So, you know, this is the White House, again, that's back on its heels and has to figure out a way to change it. And what was interesting about April Ryan's question that got so much attention was how does this White House revamp its image, right?

LEMON: Remember, and then Sean Spicer said, we don't have that.

HENDERSON: Right. We don't have that. Right. Which was --

LEMON: Hello. Here we are now.

HENDERSON: -- not true. He said if he put Russian salad dressing -- no, no, it's not a Russian salad dressing. It's about Michael Flynn, right? It's about Paul Manafort. It is about Carter Page. It's about Roger Stone. I mean, it's about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who now is going to have to go and testify. You know, and this was an administration that came in and talked about of the high IQs of everyone in the cabinet.

LEMON: The highest IQ even in the administration.

HENDERSON: These are the smartest people ever. And my goodness. I mean, they are tripping all over themselves.

LEMON: Can I --?

HENDERSON: In this first 70 days.

LEMON: Laura, can I ask you this? And you can answer and you can put, you know, whatever you wanted to say in there. But Nia mentioned Manafort, former campaign manager, CEO, former adviser Roger Stone. Former policy adviser Carter Page. Just want to get their titles here. They are going to have to testify before the House and Senate. They say they are. Does this put more pressure on them?

COATES: Well, yes. Because of course, the person who gets the immunity first is usually the one who scares everybody else and gets the best deal. And so remember, none of the other people have asked for immunity yet, which begs the question why has Flynn? But if the White House really is smart right now, and I think that they have some smart lawyers probably surrounding them, their biggest fear right now is what was not covered prior to the inauguration?

Remember, this executive privilege, the Presidential privilege, there's going to be some limitations on what Flynn may be able to discuss about what he and President Trump discussed. But however, if the investigation's really about the campaign, none of that is going to be privileged. And so, the White House counsel is going to have to figure out what are the limitations, and what period of time are we most fearful of? And the FBI has told them, since July to January 20th, that's your problem. That's not fake news. That's the amount of time that they are worrying about what Flynn knew and what will not be covered presumably under Presidential privilege.

LEMON: I think that fake news thing is going to come back to haunt them. Nia?

HENDERSON: A lot.

LEMON: A lot.

HENDERSON: Back to haunt them.

LEMON: Nia, Matthew, Laura. Thank you.

COATES: Thank you.

MURRAY: Appreciate it.

LEMON: We are going to get to the politics of all of this. And we are going to take you to the ground. What are folks saying on the street about this?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [23:15:25] LEMON: Here is the breaking news. President trump's former national security advisor General Michael Flynn seeking immunity in return for testimony. But immunity was not exactly a popular concept for team Trump during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) took the Fifth Amendment, and her ringleaders were given immunity. And if you are not guilty of a crime, why do you need immunity for, right?

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), TRUMP ADVISOR: The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual too big to jail, that should include people like Hillary Clinton. I mean, five people around her have been given immunity to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity that means you probably committed a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Here to discuss, CNN political commentators Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart, syndicated talk radio host John Fredericks, a former co-chair of the Trump campaign in Virginia, Grover Norquist, President of Americans for tax reform and political commentator, Matt Lewis.

Bakari, you saw that was General Flynn on "Meet the Press." General Flynn said this at the national convention last July.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLYNN: We do not need a reckless President who believes she is above the law.

CROWD: Lock her up.

[23:20:00] FLYNN: Lock her up. That's right. Yes, that's right. Lock her up. If I -- a guy who knows this business -- if I did a tenth, a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Bakari?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, Don, I have to caution individuals especially my friends on the left from jumping to conclusions when people start talking about exerting their right to the Fifth Amendment or immunity because that doesn't necessarily mean that someone is guilty of a crime. And I didn't like when the Trump campaign did it during the campaign. And I don't want people to jump to that now. I think we still have to dig and find facts.

However, on the flip side of this, the hypocrisy of Michael Flynn and Donald Trump is extremely thick. Mr. "lock her up" has now become Mr. "please don't lock me up." And so I think what we are starting to see here is this Trump campaign one by one, whether or not it's Manafort or Kushner or Flynn or Roger Stone, the list goes on and on and on. The stories, these facts are coming out and they are beginning to unravel. And before any other commentator gets up here and starts talking about the fact that, you know, Hillary Clinton may have had this person seek immunity or that person plead the fifth, I want to put this out here first.

The principal in the Hillary Clinton discussion was Hillary Clinton, herself. And she sat down and testified for 11 hours about everything that surrounded her at her server, in Benghazi, and everything else that people had to ask about. So, if Donald Trump is willing to do that, then you can make that argument. If he is not, then that argument is nothing but a red herring.

LEMON: Matt, here is a point and I was speaking earlier with my producers that I often hear the entire campaign, Democrats have come on, and they would say, and Hillary supporters, Hillary Clinton supporters, saying she should not have had the server, it was a bad idea. It was a mistake. It was bad judgments. But they didn't think that warranted enough for her to go to jail or that she shouldn't be President because of it.

I don't hear that from the Trump side. It's always an excuse for something they never, ever say that it's a question of Donald Trump's judgment to have people around him like Michael Flynn. Why does that happen?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is part of Donald Trump's MO, and it's that you never admit defeat, you never admit guilt or a mistake. Instead, you punch and you counterpunch. And I think that that has been eternalized by Donald Trump supporters. They are basically taking their page from him.

I also think that, you know, to some degree, conservatives and especially the Donald Trump wing of the right has not an inferiority complex but a victimhood, a sense of victimhood. And they have internalized that as well. And so, I just think that that's essentially the difference, both sides, of course, play politics, but I do think that you are not going to find a lot of Trump supporters who are going to make admissions against interests, so to speak.

LEMON: When Bakari said that, it made me think of that because Bakari said, listen. I don't want to take a (INAUDIBLE), I'm just - I'm sort of paraphrasing, I question Democrats for doing that. And, you know, basically saying you don't necessarily take the fifth or immunity if you -- right? So --

LEWIS: Yes, there's also a -- I'll just say real quick, I think amongst conservatives who go on TV, there's this sense that you're outnumbered and the media is liberal. And if you are the person who is on TV ostensibly to defend Donald Trump, then by gummy, you need to defend Donald Trump whether he deserves it or not, right? In some cases you would be defending the indefensible. And I think some people end up looking silly when they do that, to be honest with you.

LEMON: Yes.

John, what is President Trump going to do, defend Flynn or distance himself from him?

JOHN FREDERICKS, SYNDICATED TALK RADIO HOST: Well, this isn't about admitting anything because there is no proof anywhere in any situation that there was any collusion with the Russians. This thing has been going on, this investigation has been going on since July. And all we have is hyperbole. There's nothing there. And so as far as Donald Trump admitting something, admit what? That he won the election? I mean, this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen in my life. It goes on and on and on.

LEMON: John, perhaps you didn't hear the question.

FREDERICKS: There's no evidence whatsoever --

LEMON: Perhaps you didn't hear the question. My question is whether or not he is going to admit something. I said, what is he going to do? Distance himself from Flynn or himself -- or stand up for him? That's what I said. I didn't say --.

FREDERICKS: I think he's going to do what -- I think Donald -- I think President Trump is going to do what he always does. He is going to seek the truth and he is going to let this thing play out. And, look, General Flynn, all he did tonight, his lawyers asked for immunity. Guess what, Michael Flynn read the "art of the deal." So he is trying to get immunity. He is the first in the door. And he comes out with his caveat and said, well, there's going to be lots of information out there. Maybe the information isn't anything, but why not get immunity? This is a negotiation ploy, a great move by Flynn. We look forward to him exonerating Trump and everybody else.

[23:25:23] LEMON: OK.

FREDERICKS: But you really got to look at this, Don, you got to look at the timeline on this. This is what everybody is missing.

LEMON: But I also - I got other guests to get in. So Alice. Go on, Alice.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, to the notion of what Bakari said, look, there is a great deal in this whole scenario that does not pass the smell test. But you also have to consider the notion here with regard to Flynn, why he is seeking immunity. There's the possibility it could have to do with his failure to disclose some of his business ties with Turkey and with Russia. He got in a great deal of trouble with that. And that is big reason why he is no longer with the administration.

And oftentimes people seek immunity so they're not caught up in a technicality on another issue while they are testifying about the main issue. And that was also a big part of why those with the Hillary -- connections with the Hillary hearings sought immunity so they wouldn't get caught up in a technicality.

But that being said, there's so much smoke here that while we have not seen the fire, I agree with John, there's no hard concrete evidence, there's so much smoke here. And I think the administration needs to do everything they possibly can to get back on track, talking about the issues that people are concerned with because this right here is such a huge distraction and just not productive.

LEMON: Yes, Grover, I always appreciate your perspective. What do you think?

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: I'm -- look, the President just put Gorsuch forward. And we are about to have a Supreme Court nominee which reestablishes the center right Supreme Court. He just put an FCC commissioner in that's going to deregulate 15 percent of the economy. There's a trillion dollar tax cut on the table and a trillion dollar spending cut.

This other stuff is sort of vaguely distracting, but in terms of what people are going to remember five months from now and two years from now when there's an election, there's some huge steps forward from the standpoint of a Republican and conservative, Reagan Republican that is moving forward in ways that I didn't think would be coming necessarily in a Trump administration. At least not as strong and as quickly and as thoroughly as this. I mean, the new FCC acting commissioner --

LEMON: It sounds like you are saying, Grover, it sounds like you are saying accountability doesn't matter, though, because I mean, if any of this is true, nothing has -- again, it's an investigation. They have found nothing.

NORQUIST: Yes.

LEMON: But if something pans out here and, you know, he is asking for immunity and he testifies that something -- even though, you know, his agenda is you say it is happening or he is pushing it through --

NORQUIST: Yes.

LEMON: He shouldn't be accountable to truth and the facts and to the laws and to the emoluments clauses in the constitution in all of that?

NORQUIST: Well, you are setting up a serious of hypotheticals and saying what if all these things were true, then there would be a problem.

LEMON: But I mean, Grover, not to argue with you, but it seems like you are ignoring what's in front of your face here. Just to have the former, you know, adviser, national security adviser, ask for immunity is big enough in itself. Who knows what's going to come out of that. Maybe nothing will, but seems like you're ignoring that and then saying, well look over here. Yes, those other things are important, but this is important as well. We can handle both at the same time.

NORQUIST: OK. You asked earlier is the President going to distance himself from Flynn. Flynn is the former national security guy. He is not in the White House. He has been -- I don't know how much more distanced do you get than you're not working here anymore?

LEMON: That's it?

NORQUIST: Right? You asked the question. It seems to me he distanced himself.

HENDERSON: Quickly -- I got to get a break.

NORQUIST: Manafort's out. Stone's out. The list of people you got are a bunch of people who aren't in the administration.

LEMON: OK. Bakari, standby. Bakari, on the other side. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:32:52] LEMON: All right. And we are back. Back with my panel. Sorry, we have to take breaks. So don't get mad at me, people at home and panel.

Bakari, I want to get in but I want - quickly, because I want to move on to the freedom caucus. But you wanted to respond to what Grover was saying.

SELLERS: Yes. I just have to chime in quickly with Grover. Because if the highlight of your first 70 days as chairman of the FCC, then you really haven't done much. And talking about Trump's agenda, what people fail to realize or what you failed to mention, was the fact that one of the centerpieces of his agenda was a travel ban that's been denied not once but twice. He had to fire his NSA director because he lied to the vice President. It's not as if he mysteriously disappeared or went away. And those trillion dollars-worth of tax cuts are not being offset by trillion dollars-worth of spending because that was based upon the affordable care act actually passing which failed.

And so, when you think about all of that, the larger stories we have are Manafort, Flynn and Kushner. The largest stories we have are Russia. And we cannot turn our head away from that and stick it in the sand.

LEMON: Grover, do you need to respond? Because I really want to move to the freedom caucus.

NORQUIST: I think the Democrats should focus on this stuff and let us reshape the Supreme Court and 15 percent of the economy through the FCC which you think is uninteresting. I'm delighted you think it's uninteresting.

LEMON: OK. On any other day, we would have been -- this would have been the lead story because Republican President went after Republican elected officials today on twitter. First he said the freedom caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and Dems in 2018. And then he named names. You can put all the names of all the folks. He said all of these people, Paul Labrador, Jim Jordan, and Representative (INAUDIBLE), they would need to get on board or we would have both great health care, massive tax cuts and reform. That was to Bakari's point. And then on and on. You can put his tweets up. So, he is putting his own party on notice, Grover. I know, we spent a lot of time together. But what do you think of this strategy? NORQUIST: Well, you have 90 percent of a Republican caucus in support

of a trillion dollar tax cut, matched with more than a trillion dollars in spending in the repeal of Obamacare. You got block granting Medicaid which is building on the success that Clinton had with block granting families with dependent children. It's a very significant reform and what he is doing is talking to the members of the freedom caucus.

[23:35:15] LEMON: But calling the very people out who got him -- who helped to get him elected? I mean, those are the people who put him over the mark over the line.

NORQUIST: The three guys he mentioned?

LEMON: Yes, the people helped -- the constituents in those districts helped Donald Trump.

NORQUIST: Yes. And Donald Trump is talking to his voters. I was meeting with the pro-life people who are particularly unhappy at the freedom caucus' decision to undermine the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. They are going to be talking to their constituents as well because there's a very important issue before Congress which is getting rid of Obamacare and the trillion dollars in Obamacare taxes, and more than a trillion dollars in spending and reforming the system.

LEMON: But if you talk to moderates and to people who are, you know -- they will tell you 17 percent approval rating for something, it doesn't do any of them any good, John. And so, do you think the tweets are a negotiating tactic? You think they will work?

FREDERICKS: Look, Grover, great spin, lousy bill. Nobody trusted Paul Ryan. They sold him down a path that couldn't work. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, two key advisers, told him it was a bad strategy going in. He didn't pay attention to them. He got burned.

Now, this tweet on the freedom caucus, this is a negotiating tactic. What he realized in this whole negotiation is that he can deal with the moderates one-on-one. The freedom group, 25 of them vote in a bloc. So he has got to break that up and he has got to be able to negotiate with them on an individual basis.

LEMON: Got to get some Democrats.

FREDERICKS: His tweet was a brilliant negotiating tactic for the future. I commend him for that.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, Alice, can we get you and Matt on the other side of the break? Can we do that?

STEWART: Absolutely.

LEMON: All right. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:41:09] LEMON: Back now with my panel. I'm laughing because there are people on social media saying that I'm not having the same conversation with my panel. Basically they're saying some of you are not answering my questions which happens a lot.

So Alice, just days after the health care debacle, the White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh leaving her post. Is this just the beginning do you think of a White House staff shakeup?

STEWART: That remains to be seen. She was an integral part of the administration and as well as the campaign. She was certainly a key adviser for Reince Priebus. But in terms of where they see her best skills now, she is going to be moving to outside groups that will help further the Trump agenda and be able to work with outside groups and bring them on the table. Certainly after the health care debacle, they certainly need to be doing that.

But I do want to mention one thing. I answered that question, but let me just say this with regard to the freedom caucus. Look, it's a sad day when members of Congress are criticized for standing on principle.

LEMON: Right.

STEWART: And as for freedom caucus being a bloc, they were told specifically by congressman Meadows that they don't have to vote with the freedom caucus on this. This is too important. If they want to vote yes in support of this, they can do that. They need to do what's in the best interest of their constituents. They voted - they stood firm on no because they wanted lower premiums and greater access to health care which this bill did not do.

LEMON: The reason I asked the question because I don't see the point in attacking your base. I think when he needs to get as many people onboard with him as possible including some Democrats.

But back to the -- let's get back to Katie Walsh, Matt. Katie Walsh is a key ally of Reince Priebus. She served as his chief of staff at the RNC. I mean, what do you think this move means for Priebus' future in the Trump administration? Does it change anything?

LEWIS: Well, reading the -- you could read the tea leaves and try to speculate on that. It could be nothing or it could be something. I mean, this - he is losing his key lieutenant, you know, rumor was that, you know, Reince felt like he needed to physically be with Donald Trump all the time because that's the way you get influence is to actually constantly be in front of Donald Trump and then she would actually be essentially fulfilling the traditional role of the chief of staff.

LEMON: Yes.

LEWIS: So now he's losing this trusted aide who is, you know, very competent and respected. So it's not good for him trying to - he is already got a tough job as it is.

LEMON: Matt, took up most of your time, so it's a lightning round for everybody else.

John, you predicted that when Ivanka came on with her role officially, you predicted that Katie would be out.

FREDERICKS: Yes, I did.

LEMON: You think she's going it be taking on that role?

FREDERICKS: Here's the deal, OK? Nice lady, overmatched. There's a new sheriff in town. Her name is Ivanka Trump. Everybody's really got to get this. Ivanka Trump is a protector of the brand of the Trump President. She is the protector of the movement. She has been there from day one. She's the eyes and ears of what's going on. So there's a new sheriff in town. And all this infighting that's going on, one faction, the other faction, who's up, who's down, all that ended when Ivanka Trump came in and took a legitimate position. You are going to see a very different White House now.

LEMON: But the kind of policy --

FREDERICKS: This woman is very tough, Don. She is -- you know what, they built a $10 billion company and they started when they were millions of dollars in the hole. She is very tough.

LEMON: She has no government experience.

FREDERICKS: She's no BS. And she is going to stop the nonsense.

LEMON: But her policies are not the same as the kind of, you knows, traditional conservative policies that Grover is in favor of -- Grover?

FREDERICKS: Her policies are the policies of Donald Trump that got him elected.

LEMON: Grover.

FREDERICKS: She was right there the whole way.

LEMON: Grover.

FREDERICKS: And she is going to be the difference maker.

LEMON: You look like John now. Go ahead, Grover.

NORQUIST: I don't know Ivanka or how that's going to play out. I tend to trust that Trump has laid out a list of things he wants to do. And I think his agenda has been fairly helpful and it's moving forward a lot faster than you normally expect.

[23:45:07] LEMON: OK.

NORQUIST: From a President.

LEMON: I got to go. Bakari, you can blame John Fredericks. He took your time. He took your time.

All right. Thank you very much. You guys like that. Took your time. Took your time. We come back, the worldwide consequences of the rocky relationship

between Russia and the U.S.

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[23:49:45] LEMON: Tomorrow night at 10:00, CNN airs a special report ISIS, behind the mask. In this new documentary, CNN's senior international correspondent Clarissa Ward tells the story of a young man from Belgium who joined ISIS and then returned home and she joins me now.

So good to have you this. This such an interesting. I have been watching some of the previews here. I want to talk about this. I know that it airs tomorrow but can I ask you about Russia?

[23:50:06] CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

LEMON: And the reason I say that is because Russia is so integral. It's a big factor in the battle against ISIS in Syria. Can you explain where that stands right now?

WARD: Well. So ISIS has been taking a beating in Iraq and Syria, predominantly at the hands I should say of the U.S.-led coalition. But Russia has been trying to promote its own intervention in Syria as a crackdown on ISIS. And they have had some limited gains against ISIS on the battlefield, most notably in the ancient and beautiful city of Palmyra.

But for the most part Russia's efforts in Syria have not been focused on ISIS, but have actually been focused on the opposition that is fighting against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. So while Russia claims and postures to be this credible force that is fighting against is in Syria, I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of Russia's firepower has not gone towards eliminating ISIS, but has gone towards wiping out the opposition that is fighting Bashar al- Assad.

LEMON: You mention Bashar al-Assad. Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain both blasting the secretary of state Tillerson for suggesting that Bashar al-Assad can stay, basically. Why is this such a controversial thing for him to have said?

WARD: It's controversial for a couple of reasons. Primarily, when we talk about ISIS, and we talk about extremism, particularly in the context of Syria, we have to understand that ISIS was born in the vacuum of Syria's civil war. And the hideous outpouring of grotesque violence that we have seen as a result of ISIS has come from the crackdown of the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad which has killed hundreds of thousands of people. Many more people than ISIS has even killed.

So when you talk about trying to eliminate ISIS, you can't really do that without trying to find some peaceful resolution to the Syrian civil war. To be fair to the Trump administration, while the Obama administration had talked about the fact that they thought that Bashar al-Assad should go, they did not actually really take many steps to put that into practice, to make that happen. Beginning with the backing away from the red line after the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own people, killed more than a thousand. From that moment on it became very clear that the U.S. wasn't going to take a more aggressive stance. That it wasn't going to get more involved. And now we are hearing secretary of state Rex Tillerson essentially just reiterating that now we are going to not even posture and pretend that we are trying to end this brutal dictatorship, which has released so much evil and terror on the world.

LEMON: Yes. So I want to get to your special now, this documentary. "ISIS behind the mask." Let's take a look and then we will discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARD: Meet Eunice Della Forte. A 28-year-old ISIS veteran. Unis offers a rare insight into the mind of an unrepentant ISIS supporter.

EUNICE DELLA FORTE, ISIS VETERAN: We are Muslims who are dreaming of a caliphate. Every Muslim in the world even if he has a beard from one meter to one millimeter. A Muslim has to believe in a caliphate.

WARD: That dream led Unis to the civil war in Syria and to ISIS. He says he never killed anyone there.

Let me ask you something. If you had been asked while you were in Syria to execute someone, would you have done it?

DELLA FORTE: Look, in Islam there is the pledge of allegiance.

WARD: Would you have done it?

DELLA FORTE: Because you have to obey the Amir.

WARD: So you would have.

DELLA FORTE: That's the Islamic law. And believe me, it's not a funny thing to execute people. It's something terrible, but yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: How did he end up -- because as I was watching that, I was saying to you, he looks just like such a normal person. How did he end up joining ISIS?

WARD: Well, I think what Unis really shows us, Don, in a sense is that Islamic extremism is no long their remote external foreign threat of dark men with long beards speaking in different tongues and far- flung parts of the world. Islamic extremism exists now very much in the west within our own societies. And authorities are really struggling to grapple with trying to ascertain which young men like Unis have actually become severely radicalized to the point where they would actually carry out violent attacks on their own people. And which are maybe partially radicalized or radicalized but still not violent. It's a very gray, gray area. Unis' specific case, he had a slightly

troubled upbringing, converted to Islam at about 17 years old. And after a few years, fell in with a very sort of silver tongued Bengali street preacher called (INAUDIBLE) who essentially took the minds of young men and twisted them and provided a pipeline for them to travel to Syria.

[23:55:00] LEMON: He was in Syria and now he is in Europe. Now is he dangerous?

WARD: This is what authorities are left trying to grapple with. Based on the time that I have spent with Unis and the conversations that we have had, he is very insistent that he would not carry out a violent attack in Europe, that he does not want to implement violence to carry out his beliefs. So I would be inclined to believe him.

On the other hand, he was just charged with domestic abuse, sentenced to 18 months. He is appealing that sentence. But I think what it goes to show you is that even when you think you know someone, even when you are inclined to believe someone, at the end of the day, you really don't know. And how are authorities supposed to know?

It's not illegal to be an extremist, Don. It's not an illegal to hold repugnant and offensive views. And how do you know who is going to break the law, who is going to take that step and what the tipping point is.

LEMON: Thank you, Clarissa Ward. I can't wait to watch this. Don't miss CNN Special Report, "Isis behind the mask." Clarissa Ward reports tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific.

That's it for us tonight. Thank you so much for watching.

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