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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Interview with Corey Lewandowski; Discussion of Obama Remarks in Illinois; Interview with Michael Avenatti. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to PRIME TIME.

President Obama took on President Trump. Who won the clash of the titans? Trump's team says Obama lied today, and they can prove it. But what they really want to prove is who wrote that nasty op-ed in "The Times". The latest is that they've narrowed down the list to just a few suspects.

Odd that an op-ed that they say amounts to nothing warrants everything being done to dig out the writer, isn't it? A federal investigation as potential threat to national security and treason is what they're asking for.

Trump's top lieutenant is here to make the case to you tonight. Why don't they argue that Russian interference meets the same concern? Let's put him to the test.

And Trump aide George Papadopoulos sentenced to lying about meetings with Russians during the campaign, but he says the real problem is Jeff Sessions. Could Sessions be the next domino to fall?

My friends, we are weekend-adjacent. Let's get after it.

(MUSIC)

CUOMO: The president has enlisted lieutenant Corey Lewandowski to go out onto the hustings with no less than the vice president to make the case to America. He is here tonight, and he has a clear set of arguments.

You will get a very sure sense of how his case stands up to scrutiny. Gets hot but not hostile here on CUOMO PRIME TIME.

Who's the liar, Obama or Trump? Who's tougher on the media? Does the op-ed writer present more of a threat than Russia? Those are the questions.

Let's get to the debate.

Corey Lewandowski, thank you for making time for us on a Friday night. Appreciate it.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Happy to be here. Thank you.

CUOMO: The president says Jeff Sessions should investigate the op-ed written by the anonymous person with "The New York Times," but he does not think that Jeff Sessions should be looking at whether or not Russia interfered and how and whether or not it involved anybody from the Trump campaign. How can he think that the op-ed is worth that kind of energy but not whether or not anyone from the campaign had anything to do with Russia's interference?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, you know, I read a very interesting op-ed today in "The Washington's Post". It was about the individuals who swear an allegiance to the Constitution and what that means when they take a job in the government with the administration or in the Senate or in the House, and how many men and women have raised their hand to say, I pledge the following. And what the individuals who are doing inside the government are trying to subvert the president's agenda, the duly elected president and the vice president is against the Constitution, against their oath, and I question if it's legal. And if that's the case, then there should be a look into that.

I believe that, Chris. If you don't want to work for this administration, you don't have to. Because of this president --

CUOMO: Right.

LEWANDOWSKI: -- there's great job opportunities out there, so you have to move on.

Or take what the reasonable thing to do is. Quit your job and let's have a discussion in the air of public opinion on television about if you think crimes have been committed, let's bring that person forward and let's have an honest dialogue --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: The op-ed person, man or woman, whoever they are, doesn't say they think there have been crimes committed. They're talking about trying to protect the country from Trump's judgment in cases.

But, one, you didn't answer my question about consistency. If you think that matters, you must also think that something as important as what Russia did and if anybody was involved warrants investigation as well, yes?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, I've said it 100 times --

CUOMO: So then the president is being inconsistent, yes?

LEWANDOWSKI: If anybody -- no, no. Chris, if anybody, any foreign entity, any U.S. entity --

CUOMO: So the president is being inconsistent, yes?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, if somebody tried to meddle with the outcome of the U.S. election, they should go to jail for the rest of their lives. And the problem that we have is Jeff Sessions has recused himself from that investigation --

CUOMO: But the president has said the DOJ shouldn't be looking at it. The FBI shouldn't be looking at it. But he does think --

LEWANDOWSKI: Look --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Is that inconsistent? The answer is yes but I want you to agree.

LEWANDOWSKI: Yes, but, Chris, we haven't seen one scintilla of evidence of any type of collusion --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: The investigation is not over. You just had a guy plead guilty and get 14 days.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWANDOWSKI: Who -- who has been found guilty of a crime that relates to materially impacting the outcome of an election? Nobody --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Now, you're defining it conveniently. Papadopoulos lied about meeting Russians. Flynn lied about meeting with Russians.

[21:05:00]

LEWANDOWSKI: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Sessions had to go back to Congress because he wasn't right about meeting with Russians. Who knows what happens with Roger Stone?

Don Jr. took the meeting with a Russian about this type of stuff. There was a lot of contact.

LEWANDOWSKI: It's not illegal to talk to Russians.

CUOMO: All I'm saying it warrants investigation and that investigation is not over. And you agree --

LEWANDOWSKI: And we've done that for two years.

CUOMO: But it's not over. By the way, as you know, a federal investigation of two years is not that long. It's not that long.

LEWANDOWSKI: I agree with you.

CUOMO: By federal standards. Look at Benghazi just on the congressional level, how long that took. LEWANDOWSKI: Here's what is fair, I think. The Mueller investigators

should come up with a date that they're going to report unless they can prove additional information that says, we believe a crime was committed of meddling in the elections. If that can't be done (AUDIO GAP) give a date. I thought Labor Day would be a reasonable time, will they send their report to the Department of Justice and outline their findings so the American people can see what they've been doing --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: But why rush them?

LEWANDOWSKI: That's not an unreasonable thing.

CUOMO: But why rush them?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, how long -- it's two years. How long you have to wait?

CUOMO: I just told you in context, that's not that long. They have an amazing amount of things to process.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, it is very different. A potential meddling in the U.S. elections, which didn't occur, and the difference of American soldiers and a U.S. ambassador being killed overseas are very different. You cannot equate those two evenly.

CUOMO: Who is?

LEWANDOWSKI: Well, you said the Benghazi investigation took a long time. It should have taken a long time. We lost American lives. We were told that the Benghazi --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: The bar of the need for length of investigation is not just based on lethality, OK? I don't want to talk about Benghazi in terms of what it represented and didn't represent in terms of fair administration of justice because we know there was a lot of selective interest in that, and, of course, American lives were lost, and of course that matters.

But that's not the bar for time. It's about how many leads.

LEWANDOWSKI: It's not.

CUOMO: How many people involved, how many different issues.

LEWANDOWSKI: It's getting to the bottom.

CUOMO: That's what's relevant, not just lethality.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, it's about getting to the bottom of the investigation.

CUOMO: Right. That's why you should let it happen.

LEWANDOWSKI: Many people have said -- look, it's gone on for two years and that's OK. What we've said is, look, tell us when you're going to report to the Department of Justice. Put a time frame on it. That's not an unreasonable request.

It's 90 days from now, it's 180 days from now, whatever that is. You just don't get -- no investigator gets to work in perpetuity with an unlimited budget.

CUOMO: It's not about in perpetuity. I've told you three times that hasn't taken that long. I'm just saying any issue with rushing it seems to be worried about outcome as opposed to letting it play out, when it plays out fully. If Trump has nothing to worry about, he'll be cleared, and it will be the best kind of satisfaction for him. That's what he needs.

But let me ask you something else while I have you. On this op-ed that he believes Jeff Sessions should investigate, there is zero proof of any illegality in terms of what has been exposed in the publication. It seems very much politically motivated. And if you're going to look at the op-ed, instead of this incredible energy toward finding out who did it, why not look at the substance of the criticism?

Corey, I have had you on TV at least three separate times make the same case. If you don't like it, get the hell out, but don't bad mouth the president from inside. And the reason why is you have an unprecedented number of people saying the same thing in that White House.

His competence is in question. He is mercurial. He doesn't read in. He says things that he doesn't believe or knows are not true.

Why not focus on that, the substance? Why they wrote it, what it says.

LEWANDOWSKI: So, let's look at the substance. Let's look at what Donald Trump has been able to accomplish in the first 20 months of this administration. Historical unemployment, stock market through the roof, you know, opportunities that didn't exist, a stronger military, a stronger national security, putting things in place that no president -- look, returning human remains from the Korean peninsula, which nobody could do. All of those things are factors.

And, look, Chris, go back and look at what they said about Teddy Roosevelt, who happens to be on Mount Rushmore, who I think by most accounts was a pretty successful president. It's the exact same language they used about him. He was mercurial. He got angry at the press. They didn't like the way he acted.

Guess what, he got things done and the bottom line is --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Corey, I'm going to send -- I'm going to send you a present called Theodore X (ph), and you read what is a very good take on Teddy Roosevelt from a young age to where he got -- he is nothing like Donald Trump. He is not analogized to Donald Trump in any way.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, that's not true.

CUOMO: Him defining --

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, that's not true.

CUOMO: -- a bully pulpit and him being seen as strong, he was never reviewed the way Donald Trump is, and you know that. He was a war hero who came in with a reputation. He was not cited by his own staff.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, I will send you, I will send you the op-eds that were written.

CUOMO: Fine. But I'm saying this --

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, I will send you the op-eds that were written on Teddy Roosevelt that say exactly the same things they say about Donald Trump back then.

CUOMO: No way.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You show me where they said -- go ahead. Finish your point.

LEWANDOWSKI: The individuals who are attacking Donald Trump today like George Will, when they raised those same issues about Teddy Roosevelt, said he was a hero, one of the greatest American presidents. They don't like Donald Trump because he's brash, because he's bold, because he fights for an America first agenda. The American people know it. He's unapologetic about it.

CUOMO: They don't like America first agenda because it smacks of a jingoism and an exclusionary view of humanity that people don't want repeated.

[21:10:00]

But be very clear, what he has done with the economy and regulations and taxes, and, by the way, we'll see how two of those three pan out because it's early. That's despite his manner. That's despite the divisiveness. That's despite the worries about his constant lying and his competence that people inside the White House complain about consistently.

You won't find that about Teddy Roosevelt, and I don't know why people who care about him don't ask him to address it because if he got that much done, as you say, doing as much damage as he's done with his mouth, why not think about it and then imagine what he could do?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, why don't we give the president the credit he deserves? He's cut more government regulations than any president in history.

CUOMO: That's not an unqualified positive.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris --

CUOMO: That's not an unqualified positive. You're cutting regulations that could hurt kids' health, that could hurt air, that could hurt water. So, not all regulations being cut is a good thing.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris -- OK. So here's an unqualified positive that no one can disagree with. He deported a Nazi who is living in Queens, New York, that the previous administration didn't do. Are you going to argue that that's an unqualified positive? A Nazi.

CUOMO: No, but it's not --

LEWANDOWSKI: A legitimate -- look, no other administration did it, Chris. That's an unqualified positive. Give him the credit he deserves.

CUOMO: Who says it isn't? Here's the problem, Corey. You want me to salute him deporting a Nazi. Great.

LEWANDOWSKI: Yes.

CUOMO: But then when he get criticized for taking thousands of children away from their parents, you ignore it. You deny it, or you try to misconstrue it as something else. That's the problem.

Not removing the Nazi. It's cottoning to Nazis. It's telling white supremacists they're good people. That's the problem. Deport one, good. Tell all of them they're kind of OK, not good.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, you know what I heard today from Barack Obama? I heard a -- look, he's a great orator, don't get me wrong, but I heard a series of lies. He said, oh, I never attacked Fox News. Really? Go ask the reporter who he spied on.

CUOMO: He attacked Fox News.

LEWANDOWSKI: Go ask Sharyl Attkisson he spied on.

CUOMO: He attacked Fox News.

LEWANDOWSKI: Really, but, Chris, he's a good orator, but he doesn't tell the truth.

CUOMO: You cannot with a straight face, Corey, say we should care about President Obama lying today when you have made a cottage industry of going on TV to deflect dozens and dozens of lies by this president.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, calling out a network for their unfair coverage is one thing. Spying on --

CUOMO: He calls us an enemy. He calls us an enemy. He lies about our reporting. He lies about our intentions.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, what would the media outcry be today if the Trump Justice Department was spying on Chris Cuomo, took his phone records, stole his e-mails? What would the media outcry -- because that's exactly what Barack Obama's administration did in 2010. Fact. He didn't do it just to Fox. He did it to CBS and no one wants to remind anybody of it.

CUOMO: One, I don't like people looking at journalists. I don't like people coming after journalists. I didn't like it when Obama's administration did it. I wouldn't like it today.

But you're forgetting two words that have to matter, and you guys are trying to soften what they mean, but they still matter. Probable cause. What they did was under color of authority.

Now, we can argue about whether or not we like that. But what --

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, James Rosen --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: What you're doing and what the president does has no probable cause attached to t. It's just political and personal, and you can't with a straight face go at Obama as a liar. You can call him other things that are pejorative. A liar when you represent Donald Trump?

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, today, today he said that he didn't attack Fox News. Chris, you just admitted that he did that. Moreover than that, James Rosen and Sharyl Attkisson, two well known national reporters were both spied on by the Obama administration.

CUOMO: He says he complained about Fox. He says he complained about Fox. I didn't deal with them the way this president does. That's true.

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Chris, how can he justify --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: And you're ignoring -- I'll tell you what. I'd rather be spied on legitimately than called an enemy of the people illegitimately.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, can you imagine we have a government that's spying on American reporters on domestic soil and a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment?

CUOMO: We don't know that it was a clear violation. We don't know that it was a clear violation.

LEWANDOWSKI: They had to go and get a FISA warrant, right? And we know, look, let's bring Sharyl Attkisson on. She's amazing. She knows -- (CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You don't have to get a FISA warrant for all surveillance. You don't get a FISA warrant for all surveillance. You know that. You were in law enforcement. You don't need a FISA warrant to look at people.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, to go after a journalist -- to steal someone's e- mails, to steal their phone records, to a member of the credentialed press, that is a far more egregious thing that took place.

CUOMO: Let's be very clear -- hold on a second. This is a little bit of a silly conversation, and here's why. I have said it before, I'll say it again, and everybody would agree. We're on the same page on this, everybody watching right now.

You shouldn't be looks at journalists for a bad reason, period, end. They did it. You guys do it.

In you're mind, though, Corey, if you can pick out something that's negative about somebody else, you believe it erases what your own administration is doing, what the Trump administration is doing.

[21:15:08]

LEWANDOWSKI: No, I don't believe that at all.

CUOMO: That's not how it works, but you keep doing it. I ask you how can you want Sessions to look at the op-ed but not think they should look at collusion? And then you selectively move away from an obvious hypocrisy and contradiction. You know that this president has said worse things about the media than we've ever had a president do it.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: No, but the president says they shouldn't and that's the hypocrisy and the contradiction.

LEWANDOWSKI: But, Chris, they are looking at collusion. Jeff Sessions has recused himself. And the point is Jeff Sessions recused himself. The special counsel has been up and running for two years almost, and they are looking. They found zero evidence of collusion, zero evidence --

CUOMO: They haven't found zero evidence of collusion.

LEWANDOWSKI: Zero evidence of anything.

CUOMO: They have not found zero evidence of collusion.

LEWANDOWSKI: The only collusion that took place was between the Hillary Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS and Nellie Ohr.

CUOMO: That's poppycock. That was oppo research.

LEWANDOWSKI: True. CUOMO: That's oppo research.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, I've never --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Oppo research isn't going to get anybody in jail.

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, you've never been on a campaign where you've gone to a foreign country to do oppo research and you've never been on a campaign --

CUOMO: I haven't because I'm a journalist, but it happens all the time.

LEWANDOWSKI: Never.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: And the campaign didn't go. They hired people who are going and looking. That happens. You know it, and I know it.

One final thing --

LEWANDOWSKI: Whose husband was the number four person at the Justice Department. So, let's get the president to declassify the 302s that Bruce Ohr gave to the FBI about his wife's relationship with Fusion GPS.

CUOMO: This is what I'm saying. I want everything declassified. I'm a journalist. More info.

LEWANDOWSKI: I'm with you.

CUOMO: I want the president's taxes.

LEWANDOWSKI: Yes.

CUOMO: Did you say yes to the taxes?

LEWANDOWSKI: There's nothing to do a declassification.

CUOMO: They might as well be classified. He won't give them up no matter what and all they're doing is looking about money trail.

LEWANDOWSKI: There's no requirement to.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: So what? Since when is the standard of the right thing to do what's legal or illegal or what's demanded or not demanded? Do the right thing. If you're so transparent, put it out. It's such an ugly hypocrisy that he can just waive away.

LEWANDOWSKI: What is it you think we're going to learn, that Donald Trump is rich and made a lot of money last year? OK. I will concede the fact it's really important that he won't show us here.

CUOMO: What's so important that he doesn't want to show them?

LEWANDOWSKI: Why should he have to? He's a private citizen. He was a private citizen.

CUOMO: Because he's being looked at and America has questions about transparency, and he won't show them. That's why. Because he's supposed to be the standard --

LEWANDOWSKI: He's filed a much more detailed document --

CUOMO: No, he didn't.

LEWANDOWSKI: The detailed document he filed --

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Doesn't tell us many of the things. No way, than a tax return?

LEWANDOWSKI: The only thing a tax return tells you is how much money you made in a given year, period.

CUOMO: Then why won't he put it out? What is he worried about?

LEWANDOWSKI: Look, he's a private citizen.

CUOMO: What is he worried about?

LEWANDOWSKI: Chris, let me give you an example. My guess is the president made a lot of money. He made a lot of money when he was a private citizen.

CUOMO: Donald Trump who exaggerates his net worth forever. You think he's worried about showing he made too much money?

LEWANDOWSKI: You're not going to learn anything by a tax return.

CUOMO: You don't know that and we've learned everything we need to know by his reluctance to put them out.

LEWANDOWSKI: You and I agree with something, you and I agree on something very important. Very important.

We both want the president to declassify the FISA application that was used to spy on American citizens on domestic soil, and we both want the 302s from Bruce Ohr.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWANDOWSKI: I will join you right now for declassification.

CUOMO: I want all things -- I want everything out. I'm a journalist, including his taxes and all the things that they don't want us to know about. The news is what the powerful want to keep hidden. Corey -- lieutenant Corey Lewandoski, thank you for joining us.

LEWANDOWSKI: Then help me. Help me get those.

CUOMO: I'm helping you. I put you on the show.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Corey Lewandowski, have a good weekend.

LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you. You too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CUOMO: Facts first. You heard us going back and forth about what Obama said about Fox. Obama did not say in his speech today that he never criticized

Fox News. That's Corey's position, but it's not the fact. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, is that a lie? Nope.

So there's one point. Trump also accused Obama of trying to take all of the credit for the current economy. Now, that's false blame, and here's why. Under Obama, look at your screen. The GDP was up 150 percent. He was coming out of a legendary hole of a recession. Everything is relative, right?

That was from Obama's first year in office until his last. So, those are the numbers, all right? That's why there was a tailwind coming into this administration.

Does Trump -- is it right for Trump to get credit for what happens now? Of course. Did he do it alone? Of course not.

So, what else did Obama do today? He called on Americans to find common ground and fight back against what he calls dangerous times. President Trump is deploying very different tactics as November approaches. Which set of tactics will prevail? What do you say?

Great debate, next. Smiles when they start. How do they finish?

[21:19:51]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Obama's rebuke of President Trump today included this reminder about the economy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: When you hear about this economic miracle that's been going on, when the job numbers come out, monthly job numbers and suddenly Republicans are saying, it's a miracle. I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: True or false?

Great start for a debate. Let's go. Catherine Rampell and Niger Innis.

Good to have you both. Thank you for being with us on a Friday night.

Rampell, does Obama have it right?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, he does. I mean we're basically in the exact same set of economic trends that we had under Obama today under President Trump. Trump's advocates and Trump himself would like you to believe that he became president, and the sea parted, and suddenly, the economy started growing again and we were adding jobs.

But in fact, we are adding about the same number of jobs per month as we were in the last couple of years of the Obama administration. You know, on lots of other measures, including unemployment, including stock market performance, in fact, it's about the same. And actually, in the first year and a half or so of Obama's administration, the stock market grew more than has been the case under Trump although he likes to use that metric.

So, yes, I mean it's basically the same set of trends. Trump has been handed among the easiest jobs economically for a president in generations. He inherited a pretty good economy, a growing economy.

[21:25:00]

You know, we are finally getting out of this devastating financial crisis, and even though Trump has been handed a pretty good hand, he has still managed to shoot himself in the foot by starting trade wars and ticking off our allies and making all sorts of other unforced errors.

CUOMO: Niger Innis, you're laughing. Is it at my face or what you're hearing?

NIGER INNIS, LEADER, CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY: It might be both, Chris.

No. Look, Catherine is absolutely wrong. The fact is, is that Obama was handed a bad deal with the great recession, but because of this, he was allowed to spend yearly $1 trillion on a stimulus package. He -- the Federal Reserve, rightfully so -- they made a decision based on the Great Recession. They kept interest rates at near zero for eight long years, and nevertheless, the Obama annual GDP growth never got close to 3 percent.

And he handed Trump an economy that was growing annually at less than 2 percent. You had during one of the years of the Obama administration, you had something happen for the first time in American history, modern history, which was more small businesses closing than opening. Consumer confidence was at a low.

We were talking about the new normal of 2 percent GDP growth.

RAMPELL: Yes. We're going to go back to 2 percent GDP growth if you look at the IMF, if you look at --

INNIS: That is not the case. We know that the last quarter was 4 percent.

RAMPELL: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Hold on.

RAMPELL: I'm sorry, Catherine.

RAMPELL: I'm sorry. The facts don't lie.

CUOMO: All right. Wait. Hold on.

RAMPELL: Listen --

CUOMO: You heard what Niger has. What's your counter?

RAMPELL: OK, I've been covering the economy for the past ten years, and I can tell you that just because one quarter of good growth that we've had does not mean there is a sudden change in the overall trends. We have had four quarters above 4 percent growth under Obama, and you know what? The long-term trend is the same.

If you look at the CBO, if you look at the IMF, if you look at the Fed, if you look at any outside, independent analyst, they will tell you that the long-term structural trends in the economy persist. We have demographic challenges. We have lots of other issues related to productivity growth amongst other things that will persist and that will not go away just because we had Trump add a $2 trillion stimulus in the form of a tax cut and a spending increase. One quarter of stronger GDP growth does not make a trend.

CUOMO: All right. Hold on. Niger, a problem for each of you. I'll pick up on Niger's point.

Here's the problem for you, Catherine. One, do you have businesses having an optimistic look that measures higher than what we've seen in recent history.

RAMPELL: That's true. CUOMO: Unemployment is lower. The stock market is higher. Trump is

using those along with the growth of the quarter. Look, fair point. 2017 I think was 2.3 percent. It wasn't a blowout year, but he thinks this year is going to be above 4 percent at the end. Forecasters don't agree, but that's the Trump hyperbole.

The hard part for you is all of the numbers are better now than they were when he took over. Isn't that unqualified success?

RAMPELL: No. It's a continuation of the same trends that we saw before. Consumer confidence has been gradually picking up over basically the last, like, eight years or so, virtually since we got out of the Great Recession.

CUOMO: OK.

RAMPELL: These are longer-term trends that pre-date Trump. Also I would remind you of course that businesses just got this enormous deficit-financed tax cut.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: True. On that point, Niger. Last point to you on that one because here's your problem. The tax cut made a difference in juicing the economy, not unlike the stimulus package that Obama did. Different mechanisms, but same effect on the economy early on. But you have, under a conservative supposedly administration, larded onto the debt in a way that we have not seen in over a generation.

Aren't you worried as a conservative that you gave way more than you're going to get back?

INNIS: Not really because I actually believe the biggest accomplishment of the Trump administration -- I think history is going to show -- is the deregulatory policy, which was putting a boot on the throat of small business development. I think you, me, and Catherine will all agree that traditionally speaking, the biggest engine of economic growth, of jobs and prosperity are not big, multinational corporations. It's actually small businesses. It's entrepreneurs.

RAMPELL: What deregulation are you thinking about? Allowing you to pollute more, add more arsenic in the water, allow --

(CROSSTALK)

INNIS: And these small businesses have more confidence because of the deregulatory policy, also because of the tax cut, which is helpful. But, you know, and hopefully we can make them permanent for individuals, but it is the deregulatory policy that has made business more optimistic than it had been in a generation.

CUOMO: We don't know that yet.

RAMPELL: That's bogus.

CUOMO: We're going to have to see what happens over time with the changes in regulations. All regulations are not equal, but you know what? This was.

[21:30:00]

This was a fair debate.

And thank you for it.

Catherine Rampell --

INNIS: Thank you.

CUOMO: -- Niger Innis, appreciate it, especially on a Friday night.

RAMPELL: Thanks.

CUOMO: So, President Trump is now expressing new concerns about a sit-down with Robert Mueller. Remember when he was saying I'm champing at the bit to do it? Not so much anymore. He doesn't just have the special counsel to worry about, though. He's got another counsel, the blue-eyed man on your screen right now.

Michael Avenatti says he's going to be able to depose the president, and he'll tell you why next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: The president has said for some time that he would really like to talk to Mueller. So why hasn't he? Here's his new reason.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I don't want to be set up with a perjury trap, number one. Number two, there was no obstruction, and there was no collusion.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CUOMO: All right. Now, number two is a reason to sit down, right? Number one is a slur to the prosecutors.

A perjury trap is a notion of prosecutorial misconduct where they would bring him in just to trip him up, not for any fact-finding purpose.

[21:35:00]

So is that the real deal?

Let's talk to somebody who understands the system very well.

Michael Avenatti, good to have you, counselor.

He's afraid of a perjury trap. Is that a fair fear, or is he afraid of something else?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: No. He's afraid of answering questions by somebody that knows how to ask questions. You know, this is a president, Chris, that can barely answer questions when he has Fox News asking the questions, whether it be on "Fox & Friends" or in the Rose Garden or anything of that nature. How do you think he's going to handle someone like myself or Bob Mueller asking questions?

It would be an absolute disaster for him, and he knows it.

CUOMO: A big notion for him that he's selling to the American people is that if they don't believe you, they get you for perjury. Is that how it works?

AVENATTI: No, that's not how it works at all. I mean, look, I think there's a treasure trove of topic areas that Bob Mueller could ask this president about, and he would not have very good answers for it. I think that he would fumble around and not be able to answer many of these questions cogently. And I think it would be the same thing, and I expect it will be the same thing in connection with the deposition that I'm going to take of him.

The bottom line here is, is that this man, Donald Trump, does not want to sit down and have to answer any questions under oath. And if I was in his shoes, I probably wouldn't want to do that either in light of the facts and the evidence.

CUOMO: Now, he's talking about how there's no collusion, no nothing like that. That takes us in a segue to what we saw with Papadopoulos today. He lied about a meeting. You could argue that is evidence of collusion, or at least an intent to try to collude.

But that's not what the president thinks that should be investigated for reasons of potential treason and national security. Not Russian interference. Who wrote the op-ed? That's what he wants Jeff Sessions to go after full ammo. What do you make of that?

AVENATTI: It's ridiculous, Chris. You know, this president has had his eye off the ball now basically from day one. The things that really matter to the American people, he's not interested in addressing frankly. He's more interested in carrying out personal vendettas, finding out who's leaking information, and going after people that are trying to do the right thing by this country and tell the truth.

And his priorities are in all of the wrong places, and ultimately if he survives until 2020, I think that the American people are going to send him a message that he had his priorities screwed up from day one.

CUOMO: Some irony there, huh? The op-ed matters because of potential national security exposure, and there could be an issue of treason, yet he does not see those aspects in the Russia investigation.

AVENATTI: It's ridiculous, Chris, as to why the president would not want to get to the bottom of the Russian collusion situation unless he knows he's guilty. He spends so much time and energy on all of these ridiculous other sideshows like this op-ed piece, attendance at his inauguration, things that are just childish, immature, and that nobody cares about. And then the real issues that matter, namely having Russia interfere with our electoral process, which is fundamental to this democracy, he wants everyone to turn a blind eye to it.

CUOMO: I think that you see a combination of personality here, which is someone who is prone to favoring the me over the we, which puts him in a tough spot as a president and a leader, but also an exaggeration of something that is often true. Perception is reality. He's so concerned about the perception of the probe that it comes second to the reality of the probe.

Now, you see hypocrisy not just on the right side of the ball but the left as well. You had an interesting takeaway about Democratic senators during the Kavanaugh confirmation. What got to you?

AVENATTI: Well, look, I have a lot of respect for the Democratic committee members on the panel. Let me just say that from the onset. But, you know, you're talking to a guy that tries cases before a jury, and I've learned some lessons along the way, Chris. And one of those lessons is that you don't get over the tips of your skis. You don't overpromise and underdeliver.

CUOMO: Who did that?

AVENATTI: And if you're going to engage -- well, I don't know that anybody did it because the die has not been cast yet. It's not over.

But what I'm saying is if you're going to have a bunch of buildup on questioning and cross-examine Judge Kavanaugh and suggest that you've got evidence that undercuts his testimony, you got to deliver that because if you don't deliver it, your credibility is shot, at least in the eyes of a jury.

And I think as it relates to this hearing, the American public is basically one big jury. And so I think that's potentially an issue.

CUOMO: Well, Senator Harris --

AVENATTI: As well as, look --

CUOMO: Senator Harris had her prosecutor's hat on and did elicit an odd answer from Kavanaugh about whether he could remember who he spoke to or not at the Kasowitz firm. But you say if you're going to ask him about it, you should have the answer because you seem to be suggesting one.

AVENATTI: Well, you got to deliver the hammer. I mean, you got to deliver the ultimate evidence. Otherwise, everybody looks around and says, you know, where's the beef? What happened? And you lose credibility.

And, you know, look, the other thing I'll say is this. I'm all for theatrics.

[21:40:00]

You know, nobody likes theatrics or drama more than I do. But if you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk, and

you've got to deliver in connection with that. And you can't find yourself in a spot where you lose credibility because it looks like you were putting on a dog and pony show.

CUOMO: Avenatti, let me ask you something.

AVENATTI: And I want to be clear about something. We don't know that that happened yet --

CUOMO: Right. It's not over.

AVENATTI: -- because it's not over yet. I hope that she has the evidence, and I hope that, for instance, as it relates to Senator Booker, that it is shown that those documents really were confidential when he had the, you know, I am Spartacus moment. I hope that that's true.

CUOMO: When he went Kirk Douglas, he said, I read them before they cleared them. Good enough?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, you know, I'll tell you what. I'm not going to comment as to whether I think it's good enough. I think the American people are ultimately going to make their own decision.

But, look, this is a big stage. I think that they both knew it at the time they made their comments. You know, they're fighting the good fight on behalf of the Democrats that are in the minority on the committee. But, you know, again I learned a long time ago as a trial lawyer, you've got to be really careful. You can't get over the tips of your skis, or you're going to get hurt.

CUOMO: Avenatti, I want to ask you a question I feel I'm going to chase you about from time to time over the next year or so. Are you developing a keen interest in politics because you are looking to get into politics yourself?

AVENATTI: Well, I've had an interest in politics for a long time, Chris. You know, I worked on over 150 campaigns in 42 states, some of the biggest races in this nation for six or seven years back in the '90s when I was a much younger man, and I kind of put that behind me. But as a result of this case, a lot of people have come to know me or know my background and they've asked me to enter the fray or to consider it.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: You were in Iowa not too long ago, were you not?

AVENATTI: I was. I've been in Iowa twice, Ohio twice, Florida, New York, Nevada. I'm going to South Carolina in a couple of weeks.

CUOMO: Were those all cases?

AVENATTI: No, they're not cases.

CUOMO: Mm-hmm.

AVENATTI: I mean, I think I've been pretty clear that I'm exploring a run. You know, this is a very unusual time in our nation, Chris. We've got a lot at stake in this republic. I would submit it's the future of the republic. And I think, unlike others, I think the Democrats need to fight fire with fire.

We have got it take the gloves off, and we've got to fight for this nation because the people that depend on us most can no longer afford our gentleness.

CUOMO: Michael, I just got a piece of information in my ear that I'm not sure you're going to believe, but we are reporting it right now, and it seems to be accurate.

Essential Consulting, you know that company, it was set up by Michael Cohen. It was the vehicle for the Stormy Daniels deal. You know all this. This is your case.

We are reporting that Michael Cohen is asking to break that deal up and get his money back. What is your reaction to this news that's just crossing the wire?

AVENATTI: Well, I saw it just moments ago before I came on the air and I haven't had an opportunity --

CUOMO: And you didn't tell me? You're talking about Iowa, and you're not telling me about this that's central to your case?

AVENATTI: Well, no. I haven't had a chance to digest it. I just saw it on my people before I came on.

CUOMO: What do you make of it?

AVENATTI: Look, I haven't had -- well, I haven't had an opportunity to digest it, but here's what I'll say. You know, I find this very curious because Michael Cohen and his surrogates and Donald Trump have been telling America for six months that this deal was legit and that they were going to sue my client. You may recall that for $1 million every time she uttered anything about this.

You know, I think what they're trying to do, Chris, it's pretty transparent, at least at first blush to me. What they're trying to do is they don't want me to get a chance to depose Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. This is a Hail Mary to try to avoid that.

CUOMO: What's the chance Cohen gets his money back?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, ultimately if the agreement is rescinded, then the chance is 100 percent. He gets his $130,000 back. There's no question.

You know, you may or may not recall we offered to do that very early on in the case, and they refused. I mean they told us to go pound sand, which I think will go down as one of the worst litigation decisions in modern history by Michael Cohen and Donald Trump, this decision to basically turn down our offer some six months ago.

CUOMO: Hmm. What good fortune to have you on the show with all this news happening, including a new detail in the case that you're running yourself. Couldn't have timed it better.

Michael Avenatti, thank you for making time on a Friday night.

AVENATTI: Thanks, Chris. Take care.

CUOMO: All right. We're going to take a break. When I come back, we're going to turn to something that will make you smile coming up. Yes, on a Friday just for you, next.

[21:44:46]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it's true. The grind is the glory, and that really came into focus this week after former "Cosby Show" actor Geoffrey Owens was job-shamed for working the checkout line at Trader Joe's.

Once he knew the story was coming out, the first person Owens thought of was his son. He texted him to apologize for embarrassing him, and his son responded to say how proud he was of his dad. Good for him. He was right. It was enough to make Owens shed a few tears and probably a few of us as well.

His son's words of encouragement were just the first of many. This is a story of people doing the right thing. Famous actors shared the day jobs that they've taken between gigs. Fans tweeted their support.

Then came the job offers with those who believe call the grace. Tonight, we're happy to report Owens has accepted a job from a good man, Tyler Perry. Perry tweeted earlier this week that he wanted Owens to appear on his TV show, the haves and the have-nots. We don't exactly know what the role will be, but we do know he's going to appear on multiple episodes.

I told you you'd smile.

Let's bring in Don Lemon.

Look, we both know Tyler Perry. He is a good man who knows what it means to be given a helping hand, and he has offered one to many, Mr. Owens now on that list.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "CNN TONIGHT": I'm glad you said that because I was going to ask you if you know Tyler. Tyler, by the way, is one of my mentors. The nicest, most generous person you ever want to meet.

So I congratulate you, Tyler. That's not the only thing Tyler is doing. He's doing a lot of stuff.

CUOMO: Yes.

LEMON: He's helping a lot of people.

But did you -- you know I interviewed Geoffrey, right? Did you get to meet him when he was here?

CUOMO: I did not, but I saw the interview.

LEMON: He's a good -- he's a great guy, very humble, and he understands that there's no good job and no bad job, right? I mean, some that you may like more than others, but, you know, having a job and being able to support your family is what everyone wants.

And if he has to work at Trader Joe's or wherever, I don't see anything wrong with that.

CUOMO: I just -- I don't get what they were thinking by shaming him.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I don't get what the play was. Think about what he represents.

LEMON: You know what he said, though?

CUOMO: He did what he had to do for his family.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: He quit the job because he didn't want to embarrass Trader Joe's. He called his kid --

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: -- because obviously his whole motivation was to make him proud. That's why he's working wherever he can. It's everything we applaud.

LEMON: Yes. Well, he -- you know, he said he did it because obviously he had to make ends meet.

CUOMO: Sure.

LEMON: But, again, there's no shame in his game. So, you know, I forgot what I was going to -- when you said about why he did it. I lost my train of thought. I forgot what he said.

But, again, he's just a great guy.

[21:50:00]

You know who else is a great guy? Did you see plaid shirt guy last night?

CUOMO: Who?

LEMON: The guy at the -- plaid shirt guy. Come on, Chris. You got to go check. CUOMO: Oh, behind Trump.

LEMON: Behind Trump.

CUOMO: Oh.

LEMON: I just talked to him.

CUOMO: And?

LEMON: He's going to be on. He's hilarious. And he said he actually went because he was open-minded and wanted to see what was happening at a Trump rally. And he went and started making faces and they said have you to get out of here, kid, it's crazy.

CUOMO: He's lucky it only went that way. He was in the wrong place.

LEMON: He just said the Secret Service removed him and asked him for his ID. You'll have to listen to the rest of the story. But he's a great kid.

CUOMO: We'll be watching. That's a great guest on a Friday night.

Don Lemon, I like that haircut high and tight.

LEMON: You know who told me to do this, right?

CUOMO: Nobody who likes you.

LEMON: No --

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: Senator Booker, I had him on, after the taping he said look at me, Don, after the taping. He said, look at me, Don. He goes, when are you going to join the bald club, I said you know what I'm going to do it. There you.

CUOMO: Yes, no, strong move. Did you get a free bowl of soup with that haircut? I'll talk to you later.

All right. There's a question -- there is a question that I want to ask that only you as Americans can answer. And it is a big answer, but you can look at it a lot of different ways. It's our closing argument. Who do we want to be, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:55:00]

CUOMO: Big day today. Obama versus Trump. Media is titillated. Pundits are panting who is better and why.

My argument: wasted time on that level of politics, but it's all about preference. You can use numbers that can show either in terms of fiscal metrics. But that isn't the measure of either man in full, is it? If it were,

we'd have an economist in chief. But we don't.

Now, both men were swept in on waves propelled by populist sentiment. But that's where their approach and the similarities end. What divides these two men makes all the difference. First example, here is how Obama decided to motivate action today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Common ground is out there. I see it every day. Just how people interact, how people treat each other.

You see it on the ball field. You see it at work. You see it in places of worship. But to say that common ground exists doesn't mean it will inevitably win out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Contrast that with the Trump stock rift.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you are going to have is you'll have a country that's going to turn into a third world country. Because if the opposite party becomes president, every time before it even starts, before you've even found out whether or not he or she is going to do a great job, they'll say we want to impeach him, and you'll impeach him. It's so ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Which is better? I'll tell you this it's not about partisan stripe. And in terms of productivity effectiveness, people respond to the idea of fighting for something as well as fighting against something. People call together as well as calls to keep away.

Common ground is powerful, but so is a common enemy. The choice of which of these two to empower as a leader makes all the difference. It is the key compound in the chemistry of our collective character. Alliteration intended.

You can juice the economy under the influence of either mentality. Proof, Obama came back from massive recession. Trump took the tail wind and is accelerating that to certain levels in certain regards.

But money, the economy is no more measure of a man than it is a measure of our mettle as people. The choice matters so much that it reverberates through our connective tissue to the marrow of America. What does Trump believe? Might makes right. Strength is harshness to perceive foes. Loud and proud stoke the crowd. An on-demand demagogic who can sell his version of reality as only a reality show star can.

The examples, us against them, immigrants, Muslims, media, black men, G men, government, allies, enemies, all seen through the lens of advantage, avarice, animosity. In a single thought, President Trump is about walls, separation on all levels as a solution. "Make America Great Again" is inherently a suggestion to go back, not forward.

Today, Obama reminded of the other choice. Bridges, not walls, seek common ground, not common enemies. Diversity is a strength not a source of suspicion. Progress not regress.

So, which is right? You tell me.

Both can get parts of the country riled up and make a popular president. I'll argue numbers. Trump can't get to 50 percent his way. Despite a historic economy and list of achievements a mile long by his own reckonings, rallies with the thousands.

His problem? Thousands ain't millions. He can't get the majority of you to be with him. Not in the election. And not now.

Obama was at 60 percent on the way out. His highest was over 70. His lowest around where Trump is at his best in the main. Why? I argue a bigger notion than numbers -- nature.

America at her best by her nature leads with her heart, not her hate. "Make America Great Again", catchy, but the true greatness lies in what you make America. The answer, that choice is yours.

Thank you very much for being with us all this week.

"CNN Tonight" with a very fetching Don Lemon starts right now.

[22:00:00]