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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Pelosi Faces Resistance in Bid for House Speaker; Melania Trump Calls for Firing of WH Aide and Succeeds; Trump Falsely Claims People Voted Twice by Wearing Disguises. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 21:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The news continues right now, I want to hand it over to Chris for "CUOMO PRIME TIME." Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "COUMO PRIME TIME": You know, Presidents Obama and Bush did use the DOD support, but they used the National Guard. National Guard is exempt from posse comitatus, the law that doesn't allow the use of active duty troops for law enforcement mechanism.

They also were willing to work with governors. Both of those boxes are not checked right now by this administration. It is a meaningful distinction.

Anderson, thank you very much. I appreciate the coverage.

I am Chris Cuomo, and welcome to PRIME TIME.

When Melania says you got ago, you go. Kind of. What's the real reason that the first lady went public with her feelings about a deputy national security advisor? And what happens now? Despite the latest White House horror show, POTUS had time to cook up yet another goofy voter fraud story. Is the White House getting its alternative facts from InfoWars again?

I have something to show you - 100 percent that's what Nancy Pelosi told Meredith her chances were of getting the speaker gavel back. We have a Democrat who is against that plan. How does Congressman Seth Moulton plan to stop Nancy Pelosi? So much intrigue tonight, so little time. Let's get after it.

We have an election update for you. Democrats picked up two more House seats just today. One in California and another just a short time ago in New Jersey. So, what do those victories mean? Well, they certainly widen the balance of power in Washington. If you're keeping score, Democrats now have 32 net pick-ups in the House, 227 for Democrats, 200 for Republicans. Eight races remain undecided. Democrats are leading in five of those eight. So, once they figure out the numbers, the new constituency, the new caucus is going to have to vote on whom their leader will be come January.

Nancy Pelosi, as I said, told me 100 percent that's how certain she is she'll get the speaker ship. But now with new members of Congress gathering on Capitol Hill, there is growing talk of resistance to that plan. Seth Moulton, Democratic Congressman of Massachusetts, one of the members not in favor of that easy 100 percent passage for Pelosi.

Congressman, always a pleasure. Good to see you.

REP. SETH MOULTON (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good to see you, Chris.

CUOMO: Why no Nancy Pelosi?

MOULTON: Well, the American people sent a very clear message a week ago with the election that it's time for a new approach to politics and new leaders. And it's our job in Washington to answer that call. I mean, just look at the amazing number of women who ran and won on a platform of change with people of color, veterans, historic number of women veterans in particular. We need to answer that call for a change and a change in leadership.

CUOMO: Who beats Pelosi?

MOULTON: There are amazing members of our caucus who are incredible leaders including amazing women. Look --

CUOMO: Give me two.

MOULTON: It's no secret one of my mentors is Marcia Fudge of Ohio.

CUOMO: Yes.

MOULTON: She's an incredible leader. When I got to Congress, I said, I need a mentor in Congress and so I asked around. I asked around for a while. And the name that kept coming up as someone who is smart, wise, who understands this institution and will take someone under her wing is Marcia Fudge. And so, I asked her to be my mentor. She became my mentor. I admit she's a friend, but she would also be an extraordinary leader for our caucus, for our party, for the House of Representatives, and for our country at this incredibly contentious time.

CUOMO: So Congressman, doesn't Fudge check all the same boxes that Pelosi does?

MOULTON: No, absolutely not. She is someone -- first of all, she's a woman of color from the Midwest. She's someone who understands the economic challenges so many Americans face today. She is someone who is in touch with a broad swath of the American people. She is someone who is very, very wise, who people throughout our caucus go to for advice, and she's someone who can bring this party together. Rather than be a divisive leader who is trying to constantly clear the bench of potential challengers rather than build the bench of grassroots support, Congresswoman Fudge is someone who really can bring this party together at a time when Americans need leadership. When the party needs -- when the party needs unity, and we need someone who can be focused on the future.

She is someone that people will look at and say, that's the future of our party. That's the future of our country. And I don't think people look at our current leadership and see that right now.

CUOMO: Does Fudge want to take on Pelosi?

MOULTON: Well, look, I can't speak for her. I'm just using her --

CUOMO: You are. You are right now, senator. You're speaking for her right now.

MOULTON: I never speak for her, absolutely not. But she is an example of the incredible leadership that we have in our caucus. It's time that our caucus leadership that represents our people. We've never had a leader of the House who's a woman of color, for example.

CUOMO: That's 100 percent true.

MOULTON: And we want -- the American people have been very, very clear, that it's time for new leadership and we can't answer that call by reinstalling the same leadership we've had since 2006.

CUOMO: Well, look, I hear the argument. It is a valid one. We'll see what kind of traction it gets. I mean, there is no question that the midterm was validation that there is a need for a check on the presidency, all right. So let's pick up on that point. I love the in-party intrigue as much as anybody. But let's get closer to when you guys have to work the caucus. We'll talk about that again.

[21:05:11] But right now, what are you going to do with the power? You have this balance you have to strike. Deal making, ball breaking, I say those are the two sides of the scale. The second one is oversight. We're going to go after him. Cummings, Nadler, we're going after Whitaker. We don't think that he's worthy of the appointment. We think the constitutional issues and we think he's a walking catastrophe for the President of the United States. Are you in favor with them going after Whitaker in one of their first official actions?

MOULTON: Look, Matthew Whitaker is an illegal appointment as attorney general. The thing about it, I was a marine and the marine veteran, I went to Iraq. A Republican president sent me overseas to fight for a people who didn't have a government that respected the rule of law. I'm not going to stand idly by while our President doesn't respect the rule of law here at home. So we have a real problem with Whitaker, but more broadly, we have got to provide leadership in the House of Representatives. Leadership that up holds our constitutional responsibility to put a check on the presidency. But also upholds the demand of the American people that we work together across the aisle to get things done.

CUOMO: Right.

MOULTON: We have both of those responsibilities.

CUOMO: I hear it, you do. But it's tricky. You know, power comes with a price tag. You have to make people feel good about their purchase of your political power. And they've given it to you. But if you want to make deals, you know, we both know the chance of making a deal on health care, on infrastructure, on anything goes down as the oversight of the President increases. The more that Republicans see their president getting put to the spurs by the Democrats, the less likely they'll be to make a deal. How do you balance the two?

MOULTON: You sound like an RNC chairman, Chris.

CUOMO: Do I? Stepping up.

MOULTON: I mean, look, we're not just going to do talking points. We're going to do both. That's what leadership means. And the American people will respond if they see responsible leadership, if they see leadership that we can believe in. Frankly that's why I think it's time for new leadership in the House. I mean, you look at some of the amazing candidates who were elected like the service veterans, Abigail Spanberger, CIA veteran, defeated one of the most partisan far-right wing Republicans in Congress in Virginia.

She's someone that people will trust to do the right thing. They know that she can make deals, but they also know she's going to stand up to the President. If they see leadership like that, we can do both. And that's why we need new leadership at the top as well. That's why I'd like to see someone like Marcia Fudge take over for Nancy Pelosi.

CUOMO: What do you think coming out of the box as the strongest foot forward for Democrats?

MOULTON: Well, we've talked about HR 1, which is --

CUOMO: That's the drain the swamp bill, right?

MOULTON: Well, that's right. It helps restore trust in government. I think that we need to look at the voting rights act. You know, it is amazing right now that we have a governor's race in Georgia where one of the contest ants is trying to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters.

CUOMO: Secretary of the State Kemp.

MOULTON: Secretary of State Kemp, acting as the secretary of state when he's the candidate for governor and trying to throw out a bunch of ballots and saying that they don't count.

Down in Florida, we have the Republican Party of Florida saying that a bunch of service members ballots are not going to get counted in the Senate race in the governor's race. I mean, telling service members that their votes don't count, that's what's going on in America right now. And it's happening under Republican leadership. We've got to put a stop to that because there is nothing more fundamentally American and Democratic than every individual's right to vote.

CUOMO: Well, Congressman Moulton, I will be coming back to you as we take these different steps forward with the new Congress. I always like having you on the show. I must say you're a first for me tonight. I've never been accused of sounding like the RNC chair.

MOULTON: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: And thank you for your service. I know veteran's day just passed us but we should recognize it every day. Thank you. I'll see you soon.

MOULTON: Thank you. I appreciate that.

CUOMO: All right. Boy, did this story capture America's attention. This next one, Melania Trump put a key national security official on blast. She wanted her gone. And she wanted you to know it. It didn't stay in-House. It wasn't about her working soft power. She was loud and proud about it. And she succeeded, kind of. When I say that this was really popular with you, no CNN alert since Trump became president has been responded to the way this one was. What happened? And what's going to happen now? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:13:13] CUOMO: Oh, the drama, the chaos that they keep telling us does not exist in the White House. Sessions out, the day after the election. General John Kelly, Homeland Secretary Nielsen, maybe a package deal as an acrimonious exit. Then the CNN alert that topped all others in interest, which really just has me baffled, Melania went public to get someone fired, and it worked, kind of.

The woman's name Mira Ricardel, she's out of the White House but not gone. She's headed for some other job in the administration. Where, we don't know. The truth is we don't know why any of this happened. Why the first lady got sideways with a deputy national security advisor. Why that warranted John Bolton's main deputy getting the heave ho. Or most of all, why did the first lady take the grunt public? Why did she need to do that? Why did she feel she needed to do that? One thing we know for sure. This is all bad, and it is fuel for the fires ever burning in this chaotic White House.

Now, if you're going to silver lining it, at least the Melania thing was a distraction from Trump's main problem, which is over at the DOJ Matthew Whitaker is a walking weakness for the President of the United States. You know you have issues when combating the choice of Whitaker's appointment as unconstitutional when that is the easy challenge. Never mind that he's going to over see the Mueller investigation, which he constantly says should not exist. And, oh, yeah, Democrats are lining up to investigate him about his appointment and other issues, which I'm about to explain.

Then there's dealing with how it's OK to have somebody in charge of the Department of Justice who has argued in public that only Christians should be judges. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[21:15:04] MATTHEW WHITAKER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: What I'd like to see is I'd like see things like their world view, what informs them, how they live their lives, are they people of faith, do they have a biblical view of justice which I think is very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Biblical view of justice? Listen, I'm a Christian, but our legal system is not, OK? This man is in charge of the Department of Justice. If that's not enough, there's the fact that he served on the board of a company that got in trouble with the FTC for bilking thousands of customers out of millions of dollars and is still under investigation by the FBI. The cherry on top? Trump's pick to head our Justice Department worked for a place that marketed a, "masculine toilet" designed for well-endowed men.

You cannot make up what we deal with as normal these days. Only the best. Drain the swamp. I cannot remember a time that we've seen more people around a sitting president be cited, investigated, chased out, fired, indicted, and we are only two years in. I laugh because it's a laugh or cry proposition and I'm not going to cry in front of you. I'm too insecure.

Our President told voters, pretend I'm not on the ballot when he went to the polls. Many clearly listened, and they voted against him. Now he's conjuring up make believe stories to explain why he got trounced. His new disguise surprise. That's where we'll start the great debate next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:20:39] CUOMO: Remember the caravan, how dangerous the President said it was, how imminent the emergency? Where did it go? Why hasn't the President been talking about it since Election Day? Why isn't the Trump trio, which seems more interested in talking about me over on Fox, than about the immigration situation? What happened? Maybe it's because he realized that fear and loathing didn't work.

Now he's got a new theory. On Election Day, telling the Daily Caller this. The Republicans don't win and that's because of potentially illegal votes. Now, let's stop right there. You cannot win because of potentially illegal votes, OK? Either they're illegal votes and you're getting screwed or you're not. That's a hedge because he's got no proof. Then he says, when people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles, sometimes they go to their car. Put on a different hat. Put on a different shirt. Come in and vote again. It's really a disgrace. What's going on? What's a disgrace is saying something like that with zero proof.

Now, the idea that fraud is a widespread problem in this country, we know that's not true. There have been studies that have examined a billion votes. So what's going on here? Let's take it to the debaters. Jennifer Granholm and Rick Santorum.

Brother Santorum, do you know from whence the President is deriving this wisdom about the people walking in circles with the changed hats and shirts?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do not, but that doesn't mean that -- you know, that has never happened. I'm sure it has happened. But I agree --

CUOMO: Why are you sure it has happened?

SANTORUM: Oh, well look, I mean, the bottom line is that, you know, people do commit voter fraud. I mean, people commit fraud on a variety of different things. People lie, cheat and steel every day. And if you don't think they do it during an election, then I think you're deluding yourself.

The question is do we have laws in place and systems in place to limit that. And that's one of the things Republicans have been all about, making sure there is integrity in the voting process, and I do agree with you that I don't think it helps anybody, the President or our party or anybody to go out and make specious claims about voter fraud that are unsubstantiated because it's a serious business and I do believe it does exist. I know the cases are prosecuted. I've talked to lots of attorney generals who have prosecuted vote fraud cases. We need to be serious about this and we need to be serious about the integrity of the vote.

CUOMO: I hear you. You may have spoken to many attorney generals -- attorneys general who have prosecuted cases, but they haven't prosecuted many because we know from the studies there have literally been dozens of cases over many, many years and billions of votes. It couldn't be less of a priority for our prosecutors than it is --

SANTORUM: I agree with that. That's one of the reasons you don't see a whole lot of prosecutions because it's not a high priority for most prosecutors.

CUOMO: He said millions did it illegally in California. That was bunk and we know it.

SANTORUM: I agree with you. I think --

CUOMO: The hats and the shirts --

SANTORUM: I agree --

CUOMO: I'll tell you where he might have gotten it from.

Jennifer, thank you for being so patient. I know you're loving this, but you're going to like to see this. InfoWars, OK, these are two words that I never put together in this context because I rather go to a kindergarten to get information about anything serious than that fool. But they had a story, Jennifer, that sounds like what the President just said.

And it involves -- here it is -- it involves them talking to a man who gives them an account of hearing that people are able to vote more than once, and they then ask him, did you see this? And he said, no, I'm blind. But I heard them talking about it there. That is the only thing I can find that is anything like the President.

Now, Jennifer, you can say, no, no, no don't ever accuse the President of that. But we know the White House just used InfoWars material to frame a false claim against a CNN correspondent. So what's your take on this?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, it's -- I mean, the President is using InfoWars to get his data is frightening, frankly, for the country. But to your point, first of all, that particular scenario that was put out by InfoWars was actually raided by PolitiFact as pants on fire false. And I know that we've talked about this before but the Brennan Center for Justice has done these studies forever and they found that 0.00003 percent of votes are fraudulent. 0.0003 percent.

[21:25:14] There were four instances of fraud in at least -- documented fraud in 2016 out of 138 million votes cast. Four instances, and all four of them were people who voted for Donald Trump. So, this is a crisis that he wants to make up, but I think the best -- I mean, actually, it was kind of funny today, Chris. The best part of the day was Twitter when he reacted to his statement that you need to have an I.D. to purchase cereal. They had a lot of fun with it.

CUOMO: What kind of cereal are you eating, Rick Santorum, that you need I.D. for?

SANTORUM: I think he meant cold medicine. I just think --

CUOMO: Yeah, everybody does when they eat cereal.

SANTORUM: -- except the groceries --

CUOMO: Who doesn't mean cold medicine when you say cereal, you know? The other day I went to get a box of lucky charms and I wound up downing a half a bottle of Robitussin before I realized it. They were magically delicious.

SANTORUM: It's a common mistake.

CUOMO: Listen. I have to tell you, it's kind of funny, but it's kind of sad. It really is. The forgiveness and the defense that you provide for this President -- and you're not alone and I get that you want to get to larger principles. But the man says people are changing hats and shirts and walking in circles, and you say, yes, I don't know anything about that, but I'm sure it happened at some point. Really, you're sure? You're really sure that that happened at some point?

GRANHOLM: Rick -- I feel bad for Rick.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: It's going to be some quality time in the confessional all this Saturday morning, let me tell you.

SANTORUM: Look --

CUOMO: You again, Rick? Yes, father.

SANTORUM: I agree with you that the President has wrongly over exaggerated this problem. But that doesn't minimize the fact that there is a problem. It's a serious issue and it is one that -- look --

CUOMO: Voter fraud is not a serious issue. Integrity in our elections is a serious issue.

SANTORUM: Having laws in place to make sure fraud is minimized is an important thing. And that's what Republicans have trying to do across this country for a long time. If we have those laws in place, then going back and changing your -- putting sunglasses on and a hat, you can't vote again because you have to show an I.D.

CUOMO: I know the problem is that him saying that things happen when they don't happen -- Jennifer, that is the most dangerous thing that can happen in the election process. You know, we just had a big article written in the Washington Post about the concerns about 2020. That if the President wants to say -- if it's a tight race and he loses, for the President to say I don't accept the outcome, I think it's fake. I think it's fraudulent. You could have a real problem on your hands. And when he sows the seeds of doubt with no proof, Jennifer, we know that the election system is a lot based on confidence. You pull back the sheets on any of these states, you're not going to like what you see 10 times out of 10. You're not, it is an inexact process.

GRANHOLM: And, in fact, I mean, this is just another example of him tearing down the institutions of democracy, by sowing doubt in what the media is saying, what the election outcome is. I mean, the man won an election. I honestly wish that weren't the case, right? He didn't win the popular vote, but he won the Electoral College.

CUOMO: Yes.

GRANHOLM: When he sows seeds of doubt about the election, he's sowing seeds of doubt about his legitimacy in the office. He has got to knock it off. He's the President of the greatest democracy ever and what he's doing is sawing the legs off of the table of democracy one pillar at a time, one leg at a time. It is terrible action for a president to be doing.

SANTORUM: I think it is hard for Democrats to make that case when they've spent now almost two years going after President Trump and the legitimacy of the election with this investigation about Russian tampering. That sort of rich for Democrats to say that Republicans are undermining the integrity of the elections when the left has been questioning Trump's legitimacy from three years.

GRANHOLM: But, Rick, what you were saying right there is that you are undermining an investigation by the FBI, which is another pillar of democracy, having trust in our Department of Justice.

SANTORUM: But --

GRANHOLM: And the people who are working in it. It's another avenue of attack that this President has gone. If you don't like Robert Mueller, that's fine. But to suggest that he is somehow -- he's rigging this election in some way is absolutely -- rigging the investigation in some way is absolutely incorrect.

SANTORUM: I'm not suggesting that.

GRANHOLM: That is another example of the President tearing down democracy.

CUOMO: What Rick is saying you guys have been attacking Trump's legitimacy as president by saying that Russia helped get him elected.

SANTORUM: And Russia's -- you know Russia's --

GRANHOLM: Well, let's find out.

SANTORUM: You want to talk about fraud, talk about Russia's influence on the election. You mentioned 0.0003. You add about 20 more zeroes. That's how much impact Russia's, "involvement in the election --

(CROSSTALK)

[21:30:06] CUOMO: Listen, I got to tell you -- look -- I give up, I know, right?

GRANHOLM: You cannot say that. You don't have any data about that.

SANTORUM: Well, we do because we know how much social media was out there and we know how much of a, "Russian influence" was in that and it wasn't even a drop in the bucket. It was like water vapor.

CUOMO: Hold on a second, I think that there is room on both of you here. And there is a lot of unknown on both sides of what you're saying but to be clear --

GRANHOLM: Let's let Mueller find out.

CUOMO: There was a lot of malignant social media going on, but we don't have any proof that any votes were different as a result of what happened. So we'll see what they put together in that report. I don't think you're going to see anything that can prove that. It is a very subjective consideration. But while we're on the point of the DOJ and Mueller, let me ask you something about Whitaker real quick, Rick. If you had a choice whether or not to make this man the person that you want to put out there and protect in such a valued position, is this the guy you'd pick?

SANTORUM: Well, first, I know him. I don't know him well. I've met him. You know, I've had a lot of respect for him. He's run for office in Iowa. He served as U.S. attorney. He did so very commendably from everything that I know about him. And he's a very -- he's a good solid man.

I mean, I saw that quote that you were playing that somehow someone who has biblically based views. I mean, what he's talking about the 10 commandments. You disagree that people should hold by the 10 commandments?

CUOMO: No, that's not what he was saying.

SANTORUM: Yes, he was.

CUOMO: No, I listen to the whole thing. It gets worst by the way.

SANTORUM: No, you're putting a word --

CUOMO: They say to him Levitican and New Testament? And we both know that Levitican is code for Jews, Old Testament people versus New Testament. And he's I'm a New Testament guy, New Testament. They are Biblical, New Testament. Justices don't have to have a biblical reference for judgment and you know it.

SANTORUM: What he's talking about is a sense of where people's concepts of right and wrong come from. And this is a problem, this is a question, it's a legitimate question. If you're someone who is not basing your rights and wrongs on the bible, where does it come from? And that's really what he's saying. You know --

CUOMO: Morals and ethics, precedence? Law?

SANTORUM: Let's better define what that is instead of just saying it's not this. And I think that's what we get from a lot of people. And to me it's fair game.

CUOMO: All right. Jen, last word.

GRANHOLM: This man is obviously has been under investigation. Currently is under investigation by the DOJ, by the FTC. He is, you know, what you played is absolutely accurate. And, of course, he's obviously biased in this. So, for several reasons he should recuse himself, in addition to which, of course, that he hasn't been affirm --

CUOMO: Having an opinion, it doesn't mean you got to recuse yourself.

SANTORUM: That doesn't mean, you're biased I mean, he was a commentator when he made this comment.

GRANHOLM: No, if he has an opinion about the outcome and --

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: That's not fair. I mean, you'd be biased. You give opinions, does not mean it should be biased and looking as someone who is serving in public office.

GRANHOLM: He has said that we should -- wait, but his opinion was on the very subject, which is should he be overseeing the Mueller investigation, and his opinion is, no, the Mueller investigation is illegitimate, and we should eliminate the budget for it. That's not a fair oversight. That's not somebody who will give confidence that the Department of Justice is allowing this investigation to proceed with unfettered, without, you know, without bias.

CUOMO: We'll see because the Democrats, we've had two potential chairman heads, right? In Nadler and Cummings, they are the ranking members. So they would putatively be chairmen of the committees. They both want to look at it. So we're going to know a lot more about it in short order if they have their way. Jennifer, Rick, thank you both. I appreciate it.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

GRANHOLM: You bet.

CUOMO: All right. So the Deputy National Security Advisor has been forced out of the White House, not out of the administration altogether. But the big intrigue is about why it happened. The first lady went public and said this person has to go. Why did she want her gone? We have someone very plugged into the East Wing next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:37:25] CUOMO: A silent first lady no more. Today the President granted his wife's wish by firing his deputy national security advisor who Melania Trump publicly, keyword, rebuked on Tuesday. A statement from the White House says Mira Ricardel who was also John Bolton's top aide will, "continue to support the President as she departs the White House and transitions to a new role within the administration."

This is just the latest move as reports of dysfunction from this administration continue to surface. Let's get some insight, shall we? Someone who had a unique glimpse into the East Wing, "Washington Post" Staff Writer, Sarah Ellison. Good to see you as always.

SARAH ELLISON, STAFF WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Great to see you, too.

CUOMO: It's been a minute. So help me understand. I've never seen anything like this. I've seen very strong first ladies knuckle up.

ELLISON: Behind the scenes, behind the scenes, right.

CUOMO: Behind the scenes. Why did this become public?

ELLISON: Well, from the beginning, you know, you have to remember that Melania Trump did not anticipate that she was going to have this role. This was not something she came in with an army of people who were giving her advice about how to do it. She didn't move to Washington for six months, which was something that mothers could relate to and fathers, too, because they want -- she wanted to let her son finish out his year in school. So she was always and throughout every one of those decisions -- I mean, she has half the staff of Michelle Obama, half the staff of Laura Bush.

She said, I'm my own woman and I'm going to do things my own way. She was entirely silent. So we thought, is Melania OK? One of the resistance cries was, you know, should we save Melania, should we break her out of the White House? What I think you saw here was a very Trumpian move from Melania Trump. It's Nancy Reagan spoke privately to her husband. Hillary Clinton spoke privately to her husband. Michelle Obama. To get -- either it's to get the attention of this president, you have to go on cable news or be on Twitter.

CUOMO: As his wife?

ELLISON: I mean, why would she be making a statement that publicly through her P.R. person? CUOMO: Why did she wear that coat?

ELLISON: Well, that still, we have seven different answers on that one.

CUOMO: Why do you wear this coat? And I mean, it's not like I'm some rube. I grew up in this world, the presidential world. But I understand the idea of being a political family. I've never seen anything like this. And I'll tell you what, I'm not the only one who is nonplussed about it.

ELLISON: Oh.

CUOMO: The CNN alert -- my A.P. loves when I say this. The CNN alert about this story is the most followed up alert since they started tracking them about Trump.

[21:40:02] ELLISON: Well, it's highly unusual. It's obviously -- it's I think it's unprecedented to have a sitting first lady call for the dismissal of a West Wing staffer. You have to remember, the East Wing and the West Wing --

CUOMO: And we don't know why.

ELLISON: -- don't communicate. Well, we know from some of the reporting -- I mean, we don't know exactly why. This was not a popular figure in the West Wing. She had gone up against a lot of people. She had offended a lot of people, Mattis, et cetera. She got into an argument over not having a seat on the plane for Melania Trump's trip to Africa. She was rude to some of the East Wing staffers. We know from reporting. This was either Melania Trump sort of hitting back in the same way her husband hits back publicly.

CUOMO: But she hit him.

ELLISON: She didn't really hit him.

CUOMO: You don't think this was embarrassing for him, for his wife to say in public, this woman's got to go?

ELLISON: I don't really see it that way. I mean, after the midterms --

CUOMO: Do tell.

ELLISON: We all knew that there was going to be this blood bath. We've all been anticipating it. Reporters have been scurrying trying to figure out when will Nielsen be fired, what does that mean for John Kelly?

CUOMO: And if Nielsen goes, Kelly goes. If Sarah Sanders goes does that mean, Raj goes.

ELLISON: Yes. And you want to say yes, yes, yes but when and how. And so I think that this in some ways, I mean, I don't pretend to have answer but I think that this adds to -- I mean, do you remember back when Kellyanne Conway saying that she thought Mitt Romney was not a good candidate --

CUOMO: Yes.

ELLISON: -- during the period he was having lunch with the president?

CUOMO: Yes.

ELLISON: That didn't anger the president. I think he enjoyed the fact that there was this internal fight that was going on, and so I think there is something about this is just yet one more public piece of this now over used metaphor of a reality show.

CUOMO: I hear you on that. And again, I've never seen anything like what we watch in real time in this White House. Just factually true. But this one is a real eye popper because this means that you have several layers of break down and potential crisis. If the first lady and the President aren't functioning well symbiotically enough so that when she is this angry about somebody --

ELLISON: That he doesn't outright fire somebody.

CUOMO: And it's not communicated and she never has to say anything, nobody even ever knows. You know that they know she was upset. He says, no, this is on me. I'm doing this. And am I doing it because of how this person spoke to somebody close to my wife or my wife herself? Yes, but that's on me. But that didn't happen here.

ELLISON: But this is somebody who doesn't like to fire anyone. I mean, you have to remember again, despite his reputation, he doesn't enjoy --

CUOMO: Right. That's factually true also. That's true unless he's on TV.

ELLISON: When he was -- right. That was a different era, different role.

CUOMO: Big thing. But what does it say about the marriage? And look, you know me. You know that this is not an avenue -- on new day, I wouldn't handle this stuff.

ELLISON: Right,

CUOMO: Because care about anybody's marriage. But as a function of normalcy within the White House, now I'm interested about what does this say, that she has to go out in public to get something like this done?

ELLISON: Well, I'm not even sure that it says something new about the marriage. I mean, we know that they have -- from reporting in both the Washington Post and in "The New York Times," that they keep separate bedrooms. She has a very independent life where she is very focused on Bannon and her own work as first lady which, again, she has less of a public schedule than her predecessors did. She has half the staff. But I think that this is -- I think this is a sign -- well, the other thing we know is she was very upset. She's been -- there have been a few months where we've talked of Stormy Daniels. We talked of Karen McDougal.

CUOMO: The hand incident.

ELLISON: Yes. I mean, of course. These are all things were we've all been -- I mean --

CUOMO: Never seen anything like that, either. Even during the Clinton's thing I never saw anything like that.

ELLISON: Right. I mean, I think that -- but this is not body language. Like that was -- does he know -- she doesn't want him to hold her hand? We would all spend hours on YouTube watching the clips over and over again but this is something that's actually of government business.

CUOMO: Right.

ELLISON: I mean, this is the deputy national security advisor.

CUOMO: Yes.

ELLISON: There is something different about that.

CUOMO: It's a big deal.

ELLISON: It's a big deal, but Melania Trump is now sort of playing her role in the post midterm blood bath that we're all going to watch tomorrow to see what happens to John Kelly, et cetera.

CUOMO: If I thought that what was happening here was a dpi vied and conquer deal, you take care of some of the head rolling, I'll take care of some of the head rolling, that would be one thing. But I don't see this as concerted action. I see this as evidence of chaos, of a real abnormality in terms of how things are going on professionally and personally in that place. But I don't think that you're going to see Melania Trump come out against other people.

ELLISON: I don't think -- I don't think you're going to see that either, but I don't think -- I don't know. I suppose that Donald Trump is not upset about this.

CUOMO: That's a very provocative question. I think we'll probably know soon enough. Secrets are not kept well this that place. Sarah Ellison, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

[21:45:05] ELLISON: Thank you.

CUOMO: Anyway, President Trump surprised some people today. He threw his support behind a bipartisan bill to reform the criminal justice system. Was there a political motive behind the move, or are we entering a new era of compromise? We take it on next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: President Trump made a big show at the White House about throwing his support for criminal justice reform. This is a move that Jared Kushner has been pushing, to be honest. And the question is whether this is actually bipartisan compromise to fix a broken system -- which it is -- or is there a political motive? And if there is, is that a bad thing? It's a lot to unpack. So let's bring in D. Lemon.

D. Lemon, I want to get into this. But first did you hear the discussion about Melania that I was having about Sarah Ellison?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I did not, I'm sorry. I was actually doing something for my show. Sorry, Chris. I apologize.

CUOMO: I was shocked by how much interest there is in this story and I was shocked that she actually took her suggestion public. And I see it as a huge indicator of dysfunction personally and professionalism in that White House. Do you have a different take?

LEMON: Well, honestly I don't really know. I wish I had heard the discussion then I could speak more eloquently about it. But I really don't know. I wish I heard your conversation but I didn't. I'm at a loss for words, and you know for me --

CUOMO: That's impressive.

The criminal justice reform, bona fide, good faith change in a system that needs it, or do you see something ulterior?

LEMON: Listen, I would hope so. I would hope so. And I don't want to be the one to judge because I'm not there. I'm not involved in the conversations and quite frankly, you know, I am just the person on television who is reporting this and listening to the people who, you know, actually have a stake in it.

I would hope so. And, of course, there is something political in it for anybody, any administration, anyone who would be in office right now.

[21:50:03] But I have to be honest with you. I mean, just before I came in and part of the reason I'm scrambling, I didn't get to hear your thing. I'm trying to make up some time is because I actually moderated a panel for the Hunter Foundation, which focuses on, just before work here, which focuses on drug prevention and training, and helping people, especially children, who become involved with drugs, whether it is K2, whether it is heroin, whatever it is, but mostly they're focusing on K2.

And the Hunter Foundation is, you know Wendy Williams, the talk show host? It's Wendy Williams Hunter. It's her and her husband's foundation. And quite honestly, you know, her son had somehow become involved with K2. So she has a personal experience with it.

And so that's what I spent my evening moderating a panel, talking about these particular issues and the disparities in sentencing between people who are now getting plaudits for owning drug companies, or marijuana companies, and people who are still sitting in jail for selling a small amount of marijuana or possessing a small amount of marijuana. It's just crazy, right? So there you go.

CUOMO: And then what happens with bail?

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

CUOMO: What happens with parole? You know, there are inequities that run up and down that system, you know? Even bail. People would be like, whatever, you're still going to get prosecuted. Oh, no not whatever. If you had to be in Rikers if you are here in New York, if you had to be in Rikers Island for up to a year instead of out on bail --

LEMON: Right.

CUOMO: -- you will not be the same person at the end of that year that you were at the beginning of it.

LEMON: You know what I hear? I had one of the doctors who was in charge of the Rikers program for years, an amazing doctor there. She talked about it. And what she said was she thinks that now, you know, I mean it sounds awful to put in this language. Maybe I'm using the wrong words. But she thought it was going because we have some much focus now especially with the Opioid crisis. They didn't have the attention when it came to crack in the black community, when it came to even when heroin was affecting the black community, when any kind of disrespect that that involve addiction affect the black community, there was not as much awareness. But now they can get funding and money and attention because of the awareness. So there you go.

CUOMO: All right and I'll be watching your show. I know you're talking to Van about this exact issue and it's going to be a really important convo.

LEMON: I'm talking to Van Jones, and we're going to have a real conversation about it and talk about exactly what you and I did. Is it, you know, politically motivated? Is it good, or is it bad? I don't know. I want to listen and see what Van says.

CUOMO: And I will watch unlike some. I'll talk to you soon.

LEMON: All right. Telling tall tales. Not something new for this President. He abuses the truth, spews baseless claims all the time. But telling lies to undermine the will of the people is dangerous stuff. I have an argument for you about what's happening all around us right now, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:56:15] CUOMO: Don't be a sucker. A vibrant vindication of our call for you to avoid calling for people posed as fact. Tonight the curious case of the President, trying to get you to believe in voter fraud. Here's his latest offering of offal. When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles, sometimes they go to their car, put on a give hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace. That's what's going on.

Where? When? No proof. White House, no response. The only thing anything like it is this tripe from InfoWars. Now, before you say, how could you even mention InfoWars, remember, the White House used doctored video from those fools to make a false case against a CNN reporter, all right?

Then the President says this. If you buy a box of cereal, you have a voter I.D. They try to shame everybody by calling this racist or calling them something, anything you can think of when you say you want voter I.D., but voter I.D. is a very important thing.

Maybe if you buy lucky charms by Smirnoff, and the I.D. laws discriminate against minorities, hence the suggestion. Trump knows it's not easy to get over poll monitors. He knows it personally. In 2004, he was turned away from three New York polling places on camera. Why? He wasn't on their voter registration lists. He ended up having to cast a provisional ballot. Trump is playing you for a sucker. He thinks he can get you to believe his brand of strong and wrong all day long. This, the caravan that was just about to unleash the evils of more last week.

In the movie version, there would have been a deafening sound, pant, growling, gnashing of teeth as the army was just about to -- and then, poof, the clarion call of the election chased away the demons. Barely a word from Trump ever since. They tried to play you, and they lost according to the voters.

You know, when Abraham Lincoln applied the biblical truth that a House divided cannot stand, he was speaking out against the fundamental split caused by slavery. Through that, through then, through now, however, Trump is anathema to Lincoln's principled stance. He looks for issues of division and exploits them. He seems to believe that doing that weakens those who may oppose him and thus he is stronger.

But this was just rejected by the majority of this country bigly. It seems that part of the base containing real conservatives shrunk because rational folk concluded that the handful of things that Trump has done that they like, tax and regulation cuts, conservative judges, any Republican would have done those.

And therefore, if you think about it, the only thing that makes Trump really different is how he talks, his abuse of the truth, his constant hostility, his gaffes, his coarseness. Trump seems to think that the remedy is more of the same.

Now, he's making a bet that may make losers of his party and all of its gain in state and federal seats over a decade. The cost may be even higher, however, if our President succeeds in finding a way to really tear us apart.

That's all I got. I'm going to give it to don early because I was giving him a hard time before, and I don't like to do that. "CNN TONIGHT" is starting now.

LEMON: OK. So playing the role of Chris Cuomo is Don Lemon. Where is -- because you're always looking for the bright side.

CUOMO: What a come-up. LEMON: No, I love that about -- for you, yes. You've met your match

here. So, listen, let me ask you, where is the positivity from this President? You know you used to hear from people -- from presidents, our electoral process or our voting process is not perfect, but we're the greatest country on earth, and more people voted in this election than anyone else. Of course we can improve upon what we have but let's come together and work with the people who are being elected.