Evangelical leader Franklin Graham in an interview called President Donald Trump "a changed person" amid recent reports of an alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels. Graham's comments came after a report that, one month before the 2016 presidential election, Michael Cohen––the president's personal attorney––arranged a $130,000 for Daniels (whose real name is Stephanie Clifford) as part of a nondisclosure agreement to keep her from discussing a sexual encounter with Trump back in 2006, while Trump was married to his current wife, Melania, and just a few months after Melania gave birth to their son, Barron.
"These alleged affairs, they're alleged with Trump, didn't happen while he was in office," Franklin Graham told CNN's Don Lemon. After Lemon questioned why "evangelicals were so willing to call out, say Bill Clinton's behavior but not President Trump's?" Graham insisted that there's a distinct difference between Clinton's extramarital affair and Trump's "alleged affairs."
"This happened 11, 12, 13, 14 years ago," he said. "And so, I think there is a big difference and not that we give anybody a pass, but we have to look at the timeline and that was before he was in office."
Graham argued that Trump has matured over the years, and did not falter when Lemon cited the president's history of controversial tweets and a recent report that he had made disparagingly racist remarks about immigrants from Haiti and African nations during a meeting with Congressional leaders. (“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” the president asked, according to lawmakers who were present at the meeting.)
"There is a lot of presidents that have had rough language and a lot of these things that have been accused of the President, I am not sure are true," Graham responded. "He says he didn't do it. And the others that said he didn't do it."
Graham also expressed his belief that God chose Trump to be president.
“[Donald Trump] did everything wrong as a candidate and he won, and I don't understand it. Other than I think God put him there.”
Lemon used quotes from the Bible to challenge Graham's assertions, saying, “The Bible and everyone always taught me to do unto others and not attack others, and that’s all this president does.”
“He’s not the pastor of our country, Don,” Graham replied. He said he hopes Trump will grow into a better “moral authority” in the next three years.
Lemon challenged that as well.
“I don’t understand the cognitive dissonance of Christians and [other] people who twist themselves into pretzels to try to make excuses for Donald Trump’s bad behavior,” Lemon said.
Graham, who, much like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, has positioned himself as one of Trump's more vociferous evangelical defenders, urged Americans to look at the strong economy as proof of Trump's success. (In fact, most Americans recognize that Trump inherited former president Barack Obama's economy, and do not believe he's responsible for the stock market's strong performance.)
"We're all getting helped by Donald Trump's business expertise coming into Washington," he said.
Franklin Graham on President Trump's first year in office: "Look at the economy, it has come up and its benefiting… https://t.co/jeGrpTVfHq— CNN Tonight (@CNN Tonight)1516765098.0
Lemon has been adamant about Trump's effect on the political climate, bolstering white supremacists and fanning the flames of violence, particularly toward members of the media. Earlier this week, he claimed that the president is partially responsible for recent death threats against the cable news network’s staff.
At the time, Lemon was reporting on the arrest of Brandon Griesemer, a Michigan resident who, according to an arrest affidavit released Monday, called CNN's Atlanta headquarters and threatened its employees. “Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down,” Griesemer allegedly said during one call. In another call, he said, “I am on my way right now to gun the fuckin’ CNN cast down. Fuck you.”
“There’s nothing random about this. Nothing,” Lemon said Tuesday. “This is what happens when the president of the United States, Donald Trump, repeatedly attacks members of the press simply for reporting facts he does not like.”
“I’ve heard from a number of very credible sources from within the White House that you watch this show,” Lemon continued. “So, Mr. President, I’m going to speak directly to you. The caller who threatened to kill CNN employees made his threat using these words: ‘Fake news. I’m coming to gun you all down.'" He paused. “Fake news. I wonder where he got those words.”