The political leanings of the audience were clear. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright got a standing ovation when she declared that Trump is "dividing our country and dehumanizing those with whom he disagrees."
And jokes about Robert Mueller's Russia report were frequent, days before the former special counsel is scheduled to testify to lawmakers about his investigation.
"Why is the president unfailingly uncritical of Vladimir Putin and yet incessantly critical of the Democratic leaders?" Burns asked on a panel with former Acting Central Intelligence Agency director John McLaughlin.
"Well isn't that the $64,000 question," McLaughlin cracked. "And if I knew it, my name would probably be Robert Mueller."
That theme reached its apex when Susan Rice, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, appeared alongside NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who passed along Trump's Putin invitation to Coats a year ago while the pair were on stage, eliciting the "that's going to be special" response.
Rice had sharp words for the president, yet offered a succinct response when an audience member asked what should be done about the group that seemed very removed from Aspen this year -- the 63 million Americans who cast their vote for Trump in 2016.
"You respect them," Rice said. "They're fellow Americans who are entitled to their opinions."
(Alyza Sebenius reported from Washington and Wadhams from Aspen)
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