tv CNN Tonight With Don Lemon CNN December 19, 2018 8:00pm-9:00pm PST
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the president's signature. and that's not the only issue that team trump has to worry about tonight. the "wall street journal" reporting that sworn statements by donald trump dating back decades could come back to haunt him because they show he had a pretty clear understanding of campaign finance law. the investigators looking into the hush money payments made by michael cohen might be really interested in that. it's actually no secret that the president knows about campaign finance law. he's even bragged about it on television back in 1999. >> i wouldn't run if i didn't think i could win the election. i wouldn't run just to get 20% of the vote and say i've got more votes than anybody. >> how about campaign finance reform? >> i don't think anyone knows more about campaign finance than i do because i'm the biggest contributor. it's a very complex thing. as an example, i'm allowed to give $1,000 to every senator, right? this was 20 years ago, $1,000.
i love it because i'm capped out at $20,000 per senator. you have other ways. >> you can't write this stuff. laura coates is back with me. also joining me is jack quinn and julia cayenne. there is a lot to get to. the new folks who joined, i'm bringing you in first. jack, let's start with barr and how his memo was in a fatally misconstrued view. what do you make of this? >> it sound like an echo of rudy giuliani. the argument is the president can do anything that touches on the enumerated powers in the constitution for a president, and he's above the law, nobody can question him, nobody can indict him and so on. the fact is that argument is not
going to stand. no one is above the law. the president is not above the law, donald trump is not above the law, and most importantly, he cannot carry out the powers of his office in a corrupt manner. so, for example, i mean, it should be obvious to everyone that it would be prosecutable if the president of the united states were to sell an ambassadorship or a cabinet position or any other position in the executive branch taking a bribe and appointing someone to that office. the constitution just does not contemplate that. the oath of office requires him to swear that he will faithfully execute the office of president, and look, i think at the end of the day, all these issues may have to be decided by a court, and i'm confident that a court will rule that, like richard nixon, the president in this
case is not above the law. >> let's stick to it right now. renato, this puts trump's observation of barr in a new light. >> absolutely. first of all, i think the first question is, don, did trump know about this memo and other views of barr's when he nominated him? in other words, was this nomination in part because, just like he wanted with sessions, he wanted somebody in sessions who was going to quash the mueller probe, did he find a new guy who wants to do the same thing? this reaction by barr really raises questions about the intense views he has about mueller, his temperament and his judgment. first of all, when you're a former government official, you don't just on a whim write a 20-page memo and send it to your former colleagues. it's pretty weird. it's something you would spend a lot of time doing, time you
could otherwise spend making a lot of money for your clients in private practice. so it's very unusual. and the language he uses to me is intemporate. it's possible you could have a different view of the law than jack and me and julia. i appreciate people who have different points of view. but to say mueller is so grossly inappropriate, that he's so far out of bounds, to use the language he uses here makes me think he has an agenda here, that he has a very, very strong feeling that would make it improper for him to be moderate and appropriate in his supervision of mueller. >> this was certainly an unsolicited memo, juliet, sent to the doj. he describes the mueller probe as grossly irresponsible. what would an attorney general like barr mean for this
administration? >> it would be a disaster in terms of him having the authority to at least restrict the mueller investigation. i view this memo as a cover letter to a resume. i think there is no question in my mind now that barr was -- that barr was doing what a lot of people on the outside do. they're on tv, they're saying the right things, so he sends it. and think what reynardo was saying. this is the former attorney general writing to the deputy attorney general. i'm very dur ycurious, did the department of justice reply and what was their reply? i know in government when i worked at an agency, if they wrote something, we would have to reply because it's just something you have to do. i'm curious if there is a reply about what they think. but just going back to barr very quickly, i take the view, and i know others do, too, that it's probably too late to restrict everything that mueller has
unleashed. and that's including the state ag's who are obviously very active as well as the new york federal courts. but nonetheless, he can make life very difficult for mueller, and this should go straight to his ability to be attorney general at this stage. and i think it is right of republicans and democrats to raise serious concerns at this stage. >> you're getting to where i want to go with this because i think it's really important. i want to bring back in these two. >> the biggest problem for trump is the reason why he antagonized him the way he did. look, you've got a financial vested interest in this investigation. you have to recuse yourself, you're disqualified because there will be impartiality problems with it. because you're a surrogate, you may have an active part of the
investigation. this is a little different for this person, barr, because even though he has inserted himself in the controversy and the discussions, he doesn't have the same type of relationship that jeff sessions had that may compel the ethics group to say, listen, you may be a part of the investigation. however, he still does have the really big conundrum of you can't possibly be seen as impartial in this case. we don't like injustice to have even the hint of impropriety, let alone a 20-page memo that says you are not appropriate to be doing this. barr says he knows exactly what mueller is investigating. mueller has never actually defined the full parameters of his mandate, he simply has gone about investigating, so he has assumed, which makes an ass for you and me, that obstruction is the end game here. >> you bring it back to everything. let me ask you this, tim, and i want to you weigh in on what this all means. because the memo reportedly also
says that mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction. that would certainly make team trump happy, but do you think that this -- we've seen this all before. >> with this memo, barr either wants to be the president's adviser in the white house or the attorney general. the president is thinking, great, i can get somebody in as attorney general who is going to put it to bob mueller. trump thinks the attorney general is his lawyer. he's the people's lawyer. he's the lawyer for the citizens of this country. trump doesn't get that. if barr is confirmed, and he is confirmable. he's already been attorney general back a quarter century ago, okay? he will certainly be grilled on why he has this vicious animous toward robert mueller, and if he
is confirmed, the ethics folks and main justice are going to have a talk with him and say, general, how can you presume to oversee bob mueller when you think that mueller has been out of bounds? when you think that mueller doesn't have the power to investigate this person, to investigate what happened during the campaign with links to russia. to investigate obstruction of justice when he fired jim comey and to investigate money. we know trump. we're new yorkers. we've been knowing trump for a long time. it's always about money with this guy. >> you don't know how many times i've said that on this show. >> and bob mueller is looking at his money. >> yeah. and he doesn't like that. >> no, he does not. >> he does not like that. so speaking of money -- following the money, that's what everybody says, following the money, right? let's talk about the president's past comments about campaign finance that have resurfaced now. the president didn't show an
understanding of campaign finance law. in an affidavit, he even bragged about it on tv. what's the legal significance of this? >> so in order to prove trump's guilt of a campaign finance crime, prosecutors would actually have to prove that he knew he was doing something unlawful at the time. now, ordinarily you would think, okay, that's going to be very challenging to prove that an ordinary citizen knew this. but look, you literally just showed the tape, don. here he is bragging about it. on other occasions he is also, you know, suggested that he knew something about it, and of course, the mere structure of these transactions and the way he went about hiding it shows that he was trying to escape the law. you know, don't forget i was talking recently to some election lawyers, prominent ones, who reminded me the president had one of the most prominent election lawyers in the country on his campaign, don mcgahn. he had a full compliance staff, and instead of going to them, he
went around them to cohen and structured these transactions in this very bizarre way to hide these payments. it certainly suggested evidence of wrongdoing. >> everybody's head is shaking here in the studio and i would imagine everybody in other places as well. we have so much to talk about. i'm sorry, we're out of time. thank you for coming over and thank you for joining us, you folks via satellite. the president ordering american troops out of syria and he's getting pushback from the usa, his colleagues and even syria. once i started looking for it was a no-brainer. i switched to geico and saved hundreds. that's a win. but it's not the only reason i switched. the geico app makes it easy to manage my policy.
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the president abruptly ordered all u.s. troops out of syria, falsely declaring victory over isis despite a report from the department of defense that there could be as many as 30,000 isis fighters still in iraq and syria. the decision stunned congress as well as allies in the region, and tonight there is pushback from within the administration. a senior official telling cnn
that the decision is, quote, a mistake of colossal proportions that will recklessly put americans' lives in danger around the world, allowing them to reconstitute and hand a strategic victory to our syrian, iranian and russian adversaries. fareed fareed zakaria is with us. what do you think about this? >> on the campaign trail he attacked obama very hard because he said, you withdrew troops from iraq and that allowed isis to occupy the space in that no man's land and that political vacuum, and you created isis. it's not entirely clear if that's accurate because isis didn't even exist and the forces that allowed it to form were not related to obama, but here for sure isis exists. it has been beaten down, but if
you withdraw, then the pressure that has kept it down is released. and it's quite possible that isis will be able to come back up. on the other side of it, it's 2,000 american troops. it's not a large commitment. you have a lot of support from kurds, from kurdish forces. you have others in the region who have been supporting it, so the puzzle here is you had a pretty low-cost american strategy that was yielding some results. isis was being destroyed. it was being supported by saudi arabia, jordan, egypt, all the neighboring countries. the only country -- i have to bring this up. the only country that was resolutely opposed to the american presence was russia. so the whole thing feels weird, a very impulsive sudden decision, it wasn't costing a lot to stay there, and the only
one who has cheered it is russia. they sent a note saying, this is great. >> you see it as a big win for russia, for syria and iran? >> those are the forces that have been supporting the government of assad and this takes the pressure off the government of assad . if you're trying to get to a new level of government with syria, you take your troops off the ground. we had very little leverage in syria. this was the leverage we had. it wasn't costing us a lot, it was achieving some results. obama had actually been quite cautious about how much he put into syria. this was, in many ways, a continuation of the obama strategy. all i can think of is either donald trump decided, i'm going to fulfill my campaign pledge of saying i'm going to get us out of syria, or, as i said, for some reason he feels like it's worth doing something that sends a good signal to the russians.
it certainly isn't true that isis is defeated, so the pri prima facie rationale for it is just false. isis is no more defeated than it was six months ago. >> is this a mission accomplished moment? >> it's a mission accomplished moment, but it feels different than that. obama believed they had really turned a corner. here trump got fed up, lost interest, and it also could be that with donald trump it's not about people, it's not about policy. he used to like mattis, secretary of defense. he used to call him mad dog, my general. something about the relationship has soured. mattis may have pushed back in too many meetings. trump doesn't like mattis, he may not like the advice mattis is giving and trump wants to get out of syria. >> why are you getting rid of this? because obama put it in place.
that's really the only rationale he can come up with. as i mentioned, his staff and everybody in the white house is furious. here's senator lindsey graham. >> i'm shocked by this. i think this is a decision that is against sound military advice, and i intend to do our part as a congress and make sure that history records how this decision was made. we have betrayed our kurdish allies if this decision stands. if it's reversed, i'll be the first one to applaud the president because that's true leadership. >> a group of bipartisan senators sent a letter to the president urging him to change his mind, to not do this. i haven't seen this much pushback from members of the president's own party since jamal khashoggi. >> yeah, i think part of the problem is it's so sudden, it's so impulsive. once trump got into the white
house, after a few months he came to the conclusion it was important to stay in syria, it wasn't costing us a lot, it was keeping pressure, it was giving us the opportunity to try to forge some kind of political settlement, and then suddenly with no explanation, with no telegraphing, as you say, all the allies are shocked, european allies are shocked, nobody seems to understand what's going on. one more piece of this which is interesting, it's a little complicated, but our closest allies in the fight against the assad regime are the kurds in syria. the turkish government doesn't like those guys. we just concluded a big armed sales to turkey. is it possible that part of what erdogan asked for in return, i'll buy these arms from you, but in return you have to get out of syria. it's possible. nobody knows. partly i think i'm trying to find a reason. it's because it's been so impulsive, it's been so unpredictable and it doesn't
seem to follow any particular strategic rationale. one of the things the senate should do, i think, is call in some people and say, what prompted this? where is the evidence that isis is destroyed? what resulted in three months ago the administration, including the president, i think, were saying, we're in syria, we're going to stay in syria, we're going to beat these people up. suddenly it all changed. what changed? >> you don't think he ran this by anyone? >> no, i don't. people don't understand how policy is made. when are policies going to be continued, when are athey going to be reversed? you have a national security staff that is not fully staffed, a council that is not fully staffed, you have an economic council that is not fully
staffed. it just adds to this feeling of amateur hour in the white house. >> thank you, fareed zakaria, i appreciate your time. don't miss "fareed zakaria" sunday at 10:00 a.m. eastern. the president is giving himself a pat on the back for a job well done. is his legacy really anything to brag about? this is peggy. (vo) you do more than rescue pets when you share the love. you build families. get a new subaru, like the all new forester, and charities like the aspca can receive two hundred and fifty dollars from subaru. (avo) get zero percent during the subaru share the love event. there are so many toothpastes out there which one should i use? choose one that takes care of your gums and enamel. crest gum & enamel repair cleans below the gum line and helps repair weakened enamel.
the speaker of the house, paul ryan, is leaving washington. today he gave his farewell speech. he boasted about all the bills he passed, recounted his life in office. now looking back on his career on the hill, we can ask what is paul ryan's legacy? he wanted it to be about tax cuts and entitlement reform, but like it or not, his legacy is tied to president donald j. trump. and all of the scandals, the drama and issues that paul ryan had to deal with as speaker or, rather, not deal with. >> i think he's trolling people, honestly. i'm not going out there and defend every tweet. the president is new to this.
he's new to government. he probably wasn't steeped in the long-running protocols that established the relationships between doj, fbi and white houses. he's just new to this. on the charlottesville thing, there were like three comments -- no, four comments, i think. two good, two bad. like i said before, he's learning. >> it's what he does and we've got to learn to live with it. >> that's a lot of excuses. remember how not so keen he was to get on the trump train? >> you have said throughout this process that you will support the republican presidential nominee, now you have a presumptive nominee, donald trump. will you support him? >> well, to be perfectly candid with you, jake, i'm just not ready to do that at this point. i'm not there now. i hope to and i want to, but i think what is required is that we unify this party. >> so it didn't matter how ready
or not speaker ryan was, because trump became president. and the two men, along with senate majority leader mitch mcconnell, well, they got a big tax cut mostly for corporations. the tax cuts led to more than $1 trillion in stock buybacks, helping shareholders and corporations. the cuts were meant to put more money in the pockets of the middle class and kickstart the economy. but since the law was signed, deficits, which paul ryan is supposedly against, are soaring. the stock market is now falling and the bulk of the benefits have not trickled down to workers' pockets. remember when speaker ryan tweeted, touting the story of a secretary in a public high school in pennsylvania? because of the cuts, her pay went up $1.50 a week. $1.50 a week. that adds up to $78 a year. ryan quickly removed that tweet
after critics said he was appearing out of touch with reality. maybe washington does that to you. i want to bring you now former republican congressman charlie dent and allison stewart. paul ryan is out. do you think he wanted to speak out more but felt he couldn't because, i don't know, maybe he would get criticism or what, but isn't that leadership? >> well, i'll tell you what, i do believe that paul ryan wanted to speak out more. if you remember what happened during the "access hollywood" issue, when that story broke, there was a conference call among all house republicans that monday after the weekend. and at that time paul ryan said he was only going to campaign for house republicans and the president was on his own. i was one of the 11 people who spoke in that call, and i agreed with paul, and he got no support with anyone else. everyone else in the call said you need to stand by the
nominee. after that i felt paul was always chasten, always looking over his right shoulder. i believe he could have lost his speaker position over it, so i believe that's the main reason he didn't push back more. >> why would it matter, because he said he didn't want to be speaker in the first place. that's what he said. >> i guess if he wasn't going to run anymore, why not push back? i felt he should have pushed back more. he had every opportunity to. there were times he spoke up, but i felt it should have been stronger. in fact, more of the leadership should have been speaking out more because look what happened in the midterm, simply embracing the president and not condemning some of his incendiary comments, and it didn't go well. >> all those people who thought if they criticized the president, they would get kicked out of office. maybe the strategy was wrong. allison, it will be a new year
for house republicans. are they ready to be the minority, do you think? >> it's going to be an uphill battle. speaker ryan did accomplish a lot of things when he was here. the tax reform bill has some positive aspects, the first major tax overhaul in 31 years. look at the overall economy. we have 2.3 million jobs created this year. the unemployment rate, the lowest in 50 years. all of this goes to a strong economy which i think speaker ryan has a lot to hang his hat on in that regard. could he have gone to fight against trump at every turn? he he certainly could have. there was probably a lot in him that wanted to do that, but they never would have gotten anything done. he realized at the end of the day that president trump won the will of the people, certainly the republican base supported him, and in order to move the ball down the field on issues that he was concerned with and he was behind, he needed to support the president. we heard a lot of his speech today on what his next chapter will be.
i don't think his legacy has been set yet. he indicated a lot of things about the current discourse in washington and the critical nature of it and how it's important to look at solutions instead of this criticism that we currently have, and i think that's what he's going to do. >> i have to run. but i think his future as a lawmaker is pretty much done unless he decides to run for president or decides to run again. i think this will be part of his legacy. i'm not sure he was thinking about that when he got on the trump train or he didn't push back as much as he should have. i think his legacy would have been stronger had he done that. i have to run. thank you both. my next guest has a story you have to hear. he's a black musician rejected from membership in a rifle club in charleston, south carolina whose members all happen to be white. he said he was embarrassed and disappointed. he joins me next.
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tonight i want to tell you the story of dr. melvin brown, a respected african-american emergency room physician in charleston, south carolina. dr. brown is also a military veteran. this fall he applied for membership in the all-white charleston rifle club. his membership was sponsored by white friends. members vote by dropping mash bells in small boxes. a white marble means a yes vote, a black marble means no. dr. brown, the only black applicant, got 11 black marbles in his box. his bid for membership rejected. dr. melvin brown joins me now. good evening to you, sir. >> good evening to you. >> it's interesting -- in 2018
you would have been the first and only black member of the charleston rifle club. talk to me about what happened and how you learned you were rejected by members. >> i'll try to be as brief as possible, but basically i've known some friends who have been members of the club for close to ten years. i'm from charleston but i was still serving in the military service from time to time and we would go there, have some beers. and they said, hey, man, you would love this club you'll have to join it. i knew the club had an exclusive membership, i grew up in that neighborhood, and i decided not now. years went by, i retired from the navy. i'm back home, we're bowling, having some drinks. they tell me, you got to open your mind. times have changed. let's do this. i said, okay, let's go ahead and do it, so i put my application in. the big snowball effect of things happened. they froze membership, they tried to change the rules.
when they finally were unsuccessful, it was my time to get voted. it was me and 13 other applicants. we stepped out of the room for the vote. they kind of talked to us like we're all going to be in, because for the most part, it's assumed you'll be in. they kind of tapped me on the shoulder and said, i'm sorry, you didn't get in, but you can stay for the meeting if you want. i said, no, i'm okay. >> you were the only one? >> there was 14 people up there and i was the only one who didn't get voted in. >> they tried to change the rules, you didn't get voted in. one of the friends who co-sponsored you called the whole process disgusting and despicable. is there any doubt in your mind that this is because of racism? >> i've been trying to stay away about making proclamations of why i didn't get in. when your name is submitted, people have a chance to voice objections. nobody voiced any objections. then i didn't get voted in.
no one offered an explanation. when i looked at the applicants, i tried to see what was different from them and me. they were from all walks of life, some were veterans like myself. i didn't get in so i can only come to one conclusion. >> you had been a guest at the club on several occasions before you applied to be a member. >> yes. lots of occasions. >> was it a case of being nice to your face as long as you weren't trying to belong or become a member? >> again, you're talking -- i can't talk to people who voted against me because i don't know them. when i would go, i was a guest of friends of mine from growing up in charleston, friends of mine from med school and different people in the neighborhood. so as far as i knew, i was accepted and having a great time and enjoying my time with my friends. but, again, i knew the history of the club and it has a huge membership, and they can't represent the entire membership.
>> maybe you might have thought that times have changed, as your friends have said, because during your last military posting in jacksonville, florida, i understand you had been accepted into a nearly all-white yacht club and it was a good experience, right? maybe that is -- >> yeah. i'd be lying if i didn't say that gave me momentum. that happened shortly before i retired and moved back to charleston. charleston has always been -- i love my city and it's always been kind of an island in a red state. and i was in jacksonville which to me was the deep south. when i was approached about joining the florida yacht club, i said, oh, heck no, that's not going to happen. again, friends were saying, no, this is different. i applied, i got in. so i thought maybe i need to see this. >> i have 10 seconds left. how do you explain this to your children? >> i try not to push the
negative. i push the positive. the best way to get to know people is to just engage, be there, be involved, just make friends with people. that's what's worked for me in the military and my life, just engage with people. most people are kind of warm but there are some who make a decision before they meet you, and you can't change that sometimes. >> the producer gods have granted us a little more time so i'm going to ask you another question, if i can. >> okay. >> do you believe this is an attitude of an isolated group of men at this club, or do you think there is a wider problem itself in charleston or maybe beyond? >> in my particular case, i think it was a few people who are holding the club hostage. but in general, i think that this is one of the last bastiens to -- i don't want to sound like an advocate, but i guess i am -- level the playing field. you have programs like
affirmative action, you have corporations with diversity officers. what's really left is parody and public education and also social settings. a lot of my friends get these jobs, but if you're not able to socialize with everyone, you're kind of left out of the pot. i think if we overcome the social barriers, if we're hanging out outside of work, it makes the playing field feel much more even. that's what we can take away from this. >> i enjoyed speaking to you and thank you so much for coming on. merry christmas to you. >> i appreciate you having me. i can't believe i'm on tv. >> well, you are. thank you, sir. >> thank you. we'll be right back. meet the roots. a family with a serious root problem.
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we just heard a very personal story from dr. melvin brown, whose application to the alt right charlatan club was denied. good evening, what a nice man we heard from and dr. brown was the perfect candidate, impeccable résume, navy veteran, a respected figure in the community with deep charleston roots, people advocating for him. does this case just show you how hard it is to overcome institutional racism? >> it is, don. he was a very nice man, very humble, very accomplished in every way, but it shows that black folks always have to have somebody to vouch for them. how many more accomplishments did the good doctor need to be accepted into a club, and i just can't get over the visual of people picking up white marbles and black marbles and the white
marbles means you're okay, angel food cake all the way, and the black marbles means you're not going in, devil food cake all the way. there's something insidious about this and another reminder we have many more miles to go in this country, that all is not well. >> i don't mean to laugh but you caught me off-guard with that angel food cake. that was pretty good. listen, his friends are outraged and rightfully so calling the incident despicable. the town is embarrassed, organizations are shunning the club. is that enough? will any of this lead to real change you think? >> i think they're seeing a huge blow back. look, they're a private club. they have a right to refuse anyone they want. >> and you live in charleston, by the way. >> it doesn't make it right to do by any stretch of the imagination. as a matter of fact i have 20 acres on the intercoastal, he
can shoot with me anytime he wants and it won't cost him a dime. but the way charleston handled that, i don't think this is indicative of charleston or the vast majority of the people that live there. it is a very diverse community and we have joined hands through some very difficult times, and there's still a few of these folks that think like this, but the vast majority of people in charleston are not like this at all. >> he seems to think there was an indictment on a larger society there. that's his words. i know you think it's different. but what do you make of this blow back in town? >> as i read more about this story you've seen a lot of the schools associated with the club, a lot of the groups associated with the club have 100% withdrawn from their involvement whatsoever. social events that took place at the club from other clubs have now removed themselves. i saw the private school had withdrawn from it. so several things that they had done with other groups, the other groups have now backed off and said we don't want any
involvement with you. so they are getting some repercussions that may eventually cause change, positive change. >> can i talk about another story because you actually tweeted about it today. >> yes. >> i want to talk about another case about living while black. he tried to cash his paycheck at a new job and ended up in handcuffs because bank tellers thought he was cashing a fraudulent check and called 911. >> first of all, it's my hometown. the greater cleveland area. but you can't even bank while black. i want people to wrap their minds around this. he went in there, his first paycheck, gave his two i.d.s and also his fingerprints. the teller suspected it was fraudulent, called over other people. we need to puts ourselves in his position. he's embarrassed. they ultimately say he can't cash this check, they call his employer, his employer doesn't answer and instead of letting
him go on his merry way, they decide to call police. we know so many times in this country calling the police on a black man or a black woman in this country can get you dead. they call police, he's handcuffed, arrested, put in the back of a cruiser and finally gets ahold of his employer who vouches for him. again, it goes back to my point that far too often in this country black folks have to have other folks verify whether or not they're working. >> two i.d.s, a fingerprint and then his job vouched for him. what else could he have done? >> nothing. this person should be fired. this is absolutely ridiculous, and what they should ask him is are they going to allow him to deposit his money and if there's a gigantic lawsuit against them.
it's got ridiculous to a point some of these decisions these banks are making. >> amen. can't breathe while black, can't exist while black. god, we got a problem. >> we are commenting while black on national tv and anchoring while black. >> we are. >> let's hope that continues. our coverage continues. ♪ it's the time of the season for loving ♪
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