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CNN TONIGHT

President Trump Versus the Sports World; Outrage Seen on African-American Lawmakers. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 22:00   ET

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


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[22:00:41] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thanks, Anderson. A really important conversation you've been having tonight on this network around the nation and it continues right now.

The president of the United States started this fire with race as the tinder and sports as the spark. And now he's pouring gasoline on it.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon. Thanks for joining us.

Repeal and replace dead again. Devastation in Puerto Rico. Crisis with North Korea. And President Trump is using his bully pulpit to pick a fight with the NFL. Doubling down today and insisting that the league's business is going to hell in the wake of players' protesting during the national anthem.

And don't forget, he started this whole thing last week when he called those players sons of bitches. But here is what the player taking a knee, the players taking a knee are doing and not doing. They are not protesting the flag or the national anthem. They are not protesting our troops. They are protesting racial inequality and police brutality, which is their right as American citizens.

Some people support them. Others are offended. And I'm going to talk to people on both sides tonight. It's going to be a very interesting couple of hours here on CNN.

So let's get right to CNN contributor J.D. Vance, the author of "Hillbilly Elegy, a Memoir of a Family in Culture and Crisis," also CNN political analyst April Ryan, CNN contributor Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, and CNN's sports analyst Christine Brennan, USA Today sports columnist.

So good to have you all on. And as I said, this is a very important conversation. We're going to take our time with it and we're going to dig into it as much as possible because we all need to have it. April, I want to start with you. Six days it's been since the president took on the NFL.

APRIL RYAN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes.

LEMON: He didn't let up today. Listen and then we'll talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the NFL is in a box. I think they're in a really bad box. You look at what's happening with their ratings. You look at what's going -- I mean, frankly, the only thing that's doing well in the NFL is the pregame because everybody wants to see what's going on.

The NFL is in a very bad box. You cannot have people disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country, and that's what they're doing. In my opinion, the NFL has to change or you know what's going to happen? Their business is going to go to hell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: How does the president's tone strike you, April? It's almost authoritarian.

RYAN: It's authoritarian. But it also strikes me as this push against freedom of speech, freedom of expression. It's so interesting I talked to so many people in and around the NFL over these last couple of days and they're saying, look, I mean, from management, from ownership, to agents to players, they're saying, look, this will go away if the president leaves it alone.

You know, the optics happened. Now we can possibly go back to doing business as usual. But if he continues with this, the republican ownership, the majority of republicans who own these teams will stand with the players and unify. It's about unity on this.

And this president is pushing ever so much more against the fact that these players are saying they respect this nation. They are loyal. They're patriots. But at the same time they want to bring attention to injustices to include issues of police-involved shootings that have been happening.

And we listened to Spike Lee a little while ago. I mean, he was ahead of his time with Radio Raheem and do the right thing. I mean, this has been going on really this policing issue with blacks in this country has been going on since slavery. And we're in 2017 now. And this take taking a knee has at least put a spotlight on the issue.

LEMON: J.D. listen, if you listen to the town hall before this, the conversations and peoples' opinion, the way they feel about it, much more nuanced than the president. Even the NFL and the players have a nuance, have nuanced perspectives. The president is very one-sided. It's either this way, it's my way or the highway and if you don't see it this way, then you're wrong. How does the president's base or react when they hear these words?

J.D. VANCE, "HILLBILLY ELEGY" AUTHOR: I think in their day to day conversation, look, their views are nuanced like everyone else's is. You know, what April has said is really interesting and that the protests have shined a spotlight on this particular issue.

[22:04:59] I worry a little bit that it hasn't shown nearly the spotlight that it should because we have this culture war for six days that conversations like the one that we just saw in that town hall are not happening nearly enough in our media institutions and our political institutions.

Now, I think that, you know, folks recognize back home, friends and family, people I talk to on the ground who are really supportive of the president and by the way, really offended at the idea of folks kneeling at the national anthem, their views on criminal justice reform, on policing, on a lot of issues that affect not just inner city blacks but of course, rural whites in the same way.

They recognize that those issues are tough and they have pretty sophisticated opinions about them. You just don't hear that expression of sophistication because we've been having this really ridiculous culture war for the past week now.

LEMON: OK. So, listen, Wes, I saw your response there. What issues do you mean for rural whites at face? Do they face the same issues when it comes to policing? Is that what you're saying?

VANCE: No, no not policing. Certainly, the policing...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Or criminal justice?

VANCE: The policing and the criminal justice issues are obviously focused on the black community. What I mean is questions like access to jobs, access to quality educational opportunities, some of the issues surrounding breakdown of the family, for example.

I mean, issues that black Americans and white Americans especially on the lower side of the income scale, you know, they share. They're confronted -- they confronting both communities. And I think consequently, people sort of understand that a lot of what's going on is actually worthy of consideration, worthy of care.

LEMON: Wes, why the eyebrow raise?

WESLEY LOWERY, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, because I do think and I p appreciated that clarification because, no, the policing issues faced by black Americans are in no way like the policing issues facing rural Americans.

Now, it is certainly true that issues of use of force are something that affects white Americans. The majority of people shot and killed by the police each year are white Americans. Many of them poor white Americans and the majority of use of force incidents are.

However, when you want to talk about one of the issues of racial profiling, issues of stop and question frisk as we've talked about New York and other places, these are issues that are fundamentally about race and about how one racial group interacts with police. And as April was saying earlier in the long history since the foundation of policing in this country that has been about not protecting and serving this one group black Americans but rather about controlling that group of people.

And so I do think it's important -- I mean, we need to be able to name -- this is a conversation that's about race. And I think that the desire not to do that has as much of the reason that we're not having this nuanced conversation as people being upset about the flag, right.

There was a poll that came out I saw it reported earlier today. I'm not sure when the poll came out that 48 percent of Americans polled understood that this is a protest about police brutality. There's only 12 percent of Americans who think this is about the flag. Even those Americans who do not like these protests, right?

That in many ways we're trying to find all of these reasons not to have this conversation that folks are asking us to have because that's a hard conversation to have. Folks don't want to feel like they have benefited from a racial hierarchy in this country, especially folks who might themselves not be particularly wealthy or feel like they haven't gotten privilege. That's a difficult conversation for a lot of white Americans to have.

LEMON: Wesley, listen, it's a hard conversation if it doesn't affect you. It's not a hard conversation for me. I've been having that conversation my entire life. I'm sure it's not a hard conversation for you and for Ryan -- for April Ryan. It's probably not a hard conversation for Christine when it comes to issues that affect women for misogyny for discrimination against.

That's not a hard conversation if you're a person who has to deal with that. But if you don't, then you don't want to hear it. It doesn't exist. I had James Blake on last night, who is a man of color, who said he wasn't sure he would stand up before he was tackled by a New York City police officer two years ago, and that woke him up. And so, if it doesn't affect you...

(CROSSTALK)

VANCE: But, Don, let me interject there for a second.

LEMON: Yes, go on.

VANCE: Because you know, I obviously grew up around a lot of disadvantaged, you know, primarily white Americans and I don't think that they're afraid to talk about policing issues and recognizing that criminal justice reform, for example, is an issue of special concern that the...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: It's not a phrase. You don't think they find it uncomfortable to talk about issues surrounding race especially...

(CROSSTALK)

VANCE: Well, I think some people find it uncomfortable, but some people are actually very willing to talk about it. I think that what often happens is that these conversations are framed in a very zero some way. So if you sort of want to point the finger at disadvantaged folks and say you're experiencing white privilege, that's maybe not the best way to have the conversation. But if you point the finger at the criminal justice system and say we

could do a lot better, and in fact if we did better by some of our black citizens everybody would benefit, I think that's the sort of conversation that people are willing to have and I don't think they're blind to the fact that black Americans suffer disproportionally with some of these issues.

LEMON: April, what do you want to say? Christine, I'm going to bring you in. Trust me. Don't worry about it. Go ahead, April. Why are you -- why are you...

(CROSSTALK)

[22:09:58] RYAN: You know, it's so -- you know, I've written two books about race and the last book that I wrote was "At Mamas Knee: Mothers and Race in Black and White." It deals with this very issue. People want to say there are fingers being pointed when no one is trying to point fingers.

People are trying to bring attention to this. And what is very interesting is a challenge about kneeling when history shows us that people have been very patriotic and love this country so much so that they challenge the country, i.e. women's rights, the women's rights movement.

Change happened because people stood up. And there were also those sit-ins where police officers told them to get out of these counters, get away from these counters. People were told they couldn't go to public -- they couldn't go to public bathrooms, share them with white America. They couldn't go to restaurants, they couldn't go to different places.

But because they sat in, because they challenged the system, the Civil Rights movement brought in the Civil Rights Act, changed laws. Also the Voting Rights Act. Now what it is, you can create laws. You can have all, you can have legislation. You can have laws, whatever you want legally, but when you have all of that, what's next? It's about the heart. And you keep saying well people are pointing fingers. This is not pointing fingers. This is taking a knee to bring attention to what's happening in black America.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But it's also not, April, it's not pointing fingers to tell the truth about America. If you are a white person in this country...

RYAN: Right. It's not right.

LEMON: ... no one is saying that you have a privilege, you know, in your daily life if you're a poor person. But think about the history of the country and African-Americans not being able to get an education, not being able to get jobs, not being able to build wealth. Just as women, we're dealing with, to point that disparity among women and the pay gap is not pointing fingers. It's just telling an uncomfortable truth about America.

RYAN: Right.

LEMON: That we're dealing with. If we were in a different country, then that would be a different set of circumstances. But that's not pointing fingers, that's just pointing out the truth.

RYAN: And Don, the problem is...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But I got to get Christine. And go ahead quickly.

RYAN: You're absolutely right. OK. But the problem is we have these kind of conversations. People who feel a dis-ease or discomfort about it, they are saying you're race baiting. But look at the stats. African-Americans have the highest number of negatives in almost category. That's not myth. It's not conjecture. It's fact.

And when you go from that base, you need to come -- there needs to be some kind of understanding. This taking a knee is a result of everything, the negatives that have been piled upon the community for hundreds of years. And in 2017 people are saying let's fix this.

LEMON: Let's fix it. Christine, I want to bring you in now. I want you to look at this poll numbers taken a year apart. The amount of people who think kneeling is inappropriate has actually gone up. Do you think the president's words on Friday night made the difference here?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, SPORTS ANALYST, CNN: Well, I do, Don. And of course, I'm struck by this wonderful conversation following up that hour-long town hall that was so interesting and informative. People having a nuanced conversation as you and several have pointed out. And of course that's something that Donald Trump -- the word nuance and Donald Trump in the same sentence, I mean, you know, that's just not going to happen.

And so he has with the tweets and the bombastic nature, he has thrown himself into this conversation. And now we're here, but he's incapable of actually getting -- having that intellect nuanced conversation, apparently that everyone else is having and that is so interesting to listen to.

I think there is a lot of gray here. The brinksmanship that we see in tweets doesn't exist when real people are having a conversation. And where this story is now going to turn, Don, as you and I talked about it last Friday night and then all this week, is now we're going to look ahead to a Thursday night game tomorrow and then the weekend.

And players, will they take a knee? How many? And will Donald Trump start getting into that numbers game that he has done so often where, what was it, about 250 players, we believe, about that number knelt over the last week.

Now, let's say it's 50 or a hundred, I have no idea, but let's just say. Will he then declare victory on Monday morning and then further send us into this abyss of this brinksmanship when in fact the conversation as we're hearing here is so nuanced and so interesting, and actually can be helpful to the nation as long as someone is just not throwing things out there the way that the president has been.

LEMON: Why do you think, Christine, he won't listen, you know, appeal to our better angels and he keeps playing to the lowest common denominator? Because we hear so many, so many negatives about athletes, right, and as the gentleman -- the athletes, the players pointed out tonight, we're doing great things in our community. We're trying to respond to people who may not have opportunities like other people. We're trying to do good things. We never really hear about that.

Why can't the president evolve to get people to evolve on this issue and see that these guys are trying to help out and to try to get his base to understand that there is a more nuanced position to this rather than going back into their battle stations?

[22:15:03] BRENNAN: Well, I guess you would want to unite people rather than divide them. And Wesley and I were talking about this that as we were watching the town hall that all these players have foundations, or not all of them but many of them do and we don't hear about that very often.

LEMON: And as you pointed out Colin Kaepernick donating -- Colin Kaepernick donated a million dollars to charity after doing what he did.

BRENNAN: Right.

LEMON: And the truth -- and Michael Thomas' Foundation as well who we're going to speak to a little bit later next in the show. But Colin Kaepernick obviously now doesn't have a job, donating a million dollars and the person who told him to kneel that would be more respectful is a veteran himself. Go on. I'm sorry.

BRENNAN: No. So we were chatting about this. So, all these players are doing this. Their Tuesdays are taken up with charitable work. The NFL has focused on that. That doesn't mean everyone is doing everything, but many are. And most -- and those stories remain mostly untold.

And so why the president's doing what he's doing? I don't know. He also just got facts that are just wrong. I mean, he's crowing today about the ratings are terrible. Well, the Monday night football ratings were -- that was the second best rated Monday night football game on ESPN in two years. That's that Dallas Cowboys game which got so much attention with Jerry Jones.

So Trump doesn't want to think that people saw that and saw Jerry Jones, one of Trump's people, one of his pals, his supporters and donors he doesn't want to think that people saw that, but they saw that.

LEMON: Yes.

BRENNAN: And so, but how counterproductive because if he could say things that are true, if he could take us to a better place, then I'm already picturing what Monday is going to look like and the tweet storm about the number of people kneeling which of course, that's not even the point as the panel has been bringing up. It's not about the numbers. It's about the issues and the quality of the conversation. And that will probably be lost again this weekend in Donald Trump's tweets.

LEMON: And still, Colin Kaepernick, very telling, I think the most important thing, still does not have a job. Thank you all. I appreciate it. Fascinating conversation.

When we come back, much more on president -- the president versus the NFL. I'm going to talk to the congressman who says this is about much more than the players kneeling. He says he has discussed it with the president's handling of race relations in America.

[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump's feud with the NFL prompting some very strong words from one congressman in a letter to the president. Congressman Cedric Richmond says, "I write today to express my utter disgust with your handling of race relations in America in general, and more specifically, your calculated divisive response to nationwide demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice by professional football players, owners, coaches and countless other patriots.

African-Americans are just as patriotic as any other American. We have fought in every war from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan only to come home to a country that has yet to reconcile deep-seated issues of race, inequality and injustice."

And Congressman Cedric Richmond the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus joins me now. Congressman, thank you so much. Why did you write that letter?

CEDRIC RICHMOND, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I thought I owed it to not only our professional athletes, who I think took a very courageous and bold stand to fight for inequality and fight for the future of their children and their families and everything else.

But I thought I owed it to Americans who believe in the issue of equality and justice and all of those who still thought that this demonstration was offensive in some respect and it made me go back to Dr. King's best writing which is letter from a Birmingham jail, which he was actually writing a letter to some other clergymen and he said the only reason I'm writing to explain to you is because I believe that you are men of goodwill. You believe in what I believe in, but you don't like my tactics and you're asking me why I can't wait.

So there are a bunch of people in this country who believe in equality, who believe in the cause in which Colin and other NFL players are fighting for who may question the tactic. And so if you take it in that frame and then you consider that 61 percent of the country didn't believe in the freedom writers and we just celebrated them as a country just a few years ago, or the march on Washington which only 25 percent of the country believed was the right thing to do. And now we celebrate that as one of the great events in this country's history.

I think time is going to tell that these players were courageous patriots for this country. But right now I don't think that they should be guided by popularity, and I think that the president specifically picked this cause because he knew that there are people of goodwill who thought otherwise, and then there is his base that he plays to far too often.

LEMON: Do you think the president is a man of goodwill?

RICHMOND: When it comes to racial issues, I have not seen that yet. And the truth of the matter is I don't care if the president is a racist or a man of goodwill or anything else. I care about his policies and I care about how it affects the communities that we represent.

And let me give you the best example. So we now have this loving, nurturing medical response to opioid addiction and we're saying, look, opioid addiction is a terrible plague on society. We want to make sure that we address the substance abuse and treat it and make sure that we get people back into their family units, which is the correct response. I really believe that.

However, 1988, 1989 and the 90's, what we did with crack which is the same addiction and all of that, we said we're going to declare war on drugs and we're going to lock everybody up.

So if you're an African-American athlete, businessman, parent or anyone else, you have to say what's the difference between the two addictions? And the truth is there's no medical difference between the two addictions.

So the only difference is who is addicted and the response that we're giving. And I think that that is the biggest thing that people should pay attention to is that this is a substantive issue that I think deserves more merit than a president just tweeting about this ill.

And you think that professional athletes want to put their careers on the line for attention or to disrespect the flag that, by the way, African-Americans have bled to make this country a great country from the beginning.

[22:25:03] Whether it was fighting in the American Revolution, the Civil War or any conflict that we've had in this country or the 4,000 lynching that we had in this country when people left church to go watch. So we've paid our dues in this country. Or whether it was John Lewis, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus whose blood is on the ground on the bottom of the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

So, I just do not believe that the president of the United States should be challenging the patriotism of NFL athletes or the African- American community, which I think was his goal.

LEMON: Wow. That's a lot to unpack what you said there. I wonder if the president understands when you're talking about the crack epidemic and the opioid epidemic and one reason that there are so many African- Americans who are incarcerated today from the crack epidemic. Not a lot of people who were incarcerated for doing cocaine which was considered sort of white collar crime. And then now, people don't get incarcerated as much for opioids.

There's a better understanding of it. I wonder if he understands those nuances and as we have been saying those are the facts about America.

And as I sat here last night and tonight and listened and all of this since this has happened and listened to people saying that these guys are not patriotic, they didn't respect the flag, I thought about my stepdad's funeral, my father's funeral, my uncles, my cousins who went to Vietnam who lost their lives and all the flags that we have collected over the years, you know, when people die and they drape them on the coffin they give them to you, right, in the point in the triangle.

Those, some of those players and many of those players have those flags collected on their mantels at home as well or somewhere. They are patriots too. So what is -- what's the difference? What is he not getting?

RICHMOND: Well, that's a broader question. I really think the complicated part of that question is whether it's ignorance or willful ignorance. And I think Donald Trump is a smart man. I think he knows exactly what he's doing. And I think he knows exactly who he's pitting against each other.

And what I don't want to do is allow this country people of goodwill who believe in equality and justice and peace and all of those things to get sidetracked on whether you're standing or kneeling at the flag.

The real question is, why is Trayvon Martin laying in a casket, Sandra Bland laying in a casket, and Michael Brown...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You're right.

RICHMOND: ... and Alton Sterling and the list goes on and on of people lying in a casket and we're talking about whether you're kneeling or standing.

And I just think that that's -- it's a tough conversation and I think it deserves a real honest discussion. And I don't think that this president is given us that.

By the way, we've sent him letter after letter after letter, 130-page book about how we start to address racial problems, how we help the African-American community, how we help rural communities and poor communities. And he has not responded to any of them.

LEMON: Do you think he read it?

RICHMOND: Absolutely not. He didn't read it. The attorney general is who I said he was when I testified against him. He is a racially challenged man from Alabama and this president chose to go to Alabama to start this with no NFL football team.

But here is what I would say, Don. There are great NFL football players. Players like Mark Ingram who has a non-profit, helping kids of incarcerated kids to understand that they can achieve their dream. That their parents just didn't dictate theirs.

And not only does he get beat up on Sundays getting tackled he works his butt off in the community during the weekend. And now he gets challenged by a president that he's not a patriot? That's what I want this country to understand that we are better than this as a country and we shouldn't let one man, one rich petulant child define this country.

And I'm just so sad that we're in this place. I met with the president. I went to his inauguration. I opened my arms and said I'm willing to work with you. However, he has yet to show that he wants to be the president for all of America.

LEMON: I have to ask you this, congressman. The Congressional Black Caucus had their weekly lunch meeting today. What did you all discuss as relates to this president?

RICHMOND: Several things. First we discussed the inadequate response to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. That there are people there who cannot rebuild through no fault of their own. I am a product of Katrina and Rita in New Orleans. I saw an awful response and I lived through it and I vowed not to let that happen again.

So, instead of tweeting, Mr. President, send vacant cruise ship, every vacant cruise in this world should be down in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands so that people will have a place to live, rebuild their homes. First responders can have a place to stay and we can start the recovery.

[22:29:54] You're worrying about professional athletes. I'm worrying about a child that doesn't have a home to go to or what we would say in the African-American community and in the south homeowners are families that don't have a pot or window to throw it out of. That's where we should be focusing but we also did talk about impeachment, and we didn't come to a resolution, but there was a hardy discussion about it.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Talk to me more about that. What do you mean impeachment on what grounds? Why?

RICHMOND: Well, there's no secret that we have three members in our caucus that are openly for impeachment. Maxine Waters, Auntie Max as she is affectionately known as, Al Green from Texas, and Gwen Moore from Wisconsin who made their case for why they believe this president has engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors and that -- then they took it all the way to whether he was fit to be president.

So, if you look at North Korea or you look at any of the other things that we're dealing with, I think every American asks themselves in the morning, what happened last night that I should be worried about? And I don't think that's a fit conversation for this country.

So, we had a robust conversation about the Mueller investigation, whether we should wait and see the facts. We have John Conyers, who is the dean of the House, ranking member on judiciary who made it very clear that he would not participate in it because he is the ranking member on judiciary. I'm on judiciary. And at some point we would have the obligation to judge in an impartial manner.

However, the conversation is a thoughtful, very careful conversation. We know the severity of what we're talking about. But we also know how great this country is and how fast we're going downhill behind a president who we believe does not realize yet that he's president of the United States, leader of the free world and all the obligations that go with it.

LEMON: Congressman, thank you. Thank you for looking out for my home state, as well, Louisiana. I appreciate your time.

RICHMOND: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. When we come back, much more on the controversy over NFL protests during the national anthem. We're going to talk to one player who says this whole thing is very personal for him. It's all about his daughter being able to look up to him and say you did something, you tried to make a change. The Miami Dolphins Michael Thomas is here.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: President Trump's feud with the NFL calling players who protest during the national anthem, his words, 'sons of bitches,' is dividing America. Some are applauding the president, some are angry. And for many the whole thing is intensely personal and painful. I want you to listen to Miami Dolphins player Michael Thomas on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL THOMAS, WIDE RECEIVER, MIAMI DOLPHINS: As a man, as a father, as an African-American man, as somebody in the NFL as one of those sons of bridges you know like, I took it personally. But at the same time like I said in my Twitter post it's bigger than you. It's bigger than me. I've got a daughter, she's going to have to live in this world, you know what I'm saying and I'm going to do whatever I've got to do to make sure she can look at my dad, look at her dad and be like, hey, you did something. You tried to make a change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Michael Thomas joins me now. How are you doing now?

THOMAS: I'm doing well, man. I'm doing well. Preparing for this London trip and, you know, just living with the aftermath of what Sunday brought to us.

LEMON: You're clearly emotional by that. I mean, it affected you. It looks like to your core. And it seems like, Michael, this has taken a life on its own. How do you feel about the way this has played out in the media and for the country over the past six days?

THOMAS: I mean, it's crazy that, you know, something that can come from like comments from the president, you know, could turn into, you know, what it has, especially with the NFL, you know, they're getting involved, owners, players, staff, the whole organization uniting. You know, the whole league uniting and seeing it in the media how some people see it as, you know, I take it personal too.

So, you know, I don't want somebody calling my son an SOB. Then there's the other side where people are like, you know, you can't get bothered by words. He has free speech too and, you know, they're applauding him. It's crazy how there's still that division and people aren't really focusing on the message everybody is even trying to get out that we're still fighting for, you know, equality. We're still fighting for the social justice -- you know, injustices in our community. So, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: How does it feel, then, because some people are saying these athletes are -- you know, they're wealthy and they're ungrateful and, you know, does that -- does that frustrate you?

THOMAS: Yes, only because, you know, when you don't see athletes involved in their community, standing up for something with substance, standing up to actually see real change in their community, then they're throwing stones at that. Like, OK, why aren't you speaking out, why aren't you doing more in your community.

So now that there's a real cause going on, real issues going on and players are actually stepping up and using their voices, using their platform in a positive way to promote positive change that there's still an issue with that.

You know, you can't play both sides. And I know most people they say if they have an argument for this, it's not what we're fighting for. It's how we're doing it. And I get that, but at the same time if you're still not willing to at least address the issues, then, you know, there lies the problem within you.

LEMON: Yes. I want to get your reaction. This is an article from the New York Times and it describes what's kind of what's happening in the White House. OK. Michael, it says, "In private the president and his top aides freely admit that he is engaged in a culture war on behalf of his white working class base.

A New York billionaire waging war against politically correct coastal elites on behalf of his supporters in the south and in the Midwest. He believes the war was hoisted upon him by former President Obama and other democrats and he is determined to win current and former aides say."

What do you -- what do you think about -- I mean, do you feel like the message you, your teammates, Colin Kaepernick are trying to send has been hijacked by the president? That you're being used as political pawns? (CROSSTALK)

THOMAS: Definitely, definitely. Yes. Definitely I feel like he -- not just him. A lot of people are trying to take what we're trying to fight for, what we're trying to do and use it for their own personal gain.

[22:40:00] They're trying to change the message. I think it started even last year when people made it about the military. Like, obviously we're not disrespecting the military. We love our military.

We are using our voices and our platform to say, hey, there are issues going on in our community. It's been going on in our community for years, you know, since our ancestors have even been brought to this country.

But we're finally using our voices and saying, OK, enough is enough. We want to do something about it because we want to see real change. And people are taking it and making it to whatever they want -- you know, whatever they wanted it to be. And it's not about that.

LEMON: I know that you play -- listen, I'm from Louisiana. I know you play the Saints in London this weekend. Did you guys decide -- I'm going to be rooting for both teams. Maybe it will be a tie. Who knows? I'm just kidding. But what do -- what are you guys going to do? What do you guys going to do?

THOMAS: I can't tell you right now literally just because, you know, I haven't had a discussion with the team. Obviously, folks has been -- you know, when we're at, you know, when we're at the facility, just trying to win, trying to find one way to get one win. I can't tell you what we're going to do. That's going to be up on to the man.

You know, I can't tell you if there's going to be, you know, team, organization wide unity, again, a display of unity, if there are going to be demonstrations although all. I know that, you know, deep down like there are some guys that still feel, you know, with conviction in themselves to do something, to continue the conversation.

LEMON: Are you going to kneel?

THOMAS: Like I said, I can't say right now, but I would definitely be doing whatever, you know, whatever I can to keep that conversation going, just doing my part to try to promote positive change.

LEMON: Listen, I appreciate you coming on, Michael Thomas and speaking your piece and speaking your mind. And I wish you the best of luck. Thank you for standing up for what is right.

THOMAS: No problem, man. Thank you for having me and holding this conversation.

LEMON: So Michael Thomas does a lot of work off the field with his foundation and charitable work and is doing his part for sure.

When we come back, a CNN exclusive, new information on who was targeted by those Russia related Facebook ads and how they did it.

[22:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news tonight on the Russia investigation, exclusive details about one of the Facebook ads brought by -- bought by Russians during the election to target specific Americans.

I want to bring in now Dylan Byers, senior reporter for media and politics. Dylan, good evening to you. What are you learning from your sources?

DYLAN BYERS, SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER, CNN: Well, we've learned, Don, is that at least one of these Russian bought Facebook ads referenced Black Lives Matters and targeted the cities of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore. Of course, both you and I know and everyone knows those two cities were the site for some of the largest and most violent protests in the wake of police shootings of African- American men.

So, the fact that these Russian ad buyers understood and were sophisticated enough to make ad buys referencing Black Lives Matter in those cities where it would resonate not just with people who supported the movement but also with people who may have opposed the Black Lives Matter movement, it demonstrates a level of sophistication by these Russian ad buyers which is important because up until this point, up until our report we haven't had any information from Facebook or from Capitol Hill about how these ads were targeted in terms of their geographic location.

And that's going to be a significant thing for investigators and what they're going to be looking at going forward.

LEMON: Dylan, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Are we any closer to answering how Russia knew who they should target on Facebook?

BYERS: We're not, Don. And hopefully we'll get more sort of inklings about how these ads were targeted, where they were targeted, not just geographically but in terms of the interest groups, the demographics.

But again, that level of sophistication, it suggests, at least, that Russia made a concerted effort here to understand American democracy in order to sow chaos, to amplify political discord. You know, so often we've talked about Russia's meddling in the election is maybe promoting one candidate, opposing another candidate.

Really what's going on here and this is really important to understand, it's really about creating divisions in American politics, exploiting divisions in American politics and generally contributing to a sense that American democracy is a failed system. Both sending that message to Americans and sending that message to Russians back home.

LEMON: Dylan Byers, thank you for your reporting. When we come back, much more on how fake news sowed divisions during the election. We'll dig into just how effective it was. Plus, Mark Zuckerberg is speaking out tonight and we'll tell you what he is saying. [22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Tonight sources telling CNN that the Senate intelligence committee has invited tech companies including Facebook and Twitter to public hearings on how foreigners use social media to influence Americans.

I want to bring in now CNN political commentator Jason Miller, a foreign Trump -- a former Trump senior communications adviser, maybe foreign, who knows, you'll never know. That would make an interesting. Political analyst Kirsten Powers, a USA Today columnist, and political commentator Bakari Sellers, host of Viewpoint with Bakari. And Jack Barsky, a former KGB spy who is author of "Deep Undercover" - why are you laughing, Jason, "My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America." He is a KGB spy.

JASON MILLER, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I know.

LEMON: Is this funny?

MILLER: Yes.

LEMON: Because now you're a foreign -- I made you a foreign agent officially now.

MILLER: You can just roll it out.

LEMON: Yes. I want to play what Senator James Lankford said today at a hearing on threats to homeland. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES LANKFORD, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: We watched this weekend the Russians and their troll farms and their internet folks start hash tagging out take a knee. And also hash tagging out boycott NFL. They were taking both sides of the argument this past weekend and pushing them out from their troll farms as much as they could to try to just raise the noise level in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So, Bakari, now that we're getting a full picture of how Russia uses Facebook ads to sow religious and racial division here in the U.S. and potentially to help to get Donald Trump elected, why do you think fake news was so effective in this election?

BAKARI SELLERS, CONTRIBUTOR, CNN: Well, the reason fake news was so elected -- so elected -- was so effective...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Everybody is having trouble with their lips tonight.

SELLERS: No, it's late at night. But it's been an exhausting week I tell you that. But the reason that it was so effective it's because the commander-in-chief, the person who won the presidency of the United States, the 45th President of the United States, Donald J. Trump himself was someone who amplified these messages, who uplifted these messages, who emboldens these individuals, it started two years ago when he came down the escalator in Trump Tower.

And so, when you these messages by themselves don't have much damage. But you have somebody who gives them the credence who gives them that finesse, who gives them that respectability like the president of the United States or like the republican nominee for president or the front runner, all three of those things he has been, then it's very difficult to beat down those drums or to silence those small voices. They're now -- they now have a platform.

LEMON: So, Jason, and to Bakari's point, the president tweeted and re-tweeted conspiracy theories many, many times. And someone in such a high profile position, there's some of the tweets right there, when they share fake news is there any way to effectively combat it?

MILLER: Well, I think we have to look there are two different things that are going on here. First I think it's good that they are getting to the bottom of any attempts in foreign influence in our election as we know that it wasn't just the 2016 election. We know that outside entities have been trying to influence our elections for decades.

But I think we also have to take a look here and say this wasn't just about -- I know it's a popular narrative to try and say that this has somehow swung the election for Donald Trump and a lot of folks try to use that to cover up for the fact that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate.

But the fact to the matter is that these ads that were being bought had to do with Black Lives Matter. They had to do with Jill Stein, they were ads that were being bought for Bernie Sanders.

And so, there was a whole lot of things going on. I think it's good that they're getting to the bottom of it. We should never have foreign entities that are impacting or influencing our election. Let's not make this some excuse why Hillary lost.

[22:54:56] LEMON: No, no, no. Listen, I think you're right. I don't anyone, but no one is making an excuse. No one on this panel is saying that. There is no evidence that any of this swung the election.

What I'm saying is how do you combat it when you have the person who is running as leader of the free world and is now leader of the free world still being influenced by fake news if you know about the missile or the rocket launch, tweeting that out and nothing ever happened or responding to that and nothing ever happened.

How do you combat that when you have him giving credence. I can't say for sure but I doubt that Hillary Clinton would be giving credence to fake news.

MILLER: Well, look, I mean, Secretary Clinton probably had, you know, 20 people that were approving every tweet that went out. I think there's a difference between a re-tweet or like of a tweet, something that's you know, some might think is comedy, or maybe it's a, you know, whether it's a golf ball or some a missile, or something like that. The difference between that and maybe an actual story I think these are two different things.

But I think that's part of why the Hill folks want to bring the tech companies up there to find out how we get to the bottom of it. Because we shouldn't have foreign entities impacting or trying to impact elections.

LEMON: Jack, how did Facebook know how to influence Facebook this way?

JACK BARSKY, FORMER KGB SPY: How did they influence Facebook this way? This is straight out of the play book from the KGB. This is not new. I've been saying this before. This is -- the KGB has done it before they had the tools such at the internet. There was what was called active measures, disinformation, and it's in the DNC of the Secret Services that are operating out of Russia. It has nothing much to do with the election.

It's been ongoing. We just discovered this in the context of the election. And as you pointed out, I think our president really isn't helping at all. He's helping the Russians to create, you know, to stir up that nonsense.

LEMON: Well, that's the point. Because again. You know, and Jason, Kirsten, Jason said, you know, Hillary Clinton probably had 20 people. But he's still tweeting stuff. He has all of the intelligence in the world, the best intelligence. He has a staff of people, he has official advisors, he's in the White House he has all of the information.

Still earlier today he tweeted "Facebook was always anti-Trump. The networks were always anti-Trump, hence, fake news." And then he said New York Times apologized and Washington Post were anti-Trump collusion," question mark. What does that even mean?

KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I don't know. But the problem is that it's not just that -- it's not just that he hasn't condemned fake news. He's actually created this story line that we're the fake news actually. You know what I mean?

So, it's not, it's even worse than not condemning it. He has now convinced his followers that the real fake news is the mainstream media and then there isn't this other entity that actually...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Well, he changed it like he changed the NFL.

POWERS: Right. That it actually is there is this real fake news. I mean, look, maybe he didn't swing the election but the idea that this didn't impact the election in any way seems far-fetched to me.

Of course it would have an impact. I mean, especially on something like Facebook. I mean, and that's just one tiny part of it. It was a much broader conspiracy to try to disrupt the election and create social unrest in the United States. But certainly Facebook is one of the most powerful platforms in existence. So the idea that it wouldn't have impact doesn't make sense to me.

LEMON: Did you -- I spent so much time of this election responding to my friends on both sides of the aisle from social media and stuff and I'm like, that's not true.

POWERS: Yes. Right.

LEMON: That's not true. This isn't true, this isn't true and people legitimately believed it because it was on someone's feed somewhere.

POWERS: Exactly, that's what I'm saying. Most people aren't in the media business they don't know. I had my stepmother sending me things, she's a very smart person with an advanced degree.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: My mom was sending things.

POWERS: And she would say, I don't -- you know, people are sending this around and is this true, and I would Google it and I say it's not even a real newspaper.

LEMON: Right.

POWERS: But how would she know.

LEMON: So, hey, Bakari, and speaking of that, Mica Coletti (Ph) tweeted an interesting point and it says, "I think the problem with fake news that people believe whatever their friends share on Facebook regardless of the source." Do you agree with that?

SELLERS: I do. And I think that as much I want to blame the Russians and as much as I want to blame Facebook and these social platforms for not having the necessary responsibility in letting these kind of machination of Vladimir Putin run wild or run amuck on their sites, I have to blame the American citizen first and foremost.

LEMON: Yes.

SELLERS: I mean, what this is it's indicative of a larger problem we have in this country. We've re-tweeted to our individual silos and we only begin to communicate with the proverbial core, we only actually talk to people who surround like us.

And so for us to begin to have conversations and one of the things we can do to damp down this spread of fake news, is I have to begin to have conversations in neighborhoods that look a lot more like Mike Pence's and I have to begin to listen and share my story if he has to be willing to listen as well. That's the only way that we can shatter this by getting out of our silos.

And 2016 was an epidemic of fears, epidemic of people retreating and then you throw in a toxicity of Vladimir Putin and his BFF Donald Trump and viola, you have a president. [23:00:08] LEMON: Jack, why are you shaking your head?