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Rabbi Speaks a Day After Being Shot in Suspected Racist Attack; Family Witnessed the Shooting Describes the Event; Lessons from Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting; Investigating the Shooting Suspect. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 28, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:03] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I appreciate you staying with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And just one day after getting shot by a suspected white supremacist, the rabbi of Chabad Poway is speaking about the shooting inside the synagogue he founded more than 30 years ago. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein spoke with a defiant passion describing what happened to him, what was taken from him and his temple family, and what must now happen to make sure he says that terror does not win.

The rabbi was one of three people wounded when a 19-year-old man allegedly opened fire inside Congregation Chabad in Poway, California. The shooter killed a fourth person. Sixty-year-old mother, Lori Gilbert Kaye. Despite all he's endured the rabbi says tomorrow will be the hardest day of his career when he has to bury Kaye, his beloved congregant and dear friend.


RABBI YISROEL GOLDSTEIN, CONGREGATION CHABAD SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I walk two, three footsteps when I hear a loud bang. I thought Lori may have fell or the table tipped over in the lobby right here. I turn around. And I see a sight that I -- undescribable. Here is a young man standing with a rifle pointing right at me. And I look at him, he had sunglasses on, I couldn't see his eyes, I couldn't see his soul. I froze.

My first concern was what's with Lori? Where did that noise come from? What's happened to Lori? And as soon as I did that, I took a look, and more shots came running right at me. And I lifted up my hands. I lost my index finger on this hand. After four hours of surgery yesterday trying to save the index finger on the left hand. I turn around and I saw the children that were playing in the banquet hall.

I ran to gather them together. My granddaughter 4 1/2 years old sees her grandpa with a bleeding hand and she sees me screaming and shouting, get out, get out. She didn't deserve to see her grandfather like this. And I walk into the lobby and I see Lori laying on the floor unconscious. And her dear husband, Dr. Howard Kaye, who is like a brother to me, is trying to resuscitate her, and he faints. And he's laying there on the floor next to his wife. And then the daughter Hannah comes out screaming, Daddy, Mommy, what's

going on? And it's just the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen. I was frozen in time. I grabbed a prayer shawl, wrapped my arm, my fingers with it, that was just hanging, dangling and bleeding all over the place. My congregation was gathered outside here. And I said, I got to do something. I got up on a chair right here and I looked at our congregation and I said, we are a Jewish nation that will stand tall.

We will not let anyone or anything take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down. Lori took the bullet for all of us. She died to protect all of us. She didn't deserve to die. She is such a kind, sweethearted, just a good human being. She didn't deserve to do die in front of my eyes. I was the last one to see her and to be with her. But I do know that this is Lori. This is her legacy. And her legacy will continue.


CABRERA: The suspect is in custody charged with murder and attempted murder. The rabbi said Kaye jumped between him and the gunman when she was killed.

We turn now to CNN's Sara Sidner who is in Poway. And Sara, I know you have members of one family who survived this shooting.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the Dahan family. This is Leon, this is Noya and this is Lior, and this is their Israel.

You all were there, 5 1/2, 8 1/2 and 9 1/2, and we won't tell your age but you're 32 I think you told me, yes.


SIDNER: Thirty-two, you're a father of five. He was inside of this synagogue as were the girls when all of this happened.

Tell me what you have been talking about with your girls as far as safety because I did have a conversation with Noya and she says, I don't feel safe. I don't know how to feel safe now.

DAHAN: It's hard to explain this type of age all the kids how to be really safe. I mean, keep in mind you don't want to put them inside a box that you are not going to let them out or not going to let them go to a friend's.

[20:05:07] It's going to take some time to explain, to really explain how they can be safe and where they can be safe in the situation where we are at right now. And we're that we will be able to resolve it and to recover from what they've been seeing.

SIDNER: Lior, tell me what happened. What did you see and what are you comfortable sharing with us today?

LIOR DAHAN, SHOOTING WITNESS: All the kids were outside and we were playing. And then all of a sudden we hear -- we hear like shooting. And we were all very, very scared. So my uncle, Almog Peretz, he came and he took us down to the rabbi's house. And --

SIDNER: So your uncle scooped up all the kids he could get and helped them? He saved them?

L. DAHAN: Yes. And he saved us with -- when the person shoot him in the leg. And he was -- he saved a lot of kids.

SIDNER: Where were you, Lior, when this started happening?

L. DAHAN: We were outside on the playground.

SIDNER: And where were you, Noya?

NOYA DAHAN, SHOOTING SURVIVOR: I was more like inside, but I was actually right next to the door to -- for the playground where the outside is. And as she said, my parents or uncle, he actually saved a couple of kids. And he actually did save me because he got the shot, like someone shot him instead of shooting me. Even though I got a little shrapnel but I didn't get hit too bad.

SIDNER: Tell me where you got hit with shrapnel.

N. DAHAN: So I got like below my knee, and then it went back to my back leg, and then I got here in my eye. It's -- you can probably see it. And there used to be shrapnel here, but then it moved, like some are here.

SIDNER: So it went into your skin and stayed there and you had to go to the hospital as well. Can you tell me -- you talked to me earlier about safety. How do you feel now? You're standing right outside of the synagogue. Do you feel safe? Do you think you're ever going to feel safe again?

N. DAHAN: I don't know. I can't answer that question. But I see right now like all the things like the flowers and all those things, and because of Lori, and I don't know how to answer that question.

SIDNER: What about you, Lior? How are you feeling today?

L. DAHAN: Scared. But I will still be showing up in the synagogue because it's a holy place and we're safe there. And we always believe that we'll be safe and that nothing will happen, and even if it will happen we'll be safe and everything is going to be OK.

SIDNER: You lost a dear friend. Tell me about your friend Lori.

I. DAHAN: Lori, actually I've known Lori for the last three years. And it's really hard to say about her things because usually in the conversation she was the one talking. And she was the one that hugging and she was the one that kissing. And just -- just loving everybody. Always happy. Always talking. She was laughing always, saying some stories from the past week, what she's planning to do next week. And I know her husband personally. And I know it's been -- it's going to be a hard time for them. It's

really hard for us, that we lose this type of person in our community. I hope that community will stay strong and will pick up the pieces. And I believe and I trust Rabbi Goldstein that he's going to connect all the pieces back and he will put all this community back. And I hope that enough Jewish and non-Jewish people see me now and we are please calling everybody on Saturday and Friday night this coming week, come to our synagogue and feel just the holy that's in this place, and be with us and support us because we don't and we cannot let this place down.

SIDNER: I want to ask you, why did you move to Poway in the first place?

I. DAHAN: We basically moved to Poway in the first place because we had some hate crimes, swastika has been sprayed in our garage.

SIDNER: Here in California?

I. DAHAN: Here in San Diego, in Mira Mesa area. And actually it was the same holiday. It was the same Passover about four years ago.

[20:10:06] It was I believe -- I don't remember really. I believe it was the first night of Passover and we decided to move from there and to go to a quiet neighborhood with bigger Jewish community. And I met Rabbi Goldstein, one of my friend met me, he introduced Rabbi Goldstein to me. And I really fell in love with this person. I really, really fell in love with Rabbi Goldstein.

SIDNER: So you come here at the behest of someone who says please come join us. We are afraid where we are now because of anti- Semitism. You show up here, and what do you see in this synagogue?

I. DAHAN: A war. It's looking and it sounds like a war. I don't want to even go back to those couple of men that we were sitting there. I've been in the synagogue right now again not a long time ago, and I've seen the area where I'm sitting, and I've seen the rounds that hit the separation in between the men and the female. And that's exactly was my direction when I ran out.

SIDNER: You saw him. What did he look like? What did he have on? What was he doing?

I. DAHAN: He actually looked like exactly the same as in the media. He was a big white male. If I remember well, he has glasses on him, sunglasses, with a hat. He has a magazine all over his body and a long gun. It's just terrible memories. Just I hope that he's going to get arrested for the rest of his life.

SIDNER: I want to lastly ask you, Noya, you've been so brave and you have too as well, Lior. Tell me what you hope for your future and what you want people to know about you and your family.

N. DAHAN: I want them to know that the world isn't supposed to be like this. It's supposed to be peaceful and quiet and not like wars and bad stuff. It's supposed to be like people communicating and being nice to each other. But unfortunately it's not like that.

SIDNER: You have raised some beautiful kids who have said some wonderful things. And I'm so thankful that you are all here and that you are all OK. I really, really hope that you guys are able to heal.

I. DAHAN: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

SIDNER: Thank you. And that is just one story of one family who has gone through a heck of a lot, really gone through hell here in Poway.

CABRERA: Sara, give that family a gigantic hug from all of us here. What a strong family. Thank you for sharing their story.

We'll be right back.


[20:17:35] CABRERA: The mayor of Poway, California, says that as horrific as yesterday's synagogue shooting was, things could have been even worse. He says his community learned valuable lessons from the massacre at Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue last October specifically about how to deal with an active shooter.

Sadly this new attack reopens those six-month-old wounds for so many Jewish people in America, including Rabbi Alvin Berkun who served as the Tree of Life's rabbi for 23 years and continued to pray there for many more years, and he joins us now.

Rabbi, I can't even begin to imagine how you are feeling today, another deadly shooting at a synagogue and on the last day of Passover. Tell me where you were and what went through your mind when you heard about Poway.

RABBI ALVIN BERKUN, RABBI EMERITUS AT THE TREE OF LIFE: It was really an unbelievable reaction on my part. Partly because for years and years and years I preached about the wonderful nation, I still believe it, that we live in where the freedom remains, but to have six months almost to the day, another shooting at another synagogue leaves me totally incredulous.

CABRERA: You presided over the funerals for the victims of the Tree of Life shooting. What would you say to the congregants of Chabad Poway as they prepare now to attend the funeral for one of their own Lori Kaye.

BERKUN: I think the entire Jewish world, frankly, and all people of goodwill are stunned beyond belief. Clearly this is unacceptable behavior. And I hope to God I will never have to sit for such an interview again.

CABRERA: No kidding. What kind of words of comfort might you be able to offer them in how they get through this?

BERKUN: Well, you know, the situation in Pittsburgh six months ago was one where frankly I was on my way to the synagogue to be a worshiper. I always sat in the last row. And my wife said, I don't feel well, please stay home, and that saved my life. Everybody who sat around the area where I sat was killed. I officiated, as you said, seven funerals in five days. And it's clearly a trauma that is virtually not to be understood.

CABRERA: Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein spoke a short time ago. His feelings understandably so raw. Listen to this.


GOLDSTEIN: And I walked into the lobby and I see Lori laying on the floor unconscious. And her dear husband, Dr. Howard Kaye, who is like a brother to me, is trying to resuscitate her, and he faints.

[20:20:08] And he's laying there on the floor next to his wife. And then their daughter Hannah comes out screaming, Daddy, Mommy, what's going on? And it's just the most heart-wrenching sight I could have seen.

I got up on a chair right there and I looked at our congregation, and I said, we are a Jewish nation that will stand tall. We'll not let anyone or anything take us down. Terrorism like this will not take us down.


CABRERA: Here he has just witnessed the death of a dear friend, he's dealing with his own physical pain, and shock. He still has the presence of mind to take care of everyone else. How does this affect you?

BERKUN: Well, we talked, we are part of the people that have survived thousands of years of persecution. I once actually gave a sermon many decades ago where I said let's get rid of all the defense agencies in Jewish life. Because anti-Semitism is now gone. Boy, was I ever wrong. I've been proved wrong these last months. It's just -- and it's not just here. It's also Europe and really around the world. Anti-Semitism is skyrocketing. Something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

CABRERA: Why? Why is that do you think? Why can't we move forward?

BERKUN: You know, I recently read a book by Professor Lipstadt of Emory University. She compared anti-Semitism to like a herpes, a virus. And sometimes, you know, it plays a lower role, sometimes higher role, you really cannot eradicate it. And I'm sorry to say that I think that's my feeling about anti-Semitism that people who harbor it cannot be talked out of their position.

CABRERA: Rabbi Alvin Berkun, I appreciate your thoughts. Thank you for joining us.

BERKUN: You're welcome.

CABRERA: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:26:06] CABRERA: The suspect in that deadly shooting inside a California synagogue has been charged now facing one count of murder in the first degree and three counts of attempted murder. Investigators believe the 19-year-old suspect acted alone and they say he is not part of an organized group. Detectives also served several search warrants. They processed the crime scene at the synagogue as well as the suspect's residence in San Diego and his car.

I want to bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory special agent.

And Josh, talk to us about this investigation now into the weapon because the suspect is 19 years old and California prohibits the sale of certain weapons to people under 21.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: That's right. Law enforcement officers will be going back to look at how this person got his hands on the weapon, tracing that back, which is now unfortunately a standardized process. Whenever law enforcement officers recover a weapon, they can look at the serial number, they can again trace that back to the point of sale. And again that will tell us how the person got his hands on that weapon.

That's only one aspect of the case right now. There are so many others as you talk about the forensics. You talk about this person's communication. But as you mentioned, how did this person get his hands on a weapon of war. That's going to be a key question for law enforcement.

CABRERA: There's also a question about whether the suspect might be responsible for a fire at a mosque in nearby Escondido. How might that factor into that investigation?

CAMPBELL: Yes. So that was just about a month ago here in California where authorities believe that there was an arson at a mosque and from what we're hearing from law enforcement officials, there was this manifesto and some type of electronic communication that has led them to believe that that might be connected -- connecting this person to that attack as well, so that will obviously be something that they're looking into.

I think what it really shows us is that, you know, you look at this person, if it turns out that he was responsible for both, he's basically targeting people indiscriminately, not focusing on a particular religion, but looking at people that are others, that are nonwhite, that are non-European which is obviously comes at the crux of what the issue is here that we're not having a national conversation about.

It's this white nationalism, this hatred, this vitriol that continues to fester. And, you know, I have to say, and it just gets so exhausting as you and I have covered so many of these. Law enforcement can only do so much to solve a case. Once they get the facts, they determine what happened, now what? It's up -- we need national leadership. We need our elected officials to stand up and say this is an issue similar to what we saw with international terrorism where they threw resources, they threw money at the problem. We had national leadership. We are just not seeing that yet. So pardon me for going off a tangent there but it just gets so tiring covering these over and over.


CAMPBELL: And once law enforcement does its job, we seem to move on.

CABRERA: There is still the question, though, about what can be done to prevent, and are there places where law enforcement could perhaps interfere in preventing one of these? The biggest clue right now sounds like this open letter the suspect posted online talking about his plan to kill Jewish people. This was on a forum called 8chan we're learning. Are officials monitoring this kind of chatter? And if they are, what can they do in responding to this kind of talk happening online?

CAMPBELL: Yes, you hit on it. It's these online forums where this hatred continues to fester, where people can sit there and communicate with each other around the world domestically without ever having to show their face. And again this hatred builds and builds and you have people that are essentially, you know, getting each other to go along with certain, you know, persuasions here where you say, OK, we hate people, and it continues and continues and continues, and they actually will inspire them to act with violence as we saw here.

And so it's incumbent upon law enforcement to monitor these forums which we know that they do, but again it comes down to that leadership, it comes down to resources. Law enforcement can look at threats and dedicate resources, allocate personnel based on the threats that they see. It comes down to, again, our elected officials saying, you know, this is an issue for us, this is a priority we're going to dedicate resources, and we just haven't seen that.

CABRERA: All right. Josh Campbell, I appreciate it. Thank you.

CAMPBELL: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up top officials reportedly warned not to talk to the president about election security. Is the White House leaving the country vulnerable to a 2020 attack?

[20:30:00] I'll ask Former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, next.


CABRERA: It was like pulling teeth. That is how one U.S. official describes attempts to get the White House, to focus on securing future elections against Russia. But apparently, President Trump didn't want to hear about it.

CNN has learned that the Department of Homeland Security tried, for months, to sound the alarm and set up cabinet level meetings on election security. But according to the New York Times, Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told then-DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, it wasn't a great subject and should be kept below Trump's level.

So, the requests were rejected. Nielsen is now gone. And Russia's attacks have continued.

Earlier, I spoke to the Former Secretary of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush, Michael Chertoff, about the ongoing threat.


CABRERA: Mr. Secretary, it's great to have you with us, thank you for being here. The President had long seen talk of Russian election interference, as delegitimizing his victory. Here he is.


It's a Democrat hoax.

They have this witch hunt.

That was a Democrat hoax.

It's a witch hunt.

Phony witch hunt.

It was a hoax.

It's like a witch hunt.

It's like a witch hunt.

This is a hoax.

The witch hunt continues.

I call it the Russian hoax.

The witch hunt, as I call it.


[20:35:03] CABRERA: Secretary, if you could speak to him right now, what would you tell him?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I would say, at this point, 2016 us over, he got elected. What we ought to focus on is 2020 and the health of our democracy.

And, you know, when people meddle with elections, you can never be sure who they're going to favor or disfavor, so it's in everybody's interest in democracy to make sure we are securing our elections, so the American people decide and not somebody sitting in St. Petersburg, Russia.

CABRERA: Do you think the President understands the gravity of this?

CHERTOFF: Well, I can't -- I can't read his mind. But I will tell y that whether you're dealing with the Intelligence Community, or people at Homeland Security, Senior officials across the board, understand that the Russians have now, for years, been interfering with our electoral process, more broadly, trying to undermine our social cohesiveness.

They've done it not only in the U.S, they've done it in other parts of the world as well, and there is no reason to believe this is going to stop. In fact, it's going to intensify.

CABRERA: In the report that we got from the Special Counsel's office, Robert Mueller, confirms Russia had interfered. He called it in a sweeping and systematic fashion. And yet, just days later, we heard this from White House Senior Adviser and the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, downplaying it. Take a listen.

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER OF THE WHITE HOUSE: You look at, you know, what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to (INAUDIBLE) and do it, and it's a terrible thing, but I think the investigations and all of the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads.

CABRERA: A couple of Facebook ads. Give us a reality check on this.

CHERTOFF: Yes, this was -- the reality here is this was, in fact, as the Mueller report says, a sweeping effort. It involved not only social media and conventional media. It involved actually sending agents into the United States, like an episode of the old T.V. show, The Americans, to actually subvert and ferment demonstrations, and to get Americans to actually carry out some of the dirty work.

So, this was something which was designed as a comprehensive plan to create social disorder, in fact, to try to in sight some violence, as well as to affect the election itself.

CABRERA: So, we have to understand what happened in order to get a handle on what needs to be done going forward, and yet, we know our adversaries aren't slowing down. They are looking for new ways to infiltrate. And one area of concern that you've pointed to, in your writings, has to do with deepfakes, videos that use Artificial Intelligence to make it look like anyone is saying anything at any time.

Here's just one notable, albeit, profane example.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump is a total and complete [BLEEP]. Now, you see, I would never say these things, at least, not in a public address, but someone else would, someone like Jordan Peele.

CABRERA: Mr. Secretary, how do you even begin to combat that?

CHERTOFF: Well, this is a serious emerging concern. And as this technology perfects itself, the ability of a human being to be able to see that there's something off about the video, is going to wind up no longer be sufficient.

So, we're looking at a couple of different things, we are looking at are there ways to watermark or authenticate real videos, so that the absence of that kind of a watermark would be a tip off that you've got a fake, alternatively, can we use Artificial Intelligence almost in a microscopic level to look at characteristics of a video that would indicate lack of authenticity?

It might be the lighting, it might be facial mannerisms. And, right now, as part of a Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity I'm co-chairing. We actually have technical researchers looking at this issue. The scary thing is this, if we get to the point that in the days before an election, someone could put out a completely fabricated video that is, in fact, meant to undermine the election.

Could we communicate the truth, in sufficient time, to neutralize it?


CABRERA: My thanks to Former Secretary of DHS Michael Chertoff. Coming up, the power struggle at the highest ranks of the NRA, their president is out, amid allegations he was trying to extort the man known nationally as the public face of their group. A live report, next.



CABRERA: Turmoil is brewing inside one of the country's most influential groups, the NRA. On a leadership front, Oliver North has announced he will be stepping down as NRA president and not serve a second term. This comes as the New York Attorney General's office says it will open an investigation.

A gun safety group says the probe is into the NRA's tax exempt status. Now, CNN Correspondent Polo Sandoval is joining us now. Polo, let's start with this shakeup at the top. What do we know about what has caused this decision?

POLO SANDOVAL: Well, I can tell you tomorrow will be a big day for the National Rifle Association, as they will move to nominate and eventually elect their new president. This will be yet another face of this organization that wields some tremendous lobbying power in Washington, particularly when it comes to guns here.

And I say, other face, because, of course, it's commonly known, particularly here, at their annual meeting that Wayne LaPierre is actually the man who, of course, calls the shots behind the organization. However, I should mention that -- as you just said a little while ago, there has certainly have been some dark clouds looming over this year's meeting.

For one, that internal power struggle between LaPierre and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who just yesterday, the building you see behind me, announced his potential resignation, or his actual resignation here, as they seek to find a replacement.

Some of that according to various reporting, of course, is because of what he believes is financial mismanagement. And there's also that widespread reporting about that financial mismanagement including allegations that some of the executives of the organization have been, essentially, taken away hundreds of millions of dollars from the non- profit's budget.

[20:45:08] Here is what, at least, one member of the NRA had to say about what he would like to see changed at the top.


SANDOVAL: Do you feel that that's a crisis more of, sort of, internal turmoil among some of the brass, or do you think it's the financial mismanagement which he described in this letter, or neither?

ERIC BALLMAN, NRA MEMBER: It would be obviously combination of both. You're going to have because of somebody's opinion on a certain event or series of events, there could be some of those questions especially in the senior leadership in those internal meetings that you don't always get to be privy to what's going on and behind the scenes.

But, so, it could be a combination of both of those and just making sure that it is working for the right direction and money is being spent correctly and in the right means.


SANDOVAL: So, addition to what North describes as a crisis and addition to these allegations, there is also what you mentioned there, this announcement of the New York State Attorney General announcing an investigation into the National Rifle Association's non-profit status, according to outgoing NRA president, Oliver North. Its status could potentially be threatened here.

So, it's important to keep in mind that this is an organization that usually used to fighting off with the outside sources that may challenge its pro-gun agenda. Not necessarily used to the current in- fighting that it's seeing inside of it.

CABRERA: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you for that update. Coming up, President Trump set to visit the U.K. as a guest of the Queen. Now, only if he had had a palace to stay in? We'll explain.



CABRERA: Tea and crumpets with the Queen? President Trump is crossing the pond in June for his first official state visit to the United Kingdom, but he won't be staying at Buckingham Palace. CNN's Max Foster explains why.


MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From a royal on a guard, to a state lunch and formal evening banquet at Buckingham Palace. President Trump, expecting to get quite the greeting when he arrives in the United Kingdom in June, for the first official state visit to the country, but he won't be staying at Buckingham Palace, as is traditional for heads of state.

Apparently, the 775-room palace doesn't have enough space because parts are being refurbished. It's, likely, protesters will rain on Trump's parade. The giant baby Trump blimp brought out during the President's much more casual visit last July, could make another appearance.

Once again, President Trump will meet with the Queen. Last time, in breach of diplomatic protocol, he briefly walked aimlessly in front of the Queen, whilst inspecting the royal guard. And the world will be waiting and watching to see if President Trump's relationship with British Prime Minister Theresa May, continues to be extra special. We've seen the two, close, the last few times they've been together.

Max Foster, CNN, Buckingham Palace, London.



CABRERA: Money, power, and prayer. On tonight's season four premiere of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," host W. Kamau Bell showcases Texas, the birthplace of megachurches.


EMILY JOY, POET AND ACTIVIST: There were a lot of lights and fog machines and, you know, little orders that everybody had to follow. It was also like my entire social life because we were home-schooled, and so we didn't have school friends. So, being a part of a church community that was so large, gave us the opportunity to make lots of friends.

WALTER KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA: When I think about church, in my life, I think about my grandmother specifically.


BELL: It wasn't just this thing that happened on Sunday. It was a thing you touched into all week. And it's also a way for people to check in with you regularly, they knew you were going to be at church, if you weren't at church, and they had to go find out what was going on with you, you know.

EMILY JOY: And then somebody would text you, and you're like, oh, I have a community that cares where I'm at.

BELL: With my grandmother, it wasn't texts. They'd just stop by her house. EMILY JOY: Yes. It's this all-encompassing thing. It's so important for so many people. And so, when you -- when it betrays you, you almost feel like your whole life is having the rug ripped out from under you.

BELL: Yes.

EMILY JOY: You know?

CABRERA: The host of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA," W. Kamau Bell, joins us now. Kamau, at the beginning of this episode you said you were a little suspicious, maybe wary of megachurches. What'd you think by the end?

BELL: I mean, you know, not all megachurches are created equally. I think, the thing, by the end -- the episode talks a lot about the separation of church and state which I think, you know, we like to think that we're founded on even though there's lots of church and state mixing at the high level of politics.

But the story Emily Joy tells there is about how because we don't have a lot of direct oversight of churches, a lot of dangerous things can happen. She was talking about how she experienced abuse in the church, and because there's not direct oversight, and the bigger the church, the more possibility there is for things to happen that shouldn't be happening.

CABRERA: When you think of megachurches, you think of the show --

BELL: Yes.

CABRERA: -- aspect. A lot of these are, like, rock concerts.

BELL: Yes. We talked to a minister --

CABRERA: Lights, music sets.

BELL: It's like a rock concert and motivational speech and then somewhere, in there, for a lot of megachurches, the whole idea of what you're there for gets lost. It's like, it's a good time, but you don't -- are you really connecting with the word of Jesus?

CABRERA: I mean, this stuff takes a lot of money, too, to put on a show like that. Do they have limits on what kind of money they're willing to spend on this?

BELL: We don't -- we don't tax churches. We don't -- we don't -- it's hard to audit a church. We don't know what's happening with the money. And I talk to Pastor Ed Young from Fellowship Church and it's like, you feel weird about all the money that you spend? And he was like, no. I mean, so that's the issue here. I'm like, it's fine. And he's worth, according to Google, $11 million.

And it's fine if you want to make your preacher rich. But shouldn't we know if these institutions are founded on doing good for the community, shouldn't we know exactly how much good they're doing for the community?

CABRERA: I guess you can say it's an investment in faith, though.

BELL: But what is your faith? Like, in what --

CABRERA: For some people, it's everything.

BELL: It is everything. I have faith, too. What I'm saying, the thing that I look at megachurches, there's so much money going in there, and there's a thing called the prosperity gospel, where preachers are making all this money. But these institutions were founded to take care of their communities.

And, although, they do good work, because we separated church and state, we have no idea how much money they're spending on the community, how much money they're spending on other things.

CABRERA: I can't help but notice your shirt that you're wearing with the picture of Anthony Bourdain.

BELL: Yes, I mean, you know, my show wouldn't exist on CNN without Anthony Bourdain. I got to know him a little bit when we went to Kenya together last year. I knew I was lucky at the time. I didn't know how lucky I was until later when he passed away. And so, for me, this is the first year I'm promoting the show without having him as the, sort of, the show that I was following, and I took a lot of pride in that.

So, this is just my way to say thanks, Tony, I remember you. And I'll still be doing the work in your honor.


CABRERA: W. Kamau Bell, remembering his friend there.

Before we go tonight, we'd like to remember another colleague and friend. Robert Lee, a writer, producer, on our team in Atlantic, died this week, after a long battle with brain cancer, a true newsman.

Robert worked at various T.V. stations across the Southeast, finally landing his dream job at Headline News in 2001, and eventually joining the CNN team a few years ago.

In this stressful and hectic news environment, you could always count on Robert for a smile and kind word, a man who appeared to never have a bad day.

The Florida native was a devote Catholic. He loved music and dance. He even dabbled in being a D.J. for a little while. For one of his greatest stories came from playing Santa Claus each Christmas season. His white beard and jolly laugh even helped him look the part year round. He once even heard a child whisper to his daughter, I didn't know your father was Santa Claus.

And even though our hearts are heavy tonight, we know Robert's fun- loving ways will live on through his wife, Trisha, and his two daughters, Caroline and Catherine.

Thank you, Robert, for being part of our lives.

That does it for me. Thank you for being here. I'm Ana Cabrera. Have a good night.