Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

Voters Divided On Impeaching President Trump; Former President Barack Obama Believes In Women Power; Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) Is Interviewed About Politicians Voting To Impeach President Trump; President Obama On Leadership; Army, Navy Launch Investigation Into Hand Gestures At Game; Study: Suicide Rates Up Among Black Youth. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired December 16, 2019 - 23:00   ET



DON LEMON, CNN HOST: A new CNN poll out tonight shows voters are split on impeaching and removing Trump from office. That polling likely weighing on a lot of moderate Democrats tonight. Will they vote their conscience or vote to keep their seat?

Plus, President Obama talking leadership he says the world would be a better place if more women were in charge. He claims most of the world's problems stem from, quote, "old people. Usually old men. Not getting out of the way." Interesting comment considering the Democratic front runner is an old man. And his former vice president.

Also, a disturbing study finds suicide attempts by black young people are on the rise. What's behind the shocking numbers and what can be done to top it.

And the U.S. military and naval academy is launching internal investigations after students were seem flashing a possible hate symbol on camera at the army navy football game. Was it racist or innocent? We'll explain the controversy.

But first, less than 48 hours away from his inevitable impeachment, President Trump is defending Rudy Giuliani's recent trip to Ukraine where he continued his working -- his work smearing the Bidens.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: He's a great person who loves our country. And he does this out of the love. Believe me. He does it out of love. He sees what goes on. He sees what's happening. He sees all of the hoax that happens when they talk about impeachment hoax. The Russian collusion delusion. And he sees it.

And he's a great gentleman. And he was again, the greatest mayor in the history of New York. And probably the greatest crime fighter in the last 50 years. He knows what he's doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Joining me now, Frank Bruni, Max Boot and Amanda Carpenter. Good evening, one and all. Amanda, you first. You say Giuliani Ukraine's escapade is birtherism all over again. With impeachment looming is Trump turning to his bag of gaslighting tricks?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I mean, everything they need to understand about Trump you can learn from birtherism. It's the same thing. Just like he sent these fake investigators to Hawaii to find something-something that would disqualify Obama from the presidency.

He is sending Rudy Giuliani to Ukraine to find something-something that will disqualify Biden from the presidency. And we're all getting sucked into it. Right? Like we can't wait to see what Rudy brings back. What will he say or what will he butt dial the next Politico reporter?

I mean, they keep the cameras on them. And just like birtherism he was proven wrong in the end, right? He said, you know, Obama produced the papers. But Obama had to respond to him at every turn. And even when he was proven wrong, he said well, you know, Hillary started it. I finished it. You should be grateful to me. He's going to do the same thing here. And we're all just along for the ride again.

LEMON: Frank Bruni, well, that was good. What reporter is he going to butt dial next?


CARPENTER: It happens.

LEMON: Trump sent 50 tweets and retweets. That was just today. I mean, he's been on a crazy like tweeting and re-tweeting spree here. What does that say about his state of mind less than two days before the impeachment vote?

BRUNI: Well, I think he's trying to turn people's attention to anything but and he's trying to kind of spread this conspiracy theory. I was jus5 looking at his Twitter feed and it seemed like retweet after retweet of Rudy Giuliani whom we were just talking about.

I mean, he is trying to kind of throw all sorts of sand in the air and get people very confused. I think he's agitated because he would prefer not to be impeached. But that's an inevitability now. And then it's not just Twitter though. It's toilet flushing. It's Nancy Pelosi teeth. It's a Twitter spat with a 16-year-old climate change activist.

I mean, it's sort of a kind of, I was going to say slow rolling melt down except it's a fast rolling meltdown. But it's almost the norm for him. I don't think he knows how to behave any other way. And as Amanda said so eloquently, we're all along for the ride.

LEMON: Wow. You mention the teeth, right? Let's bring Max in. Because over the weekend he tweeted that the Speaker Pelosi's teeth were falling out of her mouth. I mean, do you remember when he had the teeth thing and he doesn't have a mirror, I guess, whatever. BRUNI: People in glass houses should. Never mind.

LEMON: James Comey should spend years in jail. He called the congresswoman who had just lost her husband a war veteran and a congressman really pathetic. As impeachment gets closer it's not just the gaslighting. These are very personal and just downright deplorable attacks.

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: No. I mean, it reminds me, Don, of what the army counsel famously said during the McCarthy hearings. Have you no decency? Is there no sense of decency? And we know the answer with Trump. That's what is clear the answer is no.

And of course, Giuliani is cut from the same cloth. And I was just appalled to see tonight that Giuliani was slandering the former Ambassador Yovanovitch after having gotten her fired. One of America's finest diplomats getting her fired. And now saying that she was corrupt.


So, adding insult to injury and of course Trump is doing the same thing. Lashing out at everybody and it's, you know, to me, it's truly appalling. I have not lost my sense of outrage that a president of the United States talks like this. OK.

This is not an impeachable but it should be inexcusable. It should be something for which we should hold him accountable because we should expect a president to set a high moral tone. And first people ought to agree with that ought to be Republicans because that's what they were saying about Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

BRUNI: The values party.

BOOT: Exactly.

BRUNI: The values party.

LEMON: I guess it shouldn't shock but when I saw the Nancy Pelosi tweet I was -- and when I saw the tweet about Greta Thunberg, I was like did he -- it's the president who is tweeting this stuff. It was just --

BRUNI: And it's --


LEMON: It still shocks me, though.

BRUNI: Well, actually, it doesn't shock me anymore and that's the really sad thing. And I think we should note something else. You just mention two women. He is particularly vicious toward women. And he's particularly vicious towards women on the grounds of looks.

LEMON: Yes. I just -- BOOT: I mean, your reaction is the right one, Don. We should not

accept this. We need to maintain our sense of outrage because this is outrageous.

LEMON: I just -- every time I see it, I can't believe it.

Amanda, I'm coming to you. You want to say something quickly before I have a question --

CARPENTER: Yes. I would just say there's a reason why he does this. He can't run a positive campaign for himself on the merits. He has to drag other people down. He can only win by making everyone else seems worse. And so that's why he always goes to the bottom of the gutter at each and every opportunity.

LEMON: It's just vile, though. I mean, it's really just close.


LEMON: It's gross. Amanda, let's talk about the Senate trial. Schumer says that he wants four witnesses. McConnell says he doesn't want any. But here's -- this is what he argued back in 1999 about the Clinton impeachment trial.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Every other impeachment that's come to the Senate has ended with votes on the articles. Every other impeachment has had witnesses. It's not unusual to have a witness in a trial. The House managers have only asked for three witnesses. I think that's pretty modest.


LEMON: Things have changed.

CARPENTER: Or they're just protecting their own self-interest. I mean, that's fine. Here's what I think the outcome is going to be. We agree that the Democratic House is going to impeach. The Senate probably will acquit.

Is that the worst outcome going into election? Because to me, that shows a very clear dividing line. Right? In this hyper partisan time between the Democrats and the Republicans. And then the people will decide.

We're just not going to break any ground of the truth. People have picked their corners and I think this is maybe the outcome we deserve going into 2020.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, also, Schumer also did the opposite back during Clinton. But there were witnesses that had testified during, I think the difference was witnesses that had testified during the congressional trials. And --

BOOT: I think this was also a more serious case and then that was brought against Clinton. But, you know, the Republican hypocrisy is just off the charts.

LEMON: Yes. I want you to check out, this is an exchange between Manu Raju and Senate intel chairman Richard Burr.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Schumer has asked for hearing from Bolton and Mulvaney. Do you have any desire to hear from them?



LEMON: Is there any Republican actually wants to hear facts? Are you still Republican?

BOOT: I'm an ex-Republican because I can't stand to be part of this gang of Putin. But I think there may be a handful. It doesn't take many. It only takes three in the Senate to force a fair trial. And I'm hoping that Senator Romney, Collins, and Murkowski will do the right thing and stand up for a fair trial.

But I'm not super-confident that they will. Because they really don't seem to care about the facts or anything other than their desire to appease Donald Trump which is a very sad day for American democracy.

BRUNI: So, he just said the name Mulvaney. We've heard from Mulvaney. Let's please not forget that we have heard from Mick Mulvaney and the testimony did not help the president.


BOOT: That's true.

LEMON: Yes, he said there was -- he admitted there was a quid pro quo.

BRUNI: Yes. Let's not forget that.

LEMON: We know that the country is deeply divided especially with impeachment. I want you to check out. This is an exchange with on The View today with our former colleague Sunny Hostin. She compared how the GOP handled impeachment back in 1999 and then now.


SUNNY HOSTIN, LEGAL ANALYST, ABC NEWS: That is the height of hypocrisy for this Republican-led Senate.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, CO-HOST, ABC: That's right. But my job here --


HOSTIN: I don't understand that. MCCAIN: My hob here is not to litigate the ethics of it. I'm an ABC political analyst along with being a View co-host. My job is to analyze the politics of it. And I'm telling you the politics --


HOSTIN: But I'm not talking about you. I'm talking about the people --


NCCAIN: But I'm telling you my job here --

HOSTIN: -- that are senators that are in the Senate.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, ABC: Here's what's happening now. We're going to -- we're going to -- girl, please stop talking. Please stop talking right now. Because you know what.

MCCAIN: No problem.

GOLDBERG: What's happening. Thank you. Thank you.

MCCAIN: I won't talk the president show.

GOLDBERG: I'm OK with that. I'm OK with that. If you're going to behave like this --


MCCAIN: I'm not behaving, I don't think.

GOLDBERG: -- you are. You're talking over. Yes, we understand that.

MCCAIN: I'm trying to show --


GOLDBERG: But you are, what you're doing is --

MCCAIN: No, I'm not --

GOLDBERG: -- we're not doing anything.


LEMON: Frank?

BRUNI: We need a Whoopi for Congress. We need a Whoopi for Donald Trump. We need a Whoopi.

LEMON: I saw that live. I was like, my gosh. Well, I mean --

BRUNI: But that's America in a nutshell.

LEMON: Yes. Amanda? CARPENTER: Yes, I would just say, you know, everybody comes down on the impeachment question a little differently for different reasons. But regardless of where you are, I think that people should be allowed to explain where they're coming from.

Like I was really interested with our Poppy Harlow's interview with Carly Fiorina earlier today. Because Carly said something I hear from a lot of Republicans. They say listen, I want Donald Trump to face some kind of consequence for his behavior. I'm not sure he should be removed from office and maybe the people should decide.

And I see a lot of Democrats were confused by that, that think that Carly should have been stronger. But I know a lot of people who are there. Maybe that's what Meghan was trying to express. I didn't talk to her about anything. But we need to let some of the air out in a healthy way.

LEMON: Well, I don't know if that's -- that moment wasn't about that because there were two segments. I watched that show live. I mean, Meghan had spoken a lot during the first segment. That was about letting other people talk.

CARPENTER: I didn't see it.

LEMON: Yes, she was talking over other people and listen, I think everyone should be able to speak. That moment was not about not allowing Meghan po speak.

BRUNI: Right. That's right.

LEMON: And I think she turned that to that when she went home and tweeted about it. That wasn't what that was about. She was talking --


CARPENTER: I was interested what Carly said on CNN.


CARPENTER: For what it's worth.

LEMON: She was talking about -- she was talking over other people on the show.

BOOT: I think, you know, --


LEMON: But yes, go on.

BOOT: I was going to -- I mean, you got to let both sides talk, no question. But we should not pretend that both sides have an equal case because Republicans do not have a case here. That is why they're talking about everything except the merits of the case.

They want to talk about process, they want to talk about Democratic animosity against Trump. They 3want to talk about Nancy Pelosi's teeth. They don't want to talk about what Donald Trump actually did which was trying to extort Ukraine. And we need to keep our eyes on the actual facts of the case which are highly damming and indefensible for the president.

BRUNI: On the eve of impeachment our president is talking about the speaker of the house's teeth.

BOOT: Right.

BRUNI: Let's just let that sink out.

LEMON: Yes. Wow. And a 16-year-old climate change activist.


BRUNI: He's suddenly an expert in dentistry.

LEMON: Yes. OK. Conservative -- thank you all. By the way, conservative Democrats facing a stark political reality on impeachment to vote their conscience or keep their seats. I'm going to ask a recently resigned Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill how her former colleagues will make that tough choice. There she is. That's next.



LEMON: So, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, a freshman Democratic congresswoman from a swing district in Michigan has announced that she will vote yes on both articles of impeachment against President Trump. Slotkin spoke about her decision at a town hall in Rochester, Michigan earlier today.


REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): The thing that was different for me is this very, very basic idea that the president of the United States would reach out to a foreign power and ask for an investigation for personal political gain.

While we may not agree, I hope you believe me when I tell you that I made this decision out of principle and out of duty to protect and defend the Constitution. I feel that in my bones and I will stick to that regardless of what it does to me politically because this is bigger than politics.



LEMON: Good for her. Joining me now no discuss, a former Congresswoman Katie Hill, a California Democrat.

Thank you so much. Thank you so much. You saw that strong reaction Congresswoman Slotkin faced at that town hall when she was explaining her decision. Is that the reality for those elected officials, vote your conscience and the backlash could be so bad that you could -- that it could end your career?

FORMER REP. KATIE HILL (D-CA): Well, look, I mean, this is something that we were talking about that I was talking about with my colleagues long before I left. Because you know, we were getting closer and closer to the point where it seemed like a vote might be inevitable.

And so many, you know, of those who were in the frontline districts or these districts that voted for Trump in the first place were saying, you know, I didn't come to Congress because I wanted to be a politician for my whole life.

I came here because I believe in our country and I believe in making this a better place than, you know, what our country is turned into politically. And so, at the end of the day if I lose my seat, I did what I thought was right.

And so, this isn't about getting re-elected and it never should be. So, I'm just tremendously proud of, you know, my former colleagues like Joe Cunningham and Max Rose and Elissa Slotkin those who are ultimately making this choice knowing that it could cost them their reelection. And I hope that the people who help to elect them in the first place whether it's donors or volunteers or voters and supporters that they show up and double down and make sure that that happens again.

LEMON: Let me play another clip from Congresswoman Slotkin. She is speaking to CNN's Jason Carroll after her town hall. Here it is.


SLOTKIN: All I can tell you is if you live your life only looking at polls and only figuring out how to keep this job another two years you are in it for the wrong reasons. And we need a different generation who thinks differently and works harder and focuses on what's important not just what's politically expedient.

And if that's not what my district wants from me, then I will move a along.


LEMON: OK. So, to her point, this is up on our screen now is a new CNN poll out tonight showing the country basically split on the issue of impeachment nationally. And the battleground states is even closer.


Is that really how your former colleagues will be making their decision?

HILL: Well, no. I think that the majority of them are going to be making it based on what they say as far as evidence goes and I hope that that's the same kind of decision that the Senate makes. That's why it's so important that the Senate has a fair trial. And I know that Laurence Tribe has spoken earlier today with Erin

Burnett about how we need to make sure that the Senate is actually holding a fair trial. You know, there are going to be impeachment protests and actions all across the country tomorrow.

This isn't just about the vote that's going to happen in the House. This has to be about what Mitch McConnell is going to be doing. Ad if it's a rigged jury to begin with then we don't need so send these articles of impeachment over. We actually should hold onto them and insist that this is something that needs to be conducted fairly. And in accordance with, you know, precedent and the Constitution and what's right for our country moving forward.

LEMON: That's the same thing that John Dean said on the show on Friday that he thinks that they should hold the articles of impeachment and wait.

HILL: Yes.

LEMON: You heard about New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew. I'm sure, right? Sources are saying that he's expected to leave --

HILL: Of course.

LEMON: -- the Democratic Party to become Republican. Because what he says he's a strong opposition of impeachment.

HILL: Yes.

LEMON: Give me your take on that. What do you think?

HILL: You know I think it's incredibly disappointing. And you know I don't know what the basis of his decision is. Right? And I think that that may even be --


LEMON: I think he wants to keep his career.

HILL: -- some other Democrats --

LEMON: I don't think it has anything to do with impeachment. I think he just wants he can't be elected as a Democrat but that's my -- that's my take.

HILL: Yes. You know, I just for the life of me I can't understand that motivation. I mean, you know, I just don't know that the job in and of itself is, you know, worth sacrificing your integrity. I just don't get it.

But I think, you know, other of my former colleagues who may end up voting no on impeachment articles I don't think that they're doing -- I hope that they're doing it not just about the reelection but because they truly feel like they are representing their districts or they're representing, you know, or something else or the evidence wasn't compelling enough. But to switch parties to a party that is completely proven it is

bankrupt, and is the party of Trump and not the Republican Party that it used to be. The party that, you know, my dad belonged to. And that so many people used to look back, you know, used to consider themselves part of. This -- that is just unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.

So I was really glad to see that the DCCC has said that they are hiring, you know, that they are going to hire any of the staff that resign and that so many did resign right away as a testament to the fact that, you know, these people who work on the Hill are doing it for, you know, there are some of the most hardworking people that I have met and they're doing it because of what they believe in and the values that they believe in.

They're not doing it for a paycheck. The paychecks are horrible. And so, you know, I just think that it's really, really disappointing that Jeff Van Drew has done this and I hope that, you know, he pays the consequences electorally for this.

LEMON: I just had a couple seconds left here, Katie. You recently resigned from Congress and you were a member of the House oversight committee which is an important part of the impeachment process. If you were there at this time, what would be the most important thing to you?

HILL: In terms of how I vote or in terms of just everything?

LEMON: Yes, how it's being conducted.

HILL: I think -- yes. No, I think it's really at this point it would be -- I know how I would vote. But it's about how does it move forward in the Senate and how are we going to ensure that people really understand what this is about and that this is about our values. This is about the precedent we want to set for the future. This is about the Constitution.

This is about conduct that we think is allowable for a president to conduct. And that's all there is. It cannot be about politics.

LEMON: Katie Hill, thank you so much. I appreciate your time.

HILL: Thank you. Good to see you.

LEMON: You, as well.

President Obama has got some thoughts about what would happen if women ruled the world. We'll tell you what he said. And that's next.



LEMON: Former President Barack Obama says there would be, quote, "significant improvement across the board if countries were led by women." Of course, his male former Vice President Joe Biden is a front runner in the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Let's talk about the state of the race with Keith Boykin and Karen Finney. Hello.


LEMON: I'm sure Karen agrees.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Hey, Don. I mean, the brilliance of Barack Obama why would I --


LEMON: You know, Karen, I've said this before and I got a lot of gaffe by people. They were like, yes. I've said I think former president got it from me.

So, listen, let me tell everybody the story. So Karen, while speaking at the Singapore expo, according to BBC News, the former President Barack Obama spoke quite candidly about women and leadership and he said.

"Now women, I just have to -- I just want you to know you are not perfect but what I can say pretty undisputedly is that you are better than us men. I'm absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on earth was run by women you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything. Living standards and outcomes."

Why don't we have more female leaders, Karen?

FINNEY: Amen to that. Because as the research tells us and working with women candidates, women just have a much harder hill to climb in getting elected particularly to executive office.

One of the things that's interesting it's now actually easier for a woman to get elected to congress or a legislative than governor or president because women are collaborative leaders. And in this time of discord and disunity voters are thinking well that's the kind of leadership we need.

I feel like I trust a woman to be able to -- who's going to go in there and try to get something done and bring everybody around the table to get it done.


And men are sort of interested in who wins and who loses. He's absolutely right in his assessment.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. Well, listen --


LEMON: We have over 70 countries, U.K., Iceland, Philippines, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia have all been led by women. Why not here? That's for you, Karen.

FINNEY: Because the truth of it is our country is -- we saw in 2008, you know, there was a question about sexism over racism. I think it was clear that in 2016, sexism, racism --

LEMON: Men don't want to give up power. That's why.

FINNEY: They don't. You're right.

LEMON: That's it.

FINNEY: Yes, men don't want to give up power. But also, to be honest, women are very hard on women candidates as well.

LEMON: Yeah.

FINNEY: And there is something about women. We don't trust women with executive power even though people believe that women get into politics to solve problems, that our goals are more noble than men, but there is still something about when it comes to executive power that still just a really hard hurdle for us. A glass ceiling, if you will.

LEMON: All right. Let's bring the man into this. You want to -- I don't know. We can keep talking.


LEMON: All right, so Listen, Keith, the former president went on to say, if you look at the world and you look at the problems, it's usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way. It is important for political leaders to try and remind themselves that you are there to do a job, but you are not there for life, you are not there in order to prop up your own sense of self-importance or your own power.

I'm just wondering how ironic this is given the frontrunners in the democratic race are mostly older and mainly male.

BOYKIN: Yeah, especially considering Joe Biden, his vice president is --

LEMON: And Bernie Sanders.

BOYKIN: -- one of the candidates, but that is his vice president. So, I don't know --

LEMON: And Bloomberg.

BOYKIN: I don't what he meant by that. There are a lot of white men in the race who are doing very well and there are a lot of women in the race who aren't doing as well. And we saw this dynamic in election after election. If you go back to 2016, the majority of white women didn't vote for Hillary Clinton. They voted for the other guy, for Donald Trump. And I think the United States --

LEMON: You don't agree with the former president?

BOYKIN: No, I agree with the idea that we need to have more diversity in leadership. Women are the majority of the population in the United States. We have never had a woman president. That only happens because of racism and sexism -- excuse me, because of sexism.

If you look at also the fact that white men are only 29 percent of the population, but every single president in the history of the country except for one has been a white man, how is it possible that 29 percent of the population or 95, 98 percent of the presidents, but women who are the majority of the population, have zero president? That only happens because of institutional systemic bias.


BOYKIN: We have to be able to address that fact and acknowledge it.

FINNEY: But, you know, Don, if I may, I think, you know, without getting into why Kamala -- why she dropped out, I think we also have to take a step back, at least our party does, and ask ourselves time and time again in our polling, what do we see this year? It says we want to beat Donald Trump. That is our biggest goal.

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

FINNEY: So what does it say? All due love and respect to Joe Biden and the other white fellows, you know, here we see that when pressed, the answer seems to be and that has got to be a white man who is going to beat Donald Trump.

And I'll tell you something, after Kamala dropped out, when I asked people, OK, did you give her money? Did you volunteer your time? No. OK, but if we think it's important to have diversity, we got to mean that and we got to show up for our candidates of color.

BOYKIN: We have to stop thinking that white men are the only ones who can win. Remember --

FINNEY: Agreed.

BOYKIN: -- if you go back -- look at the history of our country. The three highest vote getters in our country, one was Barack Obama in 2008, number two was Barack Obama in 2012, and number three was Hillary Clinton in 2016, a black guy and a white woman.


BOYKIN: The white men have never gotten as many votes as Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. She got 66 million votes. Donald Trump got 63 million. We still think that a white man --

LEMON: Don't tell him that --


(LAUGHTER) BOYKIN: We still think that a white man is the only one who is capable of winning the presidency. Clearly the majority of the American people are willing to vote for women. They are willing to vote for people of color. We have Electoral College and unfortunately it doesn't make this easy to do but it doesn't mean we should give up on diversity in our country and in our election.

LEMON: I got to run. That's got to be the last word.

FINNEY: All right.

LEMON: Thank you both.

FINNEY: Take care.

LEMON: I appreciate it. The final presidential debate of the year is coming to CNN. It's critical night for the candidates still trying to break through the PBS NewsHour-Politico democratic presidential debate live from Los Angeles. Watch it on CNN and your local PBS station. Coverage starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Thursday night.


LEMON: Hand gestures possibly symbolizing white power flashed on TV before the Army-Navy game. And now, the military is launching an investigation. The latest, next.


LEMON: The U.S. Military and Naval academies both investigating after cadets and midshipmen were caught on camera during the Army-Navy football game Saturday, making a hand gesture that some call a white nationalist symbol and others say is innocent.


LEMON: The gesture happens when someone forms an OK sign with their fingers and thumb. CNN's Ryan Browne joins me now with more on what this all mean. Ryan, this very interesting story really blew up on the internet. Thank you for joining us.

So listen, Ryan, West Point superintendent issuing a statement -- let me read it for you. It says, "The United States Military Academy is fully committed to developing leaders of character, who embody the Army Values. I have appointed an investigating officer to conduct an administrative investigation into the facts, circumstances, and intent of the Cadets in question."

We know the Naval Academy is also looking at this. What can you tell us about these investigations?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: They're both formal investigations. In fact, investigative officers have been appointed. This does happen but it is fairly rare for the superintendent and the head of the Naval Academy at Annapolis to take this step. Part of it is because it came at such a high profile moment. Typically, the Army, Navy football game is a chance to celebrate the traditions and legacies of the West Point and the Naval Academy. However, these actions, these gestures brought a lot of unwanted attention on discipline and potential real serious issues involving racism and white supremacy, white nationalism.

So they ordered these fairly formal investigations to an effect try to ascertain what was the intent here, was this some kind of meaningless game, some kind of prank gesture or was this tied to white supremacy, white nationalism, something that the secretary of defense said today has no place, that there's no room for in the U.S. Military, that they are going to get to the bottom of.

LEMON: Some people think that this hand sign was part of the game. Why is that?

BROWNE: There is this kind of game called the circle game. It's popular with younger folks. Basically, you trick someone into looking into this gesture outside their field of vision and if you catch them looking, they get to punch you. It sounds kind of silly. It sounds kind of juvenile. But I talk to few folks.

It is somewhat popular among some of the younger military recruits, younger folks in the barracks. It is possible that this is the case. Again, the investigation is going to try to find out whether it was this kind of innocuous game or whether it was something more sinister like white supremacy.

LEMON: Isn't it usually younger people, kids who do this game? It is called the circle game, right?

BROWNE: Right. It is typically. But, you know, like anything, these are younger folks. Some of them are in late teens, early 20s. And like a lot of them, they can be a bit juvenile even when they're wearing a uniform.

LEMON: Yeah. Ryan, the OK sign is just one of number of common signs and symbols to be co-opted by hate groups. Mark Pitcavage, a senior fellow in ADL's Center on Extremism, says, quote, "These are the latest calling cards of hate. We pay special attention to those symbols that exhibit staying power as well as those that move from online usage to the real world." Does that make it harder to know what someone's real intent is when the symbols pop up?

BROWNE: It's absolutely right. It is a difficult thing. In fact, you know, some groups like the Anti-Defamation League actually kind of recently changed their view of the symbol. Before, they said it wasn't necessarily. Now, it says it could well be a symbol of white power, white supremacy.

So, as these symbols evolve, a lot of it is driven by the internet. It becomes harder and harder. You know, it partly designed to be code, to be a bit hidden in plain sight, if you will. So that does present a challenge to people who try to police these and it is going to pose a challenge to investigators who are looking into it.

LEMON: Has this happened before other incidents like this at military events?

BROWNE: There are actually been a few instances in recent years. You know, a famous graduation where a West Point cadet wore communist paraphernalia and kind of sent a communist message about revolution, he actually wound up being separated and kind of kicked out of the military for that.

There was another case in the same year in 2016 where a group of students were photographed making a clenched fist, raising it above their head. That was investigated by West Point. Some people in social media thought it was a black power gesture and inappropriate to do in uniform.

West Point investigated and cleared the students of any wrongdoing, saying there was no political intent. They were expressing solidarity with one another.

LEMON: Interesting. Why would they do it on television? The circle game is something they usually do in person. But, anyway, Ryan, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.

BROWNE: You bet.

LEMON: Suicide rates are up among black young people. That's according to a new study. My next guest is trying to get to the bottom of the shocking numbers. That's next.




LEMON: A troubling new study finds that suicide attempts by black youths are increasing at an alarming rate. The numbers are shocking, but what's behind all of this?

Here with the answers, Inger Burnett-Zeigler, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University. Professor, thank you so much. I really appreciate you joining us. I found this, what you wrote, fascinating.

You write that young black people are making suicide attempts and dying by suicide at record-high rates, and you cite a study that shows suicide attempts for black youths increased 73 percent from 1991 to 2017, while suicide attempts for white youths dropped 7.5 percent. Why such an increase in the black youth community?


INGER BURNETT-ZEIGLER, LICENSED CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY: Thank you so much for having me on this show tonight. I really appreciate you opening the opportunity to talk about this incredibly important topic.

This is something that we, as researchers in psychology and psychiatry, have known for a long time. In terms of the why, you know, I think that we can point to a lot of social and economic factors that disproportionately affect the black youth. We know the risk factors around trauma, depression, anxiety, unemployment, are key predictors of risk for suicide.

And we also know that emotional risk factors like feelings of hopelessness and feelings of despair are key risk factors. Really a lot of youth feeling like they don't see kind of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Being surrounded by environments where they're not sure the steps that can be taken in order to improve their life circumstances and the trajectory of their life can leave some youth feeling hopeless and not knowing, you know, not seeing the possibility of their future getting better.

LEMON: You talk about the false narrative of the black community when it comes to suicide. Tell us about that, please.

BURNETT-ZEIGLER: I mean, I think that that's a narrative that is extremely persistent. You know, I see that in my clinical practice. I see that in the community-based research that I do. Often when I'm questioning people about their experiences of having thoughts of suicide or even making suicide attempts, the initial reaction is often, I would never do such a thing. We don't do that.

But if given further opportunity to really create a self-space often within the clinical setting, people often will acknowledge that they've had thoughts of harming themselves and perhaps even made an attempt. Loss is another key risk factor for suicide and just not knowing what to do --

LEMON: Mm-hmm.

BURNETT-ZEIGLER: -- and feeling lost and feeling like they don't have any anywhere to turn, particularly if there's not a social support system in place or they're not connected with mental health treatment that can really kind of help guide in these spaces of being desperate in many ways.

LEMON: Let me talk to you about another study. It found that from 2001 to 2017, the suicide death rate for black boys ages 13 to 19 rose 60 percent, while black girls of the same age rose an astounding 182 percent. You have experienced working with young black women. What is driving this?

BURNETT-ZEIGLER: You know, I think that, again, these feelings of hopelessness, feelings of despair are really underlying the increases in the rates. Additionally, we know that a lot of our young folks are not connected to mental health treatment. We know our young folks are not appropriately screened for depression, anxiety, and trauma experiences.

And we know that when people are in environments where they see other people or hear other people talking about suicide or making suicide attempts, it can also play a role in their likelihood of making a suicide attempt.

And so even those youth that are not necessarily intending to hurt themselves but are feeling so desperate that they need to demonstrate a sign of help -- a cry for help, excuse me, in the moment might do something impulsive that has long-term and potentially even deadly consequences.

LEMON: Since not everyone knows the warning signs of suicidal depression, what should people be aware of in the short time we have left?

BURNETT-ZEIGLER: Sure. So, again, for one, in terms of an attempt, a history of making an attempt is a number one risk factor, experiences with symptoms of mental illness like depression, anxiety, childhood trauma, interpersonal violence or domestic violence, living in poverty, unemployment, racism and discrimination.

It's really quite a long list, but one thing I really think is important to underscore is when we think about the risk factors for suicide. Many of these risk factors disproportionately impact those in the black community and especially our black youth. And much of that, I think we can turn to in terms of what is driving this epidemic.

LEMON: Professor Inger Burnett-Zeigler, thank you so much. I really appreciate it and what you wrote for the Times is very impactful. Thank you.

BURNETT-ZEIGLER: Thank you for having me.

LEMON: And if you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273- 8255 or go to for more information.


LEMON: Thank you for watching. Our coverage continues.