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Don Lemon Tonight

Battle To Pass Voting Rights Legislation; Capitol Riot Investigation; Pushing The Big Lie In Arizona, A Key Swing State; LSU Signs New Football Coach To Contract Worth $100 Million; Seven U.S. Senators Meet Ukraine's President In Kyiv Amid Fears Of Russian Invasion. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired January 17, 2022 - 23:00   ET




DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Voting rights on the line. The Senate expected to take action beginning tomorrow even though Democrats still don't have the votes to pass legislation. Martin Luther King, III calling out the senator for refusing to carve out the filibuster to get voting rights across the finish line.


MARTIN LUTHER KING, III, SON OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Senator Sinema, who seems to be blocking democracy instead of being on the side of advancing democracy.


LEMON (on camera): Some Arizonians pushing the big lie of election fraud are pretty happy with Senator Sinema. You'll hear from them straight ahead.

And the big payday for one college football coach while students and residents are struggling. I'm talking about LSU in my hometown of Baton Rouge signing new football coach, Brian Kelly, to a $100 million contract. You heard that right.

Joining me now, Pennsylvania's attorney general, Josh Shapiro. He is also a Democratic candidate to become the next governor of the state, and we welcome him to the program. Good evening, attorney general.


LEMON: So, Democrats know their voting rights bills are destined to fail tomorrow. So, as the A.G. of Pennsylvania State, that was the target of Trump's fight to overturn the 2020 election with a big lie. What can you do to fight back?

SHAPIRO: I'm going to do here in Pennsylvania what I've done for the last couple years. We beat them in court, and thankfully, we have a governor who continues to veto all of these bills here in this state that would make it harder for people to vote. And as Pennsylvania's next governor, I'll do the same.

Look, I'm obviously disappointed about what is happening in Washington, D.C., but the battle to defend our democracy continues. It just continues now at the state level, and I think Pennsylvania is the epicenter of that battle.

LEMON (on camera): This is what -- I want you to hear what Mitt Romney said about why he's opposing the Democrats to voting bills. Watch this.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): They want a real dramatic change, which is they -- they feel that instead of elections being run at the state level, they should really be managed and run at the federal level and recognize the founders didn't have that vision in mind. They didn't want an autocrat to be able to pull a lever in one place and change all the election laws. Instead, they spread that out over 50 states.


LEMON: So, that is how Republicans are framing these bills. How do you respond to that?

SHAPIRO: That's bunch of gobbledygook. Obviously, Mitt Romney has got his head in the sand. Here is the reality. We are seeing bills passing the law in states like in Georgia and Texas. And, by the way, it would be law here in Pennsylvania as well, but for the veto pen of our governor. It is making it harder for people to access the ballot box.

And Don, let's be clear, they're trying to make it harder for Black and brown folks to vote here in my state and in other states. They are trying to rig the system at the state level to work against our democracy.


Federal action is needed to try and stop those efforts in the other states. Thankfully here in the state, I'll continue to fight back and win as A.G. We have a governor who will veto those bad bills. But we can't count on that in every other state.

That is why a federal answer is needed because we have bad actors in Mitt Romney's party who are working overtime to undermine our democracy. That's why federal action is needed. That's why I'm so disappointed that we've got these senators who have decided that they'll stand with the filibuster instead of standing with our democracy. That is just flat-out wrong and it's doing real damage to our system.

LEMON: That is the -- that's really the issue there. You just put your --you just put the nail in the head there. So, listen, we're hearing a bipartisan group of 12 senators looking to reform the Electoral Count Act which deals the process of counting -- with a process of counting electoral votes. Do you think that would fix the problem? Would it at least help? SHAPIRO: I think it's one part of it. Look, I mean, understand, Don, there was a violent insurrection. I'm not laughing, of course, about that. I'm laughing about what happened after the gall that eight of nine Republican representatives from Pennsylvania had to go moments after the Capitol was cleared and lie about what happened in the election here in Pennsylvania and try and stop the votes of Pennsylvanians from being counted on the floor of the House of Representatives.

But that's just one piece of what needs to be fixed, respecting the will of the people. You've got a whole system that's being rigged against people being able to show up and cast their ballot. It's one of the reasons why here in Pennsylvania, I believe we have to have automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration. We've got to have secretary of state here in the commonwealth who I will appointment as next governor who will be prodemocracy.

Those are the kinds of things that are critical. What the senators seem to be talking about with the electoral vote count, while important, it's just one piece. If people can't access the ballot box, it makes it impossible for our democracy to flourish.

Abd here is why I think this is so important, Don. Because protecting our democracy, protecting the right to vote is at the foundation of all of the other issues we have to talk about.

LEMON: I've got to ask you, you know, because there were people who did the right thing, right? Our democracy in 2020 was saved by honorable state officials, both Republican and Democrat, who put country over party. Now, many of those election officials are being replaced. That's a huge concern. So, what happens next time if others who don't care about the rule of law have authority to sign off on certifying election winners?

SHAPIRO: I think that's a real risk. I really do. Now, here in Pennsylvania, as the next governor, I'll appoint a secretary of state who will administer our elections, and that will be a prodemocracy secretary of state. We won't have to worry here in Pennsylvania. We do have to worry in other states. We do have to recognize that this is what is on the line in so many of these governor races. And we also have to have people show up in these local elections when their local election officials are being chosen.

Look, whether they're Republican, Democrat or independent, what we should all be looking for in those officials are people who engage in an honest count who respect the will of the people. That is critical. And the fact that that is trying to be undermined by the former president and his enablers is leading to the damage to our democracy and more reason why the Senate should act and they should side with our democracy instead of siding with the filibuster.

LEMON: Attorney General Shapiro, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: Thank you, Don. LEMON (on camera): I want to turn now to CNN senior legal analyst Laura Coates. She has a new book out tomorrow titled "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness," and we're going to talk about that in just a moment. Also with us, senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Good evening to both of you. Thank you for joining.

Laura, Martin Luther King, III putting pressure on lawmakers today to protect the right to vote. Take a listen to this.


KING, III: So, no matter what happens tomorrow, we must keep the pressure on and say no more empty words. Don't tell us what you believe in. Show us with your votes. History will be watching what happens tomorrow. Black and brown Americans will be watching what happens tomorrow. In 50 years, students will read about what happens tomorrow and know whether our leaders had the integrity to do the right thing.


LEMON (on camera): It is obvious that civil rights leaders are fed up. There is a lot of raw emotion out there and disappointment quite frankly on this MLK Day.

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. This carries over from what we saw even last week before President Biden spoke. The agitation about not wanting to just have empty words and empty promises and a lot of rhetoric to talk about what you wanted to do.


It reminds you of the quote from James Baldwin, I can't believe what you say because I see what you do. And so, everyone is watching to figure out if America on paper will actually match what it will be in terms of the promises of democracy.

And the constant clawing back of voting rights in this country is an obvious concern, but did not just begin with the big lie. As you well know, it began when the Supreme Court took away the preclearance provision (INAUDIBLE) July of Section 2 with the Voting Rights Act and it continues to this day, as your last guest spoke about, at the state level in a patchwork of promises of our democracy.

And so, there has to be collective action for us to really feel as though that those promises will actually be realized. And if democracy is the predicate, if voting is the predicate for everything else, how can we possibly think our democracy could be strong with weak voting rights?

LEMON: Ron, Vice President Harris said today, we must not become be complacent or complicit. But the White House know these voting rights bills are going to fail tomorrow. So, what else can the president do? What else can the administration or Democrats do?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think there are very limited options. You know, as Laura pointed out, this Supreme Court has undermined the federal Voting Rights twice but within terms of rolling back -- eliminating the preclearance provision. And then more recently, by weakening the other Section 2, that is the basis of the legal challenges of the Justice Department is filing against some of these state laws like Georgia and Texas.

So, those are very unlikely to succeed. It is very difficult to change the political balance of power in these states in part because the Supreme Court, in another decision in 2019, essentially said that federal courts could impose no limits on partisan gerrymandering. And so, we see Republican legislators in the states that are moving to suppress the vote, also moving to entrench themselves.

The one lever that Democrats have to try to push back against this nationwide erosion of voting rights is the ability to pass federal legislation. But there, Manchin and Sinema, by insisting on a 60-vote requirement, are giving Republicans in the Senate a veto over whether to respond to what Republicans in the states and Republicans on the Supreme Court have done, which is obviously pretty logical.

So, this, I think, is a hinge point in history. If they cannot act on legislation in this Congress, it is highly likely that there will be nothing in the way of the red states steadily tightening this torniquet through the decade of the 2020s.

LEMON: You have this new piece out in "The Atlantic" and it's titled -- entitled -- it's titled, I should say, "How Manchin and Sinema Completed a Conservative Vision." What are the consequences of their vision?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, you know, as you saw in that clip from Mitt Romney and as Laura mentioned, the big lie is not the beginning of Republican efforts to roll back access to the ballot and to undermine federal protections for voting rights.

In fact, John Roberts has been on a crusade to do so for 40 years since he served as a young assistant in the Justice Department of the Reagan administration and fought elements of the bipartisan reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 1982. One of the most consistent true lines in his jurisprudence as chief justice has been weakening democracy protections, undermining federal voting rights law.

And essentially, what he has done is put a dare down in front of the Congress and, you know, said I am -- you know, we are going to knock down the preclearance, which really was the beginning of the enormous push back we're seeing on voting rights, and you have the responsibility of building a majority to pass it.

But, you know, what we're seeing in the red states, they're passing these suppressive laws on a party line majority rules basis. The Supreme Court has made all of its key decisions on a party line majority rules basis. The only place where you can't change the law on a party line majority rules basis is the Senate, and that imbalance in the playing field has created the dynamic we're in now where the force is trying to repress access to the ballot have the upper hand.

LEMON: Ron, I thank you very much. We talked about rock me on the water, and now we have to talk --


LEMON: -- with Laura Coates now. That was Ron. So, thank you, Ron. We appreciate it. Laura, please stick around because we need to talk about your new book and it is called "Just Pursuit." It's a Black prosecutor's fight for fairness, which we were all thrilled to see on the front page of the Sunday "New York Times" book review. Laura?


COATES: I was thrilled. I was really, really humbled by that, to think that this was in a national conversation because, as you know, Don, this the kind of book that -- I don't think people expected me to write. I think they assume I would write a very sort of dry Supreme Court book.

Not that I don't like the Supreme Court for the reasons Ron was talking about, but the idea of having a Supreme Court opinion and talking about it. I really intentionally made it a narrative memoir to really personify the issues we've been talking about today.


Its episodic, its chapter stands alone and really trying to ensure that people understand that the pursuit of justice can actually create injustice, Don, and what it looks like, not just to talk about the law, as you see me on TV doing, but to talk about what justice really looks like, feels like, and maybe could be.

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, I get asked to write, you know, excerpts about books, right? And Laura asked me. Of course, I'm thrilled. You know I read the galleys. And I called Laura in tears. I was, like, Laura, this is amazing, I'm so proud of you. You thought I was nuts because I kept calling you. I'm, like, call me immediately!

COATES: I may have cried, too. I probably cried, too.


COATES: I was, like, really, Don?

LEMON: No --

COATES: You really -- you like me? You really, really like me? I had that moment.

LEMON: Laura, it is really -- it's a great book and it's so well written. And I just -- I kept -- when people say page-turner, I know that's a cliche. It is a page-turner. I kept wanting to hear what happened next.

Let me just read -- I want to read a portion of the book. Let me see. Here it is. It says, especially on MLK Day, and you write in part, you said, "My allegiance was on trial. Was it to the laws of the United States? To the Black community? To the officers? To the powers that be? These constituencies were increasingly at odds. When I first became a prosecutor, I had thought that each case could represent a dot on the arc that Dr. King hoped would bend toward justice. Now, I wondered if I was bending the arc of justice or breaking it, and afraid the justice system might just break me."

You thought the system might break you? Talk to me -- I have a bit of an understanding from reading the book, but talk to me about that.

COATES: Well, you know, this book is so vulnerable and so raw for me, and I was scared to write portions of it because it was really my deepest thoughts and what I was feeling and thinking the entirety of my career at some points.

And I have to tell you, it's the idea that you think -- when I started out, I went to voting rights section, the civil rights division. And you are by de facto, a champion of civil rights. No one questions what side you're on.

And what a transformation when I became a federal prosecutor in the criminal context and being questioned about my allegiance. I had these personal battles between what I was ordered to do and where my moral compass pointed.

The idea of having to trust what police officers say and to watch a parade of Black and brown men and women, thousands of them, at a time. Only on one hand can I even count the number of white defendants and I wouldn't even need all five fingers to do so.

Knowing there was not a monopoly on crime, but looking at the prosecutorial decisions, the police decisions, and knowing those things and weighing against my lived experience as a Black woman, as a mother, as a wife, as a human being and constantly at odds trying to reconcile the two and thinking who I believed I would be when tested with the decisions.

I gave the audience a real insight into what that feels like to make those choices and sometimes, they are overwhelmingly difficult. Other times, they are easy. But I write about the idea of having to aid in the deportation, to what it really looked like to have mistaken identity in the courtroom in the blink moment --

LEMON: I remember that.

COATES: -- to this mantra of believe women and then what victim blaming looks like within a courtroom. And even the voting cases, looking at the country and having that test of what it's like to be in the Justice Roberts's post racial era after Obama's election and seeing what it's really like when voting rights are on the line. I write about that all through perspective and I invite you along on the journey.

LEMON: Well, listen, I got to tell you, it was fantastic. And if you -- however you feel about the criminal justice system, about the court system, about the power of judges and all of that, you have to read this book.

And again, I don't say that lightly. It was fascinating. It's an amazingly written book and it so personal and so vulnerable. I'm so proud of you, Laura. I'm just proud to work with you and be your friend.

COATES: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: This is really amazing. So, I hope everybody buys this book and reads it.

COATES: Don, you're incredible. You always have been. I love you. So, thank you. Really, when we talked on the phone about that, I was, like, Don, you know, I kind of pointed it out, and you're, like, yes!

LEMON: It's great.

COATES: Yes! Yes!

LEMON: It's really great. It really is.

COATES: So, I appreciate it. Thank you.

LEMON: Thank you, Laura. I'll see you soon.

COATES: Thank you.

LEMON: I love you, too. I'll talk to you later. So, make sure you check out Laura's book. It is called "Just Pursuit: A Black Prosecutor's Fight for Fairness." I promise, you will not be disappointed. So, pick it up.

So, what's next for the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol? Who else might be in their sights?




LEMON: So, the House investigation into January 6th pressing forward after a week of big revelations. And even as the committee meets with more members of the former president's inner circle, they're still looking for answers from some of his closest allies.

So, joining me now to discuss is Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. She is a member of the House Select Committee on January 6th. congresswoman, we are happy to have you on. Thank you so much for appearing this evening.

Some high-profile lawmakers and Trump allies still trying to avoid appearing before the committee. Who are the people you most hope to get answers from in the coming days and weeks?

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, we have a lot of requests out. Obviously, we have not yet subpoenaed our colleagues. We invited them to come in and talk to us. It's a grave disappointment that they have declined to do so. They have things that we want to know. We've got to make a decision whether or not to subpoena them.

We are piecing together information from the president's inner circle and others who were in a position to see and hear what the plot was leading up to the riot.


As you know, we're looking at the day, but we are also looking at the plot leading up to the day. And we've got a lot of information, but there is more to come.

LEMON: Has the committee --

LOFGREN: A big deal will be --

LEMON: Go on.

LOFGREN: -- if the court denies (INAUDIBLE) the president's -- former president's lawsuit to keep the archives from sending us the information. You know, he lost badly at the trial court and at the appellate court, unanimous decision. I mean, it's a weak case. So, we're eager to get that information ASAP, and that's going to help us a lot in terms of filling in some of the blanks, we think.

LEMON: You mean it's a weak case on his part, right, for him to -- yeah --

LOFGREN: Correct.

LEMON: So, has --

LOFGREN: I mean, not only on the merits, but he did leave -- you know, to get injunctive relief, you have to do two things. You have to show a likelihood of prevailing at trial an irreparable harm. He didn't even bother to plead that or to argue it. It's ridiculous.

LEMON: Well, let me ask you, has the committee requested or received any records related to the Trump family? I mean, could any of them be called as witnesses?

LOFGREN: Well, I'm not -- you know, we made a vow not to release information unless the committee votes to release it, and the answers to that have not received a vote. But I will say that nothing is really off the table. We are going to follow wherever this lead.

And, you know, it is high profile when someone like Kevin McCarthy having first said he had nothing to hide tries to hide something. But what it -- you know, because it's public and they're high profile, meanwhile, hundreds of people who have a lot of information are coming into the committee and giving us that information.

LEMON: I want to ask you because, remember, last week, what happened with the Oath Keepers. What about any link between Trump allies at that Willard war room and those Oath Keepers just indicted by the DOJ? Is the committee focusing on that?

LOFGREN: We're exploring that whole thing. We do want to talk to Oath Keepers. We have talked to some. You know, the criminal prosecution will likely freeze anybody who has not yet appeared before the committee. But that doesn't mean that we haven't received other information from some actors and that there is some that we could fill in.

LEMON: Right. Thank you, congresswoman. I really appreciate it. Be well.

LOFGREN: We're never going to give up on this until we get the whole truth.

LEMON: Yes, we certainly hope so. Thank you very much.

The big lie is spreading in the key battle ground state of Arizona as voting rights legislation stalls in Congress. Some Trump supporters are even thanking their Democratic senator, Kyrsten Sinema.




LEMON (on camera): The battle over voting rights is taking center stage in Washington, but a handful of states are also playing a big role, passing laws designed to restrict voting rights and perpetuating the big lie of election fraud. Arizona is one of them.

Martin Luther King, III took the fight for voting right there this weekend, but the former president was there as well, pushing his lies and encouraging his supporters to spread them.

More now from CNN's Donie O'Sullivan.


CROWD: No celebration without legislation!

UNKNOWN: We all have a voice in this country in which we live. And voting is that opportunity that we have.


DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend in Arizona, a battle for the future of American democracy.

KING, III: We wanted to come on this day because there is also a senator, Senator Sinema, who seems to be blocking democracy instead of being on the side of advancing democracy.

Senator Sinema --

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): The King family here calling on Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema to stand up for voters' rights.

KING, III: She said she wants voting rights, but how do you want voting rights without creating a path for that to happen? That is inconsistent and that is unacceptable.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Sinema and fellow Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia are blocking the passage of a pair of voting rights bills aimed at countering some of the restrictive voting measures enacted by republicans at the state level. Sinema says she is supportive of the bills, but not in favor of changing Senate rules to get them passed.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): And while I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): That stance, music to the ears of some Trump supporters this weekend (INAUDIBLE) rally for Trump in Sinema's home state.

UNKNOWN: God bless Kyrsten Sinema and what she's doing, you know?

UNKNOWN: Kyrsten Sinema, good for her, you know? She is our representative. She represents the state. She's not along party lines. She is what is good for the country.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Do you like Kyrsten Sinema?


UNKNOWN: Absolutely.

LEWIS: Absolutely. And Manchin.

UNKNOWN: And Manchin.


LEWIS: In fact, I've sent emails to them encouraging them to stand up and do what is right for the people of Arizona.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Those supporters in line for Trump's rally Saturday also in attendance (INAUDIBLE) of election deniers like My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, Congressman Paul Gosar, and even Ali Alexander, one of the main organizers of 'Stop the Steal' who went into hiding after the insurrection and was recently called in front of the January 6th House Select Committee.

Hey, Ali, are you worried that you might get indicted?



O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Trump here giving his support to two election deniers who are running to control elections in the state. Kari Lake is running for governor.

KARI LAKE, ARIZONA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: There are few other people I like to send right down to the prison down here in Florence.


LAKE: Anybody who was involved in that corrupt, shady, shotty election of 2020.


LAKE: Lock them up.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And Mark Finchem who previously said he was an Oath Keeper and is now running for secretary of state.


O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): Finchem has echoed QAnon-type conspiracy theories about elected officials.

FINCHEM: There is a lot of people involved in a pedophile network in a distribution of children. And unfortunately, there is a whole lot of elected officials that are involved in that.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And he continues to falsely attack the legitimacy of the 2020 election here in Arizona.

FINCHEM: I look forward to the day that we set aside an irredeemably flawed election. That's the election of 2020. With all the evidence we have, the Arizona election should be decertified by the -- with cause by the legislature.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): That's part of a national trend. A "Washington Post" tally finding 162 Republicans who have embraced Trump's false claims are running for statewide positions that would give them authority over the administration of elections. Arizona's current secretary of state, Katie Hobbs, now running for governor.

KATIE HOBBS, ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we are really at a defining moment. I mean, in 2020, democracy prevailed. In 2020 and after 2020, democracy prevailed because people on both sides of the aisle did their jobs. And what we're seeing now is this just multipronged attack and one of those prongs is Trump trying to instill his loyalists into key positions that have some level of determination over how elections are certified and conducted. And that is pretty scary.

O'SULLIVAN (voice-over): And on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend, his 13-year-old granddaughter following in her grandfather's footsteps with a warning for today.

YOLANDA RENEE KING, GRANDDAUGHTER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I think it's so important to vote and it's so important to have the right to vote because right now, our country is at stake.


LEMON (on camera): Donie O'Sullivan joins me now. Donie, thank you so much. It is shocking now that all of this has happened even after the bogus fraud by the cyber ninjas, remember, completely discredited, even confirmed Biden defeated Trump. How do supporters respond, Trump supporters respond when you tell that to them?

O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, well, the facts are never going to get into way of this conspiracy theory. And look, even though we were hearing a lot of really outlandish stuff last year about voting machines linked to Hugo Chavez in some way, that that swung the result of the 2020 election, a lot of Trump supporters I've been speaking to have backed off from the really, really fringe stuff, but they are still echoing the core tenants of the big lie, which is that the election was stolen, which of course wasn't.

And what we are seeing now, Don, is a closer alignment between what people who believe in the big lie are saying with what Republicans are doing at a state level restricting access to voting.

I will just say, look, you saw in that piece, we started our day in Phoenix on Saturday at a march with the King family, people who are motivated by history and see what is happening and don't like the look of it and are fearful that it's a return to Jim Crow-type laws we saw here in the U.S. And then on the other side, you have people who are also fearful, but they are being motivated by lies and conspiracy theories. Don?

LEMON: Donie, thank you. Appreciate it.

It is a place where football is big. But in my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there is also a big gap in wealth, so big that the new LSU football coach has a $100 million contract while residents struggle to get by.




LEMON: Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, my hometown, recently made headlines signing a new football coach to a contract worth $100 million. That's right, $100 million. That's $100 million deal. "The Washington Post" says that Brian Kelly's LSU contract is the most valuable in the history of college football in a city where many people, especially Black people, struggle to even make ends meet. The "Post" Kent Babb explores this wealth gap in his article.


"In Baton Rouge, there's a $100 million football coach and everyone else." He is also the author of "Across the River." And Kent Babb joins me now. Kent, thank you so much. This really resonated with me. As you know, Louisiana native. I went to LSU as well. You wrote this incredible piece painting such a vivid picture of my hometown of Baton Rouge. How does LSU justify paying a football coach close to $100 million over 10 years while students, other employees, Baton Rouge residents, they're struggling, barely managing to make ends meet and not paying any of their employees anywhere near that amount?

KENT BABB, SPORTS FEATURES WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: I mean, people there say that it's because LSU is the largest employer in the city and one of the largest in the state. And that's true. I mean, the city of Baton Rouge runs on Louisiana State University. And Louisiana State University financially runs on LSU football. That part is true. It does generate jobs.

LEMON: It generates a lot of money, but there is also Exxon chemical, Dow chemical, Shell oil, the seafood industry and tourism industry. I mean, that does generate a lot of jobs as well. But go on, sorry.

BABB: Yeah, that's what they say. It still doesn't make sense to somebody like me. And look, I mean, I'm a college football fan. I'm an SCC fan where LSU plays. It just doesn't make sense because LSU and college towns across the country, football programs do a great job of marketing to people like me who come in only occasionally. We only see what they want us to see.

And for the first time, I drove away from campus, away from the football facility, and saw what I think is the real Baton Rouge and it looks very, very different.

LEMON: Yeah. I just did that drive away and did a tour showing people -- showing someone at least around Baton Rouge and there are many, many blighted areas that weren't necessarily blighted when I was there. But LSU looks beautiful.

Listen, you write in your piece, you say, in a state where one in five residents live below the poverty line, on a campus where the football team's player workforce is unpaid, in a city where the predominantly Black state house district that includes Tiger Stadium has a median household income of $24,865 a year, the white man who will coach there will be paid no less than $24,657 a day.

That is stunning. How does one person getting such huge salary impact, how does that impact the rest of the LSU community?

BABB: I mean, I don't know that it does. I mean, I think LSU is great at its marketing arm, which the football team is largely responsible for. And Brian Kelly is the face of that brand. But LSU, I don't know. I mean, professors aren't making that much money. I'm told it's one of the lowest paid in the southeastern conference among professor pay.

The young man that I profiled in this piece, Chris Tombs (ph), makes $12,000 a year for what I consider important work. He works in a diversity office at the university.

LEMON: Yeah.

BABB: It's so bent that it doesn't make sense even if you're a college football fan.

LEMON: Yeah. Let's talk about this. The guy you highlight is Chris Tombs (ph). He is making $12,000 a year, as you said. He is getting free graduate tuition by working on campus. And there is a moment where he's driving around campus and you write this.

You say, "Up ahead is LSU's $15 million football operations center, it's $28 million locker room, the offices for its millionaire staffers. Kelly works in there, and Chris considers the hypothetical of someday walking the same halls. Two men seemingly from different worlds, who represent the two ends of an extreme, again occupying the same space and breathing the same air."

So, you talk about how this is a microcosm of the national wealth gap. Talk to me about that, Kent.

BABB: Well, the thing is there is a Chris Tombs (ph) not only in every college town in the country, but in every town in the country. And in fact, there is a lot of Chris Tombs (ph) and there aren't very many Brian Kellys.

And there are people like Chris who don't make that much money who are struggling day after day when somebody coaches football and can make $9, $10 million bucks a year.

Just since September, there have been six football coaches who have been signed or resigned for at least $8 million a year pushing these average contracts up toward 85, 95, $100 million.

LEMON: Yeah.

BABB: I understand that it's like that and that's what the market demands that it supports that. That's what it costs to compete these days. It just -- what doesn't add up to me is these are public universities and the fact that the people who we go to cheer on are not being paid.

A lot of people talk about the name and image likeness deals where players can now get a little bit of money. And some people think it's equitable that players are just getting rich just like coaches are. It is not true. The average NIL deal before the start of the season was $400, $400.


I talked to somebody who was arranging a deal at a Power Five university for the offensive line and those players were being paid in burritos. It's not $100 million bucks. It's not $10. It's not $1 million. It's not even $10,000. We're talking about hundreds, not thousands.

LEMON: I mean, you're looking -- I know a lot of what's happening at LSU, but you look at that -- it just highlights the inequities and the misplaced priorities, especially with LSU now trying to diversify its student body, trying to diversity its staff and so on. There's a lot of hypocrisy there and it does sort of highlight the misplaced priorities.

BABB: It's just, I guess, what we value in this country. We keep saying this. But as a sports fan, it doesn't make sense to me. I mean, this is a state that is largely poor. I mean, it is a poverty-stricken state. And this is a campus that laid off staffers and cut pay of actual full-time staff in 2020. And yet they find $25 million to pay -- to fire the former football coach and nearly $100 million bucks to pay the new one.

LEMON: Yeah.

BABB: It's -- I don't know what to do about it. I just sort of wring my hands over it.

LEMON: Yeah. Well, we'll continue to discuss it. Thank you for bringing this story to us, and I appreciate you a appearing here on CNN. Thanks a lot.

BABB: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Russia moving more troops closer to Ukraine, escalating fears of an invasion. The situation growing so serious seven U.S. senators went to Ukraine's capital to meet with the country's president.




LEMON: An increasingly tense situation in Ukraine with the looming threat of a potential invasion by Russian forces. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators meeting today in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Zelensky and other top officials, reaffirming America's support as Russia amasses tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine's border.

Ukraine's leader telling the senators that their visit sent an important signal to his people. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy saying that Ukraine is battle-tested and ready and will fight back if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to send his military into Ukraine.

And thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.