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Don Lemon Tonight
Mike Pence Defying Donald Trump; U.S. Economy On A Roll, Adding 467,000 Jobs In January; Calls For A New Black-Jewish Alliance In America; Let The Games Begin: Winter Olympics Underway In Beijing; Olympic Medalist Adam Rippon Talks Beijing Games; Ahmaud Arbery's Killers Will Stand For Federal Hate Crimes Charges. Aired 11p-12a ET
Aired February 04, 2022 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST (on camera): Words of truth. Finally, Mike Pence defying his former boss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump is wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): And tonight, the former president releasing a rambling statement claiming he was right and everyone knows it. The U.S. economy on a roll, adding 467,000 jobs in January, crushing all expectations. Amid a rising tide of discrimination, anti-Semitism, calls tonight for a new Black-Jewish alliance in America.
And let the games begin, and the politics begin as well. The Winter Olympics underway in Beijing along with the political sideshow put on by the leaders of China and Russia. I'm going to talk to a former U.S. Olympic medallist who is in Beijing.
But I want to begin tonight with CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig and Stuart Stevens. He is a former chief strategist for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and senior advisor to The Lincoln Project. Gentlemen, good evening to you.
Stuart, I'm going to start with you. The former vice president, Mike Pence, finally saying President Trump is wrong and he could not overturn the election. It is the most direct that he has been since January 6. The question is, why now?
STUART STEVENS, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE LINCOLN PROJECT, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST OF ROMNEY PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: Yeah, look, I don't think that we can be at a point where we're praising the vice president of the United States for doing his job. He took an oath of office. He said he would protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. What I need to understand is Mike Pence was right at the middle of a conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States, and instead of calling the FBI, called Dan Quayle. Why he didn't tell people about this? Why didn't he have an obligation to do it?
You know, Moynihan talked about defining deviancy down, (INAUDIBLE) deviancy down. We're really (INAUDIBLE) democracy down. This is what it is. It is -- at the very least, he should have done this a long time ago. And I think the fact that he's out there now saying it and people are acting like this is a big deal just shows how far we've fallen.
LEMON: Yeah. Well, listen, you're right, he took an oath, as you said. And I've been critical of -- I should say very critical of Mike Pence for a lot of what he has done. But when push came to shove, he did do his duty, which he swear the oath to on January 6th, that is what he is supposed to do, refused to go along with overturning the election. That's more than you could say for a lot of Republicans that day, Stuart. You have to admit to that, no?
STEVENS: Yeah, look, 57 percent of the House Republicans voted to not certify the election. And as far as I can tell, no one has paid a price for that. They've all either stayed the same or risen in prominence and power inside the party.
And my question is if it was 57 percent last time Republicans lost an election, why won't it be 75 percent next time they lose an election? This is the precedent that has been set.
LEMON: Yeah. Elie, it's important to remember that the Select Committee got hundreds of documents from the Trump White House just last week. Then two top Pence aides who were with him at the Capitol during the insurrection testified before the Select Committee. Now, Pence is finally admitting the truth. It's been an extraordinary week. Is this all connected, do you think?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it could be, Don. You know, it's a good thing that Mike Pence said what he said today. We don't need to necessarily decide whether he is a hero or a villain. What he did today --
HONIG: -- was the right thing. But it's one thing to stand in front of the federalist society and make that speech. It's another thing, and a more important thing, to come forward and talk to the committee, talk to Congress, to the American public on record.
And don't just tell us what is obvious, that the vice president did not have the authority to singlehandedly overturn the election. That shouldn't be anything in dispute. Tell us what we need to know. Tell us what the communications were, what the Donald Trump's pressure campaign was on Mike Pence, how Donald Trump and others went about trying to pull off this coup.
If Mike Pence really is serious about setting this straight, he can come forward with that. It is within his power to do that. We'll see how serious he is about coming clean.
LEMON (on camera): You know, Stuart, Trump has been going after Pence for failing to overturn the election whenever he gets the chance. Take a listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I only wish that my friend, Mike Pence, had that additional courage to send -- to send the results back to the legislatures.
I was very sad when Mike Pence gave those votes over.
I think Mike has been very badly hurt by what took place with respect to January 6th. I think he's been -- I think he's been mortally wounded, frankly, because I see the reaction he's getting from people. They say, why didn't you just hand it back to the legislatures?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): I know you said we don't need to decide today -- at least, Elie said, Stuart, that we don't need to decide today if Pence is a hero. I'm not sure, ever. But we'll see. But if Trump keeps up all this bashing, do you think he could push Pence to cooperate with the Select Committee?
STEVENS: I have no idea what motivates Mike Pence. How do you stand there as the vice president of the United States, know that it was not a close election, know that you lost that election, and allow what the Republicans did, which was to instil doubt in the legitimacy of the American electoral system, how do you just stand there and let that happen? I don't get it.
I mean, the key element of democracy is someone has to be willing to lose. Mike Pence lost that election. He should have come out and said that. He should have thanked the vice president now, Vice President Harris, should have been gracious. That's how we do it in America. So, I have no idea what motivates that man.
LEMON: Yeah. Also tonight, Elie, CNN is learning that newly obtained records show that Jim Jordan got a call from the then president, President Trump, on the morning of January 6th and it 10 minutes long. This was likely before the rioters stormed the Capitol and before Jordan objected to certifying Biden's win. It is pretty interesting though that Jordan claims that he didn't really remember it. How big of a deal do you think this is?
HONIG: Well, Don, I think we now understand better that famous or infamous clip of Jim Jordan being asked about his conversations with Donald Trump on January 6th, or he stammers and dodges and, you know, bobs and weaves. I think now we see why. A 10-minute phone call is a big deal and a 10-minute phone call with the sitting president of the United States on an infamous date is something you absolutely would remember.
So, the committee has a really important decision to make now. There is one of two ways they can go with Jim Jordan. One, they can just walk away, just sort of say it's not worth the fight, he's never going to testify. That's a weak approach.
The other approach is they can play hardball. They can subpoena him legally. Yes, they can. And then they can be -- hold him in contempt if he doesn't comply. But, of course, there could be political blowback from that. So, it is really going to be a question of political will and backbone for the committee whether they go after his testimony.
LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it. I'll see you soon.
I want to turn now to the January jobs report shattering most economists' expectations. The U.S. economy adding 467,000 new jobs last month even in the face of the winter Omicron surge. And on top of that, upward revisions of nearly 700,000 jobs added in November and December. So that brings the total U.S. job creation to a record 6.6 million in President Biden's first year in office.
It is a much-needed win for the president coming on top of the other good news this week, with COVID cases dropping dramatically nationwide, the U.S. raid in Syria that killed a top ISIS leader.
So joining me now is business journalist Marc Stewart. That was a big build-up introduction there.
MARC STEWART, BUSINESS JOURNALIST: It was.
LEMON: Thank you so much for joining us. So, listen, these are -- thank you. These are huge numbers. Totally different than what economists were expecting. Why do we keep getting it wrong?
STEWART: That is the question I asked economists on the phone first thing this morning. Look, tracking economic data, especially in a real time, is very difficult. This data, this jobs report, is based off of surveys. Well, think about what has been happening during the pandemic. People have not necessarily been living in one place the entire time and there have always been obstacles along the way.
So, perhaps, the gathering, the process that we've seen in the past, maybe in this pandemic world, isn't necessarily so effective.
LEMON: Okay, I'm glad you said that, because I wondered, do we need -- do we understand this post-pandemic economy? I've been wondering. Every time I have an economist or someone who talks about the economy on here, I wonder if we have the right metrics to measure and understand this new economy.
STEWART: Yeah, I think it's a fair question, and it's one that economists are getting. I heard from one economist today who said, look, there is a lot of reliance on government data and government efforts, but perhaps, there should be more emphasis on what the private sector is hearing.
I heard from one recruiter today, and she said to me, I'm not at all surprised about this jobs report because from her standpoint, from her office in New York, she is seeing people getting hired, she is seeing recruiting taking place. Albeit at a slower pace because of the pandemic, but perhaps, her viewpoint, her perspective, needs to have a little bit more weight than maybe it did in the past.
LEMON: Okay. So, then, how do we -- how should we be looking at the economy going forward? Because, you know, we said, well, the stock market is not --
LEMON: -- a barometer of the economy, right? Jobs, I don't know if that is an exact measure of -- how should we be looking at it?
STEWART: Well, I think everything is kind of up in the air. Think about what we've seen during the pandemic. We have seen the recession. We have seen the great resignation. Maybe we're in what I'm going to call the great reboot in the sense that every single aspect of our lives are changing. We need to perhaps put different values in some of these changes.
So, for example, working from home, it used to be a novelty, now it's the norm. Does this mean that people are going to spend less money at the coffee shop in their office building? I mean, the dry cleaners in the office building may not be getting as much business. Are we going to buy homes that have --
STEWART: -- three bedrooms instead of two because we want that office space?
STEWART: All of that has some kind of economic price tag to it. Maybe looking forward, we need to re-examine how all of this adds up.
LEMON: There's a whole host of things.
LEMON: Working from home, you know, that affects taxes.
LEMON: What you can write off, all of those things. The jobs report is clearly good news for President Biden, but most Americans aren't feeling it. Is that because of inflation?
STEWART: Inflation is impacting everyone. It is the pocketbook issue. And unfortunately, it does not look like that inflation is going to significantly improve overnight.
LEMON: That was my question. How long is that going to last?
STEWART: Yeah, I was talking to some economists last week in New York. They feel it's going to be with us for the next 11 months. Now, some months may be better than others, some may be harder than others. I heard from another economist today who said this could take years to resolve.
Unfortunately, I think in the very near future, we are going to have some hardship, especially when it comes to going out to eat or going on a trip. Keep in mind, during Omicron, a lot of us stayed at home. So, now there's this new demand for going out to eat or going on a trip.
Well, food prices are still high. Fuel prices are high. Gas prices are really high right now. So because of that new demand, because of the higher cost and still the need for labor, we could be paying more. And unfortunately, it's not going to be one of the moments where you just flip a switch or push a button and things are going to resolve.
LEMON: So inflation at a nearly 40-year high.
LEMON: The question is -- interest rates, what do you think? What's the prediction?
STEWART: So, last week, the Federal Reserve chair indicated that he is going to likely start to raise interest rates in March. And a big indicator for when that would happen would be if employment was at a strong level.
Well, now, we have this report, employment is improving. So, interest rates will likely start to rise many times throughout the year. It's important to keep in mind that impacts things such as car loans, your mortgage, your student loan debt, if you want to finance a flat screen TV -- I mean, the list goes on and on. But we are going to have some more economic struggles ahead.
LEMON: So if you want to buy a house, should you lock the rate in now because this is going to go up?
STEWART: If you listen to the personal finance experts, they say, yes, absolutely, Don.
LEMON: Oh, boy. Talking about the prices of things also, we moved, we said, listen, old furniture, you never want to take it to a new place.
LEMON: We don't have any furniture or very little because we can't - doesn't come in.
STEWART: Look, even used cars right now, used cars are selling at record high levels.
LEMON: Yeah. It is crazy.
LEMON: Thank you, sir. It's a pleasure.
STEWART: Good to see you. Thanks, Don.
LEMON: I'm so glad to have this conversation.
LEMON: So, Whoopi Goldberg's comments claiming the holocaust was not about race have a lot of people wondering, does America need a new black-Jewish alliance? I can answer that question. I think so. That's the question for my next guests as well. You'll see them. That's coming up.
LEMON: We promised that we will continue this conversation, so here we are. We talked about Whoopi Goldberg's suspension from "The View" after saying the holocaust wasn't about race and apologizing, starting important conversations about race in this country.
My next guests see an opportunity for conversations and an alliance between Black and Jewish Americans. Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP. He is here along with Marc Dollinger, a professor of Jewish studies and social responsibility at San Francisco State University and the author of "Black Power, Jewish Politics." It is so good to have both of you on, to see both of you again.
Marc, we did a great podcast. We talked about this about a year ago. And Derrick, you know, we have these discussions all the time. Derrick, I'm going to start with you because along with the prominent rabbi, Marc Schneier, you wrote for "Newsweek" that there is an urgent need for reinvigorating and reenergizing the Black-Jewish alliance. Explain the history here and why it is time to bring it back around.
DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: You understand that race is a social construct. And oftentimes, that construct create a dynamic where communities who have mutual understandings or histories actually work to strengthen this democracy.
And you look at the '50s and the '60s, in the aftermath of the holocaust in the midst of segregation. We had many Jewish individuals who were able to come to this country. They taught at HBCU. They were part of the conversation of making democracy apply to all citizens. That's when we begin to realize that equal protection under law should be afforded (ph) to all citizens and through the strategy that we have seen during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, you see young, white Jewish kids, young Black kids, males, females, all standing up and fighting to ensure the safety against domestic terrorists would not be the standard in this country.
LEMON (on camera): Marc, I want to play this moment from Whoopi Goldberg on Colbert when she tried to clean up her comments that holocaust is not about race. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, ACTOR: If the Klan is coming down the street, and I'm standing with a Jewish friend, well, I'm going to run.
GOLDBERG: But if my friend decides not to run, they'll get passed by, most times, because you can't tell who is Jewish. It's not something that people say, oh, that person is Jewish or this person is Jewish. And so that's what I was trying to explain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON (on camera): Okay. So, we get that part, but it is important to talk about, because Black and Jewish people are both targets of white supremacists. What do you make of that?
MARC DOLLINGER, FROFESSOR OF JEWISH STUDIES AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY: Yeah, absolutely. I was initially disappointed, you know, when I heard Whoopi Goldberg and the comments. At the other end, I also understood what she was saying. American --
LEMON: Can you say that again? Because I have the very same -- I understood what she was saying. I thought it was clumsy, but I got it. Can you -- can you delve into that, please?
DOLLINGER: Yeah. So, first I want to say, you know, American Jews are a racially and ethnically diverse population. So, we count amongst ourselves folks from every possible hue. Some estimates have up to a million American Jews define themselves as Jews of color.
That said, what Whoopi Goldberg, I think, was referencing was, for most of us who are white presenting, we are not going to be seen as she has seen as a Black woman in American. And therefore, the target for her is far more intense and far more immediate. And unless I choose to dress with Jewish ritual objects or a star of David necklace, that I understood in one sense how she's right that the risk level for her is so much more profound.
The other piece of it, though, is that Jews and even those of us who are white Jews, also suffer persecution and anti-Semitism and even more painful because the last few years has been the most intense in all of American Jewish history.
DOLLINGER: So, for us as Jews to feel persecuted and traumatized, at the same time that those of us who are white Jews are also enjoying the privilege of being able to have a Klansman pass us by, really sort of a complex both/and, where we really have to hold a lot together to sort of grasp the moment.
LEMON: What he's saying here, excuse me, Derrick, these conversations are very nuance, right? What Marc Dollinger is saying, he is talking about something that may happen in 2021/2022. The conversation was about the holocaust and about race. So, that's the part that Whoopi got wrong.
The other part was about being white, presenting and all of that. That part, I think, people can understand. There are a lot of trapdoors for misunderstanding this conversation. So, what is the best way to go about it when race has become the third rail in our society?
JOHNSON: Well, there has always been a third rail. You take an individual like Whoopi Goldberg. Look at our track record. Look at our history. Has she displayed herself as anti-Semitic? Has she done things that we want to believe? She apologized for the statement. So, we also have to modify some of our reaction based on the history of the individual.
When you come to the broader societal concern, the third rail of this country has never been addressed. The powers that be have always used race as a tool, as a weapon to divide communities and maintain power.
And so when you cut to the chase of it, when you look at Charlottesville, those individuals who are marching, who say Jews will not replace us, well Blacks, we also knew that they had very little regard for us as well.
And so this social construct we call race has been so weaponized in this country that it causes individual groups who by themselves have been demonized to begin to turn on one another.
JOHNSON: We have to normalize a level of relationship between communities so we can begin to see ourselves as Americans, to see ourselves as human beings, to see ourselves as people entitled to respect and dignity.
LEMON: Marc, before the show, you told my producers about Jewish Americans. We can be powerful and privileged and white and suffering horrible anti-Semitism and we need to hold those truths together. Is that -- is that hard to get across to people?
DOLLINGER: It's a challenge. It's really -- you know, as Mr. Johnson said, race is socially constructed. So even white presenting Jews have not been considered racially white and in fact the Nazis considered Jews a subhuman race. LEMON: Uh-hmm.
DOLLINGER: So, for those of us who are Jewish and who are white Jews who come through to live the experience and memory of the holocaust, to now in post-World War II America, enjoy a whole lot of power and privilege, to be able to sort of see in new ways the fact that we as white Jews hold both of those simultaneously is a challenging for a lot of folks because it is really challenging a lot of historical memory and a lot of ideas about how exceptional we would like to think that Jews are.
Ultimately, I come to the conclusion that it's this ambiguous racial status for Jews that actually leads me to hopefulness for the future and certainly for, you know, for a rekindled alliance with African Americans.
LEMON: Listen, I've spoken about the Black-Jewish alliance a lot, and we do need to firm that up. We need to reignite that again. Thank you both. The conversation will continue. I'll have you both back. Be well.
Vladimir Putin meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping as the Winter Olympics games kick off in Beijing. Now, it's the geopolitical game stealing all the attention.
LEMON: The 2022 Winter Olympics underway in Beijing. But the two weeks of the games taking place under a cloud of geopolitical tension and the COVID pandemic casting its own shadow.
China is restricting athletes to an Olympic bubble and limiting the number of spectators, and the U.S. and several key allies holding a diplomatic boycott over China's human rights abuses. But Russia and China are making a show of unity. Chinese President Xi Jinping is holding a bilateral meeting with Putin ahead of the opening ceremony.
Joining me now is CNN correspondent David Culver in Beijing and CNN political analyst Josh Rogin. Good to see both of you, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining. David, I'm going to start with you. It is a tense backdrop to the Winter Olympics, some of the tension playing out in plain sight. Just how big are the political implications overhanging these games?
DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Don. As much as Beijing has slammed countries like the U.S. for its diplomatic boycott that you mentioned, it seems as though the geopolitics are totally unavoidable here. And even the optics of President Putin and President Xi, you showed those images together here in Beijing, two strong men leaders, shoulder to shoulder, ahead of the opening ceremony, well, by showing that, China is adding to the politicization of this event as well. [23:34:59]
And in some ways, this is a country that likes to reject the notion that they need the validation of the west, because in part, they don't. They now got an incredibly robust economy, a strong military. But simultaneously, what you see here in state media is that it tends to be the first to elevate or promote a westerner praising or even criticizing the party or its leadership.
So they almost seem to be struggling, really saying, we don't care what you think because it seems that they still do. So, how does that al play into these Olympic Games? Well, they were supposed to be that event that Beijing had hoped would push past the political implications. They want to (INAUDIBLE) the world again. They want to win back admiration. They want to lead the world with the impression of 2008.
In 2008, folks looked at China with criticism, yes, but more so with some curiosity, intrigue of this emerging world power that was opening up, so it seemed. The sentiment was then well, look at how far they've come. Twenty twenty-two is really more of, okay, where are they going here?
CULVER: Suspicion and concern and for good reason, given the intentions and actions, Don, of the country and party in charge.
LEMON: Yeah. Josh, thousands of miles away from Beijing, Russian troops are massing along the border with Ukraine. Now, Putin and Zi are showing a united front, as China tries to showcase its power through these games. Is this all about looking tough to the U.S. and the West?
JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, Don, I don't think that, you know, the world's two most powerful autocratic dictators helping each other is anything that we should really be surprised about or anything that is really new. I think this is because neither of them have any other strategic allies in the world.
So, they're kind of stuck with each other, even though they're frenemies, even though they're competitors, even though they fear each other in private as they shake hands in public. You know, just think about it. Does China want Putin to invade Ukraine? Of course, not, that is not good for China, but they have to do that.
And, you know, when you think about these games, of course, they want to project this message of strength and focus on geopolitics. If we talking about Russia and China and how tough they are and how close they are and geopolitics and is the U.S. getting us into a Cold War, they were not talking about the issue that they don't want to talk about, which is the genocide that is going on in their country on our watch: the mass internments of Uighurs, the oppression of the Tibetans, the crackdown in Hong Kong, the jailing of dissidents.
What is the difference between 2008 and 2022 is the genocide, okay? That's why the China government has spent the last week trying to silence anyone, including Americans and foreigners who even want to mention it, threatening them with jail and the rest of it. So, we can think of it as geopolitical tension. It's really about human rights. That transcends geopolitics and that's I think what we should be talking about.
LEMON: Let's talk about the games now, David. One of the Chinese athletes who lit the flame is a Uighur. The U.S. has called the --
LEMON: -- systemic oppression of the Muslim group a genocide. Is China hoping to distract from its record of human rights here?
CULVER: Yeah, you know, it feels like a deflection. The message this sends is, see, everything is fine here. America, you were making a fuss out of nothing. Don, I've been to a lot of these significant government- coordinated events. They are near perfection, really well produced, and they're striking performances, but they're highly choreographed. And this opening ceremony, it was no exception.
The Chinese is choosing a Uighur skier. That place into the propaganda push. That the ethnic, predominantly Muslim minority is not being widely abused and detained but rather flourishing under the Chinese communist party's control.
We've reported extensively on the crackdown facing the Uighurs. We've travelled to that heavily surveilled region in the far western part of China. We've heard from families separated from loved ones who they believe were put in camps. Immediately after our visit, Don, the Chinese sent in state media TV outlets to directly refute our reporting. So, this staging for the opening ceremony, it appears to be very much a part of that same consistent propaganda push.
LEMON: Josh, do you think these Olympics could mark a critical moment in the growing standoff between the West and authoritarian countries like China and Russia?
ROGIN: In a way, yes. I think that the Chinese government has become more aggressive and more oppressive and more willing to thumb its nose at international communities, especially international press.
If you think about it, this is their chance to show their image to the world. This is really when they're on their best behaviour it is all down (INAUDIBLE). After the cameras turn away, the Uighurs are in a lot more trouble than they are now.
That's what I found really problematic actually with some of NBC's coverage, frankly, of the opening ceremonies. They sort of presented it -- we just heard, well, the U.S. says there is stuff going on.
The Chinese say, no. What are you going to do? But I think that takes away the agency (ph) of the victims. And I've talked to -- as David has said, as all of our reporters have, victims, survivors, people who are still suffering, who haven't seen their families, the evidence is huge. It's not a both sides kind of thing. It's not a he said/she said. There are mass atrocities going on.
As journalists, we have a responsibility to point out the truth and not to just present this as, oh, well, it's a cold war, and Mike Pompeo, blah, blah, blah.
Elie Wiesel, I think, said neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Okay? So, you know, yes, this is a turning point but not just for China, it is also for the world, because if we let this be framed as a geopolitical battle over two powers, you know, everybody is wrong and everybody is right, then we will miss what might be the last opportunity to use whatever leverage we have left.
Use something that actually convinces China to stop the genocide. If they are really concerned about the geopolitical tension, that is what they should do. They should close the camps, let the Uighurs out, stop oppressing the Tibetans, give Hong King back its democracy, stop menacing (ph) Taiwan, and let us all talk about it without fear of arrest. I think that would go a long way to stopping geopolitical tensions.
LEMON: Josh, David, very well stated there. Thank you very much. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
International tensions, COVID restrictions, not to mention performing among the best athletes in the world. How intense is the pressure? There he is, former -- I am just going to call him an Olympic star, Adam Rippon is here, and he's next.
LEMON: The Beijing Winter Olympics is getting underway tonight amid rising tensions between the United States and China and the spectre of COVID-19. I want to bring in now former U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, a bronze medallist, by the way, at 2018 games. Hi. He is coaching figure skater Mariah Bell. Good to see you. How are you holding up?
ADAM RIPPON, FORMER OLYMPIC FIGURE SKATER: Donald Lemon, I've never been better in my whole life.
LEMON: Just Don, no Donald. We are not Donald especially in this day and age. Just Don.
RIPPON: Okay. You've got it. Don. Yeah, Don, I'm good.
LEMON: Just a few minutes ago, Adam, I was speaking with our reporter in Beijing, David Culver, about the political tensions hanging over these games. U.S. diplomats are not there in protest of China's human rights abuses. Does that affect the athletes in what is going on?
RIPPON: You know, the athletes know what is going on and they know that diplomats didn't show up. And I think that's good. I also think that, you know, when you're an athlete and you're trying to get to an Olympic games and you dream of going, you know the date, but you have no idea where it will be.
RIPPON: So, I think the athletes who are here, they're totally focused on what they want to get done, what their goals are, this is a dream of theirs, but at the same time, they're not blind to all of the controversy of the games being here. You know?
I think Christine Brennan from "USA Today" wrote this really scathing article on the games being here. She was critical of the IOC president, Thomas Bach. And I couldn't echo her words loud enough. And I think we all feel that way.
But when you're here, you're here as a coach or as an athlete, your focus is what you came here to do, the Olympics. And you only hope that, like, you can cheer for the athletes and that this attention on China will pressure them into making some sort of changes in the future.
LEMON: Yeah. The focus should be performing and winning, which is exactly -- and we should be supporting the athletes. But you're also there during a pandemic. There's also COVID to contend with. I know there are extra restrictions and tests. The games are being conducted in a bubble. Can you tell us what that is like, Adam?
RIPPON: Yeah, the bubble is like the wild, wild West. It is -- honestly, I think the athletes feel super safe because once you're in, you're in. Like, from the moment, like, 96 hours before you even get on the plane to go to China, you are, like, living within a bubble.
So, I think there's no fear of, like, maybe I can get it during the games. They're taking every precaution necessary. I'll say that when I competed, I wasn't doing it with volunteers around and like full scuba gear. So, maybe that would have thrown me off. But these kids are professionals. They can handle anything.
LEMON: Yeah. Before we go, can you talk to us about Nathan Chen's incredible performance? I mean, he finished first in the team short, getting the second highest score ever recorded. You're an Olympic medalist skater. This is a good start for team USA, no no?
RIPPON: Yeah, it is a great start for team USA. In the team event, they performed and placed I think better than what they were expecting. I'm sure it is what they were hoping to do.
But for Nathan Chen, specifically, when he was at the Olympics four years ago, a favorite for gold then, but he was super young, and now he is 22. I am talking about him like he is like an old maiden, but 22. More seasoned. He is prepared.
And for the last four years, he has been so fantastic, that for him to now do it at an Olympic games because for a lot of the world, like they saw him in 2018, now they are seeing him again, huge monkey off his back.
I hope this sets the tone for the rest of his games and that when it is time for individual events, he is there, he is prepared, he is ready and he gets to skate even better. He was so good. You know, my toxic trait is watching Nathan Chen and thinking that I can do it. But then, I know that, like, if I ever tried it, I would probably die.
LEMON: Yeah. Yeah. But you are -- you are coaching Mariah, right? Mariah Chen and so -- Mariah Bell, excuse me. So, we wish you the very best, her the very best. We thank you. Be safe, okay? And come home soon.
RIPPON: Thank you.
LEMON: Thank you.
RIPPON: I will. I'll -- I am coming home as soon as possible and thank you so much.
LEMON: Good luck. Good luck. We'll be right back.
LEMON: Starting Monday, the three white Georgia men convicted of murdering 25-year-old Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery go on trial on federal hate crimes charges. That after father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael both withdrew the guilty pleas that they had entered as a part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors.
Federal judge overseeing the case rejected those plea agreements, as did Ahmaud Arbery's family. William "Roddie" Bryan, the third man convicted of murder, was not offered a plea deal by federal prosecutors.
Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging in 2020 when he was chased down and shot to death. His murderers all sentenced to life in prison after their convictions in Georgia state court.
Thanks for watching, everyone. Our coverage continues.