Return to Transcripts main page

Don Lemon Tonight

Steve Bannon's Trial Begins; Secret Service Provided A Single Text Exchange To IG After Request For Many Records; GA Prosecutors Tell All 16 Fake Trump Electors They Are Targets In Criminal Probe; Sesame Place Apologizes After Character Appears To Ignore Black Girls In Viral Video. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired July 19, 2022 - 23:00   ET



JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: You know, it was their responsibility. But what was the redundant system there? There should been a level of redundancy in backup to ensure that data was not lost.

And finally, and I think this is the most important part, are any of the missing text messages, do they have a material impact on the ongoing investigation?


WACKROW: And I need -- I need full transparency, and then if there was any type of malfeasance or error made by the service, full accountability that that was done. That is how they're going to start recovering from a couple of these missteps.

LEMON: You know, Carrie, sources are telling CNN that Congress told the Secret Service on January 16th and again on January 25th of 2021 that they needed to preserve and produce documents related to the Capitol attack. The agency said their phone migration started in January. But this source says that it was January 27th, after the request. What do you think of that discrepancy? They clearly have some explaining to do here.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think the Secret Service certainly has more explaining to do. And the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the Secret Service, really needs to take more of a leadership role in helping to manage this response to Congress and get to the bottom of what has happened to these messages.

I think congressional overseers at this point, what they really need to start asking from the Secret Service and from DHS is whether the steps that they are taking, to determine, first of all, whether any of these messages are still recoverable. I think I am holding out, Don, that there is still a possibility that this agency will be able to turn up more of these messages.

And let's not forget, the Secret Service is a law enforcement agency. It is an investigative agency and it has substantial forensic capabilities. So, recovering messages, investigating what happened here actually is something that they are quite capable of doing, and Congress needs to really press in terms of what are the steps they are taking to try to recover first, and then second, I think is the explanation about how did they get to this point.

LEMON: They released a statement today, Jonathan, and it says that they plan to do forensic examinations of agency phones. I mean, that sounds like they still have the phones. So, should those phones be turned over to investigators for independent analysis? Will they allow that?

WACKROW: Don, you're hitting on exactly what my questions were. We have to know what do they have, right? What items of evidentiary value do they still possess that they can -- they work forensically to try to recover those text messages?

But there are other pathways that, you know, members of the investigators from the January 6th Commission and the Inspector General's Office, they can also go and figure out who was assigned to those phones, you know, previously, and interview them.

I know we're up against the clock a little bit, but those phones belong to somebody. That person had an intent to send a text message on the January 5th and 6th. What was the context of that? What type of statement will they make about their electronic communications on those days?

So, while we may not have the phone in the actual text messages, we can go get sworn statements and affidavits from the people who own those phones to try to at least directionally see, was there any information that was transmitted that has a material impact to the investigation?

LEMON: Yeah. Listen, Carrie, Jonathan talked about redundancy and, you know, asking individual agents to make sure that their information is backed up. But before that phone migration, Secret Service employees were told to manually backup their text messages. If they didn't, their texts would be permanently deleted if they didn't do that. Why would the agency trust employees to voluntarily backup their information?

CORDERO: Yeah, it doesn't sound like a good way to handle an enterprise level technology chain that is going on --

LEMON: And just to consider it is the Secret Service, right?

CORDERO: -- in the agency. Right. So, I think this is rightly the purview of congressional overseers and it is rightly the purview of the inspector general of the department to figure out, you know, was this something where this was a mishap, this was a technology transition that went awry and it happens to be that it was covering a period of time that is of critical importance to a major congressional inquiry and of national interest?

So -- but I have to say, Don, at this point, based on everything that I've read, I'm not yet willing to think that this is some kind of delivered activity on behalf of individuals within the agency to withhold information. I don't think we're there yet in terms of the facts. It looks a little bit more like --

LEMON: A failure.

CORDERO: -- perhaps incompetence or mismanaged behavior within a government agency, which is not something I've never heard of before.



LEMON: Unfortunately. It's surprising, though, that is the Secret Service.

Thank you, Carrie. Thank you, Jonathan. I appreciate it.

We are going to move on --

WACKROW: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: -- now and talk about opening statements given today in the trial of former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, for contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas from the January 6 Committee. Bannon has pleaded not guilty to the two contempt charges, both misdemeanors. But if he is found guilty, each one carries a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail.

Let's discuss now. CNN political correspondent Sara Murray is here and former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore. Good to see both of you. Good evening. Sara, many legal experts have told us that --


LEMON: this case should be an open and shut one. How are Bannon and his lawyers defending him today?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, look, when it comes to what is happening in court, Bannon doesn't have a lot of defenses at its disposal. They make clear in their opening statements, Bannon's attorney, you know, that they're essentially going to argue that they thought the subpoena was still up for negotiation, including the date of to subpoena.

Of course, when Bannon exited the court, he had a lot more to say about the House Select Committee. Take a listen.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Bennie Thompson sent a staffer over here. Where is Bennie Thompson? We subpoenaed Thompson and they are hiding behind these phony privileges. He's too gutless to come over here himself. He has made it a crime. Made it a crime. Not a simple charge of wanting my testimony but a crime. And he didn't have the courage or guts to show up there. He sent a staffer.


MURRAY: So, in case it wasn't clear from that, Steve Bannon really wanted Bennie Thompson to testify at his trial. The judge shut that down when Bannon tried to subpoena him. He left with the door open of possibility revisiting that depending on where the prosecution case goes, but there is a very slim chance we are going to see Bennie Thompson testifying, especially considering he testified for COVID today.

LEMON: Yeah. it is -- I wish I didn't have to waste the audience's time with the side show that this is, Michael, but, you know, this is a big deal that he is having to do this. The prosecution says that Bannon straight up refused to follow the rules. Do you think that his defense holds any water here?

MOORE: You know, I really don't, and I think that most of which are saying is just a circus.

LEMON: It is --

MOORE: -- even from the sort of the shenanigans outside the courthouse. What he's playing for is that that one juror to come forward and say, yeah, maybe so, maybe he'll try to cooperate, maybe they're overreaching and trying to get him in. He's playing for the one. He's not playing for the win like the prosecution has to get a unanimous guilty verdict. So, he just wants to convince one person.

And so, they're trying this argument. They're going to try to say he cooperated, he didn't understand, he really, you know, the kind of this wishy-washy thing about whether or not the spin was effective. And, you know, I hope they get the one. At the end of the day, I don't think they will, but, you know, this is sort of (INAUDIBLE).

I think it is a great move, by the way, to send a staffer in because this is how you treat a tyrant, right? You sort of cut their legs out from under them but not playing up to the level.

LEMON: Yeah.

MOORE: You bring in somebody low. And that's, if you think about it, why we don't send presidents to dictators.

LEMON: Right.

MOORE: It is because we don't want to put them to that position. So, I thought that was a great move on the part of the prosecutor's office.

LEMON: Sara, is there any chance that we can get a verdict in this trial before the primetime committee hearing on Thursday night? That is quick.

MURRAY: Don't rule it out. We don't know. I mean --

LEMON: Sara, the wheels of justice move slow. We know that. But go on. MURRAY: They do, but frankly, there just aren't that many witnesses that you can call in this trial. I mean, a lot of the stuff took a lot longer than we expected. Even getting to the open statements took longer than we expected. But this is not a trial that has that many witnesses. So, you know, it is possible. I think a lot of that is going to end up being, you know, about how long the jury deliberates when the dusts just go to them.

LEMON: Yeah. Regardless, Sara, of the outcome of the trial, will the committee or the DOJ be interested in the information Bannon has about what the president was doing leading up to January 6th or they just -- they don't think he's going to really say anything or cooperate?

MURRAY: Well, look, the committee has said that they are still interested, but they made it very clear that they're not interested in participating in the spectacle of Steve Bannon --

LEMON: Right.

MURRAY: -- testifying at a public hearing. We haven't seen any indication yet from DOJ that they are interested in talking to Bannon. And, of course, they have seen in a number of cases previously what it is like to interact with Bannon.

So, you know, anything is possible. I'm not holding out hope that this is going to all a sudden turn into Steve Bannon becoming a cooperative witness.

LEMON: Yeah. So, Michael, the committee is still concerning sending out more subpoenas. If Bannon is found guilty, if he is found guilty, could that change the calculus for others who might also be fighting these?

MOORE: You know, I think there is a possibility of that, and that's one of the goals behind a prosecution, to show that there might be consequences to sort of flatten out the rule of law and breaking the law.

We have come a long way with the committee. They have done a lot of testimony and a lot of witnesses there. So, I don't know who else they are going to need.


At the end of the day, they are also up against the clock because we are moving closer to the midterm, closer if the Republicans were to take Congress or the House. It may disband the committee. So, you know, we are at a place where maybe they are wrapping up or starting to hear that.

Again, I don't know that these witnesses will be fighting a subpoena or necessarily the ones that are going to tie or make the bridge between Trump and some of the other conduct, or this is just an effort to talk about the systemic failure in the administration.

And so, you know, we will see. I hope that we get to a point where they are ready to make their report and we see, you know, at the end of the day when they come back.

LEMON: Sara, I want to ask you about your reporting on the Atlanta area D.A. looking into Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia. It is telling all 16 fake Trump electors that they are targets of an ongoing criminal investigation before they were just witness. So, what changed now?

MURRAY: Well, we don't entirely know what changed, but we do know from the court filings that District Attorney Fani Willis has said that her investigation has matured, that new evidence has come to light, and that is what inspired her to send these target letters out. I mean, it's a significant step because, as you pointed out, a lot of these folks are witnesses and a number of them, you know, had seemed like they were cooperating and willing to give her some information.

So, we don't know if perhaps they were holding something back that she wants and that's why she is sending these target letters. We don't know if something came up in the interviews that made her suddenly believe that, you know, their conduct may have been criminal when they didn't believe it before, but it does sort of point to a big escalation in her investigation.

LEMON: Why do you think, Michael, because I believe you said that this is -- it could be aimed at a bigger -- catching a bigger fish? Are prosecutors hoping that these electors could spill the beans? It that what is happening?

MOORE: Yeah, I think that's likely. I mean, one of the reasons you send that target letters -- you are not required to do that. It's a state (INAUDIBLE) level. So, there has got to be a reason that she's done that, especially with a grand jury that doesn't have the power to indict anyone --

MURRAY: Uh-hmm.

MOORE: -- which I find a little unique. But one of the reasons you do it is you want to put pressure on somebody as a witness, somebody who you believe may have evidence of criminal conduct that you may move forward on.

You put pressure on them to flip and to come in and say, instead of prosecuting yourself, I've identified you as a target, don't you want to tell me about the man up the line or the lady in the conspiracy, whatever the case may be? And so, she might be using this as a way to exert pressure as opposed to really being serious about bringing some of these indictments.

One thing that is concerning a little bit is we are getting mighty close to a statewide election here. And there are some real political implications that are going on in these letters and the timing. Who is sending them out and who is involved in the case? You know, this type of thing.

I think that's something that she needs to be careful about. I don't want to arms quarterback. You know, she a good lawyer and a good prosecutor. At the same time, you don't need to sort of make hasty decisions that provide arguments to defendants to say, this is not legitimate, you are not really calling me a target, you are playing political games.

And so, we've seen that in some of the filings. And so, I think we will probably hear more about that as we go forward. But again, I think this is a goal to try to get people to flip, to talk, as she moves forward with this investigation somewhat.

Again, a little bit against the clock because we are about three and a half months out from our statewide election. You've got to say, why now, suddenly we are having target letters going out, especially statewide.

LEMON: It's interesting every time I hear one of the legal types talk about that because, you know, if anybody is in trouble, all they say is, you know what, I'm going to run for office and get out of trouble because then they won't want to prosecute me. I mean, that is disturbing, Michael.

MOORE: It can be disturbing. It depends on how you take it as it can be. That is, we do not want the criminal process to affect our election. We don't want people to come in. If you've got a -- you know, you've got somebody who's got a specific candidate they want to endorse, you got somebody with a specific goal, you don't want to come in and then take out a criminal prosecution against their opponent just their candidate of choice can win. And so --

LEMON: But you don't want anyone to just get out of trouble because they're running for office and they could be guilty as hell.

MURRAY: But it is worth pointing out that those folks are already running. This isn't like a situation we are talking about with Donald Trump, you know, sort of, is he going to all of a sudden announce his presidential campaign because he wants to get out of trouble?

LEMON: Yeah.

MURRAY: In Georgia, these are people who already declared, already in the race.

LEMON: Yeah.

MOORE: One of the reasons you keep a grand jury process secret. You don't make a lot of press statements about the grand jury process because it allows you to function without the fear and the threat that you are going to bring, get credit on something who at the end of the day not actually be a defendant, not be a legitimate (INAUDIBLE).,

And so, it allows you to work in secret to do your investigation without bringing harm to people. At the same time, you are moving forward with your investigation. It allows you to (INAUDIBLE).

LEMON: Yeah. Georgia, I mean, right now, in the thick of it. Always something happening down in Georgia. Thank you, Michael.


Thanks, Sara.

MOORE: We are in the middle of it.

LEMON: You are. Thank you very much.

MOORE: Glad to be with you.

LEMON: I appreciate it.

Ever since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a lot of people have been saying gay marriage could be the same -- go the same way, you know, as Roe v. Wade, right? It could be the next right that Americans lose. And if you think it couldn't happen, just listen to Ted Cruz.


SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): In Obergefell, the courts said no, we know better than you guys do, and now every state must sanction and permit gay marriage. I think that decision was clearly wrong when it was decided.





LEMON: So, we have breaking news, just in to CNN. The Secret Service was only able to provide a single text exchange with the inspector general who had requested a month's worth of records for 24 Secret Service personnel. It is according to a letter to the January 6 Committee obtained by CNN.

I want to bring in our Jeffrey Toobin to discuss this. Jeffrey, we are just getting this in again. It's saying the Secret Service was only able to provide a single text exchange to the inspector general who had requested a month's worth of records for 24 Secret Service personnel, according to a letter to the January 6 Committee obtained by CNN.

Hello, Jeffrey. Any possible explanation for this, do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, this is based on our colleague, Jamie Gangel's reporting. This is just pathetic. I mean, this is just unbelievable, that something so important and so obviously important even at the time -- I mean, this isn't like the Secret Service was told months later, go back and get this date that, you know, didn't seem significant at the time. Obviously, everybody knew January 6th was an enormously important. According to Jamie's reporting, the Secret Service was told on January 16th, just 10 days later, to preserve all the email and text traffic, and they didn't. And what happened? I mean, how did this possibly happen and who is responsible? And most importantly, where are all these texts? These questions, you know, cry out for answers.

LEMON: How can this be is the question, especially considering, you know, the importance of an agency like the Secret Service, Jeffrey, and what they do.

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, how can this be is obviously the right question. There are two possibilities. One possibility is incompetence, which is something that I believe is generally the explanation for most things. At least, according to this report, they seem to have trusted the individuals who had the phones to preserve things as opposed to doing it centrally, which seems deeply idiotic.

But the question is, you know, was this all just a terrible mistake? Alternatively, was there some sinister activity and attempt to ditch correspondents that they didn't want people to see?

LEMON: Uh-hmm.

TOOBIN: Again, that seems unlikely, but something went terribly wrong here and, you know, somebody got to figure out what happened.

LEMON: This is a key piece of reporting that we are -- that I want to read here. Again, here is the -- this is the important part that our viewers should know if they're just tuning in. Secret Service was only able to provide a single text exchange to the inspector general who had requested a month's worth of records for 24 Secret Service personnel. This is January 5th and January 6th.

Secret Service submitted the responsive records. It identified namely a text message conversation from the former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund to former Secret Service Uniformed Division Chief Thomas Sullivan requesting assistance on January 6, 2021, and advised the agency did not only have further records responsive to the DHS OIG's request for text messages, according to the letter from Assistant Director Ronald Rowe to January 6 Committee.

What are we seeing here? What does this say, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Don, just -- let's just pause and say, you know, in plain English what that letter says. They asked 24 people -- for 24 people's records for everything related to January 5th and 6th, and they got one text exchange? I mean, that is just ridiculous.

And, you know, the question is, what happens to the rest of the stuff and why wasn't it preserved? Who directed this operation of getting rid of these texts? Why did they do it? And can this be recovered now?

Because I think, as most people know, you know, just as you hit "delete" on an email or delete a text doesn't mean it's gone forever. It is sometimes can be recovered. That is an operation that I expect the January 6 Committee and possibly the FBI will want to be doing because these texts are very important.

I mean, this is perhaps some of the most important documentary records of what Donald Trump was doing on January 5th and 6th because the Secret Service agents obviously were with him for all that time. There's got to be relevant information in those texts.

And the idea that one text exchange out of 24 people over two critical days, I mean, it is just preposterous that that is all that remains.


LEMON: Yeah. Jonathan Wackrow is a former Secret Service agent. He is back with us. Jonathan, I'm sure you know the breaking news. They just gotten one single text exchange. And Jonathan, this has nothing to do with protecting the president. This is not even related. That is what -- the Secret Service's job is to protect the president of the United States.

WACKROW: Don, this goes back to, you know, I want more information, right? I don't want this drip, drip, drip of, you know, we got this, we have this. What I want is, you know, a full accountability. I need a diagnostic done on what happened to all of those devices, where are they.

I want to know, is there a possibility or pathway for further forensic investigation of those small devices? And then, if there isn't, what are the other options? Can we interview the individuals that possessed those small devices, the phones? Who was on the receiving end of the text message? They may not have had their information completely wiped.

So, I don't think hope is lost here in terms of trying to find out the information that was transmitted, but it is going to be a difficult process.

But, again, as I said earlier, we are up against time, right? The investigation is going to come to an end soon. So, the January 6 Commission, the inspector general, they have to work swiftly and work collaboratively with the Secret Service to find this information and get it out there immediately.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, Jonathan. Thank you, Jeffrey. I appreciate it. We will continue to update our viewers as we get more information on this.

So, Stacey Abrams, running for governor of Georgia, but will President Biden's low approval impact her race? I'm going to ask her, next.

Plus, Sesame Place amusement park facing allegations of racism.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: The Georgia criminal investigation to Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election picking up some speed. All 16 of the -- quote -- "fake electors," part of the plan to replace Joe Biden's legitimate electors with Trump electors, we are told today that they are now a part of the criminal probe.

Joining me now is Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for Georgia governor. Thank you, Stacey Abrams, for joining us. I appreciate it.


LEMON: This alleged plot to overturn the election in Georgia seems to be keep getting bigger and closer to the former president. I mean, never a dull moment when it comes to Georgia politics. You guys seem to always be in the spotlight. Why is it so significant that this is going down in your state?

ABRAMS: Because this is a state that unfortunately has a very long and recent history of voter suppression and of voter intimidation and challenges in our system.

I know that one of the people on that list is the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and that our current governor has said he is proud to have him as a running mate. He is proof of the fact that, in Georgia, whether you are the governor who just happened not to commit treason or the lieutenant governor who may have participated in the seditious act, that either of them are poor representation of what democracy should be in the state of Georgia or in the United States.

LEMON: So, you mentioned the governor, you will be running against him. The president -- I want to talk about that in the context of the current president. Biden's approval rating is at lowest it has ever been. Only 38% of people approve of the job that he is doing.

I mean, look, parties in power already usually lose the next election, as you are aware of, but these numbers don't look good, Stacey. If voters aren't happy with the head of the party, that will have an impact on Democrats in races across the country, including you in your governor's race.

ABRAMS: We understand that the national challenges are real, that the impact of inflation, that the rising costs are absolutely devastating to families. But we also know that the governor has the ability to do something about it. And unfortunately, this governor has refused to act.

He is sitting on more than $547 million that could help families stay in their homes. Instead, they are facing evictions at a record rate. He could do something about the issue of gun violence and yet he weakened gun laws to put more weapons in the hands of criminals and dangerous people.

He could address the needs of women by expanding access to health care. Instead of expanding Medicaid, which would lower cost not only for low-income families but lower cost across the board, he has signed into law the most extreme and dangerous abortion law in the state's history, making it dangerous for women to even contemplate getting pregnant.

He has made it harder to be a Georgian, harder to survive here. And while the national headwinds may be real, we know that the pain and the trauma and the danger in Georgia if Brian Kemp remains governor is also real.

LEMON: The question was about Biden, though, and whether Biden impacts you and your race.

ABRAMS: And my point is this, that while we live in a nation where the president is doing his best to confront economic challenges that are happening around the world, we have a governor who has the very real tools in his hand, provided by Democrats, to actually stave off these challenges.

He has the ability to take millions of dollars provided to the state by President Biden, by Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff. And instead, he is refusing to deploy those resources, he is refusing to expand Medicaid, he is refusing to acknowledge the housing crisis.

And so, it's very important that we recognize that the governor's races matter because governors have the ability to respond locally and directly to the needs of the people.


And Brian Kemp is refusing to do that job either because he doesn't care or because he is unwilling to do his job.

LEMON: But doesn't it seem to be helping him in Georgia? I mean, maybe that's where Georgians are. I'm just wondering because, otherwise, he wouldn't be doing it if he didn't think it was beneficial, and the polls are showing that he is doing okay.

ABRAMS: The polls have us in a pretty dead heat. And the reality is I have been traveling the state. I just got back from visiting Baconton and Albany and Tifton, Georgia.

And in every single place, I hear from families who are in pain, they wonder why the governor won't step out and help them with their housing crisis. They want to know why he won't expand Medicaid when health care costs are real, when part of what is happening with inflation is that the cost of everything is going up.

And when you have to decide between putting food on your table or putting medicine in your body, that is the wrong choice to have to make, and Georgians are being forced to make those choices despite having the resources.

Georgia has the ability, the governor has the ability to solve these problems, and he is refusing to. But he is counting on people only paying attention to what he has done. He is refusing to offer a single sense of what he will do to tackle this crisis, and that is why I'm going to win the race for governor.

LEMON: You have -- you know, you've got a key Senate race happening down there. What would it mean to Georgia and the country to have a Senator Herschel Walker instead of a Senator Raphael Warnock?

ABRAMS: We begin by having a senator who has misled the public, misled his party, and misled the people of Georgia, as opposed to Senator Warnock who has done everything he can to serve our communities.

He brought the resources to the state that Brian Kemp is currently taking credit for and advantage of. He has been a champion for lowering costs, whether it is prescription drugs or making sure that we have gas prices that are lower.

I stand in lockstep with Senator Raphael Warnock because, together, we believe that we can serve Georgia.

Let's be clear, Don. You can either have trickle-down economics or an economic policy that lifts all boats. Unfortunately, whether it is Herschel Walker or Brian Kemp, they only serve those who benefit themselves. They have no interest in and have no proven engagement with communities that need their help, including a middle class that is struggling just as hard to stay where they are.

Raphael Warnock is doing that work. I, as an independent and private citizen, have been doing that work. But unfortunately, the republican ticket has no interest in doing the work for the people of Georgia.

LEMON: A similar question, as I asked you before -- I mean, Herschel Walker is, despite all of the missteps, despite all of the, you know, lies that he has been caught in, the fact checks that prove it, he has never worked in law enforcement and so on and so forth, he is still doing okay in the polls.

What does that say about where Georgians are in this moment, that someone like Herschel Walker can still be doing well despite every -- all of the headwinds or everything -- all of the controversy that he has created?

ABRAMS: Georgia is a divided state. We are purple for a reason. We are half Democratic, half Republican. My race in 2018 was the difference of 1.4%. The victory that Raphael Warnock had a year and a half later -- I'm sorry, four years later, that victory was 100,000 votes. This is a very narrow margin state. And because of that, every vote count.

And that goes back to the original point. We have to have leaders who believe in democracy and believe that every voter has the right to be heard. Brian Kemp does not believe that. Prior to his one day of grace, the fact that he is getting credit for not committing treason, he built a reputation as someone who not only spawned and invested in voter suppression. He celebrated it.

He actually said during his republican primary that he passed SP 202 because he didn't like the results of the federal election in 2020 and 2021. We win these elections when people know who we are running against. And because the state is divided, every vote is going to count.

Raphael Warnock and I are going to work hard up and down the ticket to make sure we turn at every single voter to make sure that we have a Georgia we can move forward.

LEMON: Stacey Abrams, thanks for appearing.

ABRAMS: Thank you for having me.

LEMON: And I do want to note that we did invite Stacey Abrams's opponent, Governor Brian Kemp, to join us on the show, and he is welcome to joins us here on this broadcast any time.

We have news this election night. CNN projects Maryland Republicans have chosen Trump-backed state lawmaker Dan Cox, an election denier who has taken a series of hardline conservative positions, as their nominee for what will be one of the most difficult governors' offices for the party to hold in November's midterms. Cox won the GOP race to replace term-limited Republican Governor Larry Hogan.

And coming up next, Sesame Place apologizing after one of their characters appears to ignore two young Black girls. Their mother responding tonight.



JODI BROWN, ACCUSES SESAME PLACE OF IGNORING DAUGHTER AND NIECE: The fact that this even happened, the fact that this is going to be a court memory for them when it comes to Sesame Place, is actually disgusting and unbelievable to me.



LEMON: The Sesame Place amusement park in Pennsylvania is apologizing after a video appears to show a constant character ignoring two young Black girls at a parade last weekend.


The mother of one of the girls says the park's explanation of the incident as a misunderstanding is not enough.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has the story.


BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Sesame Place snub that one mom is calling intentionally racist. This nine-second video posted on social media over the weekend shows two young Black girls along the parade route at the Pennsylvania theme park, eagerly trying to get the attention of a character, Rosita. You can see Rosita giving a white parade goer a high-five before seemingly signaling a no to the young girls.

BROWN: I was shocked. I couldn't believe that it happened.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Jodi Brown, mom to one girl and aunt to the other, says even more shocking is what happened after she stopped recording.

BROWN: That's when he proceeded to have the next family and that is when I immediately said, no, like, I need to speak to a supervisor.

GINGRAS (on camera): So, you immediately thought, this isn't right?

BROWN: Absolutely. I got -- I immediately got upset because I'm, like, there is no way, there is no way that it just happened.

GINGRAS (voice-over): She says she tried unsuccessfully to talk to a supervisor. So, she took to social media. The post went viral. It got the attention of hundreds of thousands of people online, including civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

KELLY ROWLAND, SINGER: Had that been me, that whole parade would be in flames.

GINGRAS (voice-over): And singer Kelly Rowland. On Sunday, Sesame Place issued a statement. Our brand, our park, and our employees stand for inclusivity and a quality in all forms. That is what Sesame Place is all about, and we do not tolerate any behaviors in our parks that are contrary to that commitment.

The park also said the performer didn't intentionally say no to the two girls and instead the hand gesture was directed towards someone asking the character to hold their child for a photo, which is against the rules. It also suggested that the costume may have inadvertently cause the performer to miss seeing the girls at a lower level.

(On camera): What did you think about the explanation the park initially gave?

BROWN: I think it was a slap in the face because you didn't take accountability for what the character did. Instead, you, like, try to give an excuse.

GINGRAS (voice-over): A park's spokesperson tells CNN Sesame Place apologized to the family and granted them a refund, adding -- quote -- "It's not acceptable to us when children and families don't feel special, seen and included at our park."

B'IVORY LAMARR, ATTORNEY TO JODI BROWN: The matters went beyond a refund. I mean, this family deserves substantially more. I mean, the harms are real. These two six-year-old girls have to live with this memory for the rest of their life.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Following the increasing backlash, including from his licensing partner, Sesame Workshop, the park said, we will conduct training for our employees so they better understand, recognize and deliver an inclusive, equitable and entertaining experience to our guests.

(On camera): What do you say to your daughter and niece as this becomes a bigger issue?

BROWN: I do want to show them, like, you have all this love, you have all this support from hundreds and thousands of people. So, as I told them before when it first happened, for every one bad person, there is going to be good people.

GINGRAS (voice-over): Brynn Gingras, CNN, New York.


LEMON: All right. Let's bring in now CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers, also a lawyer. Bakari, thank you very much.

So, listen, I just want to say that Sesame Place first call this incident a misunderstanding. The second statement offered an apology and said employees would be trained to offer equitable and inclusive guest experiences.

So, we have this, but there's also other videos similar out there of characters appearing to do the same thing. What is going on here?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know what is going on, but I'm also not surprised. This is something that happens, you know, day in and day out to young Black and brown children throughout the country. It is not just Sesame Place, but it's this proverbial, we just don't see these children. We don't see them as equal. We don't see them as human. We see them as less them.

I mean, my heart goes out to these young ladies and these young girls because of the fact that they didn't ask for all this. They just wanted a hug or an acknowledgment or a wave or a kiss blown in their direction. I, for one, believe that this is just something that happens on a daily basis, but now we have cell phones, so people are able to see it more often.

LEMON: So, listen, I think it's possible for one incident that you don't -- because you know those costumes. You've seen them. The character is actually looking out of the mouth of that costume. It's not like -- and the vision can be limited. But there are, again, as I've said, other similar videos out there of young kids being -- seemingly being, you know, pushed aside.

So, look, I don't know what happened, but should we be buying their excuse or their explanation, I should say?


SELLERS: That's part of the problem. I mean -- and, Don, you know this. You've been in this business a long time. It's usually not the act. It is usually the follow-up, the response or the coverup or whatever it may be. And their response was just pathetic. I think that there is a way in which you handle a situation such as this. Look, we screwed up. This person is going to go through training. They are going to be whatever. I'm not trying to cancel anybody. I don't want to cancel Sesame Place. It seems like people go there and have a decent time. But it's representative of many of the ills we have in this country.

And people are going to say, why are you making a big deal out of this? I'm not making a big deal out of it. But what I am telling you is that we have a problem in this country and it is pervasive from our school systems, to the way that we -- to the water that we drink, all the way down to the fun that we try to have with our children. Whether or not you want to see it or not, it's right there in your face.

LEMON: Yeah. Bakari, thank you. I appreciate it. Be well.

SELLERS: Thank you, brother.

LEMON: A shocking real-life crime on the set of "Law and Order: Organized Crime." A crew member shot and killed in Brooklyn this morning and the suspect is still at large.




LEMON: so, shocking gun violence claiming the life of "Law and Order: Organized Crime" crew member today. Thirty-one-year-old Johnny Pizarro fatally shot early this morning as he saved parking spots in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Pizarro was sitting in a car when authorities say an unknown assailant allegedly opened fire -- opened Pizarro's door, I should say, and fired at his neck and head. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but could not be saved. The suspect is still at large tonight.


NBC and Universal Television, which produces the series, putting out a statement, saying -- quote -- "We are working with law enforcement as they continue to investigate. Our hearts go out to his family and friends, and we ask that you respect their privacy during this time."

Thanks for watching. Our coverage continues.