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CNN Tonight

Jan. 6 Committee Releases More Transcripts From Witnesses; Biden Signs $1.7 Trillion Spending Bill Into Law, Boasts About Year Of Historic Progress; Transportation Department Warns Southwest To Follow Through On Reimbursing Passengers And Returning Their Bags; Passenger Kept Her Cool Despite Chaos At Southwest Airlines; Debates That Were Well Remembered In '22; Viewers Hate Watch Sequels Of The Rich; Dionne Warwick At 82 With Her Legacy. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired December 29, 2022 - 22:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: They're trying to get out as many as possible before Tuesday when Republicans take over the House. Every day brings new revelations. So, what will the Department of Justice do with it all?

Let's talk about what we've learned with former Congressman Charlie Dent, also CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein, we also Vanity Fair Special Correspondent Molly Jong-Fast and former Federal Prosecutor Shan Wu. Great to see all of you guys.

Let's just look at a couple of the things that had been revealed today by the committee, and one, I think, particularly interesting one is Don Jr. and the texts that Don Jr. was sending to Mark Meadows. And I want to juxtapose what he sent the day after the election, the day after his father lost the election, and then what he sent on January 6th, because I think there is an arc between the two.

The first one that he sends that he claims is not his writing, and it doesn't sound like his voice, frankly, and he also claims he doesn't remember who sent it to him, it says, we have operational control, total leverage, moral high ground. POTUS must start second term now. State assemblies can step in and vote to put forward the electoral state. Republicans control 28 states, Democrats 22 states. Once again, Trump wins.

That is the roadmap the day after the election, Ron, for how to keep Donald Trump unconstitutionally in office, okay?

Now, fast forward to January 6th when they've tried some of these things and suddenly Donald Trump Jr. is texting a different tune. Here it is. We need an oval address. He has to lead now. It's gone too far. It's gotten out of hand. I mean, what did they think their shenanigans was going to lead to? It led to chaos and violence.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And there is a dangling thread in that first series of texts or emails that I can't imagine the special counsel won't be interested in investigating. Because, as you know, Donald Trump Jr. is really the first one to suggest, and this is in the full report, to suggest the strategy of trying to get state legislators to overturn the result in their state and simply substitute Donald Trump electors for Joe Biden electors based on the actual verified results in their state.

In this deposition, he is asked about that, because, as you point out, this is very specific and in language that doesn't seem to flow naturally from Donald Trump Jr. And he says, Alisyn, in the deposition that it is, quote, a cut and paste job. He acknowledges that, that it came from somewhere else. But then he insists that he can't remember where it came from. In fact, if you take out the words, I don't remember, I don't recall, I can't recall, this 105-page transcript might be down to five pages from Donald Trump Jr. But the fact is that I can't imagine the special counsel is going to allow this to simply drift away, this idea that he can't remember where the idea came from that ultimately led to the fake elector scheme that they are investigating because he is very clearly suggesting it came from somewhere else. He is just not saying where.

CAMEROTA: Molly, maybe we can jog his memory, because the language in that first one, we have operational control, total leverage, it's the grandiose language that we heard pretty soon after the election from people like Rudy Guiliani and/or Steve Bannon. I mean, it is not a stretch to think that some of those folks were texting Don Jr. these suggestions.

MOLLY JONG-FAST, HOST, FAST POLITICS PODCAST: Yes. I mean, it is a little heady for Don Jr. to know how many states there are. But I do think that there are a number of people who were advising him and he was talking to congressmen. He was talking to -- you know, he has a bunch of lawyers and, you know, there are many, many members of Trump world, some of whom have received pardons, who were advising this.

I mean, you know, he -- reading that deposition, you really do see he was very involved in all of this. And I think that, ultimately, he got very over his head. And that's what we saw with this.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Charlie, then it goes wrong, then it goes horribly, horribly wrong. And that is when Don Jr. starts texting Mark Meadows, somebody has got to stop this. Get him out there. Get him to make a statement. This is out of control.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: These guys, like Donald Trump Jr. and others, were instigating this whole post-election scenario that his father, you know, shouldn't leave office, that he won, and all this nonsense, and then on January 6th they're shocked, shocked that their followers are at the Capitol, you know, ransacking the place, assaulting officers and attempting to harm members of Congress.


You know, these guys are trying to, you know, wash their hands of what they had done.

And with respect to these fake electors, I have to think that the grand jury and the DOJ are looking closely at that scheme. In fact, one of the fake electors, the chair of the Pennsylvania fake electors kicked me out of his gun club in 2017 because I wasn't a Trump sycophant. And I know that guy was close to Donald Trump Jr.

And so I'm just saying that -- so, Donald Trump Jr. has some -- I think he has some dirt on his hands here and it is probably a good thing he can't recall anything because I think he's got some explaining to do.

CAMEROTA: And, Shan, that leads us to you. So, with all of this evidence now, now what, is basically the question. And what accountability will there be? And so Don Jr., Mark Meadows, Donald Trump, who is most -- well, not most in trouble -- who will be in trouble?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I would say Meadows leads that pack, Trump Sr. next with Don probably a little lower down there. I mean, to Ron's point, absolutely, the special counsel will be very interested in that, but there are tools to compel further disclosures are limited. And actually it is really interesting, Alisyn, because you're actually seeing some of the advantages of the Congressional investigation where they have these sort of freewheeling depositions with the witnesses' lawyer being present.

It is not as intense or curated of an experience as is a grand jury. If it was a grand jury to begin with, most likely, he would have said nothing, just constantly taking the Fifth. But here, they were able to tease some of this type of information out of him. He calls it a cut and paste jobs, suggesting where did you get it from, but then he says he can't remember. So, he is giving people some leads to look at probably inadvertently there.

But that is one of the big differences between the Congressional investigation and a grand jury one. And, of course, double-edged sword for DOJ, they have all of this testimony now and they have to reconcile it, look for inconsistencies, possibly some things are exculpatory and some things are just a little bit ambiguous for them. So, it is a really big job ahead but certainly I'd say the theme in all of these transcripts coming out is that all roads flow toward Mark Meadows. I think he is number one on the hit list.

CAMEROTA: That is interesting, Shan. Here's a follow-up. What does that mean? What does his trouble look like?

WU: Well, it looks like they would be treating him quite seriously in terms of the potential charges there. Again, at this point, when it moves to the criminal aspect of it, I don't think their powers of compulsion grow any greater. I mean, really, people are going to circle the wagons. He is going to take the Fifth. If they have a conversation with his lawyers and say, look, we think we have enough to indict your client, do you want to cut a deal and cooperate, that is very different than any posturing you might make before a congressional committee.

So, I think that's what it looks like is what kind of charges they may bring and what -- most importantly, practically as a prosecutor and defense attorney, what kind of conversation are they going to have with his lawyers?

CAMEROTA: Ron, I keep reading this one that is an exchange between Christina Bobb, one of the lawyers, and Lindsey Graham, just because I think it is so -- it's theater of the absurd. I mean, it's so telling. They were even, I think, the way I interpret what Senator Graham was saying to Christina Bobb here, is that he was basically calling her bluff.

So, he says, Christina Bobb, the part of the transcript she testifies to, Senator Graham was saying, get me your information, just give me five dead voters. Give me, you know, an example of illegals voting. Just give me a very small snapshot I can take and champion. And I think that Senator Graham is savvy enough to know that she would never be able to produce five dead voters. So, he was saying, I'm happy to be your champion knowing that that wasn't going to happen.

BROWNSTEIN: I don't know if I can interpret it. It's a reasonable interpretation. It could also be him saying, just give me anything and I will be willing to go out and defend Donald Trump. But it really goes to your point from a minute ago about accountability. And, obviously, criminal liability is one form of accountability.

But as the committee itself noted in the report, it is not the only form of accountability. And they talk about disbarment or sanctions against lawyers who are involved in the effort to overturn the election. Where they are conspicuously silent is what if any sanctions should there be against the members of Congress who participated in this.

And I think Charlie was part of an open letter, a bipartisan group of former members, who said, look, people have been sanctioned for a lot less than participating in an effort to overthrow an election. The committee chose to really stay away from the issue of what other members of Congress did. They didn't reprint a lot of those, any, I believe, of the texts from Meadows to members of Congress, in which they were exhorting him to even declare martial law to prevent the transfer of power.


But this issue of whether other members of Congress, and there were dozens, as well as dozens in the states who participated in the fake electors, is the only question there whether or not they committed a crime or is there a question about whether there should be accountability in other forms? As I say, the committee is very firm on that point about lawyers. It is much more vague about members of Congress. But I think that is an open question that needs to be addressed.

CAMEROTA: And, Molly, I do want to get your thoughts on that. But, Shan, what is the answer to that? What is the accountability for members of Congress?

WU: Well, I think it's purely a political aspect. There could be referrals to the House Ethics Committee, which has been somewhat toothless in the past. You know, to Ron's point, I mean, I think you're seeing some of the advantages of congressional investigations and you're seeing some institutional biases there. From an outsider looking at this, they definitely went light on fellow members of Congress.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Quickly, Molly, go ahead.

JONG-FAST: I mean, we've heard that Representative Loudermilk was giving tours. There were members of Congress who spoke at the Stop the Steal rally. I mean, there are certainly a lot of members of Congress implicated, so it is a bit strange that there is not more on that.

CAMEROTA: And, Charlie, I just want to quickly get to you because you were on the ethics committee. So, is it toothless in this case?

DENT: Well, the committee is basically constructed of five Republicans and five Democrats. And so if one side chooses not to play ball, there is not going to be any type of a sanction. I sense it on this issue, if it were these members referred to the committee, I doubt that there are going to be any sanctions on this one. I just don't know how they're going to come to an agreement, unless they have really damning information on the role of a particular member in terms of inciting this insurrection. I don't see them coming to an agreement.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Friends, thank you very much for all of your insight into this.

Meanwhile, President Biden is in the Virgin Islands tonight where sources say he and his family are mulling the pros and cons of his re- election bid. But with the decision all but made, what has he accomplished in these two years and what kinds of challenges will he face in the next two years? We'll look at all of that, ahead.



CAMEROTA: President Biden continues his holiday getaway in the U.S. Virgin Islands tonight but he did some work today. He signed the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill avoiding a government shutdown. In a tweet, he points to what he calls, quote, a year of historic progress and adds, looking forward to more in 2023. So, will more include a run for re-election?

Journalist and Filmmaker Chris Whipple is the author of the upcoming book, The Fight of His Life, Inside Joe Biden's White House, and he joins us tonight. Chris, great to have you here. Is there any doubt in your mind tonight that Joe Biden is running for a second term?

CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR OF THE UPCOMING BOOK, THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE, INSIDE JOE BIDEN'S WHITE HOUSE: You know, there is almost no doubt that he is going to run unless there is something very strange in the water down there in St. Croix where he is talking this over presumably with Dr. Jill Biden. She is the only one, by the way, who could change his mind but I don't think she will. CAMEROTA: She is on board, right? I mean, that's been some of the reporting, that she's been on board. And I guess since the midterms, they've felt some momentum about this.

WHIPPLE: Well, no question that Joe Biden feels the wind at his back, without a doubt. I mean, look at the midterms and the way they defied all the odds. And I think that Joe Biden and the White House are also celebrating and hoping to exploit what has become a political fact of life, and that is that Joe Biden's opponents have underestimated him at every step of the way throughout his career. And, you know, they are learning a hard lesson right now and they may well pay a heavy political price.

CAMEROTA: You have just spent a lot of time reporting on the inner workings inside the Biden White House. And you say the Biden presidency is the most consequential of your lifetime. You liken his legislative record to that of LBJ. How so? Make the case.

WHIPPLE: Well, you know, it is without a doubt been a tale of two presidencies. And I write about this in great detail in my upcoming book, The Fight of His Life, Inside Joe Biden's White House. Unfortunately, my editor would kill me if I told you too much about it.

CAMEROTA: Why? Why can't you come on and just spill the tea with us?

WHIPPLE: Because it is not out until January 17 and viewers can preorder it.

CAMEROTA: Okay. I see you're getting in the plug. Your publisher is going to be very happy. But go on, tell us.

WHIPPLE: But having said that, there's just no question about it that the second year of Biden's presidency has been as consequential as any year of any president in modern history, from rallying NATO to defend Ukraine against Vladimir Putin to passing a legislative agenda that does rival LBJ. So, I think that is why they have the wind at their back.

There are plenty of challenges ahead, God knows. Just to name a few, first, Biden has got to try to avoid a recession, he's got to try to tame inflation, he has to implement all of that legislation because it doesn't mean anything until the rubber meets the road. He's got to keep NATO unified against Vladimir Putin, no easy task. And he also has to continue to be aware of the threat to democracy in the form of Trumpism. It hasn't gone away.

And one real challenge will be trying to unify the country in the event that Trump is prosecuted in state or federal court, which I think is almost inevitable. That is going to be a high wire act for this president.

And, finally, if I could add one more thing, there is a really big personnel challenge coming up. Biden's White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, who has had a lot to do with the president's success, may well be approaching a point where he wants to move on. There's a reason why White House chiefs of staff last an average of 18 months. Klain has been there two years. And if he leaves, those are going to be awfully big shoes to fill.

CAMEROTA: Well, what changes if he leaves?

WHIPPLE: Well, everything. You know, the White House chief of staff is the second most powerful job in government. I think that one of the reasons that Biden has been successful is that Klain again has known the president for 30 years. He knows Capitol Hill. He knows how to run the White House. He was the most qualified person really ever to step into that job, having worked for nine previous White House chiefs, if you can believe that.


And the results show. The first year was not without a lot of real problems and challenges from Afghanistan to the delta variant, to everything else, but at the two-year mark, you really have to put Ron Klain in elite company with some of the best White House chiefs I think in history.

CAMEROTA: Chris, one of the things we know is in your upcoming book that I think is really eyebrow-raising is that President Biden doesn't trust some of his Secret Service detail. That sounds like a problem. So, what is that about?

WHIPPLE: If that's true, it is a real problem. And it's just almost hard to imagine. The Secret Service is there first and foremost to protect the president's life, but they're also expected to keep his secrets. That is about all I can tell you without getting into the details of the book, which I promised my editor I wouldn't do.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that is a good tease. Well, Chris Whipple, we'll be buying the book on January 17th, it's called, The Fight of His Life, Inside Joe Biden's White House. Thanks so much for talking about all of this.

WHIPPLE: You can preorder it. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: Okay, really interesting.

All right, meanwhile Southwest Airlines claims it will operate a normal schedule tomorrow as it faces a sharp warning tonight from the federal government.

And up next, one passenger's personal story of going through the southwest travel chaos and it's not over yet.



CAMEROTA: Southwest Airlines says it will resume normal service tomorrow after eight days of travel chaos that stranded hundreds of thousands of passengers. More than 2,300 flights were canceled today. Now, the Transportation Department is warning Southwest it may level steep fines if the airline fails to follow through on promises to reimburse passengers and return their bags.

More tonight from CNN's Lucy Kafanov.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Eight days in and, finally, Southwest is planning to return to normal operations Friday, issuing a statement saying, with another holiday weekend full of important connections for our valued customers and employees, we are eager to return to a state of normalcy. But today, it's still chaos for Southwest passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The anxiety level is -- has become crazy.

KAFANOV: One of the country's biggest carriers canceling nearly 2,400 flights Thursday, capping a week of travel misery that stranded thousands more.

KATIE DEMKO, STRANDED SOUTHWEST CUSTOMER: It is very devastating. Southwest actually booked me on a flight for January 2nd, my wedding is tomorrow, December 30th.

KAFANOV: Soon to be married, Katie Demko was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis with family for her own wedding. But Southwest's cancelations meant she had to miss meeting her fiance at the altar in Belize. And when Southwest told her she may be able to rebook --

DEMKO: They did tell us that once it would go into the system, that it would not actually come to me, we wouldn't be able to book those, because they had overbooked.

KAFANOV: But for some customers, the most emotional reunions seen at airports have been between people and their bags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've just haven't had this bag in a week, I been wearing other people's clothes.

KAFANOV: Southwest first placed all the blame for stranded flyers, their lost bags and its inability to get people new flights on bad weather. But airlines' CEO, Bob Jordan, admitted the company's systems were too outdated to deal with any big disruption.

BOB JORDAN, CEO, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES: The tools we used to recover from disruption serve as well 99 percent of the time, but, clearly, we need to double down on our already existing plans to upgrade systems for these extreme circumstances so that we never again face what's happening right now.

KAFANOV: Southwest Pilot and Flight Attendants Union say they've been ringing the alarm about the outdated system for years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been harking on them since 2015-ish every year. We've seen some sort of meltdown happen. LYN MONTGOMERY, SOUTHWEST FLIGHT ATTENDENATS UNION: These executive should have committed to ensuring that our I.T. infrastructure would be able (INAUDIBLE) growth and change in our -- the way we operate our flights.

KAFANOV: Southwest has promised to reimburse customers, but good luck reaching an agent on the phone, let alone in-person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we're still in line and nobody is giving us any direction.

KAFANOV: Those unable to fly home are finding creative solutions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I actually went up to the attendant and I said, is there anybody going to Denver?

KAFANOV: Annie Brunner (ph) and her, Megan (ph), were stranded in Minnesota, unable to find a flight or rental car to get home, until a complete stranger offered to drive the couple back to Denver.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people has set in this day and age to kind of lean on in a stranger. In our case, it couldn't have been done any better.

KAFANOV: Southwest is busing some passengers from airport to airport in order to bring some relief amidst a total meltdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm still stranded. I need to drive nine more hours. My feet are swollen, I'm upset, I'm stressed, I'm tired and I hate them.


KAFANOV (on camera): The transportation department formally warning Southwest Airlines that it will take action if the airline does not follow through on promises to reimburse passengers for alternative transportation, hotels, meals, not to mention baggage reunification.

And take a look behind me. I mean, this mountain of suitcases is a symbol of the cascading effects of all of these travel nightmares. A lot of folks still trying to get reunited with their bags. Southwest did hire extra staff to sort through all of these pieces of luggage. But, of course, despite the promises of getting back to normal on Friday, Alisyn, it is going to take days for everyone to get reunited with their bag. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Lucy, thank you very much for showing us all of that.

And joining me now is Deb Haines. She is one of the Southwest passengers who can relate to that very trying story. Deb, oh, my gosh, your story is so frustrating. Let's just share it with everybody.

On Friday, you were supposed to be flying from Denver to Seattle, and your flight was canceled. So, two days before Christmas your flight was canceled. It was rebooked --


CAMEROTA: -- for Monday, after Christmas.


CAMEROTA: So, how did that sit with you?

HAINES: It was just very sad. My daughter is a travel nurse out in Seattle and my neighbor's kids are in Seattle as well. So, we were just trying to get the families together for Christmas. We had an Airbnb booked in Leavenworth, Washington. It was going to be a magical weekend. And so it was a huge let down.


CAMEROTA: Right, because you showed up. Yes. You went just to tell it. It gets worse. You went back to the airport on Monday for that rescheduled flight and --


CAMEROTA: -- your flight kept getting delayed. How long did you wait on Monday?

HAINES: We were in the airport a total of 12 hours. We waited for about six hours at the gate before they finally canceled our flight, and then went to try to figure out the baggage and we're told to wait in a three-hour line to put a claim in, but that our bags were going to go ahead and go to Seattle regardless. So.

CAMEROTA: How is it possible that your bags flew to Seattle, but you were not able to?

HAINES: I'm guessing they didn't fly. I -- I've heard multiple things like maybe they were trapped or different things, but we -- regardless, we don't know where the bags are, we have a claim in on them, and hopefully we'll see them soon.

CAMEROTA: OK. So tonight, as we speak --


CAMEROTA: -- you have no idea where your luggage is?

HAINES: No idea.

CAMEROTA: What has Southwest told you about where your luggage is?

HAINES: They have told us that they're trying very hard to reunite us with our bags.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Deb, that is so frustrating. Did you have valuables in those bags? Do you have things you'd like to see again?

HAINES: Well, I would certainly like to see them. All of our Christmas presents are in the bags, so we have the tree up. We're just going to wait it out and hopefully have Christmas eventually.

CAMEROTA: My gosh, Deb, you are so good spirited. You are clearly you have the patience of Job more than I would. But this is ridiculous. I mean, it's ridiculous that you never got on your flight and yet you were still separated from your bag and they have no idea where it is. Are they going to -- are they offering you any kind of compensation? What are they telling you?

HAINES: Not yet. I mean, I'm hoping that if they cannot find it, that they will, but not yet. It's very hard to get in touch with anyone from the airline right now.

CAMEROTA: So, what happens when you call them?

HAINES: Let's see. Last Thursday night I was on hold for four hours and kept getting disconnected every hour. And then today we finally did get in touch with them after about an hour and 15 minutes, which I thought was pretty good.

CAMEROTA: And that's when they said what?

HAINES: Well, that's when they said, put in the claim. If you've done that online, then that's all we can do right now. We did that and got an e-mail back saying that they're trying to find our bags.

CAMEROTA: So, Deb, you missed being in Christmas, spending Christmas with your daughter and your family and this whole trip that you had planned. You've been departed from --


CAMEROTA: -- your Christmas gifts and your belongings for all of these days, they can't offer you --


CAMEROTA: -- any idea of where your bag and your luggage is?

HAINES: Right.

CAMEROTA: You've spent hours at the airport and on the phone with them. Is there anything -- how could they compensate you for this? I mean, what -- what would you want out of Southwest at this point?

HAINES: I mean, I guess reimbursement for our flights to get us our bags back. And I guess that's all.

CAMEROTA: I mean, that's the least they could do. That's the least they can do. Of course, you need reimbursement for your flights. Of course, you need your bags back.


CAMEROTA: I'm looking as you're speaking, we have pictures, I guess, of your kids who were celebrating Christmas without you, guys.


CAMEROTA: So, what did they do?

HAINES: Yes, they were in Seattle to our neighbor, our neighbor's kids, and my daughter were in Seattle. And then my son was here with us.

CAMEROTA: Well, they look like they're having a great time.

HAINES: They make -- we tried to make the best of it. So.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And so, so Deb, will you ever fly Southwest again?

HAINES: Yes, I've been thinking about that and I just think it's too soon to tell.

CAMEROTA: Wow. You are a patient woman. Deb, we're going to check back with you. I really, really hope they can find your bag and your Christmas gifts, and I hope that they come up with something.

HAINES: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you're just one, as we said, of hundreds of thousands of passengers who have had, you know, a lousy Christmas --


CAMEROTA: -- because of all of this.


CAMEROTA: So Deb, best of luck. Let us know what happens.

HAINES: Thank you. Thank you so much.

CAMEROTA: All right, take care.

HAINES: OK, you too. Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. So, was it Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, or was it the students who complained about their university being too hard? Up next, our panel is back with some closing arguments on some of the hottest debates, not political ones, other debates of 2022.



CAMEROTA: As 2022 comes to a close, we take a look back at a few of the biggest debates of the year, not political debates, culture debates. These come courtesy of the New York Times opinion piece, quote, "the 22 debates that made us rage, roll our eyes and change our minds in 2022, from the Will Smith slap to hybrid work to how hard school should be for students."

Let's put a few of these back on the table for a few minutes. And back with me now Charlie Dent, Ron Brownstein and Molly Jong-Fast.

OK, great to see you guys again.

Charlie, the Will Smith slap, I mean, that went on for so long about what that meant and what should happen to Will Smith. And I'm not sure we ever resolved that one. That one was such a shock to the system when we all saw that at the Oscars.

CHARLIE DENT, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I thought, you know, Will Smith had a sterling reputation up to that point, and then everybody including me, I'm a guy from the Philadelphia region more or less. And to see that I was really shocked. And Will Smith was a Philly guy. We're all sympathetic to him, but that was inexcusable.

I mean, I looked at that and I said, boy, that looks like simple assault for I'm sitting. You can't go up and smack, you know, a speaker like that. And at an event, an appropriate response would've been if he didn't like the jokes, you know, mocking his wife, she had that condition that caused her to lose her hair. Well, he and his wife could have just simply left the event and put out a statement.

But no, he did that. And I just said, I thought it set a terrible signal to a lot of folks that this is an appropriate way to respond to some speech that you found, you know, distasteful.


DENT: I thought it was awful.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Molly, I'm -- it was a shock and I'm not sure we have resolved it. I'm not, I mean, in other words, Will Smith, has apologized. He has been banned from the Oscars, but I'm not sure that it has been resolved at the end of this year.

MOLLY JONG-FAST, HOST, FAST POLITICS PODCAST: Well, a lot of these things were actually culture downstream of politics, right? Like a lot of them were about culture but they were also, you know, there were a lot of things that got folded into the culture wars too.

CAMEROTA: But how's this about politics? Like how does this one?

JONG-FAST: Well, because people sort of took, you know, there was this sort of the people who supported the guy who got slapped and the people who supported. You know, there was a lot of, sort of team, you know, people got on different teams and was the punishment enough?


And, you know, I mean, I do think there was a sort of posturing that had pull that had sort of, vaguely political implications.

CAMEROTA: I think everything right now is through the lens of politics. I mean, when you say the teams that our country is so team centric right now in terms of the divisions, Ron, I agree with that. We see everything. Are you on Harry and Meghan's team, or are you on, you know, the British royalty? Everything is like that. I want to move on to the school stuff, unless you have anything you

wanted to say.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, just -- just real quick. I'm not really sure there's a debate there to echo Charlie. I mean, if Chris Rock was in a comedy club and a guy got up from the table in the third row and walked on stage and slapped him. He'd be in jail. He'd be -- he'd be on trial.

I mean, the, you know, the only -- the only question really is why Will Smith isn't, didn't face those consequences. Other than that, I'm not really sure there's much to debate.

CAMEROTA: Yes. I think people were just so stunned, but that's just my theory.


CAMEROTA: But I hear you.

BROWNSTEIN: If you're a global movie star you'd probably be -- you'd probably be on trial for this.

CAMEROTA: Yes. OK, so here's another thing that we've debated, and obviously there were so many cultural debates about schools this year. And who controls what our kids are learning. And if something is too woke.

In this one that got the New York Times attention, it was whether school is too hard. And at NYU there was a crop of kids, Molly, that did think that they are professor. So, this was a professor in an organic chemistry class, and they thought he was impossibly hard.

They signed a petition. We urge you to realize that a class with such a high percentage of withdrawals and low grades has failed to make students learning and wellbeing a priority and reflects poorly on the chemistry department as well as the institution as a whole.

I believe they got him fired and then his quote, the professor's quote was, "they weren't coming to class, that's for sure because I can count the house, Dr. Jones said in an interview. They weren't watching the videos and they weren't able to answer the questions.

So, this is the, you know, debate about whether or not kids are being too molly coddled. And they're not tough enough. Your thoughts?

JONG-FAST: I think that, you know, look, we have a problem, which is that a lot of this higher ed has become like a business, right? It's very expensive. And the students and the parents are sort of like customers. And so, you ultimately find yourself in a -- in a situation where the goal here is learning, but these people are paying thousands of dollars with sometimes very mixed results.

I mean, it's not like a college degree, you know, guarantees you'll have a great career. And so, I do think you find yourself in a situation where you have these consumers who are not happy with the product and because they've paid so much money, you're in an impossible situation.

I still feel like I don't quite know enough about this general situation to know exactly what happened. And there was some other reporting around this that said maybe there was other stuff. But yes, I mean, it's never good when students get teachers fired, you know? Almost never good.

But I mean, there are probably some exceptions, but I just think that in this situation you have these schools that are so expensive and these students who are very emboldened.

CAMEROTA: OK. Charlie?

DENT: Look, welcome to organic chemistry. Now that's of course that's used to weed out students who are going to go to medical school. Hey, I started in engineering. I wasn't very good at it. I'm glad I got out. But I would've been weeded out at a place like Lehigh University where most of my family went.

You want to be an engineer? You know what the dean told you your first day? Look to the left, look to the right, and one end is not going to be an engineer when this is all over. I mean, that's how they dealt with it. I mean, they were trying to train, you know, educate engineers and good ones, and not everybody's cut out for some of this stuff. I don't think we should be coddling people. I was not a terrific student. I'll be very honest about that.

But you know what, but we have standards for a reason and, you know, maybe there are some difficult professors, but I don't think we should be firing a organic chemistry professor, because some students didn't show up to class and he was rough. OK, well, welcome to higher education.

I love when we get to the Charlie confessional part of the evening. That, that is one of my favorite parts of this program.

DENT: Hey, my dad twice. He got back in though.

CAMEROTA: I love it. Go ahead, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I was hoping that Molly was going to, you know, respond to Molly coddling about what she thinks would be like, what she thinks about being labeled that way.

But look, I, you know, I like Molly. I don't know enough of the specifics on here, but I do think like the underlying point of this that the New York Times is suggesting, as is often suggested, is that generation Z is molly coddled and, you know, kind of handle with kid gloves and a bunch of snowflakes, which I think is a fundamental.

You know, I'm sure there are individual cases, but it's a fundamental misdiagnosis of the situation that they are in. You know, facing much higher as she noted, tuition bills not only at fancy private schools like NYU, but like tuition is now double the share of the funding for state universities, that it was when the baby boomers went to college.


We've shifted so much of the burden from the community to these individuals and families, many more of whom are graduating with debt, struggling to (Inaudible) enough assets to buy houses, much less likely to own houses.

I mean, like the underlying implication of this from the New York Times is basically these kids have it so easy. Boy, you know, we should be tougher on. Really, the baby boomers benefited from an awful lot more of public investment in their success, and now it's the baby boomers are basically saying the next generation are getting off too easy. And it's just simply a total misdiagnosis of the conditions they face.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. OK, guys, you're not done. I have another culture question for you. Stick around.

Because up next, we used to really envy the super-rich and now we really hate them, but we like poking fun at them. Why Americans seem to be enjoying their love to hate the super-rich moment. And we'll show you examples.


CAMEROTA: Remember back in the 80's and the 90's when we used to love to watch the exploits of rich people shows like dynasty and lifestyles of the rich and famous and later gossip girl and "Crazy Rich Asians." Now, many of us love hate watching rich people. That's why satires like "White Lotus" or "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" are all the rage.


UNKNOWN: Welcome to the White Lotus in seasoning.

UNKNOWN: It's like you sold your company, you got rich, and now he's your best friend.

UNKNOWN: Are these the kind of people we're going to be hanging out with now?

UNKNOWN: Ladies and gentlemen --

UNKNOWN: This is it.

UNKNOWN: You expect it.

UNKNOWN: The mystery, the prolong person on his island. This is not a game.


CAMEROTA: I'm back with Charlie Dent, Ron Brownstein. Molly Jong- Fast.

[22:50:00] OK, raise your hand. How many of you are "White Lotus" fans?

DENT: I confess.

CAMEROTA: OK. All of us. All of us.


CAMEROTA: And so, Ron, what's so delicious about it? I mean, I find it delicious too, but it is also cringey to see the bougie behavior of white privilege basically, and rich people and how obnoxious they are.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Yes, it is, it is kind of a sign of the times. You know, I described it, I was talking to my son about it. I described it as occupy Wall Street made into a miniseries, you know, the 99 percent against the 1 percent. And he corrected me.

He, you know, given who watches HBO, the "White Lotus" is really inviting the rest of the top 10 percent to scorn the 1 percent, which in some ways is revealing of where we are as a society. I, you know, I think Zuckerberg and the whole drama around Facebook in

'16 and '20 followed by Muth (Ph) has been in kind of a cultural turning point.

I mean, you go back to the 90, we thought the tech Baron's work in particular, which is of course more the knives out sequel, we thought the tech barons were going to save us. I mean, Steve Jobs was the future. Now I think they look much more like a threat to our future than the salvation. And you're seeing that, I think above all, I think that more than anything else explains the shift in attitudes toward the -- toward the kind of the top one 10th of 1 percent.

CAMEROTA: That's really interesting. I was wondering what the tipping point was, where it shifted to hate watching them and it being cringey. Molly, what are your thoughts?

JONG-FAST: I mean, I think there's a history, there's like a long history of Americans and Brits loving satire and you know, skewering the rich from Evelyn Waugh down. So, I do think there is a literary tradition and a television tradition there.

But I do think what Ron said is really important, that there was a sort of moment when we thought all of these tech oligarchs would be, you know, doing, giving all their money away and solving the world's problems and instead they've largely caused many problems.

I was impressed with "Glass Onion" because when I watched it, I couldn't believe how close it was to the Elon Musk story.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Charlie?

DENT: Well, yes, my reaction was, look, I enjoy the shows. They're interesting. But I think there's a concern though, that there are a lot of wealthy people who maybe flaunt their wealth too much. And I think that's -- that's a bit of a change for a guy like me who comes from Pennsylvania, German country. You have a lot of very understated people who've accumulated a lot of

wealth and you never knew it until they died. That's kind of what I'm used to. People like that who were very modest, at least they appeared to be quite modest but scrolled away their money and they didn't talk about it.

This wasn't something they would do and they would never flaunt it. And it's some -- sometimes with these shows too, you know, you always would hear about the ugly American, the American who goes abroad and behaves like a jerk because they have money and offends everybody.

And I think there's a little bit too much of that in our society. And that's kind of the serious, the point of this --


CAMEROTA: Go what -- Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: I'll say real quick. The "White Lotus" net is cast pretty broad. I mean, it's not just, you know, anti the rich, rich. I mean, it's hard to find a fully sympathetic character in either season. I mean, it's, you know, it's a pretty bleak view of human nature, overall. But certainly, you know, it gives you that kind of joy of seeing that the very rich are just as miserable, if not more miserable than you are. I mean, that's what I'm (Inaudible). That's sort of the Christmas preference of the show.

CAMEROTA: And yet --

DENT: We see Beth's mom die in the whole thing. That's a spoiler alert. Sorry.

CAMEROTA: Well, I hope everybody has finished the season because Charlie just told you what happened, that that's -- I just thought it was delicious. I think that the acting is so great. I think it's just so delicious. Yes, cringey. Yes, a little too familiar. I mean, it brings true some of the really obnoxious behavior. But just so, so well done.

All right, friends, thank you very much. Great to spend tonight with you, and thanks so much, everyone for watching.

Before we go tonight, here's a look at the new CNN film. Dionne Warwick. Don't make me over. Be sure to tune in New Year's Day at 9 p.m. right here on CNN for the premier. And our Victor Blackwell has a closer look.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Dionne Warwick is a global music superstar.


BLACKWELL: But our impact extends far beyond music. Warwick's singing career started at her grandfather's church in New Jersey. Her talent and drive propelled her from the church choir to the most famous stages around the world.


But when she started touring in the south, Warwick encountered a level of bigotry that she had not seen growing up in the north. Her response was clear.

DIONNE WARWICK, SINGER: Blacks were on this side, whites were on this side. The stage was straight ahead, and I remember Sam saying, Dionne, do not turn your back on the white folk. First thing I did when I went out there, I walked straight to the band and turned my back and played to the ones that looked like me.


BLACKWELL: When the HIV AIDS crisis struck in the 80s, Warwick was quick to act.

WARWICK: I became very, very vocal and very public with the AIDS issue based on the fact that we're losing so many people. Something got to be done. Keep smiling, keep shining.

ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Dionne was definitely a hero of mine and a hero to a lot of people, as she was really the first person in the music business to actually speak up about it.

WARWICK: My role as Ambassador of Health --

BLACKWELL: Her efforts prompted then President Ronald Reagan to name her his U.S. Ambassador of Health to advocate for AIDS awareness and research around the world. Today, Warwick continues to make an impact through her colorful Twitter commentary

Collaborations with young artists. Pop culture presents.

UNKNOWN: Dionne, why are you perfect?

WARWICK: Darling, I'm not perfect. I'm just very, very good.


BLACKWELL: An ongoing charity work. And at 82, she continues to share her legendary music with audiences around the world.

Victor Blackwell, CNN.