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CNN Tonight

Trump Is Expected To Surrender To Fulton County Jail; Little Rock Will Teach AP African American Studies Despite State's Objections; Serious Flooding Threat In Southwest As Hurricane Approaches; Two Eagles Players Were Carted Off Field For Neck Injuries; Little-Known Country Song Becomes A Chart-Topping Anthem; CNN Heroes' Battle With Cancer Inspired Her Lifesaving Work Helping Families In Her Native American Community. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's it for me in "CNN PRIMETIME." CNN TONIGHT with Jim Acosta starts right now. Hey, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF DOMESTIC CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Abby. Thanks so much. And good evening, everybody. I'm Jim Acosta. And what happens next week will be to use one word: historic.

A stream of former government officials, including the former president, his chief of staff, his lawyers, a top Justice Department official, campaign lawyers, all expected to surrender in what Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis alleges was a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

A senior law enforcement official tells CNN former President Donald Trump is expected to turn himself in at the Fulton County Jail at the end of next week on Thursday or Friday. Trump's surrender and arraignment in Georgia are likely to look different from those in his previous three criminal cases.

The Fulton County sheriff has suggested he wants to treat Trump and the others named in the indictment similar to any other defendant. That could mean that they would have mugshots taken and be fingerprinted.

And all of this will happen just a day or two after the first republican debate, which the frontrunner is planning to skip, according to multiple sources.

We've got a lot more to come on all of that.

Plus, we've got a brand-new update this hour from the National Hurricane Center on Hurricane Hilary, and fears the storm could dump over a year's worth of rain on parts of the Southwest, including the Los Angeles area. So, stay tuned for that. Now I want to get right into it with CNN political commentator Van Jones, former advisor to George W. Bush and John McCain and executive producer of "The Circus" Mark McKinnon, and CNN contributor and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. Gentlemen, thanks for staying up late. Great to talk to all of you. Really appreciate it.

John, let me start with you first. You know Trump is now set to surrender for the fourth time late next week and this time the world could get a mugshot of a former president. You worked for Richard Nixon. Can you put next week into context?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I can. It's not the first time that high-level government officials have had mugshots taken, but it will be the first time a president, if they indeed do that.

So, Watergate, of course, was the history that got the presidency off the rails initially, then it was back on, and Trump is the guy who has gotten it off the rails again. And so, we're going to see it play out. Whether by regular order or special treatment, we'll know next week.

ACOSTA: And we've seen Trump motorcade in and out of his previous court appearances, John. I mean, do you think that this surrender could hit Trump a little differently than the ones that came before? And that -- this is -- I mean, somebody who is kind of the master of the spectacle, I don't think this is the spectacle that he really wants to see or be a part of.

DEAN: No. The jail he's going to surrender at is a hellhole. It has been -- it has received a lot of negative and national attention. I think any of the defendants in this newly-charged case who get a whiff of that place may think twice about whether they want to stand trial or try to work out a deal.

I don't think Trump will do that. He's always the double-down guy. But, you know, I hope they do treat him like any other person and don't give him special treatment. But he does have a Secret Service detail that has to protect him. So that will make some exception.

ACOSTA: Yeah, it's going to be a wild scene, Mark and Van. I mean, Mark, let me just go to you. If 18 people get mugshots and Trump does not, if he somehow manages to not get a mugshot next week, although -- I mean, from what the sheriff is indicating, it sounds like this is going to happen. But if he doesn't, how is that going to play?

MARK MCKINNON, FORMER ADVISER TO GEORGE W. BUSH AND JOHN MCCAIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CIRCUS": Well, I think if the other 18 are, then he's likely to. What we're seeing from this judge increasingly is that she doesn't intend to treat him any differently than the rest of the defendants.

The thing that's unprecedented and fascinating about next week is that on the one hand, we're going to have a national republican debate where Trump will not be on stage, and yet just the following day, he will be in a federal courthouse where we may see a mugshot. So, we may see a mugshot of Donald Trump, but we won't see his face on the national stage in the debate, which is an interesting diametrically opposed visual that we're not used to seeing with Donald Trump.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Van, I mean, what do you think of that? I mean, this is -- this is just going to be wild for the entire world to see, and really just a global embarrassment at the same time.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. Also, um, you know, I'm not sure that Trump is as sad about this as my colleagues. You know, he is the master of the spectacle. It's a situation where that mugshot, you might call it the $10 million or $20 million mugshot, because I guarantee you he is going to raise a ton of money off of it.


He has developed something new in American politics where the worse he does by any normal measure, the higher he rises.

You know, I don't think most Republican voters would give a job offer or a job interview to somebody with 91 felony charges against him, but they're willing to give him the White House.

He's doing something here. He's playing some kind of a game here. But, you know, as much as a normal person would not want a mugshot, I'm not sure that he's not planning on turning into billboards.

ACOSTA: Yeah. I mean, to that point, Mark, does it -- does it almost not matter? I mean, I hesitate to say this, but does it almost not matter what happens at this debate on Wednesday if Donald Trump sucks up all the oxygen one day or two days later?

MCKINNON: I think it does matter. Debates always matter in political contests, especially election -- presidential elections. This is an opportunity for somebody to break out, and somebody will break out next week. Because Donald Trump is not going to be there, it won't be him.

And so, I think that this is a real opportunity for somebody. And, you know, contrary to Van's assessment, yes, I think he's going to get a lot of attention. Yes, I think Donald, in his mind, he thinks it's great. He'll be the center of attention and use the mugshot.

But I don't know a political consultant on either side of the aisle that would suggest that the best strategy is to get an additional indictment. It may play well in the primary, but I guarantee it's going to hurt him in the general election, and already it is.

ACOSTA: Yeah. And, John, I mean, I do want to bring up this one, and all three of you can weigh in on this. The Trump campaign sent out this email earlier today, calling the D.A., Fani Willis, a fascist. He has been attacking her and Jack Smith repeatedly on Truth Social.

Where is the line, John Dean? Is there a line? Are we setting up a scenario here where he can essentially just say anything he wants and he is just not going to get thrown in the slammer over it? He's not going to be found to have broken any of these rules. He can just do and say whatever he wants. DEAN: I've not seen the statement. You said it's from the campaign, which somewhat shields him from making a personal statement if the campaign issued it. He can theoretically deny that he had anything to do with it. But it's obviously done in his name.

And there really is no line that he's not willing to walk up to, although I think he has been somewhat chastened recently, Jim, because he has backed off on holding this press conference next week where he was going to explain to the world how he had evidence that totally exonerate him from all these charges.

Lawyers got to him and said, listen, you're just digging a deeper and deeper hole, and maybe he realizes he is digging a deeper hole. So, we'll see how he personally plays this.

ACOSTA: And then, as we were just discussing, he's not going to be at the debate next week. But his primary opponents are taking kind of a mixed reaction on all this, in his ditching the debate. Let's -- let's listen to this.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: If you've qualified for the stage, which Trump has, not showing up is completely disrespectful to the Republican Party, who has made you their nominee twice, and to the Republican voters, whose support you're asking for again.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I think you owe it to the people to put out your vision, to talk about your record. And if you're not willing to do that, then I think that people are not going to look kindly on that.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do expect President Trump to show up down the line, but I think it is fair game for him to miss the first couple.


ACOSTA: How does this play out, Van? What do you think?

JONES: Look, if you're Vivek, you're probably glad Trump is not there. Because he's the new guy, he's the rising star, he's the young buck, he's the young gun, and so he has a chance to have the stage to himself. He's going to be more for Trump than Trump himself, and he's going to try and take it to Chris Christie. Chris Christie is going try to take it to him. So, if you're Vivek in particular, you probably want him not there. That's why he's not criticizing him.

Look, I'm looking for Tim Scott to rise a little bit. There's going to be a lot of punches thrown. There is going to be a lot of pyrotechnics. But I think that nobody is going to throw a punch at Tim Scott, and he's not going to throw a punch at anybody else. It gives him an opportunity to put forward that sunshine optimism.

And you'll see -- is there any appetite for that in the Republican Party or do they just want the fisticuffs and the name calling and the nonsense that is going to go down between a Chris Christie, between a DeSantis, between a Vivek?

So, that's what I'm looking for. Is there any health in this party, any place that could gravitate toward a healthier message and a healthier candidate?

ACOSTA: And Mark, one of the things I wanted to ask you, I try to ask Republican strategists when I have them on from time to time, it's just the strange dynamic that we're seeing play out in the republican primary process where you have now the ex-president with four different indictments.

And the other contenders just seem to be, you know, tiptoeing through the tulips and not really taking him on and hitting him over the head with all of this legal trouble that he's in.


Is it possible that we're going to see this debate play out in a way on Wednesday night where they're just -- they sound like they're auditioning for posts in his cabinet more than really going after him, despite the fact that he's in all this trouble?

MCKINNON: I think we'll see both. I think the people who really think that they've got a shot and not just a shot to be number two or somewhere in the cabinet are increasingly going to be walking a strategic line where they can talk about Trump in a way they say, listen, you know, he has been the tribal leader, he has been very popular, there's a lot of things he does -- he did that were good for the country, good for the party, but he's a loser.

I mean, the fact is he lost the 2020. They have to admit that he lost the 2020 election, not just the election for his re-election, but he lost the House, he lost the Senate for the first time in 100 years, not since Grover Cleveland.

And that with these increasing legal problems, he is increasingly problematic and more likely looking to be a loser in the general election.

So, they can damn him with faint praise and say, listen, he's just not the guy that's going to be able to win next year. It's got to be somebody else.

ACOSTA: All right. Gentlemen, Van Jones, Mark McKinnon, John Dean, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

DEAN: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Great discussion. A potential Trump conviction before the 2024 election is raising a host of constitutional questions already. But as my next guest writes in a "Washington Post" opinion piece this week, some legal experts think Trump has already disqualified himself from being president under the 14th Amendment.

"Washington Post" opinion columnist Jason Willick joins me now. Jason, this caught my eye earlier this week. You cite this paper written by two originalist law professors who say that Trump may have already disqualified himself despite the fact that he wasn't convicted in the Senate during that impeachment process. Can you lay that out for us?

JASON WILLICK, OPINION COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. So, the idea is that the Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was intended to disqualify confederates from serving in government after the Civil War, could apply to Trump because it prohibits anyone who engaged in insurrection from serving.

And so, on the idea that the January 6th riot was an insurrection, these law professors are arguing, and I suspect this is going to get into the liberal bloodstream in the coming months.

Trump is disqualified based on an original meaning of the 13th -- 14th Amendment, Section 3. I don't agree with it, but I think it's something that's going to start being debated more and more if President -- former President Trump continues his march to the nomination.

ACOSTA: And how could this be used by activists, opponents of the former president? When could we see this theory be introduced in court? I mean, I suppose, as the primary process plays out, you may -- you may start seeing some court challenges in key battleground states, that sort of thing.

WILLICK: Yes. So, the process varies from state to state, whether it has to be another candidate challenging someone's eligibility, which state official can challenge their eligibility.

But I wouldn't be surprised. You know, the primaries start in January. We're in August. We're a few months away from ballots starting to be printed and have the names of the candidates on them. I wouldn't be surprised if we start to see state officials try to remove Trump's name from the ballot, especially in blue states, especially partisan, Democratic secretaries of state.

Now, if that happened, there would be a legal challenge, and we would see it then go to the courts and it would start to be litigated. And then, of course, the question is, you know, this just takes one state secretary of state in one state to try to remove President Trump from the ballot and to get the go-ahead from the state Supreme Court, and then it goes to the United States Supreme Court.

So, I think we're going to see if this idea starts to get momentum among Democrats. It's going to start rising very fast in this 2024 election.

ACOSTA: And we should note these are originalist law professors. If they believe this, logically, one might, I guess, presume that perhaps a conservative on the Supreme Court or multiple conservatives on the Supreme Court might agree with this line of thinking. What do you think?

WILLICK: You know, I think it's unlikely, but you never know. The liberals have generally disagreed with originalism because they've said, so what if that's what it meant hundreds of years ago? We live in the real world. We have to take in to account political realities.

If the original meaning of the Constitution requires us to not have paper money or something that's just totally unworkable in modern society, well, we have to interpret it in a way that's consistent with how our society works. You're right that originalists say, we have to follow the text no matter what the implications are.

So, I do think that these are influential law professors. Depending on how these trials play out, how the mood of the country plays out in the coming months, I think it could be taken more or less seriously. But I think we could be, for sure, see some strange new respect for originalism among liberals and perhaps some skepticism of this originalist logic among conservatives.


ACOSTA: And potentially some lawyers representing the former president in a different kind of court case. All right, Jason Willick, thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

WILLICK: Thank you, Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Coming up next, the battle over African American studies in Arkansas. Why the Little Rock School District is going against state education officials. We'll talk about that in a few moments.


ACOSTA: In a sharp break from Arkansas education officials, the Little Rock School District has decided it will continue to offer AP African American studies for credit. The decision comes after the State Department of Education announced on Monday that the course's content might violate the state's LEARNS Act. That law championed by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders bans -- quote -- "indoctrination in schools."


Joining me now is attorney and school board member for the Little Rock School District, Ali Noland. She is representing two plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the LEARNS Act.

Ali, very much appreciate you being with us this evening. It's so late. Thanks for making time for us. As a point of clarification, the school district has decided to move forward with its plans to teach the course. Tell us more about this. Is it going to count toward graduation? Do the students get punished in some way by this?

ALI NOLAND, ATTORNEY, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER AT LITTLE ROCK SCHOOL DISTRICT: We cannot count as a graduation requirement. That is part of the state's decision not to count it. But we are still offering the course. We are still waiting the grade.

So, it will count as an AP grade, still listed as an AP course on the student transcript. And we are coming up with ways to pay for those student AP exams because the state is refusing to pay for them for this course even though it pays for all other AP exams.

ACOSTA: So, the students can take the course this year. It won't count toward their high school graduation. What about universities? Can they take this course into account as something that's on the students record? And I guess I'm just kind of curious, what do the kids have to say about this?

NOLAND: So, the University of Arkansas system, which is by far the largest in the state, has already said that it is accepting this course for college credit if a student passes the AP exam. More than 200 other colleges and universities have also said they will accept the course.

And in terms of our students, they are eager to take the course. There has been an outpouring of support. We have even had adults in the community who have said, this is history I need to learn. How do I take this course as well? So, there's a lot of interest right now in making sure that we do not erase this history.

ACOSTA: Well, I was wondering if the governor is inadvertently making this course more popular.

NOLAND: Well, there's definitely been a lot of talk about how the next section of AP African American studies may have a chapter on exactly what's happening right now.


ACOSTA: I bet. And in terms of the school district's decision, the Arkansas Department of Education says in a statement, until it's determined whether it violates state law and teaches or trains teachers in critical race theory and indoctrination, this is according to the State Department of Education, the state will not move forward. The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.

That word "indoctrination" coming up over and over again. What's your response to that?

NOLAND: This course is not indoctrination. This course takes students through 400 years of history and helps them use original source documents to prompt discussion and to really encourage debate so that they can develop critical thinking skills on their own. That is the opposite of indoctrination.

In fact, Governor Sanders and her administration have had months to review this course and they can't point to a single example of indoctrination or CRT in the course. The framework for the course is online on the college board's website. Everyone can look at it.

ACOSTA: And the Governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she's pushing back on criticism over this last-minute decision to not allow students enrolled in this course to receive credit toward graduation. Let's listen to what she had to say, and I'll get your response to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS (R-AR): We've got to get back to the basics of teaching math, of teaching reading, writing, and American history. And we cannot perpetuate a lie to our students and push this propaganda, leftist agenda, teaching our kids to hate America and hate one another. It's one of the reasons that we put into law banning things like indoctrination and CRT.


ACOSTA: Yeah, what's your response to the governor?

NOLAND: So, Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, came out today and said that this is an attempt to erase history. This is our history as Arkansans. And this is just a shameful political stunt that robs our students of important educational opportunities. I wish the governor would quit playing politics with our students, honestly.

ACOSTA: Yeah. Well, and of course, if she'd like to come on and talk about it, we're happy to have her on. We've had a chance to talk to her before about other things in the past. But let's talk to her about this. We'd like to do that.

Ali Noland, thank you so much for your time. Keep us posted on how things go out there in Arkansas. It's an important topic. We hope to stay on top of it. Thanks so much for your time.

NOLAND: I appreciate it. Thank you.

ACOSTA: All right. Thanks, Ali. The Southwestern U.S. heads up. It is facing the threat of massive rainfall from a hurricane churning off the coast of Mexico right now.


Southern California is on a level four threat, the first time it has ever been issued. Hurricane Hilary could dump more than a year's worth of rain on at least three states in a matter of days and spark catastrophic flooding.

Let's bring in CNN's Chad Myers to talk about this. Chad, I mean, this is just -- it's kind of strange to talk about a hurricane of this magnitude heading towards Southern California. How bad could it be?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This will be a once in a generation or maybe longer type of storm. This will do infrastructure damage. This will wash out roadways, may take out bridges, and put an awful lot of water in places where people live. This just isn't a desert system.

So, 130 mile-per-hour storm. The latest advisory, the 11:00 advisory just out. A hurricane hunter aircraft is on the way to make sure to check it out.

Also, now, what was a tropical storm watch a few hours ago has now turned into a tropical storm warning for Southern California from Point Mugu all the way south, even south of San Diego. To the south of there, hurricane warnings because they're going to get hurricane conditions.

I don't think we're going to see hurricane conditions in California, but it's going to be pretty close, especially on top of some of these mountain ridges, you could get some hurricane gusts.

The big story I think is going to be 40 or 50 miles per hour in most locations. But that's not the story with this storm. This storm is still now a Category 4, barely, but it is, and then it will turn into a Category 1, and then it will turn into only a TS, a tropical storm, as it crosses over into California.

So, the winds may not be what they are now because of this colder water, but this is still going to carry all of the moisture. It's going to carry all of the humidity of a major hurricane right over this area that will have between possibly 7 and 10 inches of rain.

Think about that on top of these mountains. All of that water is going to come down. Think about that on a burn scar. Those are going to be just areas of water just rushing across the roadways. This is going to be a weekend to not go to the mountains, not go to the park, not go to the national park because some of them are even closed. But it's going to start early.

This is moving a little bit faster than I think forecast earlier in the day because we're going to see rain in the morning. In fact, we're already seeing rain now across parts of really Las Vegas. But that's not even part of this yet. The thing is, Jim, this is going to rain for 24 hours and there's going to be an awful lot of problems here. This is really --


MYERS: -- a major, major catastrophic event.

ACOSTA: Well, Chad, I know -- I have spoken with you so many times about these kinds of systems heading into the Gulf of Mexico and hitting the Gulf Coast.

MYERS: Right.

ACOSTA: And a lot of times with these tropical storms, people will have the temptation to blow it off and say, oh, no big deal, a tropical storm. And a lot of times it depends on whether or not that storm is slowing down. If it slows down enough, then it could really dump a lot of rain, dump a lot of water. Is that the potential for what we're looking at here for Southern California? Is that why they need to be careful with this?

MYERS: It's just the amount of water that's in the air. The amount of humidity all the way from the surface to the top of the atmosphere is four times what it should be this time of year. That's just four times more rainfall than it can even come out during a regular monsoon event.

And look how widespread this is. Hundreds, thousands of square miles of rainfall deeper than four inches, all having to get down into the same valleys, into the same gullies, into the same lakes. Not just one storm on a map in a county. This is -- you know, that's as big as Pennsylvania. That's a lot of rainfall coming down.

ACOSTA: Lot of rain. People need to be careful. Chad Myers, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

The Philadelphia Eagles suffering multiple injuries, including two players being carted off the field on stretchers for major neck injuries. So, this is pretty early in the season. Obviously, we're in the preseason. What's going on with the team? What's going on with the sport? And this is happening over and over again in the NFL. We'll talk about that next.




ACOSTA: Two Philadelphia Eagles players had to be carted off the field on stretchers after suffering neck injuries during Thursday's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns.

The Eagles say wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and defensive lineman Moro Ojomo both have movement in all extremities, but you can't help but be reminded of that horrible scene when Buffalo Bill star Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field in January.

Joining me now to talk about this is CNN sports analyst Christine Brennan. Christine, great to see you. It's great that the NFL is back. We are preseason. But all of a sudden, here we go, multiple injuries, some terrifying incidents already, first couple weeks of the preseason, and we're seeing these devastating injuries.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Jim, as you know well, this is a violent game that Americans just love.


BRENNAN: And we can't get enough of it. But the very definition of football, it's tackling, it's hitting. You know, anyone who has ever been in the stands at a game, frankly, high school or college, too, you know, hit him, synonyms for all, you know, hit, tackle.


BRENNAN: That is a part of the American lexicon. And this is where we are. And in both cases, from looking at the videotape, these were athletes who are doing football things. You know jumping for a ball --


BRENNAN: -- landing. Right, landing the wrong way. You can see again the reaction. You mentioned Damar Hamlin and just the fact that this just brings that all back. That was January 2nd or 3rd. And then again, just trying to make a tackle, a defensive lineman. And so -- ACOSTA: It's scary.



But it's -- with all the rule changes and all the things that the sport has tried to do to make it safer, no more horse collaring quarterbacks, you know, can't lead with your head, all those things, the reality is this game still can produce moments like that.

ACOSTA: Is there anything that can be done about the preseason? I mean, I hate to put something out there, you know, that the NFL is going to say, no way we would do something like this, but should we have this level of hitting --


ACOSTA: -- this level of competition during the preseason? I mean, that -- this is every fan's nightmare, losing a big star player during the preseason.

BRENNAN: And in the case of both of those players, as you mentioned --


BRENNAN: -- they're concussed. So, even though they're okay, thankfully, and we did find out quite quickly that the extremities, that they could move their extremities, and so that concern was off the table. But how quickly will they come back? Once you've had a concussion, of course, you're much more likely to have another one, as we know.

The preseason is where, again, as all football fans know, you get a chance to see that one person who's going to be the diamond in the rough. Remember Babe Laufenberg here in Washington.

ACOSTA: Of course.

BRENNAN: Always played great. Everyone loved him. And --

ACOSTA: They're always those preseason fan favorites.

BRENNAN: Sure. And so that's the nature of this. You do want to see how these guys can play. I mean, there is that --

ACOSTA: And you have to -- and every team has to analyze it's not just -- I mean, the star quarterbacks and some of the stars end up resting a lot of these games because they don't want them to get injured, and they use the preseason to analyze the players who are just trying to make the roster.

But we all remember when Damar Hamlin experienced his cardiac arrest on the field back in January. And it's just a miracle. And he was -- he's back playing again. BRENNAN: He is.

ACOSTA: Which is an incredible testament to the kind of medical miracles that they do inside the NFL with these players.

BRENNAN: Well, and the stories that we're well aware of, of the high school kids who weren't able to get that kind of attention.

ACOSTA: Well, that's true.

BRENNAN: Those horror stories of kids playing where, thankfully, again, the CPR, the training, defibrillators, and that is what Hamlin is making, is starting a national conversation, has been over the last, you know, seven, eight, nine months. And I think that's wonderful that more and more communities are realizing they have to have that.

ACOSTA: Is there any way, and I know you and I have talked about this before, is there any way to make this game safer?

BRENNAN: You know, they've tried every which way and --

ACOSTA: No way to make it safe.

BRENNAN: Right. It is -- well, the anecdotes of like a Jim Otto, the great from the Raiders, double zero, who couldn't get out of bed and had what? Fifty knee surgeries or something. Gale Sayers, one of the greats of all time, who had to end his career. So, quickly with the Chicago Bears because they didn't have ACL, you know, surgery the way they do now, the arthroscopic surgery.

All these things are much better than they were. But if we love football, and I've covered it for years and loved it, as you have --

ACOSTA: Me, too.

BRENNAN: -- you're going to have --

ACOSTA: It's tough in D.C.

BRENNAN: You've lived a long 30 years here. But I think the bottom line is if we love our football, then we've got to come to terms that this is exactly the kind of thing that is going to happen.

But they certainly have tried. The NFL and others have tried to do a better job of keeping people safe. But you can't ensure that things like this will not happen.

ACOSTA: And it's a sport that makes a fortune. They have to -- they have to keep investing in technology and the equipment to make sure that these players just have the very best equipment, medical professionals, everybody on the sidelines, and that kind of mentality has to filter down to the college and high school ranks as well.

BRENNAN: It does.

ACOSTA: You made that point earlier.


ACOSTA: It has to be safer at those levels as well. Christine Brennan, thank you very much.

In the meantime, an unknown singer skyrocketing at the top of the charts. Why is "Rich Men North of Richmond" becoming an overnight sensation? Politics might have something to do with it. We'll talk about that.










ACOSTA: That song has been rocketing to the top of the charts, becoming a conservative anthem seemingly overnight. "Rich Men North of Richmond" channels the previously unknown singer's frustrations over the state of the country and has garnered praise from right-wing figures like Kari Lake and Marjorie Taylor Greene, with Lauren Boebert calling it an anthem for our times, in her words.

Joining me now is Variety's senior music writer and chief music critic, Chris Willman. He's also the author of "Rednecks and Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music." And there is politics in country music. That's very, very true. Chris, great to see you. What in -- what is -- what the hell has happened here? How has this song done this? What's driving the overnight success of this?

CHRIS WILLMAN, SENIOR MUSIC WRITER AND CHIEF MUSIC CRITIC, VARIETY: Well, you know, there has been a lot of speculation about, is this organic? Is this some kind of industry plant or right-wing conspiracy plant? Certainly, he had some help in marketing the song from people on the right who got it in front of the right eyes of the people like Kari Lake and people like that.

But I think, you know, progressives, you know, dismiss it as some kind of fake or plant. You know, at the peril of ignoring the fact, what the song speaks to and maybe what people on their side need to be speaking to more. And yeah, it is once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon in a lot of ways. [23:44:56]

This is a guy, who up until 10 days ago has probably not never played for more than a few dozen people in a bar, suddenly is about to have the number one song in the country, we believe. He is running neck-in- neck with Taylor Swift right now for number one.


WILLMAN: And he lives in a trailer, on a farm. He really is who he says he is in terms of a working-class guy who has worked in manufacturing and all this. But when we say it's a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, also, there's this kind of instant deja vu where it's a twice-in-a-month phenomenon because, you know, we have Matt Walsh calling this the protest song of generation. Well, they were just saying that three weeks ago about Jason Aldean's "Try That in a Small Town."


WILLMAN: Different thing, that's a superstar, this is a complete unknown, but this kind of repeatable phenomenon of a song that really appeals to the right wing, zooming to number one on the charts.

ACOSTA: And Chris, he says he's nonpartisan. So, why is this being mainly praised by people on the far right? I mean, if you look at some of the lyrics, I suppose that those -- some of those lyrics might appeal to folks on that end of the spectrum. But what's your sense of it?

WILLMAN: Yeah. I mean, he has said in a video he put out that he has always been a right down the center guy. I think at some point, you're going to be known by the fans you keep. So, if your song is only being embraced by the Marjorie Taylor Greene's, Matt Walsh's, Ben Shapiro's, Newt Gingrich has gotten behind it, you do think about, okay, why is that?

And I've seen a lot of progressives say, you know, these are actually what he says about economic dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement, would have been democratic talking points a generation ago or seen as such in that part of the country. And now, they are seen as right-wing talking points.

And I've heard a lot of people say, you know, from the left, you know, I was with him in the song and still he started punching down and talking about fat women, milk and welfare, who are 5'3" and 300 pounds. And at that point, he loses a lot of people --


WILLMAN: -- by sort of appealing to the welfare queen thing.

ACOSTA: And we've got some of those lyrics. Let's listen to this.




ACOSTA: Yeah, what do you make of those lyrics?

WILLMAN: Well, you know, it's an odd kind of conservative dog whistle to throw in a reference to Jeffrey Epstein and child sex trafficking --

ACOSTA: Right.

WILLMAN: -- which I think is what has made people think, is this like a QAnon thing?

ACOSTA: QAnon thing, yea.

WILLMAN: And it is just kind of a random reference to throw in there along with the welfare queen stuff. And, you know, 80% of the song is kind of this free form, free floating resentment of bat cats in Washington that probably, you know, most people could kind of sing along with.

But then he throws in, you know, these kinds of odd things that feel like signals to the right to a lot of people. And so, it's hard to know whether to take him at his word that he's a centrist guy or whether he is sort of trying to be this populist while at the same time being what has turned out to be, you know, extremely partisan in the way it has been received.

ACOSTA: I mean, are there other songs that we can draw some, I guess, some thoughts on in terms of -- or thoughts from in terms of where he lands on a lot of the stuff or is it just this one song that are pretty trying to read into?

WILLMAN: Yeah, it's funny because you look at his other songs and there's a lot of stuff about, uh, the word "ball" turns up a lot because he has spent apparently a big (INAUDIBLE). And we can laugh about that. But he also seems to have some kind of religious epiphany recently where he talks about being a high school dropout (INAUDIBLE), who has had kind (INAUDIBLE) mental health issues in substance abuse, and now seen a light.

So, when he did like his first sort of big public concert we could go, he opened it by reading from the book of Psalms for about two minutes albeit the Psalm about, you know, striking down the wicked. So -- and yet he seems like this really friendly guy. He doesn't seem as angry as -- you know, Jason Aldean just kind of looks angry when you look at him. And so, he has this kind of friendly face beneath the huge, red beard.

And so, I think people are still a little puzzled about where he's really coming from and maybe he's just a simple guy, like he says he is, who hasn't really figured it all out yet and maybe doesn't know that he's thought that much about these kind of supposed dog whistles he's sending out. It's hard to really know.


ACOSTA: All right. We'll have to keep listening to find out. Chris Willman, thank you very much. Interesting stuff. I appreciate the time.

WILLMAN: You bet.

ACOSTA: We'll be right back.


ACOSTA: Native Americans die from preventable diseases and illnesses at higher rates than other Americans partly due to a struggle to find adequate health care. This week's CNN Hero is working to change that.



TESCHA HAWLEY, CNN HERO: Our reservation is about 30 miles from the Canadian border, in Central Montana. You're probably about a good three hours to major hospitals.

Okay, we're on our way.

We know the need is huge for transportation. The majority of our people are living in poverty. If I didn't physically transport them, I would help them with food, a hotel or gas. I started getting into the nutrition of it. If we could eat healthy, it will reduce our risk of cancer.


We have done distributions of fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh eggs, and we joined in a collaboration with our tribe to help harvest our buffalo. Prior to my diagnosis of cancer, I thought my life was based on my professional career and my education. But now, I know that this is my calling.


ACOSTA: To see Tescha Hawley's incredible full story, go to

Thanks for watching. I'm Jim Acosta. Our coverage continues right now.