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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

"The New York Times" Releases New Report On Benghazi Attack; 74 Passengers Still Stranded in Antarctica's Waters; Interview With Rep. Jason Chaffetz; Countdown to Smoking Pot, Legally; MSNBC Pokes Fun at Romney Family Photo

Aired December 30, 2013 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Next, breaking news: emergency crews responding to a fiery train crash in North Dakota at this hour. We're going to take you live to the scene.

Plus, at least 31 people killed by suicide bombers in Russia this weekend. Are terrorists planning attacks at the Olympics?

And one of America's most famous TV hosts reveals she's gay.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

(MUSIC)

LEMON: Good evening, everyone. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us. Erin is off tonight.

Breaking news, two trains collide in a fiery crash in North Dakota. The incident occurred near Casselton, North Dakota, just outside of Fargo. It's an extremely dangerous situation.

One of the trains was carrying crude oil. As you can see in this video, it is creating huge flames and dangerous smoke, at least a dozen firefighters on the scene right now battling the flames that have shot as high as 100 feet into the air.

Officials say no injuries have been reported, but people in the area now being warned to stay inside. We go now to Sergeant Tara Moore. She is from the Cass County Sheriff's Office. She joins us by telephone. Sergeant, what is the very latest on the scene, and when can emergency crews get the blaze under control? When might they be able to?

SGT. TARA MORRIS, CASS COUNTY, NORTH DAKOTA SHERIFF'S OFFICE (via telephone): Well, this has been a challenging deal in that the incident happened at about 2:12 this afternoon. First responders were dispatched about a mile west of Castleton where two trains had collided. Indeed one was carrying crude oil, which resulted in a fire. Since then there was over 104 cars on the train that was carrying the oil. They've been able to detach about 50 of them. They were unable to detach all of them due to the fire.

Firefighters were forced to let it burn off. So the last number I heard that there was approximately 10 cars engulfed in flames. They aren't able to fight it at this time. We have initiated an evacuation of a portion of the city. Just to prevent, in any event the winds would change, we want to prevent any hazardous material contamination.

LEMON: Can we talk a little bit more about that hazardous material about the crude oil. Are crews doing anything specifically to contain any of the leaking material at this hour? Are they able to get close enough?

MORRIS: They are not able to get close enough. Just in driving out here, an enormous plume of smoke and you can see it's all the way from Fargo, actually in the direction toward Castleton. So they're not able to get at this point, the safest approach is to let that oil burn off. In speaking with our representatives from Burlington northern, that could take somewhere around 12 hours, give or take.

LEMON: OK.

MORRIS: Until we can get close enough to start battling it.

LEMON: All right, Sergeant Tara Morris of the Cass County Sheriff's Office, thank you very much for that update. We'll be back if the situation warrants. We're going to move on now on our other top story tonight here on CNN.

A second top official who oversaw the Obamacare web site debacle is stepping down now. According to the administration, Michelle Snider whose retirement was announced today was set to leave her position at the end of 2012, but stayed on to help with the web site launch.

Snider's name has been at the center of the Obamacare web site debacle before, perhaps most notably when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was pressed on Capitol Hill over who was responsible for the web site's failures.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Who was in charge? Who is the individual?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Michelle Snider.

BLACKBURN: Michelle Snider is the one responsible for this debacle.

SEBELIUS: Well, excuse me, Congresswoman, Michelle snider is not responsible for the debacle. Hold me accountable for the debacle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So this news comes as the administration is touting its latest Obamacare enrollment numbers. Athena Jones is in Honolulu where President Obama is spending the holidays. Athena, so let's start with Snider. How big of a role did she play with the web site?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Don. Well, as the chief operating officer, she was in charge of supervising the whole rollout of healthcare.gov. And as you heard in that testimony from Kathleen Sebelius, she stated her name, but in a statement from the CMS administrator, we learned that Snider had, as you mentioned, planned to retire a year ago, stayed on in order to continue helping with the rollout.

The statement from Marilyn Tavener talked about Snider's long career as a public servant, 41 years as a public servant, and in that statement from Tavener, she called Snider a key member of the agency's leadership team with a formidable work ethic and stressed the idea that she was planning to leave. She is leaving for personal reasons.

LEMON: New Obamacare enrollment numbers, Athena? So what is the good news and the bad news for the administration?

JONES: Well, the good news health administration officials say is the site is working a lot better. The proof is in this big jump in enrollment numbers we're seeing. More than 1.1 million people signed up for plans between October 1st and December 24th. And nearly a million of those came in December, in this month alone. That's 975,000.

Now these numbers don't include new Medicaid enrollees and they also don't include numbers from the state-run marketplaces. And we do know that many of these state-run exchanges have also seen a big surge in activity in recent days, and despite all this big jump in enrollment, it still looks as though the administration is going to fall short of its goal of enrolling 3.3 million people by January 1st.

So as far as pushing people to sign up, the White House is working with congressional Democrats, with outside group and with high profile supporters of the health care law to share the stories of folks who are going to be covered under Obamacare and to tout the benefits of the law through tweet and op-eds to try to again draw people to go to the web site and sign up -- Don.

LEMON: Athena Jones, spending the holidays in Honolulu, not a bad gig with the president. Thank you, Athena. We appreciate that.

Two deadly suicide bombings in Southern Russia are stoking fears of a terrorist attack on the Winter Olympic games in Sochi, which is just six weeks away. At least 31 people were killed in the two blasts in the city of Volgograd located just 400 miles north east of Sochi. An explosion today hit a bus near a busy market during the morning rush hour.

And another blast targeted Volgograd's main train station, a transit point for people traveling by train to the site of the winter games. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, but the leader of a Chechen separatist group has pledged violence to disrupt the Olympic Games.

Jeff Beatty is a former CIA counter terrorism official. He joins us now. Mr. Beatty, Russian Olympic Committee Chief Alexander Socov said there was no need to take extra steps to secure Sochi because, quote, "Everything necessary has already been done." Do you think athletes and spectators should be concerned here? JEFF BEATTY, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICER: Well, Don, you know, the Olympics are certainly a showcase for the athletes, but they also have become since Munich and Atlanta a showcase for people who want to show their own power. It's different here in this particular venue, Don, than it was when we last spoke in Boston where we had one or two individuals who we believe were responsible for that.

These organizations in this part of the world are capable of mounting operations and have in the past where they have not one or two people involved in the operation but upwards of 20 people. It is an order of magnitude, a greater possibility. And I think where we went wrong in Atlanta and in Munich was the mindset.

One thing we can all be assured of is that President Putin does not have a mindset similar to what they had in Atlanta and Munich. He understands the threat, and you wouldn't be surprised to see some major offensive action by the Russians against these groups in advance of the Olympics, because they certainly have got the pretext, if you will, to take such operations.

LEMON: The U.S. is offering its support to the Russian government. It says it would welcome closer cooperation to keep everyone safe at the games, but how much can the U.S. really do in this case, especially if the Russians insist that they have it under control. As you were saying, Putin understands and he gets it and insists they have it under control. How much can we do?

BEATTY: Well, you know, it's really interesting right now with the Russians providing temporary asylum to Snowden and yet we have some tremendous technical capabilities. And I was pleased to see today that the State Department promised full support and cooperation to help the Russians. We are all in this together, really, to battle the threat of terrorism and acts such as this.

So I think it's going to be one of those things that rises above other issues, and the United States is capable of providing tremendous support in the way of some of our technical capabilities, and I believe that they will do that. Everybody has a common stake in making these safe games.

LEMON: Many people will need to go through Volgograd, the site of the bombings, and it is located just above the north caucuses region, an area with a history of violence and a region from which many of Russia's Islamist extremists come, did the International Olympic Committee make a mistake by having the games in Sochi in the first place?

BEATTY: Well, you know, I don't know exactly what their selection criteria was, Don, but certainly, after this Olympics when we see -- hopefully it will be successful. They'll be no security breaches and when we see the level of security effort that has to go into give us a successful from a security point of view Olympics, it might be something that the IOC will in the future modify their selection criteria, particularly in the area of security and not put themselves where, take Australia, you have ocean barriers. Makes it difficult for people get there. But here you have ground that people can cover any number of ways and we're only talking about a couple hundred kilometers. So yes, it's going to be very dicey because there's been conflict there for more than a decade.

LEMON: In an area that's known for violence and conflict. Thank you very much, Jeff Beatty. Appreciate it. Happy New Year to you by the way.

And still to come here on CNN, more than a year after the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, there are new questions about exactly what happened specifically. Was al Qaeda involved or not?

Plus 74 people still stranded on a ship off the coast of Antarctica. Authorities need the weather to clear before they can reach them and time is running out.

And accusations of racism against MSNBC tonight, did they go too far when discussing Mitt Romney's African-American grandson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: More than a year after four Americans were killed in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, no one has been brought to justice, and now a new investigation by the "New York Times" raises even more questions. According to the report, there is, quote, "No evidence that al Qaeda or any other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault and it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

This contradicts what many critics of the administration had been saying for months. Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz is one of those critics. He joins us now. Thank you, Congressman. I want to play something for you before you and I start to talk. Let's talk about the fact that the "New York Times" says al Qaeda was not involved in the assault and the State Department today echoing that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: No indications at this point that core al-Qaeda has directed planned what happened in Benghazi. We do know said as from the beginning that extremists were involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Your reaction, Congressman?

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Well, the one thing that is bipartisan is those members of the intelligence committee coming forward and saying no, "The New York Times" story is wrong. Both Adam Shift, a democrat on the intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, the chairman of that committee, a republican, they both said that the intelligence would lead us to believe that al-Qaeda was involved. LEMON: Does it lead down to the difference to what is considered core al-Qaeda and what's not? Because if you have to sort of read between the lines in this report and they are saying, it was not al-Qaeda, the main group al-Qaeda, but people who had sort of -- were affiliates thereof of al-Qaeda.

CHAFFETZ: And it seems to be a difference without really a difference. The reality is there was a terrorist attack. And what is troubling to a person like myself on the oversight committee is the administration, both President Obama and Secretary Clinton, defense secretary Panetta, they would have let the world to believe that it was just this angry mob gone wild, a You Tube video gone awry. That was never, ever the case.

I mean, I look at what Tray Gowdy, one of my counterparts there on the oversight committee. There is that, he pointed out, there is actually a document, internal document at this state department on September 12 indicating they thought that Ansar Al-Sharia (ph) was heavily involved. Yet, the president Olivia, days after the attack saying, that he thought it was a terrorist attack. And yet somehow the truth was the casualty when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the others got their hands on it. The reality is, it was a terrorist attack, whether it's Ansar Al Sharia (ph) or another.

LEMON: Congressman, with all due respect, it is quoting Tray Gwody, and many people who are not on the ground. But according to the officials in the investigation that were on the ground, the investigators that were on the ground and this "New York Times" report, it did have something to do with the showing of the video. And, again, they're saying that there was not al-Qaeda involved. So what makes --

CHAFFETZ: That's not true. That's not true.

LEMON: Go ahead.

CHAFFETZ: Well look, Hillary Clinton's staff helped appoint the accountability review board. The accountability review board had un- feathered access for about 90 days to talk to anybody they want, look at any documents. They came back and came to the conclusion that the video is not the main impetus for what happened there in Benghazi. The video was about -- I went to Libya 21 days or so after the attack. The entire time I was there, nobody brought up the video, because it did not happen to be the main driver of the attack on us. And I'm sure that 9/11 was just a coincidence to this mob.

Remember, this video had been out for months and months and months ahead of time. So, I just don't think that adds up.

LEMON: So, you have been talking about this. Some of your Republican colleagues, Congressman Mike Rogers, Congressman Lynch of Westmoreland have suggested that "The New York Times" report is intended to help Hillary Clinton. Westmoreland said that the Times was already laying the ground work for Clinton campaign. Do you think the report was politically motivated? CHAFFETZ: I can't attest to the purity of |The New York Times" piece. I just want the truth. You cannot take "The New York Times" piece, lay it before the families and say this is conclusively what has happened.

We still in the public, in a public setting, have never heard from somebody who was on the ground in Benghazi that night. That, to me, is unacceptable. I just want the truth, wherever that may take us. But I do believe that al-Qaeda was involved and I think there are bipartisan support of those that have looked at the intelligence that say that this is true. It was a terrorist attack and it was not some video gone awry and a bunch of people.

And for Hillary Clinton, five months after the attack, to suggest what difference does it make? That is highly offensive and not something we are going to forget about. We want the truth so it never, ever happens again, Don.

LEMON: Congressman Jason Chaffetz, thank you for joining us this evening. We appreciate it.

CHAFFETZ: Thank you. Happy new year.

LEMON: Happy new year to you as well.

Still to come, several days after they were first stranded, 74 people are still trapped on a ship off the coast of Antarctica. Authorities hope to airlift them out when the weather clears, but time is running out.

And later in the show, a very popular morning show host reveals she's gay.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Seventy-four people remain stranded in the frozen waters off Antarctica tonight and are waiting to be airlifted. The passengers and crew aboard the Russian research ship sent out a distress signal five days ago and several attempts to get them out with special ice breaker ships have been unsuccessful. Russian foreign ministry says the trapped passengers will be rescued by helicopter once the bad weather clears, but time is running out.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trapped at sea. Nearly five dozen people on this research ship must now be rescued by air. This helicopter will be launched from the deck of the snow dragon, the Chinese icebreaker just 10 miles away as soon as the weather improves. The conditions now, gusty winds and poor visibility.

CHRIS TURNEY, EXPEDITION LEADER: The wind is quite intense, not eye dole for helicopter operations unfortunately. SERFATY: It's been nearly a week since the Russian ship was stranded, locked in ice between Antarctica and New Zealand. Three separate icebreakers attempted to rescue them. The closest got within six nautical miles, but all three missions failed. The ice is simply too thick.

TURNEY: Unfortunately, they couldn't get through. It's deeply frustrating.

SERFATY: In the meantime, the passengers have tried to make the best of life aboard the stranded ship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have some singing on the ice.

SERFATY: They've celebrated birthdays.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is my birthday today.

SERFATY: But now there's very little celebrating going on. Experts who know the region say the sustained bad weather, now, in a new sense, could become deadly.

CHRISTINE DELL AMORE, NEWS EDITOR, NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC.COM: The thing about Antarctica is it is extremely unpredictable. So you have no idea what can happen tomorrow. So, the ideal thing would be to get them out as quickly as possible. It's the most extreme place on earth. So it's the coldest place on earth, it is the windiest place on earth and the driest place on earth. So, if you put all of these elements together, you have very dangerous condition that could easily kill you in a matter of minutes.

SERFATY: And it's not just the temperature that has those on board worried.

TURNEY: We've got about ten days worth of food. We just did a stock take. Our fresh food, we have several weeks of delicious dehydrated foods and packed.

SERFATY: And when this helicopter does come, 18 people from the crew will stay behind to man the ship. And in the meantime, we did hear from one person on board who says morale is getting worse and people are getting a little anxious.

Sunlen Serfaty, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Sunlen, thank you for that.

Still to come, countdown to legal marijuana. When the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Eve, one state will be able to sell recreational marijuana.

And a controversial segment on MSNBC has some are crying racism and demanding an apology. Did the network's panel go too far when discussing Mitt Romney's grandson. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Welcome back, everyone, to the second half of out front.

Last week we told you about the so-called knockout game assault in which a suspect allegedly bragged about attacking an elderly black man. Some are now criticizing the justice department for charging Conrad Alvin Barrett (ph), a white Texas man with the federal hate crime. They say the same has not been done to prosecute black suspects in other cases. Backlashes one reason, the victim's attorney tells us, his client is trying to remain anonymous fearing friends or even sympathizers of the defendant may seek retributions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'NEIL WILLIAMS, ATTORNEY FOR "KNOCKOUT GAME" VICTIM: There's been a social media backlash against my client and the justice department for moving in to actually investigate where they were invited in. So I don't understand the backlash, but there's some real anger out there and some --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'NEILL WILLIAMS, ATTORNEY FOR "KNOCKOUT GAME" VICTIM: -- backlash against my client and the Justice Department for moving in to investigate where they were invited in. So, I don't understand the backlash, but there's some real anger out there and some, you know, although, it's unfortunate, we have to take it as it exists and try to protect my client as much as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Attorney for the defendant meanwhile told me last week that Barrett's bipolar disorder may have played a role in the incident.

Don't ride the rail when you're sauced. That is a message from Metro officials in D.C. they are sending to passengers after a series of incidents involving boozed up riders who fell onto the tracks or down elevators -- did you see that -- according to "The Washington Post."

Dramatic surveillance footage shows one man seriously injuring himself Sunday after falling backward, after falling asleep, leaning against the wall, and another man falling into the tracks from the escalator.

Unbelievable video here. Hopefully, people will take the message to heart when toasting to the New Year.

All right, light up, America, when the clock strikes midnight on New Year's Day, Colorado will become the first state in the country to allow recreational marijuana sales. More than 100 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state signed up to get recreational licenses. They are expecting huge crowds when the city opens up business on January 1st.

Miguel Marquez is in Denver at the Medicine Man, one of the biggest marijuana dispensaries in Colorado.

You are green!

(LAUGHTER)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am green. The lightning is green. Everything around me is green. It is very, very --

LEMON: You're like hermit the frog there.

(CROSSTALK)

MARQUEZ: Thank you very much. It's not easy being green there, Don.

This is actually one of the grow rooms here at Medicine Man. These are the mother plants. They take the cuttings off of these plants and then they grow the other plants. This is the largest single dispensary in the state of Colorado. They have some 5,200 plants.

And what they are busily doing now is tagging every one of these plants with these bar code readers and then using these devices in order to upload everything into a computer so that every single one of those 5,200 plants is accounted for by the state. This is a highly, highly regulated business here.

If everything goes the way Medicine Man believe it is will go, they'd like to triple in the next few years the number of plants they have, 5,200 to about 15,000.

I'm going to bring in Andy Williams here, who is the CEO of Medicine Man.

Triple in a few years? How soon?

ANDY WILLIAMS, MEDICINE MAN: Sooner than a few years. Yes, I like to triple it to a couple of years if I can.

MARQUEZ: My God.

So, what do you expect to happen here? You'll be one of the few in the state open on the 1st. What do you expect the crowd is going to be like?

WILLIAMS: Well, we're going to have a line when we open, that's for sure. I think they're going to be celebratory. I think they're going to be happy. And we're just going to be -- there will be lines that day. We expect to have, you know, two and a half times, probably a record crowd that day. It's going to be big.

MARQUEZ: You can make as a medicinal marijuana seller, you can make a one-time transfer of your medicinal stock to the recreation side. How much -- what percentage will you transfer over?

WILLIAMS: We were just debating that. We've been debating it for a while. Probably 60 percent to 65 percent of the inventory.

MARQUEZ: So, that's how busy you expect the recreational side to be in the months ahead, correct?

WILLIAMS: Correct.

MARQUEZ: That's very, very busy. And how many people total do you expect here on the first day of business?

WILLIAMS: I'm expecting 500 to 600. But that's a guess, I got to say.

MARQUEZ: Five to six hundred.

WILLIAMS: Yes.

MARQUEZ: What are operations like now? I see the store in front. You guys are tagging everything right now. What have the last few days been like?

WILLIAMS: Burning the midnight oil. We have been working long, long hours to be compliant with all of the regulations. And we will be ready, but we will be working late tomorrow night as well.

MARQUEZ: All right. No rest for the weary here in Denver, but they will certainly have a celebration once the first comes.

Don, back to you.

LEMON: That is a lot of weed. Marquez, just sitting here with my guest, we're going, holy cow.

MARQUEZ: It is a lot of weed.

LEMON: That is a lot of weed. Thanks, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Understatement of the year.

LEMON: Stating the obvious. Thank you very much, Miguel. Appreciate it.

MARQUEZ: Serious story now. We're going to talk about some serious backlash tonight after a segment on MSNBC pokes fun at Mitt Romney's family photo, specifically zeroing in on Romney's African-American grandson, Kieran. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC: Everybody loves a baby picture. And this was one that a lot of people had emotions about this baby picture this year. This is the Romney family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: And, of course, there on Governor Romney's knee is his adopted grandson who is an African-American, adopted African-American child, Kieran Romney. Any captions for this one?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of these things is --

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Former Republican Senator Scott Brown who also happens to be a FOX contributor wants an apology from MSNBC. While others on social media are blasting the network for being racist.

Did the segment go too far?

Ana Navarro, Marc Lamont Hill, both CNN political contributors. They join me now.

I got -- I am going to talk to you, but, Ana, first. Were you offended by that segment?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, I'm not even sure what the threshold is any more for MSNBC going too far. I did find it in absolutely bad taste. I think there's nothing funny about adoption, regardless of the color of the baby or regardless of the color of the family.

At this time of year, if anything, we should be celebrating the fact that there are families all over America that open up their hearts to give love to children that need it.

And I can also tell you, speaking personally, my mother is adopted. There's all sorts of self-esteem issues that many adopted children and adults have. And I think it's just plain old mean. It is a mean segment.

LEMON: But, Ana -- you're not buying into that.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not buying into this at all. Here's my point. There's absolutely a line you shouldn't cross. And the line, I think, Ana, is you don't make fun of people's kids. You don't make fun of people being adopted. You don't mock the vulnerable.

They didn't do any of those things.

LEMON: But, Marc --

HILL: If they did those things, I'd be with you.

LEMON: They used the kid to mock Mitt Romney.

HILL: They use everything to mock Mitt Romney. Mocking Mitt Romney is a sport. Everyone mocks Mitt Romney across the aisle. I don't see anything wrong with that.

They also joked about the lack of diversity in the Republican Party. They're also right about that. Again, they didn't make fun of the baby, which would be -- like for example, Sarah Palin, people on the left make fun of Sarah Palin's children and grandchildren. That was offensive. It was across -- it was beyond the pale. It was unacceptable.

This wasn't a case of this. We're making much ado nothing.

LEMON: Hang on, hang on.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: What if this was on FOX? What if this same segment was on FOX and they did the same thing?

HILL: You're saying somebody on FOX made fun of Mitt Romney?

LEMON: If someone on FOX saying one of these things is not like the other to a black baby and a white family, what do you think would happen?

NAVARRO: By now, Jesse Jackson would be protesting and tied to a tree somewhere. Let me just tell you this. Marc, if you don't want to hear what they said, that's one thing.

HILL: I heard what they said.

NAVARRO: What was the thing that they pointed out? They weren't point being out his perfect hair. They weren't pointing out his clothes. They weren't pointing out his perfect teeth.

They were pointing out the little black grand kid on his right knee. That was the cause of the funny jokes, OK? That was --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: They were not talking about the scenery. They weren't talking about his wife. They were talking about the small child on his knee.

HILL: The point though is they weren't making fun of the kid. They were making fun of the Republican Party and maybe even Mitt Romney. Some would say maybe that's an exploitive picture, that they're exploiting the kid by --

NAVARRO: Are you crazy?

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Ana, let him finish.

HILL: Just let me finish. I promise you can still disagree with me. First of all, they didn't need to point out the baby was black. It was obvious in a room full of white people the baby was black. There was no need to point that out.

They were pointing out the fact that the picture itself was sort of a spectacle and they were sort of making fun of the Republican Party.

I don't think they were making fun of the baby. If they were, I'd be right on your side. This was a light moment, making fun of Mitt Romney.

Was it the best joke? No. But it wasn't appropriate.

LEMON: OK. So, I want to talk about this because, you know, you and I have talked about this. A lot of hosts ,a lot of people on MSNBC, that whole crowd, that whole sect, they criticize me a lot. I never respond because I never respond to colleagues' criticism because -- I mean, why should I? Why should --

HILL: Fair enough.

LEMON: The dog is supposed to howl at the moon. The moon doesn't howl back.

So, here's the thing though -- Marc says, Stewart Stevens, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney's campaign in 2012 said this, "MSNBC has become a club for the smug to go, to exchange hateful opinions and reassure others, each other it's acceptable."

He has a point with that.

HILL: I think in general he does. I don't think Melissa Harris-Perry represents it.

LEMON: Melissa Harris-Perry, she did (INAUDIBLE), was going to say that the kid was cute. Isn't the baby cute?

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: But again, I don't think Melissa represents this point. I think she has some diversity. I think she's brilliant and amazing. But I think there are pockets of MSNBC which are echo chambers, which are smug and condescending, and it's just a bunch of people on the left, like myself, who all agree with each other. I don't think it makes for good TV.

LEMON: Yes, but a bunch of people on the left who all agree with each other, and there's no diversity of opinion. It's a bunch of people on the left, and saying mean, smug things about people who have a diversity and may disagree with them.

HILL: I agree. I don't think Melissa just did that, but I think that often does happen on the network and I think it's problematic.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: How that segment came out, you don't think -- if there was one person in the room that said, hey, guys, maybe you might want to think about, what if it was reverse. What if it was a bunch of white people sitting around --

HILL: But, Don, I don't buy that argument. This is the problem. We do this with race. We do this with politics. We always say, you know, FOX is the opposite of MSNBC. Or black is the opposite of white.

LEMON: It's not. OK, I agree with you.

HILL: What FOX does and what MSNBC do are two different things. What black people do and white people do are two different things. I don't think it's a fair comparison.

LEMON: But, then, it's still you can't say it's OK if one group of people do it and --

HILL: Yes, you can. That's what we always disagree. Well, if white people can't do it, then nobody can't do it.

LEMON: You always said. You can't have two separate standards for people. If that was --

HILL: No. It's the same standard. It's a different context.

NAVARRO: All right. Don, how about letting me get into this conversation?

LEMON: Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.

NAVARRO: Look, all of us have friends who are part of that panel. Dean was part of that panel. He's a friend of yours, he's a friend of mine, I e-mailed him this afternoon to tell him, not a fan of that joke you told.

There are some times people try to be funny on TV and it comes across not the way you intended it. It comes across in bad taste.

This was one of those times. I think you have to be in absolute denial not to recognize what they were calling attention to was the fact that there was a little black baby on Mitt Romney's right knee. I mean, look at the transcripts. Just listen to the segments.

HILL: I agree with what you're saying, Ana. But it's no different --

NAVARRO: That is what then gives -- that is what opens the door for the other jokes about GOP diversity. Listen.

HILL: But that's the legit issue.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: But not using the little black baby on the knee to --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But you cannot use a baby to do that. They were using a baby in order to bring attention to diversity.

HILL: You make the argument that they were using the baby to bring attention to their political -- (CROSSTALK)

HILL: -- the same thing the right does when they go and they make fun of Hillary Clinton for going into a black church in Selma and pretending the class --

LEMON: So, no one should use their family members in political pictures. No one in family pictures. So, it should just be Mitt Romney and his wife and none of their kids --

HILL: No, you can bring your kids. De Blasio just brought his kids and (INAUDIBLE). It's OK to bring your kids, but we have a right to say if it's exploitative. We have a right to make a little bit of fun, as long as you're not mean to kid.

LEMON: I got to go. I got to go.

Thank you. We appreciate it.

Still to come here on CNN, "GMA" host Robin Roberts makes an announcement.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: In a surprise Facebook post Sunday, "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts publicly acknowledged that she is gay. In the post, Roberts expressed gratitude for long time girlfriend Amber, which was met with an outpouring of support from her fans. But the announcement has also opened a broader discussion about how celebrities speak about their sexual orientation.

Michelle Turner has more now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: As many of you know, five years ago, I beat breast cancer, and I've always been a fighter.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This declaration a little more than a year ago introduced us to Robin Roberts' latest health battle.

ROBERTS: It is something that is called MDS, myelodyplastic syndrome. And if you look it up going what, I was doing the same thing.

TURNER: And on Sunday, these five words, "my long time girlfriend Amber", introduced us to another personal part of her life. A short post on Roberts' Facebook page confirmed to the world what most of her friends, family and colleagues already knew. Robin Roberts is gay.

News? Maybe not. Significant? By many people's standards, yes.

L.Z. GRANDERSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One of the best parts of Robin Roberts sharing her truth with us is that she also is a very strong person of faith. So, the conversation with "Duck Dynasty" and that conversation about faith and what that faith should look like, people like Robin Roberts challenges that. And so, when she says that she has a loving partner for the past I think 10 years or so, she does challenge what you think faith looks like.

TURNER: It's been a meteoric rise for Roberts in the world of television news. She was a local reporter for many years before landing at ESPN in 1990.

Five years later, she began splitting time at "Good Morning America." And in 2005, she became the host of the show.

Today, she is one of the most popular anchors on television. But before ever speaking publicly about her sexual orientation, pundits talk about what some are calling an open industry secret. The chatter growing stronger after Roberts landed President Obama's first interview on his support of same-sex marriage.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

TURNER: The topic of Robert's sexual orientation never came up in that interview and there's no word yet from Roberts on why this revelation. But for her supporters, it doesn't seem to matter.

Talk host show Ellen DeGeneres summed up what many of Roberts' fans are saying, tweeting, "Good morning, America, congratulations, @RobinRoberts."

Michelle Turner, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And with me now is CNN contributor and ESPN columnist L.Z. Granderson, actor and GLAAD spokesperson, Omar Sharif Jr., and radio host Stephanie Miller.

Thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

L.Z., I want to talk to you, first. You and I talked a little about this just by text. And I do want to disclose, Robin and I are friendly, we're not friends, but very friendly. I had an e-mail exchange with her this morning, congratulating here. She is very nice.

I invited her to come on. She thanked me for it and said, "I'm focusing on getting better. I'm focusing on my health now." And we had a couple of exchanges after that. Very nice woman.

It was sort of an open secret, right, L.Z., would you agree? So what took her so long? Did you think she missed the window of it being a major announcement?

GRANDERSON: Well, you know, when you're someone of Robin Roberts stature, you know, you don't miss windows, you create them.

LEMON: You create them, right. GRANDERSON: So when she decided to do that was in her own due time. I don't know what took her so long, if there was a time line which someone who was supposed to come out.

We do know that she comes with a very religious background. Perhaps she was waiting. I know her mother unfortunately passed away last year. Maybe she was waiting for that. She just went through hell and back with cancer.

So, maybe coming to grips of her mortality made her realize that she shouldn't be trying to live her life based upon other people's standards, but her own happiness. I don't know. I'm just glad that she did.

LEMON: Omar, is still difficult for public figures to come out?

OMAR SHARIF, JR., GLAAD SPOKESPERSON: You know, I think so, but it's a personal journey and there is no right time to do it. I think it's amazing. It's is pretty poetic how mundane she's made it. She used social media, which is part of her every day life, to thank people who stood by her in her everyday life. It's pretty mundane, saying it's no big deal, you know what? It's not anymore.

LEMON: When she interviewed the president, Stephanie, and talked about gay rights. Do you think she -- and some people criticized her for not coming out publicly then, do you think that was a fair criticism?

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO HOST: Well, I think that -- no, I think that's unfair, Don. I mean, as a reporter, you know, you're supposed to be subject as the president, is she really supposed to say, oh, Mr. President, what do you think about -- oh, wait a minute, by the way, I'm gay. I mean, the stories are not supposed to be her. You understand how that goes.

I agree with the other guests, and if we criticize everyone for their timing of the personal journey, no one will ever come out, no one will feel safe, because everybody has a different path.

LEMON: Yes. You know, she's --- obviously, she is not the first one to come out, the first person in the news media. This is Jenna Wolfe from NBC, let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNA WOLFE, NBC: I'm actually pregnant, quite pregnant, actually.

(CHEERS)

WOLFE: Thank you. Thank you very much. My girlfriend, Stephanie Gosk, and I who works at NBC, are expecting a baby girl at the end of August.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: There's Jenna Wolfe, there's Sam Champion, and then there was Jodi Foster. Jodi Foster is not a news person.

But people have come out now usually by not necessarily the first thing isn't "I'm gay". They usually, OK, I'm having a baby. My partner and I are having a baby.

Robin said, you know, I've been going through this, I want to thank my partner.

It is sort of the second thing or it's couched in something else. What is that? Why is that, Omar?

SHARIF: Well, it's no longer the grand proclamation that it used to be. I mean, earlier, they mentioned Ellen. Fifteen years ago, it was a grand proclamation, it was a book deal, it was "60 Minutes", it was the cover of "People" magazine. And today, it's just living your life everyday and being who you are.

And what's great about this story, an under-represented segment of the population on television, an LGBT black woman is now on television, a wonderful role model for many people, at the top of her craft, doing her thing. Power to her.

LEMON: That makes -- he brings up a very good point, L.Z., because again, she is a double minority, an African-American woman who happens to be gay now. And we know there are not a lot of African-American role models in the gay community.

I did a number of interviews with different reporters today and I challenged them, each of them. I said name some, and they were sort of hard pressed to name.

This is a big deal, especially for LGBT youth of color, wouldn't you guys agree?

GRANDERSON: I mean, absolutely. You know, HBO is releasing a show I think later on this year about LGBT life in San Francisco. And if you do a quick a Google search, you will see a lot of African-American people are upset because they don't see themselves.

So, while it's true you're seeing a large number of LGBT people on daytime TV, and television, there is still a huge gap on sort of saying people of color who are LGBT on television on regular basis. So I am really happy that Robin is there. I'm happy that she's healthy. I'm happy that she's happy. And that's the most important thing, she's happy.

LEMON: Hey, Stephanie, is it harder for a woman or man? We had this discussion today. It's -- maybe culturally, it might seem easier for a woman to come out. Is that true?

MILLER: You know, it inspired me to come out again, I would still like to say on CNN, I am still gay. But my point is, I think everybody is making really good points. Whether you're a woman, whether you're a minority, I think it makes a big difference, Don, to say not just that I'm for this but I am this. So that that 15-year-old kid who wants to kill themselves says it's my favorite news anchor. It's my favorite radio star. It's my favorite football player.

I can have the life and be successful and be with the person I love. That's the important thing.

LEMON: Yes. Amen.

And, quickly, go ahead.

SHARIF: Yes, absolutely. But she's also -- we have to remember, in states (INAUDIBLE). You know, there are still 29 states in this country, you can still be fired for posting something similar on Facebook to what she did.

LEMON: Yes, I want you guys to all stick around and to listen to this, because when we come back, a few words about coming out and civil rights, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We have been talking a lot tonight about people coming out. Do people really need to do it anymore? The answer is yes. And here is why.

I know plenty of people who live double lives. They are open with some friends, not all, but closeted to their families or co-workers. They're afraid of being judged, or afraid to hurt someone they love -- very often, a parent or a grandparent, just for simply sharing with them the simple truth about who they are.

Imagine being afraid to tell the people you love the most about someone you have a crush on, someone you're dating, someone you're planning to marry. And not only that, imagine keeping track of the people you told and haven't told and making sure those people are never in the same place at the same time, it's exhausting, it ain't easy. I have been there.

Coming out is a very personal decision, and while it was my personal choice to come out to family members, co-workers and friends in my 20s, I didn't come out publicly to the world until just a few years ago, in my 40s.

I can't speak for Robin Roberts, nor any of my recently out gay colleagues, I didn't do it sooner because I was afraid of losing my livelihood. I was afraid that you would no longer watch me. I was afraid of people like Phil Robertson, who claimed to love everyone while simultaneously thinking that everyone's love isn't equal, the people who used religion and Scripture to shield bigotry, now towards gays and in the past, towards women and African-Americans.

Hopefully, for Robin, like me, empowerment quickly replaced fear once I did come out. And if people like Phil Robertson are deserving of keeping their platforms and are even being defended and celebrated, then people like Don Lemon, or Thomas Roberts, or Rachel Maddow, or Sam Champion, or Anderson Cooper or Robin Roberts are also deserving of their platforms and should be celebrated, as well. That's why it is still important to come out and say very simply, "I'm gay".

Thanks for watching us tonight.

"AC360" starts right now.