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Truck Crashes Into Christmas Market in Berlin; Russia's Ambassador to Turkey Assassinated; Trump's Terror Challenge; First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks Out. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired December 19, 2016 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

[23:00:11] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news, a deadly crash in Berlin being investigated as an act of terrorism.

This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.

A tractor-trailer plowing into a crowded Christmas market. At least 12 killed, dozens more injured, suspected driver in custody tonight. The White House saying it appears to be a terrorist act.

And Russia's ambassador to Turkey assassinated in public. The Russian government calling his murder an act of terror as well.

Let's begin this hour with the deadly crash in Berlin, though. CNN's senior international correspondent Frederik Pleitgen is at the market -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Don, Berlin police are telling us that these are forensic units that are at the scene right now, still obviously collecting evidence. They also say that they have one man in custody, however, they're not sure as to that man's nationality or whether they can be 100 percent certain that he was the one sitting at the wheel of the truck as it plowed through this very crowded Christmas market.

Now there was a second man who was found dead on the passenger seat. And the police have confirmed that that man is a Polish citizen and that's something that's very significant because the license plates on the truck were from Poland as well. The truck belongs to a Polish trucking company. And the owner of that company said that he lost contact with his driver, while the driver was in Berlin at some point during Monday.

And that he already feared that something horrible may have happened to the driver. Now the big fear here is that the truck may have been hijacked at some point and then used to plow here into this Christmas market. And you know, some of the details that we're getting from people who were there as all this unfolded are absolutely terrible. They say that the truck was going around 40 miles an hour, as it went into the Christmas market which is in a pedestrians zone.

It plowed through several market stalls were made of really light wood. Obviously not or barely slowing the truck down, and then obviously also hit a lot of people. And there's some terrible accounts of people being trapped under the truck, being dragged along as it kept on moving until it finally came to a standstill. Again, the Berlin police here is on the scene. They're still investigating and that's certainly something that's going to continue for the next couple of days -- Don.

LEMON: Frederik Pleitgen, thank you very much for that.

Joining me now our CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Hello, again, to you, Elise. Welcome to the show this hour. You have the latest on the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey? But there was also an incident outside the U.S. embassy there tonight. What do you know?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: That's right. Well, this was just really about an hour ago, Don. A gentleman was arrested for throwing a weapon in the area and shooting it in the air. He just took it out of his pocket and started shooting it. And that embassy was right near the Russian embassy and also the art gallery where the Russian ambassador was assassinated.

You can see some video there of this man being taken away. The U.S. says that they feel that there's no more danger that posed to Americans or to the embassy itself. But just warned Americans to kind of stay out of that area because between this and the assassination earlier today there's obviously a lot of police activity in the region -- in the area.

LEMON: And on the assassination, it was caught on tape. And I have to warn our viewers that the images are graphic. We're going to play it for you then Elise and I will discuss it. Let's watch.


LEMON: Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling this killing a provocation. How are Turkey and Russia responding tonight?

LABOTT: Well, you can see that Vladimir Putin and President Erdogan's messages are kind of mirroring each other. You know, there's just been some real strain in relations between Moscow and Turkey, they seem to be kind of working together now, trying to repair ties. And so they both cast this as the assailant trying to, you know, undermine the normalization of relations that they weren't going to fall for it.

But then Vladimir Putin also said that the criminals will pay for this. And of course the fear is that the Syrian civilians in Aleppo are going to be the ones that pay for this, Don. Obviously a lot of, you know, brutality and savagery against Syrian civilians in Aleppo over the last several months. And the fear is that now the Russians are going to really level the place. I mean, they don't know much about this person and this assassin, who he was. But just the fact that he screamed, "Remember Aleppo, don't forget Aleppo," a lot of people fearing for the residents of Aleppo tonight.

LEMON: Yes, we're -- I'm going to talk a little bit that with our terrorism experts in just a moment. But I have to ask you, the White House is saying that this is a terrorist attack, the president-elect is also speaking out about this, correct?

[23:05:02] LABOTT: That's right. And the Russians obviously called it a terror attack, but just earlier this evening President-elect Donald Trump issued a statement, I'll read a little bit to you. He said, "Today we offer our condolences to the family and loved ones of Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andre Karlov, who was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist. The murder of an ambassador is a violation of all rules of civilized order and must be universally condemned."

Now the White House, the Russians have all said this was an act of terrorism, they haven't gone so far as to say this was an act of radical Islamic terrorism. And although this person did call out, say, "Allahu Akbar," apparently, and also talk about -- talk about Aleppo, they don't really know necessarily what the motives are, so President-elect Trump going a little bit further and labeling this an act of Islamic terrorism. I think we'll know more in the coming hours and days about who this person was and why they did it. But certainly President-elect Trump has said that it's Islamic terrorism, Don.

LEMON: Thank you, Elise Labott. Appreciate that. Joining us from Washington.

I want to bring in now, CNN contributor, Michael Weiss, a co-author of "Inside the Army of Terror," national security analyst Juliette Kayyem, the author of "Security Mom," and Jill Dougherty, a researcher at the International Center for Defense and Security and a former CNN Moscow bureau chief, and intelligence security analyst, Bob Baer.

Good evening to all of you. Bob, let's start in Berlin, shall we? This truck attack looks very similar to the Bastille Day truck attack in France. Are we going to see more of these types of attacks?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: I think absolutely, as the Middle East continues to boil over from Yemen to Syria, even Lebanon, all these countries it has a huge effect on refugees, descendants of people from the Middle East and Europe. Europe is in close proximity. It's -- you know, it's a disaffected population, and the people still there identify with their home countries, whether it's Afghanistan or Pakistan, it doesn't matter, and you're going to see violence spreading there. This has been predictable.

The European intelligence services have seen this coming. They've warned about it publicly over and over again. And it's arrived, and it's not a question that they're incompetent, they don't know what they're doing, they're all over these people, but as I've been saying, they're getting better and better at communicating and they don't advertise their intentions on the Internet.

LEMON: Michael, let's talk about the latest information that we have on the investigation. This is coming from Berlin police, they said the truck had Polish license plates. They said a Polish citizen was found dead in the truck. The owner of the truck company says the truck may have been hijacked. What's your read on these new details? MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, again, this is somebody who did

not want to have a paper trail leading back to either the rental of a truck or the leasing of a truck. If he hijacked it, again it suggests to me this isn't quite the amateur endeavor that may strike us at first blush, right? As I mentioned before in 1993, the World Trade Center bomber tried to get his deposit back for the truck that was rented to carry out that terrorist attack. So look, I'd originally thought that maybe the truck was taken across the border, in Poland, and that this was kind of a transnational operation.

It seems based on the Polish trucking company that the hijacking, if it indeed take place -- took place somewhere in Berlin. But again this is not a random act of violence. This shows premeditation. This shows somebody who was willing not only to, you know, plow into a crowded marketplace in the middle of the Christmas season but also to commit an act of murder to obtain the weapon of choice.

And what you're seeing is exactly what Bob said, look, getting in a car and driving over people, that's what Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the former ISIS spokesman, you know, issued this injunction for Muslims worldwide to do. It's -- there's no sophistication, it's the crudest device possible, anyone can drive a car and can turn it into a weapon of destruction.

LEMON: So where does this lead -- does this lead you to, Juliette, I don't know, about the motivation and who may be responsible for it, when you listen to all the evidence that we have now, what Michael just said, the rest of the panel?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, I mean, look, ISIS hasn't taken credit for it yet, although there have been delays and we don't know if this is someone who had no direct relationship with ISIS, but was just inspired by them, but obviously, we live in a time in which one would begin with that theory.

We also have one of the assailants alive. And that then gives you a name, and that name then gives you other names. And so there'll a way -- that's where the investigation will go from here. And from the United States' perspective, I have to say, you know, we are entering holiday season, so what we're going to learn from this is to try to fortify some of these more public places in the weeks ahead because we know this is -- you know, as Michael said, this is so easy to do.

[23:10:01] And the runway of radicalization for these guys is relatively short. They're not leaving long trails behind them where they can be captured before they do something like this.

LEMON: So, Jill, the State Department warned Americans it was last month. And I'll just read part of it. It said, "The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season. U.S. citizens should exercise caution in holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets. A travel alert expires on February 20th, 2017." And then it goes on to name the people that they think would be responsible for these attacks. Credible information that they had back in November? JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. But did they know exactly

what was going to happen? I mean, you know, let's look at the assassination of the Russian ambassador, I mean, there are many different groups, it could be responsible for that. It could be as simple as, let's say, somebody who is so distraught about the killing in Aleppo that they wanted to make a point and kill the Russians who may -- they blame as being responsible for helping the Syrian government.

It could be much more complicated. It could be ISIS, it could be Kurdish groups. There are many, many different people and all of these strains of information are coming into intelligence agencies, both in the United States and don't forget, you know, the Russians are looking at this, too. President Putin today was huddling with his security agencies, obviously trying to figure out exactly who the man was, who assassinated the ambassador, so it's in that particular case, it's quite complicated.

LEMON: Well, Putin is calling this a provocation. How do you see him responding, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: It depends on a provocation by whom. Because we still don't know. Right now his reaction is to join forces with Turkey. You know, they've had as we all know a very fraught relationship ever since a year ago when the Turks shot down that Russian plane, but then they patched it up a few months ago. So they're back on track and they're both saying, you know, this is a ploy by someone who's trying to destroy the relationship between Turkey and Russia.

We're not going to buy it, we're not going to go along with it. But they still don't know exactly who did it. They do want to patch up that relationship and show that they're strong.

LEMON: Lots more to discuss, everyone, stay with me. When we come right back, Donald Trump and his team are continuing to cast doubt on the assessment by U.S. intelligence that Russia hacked the election. We'll talk about that next.


[23:16:04] LEMON: We're back now with our breaking news. This is a live picture. This is from Berlin. That's that truck that plowed into the Christmas market earlier today, killing 12 people, injuring dozens more.

My first question to you, Bob Baer, earlier in the first segment was, this was very similar to the Bastille Day truck attack in France. If you look at this, do -- is it similar? Is it coordinated? Same attackers possibly because of the weapon they used and what they did.

BAER: I think almost undoubtedly, the target for Christmas, symbolic. Very important. Germany's, you know, association with the United States, with Russia, the rest of -- it's West. The clash of civilizations. There's one report that it was an Afghan driver, possibly Pakistani, it all makes sense. This is the kind of weapon that is impossible to defend against soft targets, it certainly makes sense. And everybody is pointing to terrorism now. And I think it's almost certain. And as we've been talking about, I expect more of this and so did the German security services. I mean, they've been waiting for this for months. They've been warning us over and over again, and it's finally arrived, tragically.

LEMON: What does it say that they are turning -- you know, using trucks now, Michael? I mean, is that a new form of --


LEMON: I was talking to '93 -- you know.

WEISS: Yes. Ohio State, it was a car, not a truck. But an automobile again.

LEMON: Oklahoma.

WEISS: Oklahoma. Heeding the ISIS injunction to use whatever means are at your disposal. Although truth be told, al Qaeda was calling for these kinds of attacks, you know, way back in the day before the rise of ISIS. This is what I've called the invisible soldiers or the invisible army of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. You don't need to go to Raqqa. In fact you can't go to Raqqa anymore because the border has been completely interdicted either by Turkey or by the coalition. So if you stay where you are in Europe, and either you're radicalized by an agent who's already running around the continent who has been trained up by ISIS in Syria or Iraq, or you're just inspired by watching YouTube videos and reading Rumia and listening to al-Awlaki sermons, and then the last issue of Rumia. There's an entire magazine spread on exactly the kind of knife to purchase for cutting human flesh. Don't get knives that are retractable, don't get knives that can snap back and cut your hand while you're wielding. I mean, really grizzly sort of, you know, bloody pornographic kind of stuff. This is what they want to do.

LEMON: Yes. Juliette, you were just in Berlin as I pointed out last hour. Did you see an increase in security?

KAYYEM: No, I didn't. I was surprised, but look, any urban city is going to have to be somewhat open. It's the nature of urban living, it's why people choose to live in cities. This is the holiday season, and so you're -- you know, we don't talk about, you know, trying to create a city that has no risk, all cities will have risk. What we try to do is minimize the risk, and what we don't know right now is, you know, had Berlin taken any precautions after Nice to protect its streets, knowing that it was a target. And it's inevitable it was a target, not simply because of the refugees that are coming in, but, you know, just when we got over our election, Germany is heading into election season. And we know that those are times in which terrorists who want to make a point will make a point.

And so it should have been no surprise, and we have to learn not just what Germany did, but, you know, what are mayors going to do in the United States leading into December 25th, giving these big -- and December 31st, giving these big public meetings. You're going to want barriers, trucks, mobile barriers, whatever they are, because we do know that this threat is relatively easy. This kind of harm is relatively easy.

LEMON: Yes. And speaking of elections, you said they're moving into election season there. Jill, let's talk about Russia's hacking of the U.S. election. Here's Senator John McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is serious business. If they're able to harm the electoral process, then they destroy democracy which is based on free and fair elections.


[23:20:09] LEMON: So, Jill, what is Russia's end game?

DOUGHERTY: Well, in this, in the hacking, I think ultimately to undermine the image of democracy in American's own eyes. Damage the image of the United States around the country -- around the world. But I think, you know, what's being set up right now is this dynamic, which is you can see that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump kind of look at the world in the same way. Terrorism is primary, that's the primary challenge. So you could say, and this is already kind of out there, that they might be, you know, amenable to working together, cooperation of some type to fight terrorism.

But when you see John McCain saying, this is -- you know, the hacking shall not stand and this is Russia trying to bring us down, you've already got the Congress or at least some in Congress align themselves against Trump because Trump might want to work with Vladimir Putin, but John McCain and others will not have it. So this is going to be something to really watch. Long term trend politically that we'll have to watch after that inauguration.

LEMON: Another one for you, Jill, the president-elect continues to question Russia's involvement. But I want to play something Donald Trump said two years ago. He was responding to FBI Director James Comey who was talking about hacking by China and the threat from Russia at the time. Here it is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT: It's disgraceful what's going on with China, generally. No, I think he's 100 percent right, it's a big problem. And we have that problem also with Russia, you saw that over the weekend. Russia is doing the same thing. The problem with the Internet and frankly computerization is that there's always some genius that can figure it out.


LEMON: OK, so, Jill, that was, you know, Trump says that Russia's hacking was a big problem then, what's changed?

DOUGHERTY: I don't know. I mean, I think again --

LEMON: Maybe he's president-elect. Maybe that's it. DOUGHERTY: -- we have to have him explain that. He would have to

explain it but -- you know, the Russians tend to hack for, let's say, geo political reasons, intelligence, et cetera, the Chinese, this is kind of an exaggeration. But the Chinese basically do it for money. You know, economic, getting information about companies, et cetera.

So if Donald Trump knew that at that point, that they were both doing it, maybe he did know that, you know, the Russians do the political side. The Chinese do the economic side. But right now it remains kind of a mystery why he will not accept that. What it's pushing for and I think you're hearing this from all sides now, is that whatever the CIA has on this. They have to begin to declassify it, to convince people, otherwise nobody's going to believe it.

LEMON: Yes. What's the difference now, Michael?

WEISS: Yes, he's president-elect, and he doesn't want to say, I got into office based on the good graces of a foreign government, and a hostile government. Look, I think with Putin it's about splitting the difference. As Jill said, you know, Putin always bangs on that we're not in the cold war, there's not zero sum game. But actually the Russian government behaves as though we are still in the Cold War. Subversive activities, a coupe in Montenegro, aligning with the far- right in Europe, and what's known as active measures. Trying to sow disinformation and also cloud, you know, the waters of a democratic quality in the United States through cyber warfare.

LEMON: Thank you, Juliette. Thank you, Jill. Thank you, Bob. Thanks, Michael. I appreciate it.

When we come right back, can a president who skips daily intelligence briefings be prepared to face down global terror?


[23:27:10] LEMON: Now that the president-elect has secured the electoral college victory, is he ready to take on violent incidents like the ones we saw across Europe today?

Let's talk about it now with CNN political commentator Peter Beinart, and contributor to the "Atlantic Monthly," CNN contributor and "New York Post" columnist Salena Zito, and Bob Cusack, editor-in-chief of "The Hill."

Welcome to the show, everyone. Salena, Donald Trump is being heavily criticized for skipping the daily intelligence briefings. A former senior official for Obama told the "Washington Post" this. He says, its malpractice and totally irresponsible in a post-9/11 world. So in light of today's attacks, do you think that he should change his approach to these briefings?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think, you know, circumstances such as this, traffic circumstances such as this, and he gets close to his inauguration, I think that the seriousness and the burden of being the president and what you face when you get into the White House is starting to -- going to start to become a reality for him. And he's going to have to make that decision. That responsible decision to read these intelligence reports, understand what's going on in the world, and understanding -- and understand with his intelligence advisers how to react and how to process what all these different things mean.

LEMON: Yes. And Bob, Donald Trump released a statement about the attack in Berlin saying ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth. A mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners. Then in a statement about the shooting of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, he said, the ambassador was, quote, "assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist."

What is your reaction to his approach to these events today?

BOB CUSACK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HILL: Well, it's what we saw on the campaign trail. I mean, Donald Trump campaigned on strength and going after ISIS and when an attack happens, you know, he comes back with very forceful words. Sometimes he's gum out of the gate with the Egyptian plane crash and said it's terrorism right away before the investigation had started.

I do think that the intelligence community and Donald Trump seem to be -- the fight seems to be easing a bit. Over the weekend Reince Priebus saying, well, maybe if they showed us the proof, show the American people the proof about Russian hacking, then we can do it, but this -- there does need to be some type of day I think detente between Trump and the intelligence community because it's the community that's going to be working for him. And remember, you know, he's nominated Mike Pompeo, he's going to have a very interesting confirmation hearing as the head of the CIA. A lot of these questions are going to come up. So I do think as we get closer to inauguration, this friction is going to ease.

LEMON: Peter, what do you think his biggest challenge ahead in dealing with kinds of attacks will be?

[12:30:03] PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think that the statement that he made in response to the Berlin bombing is actually quite telling if you look at it. What's fascinating he never referred to the people who were killed as Germans, only as Christians. Actually we don't know the religion as far as I know of the people who were killed in that attack in Berlin. They were at a Christmas market. But lots of people go to that. Donald Trump's description of that attack was basically civilizational. It was basically -- Islam attacking Christianity.

And I think this gives you an insight into the way that he and people Mike Flynn and Steve Bannon knew this entire conflict. It's very dangerous. First of all, it essentially makes Muslims in the West seem like enemies within and it makes it much harder to cooperate with Muslims against terrorists.

LEMON: Do you think it's a coordinated strategy? BEINART: Yes, I think, look, you go back all the way to the beginning

of his campaign, you know, after the San Bernardino attacks, talking about not allowing Muslims in, saying that Muslims were cheering 9/11. The -- you know, Flynn, referring to Islam as a cancer. There's been this entire thrust to essentially say this is a struggle between the west and Islam, which is exactly what ISIS wants. That's the way ISIS describes it as well.

LEMON: OK. Listen, Bob mentioned, Salena, about questioning the intelligence, questioning the -- you know the intelligence --- questioning what the intelligence advisers that's giving him about hacking. Intelligence community's assessment that Russia hacked our election but in 2014 in response to FBI Director Comey discussing Chinese hackers, he called it a big problem. Do you think we're going to see more of this switching positions?

ZITO: Yes, absolutely. You know, I often tell people, they should read his book "Art of the Deal," not because I'm trying to sell his books, but there's a lot of his personality and there's a lot that he reveals about himself in that he doesn't mind switching his position. He doesn't mind -- you know, he doesn't see a problem with that, he sees that as a -- as a testament to strength, because it shows that he's willing to listen to other sides or he's willing to change his mind. I think that we will see a lot of that with him and that is part of his personality, and part of his demeanor that is probably going to remain consistent.

LEMON: And Bob, his supporters don't care if he gets two or three or four different answers?

CUSACK: No, they don't. And we're going to see what kind of staying power his supporters have, but I imagine, certainly throughout 2017, and probably going into 2018, you know, whatever he says, whatever controversy, they are with him, and that is a huge asset for Donald Trump. And let me just say, that's a similarity we've seen between President Obama and Donald Trump, is that when things got tough for Obama, his supporters always kept him above roughly 40 percent in approval ratings. And now we're seeing it well over 50. Same thing for Trump. He's got this base that is very, very strong, and they're going to be with him through thick and thin. And they were on the campaign trail.

LEMON: Let's turn now to the electoral college. Here's Bill Clinton earlier today, the former president, when he cast his vote for Hillary Clinton in the electoral college.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I've never cast a vote I was prouder of. You know, I've watched her work for two years. I watched her battle through that bogus e-mail deal, be vindicated at the end when Secretary Powell came out. She fought through that. She fought through everything. And she prevailed against it all. But, you know, in the end, we had the Russians and the FBI. She couldn't prevail against that, but she did everything else and still won by 2.8 million votes. I'm very proud of her. (END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Peter, was it more of what happened with Russia and the FBI? Is it more an issue of voters not showing up? Or is it what, you know, as President Obama said voters not showing up, or was it more just a Hillary Clinton issue?

BEINART: Look, there are lots of factors. And it's also important to remember that very few people would have predicted that she could have won by 2.8 million votes and still lost the electoral college. That itself was a kind of very unusual statistical reality. I think that what most people on both campaigns would say was that she was probably ahead a week or so going in, and that the Comey revelations genuinely hurt her. It depressed turnout among core African-American groups and tipped some -- kind of college educated white voters towards Trump.

Even ironically when Comey came out and said, actually we're not going to do the investigation because that perpetuated the story more, the vague sense of Clinton surrounded by scandal, I think that it did hurt her, and I think that we know from the polling that late-breaking voters went for Trump.

LEMON: All right. Thank you, panel. I appreciate it.

Coming up, First Lady Michelle Obama sits down with Oprah Winfrey and opens up about the challenges she's faced living in the White House.


[23:38:28] LEMON: Just one month left as the nation's first lady, Michelle Obama sits down with Oprah Winfrey, opening up about her eight years in the White House.

Let's discuss now with CNN political commentators Marc Lamont Hill and Tara Setmayer, and media executive, Kierna Mayo, senior vice president of Interactive One.

So let's talk about this. This is a good conversation, I want to have this. No one has ever accused the first lady of having a thin skin despite the harsh criticism that she had. This is for you, Marc. Watch this.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You know, I think I tend to push the challenges -- this is a defense mechanism that I've had throughout my life. You know, the bad stuff I just don't hold on to. You know. I mean, so, if we were to sit here and you were to read through some of the bad stuff, I'd be like oh, yes, that's -- I forgot all about that. It's like, oh, yes, I think I was kind of mad then.


OBAMA: But I think the way I handle things, and I -- you know, I think we as women do it, we as black women better be able to do it because there's so much that comes at us all the time, and every day in subtle ways that could tear your soul apart if you let it, but my mother always taught me, girl, you better keep it moving, you know. You better brush it off. And I think I've grown up doing that. So the challenges, yes, there are times that, you know, frustrated me. You know, this past election was challenging for me as a citizen to watch and experience. It was painful.


LEMON: Painful. Always take the high road.

MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: She always takes the high road.

[23:40:01] LEMON: Could the president-elect learn something from her about -- because she just takes criticism and just -- she just keeps it --

HILL: Donald Trump could learn a ton from Michelle Obama about dignity, about grace, about wisdom, about maturity, about patience, about discipline, about good hair. I mean, you were going down the list of stuff that he could learn. But I think the things about having thin skin is really important because presidents cannot be thin skinned.

People said the Obama administration is somewhat think skinned. And I think as an administration, it somewhat was. But Michelle Obama never worried about that stuff. Donald Trump on the other hand is on Twitter responding to trolls and actually trolling America. That's a whole other level of thin skinness. It's almost -- it is narcissistic and I hope he learns to move away from that.

TARA SETMAYER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Which is also why throughout that interview you heard her kind of throw in some veiled references to Donald Trump, without naming him --

LEMON: About being an adult in the White House.

SETMAYER: That's right. About, you know, maturity, and even the brushing things off, learning how to let it go, to Marc's point. He doesn't do that. Trump does not do that, and I think that's been -- as a conservative who was not supportive of Donald Trump, that was one of the characteristics about him, that I felt was problematic for someone being president of the United States. You have to be able to, like, not pay attention to those things, that they don't matter in the greater scheme of things when you have to worry about China stealing our, you know, military equipment and Russian ambassador getting assassinated, or ISIS, and you're worrying about what someone said on Twitter. I hope that he works through that but even through the transition, we haven't seen it.


LEMON: It's interesting. Hold on. Marc and I often have conversations about that, and -- Marc, why are you responding to it?

HILL: Right. Right. Pretty hard not to. (CROSSTALK)

SETMAYER: I get it.

LEMON: And I'll tell you, the worst thing that you can do when someone is a bully or bullies you is ignore them. Right? And that's what Michelle Obama does. And that's I've learned over --

HILL: It's wise.

LEMON: Just ignore them. Even when it's the president-elect.

SETMAYER: Well, even her line about when they go low, we go high, I think resonated with a lot of people because particularly in this election because of how low a lot of things went. I mean, you know, I've been very critical of Michelle Obama throughout the - you know, throughout her tenure on certain things, but I have to say that even for someone like me who was a critic, that I found a lot of her commentary about this election to be something that a lot of people could relate to.


KIERNA MAYO, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, INTERACTIVE ONE: Absolutely. I mean, she's a case study of being a moderate kind of personality. I'm not talking about politics. I'm talking about a person that.

LEMON: Just the person, not ideology. Right.

MAYO: Most of us in the room can agree that she gives us a general sense of goodwill. We don't feel a way about her. She's not loaded in how she communicates. And things that she chooses to say. I said I wasn't going to come on and so the president-elect -- but as you guys were talking about being the adult in the room and when Michelle Obama brings this up, I think about raising an 11-year-old and 13- year-old boy. And one of the things that they do all the time is have this kind of -- you did this, well, you did this. So you did this, and you did this. And there's no reasoning.

You can't come into the space and kind of reason them back into -- it doesn't matter, folks, you don't respond every time your brother does something.

LEMON: Right.

MAYO: And my fear with Donald Trump is that he's just like a child in that way. He's completely incapable of not reacting.

SETMAYER: But one thing about Michelle Obama really quick, I think she grew into that role because in the first term, there were some things that I think people found to be controversial as she -- you'd even kind of hearing her --

LEMON: You think that -- there was projection that --

(CROSSTALK) SETMAYER: I think it was a combination of both. It was new to a lot of people, including her, I think some of the comments that she made in the first term didn't go over very well, and I think she learned how to navigate that --


HILL: See, I think that has a lot more to do with white people.

SETMAYER: Well, not necessarily. I think it had to do with the -- what was tradition in the office, people weren't used to certain things. And that's --


HILL: That thing they weren't used to --


LEMON: I'm sure people at home, what do you mean that has more to do with white people?

HILL: Well, what I'm saying is that there's a particular understanding of how -- once you comport yourself.

MAYO: Sure.

HILL: The particular understanding of what it means to be presidential. And up until President Obama, the template for that were 43 white men and 43 or maybe more white women. Right? And suddenly the way black folk responds to stuff, the way black folk emote, the way black folk engaged the world is different. And sometimes we're gauging black people by white standards.


HILL: And so -- and oftentimes we project, black women in particular, anger when they're not angry. That they're short tempered when they're not. And so Michelle's response might be different than, say, Nancy Reagan's or Laura Bush's or Hillary Clinton's. But it doesn't mean it's the wrong one. And I think as we grew to understand Michelle Obama, and maybe get a window into black humanity in a different way, we're able to appreciate her mindset, Michelle's was perfect. But a lot of it was projecting anger and things that --

SETMAYER: I'm not even talking about that kind of stuff.

HILL: Yes.

SETMAYER: I'm talking about when she said, you know, when she made a comment about --

LEMON: About being proud.

SETMAYER: No, no. Not even that because that was taken out of context. I mean, it was at the time I understood the -- because I was like, wait, what?

HILL: What did she say then?

SETMAYER: About the first time I was proud. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about comments that she made when, like, the tax cuts were going through, and she said, well, you know, $600, you can go buy a pair of earrings or some sneakers.

[23:45:02] And it was like, wait, what? Or when she was going on vacations that were costing millions of dollars and people were like, wait a minute, you know, you're taking an entourage with you on vacation. That wasn't appropriate. I'm not even talking about cultural things. I'm talking about certain things like that. The people kind of felt that -- she got criticized for.

You notice in the second term there wasn't as much of that. She kept a much lower profile and a more traditional first lady role, which I think is what allowed her -- allowed people to kind of look at her again and say, you know what, she's actually a first lady that we can be proud of unlike some of the criticism in the first term. I think she grew into the role.

LEMON: I think it's interesting because she came from a much more humble place -- at least two presidents before her.

HILL: Absolutely. And so I think some of the comments even about the earrings as you're pointing out, and I think it's a fair critique. But I think some of that is taken out of context, you catch people at their weakest or their bushiest moment.

SETMAYER: No, she was being honest. And you know.

HILL: No. No. Michelle --

SETMAYER: You used the word bushing. Not me.


HILL: Because you think everybody buys $600 earrings, there is something to that. And I don't disagree with that. That was part of Michelle's point about the kids in the White House. Right?

LEMON: Right.

HILL: She said, look, these kids are complaining, you all got high class problems. There are real people in the world with real working class problems. And the fact that she said that publicly I think is also very, very important.

LEMON: We'll be right back.


[23:50:02] LEMON: And we're back now with my panel here. I want to ask Tara to pay close attention to this. Oprah Winfrey asked the first lady about her reaction to that "Access Hollywood" tape and about her very powerful speech she gave in New Hampshire just a few days later.


OBAMA: Well, this was -- the context of that speech was unique.

We saw this candidate actually bragging about sexually assaulting women, and I can't believe that I'm saying that a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women. And I have to tell you that I can't stop thinking about this. It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn't have predicted.

You know, to have a candidate for the presidency speaking in such terms about women as I said was not -- it is not a normal thing. So my response in light of what I was seeing from my female staff, what I was hearing from my daughters, their reaction to it, for me required a different kind of response. You know, you can't just stand before people and just give a regular political speech, and I was scheduled to go out on the stump right after this was happening, and the question was, well, do I just go out there and talk -- act like that didn't happen?

Well, that's not true, that's not honest. And that's something that Barack and I have always tried to be in this office is honest. You know, so that people feel like when we say something, we do mean it. You know. So in that time there's no way that I could be out on the campaign trail and not address how that was making me not just me feel.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: We could feel that you had been shaken to your core.

OBAMA: Yes. Yes. Because a lot of people had been shaken to their core, and still are. They are still feeling the reverberations of that kind of caustic language.


SETMAYER: I agree with her 100 percent. I was on this program the night that that broke and it was -- I was horrified. And I thought more people should have been. I mean, I wrote an article for on this that I felt as though the Republican Party was going to have to apologize to women for giving Donald Trump a pass on that, because they never -- we were just talking about this. If Barack Obama or a Democrat, anyone, had said what was caught on tape saying what Donald Trump had said, it would have been over, the end.

And the fact that Donald Trump was able to weather that spoke volumes to me about where this country is, where our moral compass has gone, and the fact that people were willing to excuse that away. And Michelle Obama really gave poignant comments on that as a mother, as a woman, as the first lady. I think she represented a lot of people's opinions on that issue. And she was right, along with her speech at the DNC I thought was very powerful, too. And again, this is coming from someone that was a critic of hers. But I felt as though she was being honest about that as a woman and a mother, and I think it resonated obviously not with enough people because Donald Trump won. LEMON: There were -- there were a lot of shocking moments during this

campaign. But the two that stood out the most and I talked to you about it was --


LEMON: The comparison to Heidi Cruz and his wife, which I was -- because I grew up with a single mom and all sisters. And the sexual assault thing, I just -- I had never seen anything --

SETMAYER: None of us had.

MAYO: None.

LEMON: We had known that other things could have -- because of the whole birther thing, I mean, you know that, but those two things to me were probably the most surprising.

MAYO: What I value --

LEMON: We talked about that.

MAYO: Right, I just value her emotionality, you know, to Tara's point. It became -- that speech in particular struck a cord with so many women, but not just women, I think men, perhaps some men for the first time had to deal with the depth of pain and fear and concern that any woman would have when someone who is going to potentially be a president speaks in those terms. So again, this every woman concept that Michelle Obama has consistently been, and I never use terms like -- I won't even use it.

But I was going to speak to this notion of being able to get around race somehow, you are bigger than your blackness, as though blackness is this thing that one should aspire around or above somehow. What Michelle has done is present a full human being, a complete woman who in her right reacted, I have daughters, I have friends. This hurts y'all.

[23:55:03] LEMON: Right. Right.

MAYO: And that's what we don't --

SETMAYER: And she did it more effectively than Hillary Clinton. If Hillary was able to do that, she might have had a better shot.

MAYO: Sure. Sure.

SETMAYER: But she actually was more effective than Hillary.

LEMON: Stand by, Marc. And I'll get your respond. But I want to hear the first lady -- this is the first lady's prayer to the country.


WINFREY: So now I ask you, what is your prayer for our country? OBAMA: It's hope. I hope -- my desire for this country is that we

remain hopeful. And that we find a place in our hearts to love each other. It's really simple. You know, just opening up our hearts to others. Making room.

WINFREY: Making room. Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you.


LEMON: Marc?

HILL: I like it. I like part of it, you know, the hope part especially I think is important. Hope is not optimism. Optimism is everything is going to be all right. Hope is to acknowledge the struggle. Hope is to acknowledge the barrier. Hope is to say the world isn't perfect. But we can still win despite the odds. That means we acknowledge the Trump presidency. We acknowledge the wars. We acknowledge poverty. And we try to fix it. Love in public is called justice, that's what we want.

LEMON: Yes. I wanted to say to the first lady, thank you.

MAYO: I was going to say that.

LEMON: The epitome of class.

HILL: Couldn't get no better.

LEMON: Thank you, good night.