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Trump Money; Prep School Rape Trial; Mixed Verdict in Prep School Rape Trial; Gov. Meets Slain Journalists Co-Workers Family. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2015 - 16:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN GUEST HOST: Donald Trump says he cannot be bought, but if you really insist, he will take your money. I'm John Berman, and this is THE LEAD.

The politics lead: Donald Trump wants you to know he doesn't need your donations. He says he's willing to spend a billion dollars of his own. So why, then, did he stop by a fund-raiser for a super PAC supporting him?

The national lead, convicted, facing 11 years in prison, and now branded a sex offender. A jury finds a former prep school student guilty of some sex charges with an underage girl, but they cleared him of felony rape in a case that involved an alleged sick game. Does the victim's family say justice was really served?

State of emergency. Tropical Storm Erika kills 12 people already. And now Florida's governor warns everyone in his state may need to prepare for the worst.

Happy Friday. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman. Jake Tapper is off.

Our politics lead, Donald Trump is so rich. How rich is he? Donald Trump is so rich, he says he doesn't want and doesn't need any campaign donations. The Republican front-runner claims he has hung a giant not-welcome sign in his campaign office for lobbyists and big donors, bragging to reporters that he refused a $5 million pledge, saying, no one is going to buy him.

In politics, money, so they say, is the root of all evil today, they being Donald Trump and Pink Floyd. But now, are Donald Trump's actions putting him back on the dark side of politics, if not the moon?

Joining us now, CNN political reporter Sara Murray in Washington.

Sara, Donald Trump is set to attend an event tonight in Massachusetts. Ernie Boch Jr., come on down, proceeds going directly to his campaign.

That sounds like raising money, sort of.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Donald Trump is a guy who says he's no regular politician, but he's starting to sound a lot like one, shifting positions on raising money for this presidential run.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm really rich. I will show you that in a second.

MURRAY (voice-over): The Republican front-runner rallying fans with a promise to fund his own campaign and reject big donors.

TRUMP: I will just take a vote. How about if I take all this money and promise? I swear to you that I won't do anything for these people. What about that? No? Nobody's going to buy me.

MURRAY: Mocking his rivals for their aggressive fund-raising.

TRUMP: The laws are so crazy. You know, Jeb puts his best friend in charge of his PAC. They're not allowed to talk. They don't talk. They play golf together or they get together for dinner, but they don't talk. We don't talk. We never mentioned anything. Give me a break.

MURRAY: And slamming dark money in politics.

TRUMP: I think the most important thing is transparency. You have to know who you're dealing with. And right now, you don't. You don't.

MURRAY: All as Trump helps his allies raise money from secret donors, Trump appearing at fund-raising events for outside groups supporting him, where donors are pressed for thousands of dollars, according to an invitation, the money going not only to a super PAC, but also a second group, one that can collect unlimited donations without ever naming its donors.

Trump's campaign dismissing the notion that the move could open him up to charges of hypocrisy, saying Trump himself did not solicit donations from any of the attendees. But it's a sharp turnaround for a candidate who once said this.

TRUMP: I don't need anybody's money. I'm using my own money.

MURRAY: To this take in a recent CBS interview.

TRUMP: I would even take big contributors, as long as they don't expect anything.

MURRAY: Today, Trump spending his evening at a $100-per-person event in Massachusetts at the $1.9 million estate of an auto dealership executive. While the host it calling it a fund-raiser, the candidate dismissing it as no such thing.

TRUMP: I have done some meet-and-greets.

MURRAY: And downplaying his incoming donations. TRUMP: We have a small group where people. I guess it's over here,

where people can send in -- one woman sent in $7 and 30-some-odd cents and wrote a beautiful letter, and people sending in $10 and $20. And I like that kind. It's not a lot of money, ultimately.


MURRAY: Now, Donald Trump's campaign says he's still self-funding this effort, but between tonight's event and a couple of super PAC events, it's hard to say they're not ramping up these fund-raising efforts -- back to you, John.

BERMAN: Interesting to see. Very interesting.

Sara Murray, thank you so much.

I want to talk about this now with Republican strategy Cheri Jacobus and CNN political commentator Peter Beinart.

Thank you both so much for joining us.

Cheri, so now it seems that Donald Trump is raising money, or at least attending fund-raisers, or near the raising of money, however you want to say it.


But, look, he's changed positions on abortion. He seems to have changed parties or at least his affiliation with parties in the past, and people haven't seemed to care. So is this change going to influence voters?


I think eventually it can affect some of them, because guess what? As it turns out, Donald Trump is a politician. He's raising money. Even if it's not directly for his own campaign, it's for these outside groups that are supporting him, which is exactly the type of things that a lot of his grassroots supporters don't like.

So, I don't know if they really will call him on the hypocrisy at this point. You see a lot of people, no matter what he does, no matter what he says, no matter how liberal he is, no matter how much of a hypocrite he is, they still support him.

What this does mean, however, is that he does have a ceiling. And at some point, when the other candidates start getting coverage, when the field narrows, I think his support is going to fall.

BERMAN: In talking to people close to Donald Trump, the big question might be, not how much is he going to raise, but how much is he really willing to spend of his own money? And even people close to him don't know.

JACOBUS: Exactly. And I think that's one reason, if he does sign a pledge saying that he will not run as a third-party candidate, I think it'll be for that reason, because he wants to have the resources of the Republican Party, he wants to stand on a Republican debate stage, he wants to be on a Republican ballot, he wants all the benefits that come with being a true Republican, but he doesn't seem to want to really be one.

So, he's kind of at that point where he's got to fish or cut bait. I would say the fact that he's raising money, not directly, but still for him, shows that he's decided that he's going to be a real politician.

BERMAN: I think Donald Trump has decided he is going to fish and cut bait.


BERMAN: Peter, I want to talk about the other guys for a second here, and one in particular you have been writing about quite a lot, Jeb Bush.

I want to listen to what Jeb Bush said today about Donald Trump. Listen.


JEB BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only way a Republican wins is by campaigning with your arms wide open, with a hope -- uplifting message, rather than one where you're dictating and you're sternly telling them to eat their broccoli.



BERMAN: This is the new attacking Jeb Bush, saying the worst thing he can think of about Donald Trump is Donald Trump is telling America to eat their broccoli.

Peter Beinart, you just wrote a pretty biting piece where you say Jeb Bush's big problem isn't that he's responding to Donald Trump finally, but he looks kind of weak in how he's responding to Donald Trump.

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. I think Donald Trump is testing Jeb Bush.

He said a couple months ago that he thought Jeb Bush was not a warrior, he didn't have energy. And then you know what he did? He went and he attacked the people that Jeb Bush cares about the most. Jeb Bush cares a tremendous amount about Mexican-American immigrants. He's married to one. He said he's immersed in the immigrant experience.

And when Trump attacked the people who he really cares about, he didn't come back from the gut. He said things like, oh, Trump's plan is unworkable, it's too expensive, it's not feasible. I think he was being tested, and he failed that test. BERMAN: And, Peter, there was a remarkable piece in "The New York

Times." Michael Barbaro wrote that the Bush people say the one thing that really gets under Bush's skin is when Trump calls him low-energy.

First of all, who would leak that? Who would say that to a newspaper that someone is so sensitive that he doesn't like being called low- energy? But it shows you that it's bugging him.

BEINART: Right. And now you notice that Bush is saying we need high- energy leadership in Washington. But energy is not something you profess. It's something you have to show.

Trump has a brilliant instinct for people's weaknesses. He sees this about Jeb Bush. And it's true. And if you can't display fire in the belly when you are attacked on the thing that matters to you most, I think that's damning.

BERMAN: All right, Cheri, I want to talk about someone that Donald Trump wants to be friends with right now, and that's Ted Cruz. Donald Trump announced yesterday he's going to be doing this event in Washington with Ted Cruz, speaking out against the Iran nuclear deal the United States is trying to push through or President Obama is trying to push through.

Afterwards, Ted Cruz says, oh, no, I invited Donald Trump, but the point is, how long can these two guys be friends, and is Donald Trump Ted Cruz's friend or is Ted Cruz Donald Trump's friend?

JACOBUS: Yes. Yes. I think you just pointed out a very good, a very good nugget, at the start of this, that they're kind of vying for whose event this really is.

Donald Trump, he obviously wants and thinks he's going to get the Cruz supporters when Cruz drops out. Ted Cruz is waiting for Donald Trump to just implode, so that he can get the Trump supporters. So, at this point, it's kind of interesting to watch the dynamic between the two of them. It's similar to Hillary and Biden, these people who are frenemies. And they're trying to act like they're allies.

BERMAN: But it only works trying to thrive in Trump's shadow if ultimately Trump goes away. If the shadow never goes away, you're doomed. Right?

JACOBUS: It tells that Ted Cruz thinks that Donald Trump is going to go too far and implode, and I think he thinks it's going happen soon.

BERMAN: Peter, more on your alley on foreign policy, we're starting to see some of the other candidates now -- I don't know if it's more aggressive or Trumpian language, but Marco Rubio today was talking about China and also Russia. He called Vladimir Putin a gangster, Kim Jong-un a fanatic. He all but called them losers, right, which is what Trump would call them.

BEINART: Right. Right.

BERMAN: Do you think he's sort of changed the tone in the campaign? [16:10:01]

BEINART: Absolutely. It's really remarkable.

Trump is leading on every issue and the other candidates follow. They followed him through immigration, and now that he's been bashing China, especially with these huge swings in the market, they are starting to bash China. They were not doing it nearly as aggressively before.

And he has changed the tenor of the Republican debate. Yes, he talks about Iran, but he talks about Mexico and China more and the other candidates are following him in that direction.

BERMAN: All right, guys, I did not ask you about Democrats. We are going to focus on the Democrats a little bit later quite extensively in the show, but, both of you, thank you for being here. Peter Beinart, Cheri Jacobus, been great having you here.

JACOBUS: Thank you.

BERMAN: And we do have a programming note. You can watch the next Republican presidential debate right here on CNN. It is Wednesday, September 16, at the Reagan Library, moderated by the host of THE LEAD, Jake Tapper.

In our national lead, a split verdict in the rape trial of a former student at an elite prep school, found guilty on several charges, but not all. What will message was the jury trying to send? That's next.


[16:15:04] BERMAN: We're back with breaking news in the national lead.

A mixed verdict just reached in the New Hampshire prep school rape trial. After a second day of deliberations, the jury finding 19-year- old Owen Labrie guilty on five counts and a sexual assault on an underage girl, but not guilty on the most serious charges. The case emerging from the elite St. Paul's prep school. The prosecution painted a disturbing picture of campus culture, namely a so-called "Senior Salute", a tradition where young men competing to have sex with younger classmates.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me now from New Hampshire.

Boris, what's the reaction now from both sides from what happened in that courtroom?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, very emotional reaction in court. The victim in this case was anxiously shaking before she even walked in the courtroom. She sat next to her mother and sister and had to be consoled several times as the verdicts were read allowed. As that first verdict came up, there wasn't a noticeable response. This is the verdict regarding the defendant using a computer to lure a minor. He started crying when the guilty verdict was called out, but the more visceral emotional reaction was seen almost immediately after when the verdicts regarding aggravated sexual assault were called out.

The victim in the case, visibly overwhelmed with emotion. Her mom and sister kind of put their arms over her shoulders, she started crying profusely. And then, tables kind of turned again as they read out the misdemeanor sexual assault verdicts, Owen Labrie himself became overwhelmed with emotion, he hunched over and was consoled by his attorney, Jay Carney.

Once all the verdicts were read, Owen Labrie turned to his father and shared a moment with his mother. They didn't expect this. Clearly, by their emotional reaction, they did not expect him to be convicted.

As for the victim, a spokesperson has said that she can now walk out of here with her head held high. A spokesperson held al press briefing right after the decisions were made, and the following, quote, "This conviction requires him to take ownership for his actions and gives him opportunity to reflect upon the harm he has caused. We still feel betrayed by the St. Paul School allowed and foster a toxic culture that left our daughter and other students at risk to sexual violence. We trusted the school to protect her and it failed us," end quote.

There's ban lot of strong testimony against the St. Paul School. John, you may expect a civil suit to follow this criminal case.

BERMAN: That language seems to indicate we almost definitely will.

So, what is next for Owen Labrie?

SANCHEZ: Well, his sentencing is set for October 29th, he is out on $15,000 bail. He has a curfew between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. that he has to follow. He has to check in with law enforcement officers routinely.

Another note, he will have to register as a sex offender. That title will follow him for life. He can appeal it after 15 years, but again, that appeal process is difficult. His attorney also said this is something that will follow him forever. He had plans to go to Harvard after high school and study divinity. Obviously, his plans may have to change after this, John.

BERMAN: All right. Boris Sanchez in Concord, New Hampshire, thank you so much.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst, Sunny Hostin. She specialized in sex crimes when she was a federal prosecutor.

Sunny, I should give you credit, this is exactly what you said would happen right here.


BERMAN: And the jury's findings here, they seem to come down in a specific way. They seem to say, they believe Labrie's story that, that -- well, they didn't buy the story that they never had sex. They essentially said yes, there was sex, but at the same time, they didn't buy the accusers story 100 percent either.

HOSTIN: That's right. And this all came down as it frequently does to the credibility of the victim, whether or not the jury believes the victim. This victim said that she did not consent to have sexual intercourse in any with a with Owen Labrie. And that really was -- what was an issue, because in New Hampshire, forcible rape, the requirement to have force is not at issue, it's only consent.

And so, the jury clearly did not believe that she did not consent, and that's why we have the felonies that got tossed out. And let's be clear, those were the most important charges for this prosecution. Now, when it comes to the misdemeanor charges, what the jury found was yes, they had sex --

BERMAN: Which is different than what he said.

HOSTIN: Right. Yes, they did have sex, but it's statutory rape charge because of her age, the fact that they had sex means that he is guilty of misdemeanor sex assault.

So, while not a lot of exposure in terms of time for that, I think what is very important here is that he will have to register as a sex offender. And that's what was important to me when I was a prosecutor. I did try cases sort of like this with this Romeo and Juliet law where you had misdemeanor sex assault.

[16:20:01] And what was most important for a prosecutor was to have the sex offender registration.

BERMAN: Let's talk about consent. What made the jury think, having listen to this case and watch it closely, why did they say that apparently, there was consent?

HOSTIN: Well, you know, I think when I listened, at least, to the victim on the witness stand. She made it very clear that she did not believe -- rather sort of made it clear that Owen may not have known that she did not want to consent. She said, no to everything below the belt, but OK for things above the belt and then she says, she froze. And so, that freezing meant that she wasn't necessarily saying no, and he got the impression that this was consensual.

And that was always going to be problematic. What's also problematic is she told the school nurse that it was consensual. I can't imagine that the jury just immediately disregarded that.

And that's a problem with these sex cases. I think we have to look at them a little bit differently because, no does mean no, and no is not necessarily a word, no can be an action. I think our sex laws really need to evolve. It makes it very difficult for prosecutors across this country to try these kinds of cases.

So, I wouldn't say this is a win for anyone, but I certainly think it's a win in terms of the fact that we're talking about this rape culture that does exist on campuses. BERMAN: Yes. Two points I do want to get to here, 11 years maximum

in prison. Most of that is for the felony computer charge, do you think he'll serve 11 years?

HOSTIN: No, no way. I mean, the felony -- the computer charge, that's seven years, each misdemeanor, there are four of them, one year apiece. In a case like this, we're usually talking about is a limited amount of jail time, if any, if any, probation, supervised, and then sex offender registry.

BERMAN: Quickly, quickly, the family made that the case is St. Paul sponsored a toxic culture that exposed their daughter to sexual violence. This is the first step in a costly civil lawsuit.

HOSTIN: I think there's no question about it. And again, I really think that campuses have to have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior. It was very clear that everyone knew, John, about this senior salute. They knew about the culture, and sort of looked the other way.

College campuses, boarding schools, high schools, they cannot look the other way. We have to teach our teens about the responsibility of sexual behavior and certainly about the responsibility of consent.

BERMAN: We all have to teach that. That's for sure.

HOSTIN: That's right.

BERMAN: Sunny Hostin, great to have you here, thank you so much.

HOSTIN: You bet.

BERMAN: Coming up, inside the apartment of the man who killed a photographer and reporter on live TV. What it says about his life in the months leading up to the shooting.

Plus, a state of emergency declared in Florida as people there brace for a tropical storm, tropical storm Erika, look at it there. When is it expected to hit? And how bad will it be?


[16:27:10] BERMAN: Welcome back to the lead.

The national lead, an emotional day at WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia. Employees there are coping with the deaths still of two coworkers.

Today, Governor Terry McAuliffe met with the staff of the TV station and with the family of reporter Alison Parker.

We learned today that both she and photographer Adam Ward, they were shot at least once in the head. The gunman ambushed them early Wednesday on live TV. They were interviewing Vicki Gardner. Her husband is sharing news about what she endured since the horrific morning. Police are tracking the killer's every move, lifestyle, aggressive and

combative background. New video shows the inside of his apartment, in Roanoke, Virginia.

CNN justice correspondent Pamela Brown, digging into all of this, joins us now --Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, today we're learning police believe Vester Flanagan was heading towards a pre- planned investigation and with a car pool of supplies including weapons, investigators can only guess what he planned to do next.

This as we learn new details about the horrific murders through the husband of the lone survivor.


BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, we are hearing for the first time the account of Vicki Gardner, the lone survivor in Wednesday's deadly attack. Her husband, Tim, told ABC News Vicki never saw the gunman, Vester Flanagan, before he opened fire.

TIM GARDNER, VICKI GARDNER'S WIFE: She shot three times at my wife. And she was trying to dodge everything. He missed twice, and then she dove to the ground and curled up in a ball and that's when he shot her in the back. Pulled the trigger several times and only fired once.

BROWN: But he says that one bullet nearly took her life.

GARDNER: She got up and walked to the ambulance after being shot, but she didn't know the extent of her injuries at that point. But the surgeon told me that a couple of centimeters and she wouldn't be walking and she wouldn't be alive.

BROWN: New video offers a glimpse inside Vester Flanagan's bare Virginia apartment. In the video obtained by NBC News, his bed is stripped, dirty dishes filled the sink, and there are head shots of himself taped to the fridge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounds like he was almost in a free fall. Had he had support, had he had maybe some mental health intervention, had he had that, that could have prevented him from continuing on that downward spiral where revenge was really the answer for him.

BROWN: Despite boasting on social media following the shooting, court records show Flanagan texted a friend after the attack, eluding to having done something stupid.

Investigators tell CNN, they believe Flanagan was heading toward a specific location when they confronted him heading north on a Virginia highway. Evidence also indicates the former reporter had been planning his attack for some time. And the car he rented days before the murders, police found a possible disguise, including a wig, shawl, and sunglasses. They also found three license plates as well as a gun and ammunition.

Today, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe visited the local station where Alison Parker and Adam Ward worked.