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Evidence Suggests Actor Jussie Smollett May Have Orchestrated Attack; Trump Faces Challenges in Court, Congress Over Emergency Declaration; Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 17, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- the pages Friday after CNN asked about them, saying the pages need to disclose their affiliation with their parent company in order to get back on the platform.

The company also released a statement following CNN's reporting saying in part, I'm quoting now, "People connecting with pages shouldn't be misled about who's behind them. Just as we've stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year. we'll continue improving so people can get more information about the pages they follow," end quote.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin with a startling new twist in the reported attack on "Empire" star Jussie Smollett. Investigators say new evidence is leading them to believe Smollett may have been behind his own attack.

Here's CNN's Victor Blackwell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN that Chicago Police believe actor Jussie Smollett paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him that he reported late last month, an allegation Smollett denies.

The men, who were brothers, were arrested Wednesday but released without charges Friday after Chicago Police cited the discovery of new evidence. The sources told CNN the two men are now cooperating fully with law enforcement.

GLORIA SCHMIDT, ATTORNEY FOR MEN ARRESTED AND RELEASED IN SMOLLETT CASE: Innocence prevailed. All right. My guys are walking home. They're not charged. They are not suspects in this case.

BLACKWELL: Smollett told authorities he was attacked in late January by two men who were yelling out racial and homophobic slurs. He said one attacker put a rope around his neck and poured an unknown chemical substance on him.

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR, "EMPIRE": I noticed the rope around my neck and I started screaming and I said, there's a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) rope around my neck.

BLACKWELL: The sources told CNN there are records that show the two brothers purchased the rope found around Smollett's neck at a hardware store in Chicago.

In a statement to CNN, Smollett's attorneys wrote, "As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Noting is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."

Smollett claims his attackers referenced President Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

SMOLLETT: And I see the attacker, masked, and he said, this MAGA country (EXPLETIVE DELETED), punches me right in the face. So I punched him back. And then we started tussling. You know, it was very icy.

BLACKWELL: But he refutes reports that he told police the attackers wore MAGA hats.

SMOLLETT: I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). They called me a (EXPLETIVE DELETED). There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.

BLACKWELL: And during the same ABC News interview, he expressed frustration about not being believed.

SMOLLETT: It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Our thanks to Victor Blackwell for that report. Chicago Police say they are waiting to speak with Smollett again as soon as possible.

I want to bring in Nader Issa. He is a reporter with the "Chicago Sun-Times" and has been covering this story extensively.

All right. So where are Chicago Police right now on being able to talk to Smollett again?

NADER ISSA, REPORTER, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well, the latest we reported yesterday is that investigators are looking to speak to Smollett again. They said that the trajectory of the investigation has shifted. They want to ask him more questions, basically based on evidence they got from the two brothers who were arrested.

WHITFIELD: Mm-hmm. Now initially Chicago Police said they were treating this very seriously. Now you're saying that they are saying the trajectory has shifted. What does that mean exactly?

ISSA: Well, they were specific in not saying that Smollett is a suspect. So I'm not sure we can go there just yet. What we've reported is that investigators want to find out whether Smollett paid the two men. That's their latest lead. What that means, we don't know, but it definitely has shifted.

There's a sense that this is a new part of the investigation that they're looking into, whether this was staged in any way.

WHITFIELD: So while Chicago Police said at the very beginning they're treating this very seriously, what were you hearing from your readers? What were you hearing from people as you were doing your reporting, talking to people about how people expressed either what seemed to be accuracies or inaccuracies about the initial report?

[16:05:08] ISSA: Well, as far as we're concerned, I can't speak for other media, we've reported what police told us Smollett told them. We got the police report. And it's just a matter of fact that we reported what was accurate at the time.

Now that's also what police believed. They have been treating Smollett as a suspect this entire time. And the sense in Chicago -- I know you asked that -- is this is has dragged on for a while. We just had a story last week from one of our reporters Tom Schuba. He spoke to the mother of a homicide victim. And she made a comment that, you know, there are 15 detectives working on this case downtown. Meanwhile, I'm not able to get information on my son, who's been shot.

So that's just the feeling in Chicago. One way or another, people want this to be resolved.

WHITFIELD: Yes, different kinds of frustrations. And you mentioned, you know, Chicago Police were treating him -- you meant to say treating him as a victim, right, not as a suspect?

ISSA: Treating him as a victim, yes. My bad.

WHITFIELD: OK. No problem. All right. So you also report in the "Chicago Sun-Times" that according to sources, and I'm quoting now from, you know, your paper, "Detectives were able to trace the two men who were questioned through ride hailing and taxi records from the area where Smollett said the attack happened."

So what does that mean in terms of police being able to find people to either corroborate or place them in the area of this alleged attack?

ISSA: Well, police have essentially come out and said they were in the area. So they have said based off the grainy surveillance images that they released a few days after the attack where it looked like basically two shadows. They said the two brothers were the men in those surveillance cameras. The way they tracked them was looking at ride-hailing data from the area. They saw who was picked up in the area. And that street, by the way, it's just like a very small street. Smollett's apartment building or condo building is at the end of a

dead end. So anyone who's going to be picked up in that area, especially at 2:00 a.m., there's not going to be many people.

WHITFIELD: So apartment --

ISSA: So they use that data to --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Sorry, go ahead.

ISSA: So there's not going to be that many people in the area. So they use that data to trace them back to where they went home. We have a source who told us they even have a doorbell camera that showed their faces after they got home. And so they just -- police base all this together and found out that these were the two guys in the surveillance image.

WHITFIELD: And you mentioned apartment area, which then says there are people in the area who could have seen or heard something. And what did police say about eyewitnesses or people who heard anything?

ISSA: Police themselves haven't come out and said anything about eyewitnesses witnessing the attack. It was actually -- anyone who knows Chicago knows there are some streets that have an upper and a lower. So the most popular one, the most famous one is upper and lower Wacker Drive. The street where this happened, Wacker, has an upper and a lower. So this actually happened on Lower Wacker, where police say there are surveillance cameras that show where this attack might have happened.

And I went there the next day after the attack, and there just isn't much traffic, especially at that time of night.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nader Issa, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

ISSA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Amid a flurry of lawsuits over the president's emergency declaration along the southern border, Democrats are drawing a line in the sand and calling the move unconstitutional. But do they have the power to stop it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:12:59] WHITFIELD: The legal battle lines are being drawn following the president's declaration of a national emergency at the southern border. Democrats are vowing to fight the declaration in court and in Congress. Opponents are calling for a day of national events tomorrow to protest the declaration on Presidents' Day. Republicans remain divided on the president's move to bypass Congress to fund his border wall.

Well, today the president's supporters arguing the declaration is needed to deal with the border crisis, but Democrats say the president's national emergency is unconstitutional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: This is the first time a president has tried to declare an emergency when Congress explicitly rejected funding for the particular project that the president is advocating. And in saying just the other day that he didn't really need to do this, he just wanted to do it because it would help things go faster, he's pretty much daring the court to strike this down.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: All I know is this is a serious situation. This is a crisis. Look at the drug problem, the human trafficking problem, the gang violence problem. That's why we need the border security wall. And that's what the president has committed to making sure happens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood is in West Palm Beach, Florida, not far from where the president is spending the weekend.

So, Sarah, what is the White House saying about these challenges ahead in the court and in Congress?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the White House is saying that they are prepared to defend this declaration against these expected challenges from Capitol Hill and from the courts. White House officials say they drafted this declaration with those expected legal battles in mind.

Of course, there's been resistance to the national emergency declaration on both sides of the aisle from Republicans who are concerned about the precedent that a national emergency declaration might set from Democrats who have always been opposed to the construction of the wall, no matter the source of the funds.

The president only declared that national emergency after he was forced to sign a spending bill that provided less than half of the funding for his border wall than he had set out to get months ago.

[16:15:03] Stephen Miller, a top aide to President Trump, said today on "FOX News Sunday" that the president would veto a resolution of disapproval potentially if one is passed, if one is sent to his desk, as House Democrats have already vowed to try to do. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Will the president veto that, which would be the first veto of his presidency?

STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, obviously the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration, Chris. And I know that we're out of time, but again I want to make this point. There's no threat --

WALLACE: So yes, he will veto?

MILLER: He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed, but the fact that they're even talking about a resolution of disapproval shows you this is a statutory issue in a statutory delegation that Congress made.

But again I want to make this point. This is a deep, intellectual problem that is plaguing this city, which is that we've had thousands of Americans die year after year after year because of threats crossing our southern border. We have families and communities that are left unprotected and undefended. We have international narco terrorist organizations.

This is a threat in our country. Not overseas, not in Belarus, not in Zimbabwe, not in Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, but right here. And if the president can't defend this country, then he cannot fulfill his constitutional oath of office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now beyond the resolution of disapproval, the Trump administration could also face other roadblocks in courts. Groups could challenge the constitutionality of the declaration and landowners along the southern border who have property there, they are expected to bring cases to try to prevent the administration from using eminent domain to build the wall.

So even though the Trump administration is trying to use this declaration to unlock roughly $6 billion in additional funds, Fred, the only money guaranteed to go toward the wall at this point is the $1.4 billion included in the spending bill Trump also signed Friday.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much.

All right. With me now, Ron Brownstein, the senior editor at the "Atlantic" and a CNN senior political analyst. Molly Ball is a national political correspondent for "TIME" and a CNN political analyst. And Max Boot is a columnist for the "Washington Post" and a CNN global affairs analyst.

Good to see all of you.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Hey, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Ron, you heard Steve Miller, you know, on the air maintaining that the president's, you know, move is about defending the country. But does the White House still have to prove an emergency, especially when it means reallocating money that Congress has already designated elsewhere?

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, as Chris Wallace, you know, pointed out to Steve Miller today, the number -- the level of crossings is down dramatically from earlier in this century. The undocumented population peaked in 2007. It's about a million and a half lower now. And even before you get to the president's language on Friday, it's kind of hard to look objectively at where we are and say this is an emergency situation that is different than what we have faced.

Now it is likely that the House Democrats, I'm virtually certain they will pass a resolution of disapproval. It would not be shocking if the Senate can get three, four, five Republicans to join and pass a resolution of disapproval. Whether, whoever, they can get enough to overcome a veto is a completely different matter. And that's why this will probably end up being decided by how John Roberts feels about it when it ultimately reaches his desk.

WHITFIELD: Right. Tammy Duckworth was asked about that very possibility. And this is what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you have enough votes in the Senate to put a joint resolution of termination on the president's desk?

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: I think we do. Now whether we have enough for an override in veto, that's a different story. But frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from them the military and the DOD to go build this wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So, Molly, the bottom line is, will Republicans stand with the president, or -- I mean, we already saw from at least six immediately following that Rose Garden who say, you know, this is a mistake, not wise, or will, you know, they stand principally with the power of the purse, which is supposed to be in the hands of Congress?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that it's a really important point for Congress right now, which way the Republicans in the Senate decide to go. It's potentially a turning point in the Trump presidency if they do decide to defy him so publicly. And even if they pass a resolution, you know, with only 50-some votes knowing that he might veto it, they're still daring him to do that.

They're still daring him to provoke that clash with the Congress that even if the president wins it, it will have been, I think, a really important moment for escalating the tension between the president and his own party, which has mostly been simmering under the surface for the past two years. But, you know, we know that a lot of Republicans in the Senate grumble under their breath about things that the president does, but then they mostly haven't done anything about it. If he forces that confrontation because he's the one who started this fight. There's no telling where that could go.

I think the other really important factor is that Congress has a week off. And that is traditionally when members go home and take the temperature of the public, see what people are talking about.

[16:20:07] So depending on how much pushback they're getting from their constituents or if their constituents are telling them to stand with the president, that could make a difference. WHITFIELD: So, Max, how do you see this could be a moment of truth?

You know, will the GOP stand with the president, or will it do something else?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think it is a moment of truth, Fredricka. And unfortunately, I'm very pessimistic about the odds that Republicans in Congress will actually carry out their oaths of office and uphold and defend the Constitution instead of simply catering to President Trump's whims.

Now if they have any iota or shred of self-respect after talking for years about the importance of upholding the Constitution after lambasting President Obama for his use of executive power, I mean, you could --

WHITFIELD: Which is different from declaring a national emergency.

BOOT: Well, exactly. I mean, this is going even farther than what President Obama did in terms of using executive power, the kind of executive power Republicans harshly criticized him for, some even suggesting that he should be impeached. And now if Republicans turn around and allow this unprecedented use of the emergency power to do an end run around Congress' Article I duty to appropriate funds, that will be a major blow to our republic.

That would be an undermining of the Constitution. And it will really be establishing the Republican Party as an authoritarian party that is not willing to uphold our democratic norms and the Constitution itself, that they're willing to do whatever President Trump wants. And I know that a lot of Republicans realize that, and they're very concerned about this declaration of emergency.

But how many of them will actually have the guts to vote against President Trump? And based on the last two years, you'd have to say very few.

WHITFIELD: Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: And can I just add that, I mean, the likelihood is that the vast majority of Republicans in both the Senate and the House will support him on this, even if some break away. And that will just continue the extent to which he is refashioning this party. Not only in an authoritarian direction, as Max just said, but also in a kind of nativist and insular direction. I mean, the fact is back in 2016, there were very few Republicans who were echoing his call for a border-to-border wall. And now that opposition has almost completely evaporated.

You know, the reason he doesn't -- last year he killed a deal that would have given him $25 billion for the wall because it did not also include the biggest reduction in legal immigration since the 1920s. Three-quarters of Republicans in both chambers voted to cut immigration by over 40 percent, much more than in the past.

And you see how he is kind of wallowing in the party into defining itself as kind of an institution that is systemically hostile not only to immigration but to the broader level of demographic change in the country with consequences that I think will compound through the decade as the millennial generations and the even more diverse post- millennial generation move further into the electorate.

WHITFIELD: So perhaps, Max, that kind of underscores why the president might feel emboldened. I mean, already, you know, the Trump-Pence campaign, re-election campaign is asking people to make donations because they're short, you know, on some money to complete the wall. I mean, this is it. And it goes different ways, whether it's $2 million, you know, to simply donate or if it's $2 million that somehow the campaign is going to turn, you know, toward the funding of the wall.

You, however, you know, have been writing, you know, Max, that all of this -- you know, this exemplifies the president, and I'm quoting now, "systemically violating our democratic norms." What is your greatest concern here? Especially as Ron says, you know, the president is refashioning the GOP.

BOOT: Well, that's right. He is refashioning the GOP in a direction that I don't recognize, having grown up as a Republican in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan, who is pro-immigration. Now what you're seeing Trump doing, as I argue in that article, is that he is systemically violating the norms of our democracy.

Now we don't yet know if he's violating the law. And it's possible that even though this seems to be a clear violation of the Constitution, it's possible that a court -- Supreme Court packed by the Republicans may grant Trump the authority to do this, just as they granted him the authority on the travel ban. But that should not obviate the fact that this is in fact a violation of our democratic norms, the separation of powers.

And there's so many other norms that President Trump has violated. I mean, small ones, like you expect the president to work hard and pay attention to his intelligence briefing. Whereas President Trump rolls into the Oval Office around 11:00 a.m. the more significant norms have to do with obstructing justice, politicizing the Justice Department, and now attacking the Congress' Article I power to appropriate money.

This is really undermining our democracy. And this is going to be a threat that we're going to have to deal with for a long time to come, even long after President Trump is gone from office because these Republicans are not upholding their oaths to defend the Constitution.

WHITFIELD: So, Molly, do you see perhaps that fundraising, you know, e-mail just kind of underscoring the president's confidence that the party, the GOP is behind him, you know, whether these are new norms or not? He's got backing.

[16:25:09] BALL: Yes, I mean, as Ron was saying, Trump has taken what was once a principled conservative party and turned it into what many even Republicans worry is kind of a cult of personality and particularly this fixation on the immigration issue. The insistence on placing it front and center as the Republican Party's primary concern, saying that it's the biggest crisis facing our country, even many Republicans who agree with what he wants to do on immigration worry that making the party solely associated with that issue really narrows its appeal.

And from a political standpoint, I mean, we saw it in the midterms. It was all caravan all the time for the last few weeks. How did that go for Republicans in the House of Representatives? So I think Republicans are losing faith that the president has a winning political instinct here. And if there's anything we know about politicians is that they respond to their perceived political incentives.

If they start to feel like being with Trump is politically dangerous for them -- for now they still feel like it's politically necessary because their base still supports the president much more strongly than it supports Republicans in Congress. They've repeatedly chosen him over the traditional Republicans. If that starts to change, then the whole political calculus changes.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll find out if they all do get that earful this week while they're off before returning back to Washington.

Ron Brownstein, Molly Ball, Max Boot, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.

[16:30:01] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, NEWSROOM ANCHOR: Democrats are hitting the presidential campaign trail in full swing less than a year from the start of the Iowa caucuses. And today, at least six presidential candidates are on the road, including three in Iowa. Among them, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Elizabeth Warren held an event in Las Vegas later on today.

And Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Cory Booker in are in New Hampshire. CNN's Susan Malveaux is also in New Hampshire ahead of the CNN presidential town hall with Amy Klobuchar tomorrow night. So Suzanne, what can we expect to hear from the senator?

SUSAN MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, there's a lot of anticipation and excitement around this town hall that's going to happen tomorrow night at 10:00 p.m. with our host, our own Don Lemon at this university here. And it's really going to give her an opportunity, a chance to answer questions spontaneously. Had an opportunity really to see her at work, working the crowd, talking about serious issues, but also with her signature sense of humor, if you will.

She's making three stops. Three stops in Iowa, a critical state of Iowa, spaghetti dinner that's going to happen later this evening. And before that, she was in Wisconsin. As you know a critical state, one that Barack Obama won in 2012. But Hillary Clinton lost by one point in 2016, never visited during the general election. And that is something that I had a chance to talk to the senator about.

It was a real missed opportunity there. That she's really going to be focused on the heartland. There has not been an emphasis on the Minnesota nice, if you will. But it's been more like heartland economics is what she calls it. It's the notion, the idea that jobs and education and healthcare should also be extended to rule Americans. Those in the Midwest should not be forgotten.

And that is really the focus here. She's emphasizing big-picture items, taking on climate change, for instance, committing to the Paris Climate Accord, tougher online privacy laws with Republican Senator Thune, election security with Senator Lankford, and lower drug costs with Senator Grassley. These are all high-stake Republicans who she feels that she can work with. And that is another that thing she's emphasizing.

And finally, Fred, a really interesting story, she says the night of the election when Hillary Clinton lost, her daughter Abigail says what do I do now, what do I do now, mom? What do we do? And she said, no, no, no, go home, you know? You have classes the next day. She said, no, what does the country do? That was the rallying call for her to jump in the race. And here's how she described it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And for me, this has been a journey, starting with the day after that dark inauguration when millions of people marched, including right here in Iowa, right? And then you go to day 10 when that mean-spirited immigration refugee order was issued. What happened? People spontaneously showed up at airports.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So Fred, that is what she's talking about here, a grassroots campaign, a grassroots effort. So far, she's already said that the campaign is raising more than $1 million in the first 48 hours after her announcement, 95 percent of that, $100 or less. She is desperately trying to do what many of the others are doing, and that is get on the Democratic stage for the first two debates.

The DNC outlining that she's got to get 65,000 people from at least some 20 different states to contribute to her campaign to get on that stage, as well as some polling numbers that she's got to hit some polling targets. So this is really an opportunity for many people across the country, but specifically the Midwest, where she is very strong, very -- enjoys a lot of support to make her case about who she is and how she can get there, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Susan Malveaux in Manchester, New Hampshire, thanks so much. All right, a major topic of discussion on the trail, President Trump's border wall and his decision this past week to declare a national emergency in order to build it. And democratic candidates are not happy about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [16:35:05] SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the president's been doing down at the border is an affront to our national values. It's an assault on human rights. It is an expression of bigotry and hate that are unacceptable in our country. And in many ways, it's a lie he's told to the American people over and over again, that he's going to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it.

REP. BETO O'ROURKE (D), TEXAS: Those refugees, those immigrants make us stronger, make us more successful and yes, makes us more secure. We don't need another wall. We don't need another fence, because let me tell you this. Walls do not, as the president has claimed, save lives. Walls end lives.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We start with our values. Immigration makes America stronger, not weaker. And let's be clear. There is no emergency down at the border. This is a political stunt to try to create more hatred and division in this country, and we're not buying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And expect that conversation to continue when Senator Amy Klobuchar holds a town hall event in New Hampshire. CNN's Don Lemon moderates. It airs tomorrow 10:00 eastern only on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:00] WHITFIELD: The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East made a surprise visit to Iraq today, Joseph Votel in the middle of a two-week farewell tour of the region. President Trump recently said that he wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq to help keep an eye on Iran. The president, however, is sticking to his plan to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.

In an exclusive report, CNN's Barbara Starr speaks with General Votel and asks him why he is at odds with the president over Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The top U.S. commander in the war against ISIS flatly disagrees with President Trump's decision to pull troops out of Syria.

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: It would not have been my military advice at that particular time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In an exclusive interview with CNN, General Joseph Votel says it's too soon to bring U.S. troops home.

VOTEL: I would not have made that suggestion if -- I would not have made that suggestion, frankly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump announced in December that he would pull more than 2,000 remaining troops from Syria.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have won against ISIS. We've beaten them, and we've beaten them badly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Votel aligning himself with U.S. intelligence community's assessment, that despite significant advances, there are still tens of thousands of ISIS fighters spread across Syria and Iraq. Today, Votel stressed military pressure must be maintained, and the U.S.-allied Syrian democratic forces are not ready to hold the line.

VOTEL: When they are capable of handling this threat on their own without our assistance. That will be another key criteria indicating to me that we have accomplished our mission of defeat of ISIS.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And as you sit here today?

VOTEL: We're not there, no. We're not there on terms of that. They still require our enablement and our assistance with this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nonetheless, Votel emphasizing he is carrying out the president's orders. The decision to pull out of Syria, the same order leading to Defense Secretary James Mattis to resign last year was made without Votel's input, a stunning revelation he made last week.

VOTEL: Certainly, we are aware that he had expressed a desire and intent in the past to depart Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you weren't consulted before that decision was announced?

VOTEL: We were not -- I was not consulted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now as Votel prepares for the drawdown, he acknowledges that Russia may fill the U.S. vacuum left behind. The withdrawal of U.S. troops or the reduction of U.S. presence provides an opportunity for Russia.

VOTEL: Yes, I would agree with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barbara Starr, CNN, Oman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And still ahead, is Colin Kaepernick on the verge of returning to the NFL? His attorney predicts it's only a matter of weeks before he is back on a team. Kaepernick's attorney, Mark Geragos, joins me next.

[16:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Colin Kaepernick may still have a future in the NFL. At least, that's what his lawyer believes. Mark Geragos predicting Kaepernick will sign with a team within weeks. This past week, the former quarterback reached a settlement with the NFL after accusing the league of colluding against him. He has been off the field since 2017, unable to sign with a team since taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. So Kaepernick's absence, you know, dominated this year's Super Bowl's

headlines, with celebrities boycotting the game, and artists like Rihanna and Cardi B. declining to perform at the halftime show in an act of solidarity with Kaepernick, so joining me right now, his lawyer, Mark Geragos, Mark, good to see you.

MARK GERAGOS, COLIN KAEPERNICK'S ATTORNEY: Good to see you too, Fred.

WHITFIELD: I know there's a confidentiality agreement, so you're limited in, you know, revealing too much. But, you know, I still got to ask stuff. So, you know, you filed this, you know, collusion suit a year ago. A hearing was scheduled for next month, and already a settlement. So what did you present or were you about to present that might have inspired the NFL to settle?

GERAGOS: I think that like most civil cases, because remember a civil case is different than a criminal case. So there's always something that's called a summary judgment. It's a legal hurdle which basically says, you know, you don't have enough evidence (Inaudible) on your best day you don't have enough evidence. Clearly, once we survived the motion for summary judgment, then it's -- that's naturally the time when people will talk.

And that's what happened here. And I think also to some degree, what happened with our other client, Eric Reid, is when Eric signed with Carolina and then performed, I think, just spectacularly and then was signed this past week to a three-year deal. I think that, yeah, it was a big deal and it was a big contract. It's been reported as 22 million. It was actually a little more than that. I think that opened the door to it.

And it's one of the reasons that I predicted that I think Colin will be signed at some time. In fact, since I was on with Ana yesterday, there's been quite a bit of back and forth as to which team may get him.

[16:50:04] WHITFIELD: Right. You teased us quite a bit. You were talking about, you know, Robert Kraft, the Patriots, you know, Carolina Panthers. But you also -- you know, you were a little, oh, I guess ominous when you talked about, you know, perhaps working with another coach. I got a couple other ideas. Our Andy Sholes guessed that maybe Coach Pete Carroll, now the Seattle Seahawks, and, you know, great rival of the 49ers once upon a time and still.

Could it also be, you know, Jim Tomsula, once at the 49ers but now at the Washington Redskins? And that would mean Kaepernick would be in your face at the, you know, resident of 1600.

GERAGOS: Well, there's -- I think that there are some fascinating possibilities. You've named Seattle. You've named the Redskins. I think Harbaugh is in the league. And Harbaugh has coached him before, and I know has great admiration for him. I think that the -- to my mind, you know, he wants to compete. And Colin wants to compete at the highest level. So any place makes a lot of sense where there's a coach and where he can compete for a spot. Because I will tell you, he has to be the most fit vegan I've ever

seen in my life. I spent time with him. I've watched him. I know how hard he trains. It's very difficult to get at him, except around when he's training. I think this guy is going to make a spectacular comeback.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So we're -- yes. So we're all talking about him, but then how does he feel? I mean talk about what he has felt not being able to play, you know, for two years but then standing his ground about why he kneeled in the first place, why he was maintaining that, and then now getting this news, you know, that there's a set almost that the NFL, you know, says OK, you know, we're going to abandon ship on this essentially.

GERAGOS: Well, I think there's a lot of -- a cross current of emotions. I mean this is a tremendous young man. I often forget that he's only 31 years old. He shows an enormous amount of poise and a great wisdom and a long-range vision. And that's something you don't see in a lot of 31-year-olds. And so I will say that. It's a tribute to his parents. It's a tribute to his support structure. He's surrounded by great people.

He's got (Inaudible). He's got Jeff. He's got Cat around him and Rick, his dad and his mom are tremendous people. So having said that, I think it's been a struggle, a struggle in the sense that anybody who's competed and, you know, started in a Superbowl, and there aren't a whole lot of those people. That's a very small club, competes at the highest level. And he, I think, is going to show that he still wants to compete there.

I think a lot of this other stuff he's learned to become almost zen- like in being able to filter out a lot of the noise, although, obviously the regrets have hurt at some point, anybody who is affiliated with him. And those of us who are around him, there's a lot of noise, but I think he's learned how to filter it out and stay focused.

WHITFIELD: Incredible. We're all -- hey, everybody's going to be waiting with baited breath to see who and what and where and all that. You know we mentioned all the entertainers, who, you know, in solidarity, you know, were protesting the Superbowl, etcetera. But there are a lot of athletes, a lot of professional athletes, amateur athletes who are also saying, you know, and even Lebron James, who just, you know -- while at the all-star game saying, you know, Kaepernick was a real inspiration for -- what he's done all this time.

So we shall see what kind of news you're going to bring us next. Are you going to be participating -- are you representing him on the signing of a new deal?

(CROSSTALK)

GERAGOS: No, he's got a very able agent. The last thing I want to do is go through that. I won't even do security clearances with the government, let alone a security clearance with the NFL to be an agent. So I'll stay out of that.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mark Geragos, thank you so much.

GERAGOS: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.

[16:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Haiti's government taking new action to deal with the violent unrest that's been going on there for more than a week. A senior government official is telling CNN the entire country's police force is now being activated. CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now from Port-au-Prince. So what is the atmosphere like?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now it's tenuous calm. There is great uncertainty about what is going to happen here in the capital and across the country. As you said, the police across the country have been mobilized to meet any sort of protest. There was a very small protest today that didn't amount to anything. But it is not clear whether that will grow in the days ahead.

People have asked, demanded that the president step down and resign for what they say is his part in a large corruption scheme that has sort of engulfed the country for nine days. People took over the roadways, blocked traffic from moving anywhere. There were robberies on the road. And essentially, the entire city of Port-au-Prince was on lockdown and the entire country tense.

Now, we seem to be in a bit of a tense low, people sort of recharging, getting food, gas, and water, very difficult for citizens of this country to find those things right now, and the government now trying to get back to a somewhat more normal situation. A government spokesperson telling CNN that they're starting to move containers out of the port that have been stuck there for several days to hopefully get more food, more water, more goods to the people in town.

They've invited the businesses and the schools to open back up here tomorrow. So we will really wait and see what happens in the hours and days ahead, Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you so much in Port-au- Prince, Haiti. And thank you so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues with Ana Cabrera right now.