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CNN Police Sources: Evidence Suggests Smollett Orchestrated Attack; Heather Nauert Withdraws U.N. Ambassador Bid Over Nanny Controversy; Acting U.S. Defense Secretary To Find Funding For Border Wall. Aired 6-7a ET

Aired February 17, 2019 - 06:00   ET

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


[06:00:18]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The dramatic twist in the story surrounded "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicago police believe Jussie Smollett paid the two men to orchestrate the assault.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would expect the judge to take this very seriously and for law enforcement to take it very seriously.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has now dropped out of the running to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States is asking Britain and France and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria. The alternative is not a good one.

ALEC BALDWIN AS DONALD TRUMP: So I'm going to sign these papers for emergency and then I will immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it'll end up in the Supreme Court, then I'll call my buddy Kavanaugh and I'll say, "It's time to replay the Donny," and he'll say, "New phone, who this?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning on this Sunday, everyone. I'm Kaylee Hartung in for Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

There is a lot going on this morning. We're starting with the police sources telling CNN that new evidence suggest that actor Jussie Smollett may have paid two men to orchestrate this assault against him in Chicago.

HARTUNG: And Trump's pick for the U.S. ambassador bows out. Former FOX anchor turned States Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdraws as details emerge that her nanny was working illegal in the U.S.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the president's ultimatum to European allies take 800 plus ISIS captives and put them on trial or risk being released. Releasing these people.

HARTUNG: We begin with the developments out of Chicago in the alleged attack on actor Jussie Smollett.

BLACKWELL: The gruesome details made national news but now Smollett's claims are being questioned.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL (voice-over): Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation tells 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 are 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: Innocent prevails. Right? My guys are walking home. They are 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: I noticed a 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 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. Nothing 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: I see the attacker masked and he said, this MAGA country (EXPLETIVE DELETED) punches me right in the face. So I punched him right back and then we started tussling. 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 is no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as a cherry on top of some racist Sunday.

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 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)

BLACKWELL: All right. With us now is CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson and Brian Stelter, CNN chief media correspondent and anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES." Gentlemen, welcome back.

And, Joey, let me start with you with the legal question. If Smollett paid these men to plan this and he orchestrated this entire thing, detail the legal exposure, the jeopardy he's in.

[06:05:08]

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Victor, good morning to you. Good morning, Brian.

The exposure would be significant and here's why. What happens is is that you cannot report something as a crime, which is not true. Now it's one thing in media land to say what you want, do what you want. It's another thing to get the police involved and to suggest that something of this variety happened to you.

And the reason that it is such is because there is so many real victims, right? In the event he is not a victim, we don't know, right? Just like everybody deserves a presumption of innocence he certainly is entitled to that same presumption.

And so assuming as your question does that it is not true it's a class 4 felony. And what that means in English is that you can go to jail for up to three years. Now I wouldn't suspect that that would happen but what I would suspect is that a prosecutor's office and a judge would give this a very significant weight and in significant weight they would really move to prosecute it aggressively.

Think about what has happened because of this. We are in a day and age where look at the discourse now the discourse against, you know, what is happening. We have that whole blackface issue in Virginia. We have attacks on immigration in Washington, D.C.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

JACKSON: It's just -- it's a very unsettling time. And so this adds to the narrative in not such a good way and so there is a real problem for law enforcement and for prosecutors to say this is not acceptable. Not only because of that, but you want, you know, you divert resources when you're devoting resources to something that is not a crime and they have had a dozen detectives going out and investigating, executing search warrants et cetera.

BLACKWELL: And that's -- and it's not like Chicago police don't have other things they could be doing right now, right?

JACKSON: Exactly. Exactly right. So there are so many things that the police really are required to do --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

JACKSON: -- where the resources could be devoted. So to devote to this and it's false it becomes problematic and he becomes in trouble.

BLACKWELL: So, Brian, let me come to you. What does this mean? Let's put his legal exposure aside how he has jeopardized his career.

He has got music out. He was in a performance a week ago.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BLACKWELL: What does this mean for Smollett's future professionally?

STELTER: Yes. I checked in with FOX overnight. FOX is the studio that makes the "Empire" as well as the network to broadcast "Empire." They have no new comment about his status.

But remember just a couple of days ago when there were rumors that maybe he made this up because he was afraid he was going to lose his spot on this show so he was trying to get attention, trying to get more publicity. When those rumors came out a couple of days ago, FOX adamantly denied that and said there were no plans to get rid of his character. And said the company absolutely stands by Jussie Smollett.

So that was a couple of days ago. Now, no new comment from FOX. I've got to imagine that this changes the calculus for FOX. But right now, Victor, I think we are in a mystery right now because he has not spoken with the police again.

I talked to Chicago P.D. last night they said we need to speak with Jussie Smollett as soon as possible, that's the word from Chicago P.D. But because he has brought in number of lawyers, he came out with a new statement last night that said he's continuing to cooperate. There's a little bit of a standoff it seems like between Jussie and the police now, about whether he is going to talk to the investigators again, whether he is going to say more about this or not.

Frankly, the ball is in his court. And as you have said perfectly on Twitter --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

STELTER: -- the real tragedy here is all of the victims of real hate crimes whose stories might not be believed in the future. That is what's so scary about this if indeed he made up this incident.

BLACKWELL: We are already seeing that narrative coming from people --

STELTER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: -- on social media saying that other attacks, other reports, other allegations are fake because this one could be fake. And that is the real tragedy here.

STELTER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Joey, let me come back to you here. Could he face civil action as well? If he had this planned with these two men and, you know, they had this agreement, the fact that they were in custody for two days, as he continued this facade, if, indeed, he orchestrated, could he something there? Could he face something from FOX, from the producers of the show in jeopardizing the product?

JACKSON: You know, it's an excellent question, Victor. Let's start with -- as it relates to the people who were picked up and brought in. Now understand that they could, in fact, be aiders and abettors to this and I'm wondering if they were given any immunity whatsoever in terms of giving their story to the police. Because understand that when a person is part and parcel to a crime and conspires to commit a crime that they knew weren't true they can have some exposure themselves.

And so I'm not sure at this point what happened. You're not required to speak to the police. Apparently they did in order to vindicate themselves so as we do believe so that they can get out from, you know, under whatever is here. But, yes, in the event there was some issue concerning them, you know, being falsely detained as a result of this, that could present a problem civilly.

We also have the question of restitution. What do I mean? If he is prosecuted for this, the police have expended resources there's a fine of up to $25,000 that comes with this crime to what extent might he be on the hook for what the police have done in terms of searching for people that did not exist.

[06:10:10]

As it relates to the FOX issue I think that's a separate question the way that that would we resolved and Brian could address that certainly more clearly than I is, you know, by essentially cutting him off. I don't think they would look to recoup any money from him.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Brian, quickly to you and you can address that. But also the outpouring of support for Jussie Smollett from --

STELTER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: -- Democratic presidential candidates, from the speaker of the House, from high ranking officials across the country, celebrities, is there any residual damage for them for backing or believing the story, if, indeed, it is false? STELTER: Oh, I think there is damage in kind of in the political sphere because the story became political within a few hours. Think back to the day of this alleged assault. TMZ was the first to report that he happened and TMZ came out and said Jussie is telling his friends that the attacker said this is MAGA country and they may have worn Trump hats or something, that this was political.

Those connections to Trump came out right away and absolutely outraged Trump supporters who said, how dare you claim that this was something that involved a Trump supporter? What was a Trump supporter doing on the streets Chicago at 2:00 in the morning trying to attack Jussie Smollett.?

It didn't make sense to other people right away and in fact even the president's son Donald Trump's Jr. was out there casting doubt about this case right away. At the same time the many Democratic presidential candidates, the Democratic politicians were supporting Jussie Smollett and saying this was a lynching, saying this was absolutely a hate crime.

There is that tension because this began political on day one and that there's going to residual effects from that for sure. There is, obviously, attention between wanting to believe and needing to believe victims and taking their accounts seriously --

BLACKWELL: Yes.

STELTER: -- versus the ability of someone to take advantage of that and that may have been what happened here. We just don't know yet.

BLACKWELL: We will see if any of those candidates, any of those politicians would initially release statements or said something on Twitter will now follow up.

STELTER: Right. They'll (ph) follow up.

BLACKWELL: Brian Stelter, Joey Jackson, thank you both.

STELTER: Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Victor.

BLACKWELL: And be sure to catch Stelter's show later this morning on "RELIABLE SOURCES" 11:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

HARTUNG: And when we come back now hiring, former FOX News anchor turned State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is forced to end her bid to become U.N. ambassador. We'll tell you why.

BLACKWELL: Plus, President Trump tells Europe to put more than 800 ISIS prisoners on trial or otherwise there is a good chance he is going to let them loose.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:16:43]

HARTUNG: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is ending her bid for U.S. ambassador. Sources tell CNN Nauert hired a nanny who was not legally allowed to work in the U.S. and was not paying taxes. Official say the nanny has since paid the taxes she owes.

CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes joins us from West Palm Beach. Good morning, Kristen. What more do we know about these circumstances?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kaylee. Well, this is a bit of a mess and I'm actually going to take you through a time line and then I'll catch back up to you.

So go back to October. Nikki Haley announces that she is going to leave the administration. She of course is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. About two months later, President Trump says he has made his choice for this post. It's going to be State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.

Now here's where it gets a little bit iffy. This nomination is never sent to Senate. So this raises some eyebrows but others think it's just a bureaucratic hang up. This is of course Washington.

Until last night when we learned that Nauert had stepped away she had asked to withdraw her name from consideration the State Department issued a statement on her behalf. We'll going to pull it up for you here and I'll read it to you.

It says, "The past two months have been grueling for my family and therefore it is in the best interest of my family that I withdraw my name from consideration."

And now, Kaylee, we are all caught up because it was after this statement was issued that we learned about this nanny who was legally in the United States but not legally allowed to work in the United States and not paying taxes. She had employed this nanny, Nauert had employed this nanny before she worked at the State Department and it was not known while she was at the State Department that this had occurred.

She did however disclose this information when she was tapped for this post but even though those back taxes were paid, it became apparent in about the last week that this was going to cause a big problem for Nauert and she agreed she needed to step aside.

Now you might be wondering how exactly it got this far. Well, we have learned from sources that President Trump actually made this announcement that he was going to pick Nauert before the White House had a chance to thoroughly vet her which isn't that surprising. We know the president wants what he wants when he wants it. But in terms of what is next for Nauert, sources say she is not expected to return to her post at the State Department. We have, of course, reached out to her, we have not heard back -- Kaylee.

HARTUNG: Kristen Holmes, thank you. BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about this in and out of the Trump White House. The president's cabinet, there have been so many departures and then leaving temporarily replacements. Now a withdraw means that the Trump administration is now operating with no U.N. ambassador, no replacement on the way.

Acting secretary of defense after James Mattis left the White House, after claiming that his views did not align with the president's and acting chief of staff after President Trump announced John Kelly was leaving, source told CNN the president and Kelly were not on speaking terms and their relationship was no longer seen as tenable (ph).

And acting interior secretary Ryan Zinke resigned during those multiple ethics investigation. And acting EPA administrator after Scott Pruitt's resignation over ethics concerns as well. And acting FEMA administrator after Brock Long, he's scheduled to leave soon because of questions he misused government vehicles.

Right now the Trump administration has six positions either unstaffed or filled with an acting administrator, chief of staff, director, secretary.

[06:20:09]

HARTUNG: Thanks for laying that out, Victor. And joining me now CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, commentary writer and editor for "The Washington Examiner" Siraj Hashmi. Good morning to you both.

You just heard Victor laid that out six positions in the administration unstaffed or filled with an acting head. President Trump he has tried to put a positive spin on the situation saying that acting department heads give him more flexibility.

Siraj, I come to you first, what downside do you see to this situation, this revolving door that keeps spinning?

SIRAJ HASHMI, COMMENTARY WRITER AND EDITOR, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Right now, the main situation is finding people who actually align with President Trump on his agenda and that's, obviously, been very difficult given the case with Jim Mattis and even people like Nikki Haley. There are many people in the Trump camp who believe that Nikki Haley did not align 100 percent with President Trump's views and actually saw her as a threat in the future. There are many people who were considering that she might even run in 2020 given the fact that she has become so popular in her position as the U.N. ambassador.

Yes, this is a very serious issue with the Trump administration and means he can't fully implement his agenda and that become, obviously, a very giant burden on him because he then has to get say circumvent the legislative process to say go with something like a national emergency with the border wall because he doesn't have the people in place to give him the best advice on what he should be doing.

HARTUNG: Julian, can you give us some historical perspective? How unusual is this to have this type of leadership void? JULIAN E. ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is very unusual. Every administration has moments where you have turnover among high- level officials or you might have a void in one position temporarily. But these six positions come on top of two years where there has been immense instability in turnover that is unprecedented in terms of scale and scope from what we have seen in other presidencies.

So this creates a vacuum of expertise around the president. It also hurts congressional relations and the cabinet leaders are usually the point person with members of Congress on their issue areas and I think this reflects the kind of presidency we have right now.

HARTUNG: A U.S./U.N. officials tells CNN there is angst among the staff there with so much uncertainty at the top there which brings us back to Heather Nauert. Siraj, the president announced her nomination before the White House did a thorough vet of her reminiscent of the nomination of Dr. Ronny Jackson when they wanted him to head veteran affairs and a different situation but similar in the lack of that vetting process.

Shouldn't that process be done before the administration nominates someone for a cabinet position, before the president makes that announcement?

HASHMI: Absolutely. You know, the White House, in many ways, has kind of failed in that regard in terms of thoroughly vetting their candidates. There are many candidates actually right now who are serving as current U.S. ambassadors like Richard Grenell in Germany and even have the acting U.N. ambassador Jonathan Cohen who also served in the role since January.

But both of them were confirmed by the Senate and actually Cohen, who is the acting U.N. ambassador, was unanimously confirmed. So he was already vetted in a public forum as a Senate confirmation hearing. So, yes, there are many people who are actually qualified for the position but I think with President Trump's sort of his go to to looking at people who have been on TV like John Bolton who is now his National Security adviser and Heather Nauert who was a FOX News presenter for several years, or many years actually, I think he is avoiding trying to go with people that he knows or qualify for the job and that has been more or less very problematic, as a matter of fact.

HARTUNG: So to Nauert's problem here, at the core, saying she employed a nanny who was in the U.S. legally but not legally allowed to work, she didn't pay taxes but paid those back taxes. Julian, do you think there is more to Nauert's withdrawal than this nanny issue?

ZELIZER: I think there is. I mean, that is an important issue. That goes back to Bill Clinton when he appointed an attorney general Zoe Baird and she withdrew for similar reasons. But it wasn't the vetting that's the only problem here it was actually who Nauert is and her resume.

This was not a traditional pick for U.N. ambassador. Usually you have either a politician like Adlai Stevenson or Henry Lodge or you have someone with deep diplomatic experience like Richard Holbrooke. And this was neither.

This was a TV personality about to take on the position and I think that was going to be pretty contentious even with some Republicans on the Hill. This is a key moment in U.S. relations abroad and it wasn't clear this was the person to handle the job.

HARTUNG: And quick to you, Siraj. What are you hearing about who President Trump is considering to be the next U.N. ambassador?

[06:25:03]

HASHMI: Well, as I just said Jonathan Cohen, who is the acting U.N. ambassador. He is very qualified. He may not be on the short list. Richard Grenell who has been -- who actually served under the Bush administration, Bush 43 from 2001 to 2008 in the United Nations is probably the top pick right now. There's also Kelly Craft who is the U.N. ambassador -- sorry. U.S. ambassador to Canada. And then Jamie McCourt who is the U.S. ambassador to France.

Those are the top three picks right now. I can see Grenell getting the pick right now because he has been a very supportive and vocal supporter of President Trump.

HARTUNG: Yes. The White House taking applications, six spots that need to be filled. Julian, Siraj, thank you both.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

HASHMI: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: This morning acting defense secretary Patrick Shanahan will start looking for funding sources for the president's border wall. You remember the president declared a national emergency on Friday.

Now the administration has said a total of $6.1 billion will be diverted from the military to pay for the wall. Shanahan will have the final say on how much will be taken from which programs. Military official says he is likely to approve $3.6 billion from the construction budgets.

HARTUNG: We are calling this next story Mike Pence's awkward pregnant pause. Stay with me here. The scene is set, standing at the podium in a room full of U.S. allies. The vice president announces a warm greeting from his boss. The reaction, not quite what he expected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bring greetings from the 45th president of the United States of America President Donald Trump. Last August --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARTUNG: So there you have it. The five-second pause for applause that just never happened. Tough crowd, Victor. BLACKWELL: Yes. President Trump has declared a national emergency for his border wall, splitting Congress and his own party. Will this work? Senator Sherrod Brown plus House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff are going to weigh in on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning at 9:00 Eastern with Jake Tapper.

HARTUNG: And ahead, President Trump demands Europe take back 800 ISIS fighters captured in Syria or face consequences if they are released

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:31:31]

BLACKWELL: President Trump is warning European countries that they have to either take back more than 800 ISIS fighters capture in Syria, put them on trial, or the U.S. will be forced to release them.

HARTUNG: CNN senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman is live from Eastern Syria -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kaylee, Victor, this tweet by President Trump has aroused a good deal of consternation among officials from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Those U.S. backed Kurdish and Arab fighters who have been key in this war against ISIS.

They point out first of all that it is not the United States that is holding these 800 prisoners, mostly ISIS fighters, many of them from Western Europe, but, rather, it is the Syrian Democratic Forces who are holding them and, therefore, it's not the United States that can let them go or release them. The Kurds, who run this part of the country, are very eager to have those countries from which these individuals come from to take them back. Not only are there more than 800 very dangerous battle-hardened fighters currently in their custody, but there are also thousands of family members, many of them little children, who are in limbo, many of them are in a camp north of here that has as many as 40,000 people in them.

The camp is filled to the brim. More than 50 children have died there as a result of cold and diseases. So it's something of a crisis in this part of the country, as this campaign to eradicate the physical presence of ISIS continues.

Now, we also saw that President Trump is telling European allies that they have to step up and replace the Americans here. It is also worth pointing out that there are, in fact, are British and French Special Forces on the front, on the ground. We have seen them in the battle. And everyone seems to be playing a part, but it does appear that President Trump is basically giving an ultimatum.

Either these European countries completely step up and replace the Americans, or these 800 very dangerous people could simply be let go. And we know what they are capable of doing, having seen terrorist attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, and elsewhere -- Victor, Kaylee.

BLACKWELL: All right. Ben Wedeman for us there in Eastern Syria. Ben, thank you so much.

HARTUNG: Well, the second wave of aid arrived at the Colombian/Venezuelan border this weekend. Supplies included food and hygiene kits. They can help about 25,000 people who have been struggling there. Venezuela self declared interim president Juan Guaido urged thousands of volunteers to help get aid into the country. Meanwhile, President Trump is expected to give a speech on Venezuela in Miami tomorrow in support of Guaido.

BLACKWELL: Protests in Haiti are on a brief pause while people get food and water and fuel after more than a week of riots and violence. Protesters are demanding the country's president and prime minister resign. Miguel Marquez has the latest from Port-au-Prince.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For nine days, Haitians took to the streets fighting with police, lighting fires, tires on fire, creating road blocks across the city, essentially shutting down the main city here at Port-au-Prince for nine days.

[06:35:04]

In the past 24 hours, there has been a lull, a very tense lull at the very best. People basically looking for the very basics of life -- food, gas, and water. All of them in short supply throughout the city. Large crowds of Haitians gathered looking for water, gas stations were for the most part, shut across the entire city. The ones that were open were just were heavily traffic by both those in motorcycles and cars. People just looking for the ability to fill up their tank so they can get to work, assuming that things get back to normal here in the city in the next couple of days.

Protesters want the president to resign. They say they will not accept anything else. They say that he is implicated in a broad corruption scheme that has engulfed the country. They say that not only must the president resign but that the country, itself, has to go back tabula rasa, as they say, erase everything, go back to the constitution and start all over again -- back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARTUNG: Well, up next, he has dedicated his life to creating crosses to remember the lives of those lost to gun violence. Now a man from Aurora, Illinois, is making five more crosses for his hometown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:40:50]

HARTUNG: The identities of the five people killed in a workplace shooting in Aurora, Illinois, have now been released.

BLACKWELL: And a man who lives in Aurora has made it his mission to make sure the victims are never forgotten. Here is CNN's Scott McLean. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For more than two decades, 68-year-old Greg Zanis has been hand making and hand delivering comfort to grieving families across America. It's a big job that takes a lot of lumber, a lot of paint, and countless nights inside of his truck.

GREG ZANIS, CROSSES FOR LOSSES: I'm the kind of guy that falls asleep real easy.

MCLEAN: It's not comfortable, but neither is the task at hand.

(on camera): Most people don't want to think about these shootings until they happen on their doorsteps, but you live it 365. Why?

ZANIS: Because it is making a difference.

MCLEAN (voice-over): He has placed his wooden crosses at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, Texas, Orlando's Pulse nightclub, Las Vegas; Parkland, Florida and that's barely scratching the surface. In total?

ZANIS: 26,579. You have no idea what I've seen in this country.

MCLEAN: He has seen America at its worst yet still believes in its best.

ZANIS: We are a country so full of hope.

MCLEAN: In every place he hears people say they never thought it could happen here. Even he believed that until Friday.

ZANIS: I feel so dumb that I wasn't even thinking that it could happen here. I should have thought it could happen here.

MCLEAN: Just three miles from his home in Aurora, Illinois, a man opened fire on his colleagues after learning he had been let go. Five people were killed. The next day, Zanis left five crosses bearing their names.

ZANIS: My heart rate was going up because I can't believe I'm standing on the ground here in my town doing this. My town. My town. You know? Like, it's like a nightmare.

MCLEAN: Following each tragedy Zanis takes comfort in the fact that he can get in his truck and leave.

ZANIS: I put on like I'm carrying the whole weight of the world on my shoulders because I know that I'm going to be in and out.

MCLEAN: Just not this time.

ZANIS: That's why I'm having such a hard time here living here because I'm not in and out.

MCLEAN: This time, it's a much heavier cross to bear. Scott McLean, CNN, Aurora, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: Our thanks to Scott for that story.

Democratic contenders are stepping up for gun control legislation after the shooting in Illinois. One of those contenders Senator Amy Klobuchar. And tomorrow night she Don Lemon moderates "CNN PRESIDENTIAL TOWN HALL" in New Hampshire with the 2020 presidential candidate. She will answer voters' questions and talk about what she hopes will be next for the country. That's Monday night at 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

HARTUNG: Colin Kaepernick has set out the NFL for two years but, Andy Scholes, could he be signed in a matter of weeks?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaylee, now that Kaepernick's collusion case with the NFL is over, his attorney predicts he will be on an NFL roster soon, and coming up, we'll hear which team his attorney says he could sign with.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:48:15]

HARTUNG: After sitting out for two years could Colin Kaepernick be back in the NFL?

BLACKWELL: His lawyer says yes and it could happen soon. Andy Scholes is in Charlotte for the NBA all-star game. We're start with football though. How realistic is this and which teams, potentially?

SCHOLES: Well, I would tell you what. You know, as you mentioned, Colin Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season but his attorney Mark Geragos he says Kaepernick is in great shape. He's ready to play. And Geragos came on CNN last night and he said now that Kaepernick's collusion, grievance with the NFL has been settled he expects Kaepernick to be on an NFL roster very soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK GERAGOS, COLIN KAEPERNICK'S LAWYER: I think you're going to see I'll make the bold prediction -- you can save the tape -- I think you're going to see within the next two weeks that somebody is going to step up, somebody's going to do the right thing. And you want me to predict too? I will tell you besides the Panthers, it would not surprise me if Bob Kraft makes a move.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes?

GERAGOS: Yes. That would not surprise me and it would not surprise me if his former coach, I'll test your knowledge, also makes a move.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Geragos is possibly referring to Pete Carroll who coaches the Seattle Seahawks now. So that would give you the Panthers, Patriots, and the Seahawks as possible destinations for Kaepernick. We will see if Geragos' prediction comes true.

Now, LeBron James meanwhile has never shied away from speaking out on social issues and he's always supported Colin Kaepernick and what he was trying to accomplish. And yesterday here in Charlotte, LeBron said he was thrilled when he learned the news that Kaepernick had settled his case with the NFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEBRON JAMES, LAKERS FORWARD: I stand with Kap. I kneel with Kap. I mean, I just feel -- I feel what he was talking about, nobody wanted to listen to him.

[06:50:01]

Nobody ever really wanted to actually understand where he was coming from, you know? And, you know, I think that anybody that will sacrifice their livelihood for the better of all of us, I can respect that. He has done that.

I hope that, you know, the word of what he did will live on throughout American history but also world history because it's important for all of us, not only African-Americans, but for everybody that (ph) wanted to stand up for something that is more important to them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: The all-star festivities here in Charlotte continuing last night with the skills competition. And the dunk contest it was rather anticlimactic. But there was one fantastic dunk last night by the Thunder's Hamidou Diallo. He jumps over Shaq, puts his entire forearm into the rim. Just an incredible, incredible dunk.

He got a perfect score from the judges. Diallo would go on to beat Dennis Smith Jr. to be your slam champion for 2019. The NBA stars are going to take center stage later tonight for the annual all-star game that's going to get going at 8:00 Eastern on our sister station TNT.

Guys, team LeBron versus team Giannis. They went with the drafted format again this year. And if it's anything like last year's game we should expect another great one.

HARTUNG: You think team LeBron is really just a recruiting technique for the Lakers?

(LAUGHTER)

SCHOLES: He did draft a lot of free agents, Kaylee --

HARTUNG: What a coincidence.

SCHOLES: -- the upcoming off-season. Yes.

HARTUNG: Last night a good night to be a University of Kentucky fan. Hami who won the dunk contest a Kentucky product. And that basketball team in Lexington got a win over the number one team in the country, Tennessee. Not a bad deal.

BLACKWELL: Good day.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: Andy, thank you.

Up next he is back. Alec Baldwin pokes fun at President Trump's national emergency on "SNL."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: We need wall, OK? We have tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border, or the brown line as many people asked me not to call it."

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:56:13]

BLACKWELL: You know, I was driving in to work today and I was thinking, when is the next supermoon?

No, I wasn't. I really was not thinking that. But apparently there are supermoons all the time now.

HARTUNG: It's called a super snow moon this time around. Happening this week. CNN's meteorologist Allison Chinchar is here.

Allison, last month there was that super blood moon that apparently Victor was just fascinated by.

BLACKWELL: Wolf (ph) ears (ph).

HARTUNG: But now this month is super snow moon. What is going on? What do we need to understand about this?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. The whole point is to keep Victor on his toes by naming them something different every time. Yes. The last one was the super blood wolf moon. This one is the super snow moon.

OK. Now it's really going to takes place on Tuesday. That going to be the best time to view. So when you are looking up at the sky at the moon, it's actually going to appear not only bigger but brighter and that is where the term supermoon actually comes from.

Basically all it means is it's the full moon but it's timed when the moon is actually at its closest approach to the Earth, that's what makes it appear bigger and brighter. Now the name snow moon well that just comes -- that's what we call the full moon that takes place in February.

Victor, I know you wanted to know. Next supermoon will be the super worm moon. Figured you would want to know that.

BLACKWELL: Why?

CHINCHAR: The thing is -- I know. I know. They all just come up with different names. They have got a bunch of different ones.

But here is the thing. A lot of people really want to know is it going to be noticeable when I'm looking at it. Sure, it may sound like it's going to be bigger or brighter but really is there going to be that much of a difference when you actually look up at the sky? And there will.

It's actually going to be about 14 percent bigger and appear 30 percent brighter. You will look up and visibly, especially on a clear night notice how much brighter the sky actually appears and again that is all because it will be as close as 221,000 miles to the Earth. Practically walking distance when you think about it.

The problem is Mother Nature really isn't going to cooperate for a lot of people. You've got snow in the Midwest, snow and ice in the Mid Atlantic, a lot of rain in the southeast. You even have the next system moving into the Pacific Northwest. So unfortunately, Victor and Kaylee, your best places may actually only be, say, Boston and Los Angeles. Everywhere else really may not have the best viewing weather to go along with the super snow moon.

BLACKWELL: OK. So I'm going to miss the super snow moon. I didn't get to see the super bloody wolfie moon --

(CROSSTALK)

CHINCHAR: Super blood wolf moon.

BLACKWELL: OK -- happened a couple of weeks ago. Next opportunity is the super worm?

HARTUNG: Worm.

CHINCHAR: Worm. Yes. Like the little squiggly -- yes, the worm moon. That will happen in March. It won't be as bright and as big as this one but pretty close.

HARTUNG: Hopefully, the weather will cooperate in March.

(CROSSTALK)

HARTUNG: We'll just wait around for that one or I will volunteer to go to the West Coast and observe from the beach if anybody would like that.

BLACKWELL: Always ready to sacrifice.

HARTUNG: Ready. BLACKWELL: Always ready to sacrifice.

HARTUNG: Thank you so much, Allison.

CHINCHAR: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: All right. Alec Baldwin returns to "Saturday Night Live" to declare a national emergency.

HARTUNG: And he did so in his classic Trump style. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Thank you very much, everybody. I'm here to declare a very urgent important national emergency. Let's cut to the chase, folks. We need wall. OK? I'm basically taking military money so I have a wall.

So I'm going to sign these papers for emergency and then I will immediately be sued and the ruling will not go in my favor and then it'll end up in the Supreme Court, then I'll call my buddy Kavanaugh and I'll say, "It's time to replay the Donny," and he'll say, "New phone, who this?"

And then the Mueller report will be released, crumbling my house of cards and I can just plead insanity and do a few months in the puzzle factory and my personal hell of playing president will finally be over.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)