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Police Sources Say Evidence Suggests Smollett Orchestrated Attack; Kamala Harris Hosts Town Hall in New Hampshire Tonight; CNN Presidential Town Hall with Sen. Amy Klobuchar Tonight; Source Says Grand Jury Convened in R. Kelly Investigation; Florida School District Clarifies Middle School Student Not Arrested for Not Standing for Pledge. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:32:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Even more confusion now swirling around this alleged hate crime involving actor, Jussie Smollett. And now his P.R. firm says he has no plans to meet with Chicago police today to talk about it. Sources tell CNN that police believe Smollett may have been behind his own attack, but the far of FOX's Empire denies he paid men to assault him. These cast a shadow of doubt on his story. Chicago police aren't saying if Smollett is considered a victim but the executive producer of his show "Empire" tweeting his support writing this, "I believe and stand by Jussie Smollett. Keep your head up."

CNN's Ryan Young has been on this from the get-go there in Chicago.

And so, Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so much, Brooke, you remember we did this story for the first time on your show. We were talking about the details here, shocking details, the fact that the actor had his manager call 911 and say someone attacked him, put a noose around his neck and poured a chemical on him. And the chemical they believe is bleach. And since then, the story was out there.

Then the next day, police put out an image of two persons of interest. We have seen how this spiraled out of control since then. The two men taken into custody last Wednesday after they arrived back from Nigeria were with police until Friday when they were released. Now we're told they're actually working with the police department. They have given over their cell phones to the police department. There's a data dump going on right now, Brooke, you know what that means. They're going to be able to go through their messages and everything that happened in the days leading to this. We're also told one of the men's financial records proves that apparently they went to a store, a hardware store in Chicago and purchased the rope that was put around his neck.

Now there are all of these questions and, of course, they have reached out to Jussie's attorney to figure out when they can come in and talk to him again. The attorneys saying, "There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today. Any reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett's attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with the Chicago Police Department on his behalf."

The real question here right now, Brooke, is, when will he come in to talk with them? Because apparently, in one statement from the attorneys this weekend, they said he paid these two men to get him trained up for a video. And they were going to be personal trainers. The two men are body builders. They were on the set of "Empire." And one of the men, who was an extra in one of the shows.

[14:35:30] You have to put this all together, but how much was this conversation going on before the attack or whatever happened because, of course, now it's an alleged attack.

Just think about this also, as well. Police used Ride Share technology and taxicab receipts to put the men in the area. With the excellent surveillance system here, they were able to track the movements for several minutes after and before the attack. So far, from what we are told, no attack on video. So, of course, you're going to want to talk to the actor, put the pieces together, and figure out what actually happened.

BALDWIN: I know the story has been a punch in the gut for so many, if, in fact, it turns out to just be a story. We're going to have that entire story next hour.

Ryan Young, thank you so much for some of the facts there.

YOUNG: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, Democrats who would like to be the next president are out and about on this President's Day on the campaign trail. We're live in New Hampshire where Senator Amy Klobuchar will be just a couple hours away from our big presidential town hall here on CNN. But she's not the only candidate in New Hampshire today.

Also just in, could Dan Coats' future be in limbo? What a close friend of President Trump told CNN about the current director of National Intelligence.

We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: A big presidential blitz on this President's Day. Democratic hopefuls crisscrossing key states in the race for the 2020 nomination. Most of the candidates are focusing on New Hampshire, a key early battle ground state. And that includes Amy Klobuchar, who will be in the hot seat for CNN's town hall tonight.

[14:40:04] CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Manchester where CNN will be hosting that. And CNN's Kyung Lah is in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Senator Kamala will host her own town hall.

Kyung, let me start with you.

I know you were with her in South Carolina over the weekend. New Hampshire is a very different story. And I want you to talk to me a little bit about what's on her agenda today. And I understand she asked if she was a Democratic-Socialist, and she said no. Give me some context there.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She was asked. It was a very direct question. And that's a nod to Bernie Sanders winning here in New Hampshire being extremely popular during 2016.

And I'm sorry, I'm keeping my voice quite low because I want to give you a look at what's happening just right over my shoulder. We have a second camera there. And it's Kamala Harris, Senator Harris actually talking with people inside this bookstore. She's meeting a small group, trying to get out and shake hands.

And that question that you're asking about, Brooke, the question was are you a Democratic-Socialist and she said unequivocally, I am not a Democratic-Socialist, that she does want to talk about issues like Medicare-for-All and a path forward and issues that will appeal to the left. But she did delineate that she's not going to go as far as Senator Sanders who remains popular in this state and should he jump in could be a force here in New Hampshire. So what she is talking about today, she did take a couple of other topical questions in regard to Medicare-for-All.

But also on Jussie Smollett, she did say, after pausing for the question, she didn't appear to be quite expecting the question. But then she did say she was going to allow law enforcement to do their work, and that these types of hate crimes are very serious and need to be taken seriously when they are brought up -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Kyung, thank you, in the library with Senator Kamala Harris.

Let's go over to Manchester, New Hampshire, where Jeff Zeleny is standing by where Senator Amy Klobuchar will be part of our CNN town hall.

Jeff, I want to ask you, I had this Republican on, had an op-ed in the "Washington Post," making the argument that if all Democrats who have declared, it's Amy Klobuchar who he believes could give Trump a run for his money. She's from Minnesota, she's more moderate, appeals to Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans. Would you agree?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, there definitely is that sense, and this is why, look at the geography of this. Senator Klobuchar -- and I was with her in Iowa yesterday -- she was talking about how she has appealed to voters in Trump country. She is going essentially county by county, congressional district by congressional district, how she has essentially won over red counties. She made the point of saying, I even won Michelle Bachmann's congressional district. She is a former presidential candidate, a former Minnesota member of Congress, very. very conservative. That is one of the arguments that Senator Klobuchar is making as she is beginning her presidential candidacy, I can speak to voters in the middle of the country.

Brooke, no coincidence, no accident that she went to Wisconsin over the weekend. Of course, it's right next to Minnesota, but it's also a state the Democrats lost in 2016. One of the reasons Hillary Clinton did not go there at all in the general election in 2016.

But I caught up with Senator Klobuchar in Iowa yesterday afternoon and talked about this test between purity and pragmatism.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: I consider myself a progressive because I believe in progress, and I believe in standing our ground. And I have done that repeatedly on things like climate change, on things like going forward on the Affordable Care Act. But I also believe in finding common ground when you can. And that's why, for instance, 34 of the bills where I've been the lead Democrat have passed and have been signed into law by President Trump.


ZELENY: So that is one of the balances there that you're going to hear these candidates talk about, common ground versus, you know, essentially lining up with every idea that some Democrats want. You know, like the Green New Deal and other matters. So she is taking a pragmatic approach, if you will. She still calls herself a progressive, and she is, but that is the balance here as we start, you know, a year out from the New Hampshire primary what these candidates are striking -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: We will watch for the town hall tonight on CNN, 10:00 eastern, where you are.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

And, Kyung Lah, thank you as well.

Both in New Hampshire, on this President's Day.

[14:44:33] Coming up next, last week, another videotape surfaced allegedly showing R. Kelly engaged in sex acts with an underage girl. Could this week bring an indictment? We have new details in the investigation live from Chicago.


BALDWIN: Sources tell CNN a grand jury has been convened in connection with R. Kelly, and new potential evidence that may link the R&B singer to alleged sexual acts involving a minor. The potential evidence includes a tape CNN reported on last week.

Sara Sidner is our CNN national correspondent, who is with me now on the investigation side.

So, Sara, what can you share? SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, we know from two

sources I have spoken with that, indeed, a grand jury has been convened. They are looking into this tape and potentially other witnesses when it comes to R. Kelly, and potentially illegal acts with a minor.

We have seen the tape. It is disturbing. I do want to warn people that the details I'm about to share are disturbing. I will not get into a lot of the details.

[14:50:00] The tape, 42:45 long. It was on VHS. That gives you some sense of the likely timing, that it's not from recent times. That it may be quite old. But on that tape, there's as being 14 years old. And a man who appears to be R. Kelly walks into frame. You see him clearly. You see him adjusting the camera at times trying to get the best angles for the video that he clearly is making. And the man that appears to be R. Kelly then repeats what the girl is saying about her 14-year-old genitalia. That's how she put it. And then he repeats that. There are other scenes in the tape that mirror some of the accusations against him in 2008 when he went to trial. He was put on trial on 14 counts of child pornography but he was acquitted. There was a tape in that trial, a different tape than the one that's been unearthed.

Attorney Michael Avenatti said he unearthed it after a nine-month investigation. He is now the attorney for a person he calls a whistleblower who says he can also speak to obstruction of justice. He has told me there's a second person who he is now going to have as a client, and that person he says is also a whistleblower. So now you have two people, he says, are whistleblowers who can speak to obstruction of justice not just on R. Kelly's part but on the part of those around him, as well as several other people that he is representing at this point that have something to do with this potential case.

The state's attorney's office has not confirmed or denied that there's an investigation. But we do have something from R. Kelly's attorney, Stephen Greenberg. He told us today that he knows nothing about this, that he has not been contacted by anyone. He has not been contacted by authorities and nor has his client. And he has no knowledge of any kind of new tape. He said this, "Grand jury proceedings are, by law, supposed to be secret, so to the extent people are commenting on what may or may not be going on today are possibly violating the law. Still" -- he says -- "I can tell you that I am unaware of any proceedings" -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: OK, 14, huh? All these allegations --


SIDNER: That's how she refers to yourself.

BALDWIN: That's how she refers to herself.

Sara, thank you very much. Sara, on the investigation into R. Kelly in Chicago. Thank you. Right now, we are waiting for President Trump to deliver his speech on

the political situation in Venezuela. He'll be speaking from south Florida. The president arrived there Friday after declaring a state of emergency. And the backlash and in doing so came fast and furious. We'll have both the latest on the legal and political battles currently under way.

And could Dan Coats' future be in jeopardy? What a close friend to President Trump just told CNN about the director of National Intelligence.


[14:57:11] BALDWIN: A Florida school district at the center of this controversy after a middle school student was arrested following a dispute over his refusal to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. They are now clarifying what they say occurred. The public district is saying the student was not arrested for refusing to stand for the pledge but says this boy was arrested for choosing to disrupt the class and making threats after he refused to stand up during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Dianne Gallagher can help us sort this out.

What happened?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The school district actually chose to address this today. This is two weeks after the incident, Brooke. So according to paperwork from police, the district and the child's mother, this sixth grader had a substitute teacher that day. They were supposed to do the Pledge of Allegiance to begin their day and he did not stand up. The substitute teacher kind of went after him on that. The kid said he didn't want to stand because it was racist. According to a statement she gave the school district, obtained by one of our CNN affiliates, she told him, "If you feel that way then you can go back to wherever you came from, you don't have to live here."

Disruption, in the words of the school, took place after that. She called an administrator. The school resource officer came. And, at some point, that's when the police say the sixth grader became disruptive. He wouldn't leave, refused to leave the classroom, and he was taken to a juvenile assessment facility and charged with misdemeanor of nonviolently resisting arrest and also, basically, you know, disrupting a school day.

So the mother, as you can understand, is upset. She says that, my child has gone through quite a bit. And she would like to see the charges dropped.

BALDWIN: And what is the school saying?


DHAKIRA TALBOT, MOTHER OF ARRESTED MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT: I'm upset, I'm angry, I'm hurt, more so for my son. My son has never been through anything like this. And I feel like they should have handled it differently.

I want the charges dropped and I want the school to be held accountable and the officer for what happened because it shouldn't have been handled the way that it was handled.


GALLAGHER: At least, in part, agrees with some of that, Brooke. The school district says that that substitute teacher was not aware that children were not required to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, that constitutionally, they don't have to do that. And that she will not be working there ever again. They're talking with the agency that placed her there about going over some of the rules and regulations and guidelines with further substitutes.

And they also point out that they did not ask for any charges to be presented against this 11-year-old. But he is due no court, according to Bay News 9, our CNN affiliate, tomorrow. So we will see what happens from that point.

[15:00:00] BALDWIN: OK, we'll cover it tomorrow.

Dianne, thank you very much. Dianne Gallagher.

We roll on.