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Jussie Smollett Under Fire; Border Battle; Top U.S. General Visits Syria and Afghanistan. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Dianne, thank you very much, Dianne Gallagher.

All right. We roll on, on this President's Day. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. You're watching CNN.

The powers of the executive branch will be put to the true test over President Trump's emergency declaration to build his border wall. The declaration will provide $3.6 billion of the $8 billion that Trump wants to build this barrier.

And Democrats and Republicans are digging in, preparing for what is expected to be a fierce fight. Just this afternoon, protesters opposing the declaration took to the streets. But even bigger opposition is expected to play out on two tracks here, in court and in Congress.

And there are signs that the courts will be posing that the larger threat to the emergency declaration. And we will get into that in just a second.

But, first, let me turn now to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins, who is in Miami covering President Trump there.

And so how is the White House preparing the fight that will obviously be challenging the president's declaration, both legally and politically?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, they're doubling down, essentially, on their argument that the president has the right to do this.

You saw Stephen Miller, the president's chief immigration adviser, out on the Sunday shows yesterday, not only clarifying that remark from the president, where he said, I didn't have to do this, but I would rather do it much faster, a remark that a lot of the president's critics seized on, saying that that was proof, in and of itself, that this wasn't a real emergency, but also maintaining that, if -- like you were talking about these challenges, not only legal, but challenges from lawmakers as well, as we know that Democrats are preparing to introduce a joint resolution to try to repeal this national emergency. And Stephen Miller made clear in an interview with Chris Wallace that

if that does come the situation, that the president will use the first veto of his presidency to overrule them. They believe the president has the authority to do this.

And even though they have not pointed to any precedent before where our president has declared a national emergency to use funds to do something that Congress has firmly rejected, as we have seen play out this week, they believe that the president is in the right here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: They say the president is the right. You, meantime, are in Miami, where Trump is set to speak shortly about specifically the crisis in Venezuela.

What will we be hearing from him? What we're going to see is what we have seen from the past month, since the White House and administration recognized one Juan Guaido, this opposition leader in Venezuela, as the country's true leader.

But the specific message that we're likely to hear from President Trump when he takes the stage here behind me is, he is going to be sending a firm message to those military officials in Venezuela, urging them to embrace Guaido and allow that humanitarian aid to come into the country.

That's aide that the U.S. military flew into Colombia. It's sitting on the Venezuela border. But, so far, Maduro has blocked that aid from getting into the country. Now, some reporters and I were just speaking with John Bolton, the president's national security adviser, over here besides the stage, in advance of the president getting here.

He said they don't expect to be able to force their way to let that humanitarian aid in. But they want those military officials to embrace Guaido, to let that aid in, to help their country and go along with the U.S.' efforts so far to replace Maduro with Guaido as Venezuela's leader -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. Kaitlan Collins standing by for that speech from President Trump. We saw Marine One over Mar-a-Lago, not yet on his way there to Miami. We will we will keep an eye on you and on Miami. Thank you, Kaitlan.

And now just on the challenges that the president is facing over this national emergency declaration. He will be facing these challenges both through the courts and in Congress.

So, for that piece of all of this, let's go to see CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza.

And, Chris, let's start with Congress.

So, the national emergency act doesn't allow for a way to block a president's declaration.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: OK, stay with me. Lots of ins, lots of outs. It's complicated.

But let's let's go through this piece first. OK. Congress can pass a privileged resolution that would say Donald Trump cannot do this. He cannot set the emergency act. Donald Trump would veto that resolution. How do we know.

Well, Kaitlan mentioned this? Because Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller told us. Let's to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": If they pass a resolution of disapproval, 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..

WALLACE: So, yes, he will veto?

MILLER: He's going to protect his national emergency declaration, guaranteed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CILLIZZA: So, yes, he would veto. Chris Wallace was right there.

Stephen Miller didn't want to see it. OK, what happens if he vetoes that measure of disapproval? Congress needs to get two-thirds of the vote in the House and the Senate to override the veto. That's not going to happen.

So this is sort of a symbolic piece of it, because at the end of the day, there's no way a Republican-controlled Senate, two-thirds of the Senate, is going to break with Donald Trump, Brooke.

[15:05:00]

BALDWIN: So, all right, thanks to you and graphics, we understand sort of how this could go...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: ... within Congress, but what about the courts?

CILLIZZA: OK.

BALDWIN: We know California's attorney general says he's going to file a lawsuit sometime today to stop this whole thing. And he claims about a dozen states plan to join.

So, how does that play out?

CILLIZZA: Right.

So, Xavier Becerra in an interview with Kate Bolduan earlier on our on our air, not unexpectedly, said: I'm going to file suit over this.

So let's talk about what we're talking about, because this is the really important piece. The legal piece is the important piece here.

OK, we're talking about the 1976 National Emergencies Act. OK? This is to clarify what a president can and can't do, just a bit of the language. A period of national emergency of any special or extraordinary power, the president is authorized to declare such national emergency. OK, so let's go through the arguments.

The argument for Trump's ability to do so is just this language. It gives broad -- Congress gave him broad latitude to any special or extraordinary power. OK, that's one argument.

The other argument is, well, you have seen border crossings down. You have seen -- despite Donald Trump saying it, you have seen most drugs entering through a port of entry. And then there's this.

Donald Trump, again, often his own worst enemy. This from Friday in announcing emerged declaration, Brooke, does not help Donald Trump's case. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I would rather do it much faster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CILLIZZA: So if you didn't need to do it, then why is it a national emergency, right? So that's the case.

Now, this will be appealed, appealed, appealed. It will get to the Supreme Court. Now, I think we have a Supreme Court graphic. Look, if you follow the Supreme Court, you know the deal here, five conservatives, four liberals.

We now have Brett Kavanaugh, right, here, and we have Neil Gorsuch. So you now have a majority that Donald Trump probably feels pretty good about. In fact, again, from Friday, he said the quiet part out loud and talked about this. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And we will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn't be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we'll get another bad ruling, and then we'll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we'll get a fair shake and we'll win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CILLIZZA: So, just because I'm a nerd, that was a 63-word sentence, just FYI. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You were counting.

CILLIZZA: His point here is, look, this will get appealed, appealed until he's right. It will get the Supreme Court and then we will see what happens.

He mentions the ban. He's talking about the travel ban, obviously a huge legal fight from early in his presidency, that he was eventually the winner in.

And again you're talking about at least some of it is this majority. This is what conservatives voted for when they voted for Donald Trump, despite the fact that many of them didn't like him, five conservative justices, four liberal justices -- Brooke, back to you got.

BALDWIN: Got it. Chris Cillizza, well done. Thank you very much for the paths forward here on this whole thing.

Meantime, President Trump's close friend Chris Ruddy just spent the weekend with him down at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. And moments ago, Ruddy told CNN how Trump thought his national emergency -- national emergency declaration -- easy for me to say -- will play in 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX: I think he's very confident that he's going to win on this border issue, that it's a good issue for him in the public and it's good for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: CNN's political director, David Chalian, with me now live from Manchester, New Hampshire, where several 2020 hopefuls are out and about today.

And so, David, obviously, both parties will try to spin this into the winning issue for them, right, going into 2020. My question to you is, which party will actually have the upper hand?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Right. It's a great question. We don't have the final answer to that yet.

We have clues. Of course, Chris Ruddy is right that Donald Trump is completely confident. This is the issue that animated his entire political existence since he went down that escalator in 2015. It is what he believes helped him vanquish all those other Republicans to get the nomination.

And he believes that it's decision that helped him into the presidency in defeating Hillary Clinton. So, of course he's confident that this works for him. The problem for him is that, right now, the public sentiment shows, yes, Republicans do tend to get fired up around this issue. But overall we see a majority of Americans opposed to the national

emergency declaration. So he's -- what Ruddy is referring to and what Trump's confidence comes from is, I can get my supporters who are already with me really riled up and motivated around this.

I don't think he's making the argument that he can win over the American people with this position.

BALDWIN: OK, what about where you are right now? So you're in New Hampshire ahead of our big presidential town hall with Senator Amy Klobuchar tonight.

And I had this fascinating conversation a couple days ago with this Republican who wrote this opinion piece in one of the big papers essentially arguing that she will give the president the biggest run for his money in terms of the fact that she is from Minnesota.

[15:10:00]

You keep saying Midwestern pragmatic, right? She appeals to both Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans.

Do you see his point? Would you agree?

CHALIAN: Well, I certainly think that is how Senator Klobuchar is going to be presenting herself.

BALDWIN: Yes.

CHALIAN: You have to look at her little differently, Brooke, than we have seen all the other entrants in the race.

She does make that argument about those Midwestern values. And the rest of the folks that are in this race right now that are dominating a lot of the talk are from the coasts, are sort of riding that progressive liberal wing energy that is so palpable inside the Democratic Party.

And what Senator Klobuchar is presenting is, hey, I'm from the middle of the country. I am the senator next door, she calls herself, when she's in Iowa, right, being from Minnesota? And she hopes that that will be able to springboard a candidacy here.

She talks about bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle. She does present herself as a pragmatist. The question is, is that going to be a viable path to the Democratic nomination when there's all this energy and enthusiasm and excitement on the left party?

Potentially, if that gets split up really thinly among a lot of other candidates, maybe there is a path here for Senator Klobuchar. She's certainly going to test that proposition in this race.

BALDWIN: Meantime, the person who when you look at the polling is at the top of the polls for taking the nomination, and potentially the presidency, would be a man who's not even technically running yet, which is the vice for -- the former Vice President Joe Biden. And I just want to play this moment. It was caught on camera when the

president of Armenia asked him about whether or not he would run, this happening over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, how are you, Mr. President? I'm sorry. I walked right by you. I apologize.

ARMEN SARKISSIAN, PRESIDENT OF ARMENIA: You cannot walk by me.

BIDEN: No, no, I can't.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: Good to see you.

SARKISSIAN: How are you?

BIDEN: Good. How are you doing?

Do you have a card?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.

BIDEN: You can get me through -- I don't have a card.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I mean, when you watch this conversation between the two men, and it just begs the greater question, will he or won't he?

And just reading through the political tea leaves, as you are so tapped in, David Chalian, what are you hearing?

CHALIAN: All indications are from people who are familiar with Biden's thinking is that things are being built to allow him to say yes, go.

However, I just want to caution nobody in that universe has yet said he has fully made up his mind. So there is a sense inside the Biden world that this can wait a little bit, that he doesn't have to be out there with everyone at this particular moment, though donors and others are eager to hear him make up his mind whether or not he's going to do this.

He thinks he has a little bit more time. So while no decision is made yet, there is a complete operation that is putting together the pieces of what would need to start launching should he decide to do this.

He clearly seems, right -- look at that conversation you were just playing -- like he wants to do this, as if he's poised to do this.

BALDWIN: They're ready. They will be ready if he says go. He just hasn't said go yet. And to the point of where you are in New Hampshire, we will all be tuning in tonight's CNN presidential town hall. Don Lemon moderates, as voters ask questions of Senator Amy Klobuchar. That is 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN live from New Hampshire.

David Chalian, thank you very much.

Coming up next here on CNN, we're going to dig into the bizarre circumstances around that alleged attack -- yes, alleged -- against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. The brothers who were arrested and then let go from police have just released a statement. We will share that and here why my next guest says the whole incident could be a major setback for the LGBTQ community.

Plus, a network exclusive, CNN on the ground in Syria when the top U.S. commander makes a surprise visit to Kurdish allies, what he says about the risk of ISIS resurging.

And, later, the friend of the president speculates that the director of national intelligence may be the next Cabinet member to go, just as the White House is planning a second summit with North Korea.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:33]

BALDWIN: A public relations firm representing actor Jussie Smollett says he is not planning to meet with Chicago police today, the two law enforcement sources telling CNN that police believe the star of Fox's hit show "Empire" actually paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him in January, something Smollett vehemently denies through his attorneys.

The actor initially told Chicago police that he was the victim of a hate crime when two men yelled racial and homophobic slurs, put a rope around his neck and poured some sort of chemical substance on him.

Two brothers who were questioned are now cooperating with investigators and they just released the statement, writing: "We are not racist, we are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens."

Last week, Smollett blasted those who are skeptical of his story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: Who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) would make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be?

I can't -- I can't even -- I'm an advocate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, two journalists covering the story, Adrienne Gibbs, a columnist for "Forbes," and Ernest Owens, a writer at large for "Philadelphia" magazine.

So, thank you both very much for being with me.

And, Ernest, I read what you wrote. Really, initially, you jumped to defend Jussie after the initial report surfaced. And now you say you don't believe him.

Can you just tell me why, for you, this feels like such a punch in the gut?

[15:20:05]

ERNEST OWENS, "PHILADELPHIA": Thank you for having me on, Brooke.

BALDWIN: That was a big sigh.

OWENS: Personally, I feel bamboozled, hoodwinked, and betrayed.

I just completely am upset that, after all this time, after these -- this is Black History Month. And we're seeing such a devastation happen for the community, for the LGBTQ community and for black people in general.

As a black gay man myself, I want to believe victims, especially those in our community that are subjected to hate crimes. I have experienced racism and homophobia in my life. And it -- it resonated with me to hear that someone like Jussie Smollett, whether he was rich or a celebrity or whatnot, would experienced this type of hatred.

And I wanted to believe him, because we have to have humanity, right, hold space for people who are experiencing any type of oppression.

And to find out that a lot of this information coming, that there is a lie disgusted me. And I could not be silent.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: ... devastating.

Sure, sure, sure, sure.

Adrienne, how do you feel?

ADRIENNE GIBBS, "FORBES": Well, I have written extensively about this for Forbes.com, where I'm a contributor.

And the issue is that this is a terrible situation that Jussie has told police that happened. The other issue was that there have been so many leaks to different media from the police that now none of us really know what is the full and total way that these events have gone.

BALDWIN: Sure.

GIBBS: So, at this point, I'm personally feeling, and the people I have interviewed have echoed this as well, that you just need some charges to come forward. We need the police to come forward, put a name to it, and to say whatever it is or whatever it isn't.

And given that Chicago police have had kind of an interesting history with people of color, it's just a really tough thing. I think Ava DuVernay tweeted yesterday about...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Right.

GIBBS: There are some people that think that's the issue.

But, ultimately, people just want the truth, whatever happened. Something happened. And it would make everyone just -- we can exhale if we could just figure out what it is, so we can talk about it and move on, because there is damage.

OWENS: Well, that's going to require -- that's going to require Jussie to step forward.

I mean, I'm a journalist. And, for me, accountability starts with the person who's calling out the shots. He got on "Good Morning America," he gave us this sob story, and now all of a sudden he doesn't want to cooperate with police today, after an entire weekend?

Where they do that at? I'm looking at it with a side eye. All this information is coming forward, and now all of a sudden he doesn't want to cooperate with police.

(CROSSTALK)

OWENS: He redacted information in phone messages.

BALDWIN: What do you want to hear him say? If in fact -- and this is the if -- he made this whole thing up, how can he right this wrong?

OWENS: I don't think he can right this wrong.

I think he needs to take a time-out. I think he needs to fall back. I think he needs to first and foremost apologize to the community, apologize for all those people that was rooting for him. We were rooting for you, Jussie.

And I think that it's embarrassing that, regardless, we know that he knows who these two men were. We know that these two men were on the scene of the incident. We know that these two men, at their house, there is information that suggested and points the finger to them. They don't have any reason to lie.

I mean, they have literally said that he has given them $3,500 to go to Nigeria and $500 to get back. They're two black men. So these are not white men, and they are men who clearly, I don't -- they don't -- supposedly aren't homophobic because they have been friends with Jussie.

So he claims that he didn't know who these men were and that they said this is MAGA country. I'm just trying to figure out where's the confusion here. So he needs to cooperate with police.

He needs to come clean and he needs to fall back.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Adrienne.

GIBBS: You know, Ernest, I think the confusion comes in because we have heard so many versions of the story.

And for some of this, we as media are complicit in this.

OWENS: So many versions from Jussie. So many different versions from Jussie.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: There are lots of media entities that are aggregating information.

And that is sometimes the problem with aggregated news. When you aggregate news and you didn't take the time to report it yourself, you might not know the full text of whatever's happening. People are quoting so and so, quoting the next one, quoting the next one.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: I do think that is where a lot of the confusion initially came from.

(CROSSTALK)

GIBBS: Now we just need to wait on the Chicago Police Department to come forward just say whatever it's going to be.

That's what I'm waiting on, the Chicago police to say, according to us, this is actually what happened or, according to us, we can't figure it out and we need more leads. So there's got to be -- there's got to be a way to squash this, to end this.

BALDWIN: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: And, Ernest, I hear you on that he needs to fall back. I feel -- I feel the passion from both of you all.

Ernest and Adrienne, thank you so much. This is what everyone is talking about, this story.

I appreciate both of you.

OWENS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Now to this. A top U.S. military commander has just arrived in Afghanistan for a

surprise visit just hours after he made a similar stop in Northern Syria.

[15:25:00]

He is talking to allies in the midst of President Trump's plan to pull troops out. Here what General Joseph Votel told CNN, in a network exclusive.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: The top U.S. general in charge of the fight against ISIS visiting Afghanistan, after stopping in Northern Syria today, to deliver the news in person to the allied commander that U.S. troops are indeed leaving Syria.