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Source Says Grand Jury Convened in R. Kelly Investigation; Police Sources Say Evidence Suggests Smollett Orchestrated Attack; U.K. Lawmakers Calling Facebook "Digital Gangsters". Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired February 18, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Too many microphones around for that answer. We'll have to contact him.

Still to come, a grand jury convened in the case of R&B singer, R. Kelly, as he faces new allegations. We'll have those details ahead.

Plus, British lawmakers calling Facebook "digital gangsters." How the digital giant is responding.


[13:35:00] HILL: We're following new develops in the R. Kelly case. Sources are telling CNN the grand jury has been convened in connection with new allegations against the singer.

Sara Sidner has been following the details in this case and joins us now with the latest.

Sara, what are you learning about this?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, we have learned from a couple of sources that a grand jury has been convened here in Chicago in relation to a case against R. Kelly, though the state's attorney's office will not confirm whether there's an investigation into R. Kelly. We know this past week, Lawyer Michael Avenatti, turned in a tape, a tape he says he uncovered and one he says has information on it that could be very helpful in a case against R. Kelly. That tape we reviewed. It does show some very disturbing scenes in it. As we understand it, the tape is on VHS, and we're told it's an older tape. We don't know from which year. What you hear on the tape and see is a man who appears to be R. Kelly. He walks into frame, he's naked. He's constantly adjusting the camera, so it appears he's the person making movie. He comes into the frame, you see a young girl who is lying there. You hear her refer to her genitalia multiple times, saying that it's 14 years old. And then he repeats basically what she says, acknowledging the age that she says her genitalia is. You also hear him and her talking quite a bit. There's other sex acts I will not get into. That tape is certainly one of the reasons why this grand jury was convened, according to our sources. We know there will certainly be witnesses coming forward as well.

At this point we do not know whether or not or how long this grand jury may be reconvened and whether or not any decision has been be made at his point at all, but we understand from two sources that a grand jury has been convened in this case -- Erica?

HILL: Sara Sidner, with the latest from Chicago. Sara, thank you.

Up next, hate crime or hoax? That question being asking after stunning new developments in the alleged assault against actor, Jussie Smollett. Police want answers. The latest on this story, next.


[13:41:52] HILL: Chicago police want to speak with "Empire" actor, Jussie Smollett, after a stunning development in his alleged attack. The actor's attorneys say there are no plans for that meeting to happen today. Two law enforcement sources tell CNN police believe the actor paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him in January. Smollett denies that. The "Empire" actor previously told police he was the victim of a hate crime where two men yelled racial and homophobic slurs, put a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.

CNN legal analyst, Joey Jackson, weighed in on what he saw as a number of questions early on in the case. Take a listen.


JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think people were troubled from the beginning predicated upon a number of things. Number one, you wait 40 minutes to call the police. Number two, you still have the noose around your neck. Number three, you still have your Subway sandwiches with you. You know, it goes all the way down the line.

The police are looking to call him back in to question him. That's a no-no. He can't do it. He's already locked into the story. He's already told the police.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: You would advise him not to?

JACKSON: He can't. How can he do that? Because now, Kate, you're not a victim of a crime. You're a potential defendant.


HILL: CNN chief media correspondent and anchor of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, joining me now.

Brian, Jussie Smollett, he didn't speak to police today we learned. But he did speak with ABC about this incident last week before these new revelations. Here's what he had to say in response to some of the skepticism at the time.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: Who in 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.


HILL: People are obviously going back, they're looking at that interview perhaps in a different light, in light of what happened over the weekend. What do you make of that?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Yes. Some of the -- the exact question he asked in that interview is the question we ask now, who the heck makes something like this up. That's the theory from the police right now that he orchestrated the attack. Why did he go on ABC a few days earlier and absolutely reiterate that he believes he was a victim of hate crime?

One of the theories, Erica, is maybe FOX was going to write him off "Empire." Maybe he was about to lose his job on the show "Empire." FOX has denied that. They say they have no plans for that and have been supporting him. But all that changed on Saturday when this new reporting came out. We've heard nothing new from the "Empire" cast. There was one producer that came out supporting Jussie, but for the most part, silence from those who had been supporting him. They're in a wait-and-see approach. We're waiting to see what he tells the police, if he's going to speak to the police at all. It's clear Smollett is lawyered up, he's taking advice of lawyers. And ultimately, it's going to take the Chicago P.D., who have done a great job in this case, to try to help everybody figure out what happened here.

HILL: As people are trying to figure out what happened, I know this is one of the things you tackled in your newsletter this morning about whether there was enough -- I guess, skepticism is one of the words, just due diligence and reporting in the way this was covered. How do you feel it was handled?

[13:44:56] STELTER: It depends on the "we" in the situation. There was a rush to judgment when this alleged attack happened. The headlines were horrific. When he described what happened, it was very disturbing. They rushed to condemn the alleged attack. I understand where their hearts were. Their hearts were in the right case. This is a case where there's a desire to rush to judgment in either direction. It was pretty clear after a few days the police were not able to find a lot of evidence. There weren't security camera videos or anything like that to support his account. So this was starting to unravel. And clearly it took a big turn when they spoke a few minutes ago and they suggested Smollett orchestrated the attack. Bottom line, there was a rush to judgment. Now we have to be careful that we don't make the opposite rush to justice and make it worst. Smollett is still saying he's the victim of a hate crime. His lawyers still say he's a victim of a hate crime. We need to hear more from him and his side of the story.

Right now, it's still a mystery. And to so many viewers, it's incredibly frustrating because, if he did make this up, it boggles the mind, it really does.

HILL: Brian, always appreciate it. Thank you.

STELTER: Thanks. HILL: A stunning new report from British lawmakers says Facebook

knowingly and intentionally violated data privacy laws, calling the social media giant "digital gangsters."


[13:51:02] HILL: "Digital gangsters." Just let that sink in for a minute. That's how British lawmakers are characterizing Facebook behavior towards data privacy and competition laws. It's part of a new report on social media disinformation, otherwise, known as fake news.

CNN Business reporter, Hadas Gold, joins us from London.

Hadas, the report itself, not critical of solely Facebook but Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

HADAS GOLD, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This report was scathing about specifically Facebook but it had to deal with social media and disinformation, Facebook was the main target of this 18-month long investigation by a U.K. parliamentary committee. They did dozens of hearings and tried to get Mark Zuckerberg to show up several times and he has, so far, refused to the point that actually the chair of this committee told me that if Zuckerberg steps foot in the United Kingdom, they will subpoena him to come before them.

What they found in this investigation is also having to do with some internal e-mails they obtained between Facebook executives and those e-mails, they say, show them just what they believe is the disregard Facebook had for user data and user privacy.

Let me read to you a little bit about what they say in the report. "Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like digital gangsters in the online world, considering themselves to be head of and beyond the law."

This report also issued some recommendations on what should be done in the United Kingdom, including appointing an independent regulator who would regulate these tech companies and would have the ability to institute fines. These are recommendations.

But this report matters. The United Kingdom is in the middle of a big conversation considering how to regulate these social media platforms. This is all in reaction to things like the Cambridge Analytical scandal, including here in the United Kingdom. This is something the U.K. and Europe are taking very seriously. And are honestly ahead of the United States when it comes to how and whether they should regulate these tech companies.

HILL: How is Facebook responding to all of this?

GOLD: Facebook came out and they said that they did not knowingly violate data privacy or competition law. They said in a statement that they are "open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform, and we support privacy legislation that holds companies to high standards in their use of data and transparency."

This is a different Facebook than a few years ago. Mark Zuckerberg scoffed at the idea that Facebook could be used to influence elections. "We are not the same company we were before and we are already doing things that are addressing some of these issues in this report."

But Facebook knows that the regulation is going to first come from the United Kingdom and Europe because they have different laws that make it easier for them to put these regulations into place. And the United States government is paying close attention to what's happening in the U.K. and Europe and will see how regulations work out and then they might think about instituting it themselves. We have reports that the FTC is looking into Facebook as well. The wild west of the Internet is soon to be over if the regulators have their way -- Erica?

HILL: It's interesting that their response does feel a slightly different from what we have heard from Facebook in the past where they have dragged their feet, oftentimes in terms of any response at all and seem to come at it with a different attitude.

GOLD: They definitely are. Coming at it from a recognition that this they're in the defensive now, and they need to kind of own up to what they have done. That's why they say, in their statements, we're different than what we were in the past, this has been a tough year for us. They recognize their mistakes. They want to avoid these fines. These fines to tech companies are nothing to a company for Facebook. They are $500, 000, something like that. Some of the new regulations are suggesting fines in the percentage of global revenue. For a company like Facebook, let's say, 4 percent of annual global revenue, that's in the billions of dollars. That will hurt Facebook's bottom line.

HILL: Amazing to think that 4 percent is in the brake lights.

Hadas Gold, appreciate it. Thank you.

GOLD: Thank you.

[13:54:59] HILL: The president today firing back at former acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, after McCabe said President Trump's own words led the bureau to launch a counterintelligence and obstruction probe against the president.


[13:59:54] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on this President's Day Monday.

Let me begin with new revelations from the former acting director of the FBI. Why Andrew McCabe says he was fired, and why President Trump's own words led him to launch counterintelligence and obstruction investigations.