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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Jussie Smollett in Court; New Gag Order Placed on Roger Stone. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired February 21, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: All this is coming to a head, Mueller report, Stone, which is obviously a part of that, Cohen testifying, right?
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.
CILLIZZA: It's all starting to move together. We knew this time would come, when all these streams would come together.
BALDWIN: All right.
CILLIZZA: This looks like that time.
CILLIZZA: How Donald Trump reacts, who knows?
BALDWIN: All right, Chris, thank you so much.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Special coverage continues right now with Jake Tapper.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Big day for courtroom sketch artists.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Breaking news. Former Trump Roger Stone in court right now attempting to say sorry to the judge after he posted a photo of her with what looked like crosshairs in the corner. Any moment, the judge's ruling, might she lock him up?
Also in court today, Jussie Smollett. Chicago's top cop says the actor paid two men to stage an alleged hate crime attack, in fact, just over three weeks ago. The texts that Smollett exchanged with those men were just read out loud in the courtroom. What did they say?
Plus, an active-duty Coast Guard officer accused of planning a terrorist attack in the United States, his hit list filled with the names of politicians and journalists, as he stockpiled more than a dozen guns.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with breaking news. Former Trump adviser Roger Stone is in court right now taking the stand and attempting to apologize for his Instagram posts. Stone posted on Monday a photo of Judge Amy Berman Jackson with what appears to be the crosshairs of a gun in the corner, the caption referencing the -- quote -- "deep state hit man" Robert Mueller and calling his case a -- quote -- "show trial."
The blurring you see of the judge's images is CNN's own blurring.
Stone deleted the picture soon after and reposted it, this time without the crosshairs. He later took down that post as well. Minutes ago on the stand, Stone told Judge Jackson he was kicking himself for the post, saying he was heartfelt sorry, but Stone could not explain who sent him that particular photo and he claimed he did not recognize the crosshairs at first.
Stone was arrested and charged last month with lying to congressional investigators about his efforts to communicate with WikiLeaks to try to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.
CNN's Sara Murray has been in the courtroom today.
And, Sara, I understand there's a ruling just in?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. The judge has decided to gag Roger Stone completely.
We have our folks inside the courtroom. We have folks outside the courtroom. This is just now coming from the judge. Remember, Roger Stone had a fairly tailored gag order before. He just couldn't speak about the case around this courthouse.
Now the judge has said, no, Mr. Stone, I'm not giving you another chance. This is after Roger Stone decided to take the stand in his own defense. But the judge said that his apology rung hollow, she didn't feel like his testimony was credible. And now she's saying he cannot make any statements about the investigation or any participants in the investigation, not on the radio, no press releases, no media interviews, nothing on social media.
And, Jake, you could go tell the judges very aggravated when she was in court today. She found that Roger Stone had been shifting in his stories of how this post came to be. There were a lot of questions from her, as well as from prosecutors, about why he posted that image twice, his role in it.
And he wasn't able to answer their question about where the image came from in the first place, which seemed to be a point of frustration for the judge in particular, Jake.
TAPPER: And, Sara, Stone took the stand. He did apologize for the post. He claimed he didn't know what that symbol meant that looked very much like a crosshairs. But it's also just not the photo and the crosshairs image. It's also the content of the caption.
MURRAY: Well, that's right.
Jake, and the judge did say, look, there's nothing ambiguous about crosshairs. So she wasn't buying into this belief that Stone didn't know what that symbol meant or that maybe it stood for something else. She pointed that out.
But she and the prosecutor also pointed out that he then had this caption that he wrote on the Instagram post, which took him at the judge. It took aim at special counsel Robert Mueller, and then he continued to do interviews. He went on Infowars and said that this was all something the media was ginning up to make him look bad.
And so she really felt that his statements around this Instagram post in interviews didn't reflect what he was showing up in court and trying to deliver as this heartfelt apology, and that's why the judge, I think, Jake, said that this rang hollow.
TAPPER: All right, David Urban is going to join us and talk about this.
Sara Murray, thank you so much.
David Urban, I want to go right to you, Stone trying to play dumb on the -- on the stand here, crosshairs, Instagram post, and the judge was just not buying it.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's hard to understand how, when you're looking down the barrel of a bunch of years in prison, that you don't understand, when the judge says don't say things about -- don't go outside these two lines, and you go far afield of that, you don't understand there's going to be repercussions.
URBAN: It's pretty incredulous.
TAPPER: The judge was clearly concerned that Stone was trying to incite something.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.
TAPPER: And she said she was not convinced that he was just all talk, no action, that she was -- she thought he was trying to get somebody to do something potentially to her.
Do you think there's that much strategy going on in Roger Stone's head?
SANDERS: I don't know if he specifically thought that posting this would then lead directly to someone doing something.
But the insinuation is absolutely there. I mean, Roger Stone, this is a pattern for him. This is something he -- this behavior is not out of the ordinary. And it's so interesting that he would not be sitting in courtroom today, he wouldn't have the spotlight on him had he not tied himself to Donald Trump.
All of this, all of this, that Roger Stone is -- quote -- "going through," because Roger Stone thinks he's the victim here, but whatever, is because he tied himself to Donald Trump. So, look, these...
TAPPER: Because he lied.
SANDERS: And because he lied.
But, again, I wouldn't put it past him, Jake, that Roger Stone had lied previously. But because -- previously in various other instances -- but specifically because Roger Stone has tied himself to Donald Trump, he's gotten mixed up into the mess of his candidacy and now the presidency, he is sitting in this courtroom for antics he regularly engages in.
TAPPER: It is odd, Paul, that a president of the United States would be associated with somebody like this.
I mean, there are sleazy people in all walks of life, but normally there's at least one person who's a buffer between the politician and the sleaze.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and Mr. Stone has been close to this president for 40 years. He's probably got the longest political relationship with Donald Trump of anybody, was key to his activities in Atlantic City, pushed him in previous times to run maybe for governor of New York, maybe for president.
They're terribly close. They're very, very close. And I know Mr. Stone like to sort of hold himself out in public as a merry prankster. And this is not a prank, this is not a joke. There was a federal judge murdered when Gabby Giffords was shot in 2011 in Tucson, Judge John Roll.
We don't even have to go back except to 2017 when Steve Scalise, a Republican congressman, was murdered by a political terrorist who wanted to kill Republicans.
TAPPER: He survived. He was shot.
BEGALA: He survived. He was shot. He was not killed. Thank God he is still with us.
TAPPER: Very serious. BEGALA: But there are really evil people out there. And those of us in a public eye have to be really careful not to incite violence.
When you post a picture of a judge with crosshairs, that's just not a mistake. That could be incitement.
ANTONIA FERRIER, FORMER STAFF DIRECTOR, SENATE REPUBLICAN COMMUNICATIONS CENTER: Totally agree.
I think we have seen far too much incendiary rhetoric going on for far too long. I think we have seen anti-Semitism on the rise in New York, all over the world. I think we need to just settle down and stop with this kind of chicanery and all of that.
TAPPER: I want to bring in the former assistant us attorney for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig.
Elie, what did you make of Roger Stone's explanation this afternoon in court for the Instagram post, his claim that it was -- it was not intended to be threatening?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It was extremely Roger Stone-ish.
And by that, I mean he was trying to have it both ways, and it was highly non-credible. This idea that he didn't know how the image got on his phone. He didn't know how the image got posted. He didn't know which of his volunteers -- I don't know who's volunteering for Roger Stone. But he didn't know which of his volunteers did this.
And three bad things came out of this hearing for Roger Stone. One, he's got a complete gag order on him now. Two, the prosecutor and the judge both said on the record that they found Stone's testimony not credible. That's going to have a major hit if and when he gets sentenced down the line.
There are sentencing enhancements for giving false testimony. And, three, Stone still could be looking at a new federal charge. And at the end of the hearing, when the judge says on the record in front of the prosecutor, I found that post to be threatening, if I'm -- if I'm back in the prosecutor's chair, I'm going back to my office. And I'm going to my chief and I'm saying we need to think hard about whether we're charging him for the federal crime of threatening a federal judge.
TAPPER: Well, let me ask you, I mean, was it not wise for the defense to put him on the stand, to put Roger Stone on the stand?
HONIG: It was incredibly risky. I was shocked when we found out that this was happening.
I think their thought was, this is the only way we can avoid having a more restrictive gag order put on. So they rolled the dice a little bit, but, boy, did it backfire on him terribly. TAPPER: Are you surprised at the way the judge spoke with him? I
mean, I know obviously nobody likes to be threatened or feel like they're being threatened. And there is -- there are greater punishments in this country for threats and crimes against people who are symbols of law enforcement, whether police officers are judges.
But her tone was really very, very sharp.
HONIG: Yes, I give her a lot of credit, Judge Jackson. She has shown before -- she had a piece of the Manafort case. She is a no-nonsense judge. Her ruling was not at all mealymouthed.
She came right out and said what needed to be said. She understands probably as well as anybody that there are real threats out there to judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and she -- look, she really could have sent him to jail.
I have had criminal defendants in cases I have handled sent to jail for far less than putting an image of rifle crosshairs over the shoulder of a judge. I have had defendants remanded for getting caught smoking marijuana, for missing curfew, for minor things like that.
So, in a sense, Roger Stone should be thanking his lucky stars that he gets to walk out the front door of that courtroom today.
TAPPER: I want to go back to Sara Murray, who's at the courthouse.
Sara, do we have any indication, if Stone does anything like this again, which, let's face it, he could, what the punishment will be, what the repercussion will be?
MURRAY: Yes, she warned him, Jake, in court that he could be detained.
She pointed out to him that this -- there was not going to be a third chance. If he violated this order, he could be detained. And, look, he's not allowed to talk publicly about this case. There are a few exceptions.
He can ask for money for his legal defense fund. He can say he's innocent, and that's about it. He can still talk publicly about any other subject. This is one of the arguments Roger Stone and his attorneys made, that he makes his money being able to speak publicly. And she's still preserving that right for him.
But she's giving him a very stern warning, Jake. That's always been one of the concerns about Roger Stone, that if you put a gag order on his case, he could just decide to violate it. And she's saying, look, if you decide to do that, I'm not afraid to put you in jail
TAPPER: All right, Sara, thanks so much.
David Urban? URBAN: Yes. I was just going to say Roger Stone has played the caricature of Roger Stone.
TAPPER: Here's Roger Stone. I just have to point out, that's Roger walking out of court right now with this team.
URBAN: He's played this character for his entire career.
And today I think he kind of went up against the wall of what the line is too far. He has always pushed the line. And I think he went over that line today and found out he got smacked down pretty hard by the judge.
TAPPER: And let's just remember why we're even covering this.
Roger Stone is referenced by Mueller during the indictment of Roger Stone. It said -- quote -- "After the July 22, 2016, release of stolen DNC e-mails by Organization 1" -- that's WikiLeaks -- "a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1" -- that's WikiLeaks -- "had regarding the Clinton campaign."
Mueller also claims to have direct evidence of Stone's contacts with WikiLeaks, which U.S. officials say has ties to Russian intelligence.
So, I mean, there is a -- it's not just a freak show. There is a significance in terms of the Mueller investigation here.
The accusations against Stone are not only that he lied, but that perhaps in these documents they are indicating he could have been central to a conspiracy to invade the United States by means of cyber- invasion, which is what the Russians did in the 2016 election.
That's deadly serious stuff. Roger could go to jail for a very longtime. And I think David's right, that he somehow seems to not understand the gravity of the situation.
URBAN: I think -- at the end of the day, I think you're going to find out that there's not -- there's no big smoking gun there between Roger Stone and the Russians, other than Roger Stone's own hubris and standing up and taunting the special counsel, saying, I haven't been indicted, I haven't been called before the grand jury, I have done nothing.
And, you know, you saw him coming out of this courthouse completely differently than he came out of the courthouse after he was arrested in the Nixonian pose and almost enjoying it, right? He didn't look like he was enjoying walking out right there.
SANDERS: Absolutely not.
I do want to say to your point about that there's no smoking gun here, look, I think the fact that Roger Stone has been charged, is in the courtroom repeatedly shows there is some there there, that the special counsel says there are these e-mails.
But her e-mails, OK? we're back talking about e-mails yet again almost four years later, about his e-mails.
SANDERS: And so there is some -- I have always said where there's smoke, there's fire. And this may not be the fire that some of my very good progressive friends have been looking for, but this is a type of fire.
It seems to be that Roger Stone was instrumental in orchestrating the release of the WikiLeaks -- of the e-mails from WikiLeaks or some...
SANDERS: And I just want to note, as someone that just -- I mean, I was on the campaign trail in 2016.
We're going back into a presidential election season. That is not normal. You should not have this kind of content...
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.
We're going to follow some more breaking news, as "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett also just appeared in court, accused of faking a hate crime, the new details revealed, and the judge's tough words for a different defendant -- next.
[16:18:12] TAPPER: Breaking news. Any moment we're expecting to see "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett leave court after posting bond. Prosecutors just laid out point by point their case against Smollett, revealing extensive details about the planning behind the alleged attack, including prosecutors say he had his attackers buy red hats to resemble "Make America Great Again" hats.
Smollett just wrapped up his first court appearance where the judge set bail at $100,000 and had him surrender his passport.
CNN's Nick Watt joins me live from Chicago.
Nick, you were in the courtroom today. There was a lot of drama, a lot of surprising information.
NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, there were no cameras in there, but reporters were allowed in. It was an extraordinary scene. Smollett walked in, wearing a black puffer jacket, looking straight ahead. No expression on his face. His family was in the courtroom. They stood as Jussie entered the courtroom and they stayed standing throughout the proceedings.
As you mentioned, the prosecutor laid out their case that this was not a hate crime, that Jussie Smollett was not attacked by two people shouting "MAGA country" but that, in fact, he orchestrated this entire attack. And they took us through it point by point, how it was Smollett's idea, how he first recruited one brother, then the other brother. There were a number of texts and phone calls that they cited to back up their case.
You know, they also told us that Smollett took the brothers to the scene, talked through them what was going to happen, that they were supposed to him but not too hard and they were supposed to let him fight back. He apparently told these brothers that they were to shout at him, "This is MAGA country." And as you mentioned, he had also given them $100 to buy supplies, including the noose that made that rope -- the rope that made the noose, sorry. And the clothing they were wearing that night.
[16:20:01] And also, very interesting on the camera. He pointed out the camera to the brothers and then when he was speaking to police, he told the police, I think the attack was caught on that camera. In fact, it wasn't. It was pointing the other way. Jake?
TAPPER: Nick, this day kicked off with a pretty intense news conference from the Chicago police superintendent who did not hold back when it came to criticizing Smollett.
WATT: Yes, listen, Jake, in this job we get used to what I call law enforcement speak. When they give press conferences, it's usually kind of "just the facts, man," approach. That was not this. There were a lot of facts, don't get me wrong, but also Superintendent Eddie Johnson was really speaking from the heart.
And he said, you know, this city has taken in Jussie Smollett and he has slapped everyone in the city across the face. Take a listen.
WATT (voice-over): Chicago police are pissed off. Their words, not mine.
SUPERINTENDENT EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT: I'm offended by what's happened and I'm also angry.
WATT: "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was attacked by two men shouting, "This is MAGA country," hurling homophobic and racist epithets, throwing a noose around his neck. Cue an outpouring of love, sympathy and support on social media but some doubters and a defensive appearance on "Good Morning America."
JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR, "EMPIRE": Who the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) would make something like this up or add something to it or whatever it may be?
WATT: Police say that's exactly what Smollett did. So he went from that tearful TV appearance just last week to today in a courtroom bond hearing.
Police say Smollett knew his attackers, hired them, cut them a check, choreographed this entire attack.
JOHNSON: And why this stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary, so he concocted a story about being attacked.
WATT: Police say they tracked the two alleged attackers using surveillance footage from around the city, identified the two men, one of whom had appeared on "Empire" with Smollett, found out they had flown to Nigeria after the attack on return tickets, arrested them on arrival back in Chicago last week. The law says they can be held for 48 hours for questioning. Eventually, they confessed and were not charged.
JOHNSON: So it wasn't until the 47th hour of their 48-hour hold time that we could legally hold them in custody that it took a change. But when we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off.
WATT: Here is what police say actually happened. That threatening letter that arrived at the "Empire" set the week before the attack, Smollett sent it to himself.
JOHNSON: When that didn't work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process.
WATT: We have video of the two alleged hired attackers the day before, buying the clothes they wore. We also know they bought that rope at a local hardware store. Police believe Smollett planned for the attack to be caught on camera but the nearby camera was facing the other way.
JOHNSON: They punched him a little bit but as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruising you saw on his face was most likely self inflicted.
WATT: Smollett now charged with a felony, filing a false police report. Sentencing guidelines on that, up to three years in jail.
JOHNSON: Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did and then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this. Thank you all.
WATT: Smollett's lawyers, for now, criticizing the investigation, the leaks, saying they will mount an aggressive defense.
WATT: Now, the judge in this case said it would be entirely inappropriate to release Smollett without bail. As we discussed, he posted $100,000. Smollett has had to pay $10,000. We expect him to be leaving that jail cell over there any second now.
Now, the other thing is that judge who was an African-American, he said if this is true, it is utterly outrageous and he spoke specifically about that noose that Smollett allegedly told those men to put over his head. He said that symbol conjures up such an evil in this country. He said innocent until proven, but if true, utterly outrageous -- Jake.
TAPPER: Nick Watt, thank you so much.
I want to bring in two individual.
Symone Sanders, you're one of them. What's your reaction to this story? What?
SANDERS: I mean, look, Jake -- so, one I have spoken with Jussie Smollett's team. I've heard Jussie tell his account in his own words and I want to tell you, when I talked -- when I had this conversation about two days ago, I believed him.
[16:25:07] It was also believable.
But, Jake, when the video came out yesterday of the two gentlemen buying what I refer to as the hate crime starter pack, I, like everyone else, had questions. And so, at this point, my thoughts are that I think we need to see some of the evidence. I think it's very concerning that all of these leaks came from the Chicago police department. So, frankly, all we have is leaks from the Chicago police department, what they've said in this press conference and what Jussie Smollett and his team have said.
So, at the very least, I think we should see the police report. But this is not a good day for Jussie Smollett. And, frankly, it's a terrible day for folks who have not come forward, who have experienced hate crimes and who are now hesitant, maybe hesitant to come forward if something does actually happen to them because of this.
So, it's just not a good day, Jake. It's still a terrible Black History Month.
TAPPER: Take a listen to what the Chicago superintendent said earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And, the judge, according to Nick's report earlier, the judge who is also African-American, expressed a similar sentiment. Obviously, the legacy of lynching in this country is horrific. It's a stain on this nation.
What's your reaction?
SANDERS: Look, again, I think Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker and Senator Tim Scott, they have co-sponsored the bill to make lynching a federal crime. Lynching was still not a federal crime. And a matter of fact, it still isn't in 2019. The bill has passed the Senate but it hasn't passed the House yet.
This is very serious stuff. So, I stand with the comments that the judge made. I also stand with the comments that the superintendent made.
But I like -- again, Jake, I would like to note, things do not add up here. This just doesn't seem right. $3,500 won't even buy a round- trip ticket to Nigeria.
So, I, like many people in America, am confused even though I've heard, I've seen what the police department said, I've heard what Jussie Smollett has had to say. I'm confused. So, which is why I think this is being litigated in the court of public opinion. In the court of public opinion, I think Jussie Smollett has lost, but this still has to go through the actual legal system.
And so, I mean, you are innocent until proven guilty and I think we need to see some of this evidence. The leaks from the Chicago police department are very concerning. But a noose, invoking images of lynchings are unacceptable and it is not a game.
TAPPER: All right. Symone Sanders, thanks so much.
We're going to take a quick break. We do have more breaking news from another hearing. North Carolina Board of Elections is going to hold a new election in one U.S. congressional district after massive election fraud was uncovered.
Stay with us.