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Jussie Smollett Staged Hate Attack Because He Was Unhappy About His Salary; Judge Imposes Gag Order On Trump Confidant Stone After Post. Aired 230-3p ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 14:30   ET



[14:31:51] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: So, a lot of people are just absolutely stunned about what we have just learned about "Empire" star Jussie Smollett. The anger, the disgust after initially hearing what he said happened to him to now even more hurt and contempt. And one of the questions is why? How did we get here? How did this story take on a life of its own?

So, let's go back within hours after Smollett visually account became public. You had a bunch of 2020 Democratic contenders asked about it. They were weighing in. Senator Cory Booker tweeted that the incident was, "an attempted modern-day lynching." We saw a very similar language from Senator Kamala Harris who added, "We must confront this hate." We have since seen them walk back those initial statements.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: OK. So, I will say this about that case. I think that the facts are still unfolding, and I'm very concerned about obviously the initial allegation that he made about what might have happened. It's something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation. And I think that once the investigation is concluded then we can all comment. But I'm not going to comment until I know the outcome of the investigation.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, the information is still coming out. I'm going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources. I'm following this news as you are and we'll see what happens.


BALDWIN: Now, both of those senators are co-sponsors of a bill that would make lynching a federal hate crime, one that looks like it may now become law. And so, perhaps that sheds a little light on to why they were, you know, perhaps concluding what they did about the Smollett case.

President Trump even characterized the alleged incident initially as horrible, saying, "it doesn't get any worse." And hours after Smollett's charges were announced, this is what Trump tweeted. "Jussie Smollett, what about MAGA, make America great again and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments, #MAGA. Chicago's superintendent said this.


SUPERINTENDENT EDDIE T. JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE: This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.


BALDWIN: LZ and Ana are back with me. And Ana, on the point about these political candidates, many of whom jumped on it initially, do you think they need to respond to this development now?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think, first of all, you know, I'm not a political candidate, but I was one of the ones that respond initially. I did so because I had just seen the guy a week before. To tell you the truth, I didn't know his name before that.

You know, I had watched the "Empire" but I didn't know his name. This did bring him a much a higher profile. This did bring him a lot of publicity. And now, we all know his name. Of course of what he wanted to was increase his salary backfired because he's going to end up with no salary.

[14:35:00] Look, do they need to comment? I think that, you know, that after this experience people feel duped. And so they are walking and treading more carefully. And there's a lot of if, if, if, if true that proceeds any statements because --

BALDWIN: We're learning.

NAVARRO: We were learning. Look, I also think that you cannot underestimate the level of racism, homophobia, the spike in hate crimes that is real in America in 2019. There is a spike in hate crimes. We are at record levels. And so, I think people -- some people, including myself, acted so quickly and believed them because we know these things are happening --


NAVARRO: -- out there.

BALDWIN: Agree. Agree. LZ, do you think celebrities or candidates, should they apologize? Do you think they should react at all now?

LZ GRANDERSON, ESPN HOST: Well, I don't know about celebrities. But I think it would be responsibility if the 2020 candidates were to say something thoughtful about what has occurred because, you know, let's be honest with this. The media, the national media in particular, we stopped dropping the word "alleged attack" very early in this process, which kind of pointed or painted the candidates somewhat in a corner because it was being touted as fact that he was attacked because someone who has been an advocate said that he was attacked and no one thought to second guess it.

Who would think someone would do something like this? So, I understand why they responded the way they did. But if their goal is to be the leader of the free world, if the goal is to be President of the United States, you have to be willing to step out there to say we will fight against hate and racism. But you also have to be willing to point out when you were mistaken or when you jumped the gun on something and didn't have all the facts.

The things that they're saying now perhaps should have been the things they said on the forefront, saying let's make sure that the police does their investigation before I comment because that's the sort of measured to take you would want a president to take with all issues and not just this one.

BALDWIN: They were investigating it as a hate crime. FBI involved. I mean, we are in uncharted territory in a sense here in this country. And to Ana's point, there is such a spike in these kinds of crimes. It's just extraordinary to think that this perhaps was all made up.

Ana Navarro and LZ Granderson, guys, thanks so much for such a heartfelt conversation. I really appreciate it.

NAVARRO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Our CNN special coverage continues.

We're watching for another court appearance involving the man who calls himself a "dirty trickster". Roger stone has to explain an Instagram post that appears to threaten a judge. Apparently his apology on paper was not enough. Might his next stop be a jail cell?

And just in, days before his blockbuster testimony up on Capitol Hill, Michael Cohen meets unexpectedly with senators. Hear why.


[14:41:52] BALDWIN: Right now, the President's longtime friend is inside a federal courthouse. Roger Stone could end up going to jail, accused of an Instagram post that many saw as a threat against this judge potentially another crime.

So, with me now, Gloria Borger, CNN chief political analyst, Elie Honig, former Federal and State Prosecutor and former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Caroline Polisi, Chief Federal and White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney. So, Caroline, talk to me about this hearing. What's happening?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, the judge is going to decide today whether or not to remand Roger Stone. Now, the question is, you know, how big of a deal is this? Obviously it was a very stupid thing to do. The question is just how grave is she going to see it? Remember, this is a little bit different when Manafort was remanded. Remember we were also shocked that he had ghost written that op-ed piece. This is the same judge. He was before that same judge --


POLISI: -- and she threw him back to bail.

BALDWIN: She's tough.

POLISI: But the government actually reindicted. So they brought more charges against him for that. So, it's a little bit of a different situation. I actually don't think she's going to put him in jail this time. I think if anything she's going to sort of ratchet up the, you know, gag order in place, put additional restrictions. Just let him know that this is a serious issue but not so serious that he's going to go to jail.

BALDWIN: Could be a warning. Could be a tighter gag or could be staying in jail. Hang on, Ali. I know you want to jump in. But let me go to Kara Scannell, she's outside the courthouse to put a little bit of color on this whole thing. So Kara, tell me what's happening as we speak.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brooke, the judge is coming to the courtroom and she walked in with print-outs of the Instagram post that Stone had posted on Monday. Now, they're going into this and she's asking of whether they should change the terms of the gag order. She questioned Stone's defense why he shouldn't be imposed with one that he needs to make money by being able to speak freely. She's questioning why that's the case.

Roger Stone's lawyer, though, today has also said that he thinks that Roger Stone should testify today and explain himself to the judge. The judge said that she is considering that. They're still, you know, kind of going back and forth on this. So, Stone's lawyer arguing that his bail terms shouldn't be amended saying that it has to be a clear and present threat to an individual in order to change the bail terms. The judge is continuing to hear arguments from them. And she's pushing back on him on this notion of the gag order and why she shouldn't impose one.

It's still early in the session but that's where we are right now with the judge challenging Stone's lawyer on this and the lawyer saying that he would like to put Roger Stone on the stand to explain himself today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: As you've been talking, I just got information in my ear that he is approaching the witness stand right now. Elie Honig?



HONIG: That's risky. But I guess they really don't want him remanded. It's surprising that they're actually -- all they're talking about right now should the judge expand the gag order because she can remand him. And if he really goes south on the stand and if anyone is going to implode on the stand, it would be Roger Stone, she can still make that decision. If she finds that posting was a threat. And if she doesn't believe what she says on the stand, I'm sure he's going to act contrite and apologize. If she doesn't buy it and finds it that was intended as a threat, she has the right to remand him.

BALDWIN: OK, hang on. Let's back up. So this is all over this Instagram post and this gag order, right, and how she chooses to remand him.

[14:45:01] He would testify and in testifying this is him -- is this his great mea culpa in person to the judge?

POLISI: Well he submitted that affidavit the apology. So I think he's likely going to say, you know, one of the defenses was I didn't actually post the photograph. It was somebody that worked for me and I didn't know there was a crosshairs in the background. It was just, you know, a picture that we got off the internet. So I think he's likely he's going to make a defense, be contrite because judges like to see contrition, always, always, always. And make the defense that he should be able to continue speaking.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger.


BALDWIN: Contrition and Roger Stone, do they go in the same sentence?

BORGER: No, they really don't, but I think, you know, in today's case you're going to -- you're going to hear that from him. And from the judge, from our reporting, what you're going to hear the judge talk about is 1st Amendment restraints as they apply to, you know, criminal trials because these are first amendment restraints. And Roger Stone is all about talking, all about the 1st Amendment for himself. And, you know, he'll apologize. He'll be contrite. He'll say it wasn't his fault and he took it down as soon as he heard. But Roger Stone is known for this.

And so the question is whether the history of Roger Stone and the sort of tricks that he's always bragged about will come into play in all of this because this may be the first incident with the judge, but it isn't the first one in his life. And that, you know, I think that needs to be taken into account here because this is his standard operating procedure.

BALDWIN: OK, everyone standby from one courthouse to another. We got to go to Chicago. We're also hearing that Jussie Smollett, his bond hearing is currently under way. Hear what we've just found out including information on text messages. That's next.


[14:51:19] BALDWIN: All right, so we are back in Chicago now, breaking news in the Jussie Smollett case. So he's in this -- he's in court right now. This is a bond hearing. We're getting a little bit of color on some text messages between Smollett and these two brothers who were apparently in on this whole thing. And those text messages are now being read right now in this courtroom. So, Ryan Young is covering this for us in Chicago. And so Ryan, tell me more about what's happening right now.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've actually split up. So I'm outside here. Our own Nick Watts on the inside giving us some of those information about what's going on, on the inside. And look those text messages, he's even reacting to him because obviously having them read out loud is making him actually close his eyes and shake his head.

Some of the things that they've talk about is the fact that they decided to meet January 25th to have a conversation about this. And apparently, what they're saying on the inside is he provided $100 to make sure the men were able to buy the supplies they needed to pull off the attack. They also talks about him putting together that letter before sending it off today as the "Empire" set before that.

And apparently he's taken a deep breath a couple of times now. He's in the same clothing that he was arrested in, the one that we see in the mugshot. His family is sitting in one row as well. They've been talking for about ten minutes, and it's clear right now that it seems that he made sure to direct the brothers about how he wanted the attack to go down, including the statements about MAGA. And when they attacked him, that's what they wanted to do.

If I'll remember, make you think about what happened before when the superintendent was talking, he says not only did the men show up to do the attack but they actually kind of played it out there on the street. He took a couple of punches. They did the statement and then they struggled a little bit. That was all played out. This is apparently according to prosecutors on the inside, all part of the actor's plan.

So, Brooke, this is still going on. We're expecting him to get a bond and have to walk by all these cameras here. It will be interesting to see if his attorneys decide to have a conversation with us that when we were live just about a half hour ago, that was his family that walked by and they're sitting behind him right now. But it looks like the actor's taking this all in as these words are coming from the judge's mouth and the prosecutor's mouth, closing his eyes, shaking his head. You can only imagine what's kind of going through his head at this point right now as all of this information is starting to come out.

BALDWIN: Keep the information coming. Ryan, hang tight. Don't go too far from that camera. I want to go back, though, to Kara Scannell who is outside the courtroom in Washington D.C. covering this whole Roger Stone case. And the question as to whether or not, you know, what the reprimand will be from this judge after he or someone, you know, with access to his Instagram account, you know posted this what appears to be threatening post with the crosshairs. And so you're getting more color. He's been testifying. And it's my understanding he has now apologized more than once. SCANNELL: That's right, Brooke. He's on the stand now. He's under oath and he was questioned by his lawyer first where he testi -- he apologized multiple times. He said that he won't even offer any rationalization or an excuse as justification. This is just a stupid lack of judgment. He told the judge that he knew he abused the order, for which I am heartfully sorry. I am kicking myself. And he called it again another lapse of judgment.

So, Stone is really it's a mea culpa to the judge. He doesn't want to have his gag order imposed. She's pressing him now asking him questions about the symbolism. And she even asked him, do you know how to do a Google search? How hard is it to find a photo of the judge without that what appears to be the crosshairs on it? And Stone is sticking to the story it's a Celtic symbol. He is saying that it's might be an occult symbol.

He's, he's maintaining that it is not a rifle crosshair, but the judges really pushing back on him here. It's really remarkable that he is testifying under oath with the judge questioning him about this and this image and why he found it and why he posted it.

[14:55:08] We still have reporters in the courtroom who are feeding some new information in. And she is just continuing to press him on this. And Stone is saying, you know, he doesn't want this gag order to change. You know, it's how he makes his livelihood. So he's really -- it's really a mea culpa. He's really asking the judge for some leniency here and for a second chance. And the question is still ongoing, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. I'll let you look at your notes. I'm going to talk to Gloria. Kara, thank you. But this notion that he is refusing to -- a Celtic symbol.

BORGER: Well, whatever. Look--

BALDWIN: Really?

BORGER: -- look, Roger Stone didn't want a gag order in the first place because he's trying to pay for his legal defense. And he believes that the way to do that is to be able to continue to speak out. So because of his lack of judgment stupidity whatever you want to call it.


BORGER: What he is facing now is either jail or a gag order, and not being able to raise money for his -- for his defense. And I think that's one of the reasons we find him offering this huge mea culpa to the judge who reading our court reporting here sounds just a little bit skeptical that there wasn't any way to find an image of her without whatever that symbol is behind her head. And therefore she clearly assumes that it had meaning beyond the occult that it was a threatening. It was a threatening symbol, the scope of a gun.

So, we'll have to wait until this plays out, but it is kind of stunning to see Roger Stone, who is kind of, you know, usually full of bravado in this situation where he is --

BALDWIN: Having to apologize.

BORGER: --totally. Yes, every five seconds.

BALDWIN: Having apologized. Gloria, thank you. Caroline and Ellie, again, one of the questions from the judge, do you know how to do a Google search? How hard was it for you to come up with a photograph that didn't have the crosshairs on the corner?

HONIG: Yeah, it's a traditional Celtic rifle crosshair, haven't you seen such a thing?

BALDWIN: Didn't you know?

HONIG: This is bad. I just want to give a little perspective here. I've had defendants out on bail and three have to call in who have been remanded, sent to jail for getting caught smoking marijuana for missing curfew, for missing appointments with their pre-child services officer.

So compare that to what Roger Stone did here. First of all, you shouldn't be posting images of your judge anyway. And don't forget what we wrote under that image, right? Deep state, Obama appointee.

BALDWIN: Show trial.

HONIG: Yes, he's attacking the very core of the process.


HONIG: So this is a really -- he's lucky right now that it sounds like the playing field is only are we going to tighten up the gag order or not.

BALDWIN: And that--

HONIG: It could be a lot worst where --

BALDWIN: --keep him in.

POLISI: He is lucky.

HONIG: --yes--

POLISI: I've had a client remanded for posting a picture of a rat on his Facebook page with no words, just the implication the government argued with that it was threatening a witness. But, you know, as a criminal defense attorney, you tell your clients you're in two modes, your defense mode or contrition mode. You can't have it both ways. Judges don't like it when you get up there and try to apologize.

But say, but actually, it's a Celtic symbol. So I'm really not culpable. It's just doesn't work that way. It infuriates judges. You have to go all in on the apology and he didn't do it here. BALDWIN: OK, all right hang tight. We're going to get more details as he is testifying in that courtroom. But let's go back now to Chicago that this Jussie Smollet case. We're just hearing Ryan Young who's outside that courtroom, you know, getting, getting the scoop from our folks inside. Saying these text messages are being read now between those brothers who were in on it and Jussie. And it was Jussie Smollett's idea with talking about, you know, Ma -- make it a MAGA attack. And we know that the attack now lasted 45 seconds and that they were out there, you know, acting out what it would look like before actually following through.

These are just some of the details we're also now getting here in this bond hearing that's under way. So with me now, Faith Jenkins, she's a criminal lawyer and former criminal prosecutor. Mark O'Meara is a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, and Adrienne Gibbs is a Forbes columnist who is on the set of "Empire" early in January. And so, thank you all for being with me.

And Faith, just starting with you, as you're hearing some of these details come out, and also apparently Jussie Smollett's body language, shaking his head, deep breaths. Obviously his family is in the courtroom. What are your thoughts so far?

FAITH JENKINS, CRIMINAL LAWYER: So far? I find that this is going to be a troubling case I think for Jussie. If he continues along the road that he has been before he was accused, he has every right as a defendant to amount an aggressive defense. We have not heard his side since he has been accused.

But based on all of the trickles of information and corroborating, seemingly corroborating evidence that keeps coming out that would support that these two brothers in what they've been saying, I think that his strategy going forward with his team of attorneys, and I do think he has some good attorneys on the case, will be to now get out in front of this after this hearing.