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Actor Jussie Smollett Under Arrest, Faces Felony Charge; Roger Stone to Appear in Court to Answer Inflammatory Post; Michael Cohen Meets with Senate Intelligence Ahead of Testimony. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] SAHIL KAPUR, BLOOMBERG: Now the most sacred power of all, the spending power. What is the point of having a Congress.

CATHERINE LUCEY, AP: Which is why it's such a challenging vote for some of the Republicans. Yes.

KING: It is. We'll keep on top of it. Thanks for joining us today. See you back here tomorrow. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now in the words of Justin Bieber, is it too late now to say sorry? Roger Stone is about to find out as he tells a judge he did not intent to threaten her.

For weeks, a TV star said he was a victim of a hate crime. Today Jussie Smollett faces a judge, accused of staging the entire thing.

Plus, he's a Coast Guard officer and a white supremacist armed to the teeth and accused of having a hit list to carry out a mass killing.

And as the Mueller report gets closer to wrapping up, Senate investigators want to talk to an American businessman in Russia who could shed light on a big mystery.

But first, the "Empire" star who received an outpouring of support from celebrities, politicians and the country after claiming he'd been the victim of a hate crime, is about to appear in court accused to making the whole thing up.

In a stunning press conference just a short time ago Chicago Police announced that Jussie Smollett had paid two paid $3500 to stage the attack, all in the hope that the publicity would earn him a bigger salary.

Now after treating Smollett as a victim and dedicating hundreds of hours of manpower to the case, the Chicago Police superintendent declared today that Smollett's actions had slapped the entire city of Chicago in the face and done a harm to real victims of hate crimes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUPERINTENDENT EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE: This announcement today recognizes that "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I'm left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?

Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city. Chicago hosts one of the largest Pride Parades in the world, and we're proud of that as a police department and also as a city.

We do not, nor will we ever tolerate hate in our city, whether that hate is based on an individual's sexual orientation, race or anything else. So I'm offended by what's happened, and I'm also angry.


KEILAR: CNN's Ryan Young has been following this case from the very beginning.

And Ryan, the police superintendent was not mincing words. He said this was a publicity stunt and that Chicago didn't deserve this.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. And look, this was, as we were sitting in there and saw people sort of reacting to this, they were astonished by how strong his words were. In fact I was looking back at some of the detectives there and they were nodding their head as their chief, their superintendent, was talking about this.

We heard about this theory a few days ago, this motive, and I didn't even feel comfortable saying it to many people because we couldn't believe it. But you can see all the hours that detectives have put into this to develop this story.

Let's talk about the background just a little bit. January 29th police did a 911 call from Jussie Smollett's manager and apparently he tells police he went to a Subway to pick up a sandwich. He came back from getting that sandwich and he was attacked by two men who threw a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and started punching him. He says he fought back. But from there police started to know there were holes in his story.

First things first, when the police arrived, he actually asked some of the officers to turn off their body camera. They tried to take him to the hospital. He didn't want to go to the hospital. He didn't want to give them his cell phone so they could see exactly when he was on the phone with his manager during the attack.

All along they were developing parts of this. In fact, two men who were persons of interest were caught on surveillance said they went to Nigeria. Police knew that, and when they got back, they were able to talk to them. Those guys I was told were scared when police arrived at the airport to pick them up. It took 47 hours to get them to talk, and once they started talking, they started singing pretty hard because they gave all the information.

In fact, listen to the police chief talk about, A, his anger, and also just how this investigation came together.


[13:05:00] JOHNSON: First, Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language. When that didn't work, Smollett paid $3500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process. And why?

This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked.

Now our city has problems, we know that. We have problems that have affected people from all walks of life, and we know that. But to put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful.


YOUNG: Brianna, you're in D.C., and I think there is a focus here, a shift where everyone is looking that way, because a lot of people in that city were casting rocks down this direction, even talking about a federal agency to come in and help with this investigation. Well, 12 detectives and over 1,000 hours of police work sort of proves how Chicago was able to line this up, and they actually went through it step by step, almost giving us an hour-by-hour account of how they were able to track this down.

So you can see the extraordinary amount of police work that was put into this, and the whole idea, though, is as you heard the superintendent say at the end, he believes the actor owes them an apology. On top of all this, even when they had all this evidence and they asked him to come in, he still refused to come in. The allowed him to surrender this morning. We know the bond hearing happens in about an hour and a half here. It should be interesting to see what happens and to see what happens next especially if the actor ever gives his side of the story.

KEILAR: Yes, indeed. Ryan Young in Chicago, thank you.

And let's take a more in-depth look at how this case unfolded. January 22nd, one week before the reported attack, a letter threatening Smollett arrives on the set of "Empire." This contains a racial death threat. A gun pointing at a stick figure hanging from a tree as well as a white powder that was later identified as ground of aspirin. And on the envelope, it says "MAGA," make America great again, the abbreviation for that. Then January 29th, Chicago police open a hate crime investigation

after Smollett claims that two men attacked him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, putting a rope around his neck and pouring an unknown chemical substance on him. Smollett later tells detectives one of the attackers shouted, "This is MAGA country." And then the next day, police release a photo of what they describe as two persons of interest, captured on surveillance, noting they do not have video of the attack itself.

February 1st, Smollett speaks out amid rumors that his story has changed, saying that he'd been, quote, "100 percent factual and consistent on every level." He followed that up with a tearful performance at a concert in West Hollywood.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR, "EMPIRE": I'm not fully healed yet, but I'm going to, and I'm going to stand strong with you all.


KEILAR: February 12th, Chicago police reveal phone records Smollett turned over were heavily redacted. Two days later, Smollett appears on "Good Morning America" to defend his story.


SMOLLETT: 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.


KEILAR: February 16th, sources tell CNN Chicago police believe Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers, one of whom actually appeared on the show "Empire," to orchestrate this attack. And then on February 20th, video surfaces of the brothers buying that rope that was found on Smollett as well as ski masks and a red hat from a Chicago store.

And that brings us to today's stunning developments. Jussie Smollett set to appear in court next hour accused of orchestrating this whole thing.

We have retired LAPD sergeant Cheryl Dorsey with us and Eric Guster, a criminal and civil trial attorney and SiriusXM radio host Clay Cane with us as well.

Thank you so much. Clay, I know you just got off the air so thank you so much for joining us.

Cheryl, you did not believe this from the beginning. Tell us why.

CHERYL DORSEY, FORMER LAPD SERGEANT: Well, listen, I spent 22 years in an LAPD uniform as a patrol officer, as a patrol sergeant, and so I'm accustomed to people lying, and I'm accustomed to seeing them go to great lengths in support of that story. And so it didn't pass the smell test. And while I didn't publicly, you know, criticize Jussie, I had issue with what he was saying, and I figured in time -- listen, anybody who's watched an episode of "48 Hours" understand the capability of most police departments.

And so I knew it was just a matter of time and that the truth would be known, and so now here we are. And there is a price to pay when you make up this kind of foolishness and you waste the resources of police personnel, FBI personnel, and more importantly, you besmirched the character of those Chicago police officers who I know by and large, for the most part, are there to do the right thing and are doing the right thing.

[13:10:16] KEILAR: And, Eric, police say they have phone records that show communication between Smollett and the two brothers. They say they have the check that Smollett used to pay them. How, if you're his attorney, do you frame your defense here?

ERIC GUSTER, MANAGING ATTORNEY, GUSTER LAW FIRM: There's very little defense to this based upon the evidence. And similar to what Cheryl just mentioned, I have been practicing law for 18 years, and I know when people start lying. And what people do is they think they have to build upon the lie and make it more believable. They start giving more and more facts, and they start digging a bigger hole for themselves.

And people have to understand that there is always a paper trail. And Jussie wrote a check, like a real signed-his-name check to pay this off which created the ultimate paper trail. And you have videos, you have text messages, you have phone calls. So it's very hard for a defense attorney to try to defend this except to try to work something out for the benefit of their client. Perhaps they may try to use a mental defense, mental health defense, or something like that, but it's going to be very tough.

KEILAR: Clay, I want to play something that Smollett said on national TV after his reported attack. Here it is.


SMOLLETT: I want them to see that I fought back. And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought (EXPLETIVE DELETED) back. And it does not take anything away from people that are not able to do that. But I fought back. They ran off, I didn't.

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: What do you say to a young gay man, a young gay person?

SMOLLETT: To learn to fight. And I don't just mean like learning to fight.


KEILAR: And so, Clay, you're aware that one of the criticisms now coming out of this is that if this is a hoax, does it make it more difficult for the black LGBT community to be taken seriously if they are to report a hate crime? You have a column in the "Washington Post" that really challenges an article that challenges that assumption. You say there is no justification for this hoax if it's proven to be, but you pointed out that Jussie Smollett won't be the reason that black LGBT hate crime victims are not believed. Explain that.

CLAY CANE, JOURNALIST AND SIRIUSXM RADIO HOST: Well, the idea that we're going to try and blame Jussie Smollett for why black LGBT victims won't be believed is just a lie. We haven't been believed for years. There are documents and records of victims being ignored. So if victims aren't believed moving forward, that isn't Jussie's problem. We can't take a story to one person and say, because this might be a hoax allegedly -- this might be a hoax that it going to damage all of the victims.

If you don't believe a black person, somebody, a victim of a hate crime, it is because of your own life --

KEILAR: Unfortunately, we're having some technical difficulties with Clay.

Clay, I'm sorry, we're actually having technical difficulties. I do want to definitely direct our viewers toward your column because you lay out very clearly, and Cheryl, I wonder if you would comment on that. In Clay's column he points out example after example of where either there are people who haven't reported something because they already prior to this believed that they would not be believed, or in instances where they, indeed, were not taken seriously in what they were reporting. Does this highlight what is already a huge problem?

DORSEY: Well, listen, it's not going to help for sure. And I'm sensitive of having been a victim of all sorts of isms during my time on the police department and thereafter. And so listen, it's very easy for people to minimize and devalue victims for a variety of offenses, whether it's sexual assault, or whether it's workplace harassment, retaliation, discrimination, so this doesn't help.

But listen, this stands on the shoulders of Jussie solely. This is his cross to bear. And going forward, it is my hope that others won't use him as a reason to further victimize people who are legitimate victims.

And I understand why people don't want to come forward. Listen, there are people right now on social media that are trying to enable and minimize the penalty that he should suffer for this lie. Because, well, back in, you know, whatever, somebody did something, and so he shouldn't go to jail. That's not wrong. Two wrongs don't make a right.

And so there is going to be a consequence that he should suffer for this because of the damage that's been done, and I hope that, going forward, people will find their strength. Regardless of what he said and put forth, they will find the strength to come forward if they are a true victim.

KEILAR: Eric, the brothers here, they are not in trouble. It's important to point out . The superintendent called them victims. He doesn't see them as part of this conspiracy. Why are they not in trouble?

[13:15:06] GUSTER: That was very interesting when I watched the press conference and he stated that. And I understand their theory. Being that these guys were paid to enact something. They were paid by check, which sounds legal. They bought these materials, which sounds legal. But the problem with Jussie is he turned it into a criminal investigation. And then at that point these two men became criminal suspects in a hate crime.

Black or white, it doesn't matter the color of your skin in reference to a hate crime. So they became a victim of what Jussie was going and telling "Good Morning America," telling other publications that he was beaten by two men in "Make America Great Again" hats and they are the prime suspects. So in that scenario, they are victims of what Jussie was planning all himself, what he paid to do all himself, and what he left a paper trail of what he did which was stupid, ridiculous and shameful.

KEILAR: All right. Eric Guster, thank you so much. Cheryl Dorsey, thank you. And a big thank you to Clay Cane as well.

Also in court soon, Roger Stone forced to go before that judge that he appeared to threaten? Will he be sent to jail?

Plus a Coast Guard officer and Marine veteran accused of plotting to kill Democrats and journalists in a mass racist killing spree murder. Hear what just happened in court on that case.

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


[13:20:52] KEILAR: President Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen getting ready for a big week on Capitol Hill. He actually showed up today to speak with Senate Intelligence Committee staff.

This coming just a few days before he finally appears for official hearings, hearings that he bailed on earlier this month, and he's going to appear under oath on February 27th in front of the House Oversight Committee. The committee was supposed to hold the public hearing earlier this month, but Cohen bowed out, saying that he feared for the safety of his family following a series of tweets and comments by President Trump.

Cohen will appear a day later behind closed doors to talk to the House Intelligence Committee, and he's now scheduled to report to prison later, on May 6th, to start serving a three-year sentence for a series of offenses, including lying to Congress about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Is saying sorry going to be enough? That is the question for the federal judge overseeing the criminal case against Roger Stone. In a little more than an hour, the long-time associate of President Trump is due in court, and Stone is expected to explain why he posted this picture of Judge Amy Berman Jackson with what appeared to be gun crosshairs there behind her head, upper left, you can see that. This post was pulled and Stone's lawyers filed a notice of apology with the court late on Monday.

We have CNN legal analyst and former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, Carrie Cordero, with us, to help us figure out kind of what we're expecting to happen here. One of the terms following Stone's arrest is that he cannot attempt to intimidate others. This includes judges and other officers of the court.

Does putting this picture up meet that standard?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's two things. Witness tampering and then threatening a federal judge or doing something that would intimidate or create an environment of threatening a federal judge. Both of those are really serious and the judge is going to take those seriously.

I think one of the big questions that she's going to have for him and that I would hope she asks him under oath is whether or not he was the person who posted that. In other words, did he do it himself or did someone who was managing his account or had access to an account do it without his knowledge. And she needs to ask that under oath because I think it will matter to him whether he posted that picture which is a photo of the judge and creates a threatening environment for her.

KEILAR: And even without -- what if he says, well, I didn't see the crosshairs in there, I'm sorry. Yes, I posted it.

CORDERO: I just don't know that that's provable.

KEILAR: Is her face is enough, though?

CORDERO: Her face is in the photo. I mean, it does have -- the photo is what it is. It has the crosshairs up in the corner. And why would somebody who is in proceedings before a federal court for lying and for witness tampering post a photo on social media of the federal judge presiding over their case? I mean, what logical or benign reason is there to do it?

He's trying to create an environment that makes people think that he's some kind of victim, and the judge is going to take really seriously that that potentially can put her in danger.

KEILAR: So we'll see if his terms get tightened in this case. That's one possibility. But I do want to shift gears back to Michael Cohen and see what you think we're going to learn after this appearance that he has, long-awaited appearance on Capitol Hill next week.

CORDERO: Well, so I think there's two main things. There's a lot that Congress could ask him about, but I think two major things are they're probably going to be interested in the potential campaign finance violations, the issues related to the payments to the women and what Donald Trump's knowledge was of those. And I would expect that they will go through that in some detail. The other issue that's more related -- centrally related to the

overall Russia investigations has to do with the Trump Moscow project. And I would expect them to want him to go into detail regarding the timeline, regarding who was involved, regarding whether the candidate Trump and then President Trump knew about it. And so all those sorts of details play into whether or not there was some type of communication and relationship between Donald Trump and people in the Trump campaign that would explain some of his overfriendliness on the diplomatic front and in other ways toward the government of Russia.

[13:25:09] KEILAR: All right. Carrie Cordero, thank you so much for being here.

An alleged white nationalist serving in the Coast Guard arrested with a huge stockpile of guns and drugs, as you see here, and his disturbing plans to attack lawmakers and journalists.

Plus, why Senate investigators want to talk with an American businessman in Russia who has links to the president. We have a new CNN report.