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Jussie Smollett's Character Won't Be In Rest Of This "Empire" Season; Another Controversy For Trump Cabinet Official; Day Two Of Historic Vatican Summit On Clergy Sex Abuse; Judge: DOJ Broke Law In Teen Sex Case By Failing To Confer With Victims Of Accused Serial Sex Abuser; 2019 Oscars - Academy Votes Weigh Cultural Impact Of Films Ahead Of Awards. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- there was those bodyguards there, that we believe were paid for by the "Empire" studio. We know he went right to work, but now this looks like it's all coming to an end right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: And, you know, the police, Ryan Young, in Chicago, the superintendent yesterday, saying the motive for this, they believe was him being not satisfied with his salary and wanting more. And now look, the starring, you know, show that he was a part of, now he's being taken off. Thank you for the update Ryan.

YOUNG: Yes.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Just an awful story. Back to politics. Here in Washington we may have a hint as to whether the former Vice President, Joseph Biden, is close to jumping into the 2020 race. CNN has learned that Biden met with Hillary Clinton earlier this month. The question is, is he vying for her endorsement?

There is word that Clinton also met with Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is already declared as a Democratic candidate in front of 2020. To be a fly on the wall in one of those meetings. CNN Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, here now.

So Biden and Klobuchar, one, already declared, one, lots of speculation as to whether he will declare. I mean, key question here is, is a Hillary Clinton endorsement coveted.

DANA BASH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question. I do think the answer is yes. I believe, just in talking to people and then around her, that we shouldn't expect that anytime soon. That she is more likely to follow the lead of maybe the protocol of past nominees, and even presidents to stay out of a very contentious, very broad fight within the Democratic Party.

However, she did it, she's done it, she's been there, not once, but twice. So if you are seriously considering running for president, why wouldn't you go and talk to Hillary Clinton and get her thoughts on what it was like, what she would do differently, how she sees things playing out right now.

SCIUTTO: Joe Biden, so folks close to him have told me that the deciding factor for him, and then perhaps the main source of hesitation, are family concerns --

BASH: Yes.

SCIUTTO: -- closest to his family. Are you hearing anything about him getting closer to a final decision? And if that decision is more likely to be yes rather than no?

BASH: So I, along with a lot of our colleagues, you as well, obviously are hearing that he is doing more and more outreach to not just people like Hillary Clinton, and other political friends, and advisors, and confidants, but family members, about the fact that he is leaning moretowards running for president.

Now, leaning doesn't mean in and it could change for lots of reasons, not the least of which is what you said. Lots of family reasons, not just the fact that his his son, Beau, tragically died at a very young age, and that came after other tragedy he had earlier in his life.

But other family issues that we, you know, that we know about, and problems that his son, Hunter, has been having, understandably with the death of his brother, and other things.

So that is a big issue. But the flip side of that is, that I was talking to somebody who knows him well, this morning, who was saying it's not just that he was a vice president for two terms, it's not just that he ran for president a couple of times. He is somebody who has been in the public arena for 45 years, and since he was a young turk in the early 70s, people have said to him Joe Biden, you know, you're the next Kennedy. You should run for president.

So that has been in his mind, running through his veins, all those years, and this is the last chance.

SCIUTTO: Right. Right. He's run before. Bernie Sanders, you know, what struck me about the reception to his announcing that he will run again, among Democrats, I think you could call it lukewarm, at least about what some in the public eye. And we had a Congressman on the other day, saying he'll, if it wants to run, he should run as an Independent.

You know what -- ? I mean, is there any question as to where he runs in this race?

BASH: I don't think so. Yes, he's not a registered Democrat. I mean, this has been an issue. You know, he said, there is enough to do that, and in Vermont that might be true. It might be more of an issue because the Democratic National Committee changed the rules a bit, if he does get close to getting the nomination.

But his supporters, probably more, as much as anybody, in sort of the Democratic electorate, understand, are sophisticated enough to understand, the notion of an Independent being a spoiler. Whether or not that's true, that certainly is the backlash about Howard Schultz is, would be directed at Bernie Sanders as well.

And look, he is somebody who has has been out there. He has the basis of support. He raised a lot of money, a million dollars on the first day, and he it's up to him to argue. You have all these candidates who are out there in my lane. Why would you pick, you know, from his perspective, the new generic when you have the classic?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Exactly. Like, I blaze this trail. You know, what about me? Dana Bash, thanks very much.

A programming up, CNN will hold a Presidential Town Hall with Senator Bernie Sanders, moderated by our colleague, Wolf Blitzer. That will be Monday night, 8 o'clock eastern time, only here on CNN.

[10:35:00]

Another Trump Cabinet member in the middle of a serious controversy here. The White House looking into it. We're going to have the latest on this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Well, today is day two of an historic summit at the Vatican, where more than 200 church leaders from around the world are gathering to confront the sexual abuse scandal that has plagued the Catholic Church.

The Pope has called for concrete changes, including establishing specific protocol for handling accusations made against priests and clergy.

[10:40:00]

Mike McDonnell is with me. He is a survivor of years of abuse. And Mike, I know words can do nothing to ease your pain, but please know how sorry all of us are.

MIKE MCDONNELL, PRIEST ABUSE SURVIVOR: Thank you Poppy. Happy to be with you.

HARLOW: Let's talk about what's happening at the Vatican right now. This is really, I mean, it's a first for the church, led by the Pope, to come forward, this multi-day summit to confront this to make changes.

You have said your expectations are low. But let me read you a part of what the Pope has said in his remarks this morning, "We must listen to the cry of the small ones asking for justice." The small ones, right? The children, children like you were that had to endure this. What is justice for you?

MCDONNELL: Well, justice is having the opportunity to expose the predators, and the institution's who have enabled them for years. To expose the secrets. How did this happen? It's accountability and it's responsibility. The best way to clear up and create a path to move forward is, to

clean up the wreckage of the past. And they have not shown a single effort to clear up the wreckage of the past.

HARLOW: If this, I mean, you know, some of the things that the Pope has called for is, in these 21 reflection points that he's laid out, a practical handbook, guidelines for how, you know, survivors of abuse, like you, can actually report this up.

I'm interested in (a) if you think that is, you know, a concerted effort, but (b) if you think it should be an independent body, right? Like where people can go, that is independent of the church, and not necessarily the police, if they're too concerned, but an independent objective body to say this is what happened to me.

MCDONNELL: Absolutely, the Roman Catholic Church has shown that they fail tremendously at policing themselves. Having a third party, a neutral party, to be able to go to where they can be trusted. I challenge the Pope, and I'll even add a 22nd point to his 21 points, and that's the challenge, the prelates and any cleric to walk in a survivor shoes. That's point number 22.

And we'll see, you'll see what we struggle with on a daily basis, when it comes to accountability, responsibility, and that zero tolerance policy. We'll help you see and we'll help you get to that zero tolerance policy.

HARLOW: Today and yesterday at the summit, victims of sexual abuse, some of them met with church leaders, and the clergy, and priests were shown, and bishops were shown, video of other testimonials, so they could hear directly from the victims.

But at the same time, part of what the Pope has proposed here is, the Diocese around the world, not publish the names of the clergy accused of abuse before a preliminary investigation is done with a, "Definitive condemnation". Do you agree with that?

MCDONNELL: No.

HARLOW: Or, do you believe that those names should be out there?

MCDONNELL: History tells us that there's a problem there. When we wait for a substantiative case, and we take a look at false accusations, those are a very, very small percentage. If we really think about it, who wants to talk and tell their story about a sexual experience they had with the Catholic priest, it's minimal.

So I believe these names need to come forward, and we need to make parishes, and the general public aware of what is going on. Because again, we look at the history of the Roman Catholic Church, and how long they have covered this up, 25 years, 25 years.

Had they shown concern for me instead of protecting the abuse of Shepherd, my life would have been totally different.

HARLOW: You know, Mike, you have also been very honest and transparent with your own wrongdoing, right? You talked about the revenge you sought from the Catholic Church by submitting these false invoices, to the tune of, you know, you were ultimately convicted of stealing a $100,000 from the church, saying this was my, you know, this was my revenge.

And I just wonder what your message would be to the Pope about transparency. I was held accountable.

MCDONNELL: I was held accountable. I was held responsible. And anytime something like that happens, an individual, if it warrants some type of incarceration, you have to accept that.

I was held accountable. Let's see, let's help, let's hold the church accountable for their actions. What they have done in the past when an individual is found to be a perpetrator, their sentence is another parish.

HARLOW: Right.

MCDONNELL: They get another parish in the Roman Catholic Church.

[10:45:00]

HARLOW: Look, what has happened is unconscionable and I'm so sorry it happened to you. Thank you for being so strong to share your thoughts with us today, Mike McDonnell. Thank you

MCDONNELL: I appreciate the time. Thanks Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course. All right. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: All right. So moments ago, the White House responded to another controversy involving another Cabinet official. This one involving a plea deal with the current Labor Secretary, made when he was a US Attorney. And it was a deal made with an accused child predator.

The Federal judge has just ruled the Department of Justice broke the law in the case of Jeffrey Epstein, a Florida billionaire accused of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls.

[10:50:00]

HARLOW: This was in 2008, when Epstein avoided a federal trial completely, and served only 13 months in prison after pleading guilty to two state prostitution charges, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All of that was part of a plea deal that he made with then US attorney in Florida, Alexander Acosta. He is now the sitting Labor Secretary. A Federal judge now says that Epstein's alleged victims were not conferred with about that plea deal. They didn't know, and that violates Federal law.

Joining us now, CNN's Jessica Schneider. Does the White House have a response to this?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They just talked about it. Sarah Sanders was outside the White House. This is how she put it. She said they're looking into it, but then she said, it's a complicated case. And she defended the prosecutors at the time for what she said was making the best possible decision.

So here's the backstory on this. And it's really important, because it was the president's current Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta, who gave, you know, this so-called deal of a lifetime, as the "Miami Herald" called it, when they looked into it, to Jeffrey Epstein, this Palm Beach billionaire.

So back in 2008, Epstein was accused of sexually abusing 36 underage girls in a sex ring that spanned from New York to Florida to the Caribbean.

TEXT: WHO IS JEFFREY EPSTEIN? Florida Billionaire. Pleaded guilty to 2 state prostitution charges in 2008, including one offense against a 14-year-old girl. No federal trial, served 13 months, registered sex offender.

SCHNEIDER: And, despite that wide-ranging allegation, though the "Miami Herald" reported in November, that Acosta, who was the US attorney in Miami at the time, they say he met with one of Epstein's attorneys, and really struck a deal, where Epstein would avoid a trial, and where he would only have to serve 13 months in a County jail.

So now a judge, just ruling, saying that the Justice Department, what they did was illegal since they never alerted the victims in this case, which is actually something that is mandated by law.

So here's Sarah Sanders' response to this, and response to the judge's ruling this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My understanding is, it's a very complicated case, something we're certainly looking into, but that they made the best possible decision, and deal they could have gotten at that time. But again, that's something we're looking at, and we'll keep you posted, as we have something.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Does the president still have confidence in the labor secretary?

SANDERS: Again, we're looking into the matter. I'm not aware of any changes on that front.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: So important to note here. Jeffrey Epstein, he's politically connected, and he does count Donald Trump among his contacts. So the question, Jim and Poppy, what comes next after this judge's ruling? The DOJ broke the law. Well, the judge said, hey parties, come back to me. Tell me what we

should do? So there really isn't a remedy here and it's unclear. You know if anyone will pay for this breaking of the law.

SCIUTTO: And the thing is, not only did they not confer with the victims, they actively hid it from them, and there seem to be emails to substantiate that. It's an incredible case.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right. Turning the page here to Hollywood's biggest night. Of course, the Oscars, Sunday night. We'll talk about the potential big winners.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Hollywood's biggest night. It's coming up, and it could be a big night for films that had a cultural impact.

HARLOW: Of course, the Oscars have Stephanie Elam. Here's a report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the immigration debate to views on the racial divide in America, some of the pressing issues facing the country could be on the minds of Oscar voters when they cast a ballot.

MATTHEW BELLONI, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER" (on camera): A lot of people end up voting, not just for what they enjoyed the most, but for what a movie represents.

ELAM (voice-over): "A Star Is Born", may no longer be the front- runner, pushed aside by "Roma", now considered the one to beat.

BELLONI (on camera): "Roma" is not an overtly political film, but it's certainly of the moment right now. This is a story about a Mexican woman in the 1970s. She's a domestic worker, and it really resonates with the debate that's going on right now in America about immigration.

ISIAH WHITLOCK JR. AS MR. TURRENTINE IN THE FILM "BLACKKKLANSMAN": "We think you might be the man to open things up around here."

ELAM (voice-over): A pair of films tackle race in America. Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" even includes video footage from the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.

MAHERSHALA ALI AS CHARACTER "DON SHIRLEY" IN THE FILM "GREEN BOOK": "Do you foresee any issues in working for a black man?" ELAM (voice-over): "Green Book" takes a more populist approach to racial tension, but that has divided Hollywood.

BELLONI (on camera): The criticism of the film is that it subscribes to this theory of the "White savior". The white character who comes in, and you know, makes it OK for the black person to love or to accept.

ELAM (voice-over): But the movie is a box-office hit and the Producers Guild's Best Picture, a sign more traditional Academy members still have influence.

BELLONI (on camera): The kind of voter who went for "Driving Miss Daisy" 30 years ago -

JODIE FOSTER ANNOUNCING AT AWARDS SHOW: "Black Panther". Yes.

ELAM (voice-over): With its big win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, "Black Panther", can't be ruled out. It's nearly all black cast elevated the superhero film into the cultural conversation.

BELLONI (on camera): Is it the Best Picture of the Year? We can debate that. But is it the most meaningful picture for the future of Hollywood? Probably.

ELAM (on camera): And there are also some questions on the acting side. Everyone was blown away by Christian Bale as he turned into Dick Cheney in "Vice". But as we've seen throughout this award season, it's really been about Rami Malek, who took the BAFTA as well for "Bohemian Rhapsody".

So a lot of people could be watching that as there will be Amy Adams and Regina King for their roles in supporting actress, Jim and Poppy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: and Steph, the CNN doc "RBG" about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, nominated for two. I'm not playing favorites, I'm just --

END [11:00:00]