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CNN NEWSROOM

NYT: Manhattan District Attorney Prepares to Charge Manafort; Cook County State's Attorney to Formally Announce Charges Against R. Kelly; 20th Century Fox Says Smollett Won't Appearing in Final 2 Episodes of "Empire"; Report U.S. is Softening Demands on North Korea. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 14:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:30:15] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Now to today on Paul Manafort. The special counsel's office says the former Trump 2016 campaign chairman should spend up to 25 years in prison for financial crimes.

You'll remember that the president said this about his former top aide just a couple of months ago:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's very sad what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated. I've never seen anybody being treated so poorly. The question was asked by the "New York Post," I said, no, I have not offered any pardons. I think they asked or whatever, would you? I said, I'm not taking anything off the table.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Here's the key piece in this, if Paul Manafort is counting on some sort of presidential pardon to avoid prison time for fraud and conspiracy, he should think again. The Manhattan district attorney's office is preparing state and federal charges against him. Charges that ensure he goes to prison even if a presidential pardon is offered. He's serving time, according to the "New York Times," which notes that the president's authority is limited for the state crimes.

Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst.

Gloria, we have heard expert after expert after short saying its state investigators are what Trump and his allies should be most worried about. And here is yet another example.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Absolutely. Look, the president can pardon Paul Manafort if he wants to, he's called him a very brave man. And he's, as you saw in the clip, he hasn't taken off the table. But he has no such authority in the state of New York. We know that Mueller has farmed out a lot of what he has discovered to, for example, the southern district of New York, whether it's involving the Trump organization or administration, whatever it is. This poses problems for Donald Trump, whether it's for allies or family. So you know, that could be lurking for him in the future.

BALDWIN: That's not the only news for Manafort. Mueller, Mueller has a midnight deadline to file a sentencing memo. And it's just a piece of an incredibly busy week ahead. Can you give us a preview?

BORGER: I don't know. Start eating your Wheaties, OK. Next week, next week is going to be unbelievable. You know, tonight, we're waiting for this sentencing memo from Manafort. He's going to be sentenced on March 13th. But we're going to hear from Mueller, who has previously recommended 25 years about what he thinks Manafort should get, given the fact that he believes Manafort lied to him after cutting a deal with him. Remember that.

Then, of course, we have Bob Mueller himself. We are reporting that he could give his report to the attorney general as early as next week. Now what the attorney general decides to do and how long it will take him to read it and digest it is another question. It could literally be handed over next week.

We also have a presidential summit in Vietnam with Kim Jong-Un. And that's on Wednesday and Thursday.

Then, back here in Washington, D.C., the president's former fixer, Michael Cohen, is set to testify before Congress twice behind closed doors, but next Wednesday publicly. That is also very threatening to the president. Of course, he was his lawyer for quite some time. And he is now his enemy and has pledged to tell the truth about what really went on behind closed doors in Trump Tower.

BALDWIN: Yes. That was on, it was on, it was off. Now it's on.

BORGER: Now it's on.

BALDWIN: Publicly next Wednesday.

Get your sleep this weekend. Next week is a biggie.

BORGER: Must-see TV. Yes.

BALDWIN: Gloria, thank you so much.

BORGER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Gloria Borger in Washington.

Our special coverage continues. Minutes from now, the Cook County state's attorney will formally announce charges against R&B star, R. Kelly. We will be live in Chicago.

[14:34:06] And speaking of Chicago, another blow to "Empire" star, Jussie Smollett. Dropped from the final two episodes of the season of "Empire." Hear what the show now has to say.

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BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Defiant and now dropped. "Empire" star, Jussie Smollett, will not

appear in the final two shows including the finally. The decision from 20th Century Fox. It is suspending his role of Jamal. The show's producer saying they want, to quote, "avoid further disruption on set." Smollett returned to the set last evening just after being released from a Chicago jail. And a source tells CNN that he apologized to his cast mates but is sticking to his story that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.

CNN received a statement on Smollett's behalf last night that read the, quote, "Today, we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled on at the expense plaintiff, Smollett, and notably on the eve of a mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a man of impeccable character and integrity who feels betrayed by a system that wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing."

With such damning evidence contradicting Smollett's claims, Chicago officials and community members have said that they fear other victims of hate crimes will either be met with skepticism or, worse, they will avoid going to police at all.

My next guest has a powerful platform to address those fears. He is Reverend Jamie Frazier, founder of Lighthouse Church in Chicago. His congregants are predominantly African-American and members of the LGBTQ community.

Reverend, an honor to have you on. Thank you so much.

REV. JAMIE FRAZIER, FOUNDER, LIGHTHOUSE CHURCH, CHICAGO: A pleasure to be on.

[14:40:00] BALDWIN: Despite the evidence to the contrary, Jussie Smollett is still vehemently denying that he faked this attack. How are you feeling? Who are your congregants saying about this?

FRAZIER: So in my congregation, they are feeling frustration, anger, disbelief. I mean, we're befuddled as to why this situation is unfolding in the way that it is. But I'm careful to note that there are two different courts. There's the court of public opinion and court of law. And in the court of law, Jussie is guaranteed presumptive innocence. I will say this -- if it is found out that he has concocted this entire hoax, it will be sorely disappointed. And I think that he should face some accountability. I don't believe it should be jail time. I believe he should be held accountable to black queer folks, and he should expand his work of advocacy to ensure that real violence gets real attention.

BALDWIN: So that's what you'd want to see him do if and when eventually that is the truth that comes out. And you know, not only are hate crimes up around this country, reverend, but when you look at Chicago -- I know you talk about this, violent targeted toward gay people, you know, African-Americans is a real problem. I was reading about -- you pointed this out, but the two transwomen who were murdered. Those are still unsolved. And you know, lawyers I've talked to worried about that the Smollett effect, right. That the other victims' claims will be met with skepticism. Do you see it differently? Do you see it in a positive way at all?

FRAZIER: Well, I think because I'm a preacher of the gospel, there's always an opportunity to ring some beauty out -- wring some beauty out of ugliness and hope out of despair. The two young trans women that you referenced, I hope some good that can come from this situation is that more attention can be brought to their murders and that we can find out the folks who did it. The city of Chicago right now in 2018 for the first six months of 2018 had a 15.4 percent murder clearance. I want to see them commit the same type of resources and man and woman power to that situation as they have done to unmasking this potential hoax by Jussie.

BALDWIN: Maybe this is a little bit of a preview of your message to your congregation this coming weekend. Reverend Jamie Frazier, the community needs that and needs those words.

Thank you very much for that.

FRAZIER: My pleasure to join you.

BALDWIN: Thank you very much, sir.

I want to stay in Chicago. We're getting information.

Let's go to Sara Sidner. She has more on the R. Kelly indictment as well as we are standing by to hear from the district attorney.

Go ahead, Sara, what do you know?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, we are hearing that there's now -- not hearing, that there's now a warrant for his arrest, R. Kelly's arrest. We know also that the state's attorney is about to have this press conference. We know that an indictment has been filed. Wean that charges have been filed. We are stale waiting to find out -- we are still waiting to find out what the charges are. We heard that a grand jury had been convened, had been going on since last week. There have been many witnesses that went through the grand jury, according to sources familiar with the grand jury and what has been happening there.

There's a new videotape, at least one, that has been handed over to the state's attorney's office, that coming from Michael Avenatti, who says he has several clients, four in total, involved in the R. Kelly case. Two of whom he calls whistleblowers.

What we don't know at this hour, we should make clear, is what R. Kelly is going to do, whether he is going to turn himself in or let himself be arrested by police. What we don't know is what is the -- the charges and whether they have anything to do with the newly uncovered videotape. We are certain that the indictment is -- has happened. And that we are going to hear from the state's attorney in a bit here.

We have also heard from one of the producers of "Surviving R. Kelly," who has been talking with the women who spoke on that series. That series was about women who came forward saying that they had been either sexually abused or abused physically in other ways by R. Kelly. And some of whom said that he had sexual relations with them when they were minors. And that is why it is called "Surviving R. Kelly." They believe themselves survivors of dealing with him in many different ways. And we are hearing from them, as well. Some saying they just hope that this time around justice is done.

And when they talk about this time around, what they are referring to is not only their stories but also the stories that happened back in 2002 when he was charged with 22 counts of child pornography that was then broken down to 14 counts of child pornography, and he went to trial in 2008 on those 14 counts. But he was acquitted. In that trial, there was a videotape. The videotape prosecutors said showed a girl that was 13 or 14 years old and R. Kelly engaging in sex acts. The jury said that they could not positively identify R. Kelly or the girl in that videotape in particular. That was one of the things why he was acquitted.

[14:45:26] We know that the new tape that has been handed over to the state's attorney's office and that has been part of this -- that the grand jury has seen as potential evidence is much clearer because we have seen it ourselves. It involves a girl who refers to her 14-year- old genitalia. But again, we do not know if that tape plays into this at this point. We do know that a grand jury was convened, and the tape certainly played into that -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: Got it. Hear all the noise behind you. I can only imagine the scene and the numbers of the media, everyone waiting to hear from the Cook County state's attorney, Kim Fox.

Sara, thank you -

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: No, go ahead.

SIDNER: This is huge. For Chicago, even for the world, this is a major, major development because of the rumors and the accusations over the past two decades. As you imagine, this room is packed -- Brooke?

BALDWIN: I'm sure. Rightfully so.

Sara, thank you.

I was having a conversation ago with Jamilla (ph) in the docu-series "Surviving R. Kelly." I was asking her, for so many women, this has been decades in the making. I said, why do you think it's taken so long? She said, because -- because they're black. We'll talk to Jamilla (ph) on the other side of this news and get her reaction.

Is a criminal defense attorney.

When you hear Sara reporting -- one piece is waiting to see if R. Kelly turns himself in or waits to get arrested. Can you just explain, no bail arrest warrant?

YODIT TEWOLDE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, Brooke, I've been literally attached to my phone because breaking news is coming in like every two seconds. I can't even keep up. The no-bail is not a surprise given the fact that we have such a long history of rumors, of victims coming forward and attesting to R. Kelly's abuse, whether psychological, physical, sexual. Court issuing a no-bail arrest warrant is essentially saying they're concerned that he's a flight risk. The fact that he has access, he's very rich, he's very famous, he has access to things people don't generally have. They're saying we want to ensure that he is going to face whatever charges he is now indicted for and that he appears in court. They don't have that trust, which is precisely the reason why they don't have a bail amount. Not to mention, the underlying offenses. You have someone who is potentially a child predator who could potentially harm other people while out on bail. They want to ensure that's something they need to protect the community from. So this is just not shocking at all.

BALDWIN: OK. We wait to hear from this state's attorney on this at the top of the hour.

Yodit, you and I will speak again when we hear more of the details, who, what, when, where, why. Stand by for that.

Any moment, the Cook County state's attorney formally announcing charges against R&B superstar, R. Kelly. Stand by. We're going to take you back live to Chicago.

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[14:52:54] BALDWIN: Just in, as President Trump get ready to travel to Vietnam to hold his second summit with North Korea's Kim Jong-Un, we are getting some reporting on the U.S. demands of said summit.

Let's go to our anchor and chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, with more on this.

Jim, what are you learning?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR & CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke. And that is the Trump administration considering softening one of the key demands. My colleagues, Colleen Atwood, Jeremy Diamond, and I, told by multiple officials that the Trump administration weighing backing off an earlier demand that North Korea at this second summit between Trump and Kim commit to make a full accounting of its nuclear capabilities, its nuclear weapons program, and its missile program, as a prerequisite for any U.S. concessions. As recently as November, the vice president, Mike Pence, called such a nuclear accounting an imperative. At this second summit, the U.S. negotiators have been pressing North Korea to do this. It's apparent because you need that -- it's important because you need if you're moving to the next demand of denuclearizing so the U.S. knows what you would be giving up. This would be a significant change to not require that at the summit here, does not mean that the administration will not require it longer term. And an administration official yesterday told reporters that eventually they are going to need a full declaration of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. We are told the subject of some debate internally in this administration. You have some particularly on the NFC pushing the administration for a harder line, sticking to demands like this. Others saying that, well, don't push too hard now, that that might bring North Korea to walk away from these talks. That this is a critical juncture.

But again, we're days away from the second summit. You remember at the last summit, there was a lot of questions as to why meet then without any concessions to make that meeting worthwhile. Now in advance of the second summit, Brooke, you were seeing the administration weighing in, backing off what they had said had been a key demand heading into a second summit. So that's the news we're hearing now. Certainly something we're going to continue to watch as we get ready for the talks next week.

[14:55:06] BALDWIN: Got it again. President traveling to Vietnam for the summit in a couple of days.

Jim, thank you so much for the update.

Again, a heads-up for you watching along in Chicago. The Cook County state's attorney will formally announce charges against R. Kelly. We will be there live and bring that to you as soon as it happens.

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ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Welcome back. It is Friday afternoon. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The big news about to drop in Chicago, Illinois. The Cook County state's attorney is expected to formally announce charges against R&B singer R. Kelly, who has been now indicted after years of speculation, rumor, and accusations regarding underage women.

And while we are waiting on that press conference, which should happen any moment now, this is just a little bit more on how we got to where we are today. Earlier this month, a grand jury was convened in Cook County in connection with new allegations against the singer. That was after Attorney Michael Avenatti said that he had given the state's attorney's office this videotape. And on this videotape, apparently, it alleges that -- shows Kelly having sex with a girl who refers to her private body parts as being 14 years of age. In this latest tape, surfaced some 17 years after R. Kelly was first arrested in the child pornography case that started in 2002 where he was acquitted six years later. So 14 counts then of child pornography centering on this sex tape.

Sara Sidner is in the middle in all this for us where we're waiting for the state's attorney to speak.

Sara, I understand there's an arrest warrant and more. Tell me what you have. SIDNER: A no-bail arrest warrant. That is significant. This is a

huge story both here in Chicago and around the world. Obviously because we are talking about someone who has been a superstar for decades, R. Kelly, a R&B musician, one of the most bestselling musicians in the country.

We should also mention that wean that the grand jury has been going on for quite some time. That there have been several witnesses that have come in and out of the grand jury, according to sources who are familiar with what is happening inside the grand jury.

And as you mentioned, there has definitely been at least one piece of alleged physical evidence that has been handed over to the state's attorney's office here.

We are expecting to hear from the state's attorney, Kim Fox, in just a few minutes, literally the next two or three minutes. At that time, we will be able to see and get a look at the charges themselves. We understand there are more than one charge.

And that we are waiting to hear from R. Kelly's attorney. We can tell you that initially when we reported the story that there was a grand jury, and that the tape did exist, that his attorney said he had no knowledge of any of it. Had no knowledge and had no reason to believe that a grand jury had been convened. And that he had not been contacted by law enforcement. Obviously he has now --