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Kraft Accused of Soliciting Sex; Charges Prepared for Manafort; Fox Removes Smollett from Episodes. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 22, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Weekend. Among our guests will be the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris. We're going to catch up to her at some events. Hope to see you then.

Don't go anywhere. A lot of news today, if you haven't noticed. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.

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

Underway right now, another day, another stunning charge. Patriots' owner Robert Kraft accused of soliciting sex in a prosecution sting.

Plus, a capital on edge, a president under siege and a week that's shaping up to be the most consequential for the Trump presidency.

Any moment, Robert Mueller may drop the secrets he's been holding on Paul Manafort. Why this filing could tell all.

And what's the defense for Jussie Smollett? Despite the police evidence against him, he remains defiant as his TV show makes a big move.

But we begin with breaking news in Florida. Police say there is a warrant out for the arrest of Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl champions, the New England Patriots. Authorities say he has been charged with two counts of soliciting sex at a day spa in Jupiter. The bombshell was dropped at a police press conference last hour.


CHIEF DANIEL KERR, JUPITER, FLORIDA, POLICE: Yes, sir. He -- he is one of the individuals.

QUESTION: Can you please state who he is?

KERR: That would be Mr. Robert Kraft.

QUESTION: Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots?

KERR: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: And what is he being charged with?

KERR: He's being charged with the same offenses as the -- the others, and that is soliciting another to commit prostitution.


KEILAR: A spokesperson for the Patriots' owner issued this statement. We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.

We have reporter Anthony Kustura from our affiliate WPBF. He was at that police conference. We have "Boston Globe's" senior NFL writer Ben Volin, and former federal prosecutor Laura Coates with us.

Anthony, this was part of a police sting, so there were a number of people who were netted in this. Tell us more about it.

ANTHONY KUSTURA, WPBF TV REPORTER: Yes, really this stems from a months-long investigation here in south Florida that stemmed back, actually, over the summer. In total there's about five spas that are related, a handful of suspects, females who are accused of ringing -- excuse me, of leading this prostitution, human trafficking type of sting, and then hundreds of what police are calling Johns, men who participated in these sexual acts, essentially paying for sex with now just the latest development a few moments ago, citing that Robert Kraft of the Patriots is actually part of that.

We understand that he was involved not just once, but twice, soliciting sex at a local spa here in Jupiter, Florida. It is a misdemeanor here in Florida.

So the way that this generally works is that if -- the police department, rather, would send a mail notice, and those folks who were accused would appear in court. Because Robert Kraft does not live here in Florida, he lives in Massachusetts, as you know, he would actually have an arrest warrant. And so that is what we are told the police department is working on right now.

We are trying to get our hands on the arrest affidavit to see exactly what that entails, but at this point we know that he visited two times. Police have not been crystal clear in terms of the timeframe, but we know that they started surveillance at that one specific spa back in January. And in a one-week period, we understand that there was about a hundred men who visited in that time frame, and so it's safe to say that it probably would be sometime in that time frame since they started the surveillance.

The way that this investigation really started back in the summer was a tip to the health department from customers at these illicit spas here in south Florida saying that these workers would be soliciting sex. And so the health department went in, they installed video cameras, they pulled a trash pool here and so from that trash pool they had shredded pieces of paper. They pieced it together. They found names and dates, sexual services were -- that were provided, as well as how they paid. And so we're trying to figure out if Robert Kraft is listed on one of those pieces of paper that investigators eventually pieced together or if it's the surveillance video. And we know, just from that press conference a short time ago, that Robert Kraft is listed two times going, but we're still trying to figure out if they're linking him through that paper trail as well.

KEILAR: Yes, and kind of evidence do they have is the question, Anthony.

I want to ask you this, Laura, because, as Anthony says, this is a misdemeanor, but with this arrest warrant in progress, because Robert Kraft lives in Massachusetts, and this is happening in Florida, how does that play out, would you expect?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you'd expect him to have jurisdiction to be able to extend to Massachusetts. You usually have this idea where other jurisdictions will honor and help facilitate you being brought back to the state within the United States of America. It will likely play out where either his attorney will ask him to waive his appearance through the courts. Will he be able to turn himself in at some appropriate time? If he actually will be arraigned on any charges?

[13:05:06] Misdemeanors, remember, are things that allow you to serve about six months to a year, or even less than six months. You're not talking about a lengthy amount of time which is why it's categorized as that. But the most interesting aspect of this is that this spa, and the investigation, as well laid out, is also a part of a human trafficking discussion.

Now, Robert Kraft, by all accounts, has not been charged with anything related to that. But this particular spa is being investigations, as was, I think, nine or so others, with the idea of women being held in sexual servitude and perhaps not being able to leave. Now, if that is the case, this case could expand beyond the initial evidentiary paper trail with those related Johns, as they're called, if they were somehow involved in a greater operation involving trafficking.

So how this will play out for Robert Kraft, if it's an arrest warrant for a misdemeanor charge is probably the best case scenario as opposed to -- or just being dismissed outright. But if it leads to a larger investigation, Brianna, well, a misdemeanor would be a dream for a human trafficking ring.

KEILAR: Indeed.

And, Ben, this is -- this goes beyond the legal realm, because people either love or they hate Kraft. He is an icon for sure in Boston, though. What's the reaction there?

BEN VOLIN, SENIOR NFL WRITER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Certainly everyone here is completely shocked by these allegations and charges. Robert Kraft, you know, a 70-something-year-old billionaire. Certainly he enjoys the good life. He has been hanging out with the rapper Meek Mill recently at the NBA all-star game. Robert Kraft does have a younger girlfriend that he's been with for several years now.

But, again, to go into the realm of prostitution, I don't think anyone saw this coming. He's absolutely revered in New England for the way he saved the franchise over two decades ago and has turned them into arguably the greatest dynasty in all of sports. And this is certainly a shocking turn of events for someone who's held in such high regard. You know, publicly here he does so many things in the community. And, obviously, when his wife unfortunately passed away back in 2011, that was a big thing as well. And they dedicated the season to her. They wore patches on their uniforms. So obviously this is not the Robert Kraft that a lot of people here know in New England.

KEILAR: How, Ben, is it going to reflect on the reputation of the team?

VOLIN: Yes, I don't know if the two really go hand in hand. I think people either generally love the Patriots or they hate them. And I don't think this incident is going to change people's minds too much. You know, the thing that's interesting is Robert Kraft is going to be looking at punishment from the NFL, too, not just legal problems. Those are his bigger concerns, of course.

But the NFL is going to have to take some action on him as well. They have a personal conduct policy that applies to players, coaches, GMs, even owners. And it even states explicitly that owners are to be held in higher regard and so the punishments can be harsher for them than it would be for a normal player. So he's probably looking at at least a suspension of six games and the maximum fine of $500,000. Those are the punishments that Colts owner Jim Irsay got when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor plea in 2014. So Robert Kraft is going to be facing punishment from the NFL, as well as his legal issues. And certainly this is going to be a black eye for the organization. There's no question.

KEILAR: Yes. Ben Volin, thank you so much.

Laura Coates, really appreciate it.

And thank you to Anthony Kustura with our affiliate WPBF.

Now, with a key sentencing memo expected today on former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, there's word now that New York state prosecutors are preparing to possibly charge Manafort as well. "The New York Times" is reporting that charges would be triggered even if the president steps in and pardons Manafort. The president has publicly refused so far to rule out a pardon.


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 treated so poorly. But the question was asked of me by "The New York Post," and I said, no, I have not offered any pardons. And I think they asked, or whatever, would you? I said, I'm not taking anything off the table.


KEILAR: Now, former counsel to U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, Carrie Cordero, is with us now. We also have CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Why is this so significant, Carrie?

CARRIE CORDERO, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Well, it matters, first of all, because if there are New York charges, if there are state charges, then those are potentially pardon-proof. The president's pardon authority extends to federal crimes, not to state crimes. So if they were to indict him in state proceedings, then that could potentially go to trial, and he could be convicted of those crimes, and whether or not the president pardons him would be irrelevant.

[13:10:00] KEILAR: So the president hasn't ruled out this -- a pardon of Paul Manafort. I'm assuming that a decent lawyer in his corner would want him to do that, but why hasn't he?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think for a couple reasons. And one thing about the president is he tends to be pretty transparent when he says things. And what he said publicly is what I've heard from sources around him that he says -- he's been saying privately for some time, which is, maybe Paul Manafort didn't make the right choices, but these charges almost certainly would not be brought against him had he, Manafort, been involved in the Trump orbit. I mean the reason why -- it's not as though they weren't looking at him, the feds weren't looking at him before. They were. But they've -- you know, they certainly were aggressive about it more recently because it was caught up in the Mueller prove. It's moved beyond that now.

Having said that, my understanding is that the president was surprised to hear that Manafort met with the Ukrainian with very close ties to the Russian Kremlin and gave him some polling data. He didn't know about that. And now whether or not that changes his M.O. on a potential pardon, you know, unclear if that's -- if it goes that far. But, you know, he tends to be loyal to people who are loyal to him. And so far there's no sign that Paul Manafort has been anything but.

KEILAR: He's called -- he's called him a brave man, right?

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: So if the president, Carrie, were to pardon Paul Manafort, that would deal with the federal crimes --


KEILAR: He is alleged to have committed, but this is -- this is on the state level, but it's for the same thing. So wouldn't his -- wouldn't his attorneys argue double jeopardy?

CORDERO: Well, he's pleaded guilty to some things.

KEILAR: That's right.

CORDERO: He had a plea agreement and then the question is whether or not he violated that agreement. And so his sentencing, what he's actually sentenced to, will depend on how the judge weighs whether he violated that agreement. KEILAR: And a big sentence, can we mention.

CORDERO: There is -- right.

KEILAR: It could be potentially huge.

CORDERO: There is -- my understanding of New York state law is there is a double jeopardy issue. But, you know, this point about why he's prosecuted is actually a really important one because prosecutions are not actually supposed to be brought just because somebody is, quote/ unquote, a big fish. If there's somebody who is prominent, that's not really a reason to bring a case.

And what I am curious about is why, whoever is providing this information to reporters, that a potential grand jury might indict Paul Manafort in the future in New York state, why is that information becoming public? Grand jury proceedings should be kept secret. If New York State has a case against Paul Manafort, they should just bring their case.

KEILAR: Then why might it be?

CORDERO: It shouldn't --

KEILAR: Why might it be public?

CORDERO: Well, it should actually depend on whether or not they think the president is dangling a pardon.


CORDERO: It should be either they have a case or they don't. If they have a case, bring it. And the charges could be similar to state -- to federal charges or there might be other specific things related to financial crimes in New York state law that they would have unique things to charge him with.

KEILAR: Let's look ahead, Dana, to next week, because it's going to be a heck of a week, right?

BASH: A doozy.


OK, very consequential potentially for the president. You've got the delivery, it is possible, of the final Mueller report. President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testifying on Capitol Hill before one, not two, three committees, right? Tuesday the House is going to vote on this resolution against the president's national emergency declaration. And then the president also has this little summit in Vietnam with Kim Jong-un.

What are you looking for?

BASH: I mean, all of it.


BASH: We're going to be looking for sleep. That's what we're going to be looking for.

KEILAR: After the week is over.

BASH: No, I mean, look, we're -- we're kind of used to, all of us in the news world and people just in the world who consume this news, are used to working at warped speed and trying to, you know, consume water from a fire hose. This is going to be like nothing we've seen before.

I think for President Trump, what better place for him to be than on the world stage? No matter how controversial it is. No matter how, you know, potentially consequential or not that is, what better place for him to be than that with everything that's going to be happening here on the home front.

KEILAR: Very interesting point.

Dana Bash, Carrie Cordero, thank you both.

BASH: Thanks, Bri.

KEILAR: Breaking today, as Jussie Smollett says he's innocent of setting up a fake attack, his show "Empire" is pulling the plug on his character from the season's final two episodes.

Plus, from Stone to Cohen, from Manafort to Flynn, all the president's men humbled by the law.


[13:18:50] KEILAR: Jussie Smollett is being pulled from his show "Empire." Fox making that announcement a short time ago, saying that the character would not appear in the last two episodes of the season.

Smollett was back on the set just hours after bonding out of jail. He gathered the cast and crew of the show and he apologized to them for any embarrassment that the allegations against him have caused. But that was it. That's where he left it.

He doubled down on his innocence, denying that he staged the assault against himself and blasting the media and legal system for this growing scandal.

We have Sirius XM host Clay Cane and CNN's S.E. Cupp with us to discuss this.

So, first off, S.E., a number of politicians commented on this. They originally condemned this alleged attack police say that Smollett faked, really. What is the damage for them, do you think?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In not reversing their earlier statements, I think you mean?

KEILAR: Yes, or even having -- CUPP: Yes.

KEILAR: Having said it, having not at this point sort of corrected the record and taken some sort of stand.

CUPP: Yes. It's odd. Kamala Harris has come the closest, but there's still sort of a wait and see approach, which would be fine if you had waited and seen from the beginning. But, you know, we got duped. You know, a lot of people did not believe this from the beginning, but for those that did, you got duped. And there's really no risk, I think, in coming out and saying we were had, we were taken, we were played, and what Jussie Smollett is alleged to have done is awful and sets us back, and it's a betrayal, and it's, you know, x, y and z and then sort of move on. But the longer this lingers, especially for 2020 contenders, I think the worse this kind of looks.

[13:20:42] KEILAR: Clay, I want to ask you about a really interesting column you wrote in "The Washington Post," but, first, can you just -- can you relate to what S.E. said and just what you think about people who have -- politicians who have come out on this issue and what they should do now?

CLAY CANE, SIRIUS XM HOST: Well, listen, I like the way that Kamala Harris has handled it. I like the way that Cory Booker has handled it. Let's not forget, President Trump himself, he came out as well and said this is the worst thing ever, whatever the quote was.

So I think it's the right thing to do. Folks came out, they defaulted to supporting him, to having compassion for him. Now the -- you know, the facts may have changed. But let's not forget, he is still presumed innocent. So I feel like the way that Cory Booker, as Democrat, and Kamala Harris, they've handled it, has been smart. They've said, we're going to wait until more facts come out.

And, again, Trump commented as well. It wasn't just Democrats.

KEILAR: You heard the head of police in Chicago saying that one of his fears is when you have hate crimes reported by the LGBT community, by the black community, that it may not be taken seriously. You wrote a column where you said, hey, members of the black LGBT community are -- if they're not going to report crimes that happened, it's not going to have anything to do with Jussie Smollett. Explain that.

CANE: Yes, I'm really frustrated by this notion and it's really offensive that because of Jussie Smollett, the one black gay guy who may have lied, that victims of hate crimes are not going to be believed. We already aren't believed. Black LGBT victims of hate crimes aren't taken seriously. I'll lay out example after example. If someone doesn't believe a hate crime victim, they didn't believe it before Jussie.

But here's the -- here's the larger point. Why doesn't it work the other way around? Why is it when white people falsely accuse black people -- and there's a documented history of that -- why -- how come their credibility isn't shot? How come the credibility of white women, for example, you think about Carolyn Bryant (ph), Susan Smith, most recently Kristin Rimes (ph). But their credibility isn't shot. But the one black person who was alleged -- allegedly lied, it somehow is going to ruin the lives of black LGBT folks who are affected by hate crimes. That is really -- that is really a ridiculous, offensive perspective. As a black LGBT person, I can tell you, it's not true.

CUPP: As a -- as a women, let me just say that we are also not believed, whether it's as victims of sexual harassment, or sex crimes, all kinds of crimes, we are also not believed. And so, you know, Susan Smith notwithstanding, I don't think her credibility is in good standing today.

CANE: But I'm talking about the intersection of race.

CUPP: But we are also not believed routinely. And what I have said through Me Too, and what I said through this is, every false allegation of a crime sets us all back and it makes it that much harder.

Now, I think you're right, that if you're not inclined to believe minority victims, then nothing that some actor does is going to change that opinion. But it is -- it is a betrayal to future victims and current victims to fake an attack and use racial animus and bigotry to fake an attack and stir up all of those tensions. It's hard enough for victims to survive attacks, report attacks, muster the courage to voice those allegations, those accusations. It's hard enough and this does not help.

CANE: But I just want to point out, and we're talking about race. We're in Black History Month, right? There was a long documented history of white people falsely accusing black people. As far as women, you know, within white people, that's different. But there is a long history of this. So all that I'm saying is that if it's going to damage the credibility, you would think it would be across the board. And I can tell you, as a black LGBT person, the credibility is already damaged. We -- we -- it's hard to prove a hate crime in general. So that comment from the Chicago PD was just disturbing to me because that's just not true.

KEILAR: Well, I will tell you, I appreciate the conversation from both of you because I think that there are broader lessons to be learned from all of this.

CUPP: Yes.

KEILAR: And that it's such a complex issue. So, Clay, thank you for being on.

S.E., thank you for joining us. We really appreciate it.

CUPP: Sure.

CANE: Thank you.

KEILAR: And remember to watch on Saturday night at 6:00 Eastern for "S.E. Cupp Unfiltered." That is right here on CNN. President Trump forced to backtrack on his plans for a full military withdrawal from Syria. The White House now saying about 200 troops will stay. I'll ask the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin, if that's enough.

[13:25:13] Plus, our breaking news out of Florida. The owner of the New England Patriots charged with soliciting sex. A warrant now out for his arrest.


[13:30:02] KEILAR: The White House is changing the plan for the total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. They now say that they'll leave around 200 troops behind for what they are calling a peace-keeping force.