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Violent Protests at Venezuelan/Colombia Border as Venezuelans Demand Aid; Demonstrators Come Out to Support Nicolas Maduro; R. Kelly Expected in Court on Multiple Sex Abuses Charges of Young Girls; Activists Pressuring Radio Stations, Concert Venues to Ban R. Kelly Music; Nun Blasts Vatican Leaders over Clergy Sex Abuse; R. Kelly Expected in Court on Multiple Sex Abuses Charges of Young Girls; Cohen Gave Prosecutors New Information on Trump Family Business; Judge Stands by Labor Secretary after Judge Rules He Violated the Law as U.S. Attorney by Failing to Consult Victims in Jeffrey Epstein Plea. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired February 23, 2019 - 13:00   ET



[13:00:25] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Thanks for joining me. I'm Dana Bash, in for Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with breaking news out of Venezuela where there has been an outbreak of violent protests along the border with Colombia as Venezuelans demand aid be allowed to their country. CNN was there when one demonstrator showed the wound he claims he received from police gunfire.

Meanwhile, thousands also come out demonstrating -- you see there the pictures -- in the capital, Caracas, to show their support for President Nicolas Maduro.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is on the border with Venezuela and Colombia.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The scene here is quite remarkable because these Venezuelan riot police for most of this morning stood with their riot shields up in front of them to show opposition to the opposition of Venezuelans protesting on this bridge. Well, in the last few hours or so, they lowered the shields and are now much more relaxed talking to the protesters here. The protesters messages saying, listen, will is a Venezuelan refugee here in Colombia, I am suffering, my daughter I haven't seen for two years, one man said. Another man said his grandfather had died from a lack of appropriate medicine. Another shouted at them, if I need a sew za here in Colombia, I just have to go and buy it. I don't have to go through the extraordinary things have you to go through inside Venezuela just to get basic foodstuffs. And that message may have sunk in here. Remember, these riot police have to get subsidized food out from the Venezuelan government.

But the tension is building because earlier on today Venezuelan soldiers, three or four, gave themselves up to Colombian migration officials, defected, taking advantage of an offer from the Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president a month ago. He said you can have amnesty if you come across and turn your back on the Nicolas Maduro government.

There's large pro Maduro crowd over there. There's a large crowd shooting fireworks at times. In the hours ahead, this very much the scene Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, and the White House wanted the world to see. They are trying to move humanitarian aid over this bridge, through the row of riot shield. That could lead to conflict and greater tension. They are trying to calm it now. But, Dana, I we may see more complications hours ahead.

Back to you.


BASH: That was Nick Paton Walsh filing a report from earlier.

We now have him live, I believe, on the ground there on the scene.

Looks like you've been moved away from where we saw you last hour, Nick, where the tear gas was coming in and you saw people fleeing to try to get away from them.

WALSH: Yes, I can hear you fine here. Sorry, absolutely I can hear you fine. Forgive me to interrupt you. Trouble with the signal. We moved away voluntarily from the bridge because the clash was getting more uncomfortable and tear gas and stones being thrown. They're being thrown by the opposition protesters. They continue to amass on the bridge. You can see clouds of tear gas off the bridge. But being thrown back at the protesters at what are called the collectors. They are the pro-government protesters and running battle back and forth. I count at least a dozen people with reasonably bad injuries often it their head because of the stones being thrown. One man appeared to have what looked like possible pellet wounds on parts of his body.

We have trucks of humanitarian aid coming down here. I have to point out this is the most popular border crossing between Colombia and Venezuela and it was supposed to ab paste full scene in which the humanitarian aid came across. Now the clash has moved away from the bridge, a dangerous space, between riot police and protesters, and under the bridge too in the valley and rough areas that kind of stretch along the river bank, the bridge goes into Venezuela proper. What we don't know at this point is whether or not the opposition feels their point is being made. They have now obviously around the world had pictures shown what the Maduro government is willing to do to stop the aid from coming in. That includes tear gas and using gang of pro-government thugs I think it's fair to say to throw rocks back. But it may well be that these aid trucks further down here chose to move in.

We heard from Juan Guaido who has, he says on Twitter feed met with some of the Venezuelan soldiers today that defected today. Four game they have gave them elves up. And some will assist with the amnesty being offered with security forces loyal to Nicolas Maduro who asked Juan Guaido if they can defect on to his side. What we are seeing though behind me here is some Colombian military on horseback. We asked them, why are you not intervening here. I'm sure the Colombia government does not want open confrontation between Venezuelan forces and Colombia forces. They say here you have the bridge. But even during those clashes back there, when we were speaking to you earlier on, Dana, we saw another police officer from the Venezuelan side hand himself over to the Colombia forces. He was met with furry from those Venezuelan government protesters.

[13:06:17] But let me set the scene a little more widely for you. This was supposed to be a day of unity, getting humanitarian aid into a country from which 3.1 million people have fled because of humanitarian issues. And sad what happened, if you put aid workers moving towards the police to keep subsidized food packages coming to their family inside Venezuela, we have the clashes returning here. Perhaps a little less violent than an hour ago, but many injured and a scene really, which will make possibly Nicolas Maduro feel comfortable that the lines have held, but certainly be a reason for him to be fearful there may be more of an international response. Remember, consistent threats from the White House and regional partners here for more sanctions, more moves against Venezuela for things like this that have occurred -- Dana?

BASH: Just the notion of a leader feeling comfortable because the humanitarian aid that is trying to get in to the country is being stopped is a little bit hard to wrap your mind around. Is any of that aid that you can see actually getting through with all the chaos?

WALSH: No, I mean, I can only speak for here. Absolutely nothing. As you say, correctly, Nicolas Maduro does not believe there's a problem with food inside his country. That's clearly borderline insane. He probably doesn't have food problem for himself because many accuse him of being pictured in expensive restaurants eating pieces of steak. The question comes down to people, they need this aid, it's been politicized heavily some say ugly fashion, because it's the opposition the tool is using to force their sense of control on the border points. The ultimate goal from activists is really they move in, soldiers would surrender, and kinds of begin to control the border points. Now that obviously has not happened. It may happen later today. The anger is here. The trucks are building. And I think we'll begin, I suspect, to see more international reaction to what's been happening behind me. There could be similar scenes on other border posts but I do believe these are the worst clashes -- Dana?

BASH: I would suspect international reaction is going to be coming, if it hasn't already. The whole reason this is it an issue because of international aid and attempts to get aid in there.

Go ahead, Nick.

WALSH: I'm still hearing you.

BASH: OK. Sorry I thought you wanted to add something else. I'll let you go. We'll get back to you as soon as we can.

(CROSSTALK) WALSH: I'm sorry, there was a man being walked past us here.

BASH: I get it.

WALSH: That he had some kind of injury on his chest. Sorry about that.

BASH: You tend to that. Thank you so much for being on the scene and bringing us this incredibly important reporting.

WALSH: Thanks.

BASH: We'll get back to you.

Now let's go to Isa Soares, who is in the capital of Venezuela, Caracas.

ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Dana, the people are starting to disburse, but I can tell you everyone is looking closely at their mobile phone to get a sense what is happening on at the border. And people asking for us to share our mobile phone so they can see what is happening not just where Nick ism but on the Venezuelan side of the border and closely monitoring what is happening on the Brazil side. People are extremely nervous and tense. When I asked them what happens if aid doesn't come through today, their sense is they are giving me if it doesn't come in today, it will come in tomorrow or the next day.

[13:09:59] And, Dana, I've been on both sides of the border. I've been on weeks on the Colombia side and spoken to people on both sides. And interesting to see the sense of reality here. A $6 minimum base salary in this country. And that doesn't give you anything. Absolutely anything. Not even a block of cheese. So the call really is for the international community to keep pressing, to keep pushing Maduro to bow out and move out of the way. So far, he's digging in his heels. Counter prophet calling on his supporters to go to the streets and say, "Hands off Venezuela," "Go home, Yankees," which seems to be the hashtag that his supporters are putting out here. But so far, the people are keeping calm in Caracas. They are hoping that not only the international community, but specifically President Trump, continues to apply the pressure, whichever way it can, specifically with sanctions with people going so far as to suggest military boots on the ground -- Dana?

BASH: Isa Soares, who has been there for quite some time she's been reporting on the devastating situation for the Venezuelan people. Appreciate that.

And Venezuela will be one of the hot topics when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joins Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION." That's tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

And still ahead, we are moments away from R. Kelly appearing in court. One of the best-selling R&B artists of our time facing multiple charges of sexual abuse against teenage girls. Outside the courthouse, we'll go there next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:15:50] BASH: Any moment now, R&B singer, R. Kelly, is expected in court to learn whether he can post bail following his arrest on multiple charges of sex abuse involving young girls. The accusation span from 1998 to 2010. Kelly turned himself in last night hours after Chicago police issued an arrest warrant. The 52-year-old is accused of committing sexual acts on four victims, including three under age of 17. If convicted, he could face years in prison.

R. Kelly's indictment and arrest is not only welcome news for his alleged victims but also activists.

With me now is one of the activists, Kenyette Tisha Bares, cofounder of #muterkelly, a movement to pressure radio stations and concert venues to stop playing his music or booking his performances.

Thank you so much for joining me.

First, your reaction to the fact that charges were actually filed against R. Kelly.

KENYETTE TISHA BARNES, ACTIVIST: We are excited. This is really the culmination of so many years of ac tie vision and survivors coming forward. Yet we remain cautiously optimistic.

BASH: So what, given the fact that you have been an activist on this for so long, and it took many, many years for charges to be filed, what, in your experience, took so long?

BARNES: Several things. We are dealing with a population, young black women and girls who historically have not been very credible witnesses in the public eye as it relates to sexual crimes. We are also dealing with someone who has a massive tremendous amount of power and celebrity status. And we have social apathy when it comes to sexual violence in general. So I believe the combination of the all of the aforementioned has really been why this has p taken so long.

BASH: And tell me about your push to convince radio stations to stop playing R. Kelly's music?

BARNES: Our push, it's not just radio stations, it's streaming sit,, it's the promotors, live nation, Sony recently dropped him. So we realize there are a lot of moving pieces in this R. Kelly world, and we needed to actually stop all of those moving pieces.

BASH: One of the most prominent pieces, I guess, fall out was in January when Lady Gaga released she was going to pull her duet she did with R. Kelly, back in 2013, pull it from streaming services. And when she did that she said she believes these women accusing him 1,000 percent. How much did someone with her fame, frankly, especially now with Oscars coming up, how much did that play into your efforts?

BARNES: I think it was just one of many. There have been many who have stood up against R. Kelly. Most notably, D.J. Tom Joiner who was the first large-scale D.J. to actually divest from R. Kelly. Then, of course, you've had entertainers like John Legend. Even though Lady Gaga was just one, there were many that were integral to the down slide.

BASH: Kenyette Barnes, thank you so much for bringing us your story and explaining the activism that you have been doing for many, many years. Appreciate it.

BARNES: Thank you for having me.

[13:19:25] BASH: And still ahead, a stunning admission today at the Vatican. Files that would have proved child sex abuse in the Catholic Church were either destroyed or never drawn up. We are live in Rome next.


BASH: "Admit the wrongs, then make them public" -- that's what a nun from Africa is telling Vatican leaders they should do if they want to be transparent about the child sex abuse that's embroiled the church in controversy and crisis for decades.

Sister Veronica Openibo is only one of three women to address the historic Vatican summit that's underway as we speak in Rome.


SISTER VERONICA OPERIBO, CATHOLIC NUN: The first step towards true transparency is to admit wrongdoing and then publish what has been done. I repeat, republish what has been done. I think some of it has been published already but we have to make it public. What has been done since the time of John Paul II to hear the situation. It may not be sufficient in the eyes of many, but it will show that the church had not been totally silent.


[13:25:03] BASH: CNN Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher, joins us now from Rome.

Delia, she certainly didn't mince her words.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Let me tell you, Dana, that sister, Sister Veronica, I have not seen in my almost 20 years here somebody who sat beside the pope at his own conference and called him out on his own denial of accusations from survivors in Chile. She did that. She called him out. Took a lot of coverage. The pope took it well. He said afterwards she was good. We also heard from an American woman who told the pitches you need to be more transparent with the press. Obviously, some tough talk from the women today. The pope says he wants to hear more women's voices and he certainly heard from them today -- Dana?

BASH: Sure did. It's nice to get women in there, as you said, sounds like they were the most overt in what they really felt. But another person who was pretty tough was the German cardinal. He made news by admitting that the church destroyed files that may have been able to prove clergy sex abuse. What's going to come out of that?

GALLAGHER: Well, this is Cardinal Marx. He's one of the top cardinals. In the pope inner circle of cardinals. He made the revelation today that files in Germany had been destroyed. And he says he doesn't think it's an isolated case for Germany. So that is obviously going to ring some bells in the United States as well where there are investigations going on. And where, for example, in Pennsylvania, the Catholic diocese we are told don't destroy files. So this is a significant point that probably going forward we are going to have to watch.

Now, the survivors are pushing for a federal investigation in the United States. Some of them met with the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who is Ambassador Gingrich, yesterday. And they said that they did push for that with the ambassador. The embassy released a statement after that meeting. I want to read a little part of that. They said, "President Trump takes this issue very seriously and has expressed his sadness at the allegations of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The United States embassy to the Holy See has engaged senior Vatican officials on this matter and will continue to do so."

It's important to understand the conversation that's going to be happening between U.S. government officials and the Vatican -- Dana?

BASH: Delia Gallagher, thank you for that reporting.

And still ahead, at any moment, R. Kelly will be in court facing at least 10 new charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. We're outside the courthouse waiting for the singer to appear, and we'll bring it to you live.


[13:32:20] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Dana Bash.

And you are looking at live shot right outside of the courthouse where embattled R&B singer, R. Kelly, is expected to appear in the court there and learn whether or not he can post bail following his arrest on multiple charges of sex abuse involving young girls. The accusations span from 1998 to 2010. And Kelly turned himself in last night hours after Chicago police issued an arrest warrant. The 52- year-old is accused of committing sexual act on four victims, including three under the age of 17. If convicted, he could face up to 70 years in prison.

I want to get straight to CNN Sara Sidner, also at the courthouse where R. Kelly is set to appear.

Sara, what can you tell us about today's hearing?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We just saw Steve Greenberg, the attorney for R. Kelly walk into the courtroom. We also saw Attorney Michael Avenatti, who says he represents six people involved in this case. He is in there now. We also saw something that a lot of folks weren't expecting to seal,

and that was we saw at least one of the families of one of the girls, the family that was in the "Surviving R. Kelly" series that told the story of women who had come forward saying they were sexually abused when they were minors or physically abused as adults. The parents of one of those girls, the Clearry (ph) family, is here in court. They said they have not been able to get in touch with their daughter for many years. Extremely worried about her. They were in court and they believe she too will be here in court today. We are trying to confirm whether or not she is here. We know the Savidge (ph) family has been vocal as well. They were part of the documentary saying they too were concerned about their daughter. Now R. Kelly is arrested, there's concern where they are.

We should mention this came about yesterday as the states attorney indicted -- grand jury indicted R. Kelly the states attorney charged him with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse pertaining to four women, three of whom under the age of 17, unable to consent.

We also from R. Kelly attorney. Soon after he was arrested he came outside. As we were waiting to hear from him. Nothing directly from R. Kelly but his attorney has accused all of the women, and I'm talking all of the women from decades ago, accusing R. Kelly of inappropriate sexual behavior, he called them liars. When I asked him if he meant all of the women that came forward, he said all of the women. He went on to say they wanted something from Kelly they didn't get now they are persecuting him.

[13:35:05] Now I should also mention that the women have come forward very strongly saying they don't know about everybody's story but they certainly know about their own and they feel that it is R. Kelly who has been a liar in all this. So lots of barbs going back and forth. Many are African-American women who felt they weren't believed when they were telling their stories in the first place, many feeling victim-shamed, now they feel justice may finally be done.

R. Kelly, for his part, has always maintained his innocence. He was acquitted in a 2008 trial where he was charged with 14 counts of child pornography. Now these are different counts he'll be facing. And the question he'll be facing is whether a judge will say, I can give you bond you can get out pending your trial, or as the states attorney has asked for, I'm going to keep you in custody until your trial. We'll wait and see what happens. We have folks in the court. I will be in the court as well. And we'll let you know what happens -- Dana?

BASH: Sara Sidner, we know you'll be all over it. We'll get back to you. Thank you so much.

And with me to discuss is Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and is also a CNN legal analyst, and Caroline Polisi, federal and white-collar criminal defense attorney.

Thank you so much for both of you for joining me.

And, Renato, let me start with you.

What do you expect to hear from them as they make their case R. Kelly shouldn't be allowed to be let out on bail?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, they'll be highlighting, Dana, one of the four charges, which is allegation that he engaged in sexual abuse while he was out on bond awaiting trial for abusing another minor many years ago. So that is, you know, very, very important to the court. Because really one of the things that the court is looking at, if not the most important thing, is will this individual, R. Kelly, respect the law and follow the conditions of release. Can he be counted on not to commit crimes while he's out on bond. And if he was out abusing woman while he was out on bond, that's obviously problematic. If I was a judge and had that allegation in front of me, I would be disinclined to release him.

BASH: And, Caroline, as a defense attorney, what do you make of R. Kelly's attorney making the argument bluntly, as a matter of factually, that every single person who is making an accusation against him is a liar?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL & WHITE-COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it was a pretty hard line approach. I don't know if it's one I myself personally would have taken. But it's obviously his right, his prerogative. Typically I would tell my clients certainly not to make mi statements to the press. I think perhaps it could be, oftentimes defendants want the attorney to come out with a strong statement. So there's always a little back and forth between the client and what the attorney wants. So who knows where that sentiment is actually coming from? I suspect it may have come from R. Kelly himself.

BASH: Is it a strategy that could backfire?

POLISIS: I mean, not necessarily. I don't think he could be held accountable for the statements. I don't think those statements are going to be attributed to R. Kelly, certainly not in the courtroom. But going to the point another aspect his defense attorneys are going to argue here, another aspect of factors that a judge will consider whether to allow the defendant out on bail is of course a flight risk, right. Bail is not intended to be punitive. It goes nothing to the heart of the issues at the case or whether or not there's evidence of guilt or innocence. But R. Kelly has shown up for court in the past. He's gone through this process in the past and she's showed up at court. And that's the point of bail. That's the point of a high bond, to ensure that the defendant shows up. So I'm guessing that's likely what the defense attorneys will argue here.

BASH: That's interesting point that they've experienced he's done that in terms of having experience and a record, rather, of not fleeing.

Let me get back to you, Renato, on post bail hearing on the notion of these allegations. And 1998 to 2010, what challenges does that prevent, the fact that these are things that happened years ago to prosecutors in this case?

MARIOTTI: It's always a challenge to prove cases that happened quite some time ago, because witnesses' memories fade. The reality is jurors will be skeptical of memories people have from a long time ago. The problem for R. Kelly here is there's allegedly video evidence and photographic evidence that it will be hard for him to deny. I don't know. I haven't seen. I have seen some images that, you know, that were online, but I can't attest to the veracity of those. So I don't know for sure how good that video and photographic evidence is. One thing I will say, I do -- I am familiar with Kim Fox, who is the states attorney here and her office. They know that they are putting themselves out there on this prosecution. And they also know that R. Kelly beats the charges last time, 10 years ago.

[13:40:31] BASH: Exactly.

MARIOTTI: So I mean, they know that they are going to be resting this on documentary evidence. I don't think that they would be bringing this case if it was a he said, she said. So this documentary evidence is really going to carry the day. I have to say, by the way, too


MARIOTTI: I'm sorry.

BASH: No, go ahead.

MARIOTTI: Dana, I was going to say in regard to the point that Caroline made, I agree with what she had to say. I will say I know Steve, the attorney for R. Kelly. He -- I was a little surprised he was chosen for this. It doesn't strike me as his strike zone, not exactly who I think a mega-millionaire would get this, this case.

BASH: Why?

MARIOTTI: He's not the highest-priced attorney, obviously not the attorney that handled this in the past for R. Kelly, although not necessarily available. But I would say that, you know, that strategy to me while I get that it won't be held against R. Kelly in court, the jury pool is going to be a lot of people who are watching clips on this on ill voice television.

BASH: Exactly.

MARIOTTI: I think that's going to turn off a lot of women on the jury. I'm a defense attorney now, and I don't try to call people liars unless I have to. I think that's a strong statement. Especially women who are victims who are claiming they are victimized. I think that's a very big mistake on his part.

BASH: Caroline?

POLISI: I don't disagree. Again, it's a fine line. And oftentimes you try to thread the needle between advocating for your client and doing what you think is in the best interests. You know, I will just say that to the video evidence, as Renato was saying, there was video evidence 10 years ago in the case that was brought in 2002. Took six years to try. If you watched the Lifetime "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary, I think there were real questions raised behind the scenes what was going on during that trial. And I agree that Kim Cook (sic) has to have some really strong evidence. Notably it looks like she has four witnesses that are Cooperating here. The crucial element in that last trial was that the alleged victim in that case was not cooperative. For whatever reason she was not willing to Cooperate with the prosecution. And that was just lethal to the prosecution's case.

BASH: That's the big difference between then and now.

POLISI: Huge difference.


POLISI: And Kim Cook (sic) came out openly after that documentary was released imploring members of the public to come forward with information if they had it if they were victims to come to the prosecutor's office and cooperate. So I think likely she's got some really dynamite evidence. Otherwise -- she knows all eyes are on her now. She knows she has to come forward strong and I this I she has this case in the bag.

BASH: Caroline Polisi and Renato Mariotti, thank you so much for that discussion. I appreciate it.

POLISI: Thank you.

BASH: And Michael Cohen crosses the president's red line. A new report details what Trump's former fixer told prosecutors about the Trump family business. That's next.


[13:48:18] BASH: President Trump's former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, is raising a red flag with prosecutors about the Trump family business, offering up information about possible irregularities within the business and about a donor to the Inaugural Committee.

CNN reporter and producer, Marshall Cohen, joins me now.

Marshall Cohen, no relation to Michael Cohen.


BASH: Thank you so much for joining us.

COHEN: Thanks.

BASH: So what do we know about this meeting that Michael Cohen had with prosecutors?

COHEN: Yes. Well, so he has been cooperating for a while now. And he's heading to prison in a few months so it seems like he's trying to help out as much as he possibly can before he goes. This latest meeting we are hearing in the "New York Times" reported that he's talking about insurance filings by the Trump administration and donor by the Trump Inaugural Committee that paid almost a million dollars to the committee. BASH: And just by way of context, he is going to prison, and part of

the deal is if you can show prosecutors, the feds that you can give them a little something you can potentially reduce your sentence.

COHEN: Sure. He hopes that he can provide something so helpful that can go back to the judge and say, hey, you should reconsider giving him a more lenient situation. But that being said, it's still not even sure whether the prosecutors found this new information to be credible. He's providing it to them. They'll make that decision.

BASH: Credibility is key because the reason he's going to jail is because he lied to prosecutors, or lied to Congress, rather.


BASH: Speaking of Congress, he's coming before Congress finally a couple of hearings behind closed doors but one in public. There's a lot of buildup to this because it's been canceled so many times.


BASH: Do you think it's going to --


COHEN: Will he or won't he?

[13:50:06] BASH: Exactly. Will we learn something or is it going to be a lot of theater?

COHEN: Definitely theater. It is going to be something to watch. Democrats, they have a lot of questions. They want to talk about Trump's taxes, the Trump Foundation, the Trump Hotel, hush money payments. They're going to try as hard as they can to get Michael co ton spill on his former boss. But as you pointed out, Republicans have a pretty good talking point, and could say Michael Cohen, this guy came too Congress two years ago and lied to our faces, why should we trust him now?

BASH: Very important point. That's going to must-see TV, especially when the president is with Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam.

Marshall, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thank you.

BASH: Up next, a federal judge has ruled that a top Trump official went easy on an alleged sex abuser. How the president is responding.


[13:55:09] BASH: President Trump is standing by his Labor Secretary Alex Acosta after a federal judge ruled he and other prosecutors broke the law over a plea deal with an alleged serial sex abuser, back when Acosta was U.S. attorney in Florida in 2008.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has more.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeffrey Epstein is the politically connected Palm Beach billionaire, who struck a 2008 plea deal with federal authorities, who uncovered evidence of himself abusing dozens of teenaged girls. The U.S. attorney at the time, a current member of President Trump's cabinet. Labor Secretary Alex Acosta allegedly met up with a lawyer for Epstein and assured the legal team that the prosecutors would not contact the identified individuals, witnesses or potential civil claimants as the two sides hammered out an agreement, that meant that Epstein avoided trial and federal judges and only served 13 months in a county jail after pleading guilty to two state prostitution charges.

A judge has now ruled that pledge not to inform any of Epstein's accusers of the please deal was illegal, violating victim's rights.


JULIE BROWN, REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: They felt elated that finally, someone, you know, of authority, conceded that they had violated the law, and that they had treated these girls unfairly.


SCHNEIDER: Julie Brown exposed the hidden agreement in a November story for the "Miami Herald." She's interviewed several victims who detail their abuse.

BROWN: Everything down to how to be quiet, be subservient, give Jeffery what he wants, and you know, before you know it, I'm being lent out to politicians and to academics.

SCHNEIDER: Now, the real criticism is centering around Alex Acosta who insisted in early February he wasn't alone in approving this deal.

ALEX ACOSTA, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY & FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: The Department of Justice leadership at the time reviewed that plea deal. The Department of Justice has been defending the actions of the office over the intervening 12 years.

SCHNEIDER: Acosta has not commented since Thursday's court ruling. But the Labor Department reiterated Acosta's stance, saying, "The office's decisions were approved by departmental leadership."

The president appointed Acosta to his position, and long before he ran for office, Donald Trump flaunted his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, who has also socialized with former President Bill Clinton.

This is a photo from Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in 1997. And he told "New York" magazine in 2002, "I've known Jeff for 15 years, terrific guy, he's a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side."

President Trump was asked about his Labor secretary's role in the Epstein deal Friday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRSEIDENT OF THE UNITED STAWTES: I really don't know too much about it. I know he's done a great job as Labor secretary. And that seems like a long time ago, but I know he's been a fantastic Labor secretary.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): What happens now that the judge has ruled the Justice Department's failure to notify victims was illegal? It's unclear. The judge has asked both sides to weigh in on an appropriate remedy. But since Epstein has already served his sentence, it could be difficult to re-do any deal.

Now as for the Department of Justice, it's Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an investigation into whether Alex Acosta and others might have committed professional misconduct. And Acosta has told CNN that he will cooperate with that investigation.

Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BASH: We have so much more in the NEWSROOM. And it all starts right now.

Hello, again. Thanks for joining us. I'm Dana Bash, in for Fredricka Whitfield.

And we begin this hour following the breaking news. R&B singer, R. Kelly, is in court before a judge, who will decide if he can post bail, or if he must stay in jail until his trial. Now Kelly has been charged with multiple counts of sex abuse involving young girls. The accusations span from 1998 to 2010. Kelly turned himself in, in last night, hours after Chicago police issued an arrest warrant. The 52- year-old is accused of committing sexual acts on people under the age of 17, four of the victims, four victims total, three of them are minors. If convicted, he faces up to 70 years in prison.

I want to get straight to CNN's Sara Sidner, who is in Chicago, covering this.

Sara, you were just inside the courtroom. What's happening?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So the prosecutor in the case is detailing the allegations against R. Kelly. R. Kelly is in court. He has his attorney next to him. He is there. There are of course guards there in the court. We know that there are several people there for him, because when he came out, several people stood up, as he came out, and stood up for the duration of this. We also know that there are families here, who have daughters, that are still with R. Kelly that are concerned about their daughters.