Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

R. Kelly Granted Bail with Conditions over Sex Abuse Allegations; Prosecutors: Manafort Should Face Up to 25 Years in Prison; Violent Protests at Venezuelan/Colombia Border as Venezuelans Demand Aid. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 23, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:00:38] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, everyone. You're living in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ryan Nobles, in today for Ana Cabrera.

We begin with breaking news. Less than 24 hours after he turned himself in to police, R&B singer, R. Kelly, has just been granted bail with conditions after a dramatic hearing that featured some of the graphic sex abuse allegations against him. His bond has been set at $1 million. And he has been ordered to turn over his passport and have no contact with any of his alleged victims or anyone under the age of 18. The 52-year-old faces 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Stemming from four accusers. At least three of them under the age of 17. The alleged encounters happened between 1998 to 2010.

CNN's Sara Sidner is at the courthouse where the hearing just wrapped up just a short time ago.

And, Sara, a prosecutor read graphic details of the charges against Kelly during the hearing. What can you tell us about what she said?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the reality of this case. It is going to be difficult to listen to, and imagine being family members, of the alleged victims, who were also listening to some of these details in court.

I can now tell you, we have confirmed that one of the alleged victims in this case was in court today. I had a very short conversation with her. She is now being represented by Michael Avenatti. I can tell you that she was emotional, as you might imagine, in this particular courthouse today, as bond was being set.

The state's attorney at first asked for no bond. What we now know that bond has been granted and he can pay $100,000 total to get out of jail and be able to be out of jail until his trial. However, the bond was $250,000 per alleged victim, which means the total amount was a million.

At this point, his attorney has said that he is having all sorts of money problems. Because he's been dropped from his record label, among other things. And he has also proclaimed his client's innocence, Steve Greenberg, coming very hard out, saying that the victims he says are liars, or that they were at the age of consent at the time. Denying what had been said in court.

In court, one of the state's attorneys talked about some of the details, very graphic details. I will not get into all of them. I will give you just a little bit of an idea of what is being said. They said that in one case, there was a woman who was of age, but she was a hairdresser, R. Kelly had asked to be able to go back and get his hair done, and then he came out with his genitalia out of his pants, and asked her to perform oral sex, for example. She says she resisted. And so she is one of the victims who has come forward to the state's attorney's office.

We also heard about three other girls who the prosecution says were not of age, were under the age of 17, one of whom talked about being spit on, and slapped, and also being engaged by R. Kelly in sexual acts as well.

As this was going on, the families inside, there was at least one family whose daughter is with R. Kelly. She is of age but was not of age when she first started to be with him, without her parents around. They were very, very upset in court. The mother coming out, her name, Alice, she came out and sobbed in her husband's arms, because she was unable to have any contact with her daughter. Her daughter, she said would just look straight ahead and would not acknowledge her. She has claimed that her daughter is brain washed along with another girl who was by her side, who is Joycelyn Savage, whose family has come out repeatedly in the media who is worried about the health of their daughter. You can see them in court today.

R. Kelly, again, has denied all of the allegations against him. His are attorney saying he is innocent -- Ryan?

NOBLES: And, Sara, we did see R. Kelly last night when he surrendered to authorities. What can you tell us about his demeanor in court today?

SIDNER: He stood solemnly. He answered questions. He listened. His attorney was standing next to him. There were no outbursts. Although when he first came to court and when his name was first called, we noticed that four people, four men, who had come in, together, stood up, and stood up for the entire time that he was there. We know that there were people in that courtroom that support R. Kelly, that support him not just as an artist but as a friend or family member. And so that is what we saw in the court, on his side. Again, a lot of emotion on the side of families in this court today -- Ryan?

[15:05:20] NOBLES: All right, Sara Sidner, in Chicago, where R. Kelly was at a bail hearing. Thank you very much for that.

Let's talk more about this situation, with CNN legal analyst and criminal defense lawyer, Joey Jackson, and CNN senior entertainment writer, Lisa France.

Joey, let's first talk about the legal aspect here. R. Kelly facing ten criminal counts. Key face up to seven years in prison. His lawyers calling all of these accusers liars right now. I mean is that typical of a defense attorney in a situation like this?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So you have to be careful, Ryan, and his lawyers are experienced, we don't all do things as criminal defense attorneys as the same way but you have to be careful in as much as you don't want to revictimize victims. You have to walk a fine line. The defense has pitfalls. The first pitfall is we are in a new era, #metoo, #time'sup, an era of I'm mad as heck and I'm not going to take it anymore. And you see the chickens go home to roost. And in that climate, you don't want to demonize them, you don't want to assail them but, at the same time, the attorneys in the time of court will need to challenge the credibility.

The other issue that is quite concerning in this case, you have four different victims in that indictment. And if you have seen any of the documentary and any of the compelling, really, discussions, and really testimonials that the women had given, it's compelling. And I can only imagine how a jury would process that information.

In addition to that, Ryan, you have the issue of any prior bad act evidence. That is not that he has been convicted before he was acquitted but you can use certain other women to come in and to say he did this to me, too, showing motive, showing who it is, and just showing that this is, you know, what this guy is all about.

So the defense has a lot of pitfalls here. Presumption of innocent, innocent until proven guilty. This is only an indictment. His defense attorneys are quick to say an indictment is a mere acquisition. The grand jurors sat there and determined that a probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. There's not a judge in the grand jury. They are not subject to cross- examination. But significant developments.

NOBLES: It is one person to call one person a liar, to call four people potential liars, potentially a different situation.

And, Lisa, Joey talked about the impact of what the docu-series, "Surviving R. Kelly," has had on this particular case. I remember when the first trial happened, there were all of these accusations about R. Kelly, and it seemed as though everybody forgot about it. And this series runs again and, all of a sudden, it comes to the forefront. How important do you think this docu-series plays in these charges being filed?

LISA FRANCE, CNN SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT WRITER: Tremendously important. And it cannot be stated enough that black women were the driving force behind this. Black women were beating this drum for years, saying R. Kelly needs to be brought to justice. And after Bill Cosby was convicted, there, all of a sudden, was a lot more conversation about we're looking at this list of powerful men, who #metoo helped to bring down, where is R. Kelly's name? And black women consistently said something needs to be done. Dream Hampton, black woman, the woman behind "Surviving R. Kelly." And I think it was much more difficult for people to say, you know, maybe this didn't really happen. When you saw these women sharing their stories, and their allegations, and crying, and you saw the amount of emotion, with them, and with their families, it could no longer be ignored.

NOBLES: Honestly, that docu-series is difficult to watch because when you hear from these survivors themselves, tell about these awful situations they found themselves in.

Joey, we are talking about evidence here and allegations that span over two decades. I mean, it goes all the way back to 1998 to 2010. How important is the length of time that these accusations cover going to be in terms of presenting the evidence in the case?

JACKSON: It is a great question, Ryan. And, look, we have a statute of limitations for a reason. The statute of limitations exists because memories fade. Witnesses disappear. And you want to make sure evidence doesn't go stale. At the same time, as long as these charges are brought within that applicable period of time, then it is a nonissue.

Just quickly, what ends up happening is, in terms of the statute, you have 20 years, if you're a minor, and you've been subject to alleged abuse. After your 18th birthday, until you're 38, to bring forth charges. The law has since changed and Illinois has joined 37 other states where there's now no statute of limitations. But you're dealing with a statute on the act of time. As to the core issue of treating the evidentiary information, they will challenge inconsistencies and timing, when it did occur as when the charges occurred, it matters. But if the witnesses are credible, and the witnesses come forward as sincere and authentic as they simply appear to be during that documentary -- again, I'm not foreclosing the fact that he could be innocent, he certainly could -- but it is very compelling and it will be processed by the jury and they will be asking, wow, could this really have occurred.

[15:10:09] NOBLES: And we have video tape, and what it looked like then is, going to be the same as it looks now.

And Lisa, finally to you, this movement, known as #muterkelly really picked up steam after the docu-series rolled out. We did see a bump in people listening to his music shortly after the docu-series came out. Where do things stand now? Are more of these streaming services pulling them from their air? Are radio stations playing him less?

FRANCE: Radio stations have been playing him less for a while. And I think people forget part of the reason you had the bump is there are people who weren't familiar with R. Kelly's music. There are some people, he really has a strong fan base and a lot of supporters, but there are people who are saying, you know what, who is this R. Kelly guy, what is this situation all about, and checking out his music. And a lot has been made about why are people tuning in and listening to him when all of these accusations were out there in the public media. But keep in mind, not everybody was aware of the R. Kelly story. But for those who know, they now are saying that this might actually be, you know, justice served for some of these women behind these allegations. So we'll just have to wait and see. As you pointed out, he is innocent until proven guilty but there are a lot of hard feelings after he beat the charges in 2008.

NOBLES: And there's a lot more to come on this. We will probably learn a lot more about this case in the coming weeks and months.

Lisa France, Joey Jackson, thank you both for being here. We appreciate it.

JACKSON: Thank you, Ryan.

NOBLES: More breaking news now. We have now in our possession a redacted sentencing memo for Paul Manafort. And even though parts of the memo were not made public, it is still stunning. Prosecutors outline what they say is the former Trump campaign manager's wide- ranging deceit. They call his criminal actions bold, and they have told the judge he should face up to 25 years behind bars.

Joining me now CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti.

Renato, let's talk about this memo. It documents an extensive list of people who Manafort allegedly lied to including members of Congress and members of the executive branch. Just how serious is this for Manafort?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Manafort is in about as much trouble as you could be by committing white collar crimes. In other words, you know, you usually have to hurt people, or murder people, to get in the kind of trouble that Paul Manafort is in. He has been charged in two different cases. In the first case, he didn't cooperate. Didn't cut a deal. He went to trial. And lost. That was a bad move number one. And then in the second case, he cut a deal, got a cooperation agreement, you know, which surprised some people and then he blew up the deal. And this is after he was out on bond, and was breaking the law, tampering with witnesses, while he was out on bond. So he has committed mistake after mistake after mistake. He is engaged not only in widespread lying but in widespread fraud. He has defrauded the taxpayers, defrauded, you know, many others. Certainly as you point out, lied to, you know, to very senior officials. So Manafort is looking at spending the rest of his life in prison. Perhaps, possibility, dying in prison. So what is his hope? His only hope is a pardon from the president, President Trump, who still seems to like him. But the New York attorney general reportedly has charges ready to file, if Manafort is pardoned. So things aren't looking good for Paul Manafort right now and there's no good gloss to put on it if you're a member of his legal team.

NOBLES: Evan, any time we seem to have anything in writing from the special counsel's office, we are trying to interpret what it means in terms of the overall investigation into Russian collusion. Just because of your basic reading of it -- and I know it is 800 pages so you probably haven't had a chance to read the whole thing -- do we have anything between the Trump campaign and collusion of the Russians.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And you can almost hear the cries of still no collusion being yelled at the White House, simply because this is one opportunity that Andrew Weissmann, the prosecutor who has been running the Manafort case, where he could have taken this opportunity to sort of spin a narrative. And tell us a little bit about what he sees, as part of this investigation, as the connection between the Russians, and Konstantin Kilimnik, according to the special counsel, an operative of the Russian intelligence services, and then Manafort and the Trump campaign. A lot of folks were waiting for this memo, because it is one of the last opportunities before the sentencing for the special counsel to sort of lay that out, and they chose not to do that here.

Now, obviously, you know, there's still a Mueller report to come. In the next couple of weeks perhaps. And so, that's where that might go. But certainly, if you want to hear the story of what Manafort was up to, you do see a very dry technical memo here, from the special counsel, sort of, you know, going through the fact that he's been working with the Ukrainian government, since 2005, and all of the different things he worked at, to try and essentially hide that, that work, from the U.S. government, over the years.

[15:15:23] And, look, I think one of the things that it talks about in the memo, it says his criminal actions were bold. Some of which were committed while under the spotlight, due to his work as the campaign chairman, and later while he was on bail, from this court. So I think one of the things that the prosecutors are doing here is to emphasize to the judge that, look, he's going to get sentenced in Virginia first, he's going to get whatever it is he's going to get there, but they're recommending as much as 25 years, and they're asking that this judge, essentially stack that, with another 10 years, for the two crimes that he essentially had pleaded guilty to here in Washington. So again, as Renato said, the rest of his life in prison is what the prosecutors are arguing here, from this judge.

NOBLES: And you mentioned, Evan, we believe that Mueller's report could be coming soon. We thought maybe next week. But it looks like it is going to be a little bit further in the future than that. I mean, can you tell at all, is there any signal from this document today, to where Robert Mueller's thinking is right now and how close he is to wrapping up the investigation?

PEREZ: No, I think, you know, the fact that we're going to sentencing on a couple of, on a number of people, in this investigation, I think it is one of the biggest signs we have, and that they are trying to wrap up. And look, one of the things we were doing in the last few days was sort of reading the tea leaves of what the intentions of the Mueller investigation was. And we certainly were expecting that the report could come to the attorney general, a confidential report could come as soon as next week. We now know from the Justice Department that one of the things that they are doing is essentially, is observing a little bit of a quiet period, around the president's trip, to Vietnam and the important summit meeting with the North Koreans. So I think perhaps, after that summit meeting is when we might expect some more action from Mueller.

Keep in mind, every time the president has taken a trip, it seems that there has been some big news out of the Mueller investigation. I think Bill Barr, the attorney general, the new attorney general, is trying to make sure that that doesn't happen here.

NOBLES: Right. And, Renato, to wrap up here, you mentioned the idea that the

president had the option of pardoning Paul Manafort at some point, but you also talked about the state-level charges. I mean, would there be any benefit to the president pardoning Paul Manafort if he could then turn right around and face state charges, and essentially go through all of this rigamarole again, and the president's connection to him being brought into the spotlight once more?

MARIOTTI: Sure, there's a benefit to Manafort. If I was Manafort's lawyer, I would definitely want a federal pardon because he is totally buried on the federal side. He is lost there. So you might as well do a mulligan on the stateside. And things couldn't turn out any worse. Let's put it that way. So it's possible that he could, things could turn out badly, but he could cut a deal quickly there. Or you know, they could make a mistake. Or who knows? You know, the judge could have some mercy on him there. He definitely has to take a shot there, it couldn't be any worse of a situation, things could only go up from here for Manafort.

NOBLES: That might be the best way to crystallize this conversation, Renato, it can't get any worse for Paul Manafort, at least at this stage of the game.

Renato, Evan, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.

RENATO: Sure.

NOBLES: Breaking news out of Venezuela. Tanks, tear gas and fires are just part of the chaos surrounding the country's political crisis. We are live in the middle of the standoff, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:22:54] NOBLES: Now to the situation in Venezuela. In the country right now, on the borders all around it, chaos, desperation, and violence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: This is the border between Venezuela and Colombia today.

But people throughout the country are furious. They are out making their voices heard, and they have had enough of the humanitarian emergency that they blame fully on President Nicolas Maduro.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: This is across the border in Colombia. Venezuela troops facing protesters who are angry at the closed border.

This is also one of the places where aid supplies are stacking up, waiting to be delivered to the needy people inside Venezuela.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is there on the border between Venezuela and Colombia.

Nick, I don't have to tell you that border guards fired tear gas earlier in the day. You and your crew were right in the middle of it. Just tell us, how tense is it, right now, at the border?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's calmed slightly. Although I have to say periodically, every five minutes or so, you hear another barrage of what sounds like tear gas being fired. The recent movement behind me, we are told, might be because of another Venezuelan soldier appears to have handed himself over to Colombia authorities here. Certainly more than 10, we've seen, across the border, so far today. And an increasing number here. You can hear again, the constant firing of tear gas sometimes over there.

Now, there was a lengthy fire that had broken out along the part of the border to which Colombian authorities have put out and especially been chaos for much of the afternoon. The aid truck behind me, there was a plan to move it further down the bridge, possibly further toward Venezuela. That may not happen at this stage. So essentially we're in a protracted standoff here, where the protesters moved down the bridge, and then met with tear gas, and moved back.

[15:25:00] This started earlier on, when a line of riot police tried to block that bridge, reasonably successfully, and then a huge column of Venezuelan opposition aid workers marched towards them, stopped in front of them and there was a scuffle. A woman putting on a police shield and unclear what started it. Then, the tear gas began and then we've seen volleys of rocks being thrown back and forth, and tear gas and Molotov cocktails at one point between the two sides of rival protest group, pro-government thugs, many call them, and the collectivists supporting Nicolas Maduro, and the opposition protesters who are not with quite as much violence.

It is a tense scene here. It is calmed a little. And it is far from the peaceful delivery of humanitarian aid that, frankly, Juan Guaido, the opposition leader, hoped people would see.

One impact of the scene so far today, Nicolas Maduro the president of Venezuela, who the U.S. no longer recognize, they call him the former president of Venezuela, he has broken diplomatic ties with Colombia, where I'm standing here. The Colombia government has had something of a role in organizing this scene here. Police are very heavily in evidence. They stopped migration traffic across the border. Periodically, news comes across the crowd. So you see a rush slightly behind me. It ebbs and flows. But it does appear this truck will be leaving reasonably soon. The question is, what is the White House reaction? We haven't heard yet.

Back to you. NOBLES: All right, Nick Paton Walsh. You can hear the tear gas

canisters exploding behind him.

Nick, you and your crew stay safe as you continue to cover the story.

Joining me now, CNN national security analyst and former national security advisor, Sam Vinograd. She'll talk with us about this.

And Nick mentioned the White House response to all of this. We actually just learned that the Venezuela's former president -- is how the United States is referring to him now -- has openly threatened the U.S. saying his armed forces will answer any move by the United States. Now, it appears, at least from our perspective, that the United States government is trying to get aid and supplies into the people of Venezuela. Why is Maduro so convinced that he is under attack by the U.S.?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I have to be honest about what this humanitarian assistance delivery is really about. I work with several aid organizations like, you know, UNICEF and the IRC, that deliver aid solely to meet humanitarian aids in Venezuela and the refugee populations in neighboring countries. The U.S. government assistance has dual purposes, Ryan. And we have to be honest about that. It is certainly to ameliorate humanitarian suffering but to precipitate a decision by the security forces blocking the boarder that it makes more sense to defect and join the interim president, Juan Guaido, than to stay loyal to former President Maduro. So in that sense, U.S. assistance serves two instances. And while it is images of tear gas, rubber bullets, and hearing about more violence on the Brazil border and the Colombia border and throughout the country, we are in some way responsible for that, because we have set up this confrontation between those trying to deliver assistance, and the security forces.

NOBLES: Let's talk about what Marco Rubio has to say about this. He was on this program last week, speaking to Ana Cabrera, and he talked about these efforts to get aid through the Colombia/Venezuela border.

I believe we have that, with Marco Rubio. Can we play that?

I'm sorry. We don't have it. My apologies.

Basically what he said, alluding to your point, is that aid is going to get through one way or another. I mean, we've heard President Trump, he's been relatively aggressive in his tone as it relates to Maduro. So is Rubio, so have other Republican and Democratic Senators. How aggressive should the United States be when it comes to getting aid into the country?

VINOGRAD: One of the key factors that I imagine national security adviser, John Bolton, is considering is not just how Maduro will respond to enhanced aggression by the United States but how Vladimir Putin is going to respond to aggression. There are Russian assets in Venezuela right now, along with Cuban ones, that are propping up Nicolas Maduro. So as we think about what other options may be on the table, the military option, that the president and John Bolton have thrown around, which frankly has no legal standing, more aggressive covert options which could really escalate tensions in the country. All of those are going to be met by, with some kind of response by Moscow. And that is something we really need to consider. How much do we want to turn this into a proxy battle or proxy war, between D.C., Washington, on one hand, the 40 or so countries that are backing Guaido, and then on the other, Vladimir Putin, Castro, and Nicolas Maduro, that raises the stakes when he thinks about in that context.

NOBLES: What is the best and worst-case scenario? Is there a best- case scenario at this point?

VINOGRAD: The best-case scenario is that Nicolas Maduro agrees to leave and there's some kind of safe departure to a third country that is frustrated, perhaps working with Russia and China and guaranteeing his safety. That's the best-case scenario because humanitarian assistance would come in.

1530