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Bail For Kelly; Venezuelan Troops Defect; Cargo Plane Crashes; Manafort's Actions; Cohen To Testify; Kraft Busted In Prostitution Sting; Trump Meeting With Kim Jong-Un; Acosta Broke The Law With Plea Deal. Aired 8-8:30p ET

Aired February 23, 2019 - 20:00   ET



RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: You are in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Ryan Nobles in for Ana Cabrera in New York.

And we begin with major developments in the sexual abuse case against R. Kelly. A judge setting the singer's bail at $1 million with conditions at a court hearing earlier today which included graphic new details of his alleged encounters with young girls.

Kelly was also ordered to turn in his passport and have no contact with alleged victims or anyone under the age of 18. The 15 -- 52- year-old Kelly faces 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. Prosecutors claim he abused one woman and three underage girls over a span of 12 years.

CNN's Sara Sidner has been following the case. She reports from outside the courtroom in Chicago.

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A judge set R. Kelly's bond for $1 million; $250,000 in each of the four alleged victims' cases. Now, R. Kelly would only have to pay $100,000 of that, after he has been charged with 10 counts of criminal sexual abuse.

The prosecution today laying out some very sexually explicit details in this case to the judge, including sexual and physical abuse of several of the women that are now alleged victims in this particular case. The case brought yesterday. There was an indictment from a Grand Jury first, and then the prosecution filed charges against R. Kelly.

The details include physical and sexual abuse against women who are now of age but were minors at the time. Under the age of 17 but older than 13 is how the prosecution put it.

We also heard from R. Kelly's attorney, Steve Greenberg. He came out. He said, initially when R. Kelly was arrested and we saw him go in to be booked last night, he said that all the women are liars and called them liars starkly and clearly.

Today, he backed down a little bit from that, but said, you know, you can't believe everything you hear. That he should be given, like any other defendant, the presumption of innocence. He also mentioned the 2008 trial where R. Kelly was put on trial for 14 counts of pornography, child pornography, and he was acquitted in that trial. He says people should give him the same kind of presumption of innocence as other defendants.

He did recognize that there's a lot of media attention here. He recognized that there were some women who were in the courtroom here today, listening and emotional.

We can tell you that one of the victims, the alleged victims of this case, was inside the courtroom. She was emotional herself. This has been a very difficult time for the women who have come out and accused R. Kelly of sexually abusing them when they were minors.

Where do we go from here? Well, Steve Greenberg, R. Kelly's attorney, says that he does not think that R. Kelly has $100,000 just hanging around. So, the question is will he be able to get that money and get out of jail before his next hearing which will be Monday?

Sara Sidner, CNN, Chicago.

NOBLES: Sara, thank you.

Robert Kraft, the billionaire owner of the Super Bowl champion, New England Patriots, busted in a massive sting that he's accused of soliciting prostitution. He's expected to be officially charged by prosecutors as soon as Monday.

Police say video footage shows Kraft receiving, quote "paid acts at the Orchids of Asia day spa in central Florida." His spokesperson says, quote, "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity."

Just three weeks ago, Kraft and the Patriots were celebrating their Superbowl victory and sixth NFL championship title. Kraft said the Patriots were celebrating the Super Bowl victory and sixth NFL championship title.

And there's more breaking news tonight. This in South America. Police and border guards from Venezuela today face-to-face with protesters, furious at the worsening situation there. The political upheaval, the lack of food and medicine, and the hold up of aid supplies stacked up at the border ready to help the people inside Venezuela. At one point today, border troops fired tear gas to try and disperse the protesters who threw rocks and bottles.

Inside Venezuela, similar scenes as angry protesters clashed with riot police. All this happening as Venezuela's embattled president cut ties with Colombia, throwing outs its diplomats.

And this news just a short time ago. Colombian officials confirming that dozens of Venezuelan troops, more than 60 so far, have defected to Colombia.

CNN's Isa Soares is in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Isa, we are hearing about hundreds of people injured in these border clashes today. And now, word that so many of these Venezuelan troops have escaped and defected. How is the Maduro government explaining what has gone on today?

[20:05:03] ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me give you a sense of the numbers. Because as you clearly pointed out, it was a day of incredible amount of tension on both sides of the border with Venezuela and Colombia.

But, also, Ryan, on the Colombia -- on the Venezuela-Brazil side. So, we have 285 people wounded, this coming from Colombian authorities, 37 people hospitalized. There's rubber bullets. There's tear gas being thrown.

And while that was happening, Nicolas Maduro was on stage speaking to the crowd dancing with his wife, dancing salsa, and, basically, digging in his heels, saying I'm stronger than ever. I'm not going to bow out. So, really extremely defiant and his vice president going as far as saying that they were defeated. Those on the other side of the border.

Let me tell you this, though. In the last few minutes, in fact, just before I came to speak to you, I was listening Juan Quaido, the self- declared interim leader of Venezuela. He was speaking in Cucuta in Colombia. Remember, he went there, and he hasn't made his way back. And he had a message to those people, those armed forces of Venezuela, who didn't back down.

And he said -- I'm going to tell you right now. He said -- he said, don't pledge your allegiance, once again talking to them. Don't pledge your allegiance or your loyalty fact to those who burn food and burn medicine. Ryan, he goes -- he went on to say, your efforts haven't been in vain, but now you have seen the truth face of the regime

NOBLES: All right, Isa Soares is live in Venezuela. Isa, thank you so much for your reporting. And, please, you and your crew stay safe as you cover that conflict.

In a programming note, as this crisis unfolds, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will be Jake Tapper's guest tomorrow morning on "STATE OF THE UNION." Tune in for that 9:00 a.m. Eastern time right here on CNN.

And the second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un is still four days away. But the North Korean leader is already heading toward Vietnam. Mr. Kim left Pyongyang this afternoon on his armored train. Over the next few days, he'll cover 2,800 miles before arriving in Hanoi for his meetings with President Trump on Wednesday and Thursday. It's not clear why he's taking the train instead of flying, as he did for the previous summit in Singapore.

And coming up, three people are feared dead after a cargo plane crashed outside Houston. Our aviation analyst looks at the clues that investigators have so far.

Plus, prosecutors are recommending Paul Manafort face up to 25 years in prison for what they describe as wide-ranging deceit. But the sentencing document could tell us about where the Special Counsel investigation is heading. [20:07:05]


NOBLES: Three people are feared dead after a cargo plane crashed in southeast Texas. The Chamber's County Sheriff says he doesn't think anyone could have survived when the Boeing 767 went down about 30 miles east of Houston. The plane was working as an Amazon Prime Air jet. The sheriff said he saw bed sheets and women's clothing among the debris in water.

Audio recordings captured the last-second exchange between the air traffic controllers and the pilot.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon, (INAUDIBLE) 3591. (INAUDIBLE) descending (INAUDIBLE.)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 3591 (INAUDIBLE), there is a little of a light -- well, it's showing a little bit of heavy -- light to heavy precipitation just west of, it looks like, Vans (ph), and it is moving eastbound. So, once you get in closer, if you need to go (INAUDIBLE) around it, we'll be able to accommodate that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You picking up ELTs right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, if you pick up an ELT at all ahead of (INAUDIBLE.)


NOBLES: Witnesses reportedly saw the plane make a nose dive just before crashing. I spoke about the crash earlier with CNN Aviation Analyst Mary Schiavo.


MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: The 767 has been a workhorse, both in passenger service in years past. They're being phased out now and most don't have them in passenger service. And in cargo service, they're a tough plane and they've been around for three decades. Good plane.

NOBLES: So, there was no distress call. It appears that air traffic controllers just lost sight of the plane. How worrying would that be?

SCHIAVO: Well, it's pretty worrying, of course, because they -- we only have a few clues. From flight radar there was a clue that both the altitude, the air speed and the altitude had an upset event about the same time. So, something disrupted the air flow through the engines over the wings and their altitude was affected, really, about the same time. That could be anything. It could be precipitation, a gust of wind. It could be a problem with the engines. There's so many things that could cause that.

But we do know that they had a problem in flight, some kind of a mechanical. And that they didn't have time to get off a mayday call. And looking at the flight radar says they were fighting to save plane and they simply didn't have time to get a -- get a distress call out.


NOBLES: The NTSB says hopefully the planes black boxes will be relatively easy to recover, because the plane crashed in fairly shallow water.

Prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office effectively throwing the book at Paul Manafort, saying he doesn't deserve any breaks when he's sentenced in the coming weeks. We're now in possession of the redacted sentencing memo from Manafort and prosecutors are not holding back. They say his years of criminality were bold and included the time during which he served as campaign chairman for then Candidate Trump in the 2016 election. And they conclude that he, quote, "repeatedly and brazenly violated the law for more than a decade."

Joining me now former special agent, CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Asha Rangappa. Asha, what does this memo tell you about not only Manafort's fate, but where the Special Counsel is in its investigation?

[20:15:00] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, we know that Manafort was a major prosecution for Mueller and that part is, clearly, coming to a close. And I think that, you know, it, kind of, signals -- it sounds like he's wrapping up his investigation, which I don't think means that everything is over. He could have formed some other leads out to other offices.

As far as this memo itself, you know, this, kind of, sums up all these charges that he was facing in the district of Virginia and also this D.C. And I think that it reflects the fact that Manafort has every step made things worse for himself. So, not only did he commit these crimes, he, then, committed more crimes by trying to tamper with witnesses and obstruct justice before going to trial. And then, he lied to Mueller and his team, when he decided to plead guilty, which made things worse.

So, I think he's looking at a very long prison sentence.

NOBLES: I don't think that we have to guess how the Special Counsel feels about the way that Paul Manafort's conducted himself over the course of this investigation. But did we learn any more about, perhaps how the Special Counsel could be leaning, as it relates to the president, specifically his campaign and their possible connections to Russia?

RANGAPPA: Well, what the sentencing memo does make clear is that Manafort had extensive connections with, you know, a pro-Russian party stand -- the pro-Russian party in Ukraine. And that he was trying to get entities in the United States to help shape policy in ways favorable to Russia, during the time that he was helping this pro- Russia party. And he did so without registering as a foreign agent.

So, we know that he was, kind of, acting in this clandestine role before he went into the campaign which does, I think, lead to why the FBI had a lot of concerns when he entered the campaign. We know that they were, you know, looking into it in the summer of 2016.

I think beyond that, it doesn't actually add a lot of new information, about Trump specifically.

NOBLES: Yes, right. So, let's talk about Michael Cohen. It's going to be a big week for him up on Capitol Hill. Three different hearings that he's going to testify in front of. One of them will be public. Now, the president was asked about his former lawyer. And this is what the president had to say. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No. No. No. It's lawyer-client. But, you know, he's taking his own chances.


NOBLES: Of course, "The New York Times" reporting that Cohen has given prosecutors new information about the president's family businesses. You know, we spent a lot of time, Asha, talking about the potential connections with Russia. But does Michael Cohen present a legal problem for the president that really goes beyond the Mueller probe and the Russia investigation?

RANGAPPA: Yes, I think that's exactly right, Ryan. You just asked me what Manafort said about Trump. It didn't say that much. This is the investigation that he has to worry about. We know in the sentencing memo that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying in front of Congress. And the payments that he was making to Stormy Daniels, Trump is, basically, referenced in there. He is actually identified in one of them as the individual one person who directed those payments.

And Michael Cohen is, really, in a position to start going down the road, crossing that red line that Trump did not ever want crossed. And I think that is where it could be a problem. Because, unlike the Mueller investigation, this isn't contained. And he, really, can't do anything to stop it. He can't, like, fire the prosecutors or something.

NOBLES: Yes. In addition to that, Michael Cohen testifying publicly in something that'll probably be broadcast on every cable news network, while the president is in Vietnam, attempting to broker a deal in Kim Jong-Un. Next week promises to be very busy.

Asha Rangappa, thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.

NOBLES: A federal judge rules that a top Trump official went easy on an alleged billionaire sex abuser. So, how is the president responding? We will tell you, next. [20:18:19]


NOBLES: President Trump is standing by his labor secretary, Alex Acosta. This after a federal judge ruled that he and other prosecutors broke the law over a plea deal with an alleged sex trafficker back when Acosta was a U.S. attorney in Florida. 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 had uncovered evidence of him sexually abusing dozens of teenage girls.

The U.S. attorney at the time, a current member President of Trump's cabinet, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, allegedly met up with a lawyer for Epstein and assured his legal team that prosecutors would not contact any of the identified individuals, potential witnesses or potential civil claimants. As the two sides hammered out an agreement that met Epstein, avoided trial and federal charges, 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 plea deal was illegal, violating victims' rights.


JULIE BROWN, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE 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 agreement in a November story for "The Miami Herald." She's interviewed several victims who is detail their abuse.

Everything down to how to be quiet, be subservient, give Jeffrey 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.


ALEXANDER ACOSTA, U.S. LABOR SECRETARY: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [20:20:05] 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 have 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, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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): So, 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 redo any deal.

Now, as for the Department of Justice, its 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.

NOBLES: Jessica, thank you very much. And that does it for me. But I'll be back tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Coming up next is CNN's special report, Facebook at 15. It starts, next. Have a great night.