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Rubio to Saudi Ambassador Pick, MBS has Gone Full Gangster; R. Kelly Screams, Fights Back at Sexual Abuse Charges; GM Plant Closing as Iconic American Job Nears Extinction; Trump Endorses Many Brands, But Brands Don't Endorse Back. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 6, 2019 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The is a question not just the protecting Royal Family, but also not truly complying with the law and his obligations as commander-in-chief. So the ball is sort of back in Congress is court right now. And the question is, will they hold Trump and Saudi Arabia responsible? Will they actually do something to punish Saudi Arabia for carrying out this murder of Jamal Khashoggi? And that remains to be determined. I think a lot of it will depend on Senate Republicans. Are they going to do anything about this or will they just express some disapproval and then let Trump and the Saudis get away with it? And at the moment, frankly, it's looking more and more like that's actually what's going to happen. They aren't really going to hold the Saudi feet to the fire.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: I mean, it is still top of mind. We can say that. At least we saw that today in questioning in the Senate for the pick for President Trump's pick for Saudi ambassador. Take a listen to this exchange.


SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Can you talk about how as ambassador, what opportunities you have to help hold the Saudis accountable for what they're doing? It has been two years since we've had an ambassador in Saudi Arabia without any oversight or concerns expressed on some of these issues?

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA NOMINEE: Senator, ambassadors don't hold countries accountable. Countries hold countries accountable.


HILL: True, yet the country's not doing a heck of a lot as you just laid out. The fact that there hasn't been an ambassador to Saudi Arabia for two years, this relationship that is so important to the President. All of those things add up to, I mean, we're just stuck with a whole lot of nothing.

BOOT: Yes, I mean, this is kind of problematic of the general dysfunction of U.S. foreign policy in the Trump administration because it's not just the posted Saudi Arabia but many other ambassadorial posts that are not being filled. And meanwhile you have a campaign donor being appointed as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. which is an unprecedented insult to the U.N. and to the world. I mean, General Abizaid was right. There's a limit on what any Trump appointee can do if he is not backed up by the President. And clearly, even if the General Abizaid wanted to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, he couldn't really do it because all the signals from President Trump are that he doesn't care about the murder of this journalist. All he cares about is the possibility that Saudi Arabia may buy a lot of U.S. arm sales.

And you just have his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who, A, should not be employed in the White House, and B, should not have a security clearance. But nevertheless remains one of the most powerful people in U.S. foreign policy is now trying to develop -- still trying to develop this Middle East peace plan which he's been doing for the last two years and he thinks he needs Saudi participation in that, which he does. But I very much doubt that the Saudis will make any major concessions. They'll just pocket the gains they're getting from the Trump White House.

HILL: Max Boot, always appreciate it.

Boot: Thank you.

HILL: Nice to see you, thanks.

We are keeping a very close eye on Ohio. At this moment, hundreds of workers leaving a General Motors plant there for the last time. Workers, many of them feeling left behind in what by all accounts is a booming economy. An iconic American job though is nearing extinction. More on that.

Plus the interview everyone is talking about, R. Kelly lashing out at his accusers.


R. KELLY, SINGER ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ABUSE: I hope this camera keep going.

GAYLE KING, CBS THIS MORNING: No, we are going to let the camera keep going.

KELLY: This is not true. This doesn't even make sense. Why would I hold all these women? They're mothers and fathers told me we're going to destroy your career.

[15:35:00] (END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Nearly two weeks after he was indicted on ten counts of criminal sexual abuse, R. Kelly is trying to make his case in the court of public opinion. For the first time since his arrest, the Grammy-winning singer is now speaking out in an emotional and at times expletive laden interview. A defiant Kelly asserted his innocence.


KELLY: I have been assassinated. I have been buried alive, but I'm alive.

KING: So I think the point you're making is, and correct me if I am wrong, that you have never held anybody against their will?

KELLY: I don't need to. Why would I? How stupid --

KING: You've never held.

KELLY: -- would R. Kelly, with all I've been through in my way, way past to hold somebody -- let alone, four, five, six, 50 you said. How stupid would I be to do that?

KING: I didn't say you were holding --

KELLY: That's stupid guys. Is this camera on me?

KING: Yes, it's on.

KELLY: That's stupid. I didn't do this stuff. This is not me. I'm fighting for my (BLEEP) life. You're all killing me with this. I can't have a (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Robert?

KELLY: (INAUDIBLE) You're all trying to kill me. You're killing me, man. You all just don't want to believe the truth. You don't want to believe it.

That doesn't even make sense. Why would I hold all these women? They're mothers and fathers told me we're going to destroy your career. I need help --

KING: What kind of help?

KELLY: This is the kind of help I need.

KING: Yes, what kind of help?

KELLY: I need somebody to help me not have a big heart, because my heart is so big, people betray me and I keep forgiving them.

[15:40:00] There are older men that like younger women --

KING: Is that you?

KELLY: -- there are younger women that like older men.

KING: Are you an older man that loves younger women?

KELLY: I'm an older man that loves all women.


HILL: Kelly went on the say the parents of two women still living with him essentially sold their daughters to the singer, saying, they hoped he would help them with their music careers. Now all of the parents say that is not true. They have never received nor asked for any money from R. Kelly. Areva Martin is an attorney and CNN legal analyst. And we are going to get to all the legal stull.

I have to say, when we were watching this, everybody -- you're just mesmerized, not only at him but also at Gayle King's composure and her excellent questions. Your reaction to this both as a viewer, but also as an attorney. The fact that his team seemingly let him go and do this interview?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, this is kind of remarkable, Erica, for someone who has been charged with a serious felonies. There are ten counts of aggravated sexual abuse that have been filed by the Chicago District Attorney against R. Kelly. So these charges carry with them the potential for 70 years in prison. And for him to be on television without his attorneys making statements that can be used in the trial that will go forward against him is pretty unusual. Not something we often see and definitely not for 80 minutes which is what we told this interview went on for.

HILL: You know, you talk about his words and how they could potentially be used. He was asked -- we saw part of the questioning there about, is he an older man who likes younger women? He says at one point, he doesn't look at age, he just looks at whether they are in his words, legal. I would imagine that something that would stick out to prosecutors?

MARTIN: Yes, that's one statement, Erica, and there were lots of other statements during this 80-minute interview that could potentially damaging to him. We know in a court of law he's not required to take the witness stand. He can pursue his defense without ever testifying. But his words, his statements made out of court in this interview can be used by the prosecutors as they present their case. And unlike the last trial that he had in 2008, this isn't one victim coming forward, this is four victims. There's also, according to the district attorney, a video tape and what we know from the Bill Cosby case is that prior bad act witnesses may also be allowed to testify. So this isn't your classic he said/she said there's a lot of evidence that the district attorney has at her disposal that will be brought forth against R. Kelly.

HILL: One of the two women who is still living, Azriel Clary, also speaking out. I want you take a listen to what she's saying.


KING: Tell me, Azriel, why you're crying. Tell me.

AZRIEL CLARY, LIVING WITH R. KELLY: I'm crying because you guys don't know the truth. You guys, I believe it's a (BLEEP) his side that I hear him saying. This is all (BLEEP) lies for money here. And if you can't see that you're ignorant and you're stupid.


HILL: So, she's saying that this is all, you know, it's a lie, her parents are in it for the money. We heard what R. Kelly had to say about it. That too -- I mean, you look at it, you look at the emotion in that, how would these two women, especially the one we just heard from, Azriel, fair as witnesses?

MARTIN: Well that's what made the prosecution of R. Kelly So complicated, Erica. We've had women like the woman we saw in that interview who have refuted the statement that's R. Kelly is, one, holding them against their will or has abusing them. We saw all the women that came forth in the "Surviving R. Kelly" documentary that offered a very different version of the R. Kelly that they know. I don't know if these witnesses will be called to testify, but I do know that there are many, many women who have come forward to support the allegations that have been filed by the district attorney. And who are saying very loud and unequivocally that they were abused and sexually assaulted by R. Kelly.

Areva Martin, always good to see you, thank you.

MARTIN: Thanks, Erica.

HILL: Just ahead, Michael Cohen on a day when he's supposed to report to prison, instead back on Capitol Hill with another revelation, new documents about that Trump Tower/Moscow project.


HILL: You hear those horns. You hear the chants. People holding signs. This from just moments ago in northeast Ohio as more than 1,400 workers finished their final shift in an iconic GM plant. General Motors is shutting down production of the Chevy Cruze there. 400 workers have accepted transfers to other plants. The closure though is part of a larger GM plan that will see more 8,000 layoffs in North America over the coming months. CNN business and politics reporter, Vanessa Yurkevich, is at the Lordstown plant. What are these folks saying on their last day?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER: Hi, Erica. A lot of them are very emotional to be leaving today but a lot of them are also showing a lot of pride for having worked for GM, some for decades. Some of their families for decades and just a short time ago, the last shift ended at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time. And we saw a large group of workers cross the highway just to my right. They got together, holding signs, holding flags and asking cars as they drove by to honk their horns in support and it really shows just how much this plant and the workers here have meant to this community.

Now, according to GM, the reason why they're closing this plant and four others across North America is because people aren't buying cars like the Chevy Cruz any more. They're buying trucks, they're buying light SUVs and they're also shifting their attention to autonomous vehicles and to making electric cars which simply require less human bodies.

[15:50:00] And when Mary Barra, the CEO of GM came out and made that announcement in November that they were shutting down this plant, the President responded right away saying, he was very disappointed, even threatening to cut some subsidies for the company. But we spoke to the local union leader here in town and he said that promise that the President made to them of bringing autoworkers -- auto jobs back to this area simply has not happened.


DAVID GREEN, PRESIDENT, UAW LOCAL 1112: This was a blue county before President Trump came through here and promised to, you know, don't sell your houses. All of these jobs are going to come back. We haven't seen that here. We've only seen jobs leave. And not just this Lordstown plant.

When my dad worked there, you know, he came here when the plant started. I got a job here. So, yes, there's a generational thing I think in some respects. And I think that the corporation is dropping the ball on its numbers right now. It feels like they are dropping the ball. Like they're offering these jobs for people to go. Well there're not really enough jobs everywhere for people to go, "A". And "B", some folks just can't leave. They've got, you know, children with special needs. They've parents that they're taking care of. They've got whatever it is, everybody has a different situation. But not everybody can just -- it's not easy to just pack up and move your stuff.


HILL: GM this morning put out a statement saying that they understood that it would be a really emotional day for a lot of people but they've already been able to accommodate moves to different plants for about 400, workers here. But, Erica, just a short time ago I spoke to one woman who finished her shift here. Her husband also works here. She told me, Erica, that she is getting out of the auto industry all together.

HILL: Vanessa Yurkevich, the latest there. Talk about the end of an era. Thank you.

The President may have a love affair with certain brands, fast food, diet soda. Turns out they don't always love him back, why?


HILL: It's a scene we've seen once before. But the second time President Trump hosting a White House celebration with a spread from some of the country's biggest fast food chains.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have all American Burger King. We like American companies. OK. We like American companies. And that's what we did. So you guys, that's right, Chick- fil-A, they say. Chick-fil-A. Go eat up. Enjoy yourselves everybody.


HILL: The President showing a lot of love there to different fast food restaurants and to other companies as well. But what's interesting to this president is the love is not always reciprocated. At least not in a way that we've seen it with past administrations. Companies like Newell, makes the Sharpie pens, which the President likes so much. You know, he's fond of Diet Coke, Chick-fil-A, he just mentioned. Not so quick to jump on the bandwagon. Toluse Olorunnipa, is White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and joins us now. So, Toluse, you have this really interesting piece up about it. And the fact is that it is a distinct shift from past presidencies. I'm not just talking about former President Obama but going back typically if a President is calling out a brand that brand is really excited about it.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. That's right. The idea that presidents have access to the best of the best and if they choose your brand it's a great endorsement. We've seen companies in the past willing to highlight those endorsements, really play them up and say, you know, the President is interested in my product, so you should be too. And I think we've seen that in the past with past presidents and previous companies have been able to use that to great effect and been able to really increase their marketing just by having the President show up and endorse their brand.

But with President Trump because he is so divisive and because there are very strong opinions about him, brands have been not so willing to associate with him even when he brings them right into the White House, right into the Oval Office and does his greatest pitch man efforts to show how great their brand and their products are. We haven't really seen any of these companies respond at all. The only company out of these fast food companies that even mentioned anything was Burger King and they use the opportunity to make fun of the President misspelling the word hamburger. That was the only reference to that action.

HILL: That was a little surprising I have to say, to see a company push back in that way and, you know, basically poke at the President, sort of make fun of him. What was remarkable -- or I guess maybe more surprising to me in your piece, is this study that you published from Global Strategy Group, that eight in 10 consumers say they actually want their companies to take a stand. That seems like a really high number to me. Because, as you point out, things can be so divisive these days.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, we have seen a big shift where people expect companies to follow the practices of corporate social responsibilities. They want companies to take a stand on social issues. And they want their companies to stand up for issues are important to their consumer base. So we have seen companies like Nike decide to take a stand on the issue of police brutality. They did a new campaign, ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick last year, even though President Trump had stood on the opposite side of that issue saying that everyone should stand for the flag and really castigating NFL players who decided to take a stand.

This was Nike taking a stand. And they saw their revenue go up after that ad campaign ran. So customers are actually rewarding companies for taking a stand and companies are being more willing to take a stand on controversial issues. But standing next to the President is not one of those issues that very many companies are deciding to join onto.

HILL: Toluse Olorunnipa, nice to have you back with us today. Thank you.

I'm Erika Hill. Thanks for joining us. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.