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O'Rourke Soon to Take Stage at South by Southwest as Democrat Candidates Cross the Country; 2 Democrat Candidates Aim to Become Youngest U.S. President Ever; Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Canvas Country to Court Voters; Harris: We Must Speak Truths about Painful Racial Past to Heal; R. Kelly Released from Jail After Paying Back- Child Support; Maduro Threatens "Strong Response" to U.S. Aggression; "Empire" Star Indicted on 16 Felony Counts over Phony Beating; Fight to Defeat ISIS' Self-Declared Caliphate Grinding Down. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired March 9, 2019 - 13:00   ET

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


[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And several candidates are descending on Texas this weekend for the South by Southwest festival, including former Representative John Delaney, Representative Tulsi Gabbard, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, All there. As well as the Democrat who has yet to announce his 2020 ambitions, former Congressman Beto O'Rourke. He took to the stage last hour to introduce his documentary, "Running with Beto." And while many festival-goers are there to watch his film, they're also there to see if he officially launches his presidential campaign.

CNN correspondent, Leyla Santiago, is there -- Leyla?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of folks at South by Southwest excited about the documentary that will be on the screen called "Running with Beto," in which they will take a look back at his run for the Senate. While people are here excited about seeing this documentary, about talking to the former congressman outside of this theatre and even in the theatre, the focus is on that big question, will he run to become the next U.S. president. We know he's been pretty quiet on social media over the last week, but he has been pretty active in terms of e-mailing his supporters. He had sent out a plan for what he believes the immigration system -- how it should work. He has sent out a plan for what he would like to see when it comes to criminals, the justice system. And even today he sent out an e-mail. His team sent out an e-mail sort of teasing this announcement, saying, get on a list and you'll be the first to learn what his decision is.

Now, that said, our sources are telling us that this is a matter of any day now he will make this announcement and share it with everyone. Remember, last week, he said he had made the decision. I tracked him down after the fact and asked him when it would come, and he said it will be soon. Perhaps we're in the soon zone. We'll have to wait and see what that decision is.

We know he's expected to watch the documentary and then be around for sort of a Q&A session. I suspect that question will come up. How he will respond to that, we're going to be right here to let you know.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Leyla Santiago, thank you so much.

The Democratic field is full of new faces, including two who are under 40. Both Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, are 37 years old. If one of them wins, that would make them the youngest U.S. president in history.

Here's CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Everywhere I go, people are sometimes, especially here in Iowa, a little too polite to ask the question of why a 37-year-old mayor thinks he has any business being in a discussion about the highest office in the land.

ZELENY (voice-over): That's precisely the question facing Pete Buttigieg, the youngest candidate in the presidential race. He's the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, now turning heads as he audaciously eyes the White House.

(on camera): How can you make the argument that you're ready to be president?

PETE BUTTIGIEG, (D), MAYOR OF SOUTH BEND, INDIANA: So I know you don't expect to hear this from the youngest person in the conversation but my simplest answer is experience. I know there's a more conventional path that involves marinating in Washington for 10 or 20 or 40 years but I want Washington to look more like our best-run cities and towns, not the other way around.

ZELENY (voice-over): He's touting his youth was a virtue and his biography filled with a list of firsts.

BUTTIGIEG: The fact that I'm a veteran, I'm young, I'm in a same-sex marriage, those are important parts of who I am but that profile just gives you a look. The real question is, once people take that look, what do they see and what do they hear.

ZELENY: Democrats are giving him a look. But his challenge is to be seen as a serious candidate on a crowded stage. He's at the forefront of a new generation of leaders who have little appetite to wait their turn.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ, (D), NEW YORK: Today is the day that --

ZELENY: Even Democrats not constitutionally old enough to seek the presidency, like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, is also influencing the party.

On the campaign trail, Buttigieg is not the only Millennial in the race. REP. TULSIA GABBARD, (D), HAWAII: I don't know about you guys but

when someone tells me to be quiet, I speak up louder.

(LAUGHTER)

ZELENY: Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is also 37 and an Iraq veteran, who is building her candidacy around foreign policy.

GABBARD: That is the change that I seek to bring to this country, of bringing these uniquely American ideals of putting service before self, that come from my heart as a soldier.

Aloha!

ZELENY: She's still explaining a 2017 meeting with Syria's President Bashar al Assad.

GABBARD: I'm deeply sorry.

ZELENY: And has apologized for what she calls wrong and hurtful statements when she worked for an anti-gay group.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: Two young congressmen also exploring the White House bid, 38- year-old Eric Swalwell, of California, and 40-year-old Seth Moulton, of Massachusetts.

Highlighting a divide was Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders nearly four decades older. It's become a ready-made punchline, at least for the younger candidates.

BUTTIGIEG: I understand the audacity of running for president at my age. Especially because sometimes, downstairs, I'll still get carded when I order a beer.

(CROSSTALK)

[13:05:00] ZELENY (on camera): So Buttigieg, Gabbard and others are part of this new wave of leaders in the Democratic Party, a few Republicans as well, who have military service under their belt. They talk a lot of about that on the road. Now Buttigieg served in Afghanistan. He says his message is not focused on national security as much as it is generational change. He said his face is his message. He also says the issue of age has been settled by the Constitution. Of course, you must be 35 years old to run for president. The Constitution, of course, says that, but voters will have the final say.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: More now on this crowded Democratic field. I want to bring in CNN contributor, Wes Lowery, CNN political analyst, Eliana Johnson. Good to see you both.

Eliana, you first.

Let's start with these younger, fresher faces, which makes us all sound really old, let's talk about the young people. What is going to be the biggest challenge that we have that a lot of these younger candidates are going to be facing?

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the biggest challenge for these young candidates is that they simply haven't been major presences on the political scene for a long time. As a result, they're not household names for most Americans. So I think the challenge for them is going to be attracting attention to their campaigns in a crowded field and garnering attention for their bids, really standing out and differentiating themselves from the rest of the candidates in a really crowded field. That's going to prove really, really challenging. Republicans faced this last time with 16 candidates and it was the most outrageous and least conventional candidate, Donald Trump, who managed to stand out the most.

WHITFIELD: So, Wes, one thing that is rather congruent, whether you are of the younger or the more seasoned category, all seem to be avoiding -- all the Democrats seem to be avoiding mentioning the name Trump on the trail. What is behind this kind of collective strategy and how effective is it thus far?

WES LOWERY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Certainly there's a thought among much of the Democratic politics right now that the pathway of victory is through laying out a sense of a road map of where you want to go as opposed to being oppositional to the president himself. Clearly once there's actually a fully matured race -- and we don't really know who is running and no running at this point, we're still months away from debates, much less the primaries and caucuses -- but once we have the contours of this race laid out, we will see a lot of candidates more specifically defining themselves as it relates to Donald Trump.

But in the short term, as Eliana was noting, right now, the challenge for most of these candidates, not just the young candidates but many of the older candidates as well is, who are they. With very few exceptions, there's not much household name recognition. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden are people who are very widely known, but most -- it's a math of drop off after that. Even people like Kamala Harris, who are very well known among politico types, are not known in every household in the country. So every candidate is having to face this question of, how do I define myself in terms of the positive things I want people to know about me, not just in opposition to the president.

WHITFIELD: Listen to how U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar described this very crowded field.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D), MINNESOTA: There are a number of candidates. There really are. And I like to jokingly say, may the best woman win.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

KLOBUCHAR: Many of them would be good. But I think that competition is good. Barack Obama has told this to people, maybe not publicly, but I've heard he's told that to a lot of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Eliana, is she right?

JOHNSON: You know, I don't know how much these candidates believe that in their heart but certainly I think you're going to see all of them be gracious about the number of candidates in the race because none of them want to appear, I think, to have any chip on their shoulder about the competition they face. And of course, I think for these younger candidates, who have nothing to lose by jumping in the race, they're going to say that competition is a good thing. It's very clear why Barack Obama would have said that. The competition against Hillary Clinton behooved him. It knocked out the big fish in the race which, at that time, was Clinton, and it made this time a knock out, a Joe Biden or a Bernie Sanders, the people who have the advantage in this race, which is name recognition and experience of having run before. So absolutely, for these young candidates, they have an enormous element to gain and they think that the competition running against fellow Democrats is a tremendously good thing.

The one thing I would add to what Wes was saying is these candidates do not want to get in a spitting match with Donald Trump. They saw what happened to the Republicans that did that -- Lyin' Ted Cruz, Little Marco Rubio. They want to define themselves without comparing themselves to the president right now.

WHITFIELD: Wes, Beto O'Rourke is in Texas right now, South by Southwest festival. And he's apparently going to be taking questions after his documentary, which talks about his race for the U.S. Senate. He's reportedly already made his decision on 2020 but that announcement could come at any moment now. Is this going to be a great potential opportunity for him if he says, I'm in?

[13:10:20] LOWERY: Certainly. Beto is one of the few young relative unknown candidates who, if he jumps into the race, will almost immediately see a deep saturation in terms of name recognition, in part, because he was one of the people helped forward in the 2018 cycle. And as mobilized Democrats were concerned about the midterms, he was someone people gloomed a lot of hope onto. When you look at him, again, he's in a package of relatively young unknowns. You might group him with Tulsi Gabbard but, again, she announced she was running for president and almost no one remembered she was running for president until we watched the video. Beto O'Rourke gets into this race, he's going to receive a level of media coverage and interest in terms of Democratic operatives. That is certainly going to very quickly vault him pretty high into the upper tiers of this race. Now, do voters really want him compared to a Bernie Sanders or compared to a Joe Biden or Kamala Harris? That's a secondary question. But compared to some of the other younger candidates, I certainly think, if Beto gets in this race, he's someone you have to take seriously.

WHITFIELD: All so fascinating.

Thank you so much, Wes Lowery and Eliana Johnson. Appreciate it.

Of course, CNN will host three presidential town halls live at South by Southwest tomorrow night. Former Congressman John Delaney at 7:00, Representative Tulsi Gabbard at 8:00, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9:00. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate. Tomorrow night, starting at 7:00 eastern, right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:15:52] WHITFIELD: Race and racism are unavoidable topics in America, including on the campaign trail. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris had a very candid, heartfelt, and blunt discussion on race and the painful role it has played in this country's past. It all started when a woman stood up and acknowledged her own family's history of hate and racism during a campaign event in South Carolina. The woman wanted to know how Harris would address the problem if she becomes president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAG OLIVER, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: I'm embarrassed to say that my father was most likely in the KKK. And I grew up in the south and a daughter of the south and I'm embarrassed at what I see with a lot of the southerners and a lot of the members of our Congress and the blatant racism, and those people. It breaks my heart. And I'm wondering what you can do -- this is probably a $6 million question for you -- but what you can do to heal the racial divides that Donald Trump has emboldened, and also what we, as white people who don't believe in that and don't support that, what can we do to help offset the obvious flashpoints of racial divide in this country.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you for having the courage to stand and share your personal story.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you. Part of the steps that we must take to get to the place that we know we can get and that we imagine and where we want to be is we do have to speak the truth. You spoke a very difficult truth. And these truths must be acknowledged if we are to get to the place that we need to be. For too long, frankly, in our country, for too long, we have not had these honest discussions about race. We've just not. You can look at textbooks in public schools that have erased so much of the history, the awful, shameful history on race in this country. I'll give you an example just most recently in terms of my work in the United States Senate. I wrote a bill that we finally got out of the United States Senate and it should get passed -- get this, brace yourself -- to make lynching a federal crime.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: Thank you for the applause, but frankly, we are 200 years too late. Right? Having the conversation on the floor when I gave my speech and talking about it and, again, the brutality associated with this issue is something that, OK, maybe shouldn't be spoken in polite company. I hesitate to say what I said on the floor because I know there are young people here. But these realities must be spoken and I spoke the reality that day in support of my bill about how, in particular, black men were dragged from their homes, were dragged by car, by horse, were hung, in many cases, castrated in a violent crime with no evidence of any wrongdoing on their part and never really any consequence for the people who committed the violent act on them. No justice for their families for decades upon decades upon decades. So this is one example of the point that you raised, and I thank you, which is when we have this conversation it makes people really uncomfortable. But if we are going to get to a place where we move beyond the pain and all that is associated with it, we have to speak truth to what happened. And we have to do it understanding to the point of the spirit of you raising it and the way you did. It is in our collective best interest to speak these truths, to acknowledge what happened, to acknowledge the vestiges of it that remain, because they do, to get to a place where we can heal and we can be better.

[13:20:47] WHITFIELD: Provocative conversation.

Back with me now, Wes Lowery, national reporter for the "Washington Post," and Julian Zelizer, who is an historian and professor at Princeton and a CNN political analyst.

Good to see you both.

JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Wes, let me begin with you.

The question from the woman asking about how, if you were elected president, will you heal the racial divide that Trump has emboldened. Kamala Harris essentially saying that it begins with talking about the hard and ugly truths of a variety of injustices. How dominant will this question be on the campaign trail that every candidate has to be prepared to be able to answer?

LOWERY: Certainly I would expect every Democrat seeking the presidency to have to answer questions like this. In part, they would have had to answer some of these questions anyway. The Democratic Party is a racially diverse party. In our two-party system, there's always going to be divides and questions about how you want to be the leader, or as the face of that party, how you're going to manage those divides. In this moment, where you're running against an incumbent president who was elected on a platform of white racial grievance, who has a white ethnic coalition backing him, and who has pursued policies, be it the Muslim ban, the child separations at the border, has made racially insensitive and clearly racist comments while he's been in office, there's going to be a desire of Democratic voters to hear their candidate explain, one, with moral clarity that those things were wrong but, two, how they might address them. I would expect every single candidate to face questions like this. Kamala Harris did a pretty impressive job there. It's going to be interesting to see how different candidates grapple with this. Kamala Harris might have to answer questions about her time as a prosecutor. Joe Biden for example is going to have to answer questions about his time leading Senate judiciaries. This issue is going to come up time and time again, not only how do currently articulate the racial divides in our country but how do you answer your lifetime of public service, one way or another, as it relates to these issues.

WHITFIELD: Julian, we are talking about a diverse Democratic field. How much of how a candidate tackles that issue could be make or break?

ZELIZER: I think it's actually going to be essential. Often this is put aside as a secondary issue. But I think given where the country is right now and the way in which race has moved front and center, both with the reemergence of white nationalism at many levels of American society and also with the ongoing issues of how race plays out in our institutions like the criminal justice system, this is part of what 2020 is about. And I think the Democrats have an advantage, not just their electorate, but the actual field that's shaken up with candidates speaks to the answer of the person asking the question. At this point, the Democratic Party is offering an answer through the candidates in terms of how we move to a different place. So I don't think it's something they can shy away from and I don't think they will, in the end.

WHITFIELD: Wes, do you see that burden or responsibility, however you want to put it, will be on the shoulders of all the Democratic candidates or particularly is it going to be Kamala Harris or even Cory Booker because they are people of color?

LOWERY: I actually think this burden goes across all the candidates. In the same way that I think that earlier in the segment or a different segment we heard that Amy Klobuchar quote where she referenced may the best woman candidate win. I think that if you are a male running for office right now, may need to explain why you think you're the standard bearer, right, in the same way that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders need to explain why an older white man, who spent decades in public life is the right person in this moment to defeat Donald Trump. I think that's a reasonable question. It's not just about checking boxes about who the Democratic coalition is, what the priorities are, and who is the face, the candidate to do this. Certainly, it makes sense that we ask candidates like Kamala Harris or Cory Booker these types of questions --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: And even Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, also people of color. It seems as though there may be a certain comfort level of asking them the questions and perhaps their perspective will elicit a very different response from somebody who is non-black, non-Latino, who is not a person of color. So the expectations might be a little different?

[13:25:14] LOWERY: Yes, and their presence I think is going to force the other candidates to have to respond in ways that's different. Having a debate with a black woman is different than having a debate stage without a black woman on it. Having a debate stage with a Latino is different than a debate stage that does not have one. WHITFIELD: OK.

And so , Julian, we are in a particularly volatile state right now in America. You heard from the woman there in South Carolina who says the divide has been emboldened by President Trump. So then how is President Trump -- what's the expectation for President Trump to field these kinds of questions or perhaps even any Republican who might challenge his incumbency?

ZELIZER: I don't think President Trump is going to address these problems. He's been very clear about this in his campaign and in his presidency. He is playing to a much narrow constituency focusing on rural white voters. And maybe --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: That might help him getting into the White House but will that allow him to stay in the White House?

ZELIZER: No, I'm not convinced that it will. And for all the attention that's put on the voters in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, who helped swing the election in 2016, we have to remember the African-American vote, for example, can be enormously powerful in many states, including places like North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. So President Trump's record at this point could cost politically and practically, not just morally. I don't expect any serious change from the president. Perhaps if there's a primary challenge, a Republican like John Kasich would try to take up some of these issues but it's going to ring hollow for a lot of people at this point given where the Republican Party has moved.

WHITFIELD: Julian Zelizer, Wes Lowery, we'll leave it there for now. Thank so much.

LOWERY: Thank you.

ZELIZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And this breaking news we're following. Just moments ago, R&B singer, R. Kelly, walking out of jail after paying back all of his back-child support to the tune of $161,000. As he left -- you see him there in the red -- Kelly briefly spoke with reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

R. KELLY, SINGER: Thanks for the water. Thanks for the water, guys. I promise you we're going to straighten all this stuff out. That's all I can say right now. I promise you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Anything to your fans?

KELLY: I love my fans.

(CROSSTALK) KELLY: Thank you guys for the water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Saying he loved his fans there. After that, R. Kelly's attorney stepping in front of the microphone to defend his client's decision to take part in that explosive interview with Gayle King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN GREENBERG, ATTORNEY TO R. KELLY: We're not going out there and doing interviews to taint the jury pool, to not taint the jury pool, to help the case, to not help the case. The man sat for the interview. He answered the question. People can think whatever they want based on that. They can make their own judgment. I can tell you that nobody who drew a judgment based on that interview is going to be on our jury and is going to be making the decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: R. Kelly has been charged with 10 counts of sexual assault. He was, of course, in jail most recently, now being released though as a result of the back-child support.

Still ahead, amid blackouts and food shortages, dueling protestors take to the streets of Venezuela today as embattled President Maduro issues a challenge to the U.S., saying, quoting now, "Every attempt at imperial aggression will be met with a strong response," end quote.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:33:19] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, in Venezuela, thousands of demonstrators have flooded the streets of the capitol of Caracas. Some groups are out showing their support for embattled President Nicolas Maduro, but many other groups are protesting his regime and calling for him to step down. Maduro fired off a warning ahead of the protests, telling the U.S. that any imperial aggression will be met with what he called a strong response. Self-declared president-elect, Juan Guaido, the leader of the opposition, promised in a tweet that his supporters won't be scared off by any threats. This all comes as the country slowly recovers from a massive power outage covering most of Venezuela.

Paula Newton is in Caracas for us.

Paula, what is happening right now?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. I couldn't quite hear you there. This entire country struggling with those blackouts and we are as well. What I can tell you is I've been at both protests. We've had two opposing rallies here, those for President Maduro and for opposition leader, Juan Guaido. As you were saying, the chants at the rally and from President Maduro himself has been, "Yankee go home." It's been very convenient for President Maduro to look at everything the Trump administration has said and use that to their own political purpose here. They've got #handsoffvenezuela. They continue to use that and to their advantage.

I came back from the opposition protests and they are clearly not doing well there. And here's the reason. Fred, they were told to collect at different points throughout Caracas. There are tens of thousands of people out on the streets. The problem is they are now penned in by the National Guard. So where they were all supposed to start walking from different points in the city and join in, in one place, that just hasn't happened. It's been a tense day already, many hours to go. Fred, we are hoping that there isn't a confrontation.

[13:35:08] The issue, Fred, is that neither side wants to lose momentum. Juan Guaido, who just returned to this country, had risked arrest. He's not been arrested. He's on the streets talking to reporters. It has been an issue about who can maintain that momentum. And he understands that it's crucial here, especially, Fred -- and we've spoken about this often -- about the food shortages here, the medicine shortages. Add to that the adversity on a day like today, Fred. We're going into day three of blackouts throughout the country. No food, water, electricity, communication. It is getting more and more difficult just to survive hour by hour here.

I just want to highlight before I let you go that there continues to be the critical situation in the hospitals here. Sometimes the power comes on, other times they're working with back-up power. And that includes people in intensive care, pediatric units, maternity hospitals.

A lot of tense moments to come as these dueling rallies continue throughout Caracas and the rest of the country -- Fred?

WHITFIELD: Very tenuous time.

Thank you so much, Paula Newton, in Caracas, Venezuela.

Still ahead in this country, "Empire" actor, Jussie Smollett, hit with 16 felony charges. Smollett's lawyer calling the sentence, quote, "vindictive." So, is it overkill? The lawyers weighing in next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:40:31] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. "Empire" actor, Jussie Smollett, is facing 16 felony accounts and scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday. Back in January, Smollett told police he was attacked by two men in Chicago, but those men say Smollett paid them to stage the attack. Smollett maintains his innocence. So why is he facing 16 counts?

Here's CNN Nick Watt.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sixteen counts against Jussie Smollett. Basically, every crime he claimed he was a victim of is now a count against him. And you double it because prosecutors say that Jussie Smollett told the story twice, first to a police officer and then later to a detective, roughly the same story. He also went on "Good Morning, America" and told the story as he saw it. He believed it. He wanted it to be heard.

What Jussie Smollett told police is that he was attacked by two men, one of them white, who threw a noose around his neck, threw a chemical over him, shouted racist and homophobic epithets at him. Two people were arrested and those two people, who turned out to be African- American men, they told police and they told a grand jury that, in fact, Jussie Smollett had hired them to carry out this attack and cut them a check for $3500, that, in fact, they knew Jussie Smollett.

Now, the superintendent of Chicago police, he says that he thinks the reason Jussie Smollett did this is he wasn't getting paid enough money to appear on the "Empire" TV show. He has since been written out of that show for the final two episodes of the current season.

Now, even if he is convicted of all 16 counts, the sentencing guidelines are still just for the one crime, a class four felony. So that would be two and a half years in jail or up to three years of probation.

Now, Jussie Smollett maintains his innocence and we've heard from his lawyers who call this prosecutorial overkill and they say it's a redundant and vindictive indictment and they Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Our legal guys are here, civil rights attorney, Avery Friedman, and criminal defense attorney, Richard Herman.

Good to see you both.

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Hi, Fredricka.

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Hey, Fred.

WHITFIELD: We're talking about two sets of charges here, all felonies, equaling to 16 counts for his alleged lies told to police. Smollett's attorney is calling this overkill.

Richard, is it?

HERMAN: Overkill, Fred, that's like they're taking a page out of Trump's playbook of deflection and misdirection. That doesn't speak to the core crimes committed here. Whether it's overkill or not, a crime was staged by Smollett. He staged it. It was fake. And he played with the wrong police department. The Chicago police are under such scrutiny these days for the crimes that are committed there on a weekly basis, and to vehemently deny -- look, everyone's entitled to a presumption of innocence. But having said that, you have to look objectively at the facts that we see. And when these two brothers -- one is Smollett's personal trainer, the other one is on the set of "empire." And they claim he gave them a check for $3500 and they produced the check, and he told them what hardware store to buy the noose, the whole thing is preposterous. If he had a real attorney, Smollett, immediately they would have

walked him into a shrink or to some sort of psychiatric institution --

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: You don't know. Wait, you don't know --

(CROSSTALK)

HERMAN: -- and that would have saved him. Because he vehemently denied it and went on TV and he looked like an idiot on TV, now he pissed off the police department. And 16 counts, he's going to end up pleading --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: The counts really are disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: A charge for each alleged lie. But as you just said, participating in any alleged staging of it.

You made reference to that interview on ABC and this is a portion of it with Robin Roberts. Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC CORRESPONDENT: If the attackers are never found, how will you be able to heal?

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I don't know. Let's just hope that they are. You know what I'm saying? Like, let's not go there yet. Let's -- I was talking to a friend and I said, I just want them to find them. And she said, Sweetie, they're not going to find them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[13:45:09] WHITFIELD: So, Avery, it may have been convincing at the time, but then after the police came out with its litany of evidence, the videotape, surveillance tape, the relationship with the two young men, the deleted texts, et cetera, I mean, we know he has been maintaining his innocence, but what now? How far does he and his team go in its defense?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think, first of all, we now know what a great actor Jussie is. I thought he did a great job on ABC.

HERMAN: He's not a good actor.

FRIEDMAN: I thought the guy was great.

HERMAN: No.

FRIEDMAN: But the fact is that this was clever by half. And the idea of ascribing a motive for a false police report that he wanted to get more money from "Empire" -- he gets about $65,000 an episode anyhow, so he's doing just fine. I actually don't think it's overstatement by prosecutors. I think, for those of us that are involved in hate crimes, protecting victims, based on race or where people are from or orientation, this is really serious. He has exploited the divide in America. And that's why I think, Fredricka, this is very serious stuff. Ultimately, he's going to be facing two to three years. He's going to get clink time. I actually believe that. I think there's going to be an extended probation. But at the end of the day, I actually ascribe what he did to a distorted view based on a guy that is well to do, he doesn't know what it's like to suffer, he's exploited political, hate and orientation problems in America, and I think he's going to ultimately be accountable for it.

WHITFIELD: Richard, do you think he's going to do jail time? Do you think it's too late for attorneys for his defense to say, OK, he needs help and he's now admitting to -- I mean, where do you see the potential end game for Jussie Smollett?

HERMAN: I think that has to happen, Fred. I think if it happened, again, like I said initially, this would not have spiraled to 16 counts. I think the fact that he went on TV and said, I feel betrayed by the system and all this --

FRIEDMAN: That's right. That's right.

HERMAN: I mean, he antagonized the government and the Chicago police.

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: And he hurt a lot of innocent people, too.

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: Look, he hurt a lot of innocent --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: Police resources.

HERMAN: The grand jury voted this in so it's a legitimate indictment. These are felony counts, Fred. There's 16 of them.

(CROSSTALK)

HERMAN: Ultimately, he's going to end up pleading to one felony count. He's going to get probation here but he'll have a criminal history. And what also is looming out there --

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: So what? He's in Hollywood. It doesn't matter.

HERMAN: I'm trying to talk.

(CROSSTALK) HERMAN: What else is looming, Fred, is, a week before this took place, he says he received a letter on the set of "Empire," which contained white powder, which also was a hoax. It's being evaluated by the FBI crime lab right now.

(CROSSTALK)

HERMAN: But if he's the one who sent that letter, Fred, he could be facing federal charges now.

FRIEDMAN: It's not going to happen.

HERMAN: This is not over. It's not over.

WHITFIELD: So, Avery, you were in you were in --

HERMAN: You don't know it's not going to happen --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: You think he is going to do jail time, Avery?

HERMAN: Of course, he's going to jail.

FRIEDMAN: I think this is going to focus in on the false police report. I'm not buying the other part of this thing. At the end of the day though, it is a serious crime. There are a lot of innocent people who suffer violence because of who they are, where they're from, and a lesson needs to be taught here. I think the prosecutors in Cook County are going to seek the maximum, which, again, is two to three years. I think he's doing jail time. I think he's going to be on probation. And I think there's going to be a remedy that the judge is going to require to try to counter balance what he's done here --

HERMAN: Yes, psychological, it's psychological.

FRIEDMAN: -- because America is not going to forget this. It's not going to evaporate.

WHITFIELD: All right, Richard Herman, Avery Friedman, always tell like it is. Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. I love your candor. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

[13:49:11] WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: In Syria, evidence that some ISIS fighters are giving up the fight, but that doesn't mean they have given up on their beliefs.

CNN's Ben Wedeman was on the ground as they surrendered.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In defeat, gone is the bravado and the cockiness. In defeat, the men of the so-called Islamic State bow their head and cover their faces. The sharp contrast with the shrill triumphalism of ISIS's early days.

"We couldn't fight any more so we surrendered," this man says.

In the last few days, hundreds of ISIS fighters have surrendered to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Some have yet to give up. This video shot Wednesday of the group's last enclave shows men on foot and on motor bikes moving about in broad daylight.

Vanquished ISIS may be, yet among a Palestinian refugee who grew up in Syria hasn't given up. He concedes defeat today, but not tomorrow.

"Maybe the Americans rule the world today," he tells me, "but God Almighty promised the Muslims that in the end the world will be ruled by Islam."

[13:55:02] Their state is close to death, not their delusions.

"Despite the war and all the problems imposed upon it, I think the Islamic State was a success," this man tells me. "No one gave it the chance to offer anything to the world."

The state where men claim to rule in the name of God and women obeyed is on the brink of extinction. And the children and the women are paying the price. Caked in dust, dazed and confused, hungry and thirsty.

(CRYING)

WEDEMAN: Scrambling onto trucks normally used to transport livestock bound for camps to the north. In defeat, misery is their lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: That was Ben Wedeman reporting.

So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM after this.

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