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New Poll Has Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders Leading Democratic Field in Iowa; Trump's Budget to Request Additional $8.6 Billion for Border Wall; Fierce Battle for Last ISIS Stronghold in Syria. Aired 4- 5p ET

Aired March 10, 2019 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:50] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thanks so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

Right now we are learning more about a devastating plane crash in Ethiopia with no survivors. All 157 people on board an Ethiopian Airlines flight were killed when the Boeing 737 went down shortly after takeoff this morning.

So how does a brand-new airplane flown by a senior pilot with an excellent flying record suddenly crash into the ground? We'll have a live report.

Plus, it's another busy day for the 2020 presidential hopefuls. We have brand-new polling information looking at the key state of Iowa to give us an idea where everyone stands. And despite not officially being in the race, former vice president Joe Biden is leading the pack.

And right now we are just hours away from three CNN town halls at the South by Southwest Conference. Excuse me.

Tonight we'll hear from former congressman John Delaney, Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg.

First let's get started with CNN's senior Washington correspondent Jeff Zeleny. He's live for us right now in Austin, Texas, where the town halls will be taking place tonight.

So what are you hearing about this new polling?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, good afternoon. A lot of the Democratic candidates are indeed spending the weekend here at the South by Southwest Political Technology Music Conference, meeting with a lot of liberal activists and donors and the like. But we are talking about that new Iowa poll. The "Des Moines Register"-CNN poll that is just out this morning, taking a look at the first state of Iowa.

Of course they will lead off this race to the White House in about 11 months or so. And Joe Biden, as you said, he is leading the way. Bernie Sanders is right behind him. Now we should point out this is a snapshot in time largely because of

their name recognition. Largely because they have been around longer than others and they certainly are more well known to voters than the other candidates.

But, Fredricka, one thing that I was struck by was the age divide among these people surveyed. Take a look at these numbers here. Now Bernie Sanders has a nine-point edge over Joe Biden, 32 percent to 23 percent among voters under 45 years old. But it's the reverse among voters over 45 years old. Joe Biden holding a 15-point edge over Bernie Sanders. So that is something that is an interesting dynamic in this race.

We do know that Bernie Sanders has support certainly four years ago from a younger set of voters but interestingly about 40 percent of those Iowa voters said that Bernie Sanders is too liberal. So those are some of the benchmarks, if you will, going into the -- what really is the beginning of this Democratic presidential campaign.

Joe Biden is going to make his mind up soon. We are told that he is likely to get in probably in early April or so. Of course, he still has to make that decision himself. Beto O'Rourke, the former Texas congressman, who was also here in Austin over the weekend, he is said to be making a decision very soon as well.

So we see this race coming together, Fredricka, and we will, of course, get the chance to see three other candidates here tonight at separate CNN town halls to have questions from voters as well as Jake Tapper and Dana Bash.

WHITFIELD: OK. And those town halls are the big ticket tonight. What more can we expect from these -- you know, the trifecta event?

ZELENY: Well, look, I think it will give each of them a chance to introduce their candidacies. John Delaney, a former Maryland member of Congress, he believes Democrats are lurching too far to the left. Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman, she is basing her candidacy on foreign policy.

And Pete Buttigieg, the youngest person in the race, 37 years old, he believes that his age in fact is a virtue. He said it's time for a new generation of leadership. One number you will hear over and over tonight, Fredricka, that's 2054. He talks about it a lot. That is the age that he will be -- the year he will be when he is Donald Trump's age.


ZELENY: So he talks about that a lot when he said, you know, the younger generation will still be paying off the debts of this generation until that point. So he talks about 2054 a lot, which to me sounds like a long time in the future -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Sure does. All right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

[16:05:02] And I guess that's his point, right? All right. Thank you.

The Trump administration is headed for another budget clash with Congress. President Trump will roll out his budget roadmap tomorrow and it includes a request for at least $8.6 billion for the border wall.

Trump's top economic adviser Larry Kudlow talked about that request this morning.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY': So there's going to be another budget fight over the wall?

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: Well, I suppose there will be. I would just say that the whole issue of the wall, border security is of paramount importance. We have a crisis down there. I think the president has made that case very effectively. It's a crisis of economics. It's a crisis of crime and drugs. It's a crisis of humanity.

We have to be much tougher and have more constructive immigration policy, which we will be developing over a period of time. So yes, he's going to stay with this wall and he's going to stay with the border security theme. I think it's essential.


WHITFIELD: CNN's White House correspondent Boris Sanchez is live for us in West Palm Beach, Florida, where President Trump will be leaving any moment now, heading back to Washington.

So what more can we expect about this request?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, President Trump is asking all federal agencies to scale back about 5 percent of their spending, except for Defense. The president is actually asking for $750 billion in Defense spending. That's a $35 billion uptick from where we were last year.

And as you noted he's specifically asking for $8.6 billion on spending for his long-promised border wall with Mexico. And this is the first time the Trump administration is actually asking for border wall money from different sources. Two different sources. One is Customs and Border Protection, where President Trump is asking for $5 billion. The other is the Pentagon where he's asking for about $3.6 billion in military construction funds.

Aside from that, the president is asking for an additional $3.6 billion essentially to reimburse money that he's spending through his emergency declaration, through his national emergency declaration. To make it simple, the president is basically trying to get money from what he went around Congress to get money for.

Democrats are not happy about this. Democratic leadership in Congress, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put out a statement, writing, quote, "President Trump hurt millions of Americans and caused widespread chaos when he recklessly shut down the government to try to get his expensive and ineffective wall which he promised would be paid for by Mexico. Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopened the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again. We hope he learned his lesson."

So, Fred, at this point, both sides are digging in for what looks like will be a slugfest and Democrats are now essentially daring the president to try to go this route again and shut down the federal government, which would be the third time in his presidency that he makes that move, specifically over the issue of immigration and funding for that wall -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez in West Palm Beach, thanks so much.

So this indeed will be another big week -- rather -- in court for several former Trump insiders and the Mueller investigation. Tomorrow former Trump adviser Roger Stone will be back in court as a judge decides whether he violated his gag order. On Wednesday former campaign chairman Paul Manafort will be sentenced for conspiracy and witness tampering. The maximum sentence in that case could be 10 years. Last week he was sentenced to almost four years for tax and bank fraud.

Also this week President Trump's former National Security adviser Michael Flynn will tell a judge if he is ready to move forward with his sentencing, as will Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates. A lot on tap.

So with me now is Ron Brownstein, senior editor for the "Atlantic" and a CNN senior political analyst, and Molly Ball, national political correspondent for "TIME" and a CNN political analyst.

Good to see both of you.

All right. So, Ron, you first. Oh my gosh, so with so many scheduled, you know, court dates this week for a number of key Trump associates caught up in the Mueller probe, how much more distracted or worried might the White House be?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, you know, the president's level of concern about this, you can measure it in his tweet storms. And, you know, it's been consistent and ongoing.

We -- look, we've had anticipation in the past that these court filings would give us a clear sense of when Mueller is wrapping up and those expectations have almost -- those have been invariably dashed before. The truth is that this investigation has done a better job than almost any project in Washington that I have seen in 35 years in keeping all of us guessing. We don't really know where he is going next. But I do think, one thing that kind of fascinating to me is that if you watch what has happened with Paul Manafort over the last week, I would argue to you that it's increased the odds that he's going to be a visible figure in the 2020 campaign. Not only around the question or not even primarily around the question

of collusion but around the issue of corruption and also inequity in the criminal justice system, and the relatively light sentence he received in the Virginia case I think is going to be talked about quite a bit in 2020 when compared against some of the sentences that speak to the racial inequities in the system.

[16:10:18] And I think he's going to be a familiar figure for Democrats on the campaign trail over the next year and a half.

WHITFIELD: And that might be the feeling even if he is hit hard with a much stiffer sentence in the D.C. federal court.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think so. I do, yes.


BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. I think -- you know, there was a tweet from a public defender noting, you know, Paul Manafort was accused -- agreed to, acknowledged $6 million in federal tax evasion. There was a public defender who said that he had a client who was sentenced to a longer time in prison for stealing $100 in quarters.



WHITFIELD: And Molly, you know, this is likely to be a further distraction, right, for the president, you know, because he has been stewing over Michael Cohen's testimony. I mean that just is so under his skin. And now what may or may not unfold or, you know, what's impending this week just is further exacerbating for the president because these are people who were all once close to him if not still to some degree.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. I mean, you can tell, as Ron said, from his tweets how fixated the president remains and he has been since the beginning. There's never been any pretense that he was somehow ignoring it or shutting it out, right? I think in a more conventional White House, you would probably have a president who tried to pretend that he wasn't paying attention to this because, according to him, it has nothing to do with him. He says that over and over.

And so you would have, you know, the press secretary saying, oh, the president is busy tending to the affairs of the nation, he doesn't have time for this kind of thing. He's never pretended that that's the case. It's very clear that this is top of mind for President Trump and that he is watching every single move in these cases.

It's always interesting to see the tone of his remarks about these former associates of his which he remains sympathetic to, including Manafort. He just this past week still had nice things to say about Manafort.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Saying -- BALL: On the other hand, Michael Cohen, obviously no love lost there



BALL: Despite that, and I think, you know, the closeness of that relationship and the length of time that they spent very, very close to one another, you have to think that that cuts particularly close to the bone. I mean, the person that you asked to pay off your alleged mistresses, that's got to be someone you really, really, really trust. So the fact that that person, who is also going to prison is now on the opposite side, is obviously under Trump's skin.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and now, you know, Ron, the president and White House trying to roll out its budget proposal and --


WHITFIELD: And to put in a $8 billion request for the wall. I mean, on one hand it might be the distraction that this White House is looking for to try to, you know, retrain the eye on the ball here instead of all the court proceeding that are going to be taking place this week. Instead, you know, let's restart the conversation about wall money that he knows Congress is not likely to --


WHITFIELD: You know, give in to. They're not going to acquiesce on that, right?

BROWNSTEIN: Right, absolutely. I mean, two points on that, first, I mean, it is just a reminder as how was last week's incredible two-hour speech to CPAC of how deeply committed he is to a strategy that is focused primarily on telling his voters that they are under siege and he is here to protect them against the changes they don't like and the wall is so important to him because it is the symbol of his determination to hold back kind of demographic and cultural change in the country. And as opposed to a message that is about primarily kind of the improving economy aimed at reaching out to voters beyond those who are most attracted to him.


WHITFIELD: I mean, that really is his Achilles, isn't it?


WHITFIELD: That's his Achilles, not to really talk policy, specifics on policy but instead, you know, lean on that whole wall talk.

BROWNSTEIN: He speaks to that anxiety.


BROWNSTEIN: Right. He speaks to the anxiety about a changing America first and foremost. And by the way, and this is where it connects to what we were just talking about, what Molly was talking about, about his reaction to the investigations, which is that he uses the investigations as a way of basically saying the deep state or the establishment or the swamp is trying to sideline me as a way of stifling you. That basically this is all of the forces who are aggrieved that you have stood up for yourself after years of being ignored and this is what they are doing to me but their real target is you.

And that is his message. The price of all of that is at a moment when the economy is so strong, his approval is still in the low 40s because there are so many Americans, particularly people doing well in white collar suburbs, who believe that he is just too divisive and essentially morally unfit to be president.

WHITFIELD: Yes. Meantime, Molly, you know, the Democratic field while it has widened, you see these candidates distinguishing themselves by really talking policy, being really specific, trying at all costs to really avoid talking about the president. Senator Elizabeth Warren, you know, saying she wants to break up Google, Facebook, Amazon.

[16:15:04] You know, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington where Amazon, you know, is headquartered responded to that in this manner.


GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: I think that when you do antitrust law, you should set up the antitrust laws for the whole economy, not for one company. So I'm not sure the best route of determining antitrust law should be sort of rifle shots at one company that you decide you don't like. I'm not sure that's the best way for us to do business. But I do believe it's appropriate to have some review of our antitrust laws given the changing economy.


WHITFIELD: So how are topics like that allowing candidates to really distinguish themselves, be concrete about their idea?

BALL: Yes. Well, Warren's pitch has been particularly policy heavy. We've seen her rolling out this antitrust policy, rolling out childcare policy and so on. Inslee obviously running on the issue of climate change.

The other candidates, their pictures really aren't about Trump but they're not as specific policy heavy. A lot of it is more about a tone. A lot of candidates wanting to set a different tone in talking about, you know, there's an implicit rebuke of Trump when they talk about bringing people together and creating bipartisan solutions which they obviously -- excuse me -- that the president has failed to do.

But, you know, this is what we can expect a lot more of because there are so many Democratic candidates and because they are so similar in a lot of ways in terms of the things that they believe. They are going to have to distinguish themselves in some way. You see in that poll that you posted a few minutes ago, so many of them scurrying around in the single digits. The only way they're ever going to make an impression on voters is if they have some kind of breakout moment or can say this is my thing and this is what you can associate with me. Otherwise they're just going to stay in single digits.


BALL: So we're going to see I think a much more aggressive effort by the Democratic candidates to find some kind of differentiating factor.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there. Molly Ball, thanks for hanging in there. We all have this little fuzz ball that's like bouncing around. It started with me then off to you, Ron, and then Molly. So sorry about that.


WHITFIELD: All right. Ron Brownstein, Molly Ball, good to see you. Thank you so much.

All right. And don't forget to join CNN tonight live from South by Southwest. We have three CNN presidential town halls with former congressman, John Delaney, 7:00, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, 8:00 and Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9:00. Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate. It's all tonight starting 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

Still ahead, more examples of very intense fighting right now in Syria as ISIS makes its final stand. CNN is the only U.S. network on the ground. We'll take you there live next.


[16:21:49] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We have breaking news from the border of Syria.

Dramatic pictures as ISIS fighters try to keep control of one of their last strongholds and CNN is the only U.S. network to witness this final assault, or what could be the final assault.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in eastern Syria and he's joining us now live.

You changed your position clearly for your own and your crew's safety -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, we have to get down because there have been some rounds flying over our heads.

What we've seen in the last half hour or so is an intensification of the bombardment that began just about three hours ago, 3 1/2 hours ago, on this last encampment of ISIS. We have seen a statement from the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that they will fight until ISIS surrenders. But what we've seen is that many ISIS fighters have surrendered, thousands of them. Until now we have spoken to many of them who came out but clearly those who were left inside are not going to surrender. They are here to fight to the death, it appears. Now it's not clear how many civilians are still inside but by all

accounts there are civilians. Probably the families of ISIS fighters who don't want to leave. And even though the Syrian Democratic Forces have -- this is the third time they've launched an operation to retake this very small piece of land, just a half square mile, but the previous two times they halted after a few days to allow civilians to go out.

Now initially a month ago they were telling us that they thought there were only 1,500 civilians and perhaps 500 fighters. It turned out that there were more than 30,000 civilians inside and thousands of fighters. And -- but at this point it appears that they've decided that this has to come to an end so this operation is going on. We'll see how long it lasts.

As I said, it's a very small piece of land so in theory, it shouldn't take too long but clearly they're trying to avoid as much as possible civilian casualties -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And as is the expectation here it is almost 10:30 your time there, the expectation is this just goes on throughout the night until your ammunition has, you know, been spent or there are no fighters left?

WEDEMAN: Probably until there are no fighters left, unless they do out unilaterally surrender. But what we've seen so far is that that is not what they intend to do. Certainly those who are inside with this ferocity of bombardment that's now been going on for 4 1/2 hours, clearly these people are going to fight to the death. How long it's going to take is only -- is anybody's guess but certainly it's not just the Syrian Democratic Forces that are fighting.

[16:25:00] There are U.S., French and British Special Forces on the ground, men in artillery and mortars, and in the air, there are U.S.- led coalition aircraft around the clock and certainly they've been dropping quite a few bombs on that encampment -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Wedeman and crew, taking all measures to stay safe amidst of it all. Thank you so much.

Up next, tragedy in Ethiopia. A passenger plane crashes and there are no survivors. Coming up, what we're learning about the victims including eight Americans.


WHITFIELD: We're getting our first reporting from the scene of an Ethiopian airline that crashed, killing all 157 people on board right now. The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to help with the investigation. Eight Americans are among those killed when the Boeing 737 crashed shortly after takeoff.

The airline says the pilot reported technical difficulties and asked to return to the airport, but the plane dropped off radar a short time later. Journalist Robyn Kriel is near the crash site.


ROBYN KRIEL, JOURNALIST: The sun is setting in the area where this plain crashed, relodged into the cavenous field and amongst mountains south of (Inaudible), the area of (Inaudible). It is an incredibly remote area. It was difficult to get to across this about 500-meter crash site. There are debris (Inaudible) from pieces of the plane's fuselage to burnt out newspapers and French to Ethiopian airlines paper napkins, business cards, and even pieces from what look like flight maps that would have come from the cockpit.

As I said, the sun is setting. A couple hundred people mostly from the surrounding villages have gathered here to witness what is an incredibly horrific crash site. At the same time, it is a real blow to Ethiopian airlines. They are extremely proud of this airline, Robyn Kriel, CNN near (Inaudible).


WHITFIELD: Robyn Kriel, thank you so much. It is the second time in less than six months a brand new Boeing aircraft has crashed just minutes into flight. Another Boeing 737 (Inaudible) crashed in Indonesia last year. A Boeing team is also on its way to Ethiopia, and the company is pledging to fully cooperate in the investigation. The United Nations says several of its officials were on that plane. And the victims were of 35 nationalities.

Meantime, severe turbulence injures more than 30 people on a New York- bound flight. The Turkish airline's plane traveling from Istanbul Saturday when it experienced severe turbulence about 45 minutes from landing in JFK Airport. Authorities say passengers and crew member are among the hurt. Most of the injuries are bruises and cuts, although one person may have broken their leg.

Coming up, new questions about the woman who formally owned a spa where Robert Kraft allegedly solicited sex, now Cindy Yang is facing accusations that she is selling Chinese investors access to the president of the United States. We're back in a moment.


WHITFIELD: We're learning new details today about the former owner of a south Florida spa where Patriots owner Robert Kraft allegedly solicited sex acts. Cindy Yang is seen here in a selfie with President Trump attending a Patriots Super Bowl party at Mar-A-Lago just days before Kraft was charged. The Miami Herald is now reporting Yang runs a consulting company which promises Chinese clients access to the president of the United States and his family for a price.

Let's bring in CNN's Kaylee Hartung, who is in Jupiter, Florida. So Kaylee, walk us through all of this new information.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it turns out the photo from President Trump's Super Bowl party with the former owner of this spa that's at the center of the human trafficking investigation. That picture was just a glimpse of Cindy Yang's connection to the president and his orbit. As you mentioned, Miami Herald reporting that she's running this Florida-based consulting firm.

She says she's no longer in the spa business. But this consulting firm, as advertised, promises to introduce Chinese investors to the political elite in America, specifically President Trump and members of his family. So the spotlight has moved from that Super Bowl party onto a night in December of 2017. There was a paid fundraiser for Donald Trump in New York City that evening.

And Yang, as reported by the Miami Herald, she had arranged for a group of Chinese businessmen to attend that event. Her business doing again what it's promised. Now, there are rules around foreign nationals attending U.S. political events. They are allowed to attend but they're not allowed to pay their own entrance fee, if you will.

Now, in this case, we've learned that Cindy Yang, in the days leading up to that December event for President Trump, she donated around $5,000 to Trump's campaign and more than $23,000 to Trump's victory political action committee. FEC records show us that. That night of the event, a source there told the Miami Herald that Yang identified herself as an official with the National Committee of Asian-American Republicans.

That's a political action group that was founded in D.C. in the summer of 2016. And in reference to this group of Chinese businessmen there, she said they're all my guests. Now, Fred, these rules that exist guiding who can and can't contribute to political campaigns in the United States, they exist to protect the integrity of our elections.

So it would be illegal if a foreign national reimbursed a U.S. citizen for any fee that was paid on their behalf to attend one of these events. And Fred, we've reached out to the White House, to the RNC, to the Trump campaign, and to Yang herself, but all of those efforts have been unsuccessful as no one offered us any comment.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kaylee Hartung, stay on it. Thank you so much. All right, with me now is former federal prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst, Renato Mariotti. Thanks so much for being with us. So what's curious about all of this to you?

[16:39:59] RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, as a starting point, we do have foreign nationals giving -- it appears that they're giving money to this woman who is an American, a Chinese-American, who is then giving money to the Trump campaign. That is concerning because you can't have a pass through, and I think our reporter just alluded to that a moment ago.

In other words, and this is an allegation that is also, by the way, under investigation, by federal prosecutors regarding the Trump inaugural committee, as well as it's been a subject in Robert Mueller's indictments, where you can't have essentially a straw man or straw woman in the United States who are U.S. citizens who are taking foreign money and funneling it U.S. candidates.

So that's a campaign finance violation. It can be a crime in certain circumstances. So it's certainly a serious charge. But a bigger issue, Fredricka, is that this woman also appears to be engaging in human trafficking or in some sort of illegal activities related to prostitution, which is...


WHITFIELD: She has disassociated herself with the spas that are now accused of doing that, so unclear where that investigation is in terms of her, you know, any alleged involvement. But when you talk about, you know, people paying to see the president or be in the same arena, that happens at fundraisers all of the time.

But what would be particularly unusual or wrong about these circumstances if, you know, she has declared she's made her own campaign contributions. But what are the extenuating circumstance if someone else who is a foreign national may have done so?

MARIOTTI: Great question. So you're right that purchasing access to politicians, for better or for worse, is part of our system. I think many of us believe for worse. But here, the issue is we don't want foreign nationals. We don't want potentially foreign governments or agents of foreign governments to be purchasing access to U.S. politicians and potentially influencing our own foreign policy and our own internal elections.

And so we have a lot that prohibits foreign nationals from doing that. And you can imagine a situation where you have essentially a foreign national who wants to get involved in U.S. elections, paying a U.S. person and then having a U.S. individual, you know, make the donations at his or her behalf, essentially as a straw person.

And that's really what the issue here is. You know, the circumstances you described don't sound that far off from that. In other words, she's paying for everybody to get in. And really the question is, you know, how bona fide (Inaudible) really just guests of hers or paying her organization essentially to funnel that money to the president?

WHITFIELD: OK. I want to also now shift the conversation to the Russian investigation. Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, says the special counsel is making a mistake if it does not subpoena the president. Listen.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Yes. I think it is a mistake. And I've said all along that I don't think Bob Mueller should rely on written answers. I think the constraint that Bob Mueller is operating under is he had an acting attorney general who was appointed because he would be hostile to a subpoena on the president, and now he has a permanent attorney general who was chosen for the same hostility to his investigation who would likely oppose that step.

I also think that the special counsel feels some time pressure to conclude his work and knowing that the White House would drag out a fight over the subpoena. That may be an issue as well. But I do think ultimately it's a mistake, because probably the best way to get the truth would be to put the president under oath.


WHITFIELD: So Renato, if a president cannot be indicted according to current, you know, DOJ policy, can Congress compel, you know, this president to testify by way of subpoena?

MARIOTTI: Wow. That is something that has not happened before, as far as I know. I will say I agree with Congressman Schiff that if I was investigating the president, for example obstruction of justice, I would want to hear what he had to say about the subject, about what his intent was or what his motives were. I would not rely on written questions and answers, and typically prosecutors don't.

It's a mystery to me why Robert Mueller hasn't done that, but he may have his reasons. I do think we would have a real crisis if Congress tried to compel testimony of the president. I suspect he would refuse. There would be a kind of a showdown in the courts, and potentially you could see a situation where at the very least -- I mean certainly the president could take the fifth and refuse to testify.

But I imagine that he would argue that being forced to comply with congressional subpoenas might interfere with his duties. So it would certainly mean quite a constitutional showdown.

[16:44:51] WHITFIELD: All right. Renato Mariotti, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Still ahead, R and B star R. Kelly out of jail, but how this as the singer faces multiple allegations of sexual assault.


WHITFIELD: There is mystery surrounding who paid for R. Kelly to get out of jail. A payment of $161,000 in child support backpay was made on Kelly's behalf, allowing the singer to be released from custody. As you can see, the provider section on the bond slip is blank. Kelly is facing 10 charges of sexually abusing minors as well. He spoke to his fans about this case moments after leaving jail.


[16:50:00] R. KELLY, SINGER: Thanks for the water, guys. I promise you we're going to straighten all of this stuff out. I promise you. I love my fans. Thank you, guys.



WHITFIELD: All right. I am joined now by criminal defense attorney Joey Jackson, Joey, good to see you. So the provider section, you know, blank, you know, but if Kelly had the money, then he most likely wouldn't have needed to go to jail. So is it case closed now that that has been taken care of, and now his focus will be on the allegations of the sexual misconduct related charges?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, you know, Fredricka, good to be with you. I think that's where his focus needs to be. I mean this, of course, being a side show. Obviously, it is of great importance that his children be provided for. The judge felt very strongly about that, as a result of that said, said look, until you pay the entire amount, you are going to be held.

You're in contempt of court. That matter having been cleared, I think, now, Fredricka, the issue becomes what is going to be I think the fight for his life. The case that he's facing now concerning the 10 counts of aggravated sexual assault differs widely from the case, of course, that he was dealing with back in 2002 that went to trial in 2008.

We have here multiple accusers, three of them underage, multiple counts. We have the issues concerning the new tone, I think, in the environment concerning me too and time is up. We're in a different era where that's concerned. And so you worry if -- where he's concerned, you're worried about the jury pool, and then you're concerned about whether prior bad act evidence is let in at the trial.

That is evidence of other things he's done to women. To what extent will the judge allow that to come before the jury? So I think that there's a long way to go in this particular case. And I think as soon as the attorney gets the information, he will be parsing through it to see what arguments can be made.

WHITFIELD: And this is what Kelly's lawyer had to say shortly after Kelly's release.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's open season on R. Kelly. Everybody is now coming forward and saying, oh, I met this man and this is what happened. Look, there's no money for these people. There might be their 15 minutes of fame or whatever, but we can all make our own judgments about whether people are saying things because they're true or because they want their fame or whatever the reason is. Again, we're going to deal with it.


WHITFIELD: So getting a fair trial. Is that going to be a problem?

JACKSON: You know, I think it really could be. What you hope for though is that you impanel a jury. And it's not so much, Fredricka, whether people have heard of the case, whether they have opinions about the case, and, you know, whether they're sheltered about the case. The issue is whether...


WHITFIELD: And then seeing the Gayle King interview and hearing from him and watching his behavior. All of that goes into play too.

JACKSON: It does. The Gayle King interview, his demeanor, his comportment, his assessment of his ex-wife, his assessment of the accusers being liars, all of that, you know, certainly goes into play. And let's not forget. On the backdrop of that, you have what started all of this is watching that interview and him parading around the room is the documentary, which speaks to the issue of Surviving R. Kelly.

So all of that is at play, and you have to be careful, from his lawyer's perspective, not to demonize the victims. Now, to be clear, at that trial the test will be to substantiate every witness that comes forward, has to substantiate what they're saying. It has to be corroborated. They have to be authentic.

They have to be believable by the jury, and the attorney has to cross- examine them. But you have to be careful to not re-victimize them and be too unsympathetic, while at the same time pointing out any discrepancies. So the attorney has to walk a very fine line in that regard, but I think it's a tough case, not only because of multiple victims are testifying in the indictment.

But again, who else will come forward and testify? So I think there are a lot of challenges ahead for R. Kelly.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there. Joey Jackson, always good to see you, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you, Fredricka, and you.

WHITFIELD: A woman is recovering after she was attacked by a jaguar at an Arizona zoo. Witnesses say the woman crossed the barrier to take a selfie at the Wildlife World Zoo outside Phoenix yesterday. And that's when the big cat dug its claws into her arm. People nearby were quick to respond as the woman screamed for help.

But in fact, one of the passersby jumped into action by shoving a water bottle through the cage to distract the animal and it actually worked. The jaguar let the woman go. The zoo released a statement, saying please understand why barriers are put in place, sending prayers to the family. This week's CNN hero is teaming up with hospitals to make screen time healing time.

Zach Weigel set out to prove that gamers can also be do-gooders. Today, he is making video games a part of recovery for sick kids all across the country.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes, people believe that video games are corrupting the minds of America's youth. But video games are an incredible tool for helping kids find a source of fun and relief during stressful and difficult times.

[16:55:06] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To people who think the games are just games, they're so much more than that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nice. That's all you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't have to talk about me being sick. We can play the game because that's way more cooler than having to talk about me being sick.


WHITFIELD: To see Zack and his gaming team in action and to nominate someone you think should be a CNN hero, go to And thank you for being with me this Sunday. I am Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues with Ana Cabrera right after this.


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: It is 5:00 eastern, 2:00 in the afternoon out west. I am Ana Cabrera in New York. And you're live in the CNN Newsroom.