Return to Transcripts main page


Kamala Harris Proposes Nationwide Teacher Raise; Trump Moves to Eliminate Obamacare Entirely; All Charges Dropped Against Jussie Smollett. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2019 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're back. You're watching CNN on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.

Breaking news out of Chicago today. Prosecutors have dropped all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, a move which came as quite a surprise to Chicago's police superintendent, who says he found out when the rest of the world did.

Let me take you back. This all started in January of this year, when Smollett told police two men attacked him for being both black and gay. Then, in a twist, Chicago investigators charged Smollett for staging his own attack.

And, today, the shocking reversal, with Smollett still maintaining his innocence.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life. But I'm a man of faith and I'm a man that has knowledge of my history.

And I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this. Now I would like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes, I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.


BALDWIN: And then, in a joint show of force, Chicago's police superintendent and mayor rebuked the decision by prosecutors to drop those charges.


EDDIE JOHNSON, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: My personal opinion is that you all know where I stand on this. Do I think justice was served? No. Where do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology. RAHM EMANUEL (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO: He did this all in the name of

self-promotion. And he used the laws of the hate crime legislation that all of us collectively over years have put on the books to stand up to be the values that embody what we believe in.

This is a whitewash of justice.


BALDWIN: CNN national correspondent Ryan Young is in Chicago.

And, Ryan, how did this happen?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You could feel it in the room, Brooke.

And I think that's the big question, not only how did this happen, but why did it happen? I remember, the first time we did this story together, Brooke, we talked about it. It was so scary, the details that an African-American male could be walking home in the streets of Chicago and have someone come up behind him and put a noose around his neck, pour bleach on him and fight him while screaming racial slurs at him.

The reaction from the country was immediate. People wanted a Justice Department response. They wanted to see what was going on -- 12 detectives working around the clock started breaking this case apart. Now, let's remember, at the beginning of this, Jussie Smollett asked the detectives who arrived, the cops who arrived to turn off their body camera.

They asked, could he take him to the hospital? He decided to self- transport himself to the hospital, but at that point still nothing was really that big of a red flag. It wasn't until they caught up with two men, the Osundairo brothers, who were pulled in after they landed from Nigeria.

They started talking to police. And if you think about all of this, it was 47 hours later that detectives finally started feeling that they were cracking the case here. Remember, police asked Jussie Smollett for his phone and the text messages from his phone. He said he didn't want to give it up because of his friends and who were on the phone.

The Osundairo brothers did, and apparently they went forward to the grand jury. A 16-count indictment came back. We all thought we were going to court. You remember Jussie Smollett and his team standing in court and basically saying, we want cameras there in court to make sure the world sees this.

And now all of a sudden, today, we get a phone call. We have to rush to the court. We get there and all of a sudden they said charges are dropped. We still don't know why the charges were dropped.

But listen to Jussie Smollett's attorney today talking about how this all wrapped up. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES, ATTORNEY FOR JUSSIE SMOLLETT: We have nothing to say to the police department, except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press. I have no idea what occurred in this case and why it occurred.

I can just say that things seemed to spiral somewhat out of control. We have gotten to a result that is the right result in this case and we're happy for that.


YOUNG: Brooke, the number one thing here that I want to tell all our viewers is the fact that this case was sealed. It wasn't sealed tomorrow. It's sealed right now.

So I can't go down to the court and see the information that the 12 detectives have gathered over all this time and to figure out exactly how we arrived here. Were they able, the defense, to punch holes in the two Osundairo brothers, and what they have said? We're not sure.

But I'm sure those two brothers have the text messages that went between Smollett and themselves. So, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. We may never have all the answers. Of course, we want to talk to the state's attorneys office.


No scheduled press conference so far. And if you think about this, I remember the superintendent being so strong on that day when he came forward and said he was upset with Jussie taking the good name of his city and kind of wringing it through.

Let's just think about this. He said at that point there were so many stories in Chicago that weren't getting the kind of attention that this story was getting. This weekend, a police officer was killed off-duty. No one's talking about that.

And today we were at the graduation and all these officers are watching the mayor and superintendent stand up there and talk about what's going on. We know no charges can go forward. It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out, because, obviously, the state's attorneys office has to talk with the police department to move cases forward.

How do those 12 detectives who spent all those manhours working this case feel about this at this point? Brooke, there's a lot of unanswered questions here, and I'm sure this is going to play out in the media like it has so far.

BALDWIN: Good on you for making the point on that officer over the weekend. Thank you so much for that and for just knowing all the twists and turn so intimately of this story. Ryan Young, I appreciate you so much in Chicago.

So let's dive into a lot of Ryan's points here.

CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson is a criminal defense attorney. Berit Berger is a former federal prosecutor.

I want to get to the evidence sealed in just a second, but, basically you have, to you first -- basically, you have the police superintendent, the mayor, and then you have the, you know, prosecutors on the other side. How are they not on the same page on this?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, I don't know. This is a very surprising way for this to play out.

Now, don't get me wrong. In my time as a prosecutor, there were many instances where the FBI agents and I saw a case differently. I thought we should resolve it by a plea. They thought maybe it was too lenient. However it was, we often had disagreements about the resolution of a case.

What we never did, though, was air those disagreements in such a public fashion or really come out this strongly against each other. It is very surprising to me that there's not some sort of a unified front here.

BALDWIN: Let me read this. I was just handed this piece of paper.

This is from "Chicago Sun-Times," Joey. The first assistant state's attorney said the decision -- this is a quote -- "The decision to drop the charges should not be interpreted that Smollett did not do what police and prosecutors have alleged, paid assailants to fake the attack and then falsely report the incident to police."

It goes on to say: "It's a nonviolent crime. He has no felony criminal background. If you start looking at the disposition of the case, in every case you need to look at the facts and circumstances of the case and the defendant's background."

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That sounds to me like it was a plea resolution. Let's be clear.

If that's what it is, I think the public certainly deserves the right to know. Now, in terms of the outcome of the case, do you want to smear a person like this? And let's talk about Jussie Smollett, a person who apparently is very beloved by the community, a person who's done so much for the community. Do you want to have him have a felony record that lives with him for the rest of his life, that annihilates him?

Is that the proper and appropriate disposition? I think not. And I think the county attorney felt it was improper. Now, having said that, I think the appropriate thing to do would be to come out and say that an appropriate resolution of the case is how we're doing it, dismissal.

Prosecutors have vast discretion. And that vast discretion, they decided to do in the interest of justice to dismiss the case. But it's being couched in a way where we're all confused. And we're all confused...

BALDWIN: But Jussie Smollett stood up there today and said, I have been speaking the truth from the beginning.


JACKSON: Correct, correct.

And it's couched in a way that we're all confused, because they come out with a statement that says, well, we considered his community service. And we have considered that he's giving up his bail, the $10,000, and this is an appropriate resolution.

So, in the event that none of this is true, it didn't happen, it's all fabricated, why is my client, would be my position as a defense attorney, forfeiting any bail? Why do you care about his past history or whether he's a repeated felon?

The fact is, you judge it based on what you do now.


JACKSON: So it smells.

Now, to the issue of this whole disagreement, to your point, there are always disagreements between perhaps the police department and the district attorney or county attorney in terms of how a case should be handled, but this is beyond disagreement.


JACKSON: This is a complete -- I mean, the mayor, in listening to him, is livid. The mayor is livid at Jussie Smollett. He's livid at what his police department has gone through.

He backs his police department. You hear Superintendent Johnson speak to the issue of, listen, we have had our people out there. I stand by what I said. And to not be notified until everyone else was, that's problematic. So, it begs the question, how did we get here?

And was it a political decision that was made at the highest levels to just end this? I suggest to you that's exactly what happened.

BALDWIN: I want to come back to you on the politics of this, but you say it smells. You point out with the superintendent, obviously, Eddie Johnson, is furious.

Also who says it stinks is former D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey. We were talking last hour and he did not mince words.


CHARLES RAMSEY, FORMER PHILADELPHIA POLICE COMMISSIONER: This isn't on the police department. They did an investigation. They presented it to the state's attorney, which, by the way, any charge has to be approved by the state's attorney before it could even move forward if it's a felony.

Then they take it to a grand jury, who agrees and he actually adds additional charges. And if it was a case -- as far as public opinion -- being tried in the court of public opinion, I mean, this is a high- profile guy. The media is going to grab onto this.


He's an alleged victim of a hate crime? There's a noose. There's made in America hats that these guys were wearing. I mean, why wouldn't the media cover it? That's just the world that we live in now. That has nothing to do with the police department.

This case stinks. And somebody needs to take a look at it. Everybody wants to talk about police reform, accountability, transparency. You need to look at some of these prosecutor's offices as well. I mean, something is not right with this.

And if there was new evidence that came forward, I guarantee you, Eddie and the mayor would not have been as forceful as they were in their press conference. And not only that, why would you seal it? Let it out there. Let us know what it is that's changed. Nothing has changed, other than the fact that this guy got to a judge, got to the state's attorney's office somehow, and they worked out some kind of backdoor deal that threw the mayor and the police department under the bus, period.

BALDWIN: And the $10,000, his bond that was forfeited, does that cover the cost of the police investigation?

RAMSEY: That's a joke. That's a joke. That doesn't even come close to covering the cost. That's not one day.

I mean, come on. I mean, everybody can see through this. At least you should be able to see through it. You just can't justify. Why would you not at least give the superintendent a heads-up? Why would you have the court records sealed? I mean, this stinks. I'm telling you, it stinks.

I have seen a lot of bad decisions or what I believe would be bad decisions before. This one rates right at the top. Something is not right. And people need not let this rest, because it's screwed up. I'm telling you.


BALDWIN: So he made a bunch of points, but, if I may, on his -- I know, on his last point...

JACKSON: What he said.

BALDWIN: What he said.

JACKSON: That's my answer.

BALDWIN: What he said.


BALDWIN: On his last point, if you're innocent, why don't you want the evidence out there for everyone to see? Why seal it, to Ryan Young's point, today?


JACKSON: Yes, I mean, look, that's the issue. The issue is, is, I think it's being sealed, because there's information in there that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that, where there's smoke, perhaps there's fire.

I think the ultimate thing here is that they wanted to see this go away. This has really shed so much light upon Chicago. It's put them in a position they didn't want to be in. But if that's the case, then you come out and say, look, in the interest of justice, we have this young African-American man who's done so many tremendous things for his community, that we don't want to see him end up with a felony record.

It's not the appropriate disposition. I'm using my discretion as a prosecutor to resolve this and thereby dismiss or reduce the charges. You don't engage in this ruse type of behavior. And then we see the mayor upset, right? We see the superintendent: Are you kidding me?

That's how it's resolved. And to not level with everyone and to have us all in a state of confusion, and to your ultimate point, to come back to and conclude, that you seal it, so no one will ever know.


JACKSON: It becomes so problematic. And to the point you made before we went on air, it's a distrust to the system. Right? We have all put our faith in the system.


JACKSON: And to see a system of justice that is one way if you have money or if you don't have money or if you're a celebrity, if you're not, does a disservice to everyone.

BALDWIN: What you said.

Joey Jackson, Berit Berger, guys, thank you very much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next: President Trump claims Republicans will soon be the party of health care, despite his administration moving to get rid of Obamacare entirely. We will talk about what that would mean for you.

Plus, 2020 candidate Senator Kamala Harris rolls out a plan to give every teacher a $13,000 raise. We have details on how should we pay for it, how that would help teachers nationwide.

And later, the federal ban on bump stocks takes place. It takes effect today, and already Washington state has run out of money for its buy-back program. We will talk to one of the troopers trying to balance the demand.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Here's some more breaking news for you.

We have just learned the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has just entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. You know the story. He was accused of soliciting prostitution down at a Florida day spa.

So let's talk through this quickly. I have got Joey Jackson and Berit Berger still with me.

And so if what I have here, entered a plea of not guilty to all charges, requested a jury trial in a filing with the court. He waived his right to an arraignment. You were saying, you think this is posturing?

JACKSON: I mean, look, be careful what you ask for, I all I will say.

He's entitled to the presumption of innocence. Of course, we don't know what happened. We have no clue. Apparently, the reports are that they have the goods that are...

BALDWIN: They have the video evidence.


JACKSON: Surveillance, exactly, of things that I don't think would -- we would want to see on television.

And in the event that you ask for a jury trial and you're holding the prosecution to their proof, that something that's played to a jury. And so, in essence, in the event that it is him, and the acts are as described, a jury trial would seem a bit of a mistake, particularly when they said -- that is, the prosecution, the police -- that we have you.

And what we will do is, we will dismiss the case if you agree that if we went to trial you would be guilty. So it's up to him, again, innocent until proven guilty, but if they have this, a jury trial would not be advisable.

BALDWIN: Let's throw the -- let's throw the apology up on the screen really quickly, because just in thick of all the breaking news over the weekend with this whole Mueller report, sort of lost in the shuffle was this apology. He did apologize. There's Bob Kraft's apology. "I know I have hurt and disappointed my

family, my close friends, my co-workers our fans and many others who rightfully hold me to a higher standard."

So, this is obviously in dealing with the law. But there's also the other piece which, having talked to other folks in the world of the NFL, means a lot, right? And so we know NFL owners are meeting at a conference right now in California.

How much does what's happening here and potentially posturing affect maybe what the NFL is looking for?


BERGER: Yes, I mean, it's interesting to have that kind of an apology when you're in the posture of being somebody who is charged with these types of crimes, because what is that apology actually referring to? Are you saying you actually did the things that you were charged with?

And, if that's the case, why not just plead guilty right away? I mean, look, the one thing I would caution is, just because he's pleaded not guilty at this stage does not mean that a plea will not come at some later date.

I think it's very common for defendants to plead not guilty. Perhaps he wants to get all the discovery. Perhaps they have some legal motions they want to make that they think have some merit. But I would actually be very surprised if this is a case that ends up going to trial.

The sole fact that nobody wants that evidence played out in a courtroom, especially if there's video tapes and things of that nature.

BALDWIN: Yes. I got you.

Berit Berger and Joey Jackson, guys, thank you very much.

JACKSON: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Every teacher in America, how about this, would get a $13,000 pay raise if 2020 Democrat Senator Kamala Harris has her way -- how she says she would pay for the new proposal, and reaction from the head of the national teachers union -- next.



BALDWIN: For the millions of Americans insured by Obamacare, a decision that could change not just their lives, but the nation's health care system as a whole.

The Justice Department, after previously defending some parts of the law, now says that the entire thing should be struck down.

So just let me give you a refresher on some of the Affordable Care Act benefits. In addition to requiring companies to cover those with preexisting conditions, it offers free screenings, like mammograms and cholesterol tests. It helps senior citizens save money on Medicare and drugs. It allows adult children to stay on their parents' insurance all the way up until the age of 26.

And the switch comes just five months after President Trump told Americans this:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will always protect Americans with preexisting conditions. We're going to take care of them.



BALDWIN: CNN senior writer Tami Luhby is here.

You have covered -- we have talked so much about Obamacare. So how would this, first and foremost, affect people currently with Obamacare?


Well, you have 11.4 million people who've signed up for policies for this year who will find it difficult to find policies elsewhere. You have got more than 12 million people who are covered by Medicaid expansions. More states are looking to expand their programs to cover more low-income people.

But, remember, the important thing is, as you mentioned earlier, this is not just about people who are on the exchanges or people who have Medicaid expansion.

BALDWIN: Preexisting conditions.

LUHBY: It's 52 million people who have preexisting conditions who, if they lose their job, will be able to get coverage somewhere.


LUHBY: It's young adults up to age 26 who can get onto their parents' plans. It's birth control at no cost. It's mammograms and cholesterol screenings and people on Medicare who are going to be saving money on the premiums. It's an incredibly far-reaching law.

BALDWIN: So the president says that Republicans will soon be known for what they will be able to do for health care, but you say not so fast. The Democrats are preparing to fight.

LUHBY: Right. Well, the Democrats ran in the November election being the party of

health care. It helped them take back the House. And even today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just rolled out their new bill on protecting the Affordable Care Act and protecting people with preexisting conditions.

They know that the Affordable Care Act is not always so affordable for everybody. So they want to increase subsidies for more middle-class people and make the subsidies more generous, so more people can afford the coverage on the exchanges.

They want to provide states with more money called reinsurance money to allow the insurance to lower their premiums because they don't have to cover as many high-cost patients. And they really have several provisions that want to protect people with preexisting conditions and make some changes to what the Trump administration is doing.


And so when people ask the question, all right, what's the Republicans' plan if they're going to -- this is all going to go away, what is the replacement plan? And so far, zero, zero.

BALDWIN: Tami Luhby, thank you very much.

LUHBY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Appreciate you.

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has finished his nearly two- year investigation, clearing the president of colluding with the Russians, Democrats are out in full force with new news conferences and congressional hearings, but none of them is focused on Russia and President Trump.


ERIC HOLDER, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm here to end the practice of gerrymandering. We formed the National Democratic Redistricting Committee in January of 2017, all with an aim to make our democracy more fair.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The GOP will never stop trying to destroy the affordable health care of America's families.


BALDWIN: Besides gerrymandering and Obamacare, the party also had a news conference on the Green New Deal. And the House is holding hearings on the airline industry, the energy budget, the education deficit -- excuse me -- the education budget, and family separations at the border.

Behind closed doors, Speaker Pelosi says they need more than the attorney general's worried about what special counsel Robert Mueller actually found. Here's what she told caucus members in a private meeting, according to an aide.

So, quoting the speaker: "We have to see the report. We cannot make a judgment on the basis of an interpretation by a man who was hired for his job because he believes the president is above the law, and he wrote a 19-page memo to demonstrate that."

So, let's take a deeper dive.