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Charges Dropped Against Smollett; President Trump on Capitol Hill; Trump on the Mueller Report; Getting Rid of Obamacare; Rep. Ted Lieu (D) California is Interviewed about Obamacare. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2019 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: : Reputation and that -- that view. And he is a man in the middle, but he isn't as fluid as Anthony Kennedy is. So he'll be inching to the left, not much as Justice Kennedy.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much for that, Joan.

And thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Brianna Keilar starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.

Underway right now, we start with another stunning twist in the case against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. Prosecutors announcing just moments ago they are dropping all charges against Smollett. He was accused of staging a hate crime and filing a false police report. But after an emergency court appearance in Chicago, Smollett spoke to reporters, still fiercely maintaining his innocence.


JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith and I am 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. I just wouldn't.

Now I'd 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.


KEILAR: We have CNN's Ryan Young with us on this story, as well as CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, and retired LAPD Police Sergeant Sheryl Dorsey is also following this case. I want to start with Ryan at the Cook County Courthouse.

There are still so many questions here. So tell us about this decision.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is exasperating. In fact, we got a call early this morning that we had to get to the courtroom. If you think about this, this story, this case, has been a head scratcher from the very beginning. And, of course, when we arrived here there was a rumor that charges would be dropped. But, of course, when you talk to all the folks who work for the police department, they thought they had a rock solid case here, so we never thought this was going to be the ending.

Don't forget, this went to a grand jury. There was a 16-count indictment for this case. And all along we were told before that they believed they had evidence from the Osundairo brothers, the two men who alleged -- attacked Jussie Smollett, that they turned and gave police all the information to say they were hired to do the attack. So how do you go from that to this? And that's been the big question so far.

One of the things that was made clear when they stepped to the mikes today, there was this conversation about this case being sealed. So will we ever have all the evidence involved in this case? And will we know how to backtrack it this way.

But before we get to that point, let's not forget that Jussie Smollett said at the end of January he was walking back from a subway when he was attacked by two men. At first he described them as having white like features in terms of -- they had masks on and you could see through the eyelets (ph). From there, there were 12 detectives who worked this case back and forth for weeks until they got to all the evidence that they had.

In fact, listen to the superintendent of police who were talking so strongly in the days afterwards about how much evidence they had in this case.


EDDIE JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT, CHICAGO POLICE: "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I'm left hanging my head and asking why.

You know, I've lived in the city of Chicago my entire life. We just don't have any room for hatred in this city. And for somebody to use it for personal gain is just -- it's shameful.

We gave him the benefit of the doubt up until that 47th hour. When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off.


YOUNG: Yes, strong words from the superintendent there. I remember that day. we also found video of the Osundairo brothers at that beauty supply store apparently buying supplies for this. Again, they went and gave their testimony. What happens to them? Are they charged with anything? We asked that question to the attorney afterwards to see how they would move forward with this case. You could see sort of a tempered response in terms of going after the police department. They didn't sound like they wanted to do that.

But listen to the attorney, who is well known in this area, talk about this case and how it's going to move forward.


PATRICIA 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, but to allow matters to be investigated, allow the state to investigate, and to bring charges and not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.


YOUNG: Brianna, where do we go from here? Because, if you remember, after that attack, Jussie Smollett apparently said that the people were screaming, this is MAGA country. And, of course, so many people were upset because they believed it was Trump supporters who attacked him. Well, now we know, of course, that was not the case. And, of course, we have to figure out, OK, so if the brothers talked to them after 47 hours of being investigated by police, what did they give up at that 48th hour that made police feel so confident about this?

[13:05:00] Now, we do know, in the next 30 minutes or so, not only the mayor of the city, Rahm Emanuel, but the superintendent of police, Eddie Johnson, is going to give a news conference, and we're going to try to scurry over there after this. They're going to be talking about how they're going to react to this. We're not sure that the Cook County state attorney's office even gave them a heads-up about this today. So much about this is still in question. How do you move forward? Was this it? There's no way this is how it ends here. This is playing out like some sort of reality TV or some sort of a daytime movie because all the twists and turns in this, every single hour you're kind of wondering, what's going to be the next step? Jussie, of course, and his attorney say they want to move on with the rest of their lives. So you have to keep questioning what's going to happen next. What bit of information or evidence are we going to get?

KEILAR: Let's try to at least get some insight here.

Ryan Young in Chicago.

Laura Coates, why would prosecutors dismiss this case?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it shocked me that they wouldn't. No prosecutor takes very lightly the decision to decline to prosecute, particularly when it's already out there. There's been a press conference and you've empaneled a grand jury and you presented evidence to a grand jury that led to 16 counts of an indictment.

Now, they were felonies. They're low-level felonies, but they're felonies nonetheless. So I'm actually shocked by the turn of events.

However, it is actually common for prosecutors, in thinking about reviewing the evidence, to decide that maybe a criminal solution or a criminal prosecution is no longer the most effective way to reach justice. The reason I pinpoint that is because although the attorney for Smollett are saying there's no plea deal, there was no agreement, he dropped all the charges against this person voluntarily, he still forfeited a bond, and Chicago said -- the police -- the attorney said, excuse me, we look at his criminal history and of course his community service. Well, that, to me, sounds like a deferred prosecution. So --

KEILAR: Let's wait for just a moment. President Trump is on Capitol Hill.

QUESTION: Some Democrats, sir, are still talking about impeachment. What's your response to that?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think they're talking about impeachment. We have the greatest economy we've ever had. Our country is in incredible shape. They and others (INAUDIBLE) in our country with this ridiculous witch hunt where it was proven very strongly, no collusion, no obstruction, no nothing. We are doing so well. We've never probably had a time of prosperity like this. It's been great.


QUESTION: Do you think the people who launched the investigation into your campaign (INAUDIBLE) acts.



TRUMP: I think it went very high up. I think what happened is a disgrace. I don't believe our country should allow this ever to happen again. This will never happen again. We can't let it ever happen again. It went very high up and it started fairly low, but with instructions from the high up. This should never happen to a president again. We can't allow that to take place.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) think it would reach the West Wing of the Obama White House?

TRUMP: I don't want to say that, but I think you know the answer.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) while you've not committed crimes --

TRUMP: Who said what?

QUESTION: While the Mueller report said (INAUDIBLE) --

TRUMP: The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) administration is making very clear that you think the Affordable Care Act is invalid and should be struck down. What is your message to Americans (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP: Let me just tell you exactly what my message is. The Republican Party will soon be known as the party of health care. You watch.


KEILAR: All right, President Trump there on Capitol Hill.

And just to be clear, we have to fact check something he just said. He said the Mueller report is great, and then he said it said no obstruction, no collusion. Just to be clear, here is -- one, we haven't seen the report. There's a few quotes from it in the letter from Attorney General Barr. But here's what it said, quote, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. That is on obstruction. So it certainly does not say no obstruction.

I want to bring in Laura Coates to talk about this.

You hear -- you can see what the president is doing now, coming out of -- we haven't seen the report, but it's gone to the Justice Department, and right now the AG is looking at it and scrubbing it and figuring out what he can hand to Congress. He was asked, the president, how high up did this go? And he is clearly -- he said, I don't want to say it, but he is, he's pointing a finger back at the Obama West Wing, presumably at President Obama. What do you make of this?

COATES: Well, I think this is part of a concerted effort in anticipation of now there's no criminality aspect of it, while the impeachment proceedings, if there were ever to be so, is in the political context and it requires there to be a coming to Jesus moment between the Republicans and Democrats. So if you pit the two against each other, as in the Democrats have had some hand perhaps in the actual what he calls a witch hunt, or a colossal waste of time depending on what he wants to say in the day, he is trying to establish that there may be articles of impeachment that could be drafted in the House, run by the Democrats.

[13:10:02] But the Democrats are a problem. If they were inherently complicit in all of this, then it will not actually influence the Senate-led Republicans to be able to say, we'll go forward with everything. So he's well aware of the controversy at issue and he's saying, this is about Democrats and Republicans hashing it out about the popularity contest being the president. Because, remember, during the Clinton years, we already know from what happened to Newt Gingrich, to the popularity of Bill Clinton, impeachment did not endure to the benefit of those who were seeking impeachment of Bill Clinton. It actual assisted the popularity and the longevity of the tenure of Bill Clinton. So he's aware of this game that he's playing. And, of course, he uses the words wisely. And you pointed it out very effectively that the Mueller report did not exonerate him on the issue of obstruction. It was the Barr summation of the Mueller report that still leaves very loose ends about why could there be a conclusion about collusion and not a conclusion reached about obstruction? Remember, the president is the head of the executive branch. Their job is to enforce the laws. If there is a question with regard obstruction, the very question that led both Nixon to eventually resign, obstruction, the idea of Bill Clinton, impeach on the issue of obstruction, this is not going to be dismissive (ph). So he needs to have a political rally going on about this notion.

KEILAR: And it's interesting, listening to him there, listening to a number of White House officials coming out of the last few days, it's almost easy if you just listen to them to forget what this investigation was all about, which was Russian meddling in the 2016 election, right? Thirty-seven people or entities charged, many of them Russian entities or people. There were 16 Trump associates who had contact with Russians.

What should -- if you're looking at this, keeping in mind -- and we keep having to say this, we haven't seen the report. We've only seen this summary put together by a political appointee of President Trump's, right? That's important. What do you think, even just looking at that letter, should be the takeaway other than this focus of what the president is talking about?

COATES: Well, remember, that the mandate was about the campaign and a foreign entity's influence in it. The president's public opinion and the president's publicity campaign has been about making it about himself. That was never actually implicit -- it was implicit in the narrative. It was never actually in the mandate. It was his campaign, not the president. So he's very effective of stringing the conversation to this witch hunt theory.

The issue here is that there were always parallel investigations going on or should have been going on. It was Mueller on the criminal side. But Congress has a legislative role to perform. And their role is not simply about impeachment or the pursuit of it, it's also about, there is a gap here, Brianna, between what we think is wrong behavior in a political campaign, receiving, perhaps, opposition research or in getting the benefit of foreign interference. We think that's a wrong thing.

Has the law matched that in the corresponding ways that it's been written to say, we want to criminalize that conduct? So, Congress has a role here to look at. Not only the impeachment side, if they want to, but the notion of, how do they fill in the gap? That was always their agenda. It always should have been. What their role has to be going forward now is figuring out, has it already been investigated? Do we already know enough to know how we can legislate a remedy? That's why the Mueller report, in its full fashion, is important. We do not want Congress to take 22 more months to figure out how to reinvent the wheel.

KEILAR: Yes, let's -- and let's remember, if this is a witch hunt, as the president describes it, it found a lot of witches and they're Russian. You just have to look at what the Mueller investigation found.

Laura Coates, thank you so much.

So as we hear from the president, Democrats are setting a deadline for the release of the Mueller report. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi is telling her caucus the attorney general thinks the president is above the law.

Plus, a dramatic reversal. The Trump administration asking courts to get rid of Obamacare, sparking an explosive fight.

And more on our breaking news. The charges against actor Jussie Smollett completely dropped in what's a stunning reversal.


[13:18:24] KEILAR: Right now President Trump is on Capitol Hill. He made a rare trek up Pennsylvania Avenue to sit in on the Senate Republican lunch. And the president and the administration is really trying to hit the reset button here now that the Mueller report is finished. We haven't seen it, but it has gone to the attorney general, who has put out a four-page summary.

Now, first up, they're trying to scrap Obamacare and they're also moving ahead with extra funding for the president's border barrier. Democrats, in the meantime, are also trying to change the focus. They're unveiling new health care legislation. Tomorrow it's climate change. And then they'll move ahead with a measure to close the pay gap.

Also today, the House is going to vote on whether to overturn the president's veto of their bill to overturn the national emergency declaration. But even with all of this action today, the Mueller report still to be released is still hanging over the halls of Congress, with Democrats setting an April 2nd deadline for its release to Congress.

So let's turn back now to this major reversal from the White House on health care. The Trump administration's Justice Department, after arguing that parts of the Obamacare program should be tossed, it's now calling for the entire Affordable Care Act to be thrown out. And it's asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District in New Orleans to affirm a lower court's ruling that invalidated the ACA.

So let's take a look back now at the president's promises on key provision -- on a key provision of Obamacare.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (October 6, 2018): We will always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions. We're going to take care of them.

(February 5, 2019) The next major priority for me and for all of us should be to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs and to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.


[13:20:18] KEILAR: But if the White House and the Justice Department gets its way, that will not be the case. So how exactly could this affect the millions of Americans who have pre-existing conditions.

Cristina Alesci is in New York and she is here to break it down for us.

What can you tell us?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a major blow to Obamacare, Brianna. On Monday, a court filing the administration made essentially changed its position on the Affordable Care Act. It previously opposed the individual mandate and protections for pre-existing conditions, but now the administration is saying the entire ACA should be struck down.

Let me put some numbers around this. According to health care non- profit Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 44 million non-elderly American lacked health insurance in 2013. That's before Obamacare went into effect. By 2017, the number of uninsured had actually dropped to as low as to $27.4 million.

Now, this is important because uninsured people are more likely to postpone health care or just forego it altogether. And perhaps the biggest impact, the one that you pointed out, is the elimination of ACA would be on the 52 million Americans with pre-existing conditions. The president has repeatedly, as you just showed, promised to protect these people. But this new stance strips that protection away and others more broadly.

Now, turning to the impact on everybody, the law would have consequences for many people, even if you don't have pre-existing conditions. Right now the ACA lets many Americans obtain free birth control, mammograms and cholesterol tests. It also saves senior citizens money on Medicare coverage and prescription drugs. And, of course, for younger people it allows children to stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26.

Brianna, going forward, we're going to have to see what happens here because the case is currently before a federal appeals court, and we have to see how it plays out there.


KEILAR: A lot at stake as you outlined. Cristina Alesci, thank you for that.

President Trump promised months ago to re-establish coverage for people with pre-existing conditions if this lawsuit strikes down the entire Affordable Care Act. But the administration still has not offered any details, let alone an actual plan to make that happen.

We have California Democrat Ted Lieu with us. He is on the House Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for joining us, sir.

REP. TED LIEU (D) CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: What is your reaction to the Justice Department now trying to scrap Obamacare in its entirety in the courts?

LIEU: Earlier this year Donald Trump went before the nation in the State of the Union Address and he specifically said one of his priorities is to protect patients with pre-existing conditions. It turns out Donald Trump lied. He is now asking his Department of Justice to get rid of pre-existing conditions coverage and all of Affordable Care Act, but that is something that is going to harm millions and millions of Americans, including those who have employer based health coverage because parts of the ACA also apply to all health plans.

KEILAR: Is this something the Democrats are going to run on in the upcoming election?

LIEU: Absolutely. We already did. Last November, Donald Trump and Republicans ran on building the wall. Democrats ran on an agenda for the people, including protecting health care. Democrats swept the House, won every statewide seat in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. We're doing to do this again in 2020.

KEILAR: I want to talk now about this fight over the Mueller report. What do you expect to get by April 2nd? That is the deadline that you've put forward, that House Democrats have put forward to get the Mueller report. We have to be clear, we haven't seen the Mueller report. We've seen a four-page summary from the attorney general with some quotes from the Mueller report. Are you going to get it by this deadline, April 2nd?

LIEU: We certainly hope so. And you're absolutely right, Brianna, we don't have the Mueller report. We have Attorney General Barr's interpretation of the Mueller report. It's important that the American people and Congress see the full report. We expect to see the report. The American taxpayers paid for it and there's no reason to prevent showing the American people and Congress what's actually in the report.

KEILAR: If you don't get all of it, if you don't get it, what are you going to do?

LIEU: We're going to keep negotiating with the Department of Justice and with the White House. But at some point we're going to ask to issue subpoenas to get the entire report or to call in Robert Mueller to talk about the report. We don't want to have to resort to that if we don't have to.

KEILAR: Yesterday on this program, a White House official made it clear they want to avoid anything going to Congress that they feel should be protected by executive privilege. Do you trust the attorney general to make sure the White House does not use executive privilege to hide information from Congress that it should have?

[13:25:02] LIEU: I do not. And under the law, you cannot use executive privilege to hide misconduct, whether or not that misconduct might rise to the level of a crime. So if people engage in ethical misconduct, you can't use executive privilege to shield that. That's why it's so important we get the entire Mueller report.

KEILAR: Democrats are facing a lot of criticism in the wake of this report summary coming out from the attorney general. Republicans, including those on the House Intelligence Committee, are increasingly saying that Congressman Adam Schiff should step down from his role as House Intel Committee chair.

Listen to what one of your colleagues, Republican Intel Committee member Mike Turner said.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I do believe he needs to step aside. I think that his -- that his leadership is compromised. And it's compromised, as I was saying, for three reasons.


TURNER: One, he has stood in front of the American people and said things that were not true.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Got it.

TURNER: Two, he's attacked his fellow Republicans on the committee and been divisive in saying things about the Republicans on the committee that aren't true.


TURNER: And the third thing is, is he's transformed the committee from its focus, which is protecting our national security and the intelligence community to being a vendetta against the Trump --

CAMEROTA: So -- so who should be the chair?

TURNER: Family and even the Trump campaign.



KEILAR: So Schiff had said -- to be clear, Congressman Lieu, Schiff had said that there was, quote, damning evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia and he characterized it as worse than Watergate. Does your colleague, Congressman Turner, have a point?

LIEU: I believe Adam Schiff has done a great job. Again, we don't actually have the Mueller report. We have an attorney general, Bill Barr's, interpretation of the Mueller report. So we need to see the Mueller report before people start speculating on what's actually in it.

And in terms of the charge that Robert Mueller had, it was a really high bar. He was interested in knowing, is there enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone committed a crime mostly related to Russia? There could be all sorts of misconduct in that report that did not rise to the level of beyond a reasonable doubt, or there could be nothing. We don't know. But what we do know is a pretty lengthy report. We should have a right to see what's actually in the report.

KEILAR: Well, you do know on the issue of collusion what's in the report, right? I mean just to be clear, I want to read a quote. This is a quote from the report. Quote, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. That is a quote directly from the report. Adam Schiff said that there was damning evidence of collusion and he said it was worse than Watergate. But you want to wait until you see the entire report?

LIEU: Yes.

KEILAR: I mean because that's pretty -- that's apples to apples there.

LIEU: Yes, you should talk to Congress Member Schiff. But there's a difference between whether people engaged in collusion or collusive aspects of behavior versus whether there was beyond a reasonable doubt evidence of conspiracy. I am not going to challenge the finding of the Robert Mueller report, but I'd like to read it first to know exactly what it is that I'm reading.

KEILAR: All right, Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you for being with us, joining us from Capitol Hill.

LIEU: Thank you.

KEILAR: We do have some more on our breaking news. The charges against actor Jussie Smollett completely dropped. This is a stunning reversal.

Plus, passengers on board a British Airways jet got a free flight to Scotland. The problem was they were supposed to be going to Germany.

And a terrifying new report that pilots simulating what may have happened on one of those doomed Boeing flights, they only had 40 seconds to save the plane from a crash.