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Trump Weighs in on Smollett Case; Chicago Police Say Hate Crime Against Smollett Is a Lie, Smollett Says He's Innocent; Puerto Rico Governor Responds to Trump over Disaster Relief Spending; Speaker Pelosi Talks to Reporters on Mueller Report. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR," with my colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks so much for joining me.

Just when you thought the case of Jussie Smollett couldn't possibly have any more twists and turns, it does again. Now, President Trump is weighing in two days after a Chicago prosecutor announced that all 16 charges were dropped against the "Empire" actor. The president says the feds are coming in, announcing on Twitter this: "FBI and Department of Justice to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our nation," says the president.

Smollett is accused of staging a hoax, saying he was a victim of a hate crime, the attackers wearing Make America Great Hats. That's what Smollett said. Police say it was a lie. Smollett says he is innocent. And his attorneys are speaking once again, a short time ago, really brushing off any federal review.


TINA GLANDIAN, ATTORNEY FOR JUSSIE SMOLLETT: We have nothing to be concerned about because there was nothing on our end to request this, to do anything improper. And to my knowledge, nothing improper was done.


BOLDUAN: So CNN's Ryan Young is tracking all of this from Chicago.

Ryan, what is the very latest that you are hearing?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Something else has happened since the last time we had a chance to talk. Even more information. The mayor of Chicago had come out with another statement saying they plan to send a bill to Jussie Smollett for all the charges and police work involved. He said he hopes that Trump sits this one out because they have this one. You can see already people are taking sides on this one. It's quite interesting. We did have Trump put out that tweet this morning. I can tell you, yesterday, we were hearing from our sources that there

could be some sort of federal review in this case. There were politicians, when they first started, calling for federal hate crime charges for whoever did this to Jussie Smollett. When you look back in the rearview mirror, that may cause people to look into this case even more.

Let's go back for our viewers. Jussie Smollett, at the end of January, told police that basically two men attacked him, threw a noose around his neck, screamed racial and homophobic slurs at him, and said this is MAGA country. And since then, police have been breaking that case apart. The two Osundario brothers came forward and told police, after being held for 47 hours, that Jussie Smollett paid them to pull off this attack. That all led to a 16-count indictment. Then, all of a sudden, Tuesday, those charges were dropped and that seemed to set everyone off once again because people want to know why the charges were dropped.

Listen to Jussie Smollett's attorney today talking about the case and how the brothers may have been disguised even more than what we first thought.


GLANDIAN: You can put makeup on. There's actually interestingly enough a video. I think police have minimal investigation in this case. It took me all of five minutes to Google -- you know, I was looking up the brothers, and one of the first videos that showed up, actually, was one of the brothers in white face doing the joker monologue with white makeup on. So it's not implausible.


YOUNG: Kate, I've never heard of white face. I never heard about this part of this investigation. So there you have the lawyer there maybe suggesting that the brothers had something on their skin when they went to do this.

Let's rewind a little bit. What I do know about the investigation is that police tracked the brothers, not only through a taxi, but through ride-share receipts. Did she think that they painted their face white while they were in the cab to get there to do this? Remember, they told police this information. They went to a grand jury and gave the information to them. And that's how we got to the 16-count indictment.

I don't want to forget this last step. I know I'm overwhelming people with this. But right now, CNN and a couple of media parties are together trying to get all of this information unsealed at the courthouse. We are trying to get the information that was sealed when these charges were dropped so we can see all the work the detectives have put out. We have supplemental sort of information coming from police where I can see some of the work detectives have done but can't see the entire case file. That's what we are working on right now.

BOLDUAN: Especially since the prosecutors said in an interview that there wasn't supposed -- she didn't think it was supposed to be sealed in the first place, adding to, of course, the confusion of this.

Ryan, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

Let's try to get through the confusion and get clarity here.

Joining me now is CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elie Honig, and Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst. She's also a former FBI special agent.

Asha, let's start with what the president says is an FBI review now, that the feds are coming in. What does an FBI review look like now of this case after, as Ryan has described and we have kind of all gone over before, the police said they did an exhaustive investigation and there's very clearly tension, very public tension between the police, the mayor and the prosecutor's office on this?

[11:05:00] ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. So we have a system with federalism, where there's federal power and state power. So for the federal government to come in and do anything with what is essentially a state crime, there has to be either a federal interest or a federal hook. The president can just say we want to review what local jurisdictions are doing. So here, if they wanted to review what the police department did, there would need to be some evidence that there was corruption involved, some bribery or something like that. There doesn't seem to be some of that evidence. If they wanted to prosecute this separately, they could find a federal hook. There's something called mail fraud and wire fraud, which means, if you use the mails to perpetuate a crime. But that's a pretty then hook if there's no a bigger interest, like civil rights, terrorism, something like that. And so it's really unclear based on this tweet on what basis and what federal interest the president wants this to be reviewed by the Department of Justice.

BOLDUAN: Elie, on that level, what kind of -- it's almost too early to ask because we are talking about this being an FBI review. What kind of new trouble could this mean for Jussie Smollett?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it could be trouble for two different groups of people on two different levels. One, I think the feds may be looking at what happened inside the state's attorney's office. Was there something illegal that happened there? If the state's attorney just made a weak decision or a bad decision or decided to defer prosecution on this case for sort of reasons that don't really stand out that people don't agree with, that's not a crime. If there was something more than that, we could be getting into crimes, could be bribery, could be a quid pro quo. There's no real evidence of that yet. But there are strange things about the way this all went down.

Now, Smollett also should be afraid potentially of being charged, as Asha said, with mail fraud or wire fraud. The idea is, if this was all a hoax, if this was a setup, and the idea was to get money perhaps from FOX or "Empire," like some of the reporting said Smollett wasn't satisfied with his salary -

BOLDUAN: That's what the police said. HONIG; Yes. And if they perpetrated a hoax in order to get money and they used the wires, that means any text, call, e-mail, anything, that is a federal hook. There actually is potential exposure for Smollett on federal fraud charges.

BOLDUAN: This tweet from the president comes out this morning. If the Department of Justice wasn't notified ahead of time that the president was going to announce this, if it went kind of the opposite direction that these things would typically go --


BOLDUAN: -- what actually is happening right now at the Department of Justice?

RANGAPPA: Well, I think they are probably pretty confused. I mean, we have always had, traditionally, a certain level of distance between the White House and what the Department of Justice does. Now, in certain cases, like civil rights issues, the president might say, I want you to look into this. But I think what we are seeing is just a blurring of where those lines are. He has repeatedly called the Department of Justice to go after particular people. You know, his political enemies.

BOLDUAN: Yes. You guys can look into this.


BOLDUAN: Also, a little then, right, because then they often do not.


BOLDUAN: They are not doing that so --


RANGAPPA: And as Elie knows, when the FBI investigates, there needs to be something in front of them that gives them some reasonable suspicion or basis to move forward. Now, there could be. The question is, if they are starting to do it only because the president is ordering them to do it, I think that is problematic. If they started something when it all happened, then they are doing it independently and the president is just commenting on it.

BOLDUAN: Let us see. Neither the FBI nor DOJ are commenting on it at this point as is standard protocol.

Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Also new this morning, the governor of Puerto Rico is responding to President Trump. This comes after President Trump took another shot at Puerto Rico during a closed-door meeting with Republicans this week over the amount of disaster relief going to the island in the wake of the devastating hurricanes last year. Governor Ricardo Rossello, he's has been -- it's noteworthy because he has been careful to avoid taking the president head on, especially on issues like this. But now that seems to be changing.

He spoke to CNN's Jim Acosta and Jim's joining me right now from the White House.

Jim, what is the governor saying?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. The governor is in town to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to talk about getting storm relief down to the battered island that is reeling after Hurricane Maria. And Rossello was responding to the president's comments from earlier in the week when the president was telling Republican Senators up on Capitol Hill that he really questions the way that the island has spent the disaster relief money that has come into the U.S. territory so far. Rossello told me in an exclusive interview that he feels like the people of his island are being treated like second-class citizens.

Here is what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Do you think the president treats people of Puerto Rico as citizens?

[11:10:02] RICARDO ROSSELLO, (D), GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: Treats us as second-class citizens. That's for sure. My consideration is I just want to have the opportunity to explain to him why the data and information that he is getting is wrong. I don't think getting into a kicking-and-screaming match with the president does any good. I don't think anybody can beat the president on kicking-and-screaming match. I think that what I am aiming to do is making sure that reason prevails, that empathy prevails, that equality prevails, and that we can have a discussion.


ACOSTA: Rossello has been trying to get a meeting with the president to talk about all of this and, so far, White House officials have essentially told his team that, no, you are not getting that meeting at least right now. Over here at the White House yesterday, Kate, from what I understand from talking to Puerto Rican officials, aides to the governor were told by top officials at the White House that these demands for a meeting with the president are, quote, "effing things up for Puerto Rico." And according to the officials with the Puerto Rican government, they feel like they have been bullied by the White House, threatened by the White House, if they keep complaining all of this, that they will never get their disaster relief money.

When I asked Governor Rossello about this, he said he his team will not be bullied. Here is more about what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Does it feel that way sometimes? Are you dealing with a bully?

ROSSELLO: If the bully gets close, I'll punch the bully in the mouth.

ACOSTA: Just like that?

ROSSELLO: Just like that. I don't -- it would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage.


ACOSTA: Kate, as you mentioned a few moments ago, Rossello has been sort of biting his tongue at times not really engaging with the president in the back and forths. That seems to be ending. He seems to be saying directly to the White House and directly to the president that he has had enough and he wants this disaster relief to come to his island. He told me in this interview that if you match what has happened with Puerto Rico and the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and put it up against what occurred after Hurricane Katrina, that there's no comparison. Some 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. And they have only gotten a fraction of the money that has been authorized and appropriated by Congress up until this point. They were supposed to get some $20 billion in HUD block grants. So far, only $1.5 billion has been approved to be used by the island. The governor says there's just not enough. And he said, very frankly, during the interview that if the White House and top officials continue to bully his team, he is just not going to take that lying down -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Continue that line of thought. What then does the governor say is the answer?

ACOSTA: Well, he is on Capitol Hill this morning meeting with lawmakers over in the House. They are introducing legislation to make Puerto Rico a state. They want statehood for Puerto Rico. And the reason why the governor says that is essential is this -- and you know this, Kate, from covering Capitol Hill -- Puerto Rico essentially has no representation in Congress. They have representatives there but they don't have full voting privileges. And because of that, they can't horse trade with other lawmakers and have the leverage that they need to bring relief to their island. And Governor Rossello says you have to have statehood to make that happen.

Of course, President Trump is not going to be in the mood to give Puerto Rico statehood. That would put more Democratic electoral votes in the column of the Democratic Party come -- election time in 2020 is fast approaching. But this is something very interesting to watch.

A lot of Puerto Ricans, thousands of Puerto Ricans have moved to the state of Florida. One thing that Governor Rossello says is watch what happens with those transplants. Those people who have move from Puerto Rico to Florida, those are folks who are not going to be very happy with the way President Trump handled the crisis in Puerto Rico. They have fresh memories of when he was throwing those paper towels at the storm victims down there. And Rossello said the president needs to get serious about the issue, get away from rhetoric, and start delivering results to his island, which is still, as you know, Kate, just battered and beat up after what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria -- Kate? BOLDUAN: Very much still in recovery.

I can also see an argument, Jim, that if we are looking at this like in a brutal kind of shrewd political way, a meeting between the president and the governor is good for both of them.

ACOSTA: Right.

BOLDUAN: I could see this being a very good thing for the president to take the meeting. Let's just keep watching the schedules.

Good to see you. Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: Perhaps this will change things, yes, exactly.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

Thanks, man. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: You bet.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, top Democrats are now threatening the attorney general after it becomes clear that he is not going to meet their deadline to release the Mueller report. He is not responsible to their deadline, an important note there. But what are they going to do about it now?

[11:15:03] And the president has called this man a whole bunch of names, none of them good. Now Republicans on the Hill are joining in attacking the chair of the Intelligence Committee and doing it to his face, telling Adam Schiff to his face he has abused the position and should resign. Schiff responds. That mess coming up next.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEEE: You might think it is OK that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponents' e-mails if they were listening. You might think it is OK that later that day, in fact, the Russians attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don't think that's OK.



BOLDUAN: We're going to head over to Capitol Hill right now. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking questions from reporters. Let's listen in.

[11:20:02] NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: -- Eliot Engel as well. They all six have made that request. We'll see what their actions are. As you may know, I'm a big believer in the committee system here in the Congress. They take the first bite of this and I trust their judgment as to how we go forward.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Speaker Pelosi, the Barr letter quotes the Mueller report and says, "The investigation does not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in election interference activity." Are you ready to accept that there's no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

PELOSI: What I'm ready to do is act for the people we our bill to lower can you says for prescription drugs and health care, increase pay check by building the infrastructure of America, and have an honest government as we passed H.R.-1. In terms of this, this is a responsibility we have to uphold the Constitution. I have said, and I'll say again, no, thank you, Mr. Attorney General, we do not need your interpretation. Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions. We don't need you interpreting for us. It was condescending, it was arrogant, and it wasn't the right thing to do. The sooner they can give us the information, the sooner we can all make a judgment about it. Let me say again what I said to you before -- and somebody thought I was joking when I said this. I'm deadly serious. If a foreign government comes to you and says they have information on your opponent, I say to any member of Congress or person running for office, you take that right to the FBI. So for this report to say that there was no tacit cooperation, well, yes, if they didn't bring information to the FBI, they were delinquent in their responsibilities.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Madam, Speaker, thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: That's OK. I'll defer to Chad, because I think he would be upset if -

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: No, I defer to my neighbor.


PELOSI: And I defer to you --


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you, Madam Speaker.


A different topic, climate change, as you mentioned, H.R.-9. When you were speaker under the previous president, the House passed a bill to actually launch a cap-and-trade system, a significant climate change agenda. The bill yesterday, instead, asked the president to come up with a plan.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I understand committees are working separately. Why is it you believe the president should come up with a plan when he said clearly he is not interested in the issue? PELOSI: No question the president is in denial about a lot of things,

but he is in denial on the climate crisis. This bill yesterday was not our bill. This bill was announcing the continuation of the hearings that we're having on the climate crisis, whether we're dealing with it in terms of a public health issue, a national security issue, an economic issue to create jobs, or a moral issue to preserve the planet. So we are saying to the president, you are walking away from Paris, what do you have to offer? From our standpoint, we have only just begun.

Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is a follow-on question. Do you feel as if the committee should still be full steam ahead on the issue of collusion or, given the discrepancy between the Mueller report and Barr's summary, should the focus be on obstruction of justice?

PELOSI: How can I say this more clearly? Show us the report. Show us the report. Now, it was interesting to see in one of the -- as we frequently reference Hill rags, that Mueller has said -- and I don't know if this is true, just was the headline -- that the grand juries are still continuing their work. But there's no use for us to have this discussion. We have to see the facts. We have to see what the report is. And we do not need an attorney general, whose job interview was that the president is above the law, that doesn't think a president can be indicted, to be our interpreter of something that he should just show us. Again, I made my statement on it. We are focused on meeting the needs of the American people and their lives. That is not what the administration is doing. You would think the Justice Department would be busy vetting the report so it could more quickly bring it to the public view. Instead, what do they do? They are going to court to overturn every single provision of the Affordable Care Act. Not a good use of their time. We'll see them in court.


PELOSI: Yes, Jim (ph)?

[11:25:08] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Thank you. You have taken impeachment off the table. Al Green and Ilhan Tlaib, last night, again made a push. They said the president doesn't have to commit a crime to be doing this. Isn't there distance between those two members and the leadership, since you've taken it off the table and they say, no, leadership always tells us to reflect our districts. Do you think they're reflecting their districts as the distance between some of your members on impeachment and your position on impeachment right now?

PELOSI: With all due respect to you, Chad, I don't think that's the important question. The important question is, when are we going to see the information? Now, some people have been asking for impeachment for a while. That doesn't impact my action. My action is, what we want to do here is to be transparent so the American people have the facts and the truth. Show us the report. Secondly -- and by the way, 80 percent-plus of the American people say they want to see the report, 420 members of the House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, voted yes, show us the report. So that's what we want to see. What other things that are going on are interesting. They are not dispositive of the course of action we take. Look to our six chairs and the direction they are going in. Now, on that score, in terms of all of that, transparency, bipartisanship, unity, that's what we promised as we came in and how we did our For the People agenda so the American people could see what the choices were legislatively. No dark of night, speed of light, giving tax breaks to top one percent, 83 percent benefits to the top 1 percent -- no. Let the public see what the choices are. Let's go through the committee process so they have time to make their judgment as to whether their interests are served or the special dark interests are served in our country. Transparency. Secondly, bipartisanship. On this vote, every single person voted, four abstained, but nobody voted no about releasing this report. I do think, and I've said it, and I'll keep saying it, I think that impeachment is a very divisive issue in our country. We shouldn't impeach a president because of a political reason or we should not impeach the president if the evidence is there for impeachment. That's not where we are.

OK, I think just one more question.

BOLDUAN: All right, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking with reporters, making clear she wants to see -- show us the report she says about the Mueller report. But also making very clear, no matter how many questions, she is ready to turn the focus to Democratic priorities, like health care and other things.

We have much more ahead, including this. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff fighting back after the president and Republicans in Congress, even on his own committee, are calling on him to resign. A fiery exchange just went down on Capitol Hill in the committee. That's next.