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Democrats and Trump Administration Head for More Big Showdowns Over Probes; Trump Says Tariffs on Chinese Goods Good for Americans, His Economic Adviser Disagrees; Actress Felicity Huffman Expected to Plead Guilty Tomorrow. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 12, 2019 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:32] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happy Mother's Day.

We begin this hour with a mounting showdown between Democrats in Congress and the Trump administration as the White House faces another critical week of subpoenas and document deadlines.

The president and his allies are facing off with House Democrats over dozens of investigations into -- involving Trump. The "Washington Post" summing it up with this headline. "Trump and his allies are blocking more than 27 different Democratic probes in an all-out war with Congress."

This week the two sides could be headed for more clashes. Democrats are giving the IRS and the Treasury Department until Friday to turn over six years of the president's personal taxes, and they are considering multiple contempt charges including one against the U.S. attorney general William Barr for not turning over the unredacted version of the Mueller report.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Here, the Trump administration has decided to say a blanket no, no to any kind of oversight whatsoever, no witnesses, no documents, no nothing. Claiming executive privilege over things that it knows there is no basis for. There's no executive privilege for over the hundreds of thousands of documents regarding events that took place before Donald Trump was president.

You can't have a privilege, an executive privilege when you're not the executive. So they know that vast categories are inapplicable to the privilege here, so they're just stonewalling.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House for us.

So, Jeremy, another big week, subpoenas, deadlines for the Trump administration, but will it still be more of the same?

(CROSSTALK) JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It certainly appears that way, Fredricka. The battle lines are drawn, and the fight between the White House and Capitol Hill is ongoing. A couple of key dates to look out for this week. On Tuesday, a federal judge is expected to rule in the subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee seeking the president's financial records from one of his former accounting firms. And then on Friday, that deadline that you mentioned for that House Ways and Means subpoena for the president's tax returns. The Treasury Department and the IRS have to answer by then. And so far, the response from the administration on that has been no, they will not hand over those requests.

The House Democrats had also been hoping to see the Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify this week. They are not getting that yet, but the House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff is vowing that they will at some point. Listen.


SCHIFF: The American people have every right to hear what the man who did the investigation has to say. And we now know we certainly can't rely on the attorney general who misrepresented his conclusions. So he is going to testify and yes, it's certainly true that these additional acts of obstruction, a president having obstructed the Justice Department investigation, now obstructing Congress does add weight to impeachment.

He may get us there, he certainly seems to be trying. And maybe this is his perverse way of dividing us more. And as you heard in the clip earlier, he thinks that's to his political advantage. But it's certainly not to the country's advantage.


DIAMOND: And beyond Mueller, Democrats are still grappling with how to get the White House to comply with a slew of other investigations and oversight requests. More than 20 House Democratic investigations that the White House is not currently complying with, and the White House, though, is making its position quite clear. The Depute White House Press Secretary Steve Gross tells us in a statement, these -- there are rules and norms governing congressional oversight and the -- of the executive branch and the Democrats simply refuse to abide by them.

He goes on to say, "This White House will not and cannot comply with unlawful demands made by increasingly unhinged and politically motivated Democrats." So as you can see the White House very much remaining firm in its stance and insisting that the Democrats' requests for a lot of these documents are outside of the balance -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much from the White House.

All right. With me now is Elaina Plott who is a White House correspondent for the "Atlantic" and a CNN political analyst. Also with me, Ken Cuccinelli, who is a former attorney general for Virginia and a CNN legal and political commentator.

Good to see you both.

All right, so, Elaina, you first. You know, Congress, it's a co-equal branch of government, it's expected to carry out its duty of oversight. And you've heard even from the House committee chair, Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, that he believes that a constitutional crisis is in full swing right now. But then now what?

[16:05:02] ELAINA PLOTT, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Fred. I -- so I spoke to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney recently in his office for a pretty wide-ranging interview and what he told me is that the White House is quite comfortable, feeling that they can sustain this refusal to comply with any subpoenas whatsoever. They also think that they can politically, you know, reap the benefits of this notion that everything I think gets framed in hysterical terms at this point.

The Trump administration has fallen prey to that when they, you know, claimed that there is a national emergency and it took actually months for them to actually do anything about it, so they're trying to turn the cards back to Democrats and say, if you actually believe we're in the midst of a constitutional crisis, Mick Mulvaney said start impeachment proceedings, we're fine with that. But don't file multiple subpoenas under the purview of oversight.

WHITFIELD: And so, Ken, why does the White House believe its beneficial to just, you know, go to the courts to challenge this, to stand their ground, to stonewall, to refuse any kind of compliance. Won't this backfire for the White House?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL AND POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, with some people. But as a general matter, they're in a very strong position. I mean, Jerry Nadler has overreached here. Remember he sent 81 subpoenas really as soon as he became chairman, not long thereafter, months and months before the Mueller report was out. He jumped the gun on those. And they didn't have a legislative or oversight basis in the subpoenas themselves, which are the two reasons that Congress is allowed to send subpoenas.

And furthermore, the White House -- not the White House, the Department of Justice has offered to Congress and to certain members of Congress the ability to review the Mueller report in total, with the exception of the grand jury redactions, which are legally required. And Congress hasn't done that yet. So Jerry Nadler, Chairman Nadler is in a very difficult position to go in front of a judge and complain that he's not getting what he asked for, and the obvious response is we offered him the whole Mueller report and he wouldn't come read it.

And a judge just isn't going to listen to that. He's going to have to exhaust his available remedies before he's going to be in a position where the White House doesn't feel like they have an advantage.

WHITFIELD: Well, Elaina, I mean, whether it'd be Jerry Nadler or even you hear from some Democratic, you know, presidential candidates who feel very confident that the courts will interpret the Constitution the same way they are, that Congress is a co-equal branch of government.

PLOTT: That's right, and I think, though most important for Democrats right now is not just to rely on maybe courts siding with them, but trying to translate their case in a way that resonates with the American people especially those running for election in 2020.

Listen, at this point the reality is, the majority of the American people as CNN has shown in its own polling, do not care that much about the Mueller report and are ready to move on. So I, you know, I'm glad that this segment showed a pretty comprehensive list, though, that the subpoenas that Congress has issued go far beyond the Mueller report. Family separation being one of them. I think this is a great thing to remind people of and the Democrats quite frankly to start doing a good job translating that this is about much more than just, you know, politically motivated desires to get, say, tax returns.

WHITFIELD: And it's not just comments coming from the Democratic caucus but you've got George Conway, the husband of Trump adviser, you know, Kellyanne Conway, who has been rather active on Twitter and, you know, he's been on a tear lately. And he even says most recently that -- he's suggesting Trump should be brought to justice if he isn't removed from office all together. So Conway's opinions, Ken, you know, should it be taken seriously in Washington? Is it even a microcosm of perhaps what some conservatives are feeling and thinking, but not just saying out loud?

PLOTT: You know, it's --

KUCCINELLI: No, I don't -- I don't think so. I think that -- I think the person who got this most right the quickest was interestingly Steny Hoyer. Steny Hoyer not long after the Mueller report came out when there was discussion of impeachment and all the alternative said look, we're halfway through 2019. This is to be decided in the next election. And when you look back to Bill Clinton's impeachment, he was in his second term. There was no election, he was -- he had no electoral accountability.

Donald Trump is standing for reelection and the White House has made it very clear, they're ready to have that fight. And both as a matter of practicality because of the calendar and accountability. I think that's an appropriate place for this debate to be had and I would agree the Democrats right now are making their case very well publicly.

WHITFIELD: And Elaina, is there more at stake for the Democrats if they don't do, if they don't take the next step?

[16:10:03] PLOTT: So I think there is, because, Fred, as we've been pointing out they are using, you know, pretty provocative terms like a constitutional crisis. I mean, for me that carries a lot of weight and I think in the same way as I've spoken with you about before on this show how a lot of people started taking Trump's, you know, claims that we were in the midst of a national emergency vis-a-vis immigration, started to take those less seriously because there was no action upon it for quite some time.

I think that's why you're going to see a lot of even weary voters say, OK, fine, if we're in the midst of the constitutional crisis, let's start --

WHITFIELD: Then act on it.

PLOTT: -- harnessing powers to act on it. Precisely.

WHITFIELD: On the campaign trail that's exactly how Kamala Harris saw it. Take a listen.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we are seeing a breakdown of responsibilities. I am seeing up close where the -- there is a failure to respect the significance of Congress's duty to perform a rule of oversight over the administration, over the agencies. I'm seeing a failure to appreciate the importance of testifying before Congress in a way that is straightforward and truthful.

So, I think yes. I think it is fair to say that we are looking at crisis not only of confidence, but potentially a constitutional crisis, yes.


WHITFIELD: So, Ken, quickly, there --

KUCCINELLI: Fred, can I comment about that?

WHITFIELD: Is it your feeling there has to be some kind of follow-up when you use that language, Ken?

KUCCINELLI: Well, yes. We're having a hyperbole crisis, I think.


KUCCINELLI: Something new and different in Washington, right. But Kamala Harris is also knowingly misleading there. The Congress has the ability to do oversight and to subpoena for impeachment, for instance. But they are not doing those things. Everything related to Trump and the Mueller report at least, is not oversight, they don't get to question --

WHITFIELD: Asking to see --

KUCCINELLI: -- prosecution decision.

WHITFIELD: Asking to see the unredacted version, you're saying that is not oversight? That's not a duty of oversight to see the unredacted version of the report?

KUCCINELLI: Oversight of what? That is -- they don't get to exercise oversight of individual prosecution investigations. If they want to take the step, and put in an impeachment resolution, then their powers get much broader. But that is not where they are. They're not willing to do that thus far. And I don't think they're going to be willing to do that. And they don't have a legal basis for a lot of the subpoenas they're sending out related to the Mueller report in the absence of an impeachment resolution.

WHITFIELD: OK. Except it's oversight all of the time, not just on occasion. That's the role of Congress.

KUCCINELLI: No. No. No, you don't -- no. No, ma'am, I don't agree. You don't get to do oversight of every decision they make. You get oversight is how an agency is operating. Is it within the law? Is it so forth? You don't get to do oversight of prosecutions. That's -- in the investigation by Mueller was first and foremost about potential prosecution, not just of the president, but others as well. That is not a role of oversight. That is not a proper oversight role.

PLOTT: But then, OK, Ken --

KUCCINELLI: And I don't think it's one the courts will uphold.

WHITFIELD: Elaina, last word?

PLOTT: I was going to say, does that mean that they shouldn't have held, say, Eric Holder in contempt for "Fast and Furious." I mean, that was a quite specific thing with regard to one investigation.

KUCCINELLI: That was an agency program. That wasn't an investigation. They released guns, 2,000 guns to illegal, you know, holders of guns, one of which ended up being used to kill a law enforcement agent. And when you've got a law enforcement agent who's killed by a program within a department, a law enforcement agency and the Department of Homeland Security killed as a result of a program run out of the Department of Justice, that is an appropriate role for oversight, and of course the Obama administration, Eric Holder in particular, stonewalled that effort.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there. I think members of Congress then would argue that their role as members of Congress is oversight. Putting in check the executive branch, co-equal branches of government. We're going to leave it there for now.

Ken Cuccinelli, Elaina Plott, thank you so much.

PLOTT: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, the president says new tariffs on China will be good for the country. But that's not what his top economic adviser says. Larry Kudlow says it's American taxpayers who will end up paying the rising costs directly contradicting his boss.


[16:18:01] WHITFIELD: Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic adviser, says a meeting between the president of the United States and China's leader is likely to happen next month, during the G-20 economic summit. His announcement coming just days after trade negotiations between China and the U.S. ended with no deal, leaving higher tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports in place. President Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the Chinese alone will pay for those tariffs, and then today Kudlow contradicted his boss and said Americans will bear a burden.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS CHANNEL ANCHOR: It's not China that pays tariffs. It's the American importers, the American companies that pay what in effect is a tax increase and oftentimes passes it on to U.S. consumers.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Fair enough, in fact both sides will pay. Both sides will pay, and these things --

WALLACE: But the tariffs on goods coming into the country the Chinese aren't paying.

KUDLOW: No, but the Chinese will suffer GDP losses and so forth with respect to a diminishing export market and goods that they may need for their own.

WALLACE: It's U.S. businesses and U.S. consumers will pay, correct?

KUDLOW: Yes, to some extent. And I don't disagree with that. Again both sides -- both sides will suffer on this.


WHITFIELD: So the increased tariffs means Americans could pay more for everything, from toilet paper to luggage.

With me now is David Rohde, a CNN global affairs analyst and executive editor of the "New Yorker" Web site.

All right. Good to see you, David.


WHITFIELD: So did Kudlow offer clarification on that or did he only confuse matters more? So is it American consumers who really will be bearing the brunt of paying more?

ROHDE: He offered basic economics. American consumers and American companies will pay more. They will pay these tariffs. The president is wrong about this economically, bust there's no question in the short term American -- there's already been an increase in some products.

[16:20:005] You mentioned, frankly, toilet paper, you know, you could see more electronics. But it's companies, American companies will pay the tariffs and then they'll increase their prices and the consumers will pay for it.

WHITFIELD: So was the president's economic adviser, you know, intentionally -- was he breaking away from the president's message or was it kind of a -- you know, a slip?


WHITFIELD: You know, I mean, was this intentional to have a very different message than the president?

ROHDE: I think it was good questions from Chris Wallace as he often does. And I think, you know, Kudlow is an economist, he knows what he is talking about. And this is just economic fact that, you know, who will pay for this, it will not be China. So I think he -- maybe he couldn't -- he felt he couldn't with a straight face back up the president's claim, you know. So we'll see.

You know the president has other aides who disagree with him so I don't think Kudlow is going to lose his job. But the fact is that we basically the president said China will pay for this, we can take our time in these talks, but that's not true. A lot of the immediate response from economists is that there needs to be a deal soon. And if this goes on and if this grows, and gets -- becomes an full out trade war, it will hurt the American economy.

WHITFIELD: If the president -- President Trump meets with Chinese President Xi next month, should the president of the United States feel like he has an advantage or will it be China who has an advantage in any kind of face-to-face meeting here?

ROHDE: I think all politics is local. And the president has taken this very aggressive sort of bombastic approach as he was just going to win. He's been tweeting that it was such a tremendous deal and he'd completely out-negotiated the Chinese. President Xi of China has to look strong. He cannot be seen as capitulating to the U.S. the tentative deal that, you know, they reportedly had involves, you know, China changing laws in its own country. Xi didn't agree to that.

So you can't succeed in a negotiation by humiliating another leader of a country. They can't just capitulate to you. And that's the problem with sort of, you know, the president's bombastic approach to these negotiations. And I would say, broadly, this is not, you know, working for him. China is different but in terms of North Korea, in terms of Iran, you know, a lot of countries I feel are simply waiting now for the president to face re-election.

China may have decided they can wait until 2020 and that leaves the president with, you know, no big trade deal to run on for re-election.

WHITFIELD: David Rohde, we'll leave it there, thank you so much.

ROHDE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.


[16:26:26] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Actress Felicity Huffman is preparing to formally plead guilty to charges in a massive college admissions scam. She will appear in front of federal judge in Boston tomorrow. Authorities say the actress paid $15,000 to have someone change answers on her daughter's SAT exam.

CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval joining me now.

So, Polo, what should be expected in court tomorrow?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Fred, Felicity Huffman's scheduled court appearance tomorrow, it's been several weeks in the making. You'll recall that the actress is among about 13 parents who in April pleaded guilty in this college admissions scandal. They all agreed to plea out to charges of conspiracy, to commit fraud. Now, in exchange prosecutors agreed not to pursue any further charges.

And also to recommend incarceration in the so-called low end of a sentencing range, maybe perhaps a few months here. And that could potentially include a $20,000 fine, plus possibly a year of probation after any potential jail time. But we should remind viewers, it is still going to be ultimately up to the judge to make any sort of sentencing decision.

When she first agreed to the deal in April, Huffman released a statement fully admitting guilt and shame. She wrote, and I quote, "My desire to help my daughter is no excuse to break the law or engage in dishonesty." A quick reminder for viewers, prosecutors have been accusing Huffman of paying $15,000 to facilitate a better SAT score for her older daughter. Huffman has said that her daughter had no involvement in the scheme.

Tomorrow's hearing will simply be a formal step towards court finally accepting this arrangement that's been made between Huffman and federal prosecutors, Fred. Sentencing will happen at a later date so certainly something to be on the lookout for tomorrow morning.

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

All right. Coming up, the fight for 2020, A record six women are seeking the Democratic nomination. But are they being held to a higher standard or some say getting Hillaried?


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, NEWSROOM ANCHOR: New poll numbers show former Vice President Joe Biden with a two to one lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in that early primary state. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar are all in the top eight in the Monmouth poll. But they're also in the single digits.

Could the ghost of 2016 haunt their campaigns? Here's CNN's M.J. Lee after speaking with female voters who fear a female nominee could get Hillary'd in 2020.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's all anybody wanted to talk about is what I was wearing, what my haircut was. M.J. LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Six women seeking the Democratic

nomination for president in a historic, our senators, one congresswoman, and a spiritual writer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a young mom, I will fight for your children as hard as I would fight for my own.

LEE: Female voters across the country telling CNN, that it is time for a woman to finally take the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We make up, I think, 51 percent of the population.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think a man could ever handle the pressures of that office any better than a woman.

LEE: But there is another darker sentiment, frustration about sexism fueled by flashbacks to Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling. But some day someone will.

LEE: Democratic voters describing a lingering trauma from the last presidential election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some have voiced concerns about you getting Hillary'd in the election, meaning that you got held to a higher standard than your opponent for potentially arbitrary or maybe even sexist reasons?

LEE: A concern that nominating a woman again will hand Donald Trump a second term.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that most people didn't vote for her because she was a woman. And I think that they ended voting for Trump because he was a man.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I worry about the Old Boys Club.

LEE: Nine months out from the Iowa caucuses, some of the women who want to see a female president leaning toward supporting one of the men.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would vote for Joe Biden, because I think he has the best chance of winning the presidency.

LEE: On the campaign trail, the female candidates making a forceful case for why women are just as electable as men.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told me it cannot be done, (Inaudible) it will be hardwork and we'll be running for our government. I think that's (Inaudible) and we won.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone once said, and I agree with part of this, but not all of it that women candidates should speak softly and carry a big statistic. OK, so I think you know I don't always speak softly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's going to be fun when I say -- and I won, because that's what girls do.

LEE: A recent CNN poll showing no indication that women are overwhelmingly supporting the female candidates over the male candidates. This man telling CNN he does have a gender bias.

[16:34:50] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there two equally qualified candidates, one was male, one was female, I would support the female. It's high time we had a female president.

LEE: Now, as 2020 election heats up, as we start entering the next phase, remember the Democratic debates begin in June. Electability is a word that we're probably going to hear much more often from all of the candidates as they start looking ahead to next November, back to you.


WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, M.J. But coming up, a haunting new report warning that a million plant and animal species face extinction, many in just a few years.


WHITFIELD: An alarming new report just released by the U.N. that says roughly one million species are on the verge of extinction. More than any other time in recorded history. And as CNN's Bill Weir reports, experts warn it will have grave impacts on humans as well.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: It's not just the howling lemurs of Madagascar that could disappear forever. Not just the cute kiwi's in New Zealand. It could be all the wild tigers in India, and all the lions in Africa, the bees and butterflies that pollinate billions of dollars worth of crops every year.

[16:40:06] And the fish stocks that feed billions of people everyday. According to a sweeping new study, there are now one million species on the brink of extinction, many of them doomed to blink out in coming decades, everything from plants and corals to creatures great and small. And while it was asteroid strikes or super volcanoes that caused the dinosaurs to go extinct, today the biggest threat against nature is human nature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What (Inaudible) call it is that we have reconfigured dramatically the fabric of life of the planet.

WEIR: To feed the appetites of over seven billion humans, the study finds that three quarters of land on Earth has been plowed or paved, dammed or mined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is all mining pits that are filled in. WEIR: Plastic waste and pesticide runoff has created over 400 ocean

dead zones, while heat trapping pollution fills the sky at record levels, making Earth's climate more unpredictable by the year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's many that like gross domestic product as an economic measure. But this is not a measure of the wealth of the world.

WEIR: So the authors are calling for a seismic shift in how humans consume and how economies work starting now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also ask what is the urgency. The urgency and I wear cufflinks. These cufflinks or watches show me and remind me we have no time to waste. The time for action is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not -- climate change is very important, but the number one driver for all of this is land conversion, destruction of habitat, changes of that habitat. And second is, you know, overconsumption and over (Inaudible). These are more immediate and urgent problems. And they could be more directly attacked than some of the other ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we would like at the end of this report is to really give the world a real message of hope. We don't want to let people feel discouraged that there is nothing that can be done, that we've lost the battle, because we have not lost the battle. And if given the chance, nature will re-conquer its rights and will prevail.

WEIR: But that would mean putting nature over profit motive for the first time in centuries, deciding that the Amazon is worth more than, and that life as we know it can only exist on a planet in balance. Bill Weir, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: And still ahead, a mother's choice. A woman chooses to skip her own college graduation so that she can watch her son get his diploma instead. Next, I will talk to them both, and they there are, about how they actually managed to graduate together in the end. But first, in all smiles, CNN is highlighting champions for change, people who are going above and beyond to affect change in their communities and impact the people around them. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people, some stories.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They leave their mark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody has ever affected me the way your son did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their work creates real impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the communities. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On their country.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meet the change makers we have never forgotten.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a difference seven years makes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the place where you jumped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. This is the place where I lived.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was my first time today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are the champions for change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just could tell your story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Champions for change, a week long CNN special event all this week.



WHITFIELD: In tonight's The Redemption Project, Van Jones travels to Oakland, California to meet with an activist and comedian whose 16- year-old daughter was murdered in a gang-related shooting. That father wants to meet the man who took his daughter's life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was incarcerated, I was this scared, insecure kid, little Chris. I didn't want no one to see that I was scared, because scared means that you're weak. And weak means that you can get taken advantage of. So what I did was I reinforced the same gang beliefs, the same attitude, the same image I did as a kid growing up (Inaudible) that got me to prison in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going to walk into a room and see the man who took his daughter's life. As a father, I don't know how I would react. Why would you want to do this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not the scared 16-year-old kid that I was 20 years ago.


WHITFIELD: The Redemption Project airs tonight 9:00 eastern and pacific only on CNN. And on this Mother's Day, we recognize one woman's sacrifice with a sweet ending. Sharonda Love-Wilson was supposed to graduate from Ferris State University in Michigan last Saturday. But there was one problem. It fell on the same day as her son's graduation ceremony at Central Michigan University some 40 miles away.

So what do you think she did? Mom skipped her own ceremony. But then a surprise would allow them both to walk across the stage together.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made a call today when I found this out to David Eisler, the president of Ferris State University, so please pay attention. By the virtue of the authority vested in me, by the state of Michigan, and the board of trustees, on behalf of President Eisler, and Ferris State trustees, I infer upon you, Sharonda Wilson, the bachelor's degree that you have earned with all rights for which is pertained thereto. Please move your tassel from your right to you left.


[16:50:13] WHITFIELD: What a moment. And with me right now (Inaudible) Sharonda Love-Wilson with her son Stephan. Congratulations to you both.


WHITFIELD: Happen by Mother's Day, Sharonda. Wow, what a moment. So tell me about this. You made this decision, as most mothers would, right, to attend your son's graduation. But at what point did you learn or was it happening all in that moment that you two would, you know, have your moment of graduation day?

LOVE-WILSON: I learned it when you all saw it, that's when I learned it. The only thing I was told was I want you to come down to the floor to stand with Stephan for a moment. But they didn't tell me why. And then when the young lady received a signal from Dr. Davies for me to walk up. She said she handed me the cap and said I need you to start walking.

What? And so I've never seen a cap when she took me from the president's box to the floor. So she can't (Inaudible) held that from me.

WHITFIELD: Wow. Stephan, what was this like? I mean, man, graduation day is something else, you know? You're already, you know, in the stars, you know, and feeling like you're on top of the mountain, But then you got to share this with your mom. Describe it.

STEPHAN WILSON, GRADUATED WITH MOM IN SURPRISE CEREMONY: It's really hard to put into words, honestly, because the day was already special because I had finished my degree. My entire family had been there to see me walk across the stage. I was also singing at the commencement ceremony, and so I already thought that it had been made special, because all my family was going to be there to experience that moment.

But when my name was called and I saw that something was going to be happening, I really wanted to just jump up and down. And I -- you can see in the video a little bit that I just -- I was -- I had so many tears of joy. I could not keep my mouth closed. And it was a lot. And I could tell when I finally got to embrace my mom. She was trying to get me to contain it, because we were in front of a lot of people.

But I just couldn't. I was so proud of my mom, so proud of making it to where we both made it, you know, not being traditional students, it's just like, you know, we did it.

WHITFIELD: Wow. You did it together. That's so sweet. So Stephan, you're a music major, right? And then mom, you know, Ms. Sharonda, you are a business administration major. And so Stephan, you know, your mom made this decision to be there for you. Was there, you know, a moment, you know, that day where, you know, you were feeling conflicted at all knowing that your mom chose to be at your ceremony instead of her own?

WILSON: You know, yes, I did. I had a lot of this emotion throughout the week, which is why I had told Abby, a friend of mine who works in the president's office. Her and her mother actually stayed at the hotel that I work at. And I had expressed to them that my recital was that weekend, so we would be celebrating, my mother and I, that evening, that Friday evening before commencement on Saturday. I had let her know that. And I see what she did with that information.

WHITFIELD: Thank goodness, right?


WHITFIELD: So Ms. Sharonda, you know, talk to me about your journey of, you know, going to school, seeking this great bachelor's, you know, degree, your first degree from college, and then it would be simultaneous to your son also pursuing his, you know, college degree?

LOVE-WILSON: So yes. So I was a very good student in high school, so I had a full ride scholarship when I left high school. But -- so it was known as GMI, now known as (Inaudible) in Flint, Michigan, but I wasn't ready for college. And it wasn't my passion, and then life happened. And when I became a 911 operator for the city of Flint, I was there for 18 years making good money.

So I don't want to say I was stuck, but I always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to go back to school. But I just didn't make the time do so. And when I learned that my job was ending, (Inaudible) I decided in 2014, you know what, I need to go back to school and get the ball rolling. And so I took a few classes at a time.

And then the fall of 2015 I went back full time. And these last two semesters, I took 37 credits just to get it done.

WHITFIELD: So Ms. Sharonda, you know, as moms, you know, we make a lot of sacrifices for our kids and put our own, you know, aspirations on the back burner. But at the same time, you did finally make some room for yourself. So what's your message to moms everywhere on this Mother's Day, as you get to celebrate both your degree and your sons? [16:54:57] LOVE-WILSON: Yes. So moms, don't forget about yourself.

As you said, Fredricka, that sometimes we do put ourselves on the back burner. But our children, they grow up, everything that we have instilled in them, the seed we that we had planted, the water that we have added to those seeds, they start to bloom. And once they bloom, they move on.

And not that they forget about mom, but they move on, and so we don't invest in our own selves, then we will have regrets, but as of today I can say, no more regrets.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic. And you're both blooming, you know, on this day and beaming too. So Stephan, what's next for you?

WILSON: Actually, I decided that I was going to audition for a couple of places this past spring. And then after spring break, I got an offer. And so the end of June, I will be moving out of Michigan down to Charleston, South Carolina where I will be joining the resident acting company at Charleston Stage Theater. I will be there for 10 months.

And I am incredibly excited for the next step. And I am excited for my family to have a place to come visit. And I've never been. And I cannot express enough the gratitude and the support from my family as I continue my journey and my career.

WHITFIELD: Fantastic. Well, you will enjoy Charleston. It's still my all time, one of my favorite places to work. It's where I lived after I graduated from college, so a shout-out to Charleston, fabulous place. Ms. Sharonda Love-Wilson, Stephan Wilson, congratulations to you both, so happy for you. And you're such an inspiration, both of you.

LOVE-WILSON: Thank you.

WILSON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And thank you so much for being with me this Sunday. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, especially to you, my mom Noah Whitfield. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. CNN's Newsroom continues with Alex Marquardt right after this.