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Judging the Democratic Debate Performances; NASCAR Bans Ads For Assault Weapons; Felicity Huffman Faces Sentencing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: They want her to serve community service, she can pay a fine. But she could be the first parent in this huge scheme to actually serve time behind bars.

Let's go straight to Brynn Gingras with the breaking details.

Brynn, any news?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no news as a decision, but we definitely have some interesting details coming out of the courtroom from my colleague Mark Morales, Brooke.

And that is really the judge at this point listening to both sides of the case. And, again, we know a lot of this because we have seen court filings up to this point.

Right now, from Mark, we're hearing that the U.S. attorney is essentially telling the judge, giving the reasons as to why Felicity Huffman should spend at least one month behind bars.

And he referenced a letter that Felicity Huffman wrote herself to the judge ahead of today's sentencing explaining, not -- and apologizing for her conduct, but also explaining why she thinks she got to the point where she said yes to this cheating scam.

She essentially said in that four-page letter or so that she did it because she had anxiety about being the perfect mother. She wanted to make sure that her two girls really were on path to what they wanted to be when they grew up, and it really wasn't about just getting the best test score.

And to that, U.S. attorney told the judge an interesting remark. He said, "With all due respect to the defendant, welcome to parenthood."

So that was a very snarky remark coming from the U.S. attorney's office. And it's probably one that a lot of people are feeling when they hear these stories of Felicity Huffman.

You mentioned family inside the courtroom. Well, 27 people including family, her husband, William H. Macy, Eva Longoria from "Desperate Housewives," they all wrote to the judge ahead of today's sentencing supporting Felicity Huffman. So we will definitely hear more about the actress. It's not clear if

she's going to say anything herself, though she did give a tearful apology back in May when she pled guilty to this one federal judge. But we haven't gotten to that just yet. We're still listening to the U.S. attorney and then, of course, still waiting for that judge's decision, which we are expecting very, very shortly -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Brynn, thank you very much. We will come back to you the second you get news.

Let me bring in a couple smart voices on all of this. I know Erica Hill has been following the case. She's with us. Elie Honig is here, former federal prosecutor, Areva Martin, civil rights attorney.

And so just for my lawyers first, Elie, to you, the fact that the prosecution has asked that she served one month, in all your years, you have never heard of one month being asked.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's very unusual, Brooke.

Usually, in any case, there's sort of a bare minimum if you're the prosecutor or the judge in jail time. I have -- really, the lowest sentences I have seen are four months, six months, aside from George Papadopoulos from the Mueller case. It was a very unusual case, about 14 days. That was very unusual.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HONIG: And I think the thinking there is, first of all, it's a big administrative burden to get someone into the Bureau of Prisons. By the time they're in and settled, they're out.

Also, it's hugely disruptive for the defendant's life to send them in for a month. I think this case is going to end up in probation. I will make a little bit of a prediction, because Huffman's conduct was on the lower end among all the defendants here, and because, ever since she got arrested, she's done everything right.

She pled quickly. She so showed real contrition. I think that's going to resonate with the judge.

BALDWIN: Areva, what do you think?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I agree with Elie that she probably is not going to get that one month in jail, although I think it's a little disgusting, to be quite honest with you.

Our criminal justice system treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. And when the prosecutors came out with this case, they have made a big deal out of saying they weren't going to let these parents off easy. They were going to be pushing for jail time.

So to see these prosecutors pushing for one month is really disappointing, I think, and it sends the wrong message to parents that would engage in this kind of conduct. BALDWIN: How about, Erica, her husband, William H. Macy? We were

chatting in the commercial break about all this, and you were making the point that he was on the call with Felicity with Rick Singer, right, who's the ringleader in this whole fake charity, and he basically dodged a bullet in this one.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, so in the initial complaint, he's not referred to by name, but it mentions her spouse.

And we know that her spouse is...

BALDWIN: One and only spouse.

HILL: ... William H. Macy. As far as we know, he's the only one. And so he's mentioned because there are these transcripts of phone calls with Rick Singer in there. And he's mentioned as being in the living room at one point.

And he's mentioned briefly, but I will say too there was some talk in the beginning, and I'm sure you and I talked about this, that perhaps one of the reasons she was moving so quickly was not only because she recognized that she had messed up and she needed to...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: She didn't want her husband to get in trouble.

HILL: Could there be, because we did also hear from prosecutors in the very beginning? They said, listen, we have got a lot of information we're putting out today. We have got even more where that came from.

BALDWIN: You think he's really lucky.

HONIG: Yes, I mean, look, he -- as we said, he dodged a bullet. It's life imitating art. If you saw the movie "Fargo," I mean, William Macy's character is constantly barely one step ahead of the law. He ends up in a wood chipper. That's not going to happen here.

But he got lucky. And I think Erica could be right. Prosecutors do sometimes say to a defendant, look, if you're willing to take a plea and do it quickly and wrap this up, we will go away. We won't bother the people around you.

[15:05:05]

And, look, Areva makes a good point too. It's offensive and worrisome as a parent to see the way this system is rigged. I do think

I do, even if Huffman gets probation here, the other defendants are going to get hammered. Lori Loughlin is going to jail.

BALDWIN: That is what -- yes. This is such a -- it's all the same case.

But, Areva, we were saying that, when you look at money that Lori Loughlin paid vs. what Felicity Huffman, it's like 30 times the amount, right? And there were photos.

I realize that this would be -- that the judge would be sending a message here, as Felicity Huffman is the first parent who would be sentenced, but this is like, what, apples and oranges?

MARTIN: Yes, the cases are really different.

And obviously Felicity did what you should do in these kinds of cases. She admitted guilt, she's expressed remorsefulness, she came forward, she took the plea deal. She's gotten all of her celebrity friends to rally around her and to write these positive letters about her. And that's what the criminal justice system encourages.

But, again, I don't think we you can lose sight of what happened here. These parents bribed their way to get their kids into these universities. And somebody suffered as a result of this. And I know the probation department has said that there was no victim and if there was no loss, and that's the report that the federal probation department submitted to the judge.

But I can't help but think that the kids who have done the work, who've studied hard, who have done all the things that we tell them to do, and they have applied to these universities and didn't get in, what message are we sending to them about being fair, about being honest, about integrity?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Those things have to matter. And I don't think we can get away from that and we shouldn't let Felicity or Lori or anyone involved in the scandal off the hook.

BALDWIN: No, it is such an excellent point. And I hope that the judge speaks to that. We are waiting for the sentence. It should come down any moment now.

We're live in Boston. Let's take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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BALDWIN: NASCAR says it is making a gradual shift in its position guns. It will no longer accept ads for assault weapons. And the move has no doubt anger the largest gun lobby in the country, of course, the NRA.

Sara Murray is our senior political correspondent covering this for us.

And we have seen all these companies come forward and make changes, but to see NASCAR do this seems really significant.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Brooke. And it's a little unclear exactly what is going on here, because these

were a couple of gun companies who said they heard from this third- party advertiser that was working for NASCAR, and the advertiser said, send us some advertisements that could appear in this NASCAR program.

They waited four months to hear back and then they heard back through this third-party vendor NASCAR has looked at these ads, and due to their gradual shift on guns, they can't accept these, but they would accept ads for less controversial gun accessories, things that are not AK-47s or AR-15s, but maybe things like concealed carry classes.

And, as you can imagine, this put the gun companies just up in arms. They were livid at the fact that these ads have been solicited and then rejected. They were pointing to this crossover between NASCAR fans and gun owners and essentially saying, what is this gradual shift about?

NASCAR's had these partnerships with firearms companies, with other retailers that sell firearms. And it kind of remains to be seen if this is an actual shift from NASCAR, if they are joining the ranks of what we have seen from these other companies that are taking a different stance when it comes to how they sell or how they advertise or how they partner with gun manufacturers and other gun companies.

And the reason it's still unclear, Brooke, is because NASCAR won't talk about it. I have called them, e-mailed them over and over again. The gun companies have asked for clarification. And so far, NASCAR is not speaking out. But, as you pointed out, the NRA is not happy.

BALDWIN: Yes, keep trying with NASCAR. Sara Murray, thank you so much for that.

MURRAY: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Meantime, over at the White House, President Trump is meeting with his advisers to help him decide the way forward in this whole gun debate, as sources close to those discussions tell CNN that a very important legal voice is in fact pushing for stronger background checks.

And that person is the attorney general, Bill Barr.

With me now, White House reporter Sarah Westwood.

And so what is Bill Barr saying to the president, and when might we learn news from the White House on this?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, when is becoming an increasingly urgent question, because President Trump still hasn't indicated where he stands on gun reform issues.

Yesterday, he avoided direct questions about whether he supports expanded background checks, including from our colleague Kaitlan Collins. And, this week, senior advisers presented President Trump with summaries of various courses of action that he could take on guns. But the bottom line is that Republicans are waiting for President

Trump to signal what he wants to do before they take any positions. They have given him a remarkable latitude to chart the course on gun reform, and yet the president not offering any clarity about his thinking more than a month after he promised action on guns.

Now, more than two weeks ago, the Department of Justice gave the White House a package of options. And sources tell CNN that Attorney General Bill Barr has also privately been nudging President Trump to support expanded background checks.

But Republican House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy said today that the president, he's still soliciting opinions from Barr, he's still soliciting opinions from lawmakers before he makes up his mind.

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Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president is getting all the information from law enforcement, from the legal community, from Barr and others.

He's meeting with members on both sides of the aisle. And I expect he will come forward with a package quite soon, but he wants to gather all the information first, and make sure whatever we move forward solves the problem, that none of this happens again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, some political advisers, some conservative allies of the president have still urged the president not to move forward with expanded background checks.

They have shown the president polling that suggests that the president could face a backlash with his base if he supports anything that could be perceived as gun control.

On the menu of items the White House is considering, red flag laws improve mental health services, but, Brooke, without any clarity from the White House, this just has implications for Capitol Hill as long as the president won't make a decision this.

BALDWIN: Sarah Westwood, thank you very much from the White House.

And, again, a reminder: Any moment now, a judge will be handing down the sentence for actress Felicity Huffman for her role in the college admissions scandal. We will get you to Boston soon, as soon as we get news there.

Also, we will talk to a debate coach who will join me live to break down the best and the worst moments from last night's debate there in Houston among all these Democratic candidates, including some of those one-liners that just didn't totally land. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, I want to say no. Actually I want to translate that into Spanish. No.

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He reminds me of that guy in "The Wizard of Oz." You know, when you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:21:39]

BALDWIN: Just a day after that third Democratic debate, we are seeing that success on the debate stage may not translate so well in the halls of Congress.

I'm talking about the rousing response given by El Paso native and Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke, whose hometown witnessed a gunman murdered 22 people just last month. O'Rourke said that he supports a mandatory buyback of assault weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O'ROURKE (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am, if it's a weapon that was designed to kill people on a battlefield.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'ROURKE: If the high impact, high velocity round, when it hits your body, shreds everything inside of your body, because it was designed to do that, so that you would bleed to death on a battlefield.

Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'ROURKE: We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So you could hear it got a huge sponsor there in Houston. But there is some frustration today over this comments on Capitol Hill.

A Democratic aide told CNN -- quote -- "It only feeds into the NRA's narrative that Democrats are going to take away their guns. If Beto wants to actually solve these problems, he should help negotiate or encourage his colleagues to pass commonsense background checks."

Todd Graham is a debate director at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

And so, Todd, welcome back. As always, we love hearing your grades on these candidates.

And let's just start there with Beto O'Rourke, because, as we mentioned, his gun comments maybe didn't land entirely well on Capitol Hill, but just on performance points alone, you give him your highest grade. Tell me why.

TODD GRAHAM, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: Because they did land. They landed for his target audience, which are Democrats. They landed for the majority of Americans.

So I wouldn't worry about Capitol Hill, if I was him. He had his best debate yet. And one of the things I always talked about, it wasn't just gun control. He was good on gun control, and he talked from the heart about El Paso and the mass shootings there.

But it was also just he controlled the stage. This is something I have told my debaters time and time again when they go into the debate room, which is control the room. And if you remember, Brooke, watching that debate last night, the other candidates on stage were often looking at Beto.

They were looking in his direction for guidance, and I thought that was just terrific for him. He had his best debate.

BALDWIN: They also -- they praised him. They praised him several times over as well because of how he responded to what happened in his hometown.

GRAHAM: Exactly.

BALDWIN: Let's move on to the former vice president.

Let me play a clip. This is when he was asked about all the deportations under the Obama-Biden administration. This was his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORGE RAMOS, MODERATOR: Are you prepared to say tonight that you and President Obama made a mistake about deportations? Why should Latinos trust you?

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Latinos should look at is -- comparing this president to the president we have is outrageous, number one. We didn't lock people up in cages. We didn't separate families.

RAMOS: Yes, but you didn't answer the question. BIDEN: Well, I did answer the question.

RAMOS: No, did you make a mistake with those deportations?

BIDEN: The president did the best thing that was able to be done at the time.

RAMOS: How about you?

BIDEN: I'm the vice president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: How did he do, Todd?

GRAHAM: Well, that is virtually the same answer he gave in the previous debate. And it was the one thing that I criticized him for.

I have got the answer. Apparently, he doesn't. But here it is. It's new arrivals and criminals, because there's been studies that say that mostly the deportations from the Obama-Biden administration were new arrivals, so they didn't have ties here, or they were criminals.

[15:25:05]

That's how he needs to answer that from now on.

But other than that answer, I thought Biden improved on all of his policy answers. And, heck, and I'm sure we will talk about the memory issue in a minute, but I think his memory is pretty good, because he's able to remember things that happened 40 years ago, legislation that he helped pass, people that he had conversations with.

Brooke, if you asked me what was going on 40 years ago, Todd, I would say, well, I was probably asking somebody to pass me their Pop Tarts. I have no idea what I was doing 40 years ago. So I think Biden doesn't get enough credit for the memory that he does have in these debates.

BALDWIN: Yes.

GRAHAM: But I thought his attitude was good. And he had more offense last night. He started talking about, how can you pay for this and how can you pay for this? And so I thought he had an excellent debate.

BALDWIN: No, and I think that really backfired. You're alluding to the back and forth with Julian Castro, backfired on Julian Castro, but he had to try to make a mark. He tried. And I talked to so many people saying he failed.

I have got to go.

Todd Graham, thank you so much, as always.

And speaking of debates, CNN will be hosting the next presidential debate, in partnership with "The New York Times." It is live from the battleground state of Ohio, October 15.

More on the breaking news, Felicity Huffman addressing the judge right now, apologizing to him and her family. She will learn her sentence any moment.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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