Return to Transcripts main page


Felicity Huffman Apologizes, Calls Herself Stupid for Scam; Huffman Sentenced to 14 Days in Federal Prison. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right, the breaking news out of Boston. Actress Felicity Huffman in court awaiting to hear her sentence in this whole college admissions scandal. She is the first parent here who will be sentenced. And I want to go straight to Brynn Gingras who's been getting all this color from inside the courtroom. I understand Felicity Huffman just got emotional as she was addressing the judge. So, Brynn, tell me exactly what she said.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, actually, can you wait one second. I'm getting information from the courtroom.


GINGRAS: And -- so -- from what I'm getting from Mark Morales, my colleague, the judge is saying that she will be ordered community service in this case. Now let me back up for a few minutes just because I'm trying to get information as I'm talking to you. Essentially where we are right now is the judge going through this process trying to explain exactly why she's come to a determination of a sentence for Felicity Huffman.

Before that, Felicity Huffman herself had a chance to actually talk to the judge and explain her rationale as to why she did this, what was her thinking and make yet another apology, which she did tearfully. She was crying. She was choking back tears and she apologized to her husband actor William H. Macy and to her two daughters. Also in that moment she explained to the judge that she knew what she was doing was wrong the moment she was driving to the test center where the cheating was going to occur for her oldest daughter, she said she could have turned back and yet she didn't.

And at one moment she described just a very personal moment with her daughter essentially that her daughter was saying, you know, why did you do this? Essentially, why didn't you think I could do it on my own? And that just breaks your heart. Right? I mean because that's who the victim really is in this particular case, is her daughter. Who we know from more information with her husband who submitted a letter to the judge that her daughter was rejected from schools, days after this scandal broke earlier this year.

So that's where the judge is at right now. Trying to determine again who's the victim here? Was the college admissions process a victim? Did the college reputations, are they victims in this? How do you sort of outweigh exactly who the punishment should go to and is it in fact Felicity Huffman? Again I'm sorry to keep going through emails, but --

BALDWIN: No. Let me give you a minute, Brynn.

GINGRAS: Yes -- Brooke, I'm just trying to read Cliff notes.

BALDWIN: No. Read the full thing. I'm going to turn to my experts next to me and then we'll pop you back on TV the second you get the actual sentence. We want to make sure we get the full story. So we'll come back to Brynn. To all of you sitting next to me and Joey Jackson, you're the newest addition to this whole panel. So let me start with you. You're hearing all this. I mean it sounds like emotional, mea culpa, mea culpa. Turning to the judge, I take full responsibility, I will accept whatever punishment you give me. What are you thinking?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I'm thinking, I'm Impressed. And let me say why. First of all, this is, you know, it's a significant, of course, I don't want to say tragedy. But the fact is that is that so many people were impacted. You want to talk about victims, we're all victims. We're victims because we teach our children to do things the right way. We're victims because we teach our children about role modeling, about how to study your S.A.T., about what to do with your deficiencies about how to be better, do better and get better. We all have those conversations.

Ultimately, she took a shortcut. And that's a terrible thing. And I think this is a case about privilege, about power, about money, and its influence and impact and what it has upon the system. Ultimately, I would hope that colleges will revamp the process so that it's less favorable. And I say all that, Brooke, to say, that I get the gravity of this and think the gravity of this is horrific. This varsity blues issue.

At the same time I will tell you that I am very impressed by her. Let me explain why. We are a system that always talks about defendants and how they're trying to wiggle out, trying to do backflips, somersaults, not accept responsibility. Give any and every excuse you can as to why it wasn't me.


Me? Who? What? We have here a situation, you want to send a message as a judge, send a message that I value people who are going to own up. Send a message that I value people who can look at me and say, I was wrong. And not only was I wrong to you, right? Your honor and this court, I was wrong to every person who has a college-age kid or who will one day have a college-age kid who we're teaching to do the right thing.

I was wrong because I didn't believe in my daughter. I did not believe that she had the ability to do the it herself so I stepped in. That has to have value. And if I'm a judge looking at that and I'm looking at the letters and looking at all of the persons before me. And Elie know having been in court dealing with these issues, the fact is this, a person when they go to court, that's a dark moment in their life, but there's so much more than that. And when you stand up as a defense attorney, you're trying to give the judge a sense of who my client is. You're not as bad as you are on your worst day and not as good on you are on your best day. Truth lies somewhere in between.

And so the fact that she's accepted responsibility, the fact she's owned up to it, the fact she said, your honor, I'm at your mercy, that matters to me and as a result of that I think will matter to the court.

BALDWIN: I so appreciate all of that. And let me just add on the flip side, we have this, during the sentencing the U.S. attorney here suggesting Huffman should go to jail, right? So they are asking for this one month. We talked earlier with Elie and he was saying it's just really unheard of to hear one month being asked for by anyone saying that quote, there is no excuse for what she did.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So the prosecutor and defense lawyer agree here. Right? There's this phrase here, Joe used it and you hear it in court a lot, acceptance of responsibility. Ultimately sentencing is sort of the most human moment in our criminal justice process. And as Joe said, the person stands in front of the judge for all the good and all the bad. And I think Felicity Huffman has done a good job --

BALDWIN: I think we've got some news. Let's go. Brynn Gingras, what are you getting? What's the sentence?

GINGRAS: Thanks, Brooke. Yes. So I'm reading through all these emails, again we are getting this play by play by Mark Morales, my colleague, in the courtroom. And we are hearing that she will be sentenced, she will go behind bars for a 14-day sentence.

BALDWIN: Oh, wow.

GINGRAS: That's what we are hearing from the courtroom at this moment. Now remember, the prosecution was asking for a month, whereas her lawyers were essentially saying no prison time whatsoever. So this is sort of down the middle line. And I'm still just trying to tick through the all these emails. So you essentially getting the rationale of the judge as to why she picked that middle ground, but that is the headline there right now. That Felicity Huffman will spend 14 days behind bars.

And, again, when the judge was sort of breaking down the rationale -- she really was just trying to explain who's the victim here. You know? The fact she was just trying to be a good parent wasn't enough of an excuse to commit this crime, she still went ahead to commit the crime. On the flip side, she said she definitely was one of those parents that paid the least amount in order to, to participate in this scheme. So when we think ahead and the fact that other parents who have pleaded guilty are going to be sentenced in the future, other parents who are going to fight these charges. That sort of gives us some sort of indication where this particular judge falls in line. That there is a punishment that needs to be had on the part of these players in this huge scheme. So let me keep on reading. You guys go back, and weigh that. But 14 days is right now is what we're hearing in the courtroom.

BALDWIN: You got it, you got the deal. Brynn, thank you very much. So again, the judge saying, quote, "trying to be a good mother doesn't excuse this." She knew it was a fraud. And it was not an impulsive act. So 14 days?

HONIG: So this is a symbolic sentence and I think it's a message sentence, which is wealth and privilege can't get you out of this. You did wrong. And I tell you who it is really bad news for. It's bad news for Felicity Huffman but she'll be out in 14 days. Lori Loughlin and every other defendant in the case. I mean this is the absolute floor in this case. This is the low end of conduct, the low end of the dollar amount. She was contrite from the start. So everyone else in this case has got to be shaking in their boots right now.

BALDWIN: Areva, what do you think?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I first want to say to Joey, he said that she took a shortcut. I think we have to be careful with our language. She didn't take a shortcut, she committed a crime. I think we have to keep that front and center as we talk about this. This is a slap on the wrist. I do agree with the comments that she came forward, she expressed remorse. She said she was sorry and those were all the right things to do but I think we have to send a very clear message. That when crimes are committed people have to be held accountable for those crimes.

And as long as that judge or judges across this country are going to have the same attitude when they see poor victims come before them and we're not going to continue to perpetuate this system of celebrity justice, then I'm fine with the 14 days. But the reality is that doesn't happen in this country. If you are poor you don't have the breaks, you don't get the opportunities that a wealthy defendant like Felicity Huffman is getting. And I think we have to continue to have these conversations as talk about criminal justice reform and as we talk about was the appropriate punishment?


And we can't lose sight, a crime was committed in this case and somebody, we know a lot of somebody's kids who worked hard, didn't get the same opportunity that these rich kids got because their parents could bribe their way and pay their way to gain access to top universities.

BALDWIN: Joey, you want to respond?

JACKSON: Brooke, look, here's the reality. This is a major win for the defense. Can we call it what it is? The fact that you're going to jail 14 days. Are you kidding me? That means that the judge bought hook, line and sinker the fact she was contrite about this. Of course it's a crime. We wouldn't be talking about it if it weren't a crime. What I'm suggesting to you is that if we want to value people to come before court and own up, we have to also value that and provide an incentive for people to do so.

Every day of the week and twice on Sunday there are people in court shaking and wiggling and saying, wasn't me. We have a person from day one who said, it was me. Here's why. Not a justification. As a result of that, this is a major victory. Symbolic to be clear, she'll be in for a little while, but 14 days, oh, my goodness. The judge could have went a lot higher.

BALDWIN: And Brynn Gingras, it's not just 14 days. She's paying a fine and community service. What are you hearing on that?

GINGRAS: Yes. Yes. So we're hearing from the courtroom again that it's about $30,000 fine that she'll have to pay, 250 hours of community service and a year probation. We're also hearing, Brooke, that her lawyer is arguing that she served those 14 days in a facility in Dublin, California, being obviously a low-risk inmate. I guess, of course, that is up toward the Bureau of Prisons to decide. Prior to today's hearing we had learned that she will walk out of this courthouse today and a date where the she has to report to prison will be set, and then that's when she will go to wherever the Bureau of Prisons designates her as an inmate.

Now something quickly from the judge as she handed down this sentence, again, 14 days behind bars in a federal prison and $30,000 fine, community service, and probation, the judge said, I think this is the right sentence here. I think you take your sentence and you move forward. You can rebuild your life after this. You've paid your dues. So some of the things that the judge told Felicity Huffman after handing down this sentence to her.

Again, she apologized multiple, multiple times throughout this. And yet it wasn't enough to spare her for the prison time of this, also you know the government wanting her to set-- this is an example, to say that, you can't do this. To be a deterrent for future people who might think about doing such a thing.

BALDWIN: OK. Brynn, thank you so much for all the news and all the hustle, and of course, Mark Morales in the courtroom. Thank you very much, Erica Hill you've been following this too. Just remind people, big picture, in her specific story and the issue of they're not really being a victim in this situation?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so that was one of the things we learned earlier. Which is typical. So probation will do a pre-sentence investigation. They basically look at it and they'll say, OK, so based on what the crime is here, here's who we see to be victim, here's what we think perhaps the sentence should be. And they didn't recommend a sentence because in that investigation they said the universities and testing companies didn't suffer financial harm in this case. Right?

And they found the price of a parent's bribe in this case wasn't really relevant to any sentences and where that's interesting is because if you try to find a victim in this, and there are victims, there are broader victims, right? As you've talked about, as Areva has mentioned as well. But if looking for a specific victim in this case, it was harder to do. At least that's the way I understand it. Right. In terms of this investigation, so it's fascinating too that they're saying, probably no sentence is necessary here.

Then there's a push for a month and then you get this in between of 14 days, which to your point really sends does a message of some sort. Is it the message everybody wanted? You know, that depends who you ask.

BALDWIN: So Joey, if you are Lori Loughlin and you're watching this today what are you thinking?

JACKSON: I mean, look. My views on that case, Brooke, to be clear is I think it's a major mistake for her to move forward. Everybody is entitled to go to court to fight their case. Some people have more meritorious defenses than others. I'll be the first to tell you, look, it's a place where you air your grievances. And if you believe you should be set free, that's a place to do it. Based upon that and based upon all I've looked at in her case and her attorneys have all the discovery, I do not. It's a tough case that she's facing.

And I don't get the analysis of why you'd move forward in that case. She has a right, her husband has a right, by all means, please, use the court system to your advantage if you can. But I'm a little concerned if I'm her now, because if you do move forward and you do lose and you know maybe she can win. But from what I'm looking at, I don't think so. But you know I've been wrong before. I think she'll be in a world of hurt. It won't be 14 days, I can guarantee you that.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. I appreciate all of you. Thank you so much for sticking around and analyzing all of that and you know, Brynn of course outside the courtroom.


Brynn was getting information from Mark Morales who was inside the courtroom for us here at CNN. We're going to actually talk to Mark who saw everyone's faces and heard the pleas and apologies, from Mark, next.


[15:50:00] BALDWIN: All right. We're back, in case you are just joining us, big, big news in this whole college admissions scandal. Felicity Huffman, the "Desperate Housewife" actress has just been sentenced by this federal judge to 14 days behind bars. She's also going to be paying a $30,000 fine. Spending 250 hours doing community service and one-year supervised release. So, OK, going on to you, Brynn Gingras. What do you have?

GINGRAS: Yes. I have Mark Morales here now. Yes, Brooke, basically inside of the courtroom giving us more details. For us quickly say she has to report October 25th for those 14 days. How was Felicity Huffman during this hearing?

MARK MORALES, CNN PRODUCER WHO WAS IN THE COURTROOM DURING SENTENCING: Well when she walked in, she looked very stoic. You could tell that something was bothering her but she kept a straight face. While she was speaking, while she was giving her allocution, you could tell she started to break down, she started to cry. She said she told the story about how she was driving to -- her daughter to the test center to take that test and she referenced her eternal shame that she didn't turn. And once she said eternal shame, she started to break down a little bit.

GINGRAS: She apologized to her family members. Did she break down when the judge actually said 14 days behind bars.

MORALES: At that point, she was just sitting there straight faced and just listened to the judge impose that sentence, and at that point it is really the judge who's giving her rationale and her reason for why she's imposing the sentence of 14 days. And she highlighted it wasn't so much the universities or any of the victims who had lost. She wanted to hone in on what exactly was the outcry, why everyone was upset? And it was about privileged children from privileged families who got one other leg up and that was really the center piece for why she decided 14 days.

GINGRAS: Interesting, and now October 25th she has to report to the Bureau of Prisons. What were her attorneys arguing as to where she should spend this time?

MORALES: They wanted Dublin, California. That is a low security -- somewhat like a camp but that's not really up to the judge. That is really more the BOP's area of expertise and that is what they're going to decide so there is only so much the judge could do.

GINGRAS: So we're essentially going to see her walking back outside of the courtroom with her husband who she was in there with. What was their reaction? She had a number of family members and friends who came from New York,

different places to support her. What was their reaction in the courtroom?

MORALES: They were also stoic. Just straight faced, not giving any emotion. At one point, Felicity did leave before the hearing started. She walked hand in hand with another family member. It's unclear where they went but you could tell that they were here to support her. Not showing much emotion at all.

GINGRAS: And Brooke, yes, she said in the letters, right, Mark, we've read many of them that she was going to accept any penalty that she was given by this judge and it sounds like with the stoic expression, even though she was tearful during her allocution, that's exactly what she did, she took the punishment knowing what she did was wrong.

BALDWIN: What about the judge?

MORALES: That's the last thing that she told the judge. She's like, I'll take whatever punishment you give, and the judge thanked her for that, and that was right before she gave the 14 days.

GINGRAS: Go ahead, Brooke, I can feed what you're asking to Mark.

BALDWIN: No. Just ask Mark about what did the judge say when she was speaking directly to her, to the court? What message did she send?

GINGRAS: What did the judge say when speaking directly to her handing down the sentence? What was the message she was giving her?

MORALES: That you could rebuild your life after this. That you could come back from this. That you should take this as a lesson and you can rehabilitate herself, and her last thing that she said before she walked out of the courtroom was, good luck to you.

GINGRAS: So it'll be interesting like we've been talking all along, Brooke, right, this was going to be the sort of the tone-setting moment for these future cases, for the people that are ensnared in this scandal, who have both pleaded guilty and others who have not pleaded guilty. Which we know of course includes actress Lori Loughlin and her husband Mossimo Giannuli. So it's definitely going to be an interesting precedent, we'll see where it goes from here -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Mark and Brynn, thank you so much. Both of you for the quick hustle and turning that news around for us. And that is it. Elie Honig if I could just do a quick one minute with you. We were talking about Felicity Huffman and this is ground zero, right. It is only going to be worse from here. Does she change her tune?

HONIG: This is a cold, hard reality hit for Lori Loughlin and her husband and all the other defendants in the case. Because this is as low as the sentences are going to get. Lori Loughlin and her husband have played themselves into a very tight spot here where they only have two options. One, as Joe said, go to trial and everyone is entitled but, boy, that is a role of the dice, 80 percent, 90 percent, figure varies but 80 percent, 90 percent of federal trials result in conviction. If she gets convicted, she's going away for years. But the best plea offer is the first plea offer, it's only to get tougher. So maybe this is a reality hit and may cause a change in tune.

BALDWIN: OK. There you go, 14 days, $30,000 fine, 250 hours of community service and a year of supervised release. That is the future for Felicity Huffman. You're watching CNN. Special coverage continues right after this.



BALDWIN: We are just now getting a statement from actress Felicity Huffman. She was just sentenced by this judge in Boston federal courthouse, 14 days serving in jail for her role in the college admissions scandal. She cried moments ago as she was there talking, speaking directly to the judge, and let me just read part of the statement. She says I accept the court's decision today without reservation. I have always been prepared to accept whatever punishment Judge Talwani imposed. I broke the law. I have admitted that and I pleaded guilty to this crime. There are no excuses or justifications for my actions, period.

And then she goes on to apologize to her daughter, her husband, and her family. And she vows to become a better citizen. Felicity Huffman reports to service that sentence October 25th. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me. "THE LEAD" starts now.