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Andrew Yang's $120,000 Giveaway Stung: Is it Legal; Mother Went to Vote, Gets Arrested Soon After; DNC Communications Director Xochitl Hinojosa Discusses the Debate, Mandatory Federal Gun Buyback Program & Gun Violence. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired September 13, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Democratic president candidate, Andrew Yang, gained a lot of buzz during the debate with this statement.


ANDREW YANG, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My campaign will now give a freedom dividend of $,1000 a month for an entire year to 10 American families, someone watching this at home right now.

If you believe that you can solve your own problems better than any politician, go to and tell us how $,1000 a month will help you do just that.



KEILAR: Sounds great, right? Who doesn't want $1,000? But is this legal?

CNN contributor, Larry Noble is here. He's former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.

This is meant to be a pilot program, as he says, for his universal basic income plan. That's the promise he's made, to provide $1,000 a month to every American adult if he's elected.

Since this plan is taking place during the campaign, and also is this what this is really about, does this violate federal election law?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It clearly pushes the limits. The law prohibits the personal use of campaign funds. If he was to give a gift to an individual and just say do whatever you want out of the campaign fund, that's illegal. You can't do that.

But here, the trick is that what he's really doing is driving people to his Web site. He's taking email addresses. Also on the Web site, you can contribute. You don't to contribute. And he's building an e- mail base. So I think his argument, or at least his lawyer's arguments would be that they are really building -- this is a fundraising tool.

KEILAR; But if you asked people who were going to his Web site, they would say not because I want to help him with his list. They would say, I wanted a thousand dollars. So it sort of, to me, is almost, as a layperson not super familiar with election law, it kind of blows my mind that this would be legal.

But there are other examples, right, of things the candidates do that are kind of widely accepted, perfectly legal, that fit into this category.

NOBLE: Right. If you look at Elizabeth Warren and others have done these contests where you don't have to contribute, but if you go on their Web site and you sign up, you may win a lottery too, in her case, have a beer with her. If you read the Web site, they'll put up $3,000 for you to fly to where she is and have a beer with her. They're paying for your airfare at that point.

It's different in a sense it's more like a meeting with a candidate and getting something directly out of it, but it's the same kind.

KEILAR: Yes, the candidate, the campaign is going the same thing as Yang is doing.

NOBLE: Right.

KEILAR; All right. Larry Noble, thank you so much for explaining that to us.

Yet another storm taking aim at the Bahamas as more than a thousand people are still missing there.


Plus, it's one of the nation's most high-profile cases. A Texas mother doesn't realize that she cannot vote legally, and when she does, she's arrested and sentenced to five years in prison. She's going to join me live.


KEILAR: A Texas woman sentenced to five years in prison for illegally voting in the 2016 election is now appealing her conviction. Crystal Mason, who was on parole after serving time in prison for a felony tax fraud conviction, said she filled out a provisional ballot after a volunteer at her polling place suggested it to her.

Mason insists she had no idea she could not vote until her parole was complete and said no one warned her, including her probation officer.


But prosecution alleges that Mason knew exactly what she was doing. And they were able to convict under a state statute that says it's illegal to vote or attempt to vote if he or a person knows he or she is illegible. Crystal Mason is with us now along with her lawyer, Kim T. Cole.

Crystal, what was your initial reaction when you heard you would serve five years in prison for this?

CRYSTAL MASON, APPEALING CONVICTION FOR VOTING ILLEGALLY: I was devastated. I was in disbelief that this was really happening to me.

KEILAR: What were you expecting on that day when you had your sentence handed down?

MASON: I was expecting for the judge to see that, listening to my supervise release officer, my supervisor, listening to the story when he stated I was never told as well, and as I never signed anything stating I was ineligible to vote.

KEILAR: You thought -- you were expecting he would have heard that and that would have weighed on him, and he would have taken that from your supervisor as gospel, really?

MASON: Correct, yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: So there's a lot of people who are following your case, and they point out that there have been similar cases to yours, two in particular where the defendants were white, one of them who voted twice for Donald Trump. These defendants did not get any jail time, only probation.

And there are a number of observers here who look at your case and they think that race is at play. Do you think race is at play?

MASON: At this moment, right now, I'm just trusting that my attorneys gave great facts when I was in my appeal court just on the 10th. So I'm trusting that the judge will review everything and everything will come out with justice.

KEILAR: Kim, what do you think? When you see this discrepancy between Miss Mason's case and these other cases that are -- they're similar as far as what legal experts look at in terms of what the sentencing will be. What do you think is going on?

KIM T. COLE, ATTORNEY FOR CRYSTAL MASON: I believe that Miss Mason's case is actually unique. It's a case of first impression here in the state of Texas. No one has ever been convicted of illegally voting, forecasting a provisional ballot and having that ballot be rejected.

KEILAR: So you were very much sticking to the law. And I know you're in the middle of all of this, so that does make sense. But the prosecution, the argument, is there's no way that Crystal did not know that she wasn't allowed to vote. What did you -- what was your response to that then?

COLE: Our response is, Crystal, as Crystal just indicated, the supervisor of the probation office specifically testified on the stand that he never warned Crystal that she would not be eligible to vote. In fact, he indicated that there wasn't -- at the time there, was not

a mechanism in place for the Federal Bureau of Prisons to even address that issue, which makes sense because the laws vary from state to state and people may be released here in Texas and returned to Minnesota or Mississippi or somewhere else where the laws are different.

So when someone is released from federal custody, they aren't given any advice. Or at the time Crystal was released, she wasn't given any advice with regard to her rights.

Now, that has since changed. Since Crystal's conviction, now there's a form that specifically advises -- or at least here in the northern district of Texas where Crystal was convicted, there's a form that specifically addresses this now.

KEILAR: Crystal, you're a mom. You've been in jail before. You know what that's like to be away from your family. How would five more years in prison impact you and your family?

MASON: It would devastate my mom, first of all, as well as my children. So this will be a very hard impact on us.

KEILAR: How old are your kids?

MASON: I have a 19, a 20 and a 25-year-old.

KEILAR: And you've actually said that, having been convicted, that that's more reason why you would be less likely to knowingly do this. Explain that to us.

MASON: Me, being convicted and getting out and getting a fresh start, I wouldn't have done anything to jeopardize that. The only thing I was focused on was bettering my education and supporting and taking care of my family, reuniting with my family.

KEILAR; Kim, really quickly because we're running out of time here, but where does this go from here?


COLE: So right now, the judges are deliberating Crystal's case. And we are believing that based upon the facts and evidence that we presented on appeal, they will overturn Crystal's conviction.

Crystal did not vote. And she submitted a provisional ballot that wasn't ever counted.

She also did not know that she was ineligible or that she would be declared ineligible in Tarrant County because that's still not clear whether or not someone who is on federal supervisory release is not eligible to vote. That hasn't been decided by any court in the state of Texas at this point.

So we're under the belief that if the laws follow that --


KEILAR: Do you know when the judges will rule?

COLE: No, we don't have a timeframe on it.


COLE: They will take as much as time as they need to deliberate.

KEILAR: Kim T. Cole, thank you very much.

Crystal Mason, thank you for sharing your story with us out of Addison, Texas.

MASON: Thank you.

COLE: You're welcome. Thank you.

KEILAR; Moments ago, Actress Felicity Huffman walked into court to learn her fate in the huge college cheating scandal.



KEILAR: There were many big moments during last night's debate. Maybe not more passionate than Beto O'Rourke's plea to end gun violence following the shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED DEBATE MODERATOR: Are you proposing taking their guns? And how would it work.

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

So many other people were shot by that A.R.-15 in Odessa and Midland, there were enough ambulances to get to them in time.

Hell, yes, we're going to take your A.R.-15, you're A.K.-47.



KEILAR: I'm joined now by the communications director for the Democratic National Committee, Xochitl Hinojosa.

Thank you for joining us.


KEILAR: All right. To be clear, this isn't the DNC platform, to have a mandatory buyback or take peopling guns away, right? HINOJOSA: Well, the DNC platform is clear on background checks and

making sure we're doing something about gun violence.

What you heard last night from Beto O'Rourke -- and you had a large debate because we're in the state of Texas, as you know, two mass shootings in one month -- something needs to be done. So we're having this important conversation right now.

But I think everyone on that stage agrees that A.R.-15s shouldn't in the hands of your average people in order to do damage with other people. So I think this has been a very dangerous situation in the state of Texas. They continue to pass laxed gun laws.

So everyone on that debate stage and all of our candidates wanting to do something about it, while Republicans won't.

KEILAR: OK. But that's, so -- it's not the platform. Right? Officially?

HINOJOSA: In our platform -


HINOJOSA: In our platform, it is doesn't have his proposal specifically, but it does talk about the need to reduce gun violence.

KEILAR: Sure. Sure.

I want to ask you, because we have reporting off Capitol Hill, our reporters are saying that what Beto O'Rourke said has sent shock waves through really the people who are trying to work on something when it comes to gun violence. As you know, Xochitl, they have a very heavy lift.

This is the -- the deck is stacked against them getting anything done. And Democrats -- like we had Chris Coons, Senator Chris Coons on saying that, you know, this is -- it's difficult, because he believes, for instance, that this is something that Republicans, conservatives can seize on. The narrative has long been from conservatives: Democrats want to take your guns. Democrats say, no, we don't want to take your guns.

Beto O'Rourke is saying we want to take your guns. And Chris Coons says it gives conservatives ammunition. What do you say to that?

HINOJOSA: Beto O'Rourke isn't saying we'll take all of your guns. He's specifically talking about A.R.-15s. But when it comes to the issue of gun violence and what's happening on Capitol Hill, no matter what Beto O'Rourke's proposal or anyone on the debate stage, Republicans won't act.

Whether or not, you know, their proposals talk about A.R.-15s or not, there's a background check bill that Donald Trump wanted to make Mitch McConnell --

(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: These are Democrats --


KEILAR; -- Republicans. Joe Manchin, Chris Coons, these are Democrats concerned about what a Democrat said.

HINOJOSA: We're having that important conversation right now. I think we need to have that important conversation where we're talking how we're going to reduce gun violence.

It's up to the voters to decide how we move forward and who has the best ideas to do that.

Right now, I don't think that that excuse and that debate is means that Republicans shouldn't do anything. Right? I think that's what they want. They want an excuse in order not to pass background checks. And that is unacceptable and the American people should hold them accountable.

KEILAR: Xochitl, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

HINOJOSA: Thanks so much for having me.

KEILAR: Xochitl Hinojosa, with the DNC.


And a couple sues a fertility clinic after the woman says she was impregnated with the wrong man's sperm. The clinic claims she had an affair.

Plus, Actress Felicity Huffman learning her fate any moment in that college scandal. Stand by for that.


[14:00:05] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN on this Friday. Great to be with you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.