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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Historic Flooding; Bill Cosby Charged; Catastrophic Flooding Threatens Missouri Towns; New Year's Holiday Threats Prompt More Security. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired December 30, 2015 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: From America's dad to sex assault suspect.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: Bill Cosby facing charges of sexual assault, something 40 years in the making for so many women who never had their day in court.

Raging river, storms killing dozens, millions trying to escape, as historic flooding pushes water over levees and to the rooftops in the Midwest.

Terror alert: one city completely canceling New Year's celebrations, as three major cities here in the U.S. beef up security to keep you safe as you sip that champagne at midnight.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news. Here is Bill Cosby's mug shot, the man once known as America's dad now officially charged with a sexual assault. Cosby walking into court this afternoon to face charges that he sexually assaulted a Temple University employee at his home outside Philadelphia back in 2004.

Dozens of women, more than 50 total in fact, dating back decades have now accused the legendary comedian of sexual assault or rape or attempted sexual assault or rape, many with similar stories of Cosby gaining their trust, using his wholesome image to get close to them and then drugging them to facilitate the assault.

But the statute of limitations has expired in nearly all of those cases. This is the first time the man who built an empire on the funny truths about family and fatherhood could actually go to prison.

CNN's Jean Casarez is outside the courthouse in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

Jean, you were inside that room as it happened. Describe to us the scene. JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a very small courtroom.

This is the courthouse right behind me. This is the courthouse and you just walk in the door and there is the courtroom right there.

We asked when first got here, is Bill Cosby actually going to be here? And they said, yes, we are expecting him. So the courtroom was packed, very small courtroom packed. And suddenly one of the law enforcement local police put his head in and said to the Montgomery County investigators, get ready.

And right after that, that black SUV pulled up. And we could see it right out the window. He got out. He walked into the courtroom with Monique Pressley, who has been a spokeswoman for the defense, by his side. She seemingly led him to his seat. It seemed like he couldn't see.

And she was directing him where to turn and how to sit down. He sat down. A male attorney sat to his left. And just before you knew it, the judge, the magistrate judge, sat in her seat, came in. Everyone rose. And she said, good afternoon, Mr. Cosby. And she immediately, which is the purpose of this arraignment, apprised him of the charges, aggravated indecent assault.

And then -- and there was no reaction from him. He listened. You could tell he heard, but there was no visible reaction. And then she went into bail. She said, I have set your bail at $1 million with 10 percent. And there are conditions of bail. You must have no contact at all with the complainant. I need your passport turned in. Well, his attorney just stood up right there. And he had the passport in his hand.

He said, Your Honor, I have got the passport and I'm going to give it right now to the prosecutor. He gave it to the prosecutor as she just maintained her silence and sat in her seat. And then the judge went on and said that if there are any violations of any of the conditions of bail, you will be arrested.

And then she said, I need you to sign paperwork. So paperwork came, one being the conditions of bail. And she went over again that he must have no contact with -- and she did not say Andrea Constand, but she said the complainant. And he said no contact with? And she said no contact with the complainant. Do you understand? Yes, he said. Big smile on his face when he said yes.

And his whole demeanor was serious to a point, not joking at all, but not really bothered by it, not distraught, not realizing the severity and the intensity of what was happening at this moment possibly. At the very end, she said, now you have to go to the police station to finish up all the paperwork. And she said, Mr. Cosby, good luck. And he said thank you.

It was a big booming voice in that courtroom. He said thank you. With that, stood up. He was led out of the courtroom.

SCIUTTO: Truly remarkable. Really a jarring scene. Jean Casarez, incredible to have you there inside. As we mentioned earlier, these are the first criminal charges to come

from the many dozens of claims that Cosby drugged and abused women over a period of more than 40 years.

CNN's Deb Feyerick has been digging through the charges, joining me live now.

So, Deb, how did this finally come to criminal charges in this case after so many other public allegations of this kind of behavior?

[16:05:00]

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the charges came because of Bill Cosby's own words, a deposition he gave more than a decade ago as part of a civil suit. Well, it was part of legal documents unsealed over the summer.

And that triggered prosecutors to reopen this case and see whether in fact he should face criminal charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN STEELE, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Mr. Cosby is charged with aggravated indecent assault.

FEYERICK (voice-over): After years of denial and claims that the encounter was consensual, Bill Cosby for the first time faces criminal charges for the alleged sexual assault of a Pennsylvania woman.

The charges coming after Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, accused Cosby of drugging, then assaulting her in 2004, when she visited the man she considered a friend and mentor at his Pennsylvania home.

STEELE: Mr. Cosby made two sexual advances at her that were rejected. On the evening in question, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills that he provided to her and to drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move or respond to his advances.

FEYERICK: Though Constand came forward in 2005, the district attorney at the time did not file charges. That same year, Constand sued Cosby, the comedian then settling for an undisclosed amount.

Legal documents in that case were unsealed for the first time this past July, and the deposition made public. In it, Cosby admits giving women quaaludes, but never without their knowledge. Constand's lawyer asks Cosby, "When you got the quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?"

Cosby replies, "Yes."

That deposition and other evidence unsealed in the civil case paved the way for a new district attorney to reinvestigate the allegations. In the criminal complaint, Constand says Cosby told her the pills were herbal. And after taking them, she lost her strength, but was aware of Cosby -- quote -- "fondling her breasts" and of his hands into her pants.

STEELE: What we know is that pills were provided. There's inconsistencies on what type of pills they were. There was also wine that was provided. We then go to the reaction of the victim, you know, frozen, paralyzed, unable to move. A person in that state cannot give consent.

FEYERICK: Constand was the first woman to publicly come forward accusing Cosby. Since then, some 50 women have alleged similar sexual assaults over a period of four decades, most involving the use of drugs. Cosby has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and even filed a countersuit against seven women earlier this month.

Cosby says their accusations hurt his reputation and derailed his plans for a new comedy show. Prosecutors are right up against the expiration of the 12-year statute of limitations for sexual assault cases in Pennsylvania, which will close early next year.

Cosby could get up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK: And so that alleged victim, Andrea Constand, remained undeterred and it was that civil suit really and that deposition that led to this opening of the case and these criminal charges, the first against Cosby, because for so many women, the statute of limitations has run out, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much.

Joining me now to talk about this case, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Christine Grillo, she's a former district attorney in Brooklyn in New York and prosecuted sex crimes case herself. We also have here in Washington Joseph Cammarata. He's an attorney for seven other Cosby accusers.

Thanks to all of you.

Joe, I want to speak with you because I understand you're deposing Bill Cosby next month in just about a week's time on these cases. First thing I will ask you is, what is your clients' reaction to seeing Bill Cosby today marched into a local courthouse and charged with a crime?

JOSEPH CAMMARATA, ATTORNEY: Well, as an attorney, I can't give you precisely my clients' reaction because I don't want to violate the attorney-client privilege, but if you put it in the context of the greater public reaction, the women in general that have been assaulted or abused, as they allege, they feel some sense of vindication that there might be a prosecution of Mr. Cosby and he might be brought to justice.

SCIUTTO: Paul, if I could ask you, you have this criminal case beginning in effect. You have a number of other civil cases that Joe Cammarata is involved in, in part because the statute of limitations have expired on those cases. What effect will this criminal case have on those cases?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think these cases are all going to have an effect on one another. There's a possibility in the criminal case that there will be reference to his engaging in this pattern of conduct, of drugging women through the use of quaaludes and then having sex with them when they were not in a position to consent.

[16:10:03]

And, similarly, if he is convicted in this criminal case, those civil cases that so many of the women have brought, they're likely to prevail, or they will have a better chance of prevailing. Everything is interrelated in this very complex case involving over 40 women.

SCIUTTO: A lot of money at stake, of course, in those civil cases.

Christine, if I could ask you, you have prosecuted sexual assault cases before. Just for casual outside observers like myself, often in criminal cases, past behaviors cannot be entered as evidence, partly to protect the defendant. In this case, though, as they're prosecuting the criminal charges, can they bring in other women to testify and say, oh, he did the same thing to me to establish a pattern?

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTINE GRILLO, FORMER NEW YORK PROSECUTOR: Right.

I think they're going to be able to. Quite frankly, that's the strongest evidence of the prosecution's case at this point, because you're forgetting you're going to have the victim telling her side of the story and probably eventually you're going to have the defendant telling his side.

What's going to make this a successful prosecution is if you can prove that this is not a mistake, this was not consent, and in order to do that, these prior bad acts that he has not been charged with are going or should be able to come in, because if Bill Cosby is claiming that this is a mistake, then legally the prosecution can bring in prior bad acts that Cosby has not been charged with to prove that this is a pattern of behavior and this is not a mistake.

Absence of mistake is a legal reason to allow non-charged acts, non- charged bad acts of the defendant to be allowed in on the prosecution's case.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting, because you almost resurrect in a way cases the statute of limitations has expired on.

A lot of this case is based on Cosby's own words in a deposition that was made public just this July. And I was reading through that deposition, if I could ask you, Joe, and his words are really alarming. He describes in this case, the one that's related to this criminal charge now: "I don't feel her say anything. And so I continue and I go into that area that is somewhere between permission and rejection, in that I was not stopped." It almost seems to me, and I'm not a lawyer, but that that's an admission there that there was not consent, or that he's trying to find a way to get around consent.

CAMMARATA: Well, he said he's a good reader of people, that he can tell whether or not someone's romantically interested in him, if you were to read more portions of his deposition.

So he could tell you what's in that other person's mind. So he advanced and he did this, that and the other thing. And it wasn't -- what she's saying, there was no consent. I couldn't give consent because I was given these drugs.

SCIUTTO: Right. Yes.

CAMMARATA: And so with those drugs that are sedatives that he himself described as making you high, sleepy, he didn't take them himself because they made him sleepy. They make you drunk.

And when asked about whether or not my client who he had sex with, and he admitted in the deposition that he gave her quaaludes, whether or not he knew if she consented, he said, I don't know. Now, my client says she didn't consent, that "He raped me."

So it's a very powerful testimony, very powerful admissions, and it's going to be used against him.

SCIUTTO: Paul Callan, using your expertise, can a woman give consent when she's on a drug like this? Bill Cosby claims that she consented to taking the drugs, but from a court's perspective, does that qualify as consent?

CALLAN: No, it doesn't. It's interesting, Jim, that question, because more recently I think we have kind of changed the rules of conduct with men and women about talking about getting clear affirmative consent before a man proceeds with sexual contact with a woman.

A lot of people say back in the old days, it wasn't that way. If she didn't say no, that meant yes. Well, the law has always held that if a woman is so intoxicated by drugs or alcohol that she cannot form the ability to consent one way or another, then it's rape or it's aggravated sexual assault if you proceed.

And there's an interesting set of questions by Troiani, who is Constand's attorney, in which Cosby says, I got the quaaludes to give to women. And then she follows with a question, do you know if my client consented? And he says, I can't get into her mind. I don't know.

So, I think that's powerful evidence against Cosby in this case. And that's why the prosecutor decided to proceed.

SCIUTTO: From his own words. From his own words.

CAMMARATA: From his own words. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Christine, I want to give you a final word to pipe in here.

Pennsylvania has a speedy trial rule, from what I understand, 365 days. So we can now see this proceed very quickly from here; is that right?

GRILLO: Oh, well, yes, unless there's reasons for allowed delays, if there's motion practice, which I'm assuming there's going to be. There's going to be a huge fight about these prior cases and this course of conduct with all of these other women.

The defense attorneys are going to fight tooth and nail to keep that out. And I don't think they will be successful, because the only defense I can see Cosby having here is that she consented, whether it be to the drugs, whether it be to the sexual acts.

[16:15:07] And the minute he does that, all the other prior bad acts are going to come into play.

SCIUTTO: All right. Paul Callan, Christine Grillo, Joseph Cammarata, great to have you all here as we look into this really, really alarming case.

Now, more breaking news in the Midwest, extreme devastating floods literally moving houses off their foundations. And new forecasts are making this an even more dire situation. How emergency officials are trying to save lives as the water rises.

Plus, how long all this water could end up sticking around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

More breaking news now in the national lead: catastrophic flooding is pushing rivers high above their banks. Twenty-four people killed, often for making the dangerous decision for attempt to drive for high fast moving water. Please don't do it.

The flooding is swallowing homes and business whole. Look at this, a man and a dog on top of a roof forced to jump into a rescue boat below just to save their lives. The Mighty Mississippi is at levels hardly ever seen before.

Other rivers are at all-time highs. More than 16 million people under flood warnings right now in the area.

Some told to escape while they can and evacuate their homes immediately. It could be another week before they start to see all that water clear away.

CNN's Martin Savidge joining me now live in Missouri. He's right by those rising flood waters.

Martin, show us the situation exactly where you are.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're in the town of Pacific, Jim. And if you just take a look at what's happening in the older section of this town, you look down First Street here and as far as you can see, it is water. That is water coming out from the Mississippi River but coming from the Merrimac River and the water here is expected to crest either later today or tomorrow. And it is just remarkable throughout this region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): In some of the worst flooding in state history, parts of the St. Louis region are under water. This shopping area half submerged, a sign for Jimmy John's Sandwich Shop still visible above the water. Hundreds of roads and bridges are closed, including more than 20 miles of I-44.

This lone vehicle was trapped by the water, a boat crew rescuing the stranded woman inside.

[16:20:00] Rescue crews also coming to the aid of this man stuck on top of a pickup truck. The flood waters spilling out of its door after it was pulled to safety. Emergency crews also had to save this man and his dog.

In Missouri and Illinois, the Mississippi, Missouri and m Merrimac Rivers are all experiencing major flooding. In Illinois, this woman helplessly watching as flood waters flow around and then into her home.

This cabin caught floating away on the Merrimac River. And where it hasn't yet flooded, residents are preparing, laying sandbags and evacuating from nearby levees, while engineers work to try to ensure that they hold.

KELLY NORTHCUTT, LIVES IN VALLEY PARK, MISSOURI: My son's already gone, kids are gone, pets are gone, trying to get the rest of the stuff out of here that's important to us.

SAVIDGE: In some places, rivers and streams have already crested, but not the Mighty Mississippi, which isn't expected to peak until later tonight or Thursday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE: The continuing concern is not just that the water levels would start to rise but that they could also again to breach levees or even worse than that just simply pour right over the top -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right. They've seen it in that area before. Martin Savidge, thanks very much.

Let's go downstream now to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She's in Valley Park, Missouri.

So, Jennifer, we're hearing that a new forecast is making the situation there even worse than we thought?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, absolutely. Just what people don't want to hear. It's really hard to predict these crests.

And this morning, we were predicting crest about 43 feet, now it's expected to crest at 44 feet. That's going to be four feet above the record. Three feet was bad enough. And now you add another foot on top of that. It's just going to make matters worse.

And flood stage is at 16 feet, if you can believe it. Look behind me, we've been here all morning long since 5:30 this morning. And you can see water almost touching that bridge. That's I-44 where the bridge is. And then if we pan over here to the right you can see that sign that says north-south, that's Highway 141 in fact this entire area right behind me is Highway 141 completely under water, most likely about 12 to 13 feet under water.

And I imagine by tomorrow morning, those signs will be completely submerged. It's going to take quite a while for this water to go down. In fact, the Missouri Department of Transportation says about a 24-mile stretch of I-44 is completely closed. In fact, it could be closed until Friday or so.

And also, Highway 141 could be closed until Monday or Tuesday. It all depends on how fast these waters recede. These rivers rise slowly, slower than flash floods at least, and then recede slowly. So folks will have a lot, a lot of cleanup to do.

This has been the rainiest year on record for St. Louis. They've received 20 more inches of rain than they should this time of year, receiving about 61 inches of rain. And they received about ten of those inches in December alone.

So, it has been a wet month, nowhere for this water to go. It all flows into the rivers and streams and down into the Mississippi River. So, we'll see problems downstream in cities like Little Rock, Memphis, Paducah, Kentucky as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer, you're in those communities, just quickly before we go, have they completely cleared out as this water has risen? Are you seeing anybody there?

GRAY: I couldn't hear you quite well but I think you asked if we have a lot of people here. We have a lot of people on the banks looking and seeing what's going on, as far as people in their homes, I know a lot of people have evacuated. Some of the lower lying areas, they have ordered a mandatory evacuation, so a lot of people are in hotels staying with friends.

But as far as out and about, we've seen a lot of people just taking a look and seeing what's going on, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jennifer Gray on the scene for us -- thanks very much.

Also right now, law enforcement on high alert looking out for any signs of terrorists plotting attacks as crowds gather tomorrow for New Year's Eve celebrations. Now, word that a major city is taking no chances, completely calling off those festivities. This as we learn details of what one group was planning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:27:52] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in again today for Jake Tapper.

Making headlines in our national lead: federal law enforcement investigating terror threats to three major U.S. cities as millions of revelers plan to ring in 2016. CNN has learned that President Obama has been briefed on a threat originating overseas targeting high profile locations in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, including large gatherings and mass transit.

Counterterror officials are acting with extreme caution. New York City will have more than 6,000 uniformed and uniformed officers in or near Times Square, that's the largest deployment there ever.

CNN's justice reporter Evan Perez joins us now live from Times Square, the cross roads of the world, my hometown, 1 million people expected to watch the ball drop tomorrow.

Evan, you know, there are always a lot of threats out there -- some not specific, some very general. In this case, how specific and credible is this threat?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it's not very specific, Jim, but that's one reason why officials are taking no chances. You know, here in Times Square, we have already, you know, just 24 hours away from when over a million people are going to be gathering. The focus is going to be the ball drop right behind us.

And, you know, we're going to make sure -- we're going to make sure that people want to make sure that everybody here comes here and celebrates safely. They're going to have 6,000 New York City officers here on hand. The FBI has boosted the number of officers in its command centers both here in Washington and in Los Angeles. There's a lot of concern in Los Angeles about the Rose Bowl parade and the football game draws a lot of people from around the country.

The threat that the president got briefed on, Jim, before he left for his vacation was not very specific. This generally described a threat to these three cities. It was uncorroborated, but it is because of the year that we've had with the number of ISIS arrests around the country that they really cannot take any chances.

SCIUTTO: So, here's a question I get as I'm sure you do from friends and family in times like this. Are the police recommending people not participate in celebrations, particularly in these three cities, Washington, New York and Los Angeles?

PEREZ: Absolutely not. They want people to come out here and they can see the crowds already building here.