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President Trump: Dems are Now an "Anti-Israel" & "Anti-Jewish Party"; Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) Connecticut is Interviewed About President Trump Claiming Dems are "Anti-Jewish Party"; Ex-Fox News Exec Bill Shine Out at White House Amid Reports President Trump Is Frustrated With Slew Of Bad Headlines; Harris On Manafort: "Absolute Unfairness" In The Judicial System; Manafort Awaits Additional Sentencing In D.C. Next Week; Smollett Faces 16 New Felony Charges After Attack Claim. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired March 8, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:20] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.

The suggestion that a public servant has loyalties to a foreign power or group is as old as it is offensive. John Kennedy, the first Catholic president, was accused during the campaign of owing allegiance to the pope over the American people. The American people rejected that slur just as they've done for Muslim members of Congress more recently.

Over the years, Muslim, Catholics, socialists, free masons and others have been accused of having dual loyalties. However, no group of Americans has dwelt this more often than Jewish-Americans. Which is why tonight we're tackling the subject which, head on, which critics say more than the Democratic Party has done. They're grappling with how to handle the Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's embrace and not for the first time of anti-Semitic tropes.

It reached a flash point when she said and I'm quoting: I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it's okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country, meaning Israel.

Prior to that, responding to a tweet from the journalist Glenn Greenwald about defending Israel, he sys that the cost of free speech in this country, Omar replied with a tweet of her own, quote: It's all about the Benjamins, baby, it reads.

She since apologized but also tried on change the subject, saying: At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic rule of lobbyists in our politics, whether it'd be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil fuel industry. It's gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.

Yesterday, the House passed a resolution broadly condemning hate and intolerance including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination largely in response to the congresswoman's recent remarks. As you might imagine, the resolution is taking heat on a number of fronts, particularly that it's so broad, it's almost meaningless and Democrats are on the defensive because it is not a specific condemnation of anything. Again, we'll be going into that side of it at length tonight. But keeping them honest, all of this has allowed President Trump to

take a stand which has surprised many, to allow him to weigh in on the controversy. Here's what he said about the vote this morning.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought yesterday's vote by the House was disgraceful. It has become, the Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party and I thought that was a disgrace and so does everyone else if you get an honest answer. If you get an honest answer from politicians, they thought it was a disgrace.

The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party. And that's too bad.


COOPER: That's the slogan there, he repeated it twice. He also retweeted on this and I'm quoting. It is shameful the House Democrats won't take stronger stand against anti-Semitism in their conference. Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it's inconceivable they will not act to condemn it.

Now, there's plenty to criticize about the Democrats' response to one of their own member's comments and we're going to get into that shortly. But keeping them honest, it is more than a little rich to their president criticize anyone for not condemning anti-Semitism when he had such a hard time condemning this.


COOPER: White nationalists and neo-Nazis in public marching in Charlottesville, chanting that and other Nazi-era slogans, "Jews will not replace us", at a weekend of protests that ended with a white supremacist ramming his car to a crowd of counterprotesters and killing a young woman.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me. Excuse me. I saw the same pictures as you did.


COOPER: Very fine people on both sides which could mean he needs glasses. That's one possibility. The others maybe anti-Semitism doesn't really move the needle for him unless he's attacking political points. Over the years, he has shown a similar reluctance to condemn anti-Semitism and other intolerance closer to home. The president said nothing about Iowa Congressman Steve King just months ago when he defended white nationalism. In the aftermath of that, he didn't say the Republican Party is the pro-white supremacist party which would be the exact equivalent of what he just said today about the Democratic Party being anti-Jewish. But he didn't say that. Just like he didn't say anything condemning former KKK grand wizard

David Duke who during the campaign because Duke traffics in Jewish conspiracies and supported candidate Trump. When pressed on it by CNN's Jake Tapper, he falsely denied even knowing the man.


TRUMP: Just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke, OK? I don't know what you're even talking about white supremacy or white supremacists.

[20:05:05] So I don't know. I mean, I don't know. Did he endorse me? Or what's going on? Because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.


COOPER: Well, in fact, he knew who Duke was and had even condemned him in the past. In addition to that, certain aspects of his Twitter feed and even his official campaign material appeared to adopt many people -- in some people's opinions, anti-Semitic tropes. There was the image that he tweeted out featuring the six-pointed star, a pile of cash and the words "most corrupt candidate ever". An image, by the way, that had been posted to an anti-Semitic white supremacist message board ten days earlier.

Dan Scavino, the president's social media director, called the Star of David looking shape, and I'm quoting, the sheriff's badge, which he said fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary, which must be why the anti-Semitic posted it as well. Right.

Now, in fairness, as out and out unlikely as the explanation sounds, it does provide at least the veneer of deniability which is how dog whistles work, associating a six pointed star with money for example, or using images of money and powerful Americans such as George Soros and Fed chair Janet Yellen as the announcer talks about sinister global forces controlling American lives.


TRUMP: For those who control the levers of power in Washington, for the global special interests, they partner with these people that don't have your good in mind. The political establishment --


COOPER: This is by the way, this is a Trump campaign commercial. In fact, it was a final ad of the campaign, the closing arguments. And, yes, it could certainly be read in two ways which may or may not be intentional.

But it didn't end there. The president continued on attack George Soros, connecting him without evidence to migrant caravans in Mexico, suggesting he is using his global billions, what he calls a foreign invasion of this country which certainly has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? Joining us now is Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut.

Sir, thanks so much.

When you hear the president's accusation against your party, are you concerned that the House hasn't sufficiently repudiated Congresswoman Omar? Because it gives the opportunity certainly for the president to claim the Democrats are anti-Semitic.

BLUMENTHAL: First, Anderson, thank you for tackling this very, very important issue and a very sensitive one.

The president's comments are plainly ludicrous. They are deeply wrong and regrettable. And what he's doing is essentially trying to again divide us, seeking to distract from his own problems, resorting to demagoguery about a resolution that was overwhelmingly supported by a bipartisan majority and the majority of Republicans supporting it, along with every Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives.

And what it expressed was American values, denouncing anti-Semitism, anti-Islam bigotry, racism. What we ought to be doing at this moment in our history is trying to overcome the rising incidents of hate crimes rather than resorting to this absolutely deeply wrong and regrettable demagoguery.

COOPER: But you know -- I mean, the back story on the resolution was that it would be directed toward the comments that the congresswoman had made, Congresswoman Omar, you know, using anti-Semitic tropes. And then other Democrats didn't want that, or wanted -- I mean, you can argue they didn't want to criticize, you know, other Democrat in a resolution. And so, they made it broader. They added in, you know, other groups, all of which are understandable.

But in this particular instance, the argument is that it essentially made it so broad, it was not really a rebuke of the comments made by Congresswoman Omar.

BLUMENTHAL: What the House leadership chose to do was make it broader, and a condemnation of racism and anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and misogyny in general, rather than finger pointing and blaming based on political considerations.

And here's the important point, Anderson, in my view as a supporter of Israel, we need to avoid politicizing support for Israel. That support is always been bipartisan. I've helped to lead military support for Israel through the Armed Services Committee. The votes there have been unanimous on almost every occasion.

The last time we authorized it in the United State Senate, it was done by unanimous consent. That's a powerfully necessary condition of our support for Israel, bipartisan unity.


BLUMENTHAL: And what is happening here unfortunately is the president is trying to politicize and weaponize this issue on a very partisan basis.

[20:10:04] COOPER: But, I mean, in fairness, Republicans in House, pulled Congressman Steve King's assignments because of his white nationalist rhetoric. I mean, he's been spouting it for years. They finally did punish it.

Do you think what Congresswoman Omar said was anti-Semitic?

BLUMENTHAL: I think we can always be critical of our friends and sometimes our criticism is meant as very constructive. Sometimes those kinds of remarks are unfortunate. Words have consequences. But the effort here was to stop hate crimes, stop the rising trend of -- the use of the kind of terms that the president has done in saying that there are good people on both sides when he's referring to swastika-carrying neo-Nazis, using an ad that is blatant anti-Semitic, as you pointed out. I would call that very risky.

COOPER: I just got to follow up. I mean, it is -- I mean, plenty of people watching will say, look, it's very easy to blame the president when you're a Democrat. It's harder for a Democrat to blame another Democrat, perhaps.

But again, do you think what she said was anti-Semitic? Or using anti-Semitic tropes?

BLUMENTHAL: If the House leadership had begun blaming individuals, Donald Trump might well have been on that list. And the effort to broaden it, to make it about American values, I think, is very, very important to do. Rather than in effect, breaking that bipartisan support for Israel and for the denunciation of anti-Semitism in whatever form it may arise.

COOPER: Senator Blumenthal, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

I want to bring in two other voices. Former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, and CNN political commentator, Bakari Sellers.

Bakari, it does seem like Democrats are unwilling to criticize one of their own. They're more than willing, of course, to criticize President Trump and, you know, it's understandable why.

But if they're going to do that, shouldn't they also hold, you know, somebody else who is a Democrat just as accountable?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. In fact, I disagree wholeheartedly with Senator Blumenthal. I love him and respect him for everything he's done for this country but I disagree with him on this issue, because this is an opportunity for Democrats to show some moral clarity.

This is an opportunity for us to stand up and say that anti-Semitism is wrong in this country. We don't support it full stop. There's hewing and hawing. There's no trying to straddle the fence.

I mean, today, basically, or when this vote happened, Democrats said they were against anti-Semitism, bigotry, xenophobia, meatloaf, the Dodgers, the Cowboys, I mean, everything they threw in one bucket and it lost any value. I mean, the fact is we have to be a party who is willing to stand up and say, we are against anti-Semitism and anti- Semitic tropes.

With that being said, I wish this was handled in more of a closed door fashion. I wish that Congresswoman Omar and Chairman Engel were able to go into a back room, in a caucus room, or maybe at the Democratic Club and have a conversation about why words matter and language is important.

So, that did not happen. But what we got was, we lost some ground and we didn't show the country that we can lead with moral clarity on this issue and that's unfortunate. This was a missed opportunity.

COOPER: Michael, how damaging do you think this is for Democrats? The fact is, the president clearly is now using this line, the Democratic Party is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, and, you know, that's, I mean, you can say it's outrageous, you can it's effective, but did the Democrats by their own action hand him that opportunity?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: I think so. I think I agree with Bakari wholeheartedly. I was shaking my head when even Senator Blumenthal who should be able to identify this stuff couldn't call her out.

I thought the resolution that was passed today was gutless. But, you know, the House of Representatives is rarely profile in courage, whether it's the Republicans in charge or the Democrats.

The one thing here, I have to disagree with my friends on the Republican side, if we did a resolution on this regard, we wouldn't make it broad like that. But we would also not call out the member by name. We never do that.

They don't do that in the House of Representatives. I served there. I know.

But, you know, at the same time, the president has identified what is a rift in the Democratic Party. They have real problem with this freshman class. Representative Omar is not the only one who speaks in these terms and makes wild comments.

Nancy Pelosi is really trying to get a handle on this. She's very capable person, the speaker. But, you know, her answer was something like, she has a different experience in the use of words.

I mean, this woman is 39 1/2 years old, Representative Omar. She's been in the United States for 25 years.

And the one thing I want to point out before I hand it back off to you, is that yesterday, David Duke was giving high fives to Representative Omar and talking about how she was brave in her calling out the Zionist occupation government, because the tropes that she was saying are tropes that David Duke uses.

[20:15:15] And I know during the campaign, everybody said, you know, President Trump must disavow David Duke. I'm going to take on it faith that Representative Omar is not in favor of David Duke, but, hey, this thing cuts both ways.

COOPER: Michael, do you think the president would have -- first of all, I think it's -- you know, one of the things that I think President Trump, one of his great skills is honing in on something that's in front of everybody, but it doesn't actually have a name, whether it's low energy Jeb or whatever. And I think this allow them the opportunity to kind of hone in on this.

Again, you can say it's outrageous, the way he is saying, you know, the Democratic Party is anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. But the other side of that is, would the president have more credibility if he had condemned Congressman Steve King's white nationalist rhetoric, or you know, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy stood up to King and the president didn't.

CAPUTO: I understand that. You know, I have the same feeling about that as do I being screamed at. You must disavow and she must disavow David Duke. We know she doesn't like David Duke and I know the president doesn't like white nationalism. I know the president isn't fond of what Representative King said.

But here's the same thing I want to say. I'll just recognize the reality here. The Republicans have been trying to get support among the Jewish community for many, many years. And we failed at doing that. Still, the majority of Jews in America support the Democratic Party.

I think the president sees an opportunity here. And, you know, while Speaker Pelosi is having an issue, trying on control her freshman class, I think the president and probably others in the leadership of the Republican Party see a way to try and peel some of that back.

COOPER: Bakari, do you think Congresswoman Omar should keep her assignments? And the Republican criticism of the double standard is not going to go away certainly.

SELLERS: I mean, I -- should she keep her committee assignments? I think that, first of all, we need to have a conversation. And like I said before, I think the conversation with Chairman Engel and Representative Omar needs to be had behind closed doors and we need to make sure and caution how words truly matter and how words are important.

And I know that my colleague, Mr. Caputo, said she's old enough to discern that. But I think that that is a message that needs to be sent. I think Nancy Pelosi is going to make a right decision about whether or not she keeps her committee assignment. I think if we were stripping individuals of committee assignments based on rhetoric, then I'm not sure any Republican up there, or the vast majority of them would have committee assignments in the first place. But I think that's also missing the point.

The point is that you can be critical of Israel. The point is you can criticize Bibi Netanyahu for correction. You can actually go and criticize the fact that you have instances of police brutality against immigrants and Somalis and Jews -- Jews being killed in Israel. You can talk about those types of things.

But you can't delve into anti-Semitic tropes because you make a very nuanced conversations quite difficult to have. And that is my issue with Representative and Congresswoman Omar, that we cannot delve into these anti-Semitic tropes. And whether or not she keeps her committee assignment or not, that is beyond the point for me.

I mean, what I want is Democrats to actually show some clarity on this issue and simply say that we are against all forms of anti-Semitism, full stop. The president of the United States doesn't have any high ground on this issue because he is somebody who believes in both sides when it depends on him. But I just wish Democrats seized this moment and we missed the ball this time.

CAPUTO: Bravo.

COOPER: Bakari Sellers and Michael Caputo, a good discussion, thank you very much.

Coming up next, why the president's latest chief of communications is leaving. It could just be that no one can really do the job. Maybe the president doesn't want someone doing the job.

Later, the actor accused of perpetrating a hoax that conjured up a racist nightmare learned the charges against him today. Jussie Smollett. Smollett, his attorney, Mark Geragos, joins us ahead.


[20:22:11] COOPER: Some people talk about Trump time, the warping of the space time continuum that makes it hard to know whether something happened two years ago, or only last Tuesday. I don't know if you had that, but so many of us in the news business have that, which explains why today, in addition to learning that Bill Shine is leaving his job as White House chief of staff for communications, we're excited to learn he's been on the job for a record eight months. Honestly, kind of feels only like last Tuesday that we were saying hello to this guy.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: So, I'll meet with him. I don't want to waste his time and sit in the Oval Office unnecessarily.


COOPER: He lasted a week and a half.

By comparison, Bill Shine, the former top guy at Fox News, lasted an eternity. Our reporting is that he's leaving for a job in the campaign, by the way, because the president was upset at the headlines lately.

Also in the wake of that "New Yorker" story with the ties with Fox News and the White House, the president said to be concerned about perceptions, the relationship appears too cozy. We'll have more on that in a minute.

But, first, keeping them honest, just think about that first objection. The president blaming Bill Shine for his bad headlines, the same president who considers himself his own best publicist, the same man who once delighted in calling up New York's tabloids, pretending to literally be his own publicist. John Miller was one name, John Baron was another, some of the names he used to plant stories about himself.

It's somewhat harder now and obviously if you want to get good headlines, you need to, you know, have good things, do good things. It's pretty simple. And to the extent the president can, as with the economy, he gets the credit. To the extent on the other hand that the news is about former associates on trial or testifying on Congress or a summit going poorly, the headlines will be bad and they have been.

As for the reported concern about perceptions of the White House being too cozy with Fox, it's tough for Bill Shine to do anything about that when the boss tweets just this morning: Thank you, "Fox and Friends". Great show.

CNN's Jim Acosta has been doing our reporting on this. He joins us now from the White House.

So, what are you hearing about why exactly shine left?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, you know, the headlines write themselves over here at the White House, Bill Shine or no Bill Shine. But in terms of why he left, what we're hearing over here, Anderson, is that the president simply felt like he was not getting good press coverage out of his communications director. And that he had been sort of questioning Bill Shine's judgment over the last few months, whether it be how they handled the communications on the government shutdown or the midterms.

And, you know, a lot of that as you were mentioning a few moments ago, that responsibility lies with the president, so it is a head scratcher as to how he can place blame on Bill Shine for all of this, but they have to place the blame on somebody which is why they've gone through so many communications directors.

I will say though, Anderson, I talked on a source close to the White House, talks to the president from time to time earlier today, and this source said that the Fox News concern is real.

[20:25:06] That that "New Yorker" article that came out earlier this week really detailing and delving into this cozy relationship between the White House and Fox News, that that is starting to make people nervous over here inside the White House, whether or not it makes the president very nervous, that remain to be seen. As you said, he just tweeted about "Fox and Friends" this morning.

But Anderson, Bill Shine really changed the way the White House delivers information to the American people. The White House press briefings have all been shut down. We've only had one press briefing in the last 79 or 80 days. Instead of those press briefings, top White House officials will come out to the Fox News live position here in the North Lawn of the White House and then we just have to catch them going back in. That's been the Shine effect and it has been helpful to Fox News, but it has not generated better press coverage for this president.

COOPER: It is remarkable, and when you think about the lack of White House briefings. I mean, that's sort of kind of stunning.

But how can it be that just now, people in the White House are waking up to the fact that there is this symbolic relationship with Fox News and a lot of hires from Fox News to the White House, not just in communications positions, in actually -- you know, in staffing positions.

ACOSTA: You know, Anderson, I think they've just gotten so used this symbiotic relationship, and they feel like it's worthwhile for them because they can just watch one channel of cable news and feel as if everything is going swimmingly over here. But when they look outside the window and there are officials who still look outside the window and, you know, look at the real world, they understand that things have not been going well. When the president's former personal attorney is testifying up on Capitol Hill, accusing the president of committing crimes, when the job numbers come out today and showing only 20,000 jobs created in the last month, you know, you look at various data points from polling numbers and so, and it is obvious to people in the White House, even though reality is a challenge sometime over here, that it isn't going in the right direction.

And when things don't go in the right direction, people tend to lose their jobs. The question is, moving forward, whether or not, the person who is really the communications director over here, the president of the United States, will ultimately see that. And there are doubts in the White House and among people close to him wonder if he'll ever grasp that reality, Anderson.

COOPER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.

More now on the president's thinking for someone who covers it more than most, "New York Times" White House correspondent and CNN political analyst, Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, what's your understanding of why Bill Shine is actually leaving?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, Bill Shine, when he announced that he was leaving to his colleagues, knowing that it was about to be made public pretty soon, he said there were two reasons he was leaving.

One was essentially that he was leading a life of solitude in Washington. He missed his family. He ate alone every night. He spent most of his time alone.

And I think that is true. He complained about that for a while, but he also said to his colleagues that he had become a distraction for the president and he was going to continue being a distraction. It's not clear what he was talking about there were headlines around his tenure at Fox News or if there are future stories coming out.

But my understanding is this has been coming for several days, very small group of people who knew about it. The president did not seem particularly worked up about it. I don't think they ever had a great deal of chemistry.

Ironically, Bill Shine lasted the longest in this job with any of the six people who've had it.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's incredible when you see six people have had this job. I mean, that says a lot about -- well, I don't know what it says a lot about, but it says something about the White House or about the president or about the job itself.

HABERMAN: I think it says a lot about the job itself for this president. This as president who really does not believe in sort of a cohesive with messaging strategy the way we've come to think of it, with other presidents. This is somebody who likes to run his own message, likes to serve as his own spokesman.

We say it a lot but it is really true. If you think about it, there are no more press briefings in the briefing room. There are these gaggles that some of his aides do outside the lobby to the West Wing, and then these stops, the interviews he does.

But there's only one person pushing these interviews or designing it and it's the president. And it's not really a strategic message. It's a very reactive one. There's not a lot Bill Shine or anyone else can do with that.

COOPER: So, did President Trump know Bill Shine well before he was offered the job? I would assume he didn't if once he's there, he realizes he doesn't really have much feeling for him one way or the other.

HABERMAN: In fairness to Shine, I think the president has grand ideas of what people can do to challenge his media coverage. And it really can't ever come to pass because some of these are not great facts sets. But they didn't have a huge relationship beforehand.

Remember, Bill Shine is very close with Sean Hannity, who the president is close with. A lot of people have talked up Bill Shine to the president.

[20:30:00] The President believed that he was going to be, in Donald Trump's words, a killer, you know, somebody who is going to be able to really strongly impact the media coverage around the President and it became pretty clear after a couple months that nothing much was changing.

Bill Shine was really well liked by his colleagues, but overtime many of them would say the same thing over and over again, that he didn't really have grand ideas. What he was willing to do was absorb a lot of the heat from the President that often just flows downhill towards the staff. He was willing to take some of the bruises in these fights and that meant a lot to his colleagues. At a certain point, that stops being very useful to Donald Trump.

COOPER: I mean, obviously the president and Fox News have, you know, close relationships, which is symbiotic relationships. One would think who else buddy former Fox executive would be equipped to build on that and to fill this role. But, again, I mean as you said, it's -- the President is the communication director and seems more than happy to be that.

HABERMAN: Yes. If anything, I don't know how much of a value add that you need with Fox News, right? I mean, the President has his own relationships with a lot of the anchors there. You know, he has his own relationship with Rupert Murdoch. He's got a fair number of other relationships.

I think that Bill Shine was helpful, a number of officials have said to me overtime, with discreetly helping out in certain situations or not so discreetly reaching out to producers of certain shows and trying to get certain interviews with people who the White House didn't want on killed or trying push work higher on change or something like that.

And that certainly in the President's mind has a value add. It's not typically what a communications director does. And at the end of the day, it isn't much more on top of the relationships the President already has himself.

COOPER: Do you think the President is going to fill that job again?

HABERMAN: I do, but I don't know that it's going to be filled the way it was. Bill Shine's title, remember, wasn't quite communications director, it was deputy chief of staff of something or other. There are a lot of people who have some communications title. There I suspect will be someone else who gets that title or a title of that nature, but I think he's in a bit of a wait and see mode right now.

COOPER: You know, the interesting thing about this White House, it would be possible that his title actually was deputy chief of something or other. Like, how -- can you imagine how amazing that would be (INAUDIBLE)? Or just like, oh, you're just the deputy chief of something or other.

HABERMAN: This just in, in the next two years. We'll see.

COOPER: Right. Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: Ahead, Paul Manafort awaits another sentencing next week as you probably know as the court of public opinion still is wrestling with the surprisingly light one he got yesterday. Is there equal justice for all in this country? That's what the debate you heard a lot of today. We'll talk about that. One of the 2020 contenders sounds off ahead. Plus more breaking news, Jussie Smollett's legal problems multiplied tonight, brand new developments on his alleged hoax, coming up.


[20:35:20] COOPER: Robert Mueller wanted a judge to throw the book at a central figure of his Russian investigation last night. A Virginia judge instead threw, well, what some considered a giant passed to Paul Manafort, less than four years in prison with credit for time served. It's ignited some outrage as you've heard, particularly from those who've spent a lot of time fighting for equal justice in this country, like Democratic presidential candidate, Kamala Harris.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are looking at further evidence in America's judicial system of absolute unfairness where white collar versus other kinds of crimes does not -- you know, this is what I say. People commit white collar crimes, they should be prepared to bring their toothbrush and spend as much time behind bars as anybody else.


COOPER: I want to bring in former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Obama Senior Advisor Van Jones, host of CNN's "The Van Jones Show."

So, Van, do you agree with Senator Harris, a white collar crime is not taken it seriously as other kinds of crimes?

VAN JONES, CNN HOST, THE VAN JONES SHOW: Look, I mean, quite obviously. I mean, you've seen people like Meek Mill who, you know, got -- served more time, been on probation for years and years. He got -- actually got a two-year return to prison sentence for popping a wheelie, literally for lifting his motorcycle's wheel off the ground, he got two years for that.

So when you got that kind of stuff going on in communities across America, it's very, very difficult for us who are used to seeing big, big sentences coming down for pretty small stuff to see something this big go down.

But the other thing I just want to say, usually if you wind up lying to the Fed, if you wind up playing, you know, silly games with the Feds, you get a house dropped on you. I mean, then -- I mean, forget it, nobody is going to come to your aid and rescue. The idea that not only that he do all this underlying crimes, but he also has not been honest with the Feds and he's getting away with that, hopefully next week there'll be some adjustment here.

But wait, you're looking at it right now, anybody who knows how justice is meted out in Brakcley (ph) communities, especially poor communities in this country, is shocked by that sentence.

COOPER: Ken, I mean, what about that criticism that, you know, the moral of the story is that basically if you're, you know, a white man with money, you can afford, you know, a great defense attorney, you can get off with a far lighter sentence or a very light sentence?

KEN CUCCINELLI, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it's -- I think that maybe anybody with money. I mean, O.J. Simpson trial was run while I was in law school. And, you know, if the glove don't fit you must acquit kind of thing, and it worked. And -- but that was interesting. One of my law professors pointed out why that case was interesting.

And it wasn't because O.J. Simpson was black, it was because the defense could match the prosecution's resources, and that almost never happens. I can tell you as a former attorney general, that almost never happens. So, people with money can afford to do things that people without money can't afford to do.

Now having said that, I do not think that a politically charged case like this is a good data point for the broader discussion about fairness in critical sentencing. And, look, Van and I worked together on the same side on that criminal justice reform that passed last year. I think we have many similar feelings about the system in total, but when it comes to taking a case like this and drawing broader generalizations, I think that's a big mistake.

And to Van's point about people who lie to the Feds, get the house dropped on them, that's next week's case. None of that was really involved in the sentencing this week. All of those issues arise next week.

COOPER: Van, is it just a question of money getting -- means, you know, better lawyers and, you know --

CUCCINELLI: Well, Anderson, don't overstate it. I mean, I just think that's the biggest factor.

COOPER: Well -- OK, you said that's the biggest factor.

JONES: Well, listen, the statistics just don't lie here and it's really unfortunate. At every stage of our criminal justice system, if you are a person of color, you get worse treatment even when you control for income, even when you control for neighborhood, even when you control for educational attainment.

African-Americans and white Americans use drugs, illegal drugs at exactly the same rate, study after study shows that. And yet African- Americans are six times more likely to go to prison for illegal drug use. Now, you can come up with a lot of different explanations, it's hard. You know, if it's 30 percent more, 20 percent more, 12 percent times more, 100 percent more, six times more, that shows there's a systemic bias that we have to deal with.

And while this case is unusual, as Ken says, because of the political nature of it and unfortunately it's all too often the case that people who have all kinds of privilege, whether it's money, whether it's race, whether it's education, whether it's background, they wind up getting a better break. [20:40:12] You know, Bryan Stevenson has become almost like, you know, the Martin Luther King of our time working on these issues says it is actually better to be poor -- I'm sorry, it's better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent. That's how badly we've gotten off with the system. And this is -- I think it's fair to talk about it.

The other thing I want to say is I know for sure that next week -- I hope, we'll see some more justice. But I don't understand why this judge went above and beyond just giving this, I think, insulting sentence, to praise the guy, to say he's otherwise blameless. I don't think even Paul Manafort has a high opinion of himself as this judge did. So, it's just a bizarre case and I think it does send the message of a double standard.

COOPER: Ken, do you think this judge kind of went beyond just, you know, giving this sentence as Van said?

CUCCINELLI: I think that -- I think Judge Ellis, as we were talking about last night, Anderson, kind of projected his view of how the case was being conducted. And I think we may never know for sure, but I think that clearly played a role in him giving a sentence well below what the prosecutors were asking for here. And -- but I think he projected it.

In the same way, Judge Jackson, who's going to sentence this coming week has also projected her displeasure with the three of the five alleged incidents of lying with the special counsel. After entering a plea deal, she found three of them to be legitimate claims by the special prosecutor. So we have a very different perspective shown earlier in the case by that judge and --

COOPER: Right.

CUCCINELLI: -- you know, the odds are you're going to see that reflected in the sentence.

COOPER: Ken Cuccinelli, Van Jones, thanks very much. Don't miss the "Van Jones Show," Saturday night 7:00 p.m. Eastern, his one-on-one with the new generation of congressional Democrats making waves in Washington. It's going to be fascinating. That's 7:00 tomorrow.

New trouble for "Empire" star Jussie Smollett tonight, ahead, the sweeping grand jury indictment that could send the actor to prison. His defense attorney, Mark Geragos, is going to join us to talk about it. We'll be right back.


[20:46:08] COOPER: There's breaking news in the Jussie Smollett case. The "Empire" star tonight faces 16 new felony counts of making false statements to investigators after claiming to be the victim of a racial and homophobic attack in Chicago in January.

Now, in a moment, we'll be joined by his defense attorney, Mark Geragos. Smollett has been out on bail since being charged last month with a single count of felony disorderly conduct. Smollett claimed that his supposed attackers threw a chemical at him, put a noose around his neck and shouted this is MAGA country, that reference to President Trump's campaign slogan, of course. But police and prosecutors now believe the actor paid two brothers $3,500 to helped stage the whole thing.

Law enforcement sources say record show the brothers bought rope at a hardware store. In this surveillance video, it appears to show them buying a ski mask and a red hat among other items.

Our Nick Watt has been following the case closely. He joins us tonight. So, Nick, how did Smollett go from facing one count to facing 16?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it appears prosecutors are doing here is basically every crime that Jussie Smollett claimed he was a victim of, that is now one count against him because they're saying that is one lie he told to authorities. They also say that he in fact told his story twice, first to a police officer, then to a detective, so that doubles it up, that takes it up to 16 counts.

Now, listen, even if he's found guilty of all 16 counts, the sentencing guidelines are still just 2.5 years in prison or 1 to 3 years probation. Now, remember as you just said, Jussie Smollett claimed that he was attacked in the early morning hours of January 29th in Chicago by two men who put a noose around his neck, shouted racist and homophobic epithets at him and he says that he fought them off.

Now, two men were arrested and apparently they told the police and they told the grand jury that, in fact, Jussie Smollett had cut them a check for $3,500, that he had orchestrated the entire thing and that they were just going along with his plan.

Now, Smollett is now out on bond. But the superintendent of Chicago police, he said that he believes Jussie Smollett did this because he wasn't getting enough attention, he wasn't getting enough money to appear on the "Empire" T.V. show and that's why he did it. Smollett has been now suspended from that show.

But interestingly, you know, the superintendent also claimed that he thinks Smollett sent a letter, a hate mail to himself, and there's no mention of that letter anywhere in these 16 counts. But basically what they're saying here is that Jussie Smollett lied to police and he knew that he was lying when he was telling them that story. Anderson?

COOPER: And he's still saying that he is completely innocent?

WATT: Absolutely. He maintained his innocence throughout. And I believe we're going to hear from one of his lawyers shortly. And, you know, his lawyers have also said that they believed that the investigation was flawed and they point to a number of leaks they say both true and false that came out of the investigation.

Interestingly enough, the Chicago police did tell us yesterday that they have launched an internal investigation into those leaks. So, yes, he is fully maintaining his innocence. We just heard from the lawyers saying that this is prosecutorial overkill and that Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence. Anderson?

COOPER: Right. Let's -- Nick, appreciate. Thanks very much.

So, let's talk to Jussie Smollett's defense attorney, Mark Geragos. Mark, thanks very much for being with us. First of all, what is your response to the 16 felony counts that he's now facing? And is this right that it's basically one count for each alleged lie that he told?

MARK GERAGOS, JUSSIE SMOLLETT'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You know, Anderson, even if he were supposedly the one who orchestrated this, this is an outrage. The fact that he maintains his innocence makes it even more outrageous. 16 counts, I don't -- I think -- I defy anybody to find any indictment anywhere where somebody has brought 16 counts for being a victim of a hate crime, basically.

[20:50:10] The problem with this case, and it started with I think almost immediately is --

COOPER: But they're not bringing 16 counts --

GERAGOS: Hold on for one second, Anderson, because you just put it.


GERAGOS: They're bringing 16 counts. They're bringing 16 counts because they parsed out two statements. I defy you to find something like that. He was not suspended. They have not talked to one person at Fox who has said he was dissatisfied with his money. They have not interviewed one person connected with the show "Empire" who says he was dissatisfied with his money.

They have not -- they are the ones who started their internal investigation about the leaks because all of the information that was being leaked was false and I wasn't at Northwestern Hospital. Northwestern Hospital supposedly, if you believe the reporting, let go of 50 people because 50 people have illegally accessed his records.

What is happening here is frankly a media gang bang of this guy of unprecedented proportions and that's the reason I got into this. I've never seen a media pendulum swing more quickly and more viciously and rob somebody of their presumption of innocence like this case. It's startling the way people assume that he's guilty.


GERAGOS: He hasn't been given one stitch of discovery, not one. There isn't one police report. Your package just said he paid $3,500. I've got the texts, those texts and they conceded that the check and the texts were for training. It wasn't to pay anything. So, I don't understand where any of this comes from. He supposedly paid for it. He is the one who supposedly was dissatisfied. There's no evidence to that.

COOPER: So you're saying the police -- no one from the superintendent had talked about this theory that he wanted more money, he wasn't happy. You're saying they haven't talked to anybody associated with their production at all.


COOER: So -- but, I mean, does it make sense to you --

GERAGOS: Right. So wouldn't you expect if a police chief -- hold on, Anderson. If a chief police is going to come out and say and give a press conference, and is going to say he was dissatisfied, and is going to basically taint the jury pool, wouldn't you expect that there would be some basis upon which you would do that?

Wouldn't you expect one person would have been interviewed who actually knew something about this was negotiating his salary, his agent, somebody on the set, his producer, anybody? Wouldn't you expect them at the very least?

COOPER: So why -- so why did -- I mean, if your version of events if, you know, you're kind of sticking by the version of events that he has probably given, why would these two brothers who, I guess, Smollett knows and was paying for training services or was using as a trainer and there are checks between them or at least a check between them, why did they attack Jussie Smollett using Trump language and a noose and all of these things, which -- I mean, there's -- you know, and a liquid. Why are you alleging that they did that?

GERAGOS: I haven't interviewed them, but I do -- I will ask you this, why is it that if they did this and if they were in cahoots and you went in front of a grand jury, why weren't they indicted, number one. Number two, the police chief is the one who says that they waited until the 47th hour before all of a sudden they were visited and they changed their story and they haven't been given an immunity, why is that?

And by the way, if these two witnesses were -- if they believed these two witnesses, why didn't they go through the preliminary hearing and put the witnesses on and let them tell their story? There are media requests pending. As soon as the media requested to be able to do the preliminary hearing yesterday, they ran in yesterday and did a grand jury indictment.

As soon as I sent him back to answer questions on an airplane, they didn't do the grand jury anymore and they filed a criminal complaint. Anybody who is in the criminal justice system, I defy you to find one commentator who hasn't been caught up in this kind of -- this media lynching. Find one legal commentator who tries cases who says I'm familiar with a prosecutor who comes out and gives a closing argument at the bond hearing.

COOPER: But doesn't it just seem weird to you that you get allegedly attacked by two people who you know and you don't seem to recognize them even though you claimed you fought back and they ran away and that they -- I believe initially there was -- I believe Mr. Smollett said one of them was white or they were white. Isn't it just weird that you get attacked, allegedly attacked by two people you actually know who've actually been on "Empire" who you actually worked out with and you don't recognize them?

[20:55:08] GERAGOS: Yes, yes. And that's -- guess what, I don't know whether he made that statement or -- but what I do know is that when he was told that they had evidence against this two, he refused to sign the complaint because he could not believe it. If he thought they were in on it, wouldn't he have signed the complaint? Wouldn't he have sign the complaint? He didn't believe it.

Now, if you're asking me what their motivation is, I suppose I could speculate. The motivation of Jussie is not an element of the crime. Their motivation, I've got my theories on it but I haven't seen one piece of evidence and they don't have one piece of evidence that they've turn over that links Jussie to this.

What they do have is a whale of a case as if you believe what the police chief is saying. They've got a great case against the two brothers. They've got Lyft receipts. They've ATM receipts. They've got a surveillance video.

By the way, take a look at that surveillance video, tell me if there's anything that looks peculiar on it to you. I'll leave that to the investigative journalist. But this is my question, what do they have that corroborates the story? These are the two people who did it. What do they have besides their word that says he was in on this?

COOPER: Man, I don't know the answer to that question. It does seem odd -- I mean, it just seems weird that, you know, a letter is allegedly sent with, you know, pieces cut out from a magazine, which frankly -- I mean, as someone who gets hate mail and threatening letters, I've -- you know, I've only seen that in movies. It seems like something someone from, you know, Hollywood would think that's what a threatening letter looks like. And then he happens to get attacked two weeks later.

GERAGOS: Anderson --

COOPER: I mean, it just -- the whole thing doesn't make much sense, does it?

GERAGOS: Anderson, you're in Los Angeles today, right?


GERAGOS: Come down to my office. I've got taped up on my wall some of my hate mail where they cut out letters from magazines. So maybe you get a better -- you've got a more elevated sense of haters. But my haters use that method.


GERAGOS: Number one, they're taped in my office (INAUDIBLE) you. Number two, by the way, this idea that somehow he had something to do with this and it wasn't mentioned, the reason for that is, remember, the chief came out. He said that they had something to do with, or either those two, or Jussie had something to do with the letter, that's a federal investigation. And if I remember correctly, I would ask your reporter to go back and look because the FBI or the Feds, because I think it's postal inspector pushed back on that idea and said they don't have any evidence of that and I will tell you he has cooperated with that investigation as well.

COOPER: All right. Mark Geragos, appreciate it. Thank you very much, Mark.

The White House locked in a fierce struggle with Democrats over their demands for documents, but what will Democrats do if the paper case becomes a goose chase? Two key lawmakers give us a sense of how far they are willing to go, next.