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CNN TONIGHT

Jussie Smollett in Hot Water over Alleged Attack; Christopher Paul Hassan Arrested for Plotting a Mass Murder; ""The New York Times"" Retaliating at President Trump; DOJ Awaiting Robert Mueller's Report and Michael Cohen's Testimony. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 22:00   ET

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


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

[22:00:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: See you tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll see you tomorrow, take care. This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Listen, I just want to talk about these stunning developments tonight in the Jussie Smollett story.

The story that everyone is talking about. And I know people have been wondering, what I had to say about it but here it is. So everybody gather around the television set. The 'Empire' star, that's who he is, Jussie Smollett who claimed that he was the victim of a racist homophobic attack in Chicago on January 29th, he is now being charged with disorderly conduct. Specifically, they say the filing is for filing a false police report. That's a class-four felony. That is according to the state attorney's office. OK?

So, detectives are working on negotiating what they call a reasonable surrender for his arrest.

Here's what we know. When they do that, what that means is they're trying to get him back to Chicago so that they can arrest him, which will no doubt happen and probably tomorrow. OK? If not tonight.

This is what we know. It was the early morning hours of January 29th. Smollett had just gotten back to Chicago, posting on Instagram that he had just spent seven hours on a plane for a flight that was supposed to take only two hours.

He told the police that as he was walking back from a sandwich shop, the subway sandwich shop, that two men attacked him, putting a rope around his neck and, quote, "yelling out racial and homophobic slurs and pouring an unknown chemical substance on him." This was all in the Steeleville neighborhood where he had been staying.

I know that neighborhood very well. I worked there for three years at the NBC tower in Steeleville. So, I know it very, very, very well.

In a supplemental interview with authorities, Smollett confirmed what he had already been - what had already been reported in the media, claiming that one of the attackers also shouted "this is MAGA country." In those early morning hours of the 29th, Smollett took himself to

Northwestern Memorial Hospital with a friend. And as you may know, Jussie is gay, and since 2015, he has played a gay character, Jamal Lyons, on "Empire".

So, it's a little bit personal for me, and I'll tell you why, because that's when I met him. I was asked to come on the show, play myself in a little cameo. I got -- he introduced himself, and he said, you know, I'm a big fan. You know, I love your work. It's good to have you here on the set, very nice guy.

We chatted for a couple times after that. I saw him maybe when he came to New York a couple times. I know him, not best friends, but I do know him.

So, I spoke to him while he was at the hospital. His friend who was there texted me in the middle of the night and said, hey, this happened to Jussie. I called a friend. The friend happened to be there, and he said, Jussie is here. Here's the phone.

So, he told me in his own words what he said happened. But I've also got to tell you, to be quite honest, that a lot of people, including people in the community, people of color and gay people, had questions about this from the very beginning, the veracity of this story

A lot of people were reasonably skeptical about Jussie's story. Some of the details just didn't seem to make sense. And as we always say around here, facts first. But the facts raised a lot of questions.

Police told CNN that authorities had video of Smollett entering the Loews of Chicago after the alleged attack, and he still had what appeared to be a noose around his neck. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Smollett told detectives that the two men who he said attacked him yelled "Empire" and a slur against gay people and "Empire" n-word.

And then there's the letter. On January 22nd, a week before the alleged attack, what appeared to be a threatening letter containing a white powder was received at Cinespace Studios in Chicago. That's where "Empire" is filmed.

CNN has obtained a copy of that letter, last week, shared by a person close to Jussie Smollett. It included a message apparently cut from magazine clippings and a stick figure drawing which Jussie describe to ABC News as a stick figure hanging from a tree which had a gun pointing towards it.

The letter was addressed to Jussie including -- and included MAGA on the outside of the envelope in place of the return address.

Authorities determined the powder was aspirin but declined to give details on the content of the letter and said the FBI was leading the investigation into it, the FBI. That's trouble.

Police said they received what they call limited and redacted phone records from Smollett. All of that raises, honestly, so many questions.

[22:05:04] As I said, there were credible reasons to be skeptical of this, and there were a lot of people who were. Who's going to be out in the frigid cold streets of Chicago in the middle of the night looking for an "Empire" star? You've got to be bundled up in that kind of cold. How would they even know it's you?

And let's be honest. There are probably not a whole lot of MAGA fans watching "Empire," and that letter, it looks like something out of a bad movie. Why not just hand over your phone to police? Yes, there will be things on your phone that you want to keep private. But if there are also things that prove your story, isn't it worth the handover?

Officer, I have personal things on here I don't want people to see. I'm trusting you, but I want these guys to be caught, so here is my phone. The details just didn't seem to add up. Jussie went on with Robin Roberts last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN ROBERTS, ANCHOR, ABC NEWS: What other ones had you heard that were inaccurate?

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: That I had said that they were wearing MAGA hats. I never said that. I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a (muted). They called me (muted). There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: You know what? He didn't need some MAGA hat on top of all of that. If even half or less happened the way he said it, it's bad enough. We shouldn't forget innocent until proven guilty, of course. Innocent until proven guilty.

But like I said, a lot of this doesn't add up. And if Jussie's story isn't true, he squandered the goodwill of a whole lot of people. He even lied to a lot of people if it's not true, including me, and that's not cool. He squandered the goodwill of very high-profile people who may one day be running this country like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and people like President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to ask you about Jussie Smollett. Have you heard about that story, the actor from "Empire" who was allegedly attacked with racist and homophobic --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That I can tell you is horrible. I've seen it last night. I think that's horrible. It doesn't get worse as far as I'm concerned.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Like I said, there were questions about Jussie's story from the very beginning, questions he still needs to answer. Innocent until proven guilty, but a whole lot of people want to hear from him. What happened, Jussie?

Nick Watt is live with us from Chicago. Nick, you can fill us in on what's going on right now. Good evening to you. A huge turn of events tonight. Tell us about the charges against Jussie Smollett.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, yes, indeed. The last few hours have been a roller coaster. Now we are standing outside this police station because the police hope that Jussie Smollett will turn himself in. They actually don't know where he is right now, but they would like him to turn himself in.

There's a bond hearing that we expect to happen tomorrow about 1.30 Central Time. Now, the charges against him, felony class-four disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

Now, the sentencing guidelines for that, although it's a little bit too early to be talking in those terms, the guidelines are one to three years in prison or a fine. But as I say, we are very early.

And Jussie Smollett's lawyers reached out to us tonight, and they are still protesting his innocence, pointing to holes in the case, saying that they will mount a thorough defense. Don.

LEMON: That's what you're hearing from his lawyers. Are you hearing anything from Smollett?

WATT: No. And, listen, you know, part of the issue that the police have been having over the past few days is that Jussie Smollett has not really been cooperating with them. You know, since Friday night, Saturday morning, they've been asking Smollett to come in and talk to them.

Now, the police just told my colleague, our colleague, Ryan Young, just a little while ago that they had a meeting arranged this morning. They thought Smollett was going to show up with his lawyers. The actor did not show up. The lawyers did show up, and that is when the authorities decided to go the grand jury route.

So those two brothers, those two men who were arrested last week as suspects in this attack and then released, they went before the grand jury. And as their lawyer explained to us afterwards, she said they decided to man up and correct this story.

[22:10:03] And she said that Jussie Smollett paid those two men to stage the attack.

Now, we've also obtained some video just this evening of those two men in a beauty store here in Chicago buying the clothes just the day before the attack, buying the clothes that they wore in that attack. And the owner of that store told us that the police were there Friday investigating. Now, you know, that lawyer also told us that those two brothers did

not cut a deal. They do not have immunity, but that Jussie Smollett paid them to stage this attack. Don.

LEMON: So, I understand, correct me if I'm wrong, the next thing there is, he turns himself in, and then there's a bond hearing. What's next?

WATT: Yes. There's a bond hearing, and as I said, I'm actually going to read you the full statement we got from the lawyers because they are saying -- so, this is from the lawyers.

"Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information both true and false has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."

But as you alluded to in the lead-in, Don, you know, the fallout from this is really just beginning.

LEMON: It's just -- we have only seen the very beginning of a very huge and massive avalanche. Nick Watt, thank you so much. A lot more to talk about on this Jussie Smollett story. Just minutes away. You don't want to turn the channel. We'll be right back.

[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We're back now with more on the breaking news. "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report claiming two men attacked him last month.

Let's discuss. Joey Jackson and Midwin Charles. I'm so glad you both are here. OK, before we get into the details of this -- I don't want to get into the weeds. Grand jury, not a grand jury, what does that mean? Does it mean anything? Does it make a difference?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It makes no difference in as much as he's facing a felony. Here's the grand jury. Grand jury consists of members from the community. In this jurisdiction, there's 16 of them. A majority votes out an indictment, and you're facing a felony.

In this particular situation, according to Mark Geragos, I just spoke to before air, he was not indicted by the grand jury. He's facing a felony complaint. A felony complaint means that they swear out a complaint factually saying you're involve in a felony and he'll go to the process.

So, it is weeds. It's no significance. The significance is --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: if it all turns out.

JACKSON: -- he's charged with a felony offense, which is a class four, one to three years in jail. LEMON: This is serious.

JACKSON: Yes. Right.

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE & CIVIL TRIAL ATTORNEY: And a fine possibly of up to $25,000. That's also important to say.

LEMON: Yes.

CHARLES: So, it's not just the fact that he's looking at jail time, which I don't think he'll get with a case like this. I really don't.

LEMON: Why not?

CHARLES: I assume it's his first offense. It's a low-level offense. It's my understanding it's been charged as a disorderly conduct. You know, filing a false report.

LEMON: Is that where they're starting?

JACKSON: Well, look, here's the reality. When you say they're starting, the statute provides for him to be charged with this. When you file a false report to the police, when you give the indication of something that's not true, it's this type of felony.

Now, where I differ with Midwin is on the issue of jail. We're not there yet. He's presumed innocent.

CHARLES: Yes.

JACKSON: The fact is that there's a long way to go. But you have to remember the deterrent value of this. This is something that is going to be taken seriously by prosecutors, by the judge. This got into our national discourse. We are in a time where, you know, there's assailing immigrants coming out of Washington, D.C. There are people wearing blackface in Virginia.

There's so much in our dialogue nationally, this is not something we needed. You don't want to set a precedent where you want to encourage people to file false reports. Prosecutors and judges, when they're looking at sentencing -- far away from sentencing, pleas.

He has to go trial if he does unless he pleads or whatever else. He's presumed innocent. But I think that you have to set a standard. And based upon that, he's looking at a world of hurt, and I don't think it's a fait accompli that he's not looking at jail time. I don' care what his record or lack thereof is.

CHARLES: Well, that's what the prosecutors will argue but I think defense attorney will say exactly what you're saying and say, you know what? You're coming down too hard on him. He cannot bear the brunt of just about every social ill that we are currently experiencing in this country.

LEMON: OK. So, let's go through this, then, because as you said, it's the last thing, you know, we need in this country. (CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: The last thing we need, right?

LEMON: As I said in my open. And as I said to Chris earlier, there's enough racism in this country that you don't have to make it up. There's enough homophobia that you don't have to make it up. There's enough political division that you don't have to make it up --

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: Unfortunately.

LEMON: -- and exacerbate it. The question that every single person ask is -- asks is why? Why?

CHARLES: I find it baffling only because he's well-known. He may not be sort of the biggest star.

LEMON: People know him now.

CHARLES: But people know him. He was on a show that's fairly popular. A lot of young people know him. When this happened, it did sort of trigger a lot of outpouring of emotional support from a lot of different people, from a lot of different producers and television, people who worked in the sort of entertainment industry. So that's what I find it most disturbing.

But I also would say that if this is true, right, as Joey rightfully pointed out, he is innocent until proven guilty.

JACKSON: Right.

CHARLES: I think the saddest part about this is that he has chosen, if true, to scapegoat black queer folk who are often re in the crosshairs of violence.

In the last five years, 120 -- about 128 transgendered (ph) people have been killed. The vast majority of them have been black women. You have higher incidents of suicide from LGBTQ teens, from young people.

Just in the past year, we've had two black gay men die in the home of Ed Buck, who is a Democratic donor, and as far as we know, there's been no investigation. So those things, those crimes are not hoaxes. So, it's my hope that this is not used as an excuse to sort of forget about --

LEMON: OK.

CHARLES: -- the true violence that's happening in this community.

[22:19:58] LEMON: So, let's just be real here. Among the most skeptical people, the early skeptics were black queer folk, saying this just doesn't seem to add up. I hope, you know, he's not lying.

CHARLES: Right. LEMON: But this just doesn't add up because why? Why do you think

they were so skeptical of him?

CHARLES: Well, common sense often always kicks in. I think the way he had outlined or sort of -- the way the facts were put out, it was a little too perfect. And the idea that at least there were allegations that he kept the rope around his neck for a long time.

Did he go to the hospital right away? There didn't seem to be a press conference right after it happened, you know, from his attorneys to sort of outline exactly what happened. What was the extent of his injuries?

He said that, you know, a liquid was poured on him. What was that? There just didn't seem to be enough outrage from him right after it happened in terms of letting us know what the facts are, you know.

JACKSON: I see it this way. Look, the bottom line is when things happen, number one, we live in a very visual society.

CHARLES: Exactly.

JACKSON: And generally, when we're having a conversation, Don, Midwin, there's a videotape. We're analyzing it, we're dissecting it. That was not the case here. There is a cell phone. There is some surveillance that was absent.

So, then you go to the facts and you say, could it have happened? And then you get to the fact that it's two in the morning. And then you get to the fact it's 20 degrees below zero. And then you get it's 40 minutes after the fact that you report it.

And then you get to the fact that you still have the noose around your neck. And then you get to the fact you still have your subway sandwich. Then you get to the fact you have cell phone records and you were supposed to turn them over but you redacted them beforehand.

And then you have to get to the fact that I happened to be on the phone with my manager at that time. And so therefore, people were skeptical as to the story.

Now going back, real quick, Don, to what you're talked about why, no one knows why. And the point is from a prosecutor's perspective, it's not going to even matter because you don't have to establish motive when you're talking about someone filing a false report. You just have to establish that you did it. And it's troubling, and the other issue is it demeans and undervalues people who are true victims of crime.

CHARLES: That's right.

JACKSON: Who really are out crying for investigations? And not only that, but you're talking about the diversion of resources.

Let's keep it real. You want to keep it real? We're talking about Chicago. There's plenty of places that 12 detectives could have been investigating as opposed to executing search warrants. And then factually even the police now have the receipt for the noose that's around his neck. I think it's a problematic case.

LEMON: Well, according to the reports that are out there, and it's even part of the police report. It says, he says that he didn't want to report it, that his friend made him report it. That's what took so long. Some of those questions have been answered by this --

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: No, no, no.

LEMON: -- and that he -- go on.

JACKSON: Some of the questions he's answered. As to whether those answers carry merit --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Are sufficient.

JACKSON: -- or are sufficient, that's another issue. When we're prepping clients, I mean there are answers to everything.

CHARLES: Yes.

JACKSON: But the issue is does it make sense? Does it resonate? And when you keep having to explain, why didn't you turn over the full phone records?

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: And is it credible?

JACKSON: Right.

CHARLES: Does it make sense given the circumstances? Is it reasonable?

LEMON: Does it?

CHARLES: What -- no. No. Is it reasonable? Would a victim of crime do and say the things that he did? No. You know, I watched his interview on "Good Morning America." And I came away --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Why did he do that -- I don't -- why did he do that interview? I don't -- let me just say something to --

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: I came away with -- I came away with watching him thinking, I hope he's telling the truth because I'm not convinced.

LEMON: OK. So, let me say something about this, someone who sits here every single night and tries to get interviews with people who are involved in the news. Oftentimes when people go, they go into crisis, P.R. management. They call a crisis P.R. person.

JACKSON: Yes.

LEMON: That crisis P.R. person will tell them do a morning show.

CHARLES: Right.

LEMON: They've got a lot of viewers. Whenever they throw yourself in the mercy of the court. This is not 1997. It's not even 2006. It's not 20 -- that no longer works.

JACKSON: Exactly.

LEMON: This is -- in this particular case, this is not an entertainment story. This has become a political story because of the whole MAGA part. And you know where that has played out and lived daily? In cable news and on social media.

So, if you're going to take your fight, you need to take it to the pit, to where it's happening. It's not happening on morning shows.

JACKSON: That's right.

LEMON: They talk about the news for a few -- nothing against morning shows. I love all my colleagues there. I think they do a great job. But that's not where it is now, especially when it comes to this.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: I love the night shows.

LEMON: But what I'm saying is that doesn't work. Come on a show like this or any of my other colleagues and sit down with us live for an hour or however long it takes. Answer the questions that need to be answered from real journalists -- I shouldn't say that -- from journalists who don't have to worry about the entertainment arm of their particular company.

CHARLES: Well, I -- well, the real person he needs to answer questions from is the police.

LEMON: Well --

CHARLES: And one of the, I think, odd aspects of this from the very beginning is this inability to turn over the cell phone --

(CROSSTALK)

[22:24:58] LEMON: You may be right about that.

CHARLES: You know what I mean?

LEMON: Let me tell you this. And Joey, I know this. You can -- a good lawyer can get you off just about anything, right, or reduce whatever it is that you're going to suffer.

In the court of public opinion, Jussie has lost.

JACKSON: Right.

LEMON: He's lost the fight in the court of public opinion.

CHARLES: Yes.

LEMON: And that's where his battle is. Whether -- legally, if he has to go -- whatever he has to serve, if it's jail time, if he has to do probation, if he has to pay whatever. But in the court of public opinion --

JACKSON: It matters.

LEMON: It matters. And he lost that because of how -- and not his fault. Maybe people were -- I don't know what they were saying to him. Maybe because of his representatives, who knows?

JACKSON: I don't know if it's not his fault --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But it was handled poorly.

JACKSON: I don't know if it's not his fault, Don. The fact is --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: You think it's his fault? You think he was doing what he wants?

JACKSON: Well, he went out and he gave the interview. So, understand this from -- now let's talk from a defense perspective. There's two things to think about. Number one is the law and whether it makes sense legally to be out there speaking and everything else.

From that perspective, it's damning.

LEMON: Yes.

JACKSON: All those things you heard him say on TV are going to be played in a courtroom --

CHARLES: That's right.

JACKSON: -- in the event this goes to trial and it's going to crush him.

LEMON: Yes.

JACKSON: Now, from a public relations imperative, you had people say get in front of the cameras, express what happened. Show some, you know, show some real anger. Show some this, that, the other. The fact is that works from a public relations perspective but --

(CROSSTALK) CHARLES: Exactly.

JACKSON: -- but it doesn't work in this.

LEMON: It doesn't work. And listen, again, I want you to -- I have nothing but the utmost respect for my friends at ABC and other things. They -- and Robin did a terrific job on that interview. I'm just talking about how you respond to this sort of crisis. That doesn't really work anymore, and I think that is old school. This is playing out every single moment.

JACKSON: Yes.

LEMON: In cable news. Sean Hannity is going to eat Jussie Smollett's lunch every single second. Tucker Carlson is going to eat Jussie Smollett's lunch every single second.

JACKSON: The President of the United States --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: The President of the United States is going to eat his lunch. And who does the president of the United States watch every night?

JACKSON: You.

LEMON: Cable news. Well, cable news. And so that's all I'm saying. That's all I'm saying.

CHARLES: Well, the pushback on this needs to be that the framing cannot be that simply because of this one case, that all the --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: I agree.

CHARLES: -- that all the other victims that come forward are somehow no longer believed. That's really important.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: So true, Midwin. But you know that's what the narrative is going to be.

CHARLES: I know. I know, but it's time that, you know, it's time that we stop being led by other people's narratives --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let's talk about --

CHARLES: -- is the point that I'm trying to talking to make.

LEMON: Let's talk about the Chicago police because a lot of people don't trust the police. And I know the police are, they are upset in Chicago that they're being portrayed or have been portrayed unfairly in the media.

A story that is this high-profile, these many ramifications, I'm not sure that the Chicago police would put themselves on the line for something like this when they feel that they don't have something really credible to make their case. Am I wrong with that?

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: Two things. No.

CHARLES: You go, then I'll go.

JACKSON: Two things. Number one, I could talk all night. I'm sure we all can about the Chicago police and about some of the things that exist as it relates to that police department, as it relates to the Department of Justice, as it relates to their transgressions, particularly as it relates to people of color.

In this case, I don't have things that are bad to say about them. Let me tell you why. They investigated the case. They investigated it thoroughly. When people started speaking about an issue of there could be a hoax and, my goodness, they said we don't have information that would support that at all. And I think they dotted their Is. They crossed their t's, and they were very sensitive with regard to the investigation.

CHARLES: I disagree.

JACKSON: So, if you want to speak about the police department and their troubles, we can have a conversation about that.

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: I disagree.

LEMON: A lot of people are wondering with so much information whether there were leaks. But go on.

CHARLES: There were absurd leaks coming out almost every single day.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: But do we know that the leaks were coming from the police department or just from sources?

CHARLES: They were unnamed sources within the police department. And if you are on top of what it is that you're trying to do and you're trying to sort of project an image of being professional from a police department standpoint, put a cap on that.

There was no reason for these sorts of leaks to be coming out every other day. It almost made it. It almost kind of gave this image or this impression as though they had this sort of vested interest in making sure that -- that proving that Jussie was wrong. You understand what I'm saying?

LEMON: OK. Let me tell you something. Let me tell you something.

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: It's almost as though they had a vested interest in doing that.

LEMON: So, I worked in Chicago for three years as a local reporter. So, I know the Chicago Police Department well. I know Chicago very well. My building is in the neighborhood where Jussie lived, Loews, which is attached -- it's a Loews residence --

CHARLES: OK.

LEMON: -- which is attached to a hotel. And that's why some people were wondering well, if you live in the Loews residence, they deliver room service, don't they? I would presume why would you be out getting a sandwich when you can call room service? That was one of the things, right? And who knows, whatever.

But what I will say is I had been talking to the police department. And I would call and say I have a reporter on tonight, and then whatever we've heard this. Can you give me any information?

They have told me every day, have not leaked anything to me. They told me every single time up until today that Jussie Smollett was a victim. They were looking at him as a victim.

[22:30:03] Now, what they did outside of me, I don't know.

CHARLES: Right.

LEMON: But my experience with them during this case is that everything was above more. They only gave me the facts about what's happening. They didn't say well, I'm done, you know, off the record. I'm thinking this. That never happened.

CHARLES: Good.

LEMON: Until today --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As it relates to --

LEMON: As it relates to this case, and maybe because it's me, they did that.

CHARLES: To you.

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: But just almost every other day, there was a news story and it seemed to be coming from -- and I could be wrong. I could be wrong, but a lot of those articles were coming from unnamed sources within the Chicago Police Department, and that is unprofessional.

LEMON: As we say, innocent until proven guilty.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: The attorneys say like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one, where information both true and false had been repeatedly leaked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question I have for you Midwin, are you surprised that he didn't go in and speak to the police again?

CHARLES: Very surprised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think that he should have went in and spoken to the police again?

CHARLES: Yeah, very surprised.

LEMON: Can I ask you something too as well? If you're innocent, why do you have to hire a crisis PR or a criminal attorney if you know the truth?

CHARLES: Well, you kind of just laid it out. I mean you just said that he is fighting two battles on two fronts, a legal battle and a battle in the court of public opinion. So it's 2019. Everything is played out on that camera right there. So you have to have a team in place to deal with these kinds of things. You understand what I am saying?

So I understand why he hired that team and whatever. That's less of an issue in terms of his credibility. What I found to be the most astounding thing, particularly when I watched that interview, is he didn't come across as someone who was genuinely upset as a victim of crime, because when you are a victim of crime -- and I've worked with a lot of victims of crime as a defense attorney.

The number one thing they want is to be believed. And in order to be believed, you will do whatever it is that you are asked of to be believed, such as turning over your cellphone records.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So here's the other side to that equation. No one victim acts in the same way.

CHARLES: True. True.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's how it will always be explained. We all process information differently.

CHARLES: That is absolutely true.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Having said that, I think the story's very troubling. I think he's in a world of hurt notwithstanding the presumption of innocence, and I think that this is not something that we needed as a country right now. I think it diverted resources. I think it demeans victims who really need assistance. And I think what -- are we going to think twice next time someone says anything? (CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: I hope not. He is one person, one case. I hope not.

LEMON: Can we be honest? To certain groups of people, even if they were skeptical, they said I hope this is not true. Black folks, gay folks, you know...

CHARLES: Of course.

(CROSSTALK)

CHARLES: And you know why black folk and gay folk say that, because --

LEMON: There are real victims of --

CHARLES: Well, because there are real victims of homophobia and of racism, but also because unfortunately we tend to all be painted with the same brush when one person does wrong. And that's why we always say that when something goes wrong is we hope the person is not black. We hope the person is not gay.

LEMON: Yeah. They've been wrapping me for about 10 minutes now, and I just am going on. Again, like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information both true and false has been repeatedly leaked, tough conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Necessary conversations.

LEMON: But these are necessary conversations.

CHARLES: They are.

LEMON: And no one here on this set is against anyone. We just have to report the facts, and this is where we are right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do it well, sir. Keep it up.

LEMON: Thank you both.

CHARLES: Of course. Thank you.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: So we're learning more about a U.S. Coast Guardsman who was arrested last week on gun and drug charges. Here's what prosecutors are saying. They say Christopher Paul Hassan is a self-identified white nationalist who allegedly plotted a major terror attack. Federal agents found 15 firearms and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition at his home in Silver Springs, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.

Court documents say he was inspired by Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in a terror attack in 2011 to make a hit list. On that list were Democratic politicians, including Senators Chuck Schumer, Richard Blumenthal, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and journalists from CNN, MSNBC, including myself.

We are all safe. And we thank the Coast Guard and law enforcement for stopping this in time. But we need to talk about why once again. Critics of the president are being targeted with violence. Just last October, Cesar Sayoc was arrested for sending bombs to people and media organizations the president considers his enemies, including George Soros, the Obamas, the Clintons, Congresswoman Waters, and CNN.

These things don't happen in a vacuum. The president's words matter. Just look at the suspect's list of targets, one of the names on that list, Poca Warren. It's a reference to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, using the same racist nickname the president uses for her. And according to prosecutors, the president was on the suspect's mind.

On the same day, Hassan made his list of targets. He Googled what if Trump illegally impeached and civil war if Trump impeached. Just this morning, the president attacked the press, singling out "The New York Times" as the enemy of the people. He's done this before. "The New York Times" counts 151 public statements or tweets by the president attacking the media since he took office.

The publisher of "The Times" responded to the president's tweets, saying, in demonizing the free press as the enemy simply for performing its role of asking difficult questions and bringing uncomfortable information to light, President Trump is repeating from a distinctly American principle -- retreating, I should say -- from a distinctly American principle.

[22:39:51] The phrase enemy of the people is not just false. It's dangerous. He's right. Words matter. A lot to dig into, Philip Mudd, David Gergen are here to do it next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Shocking news tonight. A Coast Guard officer, an alleged white supremacist arrested on gun and drug charges. Prosecutors say he wanted to conduct a mass killing and that he had a hit list that included journalists and prominent Democratic politicians. I am joined now by Philip Mudd and David Gergen, gentlemen, good evening to you. I am so glad that you could come on to discuss this.

Phil, I am going to start with you first. I want your take on this Coast Guard lieutenant. His name is Christopher Paul Hassan, allegedly wanted to conduct a mass killing. This is what prosecutors say. He intended to "murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country." It's a thwarted attack. What do you think?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is pretty straightforward. People will look at this and say -- look at an individual like this and say he's deranged. This never would have happened. Thank God for law enforcement. But this is something that happens in the movies. Does it happen in real life? Let me tell you something, Don.

[22:45:10] The way this is diverted by law enforcement is not because they're geniuses. It's because somebody made a mistake. The difference between mass murder and an arrest like we saw today is somebody like this individual speaking to the wrong individual, a friend or a family member, saying something wrong on the internet for every person in America -- and there are 330 million Americans who look at this and say don't worry about this.

This is a fake plot. If this individual -- remember the Pulse Nightclub. Remember Dylann Roof in South Carolina. Remember what happened in California with that shooting at an office place a couple of years ago. Remember Oklahoma City decades ago. For every person who says this is fake, this kind of stuff can't happen because people like this are idiots.

People like this are idiots until they don't make a mistake and they kill dozens of people. Thank God he -- I don't know what mistake he made. Thank God he made a mistake. Otherwise, we'd have a different story tonight, Don.

LEMON: David, when you see that this person had a hit list that included Democratic politicians, people in the media including myself and some of our other colleagues, what goes through your mind?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Just despair about where we're going as a people and what's dividing us so deeply. I think the question tonight is does the Trump administration to blame for this man. And in fairness to the two people who believe in Donald Trump, I think they would argue how can you blame the president for some crazy, sick person?

There are a lot of crazy, sick people in this country who have nothing to do with this. And by the way, people who believe in Trump get beaten up from time to time as well. There was just a story the other day with a couple of guys getting beaten up. I don't know the origin of the story. So I think you -- I think we don't want to say that the Trump administration directly is to blame for this.

What I do think is important to underscore in a time like this -- and I wish more Trump people and I wish all of us would say the president and his team do set and are responsible for setting the moral tone of the country. And the moral tone of the country right now is very unhealthy. It does give rise to people who are violent, crazy guys.

You know he's got 15 -- almost two dozen weapons he's bought in the last two years. He's got a thousand rounds of ammunition downstairs in his basement. He's obsessed with what's on the internet, and he wants to go after all the lefties. Is there some responsibility that's borne by the administration? I think the administration, in fairness, ought to sort of own up to -- they should set a better tone.

LEMON: That's -- David, thank you. That's going to be my tease. Is he setting the right tone? Can he set a better tone? Let's discuss that on the other side of the break. We'll be right back.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: "The New York Times" hitting back after President Trump's latest attack on the newspaper and the press in general. "The Times" calling it false and dangerous. Phil Mudd and David Gergen are both back with me. David, let's continue on and talk about the president setting the tone and so forth. There's no indication that the president is going to stop calling the press "the enemy of the people."

Do you think he understands the dangers of that and just ignores it anyway, because it's politically expedient for him?

GERGEN: I don't think he really cares so much about the dangers. I think he sees it as a winning strategy to diminish Mueller, to diminish the impact of anything that Mueller may say that's negative, and to advance his own cause instead of working for the common good. He set himself up for a winner takes all kind of politics. And it's a -- he's not the first, but we've never seen him be so relentless and so in your face.

LEMON: So that was my next question, because it was just late last year that my colleagues and I had to evacuate the offices because a man sent bombs in the mail to media organizations and high-profile individuals. The president considered his, you know, on his enemies -- his enemies or enemies, whatever (ph) you want to say it. Does this feel like a new phenomenon to you or a different climate?

GERGEN: I think the climate is quite different from anything we've ever seen. The Nixon case, we go back to that, you know, frequently and Watergate. That was more contained. It didn't say much about the country. It said something about what was going on among Nixon and his cronies. This is a cultural phenomenon we're seeing now. And so, you know, for a lot of us, the question becomes what is going to come after Trump.

He is not going to be in office forever. When he leaves, how is the nation going to change? And I think the big question is, are we going to be able to snap out of this and change our culture back to what is more traditional, or are we setting ourselves on a course that is going to continue long after he leaves, after his people leave. And I think it would be quite threatening to our democracy.

LEMON: So Phil, it should not go unsaid that you have had threats against you. You talked about it on the air here. How big of a concern are domestic terrorists in this climate?

MUDD: I mean I find this interesting. I spend my years typically following people overseas, people in this country. When they think of terrorists, they think of terrorists who are coming from other places, including the Islamic world. If you look back as far as the 1970s, if you look at today, people in this country who hate other people often times.

[22:55:00] In fact, if you go to the 70s, more often than Islamic terrorists are domestic terrorists. This is people who are white supremacists, who look at -- whether its blacks, whether it's Hispanics, who look at people who are foreign and say they're threatened. We need to do something about them. Let me be clear on this. Tone is important in this environment.

If you suggest that somebody whether they're an immigrant or blacks -- enemy of the people or whether there is a member of the media, I'm not suggesting that a politician is responsible for a potential act of violence. What I am going to say is that if you say that the media or a black person or a Mexican person is sort of a threat to the American people. There is one-tenth or 1/100 of the population that's going to look at you and say, I am going to do something about that.

That percentage, Don, is significant. There are 330 million Americans. If .100 of 1 percent looks at the president and says I am going to take what you say about foreigners, Mexican or what -- take what you say about the media and act on it, that's a lot of people, Don. You got to worry about it. People like you and me, we got to worry about it.

LEMON: Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate your time.

GERGEN: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: The Justice Department is expecting Robert Mueller's report as early as next week. And that's not all that's coming. Michael Cohen is now set to testify publicly in front of Congress on Wednesday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)