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INSIDE POLITICS

Prosecutors Drop Charges against Smollett; Smollett News Conference. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mayor is going to say. How are they going to explain what happened here?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Shan, you're a former federal prosecutor. You're also -- have been a defense attorney as well. If you're working with Jussie Smollett, what's your recommendation on how he addresses this right now?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would come out with the statement they've come out with. He's vindicated. He's sticking with the victim narrative. And then just sort of wait and sit back and see what we get from the police to determine the next steps.

BOLDUAN: All right, Shan -- all right, sorry, I'm just getting more direction from the control room. We are watching the Cook County Courthouse right now, waiting for Jussie Smollett and his attorneys to come out after prosecutors have dropped all charges against the "Empire" actor.

What comes next? We will see as Jussie Smollett is about to come out. I'm going to hand it over to my colleague in Washington, Nia-Malika Henderson.

Nia.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kate.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson.

We have breaking news.

We're waiting right now for a live news conference from Chicago where there's been another stunning turn of events in the Jussie Smollett case. The actor had been accused of staging an attack against him back in January. All charges against him have now been dropped.

The state attorney in Cook County released a statement saying, quote, after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a justice disposition, an appropriate resolution to this case.

CNN's Ryan Young joins us now. Ryan, you have been following this case for the last few weeks,

months, in fact. How did we get here?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's the biggest question that we've ever had. Right now, actually, I'm standing behind the camera because we're told within the next two minutes or is Jussie Smollett and his lawyers are expected to walk to the mikes and give this first statement.

We were also all shocked by this today. We basically got a heads up to get to the court. When we arrived at court, we were already told that Jussie Smollett and his team have arrived here. We were even told by a spokesperson that they found out late last night that this was going down.

And basically what we're saying right now is all these charges, all 16 were dropped. We're evening waiting, at this point, about an hour from now, for the -- not only for the police superintendent but the mayor to give a statement about how this all came down. I'm not even sure how much information they had that this was going to happen because the rumors started spread quickly, that you've got to think about this, the Cook County's state attorney's office decided after a review of the evidence that they were going to drop the charges.

So what you have to wonder here is, did they find something out about the two men who were working with the police department, and that's why they decided to move forward with dropping these charges? We don't know. We don't have that information just yet.

What we do know is Jussie Smollett went into court. It lasted about 10 minutes. We're told he has to sign some paperwork. After signing paperwork, we were told that his lawyer and his team would walk to the mikes and give a brief statement about everything that's going on. And we were told we are about a two-minute warning away from that happening now. So I believe, as you see this woman going around the corner, that's the spokesperson right there, the blonde who's walking around the corner. We're told he should come out and give us a statement.

But, from here, we've been building this case since late in January. It was the coldest night in Chicago. Jussie Smollett tells police that he was going to get something to eat. As he was coming back, two men attacked him. At that point he said the men had red hats. He said they seem like they appeared white with skin, but their face were covered with a masks. They put a noose around his neck. They punching him. He said he fought back. That bleach was poured on him.

When the police were called some 45 minutes later, they arrived. They tried to take him to the hospital. He did not want to go to the hospital. He even asked them to turn off their body cameras. So, from there, police started working this case. You're talking about 12 police officers who worked this case for several days, all the hours that were used, and then eventually they found the Osundairo brothers who had just returned from Nigeria. And after 47 hours of talking to these two men, right before it became the 48th hour, we are told that the two men started giving up information, so they weren't charged. It went to a grand jury. The state attorney's office decided to give

him a 16-count indictment. And all along we thought we would get to a point where this would go to court. And Jussie Smollett always maintained that he was innocent. And now we're here where all the charges have been dropped. We're not exactly sure how we arrived here, what happened with the state's attorney's office, but what we do know is that any moment now, apparently, he's going to walk out and finally give part of his side of the conversation.

But so many twists and turns in this story. You have to figure out, maybe something in the middle, but you just don't know because all sides are not talking just yet and you have to think about how strong the police department was when they came out with all the evidence that they unveiled in that news conference.

HENDERSON: Right.

And I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

Joey, why would prosecutors just suddenly drop charges?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, that's the open question.

Good afternoon to you.

And that's one that we're going to hear shortly. But you have to wonder whether it was really an overstep by the police department. And, look, you had the superintendent going on "Good Morning America" blasting him essentially, talking about essentially him shaming the community by using a noose, et cetera. And if you look at the actual statement itself, Nia, it speaks to, they considered his volunteer service in the community and his agreement forfeit his bond. To me, right, even though it's not at all being couched as a plea deal, in the event that charges are being dismissed and there's no evidence whatsoever, it's over.

[12:05:25] HENDERSON: There is Jussie Smollett walking to the microphone there. We're going to go right to him. His lawyer is there. We're awaiting his statement now.

PATRICIA BROWN HOLMES, ATTORNEY FOR JUSSIE SMOLLETT: Good afternoon.

Today --

Good afternoon.

Today, as you have figured out, the state made a motion to nolle pros (ph) the charges against Jussie Smollett and to seal the record in this case. We believe that it was the correct result in this case. We're very happy for this result. And we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life and to move forward.

I'll take any questions.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)? HOLMES: This is not -- there is no deferred prosecution. The motion was to nolle pros, which is a legal technical term, for dismiss the charges.

QUESTION: What's happening to the bond money?

HOLMES: Jussie voluntarily agreed to the forfeiture of the bond money.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: We believe to the city of Chicago, but we don't know.

QUESTION: How did we arrive --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: There is no deal. The state dismissed the charges. There's nothing --

QUESTION: What do you have to say to the police department?

HOLMES: Pardon.

QUESTION: What do you have to say to the police department?

HOLMES: We have nothing to say to the police department except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press, but to allow matters to be investigated, allow the state to investigate, and to bring charges and not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) the city -- are you going to seek legal recourse (ph) for the city or the two brothers?

HOLMES: Next question.

QUESTION: You won't say whether (INAUDIBLE)?

QUESTION: Miss Brown Holmes, do you think that the city put a lot of attention on Mr. Smollett (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: I have no idea what occurred in this case and why it occurred. I can just say that things seemed to spiral somewhat out of control. We've gotten to a result that is the right result in this case and we're happy for that.

QUESTION: Is this through conversations? How did we arrive here?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: I have no idea what --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)? HOLMES: Plenty of people forfeit their bond in situations like this. Jussie is, and as -- if you were in the courtroom, heard the prosecutors say, and we made sure that the prosecution knew, he is someone who has dedicated his life to public service since he was 15 years old. He has taken the city of Chicago as his home. He has volunteered in a variety of ways. He is a good, solid citizen of the city of Chicago. That was the comment made by the prosecutor today.

QUESTION: Are they --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: And the Osundairo brothers said more than once that the $3,500 check they received was for exactly what Jussie said. It was for nutrition and training. They were his trainers. That statement was not true.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: I don't know where the superintendent got that information. I was not privy to it. And, quite frankly, have not seen that footage, so I have no idea where that came from, which is why you should allow investigation and allow the state to investigate a charge before you go to the press.

QUESTION: There are, obviously, going to still be a lot of questions about this. How --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: I have no idea. You know, I don't have information that the state would have as to why they brought these charges. I don't know. You'd have to ask the state.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: The two men who attacked him have indicated that they attacked him, so we already know who attacked him. Those brothers have --

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: Well, that's up to the state.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Jussie want to speak? Jussie, do you want to say anything?

HOLMES: No. No.

[12:10:01] QUESTION: So why -- so why did (INAUDIBLE) do that?

HOLMES: Well, the two brothers have said that they attacked him. So, you know -- we don't want to try them in the press any more than he wanted to be tried in the press.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

HOLMES: That decision was made so that he could go on with his life and get this over with and not have to fight and not have to continue with all of the disruption to his career. He is -- he is a very sweet individual who has, for a lifetime, dedicated himself to his career, to the public, to children, to the movement in the LGBTQIA community. And this was a disruption to that. He wants to get back to it.

I will allow you to hear from him briefly and then we're gone.

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: Hey, everybody.

I just made a couple notes.

First of all, I want to thank my family, my friends, the incredible people of Chicago and all over the country and the world who have prayed for me, who have supported me, who have shown me so much love. No one will ever know how much that has meant to me, and I will forever be grateful.

I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history, and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn't.

So I want to thank my legal counsel from the bottom of my heart, and I would also like to thank the state of Illinois for attempting to do what's right.

Now I'd like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life. But make no mistakes, I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.

So, again, thank you for all the support, thank you for faith and thank you to God. Bless you all. Thank you very much.

(CROSS TALK)

QUESTION: Jussie, are your attackers still out there?

HENDERSON: We heard there from Jussie Smollett after the police in Chicago have dropped all those charges against him. He said that he has been truthful and consistent from day one. That this has been one of the worst episodes of his entire life. He called himself a man of faith and said he wanted to get on with his life.

I want to bring in now CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

Your thoughts about what we just heard.

JACKSON: Well, number one, the first thought, of course, is that in the eyes of the law, he is now free and clear. He has no more issues, no concerns. The case is dismissed. It's sealed, as you heard the lawyer say. And as a result of that, he goes on with his life.

The two other issues, of course, as it relates to forfeiting his bond. He forfeits his bond. That amounts to, I believe, $10,000. It was set at $100,000. It looks like the district attorney, county attorney, considered his community service, considered the person he was. So that's number one. And we need to make that clear. And so no more in terms of Jussie Smollett moving forward in any criminal process, in any system. That's done.

Number two, I was looking for whether or not there would be statements as it relates to the police department and their overstepping here and the sergeant going on TV and essentially blasting Jussie Smollett. There was not. It looked like there was more conciliation in terms of, you know what, they just wanted to address the issue that this is done, it's behind them. We're moving forward.

And so I'm -- I'm still left, though, will wondering and considering the statement of the county attorney why he had to forfeit his bond, why they evaluated the community service. Those will be open questions. We'll never know, Nia, in terms of specifically what was the evidence that they looked at and evaluated. Was it the fact that those two brothers were damaged goods? Was it anything relating to their prior record or history? Was it related to the nature of their story?

For a case to go from the district attorney's office here, to the state's attorney looking at 16 counts in an indictment, $100,000 bond, $10,000 you put up to make that bond, a full-throttled prosecution, man hours, a thousand man hours, 12 detectives assigned to a case, the sergeant going, saying, we got the goods, we even have more than I'm suggesting, and then all of a sudden, never mind, it's dismissed, he' moving on. You have to wonder whether or not they overplayed their hand, that is that they just went after him so relentlessly and everything else it poisons the jury pool. How do you get a fair trial from this? Wiser minds need to prevail. It's time to heal this community. Enough is enough as it relates to lying to the police, or allegedly lying, which, of course, in the eyes of the law he did not as a result of this finding. And so everybody moves forward.

HENDERSON: And CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, he's going to join us now.

You've been talking to Jussie Smollett's attorneys. What did they tell you, Brian?

[12:15:02] BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I've been asking, is there going to be a civil case? Is Smollett now going to try to pursue a case against the authorities? No comment from the lawyers about that.

But the view from Smollett's camp here is that he was treated so terribly by the local authorities --

HENDERSON: Here's Jussie Smollett again.

Jussie Smollett outside the courthouse here. QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Mark Geragos, Tina Glandian (ph), are you

pleased with the work that they've done, too?

QUESTION: Jussie, can you talk to us about (INAUDIBLE) and what's going on?

QUESTION: How do you plan to spend the rest of your day, Jussie?

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How you feeling, Jussie? You feel good? You look good! You look good!

Jussie, can I have a picture?

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). Take care. All right.

QUESTION: Jussie, do you think you should have your job back?

Jussie, should you have your job back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he should.

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: See you on "Empire"! See ya! Yes!

HENDERSON: And there was Jussie Smollett there talking to fans, posing for pictures outside the courthouse there.

I'm going to bring in CNN national correspondent Ryan Young, who has been following this case.

This is a moment for the community there in Chicago who, just like us, have seen all of the twists and turns of this case over the last many months.

YOUNG: Yes, you couldn't write a reality TV show better than the one that's played out since January 29th. I honestly feel like when we see the superintendent and the mayor later on and they have their news conference, I'm wonder if they're going to punch back at some of the things that were said here today.

I'm told not a lot of people knew about this deal. And, in fact, when this sort of happened and the charges were going to be dropped, people were surprised. They were shocked. There was a buzz in this courtroom that people were anticipating this. They felt so strongly about the information that had been given to everybody about this investigation, they just thought this was headed for a plea deal, not for charges being dropped completely.

And then when you hear that and you see everything that's happening, and then he stands in front of the mike. One thing I will say is, he was restrained. If you remember that interview he did with Robin Roberts, I mean, he was very vocal and he was very into it. He, obviously, read from a statement and was very prepared for this.

But I can also tell you, the woman that he had as an attorney, Pat Holmes is someone people in this state know very well. And you could tell by the way she was taking on that mike, she had an understanding for what was going on here that many of us don't know. There's -- something that she said here that a lot of people didn't pick up on, I think. Parts of this is going to be sealed. So I'm wondering if we're ever going to get a chance to see all the evidence that was involved in this case because, of course, as a reporter, I would love to go through this and see how police arrived at the location they did. What did the Osundairo brothers say to them that made them go out so strongly and say this. And, you have to remember, it's two different entities, will the police department now look at the state's attorney's office and say, hey, you guys left us hanging to dry on this one and will they say anything more about what they feel about this?

Will the mayor come forward, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will he say how he feels about this case finally? There's so many questions about this. But every single week from the time this case has unfolded, we've gotten new bits of evidence that sort of just boggle your mind in terms of what's the next twist and what's the next turn. There the question was asked, do you want to see the two men charged who allegedly attacked you? And there was that pause there and no one really wanted to answer that question.

So what happens next because, honestly, you can't have all these man hours and you can't have something happen and a crime be reported and then nothing happens from there? This is just going to all go away? I think that's the question here.

And there's a credibility factor I think in all of this. There are people's credibilities on the line when it comes to this. Not only just Jussie Smollett's credibility, but then you have to starting think about the police department, the city and the state attorney's office. All this has been sort of swirling around.

And then I brought this up before. You think about all the things that this has touched. You think about Northwestern Hospital, where they had to fire more than a dozen workers who apparently went in and looked at his medical files against their HIPAA rules and they were all fired.

So this, on every single step of this, you see another drop. And, on top of that, just think, this was not captured on video because of the fact the camera was pointed in a different direction. So we don't even have that.

[12:20:00] But we do know the detectives apparently were able to track the men suing Ride Share, you go through those steps from there. We know they're both dark skin African-American males. So why was he -- the conversation of white skin even a part of this conversation? We believed for a while that maybe two white men had allegedly attacked Jussie Smollett. Well, that wasn't the case. So what happens from there. And then this here today, they were saying that he paid them for personal training. So why or how did they tell the police that it was something different. At some point we need to talk to the Osundairo brothers' attorneys as well.

HENDERSON: Right.

And one of the things you heard from Patricia Brown Holmes, who is the attorney for Jussie Smollett, her message for the police was, don't try cases in public. And, we, of course, remember that epic press conference from the Chicago police superintendent who was indignant about what he called a hoax perpetrated by Jussie Smollett.

YOUNG: Yes. I think the one thing that stood out to me, no matter where you went to in the parts of this city, and you think about some of the sketches that have been done online, I can think about one of the Trevor Noah sketches that were pretty funny. Jussie Smollett, at one point, was somebody that everybody was behind and they were feeling like, I can't believe this would happen in the city of Chicago. And then it shifted and then he became public enemy number one.

Well, now it's, where are we? What part of this? And how do you trust either side in this story because until someone lays out all the facts for us, how do you put this together. And I think that's the part that we have to figure out next. And that's why that conversation at Navy Pier with the mayor and the superintendent, when they do that, I think in the next 45 minutes or so, that's going to be something that we're going to have to watch as well because what are they going to say after this conversation? I don't think they were expecting today at graduation for the recruits they had to be answering questions on this, but this story has been revolving so fast you almost don't know how to keep up with it.

And then he walks out and you see all the fans who were outside who wanted to say something to Jussie. So there's a big split here, not even getting into the fact of the "Empire" and the Hollywood factor in all of this.

HENDERSON: And Brian Stelter, have we heard anything? I mean speaking of this Hollywood factor --

STELTER: Yes.

HENDERSON: From Fox or the team from the show "Empire," which is a pretty popular show on Fox.

STELTER: Yes, it is, but, no, so far the network and the studio that make the show are not saying anything.

You know, you remember right after Smollett said he was the victim of a hate crime in Chicago that night, the Fox Network, the studio, the "Empire" casting and crew all had his back, supported him very strongly. That continued as it became a mystery about what happened and whether he had made this it. The network continued to support him. But it started to pull back a little bit in those public statements. Right now there's no new comment from Fox. But this is a key part of the story, Nia, because I do think he just wants to get back to work. That's what a friend of Smollett's just said to me. He wants to act. He wants to get back to work.

He had actually been taken off two of the episodes of "Empire." His future as a Hollywood actor has been in limbo for the past few weeks. So his lawyers have been trying to get to this point so that he can return to work. So far no comment from the network. But I do think we will see Smollett get back to work because the narrative has once again changed from victim, you know, to villain, back to victim. It's been very confusing. As Ryan was saying, people don't know what to believe and we may never really know what happened on that street that night in Chicago.

But for his fans, his friends, this is a triumphant moment that he can now get back to what he wants to do, which is work.

HENDERSON: And I'm going to bring back legal analyst Joey Jackson here. One of the things you heard from his attorney there was she was defiant, basically, in talking about the assumption that there might have been some sort of plea deal. She kept saying, no, this wasn't any sort of deal, that he forfeited his bond voluntarily.

JACKSON: Well, the attorney has two roles, obviously, right? The first role, obviously, is to protect him legally, and then the next role, of course, is whatever public relations needs to be played. That needs to happen too.

To be clear, whatever may have occurred, the charges are done, it's over, addressing first, Nia, the issue of whether we will actually know whatever happened. We may never, right, as it relates to this case. Here's why. When you seal a case, you seal it. It's done. It's otherwise buried. And with the case being sealed, there's no basis or way for reporters or anybody else to know what the contents of that file are. The only conceivable way that we may know what happened is remember there could be a federal component here not to -- you know, look, this is a big day for him. It's significant. I think there was a feeling in Chicago that enough was enough. My view is that it was an overstep by the police department to come out. How does he ever get a fair trial when you have the superintendent going on "Good Morning America" blasting him, talking about who he's from the community, he can't understand this, why would he ever do this to the community? There's much more evidence. So I think that played into it big time.

But, the other component of how we might know is there could be a federal component. Where do I get that from? The chief as well, talking about how he allegedly may have mailed something to himself. That takes it into federal jurisdiction. Will the feds pursue, will they not? In the event they did, then we would get some answers there.

[12:25:07] But in terms of what happened at the state level, we -- you know, again, with the case being sealed, it's done, it's over. I look for the attorneys, whether they would be blasting the police department. They didn't. it was more conciliatory. Time to move on. Time to move forward. Time to heal Chicago.

HENDERSON: What a fascinating end to this story. And we'll keep you posted and updated as we get more information on Jussie Smollett and the charges dropped against him.

Coming up, signs of Mueller fatigue on Capitol Hill and at the White House. Are lawmakers and the president ready to move on?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: Welcome back.

We're continuing to follow developments in the Jussie Smollett case here. And we expect to hear from Chicago's mayor and police superintendent soon. And we'll bring you that live when we have it.

[12:29:55] Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is urging Democrats to stay on message today. Sources tell CNN, Pelosi spoke with members this morning who are generally eager to move on to other parts of their agenda, like health care.