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Trump Expected To Surrender Tuesday And Face Arraignment. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2023 - 11:00   ET




AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Amara Walker in for Kate Bolduan. We begin this hour with the indictment of former President Donald Trump. And this morning his attorney says they will not accept a plea deal. Sources tell CNN that Trump faces more than 30 counts in a case that centers around alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

According to multiple sources, Trump will turn himself in next Tuesday appearing in a New York courtroom for his arraignment. Ahead of that, the NYPD is making major security preps. All officers are being told to report to work in uniform prepared for deployment today. We want to show you live pictures now of supporters who have gathered in Mar-a- Lago.

Let's get straight to Paula Reid now live in New York for the latest on the indictment. Paula, walk us through what's going to happen next.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Amara, at this point, even former President Trump's lawyers don't know exactly what he's been charged with. Now, that is standard operating procedure in a state court. The charges remain under seal until the arraignment which as of right now is expected to happen on Tuesday. Now, I'm also told that Trump's lawyers do not intend to try to push or even ask for the unsealing of that indictment any sooner.

But on Tuesday, they said he will fully cooperate who will go through the standard process, which includes fingerprinting, photographs and appearance before a judge, though he is already attacking that judge on social media something that his lawyers are likely not pleased with.

But following this initial appearance, his lawyers have vowed to fight. They say they're going to file motions to dismiss. They want to defeat this case before it ever gets to trial. Now several sources close to the case tell us that there is a lot of document -- documentary evidence supporting this case. And it's not just relying on witnesses was one of the key witnesses in this case, Michael Cohen. He was back last night and this morning, getting media interviews. Let's take a listen to what he told her colleagues last night, Amara.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO DONALD TRUMP: Yes, I am a convicted felon. I am a disbarred lawyer. But I also brought the documents. There's plenty of testimony, corroborating testimony to go around. And come Tuesday --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you know that the all these witnesses were corroborating your testimony?

COHEN: Let's just say, I know. I was there 22 times. So there's things that I know things that I believe, corroborate. And at the end of the day, we have an indictment today. So clearly, that means that the information provided was more than enough for the grand jury to come back with the determination for an indictment. Oh, by the way, for Donald, since we're talking about convicted felons, see on Tuesday, pal.


REID: Prosecutors will likely not be pleased with that appearance as Cohen is a key witness in this case. Another key witness Attorney Robert Costello, who was called in really just for the sole purpose of attacking Michael Cohen's credibility, he was personally requested by Trump's attorneys. He declined to comment last night saying, look, I'm likely to be a witness in this trial.

But speaking of witnesses, Amara, there was we've learned at least one other witness who went before the grand jury before they voted on this indictment yesterday, and we don't know who that person is. So that's a big mystery sitting out there. Is it someone who could as Michael Cohen suggested, corroborate his story or was it a witness that they brought in for another reason.

But clearly, they were able to button up their case even after that surprise defense witness as they successfully got this indictment, but we'll see if they can successfully prosecute this case.

WALKER: Oh, sure. That is the next step. Paula Reid, thank you very much. Let's go now to Florida, where Donald Trump is blasting the indictment and calling it political persecution and a witch hunt. Leyla Santiago live in West Palm Beach near Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Leyla, what are you seeing and how is Trump responding to this indictment?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, in terms of what we are seeing, we are seeing some protesters out near a nearby bridge where they often gather when the former president has these big moments that make headlines. I got to say though, comparatively speaking, we are not seeing the type of crowd and protesters that we saw that I saw when I was here in August when those search warrants were executed.

Now those search warrants part of a different investigation, but in terms of what we know that is happening inside those walls of Mar-a- Lago, we understand that the Trump team was caught off guard when these indictments came down yesterday, that the former president was prepping political attacks against Governor Ron DeSantis when they certainly had to turn to shift their focus a bit on this new indictments that came down from the grand jury in Manhattan.


Now we also understand that the former president had dinner with Melania and his guests but in his statement, he said this is political persecution, as you mentioned, Amara. Now I want you to listen to how his attorney handled this in interviews this morning, echoing some of the same sentiment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you then called President Trump, what was his reaction?

JOE TACOPINA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Initially shock, I will tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why was he shocked?

TACOPINA: But after he got over that initial, you know, you know, George, because at the end of the day, we were really hoping he was hoping that that rule of law would have prevailed.

Oh, he's not worried at all. I mean, he's upset, angry. He is being persecuted politically.


SANTIAGO: And listen, as you have heard from CNN and others today, there is still so much that is unknown. Included in that is the coordination of what could be possible surrendering of the former president for this indictment. And what that will look like, we're still waiting to see if there's any movement, any sort of insight that we can see from Mar-a-Lago to get a better understanding of how that will go down.

I have spoken with local law enforcement to see if there have been any requests for any sort of assistance of an escort or any extra security. They have not received such requests. So right now, we're just waiting to see what the next move will be from former President Donald Trump as this arraignment nears. Amara?

WALKER: All right, Leyla Santiago live for South Florida. Thank you. Joining me now our senior -- CNN senior political commentator, David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Obama and David Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, David and David, appreciate both of you. David Ehrenburg, we'll start with you. And look, we know according to sources telling CNN the indictment of Trump is not expected to be unsealed before Tuesday before that arraignment.

We know from sources as well that Trump faces more than 30 charges related to business fraud. That's a big number. Do you anticipate that all these charges will have to do with the alleged hush money paid to stormy Daniels? What specific charges do you anticipate?

DAVID ARONBERG, STATE ATTORNEY, PALM BEACH COUNTY: Amara, I think we may see charges beyond the Stormy Daniels hush money payments. And the reason why I say that is because Jennifer Weisselberg testified before the grand jury. She doesn't seem to have any information about Stormy Daniels. She's the ex-daughter-in-law, a longtime CFO of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg.

So she would have had some very interesting dinner conversations. And she has an estranged ex-daughter-in-law with an axe to grind. She's been talking to prosecutors. So I think they may have extra counts that we didn't anticipate involving other types of financial fraud. And Jennifer Weisselberg could be a key witness at trial, but the best witness would be Allen Weisselberg. And he is near the end of his prison term in Rikers. And there's reports that the prosecutors are threatening to add new insurance fraud charges against him, which would extend his stay in that facility perhaps at the end of his life.

WALKER: Interesting. David Axelrod, I mean, this is unprecedented what just happened, right? No former or current president has ever been criminally indicted. Trump already began launching a furious counter attack before he was even indicted. He's calling it as you know, political persecution, weaponization of the government to prevent his 2024 run. And so far Republicans, they're echoing Trump, I want to first play for you Mike Pence's advisor Marc Short on CNN this morning. Listen.


MARC SHORT, FORMER PENCE CHIEF OF STAFF: And if the reality is the prosecutor has campaigned on a pledge to voters that he's going to prosecute Donald Trump, regardless of the facts. And if the federal government is passed on the prosecution, and the district attorney who preceded him pass on prosecuting, but he's made a campaign promise he's going to do this. I think it does leave a lot of question in voter's minds is whether or not this is a political trial.


WALKER: I mean, all of us that we're seeing in terms of the political reverberations and the backlash from Republicans, do you see this working to Trump's advantage politically?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, in the short term, absolutely. I think that he has we've seen the Republican Party rally around him. And they're doing that because they think that their voters are going to rally around him or certainly his base. So it works for him in the short run. And look, I'm one who believes that part of his motivation for running was exactly this. I think the campaign is his sword and his shield so that he can tell his supporters this is a political, these are political prosecutions. They're trying to rob you have your voice. They're trying to keep me from running a campaign.

And I think you know that there is some wisdom, political wisdom or Kenny I should say to that strategy. And I think that that is helping him in the short run. The question is in the long run because this may not be the first indictment that Donald Trump faces and the others are on matters that people are well familiar with, unlike this particular, you know, I've said when you have to say, porn star and novel political -- novel legal theory in the same sentence, you know, you better think about that cases, as a, you know, from a public relations standpoint.


The others are very clear. And when they mount up, what is the effect on Donald Trump, his base may stick with him and his base may be enough to nominate him for President of the United States. The question is what happens then? Because I think he's really souring his position with the rest of the electorate.

WALKER: And David Aronberg, I mean in terms of Trump's legal defense attorney, Jim Trusty, said this to CNN this morning.


JIM TRUSTY, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, I would think in very short order, you'll see a motion to dismiss or several motions to dismiss, talking about this kind of impossible theory of stalking a federal crime into a state misdemeanor statute of limitations issues. And very importantly, the intent to defraud that's an element of these false record keeping charges, that's just not present here.


WALKER: OK, so what we're hearing is that the intent is to file motions to dismiss this indictment. I mean, do you think there's any merit to that, that that would even be successful?

ARONBERG: Unlikely, the statute limitations argument doesn't play here because Trump left the state. So that pauses the statute limitations. He moved down here to my backyard here in Palm Beach. And so that's not a good argument. The other is the attention to fraud. That one, I think, would be a jury question. I don't think that it'll throw out the case. There are some questions on whether Trump had the requisite intent to defraud when he if he made the falsification of business records, because under the courts, he may have to involve money or property.

I don't want to get too technical, but I don't think there's any real grounds to dismiss this manner. Besides, we don't even know what the counts are going to be. They're sealed. So how can he say they're all going to be dismissed when we don't know what the charges will be at?

WALKER: Yes, exactly. Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: Well, I was going to say we should just note that Donald Trump, this is not his first rodeo. OK. He's been -- he's had his hand to the flame for his entire business and political career. We're talking twice, impeach President and his fundamental modus operandi is to deny and attack and in legal cases, to file as many motions as he can and exhaust all of the possibilities to try and delay and defer what he's facing.

So he is -- I expect him to follow that well-worn path in this case. I don't think anybody, you know, he is not going to walk in there ever and say, OK, you got me, you know, the jig is up for me. That's not the way Donald Trump rolls.

WALKER: So again, David Aronberg, I mean, let's talk about what happens next. Because Alvin Bragg's office, the Manhattan DA's office, says that they've been in touch with Trump's attorneys to coordinate his surrender in New York, walk us through the next few days, then.

ARONBERG: Well, if he does self-surrender, then he would go with secret service to New York. And in one sense, he won't be treated like everyone else. He will not be placed in handcuffs unless he wants to be. He may want that image of grievance of martyrdom, as he's marched in the courthouse that could help with its fundraising and with his base. But once he gets there, he'll be fingerprinted. He'll take a mug shot. And then he'll be allowed to go home on his own recognizance.

There won't be pretrial detention. There won't be a monetary bail. And await trial back at home. And although this is unprecedented, I have a feeling that Alvin Bragg will not be the only prosecutor to indict a former president. I think future indictments are coming in Georgia, and by the federal government.

WALKER: And David, lastly to you, David Axelrod. You know, you mentioned this in regarding the whole PR perspective, because we know Trump is being investigated for in a far more serious crimes, right, including the January 6th insurrection, attempts to overturn a presidential election in Georgia. And of course, the handling of classified documents for such a consequential decision, you know, I think a lot of people are asking, well, why this indictment on business fraud coming down first, do you ask -- are you asking those same questions, at least from the political perspective here?

AXELROD: Well, yes, anybody who thinks that there's an organized conspiracy against Donald Trump can take a look at this and understand that's clearly not the case. This isn't -- if you were coordinating all of these cases, this would not be the first one you'd want to roll out. I think it just happens to be the one that was in the queue, you know, that the prosecutor had ready to go I think he had statute of limitations, concerns. And so it went first.


But I think this was a gift if you hadn't been indicted the fact that this was the first case, is a gift to Donald Trump, because it's the easiest one to kind of depict in the way that he wants to depict them. And, you know, so and you see it here. One thing I want to say, you know, about how he is handled on Tuesday, if I were the DA, if I were to advise him, and I'm not a lawyer, I'm, you know, political strategist, but I would give him every courtesy that I could. I would not certainly not handcuff him.

David is right. I think he would love that picture. I make very sure that that booking photo is not released, he would turn it into t- shirts, and he turned himself into Che Guevara there as an iconic image. I would just make sure that this goes down smoothly, and that he has not made a spectacle of in -- on Tuesday, because that will all play and that would all play into his public relations strategy there.

WALKER: Right. And the martyrdom that David Aronberg was referring to that Trump is hoping to have. David Aronberg and Axelrod, thank you to both of you. Appreciate your time.

AXELROD: It was great to be with you.

ARONBERG: Thank you.

WALKER: All right, well, some Republicans are calling the Manhattan grand juries indictment of Donald Trump, outrageous and an abuse of power more on what top GOP lawmakers are saying ahead.



WALKER: The Manhattan District Attorney's office is once again slamming House Republicans this time over their efforts to intervene and its hush money investigation involving Donald Trump. Top House GOP lawmakers had previously called for Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg to testify about the case. Let's go now to CNN Manu Raju from Capitol Hill. Hi there, Manu. What is the DA's office saying this morning? I mean, it has some choice words for House Republicans.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, pushing back pretty aggressively here on this investigation. The push to get Alvin Bragg to come and testify, remember in the aftermath of Donald Trump putting out a social media post saying that he was going to get indicted. The top three key committee chairman sent a letter demanding Bragg's testimony also asking for a range of documents and questioning whether or not federal funds had been used to support this investigation.

While this morning, Alvin Bragg's office pushing back in a very strongly worded letter attacking Republicans accusing them of essentially being a defense counsel for Donald Trump rather than seeking a legitimate legislative purpose in the view of the district attorney's office. I'll read you part of the letter it says in part, as committee chairman, you could use the stature of your office to denounce these attacks and urge respect for the fairness of our justice system and for the work of the impartial grand jury. Instead, you and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump's efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges and made unfounded allegations that the office's investigation conducted via an independent grand jury of average citizens serving New York is politically motivated.

Now, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy along with his Republican leaders on his team have pushed back very quickly in the aftermath of the news last night saying it was a sham investigation. It was outrageous in the words of some. And McCarthy himself saying that the prosecutor will be held quote, to account even as no one has yet seen the allegations or the evidence or any of the charges against Trump.

But Trump has been on the phone with some of his key allies, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who was he spoke with last night. And Graham had a pretty aggressive response to the allegations that could be coming and facing Trump here in a matter of days.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): They're trying to bleed him dry. Go tonight, give the president some money to fight this --. This is going to destroy America. We're going to fight back at the ballot box. We're not going to give in. How does this end, Sean, Trump wins in court and he wins the election. This is the most irresponsible and dangerous decision by a prosecutor in the history of the country.


RAJU: Now Graham is the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He too has not yet seen the charges here or any of the evidence here. But some Republican leaders are being quiet, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. He has not yet weighed in on any of this at all, neither as the number two Senator Republican John Thune or another member of the Republican leadership team John Cornyn. Thune and Cornyn seen as a potential successors to McConnell down the line.

All of them being quiet so far, an indication of the divide over Donald Trump, McConnell and Thune in particular, have been eager to move past the Trump era. Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, credits Donald Trump for winning the speakership on the 15th ballot here. So as these charges move forward, we're seeing a divide among top Republican leaders about how to respond.

WALKER: Yes, very interesting indeed. Manu Raju, appreciate it. Thank you. Joining us now to put all of this into historical context is presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky. Lindsay, thank you for your time. Look, so many unthinkable events. have happened related to Trump. But now we have for the first time in our history, a former U.S. president being indicted on criminal charges. Can we just pause for a moment and if you can speak to this moment?


LINDSAY CHERVINSKY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, as you said, there is so much that has been new in the last eight years that the word unprecedented has kind of lost some of its meaning and its power. But it's true. This has never happened before. No president has ever been indicted. And so the weight and the seriousness of that moment, we shouldn't gloss over. We shouldn't allow ourselves to become desensitized to all of the things that have happened in our political system that we have not seen before.

WALKER: Does this mean moving forward, though, because now a new precedent has been set, right? Are you concerned about the long term consequences to our democracy and future presidents their vulnerability?

CHERVINSKY: Well, I think if we just saw this indictment, then perhaps it's possible people could make an argument about the politicization of these charges, or is it state versus federal officials. But we should keep in mind that this is probably the first of several. And I actually think that while it is a very serious moment, and we shouldn't make light of it, I think it's actually a positive thing for the state of our institutions.

The President is not supposed to be above the law, former presidents are supposed to return to the same status as the rest of us. They are supposed to be held to account for their actions. And as we've seen public trust in those institutions, really crater over the last several years, the last several decades, I think it's a really positive message to say that, no, the President still belongs to this republic, former presidents still have to answer for their actions and be held accountable.

WALKER: You know, we just heard from the former vice president, Mike Pence, he was speaking at a summit in D.C. And, you know, of course, he's been, you know, saying that this was an outrageous move. But he also said that this indictment will only serve to further divide our country. We're already seeing the divisions playing out, especially from, you know, top Republicans, you know, saying that this was politically motivated, but could our democracy withstand this, especially, you know, with, you know, the toxic political situation that, you know, we continue to be in?

CHERVINSKY: Well, we're certainly headed, I think, for a rough moment. And I don't deny in any way the partisan tensions and the intensity and the animosity that we're probably going to see in the next couple of years, but I think long term, if the democracy is going to survive, if the institutions are going to survive, then they have to mean something, they have to stand for something. And officials have to be held accountable when they don't live up to those expectations and to those standards.

So, you know, we've been in moments of great tension and violence before we have survived them. And I think one of the ways that we can continue to survive them is to keep our eye and our focus on the long term health and sanctity of our institutions, our elections and our republic.

WALKER: Lindsay Chervinsky, thank you for your perspective. Appreciate it.


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