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Hearing Wraps In Effort To Disqualify Fulton County D.A.; Hearing Wraps In Effort To Disqualify Fulton County D.A.; Classified Documents Hearing Ends With No Trial Date Decision. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired March 01, 2024 - 16:00   ET



ADAM ABBATE, ATTORNEY FOR FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE: The concern of her safety in her life is something that was testified to, and the fact that this job has led to the isolation and separation of her from her family and friends, which was given credence and the credibility of those statements were provided by her father, Mr. Floyd, that he had only seen his daughter 13 times since all of these instances occurred.

The cynical (ph) nature of the statements and the falsehoods that, for example, in these text messages that were purposely leaked to the media as it relates to Ms. Willis's daughter subjecting her, her position in school, that she flunked out of college, which isn't true, which in fact she has graduated from an HBCU. But what's been leaked to the media is the fact that she flunked out of school and someone other than her father moved her, which again, the validity of which was never shown and all the while Ms. Willis facing these costs has been able to continue to do the work unrelated to this case, which is shown in the fact that land is murder rate and violent crime rates have decreased while she has been in office.

What was shown through the testimony of all of the witnesses and through the evidence that your honor heard, was that there wasn't an actual conflict, that the defense failed to provide any sort of actual conflict in relation to Ms. Wade's -- I guess the relationship that transpired from other relationship between her and Mr. Wade, and that there was actually no evidence of a financial benefit that she gained as it relates to the prosecution of this case, and the ultimate outcome of the case.

The corroboration of all of that is the things that, Your Honor, is very much aware that she could have I guess financially benefited from stretching out the case for lack of better words by the grand jury -- or the special grand jury recommended the 39 individuals be indicted, but through her sifting through the special grand jury's report and all of the evidence with the team that indicted the case. They only went with 19 of the defendants, which had she gone to 30, done with all 39, there based on the defense counsels assertions, what have given her the opportunity to certainly find these financial gains that are claimed through the allegations of defense counsel.

More importantly, why would Ms. Willis repeatedly asked this court has set a trial date as soon as possible if her motive in prosecuting this case was to continue to financially game as alleged from the prosecution of the case? It doesn't line up. It doesn't make sense and it doesn't make sense for a reason because it doesn't exist.

More importantly, this office has several, multiple RICO and as well as large scale cases like this one and much larger. And they also -- there's a lot of high profile prosecutions. If Ms. Wade's -- or excuse me, Ms. Willis's ultimate goal by hiring Mr. Wade was for her financial benefit, then she would put Mr. Wade on every single one of those cases.

Though she could certainly revel in the riches and lavish lifestyle that has been referred to by defense counsel which there's been absolutely no evidence of. The evidence was she stayed at the Doubletree in Napa, a Doubletree. I don't know that to be a lavish hotel. Most people, when they go to Napa, if they want to lavishly experience Napa, stay at the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons, things of that nature, not a Doubletree.

So the allegations and assertions that Ms. Willis was living the lifestyle of the rich and the famous is a joke, absolute joke.

As it relates to what you've heard, and the secondary issue is the forensic misconduct. And for lack of better words what it has to be shown is that the statements that were made by for heat here, Ms. Willis, related to the prosecution of the case and ultimately the guilt or innocence of the defendants. And we have none of those statements. There's been no evidence, nothing has provided to your -- been provided to, Your Honor, as it relates to Ms. Willis' specific statements made about any of the defendants and in relation to the guilt or innocence of any of the defendants.

I forget which defense counsel referenced the fact that she said she had a 95 percent conviction rate. Well, what Ms. Willis's job is to instill confidence in the community as to how to how well she is doing as relates to her constitutional duties. And that was exactly what was done when she referenced that she had a 95 percent conviction rate in the previous year that she was serving as the district attorney. More importantly, it's been the allegations about race and religion being imputed in her speech and that those comments were directed at the defendants at this table.

And if you listen to the speech, those comments are directed at two elected or political officials. I believe it was Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ms. Bridget Thorne, who is a member of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners here. She's specifically used their names. I don't -- I don't know that they my knowledge is they're not supposed to be sitting at the table and I haven't seen them in my work as it relates to this case, Your Honor.

So those allegations that Ms. Willis committed a forensic misconduct are again, there's no validity to them. There's no evidence of them as it relates to any of those comments at which this is an issue that Judge McBurney has previously ruled on when these same allegations were alleged as it relates to extra judicial statements made by Ms. Willis. And it involved a statement that the words fake electors were set by Ms. Willis and he found there was absolutely no conduct that was impermissive -- impermissible as it relates to forensic misconduct.

And I guess, to drive home the point at no point in any of the statements that were made, and that were -- that were on -- that are alleged here as it relates to speech that she made at the church at no point did she mentioned the guilt or innocence of any of the defendants.

She, again, was merely responding to comments made by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Bridget Thorne, to other political officials. Therefore, making her comments not even close in the realm of any sort of forensic misconduct. What I find interesting is that defense counsel wants to make these allegations that Ms. Willis committed this forensic misconduct by the statements that she made in her defense as to unrelated to this case public officials criticized the job that she would (INAUDIBLE).

I find the hypocrisy interesting in a sense that we've had preview proffers release to the media by defense counsel, emailed between counsel, released to the media by defense counsel. Statements have been made by defense counsel in relation to this case. We had the unredacted version of the cell phone records of Mr. Wade released to the media by defense counsel, with his private and personal information, causing the threat of harm to both Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade to increase -- we the most recent instance was the text messages that your honor hadn't ruled on their admissibility prior to their release, and it was made clear during the hearings that the ability to get those -- the full chain was something that they were unable to do, but they figured a way.

And the minute they figured a way they released it, the information to the media, simultaneously with turning it over to the state and the court.

For all the reasons obviously stated before, Your Honor, this motion should be not beat, should be denied because the legal requirements by -- that are required in order for the district attorney to be disqualified, have not been satisfied. The defendants have failed to raise any issues legally or factually to satisfy the legal standard for disqualification. They must show an actual conflict.

They've been unable to show that the prosecution of this case was it all result of political bias, which has been accused or accusations have made, as well as demonstrated that the prosecution of this case was motivated by any means or any way because of malicious prosecution. And they haven't been able to prove that this case was one of selective prosecution for political benefit or gain -- all allegations that have been made during the course of different hearings. And the procedures as it relates to this case.

What I would leave the court with, how the state started the argument is that courts have been generally unreceptive, if not hostile, to attempt to disqualify prosecutors based on pervasive and institutional conflicts.

[16:10:06] Which makes clear that the burden, that the standard is very, very high, that must be met in order for a district in elected district attorney to be disqualified. And that burden that standard has not been met. An actual conflict has not been shown. And more importantly, are in conjunction with that, there has been absolutely no evidence for the district attorney has benefitted financially at all, but benefited financially and congestion function with any outcome, whether it be now or ultimately, as it relates to the prosecution of this case.

And because of all those reasons, Your Honor, we would respectfully request you denied defense councils motion to disqualify the elected district attorney, Ms. Fani Willis.

JUDGE: Thank you, Mr. Abbate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your Honor, I think we have five minutes and 44 seconds.

JUDGE: That's what it says.

Mr. Cromwell -- okay. Understood.

Mr. Sadow, all yours

STEVE SADOW, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm going to do rebuttal, specific rebuttal.

One, state somehow makes an argument that we should have asked Mr. Wade questions about his relationship and his communications with Mr. Bradley when they objected over and over and over. And aides counsel objected over and over and over claiming that every thing that Bradley was told by Wade was attorney-client privilege.

Your Honor made determinations thereafter to Bradley. We didn't get the opportunity to call Mr. Wade back to the stand. So to claim that you cant impeach him because you didn't ask him when they objected to as ask him is a obviously -- is a false position to take as disingenuous as it can be.

Now, if the court wants to open it up, we'll be more than happy to call Mr. Wade back to the stand. But as the record stands, there could be no confrontation of Mr. Wade when both his counsel and the state are arguing that it shouldn't be done.

Second, let's use little common sense here. Forensic misconduct received about two minutes worth of discussion. The rest of it is all long conflict forensic misconduct dealing with the way the state (INAUDIBLE) is, if you don't accuse someone or you don't say that someone's guilty.

JUDGE: Yeah. Assuming you can impugn someone's character the degree that constitutes forensic misconduct, why is that?

SADOW: I'm sorry. JUDGE: Assuming you can impugn someone's character to the degree that

it constitutes forensic misconduct, I think that -- I guess the state's primary position was that they weren't talking about you at that church.

SADOW: Right.

And if you go listen to it and watch it, it starts off by saying why does Commissioner Bridget Thorn and so many others? And then it refers to they attack him for being Black. They attack him not anyone else, just the attack the Black man.

They're not talking about Ms. Thorne or Marjorie Taylor Greene. They're talking about us. And you know how everybody knows that because not a single story from the media reported anything other than Fani Willis accused the defense and defendants of being racist.

Now, here's the common sense part of this. If you follow the state's position on forensic misconduct, Fani Willis could all day long talk about race. She could say the defendants, I'm not saying they're guilty or not guilty, but their racist. They're racist. They're racist.

And according to the state's position on forensic misconduct, that wouldn't be a problem. Obviously, that makes no sense whatsoever. The issue here that we've dealt with on forensic misconduct is not simply the church speech. It's why she did it, how she did it, calculated, and all the other things that we talked about with the testimony of Wade and Willis in this case.

Let's go to the relationship issues in the cell phones, briefly. No one knew that there was a relationship between Wade and Willis, according to Wade and Willis, not a soul was ever told that they were dating or that there was an intimate relationship, ever. They conceal it from all parties, from daddy.

Daddy didn't even know they had a relationship suggest that somehow in the beginning of 2021, January to whatever it was, and into April that they couldn't have met in Hapeville, they didn't meet anywhere that would allow the public to see them.


That's the reason why they were meeting at Yeartie's because no one else was ever there. Remember the testimony? Who else was there besides Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis?

Both of them agreed, no one -- no one ever went there except them. They didn't go to where daddy was in Ms. Willis is house because daddy was there, and daddy would know. No other prosecutors knew. No one knows except who?

The one person that knew was Bradley and Yeartie. Yeartie was the best friend at that time with Ms Willis. And Bradley was the partner of Wade. Now, the only way that Wade can walk, I'm sorry, the only way that Bradley can walk away from the -- very long time -- I'll skip that, let's go to something, motive. That's an issue.

Whose motive in this case is the strongest? Fani Willis, Ethan Wade, because if they -- if they testified truthfully on every point, what happens if the relationship started before November 1st? They get disqualified.

Who has the best motive of anyone to lie? They do. Who has the most at stake to lie? They do. Who wants to stay on this case for whatever the financial reason may be? They do. (INAUDIBLE).

JUDGE: Thank you, Mr. Sadow.

There it is.

All right. Thank you, everybody.

I think has been very much made clear by the argument and the -- made today is that there are several legal issues to sort through, several factual determinations that I have to make. And those are ones I can make at this moment. And so, I will be taking the time to make sure that I give this case for considerations to. I hope to have an answer for everyone within the next two weeks.

And until that point, if there any other issues that come up, counsel can reach out and we'll have an order posted on the docket. Thank you all. We're off the record.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: You've been listening to the judge there in Georgia, Judge Scott McAfee, who says he will make his decision in about two weeks. That's the max time he gave there on whether or not the district attorney in this case, Fani Willis, will be ultimately disqualified. It is not an overstatement to say that the prosecution of Donald Trump in the state of Georgia hangs on what you have just been listening to.

That last person there who is speaking to the court with Steve Sadow. That is Donald Trump's attorney here. But shortly before that, we heard from the prosecution as the chief deputy district attorney was arguing against the disqualification of his boss, Fani Willis, who I should note was sitting behind members of her staff as the judge has now weighing her fate in this case.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Kaitlan Collins, in for Jake Tapper on this Friday.

Fani Willis, of course, is the woman who charged Trump with attempting to overturn the 2020 election in the state of Georgia, along with a slew of co-defendants whose attorneys were also in that room. But now she herself is facing allegations of an improper relationship when the special prosecutor that she put on that case. If Willis is disqualified, the case could very well not happen.

A lot is at stake here. I want to bring in CNN's chief legal analyst anchor Laura Coates, who's been watching every moment of this hearing, has been an Atlanta as part of this has been going on as well.

Laura, I mean, the stakes here are so incredibly high. Now that we do have the closing arguments. And this is really in Scott McAfee's hands, the judge here -- what's your sense of how today went for each side?

LAURA COATES, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, the stakes are unbelievably high. Were talking about an 18 originally co-defendant case, which also include the former president of the United States. Take a step back as to why we're here.

This is not the prosecutors' burden to prove that they should stay in the case. It is the -- it is the people who actually brought this motion disqualifier to prove she ought to be disqualified.

Now, there's two ways you can be disqualified, Kaitlan. One, it's called forensic misconduct. That essentially is saying that you had a financial benefit that you derived from a conflict of interest that actually impacts the ability for a defendant to get a fair trial.

The other way you can get disqualified is if you have a personal stake in the outcome of the case. Therefore, you can't actually be objective any longer. So they were focusing really on the forensic misconduct aspect of it, and they're saying, look, ethical violations are enough, ethical violations are enough to get someone qualified.


And the real point here was about whether the appearance of a conflict there is enough or is the actual conflict enough to do it? Which one will it be?

You heard some really riveting testimony and arguments that were made by both sides of the issue today, there were focused on that very central issue. But ultimately, the people who moved to actually have her disqualified say she should not be credited. She's not credible her and Nathan Wade were lying, were getting too cutesy on the stand trying to be evasive because they called the original sin that attempt to keep their romance private and everything that happened after that followed from that original sin.

But there was this really important moment that the attorney for Donald Trump laid out. He said that Fani Willis was playing the race card and the religion card when she gave this now infamous church speech, he talked about. This is the one and historically Black church down in Georgia where she said and questioned essentially, why are you only focusing on the black prosecutor here, Nathan Wade, when the team is actually more expansive?

At that time, they pointed that she had yet to file response at the motions that were pending. There were talking about here today and they criticize her for choosing that particular forum to address these concerns as opposed to the meat on the bone issues raised in the motion to disqualify her and for that reason, they say it was an ethical violation that rose to the level of a conflict but just because she was trying to heightened the public condemnation of the defendants in this case.

Also, the religion aspect of it, having it be in a church alluding to that God somehow was on her side and she was righteous in her path to try to prosecute these individuals. Another aspect of it is what the other side, meaning Fani Willis's team, Kaitlan. What did they think today?

Well, their main focus was, you know what, everyone you promised to be a star witness, whether it was the former employee with the one with the glasses and the chains on the side of injuries talking about that she saw them hugging and kissing. Remember that moment? They said she was not actually credible. She was not questioned. She was not specifically given information or getting it over about what she saw. She wasn't credible.

And then Terrence Bradley, that is the former law partner, Kaitlan, the former divorce attorney for Nathan Wade, who they called and I'm going to quote here, they referred to him as disgruntled, vengeful, and speculative, and should not be credited. This is all important.

COLLINS: Yeah, and that was new what they were saying today about him essentially saying that because of past sexual assault allegations made against him, which they the prosecutors, I should note, were kind of just saying as fact, obviously, we didn't hear from him on that, but they are saying that that also played a factor into his decision to come and testify against them, that when we saw him on the stand, he was the one who -- for those who haven't been watching this -- he was one who kept off and saying, you know, I don't recall.

COATES: Right.

COLLINS: I'm not completely sure, to the point that you're making there of where they were arguing that the witnesses who are supposed to be the star witnesses may not necessarily have been.

COATES: He was such an important witness. He actually was on the stand more than one. The first time, he didn't want to talk you that I have attorney-client privilege. They have what's called an in-camera meeting between the judge and Terrence Bradley to say, tell me what you think is privilege. No one's listening to us. Tell me what you're going to say and ill tell you if its actually privilege and if it's not, take the stand.

Well, the judge said, as it relates to the relationship between Fani Willis and Nathan Wade. It's not privileged. Therefore, you have to testify. That's why we saw him again.

And you remember, you're right. He says when asked, were you lying to the attorney, Mrs. Merchant, about the statements you made to her through text messages about when though I should began, he said, I don't recall.

And that was an important moment here for a lot of reasons because they believe that if you are wondering, why would he talk? Why would he text these people? Why would he knowing there was a motion disqualify Fani Willis and the team, why would he offer statements, particularly as his former attorney in that context? Well, they're saying because he was disgruntled, because there's a skeleton in his closet and it was a bit of karma returned.

The judge has so aside though, Kaitlan, who to credit and who not, but ill tell you what a really telling moment the fact that this judge is focused on whether an appearance of a conflict is enough versus an actual conflict tells you a lot about where his head might be at. If he was just focused on the actual conflict, not the case law to talk about the parameters, Fani Willis would be probably a little bit less nervous than today.

COLLINS: Well, that's fascinating because when the defense attorneys kind of started out, they seem to be saying its a really low bar for disqualification. It is not necessarily because what's at heart -- the heart of this is not that they were in a relationship. It's the financial misconduct allegations. And so the defense attorneys seem to be setting a low bar for that do you seem to think that that resonated with judge here?

COATES: Yeah. It's a very high bar actually tried to disqualify someone. There's no cure, there is -- it's not sort of a harmless decision.


It means that the entire office can no longer prosecute and the prosecuting council of Georgia has either appoint or assign someone else.

And let's be honest, Kaitlan, this is not the most attractive case that you want to take for security reasons, for the scrutiny reasons, you can imagine this is not your cup of tea and that new counsel, whoever they appoint, are assigned if they're disqualified, that new team does not need to actually follow the grand jury in this case, they could decide to dismiss the case, expand the case, or otherwise.

But here, this judge should be very focused on the law as it relates to what is the burden, what will it take to disqualify? Is it enough to have the optics or do I have to add something very concrete about a conflict of interest? Now that was sort of blurry at one point between the council supporting Fani Willis and the judge. The judge at one point said, well, hold on, aren't we past speculation and conjecture?

They admitted to having relationship. They admitted to having maybe the ledger issues in terms of how much money is accounted for. There were purchases made back-and-forth, isn't that enough to show some meat on the bone? The attorney representing the Fani Willis's team essentially said no because that way it mean that you are speculating that that would be enough for a jury to or think about a conflict of interest in a case.

But fundamentally, go back to this in order for there to be a conflict, it's got to implicate the due process rights, meaning a fair trial for the defendants. And you heard very little about that.

COLLINS: I mean, it is fascinating and it's no short of a statement to say that obviously Donald Trump's attorneys in that room, but they are watching this so closely. And just to look at it, the bigger picture of this week, Laura Coates, thank you for breaking down the biggest headlines on that. We are going to continue to cover over several hours of that hearing.

And the judge, as you heard there in Fulton County said he is not making a decision right now, but he does expect to have a decision on whether or not Fani Willis will still be the district attorney prosecuting this case within two weeks. We have more reaction.

Plus, the other major hearing. Trump wasn't in court there today, but he was in court in Florida. We'll talk about that right after a quick break.



COLLINS: And we're back with our breaking news coverage. That hearing in Fulton County, Georgia, just wrapping up moments ago. The judge says he will decide within the next two weeks whether or not the person you see here at the district attorney, Fani Willis, will be disqualified from prosecuting Donald Trump and his co-defendants' election subversion case in that state.

It's a decision that could effectively kill the case if he does decide to remove her. There are key moments in this dramatic day in several hours of this hearing as we were getting the closing arguments from the defense attorneys and from attorneys from Fani Willis's office.

Listen to these moments.


STEVE SADOW, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: D.A. Willis took it upon herself to go to a historic Black church in Atlanta having not responded at all to the motion Ms. Merchant's client, Roman, and she made what we now call the church speech.

It was a calculated determination by Ms. Willis to prejudice the defendant and their counsel. How so? By making an issue out of the fact that the person that was challenged in the Roman motion was Black, without telling the public or the church members or anyone for that matter that the reason that Mr. Wade was being challenged was not because he was Black and nothing to do with race. It had to do with the relationship that had been alleged and later admitted to by Ms. Merchant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was the one playing the race card in a way to try to deflect from her own conduct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The relationship started in 2019. The relationship continued through 2020. The relationship continued through 2021.

Looking at the cell phone communications just in the first 11 months of 2021, over 2,000 calls, almost 9,800 texts yeah. I don't even think loves struck teenagers communicate that much.


COLLINS: With me now, J. Tom Morgan, the former district attorney himself, and DeKalb County, Georgia.

And, J. Tom, it's great to have you here because there were several moments where you are hearing. Those were all comments from the defense attorneys who are representing Trump and the co-defendants in this case, but let me just start on that first moment there from Steve Sadow, that's Trumps attorney. And he was looking back at when we heard from Fani Willis for the first time on these allegations as she made those comments at that historically Black church in Atlanta, which was essentially suggesting that the only reason Nathan Wade was being singled out here was because of his race.

What did you make of how they argue that today and how does something like that go over with Judge Scott McAfee, do you believe?

J. TOM MORGAN, FORMER DISTRICT ATTORNEY, DEKALB COUNTY: Good afternoon, Kaitlan. Glad to be with you all this afternoon.

First of all, the defense in this case is offered up when I call a pig's breakfast, a little bit of everything, and not much of anything. And then it has to do with it that argument.

If a prosecutor makes a statement out of court that could jeopardize the jury in any case. The way to cure that, Kaitlan, is during jury selection. In fact, it's the media that no one I would've known about these statements but for the media in this case.

Again, those statements, I've never seen a prosecutor thrown off a case because of extrajudicial statements. What happens is you pick a jury that never heard the statements or those statements will not influence them. That's the cure, not disqualification.

That's interesting. So you don't think that those comments will ultimately hurt her.

What -- the other closing argument that we heard from the defense attorneys was, they were saying there's a low bar here for disqualification because it's not just an actual conflict of interest. It's just an even hint of impropriety. There was a moment where the judge was questioning the attorney from the district attorney's office fears about this.

I want to just listen to that moment.



JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT IN GEORGIA: So, your position would be your review of the case law. There's never been an appellate opinion that relied only on an appearance of impropriety. ADAM ABBATE, ATTORNEY FOR FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY'S OFFICE:

As it relates to a prosecutor, a district attorney? Yes. That is what I'm saying. What I would say is in those cases, they do reference the fact that there is an appearance of impropriety, but they referenced that fact because when you have an actual conflict, there's always an appearance of impropriety and those are what those cases stand for.


COLLILNS: What does that tell you, J. Tom, about how Judge Scott McAfee may rule here. The questioning that he had there for the chief deputy district attorney here.

MORGAN: Kaitlan, again, if the judge follows a Georgia Supreme Court case law, there's never been a case where a prosecutor has been dismissed and disqualified because of the appearance of impropriety. There has to be an actual conflict.

I'll give you an example. I prosecuted a case where it came out that the defendant had ordered me assassinated. They tried to get me thrown off the case. They did not succeed and the Georgia Supreme Court held that there was not an actual conflict, even though there may have been an appearance.

COLLINS: Wow, I mean, we'll talk more about that in case off camera. That's a really notable moment, but it basically you're saying that you think she's not going to get disqualified here?

MORGAN: Not if the judge, follows the Georgia case law. There's been a lot of noise and a lot of damage done to Ms. Willis and her office. But again, through it, all you've got to follow the case precedent. And it is a very, very high bar to disqualify a prosecutor.

COLLINS: If she doesn't get disqualified. One suggestion that came from Mike Romans' attorney, who is one of the co-defendants here, John Merchant (ph). He basically said there's a good chance that they are going to demand a new trial if she's not disqualified from prosecuting this case.

MORGAN: Well, firstly, would have to win on appeal. And I don't believe that the Georgia courts will overturn the judge's decision in this case should he keep her on. The judge has a lot of discretion.

COLLINS: We will see. We've got two weeks, apparently, before we hear what the judge is going to decide here.

J. Tom Morgan, thank you as always for hopping on and talk with us about the main takeaways from what we just heard for hours in that hearing.

MORGAN: Thank you, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Meanwhile, Donald Trump himself, not in that court in Fulton County today, but he was in another court for one of his other cases this time in southern Florida, as his legal team is trying to get his classified documents case delayed, making two different arguments here. We'll break them down right after a quick break.



COLLINS: We're back with our law and justice lead.

And another face off between Trumps attorneys and prosecutors and court today. This time in a hearing over when to start the trial, and that Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. The special counsel, Jack Smith, is hoping to start on July 8th, but while Trump's attorneys have officially proposed a start date of August 12, they're also arguing in court that they need both more documents and more time, asking the judge here to wait until after the 2024 election.

And yes, of course, part of this is political. The judge didn't seem to be too thrilled about that argument today, but we have reported time and time again, the Trump's strategy here is really just to run out the clock.

But as CNN's Paula Reid reports, Trump's attorneys are also pointing to that busy calendar as he is facing 91 criminal charges in four cases, as he campaigns for the White House.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former President Donald Trump at federal court in Florida today, for a high-stakes hearing to decide when he will be tried for allegedly mishandling classified documents.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: An indictment was unsealed, charging Donald J. Trump with felony violations of our national security laws, as well as participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice.

REID: Trump faces 40 felony criminal charges related to the alleged mishandling of classified information, some seen here improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They raided my house. They did it for publicity reasons. They did it for election interference reasons. They want to interfere with the election.

REID: The case is currently scheduled for May 20, but Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee who is overseeing the case, has signaled she may push the trial back.

In court today, Cannon pressed prosecutors and defense attorneys about their suggested schedules. Special counsel Jack Smith proposed a July 8 start date, but during the proceedings, Cannon suggested that aspects of Smith's proposal were unrealistic. Trump's lawyers insist the trial should be pushed back. A trial that takes place before the election is a mistake and should not happen.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche stated, saying it would be unfair to the former president and the American people for Trump to be in the courtroom and not on the campaign trail. That's something that former president has claimed as well.

TRUMP: All of this persecution is only happening because I am running for president and leading very substantially in the polls, Trumps attorneys did concede if the trial has to go forward before the election, they would be okay with starting August 12th.

Cannon noted that Trumps upcoming criminal case in New York must be considered as she schedules this one. On March 25th, Trump's hush money trial begins in New York and is expected to last four to six weeks and already busy court schedule for the former President Trump.

Prosecutors today did clarify a key issue. How close to the election would they be willing to try Trump? Attorney General Merrick Garland has set a speedy trial, is in the public interest.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The cases were brought last year. Prosecutor has urged speedy trials, with which I agree and this now and hands of the judicial system, not in our hands.

REID: Today in court though prosecutors said that a Justice Department policy discouraging public investigative actions 60 days before an election does not apply to cases where charges had already been filed.


Prosecutor Jay Bratt told the court that when it comes so that policy, quote, we are in full compliance.


REID (on camera): Now it looks like there could be more bad news for special counsel Jack Smith with Judge Cannon signaling today that she didn't agree with his proposed schedule. It is expected that the judge will have to schedule a couple of hearings and then likely put at least a tentative date on the calendar, likely an August at the earliest.

And, of course, Kaitlan, she could always revisit that later in the year if there's more work to be done.

So, still, completely unclear if former President Trump will face either one of these federal cases before November.

COLLINS: What's better than Florida in August?

Paula Reid, thank you.

A big question here is how Trump and his attorneys might try to strategize when it comes to the classified documents case, not just when its going to go, but how does it affect the other cases, including that one in Washington that has to do with overturning the election, at least attempting to. We'll speak to an attorney who used to represent Donald Trump, right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


COLLINS: And we are back with our breaking news coverage this hour, as two major court hearings for Donald Trump were underway today. One over whether to disqualify the district attorney in Fulton County, Georgia, who has charged Trump and many others with trying to overturn the election there. The other though, is in Florida on the classified documents case, where Trump's team is trying to get the trial delayed until after the 2024 election.

Here to talk about that strategy is David Schoen, who represented Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial.

And, David, its great to have you here because I want to understand something and I'm a little confused by this. But basically Trumps attorney here, Todd Blanche, one of several here, was saying basically the trial that take place before the election is a mistake and should not happen. But then just a few moments later in overall, in this documents case, they're also arguing that if it does happen, it must happen, August 12th.

Why that turnaround? How can they argue that? It can happen before the election? But then, oh, also, here is a date where it could potentially happen?

DAVID SCHOEN, TRUMP ATTORNEY DURING SECOND IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: Well, I think in this case, his main argument on August 12 is it can't happen July 6 or July 8. And therefore, no alternative would be August 12th.

They need to have a date, first of all, I think procedurally for Speedy Trial Act purposes. So they want to have a date on the calendar at least, but his overriding argument is they shouldn't have the trial before the election because considering the election is a factor, it's relevant to the analysis here.

COLLINS: But the judge didn't really seem, Judge Cannon, here to want to hear the argument about how it coincides with the political calendar. I mean, she seemed to shoot that down as they were making their arguments.

SCHOEN: I think you're right. I think she always has, frankly, her position always has that that may be a consideration, but that's not her consideration. She's in charge of the judicial process and look, I don't know what she thinks about it personally and so on. But I think she's trying to keep things are really cabined into what's necessary refer the case, and to get the case ready for trial.

COLLINS: Todd Blanche was also arguing that they're not trying to play these court cases off of one another at one point, he said that this is not a game, was his argument. But it seems very clearly that they are trying to play them off one another. At least they're trying to get the classified documents case scheduled later in the summer so then if they do lose at the Supreme Court, come June, it would jam Judge Chutkan in Washington for the federal election subversion case. Does that not seem like a very clear strategy to you?

SCHOEN: Well, I mean, I think there are two aspects. One could be seen as a strategy that's one might say is gamesmanship. I don't think so in this case, I think there are a couple of things. Blanche's in both of those cases by the way, you know, the Florida case and the dc case, there's very different preparation for both cases and President Trump has is appearing. He's going to be in court and all of those cases.

The thing I think that ought to be spoken about here is there a lot of pretrial issues to discuss the very serious issues and complicated issues in this Florida case. The immunity thing that's applying in D.C. is still under review. It's going to be reviewed now by the Supreme Court.

That's been raised in this case. There's the question of Evan Corcoran's records, which the Judge Howell in D.C., found were not privileged. There's going to be a question whether that tainted the grand jury process if a different judge now thinks that was wrong.

And then they've raised finally in this case, the appointments clause issue. That is the Jack Smith wasn't constitutionally appointed. These are complicated issues. They need time.

COLLINS: Yeah, that last one seems it seems maybe potentially farfetched.

But also at one point, Jay Bratt, who is the prosecutor for the special counsel, he was actually at Mar-a-Lago, the day that it was raided, he said that a Justice Department policy that discourages public investigative actions 60 days before an election doesn't apply here, because that implies two indictments or starting an investigation. But given Donald Trump was charged so long ago in this case, that that's not relevant.

Do you agree with that?

SCHOEN: He's technically right. I don't think that it's right that it's not relevant. I think the same policy problems that arise with having the investigation within 60 days or the election or even amplified by having a trial. So I think he's technically right about the policy, but I think the policy ought to be applied to a trial.

COLLINS: And, David, you're from the south. Let me ask you on what we were watching today happening in Georgia. Do you think the defense attorneys have met their burden in here and arguing that Fani Willis, the district attorney, should be disqualified or do you think they weren't able to establish that?

SCHOEN: Yeah. I'm not sure. First of all, I think one problem was I didn't see a lawyer in the courtroom. You could ask a question during the course of this hearing. That was very frustrating to see, only the judge seemed to be in control of things.

But I think J. Tom Morgan is one of the most respected District Attorneys we've had in Georgia. He's right that the case law requires an actual conflict.


But I think the prosecutor said today is very dangerous about he tried to explain why an appearance of bias or conflict doesn't apply. He said the prosecutor is always an advocate, therefore, always has the appearance of bias. You'd never be able to have a criminal prosecution.

That's absolutely absurd and dangerous. He needs to read the 1940 article by Justice Robert Jackson's Supreme Court called the Federal Prosecutor. There talks about the importance of a lack of bias. The American Bar Association standards on the prosecution function 3-1.7.

But the point is, there can be an actual conflict here. The actual conflict requires showing of an adverse impact or some actual prejudice to the proceeding, and that can be here. It doesn't matter when he was hired. He was hired before the grand jury met.

And so did they have a motive for self-aggrandizement or financially to put some evidence before the grand jury to ensure prosecution and hold off other. This may be theoretical and maybe realistic.

The main thing to remember I think is the judge has an independent it role in this. While he may not be required to dismiss her based on an appearance of bias, he can. He has the authority because ultimately, his role is to ensure the integrity of the process. That's why she should withdraw as Norm Eisen has said.

COLLINS: I'm sure those attorneys will appreciate you saying that none of them could ask a good question.

David Schoen, thanks so much for joining me.

SCHOEN: Thank you.

COLLINS: And just into CNN, we are now getting word of yet another possible spy balloon that was seen off the coast of the United States, who could forget what happened last year.

Also this afternoon, we're hearing from President Biden at the White House. He is calling for a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. He had predicted one could come potentially as soon as Monday.

But he also made a notable announcement about what the United States is doing to get aid into Gaza.