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Trump, 16 Other Co-Defendants Will Get Later Trial Date in Georgia; Televised Pre-Trial Hearing in Georgia Election Subversion Case; UAW Strike Deadline Hours Away Amid Challenging Negotiations. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2023 - 10:00   ET




SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: We start with breaking news. The trials will be separate. We are learning that former President Donald Trump and 16 of his co-defendants will have a separate trial than two of the other co-defendants. And moments from now, we will go to cameras inside that Georgia courtroom where the decisions are being made. We'll take you there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The family of an American imprisoned in Russia with a new push to the White House to try to get Paul Whelan home.

SIDNER: And NASA is set to speak about its new report on UFOs and how the government will study sightings in the future.

I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman. Kate Bolduan is on assignment. This is CNN News Central.

BERMAN: All right, breaking news out of Fulton County, Georgia. By the way, you are looking at live pictures from inside of the courtroom now before Judge McAfee and the election subversion case there. We've just learned that the cases have been severed. There will be separate trials, one that begins in just five weeks for the two defendants about to appear before the judge in this pre-trial hearing. Again, you are seeing live pictures of that right now before our eyes. But Donald Trump and the rest of the co-defendants will be tried separately and later.

Let's get to CNN's Zach Cohen for the details on what we are learning so far this morning, Zach.

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, John, the top line here really is that Donald Trump will not be starting his trial in Georgia in five weeks alongside at least two of his co- defendants, Sidney Powell and Ken Chesebro.

Now, Trump and 16 others who have said that they don't want a speedy trial, the judge making clear here that they can basically prolong this out a little bit longer than the other two who did request a speedy trial. So, this is really the first break in this sprawling conspiracy case in Georgia. The district attorney, Fani Willis, has held the position since the beginning that she wanted to try all 19 of these co- defendants, including Trump, together. The judge today making clear that that won't be happening.

Now, we still have two groups, right, of co-defendants in this case. So, it will be interesting to see if there are going to be additional breaks going forward.

Now, this order also, though, does get the process moving for Trump and the 16 who will not have to go to trial starting in October, so, really, sort of the initiation of the legal process, as far as Trump and the 16 go in Georgia, but also making clear they will not have to stand trial alongside Sidney Powell and Ken Chesebro in five weeks.

BERMAN: All right. Zach Cohen with that news, but there is trial. It does begin in just five weeks, at least on the schedule right now. And we're seeing the pictures of that happening live before our eyes. Zach, keep us posted if you hear anything else new.

SIDNER: All right. With us now, Federal and White Collar Defense Attorney Caroline Polisi and former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and my home boy, Elie Honig. I'm just putting that in your title this week.

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You can call me that any time.

SIDNER: Good. Thank you guys both for being here.

We just heard this news. So, Elie, just straight to you. Now, there are going to be two separate trials. One, what does that mean for the timing of all this? Does that mean that Trump's trial, which is the one that a lot of people are waiting for, will go after this and we will they'll be able to watch all of this unfold?

HONIG: Yes. So, first of all, this is major news. This means we're going to have at least two separate trial groups, at least. First one, Chesebro and Sidney Powell, currently scheduled for late October. I put question mark on whether we're actually going to see a trial in October, and then the later group, the other 17 defendants, which very importantly includes Donald Trump.

This means two big things to me, as a practical matter. One, Donald Trump's trial in Georgia, the one that will be televised, is way, way, way far out, I think very, very likely to be pushed past the 2024 election, after the 2024 election.

The second thing is that this is a big strategic and tactical advantage for Donald Trump and those other 16, because you know what they get to do now, they get to sit in the gallery and watch the whole earlier trial. They get to see every government witness. They get to see all of the cross-examination, all the documents and make notes and adjust accordingly. So, big positive development for Donald Trump and the other 16 here. BERMAN: But do you think it comes as a surprise, though, though that D.A. Fani Willis said she wanted to try them all together? You had the sense to leading into this that very few believed that it would all happen this soon, and there is still this trial schedule for five weeks from now, which will be televised and we're getting this pre- trial hearing televised right now. So, again, your view of what this all means.

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Yes. I mean, as Elie said, this is not surprising. Fani Willis put on a really good show, maintaining even up until the very last moment, she would go to trial with all of these 19 defendants.


She noted she did do a RICO case recently in Georgia, the Georgia school officials case, where she tried 13 RICO defendants, so she can do it.

She waited a long time, notwithstanding her pronouncement that these indictments would be imminent. She waited a long time, got her ducks in a row, she's ready to go to trial. I would venture to say, now we have these two tranches, I think that may get split up even further.

The issue, though, is the timing, and Fani Willis made it very clear that it cannot be the case that three trials are going on simultaneously, and that's where you got this switch back and forth of defendants giving up their speedy trial rights in exchange for going forward with those motions for severance.

So, this puts the clock a little bit more in order. I would venture to say, I don't know that that October 23rd date is even going to hold.

BERMAN: Because?

POLISI: Well, because you have Mark Meadows pending appeal in the 11th Circuit, they're moving very quickly to rule on that removal issue. But there are some murky legal issues that go along with that, whether or not all 19 defendants would then be removed to federal court if he were successful in that, waiting to start the trial so that double jeopardy doesn't attach if that motion is still pending.

There are a lot of legal issues here. Fani Willis had to see this coming. None of this is surprising, 19 defendants. As a criminal defense attorney, you are laser-focused on your individual client. You have to make motions for him or her. These severance motions are not surprising. They're not really delay tactics. It's something that every defense attorney wants.

SIDNER: The normal course of business?

POLISI: Exactly. So, she had to see this coming.

SIDNER: I do want to ask, because you both sort of alluded to this. Could other members of this now 17 say they want their trial separated? And will they, now that they've seen this work? HONIG: They can and they will. I mean, I think the 17 other defendants are going to want 17 individual trials. That's usually the dynamic, usually the way this plays out. Prosecutors want to do what Fani Willis said she wanted to do.

The standing line from prosecutors is we're ready to try everyone tomorrow. That's what prosecutors always do say and should say. But as a practical matter, the defendants often want their own trials because they don't want to be prejudiced, as we say in the law, by having to sit next to perhaps a more controversial figure.

If you're one of the people low down on this indictment, one of the local officials, you may not want to be sitting at a trial table next to Donald Trump, next to Mark Meadows, next to Rudy Giuliani.

And so I think we're going to see whatever number you can divide 17 into, you're going to see groups of three, groups of one, groups of five. They're going to want as many separate trials as they can get. And this judge is going to have to figure it out. He can't hold 19 or 17 different trials. It's going to take a decade to do that. So, he's going to have to group them together in a way that's practical, but also fair.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, we are, we have some of our best people, not including you two, our other best people, monitoring what's happening in this courtroom right now with Judge Scott McAfee. Well, actually, we're going to include ourselves in those best people. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- by the grand jury or the special purpose grand jury are not discovered and that the defense counsel should not have access to them. I know that the court wants to hear further argument that after the defense has the opportunity to put their case on the opposition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the sole exception, being Mr. Chiles (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given that Mr. Chiles (ph) is directly charged in count 41 of the indictment, that's the exception.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what if some of these witnesses that testified you call as a witness at trial?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Judge, then we rely on actually the discovery statute that talks about that. We will say that at that point, when the state has made the decision to call one of the witnesses that has testified before the grand jury at that point, the transcript becomes relevant and you turn it over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. So, we may have to talk some logistics but we'll see where we end up. So Mr. Gremman (ph) or Mr. Arora, your motion.

MANNY ARORA, ATTORNEY FOR KENNETH CHESEBORO: Your Honor, I would just take exception with doing what they call a Jencks material in the federal court where they give it to you at the last second because we have to craft the defense based on what people are saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that's what I was getting to, we'll get to.

ARORA: So, if we look at the litigation that happened before the special grand jury, it's 2022-EX-00024. I'd like to adopt the brief that was filed by the media companies asking for the release of all these transcripts because they've got a lot of the law that I've cited so we don't have to sort of go through all of it.

OCGA-1512101 lists out the requirements that a special grand jury needs to do. And that requirement includes interim reports that have to be presented to the judge as far as what their work is going on.

I didn't know if there were transcripts but apparently there are in this case, as what the prosecution has says. We know that based on the report that was released, there were 75 witnesses that testified before the grand jury, which I'm imagining were all recorded.


They've already told this court they're going to have 150 witnesses. So, whether they choose to call those witnesses or not, I'm entitled those transcripts to decide if we want to call them, if there's any impeachment material out there, inconsistent statements, or, in fact, exculpatory material that might have been said by any of these people.

So, I think we have an absolute right on the discovery statute. They have to present all the information from their case in chief to us as ordered by your scheduling order, and there's no protection that's out there.

We then go to 15-12-80 that gives you the criteria for publishing the special grand jury report. I've also cited the cases that talk about the secrecy issue sort of goes away, hence the -- I think the foreperson of their special grand jury went to the press and made all kinds of statements about these issues.

Olsen versus State is probably the seminal case. that's 302, Georgia 288, 2017 case. And then I also cited the in ray (ph) Gwinnett County special grand jury case that also required a lot for disclosure and said the secrecy doesn't apply after they finish. That site is in my brief as well, your Honor.

I would further go back about 70 years and go to Dennis versus United States and the United States Supreme Court, 86 Supreme Court 1840. It's a 1966 case that also talks about requirements for disclosure for grand jury transcripts.

In every federal case, grand jury transcripts are made available to the defense. They just have a different statute as to when that Jencks material has to be released.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's not every transcript. It's simply going to be the witness that's called.

ARORA: The witness transcripts. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're asking for everything.

ARORA: Well I don't know what exactly they recorded. So, if they're talking about witnesses, that's fine. But as your Honor knows, grand jury is a one-way traffic.

There's no -- the D.A. controls the information that's presented to them. So, I don't know what it is they're giving them, what it is they're not giving them when we challenge the validity of the indictment, which I've done in a separate brief, as far as that goes.

So, I would like everything, but at a minimum. I think the law requires the witness statements, whether they choose to use them or not doesn't avoid the responsibility to give them to us. Maybe I want to use it. I'd like to know who those 75 people were that testified under oath in front of that grand jury aside from Mr. Chiles (ph), as they've identified. I don't think there's any way really around that. I think the law supports us and whether it's a protective order or non-protective order, that's their choice.

We don't plan on sharing anything with the press but we need it and our client needs it to actually prepare for this case.

So, I think the code sections, the case law, even the Supreme Court case law, and just, frankly, fundamental fairness requires that those transcripts at a minimum of witnesses be turned over. But I think I'll be allowed to have all of it, because if we're going to challenge the validity of the indictment based on what the grand jurors are presented, I think we have a good faith basis to ask for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What code section are you referring to that you think entitles you to all of it?

ARORA: The way -- again, I'm no expert in special grand juries. I haven't prosecuted one when I was a prosecutor as far as I go. But I'm looking at 15, 12, 80 that generally talks about publishing. And a lot of that was discussed with Judge McBurney with regards to the case site I gave you as far as the special grand jury. So, a lot more law is there, so I didn't want to just burn trees down if it's already been argued out there.

So, I just highlighted the two statutes and essentially three cases that talk about.

BERMAN: All right. You've been listening to this live hearing in Fulton County, Georgia, before Judge Scott McAfee. You're hearing from defense attorneys from Kenneth Cheseboro and Sidney Powell here. These are the two of Donald Trump's co-defendants whom we now know are scheduled to go on trial in October.

I have -- if you'll permit me, I have two questions, a narrow question first and then a broader question. The narrow question is we are just hearing them argue the defense for access to what all of the special grand jury transcripts, what exactly does this mean?

POLISI: Yes, exactly. And it is their constitutional right, as the defense attorneys, defendants are allowed to receive, it's known in the federal system as Jencks Act material. If the government plans to call witnesses at trial, they're entitled to see what those witnesses said at the special grand jury assuming with the prospect of potentially impeaching those witnesses or really preparing their defense. You see this all the time. The question is timing.

One other issue, they're consolidating motions at this hearing. One other issue, they want to speak to the special grand jurors in this case to see whether or not the indictment was sort of properly handed down. That, I don't think they're going -- that is an unusual request. But as far as seeing grand jury testimony and transcripts, that's pretty typical and I think that they will get that at some point, maybe not today, but at some point before trial.

BERMAN: My broader question as they hash this out has to do with the fact that there is still this trial scheduled for five weeks from now, which is soon. And I've been listening to both of you. And it's not a slam dunk that it happens that day.


And I do get that it will be useful for the other co-defendants to see it all play out first.

But this is a chance for a jury to weigh in and weigh in soon on a lot of the evidence that will be brought against ultimately Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani.

I know that the cases are all a little bit nuanced and different, but, basically, a lot of them are very, very, very similar. There's going to be a jury that's going to start to hear evidence maybe very soon.

HONIG: There's a phrase that we use sometimes as prosecutors. I know you love the phrase. It is collateral damage. And what that means is that if you're trying Kenneth Cheseboro and Sidney Powell, there are other people who are going to get named in a bad way in that trial. There're other people who are going to take on damage, including Donald Trump.

And so that's sort of a countervailing consideration here. If you're Donald Trump, on the one hand, you're delighted because your trial is going to be way later. You get to sit back, watch, get all the strategic advantage. On the other hand, you're going to be getting a lot of damage coming at you in a nationally televised trial of two other people where you're not there to defend yourself. And so you're right, John.

And the D.A. has said -- Fani Willis has said on the record, my case against any one of these 19 is the same as my case against all 19 of these defendants. And so if and when there's a trial of Cheseboro and Powell, maybe in October, maybe in January, but sometime fairly soon, I think it's safe to say, then, yes, Donald Trump will take on quite a bit of damage for all of us to see.

SIDNER: I'm curious about the 75 people. So, they're asking for the transcripts, correct? Have they gotten discovery so far? I mean, how much of the discovery has the defense gotten so far since the trial is technically, and we know this will likely change, five weeks out?

HONIG: So, the answer is the defense has not gotten much of the discovery thus far, and that's really sort of inexcusable on the D.A.'s part.

So, there were 75 witnesses who testified in the special grand jury. What we're hearing now is the defense lawyers are saying we want all those transcripts. They are -- as Caroline said, they are entitled to those transcripts. There's maybe a question of when.

But if we just do the math here, if this October 23rd trial date, which is the date as of now, that's, what, five, six weeks from now, the D.A. indicted this case two or three weeks ago. She should have had discovery ready on day one. She should have said the day after the indictment, everyone here's your discovery, it's rolling, there will be more, but here's your discovery.

Instead what they said is, your Honor, we're going to need until September 15th, which is tomorrow, which is three weeks or so after the indictment to give them discovery. I don't know how is the D.A., you take the position of, everything has got to be fast, fast, fast, they're under the gun, but we need three weeks for discovery when we've had this case in investigative phase for two and a half years.

POLISI: It warms my heart, Elie, to hear you taking the defense position on this. It's so rare, but it's true, it's true.

BERMAN: What are you looking for or what are you seeing from Judge Scott McAfee today, and we just got a little snippet right there, and going forward?

POLISI: Yes. Well, he's been very methodical about this. He's noted he's going to have hearings on a weekly basis. Again, he's been down this road before. He understands and anticipates that 19 co-defendants are going to be making motions.

I mean, we've even gotten to motions in (INAUDIBLE) about what actual evidence can be presented. I mean, those motions take time. There are going to be a lot of very specific legal issues here, both of first impression and not of first impression.

So, he's been very forward about wanting to move this on with alacrity while at the same time maintaining his record on appeal. The last thing a trial court judge wants is to be overturned on appeal on some of these issues. So, he's taking it very seriously.

SIDNER: You can hear him pushing back, even though it's something that both of you are like, you have to give all of this over. But you can hear him pushing back saying, hey, what entitles you to these transcripts from the special grant jury? So, he's taking a role in this, making sure he's got all his Is dotted and his Ts crossed.

HONIG: He's doing a really good job. This judge, Scott McAfee, first of all, when you get a 19-defendant trial like this, you are the master of a 19-ring circus. This is not easy to manage. He is -- sorry to say this, he's 34 years old. He is way younger than me. I don't know about you, Sara. But everyone else at this table --

SIDNER: How dare you.

HONIG: -- he's way younger than everybody. Not you, Carol. But he's doing a good job so far.

And we heard a little bit of it there. He's in control of his courtroom. He's not brow beating people. He's letting the D.A. do what they need to do. But he's also making sure to protect the constitutional and procedural rights of the defendants.

SIDNER: Caroline Polisi and our Elie Honig, don't go very far. Stay with us. We will have more coming up.

BERMAN: All right. While this is happening, there is a countdown until tonight when there could be a strike against the big three auto companies. We will tell you where the talks stand right now.

A major shakeup in the U.S. Senate, Republican Senator Mitt Romney says he will not seek re-election. Wait until you hear what he has said about some of his colleagues?



SIDNER: The clock is ticking as automakers and the United Auto Workers Union have until midnight to hammer out a new contract deal and avert a major strike, one like we haven't seen before. If they cannot reach agreement, it would be the first ever simultaneous strike of the big three legacy automakers, Ford, G.M. and Stellantis. Stellantis owns Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, among other brands.

Negotiations will continue until the deadline, but, so far, not going well. Sources say the talks have proven uniquely challenging, Dozens of business groups, like the Chamber of Commerce, are now urging the White House to help avoid a walk-out.

CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz is live at the White House for us and CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is also following all of this for us out of Detroit.


Arlette, I'm going to go to you first. How can Biden protect this fragile economy without risking a battle with the unions, which is typically something that the Democrats cherish?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, it is. And with the White House, if there was a strike, part of their focus would start to turn to try to blunt any economic impact that would occur. But what's been unique in this situation is that the White House does not have the legal authority to be direct party to these negotiations.

They have been in contact with both sides. The president has engaged on this issue, speaking with the UAW chief last week, speaking with the executives of the big three automakers that are involved last week as well. He also has a point person here at the White House, Gene Sperling, who has been serving as a middleman of sorts, hearing both sides. But there's limited ability in what the president can actually do when it comes to those negotiations that are ongoing at this moment.

What the White House has been trying to encourage is that these negotiators work around the clock to try to secure some type of an agreement.

Take a listen to one of the president's top economic advisers just yesterday.


JARED BERNSTEIN, CHAIR, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: The president believes that autoworkers deserve a contract that sustains middle class jobs. I worked for President Biden for a long time. He's clearly one of the most pro-union presidents we've had. He's encouraged the parties to stay at the table and to work 24/7 to get a win-win agreement that keeps UAW workers at the heart of our auto future and ensures UAW jobs are good middle class jobs.


SAENZ: Now, sources who have been briefed on the negotiations say that this has been a uniquely challenging set of negotiations, in part because of the strategy that the UAW has adopted. In previous years, they have focused these negotiations just on one single automaker, but at the time, they are trying to do this with all three at once. So, the stakes are very clearly incredibly high.

Now, the president had previously expressed optimism that a strike would not happen but that clock is ticking down to that midnight deadline so we will see what more we hear from the White House over the course of the day.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you so much, Arlette. I want to now go to Vanessa who is in Detroit.

From the consumers' perspective what could this strike mean? We know it could hurt the economy. We know it could hurt the economies of the people who work for the automakers and the automakers themselves, but what does it mean to somebody who's, for example, going out and buying a car?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, and I just want to set the scene really quickly. Negotiations were happening at the individual automakers. Those negotiations have now shifted just down the road to UAW headquarters as these automakers and the union tried to work out a last minute deal before this deadline.

But Shawn Fain laying out very clearly that he is going for a targeted strike approach, which would essentially allow the national union to call on select local unions to strike at different times, different days and in different states, causing confusion amongst the automakers.

It's important to note that some workers, though, would be left working in the factories while others are on strike. And to your point, we know that automakers this year have less inventory than they did in 2019. So, that will be a struggle if this strike prolongs for weeks, if not months.

And as you mentioned, a lot has been made about the impact on the economy, one analyst suggesting that a strike that lasts ten days against all three automakers would cost $5 billion to the U.S. economy.

But here is Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, on the economic impact. Listen.


SHAWN FAIN, PRESIDENT, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: They pretend that the sky will fall. If we get our fair share of the quarter of a trillion dollars the big three is made over the past decade. But it's not just the economy. When they talk about that and they say, we'll wreck the economy. It's not the economy that will wreck. It's their economy. It's the billionaire economy. That's what they're worried about.


YURKEVICH: Now, at this hour, Ford tells us that they are still waiting on a counter proposal that they provided to the UAW on Tuesday. CEO Jim Farley and the chairman, Bill Ford, gave that proposal to the UAW on Tuesday, expecting Shawn Fain to be there to receive it.

They said they offered a historic wage increase of 20 percent. But as we know, Sara, that is not the 40 percent that the UAW was looking for right now. Sara?

SIDNER: Yes. And we should be clear, the 40 percent is over four years. So, we're basically talking about 10 percent increase each year, and you've seen the pushback on that, where most of the big three have said, we could do half of that or a little less than half but we're not going all the way.