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Trial of "Rust" Armorer Commences with Jury Selection; Trump's Lawyers Preparing to Get Classified Documents Case Thrown Out; Trump Continues to Maintain Deceptive Claim That He Was Not Obliged to Turn Over Documents; Governor of Georgia Disclosed He Was Questioned in Federal Case Involving Election Subversion; 2015 Decision That Allowed Same-Sex Marriage has Drawn Criticism from Justice Alito Once More; Search Revealed 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham Found Dead in a Texas River; Arrest Warrants Being Prepared by Police for the Suspect in the Disappearance of Audrii Cunningham. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 10:30   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: All right. Right now, jury selection is scheduled to begin in the trial of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in Santa Fe. She was the armorer on the set of the movie "Rust". She has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the shooting death of "Rust's" cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Hutchins was killed by a prop gun fired by the film star Alec Baldwin.

Joining me now to discuss is CNN Legal Analyst and Criminal Defense Attorney Joey Jackson. Great to see you. So, among the big questions, you know, why were there so many live rounds, even accessible and available on set? She's the armorer. She's responsible for everything.


WHITFIELD: She's got to establish that.

JACKSON: Therein lies the issue. And I think that's why she's on trial. So, just to unpack this a little bit, Fredricka, this is about negligence, right? It's about carelessness. It's about the excessive or degree to which she acted as an unreasonable person would. And so, the issue for her and her defense team is going to be if this was the bane of your existence. This was your one job. This was what you were responsible for, ensuring safety on set. What went amiss? Did you know? Was it foreseeable?

Her defense team, though, is raising all kind of defenses. She's being scapegoated. It was during COVID. There were restrictions with respect to her access to the set. She had no way of knowing, even in making the determination as to the gun, whether someone else may have done something to it to put it on there, right? The equipment supplies or anything else.

You'll see fingers being pointed. You'll hear about the set in disarray. You'll hear about chaos. You hear about a lot of things. The issue is going to be whether prosecution can prove she was negligent. And as a result, the death occurred.

WHITFIELD: So, also, her behavior is going to be scrutinized, because now the judge has decided it will be admissible. There are eyewitness accounts. There are texts as they speak to her alleged drug use. And the fact that they will be accepting or are allowing discharge of tampering with evidence where she allegedly moved a bag of cocaine after she had been interviewed by police authorities the day after.

So, her behavior before, the night before, and even the day of all of it is going to be scrutinized. That's potentially impactful.

JACKSON: It really is, Fredricka. And I think the defense will argue we have this word in law called prejudicial, prejudicial. What does that mean? It means it really damages you. And it's not about the issue itself, it's about what led up to it, as you noted.


And in the event, the prosecution could establish that she potentially was under the influence of some other substance. Ten did that impair your job? Could you have done a better job without it? If you weren't, why did you attempt to conceal it?

And so, the danger always is, even if the jury would be inclined to give her a pass on the issue of, hey, you didn't do your job in checking to ensure the firearm. Maybe they're not that enthralled being the jury with the fact that she might have been under some influence. I think the judge will limit that a lot, but certainly it will be admissible to go to show her reasonableness on that case.

WHITFIELD: So, potentially all of that plays out and even the potential outcome is going to make a difference for Alec Baldwin's case because he too is recharged with involuntary manslaughter. He's going to be hanging on -- he and his attorneys are going to be hanging on every word because she's the one who handles everything.

JACKSON: Yes, you know, Fredricka --

WHITFIELD: All the prop guns.

JACKSON: -- such a great point, right? Because you have to know that the witnesses are going to be very similar here, right? The circumstances, the trial strategy, everything else. So, Alec Baldwin's team is going to get to see how that plays out. Seeing what statements were made. Seeing what happens about the set. Whose responsibility? Who was careless? Who was not? So, it gives him a very good preview. And I think helps his case significantly.

WHITFIELD: All right. Joey Jackson, always great to see you. Thanks a lot.

JACKSON: Pleasure. Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. John. JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: All right. Donald Trump's legal team gearing up for a new fight. Now challenging his classified documents indictment.



SARA SIDNER, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: We've got some new reporting for you here on a slew of legal challenges. Donald Trump's lawyers are right now preparing in an effort to get his classified documents case thrown out. The former president still insists he had the right to keep them even after leaving office. Here's what he said just last night.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bush took them. Everybody -- Reagan took them. Everybody took them out. It only became a big subject when I took things out. The difference is, I had what's called the Presidential Records Act. I was allowed to do what I did. Absolutely allowed. That's why they passed the act in 1978. They passed the Presidential Records Act.

I didn't have to hand them over. But second of all, I would have done that. We were talking and then all of a sudden, they raided Mar-a- Lago.


SIDNER: The DOJ, of course, completely disagrees with that.

CNN's Paula Reid is joining us now. Paula, the president still has it wrong when it comes to the handling of classified documents. Other people have gotten in a lot of legal hot water for this.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's fact check out what we just heard. Again, I'm hearing that for the first time, but we've heard similar things before. First of all, the Presidential Records Act does not allow you to take classified documents home and then refuse to return them when you are asked. We know the former president, of course, caught on tape acknowledging that he didn't have the power to declassify them and should not have those secrets.

Now, he says, we were talking. I was going to hand it back. He had numerous opportunities to return documents. He returned some of them, but not all of them. And then allegedly took steps to obstruct the government's efforts to get those documents back. Then he talks about a, "Raid on Mar-a-Lago. That was not a raid. That was a search warrant that was executed again after multiple attempts to get those classified documents back where they belong.

But moving forward in the Mar-a-Lago dot -- Mar-a-Lago document prosecution, Trump's lawyers revealing yesterday that they intend to file a slew of challenges. It's a straight laundry list, Sara. I'm going to read off the different challenges that they want to file.

They want to challenge, "The appointment of Jack Smith. Presidential immunity. The Presidential Records Act. Selective and vindictive prosecution." As well as, "Due process violations. Prosecutorial misconduct. Impermissible preindictment delay." And the "Illegal raid at Mar-a-Lago", which I just said was a duly executed search warrant. And of course, the "Improper violations of President Trump's attorney- client privilege."

So, they're basically throwing everything at the wall to see if anything will stick. Well, the former president's attorneys absolutely have the right to file pretrial motions. We know this is also part of a larger strategy to try to delay both of the special counsel's criminal prosecutions of Trump until after the 2024 election. Because Sara, if he is reelected, he can make the Jack Smith's appointment and his cases pretty much go away.

So, this is all part of a delay strategy. And next week we might learn more about whether it's working. There is a hearing where we expect to get some indication of whether that trial, currently on the calendar for May 20th, will be pushed back.

SIDNER: All right. I do want to talk to you about the other case, Jack Smith is on against Donald Trump, and that's the election interference case out of D.C. We're now hearing from Georgia's Governor, Brian Kemp, the person who received the phone call that we have all heard, that he spoke with Jack Smith a few months ago. Let's take a listen to what he said to Kaitlan Collins.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): It's been months ago, but really, it didn't last that long. I mean, I basically told him the same thing. I told the special grand juries that I followed the law and the constitution and answered all their questions truthfully.


SIDNER: This shows you how methodical that Jack Smith is being. He's talking to a lot of people. How significant is this?

REID: So, he is significant because he was one of the few people that was able to resist that intense pressure from Then-President Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. And we knew the special counsel had reached out, but there, Kaitlin Collins breaking the news that Kemp had actually talked to investigators.

And lastly, Sara, it was interesting. Kaitlan also asked him about Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity.


The issue before the Supreme Court that's really holding up that trial from going forward, and he said that he does not believe that anyone, Democrat, Republican, himself, or anyone is above the law.

SIDNER: Paula Reid, thank you so much. I told you we would be back for more information. I appreciate it.


BERMAN: All right. With me now is Former Federal Prosecutor Renato Mariotti. Counselor, thank you so much for being with us. A slew of filings from Donald Trump in the Mar-a-Lago case, some hearings over the next week. In your mind, what is the most important thing we could learn in this case?

RENATO MARIOTTI, HOST, "IT'S COMPLICATED" PODCAST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think the important thing in the Mar-a-Lago case is the schedule. Ultimately, at the end of the day, the evidence against Trump is pretty devastating. I mean, we just heard a moment ago from the reporter, an analyst, talking about the facts of that case. Really, the question is, will that trial take place before the election? If it takes place after the election, ultimately Donald Trump could just tell his attorney general not to pursue that any further.

BERMAN: And Judge Aileen Cannon has shown, I don't think any reason to believe that she's in any degree of haste, correct?

MARIOTTI: That's an understatement. There have been, I would say, more delays than usual in that case. There was already a case that was going to be on a slow track due to the involvement of classified documents, but she's definitely added some additional time into the schedule.

BERMAN: So, Renato, we're standing by over these last few days and next several days to hear from the Supreme Court on the 14th Amendment case, the Colorado ballot case, and also whether or not they're going to take up issues of presidential immunity. We don't know what they're going to do.

As we do wait for that, though, something happened in the court yesterday that flew under the radar that some people are looking at with a raised eyebrow now. And that had to do with a case out of Missouri where the Supreme Court chose not to take up this case involving the dismissal of jurors for voicing religious concerns about gay relationships.

But in it, it gave Judge Samuel Alito a chance to talk about how much he still disagrees with the 2015 Obergefell case, which basically solidified the right to gay marriage. He said, Obergefell in 2015 shows how, "Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be labeled as bigots and treated as such by the government."

Now, the reason this is significant is as we sit here in 2024, only two justices who voted for Obergefell solidifying the right of gay marriage are still on the court. Samuel Alito wrote the decision overturning Roe versus Wade. Is there reason to think that if they get the chance, the Supreme Court might take another look and overrule?

MARIOTTI: I think there definitely has to be a concern because the right to privacy that underlie the Roe V. Wade decision is really the same line of cases, the same -- essentially the same foundation on which the case that you referred to just a moment ago that essentially said that gay marriage was permitted is also based upon.

And so, if I was an LGBTQ person who was relying on the fact that my marriage certificate is valid in my state, I would be concerned. I think everyone -- I think they -- there's no reason for them to believe that this Supreme Court might not take another look at that case.

BERMAN: Renato Mariotti, great to see you today. Thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, Texas prosecutors say they plan to charge the suspect in the death of an 11-year-old girl with capital murder. What we've learned since Audrii Cunningham's body was found.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. The world's news network.

WHITFIELD: All right. Developing this morning, a tragic end to a days-long search. Texas authorities plan to charge Don Steven McDougal with capital murder in the case of 11-year-old Audrii Cunningham. But in a number of social media comments, McDougal appears to say that he's not guilty and claims he did everything he could to help find her.

With us now from Texas is CNN's Rosa Flores. So, Rosa, what are we learning from authorities about the direction of this investigation?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, authorities say that they not only have enough evidence to link -- a little technical difficulty, I'm going to do that right now. Fred, authorities say that they have enough evidence to not only link Don McDougal to this killing but to charge him with capital murder. And look, this man went from being a friend of the family who was trusted with taking Audrii to the bus stop, to then being a person of interest, and now being a suspect of her killing. Take a listen.


SHELLY SITTON, POLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: At this time, we believe the appropriate arrest warrant is going to be for capital murder in the death of Audrii Cunningham. He is currently still in jail under an unrelated felony charge here.


FOROOHAR: Now, authorities are still processing evidence. They're still working on filing the arrest warrant. But take a look at this map because this shows you the area, this is where some of the evidence was not only collected, but also recovered. You can see where Audrey was last seen, that is her neighborhood. Just south of there, there's a dam, that's where the backpack was recovered. And it can all -- all of this is according to authorities. And then just down river of that area is where her body was recovered.


Now, all this is we learn more about the extensive criminal history of Don McDougal from court documents. We've learned that he has been convicted for things like aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and enticing a child, which raises the obvious question. Why was he not registered as a sex offender?

Well, according to the sheriff, that charge is from a different county and he didn't know the details of the case. But he said that that case did not require McDougal to register as a sex offender. And Fred, I should mention that we've made exhaustive efforts to reach either McDougal's family or his attorney for comment regarding all of these allegations and potential charges and we have not been successful. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rosa Flores, thank you so much.


SIDNER: All right. Right now, House Republicans are grilling President Biden's brother behind closed doors, even as their impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden is floundering (ph). We'll have more details on why that is and what's happening inside that room coming up.