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Trump Seeks To Pit Fed Judges Against Each Other To Avoid Trial; Michigan Primary Tomorrow Sets Up Key Test For Biden; Mexico City May Be Months Away From Running Out of Water. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 07:30   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Where this morning, the family of an American couple are holding out hope that they are still alive after the two were apparently hijacked by three escaped prisoners off the tiny island of Grenada. A yacht belonging to Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry was found ransacked. The three escapees have been caught, but there's no sign of the missing Americans.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is joining us now.

What did you learn? You spoke with Kathy's son. They were on a trip of a lifetime. And what did her son say?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, what happened to them remains very much a mystery. Sara, it's now been eight days since there last seen and that eastern Caribbean nation of Grenada, they each have sons, as you mentioned, I had an opportunity to speak to them over the weekend. They are without words.

But they're also not without hope. They are still clinging on to that hope and praying for a miracle that seems extremely unlikely every day that is because there are also in close contact with authorities there at Grenada, and they tell them that currently the working theory, though it has not been confirmed by authorities yet, is that their parents likely became the victims of these hijackers, Brandel and Hendry were actually, as you correctly describe it, on a trip of a lifetime.

They were cruising through the Caribbean for their winter. At the same time, we do know that on Sunday, there were three men who escaped police custody in Grenada and they are believed to have encountered the couple and it wasn't until about three days later on Wednesday that they found that catamaran, the Simplicity, and police were eventually able to re-arrest these three individuals.

No sign of the couple. But unfortunately, there was signed that this is likely going to have a tragic end. The cabin of the Simplicity had been ransacked and they also found bloodstains.

Nick Buro, Kathy's son, over the phone. You can hear his heartbreak in my conversation with him. He told me, quote: We are doing our best to try to get answers to find out what is next in terms of hopefully finding them safely recovered somewhere on the islands. But of course, from the evidence that's been found on the boat, we are concerned that there might be a possibility that they aren't with us.

They had been married for 27 years. They sold their home in Virginia. In fact, the Simplicity was their home. They spent their years sailing up and down the eastern seaboard. They've been preparing that vessel and training to actually go all the way to Grenada.

This is something that they had been dreaming about, living a life of joy and love. And now they preparing for a potential funerals and the very real possibility that those lives were cut short when they cross paths with these three individuals.

SIDNDER: Our hearts are with the family as they kind of go through this and you wonder what happened until authorities can figure it out.

I know you'll be watching this, Polo, and we'll have you back when you have more details. Appreciate it.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, Sara.

SIDNER: All right.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This morning, a student at Campbellsville University in Kentucky has been arrested in connection with the death of a member of the school's wrestling team.


Twenty-one-year-old Charles Escalera was taken into custody on a murder warrant after he was found hiding in a barn. Eighteen-year-old Josiah Kilman died Saturday after he was found unresponsive in his room. Police have not said what caused the death or how the two students are connected.

A member of the U.S. Air Force is in critical condition after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington. He filmed this act in protest of U.S. support of Israel on the war against Hamas.

This morning, AT&T is offering $105 credit the customers who service went down for hours and hours last week. AT&T attributes the outage to a technical error and says it was not the result of a cyber attack. Enjoy that cup of coffee on AT&T's dime -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: But not a latte because that's not going to cover a latte.

BERMAN: Just a coffee, no latte.

BOLDUAN: And don't you dare ask for almond milk.

Coming up for us, run out the clock. The new reporting today about Donald Trump's latest legal strategy, pitting federal judges against one another to try to push off the most damning of the trials that he's facing.

And one of the biggest cities in the world may be about to run out of water. The race against time now for Mexico City, and what they're trying to do about it.

We will be back.



BERMAN: We have new CNN reporting this morning about a deliberate effort from Donald Trump's legal team to pit federal judges against each other all in an effort to avoid going to trial before Election Day. As of now, the election interference case in Washington is on hold as a Supreme Court weighs Trumps claim of presidential immunity.

Now, on Friday, the judge in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case holds a crucial hearing on timing in that case, and the Trump team hopes it will set off a chain reaction that could last past Election Day.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is here for your inaugural appearance on the 07:00 a.m. edition of CNN NEWS CENTRAL, Katelyn.

What have you learned?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, Donald Trump doesn't want to go to trial. That's not new, but the strategy that he is going to be employing through his lawyers does appear to be something we're going to see play out in the coming days.

So right now, Trump is set to go to trial in New York in his hush money case at the end of March. That'll block out the calendar for him to be in trial as a criminal defendant late March to about mid-May.

Then the calendars open after that and there are two federal cases that are vying for the possible places on that calendar. There's the possibility that that January 6 case in Washington, D.C. could get back into the hands of the trial court, and could be headed to trial. And then of course, his Florida documents case.

But just this week, his lawyers are headed into a really crucial hearing in that Florida documents case before Judge Aileen Cannon. They have a trial set for the end of May. It's very likely that that's going to get moved. So what they want to do is move it just a little bit, just a month or two into July and then the possibility could arise because that case is so complicated with classified documents that it might have to move again, so it would ascend actually elbow out any other trial if it just has a place in the calendar and gets moved along through the summer, so Trump would achieve his ultimate goal of not going to trial before the election.

I spoke to a bunch of sources about this and the ultimate goal is not just that he doesn't want to go to trial in these federal cases. He especially doesn't want to go to trial in his January 6, 2020 election case before Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., really a high- stakes case that would put on display what Donald Trump was doing during the last election, and what one of the people told me was the entire goal here is to ice her, ice Judge Tanya Chutkan, make it impossible for him to go to trial before her -- John.

BERMAN: Did we call that a bait and switch, Katelyn? Or the legal term might be Lucy in the football.

Katelyn Polantz, thank you very much for your reporting on this. We'll talk to you again soon.


BOLDUAN: Joining us right now is CNN legal analyst, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, and former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman.

Let's just dive into what Katelyn is reporting that it's all about the calendar and it's kind of, one, the domino effect if it gets a little bit pushed, it gets a little, this one gets a little bit pushed, trying to pit the -- pit the judges against each other essentially.

Does this make sense as a strategy? Yes, none of this is -- there's no precedent for any of this, but does it make sense to you, Harry?

HARRY LITMAN, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes. So, it could. It depends what will happen with the Supreme Court in the immunity appeal. But if they take that case, you're looking probably at about a July trial back with Judge Chutkan.

And really, you could say Lucy and the football, I think in basketball, the term would be a moving pick because the idea is that Trump will use his fairly simpatico judge, so far in Mar-a-Lago, Judge Cannon, to move things a little, then a little more, then a little more, they'll block July.

That's the hope. But then they will move it thereafter later after judge Chutkan's already been sort of boxed out. That's the play here.

BOLDUAN: If that's the play, and it's being reported on and it's known, is there anything a singular judge can do to avoid being iced out, boxed out, being part of this play, Karen?


I mean, what do you see here?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So it's clear that that's what's being done because it play has always been Donald Trumps tactic. He doesn't want to face any of these cases. But federal practitioners, state practitioners, judges, anyone who practices trial law or criminal trial prosecution, everybody knows what is going on here. This is not news to any of the people involved.

And so, that's why they will make sure that they aren't used as a pawn in this game. If these cases can go, they will go. So I am not as concerned from a strategic standpoint. It's really just a matter of whether they can fit these cases in and whether there is enough time.

As Harry said, the Supreme -- waiting on the Supreme Court is really the key as to when Judge Chutkan's case will go. Everybody knows that the Cannon case is not going in May despite the fact that she won't take it off the calendar. So that -- that's -- that is clear to the people involved.

BOLDUAN: It seems someone looking from the outside end might think, okay, so one gets pushed, another has to be pushed back. Is there a universe of possibility that how the calendar lines up, some of these -- some of this overlaps?

LITMAN: Very much so. And, of course, that's the thing about a criminal trial. The defendant actually has to be there. So a judge won't schedule it for -- actually to be overlapping, but they talked to one another and there's -- we already know that they sort of check in when you're really go at cetera.

Judge Cannon though, is the big variable well here because they're -- to all appearances, she now has a whole set of motions that could push things, push things, push things a little more. We'll know Friday, she is a scheduled hearing.


LITMAN: And it's already pretty clear she's going to push it just on what she's done so far, before even this whole set of motions came in last week.

So she could go to about July and that would encumber things if it stays there. And, of course, it may -- will not stay there.

BOLDUAN: Because when it comes to what Judge Cannon is faced with, there is the very complicated element of the -- of classified documents that are involved in this case. Is that going to be the core of any delay? Any push is just everything that out of necessity is involved in classified documents.

AGNIFILO: It doesn't have to be, but it could for sure. And Donald Trump, one of the motions that he is made as he wants access to more than the more than stuff that's relevant to the case. He wants access to documents in --

BOLDUAN: That's where some of the fighting is about, right?

AGNIFILO: Correct, to things that have nothing to do with the case. And that's causing a delay.

So in some ways, it's unclear whether he actually wants these irrelevant documents or whether he's utilizing this as a way to just continue to push the case so that there is delay.

BOLDUAN: One could question --

LITMAN: She tends to be indulgent on that where other judges aren't. So, it could always be a hearing, briefing, et cetera, and that weeks tick off.

BOLDUAN: One quick question, beyond court dates, there's also time pressure that Donald Trump seems to be under to start putting up money for the civil judgments that have come against him. A reminder to everyone, Donald Trump is ordered to pay 355 million penalty plus interest now in the civil fraud case, and he faces an $83.3 million judgment defamation case brought by E. Jean Carroll.

Trump, he's vowed to appeal, but that doesn't necessarily stop the clock in terms of when he needs to search, putting up some kind of money. What happens here?

LITMAN: Yeah. On the contrary, it starts the clock. So last Friday, that big judgment, 350, maybe 450 depending on interests, is now ticking. He has 30 days to put up a big bond. And if he doesn't have the cash and we really don't know about his liquidity, it looks like he's going to have to post collateral and maybe encumber or even sell some of his landmark crown jewel buildings.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. So add that to the calendar of things that we really have to keep an eye on.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you so much for coming in.

LITMAN: Thanks, Kate. Thanks, Karen.


SIDNER: All right. Still ahead, why President Joe Biden may have an issue in Michigan. A Democratic warning ahead of tomorrow's primary.




GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: I'm not sure what we're going to see on Tuesday to tell you the truth. I know that we've got this primary and we will see differences of opinion. I just want to make the case though, that it's important not to lose sight of the fact that any vote that's not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term.


SIDNER: That is Michigan's governor and national co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign, Gretchen Whitmer, expressing her concern and warning ahead of tomorrow's key primary in her state of Michigan. Michigan, so far, proving to be the biggest test yet for President Biden as he faces a planned protest vote over the work that has been in the war that has been going on between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and a dismal 39 percent approval rating in CNN's poll of polls.

With me now is former Democratic presidential candidate and former DNC chair and Vermont governor, Howard Dean. Thank you, sir, so much for joining us this morning.

You heard Governor Whitmer there. How worried are you and should Democrats be about the situation in Michigan, not because of the other Democratic candidate, Dean Phillips, but because of this push by some Democrats urging people to vote uncommitted. Because of their dismay with how Biden has handled the Israel-Hamas war.


HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER VERMONT GOVERNOR: I'm actually not worried about that. I think it's a way of people expressing their opinion which they are entitled to have. I think what's happening here. And if you watch what Biden is saying carefully, is there's a reset of American policy towards Israel.

This has been coming for a long time. I think Netanyahu is probably the most destructive prime minister they've ever had in relation to what's good for Israel and what isn't he's just uncompromising, he's difficult, he's embarrassed American politicians, particularly Democrats, for a long time.

So we need a reset on our Israel policy. And I think you see Biden moving towards that, but it can't be done all at once. So I am not terribly worried about the protest vote. I think there will be one and I just don't think that's going to have -- I think the only effect is going to have as to accelerate the move towards a new policy in Israel.

And I think by underlying the two-state solution, that's been very helpful.

SIDNER: All right. I do want to ask you about something that's happened this morning. Senator Joe Manchin just spoke with our Kasie Hunt and he talked about the border being a very big issue.

Here's what he said.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think President Biden is too extreme?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): I think he went too far left and I've told him that and I've been very clear. He's not the Joe Biden that basically he ran in 2020 and told us on how to bring it back in. Then you look at the problems that we're facing right now, the border.

HUNT: Right.

MANCHIN: Okay. Too long and we need to get the border fixed.

Now, I've said this, if they can't come together in Washington, if politics is stopping us from doing the right thing and securing our border, then he has to do a national emergency. It's a crisis and --

HUNT: You want him to declare a national emergency at the border? MANCHIN: I think he asked to. I mean, I really truly believe that if they're going to play games.


SIDNER: Do you think that that would have an impact on Joe Biden's presidency or potential for becoming president

DEAN: I do. And I think -- even though I don't agree with the -- that says the statement, Manchin statement that Biden's too far left, I think because the country, the Democratic Party is moving to a more progressive agenda, but it's painful -- painful process. And I think the progressives are always had trouble with perfect being the enemy of the good. I do think on substance, Manchin's right.

We have to do something about immigration. It is a crisis. The Republicans are clearly not interested in helping bring it all. All they care about is politics and they sure don't give a about the American people, which has been evidenced by everything they've done, particularly when Trump was president but I think Manchin's underlying thesis is, yes, we've got to do something, immigration and it has to happen soon. And he's got to do it by executive action.

SIDNER: So, do you agree with the idea of saying that look, this is a national emergency and for the president to step in since Congress, particularly the Republicans crashed, the bill that was, that was passed by the Senate?

DEAN: Yeah, I think -- yes, I do think that -- I mean, I'm not sure we need to call and talk about a national emergency, but -- and they're also a lot of options. For example, the "remain in Mexico" policy requires the cooperation of the Mexican government, which we're not going to get on this issue.

So Biden's in a tight spot, but I agree with the central thesis. He's got to do something. He's got to do it from the executive office. And then we've got to talk about all -- all fall, we got to be talking about why the Republicans did nothing about immigration, why the Democrats did.

But it has to be substantive. It has to be a big step that Biden is going to take, and it's going to get him in trouble with the left.

But, you know, as many people have said, this is not the time for the perfect to be the enemy of the good, because the bat is so unthinkable for the country that we'll never see again if Trump is elected president.

SIDNER: Howard Dean, it is a pleasure to have you on with your analysis. I appreciate your time.

DEAN: Thank you.

SIDNER: All right. John?

BERMAN: All right. This morning, Mexico City, home to nearly 22 million people, may be just months away from running out of water. Years of unprecedented drought combined with outdated infrastructure, have created a severe water shortage that could happen the city's taps running out by the end of June.

CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir is with us now.

A lot of people here, Will -- Bill.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And there wasn't many people when the Aztecs first built what is now Mexico City on an island in a chain of lakes, then the Spaniards came along in the 16th century and drain it, saw water as the enemy, and that mindset pervaded as Mexico City was built and expanded, it is now mostly concrete, giant lake bed there, seventh -- over 7,000 feet in altitude.

And as a result of all of that infrastructure problems over the years, coupled with climate change, their aquifers are woefully low. Those who study this sort of thing, say they could be months away from a day zero. It wouldn't be like Cape Town, South Africa, back in 2018 because that municipality has basically one source of water. But what happens in Mexico City is they're so dependent on these aquifers that just aren't being recharged when the rains does come.