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Judge to Decide If Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani Willis Will Remain Lead Counsel on Election Interference Case against Former President Trump; Former President Trump's Legal Team to Make Arguments Attempting to Dismiss Classified Documents Case; New Report: US and Iran Officials Held Talks in January; White House Weighs Using Guantanamo Bay to Process Haitians; Next Hour: SpaceX Plans to Launch World's Most Powerful Rocket. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2024 - 08:00   ET



RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The University of Missouri put out a statement that says "Our thoughts are with the Riley's family as the search continues. We will be offering any support that we can provide them." You can understand, obviously everyone in this community is trying to figure out exactly where he's been and where he's gone. Police continue their search, and hopefully there will be more of an active search this afternoon as well. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes Ryan, thank you so much for bringing us all those details. That search continues.

And a new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: A critical day for former President Trump. He's in a Florida courtroom looking to delay his federal classified documents trial or get it tossed completely. And any moment, a judge in Georgia could decide if Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis will be kicked off the election subversion case there.

Plus Vice President Kamala Harris is making what's believed to be a historic first, visiting a clinic that provides abortions.

And a dangerous trend, more election officials and their families are finding themselves the targets of a dangerous hoax. How criminals are weaponizing local law enforcement.

We'll have all those stories. I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

BOLDUAN: So today is a big day on to legal fronts for Donald Trump as he continues to lean into his campaign meets the courtroom strategy. Everyone one is standing by for the judge in Georgia to drop his decision on district attorney Fani Willis, his final word on whether she will continue leading the case or if he will disqualify her.

Also any moment, we could see Donald Trump heading out of Mar-a-Lago and headed to federal court where he and his legal team will be arguing against Special Counsel Jack Smith on two questions, basically, now before the federal judge. Will Trump's classified documents charges be dropped or move forward. And will that case go to trial before November.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live outside that federal courthouse in Florida, joining us now. Katelyn what is expected to happen today?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Kate, it's a day of arguments in court, arguments from Trump's lawyers and arguments from the Justice Department to Judge Aileen Cannon, who is going to be listening to them because Donald Trump wants this case to be dismissed. He has that ability to make those sorts of bids as a criminal defendant. It's very typical for arguments like that to take place.

But these arguments are special in that there about his power as president and the decisions he was making when those classified documents were removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago at the end of the presidency by Donald Trump, and then kept there even and when the federal government was trying to get them back under grand jury subpoena.

So Donald Trump, his arguments are going to be presented by his lawyers. He will be in the courtroom, and they're going to be saying things to Judge Aileen Cannon, like these were his personal records because Trump decided he wanted to keep these records, that these were records he had the ability to have because he was a classification authority. He had the ability to have a clearance and to have national security records in his possession. And also they're going to say that these laws are very vague around national security records.

Now, the Justice Department is going to say none of that is true, and that Trump as president should have known how serious it was if records like this were in the wrong hands or even just taken out of somewhere where they were secured.

Reminder, Kate, these records, its more than 30 documents that Trump is charged with mishandling and obstructing the Justice Department as they tried to get them back. And they are things about the national defense, things about U.S. nuclear programs, plans if there was a foreign attack on the U.S., and the capabilities of the United States and other nations to have weapons and military capabilities that they would have. So very serious things at stake. It's a big hearing for Judge Aileen Cannon. She's not expected to rule today from the bench, but we are listening quite closely as to what questions she asks and how much deference she appears to be giving to the former president. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Katelyn, so glad you're there. Thank you so much. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, how much deference. We'll get to that in a moment.

With me now is former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, Danya Perry. Danya, we should note, is represented Michael Cohen in the criminal case against Donald Trump in New York. Danya, there was an element of this argument being presented before Judge Cannon today, which is that Donald Trump is arguing he could keep anything he wants. On the merits, what do you think of that argument?

DANYA PERRY, FORMER PROSECUTOR, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: You know, we've seen shades of this kind of argument in many of his cases, right?


He's argued that, as a former president, he's immune from prosecution. And we've seen that in several of his cases, if not all of them. Here, he is saying that he has essentially designated these documents as personal documents, and that that is immune from judicial review. So this is in some ways not a foreign argument. And he's making that argument today. And a special counsel has pretty forcefully argued in response that no, there is -- that the former president does not have the right to make this unilateral decision in designating these kinds of sensitive national security documents sua sponte, on his own, as having been personal in nature.

And so that's one of the several arguments that will be in front of Judge Cannon today, as well as this argument that the former president has come up with that these documents shouldn't be decided under the Presidential Records Act at all. The special counsel says, no, you have the wrong legal structure, in fact, that the proper rubric that we should be looking under an executive order, and, of course, the Espionage Act. And the former president has ignored the executive order, which was an Obama era order, that the former president actually could have acted upon while he was president but did not. And that is the structure that is in place, and that does not allow him to have acted the way he did. That required certain procedures that he did not follow. And so that's the special counsel's argument that will be under debate today in front of the judge.

BERMAN: Well, Katelyn Polantz was just saying she's going to be watching very closely for how much deference Judge Aileen Cannon pays to Donald Trump and his legal team. What about how much deference she has shown so far? How would you assess it?

PERRY: It's surprising to me. This is the kind of thing I ordinarily would have expected to have been decided on the papers. Instead, the judge has allocated, I believe, an entire day for arguments, so that seems a fair amount of argument. There also -- I believe she has reserved time for this selective or malicious prosecution argument that is really a nonargument, that is something that I believe the 11th Circuit which is the court in which this district court sits. I don't know if you want to get into that, John, but it's a whole separate argument that is something that the 11th Circuit has never countenanced.

So I believe this judge is giving a lot of deference to the former president and his legal team. And I know Katelyn will be setting by to see exactly how much weight she gives these arguments.

BERMAN: It's a fair point. It's a lot. It's a lot more than a lot of people think is merited or that a lot of other judges would give in this situation. And you can almost read the frustration from Jack Smith and his legal team in their filings. Danya, you've been before a lot of judges. What do you do when you're before a judge that really seems to be giving, let's say it euphemistically, a lot of deference to Donald Trump and his arguments?

PERRY: Well, we might see after today. I agree with you, the general tone of a government prosecutor is very straight, down the middle. We have started to see, I don't want to say cracks, but the tone I agree has shifted a little in the most recent papers with respect to the selective prosecution arguments. The special counsel's office has come out swinging a little bit. They said, well, we've never had an argument like this because we've never seen a case like this. There has simply never been other president who has acted in any way like this remotely.

And so it may be that if the judge starts to push the date, and we may see that as soon as today, it is possible that they may seek review of that. It is even possible -- this is pure, wild speculation -- that they may seek to have another judge put in place. But I think that is probably a very remote possibility.

BERMAN: We will see how today goes. Danya Perry, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.


SIDNER: Later today, a potentially historic visit for the vice president. She's stopping at a clinic that provides abortions as the Biden campaign focuses on reproductive rights.

And this morning, a teenage girl is in the hospital fighting for her life after a brutal beating, police say, by a 15-year-old girl.

And at any moment we could learn the jury's verdict in the James Crumbley trial. That's the father charged in the deadly Michigan school shooting that was perpetrated by his son.


All that's coming up.


SIDNER: This morning, a Missouri teen is fighting for her life after she was brutally beaten near her high school in St. Louis. The beating was filmed by a bystander. The girl was thrown to the ground, punched repeatedly, and then her head was repeatedly slammed into the sidewalk. CNN's Jason Carroll is following the story for us. Jason, I understand there's an arrest in this case.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first and foremost, yes, there is an arrest, but this is just, it's just an horrific story. I mean, the girl in question is in critical condition. She does have a superior head injury. There are calls for the suspect -- she's a 15-year-old girl. [08:15:00]

There are calls for that suspect who has been arrested for her to be tried as an adult. And first, we should tell you that this brutal attack is so violent that we can't show you the video. The video is out there. It has gone viral. We can show you still shots of what happened here.

It does show the suspect attacking the young girl repeatedly on the ground, at one point banging her head into the concrete. At one point, she stops moving, she starts convulsing as the fight continues around her.

Police say that this happened last Friday afternoon. That's when they got the call about some sort of altercation. When they got there, the young girl was already on the ground. They immediately took her to the hospital. They immediately made the arrest of the 15-year-old girl.

Police, not identifying the 15-year-old girl. They're not identifying the suspect. They're not identifying the young girl either, but there already have been the calls for this 15-year-old to be tried as an adult.

Missouri's attorney general weighed in on this, saying the following: "I am praying for the victim. The criminal should be charged and tried as an adult. If the victim dies, that offense should rise to a homicide."

Now, also, Sara, it is clear from the video that there are several people out there who were fighting. Again, one person under arrest, the 15-year-old girl, but the investigation well underway.

SIDNER: What shocked me about the video really is that there are all of these people walking around, while she is convulsing on the ground and nobody is --

CARROLL: And continuing to fight.

SIDNER: Right, continuing to fight and no one seems to be trying to take care of her. It is a really disturbing story.

Jason Carroll, thank you for coming in this morning to tell us -- John.

BERMAN: All right, new danger facing, election workers as the presidential race heats up. The threat that's swatting poses and why authorities are unprepared to keep these workers safe.

New secret talks between the US and Iran revealed, this is the first time the countries have communicated in a long time, what was said and what it means.


[08:21:25] BERMAN: So this morning we are learning that US officials held secret

indirect talks with Iranian officials amid all the tension in the Middle East. It marks the first known engagement, between the US and Iran since the two countries swapped prisoners in September.

CNN's Kylie Atwood is with us with the details here.

Kylie, when did this happen? And what was it about?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This happened in January. It was in Oman according to a US official familiar with this dialogue, and it was indirect talks, John.

So what that means is that US officials, Iranian officials were in the same building, I am told, but there were Omanis who were bringing the messages back and forth between the two sides.

As you said, this is the first known interaction between US and Iranian officials since September. There was that prisoner swap. But of course the context here is the rising tensions in the Middle East.

And there were a number of things that were discussed in this January meeting, one of which of course is Iran's nuclear program. Another one it was Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea. And I think it is fair to raise questions about how productive this engagement actually was.

We know that there is not another engagement of the type on the schedule right now, we will watch and see if that does happen. But the US has carried out a number of attacks on Iranian-backed back proxies in the region after this meeting happened around the time of that meeting in Yemen, in Syria and Iraq.

So it is not quite clear that this interaction was able to drive down concerns about Iranian proxies in the area.

Now, a State Department spokesperson got back to us and said that they're not going to comment on specific engagements with Iran, but said they have multiple channels for communicating with Iran and said, since October 7th, they have really been focused on trying to engage Iran through indirect ways, of course, to make sure that they are not escalating the situation in the Middle East any more than it already is.

BERMAN: All right, interesting that these discussions took place at all. And as you said, important to raise the questions about what came out of it.

Kylie Atwood, thank you very much for that -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So the Biden administration is now considering using Guantanamo Bay to handle migrants fleeing Haiti. As US officials are preparing for a mass exodus of people fleeing the escalating gang violence that has really taken over the country.

Gangs now control 80 percent of Haiti's capital, that's the latest estimation and Florida's governor is also preparing now for an influx of people trying to flee the violence.

CNN's Carlos Suarez is in Miami with more on this for us.

Carlos, what is the Florida governor planning to do?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Kate, good morning.

So the Florida governor is moving personnel and equipment to the Florida Keys. Now, the Coast Guard tells me that so far they have not seen an increase in the number of Haitian migrants that are trying to make it to the US.

Officials, however, they were clear to say that the security posture could change as the crisis in Haiti unfolds.

Now, on Wednesday, the Florida Governor's Office said that a number of law enforcement personnel and equipment will be deployed to the Florida Keys and the southern coast of Florida. We are talking about well, over 250 additional officers and members of the National and State Guard that have been called up, and more than a dozen airplanes and boats have been made available.

Now since October of 2023, the Coast Guard said that about 131 Haitian migrants have been stopped and sent back to Haiti. In fact, this past Tuesday, a group of 65 migrants were stopped near the Bahamas -- Kate.


BOLDUAN: And Carlos, it really grabs your attention just simply hearing that the White House is now considering using Gitmo to house people fleeing well, anywhere, fleeing Haiti or anywhere.

What are you hearing about that?

SUAREZ: Yes, Kate, so Guantanamo Bay has a center that has been used to hold and process migrants before returning them to Haiti and to other countries.

Now, the discussions to expand the capacity, I think kind of hints at the security concern here. In recent years, federal officials in South Florida, they've had trouble processing these large number of migrants.

I've covered incidents where boats with well over 100 people were on board and they've made it pretty close to shore, and as you can imagine, that puts a strain on local law enforcement agencies, which often are the ones that have to hold these migrants until federal officials take custody.

Kate, the last time that we saw this kind of security buildup was around 2021 after protests broke out in Cuba and the Coast Guard increased its patrol off the southern coast of Florida.

BOLDUAN: Carlos Suarez, thank you so much for that report -- John.

BERMAN: All right, we do have breaking news. An update on the planned SpaceX rocket launch.

Let's get right to CNN's space and defense correspondent, Kristin Fisher. A delay, Kristin?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT:` Well, we knew that this rocket could launch anytime within 110-minute launch window, and so we just have a brand new liftoff time and that is 8:25, excuse me, 9:25 AM Eastern Time.

Apparently, there are quite a few boats in that part of the Gulf of Mexico, and so they are having to notify those drivers of those boats to get out of the way for this rocket launch.

But you know, John, it is pretty remarkable that this launch is even happening today because SpaceX just got its launch license from the FAA at 5:00 PM yesterday afternoon. And on top of that last night, Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX said, maybe Starship will be launching tomorrow.

So it has been kind of hit or miss about whether or not this is going to happen, but now it appears were about an hour away from liftoff. They have just started propellant load down at Boca Chica, Starbase, as they call it.

And so if successful, John, what we will see is the biggest rocket ever built lifting off. About two minutes after liftoff, we will see the two stages separate. The super-heavy booster should splashdown back into the Gulf of Mexico and the Starship rocket on top should travel for about 45 minutes and then attempt to splashdown in the Indian Ocean, which is different than those previous two Starship flight attempts, which ended, of course, in spectacular explosions, John.

So a lot riding on this. I mean, NASA is planning to invest about $4 billion into the Starship spacecraft because this is the spacecraft that is going to be needed to land astronauts, NASA astronauts back on the moon for the first time since the Apollo Program. And you know, NASA has said that they were hoping that Starship would be a little bit further along in its development right now.

So this is really a critical component of NASA's efforts to beat China back to the moon as well. So some national security implications here as well as we watch this launch, which is now hopefully just about an hour away -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, we had thought it would be 8:30, which would be just a few minutes from now. Now, pushed back to 9:25 or so as you say, which is pushing the back end of the window where it could happen today.

So another delay if it were to happen might take it out of it. All right, we will watch this very closely.

FISHER: Right.

BERMAN: Hopefully, we will see you back in about an hour or so to watch this happen live right here on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. Kristin Fisher, thank you very much -- Sara.

SIDNER: All right, just ahead, Vice President Kamala Harris will make a very noteworthy campaign visit today. Why her visit could be historic. We'll explain.