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Trump in Federal Court; Judge Could Rule on Willis Case; Student Pilot Accused of Trying to Open Cockpit Door During Flight; Student Disappears after Night out in Nashville; SpaceX to Launch Rocket. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 14, 2024 - 09:00   ET



JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Before that mass shooting, saying, I know you got a bad grade in geometry and we're here to help you. You can come to me anytime. I love you. We just want you to try in school.

He told his son he loved him again when they saw him after the mass shooting. So, does it amount to the gross negligence? Because that is a very, very high standard with that gun that allowed this mass shooting to happen. Buying the gun. So he had access to it. Or will they say this was a father that tried his best but just didn't -- was negligent maybe, maybe should have done more with the gun, but tried to hide it and Ethan was the one that was responsible for this.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we will see what happens. We saw what happened with his wife and the conviction there. Now the jury has this case in their hands.

Jean Casarez, always good to see you. Thank you for that.

A new hour of CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening right now, a double dose of Donald Trump legal drama. He's heading to federal court in Florida as his team tries to get the entire classified documents case dismissed. And he's waiting to hear from a judge in Georgia any minute now about whether or not the prosecutor who brought the case against him will stay on the case.

Plus, a terrifying scare in the sky. There are new details this morning about a student pilot trying multiple times to break into a cockpit on an Alaska Airlines flight.

The most powerful rocket ever built is scheduled to launch just minutes from now. We'll bring that to you if it happens.

I'm Kate Bolduan, with John Berman and Sara Sidner. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SIDNER: Here is what's happening right now. Two legal cases on the docket today that could impact Donald Trump's political trajectory.

Any moment we could learn if DA Fani Willis will be removed from the election subversion case against Donald Trump and others in Georgia.

And any moment now the former president will arrive at a federal courthouse in Florida, trying to get the classified documents case thrown out or delayed. This morning, the judge in the classified documents case will hear arguments from Trump's team trying to do just that. The trial was initially scheduled for May. Prosecutors now want it moved to July. But if Trump wins his delay, which has been a winning strategy so far, the trial might not start until after the election.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is outside the courthouse in Florida.

Give us some sense of what happens in the coming hours and how that could really change the trajectory of Donald Trump's political calendar.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Sara, I just received word that the motorcade for Donald Trump is on its way from Mar-a-Lago here to the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida.

This isn't a hearing just about delay. We are still waiting for a trial date to be set in this case. But today's hearing, its arguments over whether Trump has a valid argument to get his case dismissed. He's asking this judge, Aileen Cannon, here in Florida, to dismiss the case for a number of reasons, but today it focuses on this idea that he says the records that he took from the White House to Mar-a-Lago at the end of his presidency were personal. He wants to say they were his, that he had the ability to make that call as the president, that they weren't presidential or government records. He wanted to keep them, and thus he did. And that his lawyers will also be arguing that the laws around national defense records are too vague.

Now, the Justice Department, they say, no way these were personal records. They are national defense records. Classified records with markings on them, meaning Trump should have known and seen that they were classified national security information and they were records about things like U.S. and foreign defense and weapon capability, the U.S. nuclear programs, U.S. vulnerabilities to a military attack and plans for a possible retaliation by the United States if we were under attack as a country. The federal government's argument in court to Judge Cannon is, that cannot be a personal record of any president.

We will have to see what the judge decides. She's not going to decide today, but we'll be listening to what her questions may be, see if she's leaning one way or another.


SIDNER: All right, thank you so much, Katelyn Polantz, for all your reporting there in Fort Pierce, Florida, outside of court.


BOLDUAN: And joining us now to talk more about this is a former attorney for the January 6th congressional committee, Temidayo Aganga- Williams.

It's good to see you. Thank you for being here.

Let's focus in on this case, on Trump being back in court. One of the arguments of why they want the charges dismissed is the Presidential Records Act. We were looking at the filings that have been kind of thrown around on this. I'm going to read you two parts. They argue his retention of the documents is protected by law. His team says, "President Trump was still the president of the United States when, for example, many of the documents at issue were packed, presumably by the GSA, transported and delivered to Mar-a-Lago."

Jack Smith's team clearly disagrees.


They countered with this. "Even if the raft of highly classified documents that Trump took from the White House to Mar-a-Lago were somehow categorized as personal under the Presidential Records Act, that would not render his retention of those documents authorized.

What do you think of this?

TEMIDAYO AGANGA-WILLIAMS, FORMER SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL, JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE: So, what the former president is trying to do is say that -- first of all, claiming power no one that he doesn't have, right? The Presidential Records Act is concerned with keeping a proper record of his official acts while in office. So, it's not a case where the business he's conducting doesn't -- is not maintained for historical purposes. And that permits him to designate certain items as personal, meaning, this wasn't me doing something as president, it was me as an individual. That's completely and wholly separate from classified documents which, by any stretch of the imagination, are going to be presidential in nature. That's all about doing the job of the presidency.

The idea that a document regarding nuclear weapons could somehow be personal in nature, like a letter you sent to someone. It's ridiculous. So, where Jack Smith is saying that, first of all, you don't have that power. But separately, we have federal laws, criminal laws about how you retain documents. And there's no argument that's really credible that somehow the Presidential Records Act is going to supersede criminal laws about when and how you retain documents. I think that's really the argument there.

BOLDUAN: Let's -- how much -- how much of -- how much of this is about delaying the trial?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: A hundred percent of it is about delaying the trial. Now, any defendant has the right and opportunity to have these kind of pretrial motions. They are common. What is problematic here is that many judges decide what we call on the papers. You can read the briefing and make decisions to move criminal cases along quickly. That's a default of a lot of judges. I learned this -- I appeared in front of a federal court. They don't even allow oral argument on important motions. You write down your argument and the judge decides on the papers.

Here, Judge Cannon, again and again, unfortunately, seems to be incapable of moving this case along quickly. And any federal partitioner will tell you, the one person who can move a case quickly in any court is the judge, especially a federal judge, almost unfettered control over their docket. So, any delays here, really at the end of the day, come down to Judge Cannon.

BOLDUAN: Temidayo, stick with me because we have Nick Valencia going from Florida to Georgia now. Nick Valencia with an update for us on what we're also standing by really any minute to hear, Nick, which is to hear from the judge overseeing the case -- the criminal case against Donald Trump in Georgia, the election subversion case, on whether or not the district attorney is going to -- is going to stay on this case going forward.

What's the latest?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning, Kate. Will she stay or will she go? We're standing by for a monumental decision from Judge Scott McAfee. Tomorrow, the deadline for that self-imposed two-week timeline that he gave himself to make a decision in this case. And in a recent interview he did say that he's going to make his decision based on the best understanding of the law.

But the big question is, what is that understanding? What's the threshold for disqualification here? Is it an actual conflict or is it simply the appearance of a conflict?

We should remind our view why we're here in the first place. Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, was able to secure an indictment, a historic indictment against the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, as well as some of his closest allies. And while in the last two months it may seem as though she's been on trial, during one of the hearings for her disqualification, she made it clear that she's not the one on trial in this case.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: (INAUDIBLE) been intrusive into people's personal lives. You're confused. You think I'm on trial. These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I'm not on trial, no matter how hard you try to put me on trial.


VALENCIA: In a sense, these allegations have already worked. When they dropped in early January, they lead to a delay in this case. We were on track potentially for an August start to this trial date, but now it is -- it has been delayed, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Nick, thank you so much. We're standing by for that decision to drop any minute now. Nick is going to be there for us.

Temidayo, what do you think -- the way Jennifer Rodgers, I was talking to her yesterday, she was like, this is just a really messy situation. This entire thing. Do you think it is more likely that Fani Willis stays on the case and what does it do to the case?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I think -- yes, I think this is messy no matter what. But if I were a betting man, I think she's going to remain on the case. Frankly, the risks -- the recent dismissal of some counts actually gives me more confidence that the judge is going to keep her on --

BOLDUAN: Interesting.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Because he give -- he's giving her office the opportunity to replete these counts and go back to a grand jury or -- and secure additional indictments of these charges, which to me suggests that if he had a larger, more -- a larger, blockbuster ruling coming, he would have saved that. He's now decided pretrial motions with suggest he sees this case as moving along on a track to trial. So, I think she's actually in a pretty good position to stay on the case.

And as far as what it does, I think, frankly, its messy. And I don't know there's any way around that.


She made the choices that she made, and I personally think that they were not appropriate. I don't think it was a conflict of interest. So, I do think she should remain on the case. But I think there might be a little -- a lack of competence by some about her moving forward.

BOLDUAN: Do you -- dropping the charges. You mentioned that. Dropping any of the charges, it does not eliminate the case. Do you think it hits at the strength of the case at all?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, the core of the counts, the RICO counts, the most severe count as far as prison time, that's still on.


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I think why it does perhaps hurt the case some is that when you charge cases, you're thinking about themes. So, you pick not only the clients that you think you can prove, but when you tell a jury, through the entire indictment, you're really giving a narrative. So, I think here these counts that have to do with, tried to get someone to violate their oath of office, it's very good, I think, as far as telling the story of January 6th and the lead-up. So, I think why she may end up going back and seeking additional charges here --

BOLDUAN: I'm going to play counter, and I do not have a law degree at all.


BOLDUAN: So, I'm probably definitely wrong. What if it just is like cleaning it up? It's just like tidying up this case, making it more straightforward?

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: Well, I think -- I think she's made her choice that that's not the kind of case she wants.


AGANGA-WILLIAMS: I mean, going from, you know, over 40 counts, or 30 something counts doesn't do that much (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: That's a good point.

AGANGA-WILLIAMS: But I think you are right. I mean -- but she didn't go that route of Jack Smith, who went, I'm going four counts against one defendant. She wants this massive, sprawling, complicated case. And I think it's still that. Yes, it's a little bit slimmer, but this is by no means a Jack Smith, you know, shot -- a quick one-shot.

BOLDUAN: It's great to see you, Temidayo. Thank you so much for being here with me.


SIDNER: Thank you.

Still ahead this morning, why was a student pilot trying to get into the cocked of an Alaska Airlines flight mid-flight? Investigators looking into that.

Plus, a plea for help after a college student vanishes in Nashville. What his stepfather is saying about the night he went missing and the video that exists. We will show you.

Also, Don Lemon says Elon Musk axed his show deal before the first episode even aired. What led to this ending before it ever began? We'll have that coming up.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new information coming in about a man arrested for trying to open the cockpit door repeatedly on a flight from San Diego to Washington. Now he claims he was testing the flight attendants. We're also getting new details about the contents of his bag.

CNN's Tom Foreman has been following this and joins us this morning.

Tom, what are you learning?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not clear how much of a student pilot he was, but in the bag, according to authorities, there were details on how to fly a plane, how to land a plane, things like that, written in notebooks.

What we do know, what is clear at this point is, from authorities there, that three times this young man tried to enter the cockpit of the plane. How much this was a rush at it or just an attempt. We don't entirely know. We know that they said he was uncooperative with the flight crew. And

at that point they had two off-duty officers come forward. They put him into flex cuffs. They put him in a seat. They sat on either side of him. And they took a cart and pushed it in front of the door to add some extra security and they sort of locked down the flight deck for the remainder of that flight from San Diego to Washington, D.C.

Now there are mental health concern being raised by an attorney for the family. They're basically saying that they believe that this young man may be having very serious mental health issues. They're gravely concerned about it. And they say that this behavior was inconsistent with his life up until that point.

So, John, I think there's a lot more to know about this story right now. But no matter how it happens, if anybody tries to get into a cockpit, whether it's through a mental health issue or because they have a malevolent intent, obviously, a big, big concern out there, especially in the current flying environment. So, an odd incident that we have to know a lot more about.

BERMAN: Yes. Again, because you never know what can happen if they get through that door.

But, Tom, we keep calling this person a student pilot. I do, too. I don't even know what that means in this case. An official student pilot? Someone in some kind of a program with the airline or just someone who was studying?

FOREMAN: He -- he had -- no, he had some kind of -- he had some kind of a card in his -- in his possessions there that said he was a student pilot. Now, I -- who knows? I mean you could have an airfield all over this country that might say, oh, you're part of our -- you're learning to fly small planes. We're going to give you a card that says you're a student pilot. Who knows what kind of card this is right now.

Again, things that we'll have to find out as we move forward. I don't know if it's really established yet that he is an actual student of flying.

BERMAN: All right, important point there. Tom Foreman, thank you so much for that.

FOREMAN: You're welcome.


BOLDUAN: So, police in Nashville are asking for help right now as they search for a missing college student. He's 22 years old. His name is Riley Strain. And it has been nearly a week since anyone has seen him. And there's new video that's been released of the final moments -- they believe are the final moments before he disappeared after a night out in Nashville.

CNN's Ryan Young has much more on this. He's been following the search efforts here.

What is the latest -- what is happening with this search?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so many concerns, Kate. And, of course, that surveillance video that we're now having on the screen here might be some new details for police. Obviously, Broadway down there in Nashville, where all those bars are located, is an area that has a lot of video surveillance. So, maybe police are able to stitch together what direction he was moving in.

Now, he was 22 years old, and he's 6'5". And so hopefully that stands out to a lot of people. In fact, one of our affiliates said that some of the homeless people said Larry Bird was in this area. So, you can understand, people noticed his height.

But he went out with some friends. Apparently got kicked out of a bar. And then the next thing, they've been trying to track him and use his cell phone or whatever else.

Now, police, the Nashville Police Department, has used a helicopter. They've been in the water around that area with boats. His family actually brought a boat down and they search some more than 14 miles of coastline around that area as well.


But you can understand for the family, the pain that's involved in this. Listen to his stepfather.


CHRIS WHITEID, RILEY STRAIN'S STEPFATHER: This is definitely the worst nightmare. Riley talks to us, whether it's me or to his mom, he talks to his mom three or four times a day. I mean it's -- for him to go this long without talking is not normal by any means.


YOUNG: It's important to remember, he was out with friends, got kicked out of a bar, Lukes 32 Bridge, which is a bar there. His friends started trying to call him. Those phone calls going to voicemail.

Nashville Police Department has obviously put out pictures of the young man's face to kind of spread out throughout the community. But this search so far has turned up nothing. And, of course, as we show this, we're hoping that more sightings may happen and they call the Nashville Police Department to give them a heads-up, even in terms of the direction.

But we know, Kate, with all the surveillance video in a lot of modern downtowns, hopefully they're able to stitch together pieces of where this young man went to. But as you said, this is almost a week later because it was last Friday when all this happened. So, obviously, there is some concern about where this young man could be.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

Ryan, thank you so much for the update. Sara.

SIDNER: All right, thank you, Kate.

We are just minutes away from the third test launch of SpaceX's geronimus -- ginormous -- Kate, help me out here. I said geronimus.

BOLDUAN: Well, don't say the word.

SIDNER: And I -- it's ginormous. It's -- help me out here.

BOLDUAN: Well, I would -- I think you should -- no, no, American, it's geronimus. Full stop.

SIDNER: I am having a moment.

BOLDUAN: A good one.

SIDNER: But the window is closing fast. Two previous test flights, one of them live on TV while we were standing here, blew up and ended in flames.

CNN's space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher is back with us.

Kristin, it's touted as the most power rocket ever built. The company says its success would be another step towards putting man on mars. How so?

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, it is a gironimus rocket, is that what you said? Everybody's been trying to come up with -- it's big. It's so big it is the biggest rocket -- biggest flying object ever built.

Just to kind of -- to answer your question and really explain what's at stake here. This is the spacecraft that Elon Musk hopes will be the first to land humans on the surface of mars. But first this is the spacecraft that NASA hopes will be used to return NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program back in 1972. NASA is planning to invest about $4 billion in Starship. So, this is a private space company, but has a big -- it -- the government, NASA in particular, watching this very closely.

And so what we know right now, things are looking really good. They've just finished fueling the rocket with about 2 million pounds of propellant. No technical issues right now. But wind speeds are marginal.

So, what you're going to see on your clock right about t minus two minutes and 45 seconds. But, Sara, expect a hold at about t minus 40 seconds. SpaceX did this during the previous two flight tests. Expect that again today. And what they're going to be doing is looking to see exactly what those wind speeds are like. At t minus 40 seconds, if they decide to go, what you're going to see is -- I mean it looks like a skyscraper lifting off. I mean that is what we're talking about here.


FISHER: It's incredible to see in person. It should lift off from Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, right on the border with Mexico. The first critical moment will be hot staging. That's when the bottom stage, the super-heavy booster is going to separate from the Starship rocket on top. They successfully did that for the first time during the previous flight test back in November.

Then we're going to see if the booster can successfully make a controlled splashdown into the Gulf of Mexico while the Starship rocket on top continues on to the Indian Ocean. And there's going to be a few critical firsts that SpaceX hopes is going to take place during that time. They're going to try the first ever cryogenic fuel transfer in space. They're going to try to move some fuel from one tank into the other after lifting off.

And then they're also going to be trying the first ever relight of a raptor engine. One of the engines that propels Starship in space. And if all goes according to plan, Starship is going to be heading into the Indian Ocean, you know, going at hypersonic speeds and then splash down.

But I should note, even if all goes according to plan, SpaceX says it is going to still look like an explosive event because when you crash a rocket at that speed into the ocean, you know, we probably won't see it, but it is going to be a big event.

And so the FAA has been checking that out, monitoring it for environmental assessments.


They gave SpaceX the green light just yesterday, giving them their launch license at about 5:00 p.m. SpaceX turning this around. And look right there, t minus --

SIDNER: Kristin, we're at -- we're -- yes, we're at t minus 34 seconds.

FISHER: We've just passed the hold.

SIDNER: Yes. It sounds like people are cheering.

FISHER: All right, so, at this point in time, it looks like we are going.

SIDNER: OK, let's -- yes.

FISHER: So we're now 28 seconds away from the third flight test of SpaceX's Starship rocket. The most powerful spacecraft that's ever flown. So, t minus 18 seconds. I'm going quiet down and let you guys listen in to this moment.

SIDNER: Let's see if this takes off. We are almost down to 10 seconds. Let's listen in. Let's listen in. Yes, sounds good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T minus 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty seconds into flight. We are feeling the ruffle. We are seeing 33 out of 33 raptor engines ignited on the super heavy booster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Booster and ship, avionics power and telemetry nominal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Acquisition of (INAUDIBLE), Corpus Christi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're continuing to get good call-outs. Our trajectory looking nominal. Systems looking nominal Just amazing to see all 33 lit up once again.

At this point we've already passed through (INAUDIBLE) maximum dynamic pressure and passing supersonics. So we're now moving faster than the speed of sound, getting those onboard views from the ship cameras. Now the next major milestone is going to be a hot staging maneuver. Again, were going to be doing that in just about 90 seconds to do that. We're going to shut down all but the three center raptor engines on super heavy. That will be our MECO, our most engines cut off.

And then the clamps holding the two stages together are going to release. Starship's second stage will ignite its engines. The rvax (ph) first. The sea levels right after that. The sea level engines will be splayed are just kind of pointed out at about a 15 degree angle. So, if you look close, and we get good tracking, you might be able to see those center right after. And so those six engines will push Starship off of the booster.

All right, counting down now. We're going to be coming up right at around the three-minute mark on that hot staging maneuver. Again, we'll see the booster engines start to shut down. You'll see all but three lights go out in the middle. And then we'll see the engines ignite on ship, pushing it away.

And that will start carrying the ship into space. Booster will start to do its flip and then move in on the boost back burn, setting it up for the eventual splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hot (ph) staging confirmed. Boosters now making its way back. Seeing six engines ignited on ship. OK, we've got a Starship on its way to space and a booster on the way back to the Gulf.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, man, I need a moment to pick my jaw up from the floor because these views are just stunning. These are live views from Starship. First stage is currently performing boost --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) power and telemetry nominal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good their news informing us that the second stage, or the ship, everything looking good, nominal there. First, they just currently performing the boost back burn, expecting

that to last about one minute. That boost back burn --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That boost back burn propels the booster back towards the coast, taking it to a landing in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We're only using the super heavy boosters, 13 center engines from here on out. As -- whenever they relight, you'll be able to see that in the left bottom corner. Those are the ones that can gimbal.


In other words, they move and change direction in order to change the thrust to steer the first stage back to earth.