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Critical Hearing For Trump Wraps Up In Federal Court In Florida; Biden In Key Battleground State Of Michigan For Campaign Event; Manhattan DA Does Not Oppose Move To Delay Trump Hush Money Trial. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 14, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Former President Donald Trump's court hearing just wrapping up, so did his lawyers convince a judge that the former president should be allowed to keep any document he wants, even if it's classified?

Meantime, a Georgia judge is deciding whether the district attorney in Trump's election interference case should be dismissed. A ruling could come at any time.

Plus, it feels a little bit cold in here, maybe it's a tad frosty. Prince William and Prince Harry both honoring their mother, but the two of them not doing it together, we'll discuss.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And a student pilot on board an Alaska Airlines flight is restrained after allegedly trying to open the cockpit door repeatedly. Wait till you hear why he says he was trying to get in.

We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: A key hearing just wrapped up in former President Donald Trump's classified documents case. Trump was there in federal court today voluntarily. He didn't have to be there. His lawyers arguing that as president, Trump could declare the documents he kept at Mar-a- Lago as his personal records under the Presidential Records Act. Prosecutors said that that law doesn't apply to highly sensitive National Security materials. And the judge, Aileen Cannon, a judge that Trump appointed, we should note, also pushed back on that argument from the defense. She said that Trump's interpretation would gut that law altogether.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live for us outside the courthouse. Katelyn, it sounds like it might have been an uphill battle for Trump's team today.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. Another five hours in court today for Donald Trump before Judge Aileen Cannon with no ruling. But Judge Cannon did seem to show where she was leaning on these two arguments that his team was trying to make.

They were trying to say and convince her that the law around National Security records is too vague. Trump wouldn't have known that he was doing something wrong because he was president when he took those documents out of the White House and took them to Mar-a-Lago. They were (inaudible) this is his personal records and thus under the Presidential Records Act, he could have kept them.

But Judge Cannon, she said at one point that dismissing the case on one of these arguments, that would be an extraordinary step if she were to take it. And she also said that it was difficult to see that one of these arguments would result in her dismissing the charges against him. That is not a great sign for the defense team on at least these two arguments that they were making. And that Presidential Records Act argument is one that Trump has touted as a major piece of what his defense is (inaudible) that she did believe that there was a possibility he could make these arguments as a forceful, factual argument, something that perhaps he could present to the jury or to her at a later date.

But as far as the law goes, she seemed to quite clearly be siding with the idea that the Presidential Records Act is pretty clear and it just isn't so easy (inaudible) government records.

SANCHEZ: Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much for that update.

Let's go to CNN Chief Legal Correspondent, Paula Reid, because Paula, we want to shift to a different case, the election interference case in Georgia. We've been standing by for Judge Scott McAfee to issue his decision on whether District Attorney Fani Willis should be dismissed from the case or not. What's the latest there?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So he has this self-imposed deadline of tomorrow where he will, he says, issue this decision. Two outcomes, one, he may disqualify her. But Boris, even if she is disqualified from this case, the case itself still survives. Yesterday, he dismissed six of the counts, but the case is mostly intact. And there's a counsel in the state of Georgia that would decide what other office or officer would receive this case.


And then that prosecutor would have the option. Do they want to re- file some of these additional counts, go back to a grand jury, add additional charges or dismiss the case altogether. But the one thing that would be clear if she is disqualified and they go through this process is that this case would not go before the election. It would take time to go through all those steps.

Now, it's also possible that Willis will not be disqualified and that she and presumably Nathan Wade will continue to oversee this case. Now, Boris, Willis had previously said that she wanted to start this case in August, but this process of possibly disqualifying her has taken some time and make it that timeline less realistic, let's face it. But either way here, Boris, I mean, Trump wins. Either he's guaranteed to get this pushback until after the election, or even if this does start before November with Willis at the helm, this is as much about optics for Trump as it is about the merits of the case. And her conduct has really given him a lot to work with, reminding people constantly about the relationship she had with Wade, about the money that he received and trying to undermine trust in the judicial system, even if technically there was not a conflict.

SANCHEZ: With that point in mind, Paula, what would be the better outcome for Trump's legal strategy?

REID: It's hard to say, Boris, because really they're - both of them are a win for Trump. I think the better outcome probably for the judicial system would likely be her either voluntarily stepping aside or being disqualified, because it's not just Trump that's on trial here. It is trust in the justice system. Trump - a large part of Trump's strategy here is to undermine the public's trust in the judicial system, to argue that he is the victim of selective, politically motivated prosecutors. There's no indication here that they are necessarily politically motivated, but the conduct here does raise some questions about their judgment.

In the eyes of the average voter, there is an ick factor here that could taint the larger proceeding, which, of course, these allegations are very serious. But overall, disqualified, continuing to oversee, either way, this really is great news for Trump. It has been a gift for him politically. I'm not sure how it will pan out legally, but politically, this has been great for him.

SANCHEZ: Paula Reid will be watching for Judge McAfee's decision, again, could come down at any moment. Brianna?

KEILAR: We're joined now by CNN Legal Analyst and former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams. Elliot, help us understand what Judge Scott McAfee is considering here, because, I mean, for instance, a judge always wants to set their - whatever the verdict is in a case up for success.


KEILAR: And I would wonder if, for instance, how he decides on Fani Willis continuing to prosecute this case, if that's something that could ultimately impact an appeal. I mean, is that weighing on his decision?

WILLIAMS: No, I think it's always in a judge's interest to look ahead to the future and make sure that he's creating a record on appeal that can stand up. And so, for instance, he's not going to decide this with a one-sentence order. It'll probably be dozens, if not hundreds of pages, substantiating the reasons for why he's ruling the way he is.

But I think we have no reason to believe that the judge isn't going to behave in an unfair manner. It's just a very fraught, emotional case and so it remains to be seen how he's going to rule.

KEILAR: Yes, he has been pretty fair, I think ...


KEILAR: ... and a lot of folks have said that up to this point. Turning to the classified documents hearing here, as we look at what Judge Aileen Cannon has been saying in court, she had been questioning Trump's lawyers, asking if their argument was perhaps premature, if it was something that really should have been dealt with later ...


KEILAR: ... maybe in trial. I wonder what you thought of the questions she was asking his lawyers today.

WILLIAMS: Well, the questions are fine. I don't know if that's the way she's leaning. But the questions are exactly the right questions to be asking, because Trump's team is seeming to argue two things. Number one, the law is vague on classified documents cases, and that's nonsense. Dozens, hundreds, thousands of people have been charged under the same statute.

Now, look, they're not presidents of the United States, but there's nothing vague about the notion of retention of sensitive documents as a criminal offense and so that's fine.

Then the question of, were these the former president's personal records? That is a factual question to be decided at trial. And the president's team is more than open to try to make that case in front of a jury. But that's not a legal question, it's just a determination.

KEILAR: They're arguing it is. Why isn't it?

WILLIAMS: Because they're wrong. I mean, they can argue whatever they want. The simple fact is, there's a determination to be made about what these documents were. And you can't wave a magic wand and say that simply because I was president, every single document in my possession were my personal documents. He's free to make that argument at trial. But as a means of making the entire indictment go away, that's just simply not the right way to go, I think.

KEILAR: Either way, this delays the process, right? So in a way ...


KEILAR: ... pursuing this, even if they know it to be likely fruitless ...

WILLIAMS: Right, sure ...

KEILAR: ... helps him.


WILLIAMS: It all comes full circle, Brianna, because this ties into the Judge McAfee point, which is that it is in the interest of a trial judge to make sure that she doesn't create a problem for herself down the road, and that you have to give a defendant an opportunity to at least challenge the indictment.

Now, you and I both know, millions, thousands of viewers know that, of course, this is a strategy of the former president to try to slow things down. The simple fact is, though, he's a criminal defendant and entitled to say that the charges against me were not fair or they weren't properly drafted or whatever else. Now, he should lose a lot of these motions, but you're right. It's a delay tactic.

KEILAR: Maybe it's a preview to the trial, right? This argument of, hey, they're being designated, these documents, as personal just by the action of Trump sort of taking them to Mar-a-Lago. I wonder what you think of that argument. No, and the simple fact is, you know, and we saw this in the case of Joe Biden and Mike Pence, quite frankly, which is that former political leaders often mess up with their notion of what their documents are.

Now, it's a question of, number one, what they do when they discover that they have these documents in their possession, and number two, what acts of obstruction do they engage in once they know that there's an investigation into their misconduct? And both President Biden and former Vice President Pence behaved in a very different manner than former President Trump did. And that point cannot - I think certainly is not lost on the judge and ought not be lost on anybody reviewing the case.

But this idea that merely by taking them out of the White House empowered him to treat them as his documents is simply not how the law works. And look - and I say this as somebody who used to have a top secret - top clearance myself. That's just not how it works.

KEILAR: That is just not how it works.

WILLIAMS: That's my legal analysis, I'm sorry.

KEILAR: I like it. Elliot, thank you so much. Boris?

SANCHEZ: From the presumptive Republican nominee in the courtroom to the Democratic nominee arriving not long ago on a rainy tarmac in Saginaw, Michigan, President Biden campaigning there today as that state is set to be a key battleground in the next presidential election. CNN's Kevin Liptak has been following the President's visit and joins us now. Walk us through what we're going to see President Biden doing today, Kevin.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, this is the fifth battleground state that President Biden has visited since he delivered that State of the Union address a week ago. And what he's tried to do in each of these places is try and oversee the organizational infrastructure on the ground.

And so what we're seeing the President do today is visit the private home of one of his supporters and speak to a gathering of volunteers, of staffers who will be trying to get out his message as this general election gets underway. And he's literally talking to them from these supporters' porch. And certainly the campaign says that it is ramping up its infrastructure in a number of battleground states. They say they're hiring 350 new staffers this month, opening a hundred new offices. And that will be very important in a place like Saginaw, where we are now.

This is one of the true bellwethers of the country. This is a place that has voted for the winner of the last four presidential elections. There are only 25 counties in the entire country who can say that. There's a large concentration of black voters here in Saginaw. And that, of course, is a key component of the coalition that President Biden is trying to reconstitute as he looks to seek reelection.

And in a place like Michigan, that is especially important when there are other parts of the President's coalition, in particular Arab- Americans in Detroit and the suburbs around Detroit, who are softening in their support for President Biden because of the war in Gaza. So certainly an important visit for him here today.

When we are speaking to voters, they say that the economy is at the top of their mind, and that is something we can expect President Biden to touch on in his remarks today. But really, most of the voters we talk to say they just haven't tuned in yet. They're waiting until a little later to really become engaged in this election.

SANCHEZ: Yes, just to give viewers a heads up, these are live images of President Biden in Saginaw appearing to chat with folks outside of a location. That may be the ports that Kevin was just outlining for us.

Kevin, I also wanted to ask you about Vice President Kamala Harris. She's in the Great Lakes region as well. She's in Minnesota making a historic visit to a Planned Parenthood. She's the first sitting vice president or president to ever visit an abortion provider. And she was making the case when she was there that this is about health care and reproductive rights. This is going to be a central issue for the White House in their bid for reelection, right?

LIPTAK: Yes, exactly. When you talk about this coalition that President Biden is trying to get back together, this is going to be a key component, women who are concerned about the repeal of Roe v. Wade. And this is really sort of a dramatic demonstration of Kamala Harris and, by extension, Joe Biden's commitment to this issue as the general election starts heating up.


And we have seen Kamala Harris really take kind of a lead on this issue of reproductive rights. She is seen by many Democrats as somewhat of a more natural messenger than Biden himself on this issue. And we did see her speak at this clinic, and you could really hear the indignation in her voice when she's talking about reproductive rights and the repeal of Roe versus Wade. Listen to a little bit of what she said.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How dare these elected leaders believe they are in a better position to tell women what they need, to tell women what is in their best interest? We have to be a nation that trusts women.


LIPTAK: So this is certainly a galvanizing issue for Democrats. They really do feel like this can motivate their base come November. And certainly when you see the abortion issue on ballots over the last year or so, it has gone in Democrats' favor. So certainly this is something they will keep talking about over the next several months, guys.

SANCHEZ: Kevin Liptak live for us in Michigan, thanks so much.

So Biden and Trump could soon have some company on the ballot. The No Labels group is in the process of figuring out who they want at the top of their ticket. Could it be a household name, someone we all know? We'll discuss.

And next, the two princes, William and Harry, are about to honor their mother's legacy, but do not expect to see them together at an important event tonight. Those stories and much more coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



SANCHEZ: We have some breaking news just into CNN. This is in the Donald Trump case in Manhattan that's being prosecuted by District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Bragg apparently asking the judge in the case, Juan Merchan, to delay the initial start date for the trial by 30 days so that the DA's office can review a new batch of records that they recently obtained from federal prosecutors.

Let's go straight to CNN Legal Affairs Correspondent, Paula Reid.

Paula, this is a bit surprising. This trial was set to start in just about two weeks or so, right?

REID: Yes, absolutely. This is surprising because this is, of course, expected to be the first criminal prosecution of former President Trump and it is scheduled to get underway in less than two weeks. Jury selection is expected to start on March 25th.

But now, in this new filing, prosecutors say they are not opposed to delaying this for another 30 days so they can go through some additional evidence.

Now, former President Trump's legal team has asked to delay this for 90 days related to some discovery issues. But the fact that the prosecutors are not opposed to granting a 30-day delay, that is significant because it would, of course, possibly push this case back a month. And as we know, Boris, the calendar for former President Trump's various criminal trials is incredibly complicated as it is.

This trial, if it begins, will be approximately six to eight weeks, we're told, in total. So pushing it back a month just further complicates this incredibly complicated trial schedule that former President Trump currently has, along with his political calendar.

KEILAR: Okay. So pushing back, if it's taking six to eight weeks and it's being pushed back, I mean, just take us through the cascading effects there, Paula, on other trials.

REID: Yes. So let's look, if they push us back 30 days, this would start in late April. I mean, if it's April 25th, I believe that would actually be the same day that the Supreme Court is expected to take up Trump's challenge. In another case, the immunity case, let's say it starts in late April. It goes through May into mid-June. I mean, we don't expect that either one of the federal cases would start before then. But I'm sure that his lawyers will argue in other cases that they were working on this and use this as an incentive to push back some of those other cases as they start.

But let's remind people of the allegations here. This is a state level case. The allegations here are that former President Trump falsified business records when he paid back money that was paid to former adult film star Stormy Daniels. This is often called the "hush money" case. But the district attorney is trying to frame it as an election interference case. They call it the 2016 election interference case.

Now, among the four criminal cases that former President Trump is facing, this one has largely been considered to be not so much the weakest, but the least significant in terms of the allegations. But right now, this is the only one that we expect to go before the election. So right now, it appears that the prosecutors still want to bring this. But they're saying, look, we're not opposed. If you want to wait an additional 30 days, push this back a month.

Trump lawyers, though, have asked to push it back three months. But as we know, their strategy across all these criminal cases is to delay, delay, delay. What's different here is you also have the prosecutors saying, yes, I'd be cool with that, 30 days, that's fine by us.

SANCHEZ: Paula, please stand by.

Let's bring in CNN Legal Analyst Elliot Williams.

Elliot, 73,000 pages of records that have been turned over to Alvin Bragg as of March 4th by the U.S. Attorney's Office. How does that potentially fit into the broader prosecution?

WILLIAMS: Right. It's important to know the distinction between these two cases. One is a state case being brought by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office local crimes.


One was a possible federal investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office or the federal Justice Department. Now, the Justice Department over the last couple of years looked into the matter and decided not to bring federal charges related to these. So my guess is that this 73,000 pages is related to the decision to not bring charges in the first place. Now, how it all fits in? The simple fact is the - because prosecutors are the ones asking for 30 days, I would assume the judge is going to grant that request. The judge would - it would be highly unlikely for a judge to make a party, a prosecutor go to trial when they say they're not ready, when they're still reviewing documents.

So this trial is going to be delayed up to 30 days and we'll see what the judge ultimately decides if he gives them more time.

KEILAR: So it's just interesting when you look at the cascading effects on the other cases here.


KEILAR: ... and how you're expecting that could actually force some, obviously, beyond the election and how it could force some out of the spotlight of just people registering what is going on. Because what we do know is that a lot of voters, it doesn't even register for them really what Trump is charged with or accused of doing in many of these trials, not just this one.

WILLIAMS: It's very dizzying and confusing, I think, to many voters, citizens, whatever else. And it's important to note that our elections happen on a timeline and litigation, prosecutions happen on a totally separate timeline. And it can take sometimes years to bring matters to trial. What's notable here is that this was the prosecution that was probably the most likely to happen in the first place, if at all.

And so the mere fact of a delay is significant in that it pushes the inevitable trying of a matter of Donald Trump even further, if not beyond Election Day. But again, all the prosecutors have asked for here is 30 days, and we'll see what the judge does with that. It's not an indefinite postponement of the trial. The judge hasn't even granted it yet, so we'll see what he does.

SANCHEZ: Elliot, you know that we love asking you questions in breaking news that are very difficult...


SANCHEZ: ... and perhaps impossible to answer. But I'm wondering, with these 70-plus thousand pages, is there a chance that this could rework the charges or add additional charges to what Trump is facing?

WILLIAMS: I have all 73,000 pages on my laptop here. I read them very quickly.


WILLIAMS: No. You never know, Boris. And at a certain point, prosecutors are always free to re-file additional charges based on late-breaking information that they brought. Now again, pure speculation here, if federal prosecutors chose not to bring charges, it's hard to envision a scenario in which there's some kind of magical evidence in these matters that the state prosecutors weren't aware of. But who knows? Look, the counter could be true as well. I mean, prosecutors could decide that based on what they're seeing in the record here, there's something so exculpatory for the former president that the DA's office just needs to drop the case.

Now, I doubt it, but you just don't know what's in these records, to your very question. It's just hard to know what prosecutors are sitting on and what effect it might have.

KEILAR: Well, thank you so much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Thank you to you, Elliot. Paula, we appreciate it. Obviously, very interesting development here as we follow this. Manhattan prosecutors seeking a 30-day delay of President Trump's trial there having to do with hush money that was paid out. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office, obviously, pursuing that case, one of several that the former president is facing. We'll be right back with more.