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Scott Grubman Is Interviewed About The Willis Ruling; Steve Sadow Makes Statement On Willis Decision. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 15, 2024 - 09:30   ET



SCOTT GRUBMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY WHO REPRESENTED KENNETH CHESEBRO: I'm going to anticipate you'll probably see a motion coming soon. And my guess is that Judge McAfee probably would be inclined to let them appeal because here's the situation. If you don't let them appeal, and then three years from now when the case is over it turns out Judge McAfee got this wrong, the case is coming back.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, let's pick up on that thought. Is this a victory for the justice system, or is this a loss in your eyes?

GRUBMAN: This is a huge loss to the justice system. With all due respect to Judge McAfee, I don't see how you could say that it is clear that these folks lied, that there's an appearance of impropriety, and yet, in order to make it all go away, all that has to happen is Nathan Wade has to withdraw from the case. It - I understand that Donald Trump might not be a very popular person, but constitutional rights its do not depend on popularity. It doesn't -- in fact, constitutional rights are meant to protect the unpopular the most.

And so I think this is not a good day for justice. I respectfully do not believe Judge McAfee got it right. And we will see what happens next.

VALENCIA: So, on that, what happens next? Do you anticipate, because prior which of these allegations being brought forward we were on pace, it seemed, for a start in August to this trial. Do you think that the district attorney's office can get back on track to get a trial before in November election?

GRUBMAN: No, I don't think there will be a trial before November. And to be clear, personally, I don't think they're -- Donald Trump will ever be on trial, criminal trial, before the November election. I don't think any of these cases are just moving in that direction. And this case, particularly if the defendants asked for an interlocutory appeal and Judge McAfee grants it, well, that delays the case for months, if not longer. And I don't think there's any chance that this case goes to trial before November.

VALENCIA: So, what I'm hearing is even though there is sort of a victory for the district attorney's office, these allegations, they worked in a sense because they delayed a case that was kind of on a fast-track for an August trial.

GRUBMAN: Yes, I mean, I could see some people arguing that. I mean, I wouldn't use the word "delay." I mean I - I would use the word -- you know, you have to ensure that these defendants are being given due process. And - but, yes, the effect of it was to extend the time period. And so some might argue that even though it might be a loss because the motion was, for all intents and purposes, denied, it at least kicked the can down the road.

VALENCIA: Important question, how do you reconcile what Scott McAfee, the judge in this case, did earlier this week by dismissing those six charges that had to do with the violation of an oath of office by a public official, and then this ruling here. It's almost as though he gave a victory to defense attorneys on Wednesday and then sort shut the door on them on Friday.

GRUBMAN: Welcome to our world. This is what judges do. They love to split the baby. They loved to make it so that kind of every -- no one's happy but no one's that mad. And, you know, I think that's what Judge McAfee did here. I'm sure he did it because he felt those were the proper rulings for all of these. But he did split the baby.

And, you know, even though at the end of this decision, you're going to see granted and pardon, denied in part, I'm just here to say, the DQ motion was denied. Clearly, the DA's office is simply going to ask Nathan Wade to step aside and they're going to be able to pursue this case.

VALENCIA: Does this muddy the waters in this case now that Judge McAfee has opened himself up to the most criticism he's seen so far since he's taken this case on?

GRUBMAN: Yes, I mean, look, the water was already so muddy, I don't know how it could get muddier. But it does muddy the water. And here's the thing, just because this motion was denied, doesn't mean these great defense lawyer, Steve Sadow, Ashleigh Merchant, et cetera, aren't going to be able to use some of these allegations at trial, if we ever get to trial, as part of a defense. And so these are really good lawyers and I don't think the battle is over, legally and factually. But, yes, obviously, it is - it is a disappointment and it seems to kind of have fizzled out at this point..

VALENCIA: Last question. You know, Nathan Wade, it seems, you know, Fani Willis can proceed with this case so lone as Nathan Wade steps aside. How soon do you see that happening? How fast does that happen?

GRUBMAN: If I -- if I were Fani - if I were Fani Willis -- of course if I were Fani Willis, I wouldn't have done any of the things she did to get myself in this situation.


GRUBMAN: I would say to Nathan, hey, it's been a good fight. You need to hand me your letter of resignation now so we I can get this case back on track. But then again, Fani Willis, in and my personal opinion, has continued to display very bad judgment and just conduct unbecoming of an elected official. So, what I would do is not necessarily what she would do.

VALENCIA: Sure, but she gets to stay on this case. Bottom line, a win for her.

Scott Ghraieb, thank you so much for taking the time with CNN.

GRUBMAN: Thank you.

VALENCIA: Important inside from a man who faced off against Fani Willis in the district attorney's office. Fani Willis going to be allowed to stay on this case.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you, Nick Valencia.

You just heard Scott Grubman, the attorney for Kenneth Chesebro, who has already put in a guilty plea. So, that case is over. But he's talking about what the attorneys may do going forward.


SIDNER: And was very clear, brought up your point, interlocutory, your favorite word -

HONIG: Yes, word of the day.

SIDNER: That they are going to, most likely, try to get that appeal on the books right now.


HONIG: Right.

SIDNER: As soon as possible.

HONIG: So, a little bit of breaking news. A great interview by Nick there. The defendants, it appears, will be, or intend to, file for permission to appeal now, because ordinarily if you appeal as a defendant you have to wait until after your trial's over. But in certain rare circumstances you can get permission to file interlocutory, meaning now, meaning before trial. It sounds like the defendants will do that. If they are granted permission to file that appeal now that will certainly further postpone this.

And the lawyer made an important point. The reason they might be given -- one of the reasons they might be given permission to file an appeal now is the worst-case scenario for everybody, for our justice system, for the prosecutors, for the defendants is, this case goes forward, it results in convictions and then a year from now, two years from now, a court of appeal says, that was an error. The whole thing's out the window.

SIDNER: Right.

HONIG: So, they may get a chance to appeal. Now, that will be up in the first instance to the judge, to Judge McAfee, whether he lets them appeal now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Moore is still with us.

Michael, Judge McAfee has got to grant the appeal. If he's going to grant it, on what basis? What would he say? He would say, wait a second, I'm going to allow you to appeal because I got this ruling that I just wrote wrong. How does that work for a judge?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. I mean, it is discretionary on his part whether or not he gives them a certificate for review, an immediate review. And that's something the appellate court would consider. I don't know that it's likely.

But I will tell you, remembering in the order that he issued earlier in the week where he threw out the six counts, the judge said, you know, if the state wants to have an interlocutory appeal on this and take it up now, I'm likely to agree with that. So, he may be thinking, well, you know, let's - let's make sure we've got everything cleaned up and spit shined off before we get too far, you know, along in the case. The appellate court will look at these issues and satisfy everybody so we can move ahead. So, you may not be totally opposed to it.

I will tell you, typically this would not be the kind of issue that would go up on an interlocutory appeal. It's not dispositive of the case. These are not things that are outside the purview of the trial judge that is he's to determine credibility of witnesses, whose tell the truth about the version of events and that type of thing.

And so you usually wouldn't see that. But in a case of this magnitude, he may be inclined to, I guess, err on the side of caution, if you will, or lean on the side of caution and let a reviewing court look at it just to make sure that everything lines up and sort of put the issue to bed once and -- once and for all.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Michael, thank you. Stick with us. Elie stick with us.

We're going to take a quick break. We have much more coming in and clearly we're going to be getting much more reaction to this breaking news that District Attorney Fani Willis can stay on the Trump case in Fulton County, Georgia.



BERMAN: All right, the breaking news out of Fulton County, Georgia. Judge Scott McAfee just issued a ruling that the Fulton County district attorney, Fani Willis, can stay on the Trump election interference case. She can stay on the case. She has not been disqualified, so long as lead prosecutor Nathan Wade goes away. There is a lot in this ruling.

Let's get right to Paula Reid on what's in there.

And I think maybe the thinking from Scott McAfee, the judge, surrounded it, Paula.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's take a step back and talk about this judge. This judge is in his early 30s. He's been on the bench for barely over a year. And then he's handled this incredibly high stakes case. And then before the case even gets underway, he has to handle this massive decision about whether to disqualify the district attorney.

And there has been a lot of praise for how the judge has conducted himself throughout these hearings. These are televised, so people can see, you know, every comment, every gesture. And for someone who has so little experience on the bench, folks roundly have said he's done a pretty good job.

Now, in terms of this opinion, a lot of folks are going to have things to say about how he handled this final decision. But in speaking with one source who has worked on the defensive side of this case, this source said, quote, "it's a very well-reasoned order.

McAfee continues to impress as a judge." And they said that he has "managed to navigate the many nuanced issues here and arrive at what is probably the right result." Now, you're probably not likely to see many Trump-aligned lawyers say that on camera, but it speaks to the high stakes here. The lack of this individual's experience has not prevented him from navigating this in a way that at least some people close to the defense team says, look, this was the right result.

So, he, again, the fact that he has a case like this after being on the bench for less than a year, what a daunting task. And today it's interesting because we were wondering what he was going to say because over the past few days he's given interviews, highly unusual for a judge overseeing a case of this nature to give press interviews, and I was wondering when he kept saying, I make my decisions regardless of politics, I wondered, OK, he's clearly trying to get out in front of whatever he's going to decide. What is it that he's trying to say.

But he is an elected judge. He will have to run for the seat. He will have a challenger. So, it appears that he's just trying to tell the voters, like, look, politics had nothing to do with the conclusion that I arrived at here.

But he is definitely a key player. I know we've talked about the district attorney, about former President Trump. Well, let's not forget about the judge, arguably the biggest decision he's had to make so far in his career.

BOLDUAN: And maybe for quite some time. And he's getting -- and this is definitely very clearly throwing him into the spotlight. It's really interesting.

Let's get over to Kristen Holmes right now. She's got some new reporting coming in.


Is the Trump team reacting, Kristen? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, in terms of the Trump

team, the campaign, the political arm, Donald Trump himself, we have not heard. But we have heard now from Donald Trump's lawyer in the Fulton County case, Steve Sadow.

And this is what he said. He said, "while respecting the court's decision, we believe that the court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade, including the financial benefits, testifying untruthful about when their personal relationship began, as well as Willis' extra judicial MLK, quote, church speech, where she played the race card and falsely accused the defendants and their counsel of racism. We will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should have never been brought in the first place."

So, obviously, they're saying that they are going to continue to fight. They are likely to issue some kind of appeal to this.

I do want to say one thing about Donald Trump, his team, and messaging for the political side of this. Yes, possibly this could be construed as a win for Fani Willis because she gets to stay on the case.

But having covered Donald Trump for a very long time, and seeing how he spins messaging and how he takes control of a narrative and how he hangs onto one or two lines of truth to blow up an entire storyline that his supporters believe, this is a scathing report that you can imagine his political team is going to hang off of, calling Fani Willis that she behaved inappropriately, saying she crossed the line, saying that Nathan Wade has to get off the case.

These are all things that you're going to hear from Donald Trump, from his surrogates, from his campaign as they work to make this political. They will hang off of all of the language in this text, regardless of Fani Willis being able to stay on the case if Nathan Wade gets off the case, but that's going to be their messaging.

And it is likely, with his supporters, to be effective because, again, this is a judge's ruling. It's what they're going to be drawing from as he continues to campaign, as he continues to paint all of this as political, all of this as people out to get him. Now he has additional language in a ruling from a judge that essentially says that Fani Willis acted inappropriately, and that is something they are going to beat down over and over again as we head into November.

SIDNER: And no doubt. Thank you so much, Kristen Holmes. We will come back to you as soon as you get more reaction.

I want to go to our Laura Coates, our chief legal analysts for us.

Laura, there is something in here that speaks to what we just heard from Kristen Holmes, that this is going to be used politically to beat people over the head width, right? One of the things that will almost certainly come up is this speech that Fani Willis made in front of a congregation after the pretrial motion was filed where it appears she was talking about the attorneys and she brought race into it. Explain what the judge said about that particular incident. LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this was a

really important moment in the closing arguments made by defense counsel, particularly for Donald Trump, about this church speech. We actually have the sound of what he's talking.

Let's play it quickly so we can all orient ourselves.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I hired one white man. Bro (ph), my friend, and a great lawyer. And I hired one black man, another superstar, a great friend and a great lawyer.

First thing they say, oh, she going to play the race card now.


COATES: She, of course, was called to task on this very point by the attorneys who were bringing this motion saying that she was playing the race card and trying to take the jury pool. Now, the judge looked at this particular moment, it happened in January of earlier this year, and said the effect of this speech was to cast racial aspersions at an indicted defendant's decision to file this pretrial motion.

But here is the thing, he went on to try to evaluate whether, in fact, a jury pool could have been tainted in this way by these statements. And he said, look, they didn't mention any defendant by name and even though there could be intimations, and it was not improvised, that was a big point from the defense counsel saying there was some forethought in actually drafting this, making a public statement about an ongoing case.

But he said she did not disclose sensitive or confidential evidence yet to be revealed or admitted at trial. And the case, this is an important part, is too far removed from jury selection to establish a permanent taint of the jury pool. That is a really important point here as we all look at the idea of the appearance of conflict of interests or what impact it would ultimately have. It doesn't mean that the defense is not going to try to use this and capitalize on the opportunity to say at maybe at the wadier (ph) stage that the jury pool has been impacted.

But the judge also found, even though it did not rise to the level of a disqualification, he called it still legally improper and has now invited a motion to then have a public, essentially gag order, on being able to make statements, pretrial publicly again.


But there's also another point - important point here. As she mentioned, as she referred to him as the black man, speaking about Nathan Wade. There was a moment when her own testimony got under the skin of the judge in particular. Recall that she was defiant. She was confrontational to the motion and the attorney who was bringing this. She said she was eager, even ran to the courtroom, out of breath at first, to try to make the point of testifying. Well, during that particular exchange, she made the point that this whole motion, and the experience that they had all been through, made the bond between herself and Nathan Wade stronger than ever. Used the word "cemented."

Now, that combined with Nathan Wade's explanation about his divorce, remember the moment he said, well, he wasn't technically married, that whole conversation that until his last child went to college based on a prior infidelity discussion that they weren't technically married any longer before his own eyes, even if before the law, the judge combined those two things, the stronger than ever relationship, this cemented relationship, along with what he called an unpersuasive testimony to call into question what would happen in the future for the perception of this jury.

So, this judge, he has taken a really 360 view. He was clearly listening to each and every aspect of these hearings to try to figure out what should be the right result. At this point in time, you know politically, I may remember how much hay was made about Robert Hur's statement, that one line about Joe Biden, a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.

Well, had a report like this been confined to one sentence, I would suspect they would be doing cartwheels in the DA's office. It wasn't. It is ripe with and full of references to their credibility. Full of references to what he perceives as a lapse of judgment.

But at the end of the day, she is an elected official. And the Fulton County people have her there. Will she be primaried? That will be the biggest test of all.

SIDNER: At the end of the day she's also going to try this case.


SIDNER: Because she has a decision to make. Either she tries it and stays or she keeps Nathan Wade. And I think that decision is probably pretty obvious.

BERMAN: And again, I do think we should reiterate, based on, I think, how we are all pointing out the language in this ruling, the breaking news is that Fani Willis can stay on the case.


BERMAN: She has not been disqualified. And if you want to get a sense of whether that's a win or a loss for her, it's Donald Trump's lawyer that slam the judge.

Our Kristen Holmes just reporting that Steven Sadow said, "the judge did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis." So, Trump's legal team not happy with this.


BERMAN: That being said, Elie Honig, you've been pouring through this ruling.

HONIG: So, if I'm the DA I'm taking this as a win. It is a win. She has survived. That is the most important thing here. I'd be breathing a sigh of relief.

But Sara earlier said there's some bruising involved. Wow is there some bruising.

Let me just give you the seven, I think, most severe lines. And these are really serious findings by the judge about the DA. And these are all verbatim from the opinion. First of all, there's a, quote, "significant appearance of impropriety that infects the prosecution team." Second, "a tremendous lack in judgment." Third, "the unprofessional manner of the DA's testimony." Fourth, "the odor of mendacity remains." I Google mendacity. It means lion.

SIDNER: I knew you did.

HONIG: Fifth -

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) new order. That - that's good.

HONIG: Right. Fifth, the legally improper speech that was made in the church that Laura just talk about, "legally improper with the effect to cast racial aspersions" on the defendants. Sixth, "the DA has created dangerous waters for the DA to wade further into." And finally, and I think this is the most damning, "there are reasonable questions about whether the DA testified truthfully."

Any one of these statements by a judge would be a career ender for a normal prosecutor. To have an on the record finding that there are reasonable questions about whether you lied under oath, that would be -- that would be devastating. And we'll see what the political effects will be. The bottom line, the DA survives, but not without serious bruising, to use your analogy, Sara.

BOLDUAN: Let's get back -- Michael Moore, I want to bring you back in. I want to you're your reaction to the response from the -- from Trump's lead defense counsel, Steve Sadow, to this ruling. While respecting the court's decision, he then says, "we believe that the court did not afford appropriate significance to the prosecutorial misconduct of Willis and Wade." Goes on to say, but also then concludes, "we will use all legal options available as we continue to fight to end this case, which should never have been brought in the first place."

What do you hear when you hear that from his attorney?

MOORE: Well, it tells me he's probably in the middle of drafting and interlocutory appeal motion. And that is - that's a move (INAUDIBLE). That's certainly a legal option that he has and he knows that would also create some amount of delay.

And the language about whether or not the court gave sufficient weight to this or consideration to that, that's the kind of language you would put in your motion. [09:55:03]

So, it wouldn't surprise me to see it. Whether or not Judge McAfee agrees or whether or not the court would hear it, you know, that's another -- that will be another issue. But certainly this is something and a tool they have that they could -- they could move forward with.

The one thing I will say is, you know when - I heard Elie say that it would end careers for prosecutors. I tell young lawyers when I'm speaking to them, you could spend your entire career trying to catch up if you ever lose credibility with the court. And this sure seems like the judge is not happy with the credibility representations made by the DA.

BOLDUAN: That's really interesting.

Michael Moore, great to see you. Thank you so much for jumping on and helping us through all of this in this breaking news.

BERMAN: Elie, ten seconds or less, anything in this writing that McAfee is asking or leaving a roadmap for appeal here?

HONIG: So, I think he's giving them the option to appeal. And I think he says, yes, if you want to take it up, I think he's signaling he will let them take it up. And I think there will be more to say about this.

But I do think this ruling will withstand appeal.

SIDNER: And on - he's the person that's going to have to decide whether this goes forward.


SIDNER: So, we'll have to wait and see.

Thank you so much for joining us.

BOLDUAN: You guys are not allowed to appeal.

SIDNER: This is - this was amazing.

We're not going to appeal you.

This is, obviously, breaking news happening now. This has been CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

Jim Acosta with "NEWSROOM" is coming right up next with more.