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Trump's $464 Million Bond Challenge; Trump Defends "Bloodbath" Remark Amid Criticism; Former Capitol Police Sergeant Reacts To Trump's Comments On January 6th Rioters; Gang Violence Paralyzes Haiti, Desperate Conditions For Residents; Supreme Court Decision Looms On Texas Immigration Law; Texas Governor Abbott Elevates Immigration Issue Amid Border Crisis; Democrats And Republicans Clash Over Border Security Solutions. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 18, 2024 - 14:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Donald Trump praising criminals that he calls patriots. On the campaign trail, the former president describing January 6th rioters as hostages. While critics attacked his comments about a bloodbath if he isn't elected, his campaign says those words are being taken out of context. We're going to bring you Trump's remarks. Plus, he may have a bigger problem today, trying to make the $464 million bond in his civil fraud case. His lawyers say that's easier said than done, and securing a bond in the full amount is a, quote, practical impossibility.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And ripped apart at the seams, Haiti descends further into chaos with gangs choking off the supply of food and fuel, turning Haitians in the capital into refugees in their own city. We're following these major developing stories and many more, all coming in right here to CNN News Central.

SANCHEZ: We begin with Donald Trump's $464 million problem. That's the sum his attorneys just revealed that Trump can't come up with. In a court filing, Trump's attorneys said he can't find an insurance company to underwrite the nearly half-billion-dollar bond. He needs to pay the bond as part of a New York civil fraud judgment against him. Trump and his organization, you might recall, were found liable for fraud, conspiracy, and issuing false business records. Trump's attorneys quoted an insurance broker saying the bond was a, quote, practical impossibility. CNN's Kara Scannell. She joins us now live with the story. So, Kara, Trump's attorneys are revealing that this is a real significant challenge for them. This as he tries to appeal that decision. KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Boris, this is the latest filing in this effort to get an appeals court to tell him to rule in his favor and say he doesn't need to post this bond while the appeals process plays out. So to try to underscore their argument, Trump's lawyers are saying that it's an impossibility for them to get anyone to underwrite a half-a-billion dollar bond. They say that they've approached 30 different underwriters, some of the world's largest insurance companies, and none of them will underwrite this bond. Trump's attorneys say that a number of these companies have internal limits where they can't write a bond in excess of $100 million. Trump's is clearly five times larger than that. And then also some of the ones that even could write a bond of that size, they are not willing to accept any real estate properties as collateral.

They only want Trump to put up cash or stocks. And that is something that Trump is unable to do. So one of his attorneys said that that limitation, that inability to take any real estate, is a major obstacle that they faced in trying to get a bond. So as you say, though, this is as Trump is trying to persuade an appeals court judge to say he doesn't have to post the bond because he has the properties that he could ultimately turn over or sell to satisfy this judgment. We're expecting a decision by the appeals court by the end of this month. The New York attorney general's office has opposed. Trump's request, and they have said that they're ready to move forward to seize assets if Trump does not come up with this money. Ultimately, the next step here, though, is for the appeals court to rule on whether they will give Trump breathing room. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Kara Scannell, thanks so much for the update. Brianna.

KEILAR: Donald Trump is on the defense today after he talked about a bloodbath if he's not elected. This was during a weekend campaign event today. He insisted that he was referring solely to the auto industry. But the Biden campaign said his remark is Trump doubling down on political violence, seeking, quote, another January 6th. Here is what Trump said in Ohio on Saturday.


DONALD TRUMP, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're listening, President Xi, and you and I are friends, but he understands the way I deal. Those big monster car manufacturing plants that you're building in Mexico right now. And you think you're going to get that? You're going to not hire Americans and you're going to sell the cars to us now? We're going to put a 100 percent tariff on every single car that comes across the line and you're not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected. Now, if I don't get elected, it's going to be a bloodbath for the whole. That's going to be the least of it. It's going to be a bloodbath for the country. That'll be the least of it. But they're not going to sell those cars. (END VIDEO CLIP)


KEILAR: CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes is with us now on this. Okay, Kristen, take us through this, how Trump is clarifying his comments.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, during this rally, he was talking about the auto industry. And yes, he said this bloodbath throughout the country. And one thing I really want to point out here is that this is the kind of rhetoric that Donald Trump has been using during his campaign for the last several years, talking about bloodbath, talking about revenge. Not necessarily all about political violence, but just the way he talks in general, talking, he talks in a dark manner. But now people are starting to pay attention because now he is the Republican nominee.

So what we heard was an actual clarification of the remarks, which is not something that we usually get from the former president. He posted to True Social, once again, saying that these comments were about the auto industry, saying that the media fully understood that he was simply referring to imports allowed by, quote, crooked Joe Biden, which are killing the automobile industry. Then he went on to say the United Auto Workers, who, of course, we know he has been courting the rank and file for their votes, but not their leadership, fully understand what I mean.

Talking about the word bloodbath, I want to bring up here is when I'm talking to his campaign, they know they've entered a new cycle now. All of the things that Donald Trump used to say and has been saying are under the microscope. This is how Donald Trump talks. And they're going to have to figure out how to deal with that. I want to play another moment for you in which he essentially said or praised those who have been charged for their actions on January 6th. Take a listen.


UNKNOWN: Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the horribly and unfairly treated January 6th hostages.

TRUMP: You see the spirit from the hostages and that's what they are as hostages. They've been treated terribly. Unbelievable patriots. And they were unbelievable patriots and are.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: This is something that we have heard from Donald Trump time and time again. But there's a difference now. Donald Trump is in a general election and he is the Republican nominee. So he is showing what he is giving voters as a choice. If he were to be elected. The other thing that he talked about was how he doesn't view migrants and people coming to this country, specifically criminals, as people. Again, language that we have heard or at least similar language that we have heard from Donald Trump before.

But this is all changing given the fact that he is now the Republican nominee. We are setting up a general election. As you said, he is giving essentially sound bites to the Biden campaign. To say, is this who you want to vote for? And his campaign is going to have to contend with that now. Because it is no longer him talking about this stuff in a silo. It is now getting national attention because this is a two-man race for the president of the United States.

KEILAR: Yeah. At a certain point, they can't just say, no, no, no. That's-- you're hearing that incorrectly. At a certain point, you know, you are just hearing the words. I know you also, Kristen, have some new reporting about his 2016 campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who received a pardon, of course, from Trump after he was found guilty of several financial crimes back in 2018. What have you learned?

HOLMES: That's right. So Paul Manafort was one of several people who cycled in as head of the 2016 campaign and then immediately came out because it was a very volatile time. But he is now in discussions with Trump's orbit about how to essentially get involved again. And those discussions include talks about him being part of the Republican National Convention. It's something that he's worked on in the past. And his life as a politico. But as you mentioned, since then, a lot has happened. He was charged with several financial crimes and pardoned by former President Trump.

Now, part of this stems from the fact that Donald Trump himself likes Paul Manafort. And he has talked about him a number of occasions. But sources would not get into specifics as to what exactly he would do. I had one source float to me it might be around fundraising with the convention, trying to raise money, trying to separate him from the campaign. But multiple sources saying nothing had been finally decided yet. All that they would really double down on is the fact that he is in fact in conversations about how to help Trump's reelection campaign.

KEILAR: All right. Kristen Holmes, thank you for that. Let's talk a little bit more about this now, about former President Trump's comments with someone who was directly impacted by January 6th. We have retired Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell with us. He almost died that day. He cites the lingering trauma from it as a key reason for the end of his career. SANCHEZ: He wrote the book, American Shields, The Immigrant Sergeant

Who Defended Democracy. Sergeant, thank you so much for being with us today. First, let's get your response to Donald Trump using this language to describe the January 6th rioters, calling them patriots, unbelievable patriots and hostages as well. How does that sit with you?

AQUILINO GONELL, CAPITOL POLICE SERGEANT: Thanks for having me on your show. And my reaction to that is then if those people are hostages and political prisoners, then who are we, the police officer, according to them? That defended the Capitol on that day, then who are we?


You know, it's very disappointing that something like that is coming from the party that says that they support the law enforcement community, somebody who respects the law and order, the rule of law. You know, there's no support. There's no way that they could tell me, as a former police officer, somebody who defended them, including those political elected officials, that they support me and my fellow officers, because they don't. It doesn't comport with what they're saying publicly and privately.

KEILAR: Sergeant, you were actually- you were at a hearing today for a January 6th defendant who was convicted of assaulting police officers that day, and the former president's hostage's comments came up. And I wonder what you said to the judge about that.

GONELL: I reminded the judge, as a matter of fact, that person got two years, 27 months plus probation. I reminded the judge that this person is not a hostage. He assaulted five different officers, including myself, along with his son, that he took to influence to the Capitol. You know, the fact that these people are also believing that there are political hostages. Well, there are, is convicted felons that have been gone through the, you know, court system and judged by the judges and the peers. And they have been found liable for what they did. They're not being prosecuted or persecuted because of their political views. They are being prosecuted because of what they did to us, the police officers, on that day.

SANCHEZ: That's such an important point. You previously mentioned the politicians that have been supportive of the rioters. There are some politicians out there like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was critical when January 6th happened. But more recently, he's endorsed Donald Trump for president. These are the same politicians whose lives you were trying to protect. I imagine it has to be infuriating to hear that they're now endorsing Trump.

GONELL: As I mentioned in my book, American Shield, it's a total betrayal of what the sacrifices that we did on January 6th. Because on January 6th, they knew who was responsible. They ran in fear for their life on that day. And three years apart from that day, they seem to have forgotten how it felt for them. While they were running to their safe house, to their safe area, to their secure areas, we were fighting for our lives, especially myself in the tunnel, where roughly 30 to 40 officers held the line against thousands and thousands of people who were trying to breach the entrance, where they normally go to be safe. And that's very disappointing. As I mentioned, they continue to support somebody who continue to flirt with political violence, continue to say things that are outrageous, that any other political official would be disqualified for. Somebody who talks about bedlam (ph), somebody who talks about American carnage, just like he started with his inaugural speech, that's how he ended his, four-year term with American violence and the Capitol, the doorstep, where those political officials were running for their lives. And they happened to forget that they were running for their lives on that day. And who made them run for their lives?

KEILAR: One of the reasons lawmakers, whatever, lawmakers, officials, whoever, condemns, will condemn the behavior, whether it's criminal or even just bad behavior, of their supporters is to try to discourage it from happening again. But we're seeing, obviously, the exact opposite when it comes to former President Trump. When you see in that rally that he had, he asked people to stand for the horribly treated hostages, as they are called, by the announcer there. What worries do you have about the future for your former colleagues, for, their safety, for the Capitol, for the country, if Donald Trump is elected again?

GONELL: I mean, at this point, you don't have to guess what he will do in the second term. He's telling us what he's going to do. It's up to us to take him at his word, because that's what he's literally telling us, that he's going to be a dictator for one day. What is there to stop him from continuing being a dictator? He's calling for political violence. What is there to stop him from doing those things? Regarding my colleagues, I mean, I hope that, the changes that have happened since, they were made for security reasons since January 6th, hopefully they hold. I do have a lot of friends and fa--and I consider family still that still work there. But I'm afraid for their safety. I'm afraid that this will happen again.


Because one of the reasons is some of the same elected officials who we risked our lives for have continued to downplay, for political purposes, the threats that have been posed or that this person represents. And it's very shameful. Again, these are the people who say they support law and order, the police, back the blue. There's no way that they could tell me, to convince me that they are doing that when they are continuing to support the same person who sent the mob to the Capitol, a person who continued to say that certain people were killed unjustly because he was doing his job. Or like myself, I find it very offensive that he raised a stand of attention saluting the January 6th anthem, a desecration of the national anthem, a desecration to the American flag when they emblazoned his picture on the flag itself. Some people have issues with kneeling for the flag, but emblazoning his image on the American flag, they don't have no issues with that. So it's kind of like being hypocritical about certain things and select the outrage, in my opinion.

KEILAR: Sergeant Gonell, we appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

GONELL: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: Appreciate your time today. Still ahead, surging gang violence and power struggles are paralyzing Haiti. We have CNN's David Culver joining us. He is live from the capital, Port-au-Prince.

SANCHEZ: And after at least five in-flight incidents just this month, the CEO of United Airlines is reassuring passengers that its planes are safe while announcing more training for workers. All this and much more still to come on CNN News Central.



SANCHEZ: This is an important story we are keeping a close eye on. Several dozen Americans trapped in Haiti amid the escalating gang violence there are now back on U.S. soil. About 30 people were evacuated as part of the State Department's first chartered flight out of the country. The group's departure comes as Haitians are quickly becoming refugees in the capital city. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been displaced by the violence there. We want to take you now live to Port-au-Prince with CNN's David Culver. David, it is obviously a dangerous situation where you are. First, take us there and explain what you've seen and how the folks that are living there are doing.

DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Boris, it's incredibly unpredictable. And one of the things that stood out to us over the weekend is it seemed to be a bit of a calming state. You know, things quieted down and we were able to get out and to see different aspects of the city within the curfew time and once curfew hit, of course, we had to get back. It all changed though in the early morning hours today. We got a call from a security source who warned us of gangs attacking two affluent neighborhoods and we're making our way closer to where we are. So it's about three miles right now, those gunshots now. It sounds like just a few gunshots we're hearing just off from where we are.

And that's actually where those clashes are still happening. You may be able to hear them, but they're faint right now. And those clashes are between gangs and police. And not only police, but also community members who are supporting police in all of this. And they have created barricades in some of their neighborhoods to try to push back these gangs. What's so terrifying though is you have to think about the folks who are in that community. It was around 5 a.m. that the attack started, that the gangs were coming through on motorbikes and in cars and just wreaking chaos through their neighborhoods. You don't have the opportunity to pick up the phone and call 911. So they're on WhatsApp, they're calling loved ones. They're absolutely terrified, reporting what they're seeing. And police are so strained. They're of course trying to respond.

But again, it falls on the community to have to step up and to play a role in stopping the gangs from encroaching even further into their territory. As of now, they've been able to push back a good number of these gang members. But one of the things that is quite striking is how the communities then take justice into their own hands. And we've heard several who have explained to us how that plays out. They will often capture after cornering some of these gang members. And then they will execute them essentially. They will either kill them with machetes, set them on fire. It is quite gruesome. I've seen some of the videos. Very, very disturbing. And the community members are split on this. You have some who say, we don't want to be doing this. We want peace. We want to find some sort of stability.

And you have others who say, this is our only way. It's either kill or be killed. They have to feel some sort of line of defense here that would even maybe send a message to some of the gang members not to come near their communities. It's interesting as we were even trying to go through some of those neighborhoods over the weekend. You have to really reach out in advance through locals. Make sure they know who you are and why you're coming. Because if they see somebody who they don't recognize or they feel might be suspicious for us. They won't hold back. And it's for them a matter of life and death.

SANCHEZ: Those are just harrowing details. And it's not just the violence, David, that is a serious issue. Getting your hands on basic goods. Food. Water. Shelter. Those aspects to daily life have become incredibly complicated by the political crisis.


Walk us through what you've seen in terms of people being able to access those goods and what the humanitarian aspect to aid is right now. What is it like to try to get aid into Haiti?

CULVER: Well, it's a struggle to get aid in. And we know the U.N. air bridge is operating. We know choppers have been going even as of the past few hours back and forth from Santo Domingo with much needed medical supplies. Getting food in is another situation because folks are quickly running out of the limited supply that they've been able to stock up on. Of all the food that is consumed in this country, 90 percent is imported. And when imports halt, that poses a very, very dangerous situation for the folks living here. When you get the supplies here, Boris, that's one thing.

Then you've got to figure out how to navigate it through to the areas where it's most needed. Those areas are blocked by gangs and not just one gang. You have several that are blocking off different roads. And basically making logistics next to impossible when it comes to trying to transport those goods. The folks, though, who have been displaced, you talked about refugees within their own city, more than 300,000 as of today, the latest numbers. And these are people who have then found any sort of facility they can to take over.

Schools are obviously not open. So yesterday we found in one school with about a dozen classrooms, you had more than 1,500 people, families, kids cramming into these classrooms, sleeping under the chalkboards trying to find any sort of shade to protect themselves from the sun and making that their home. They have no food coming in. One woman held up a bag of rice that basically fit in the palm of her hand and she said this is our meal for today for seven people.

They're desperate and we do know that one local non-profit is stepping up to try to help with that. I was touching base with that non-profit director today, and they told me that they were trying to empty the septic tanks in that school. And the trucks that normally would empty them are all full and backed up because they can't empty them at the dumping site because gangs have blocked it off. What does that mean then Boris, you're talking about sanitation issues, but you're also then saying if these folks are consuming water that is potentially tainted, we have already seen cholera numbers surging.

So you're talking about the gangs not only going after people when it comes to physical violence, killing them, starving them out, and in this case even potentially leading to a lot of harm to the community, to disease and death.

SANCHEZ: A crisis on multiple levels. David Culver with an exclusive look inside Port-au-Prince, Haiti. David, to you and the crew, please stay safe while you're doing your reporting. Thanks so much, Brianna.

KEILAR: We are awaiting a major Supreme Court decision on immigration. Specifically, this is on a Texas law that gives local authorities the power to arrest people they suspect have crossed the border illegally. The Supreme Court paused this law, and today we're going to find out if they extend that stay or if this law is going to take effect. The ruling could impact the record surge of migration at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the heated debate around that surge. A recent poll shows 28 percent of Americans say immigration is the country's top problem, more concerning than the economy or problems related to government leadership.

Let's talk about this now with CNN senior political analyst Mark Preston. Mark, we should say this law, whatever happens as we wait to see what the Supreme Court does here. This is Abbott again, sort of effectively taking this issue to the forefront, making it not just a Texas or a border state issue but really making it a national one as Congress fails to act.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SNEIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, no question about that because Governor Abbott, as we will hear from other folks along the border, other lawmakers, they're going to tell you that they can't handle this surge and in many ways they can't. You know, when these folks come across, not only are you dealing with them on a policing basis where you catch them and then you let them go. But if there's any health care needs, you know, you have to house them, you have to feed them. So there's an incredible strain right now on these border states and that's why you're seeing these states take these actions.

KEILAR: We have watched on so many issues Congress way, do they want the issue to fight about or do they want to solve the problem? And if this problem is really truly an emergency, a total crisis, they do end up solving it, right? They're not going to let the economy go off a cliff. We've seen them come together on some of these issues.

PRESTON: Can you see my face?

KEILAR: Right, I know you were skeptical on some. On this one though they've made the decision. Trump scuttled this and Republicans decided not to go along with it, even though it was a bipartisan deal. So now they're fighting over it politically. Are Democrats making any headway with this issue?

PRESTON: Well, they're certainly trying. They're certainly going to try. Look, what they scuttled was a $20 billion bipartisan bill that would have increased security at the border. I mean, there's no question about that. But this has happened before. Go back to 2007 with George W. Bush. If you remember that George W. Bush and John McCain and Ted Kennedy tried to get comprehensive immigration legislation through and that's who fell. That fell because Republicans and Democrats both didn't care for it.