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Fani Willis Seeks Summer Trial Date For Donald Trump In Georgia Case; Skepticism Over Timeliness Of Trump's Complex Georgia Trial; Steps Toward Seizing Trump's Assets In New York Fraud Case Initiated; Dow Jones Nears Historic 40,000 Point Milestone Amid Economic Optimism; Antony Blinken Discusses Middle East Peace Efforts On Regional Tour; Texas Man Arrested For Stowing Away On Delta Flight With Fraudulent Boarding Pass. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2024 - 14:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Judge Scott McAfee to put that case on the calendar after a two-month detour, of course, saw Willis fend off an effort to be removed from the case. CNN's Zach Cohen joining us now with the very latest. So bring us up to speed. Wanted on the calendar this summer, what are the chances?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Boris and Erica, multiple sources telling me that, look, Fanie Willis is going to once again ask Judge Scott McAfee to set a trial date for Donald Trump and his remaining co-defendants in the Georgia case and set one for as soon as this summer. That would obviously be before the 2020 election. And you'll remember this would be the second time Fanie Willis has asked Judge McAfee to set a trial date. She's previously asked that he set one for August 5th. That request has gone unanswered so far. McAfee has not set a date and he's not put one on the calendar for Trump to stay in trial in Georgia. And this second request would by all means be a bold move from Fanie Willis considering what we've been talking about for the last two months.

HILL: We've been talking about allegations of an improper romantic relationship that Willis had with her Special Prosecutor. What sources close to her even acknowledge was a major distraction in this case. But now that Willis has at least been told she could remain on the case by Judge McAfee, she thinks it's time now to push him to put a trial date on the calendar. And we could see that come in the coming weeks. Now, look, that doesn't discount the challenges that she's still going to face. McAfee obviously was really critical of Willis's credibility, really criticizing her for her actions that almost got her disqualified from the case.

And also the threat of disqualification. Still looms over Willis. An appeals court is going to decide whether or not it wants to review McAfee's order that allowed her to stay on the case. They have about 45 days to say whether or not they're going to do that. So all of this swirling. But Willis trying to set this case back on track, trying to work towards a trial at a time when she's just emerging from probably the most chaotic two months of her entire time on this case.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, full of emotional testimony, fiery testimony from the district attorney on the stand. Zach Cohen, thanks so much for the update. Let's bring in Jennifer Rogers now. She's a CNN legal analyst, a former federal prosecutor as well. Jen, thanks for being with us. Is this timeline from the prosecution realistic? Because this is a huge RICO case. It's complicated.

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah, Boris, I don't think it's realistic to try this in the summer. Listen, I'm not surprised that Fanie Willis, given that the judge has made clear that he wants to keep moving towards trial, deciding motions and so on, that she seek a trial date and get that on the calendar. But to me, 14 defendants, A RICO case, you'll have really lengthy jury selection processes. It just doesn't seem to me, we're almost in April, that it's likely that this can be tried in the summer, especially because, as has been noted, the last two months, really nothing has happened while we've been absorbed with the disqualification motion.

HILL: Nothing has happened on that front, but a lot has happened if we're looking at what's happening outside the court. In terms of public opinion, you talk about how long it would take with all of those defendants for a jury pool. We also have the added issue of what people may or may not have been following during that very emotional, explosive, revealing testimony.

RODGERS: Yeah, we do. I mean, the judge in ruling about the church speech that she made commented that we're still a ways away from picking a jury, so time will pass and it will kind of dissipate the impact of any statements like that. But, you know, people's memories are funny, right? If they're following it they likely will remember what happened in the last couple of weeks. So really what you're looking for is not so much time to go by so that people forget. You need to pick people who just really haven't followed this at all. I think that's definitely possible.

I think we'd all be surprised as closely as we follow the news how many people in a jury box don't do it themselves. But, you know, when you talk about a case that involves names like Donald J. Trump and some of the other bold-faced names here, it's likely that a lot of people will have some idea of what's happened here. And the defense is going to keep beating those drums about the improper relationship, the disqualification, and so on. So, you know, I do think that jury selection is going to be an issue here. And the further away it gets, the better it is for being able to find a jury that doesn't have any biases in place.

SANCHEZ: And, Jen, one more thing that is still out there that needs to be determined. The Supreme Court is going to weigh this question of presidential immunity, right? How could that decision and the amount of time that it takes to get to that decision and publish it potentially impact this timetable set by Fanie Willis?

RODGERS: So it only impacts Donald Trump himself, of course, because he's the only one who has a presidential immunity argument. So all of these other 13 defendants still in the case, it doesn't impact them at all. But we're expecting to hear from the Supreme Court by June, right, which is when their year ends.


If somehow they actually picked a jury and impaneled the jury before we hear from the Supreme Court, you know, that's it for Trump, right? He, of course, would be out of the case if he wins. But there's a possibility that even if he doesn't win, that they draw the line somewhere, a jury gets impaneled. Ultimately, you know, he has to be dismissed out of that and double jeopardy has attached. So it's very complicated. But again, it does only impact Donald Trump. I mean, remember, we have 13 other defendants here who Fanie Willis is looking to try and the presidential immunity issue doesn't have anything to do with them.

HILL: All right, Jennifer Rogers, always good to have your expertise. Stay with us, though, because we're also following some other developments this time out of New York, where the attorney general's office is now making moves suggesting that the state at this point may start to try to seize some of the former president's assets if he fails to pay that nearly half a billion dollar bond in his civil fraud case. So something that, as we know, right now, he cannot do. His lawyers have argued he'll be unable to satisfy that.

SANCHEZ: And there's that deadline looming only about four days away. CNN's Kara Scannell is on this. Kara, what are you learning that Letitia James is weighing here? What moves is she making toward this?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: So earlier this month, just about a week after the judge finalized the $454 million judgment that Trump personally faces, New York Attorney General's office filed this judgment in Westchester County. What that means, is that it sets the stage and makes it possible for her to potentially move forward to try to seize assets in Westchester. That's where he has a golf course. Also, the family compound known as Seven Springs in a state crossing over three different jurisdictions. But it doesn't necessarily mean that she's going to move to seize those specific assets if it comes to that. You know, the judgment is also in New York, where Trump has a lot of properties, Trump Tower, his penthouse apartment there, the hotel at the corner of Central Park, as well as the office building, 40 Wall Street.

And its essentially making it possible to set the groundwork that if she does want to move forward to put liens on these properties or move to initiate foreclosure proceedings, that is in place. They are on notice. Now, I also checked some of the county clerk's offices in some of the other places where Trump has properties in Florida, in Chicago. I didn't see any judgments there as of now. So right now, it looks like the stage is getting set to move in New York. But of course, there is still time, although that clock is ticking, as Trump is waiting to see if the appeals court is going to allow him to post a smaller amount or allow him to not post any money until the appeal is over. The New York Attorney General's office has opposed that. And Trump still does not have the money to satisfy that half a billion dollar judgment. Boris, Erica. HILL: In terms of that, right, I mean, are there any other options at

this point? We know we've been talking about, of course, the 30 companies that refuse to loan their underwrite that money. And the deadline, as Boris pointed out, is looming as you're talking about are there any other options left?

SCANNELL: So Trump could potentially take out a mortgage on some of his properties. That's pretty complicated. A lot of the large financial institutions stopped doing business with Trump years ago. You know, also some properties, you know, there are questions about what their value is. That was the issue in this whole case that the judge found that Trump inflated the value. So companies generally would want to do their own homework before deciding whether to issue a mortgage on a property. And also mortgage interest rates are high right now.

That makes the cost of doing that pretty expensive. And we've seen Trump publicly state that, you know, this is an expensive process for him. That is one option. There could be a donor that comes in last minute and offers to give Trump cash for this. It remains to be seen if anyone credible is going to do that. And then, you know, he could potentially have a fire sale of one of his properties on his own. I mean, the clock there again is ticking. It seems that is unlikely. Surely Trump's are working behind the scenes as they're facing this deadline. But, you know, if not, we'll see what happens on Monday. Erica, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Kara Scannell thank you so much. Let's bring Jennifer Rogers back in. So, Jennifer, let's say March 25th comes. This bond isn't paid. How quickly will we find out if Donald Trump is going to have property seized?

RODGERS: Well, it'll be still a bit of time, Boris. There's a whole legal process around seizing assets. First step, apparently, to James and her team has already started, which is to file the judgments in the relevant jurisdictions. But that's only the first step. And it's even more complicated when it comes to real property, because, you know, it's not like Monday, you're just going to see a team of sheriffs go up and put a padlock on a building or anything like that. There's paperwork steps. Trump may have the ability to challenge some of those steps before things are actually seized. And, of course, seizure and then sale and then taking the assets. So, it will be a while before anything really happens. But I think that we will hear something from the court between now and then, because, you know, there's a lot of scrambling going on.


So I expect we'll hear something from the court one way or the other, whether they send it back to Judge Ngoron for some sort of fact- finding about what's been done and possible solutions, or whether the court itself will speak. We'll find out.

HILL: We also, you know, as Kara pointed out, she went and looked. She looked at Miami. She looked at Palm Beach County, Cook County in Illinois. No judgments entered there. But when people think of the property that Donald Trump owns, the most well-known would be, of course, Mar-a-Lago and Trump Tower in New York. Do you see either one of those realistically being seized?

RODGERS: I mean, it's really hard to say. It just depends on how many assets there are that are in New York. New York assets are easier for the attorney general to get to. Because they're here, they can file more easily. So I think they would probably start there. And remember, it's not just real estate. Even though Trump doesn't have enough in cash or cash-like assets like securities to cover the entire bill, he has some. So you would want to probably start with those liquid assets anyway. And then for the real estate that does exist, some of them, some of that value is already encumbered in other places as he's taken loans out based on the collateral of those real estate properties. So it's not as if you have the whole value of a Mar-a-Lago, for example. Even if you knew what that value was, which, of course, is part of the whole reason that we're here in the first place is that those values were exaggerated. So, you know, it depends but we'll see what they do.

SANCHEZ: It is a complicated picture. I have one more procedural question for you, Jennifer. There was this debate between the Trump team and the A.G., the Trump team saying we looked at 30 different companies. Nobody could provide us this massive figure, $464 million. Letitia James argued back, essentially saying, well, maybe they can't give you all of that, but you can go to these companies and separately they can give you small chunks that then add up to that number. Is that a realistic argument from the A.G.? Could Trump pursue that?

RODGERS: Sure. And, you know, in fact, the one thing that Team Trump did say is why don't you make it just a $100 loan, a million dollar bond, and then that we can do. So then the question becomes, well, then why don't you just do two of those or three of those or four of those or however many you can get? There's there's one of the problems here, and I think the A.G. puts her finger on it in her responses.

There was not much transparency around what the Trump team actually did and what negotiations are actually were with these 30 companies. So it very well maybe, that there is the opportunity to piece together smaller bonds to make up the whole amount. The issue is just making sure that the people can be whole at the end of this. If at the end of the long appeal, the large judgment is still upheld, then, you know, they need to be paid. So that's what the bond is for. But there's no reason they can't be a bit creative about how to make sure that money is there.

SANCHEZ: And one scenario, as you mentioned, we wind up seeing a fact finding mission to figure out just how extensive the Trump team's research was in trying to get this bond. Jennifer Rogers, appreciate the time. Thanks so much.


SANCHEZ: Of course. So we're keeping a close eye on the Dow because it is flirting with a historic number. Look at that. Nearly nearing 40,000, a number the index hasn't seen since it was founded 120 plus years ago. HILL: CNN's Rahel Solomon joining us now with more. So obviously the market doing well. The historical context here, though, just over 15 years ago, the Great Recession, the Dow was at 6500 just a couple of years ago, right? It was just around 20,000. So the fact that we are now closing in so quickly on 40,000, what should we make of that jump?

RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDEENT: Yeah, I mean, it's really been a remarkable period, I think, just the last few years and certainly the last year or so. So if you're looking at the markets right now or as of late, you see investors really seizing on a few things, three things in particular. So one, the prospect of rate cuts in 2024, the Fed just yesterday essentially just reiterating their outlook, three rate cuts in 2024. Investors like that. You see investors reacting to the fact that the U.S. economy continues to show signs of pretty solid growth. Investors like that. And then also when you're looking at tech stocks, it's the artificial intelligence boom. And so that's sort of fueling some of the market enthusiasm that we have seen as of late. But, Erica, you're absolutely right. If you take a step back, if you take a look at the broader perspective of the Dow over the last few years, at times it has been a bumpy ride

It has been a volatile ride. And we can pull it up for you. If you look at late March of 2020, for example, you see the Dow plummet. I mean, it's pretty dramatic there. You see the Dow plummet to about 18,000, let's call it 213 points in late March. This is also around the same time, March, of course, of 2020, the emergence of COVID, remember. And so this is also around the same time that the Fed comes out with these unscheduled March meetings announcing that they're slashing rates. It was really dramatic. It was a very dramatic period for the markets. We actually found one of those clips from March of 2020. Take a listen to Chairman Jay Powell.



JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIR: Today, we reduced the target range for our policy interest rate by one percentage point, bringing it close to zero, and said that we expect to maintain the rate at this level until we're confident that the economy has weathered recent events.


SOLOMON: So, guys, rates were at practically zero. Imagine, I mean, the difference a few years can make, right? So fast forward a few years, we're still dealing with supply chain issues from COVID. Many places around the world are dealing with decades-high inflation, including here in the U.S. And you see the Fed do the opposite. You see them boost rates to a level, at a level and at a pace that we haven't seen in a really long time.

And the fear, guys, was that any time in the past the Fed has had to boost rates as much and as quickly as they did, it almost always meant a recession. But that didn't happen this time, at least not yet, at least not in the data we see. And so investors are reacting to that. Now, I just talked to Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody's Analytics. And I said, Mark, look, I mean, two-thirds of Americans roughly are invested in the stock market, whether it's individual stocks, whether it's their 401K.

What do they make of this news? What do they make of the markets? And he said, he sent me a statement. He said, as someone once said, the stock market isn't the economy, but it's not not the economy. The soaring stock market is a strong endorsement of the strength of the prospects for lower interest rates and another good lesson to never bet against the American economy. He did also tell me, guys, though, that at times stocks go up, stocks go down. They go all around. So keep your eye on the long term. But perspective is important and a little bit of advice, courtesy of Mark Zandi.

HILL: All right. We'll take it. Does that mean I should or should not look at the 401K today? Really? I think that's what we all need to know.

SOLOMON: You should.


HILL: I should today, right?

SOLOMON: You deserve it, Erica. Yes.

HILL: Rahel, thanks.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much, Rahel. We do want to go straight to Cairo overseas right now, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken is speaking to the press. He is on another tour of the Middle East, anticipating major talks tomorrow to exchange potentially hostages in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners. Let's listen in to the Secretary of State giving an update now on where talks stand.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: If and as the Palestinian Authority pursues reform, I'm also convinced that the region will strongly support it. Regional integration is one of the building blocks of lasting peace and lasting security. And that includes normalization for Israel with its neighbors. Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet again with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, as well as with the foreign minister. And we had a very good discussion about the work that we've been doing for many months now on normalization. And that work is moving forward. We're continuing to make good progress. I believe we can reach an agreement which would present a historic opportunity for two nations, but also for the region as a whole.

So I think if you look back on these past couple of months. Since I was here in January, we have been working very closely together with our Arab partners on all of these post-conflict pieces. There's not only more consensus on the priorities, ceasefire, release of hostages, humanitarian assistance and a clear pathway and plan for the future. I think there's increasingly consensus on the steps needed to achieve that. These are difficult days, but that only reinforces our determination to get to better days. Thank you.

UNKNOWN (through translator): We'll start with Ms. Sara Sharani (ph) from the Star newspaper (ph). Please, my question is for His Excellency, Mr. Samah Shoukry.

Today's meeting is the third meeting between (foreign language) the ministers of foreign affairs of six countries to tackle how to deal with the crisis in Gaza Strip. These meetings, of course, include the minister of foreign affairs in the United States. After the visits of Minister Blinken and the region, can you inform us with the spaces of agreement and disagreement on how to get out of this current crisis and to explain to us how the positions are close to each other regarding the future vision in dealing with the Palestinian issue. I believe that there is a great ground regarding the consensus and the agreement on the importance of ceasefire --


HILL: Secretary Blinken, of course, in Cairo, on the heels of his meetings in Saudi Arabia, talking about these discussions, right? This is his sixth trip, of course, to the region since the war broke out.


He's calling these difficult days, but says it reinforces his determination to get through those difficult days as they work with this consensus of countries to try to come to some sort of an agreement for a ceasefire and, of course, for the release of those Israeli hostages.

SANCHEZ: He outlined the priorities in those talks, a ceasefire, humanitarian assistance into Gaza, the release of hostages, and notably a path toward the future. And that is where there is perhaps the most disagreement among everyone involved. Notably, he also talked about meeting with Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia yesterday, talking about the process of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel still being something that they're working on. Experts point to that potential normalization as part of the reason that Hamas wound up attacking Israel. So interesting to hear that from the Secretary of State. We'll, of course, keep monitoring those remarks and all these other stories that are unfolding before us. We'll be back after a quick break.




SANCHEZ: Now to an alleged stowaway's ticket to hide on a plane. The FBI has arrested a Texas man accusing him of sneaking on board a Delta flight on Sunday by taking advantage of unsuspecting passengers at the gate. Officials say he got through after snapping a picture of someone else's boarding pass. And it was likely a minor traveling by herself on the flight from Salt Lake City to Austin. According to court documents, quote, when the female's boarding pass was scanned, the system showed that she was already on board. CNN aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us now. Pete, it was a flight attendant who flagged this accused stowaway.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: This is a little bit of catch me if you can, a little bit of Titanic here. And so they're sort of intersecting, sorry to keep it on Leo movies.

SANCHEZ: Titanic.

MUNTEAN: You know, a lot of stowaways on airplanes try to get into the baggage area or maybe into a wheel well of an airplane. Rarely ever do they get past the gate agent. This has to be one of the more crafty cases. U.S. attorneys have charged this Texas man for sneaking on board a Delta flight bound to Austin. This happened in Salt Lake City on Sunday, St. Patrick's Day. And court documents say 26-year-old Wycliffe Fleurizard was planning to fly standby on a Southwest flight. That flight was overbooked. So investigators say Fleurizard went to the gate of this Delta flight. Police reviewed the security footage, which showed Fleurizard in the boarding area taking photos of multiple passengers' phones and boarding passes while they were not looking.

The criminal complaint says Fleurizard scanned his fake ticket, boarded the plane, locked himself in the bathroom, and did not come out until after the plane pushed back from the gate. This plane might have worked if he did not get questioned by a flight attendant. And court documents say this. Fleurizard indicated to the flight attendant that his seat was 21F. The flight attendant verified, that the passenger who was in seat 21F was the individual who had purchased and had been ticketed for that seat, and it was not Fleurizard. So clearly this created a lot of confusion on board. Flight attendants were able to figure out this man was not on their manifest pretty quickly.

So they taxied back to the gate where the police were waiting. Police say Fleurizard told them he got bumped from his original flight onto a later flight and was simply trying to get home and made a mistake. Now he's facing one count of stowing away in a vessel or aircraft. When's the last time you heard that charge? That can carry a prison time of up to five years. Fleurizard was in court today. He is being released on conditions and has been assigned a public defender. This happened on St. Patrick's Day. No luck at the Irish for him.

SANCHEZ: How is this like Titanic, Pete? Leo had a ticket.

MUNTEAN: I guess he didn't have a ticket. It's been a while. Sorry, man.

SANCHEZ:I thought this was going to be like a star-crossed lover's romance thing.

MUNTEAN: I thought Jack was a stowaway.

SANCHEZ: Still a crazy story. MUNTEAN: No doubt.

SANCHEZ: Pete Muntean, thank you so much. Let's turn now to David Souci. He's a former FAA safety, inspector and CNN safety analyst. Thanks so much for being with us, David. Is this a lead stowaway situation, just an isolated incident or a sign to you that perhaps there's a greater systemic vulnerability?

DAVID SOUCIE, FORMER FAA SAFETY INSPECTOR: Well, to me, it does say that there's a systemic vulnerability in the fact that once someone's ticketed and gets through the security in the very first part of the flight, that's when the opportunity exists. For example, you could get a flight for --a ticket for one flight and then bring something else onto a different flight, which creates all kinds of issues. It is a very serious crime what happened here. It was fraudulent and it was I'm surprised that he's only facing the charges he is. I think this is much more serious than what people think it might be.

SANCHEZ: Definitely. And when it comes to airport security, there are multiple layers you have to get through to get on the plane. I'm surprised that it was as simple as just him taking a picture of someone else's ticket and that somehow just got him on board.

SOUCI: Yeah. I mean, we focused a lot on. You know, forge tickets and that sort of thing. As far as getting through security. What is the vulnerability that's brought up here that needs to be addressed is the fact that you can buy a ticket for a different flight to access the area where we're boarding. And then from that point, you have carte blanche to go wherever you want. And the fact that the gate agent didn't catch this, the system, another level of we talk about these layers of Swiss cheese that allow these threats to get through. But the fact is, this threat went all the way through. There had to be multiple failures. He got himself through that first one by having a ticket to a different flight. But the second layer is when the gate agent checks it as they check in. You've done it yourself. You see it and it gains and it says, yes, everything's okay.