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How Trump Could Make Billions From Truth Social Stock; Massive Russian Strikes Likely Largest Attack Ever On Ukraine's Energy System; CNN Poll: Close Race Playing Out In Battleground States Pennsylvania And Michigan. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired March 22, 2024 - 07:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: An Alabama woman will face no jail time after pleading guilty yesterday to faking her own kidnapping last year. Carlee Russell apologized in court yesterday saying that she had made a grave mistake after mysteriously disappearing last July.

Police spent two days searching for her until she showed back up at home and said that she had been abducted. She later admitted the kidnapping was a hoax. And then she said this in court. "I made a grave mistake while trying to fight through various emotional issues."

The FBI has a message for passengers who were on that terrifying Alaska Airlines flight where the door plug flew off mid-flight -- they all might be victims of a crime. The FBI out of Seattle sent a letter to people who were on that plane noting that the FBI is currently investigating the incident. CNN has previously reported the Justice Department was looking into this and also looking into Boeing after the incident. Boeing has declined to comment.

Now, only one day into March Madness and there is a good chance your bracket has been busted. Said another way, one day in and we already have Cinderella stories. Four double-digit seeds pulling off upsets on the first day of the men's tournament. Oakland, Duquesne, NC State, Oregon all were underdogs and all won. For Duquesne, it was their first tournament in over 50 years.

I love a Cinderella story, Jonathan.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah. You know, who has two thumbs and picked Kentucky in the Final Four? This guy. This guy right here. Bad news.

BOLDUAN: Sorry, brother.

BERMAN: Bad news.

All right. Today, Donald Trump could hit a jackpot worth $3 billion. It all has to do with the troubled social media network Truth Social.

CNN's Matt Egan is here with the details. This is fascinating. MATT EGAN, CNN REPORTER: John, it is fascinating. Donald Trump looks like he's on the verge of a massive financial win. His social media baby, Truth Social, is finally about to go public after years of legal delays. Shareholders are likely to greenlight a merger between Trump Media and a blank-check company called Digital World Acquisition.

Now, if you look at a live look at that stock prices premarket, it is up three percent. The higher this stock goes the richer Donald Trump is, at least on paper. Because this deal calls for Donald Trump to own about 79 million shares of the new company. So at these prices we're talking about a stake that is worth more than $3 billion. That's huge. That is almost 10 times the bond that he's supposed to post by Monday in New York.


Now, here is the bad news. It's not like Donald Trump can just take that stake -- it's not like it's sitting in a Robinhood account and he could sort of just tap a button and send it over to Letitia James and the New York authorities. In fact, some experts are telling me that stake is likely less liquid than his real estate holdings for a few reasons.

One, deals like this -- they have lock-up restrictions. Insiders are basically agreeing not to immediately dump their stock as soon as the ink is dry on the deal, right? That's never a good look. But it's an especially bad look in this deal because Donald Trump isn't just the face of the company, he's arguably the product itself. So experts say these restrictions would likely prevent him from selling or even borrowing against this stock, at least anytime soon.

OK, but even if he got past that hurdle, this would be really hard to get a loan against because as soon as there was word that he was going to sell, the stock would probably go down. So who would want to take that as collateral?

Also, and perhaps most importantly, experts say that Trump Media is really overvalued.

BERMAN: Yeah, talk about that a little bit more because there are all these reports that the share price is being driven up -- I don't want to use the word artificially, but being driven up here. This is a social media company that's losing users.

EGAN: It is. So this company is burning through cash. It's piling up losses. In the third quarter, it lost $26 million and generated revenue of just $1.1 million. And yet, it's got this valuation in the billions. It doesn't really make any sense. Truth Social, itself, is shrinking. The monthly active users down 39 percent year-over-year.

One professor told me that, quote, "The stock price is clearly a bubble." Another told me that at this point, it's basically a meme stock.

So, listen -- yes, this is a financial win for Donald Trump -- but no, it does not look like the golden parachute that he really needs right now.

BERMAN: No, although $3 billion on paper is still pretty good.

EGAN: Not bad.

BERMAN: A lot of us would take it.

Matt Egan, thank you very much.

EGAN: Thanks, John.


BOLDUAN: Joining us now for more on this is CNN senior legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig.

Elie, let's jump off of what John and Matt were talking about. This Truth Social sell likely to go through. If you are ranking Trump's options to come up with the money that he needs by Monday, how does this rank?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, FORMER FEDERAL AND NEW JERSEY STATE PROSECUTOR: It's a B-minus for Trump because it looks good on paper. As Matt said, by the end of the day, Donald Trump could be worth several billion dollars more.

But the problem is all about timing here, Kate because in all likelihood, Donald Trump's shares are going to be locked up for six months -- meaning he can't sell them off until six months from now. Now, there is a possibility he could go to the shareholders and ask for a waiver -- ask for special permission to sell off some of them early. So that may give him a way around this.

So he's going to be much richer, likely, by the end of the day on paper, but the question is when can he turn that into cash?

BOLDUAN: All right. So how are the other options then looking as he gets closer to the Monday deadline?

HONIG: So, two big things that we should be watching for today.

Number one, does Donald Trump come up with some sort of cash infusion, whether through Truth Social, through a donor, through some benefactor, through a friend? Through who knows what means?

And the other thing we need to watch for is the appellate division. Remember, Donald Trump went to that court of appeals earlier this week and asked them to either delay or reduce the amount of the bond.

Now, appeals courts do that sometimes. They have the power to do that. It's hard to know how often they do it. There's no real data available. But there are certainly examples of appeals courts coming in and reducing bonds by 50, 60, 80 percent. So we've not heard yet from the appeals court and we could hear from them at any moment today.

BOLDUAN: So we could -- we could actually -- really can stand by to see if maybe we get some more information on that at some point today.

How does all of this impact his appeals? I'm kind of turned around on all of this I think.

HONIG: I am glad you asked that question, Kate because I think there's a lot of misunderstanding.

Yes, Donald Trump can still appeal no matter what. The bond does not impact his appeal rights. He has the right to appeal the case itself and he will appeal it.

Here is the difference. If he posts a bond, the attorney general cannot start collecting the judgment until the appeal is over. We're talking months or years from now. If he does not post a bond, however, the attorney general can start collecting on Monday. So we may have, simultaneously, Donald Trump appealing and the attorney general starting to collect on the amount of the judgment. So that's the difference.

The bond matters a lot here but, yes, he can appeal with or without a bond.

BOLDUAN: Let's turn to Georgia. The judge there, we know, ruled that the district attorney Fani Willis can stay on the case. We learned that right here on the show. She's now pushing forward with a goal of getting Trump on trial before the November election. And we have reporting that she intends to ask the judge for a trial start maybe this summer.


Do you think that's possible?

HONIG: No, that's not going to happen and the D.A. has to know that. The D.A.'s most recent ask of the judge was to start trial in August. Even if that happens -- even if the judge says sure, we'll start in August, they're going to still be picking a jury come November -- come the Election Day.

So I think the D.A. -- and the D.A., herself, has acknowledged that if we start in August, as I'm asking, this trial is going to carry into 2025. That is just not a realistic ask.

I think it's posturing by the D.A. I think she wants to put out this perception of I'm ready to go. She knows darn well there's no way this case is going to start in August. There's no way this case results in a verdict before the election.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned the jury. John spoke to Ashleigh Merchant, the defense attorney who kind of led the effort to disqualify Fani Willis. She represents one of the co-defendants. She thinks summer is not possible, and she also said this about jury selection to John.


ASHLEIGH MERCHANT, ATTORNEY WHO CALLED FOR FANI WILLIS TO BE DISQUALIFIED: We're going to have to find jurors who have not already made up their mind. There's no way we're going to find jurors that don't know about this case. There's no way that they're not going to already have some type of an opinion. The question is going to be whether or not they can put that aside and be fair and impartial. And it's going to take a very long amount of time.


BOLDUAN: When it comes to jury selection do you agree?

HONIG: She's exactly right. The goal is not to find 12 jurors who have never heard of the defendant. That would be impossible in this case. It's to find 12 jurors who can be fair.

But the trick for lawyers on both sides here -- and I've been through jury selection many, many times -- is do you believe what the jurors are telling you? Sometimes you'll have a potential juror who will say yes, I can be fair and impartial, but you don't believe them either way. And there's no science to that. It's really an art. You have limited information about the potential jurors and sometimes you just have to rely on your gut instinct and say I like this juror or I don't for our side.

So, jury selection is going to take a long time in any of these four Trump cases, and it's going to be complex, and it's going to be the whole ballgame, Kate.

BOLDUAN: It's so fascinating.

Great to see you, Elie. Thank you -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Happening now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with the Israeli war cabinet in Tel Aviv. We believe these meetings are still going on. He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier. CIA Dir. Bill Burns is in Doha where he is expected to join hostage talks and meet with regional counterparts. All of this comes ahead of a vote at the United Nations Security Council on the U.S.-sponsored resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

CNN's State Department reporter Jennifer Hansler is with us now. A lot going on at the same time, Jennifer.

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Absolutely, John. We are just seeing this flurry of activity aimed at putting an end to the suffering in Gaza and securing this immediate ceasefire and the release of the hostages. And deterring this military campaign into Rafah that Netanyahu has vowed to carry out.

So this morning, we saw Sec. Blinken arrive in Tel Aviv. He has been there numerous times since October 7. And he was expected to continue these tough conversations with the Israeli government.

Among the things we expected him to raise is the need for more aid to get into the Strip even without a ceasefire. He said yesterday that Israel needs to do more. That there have been some improvements in the aid getting in but it is not enough. And he stressed that 100 percent of the population in Gaza is experiencing acute food insecurity.

At the same time, he was also expected to bring up this prospect of an invasion into Rafah by the Israeli military. This is something the U.S. does not approve of. Blinken said that they would not support it.

And he had some really tough words in a press conference yesterday about this potential military offensive into Rafah. Take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: On Rafah, again, we've been very clear. President Biden has been very clear that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and something that we can't support. There is no place for the many civilians who are amassed in Gaza -- in Rafah, excuse me, to go to get out of harm's way. And for that would inevitably remain, it would -- it would be a humanitarian disaster.


HANSLER: So his conversations in Israel today will come ahead of meetings in Washington, D.C. between U.S. and Israeli officials to discuss alternatives to that offensive.

At the same time, these talks in Doha we expect to get underway to continue to try to narrow these gaps in a deal to get an immediate ceasefire and get the release of the hostages. And in complement -- in complement to that, in New York, in just a few hours, we expect the U.S. to put forward their own U.N. Security Council proposal, which will call for an immediate ceasefire and the release of those hostages to support that diplomacy on the ground -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Jennifer Hansler. I know you have a lot of reporting to do. Let us know when there are developments. Thank you so much -- Kate.


BOLDUAN: And still ahead for us, it's being called the largest attack ever on Ukraine's energy grid. We have new details on what happened in Ukraine overnight.

And new CNN polling with a new look at two key battleground states today. One key data point, how many voters are still open to changing their minds?

CNN's original series "VEGAS: THE STORY OF SIN CITY" is out with a new episode on Sunday at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Here's a preview.


DOLLY PARTON, SINGER-SONGWRITER, ACTRESS: It's the first time I've ever been in Vegas -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know.

PARTON: -- so I'm curious to see if I'm going to really enjoy.

RICH LITTLE, COMEDIAN: The salaries were actually ridiculous. I remember Dolly Parton was playing. They paid her over $300,000 a week. Everybody was astounded. Sometimes these salaries were so huge you wonder how they were going to make their money, and they just couldn't continue to do it.




BOLDUAN: So, breaking overnight, it is likely the largest attack ever on Ukraine's energy system. A barrage of Russian missiles and drones hitting energy sites across the country. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

(Missiles striking)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).


BOLDUAN: And that's just part of it.

At least three people are dead and over one million are without power, and that's just some of the early assessments that we're getting in from Ukraine right now.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is gathering more details on this and he's joining us now. Fred, are the attacks over? What's the latest that you're hearing?


Well, it's very hard to tell whether the attacks are completely over. And also, one of the things that we've been seeing over the past couple of days is that the Russians appear to have stepped up their attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. There was a big attack that took place yesterday on the Ukrainian capital -- on Kyiv.

The Ukrainians there saying they managed to shoot down 31 Russian missiles, but this attack that we saw in the early morning hours of today was a whole lot larger. The Ukrainians are saying that the Russians fired 151 missiles and drones towards many Ukrainian cities and other suburban areas as well. The Ukrainians say they managed to take down 92 of these missiles and drones but, obviously, some of them very much got through. We just saw that video there that apparently was the Russians striking a major hydroelectric power plant in Ukraine, and that's something that the residents on the ground had to deal with. So far, we have confirmed that several people have been killed on the ground. Obviously, scores of people have been injured as well.

But the big thing is that about a million people in Ukraine are without power. Also, in some of these areas that are close to the border with Russia, there's a lot of people who are even without water as well.

And you can see on the map that we have up right now just some of the places in Ukraine that have been hit. And you can see that this was a sustained missile barrage by the Russians that happened over large parts of Ukraine and caused a lot of damage there.

One of the new things that I actually have for you just in the last couple of minutes is the Russians have come out -- the Defense Ministry -- and said that, yes, they were behind these attacks that took place. They claim that they hit an energy infrastructure, which is what the Ukrainians are saying as well. They also say that they hit military targets. Obviously, the Ukrainians not commenting on that.

But we are seeing a big uptick, especially over the past couple of days, of Russian missile attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yeah. Fred, thank you so much. We're going to get -- stay close to Fred. He's trying to gather more details from inside Ukraine for us. Thank you so much, Fred -- John.

BERMAN: All right. This morning, new CNN polling gives us a snapshot of two critical swing states that flipped from red to blue in 2020 after being blue before that. In Pennsylvania -- you can see right there -- it's a dead heat between President Biden and Donald Trump. In Michigan, which was crucial to Biden's 2020 win, Donald Trump leads by eight points now.

With us, former Democratic presidential candidate and former DNC chair, former Gov. Howard Dean. And CNN senior political commentator and former Trump campaign adviser, David Urban.

Governor Dean, I want to start with you and I want to look at the question of issues in Michigan just to show people where President Biden is trailing Donald Trump right now, and it's just about on everything. Look at that.

In Michigan, which candidate would better handle that issue if elected? Donald Trump with huge leads on the economy and immigration. Israel-Gaza, a huge lead. He even leads on who would better handle democracy in the United States. A guy who tried to overturn the results of an election in 2020 ahead on that, albeit only by two points. And even on abortion, Joe Biden's lead is only eight points.

So, Gov. Dean, what has gone wrong in Michigan so far, and how does the Biden campaign fix it? HOWARD DEAN, (D) FORMER GOVERNOR OF VERMONT, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, FORMER DNC CHAIR (via Webex by Cisco): It's very hard to say and there have been so many polls. This is a bit of an outlier, actually. I haven't seen another poll in Michigan that looks much like this at all. So the answer is who knows? I don't. We've got seven months to the election. It's a long way to go and I just -- I find it hard to believe, actually, these numbers.

I do think, however, that Michigan is affected by the Gaza war and I do see the president moving to a much more neutral stance on this instead of the usual pro-Israel position. He is now understanding that when you kill 30,000 women and children, probably, you can't be entirely pro-Israel on this one.

And that's really in keeping with what's happening in America as a whole because of Netanyahu, who has really poisoned the relationship between Israel and the United States.


BERMAN: I will say this. I don't know how much of an outlier this poll -- I haven't seen a poll from Michigan that shows President Biden leading there lately. I haven't dug into the underlying --

DEAN: That's true.

BERMAN: -- numbers there, but these issues numbers are tough for him there.

David Urban, I want to put up -- because we also asked in both Pennsylvania --


BERMAN: -- and Michigan if you had a third-party candidate, and in some cases four parties, how they would do.

And in Pennsylvania -- if we can put these numbers up on the screen -- Robert Kennedy Jr. -- you're just going to have to take my word for it -- gets 16 percent of the vote. OK, that's Michigan -- 18 percent for Robert Kennedy Jr. In Pennsylvania, it's 16 percent. That's a big number for a third-party candidate. That's like Ross Perot --

URBAN: Yeah.

BERMAN: -- in 1992 number for that.

It doesn't necessarily change who is leading and by how much, but what does the size of that number tell you?

URBAN: Well, listen, not surprisingly, John, as you -- as you talked about and many polls show, there's a -- there's a great discontent about both candidates on the ballot. Right now, there are a lot of people -- poll after poll showed that 70 percent of the population don't want to see this match-up. And so, that -- this gives them an exit ramp to vote for somebody else.

And look, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is an attractive candidate for many folks, right, on the left and on the right. He draws more so from the Democratic base I think. He's got the Kennedy name and some of the ideas I think. So poll after poll does show that he steals more votes from Democrats than Republicans.

But to Gov. Dean's earlier point, these numbers are not good if you're Joe Biden. And right after the State of the Union we heard wow, this is great. There's a big bounce -- State of the Union. He's out. We're running strong now. Things are going to change. And nothing's changed.

The job disapproval numbers in this poll, John, are terrible in both Pennsylvania and Michigan for President Biden. They haven't gotten any better. He's at 60 percent unfavorable in Pennsylvania. I mean, job disapproval rating. Sixty percent of people think he's doing a bad job.

Like you said, Donald Trump is ahead. I could tell you, in 2016, when I ran the race in Pennsylvania, we were never -- we were eight points down at best -- eight points -- and we won, OK? So if we're tied or ahead in these states, that's devastating for the Biden administration -- devastating. And to turn this narrative around in this quick a time, it's going to be a very big challenge for the Democrats.

BERMAN: I will say in Pennsylvania, there are signs in the underlying numbers that President Biden is starting to put his winning coalition back together there. We'll see if that continues to trend in that director.

Governor Dean, I want to ask you about some of the rhetoric we've heard from President Biden on the campaign trail the last few days. We're going to report very shortly. We're going to update people on where things stand in the New York civil fraud trial. He's got to come up with half a billion dollars by Monday or risk the seizure of his properties.

But, President Biden referred to Donald Trump as "Broke Don" on the campaign trail. I wonder how effective you think that line will be.

DEAN: I don't know. I mean, who knows? They'll try a million different things between now and November.

I do think that a settlement with half a billion dollars coming out of Trump's hide and having his properties seized or more likely attached is a problem for Trump.

Look, I think people are going to get sick of Trump again and I'd really be very surprised if these numbers hold up. Trump is just toxic. And the people who love him really love him, but there are a lot of people right now who are saying they're not going to vote for Joe Biden -- who are going to end up voting for Joe Biden because Trump is just an unthinkable alternative.

BERMAN: I will say the polls in Michigan and Pennsylvania both show that most people say they're voting on the issue of Donald Trump. Either they're voting for him because of Donald Trump or they're voting for --

DEAN: Right.

BERMAN: -- President Biden because of Donald Trump.

David Urban, very quickly --

URBAN: Yeah.

BERMAN: -- as someone who has been involved in Republican Party politics for a while. We have learned from invitations to this giant Trump fundraiser that as part of this fundraising agreement with the RNC there is sort of a ladder of where the money goes when you donate to that joint group.

You know, number one is to the Trump campaign. Number two is to the Save America PAC, which is paying Donald Trump's legal bills right now. And only after that -- only after that, the Republican National Committee gets the money there.

How do you feel about that --

URBAN: Yeah, John.

BERMAN: -- about the party --

URBAN: John, listen, I think it's fine.

BERMAN: Well, it could be party money going to his legal bills. Go ahead.

URBAN: Yes, so it's -- listen, John, it's at Mar-a-Lago. It's going to be a big event. The president is headlining it. People who are showing up --

BERMAN: But it's not just the -- it's clearly -- it's all the money. It's all the money that's going to be going to him going forward is that agreement.

URBAN: Yeah, John. So I don't think that donors -- if you asked -- if we polled -- if you said would you -- would you care if this money goes to support Donald Trump's legal fees, I think they'd say not just yeah -- hell, yeah, of course. I think they see this as part of the campaign, John. They see it as the law affair that's going on -- taking place -- I think they see it as just part of an extension of the Democratic Party and they are -- they're happy to pay to keep Donald Trump afloat and in this fight.