Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Judge Sets Trump Hush Money Criminal Trial For April 15; Appeals Court Trims Trump Bond To $175M, Adds 10 Days To Deadline; UN Security Council Passes Resolution Calling For Immediate Ceasefire In Gaza After U.S. Abstain. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 25, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: A day of major legal twists as former President Donald Trump faces a doubleheader of battles in New York. In one case, a partial victory. In the other, his legal team failed to get the delay they were seeking. We're on top of all of these developments.

Plus, acts of defiance, a top Israeli official says the country will not cease fire after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding one and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just canceled a planned trip for a delegation of Israeli officials to D.C.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: Plus, developing now, the Justice Department saying it has identified a group of hackers behind sweeping attacks on U.S. companies, all on behalf of the Chinese government.

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

SANCHEZ: It is the top of the hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. I'm Boris Sanchez. We have Jessica Dean in for Brianna Keilar in the nation's capital.

And today, a judge brought Donald Trump one step closer to becoming the first former president to ever face criminal trial. Judge Juan Merchan rejected the Trump team's push to dismiss or delay his New York hush money case, setting the start date for April 15th, tax day, is when jury selection is set to kick off.

But while Trump was inside the Manhattan courtroom for that legal defeat, he did get a win in a separate case.

DEAN: An appeals court significantly reducing the massive bond he owes for civil fraud, down from $464 million to $175 million. The ruling also giving him 10 additional days to come up with the money, meaning that for now he's avoided what was a very real prospect of having his prized real estate assets seized.

And we have full coverage for you. CNN's Kara Scannell was at the hush money hearing. CNN's Kristen Holmes is following the Trump reaction. And here with us in studio is CNN Chief Legal Analyst, Laura Coates.

Great to have you all.

Kara, let's start with you. Things got heated in that courtroom at certain points today.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jess. So this - the court - the judge ruled everyone into the hearing today because of claims that Donald Trump's team made that prosecutors were withholding information and obstructing their ability to obtain information from federal prosecutors who had investigated and prosecuted Michael Cohen several years ago. Trump's team now are trying to get access to the information because Cohen is going to be an important witness in the case.

Now, the judge went through methodically the timeline of events that took place here. He challenged Trump's attorneys about why they waited until just January to try to get this information. And he also said to one of Trump's lawyers that he was beginning to notice a pattern that the judge would observe facts in this case and that Trump's attorneys would interpret it differently than he did, calling into question at a point why they were even here today.

Now, the judge was not expected to rule from the bench, but he decided to take a 45-minute break, brought everyone back in and said that he was going to rule based on all the material and the arguments he heard. He said that the prosecutors here were not at fault for any delay in turning over any evidence from the federal prosecutors to Trump's team. He said that the local prosecutors here, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, acted in good faith. And so he said this case is going to trial with jury selection to begin on April 15th.

At that point, Trump was shaking his head, clearly unsatisfied with the outcome in this case. And as he walked out of the courtroom, he kind of had a bit of a scowl on his face heading out. But as you said, it came where - it was also buttressed in part by that positive ruling from the appeals court in the civil fraud case.

SANCHEZ: And Kristen, we saw some of the anger that Kara was talking about after Trump got to one of his properties in lower Manhattan and responded, essentially lashing out with falsehoods about how all of this played out. He said he does not expect that this is going to go to trial, but that if it does, he claims he's prepared to testify.


KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He kept saying over and over again that he would testify, that he did nothing wrong, that this was all election interference. And as you said, a lot of falsehoods, talking about how these were Biden's cases.

We know that one of the things that he has continually done is try to link all of his criminal cases to Joe Biden, essentially saying that it's election interference, that they're trying to stop him because he is running for president and because he is doing so well. And obviously, as we have reported, they are not all linked, and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with Joe Biden at all. But this is a line that Donald Trump uses, and it is one that is successful with him when it comes to his base.

Now, in terms of that trial, it was clear how angry he was that they didn't get that second postponement. What's interesting here is that his team and he were fully prepared to start that trial today. Remember, they were actually supposed to start that trial today until there was a last-minute postponement after they returned over a hundred documents. Trump's team asked for 90 days and wanted to dismiss the case altogether, issue sanctions.

The D.A.'s office came back and said there's probably about 30 days' worth of material in here that's actually relevant, so you can have that time starting on April 15th. Now, as you noted, it did get heated in that room, in that courthouse, between both the judge and Trump's defense team. The judge kind of lashing out at times, saying that they did not believe that their arguments were valid. They were - it was really quite interesting to see, because, as we know, being a lawyer for Donald Trump is often putting on a show for Donald Trump.

In this case, the judge was not going to allow it. It gives you a little bit of a taste of what we're going to see. The last point of this, they are still planning to have that trial. They were already planning around it, and they're planning on campaigning around it, meaning Wednesdays and Saturdays, you can expect to see Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Other days of the week, he will be in court.

DEAN: And Kristen just said that they are planning for that trial. Laura, Trump, though, when we were sitting here watching him this afternoon, speaking after all of this, he at one point said, oh, I don't even know if this is going to go to trial and who knows? And I remember you said, oh, you're going to trial. But there's no - you don't see any basis to believe that that's true, that there wouldn't be a trial.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: None. I think he is hopeful that he will not go to trial. It does underscore the severity of the case. He does not want to be in this predicament. It is a state-level court, meaning there is not a pardon power if he were to reclaim the White House, or otherwise, even if President Joe Biden were to be gracious enough to extend that, he could not do so.

And he keeps wanting to talk about this as a conflated topic of being in the Biden trials. The Manhattan DA's office is no more beholden to the attorney general or President Biden than, say, a mayor of the - by the president of the United States. These are totally separate entities.

What's important to think of here is this judge was so incensed by whatever he heard from the Trump team that he didn't even give what Alvin Bragg, initially, what he'd do, a 30-day extension. He gave a 20-day extension. Shaved off 10 days even of that, so it tells you that he was obviously finding there was no basis to have a misconduct claim against these prosecutors. There was nothing that was nefarious done in the withholding of documents, and that whatever time is available, it's enough to prepare for an adequate defense in line with due process.

SANCHEZ: Let's go back to Kara Scannell, because, Kara, you touched on the bond ruling earlier today. An appeals court swooping in on the day that Trump was supposed to have an answer for that question of whether he would pay bond or not, essentially saving him from having his assets seized, at least for now. Bring us up to speed on that decision from the appeals court.

SCANNELL: Yes, Boris, it was a huge lifeline from the New York appeals court. Today was the day that this 30-day grace period was over, and so the New York Attorney General's Office could have taken the first steps to try to seize some of Trump's properties, which he referred to as his babies today, including his triplex apartment here in the city. They could also have gone after his bank accounts.

And it was the day that Trump was supposed to bond in this case. They did have this outstanding question before the appeals court, but it was really unclear coming in today how that was going to play out. Then we did hear in the middle of this hearing in the criminal case a decision by the appeals court to give Trump time, they're saying he has 10 days now to post a $175 million bond. That's less than - I mean, that's more than half of what he was on the hook for, the nearly half a billion dollars.

And so Trump's saying that he can make this deadline, he can post the money and he has enough cash to do it. So certainly a big lifeline for Trump, and the appeals court will hear this case in September.

DEAN: I want to go back to Kristen. Because Kristen, it's your understanding that Trump will be able to get this lower amount of cash together. But it is worth reminding everyone that up until the 11th hour today when this ruling came down, they were struggling to find a way to pay that original bond amount.

HOLMES: Right. I mean, that was half a billion dollars, this is significantly less. And what I am told is that they are planning to pay with cash now. I do want to give a caveat here.


It's still very early. They had this decision. They learned about it in real time. So if that's what they ultimately end up doing, it's something we're going to follow closely. Just to watch that, because it is possible that talking to business advisors, they might come up with something different.

Now, when it comes to Donald Trump's liquid assets, every indication is that he has the 175, that $175 million. But the other part of this is that it will be easier, likely, to get an underwriter to sign on posting this bond at this amount.

Remember, a lot of them were saying they just couldn't get to this half a billion dollars, but they were willing to underwrite about a hundred million bond. This is much closer to a hundred million than $500 million. So if he were to use an underwriter, it would probably be an easier time than what he was having before, because lawyers said they approached about 30 who said that they would not be willing to do so.

SANCHEZ: Yes. So, Laura, Trump and his team had argued that the original bond amount, the $464 million, was unreasonable, unheard of. They couldn't get anyone to put up that kind of bond. Is the fact that it's been lowered kind of an acknowledgment that they were right?

COATES: No, I won't read into that - for that. The appellate court did not give a reason as to why they lowered the bond. They did not provide so. They did not have to tell us anything in that 10-day review.

But the arguments on appeal about whether it's an excessive fine or whether he ought to have to pay that amount has to do with the underlying facts in this case, the judge's findings of credibility and factual-based arguments. And also, any Eighth Amendment claim, which is what he's trying to do on social media with excessive fines, has to do with the proportionality. Is it proportionate to the actual alleged crime committed? Is it proportional to who is before the court today? All that will factor in if he preserved it at the trial setting for the appeal process.

There's a lot of ifs here, but I would not read so much into saying that because they have lowered the fine, that means they will find the underlying ruling problematic. Also remember why you got this bond. It is to secure your ability to appeal, for two reasons really.

On the one hand, you don't want to have the full amount paid and then not be able to recollect it if, in fact, your appeal is successful and they find you should not have had to pay it in the first instance. Another issue, of course, is if you were to litigate this matter at the appellate level, the underlying plaintiff in an action might say, well, they've now become bankrupt. That person has not been able to pay the bills because of all the legal bills to the appeal and I no longer have my money.

And so now it's a way to preserve the right of the defendant in an action and that person securing the money to say, either way, you can make good on this. You're not just going to have a frivolous appeal that goes indefinitely to try to game the system, which is ironic here for a number of reasons.

SANCHEZ: Trump says that he has the cash. He has said that before.


DEAN: Yes.

SANCHEZ: His attorneys came up and cleared it up. We'll see in 10 days if that's the case.


SANCHEZ: Kara, Kristen, Laura, thank you all so much. DEAN: Thank you.

And we're going to go even more - even deeper on this. We're joined now by CNN Political Commentator, S.E. Cupp and CNN Contributor and former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean.

Great to have you both here with us.

S.E., let's go to you first and talk about the politics of this. We've gone through all of it today, all of kind of the movements. Does this affect Trump politically?

S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to be honest. Just based on the emails I've gotten today from Trump PACs and Republican PACs, I think they were expecting these seizures to happen today. And it seems like they might even be a little disappointed that they didn't, because the emails I'm getting from these PACs are Trump Tower seized, Trump Tower about to be seized, MAGA emergency, please donate now. They really want to profit financially off of this for obvious reasons.

But I think also politically, they know that this is good for his base. He has conditioned his voters over eight years to believe him when he says these are all Biden trials, to believe that everything around Trump is corrupt and he is the one with the integrity. He did this over time by calling the media the enemy of the people, by talking about the deep state, the intelligence officers, the generals, the Democrats, everyone's in on it to get him and he's completely unimpeachable. They believe that.

So I think today, legally, he got a win that 10 extra day delay and that lowered bond. But politically, he's winning - he's kind of winning no matter what among his base.

SANCHEZ: John, we're looking at the real possibility of seeing something that nobody anticipated, perhaps since maybe around the time of your days at the White House, a president, a former president, at least, a current presidential candidate in court for a criminal trial. This would be unprecedented.



What we're seeing right now, though, is a candidate who's running for office and using the form he is stuck with pretty effectively. He's drawn attention to himself every time he's gone to court. I'm somewhat surprised that the courthouses allow him. He was set up in this instance to go down to 40 Wall Street to do a press conference. Yet he was able to do a lot of press coverage right from the hall of the courthouse and did it effectively.

So he got what he wanted, which is the spectacle that he likes to have around these events where he can distort them to his base and pretend that he's suffering these terrible grievances. So yes, it is unusual. It's unusual a candidate would run on the basis he's running and times have definitely changed.

DEAN: And S.E., I'm reaching a bit into the future here, but when I was on the trail for the GOP primary, Trump's rivals would make the case, well, if he's convicted, that's why we should stay in. If he's convicted, our - we think that that's when people, enough people might abandon him. Do you think voters will actually abandon him if he is indeed convicted in one of these cases, particularly maybe even this one that starts April 15th?

CUPP: No. And Trump himself said this earlier today that he - if he's convicted in that hush money case that it might even make him more popular. I don't doubt that that's true. He's again conditioned his base to see him as a victim. And so when something like that happens, it's immense the narrative that he is being targeted.

But the theory that people will drop away from Trump if he's convicted really, I think, only applies to donors, maybe some surrogates, maybe some endorsements. And I think most of his voters are completely sold on him. I think there's a very small pocket of Republicans who really can't stomach the idea of voting for Joe Biden, and they're going to hold their nose to vote for Donald Trump.

And in the end, if he's convicted or goes to prison for any of this, then they might reconsider. But again, I think that's a very, very small percentage of the overall MAGA voting bloc.

SANCHEZ: John, to Trump's civil fraud trial, did - do you think the appeals court made the right decision in lowering his bond?

J. DEAN: Well, they certainly gave no explanation of why they did it, and it's (inaudible) necessarily going to lower the judgment ultimately. But what they did do is sort of showed mercy of the court on somebody who was clearly struggling to get the bond that he was confronted with and accepted a much lower number.

So that shows a hand of fairness. It's going to make it a little harder for Trump to beat up on the first district of the appellate level of courts in New York because they've been fair to him. They've been more than fair. In fact, I think they gave him a break most people would never get.

DEAN: All right. We're going to have to leave it there. John Dean, S.E. Cupp, as always, thanks so much for your thoughts, your analysis. We appreciate both of you.

Still ahead this afternoon, the suspects in the Russia concert hall attack appeared in court bruised and bandaged, one in a wheelchair. What we know about this deadly attack and what Russia is saying.

SANCHEZ: Plus, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says nothing can change his mind about invading Rafah as he suddenly cancels a high level delegation trip to Washington.

Those stories and much more still to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


SANCHEZ: Some major new developments in the Israel-Hamas war. The United Nations Security Council for the first time passed a draft resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The ceasefire is to extend through the month of Ramadan. The U.N. resolution also calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages and to expand the flow of aid into Gaza.

Now, the U.S. abstained from today's vote, essentially allowing it to pass.

DEAN: In response to that, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled an Israeli delegation's trip to Washington that was scheduled for this week. And speaking a short time ago, the White House had this to say about Netanyahu's decision.


JOHN KIRBY, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: We're kind of perplexed by this. A couple of points that need to be stated and, in fact, re-stated. Number one, it's a non-binding resolution. So there's no impact at all on Israel and Israel's ability to continue to go after Hamas. Number two, as I said in my opening statement, it does not represent a change at all in our policy.


DEAN: Meanwhile, all of this is happening after Israel reportedly agreed to a U.S. proposal for a prisoner and hostage exchange with Hamas.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent MJ Lee joining us now from the White House.

MJ, what - when was the last time that Biden and Netanyahu actually spoke?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the two leaders spoke about a week ago, and it was during that phone call that President Biden urged Prime Minister Netanyahu to send this Israeli delegation to Washington this week so that both sides can discuss everything related to the war. That trip has now been canceled, as you noted, because Prime Minister Netanyahu took issue with the fact that the U.S. voted to abstain rather than to veto this latest U.N. Security Council resolution language.


The U.S., as you just heard there saying that they are perplexed that this is an overreaction by the Israelis, given that the U.S. claims that it hasn't changed its policy position at all and that it's basically too bad that there's now less of an opportunity for in- person meetings between the two sides.

But do keep in mind, the Israeli defense minister is still here, in fact, meeting today with a number of high ranking U.S. officials like Jake Sullivan, like Tony Blinken and John Kirby, making clear that in these meetings today, despite that delegation not coming later in the week, U.S. officials are going to be talking about and pressing for alternatives to a major ground incursion into Rafah. Take a listen.


KIRBY: We still believe that we have learned some key lessons about how to dismantle a terrorist network, how to decapitate its leadership, how to starve it of resources, how to put pressure on its fighters on the battlefield. And we were looking forward to and I think still are looking forward to having the opportunity to share some of those lessons and perspectives with the Israelis now ...


LEE: In other words, the U.S. is still urging the Israelis to basically skip a major ground incursion into Rafah and consider these highly precise and targeted attacks in southern Gaza instead. The big question, of course, is whether the Israelis are going to heed that advice. Remember, initially, Israeli officials had said that they were going to go ahead and go into Rafah at the beginning of Ramadan if there was not a ceasefire and a hostage's deal that was struck. That, of course, has come and went. And now we have about two weeks left of the holy month of Ramadan and we don't know what's going to happen in the coming weeks.

But what U.S. officials have made clear is that at least so far they have still seen no plans in terms of an operation into Rafah or even a civilian protection plan. And they're increasingly voicing skepticism that some kind of plan like that is even feasible, given how many people we are talking about moving out of that very small area.

DEAN: All right. MJ Lee at the White House for us. Thanks so much for that reporting.

And here with us now CNN Global Affairs Analyst and former defense secretary under President Trump, Mark Esper. He also serves on the board as a strategic advisor for a handful of aerospace and defense- related companies.

Mark, thanks so much for being here with us.

First, I just want to ask you, the White House is saying that the U.N. resolution does not represent a change in its policy. Do you agree with that? And what do you make of the relationship between the U.S. and Israel following today's events?

MARK ESPER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, good afternoon, Jessica. First of all, it does constitute a change and it's - I'm not surprised because they were talking about this last week. They said two things, first of all, last week and today, they've talked about ceasefire without the qualifier being of a temporary ceasefire, a short term ceasefire.

And secondly, they've been saying and Vice President Harris said it very clearly today or yesterday that they're now saying don't go into Rafah. Before it was don't go into Rafah unless you have a plan to clear out the civilians first and protect them.

And I might add that was the main reason why the Israeli delegation was supposed to come to Washington, D.C., was to explain how they were going to do that. And I assume Benjamin Netanyahu figured, well, why send my team if they've already said don't go into Rafah at all.

Now, look, I would not have recommended he call that off, but they've done what they've done. But again, I think clearly there's been a shift in administration policy at this point in time.

DEAN: And now the defense minister - Israel's defense minister is here in the U.S., even as this Israeli delegation has pulled out of its meeting. He's at the State Department as we speak. He's also slated to meet with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin. What do you think those meetings could look like?

ESPER: Well, I assume as two former generals are talking about, I would hope the IDF's plan to go into Rafah to clear out the remaining militants, keep in mind, there are four to six battalions estimated to be in Rafah, the final holdout of Hamas, and it is believed that Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, is there along with some of the leadership.

So I hope he's explained the game plan. I assume Lloyd Austin is talking about methods and techniques and tactics by which they could further limit civilian casualties, because it's very important they do that.

But look, let there be no doubt, Israel is going into Rafah. They need to, because if they don't clear out the leadership and the militants, then Hamas is going to claim a victory. And it's going to be arguably a loss for Israel after all they've gone through since those brutal attacks on October 7th.

DEAN: And so, okay, if they do go into Rafah, President Biden said in an interview recently that would be a red line before quickly adding that he would never abandon Israel. What do you think that will mean for the U.S.-Israeli relationship?


ESPER: Yes. Well, again, keep in mind, Biden also said that they shouldn't go into Rafah unless they have a plan to protect the ...