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Pre-Trial Hearing in Georgia; Trump Team Monitoring Georgia Hearings; Bankman-Fried Awaits Sentencing; New Information in Bridge Collapse; Stabbing Rampage in Illinois. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 09:00   ET



CHARLEY PEREIRA, FORMER NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Numerous bridge strikes like this that they've investigated in the past, in Florida, Georgia, elsewhere.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Very good. All right, we'll leave it there.

Charley Pereira, formerly of the NTSB, thank you so much.

And a new hour of the CNN NEWSROOM - NEWS CENTRAL starts right now.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Very shortly, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis will be back in the courtroom for the first time since the judge allowed her to stay on the election subversion case. Donald Trump's lawyers are trying to get that case tossed this morning. We will tell you how.

Sentencing for one of the largest white-collar criminals in U.S. history.

And three presidents and a queen, if you include Queen Latifah. I made that joke once already, but it was so good I had to do it again. The record setting fundraiser there for the Biden campaign here in New York tonight.

I'm John Berman, with Sara Sidner. Fredricka Whitfield is in for Kate. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: This hour courthouse cameras getting ready to turn back on in Georgia. District Attorney Fani Willis says the trial train is coming and nothing will derail her case against Donald Trump and his co-defendants. This will be her first time back in a Fulton County courtroom on the case since the effort to disqualify her failed. At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, a pre-trial hearing will begin and the DA will try to fend off Trump's latest attempts to get his election subversion charges dropped.

Trump's team will argue his actions in 2020 were protected by the First Amendment, teeing up another free speech fight.

CNN's Nick Valencia is live outside the courthouse in Atlanta, where we have found you so many times before, Nick. Walk us through what we'll soon be able to see coming up in the next few moments.


This is a pre-trial motions hearing where again Trump and his attorney, Steve Sadow, are trying to get this indictment thrown out, this time on First Amendment grounds. And what they're basically arguing is that when Trump was spreading lies and conspiracy theories after he lost the 2020 election, that that was political speech protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, this indictment never should have been brought forward.

This is just a pre-trial motions hearing, but it's a much bigger deal than that. Given the fact that we've just gone through two months of disqualification hearings for Fulton County DA Fani Willis, where she narrowly survived staying on this case. The big question today is, can her team get this case back on track, put the drama behind them and focus on the facts of this case?

Willis is juggling a lot, principally all the legal cases that Trump is facing. She's trying to squeeze her trial in with - without affecting any of those other legal cases that Trump has. It's something that we asked her about recently, and she says the train is coming and she's trying to get this case for an August trial.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I'm also realistic that one of the defendants has multiple cases going on and some of them have trial dates that are ahead of ours. And so, I'm always going to be respectful of sister jurisdictions.

We asked for an August trial date. We have not been granted that trial date. We may ask for that date again. But we're realistic. We still have (INAUDIBLE) and other motion that have not been responded to. And so those motions will have to be resolved. And once those motions are resolved, we would like to push through trial.


VALENCIA: So, again, pre-trial motions hearing today. We will also hear arguments from the attorney for Dave Schafer. He's the former GOP chair here in Georgia who was essentially the point man in this so- called fake elector scheme. His attorney has taken exception with that characterization of fake electors and believes that the title of a fake electors is basically prejudicing the jury and the prejudicial to the trial. So, they will argue that. That's expected to start at 10:00 a.m.

And some important note here. We're just hearing now from the district to attorney's office, Sara, a moment ago, that Fani Willis is not expected to be in court today.


SIDNER: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: All right, Sara.

So, how is Trump planning to handle and respond to what is happening in Georgia today?

CNN's Kristen Holmes has been checking in on the team and is joining us right now.

So, what are you hearing, Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, I'm told that his team is going to be monitoring this, but Donald Trump himself is likely to not be watching. And that's because he's going to be on a plane this morning from Florida to New York. He is going to be attending the wake of an NYPD officer, Jonathan Diller, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this week. Part of this is a trip because he was invited.

The other part of this is going to be an opportunity for Donald Trump's team to try and contrast Donald Trump going to New York on this day, visiting the family, seeing - attending the wake of a fallen NYPD officer, while President Joe Biden, his rival in the general election, is in New York attending a, what they say, is a glitzy fundraiser.

Now, when it comes to Georgia, they are not having big expectations out of the hearing today.


They say that they have known that these First Amendment cases in the past have not been successful, but they do continue to remind that Donald Trump is paying his lawyers, and as we know, a very large amount of money to exhaust every single avenue possible with the hope and the end game there that this is delayed past the November election. Obviously, we heard Fani Willis now just saying they might ask for another August trial date, but there is a lot that has to happen before they actually would go to trial. And Donald Trump's team feels fairly confident that this case is not going to go to trial before the November election.


WHITFIELD: All right, Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.


BERMAN: All right, with me now, CNN legal analysts, former U.S. attorney Michael Moore, and former chief assistant district attorney for Manhattan DA's office, Karen Friedman Agnifilo.

Michael, I want to start with you as our resident Georgia guy here. Just talk to me about the atmospherics of when this pre-trial hearing starts again today because we spent a lot of time watching this courtroom with a lot of drama surrounding Fani Willis. They're back to sort of businesses usual today, but will it ever be business as usual?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, well, I'm glad to be with all of you.

I do think that this is an effort by the district attorney to hopefully change the narrative. But I also think this is the court saying, OK, we've - I've made my ruling, I've given you your chance to appeal that order, let's now get back down to business. I mean he's mindful I'm certain - that being the judge - he's certainly mindful that the appellate court's going to be fly specking what he does and looking at his prior order. But he also wants to make sure that he comes in now and continues to hold motion hearings as it may relate to the trial because at some point, and I do think it will be after the election, but at some point this case can move forward.

The motions that have been filed are pretty standard motions. So, this is a pretty regular day for the court. What's unique about them are the parties to this, that being the former president and other political folks. The subject matter being constitutional issues. And so he'll dig into those and I think you'll see he's - he'll be pretty good, as he has been in the past, of separating the wheat from the chaff and he'll get on down to business and talk about the First Amendment. We know probably what he's going to say. He's said it in some earlier cases involve the case. But that's - the case will be - the case -- this is - this is a normal court day. So, some of the circus that we saw a few weeks ago, this - this will look much more like a normal court day.

BERMAN: Talk to me more about the arguments being made here, Karen, because Michael calls them standard, and I guess they're standard in the sense that a lot of people have tried them but they've been universally ruled against, not just in Georgia, but everywhere in the election subversion sphere.

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So, what Donald Trump is going to argue here is his conduct was nothing more than words, right? Calling in that famous phone call and asking them to find the, you know, whatever the number of votes were. The perfect phone call that - to Brad Raffensperger. He's saying those were just words, and words are protected by the First Amendment in this country. And what you're going to hear is a discussion about that.

And what Fani Willis' team will say, look, not all words are protected by the First Amendment. For example, you can't walk into a bank and say, I have a gun in my pocket, give me all your money, get the money and walk out and turn around and say, oh, they were just words. Obviously, you're not allowed to - certain conduct, certain words turn into criminal conduct. And that's the line that gets crossed and that's what they're going to argue Donald Trump was doing here by trying to pressure the Georgia -- the Georgia officials to throw the election.

So, you're going to hear arguments like that. You're going to hear arguments that certain terminologies to prejudicial and shouldn't be - shouldn't be allowed to be said in front of the jury. Thats very common and standard. And you might see some sort of compromise there so that - so that it's more factual and less - and less suggestive.

So, those are the types of legal arguments I suspect we're going to see today.

BERMAN: In terms of the free speech argument, Karen, it hasn't worked here or anywhere. So, to what extent is this performance art? And to what extent is this - our Kristen Holmes was referring to this before. I mean high price lawyers getting some billable hours.

AGNIFILO: Look, I - its no secret that Donald Trump does not want to have any of his four criminal trials go before the election. In fact, in New York what Judge Juan Merchan actually ruled just this week was very much clear that they are trying to seek delay there as well. So, the judges all know that that's part of the strategy is to not have a trial. And so, making arguments that you're entitled to make, legal arguments, even if you know you're going to lose, what that does is it actually could potentially delay things. So, I think part of it is that strategy as well on the part of the defense team.

BERMAN: Michael, what do you think we will or might here in terms of a trial date today?


MOORE: Well, I think there will be some effort to discuss the trial date. I'm not sure if the judge is going to take it all up from the bench in front of everybody. But you may hear this mentioned about an August trial date. But remember that the court is mindful that there's one order, that being the disqualification order, that's on appeal right now with the Georgia Court of Appeals.

But he's also got to deal with this issue of the Supreme Court holding oral arguments as it relates to, you know, immunity for the president, whether or not he has a protection basically as he - as it was time. And what's he - what may affect this case, and we've talked about this a number of times, is most of the conduct, if not all of it, is charged while Trump was a sitting president of the United States. So, certainly the Supreme Court's ruling was going to have an impact here on Georgia. We're not talking about acts done after he was president, for instance, witness tampering and those types of allegations that might have been made had the DA decided to do that.

So, I think he's going to be mindful of that and we're probably - it just seems almost like a fools errand to set the trial date with these things pending out there, you know, with no more certainty about actually when we could actually conduct a trial. And I think the judge will probably separate groups and say, you may be on appeal in this instance, you - this group is not on appeal. We're going to set these five or ten defendants for trial. And we may do those first and get to the former president sometime later after the appellate courts have weighed in.

BERMAN: Michael Moore, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, great to see both you this morning. Thanks so much.

Sara. SIDNER: All right, ahead, new video into CNN showing another view moments before a cargo ship brought down that bridge in Baltimore. The difficulties investigators are having to get all the details in the lead up and aftermath of that crash.

And sentencing day for the man once called the crypto king, Sam Bankman-Fried. Prosecutors asking for up to 50 years in prison. Defense attorneys asking for six. Any moment now a judge is expected to rule on his sentence.

And, CNN exclusive revealing how much money was paid to drop the sexual assault lawsuit against a powerful leader in the Republican Party. A settlement all parties denied ever happened.



WHITFIELD: All right, at any moment now the man once dubbed the king of crypto, Sam Bankman-Fried, will appear in federal court for sentencing. Prosecutors are pushing for the 32-year-old to spend a half a century in prison. The FTX founder was found guilty of committing one of the largest white-collar crimes in history, stealing and defrauding more than $10 billion from his crypto customer's accounts.

CNN's Kara Scannell is here with a very latest.

So, what else can we expect today in court besides him finding out, you know, what the rest of his life is going to look like?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And the question is just how many years will it be before he ever leaves a prison?


SCANNELL: Because, remember, he's been detained since August when the judge found him involved in witness tampering when he was out on bail.

But this is the moment of reckoning for Sam Bankman-Fried, once the face of the crypto industry. You know, kind of hailed as the king. But he's really going to face the judge today and find out what his future looks like.


SCANNELL: Now, prosecutors, as you said, say this is one of the biggest frauds in financial history. Second only to Bernie Madoff's fraud. And so they are asking a judge to sentence him to 40 to 50 years in prison because he stole $10 billion from customers, investors, lenders. And they also say that he, you know, he spent $150 million in bribes to Chinese officials and illegally donated more than $100 million to influence the U.S. political system. You know, saying he's a significant criminal.

So, they've written in the letter to the judge, "his life in recent years has been one of unmatched greed and hubris, of ambition and rationalization, and courting risk and gambling repeatedly with other people's money."

Now, Sam Bankman-Fried's lawyers are saying, he's not Bernie Madoff. He's not even Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos. You know, he didn't steal from people's pensions. He didn't harm patients. He should only get as much as 6.5 years in prison.

Part of their argument too is that they say that some of these victims will be made whole on the money that they had invested through this extensive bankruptcy recovery process.


SCANNELL: And in their memo to the judge, you know, they called this sentence of potentially 40 to 50 years, "a medieval view of punishments. What amounts to a death in prison sentencing recommendation. Crushing Sam in this way is unnecessary."

Now, they are - they are also presented to the judge with dozens of letters from supporters of Bankman-Fried. You know, his parents have arrived in court. We saw them enter court this morning.

You know, the big question will be, does Bankman-Fried himself addressed the judge? And if he does, what does he say? This could take some time, but it's certainly going to be very significant for Bankman-Fried and for the crypto industry.

WHITFIELD: Yes, if I'm an investor, maybe it wasn't their pension, but it may have been their hard earned money that they invested in this and then lost. So, what about the recovery of some, if not all of those monies, for people who did put their heart earnings into it?

SCANNELL: Oh, and the prosecutors have letters from people who were overseas where they don't have a good banking system and they put their money into FTX as like a safety net.


SCANNELL: And that was wiped out. So, what Bankman-Fried's lawyers are saying is that this money is going to be recovered. But the thing is, it gets recovered to November of 2022 when the fraud what discovered. Since then, the value of some of these securities have gone up 400 percent. So, people will not recover that huge gain that has happened since, just potentially the money they put in.


WHITFIELD: If they're lucky, at least the money that they put in.

SCANNELL: If they're lucky.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kara Scannell, thanks so much.

All right, John. BERMAN: All right, we are just minutes away from the opening bell on

Wall Street. Looking at market futures. Some green there. A little bit of red. Back to green. Looking for more gains today. The Dow had its best day of the year so far, getting close to 40,000. The S&P set to have its best start to the year since 2019. All three indices on pace for a huge month with one more trading session to go.



SIDNER: This is new video we obtained this morning of what was happening on the bridge in Baltimore just seconds before a cargo ship crashed into it. These final few cars make it to the other side safely. Off camera, we now know at about at the same time the ship was losing power and issued a mayday call. And then, seconds later, authorities stopped bridge traffic, likely saving a lot of lives.

We have now skipped ahead, less than a minute. The cars, gone. You can see that there. And on the right side of the frame you can see the ship heading slowly under the bridge, just before it hits that pylon. Those flashing lights that you see belonged to construction workers on top of the bridge who were laying asphalt on the bridge. They were not evacuated in time to survive, but a total of six people are now presumed dead.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is live from Baltimore for us.

Gabe, what are investigators learning about the final moments before the collapse since they now do have a hold of the black box?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Sara. And they have analyzed that data recorder, that black box that you're referencing, and they've put together a much better timeline of how this all unfolded, this catastrophe.

And we have learned that the problems really started just 45 minutes after that ship left the terminal. That's when alarms started going off on the ship as that pilot was experiencing a total blackout. They were losing power and the ability to steer. And the pilot began calling for help, asking for tugboats to assist, dropping a port anchor, trying to slow down the vessel because they just couldn't steer it.

Eventually, they sent out that mayday request, which told police they needed to shut down traffic to the bridge, keep cars off of it. But within two minutes before they could even reach the eight construction workers who were on top of the bridge, the ship ran into the column of the bridge and caused it to collapse.

The big question now, Sara, as investigators continue their work today interviewing those pilots again, is, what caused those problems? What caused the issues and that power outage? A couple of the questions that have been raised was the possibility of contaminated fuel in the vessel or maybe some sort of electrical issue. But the NTSB, at this point, has pushed back on that saying they want to continue their investigation, which could take a couple weeks.

SIDNER: Gabe Cohen, thank you very much for your reporting there.

Let me ask you this. You know, as they're looking at this, did they give you any sort of timeline about how difficult, for example, it is just to get some of these details? Yes, they have the data recorders, but you're also looking at this mangled mess that's down into 50 feet of water. What are they telling you about that?

COHEN: Well, Sara, it's going to take a lot of time. They're bringing in big equipment, cranes, barges to pull out all of that debris, to cut up the steel and remove it. And officials have said, once that is done, they are going to get down there and find those four remaining construction workers and bring closure to their families. But it could take time. And I do want to clarify, the NTSB has said the full investigation could take a couple years, but they're hoping to have preliminary info in the next couple weeks.


SIDNER: All right, Gabe Cohen, thank you so much for your reporting out there.


WHITFIELD: All right, Sara.

Investigators are searching for a motive in that deadly stabbing spree across an Illinois neighborhood. A 22-year-old is now in custody, accused of killing four people, including a 15-year-old girl and injuring seven others. First responders had multiple crime scenes in a matter of minutes.

CNN's Veronica Miracle is joining us now from Chicago with more on this.

What more are we learning about the suspect and the sequence of events? Why did this happen?

VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we just heard from police that they're going to be holding a press conference in a few hours. That's where we hope to learn more about the suspect and more about how all of this unfolded.

What we know at this hour is that a 22-year-old man was taken into custody just a half an hour after the initial 911 call went out, which was initially called in as a home invasion. But as to why this happened, police don't have a clear understanding of a motive, and they also say that they are just trying to figure out exactly why this man went on a killing spree in multiple areas in the city of Rockford.

As you mentioned, four people have been killed, including a 15-year- old girl, a 63-year-old woman, a 49-year-old man, and a 22-year-old man.

[09:29:59] One of those people was a mail carrier. And another seven people were injured, including a young person who was able to get away after the initial home invasion, according to police.